Monday, November 24, 2014

Questioning God

TITLE: QUESTIONING GOD
SCRIPTURE: Job 38:1-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 24th, 2014

1Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 2"Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me."

I have been following with some interest an open letter online about why a former believer left her faith. It contains various reasons and faults with the Christian religion. Most of all, it stems from a tragic loss of her father, which was made worse by certain insensitive comments that tried to explain it all.

At the same time, I have just read through twenty-four earnest and honest reflections of faith from the standpoints of atheists, believers, agnostics, and various perspectives. Many of them had one thing in common: Faith Under Trial. Some of these respondents who had "left the faith" were raised in rather religious circumstances. They go to Church. They followed the educational processes. They essentially kept with their parental expectations. Until one day, the water bag broke. Skepticism gives birth to sarcasm, followed by plain dismissal of formerly held beliefs. All it takes is a shaking down of the nice image of a big and friendly God who is all loving and all providing. Whether it is cancer, loss of a family member or a friend, or some tragic circumstances, at some juncture, we will all intersect with the pain-and-suffering station of life.  When that happens, questions turn into doubt; doubt turns to fear; and for self-professed "former" believers, fear coupled with frustrations soon turn one away from God.
  • "God, where are You?"
  • "God, why is this happening to me?"
  • "God, are you there?"
  • "God, hello? You there? Why don't You pick up my prayer?"
  • "God, God, God? Why are You so quiet? I'll try again tomorrow."
  • "God? You'll probably sleeping."
  • "God? Are you real?"
  • "God? Maybe there is no such thing as God."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Let Our Lives Speak, not Speed

TITLE: LET OUR LIVES SPEAK, NOT SPEED
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 34:8
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 14th, 2014

"Taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him." (Ps 34:8)

We have all heard about the fast-paced lifestyle. With so many things to do and so little time, we zip through the highways. We wolf down our meals. We hurry our kids. In a world where every second seems to matter, we easily grow impatient with incompetence. We become frustrated when the driver in front of us cruises at the posted speed limit. We wonder why the bank teller can chat so casually with the customer she was serving even when the line is long.

What if we allow this kind of crazy speed through life to enter our relationship? What if in our rush to get things done, we push others to travel at our expected speed instead of their natural pace? Ever heard about how a twenty-year old young man pushed over an eighty year old lady just to reach the cashier first? Or how this cartoon urges us to "Stay in Queue" even when the line in front of us does not appear to be moving. The story of Martha and Mary demonstrates how the busyness of activities can mess up our sense of priorities. Good works are noble tasks, but when we try to force people to pander to our expectations, the nobility quickly evaporates. Work first, pray later. Get things done first, leave people alone. Move first, love later. Even in the presence of our Lord Jesus.

(Picture Credit: www.allaboutgod.net)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Leftover Believers

TITLE: LEFTOVER BELIEVERS
SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:59-60
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 10th, 2014
59He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.60Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)
Yesterday, I preached about the Great Commission versus the Great Suggestion. It was a call for believers who had gotten their priorities mixed up. While they testify boldly about believing in God as their first priority, their living testimonies say otherwise. By doing so, they affirm the accusations of such people as "Sunday Christians." Personally, I would call such people as leftover believers.

I remember a story of a little boy living with his busy dad. Dad often brought home his work. He worked long hours. He often returned home late and when it came to bedtime reading, he was too exhausted even to spend time with his son. It had cost him his marriage, and due to his earning powers, he was able to gain full custody of his only son. Even at the breakfast table, the dad would be either reading his newspapers or checking his phone updates. As a psychologist, he makes lots of money straight from the top of the hour. He is an important man for patients desperate for help.

One regular morning, after getting another of those feelings of being ignored, the ten year old kid asked:

"Dad, can I ask you something?"

Sipping his coffee cup, dad continued to read and said, "Just give me five minutes."

Five minutes past, seeing his dad still busy combing for information on the newspapers, he decided to wait a few minutes longer before saying, "Dad, can I ask you a question now?"

Dad: "Just ten more seconds, my son."

Finally, the dad was ready. The boy asked: "How much do you earn?"

Dad said: "I make about $60 per hour, so that's about a dollar per minute."
Boy: "Wow, that's a lot of money."
Dad: "Yes, but that's because I've invested a lot in my education and training too."
Boy: "Dad, can you give me a minute. I'm going to get something."
Dad: "Ok, son."

The boy returned soon and in his hands were coins making up $5. The boy said: "Dad, can I buy 5 minutes of your time?"

You could imagine the tears in the eyes of the father. He had become so caught up with earning and working, that he had forgotten his own priorities. That morning, he realized that by putting all his best energies and time to focus on his work, he had relied on leftover energies and time for his own son. I feel for the boy. Just seeing the father devote his best attention to work makes the boy feel under appreciated and less important than the work. To the boy, making money is primary, time with family is secondary.  I can imagine the boy complaining to his friends:

"My dad is very loving. He spends a lot of time to work and make money for the family. That is really nice of him. But sometimes I wished that I don't always have to depend on his leftovers just to hear him read me a story."

Some people do exactly that when it comes to faith. In Luke 9:59-60, when Jesus called an unnamed man to follow Him, the man's quick reply was: "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."

It sounded like a reasonable request. It can even be a very filial act. The question is, is that the Jewish understanding at that time? Is the father truly dead? If so, should not the man be busy with funeral and burial details rather than simply walking the streets? Should he not be mourning and comforting his family? Is Jesus showing a lack of compassion when telling the man to let the dead bury the dead? Many interpreters say that what Jesus meant was to let the "spiritually dead" bury the "physically dead."

