Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year End Reflections 2015

TITLE: YEAR END REFLECTIONS 2015
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: Dec 31st, 2015

It's been another year. One regular thing I do is to reflect and to give thanks. Many people would note the big news highlights of the year. Whether it is political change or economic downturn, in an age of social media, people are becoming independent news broadcasters. I prefer not to focus on what the public have already written plenty about. I want to keep it simple and personal.

Like any other year, it began with a warm, nice, and fuzzy goodbye to the old and a fun and loud Happy New Year to ring in the new year. I was in Seattle last year with my family watching the fireworks over the harbour overlooking the Space Needle. It was nice to have all the family gathered together in one car. Of course, the few exciting minutes of fireworks were followed up by nearly an hour's wait for the traffic to clear after the fireworks event. It made me wonder if it was all worth it.

It was a year where I see a couple of high notes. Like many people, family has always been a priority for me. I am reminded of the biblical injunction in 1 Timothy 3:5 for any servant of God to learn to manage and care for his own family before even attempting to manage the Church. The apostle was clear:
"If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" (1 Tim 3:5)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Peace

TITLE: CHRISTMAS PEACE
SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:13-14
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: Dec 23rd, 2015

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)

Christmas is around the corner. By now, the shopping rush is at its peak. Malls are packed. Car parks are full. People are ramping up purchases regardless of how slow the economy is. Christmas carols and festive songs are played over the airwaves about Santa Claus, reindeers, gifts, and of course the famous words, “Peace on earth and goodwill to all men.” Modern consumers generally let these songs remind them of shopping time and the coming end of the year festivities. Few would bother to pause and ponder at the words of the classic carols. In fact, some of these traditional carols were written not with modern hypermarkets or big box department stores in mind. They were written with a grim message of seeking hope amid the gloom.

A) Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All People?

One of these songs is the haunting 19th Century carol called, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who lost two wives and had a son injured during the war, when he hears songs about peace and goodwill, those were words he could not identify. His third stanza is an honest confession of his inner conflict.

And in despair I bowed my head: "There is no peace on earth," I said, "For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men."


On one cold dark winter, he wrote these words: “Believe me, every man has his secret sorrows, which the world knows not; and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad,”

Longfellow is not alone. Some people dread Christmas for various reasons. It might be missing the presence of a loved one who recently passed away. It could be the absence of a family member who could not come home for the season. It could also be due to illness or some unforeseen circumstances that render family get-togethers impossible. Someone I knew from Church recently died in a tragic car accident. He was hit by a speeding car on an early Saturday morning. His family was left reeling in utter shock and disbelief that he could not be present with the family on Christmas. In times like these, we would rather the festive season be over as soon as possible. For every occasion of family togetherness reminds us of the tragic loss of a loved one. How can one celebrate Christmas when one’s love is no longer around? It is hard. Painfully hard.

As I think about the first century Bethlehem, the coming of Christ was during a period of hard times too. Joseph, engaged to be married to his fiancĂ©e, had to grapple with the shame of being married to a pregnant woman. He could legally divorce Mary, but was told not to. Then there was the evil King Herod who was so paranoid about the words of the Magi about the coming “king of the Jew” that he ordered the killing of all boys two years and under in Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary too had to escape to Egypt to avoid Herod’s brutal genocide of baby boys. There was no Santa Claus to give presents then, only Roman soldiers ordered to kill. There were no nice hospital beds with advanced medical care for Mary, only a humble manger for Mary to rest and give birth.Just like Longfellow's carol, peace and goodwill are much hoped for but scarcely realized during the year of Jesus' birth.

Superimposed Modern Rendition of 1st Century Nativity Scene

Monday, December 14, 2015

Spiritually Rich - On Things That Matter

TITLE: SPIRITUALLY RICH - ON THINGS THAT MATTER
SCRIPTURE: Luke 16:25
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 14th, 2015
25“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. (Luke 16:25)
Codex Aureus of Echternach
In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus contrasts two scenes, and two worlds of richness and poverty. In the first scene (this life on earth), the unnamed rich man is presented as one who enjoys the luxuries of life, who is well-dressed with fine linen and has fine-dining daily. He lives the good life and appears to reside in a castle-like residence. He lives "in luxury every day." If he is in our modern world, I could think of him having the best of everything for self. He could be eating a lobster a day or had lots of choices about which tuxedo to wear when he goes out. He could have an indoor swimming pool or an elaborate exercise equipment. He could also be rubbing shoulders with the ruling powers of the day, meeting in high places and lazing around at posh resorts. Who knows, he could be playing golf with the Presidents or CEOs of major corporations of the world. Just a swipe of his credit card on a big purchase could render him frequent flyer miles that benefit his entire household. Life is good. So good that matters of poverty and injustice in the world do not register even a single thought of care or concern. People who are rich and powerful tend to have blind spots about the rest of society. 

Almost immediately, Jesus switches channels to zoom in on Lazarus, who not only sat at the gates of the rich man, he had sores so painful that he needed the dogs to moisten the wounds with their tongues. Hungry, he was willing to settle for any crumb that fell on the table. I am not even referring to leftovers. Crumbs are like bits of food that would be discarded anyway. Like rats or stray cats that snatch away any food that falls on the ground, he longed for those crumbs. If the rich man is the epitome of luxurious living and wanton splurging of wealth, Lazarus is the symbol of poverty and a life nobody wants.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Beware of Prim-N-Proper Spirituality

TITLE: BEWARE OF PRIM-N-PROPER SPIRITUALITY
SCRIPTURE:Luke 16: 1-15
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date:December 3rd, 2015

8“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

One of the most intriguing parables of Jesus has to be the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. In that story, Jesus told his disciples about a rich man who had decided to terminate the services of someone he hired. The NIV describes this "someone" as the “Shrewd Manager.” This shrewd manager had heard about his impending dismissal. Worried about his future, he went ahead to do something rather unthinkable. Calling in each of his master’s debtors, he went ahead to give his own version of Black Friday sales. For the first debtor who owed 450 gallons of olive oil, the manager dished out a 50% discount. For the second debtor who owed 1000 bushels (about 30 tons) of wheat, he immediately offered a 20% discount. Other than these two debtors, there were no mention of other such deals but it is safe to assume that these two examples reflect what he had done to the rest. The Shrewd Manager was offering a Great Middle-Eastern Sale of the Century!

For those of us familiar with earthly sensitivities and the need for right ethical behavior, this story should rub us on the wrong side in at least three ways.

