Friday, September 26, 2014

A Salvation-Skewed Faith

TITLE: A SALVATION-SKEWED FAITH
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 7:13-14
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 26th, 2014

13Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved!"

This refrain is one of the most common evangelistic statements from Christians to non-Christians. While it may seem quite offensive to some people in a secular culture, it is far better than some who screamed out like a doomsday prophet: "Believe in Jesus or else you go to hell!"

The first statement is a lot more palatable. It promises the upside of faith. The second will usually result in an verbal backlash. It condemns and strongarms one into confession. Some see both statements as different ways to say the same thing. I differ. I think the first statement is more true than the second. For instance, look at the second statement and I see an immediate theological problem. We are on the way to hell not because of faith or non-faith in Jesus. We are already condemned because of sin. Paul reminds us in Romans:

9What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12)

Thus, it is incorrect to say that we go to hell because of failing a decision making matrix at the Cross. People are on the way to damnation anyway. Christ just offers them a way out. By rejecting Jesus, they are preferring to walk their default ways. That is why we choose what we want to live. Some choose Christ. Others choose their own ways. No one forced them.

This week, I like to look not about the decision for Christ, but what happens AFTER the decision. It does not mean the initial decision is unimportant. It simply means the first decision is simply triggering a journey of faith that needs to be completed in Christ. In his book, "After You Believe," NT Wright stated that our Christian living must be "understood and shaped in relation to the final goal for which we have been made and redeemed." Having said that, he argues that life after that decision for Christ must be reflected in character formation in Christ. This is what must happen after we believe.

A) Pitfalls of a Salvation-Skewed Faith

In many outreach events, Christians behave like gospel salesmen, feeding promises and salvation to anyone who would make a decision to believe in Jesus. The prosperity gospel group would trumpet material riches that grow proportionally with faith. Give more and you will receive double or triple, they say. Others proclaim a faith whereby if we fail to obey the do's and don'ts of the faith, we will be rewarded or punished accordingly. The hyper-grace party will pooh-pooh away every negativity with a generous dosage of grace and unmerited favours, to the point that it does not matter what we do after we believe, as grace is an umbrella large enough to shield believers from all things.

What concerns me is this. People who believed in Jesus have chosen to enter the narrow gate, which is the Person of Jesus. Unfortunately, after the initial excitement and fanfare, once the novelty wears off, they proceed to walk the highway of worldliness instead of the narrow way. Jesus warns us explicitly:
"13Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." (Matthew 7:13)
People who choose to simply enter the narrow gate, only to ignore the other aspect to continue walking the narrow path, are people who are "salvation-skewed." They care only to possess the ticket to heaven, and then continue to bask in worldliness. They claim Jesus to be Lord, but they live as if they are the lords of their lives. They confess Jesus but refuse to obey the teachings of Jesus to forgive others. They think that their one decision is enough to guarantee their stairway to heaven.

According to Matthew 7:13, there is a gate followed by a road, a way, or a path. Just like the Parable of the Sower where there are four different kinds of soil where only one is fruitful and desired of them all, we can also see four different scenarios in Matthew 7:13-14 of which the best is preferred and the worst is mentioned. The best is the "narrow gate" / "narrow way." The worst is the "wide gate" / "wide way." What about the "narrow gate" / "wide way" and the "wide gate" / "narrow way" scenarios?  I present the four scenarios below.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

False Choices

TITLE: FALSE CHOICES
TEXT: John 18:38
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 20th, 2014

[Life is often not so straightforward. A YES does not necessarily mean we fully agree. A NO does not mean we totally reject. Life is a lot more nuanced than a simple YES or NO. That does not mean there is no such thing as truth, or there is no such thing as right/wrong. Beware of false choices.]

"What is truth?" retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him. (John 18:38)

Many want the best of both worlds,
and not be trapped in a forced YES/NO ultimatum.
(Credit: abcnews.go.com)
This week is a week of referendums. After 307 years, political activists in Scotland forced a nationwide referendum to give the entire population of Scotland a chance to vote on the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” All voters needed to do were to mark either “Yes” or “No.” Voter turnout was a healthy 84.6 percent, representing a total of 4.2 million registered citizens. Advocates from both camps fought hard. The “Yes” camp led by the Scottish Nationalist Party First Minister, Alex Salmond argued passionately for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and to be an independent country. The “No” camp, led by Alistair Darling countered with an equally vigorous defense of the status quo. As of yesterday, Scotland chose to remain within the United Kingdom with 55% of the population voting for it. This is clearly bigger than the razor thin decision predicted by many commentators.