I prefer another interpretation that Jesus is not talking about burial matters. He is talking about priorities. The man had his priorities mixed up, and had chosen to put his earthly priorities first.

According to Jewish customs, immediately after the burial, the family would separate themselves from public appearances and mourn for seven days. If that was the case, it would be very weird for this man to be walking around in public during this time. That is why I believe that the man's father had not yet died. What the man was actually saying is this:

"Lord, first let me wait until my father had died. Only then can I come and follow you."

In our modern era, we can substitute this for the following:

  • "Lord, first let me get a job. Then I will come and follow you."
  • "Lord, first let me make my first $1 million."
  • "Lord, first let me find a wife."
  • "Lord, first let me finish my project."
  • "Lord, first let me close my very important business deal."
  • "Lord, first let me get my degree."
  • "Lord, first let me take a selfie with you."
  • "Lord, first let me update my Facebook status."
  • "..."
When the heart is not willing, the list of other things is endless. If we say to Jesus, "Lord, first let me _____, " we are essentially telling Jesus that there is something more important than following Him. For our priorities are our work, our projects, our businesses, our families, and our lives on earth. Jesus only gets to inherit our leftover time and energy. Our minds have become so caught up with the things of the world that we easily forget the promises of heaven. More importantly, we have missed out what it means to follow Christ. 

The Bible tells us to wait on the Lord, not make the Lord wait for us.

"Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." (Ps 27:14)

Do we offer up our best to God, or do we leave behind leftovers to Him? Leftover believers will prefer to put their own priorities above God's. They may claim to follow Jesus, but by their actions, they are making God wait while they busy themselves with their own priorities.

Leftover believers have a tendency to say: "Why me?" when approached to help or volunteer for some community work. They claim that they are too busy or simply had no time to serve. They will be punctual at work and at client appointments, but on Sunday mornings, they arrive to Church late, and will only serve when they have sufficient energy reserves or some leftover time.

Leftover believers will claim that following Christ is most important, but by their actions they betray their words. They will dedicate their utmost attention to the highest paying customers instead of their utmost for God's Kingdom. They justify their personal actions by claiming:


  • "God helps those who help themselves."
  • "God had called me to work hard, so what's wrong with working hard?"
  • "Surely God had given me a family to take care of. He will understand that Christian work comes only after all the serious work had been done."
I have a problem with that. Firstly, it dichotomizes work into secular and sacred. All work done for the glory of God is good. All work is sacred when we do it in God's image. All honest work is holy to the Lord. Secondly, the problem with such justifications is that it de-emphasizes the value of work done in Christian communities like churches, para-churches, or religious communities. It is one thing to equate all work as good, regardless of whether it is in the religious or non-religious environment. It is yet another to desecrate the importance of religious work. In the Old Testament, God had a visible way of reminding people the importance of religious work and dedication. That is why He called one tribe out of twelve, the Levites, to be focused on religious work. We may not be called "Levites" per se, but we can participate in the work of the Kingdom of God.

My friends, each of us are called to unique places in this world. We can become so busy trying to make a living that we can easily forget the importance of making a life. I suppose that is another way of understanding Jesus' words to the man wanting to bury his father first. For the man's desire to bury his father first is used as a way to describe man's fascination with the world that the world now is bigger than the world to come. It speaks of a temporal that overshadows the eternal. It turns the affairs of man into something that is bigger than the concerns of God. How can that be?

Those who want to follow Christ must remember that priorities are not just spiritual words but our physical responses as well. Let me close with the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who warns us about hoarding our possessions, our time, and our earthly resources.

Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. If he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on accumulated wealth, and makes it a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship,  New York, Touchstone, p175)

Beware of idolatry which often masquerades in the things we give our priorities to. When we give God only our leftovers, we are guilty of giving our allegiances to other things, not God.

sabbathwalk

Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Of Reformation Day, All Souls' Day or Halloween?

TITLE: REFORMATION DAY, ALL SOULS DAY OR HALLOWEEN?
SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 13:24
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 31st, 2014

"Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings." (Heb 13:24, ESV)

MAIN POINT: The best way we can remember October 31st, 2014 is not to buy into the fun of Halloween, which really means nothing much, besides the candies in our mouths and cavities in our teeth. As Christians, we can honour Christ by remembering, and learning from the great Reformation in the 16th Century and to be constantly reforming ourselves. Who knows, we may very well be planting the seeds of reformation for the generations to come.

It's that time of the year again, of Trick-n-Treating. For the past two years, I have been buying boxes of chocolates and candies, of different colours, shapes, and sizes. From as early as 4 in the afternoon till as late as 10pm, October 31st is also the day where family members keep running back and forth to answer the doorbell. Usually there are young school kids at the door in groups. Those who come with parents are the cutest, in their bumblebee costumes, disney characters, or simply some colourful makeup on the faces. Not scary but highly amusing. Once there was this little toddler that was so cute that I struggled to control my squeal of delight inside. God certainly makes children adorable. (There goes another box of candies.)

The older ones tend to be a little more adventurous, donning more sinister costumes. Anyway, in good fun, I distribute the goodies liberally, to be rewarded with a musical "Thank You" as payment. Halloween celebrations are big events in the annual calendar. Students dress up for the occasion in the morning, and had special celebrations in school. At dusk, they venture out to the neighbourhoods to fill up their goody bags.

All in the name of fun! Period.

However, Church history offers a different view of October 31st. There are at least two other significant events: 1) Eve of All Saints Day; 2) Reformation Day.

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