Saturday, June 28, 2014

Praying Through Ps 23

Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 28th, 2014

A sister in Christ went home to the Lord yesterday at 4.55pm. There is much grief. There is much sorrow. Joy, where art thou? Hope, please show yourself. Comfort, please give generous portions. Happiness is a foreign word. Sadness is the preface to a long and winding road, with chapters after chapters of struggling, questioning, and lamenting.

During this time, I did a mental sprint toward Psalm 23, the famous Shepherd Psalm, having memorized it in my earlier years. The words are close to my heart. In times of sorrow, I cling to the Lord, and pray for the people. I am aware of many emotions but wary of saying too many words. Here is my prayer through Ps 23 this week, in remembrance of Sarah, beloved sister in Christ.

The LORD is my Shepherd. Not just mine, but for all God's people. Black, white, yellow, or whatever complexion, God shepherds them all. God walks with all. God loves all. The Shepherd is kind, big, loving, and gentle. He knows what is in our heart, and our hearts long to know what is in His heart.

I shall not be in want. Yes, I do not want to remain needy after my own strength. We are a world in need. That is not the point. The point is, so what if our needs now are met? Will that dilute our need for God? Surely not, for when we long for God, we will gradually realize that with the LORD, everything else will take their appropriate places. The priorities will be set aright. The imperfect needs will be arranged according to the perfect God's will.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures. Yes, we are a busy lot. The more we think we are able, the more we become busy, sometimes busybodies. Truth is, busyness is pride in disguise. If we can run, we run everywhere, sometimes not knowing the reason or the destination for running. God has to "make" us lie down especially when the sheep behave out of line. Even sheep will grow tired. The Shepherd who knows His sheep will force them to rest, despite their stubbornness. That is love in action.

He leads me besides the still waters. What better way than to let us commune with nature, God's creation. God created the world and prepared the environment before creating man. That is love. The love of preparation. He knows the healing prowess of natural beauty and calm.

He restores my soul. Our modern world teaches us how to run fast and how to act efficiently. It is a poor teacher when it comes to resting and pacing ourselves. Even exercise regimens require hard work. What will all work and no rest do to the human body? I remember hearing about a research that proves how people who rest once in seven days fare better than those who rested only once in every ten days. The human body is optimized for seven days: six days work and one day rest. As we rest in God, we are restored.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name's sake. Sheep can run, yes. They can run astray too. They need direction where to run. Here, we pray for God to guide us through paths of righteousness. The best route for godliness. The best way toward living a life for God. The reason we walk, is for the sake of Christ. We walk not in our own name, but in the Name and Glory of God.

Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Who does not have dark moments. We all do. Death is one big black blot in anyone's life. Dark corners do bring out the fear in us. What lurks behind? Will it harm us? When we cannot see what is ahead of us, the whole mood can be scary. The point is, it is not the darkness or the valley that brings out the courage. It is the knowledge of the One walking next to us: The Shepherd.

For You are with me. Whenever we walk with anyone, we are essentially promising our presence. The ministry of presence is much needed for the human soul. In our world of mobile devices and Internet communications, it is easy to say that we are contactable anytime and anywhere. But hey, can the cell phone hug us physically? Can the computer provide us the warmth of the human touch? Can the digital devices sense all of our senses? No.

Your rod and Your staff they comfort me. The presence of the Lord is so remarkable that mere sight of the instruments the Shepherd uses will bring immense comfort. In a pre-GPS world, whenever I drive in a foreign land, I often have to depend on signs to tell me where I am heading. Strange roads and strange driving conditions can be rather intimidating. All it takes is a familiar sign, a clear pointer to confirm our directions and the anxiety will diminish. Show us Your presence, Lord.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. We know of David who himself had been pursued by enemies. He had to flee for his life. Imagine having a table set before us and seated opposite is our enemy! That is scary. Yet, the scene is surreal. Enemies who want to kill us have to receive permission from the One setting the table for a meal.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over. This scene shows that we the children of God are anointed people, precious and protected. Whoever dares to harm us will have to suffer the Lord's wrath. The anointment runs over shows the generosity and the overflowing goodness of God to empower us. As far as the Lord is concerned, the oil is never seen as wasted. It is generous love. Come to think of it, love in itself is generous.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. The word 'follow' is not exactly reflective of the mood of the word. The better word should be "hound." Goodness and mercy will pursue us like a hound, never giving up on ensuring that we receive the goodness and the mercy the Lord wants to shower upon.

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. This is the best summation. There is no better place than to be in the arms of Jesus. As I think about believers who die, they are entering into the spiritual bliss with God. The dwelling is eternal. The experience is exhilarating. The beauty and the glory will surround all who are with the Lord. Always.

THOUGHT: "God is closest to those with broken hearts." (Jewish saying)


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Friday, June 20, 2014

Counterfeit Spirituality

SCRIPTURE: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 20th, 2014

"1Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)

SYNOPSIS: Our tendency to copycat others is a poor rejection of our ability to create and to be creative in God's world. When we have run out of ideas to create and depend on copying for our survival, that is not because we have not tried hard enough. It is simply because we have failed to recognize that true creativity comes from God. 