A) Damaging Profitability

First off, how can we ever justify giving huge discounts without consulting our superiors? In the service sectors, anything out of the ordinary require the approval or signature of the next line of authority. Over at the Starbucks counter, if there is a dispute, or when the customer asks for something out of the ordinary, a common strategy is for the barista to consult his or her manager in charge. Whether it is giving out discounts or providing additional features at a lower cost, the employee usually does not have the authority to go beyond his/her duty. When we go to the bank, a withdrawal exceeding a certain amount would require additional levels of clearance from the branch’s supervisors. From airports to supermarkets; car sales offices to corporate deals, getting approvals to give deep discounts are needed. Last week was US Thanksgiving, followed by the traditional mad rush to go shopping after the Turkey dinner. Across the United States, people would hop onto their vehicles to rush to the malls or department stores for the post-Thanksgiving event: Black Friday. The word “Black” is used to describe the dark midnight hour where businesses like Walmart, Target, Sears, Nordstrom, etc would open their doors at the stroke of midnight to give shoppers a magical night of discounts galore. It has become an annual affair where people would fight over goods at Walmart and other popular discount stores.

(Photo credit: dailymail.co.uk)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Why I Still Prefer Printed Bibles

TITLE: WHY I STILL PREFER PRINTED BIBLES
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 40:6-8
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 26 November 2015

6A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
8The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:6-8, ESV)

(Picture Credit: aachristian.wordpress.com)
There was a time when people bring their printed Bibles to Church, to Bible studies, to conferences, seminars, and Church events. On Sundays, whether they are on public buses, community vans, or personal vehicles, they could be seen carrying a printed book on one hand. Whether they are carrying bulky study Bibles in their colourful hardcovers; large ones in beautiful leather jackets; or pocket-sized ones that can easily fit into a ladies bag; people going to Church were easily recognizable. In Bible study classes, some eager believers would even bring more than one Bible translation. Some carry with them interlinear types while others would have bilingual Bibles to aid their reading. With a Bible, a notepad, and a pen, the individual would be all set to write notes.

Not anymore.

Times have changed. Instead of printed Bibles, most people carry pocket-sized cell phones. Whether it is an aging palm-sized iPhone 4S or the larger screen Samsung Galaxies; Kindle Fires or the Android 10” tablets; there is a new revolution in the way people read Bibles. With a swish left, they can move forward page, a chapter, or a book. With a swipe right, they can page backward. Using fingers to magnify or to shrink the words, it is a technological wonder on how we have the whole Word in our hands, ready to be manipulated according to our eyes. Sometimes, it seems like the attraction is not the Bible but distractions of other things.

A) Distractions
Distractions like the brightness and look of the screens. Where is the elusive setting to control brightness? How can the fonts be made a little bigger? What version do I want to open? Which Bible app should I use? There are the free ones like YouBible; the Zondervan BibleGateway app; the Logos Bible app;  the Olive Tree Bible; the eBible; the GloBible; etc. Some of these require an active Internet connection in order to browse to our favourite versions. Unless of course, we pay a small fee to download some pretty good electronic Bibles such as the Tecarta (Android/iOS) and the NeuBible (iOS).

There is the distraction of seeing another person’s digital device looking more cool than ours. “Hey! Is that the latest iPhone 6S you’re using?

There is the distraction of pop-ups, emails, and Whatsapp messages that appear on our cell phones.  Hey! I really need to respond to my boss. Just gimme a second.

Meanwhile, the Bible reading progresses from person to person until someone says: “Where are we now?” This person had been lost trying to navigate the Bible on his own tablet. There were times in which I simply pass my own Bible to the person struggling to read from his own phone.

There is a change in the way we do Bible studies now. So what I do is to print out the entire passage for the group. Every single person gets the same Bible passage, the same Bible translation, and being on the same page. Literally and metaphorically. Literally, we all have a better following as the person reads the Bible and the rest of us follow accurately the verses read, the pages flipped, and the thoughts synchronized. Metaphorically, we are all following the journey through the same passage and studying the contexts together.

Having all on the same page is important for a Bible study environment. If not, we can easily go off tangent on other matters. A careless flip or an innocent tab on our tablets can launch us to a whole new app or page, leaving us behind from the rest of the group. Or when our phones go black to conserve energy, forcing us to look for the power button to get back on track. Worse, when we spend more time trying to navigate our eBibles, we subconsciously lose the train of thought by the person sharing about the Bible verses.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

To Welcome or Not to Welcome?

TITLE: TO WELCOME OR NOT TO WELCOME?
SCRIPTURE: 1 John 4:18
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 18 November 2015

18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18)

The Paris attacks last week easily consume the front pages of most major dailies around the world. With sensational reporting and graphic pictures, followed by commentaries and opinion pieces, everyone have heard at least something about it: Terrorism in France.

Hundreds of people died, mostly French. By targeting at key popular spots such as soccer stadiums, restaurants, cafes, concert halls, etc, the objective of the co-ordinated attacks is to instill fear and a sense of insecurity among the people. It has partial success. As Parisians grapple with a world that would never be the same again, they realize that safety and security cannot be taken for granted. Flowing tears of grief are mixed with growing fears of new threats that could come anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. These fears resulted in more counter-terrorist actions. The next day, France launched one of the largest assaults at terrorist targets in war-torn Syria. Today, anti-terrorist forces continued their hunt for the masterminds of last Friday's attacks. As world leaders and community groups come together to pray for France, social media is filled with notes of love with #PrayForParis.

At the France-England friendly soccer match yesterday, although England won 2-0, the result did not matter. The highlight was not the soccer game but the events before the game. United as one people, both French and English national anthems were sung by all in the stadium, including a sizeable number of French in the crowds. It is a show of unity and defiance against terror, saying that good will always triumph over evil. Everywhere we go, we see the French flag colours of red, white, and blue across monuments, buildings, and public events. The social media titan, Facebook has even made it easier for users to create French coloured backgrounds for them to express their sharing of grief and their solidarity with the French people.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remembrance Day 2015

TITLE: REMEMBRANCE DAY 2015
SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 4:9
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 11th, 2015.

"Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." (Deut 4:9)

It is Remembrance Day today. At 11:11am local time, on November 11th each year, many people observe a minute of silence to remember several things. They remember the terrible consequences of war where many young men died in the battlefield. Whether the nations are victorious or not, right or wrong, young or old, young lives are lost. Husbands, fathers, professionals, students, workers, and young males from all walks of life fought in the terrible wars. In World War I, nearly ten million soldiers from all sides died, together with more than 7 million civilians. All the major countries of the world were involved from East to West. In World War II, the numbers jumped up to more than 85 million casualties of war. Even today, many wars are still been fought in places like the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Americas.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"What's the Point?" or "Where is Christ?" (On Expository Preaching)

TITLE: WHAT'S THE POINT or WHERE IS CHRIST?
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 19:14
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 28th, 2015
May these words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

Week after week, pastors prepare sermons. They spend time working through the biblical text. Those with knowledge of Greek and Hebrew go deep into the original wording and contexts. Others use the resources like the Bible study helps; commentaries; Bible concordances; and dictionaries; available to help them understand the ancient contexts. Good preachers will take more time to read the text meditatively, letting the Word speak to their hearts prior to doing anything else. If the Word has not touched the preacher, whatever that comes out of the preacher is usually more about the preacher rather than the Word.