I am not a fan of anything that nudges toward disunity. Neither am I someone who likes to see split ups and painful divorces. While I am in favour of democracy in general, I think we need to be able to keep both our heads and our hearts together. For Scotland to just vote YES and leave the Union, it needs a very strong support base, and as far as I am concerned, for a country to go her own way, the percentage of support must be as unanimous as possible. This is because nation building is a massive task. If it is a marginal victory for the NO camp, it is still alright, because keeping the status quo is the easiest thing to do. However, if it is for the YES camp, then it is a major problem because the country would already be split down the center right from the start. What kind of nation building will there be if resolve comes only from half the population? Anyway, I am glad that the votes have settled once and for all, the question of independence, and Scotland can focus on the major and practical challenges confronting them.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Mining for Facts" vs "Aligning for Faith"

TITLE: "MINING FOR FACTS" vs "ALIGNING FOR FAITH"
SCRIPTURE: Ps 119:71
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 13th, 2014
“It is good for me to be afflicted so that I may learn your decrees.” (Ps 119:71)
Adam is worried sick about his exams. His mother enters the room and quotes Proverbs 3:5-6 to him to trust God for all things. Adam takes his mother’s advice and stops studying. He goes straight to bed without further worrying. He says: “God will make my paths straight right?” He fails his exams leaving him with a negative aftertaste that the Bible does not really work for him.

Teddy knows his Bible well. Since young, he has aced Bible quizzes and has won many Scripture memory competitions. He is literally a walking Bible. He has a quote for all occasions and people often look up to him for his level of Bible literacy. He participates actively in Bible discussions with his own ready answers. Sometimes, he can become quite disruptive during Bible discussions as he brings in verses from all over the Bible that distracts participants from properly understanding the verses in context. People are increasingly afraid of sharing deeper secrets with Teddy because every time they share something, Teddy would be so quick to quote a Bible verse that he would not listen to anything else at all. After all, how can anyone argue against the Word of God thrown at them? People call Teddy a Bible-rifle who uses Bible verses as bullets for everything in life. People avoid Teddy often by saying: “Thanks but no thanks. What’s right for you may not be right for me.

Monique loves Bible studies. She approaches every study enthusiastically mining the Bible for all kinds of information. She plows through many commentaries and dictionaries, marking every word, every phrase, and every passage, even punctuation marks! Like a gold digger, she digs away diligently looking for Bible gems as if she is the one in control. She is more interested in Bible information than spiritual formation.

Adam, Teddy, and Monique present three different types of Christians. Adam lets his faith be dependent on what people say. Teddy tells people without listening to what people are saying. Monique digs the Bible as if she is telling the Bible what she wants rather than to let the Bible teach her what she needs.

This week, I want to discuss the difference between Bible information and spiritual formation. For the former, one mines the Bible for facts and knowledge. One is in control of the learning. One is in charge of what to learn. For the latter, one lets the Bible be the teacher, the guide, and the cultivator of faith. The chief question this week is this: Are we mining for facts or are we aligning for faith?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ten Thoughts to Encourage the Weary Soul

TITLE: TEN THOUGHTS TO ENCOURAGE THE WEARY SOUL
SCRIPTURE: Colossians 4:7-8
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 6th, 2014

"7Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts." (Colossians 4:7-8)

These days, I have been sensing a general sense of despair and fatigue among people I know. While there are those who appear to be well and happy, there are also those faithful ones who serve each week, without complaining, and earnestly wanting to help people. Looking at Paul's encouragement to the Colossian Church, I am intrigued at how he is willing to send a dear brother like Tychicus to encourage others. I like to play the role of Tychicus this week, to focus on ten brief thoughts specifically to encourage fellow servants, ministry workers, and those simply desiring to do more for God.