Yesterday, I was watching a documentary entitled "Counterfeit Culture" on CBC Doczone. It is an indepth look at how the world's famous brands and products are fast becoming prey to copycats and pirates who sell imitations at a fraction of the price of the original goods. From cheap electronics to pirated movies and songs; automotive accessories to aircraft spare parts; pharmaceuticals to any consumer products; the world's best known names are increasingly and blatantly copied and sold. They look like the original. They feel like the originals. They are made to be as exact as possible to the original. Surface wise that is.

If one can wear a Rolex imitation, a Lacoste look-alike, or a fancy iPhone fake, one can indeed raise social profiles when walking out in the streets. While the documentary identifies different cities that manufacture fakes all around the world, it is China alone that supplies 75% of the world's fake goods. What struck me was the confidence the Chinese peddlars had: Show them what you need and they will create a fake indeed. The Chinese even has a word for that: Shan Zhai, which is essentially a culture of copying and replicating imitations. My friends from mainland China tell me that if I want to buy anything original, buy it outside of China.

Welcome to a world of counterfeits.

Friday, June 13, 2014

People vs Profits?

SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 13:5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date:  June 13th, 2014
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

KEY POINT: Money is not everything but everything needs money. For the Christian, the love of money is a spiritual threat that cannot be taken lightly. This week, I look at the financial industry and offers three tips for those who are inside and for those considering a career in the financial industry.

It has been said that "Money makes the world go round." The statement is very prevalent in the lives of many people. For while money is not everything, everything needs money. We need money to keep up with our mortgages, pay school fees, buy groceries, filling up gas, paying for utilities, buy coffee, or take that much needed vacation.  What defines a society as rich or poor is usually based on a monetary index, based on a currency of reference.

"Show me the money!" is a popular term that also describes this mood. In other words, if you want me to do something, pay me first. No money no talk. In the "Jerry MacGuire" movie, the phrase was used to underline the fact that money talks louder than anything else.

A) Money: The More the Happier?

Making money is the underlying ethos of many societies, especially those called first world nations. Being rich is a sign of success. Being highly paid is a sign of accomplishments. That is why school is being seen more as a tool for making money rather than an education in itself. People may claim that it is both but few see it that way. What if the job we get is not we want, but it pays three times the average starting salary for graduates? What if we hate our jobs but cannot afford to quit because the money was too good? What if the contract was too irresistible that we end up rationalizing a moral issue into an amoral situation? After all, if it is partly true that rationale, it is even more true that man is a "rationalizing animal."

Think about it. When the best and the brightest from the nation's best colleges and Universities graduate and enter top financial firms, rationalizing anything is easy. In the book, "Young Money," Kevin Roose reveals some alarming effects of how such young graduates have their sense of morality gradually being sucked away by the financial industry. (You can read an excellent review here.) Tracing the lives of eight promising top young graduates, Roose notes how the financial industry can impoverish one's sense of moral well-being. With making money as the primary goal, it does not matter if smaller businesses go belly up. Overworked, stressed out, and measured only on the basis of profits, such workers soon become indoctrinated with the making-money-at-all-costs dictum. Soon, big picture thinking is used to justify the "small price" others are paying. Social life becomes non-existent other than entertainment activities for work and client relationship building. As financial traders, workers are measured strictly on the basis of their Profit and Loss performances. Everything else is secondary. The journalist, Michael Lerner:

"This focus on money and power may do wonders in the marketplace, but it creates a tremendous crisis in our society. People who have spent all day learning how to sell themselves and to manipulate others are in no position to form lasting friendships or intimate relationships... Many Americans hunger for a different kind of society -- one based on principles of caring, ethical and spiritual sensitivity, and communal solidarity. Their need for meaning is just as intense as their need for economic security."

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ps 46: Trusting God

Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date:  June 6th, 2014

"1God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." (Ps 46:1-3)

If Christians claim to trust God, why then do many of them worry? You might be just making ends meet, but all of a sudden, you had a major car repair. There is no more money in your bank account. What do you do? Maybe, you have just gone for an interview and you are anxious about the result. You pray, and you praise God for what had been done. Yet, the worries linger on. Will you get the job? Maybe you are a student, and your exam is tomorrow but you have only covered 50% of the material. How confident are you that you can make the grade? These are some examples of how the cares of this world can easily balloon themselves to be so big that our theology of God suddenly becomes so small.

This question has often bugged me, and for this week, I want to spend some time on what it means to trust God, why we find it difficult to trust God, and what does it take to increase our walk of trust.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Praying for Leaders

SCRIPTURE: 1 Timothy 2:1-4
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: May 31st, 2014

"1I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

"Strike again?"

An Annual Quarrel That Nobody Wins
I remarked to my kids when I heard about the strike action currently occurring in my children's school district. Although it is a partial strike, news of another dispute between the provincial government of British Columbia and the BC Teachers Federation strikes helplessness in the hearts and minds of many parents.

Is there no end to it all? How long must British Columbians tolerate the annual bickering between the Government and the Teachers Union? What must be done to pacify the warring parties? Who speaks up for the parents? Is the fight really for children?

"It's all about the kids, class sizes, and special education programs," some union leaders say. "No, it's simply about unreasonable demands," some government negotiators say. For many people, these are but veiled attempts to ask for / give out more money, both ways.