Doing it week after week is tough. At times, preachers are tempted to just depend on the insights of others, put a few interesting stories or illustrations together, and then preach a sermon based on knowledge and other people’s advice. Like processed food, such sermons are like high-sugar calories that rather than solid food that strengthens the soul. The former puffs one up for a while before one begins to ask: “What’s the sermon point(s)?” It makes one wonder about the things said. When a sermon starts to look like spiritual advice, it is the beginning of the end for expository preaching.

I hear the question quite regularly when members ask: “What’s the point today?” Whether it was a regular preacher or a guest speaker, sometimes this question would pop up among believers having an after-sermon discussion, a lunch get-together, or an online interaction. Most times, people would just go about with their other activities, having heard the sermon, and feeling somewhat contented about checking off one item on the Sunday to-do list. In the meantime, the pastor had to reflect on his delivery and his content. Sometimes he would get brickbats from those who are offended by certain parts of the sermon. Other times, he would receive lots of verbal pleasantries like “Great sermon!” or “Thanks for the important message.”

The tragedy is not when a sermon is "boring."
The tragedy is when Christ is not preached.
Indeed, the mark of a great sermon is not about leaving in the minds of people, “What’s the point today” but to have people exclaiming: “I have encountered Jesus today!” This is what good expository preaching can do. It brings out the Word of God in a manner that glorifies Christ. The sad thing in today's churches is that we try to make things interesting for the audiences. We try our hand at entertainment. We pick illustrations that thrill. We add so much calories and unhealthy literary cholesterol that are worldly that we miss out on the pure spiritual food we need: Jesus Christ Himself. Preachers, please don’t be afraid to be “boring” in the sense that you are always preaching the same point: Jesus Christ. Preaching that is not about Christ and centered on Jesus is no preaching at all. Preachers must preach Christ, and not dispense spiritual advice.The tragedy is not when a sermon is deemed "boring." The tragedy is when Christ is not preached.

What is expository preaching?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Expose Not Blind: On the CHC Verdict

TITLE: EXPOSE NOT BLIND: ON THE CHC VERDICT
SCRIPTURE: John 8:1-11
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 23rd, 2015.

But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
NOTE: This is a special edition of Sabbath Walk written in response to the wide interest surrounding the recent court judgment of the controversial use of funds for a music ministry outreach arm of a Church. It is a matter of both public and theological interest. In this article, I argue that as lights of this world, our calling is to expose the darkness and wrongs of this world, but not to make people blind with our glares of justice and self-righteous stares. The condition of the soul can only be touched by the Holy Spirit. 


Swirling around the minds of many in Singapore is the thought of judgment day. On October 21st, 2015, the judge of the widely followed trial of six leaders at City Harvest megachurch wrote:
I am satisfied that six accused persons are guilty of all the charges against them.”
Is this “satisfied” one of glee that spouts out “You deserved it!” or “I told you so?” No.

Is this “satisfied” something like a hungry diner completing his fifth round of food at a buffet table? No.

This “satisfied” is essentially made on legal grounds, after all the evidence presented by the prosecution before the Judge have been duly considered and deemed overwhelmingly satisfactory for conviction. There is nothing personal even though everyone in the court room would have a personal opinion. On the part of the judge, I believe that there is no intent to gorge oneself on Schadenfreude, unlike some observers who loved to watch the prey being ravished by predators. It is purely and simply a legal matter, albeit with lots of public interest.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

After the Election

TITLE: AFTER THE ELECTION
SCRIPTURE: Mark 12:28-31
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 20th, 2015

28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?

29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

It has been a long 78-day campaigning. For more than two months, different parties not only highlight their political manifesto, they paint negative images of their opponents. With rising discontent about the existing Federal government leadership in Ottawa, a lot of people have been making loud noises to replace the Conservative government, especially the former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Last week, when I was driving along Cambie Street and Broadway, at each corner of the busy intersection were individuals wearing placards that said: "Harper Out!" Evidently, Harper must have stepped on the tails of many people. Perhaps, it was his style of government or policies implemented. Maybe, it was the way he carried himself. Whatever it is, he is no longer Prime Minister. Effectively yesterday, he has resigned from his Conservative Party leadership. The people of Canada have spoken. A new government has been elected and the new Prime Minister-Elect will be Justin Trudeau, the one that Harper has constantly called out: "He's not ready."

“Canada is a country strong not in spite of our 
differences but because of them.” (Justin Trudeau)
The voices of Canadians have been loud and clear. They want a new party and a new Prime Minister, anything but conservatives; anything but Harper; anything but the status quo.  As of yesterday, the Liberal Party has become the majority government of Canada. Stephen Harper is out and Justin Trudeau is in. The majority of Canadians have voted for change. Many people celebrated through the night. Justin Trudeau gave a rousing and conciliatory victory speech. Today, he even surprised many commuters at a downtown Montreal subway station. You can watch the video here. Amid the celebrations, I hear sadness as well. The NDP leader, Tom Mulcair looked dejected as he conceded defeat in Montreal. Stephen Harper too pledged to work with the incoming party in his gracious speech over at Calgary. The question for this week is this: What about those who didn't vote for the Liberals?

Politics will always be a heated and controversial subject. After the elections, there will always be more than one emotions. Winners will feel exhilarated. Losers may be exasperated. Everyone would be exhausted to some degree. As I talk to people, in general, people are happy, most not because Liberal is the perfect choice, but because the Conservatives have been perceived so negatively. Just like the campaigners on Cambie Street that day, people are more happy about deposing and getting rid of Stephen Harper more than anything else. That in a way is sad. Why so much animosity for a person who had spent ten years leading the country? Why talk about him as if he is the enemy of Canada? Why demonize him as if he is utterly evil? Even Justin Trudeau recognized that sentiment when he said the following during his election speech:

"Conservatives are not our enemies. They are our neighbours."


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Gospel-Led Living

TITLE: GOSPEL-LED LIVING
SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 5:15-17
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 13th, 2015


"15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is." (Ephesians 5:15-17)


KEY THOUGHT: Gospel-Led living is not just for a small part of our lives. It is for ALL of our lives.

Busy. Not enough time. Too much to do. Familiar?