  1. On People: As I look at the way God had been faithful to Israel, if there is any one person who ought to be most discouraged, it would be God, having to deal with a stubborn Israel and ignorant mankind. Yet, God continues to speak to us. He has used the Patriarchs of old; the Kings; the Prophets; the Priests; the Early Church and Disciples. Still, in spite of man's disobedience and unfaithfulness, God continues to keep His end of the bargain. It is because God has not given up on us, we ought not give up on fellow people.


  2. On Ministry: The demands of ministry is great. Due to varying amounts of expectations, there is no way one can ever meet all the demands of all parties. Something invariably had to give. Remember this. When we minister as servants of God, we are not in charge of the ministry results. God is. Moreover, God did not say that whatever we do, we will get success. God desires us to be faithful and in God's good time, God will be the agent for all forms of fruitfulness. Plant and water away!


  3. Doing More: It is easy to straitjacket ourselves to do more, to be more, and to invest more. In a world that seems to promote size, volume, quantity, and all kinds of quantitative bigness, it is good to be reminded that just like the poor woman with only two coins, or the words from Peter who had not gold nor silver, but the Word of God, so we too need to remember that in God's ministry, just like the confession of John the Baptist, less of us means more of God.


  4. On Evangelism: According to Kent Hunter, a Church leadership consultant, Evangelism is the biggest struggle among Christians. Perhaps, it is a erroneous mindset many people had from the beginning. I have always told people. Conversation is our responsibility; Conversion is God's.


  5. On Spiritual Growth: How do we grow spiritually? Some pay big bucks to attend conferences and retreats. Others work through a rigorous program or a multi-step process to inject some spirituality into our jaded faith. It is good to remember that just like the seed story in Mark 4:27, "Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." Spiritual growth is the Lord's. We just need to be ready always.


  6. On Church: Week in week out, we hear more negativity about the Church than good news. Moreover, a Church as the Bride of Christ is supposed to be the bearer of Good News. It's true that the Church is grossly imperfect. Yet, the Church is not totally bad as some parties paint it to be. Among the bad perceptions, remember too that there are always genuine people within. There are always those who serve without complaining. There are faithful brothers and sisters who serve not because of pleasing people, but because they desire to please God. Find a few such brothers and sisters and fellowship with them.


  7. On Leadership: Some of us have been called to be leaders in various capacities. Whether in Church, at work, or in some organizations we are involved with, leadership is something we grow into. It does not happen automatically. Remember this one thing. In becoming a leader, the first person we ever lead is our own selves. Be confident in leading ourselves. As the patterns develop, and as we become followers of Jesus, people will watch us. Let our leadership grow as we follow hard after God, and be examples for others to follow hard after God. After all, leadership is both relying on examples for living as well as living by example.


  8. On Prayer: Perhaps, we have become associated with guilt whenever we fail to pray enough. Maybe, our own prayers seem to be before meals or during Sunday morning services. Don't worry. It is a process. In fact, Jesus has encouraged us not to be distracted by people who utter long prayers. The shortest prayer uttered with honest feelings will cover greater spiritual mileage. This is exactly what the Jesus prayer is about. Short, simple, and very spiritual. "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner!"


  9. On Social Media: Sometimes, it can be rather discouraging for those of us who have few friends. Few people comment on our posts. Even fewer bother to add us as their friends. It can leave us feeling very unappreciated or unwanted, especially when we see others having tremendous following and popularity in their social media profiles. Note that like all things, beauty is fleeting. Popularity can work both ways. Fame can easily turn into infamy in 1 day. Do not be discouraged by the many who ignore us. Be encouraged by the genuine few who care for us.


  10. On Writing: Many of us who write encounter the writers' block from time to time. We try our best. We sit for hours. We load ourselves up with coffee, ambiance, and all kinds of writing resources. Yet, the ink never flows. Like my good old Professor at Regent College says: "All good writing is re-writing." Go ahead and write away. Do not expect Pulitzer Prize quality to appear from the first stroke of the pen or the initial tabs of the computer keyboard. All good writing comes after lots of editing, re-writing, and re-phrasing. In fact, based on my own writing experience, all good writing comes from faithfulness. Once the first words are on paper, the creativity and the ideas come once the editing process kicks in. All good writing is re-writing, and re-writing, and re-writing.





THOUGHT: One of the highest of human duties is the duty of encouragement. There is a regulation of the Royal Navy which says: "No officer shall speak discouragingly to another officer in the discharge of his duties." (William Barclay)

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