It is all too familiar. Whether one is working at a Full-time job or otherwise, being busy makes a typical adult person maintains feelings of fulfillment.  As long as I make the money for the family, I fulfill my financial obligation. As long as I spend time with my children, I fulfill my parental obligation. As long as I keep my hours in my office, I fulfill my employment obligations. As long as I serve in some capacity in Church, I fulfill my spiritual obligations.

What if something's gotta give? What if we spend more time in one at the expense of another? What if we totally miss out on an important obligation? Will our lives become less fulfilling?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: "Every Christian must be fully Christian by bringing God into his whole life, not merely into some spiritual realm." This speaks into some people who separate the sacred from the secular, believing that they are only serving God when they are in churches or doing Bible related stuff.

This week, I like to share about productivity and how we can let the gospel drive our living. It is not about using the gospel to be better at our jobs. It is letting the gospel motivate us in our work. Christians do not just do good in the world. They do good in such a way that people notice God working in their lives. They serve faithfully not because they are obligated to. They serve because they loved to. We don't simply try to do our best to love our families. We love our families and are grateful every time we get to love our families. We serve in churches not because there is a desperate need for volunteers. We serve because it is an opportunity to exercise the gifts God has given us.

A) "Be very careful, then, how you live"

A gospel-led life begins with an awareness of our surroundings, where we are, the environment we are living in, and who we are with. If it is with lots of non-Christians around, be careful about the language we use. It is not appropriate to use "Christianese" which they don't understand. Avoid using words that only Church-people understand. Talk in everyday language but refrain from profanities we often hear in the office. If possible, show your displeasure when colleagues spout out vulgarities. At the same time, maintain a careful leash on the tongue, not to slander, not to spread rumours, and not to gossip about rumours. Even when one has the facts, do not be too quick to let loose. Be careful about how the words impact others. Speak the truth in love. A gospel-led life is not about reviving our prosperities but resetting our priorities.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Tempted to Deny Christ

TITLE: TEMPTED TO DENY CHRIST
SCRIPTURE: John 13:37-38
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 2nd, 2015
37Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
38Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!"

KEY POINT: How real is our faith? Will it survive the hard knocks of life? Or will it crumble under the first signs of trials?

In John 18, we see a dramatic and negative transformation of Peter, the famous disciple of Jesus. From someone who had the nerve to rebuke Jesus for speaking about his own dying (Matthew 16:22), to his bold physical defense against those trying to arrest Jesus (John 18:10), Peter is that kind of a shoot-first-worry-later kind of a guy. How is it possible for a guy who talks big on the outside but when the hard times come, deny Jesus. As modern readers, Peter's denial seems like a nice story to know about. What if the very trials and tribulations happen to us today?

Romans 1:16 (NIV)
Yesterday morning, another deadly shooting shooting occurred in America. This time, it happened at Umpqua Community College in Ten people were shot dead and another 7 injured. The gunman was eventually shot dead after a gunfight with police. From eyewitnesses, there are shocking news about how the shooter singled out Christians to be killed. According the reports, the gunman had a "disdain for religion" and in particular, Christianity. He reportedly asked:

"Are you a Christian? . .. Good. If you are a Christian, you are going to see God in just one second."

What followed was a horrendous act of violence where Christians were quickly shot on the head.  Those who said otherwise or stayed silent were shot on the legs. One teacher died immediately when shot on the head. Many were probably too stunned to know how to react. I wonder what I would have done if I was there. Probably, I'll be dead by now. Maybe, I won't as I might have rationalized the gunman as some deranged individual who was mentally unstable, and would not have taken his question seriously. Truth is, I really don't know. The whole situation can be extremely complex that there is no time to think of some rationalized answers. Incidentally, another recent shooting happened too in a Church in Charleston where black Christians were killed in cold blood. Some said it was racially driven. Others claimed it as another religiously motivated murder. Perhaps, there are elements of both race and religion.

What do we do when we are challenged to deny Christ?

I remember hearing a story of a few gunmen who entered a house Church in a persecuted country, asking believers in the Church to stand up. As the pastor stood up, along with a few other individuals in the congregation, the rest were then asked to leave. As the ones who stood got themselves ready for the worst to happen, the gunmen removed their masks and said to them: "Now we know who are the true believers of Christ, let us continue with worship." I am not sure how true the story is but it is a dramatized form of testing whether one's faith is genuine or not. When the trials and tests arrive, how many of us would pass the faith of test? Will we really lay down our lives for Christ?

I guess my readers would be split down the middle about this. There is no easy answer to such a situation. Stand up for Christ and be killed. Or we sit down by denying Christ and live for another day.

Peter failed the test. When the whole regimen of religious officials and Roman guards arrived to arrest Jesus, Peter and the rest of the disciples fled from the scene. John's gospel describes in vivid details how Peter denied any association with Jesus three times. At the third time, the rooster crowed and Peter wept like a baby.

Never say never.

In a book entitled "Killing Christians," author Tom Doyle has some rather dramatic statements to make about true Christians. He shares eight stories about how courageous believers live out their faith in lands of persecution.
"Sometimes survivors are unrecognizable even by their own families because, in the midst of their brutal affliction, they experienced Christ in an hour of need as few of us ever do. Persecuted believers have become the new face of genuine Christianity. They are filled with passion to live or die for Christ, and we in the West have much to learn from them." (Tom Doyle, Killing Christians, Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2015, xii)
When persecutions come, when the temptations to deny Christ arrive, how would we fare? In a comfortable West where convenience trump conviction; where shallow belief is preferred over deep matters of faith; where empty words speak louder than solid allegiance to Christ, it is hard to determine who are the genuine believers among us. Maybe, there is no better way than to have fires and hardships to sieve us out. Tests of faith are not there to make life difficult for us. They separate the sheep from the goats. They determine the faithful from the faithless. They pointedly asked: "Are you for God or against God?"  There is no middle ground as far as faith is concerned. It is either we believe or not believe. Choosing to withhold our beliefs is already a statement against belief. Until we decisively make the choice to believe.

We are all easily tempted. As long as we live in this world, there is no way we can run away from tests and trials. What we can do however, is to prepare for it. Like the parable of the Ten Virgins, we can keep our levels of faith at maximum level at all times by learning to keep to the basic spiritual disciplines of faith. Like the call to maintain Christian Fellowship in Hebrews 10:24-25, we can maintain godly community by faithfulness in our commitments to one another. We can make it a point to be regular at our group meetings REGARDLESS of how busy we are or how tired we may be at the end of the day. For if we succumb to the busyness of life and the exhaustion of the day during good times, we would collapse quickly like a house of cards when trials and tribulations come.  United we stand. Divided we fall. When the trials and tribulations arrive, will your faith stand?

That is the question that we can only answer for ourselves.

THOUGHT: "No healthy Christian ever chooses suffering; he chooses God's will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not." (Oswald Chambers)

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Humility in Service

TITLE: HUMILITY IN SERVICE
SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 4:2-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: Sep 27th, 2015

"2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:2-3)
Is it possible to be completely humble? Given our imperfect selves and our natural tendency to be prideful, how then can we ever follow through on Paul's call for us to be humble?

My quick answer: We can't. Not on our own strength that is.

(Credit: ThorstenConsulting)
Humility has been promoted highly at all kinds of leadership conferences. Gurus trumpet it. Writers publish volumes about it. Pastors and preachers regularly mention it over the pulpit. The trouble with humility is that it is elusive and quite difficult to achieve directly. It is an attribute that can only be seen indirectly through various means. The humble will deny he is humble in the first place. The one who claims he is humble is already on the track of pride and arrogance. This is one of life's irony. The more we want something directly, the less we get it. It is like romantic love where a man pursues a girl, only to find the girl running away from him. The moment the man stops pursuing, stops harassing the girl, and begins to do good works to others, the girl would stop running. She would turn around and with piqued interest, find ways to connect with this "nice man." If humility is that desired damsel, we cannot be too overpowering in our pursuit. We need to take a step back and check our own hearts.
  • Am I seeking humility for my own sake or for others?
  • Am I seeking to be humble in order to gain someone or something for self gratification?
  • Am I seeking the humble route because I want to honour Someone?

According to Professor John Dickson of Macquarie University, humility is defined as follows:
"Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others." (John Dickson, Humilitas, Zondervan, 2011, p24)
In other words, humility comprises three elements: it presupposes the dignity of others; it is a choice; and it is self-deprecation for the sake of others.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Vote Prayerfully

TITLE: VOTE PRAYERFULLY
SCRIPTURE: 1 Thess 5:15-18
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 10th, 2015
15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16Rejoice always, 17pray continually, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

As the country of Singapore prepares to vote at Elections 2015, it is time to commit the future of the country to God. One of the catchphrases of the elections is "Vote wisely." It has become so overused, so cliche, and so dull that it does not really mean much to the common man anymore. If a politician tells you that, it is a veiled instruction to vote him/her. If a staunch party activist says it to you, it means to vote for the party that he/she supports. If a passionate advocate for a particular candidate says that to you, it means to cast your vote for his candidate. If a preacher tells you that, especially when he has publicly made known which political affiliation he takes, there is a good chance that hearers of his sermons may vote the same way as him.

Sigh.

Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

Saturday, September 5, 2015

When a Loved One Gets Cancer

TITLE: WHEN A LOVED ONE GETS CANCER
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 13
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 5th, 2015

"I have Stage One cancer."

Five words speak volumes. Five words strike fear. These five words are like five pebbles dropped into still waters, creating ripples of all kinds of emotions throughout the pond. In five words, all of our busyness and concerns flow back into perspective. Suddenly, life no longer is about jobs, reputation, or climbing the career ladder. Cancer is one of the most dreaded words ever to be uttered in any family. After hearing about it, what do we do?

This week, I heard news of at least two cases of people getting cancer. They were from people I know. It knocked me off my regular schedule. My prayer list just got longer. Like many people, I felt troubled. I didn't know what to do. Downhearted, I took it to the Lord in prayer. Tempted to ask why,
PSALM 13 (italics mine)
1How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
          How long will you hide your face from me?
2How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
          and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
          How long will my enemy (of cancer) triumph over me?3Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
          Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,4and my enemy (that cancer) will say, “I have overcome him,”
          and my foes (fears, anxieties, and pain) will rejoice when I fall.5But I trust in your unfailing love;
          my heart rejoices in your salvation.6I will sing the Lord’s praise,
          for he has been good to me.
Like many other psalms, this is a psalm of lament. It is a plea to God in prayer to help the downcast and the discouraged. It allows the heart to express to God the deepest longings of the heart, to share with God the hurts and the pains that one is going through. According to Walter C. Kaiser, ex-Professor of Old Testament and past President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Psalm 13 is the lament of an individual who was hurting and suffering. There are at least 39 other psalms that can be classified as lament psalms. Instead of succumbing to continuous trumpeting of victorious songs and beating of the happy drums, lament psalms are used to capture the profound essence of what it means to be human. It makes one real and honest enough to confront the things that really matter. Kaiser adds:
"Suffering does not go away merely if we pretend it does not exist; it does exist and it does continue to hurt and cause suffering. Nor is there any sort of magic pill that can suddenly remove the heavy weight that suffering lowers on mortals’ spirits and shoulders. But the most comforting news is that where there is pain, grief, and hurt, there is God!....   The reason for suffering that is the focus of these laments can be attributed to three main causes: self, an enemy, or the Lord himself. In the lament, pain, grief, and suffering are given the dignity of language." (Walter C. Kaiser, "The Laments of Lamentations" in The Psalms, edited by Andrew J. Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr, Moody Press, 2013, p112-4)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thoughts About Bersih 4.0 and Merdeka

TITLE: THOUGHTS ABOUT BERSIH 4.0 AND MERDEKA
SCRIPTURE: PSALM 58
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 31st, 2015

Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.” (Ps 58:11)

Malaysia celebrates her 58th Anniversary today. It was on August 31st, 1957 that the British colony became the federation of Malaya, referred to as Peninsula Malaysia or West Malaysia. Until September 16th, 1963, the country was still called "The Federation of Malaya." Many people still confuse this with another event called "Hari Malaysia" which was when the states of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore, all came together to become Malaysia. Merdeka Day is about how Malaya became a sovereign state (1957). Malaysia Day is about how the Federation of Malaysia was born (1963). This year, two days before Merdeka Day is Bersih 4.0 which highlights a mysterious show of the best of Malaysians and the worst of Malaysian politics.

A Sea of Yellow from Bersih 4.0 @KL
(Photo Credit: Nicholas Cheng on Twitter)
Bersih 4.0 was conducted to showcase the best side of sanity and that democracy reigns supreme. From cars to buses, trains to planes, Malaysians from all over the country brave the threats of arrest and tear gas to gather at Kuala Lumpur in a sign of patriotism, unity, and solidarity. The largely peaceful crowd was aided by a well organized and restrained police force. Kudos to the Police and security forces in this regard. I even suspect that there are many within the police ranks who are increasingly sympathetic to the cause of Bersih. From August 29th to 30th, 2015, thousands of Malaysians descended upon Kuala Lumpur to gather for the Bersih 4.0 rallies. It was a peaceful demonstration against the ills of Malaysian politics, especially with the recent exposure of RM2.6 billion that was found credited into the personal bank account of the leader of the land: the Prime Minister. Explanations flowed from incredulous justifications like "donations from the Middle East" to "money being used to fight Jewish influence." Depending on where you read the news, or who you were hearing it from, there seemed to be a strategy of confusion used to deter attention from the glaring problem. The Americans call it wag-the-dog. I call it "the publicity haze." Many people voluntarily traveled to Kuala Lumpur, and other major cities both inside and outside of Malaysia to make their feelings known. From where I am, watching via the Internet, I saw unity. I saw solidarity. I saw a common call for integrity. The sea of yellow numbered in the tens of thousands. The place was like a carnival with people from all races and all religions coming together not with swinging accusations of racist rhetoric, but with singing of the national anthem: The Negaraku. Instead of heckling, non-Muslims remained respectful and quiet as their fellow Muslims say their prayers. Instead of discrimination, Muslims shook hands with non-Muslims. They embraced. They partied. They walked together. They declared with one voice that they are all Malaysians.


Monday, August 24, 2015

What Would You Ask For?

TITLE: WHAT WOULD YOU ASK FOR?
SCRIPTURE: 1 Kings 3:5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 21st, 2015

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

The story of Solomon begins well but ends badly. Most of us would remember how God was pleased with Solomon, instead of asking for wealth or anathema for his enemies, he asked for wisdom and discernment to rule the country. It seems like a sudden appearance from God. Suppose God were to appear before you in a dream and said to you: "What can I give you? Ask." What will you ask for?

I don't know about you, I think not many people really know what to ask for when given a spiritual blank check. Maybe, what we ask would depend on the situation we are in. If we are poor, we may ask to be rich. If we are sick we may ask for health and healing. If we are jobless, we may ask for a job. If we are single, we may ask for an ideal someone to marry.

There was a joke about a man who found a bottle with a genie inside. Upon rubbing the bottle, a disgruntled genie appeared. "Alright, since you've released me, I'll will have to do the genie obligation. However, times have also been tough for the genie world, I can only grant you one wish of my choosing."


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Thoughts on SG50

TITLE: THOUGHTS ON SG50
SCRIPTURE: Job 12:23
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 14th, 2015.

"He makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them." (Job 12:23)

Panorama of August 9th, 2015 Celebrations @ The Padang
(Photo Credit: NDPeep)
It was one of the most elaborate celebrations ever for the tiny island nation. It was also a rare long weekend to celebrate 50 years of independence. From the 7th to the 10th of August, many were dressed in red and white, the national flag colours. Singaporeans ought to celebrate this momentous event, which they did. It had been a long and hard journey. I woke up at 4am Vancouver time, in time to catch the last part of the awesome National Day Parade. My wife was sound asleep.

She is Singaporean. I am not. Yet, I found myself enjoying the parade, especially with the six chapters brilliantly told with professionalism, realism, and fond memories. There were so many things I could identify with. I remembered the songs, the campaigns, the landmark events that happened in the country since independence.

This week, I will share about what Singapore means to me. It's a journey through my years in Singapore.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Am I Growing?

TITLE: AM I GROWING?
SCRIPTURE: Colossians 1:10
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 7th, 2015
“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,” (Col 1:10)
Are we more interested in other people's spiritual growth? Or are we serious about our own? If we are, be prepared to deal with the ugly parts of ourselves. For spiritual growth has less to do with programs or activities. It has more to do with personal self-examination.

If you are like me, you would probably prefer to talk about other people than ourselves. Better to hide while others get exposed. We are comfortable about telling stories about someone else, or the plight of some unfortunate soul. By shining a spotlight on others, we avoid the limelight of being singled out as some kind of a mental guinea pig for others to talk about or comment on. Most people do not like unwarranted attention, especially the negative ones.

When I am preaching from the pulpit, it is a lot more comfortable to tell stories about other people from another place, another Church, another time, or another era. Sometimes, I would choose stories that would not embarrass any of my listeners. I would say things like:
This story is about a man who is NOT from this congregation.”
Upon hearing this, people usually heave a sigh of relief. At least the pastor is not talking about any one of them. Whether it is good news or bad news, people are generally more at ease at looking through the windows of other people's lives. It is also easy to talk about a fictional story or some movie plots and to explain our ideas from there. It is not so easy to talk about ourselves, our warts, weaknesses, and wobbly works. Sharing about ourselves can be very risky. People may take it the wrong way or misinterpret our intent. If we share too much about ourselves, people might accuse us of self-glorification. If we share too little, people say we are too impersonal. We can choose to share a lot about other people and then make a convenient excuse that time does not permit us to share more about ourselves!

The fears of self-revelation are real. It might not be safe. Someone else may use our stories against us. We may say things only to regret later. That is why sharing about others remains a popular choice, even in prayer meetings.

A) The Strange Curiosity About Others

(Credit: http://comments.bmartin.cc/tag/schadenfreude/)
Humans tend toward Schadenfreude, where we take special interest in bad things happening to other people. Like a curious zoo visitor excited to watch how lions and crocodiles eat up their prey alive, humans are especially piqued by tragic events happening to others. That is one reason why news reports on tragedies, disasters, and accidents tend to be more widely read. Air disasters are extremely popular and seem to be picked up by most if not all news agencies. The missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is a case in point. When the ill-fated Boeing 777 was first reported missing on March 8th, 2014, many countries throughout the world reported on it. Although the plane was traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with passengers hailing from 15 countries, interest in the missing plane garnered attention from more than these affected countries. This week, when part of the plane was washed ashore at a French territory called Reunion Island, the world took notice all over again. It is easy to talk and read news about others. It is not so easy to talk and read news about ourselves, especially bad news.

What about self-examination questions? What about asking ourselves about our own health, our own situation, and our own spiritual growth? This is the subject of this week’s Sabbath Walk.

Am I growing?

Friday, July 31, 2015

We Are Our Greatest Enemy

TITLE: WE ARE OUR GREATEST ENEMY
SCRIPTURE: Romans 1:21-24
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 31st, 2015

"21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another." (Romans 1:21-24)
I remember a time when I was rushing a paper for a theological course. I try to put down everything I know, not only to impress my professor, but also to prove to myself that I deserve an A. Like many eager beaver high achiever, there is a word limit to the paper. How am I supposed to squeeze my learning into a measly 1500 word essay? Just trying to explain the background, the historical contexts, and the nuances of theologians cited can easily fill 5000 words. On top of that, I need to state the reasons why certain theologians have been selected and why their works are relevant to the essay. When asked whether students can write more than 1500 words, the Professor said no. Anything beyond the word limit means he stops reading. The rationale he gives is rather surprising: "The word limit is there is not to stifle you or to make it difficult for you. It's there to save you from yourselves."

That caught me off guard. Me an enemy to myself? How could that be? Surely, we all do our best. Surely we do whatever it takes to be the best versions of ourselves. Surely, we try our very best to do all that we can. Alas! In doing so, we may have given ourselves too much credit. Left unchecked, we become engrossed in our own doings that we forget that we can become too smart for our own selves. We become self-absorbed and in the process become blind to the needs around us. We may even start barking up the tree of self-righteousness, thinking that on our own strength and intelligence that we know best.

That is so true during my school days. Left to my own whims and fancies, I feel free to quote anyone, anyhow, and anytime. I can become so engrossed in my own piece of essay that I forget to show consideration to the professors and teaching assistants who needed to mark and to read not just my paper but my fellow students too. I can become big headed and lose sight of the main question. In fact, one reason why people write too much and out of point is because they fail to answer the question exactly. Which was what happened to me which resulted in a bad grade. I write a lot for that paper, only to be told that I have not really answered the question. In fact, the single most valuable exam tip I have learned is this:

"Just answer the question!"

How we do become our own worst enemy? That is the subject for this week's discussion. There are three ways in which we stumble ourselves. First, we become conceited and blind to others, and fall into the trap of self-importance. Second, we focus on the peripherals instead of the fundamentals. Third, we become more human centered and less God-centered.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Are Our Blind Spots?

TITLE: WHAT ARE OUR BLIND SPOTS?
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 7:3-5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 23 July 2015

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:3-5)
Impact Magazine (Aug-Sep 2015, p40)
One of my book reviews appeared in the latest edition of Impact Magazine (vol 39, no. 4, Aug-Sep 2015). I managed to shorten it for publication purposes. It was a review of Collin Hansen's thought-provoking book entitled, "Blind Spots." For a longer version, you can read it here. I find the book very illuminating as it points out ways in which Christians often gravitate toward a one-dimensional emphasis in a three-dimensional world.

In general, churches tend to emphasize at least one of three perspectives. The first group is called "courage" which refers to people striving to stand up for truth, to speak out the truth aloud, and to protest, profess, and protect the dignity of the faith. They are the vocal ones who would refuse to lay down their convictions but would be ready to take to the streets to make sure their voices are heard. They assert the need to be reverent to the truth, the pure truth, and nothing but the truth. Of course, they might invoke God's Name in the process. By doing so, this group believe that the gospel is about speaking the Word of God into the world, that the world may hear and heed.
"And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15)

Everything is seen on the basis of black and white. Good works alone do not save people. It is the Word of God spoken out that is crucial. Faith comes by hearing and the gospel is the spoken Word of God. Who can argue against that?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Some Popularly Misunderstood Words

TITLE: SOME POPULARLY MISUNDERSTOOD WORDS
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 13 JULY 2015

This week, as I was thinking about what to reflect upon, I chance upon this video that highlights a number of “Christianese” or “Christian Talk.” In it, I hear a lot of familiar words used in Churches and Christian communities. The way that it was being played out, highlights some of the most used (and also misused) words Christians have used without really understanding what they mean.

A) Christian vs Disciple

On Christian: A “Christian” is often used loosely for “followers of Christ.” It could mean a person who had personally confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. It could also mean a person declaring his religion on government forms to fill. Sometimes, that would include the denomination or the increasingly popular “independent” or “non-denominational” label in order to differentiate one from the mainline Churches which are increasingly out of vogue. The first time the word “Christian” is used in the Bible is Acts 26:28;

“Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?"”

There is an emphasis on belief, or a confession of faith. The moment one confesses the faith, one would be granted the title, “Christian.”

On Disciple: A “Disciple” in Greek (mathetes) simply means “learner.” Etymologically, some have linked this to the word of “discipline,” which is rather inaccurate as far as the meaning of “mathetes” is concerned. The way I harmonize them is to see “discipline” as a given for a true disciple of Christ. Those who claim to follow Christ will adopt the necessary disciplines to follow Christ all the way.

For me, I would prefer to be called a “Disciple of Christ” rather than a Christian, simply because the former better elevates the desire to go beyond nominal faith. One can call oneself a “Christian” and there is no way to verify that truth, just like anybody can set up his own $1 company and calls himself a CEO. We live in a time where people are increasingly disenchanted with the word "Christian" and equates them to being attached to institutional religion. One example is Jonathan Bethke's "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" which went viral a few years ago. While there are things I do not agree in Bethke's video, he manages to highlight the polarizing sentiments between the use of the words "Christians" and "Disciples." Again, I do not want to push this difference too much. My purpose of distinguishing the two terms this way is because of Matthew 28:18-20 which calls us to "make disciples of all nations" rather than "make Christians of all nations."


Monday, July 6, 2015

The Four Quadrants of Love - 1 John 4:7-21

TITLE: THE FOUR QUADRANTS OF LOVE
SCRIPTURE: 1 John 4:7-21
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 6th, 2015

Love is a highly touted word in modern times. The Beatles sing “All You Need is Love.” Antiwar activists tout: “Make love, not war.” Religious groups use the idea of “love” to promote inter-religious tolerance and common activities. A lot of good have come out of the desire to celebrate love. A lot of controversies have also risen.

One of the most contested topics is the area of same-sex marriage. It has divided Churches. It has polarized policy makers throughout the West. It has split families and defied long-held traditions. Last week, I wrote about the way we can respond to the June 26th, 2015 SCOTUS decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage throughout the fifty United States. Hailed as a landmark decision, while many celebrated, equally many lamented on the state of society now. Marriage has been expanded beyond the conventional understanding of male-female union. Now, every sex can marry any sex. It makes a mockery out of the word “marriage” as understood in Ephesians 5:31. In a society that allows the freedom of religious beliefs, atheists, secularists, and non-Christians in general would assert that the Bible does not apply to them because they do not believe. Moreover, they would say that Christians have no right to impose their faiths on a secular society.

Four Quadrants of Divine Love
Christians respond by saying, it is not a question of belief. It is about truth vs falsehood. It is not the Christian imposing anything, but God who will judge, regardless of whether people believe in Him or not. For the battle is not the Christian’s. It is the Lord’s. Everybody have a right to their own opinion, but not every opinion is right. People can be utterly sincere but also seriously wrong. Love too is a many-splendored thing, but it is also greatly misunderstood. Like the proverbial one man’s meat is another man’s poison, a person’s understanding of love is another expression of hatred. The Apostle John, sometimes called the Apostle of Love wrote in 1 John 4, that God is Love. He compares worldly love with divine love. Most importantly, love is not a concept or a nice idea. Love is in Jesus Christ. In such times where love seem to be all kinds of things to all kinds of people, it is good to just pause and reflect on what John has to say about love.

This week, I offer some reflections on 1 John 4:7-21, using what I call the “Four Quadrants of Divine Love.”


Friday, June 26, 2015

Seven Responses to the Supreme Court Judgment Over Same-Sex Marriage

TITLE: SEVEN RESPONSES TO THE SUPREME COURT JUDGMENT OVER SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 22:37-40
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 26th, 2015
37Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(Matthew 22:37-40)

Group celebrating the Supreme Court Decision
(Photo Credit: abc7.com)
As widely expected, on June 26th 2015, the United States Supreme Court has declared that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States. That means states that had been resisting homosexual marriages would have to comply. In a landmark 5-4 decision, gay advocates all over the world are celebrating. President Obama in a nationwide address from the White House calls it “a more perfect union.” Many people throughout the country are celebrating, aided by popular media that are unabashed in splashing the rainbow all over their areas of influence. It appears like the whole country is approving of this “historic” decision. That is furthest from the truth. It has only made even more public the deep divide the country is facing.

What are people celebrating about? Why are some quarters unhappy? What should Christians supporting traditional marriage do? Over at Christianity Today, Mark Galli share “Six Things To Do after the Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage.” Writing to conservative circles, he urges us not to sulk but to rejoice in the Lord, for such joy is never dependent on things of this world. True joy is always based on what Jesus had done. He calls for all to repent from all manner of sins. During this time, we are in danger of looking at the speck of another person’s eye and forget about the log in our own eye. We are encouraged to rethink about our faith and how to live out our faith as a result of this court decision. It is going to be very tricky for people to navigate their practice of faith without becoming embroiled in legal matters. We are to re-engage once again using the freedoms that we have been blessed with. Do not be too quick to say that Christians are persecuted on the basis of this court decision. Real persecutions exist outside of North America that are worse. There is also the opportunity to reach out in order to build constructive relationships with all people from all walks of life. The gospel must still be preached to all the world, and sexual orientations are not to be seen as a barrier. Galli comes back full circle to tell us to rejoice once again with a future outlook. There is much to be done and to be hopeful about in the joy of the Lord. A friend of mine commented to me that God will eventually prevail. That is true but more importantly, we need to anchor our faith with conviction in Christ and lived out in wisdom. No court decision is going to change that. In this week’s reflection at Sabbath Walk, I want to share about seven things that we can do.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Forgiven but Never Forgotten

TITLE: FORGIVEN BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN
SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 22nd, 2015

"3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." (2 Cor 1:3-4)

It was a rough week for the city of Charleston, South Carolina, in particular, for the families of nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, who were shot dead by a 21-year old white man. One hour into a regular Wednesday evening's Bible study, Dylan Roof, shot dead nine black members of the study group in cold blood. It was a murder cum massacre of the racist order. It was totally uncalled for and totally evil to the core. The crime was beyond anybody's wildest imagination and the act roundly condemned by all persons of every race and religion. Even the most hardened of hearts would have their consciences seared with pain and disbelief. After all, we are not talking about a war zone or some kind of a gangland battleground. It was a Church where the key "weapons" of warfare are not guns but prayers, not clenched fists but open arms, not hatred but love. That is what made the whole shooting such a mind-boggling event. On top of that, Roof was graciously invited to do a Bible study with the pastor among them. No one would have thought that welcoming a guest like Roof would turn into a vicious and bloody murder scene. Although Roof managed to escape and subsequently caught a day later, the nine who died never stood a chance and were ushered very suddenly into the presence of the Lord. How do we explain that?

A) Always a Mental Condition?

In cases this this, there are always some who would try to justify it from a psychiatrist's angle, pleading for leniency on the basis of a mental condition. Such is the approach done by Newsweek, that headlined the whole shooting event as follows: "Charleston Massacre: Mental Illness Common Thread for Mass Shootings." Like a skilled researcher, the report goes on to highlight seven previous cases of mental illnesses behind each mass shooting. The problem is, what if they are wrong? What gives them the sudden insight into the mind of this killer? Even mental health professionals are not entirely sure that every case is a mental puzzle in the first place. For us laypersons, who on earth does NOT have mental problems when under stress? How many people would not break under duress? Here's the problem. Who gives people the sudden inside scoop on all shootings to primarily psychology? In an age where people are innocent until proven guilty, what about their victims whom they have hurt before the final judgment? Don't they too have mental problems and scars? For all the attention dished out on the killer's welfare, what about the families of the victims?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Reflections on Grieving

TITLE: REFLECTIONS ON GRIEVING
SCRIPTURE: John 11:35
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 12th, 2015
"Jesus wept." (John 11:35)
The Brave Expedition Team from TKPS
Photo Credit: malaysiastylo.com
The past two weeks have been a sober one. The unexpected earthquake (June 6th, 2015) that rocked Sabah had hit home in many ways, in particular, the lives of people from 18 families from Malaysia, Singapore, China, Philippines, and Japan. It is heartbreaking to see young people as young as 12 who succumbed to injuries, falling rocks, and tragedies on Mount Kinabalu. The full list of victims can be found here. In Singapore, the Prime Minister declared that June 8th would be a day of remembrance with state flags on all government building to be flown at half mast. The majority of the victims were from Singapore’s Tanjong Katong Primary School. The nine of them were student leaders and teachers on an “Omega Challenge” leadership training expedition organized by the school. The sense of loss cannot be described in words, only expressed in tears.

How do we grieve? It is important that we remember different ages grieve differently. In “A Necessary Grief,” Pastor and grief counselor, Dr Larry Michael distinguishes grieving from mourning. He says that grieving is essentially a “response to loss” that is experienced inward through thoughts and feelings. Mourning is an outward expression of grief. One can mourn with loud cries and visible sobs. When it comes to grieving, a lot of emotions can be locked up in an unknown territory inside. Due to the complex nature of grief, Michael points out several kinds of grief:
  • “Nonfinite Grief” which is the loss of hope and future expectations. (Example, news of a loved one being diagnosed with chronic illness)
  • “Anticipatory Grief” which is a state of getting ready for the impending transitions. (Example: A divorce or the last stages of a terminal situation)
  • “Traumatic Grief” which is about unexpected deaths.  (Example: Sudden deaths, accidents, or tragedies like the Sabah quake)
  • “Complicated Grief” which is how a sense of loss leads to dysfunctional behavior and depression. (Example: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, after a major setback)
  • “Normal Grief” which is the typical reactions and everyday responses to a natural death of a loved one. (Example: Natural death due to old age.)


Monday, June 1, 2015

Spiritual Vibrancy (People's Responses)

TITLE: SPIRITUAL VIBRANCY (People's Responses)
SCRIPTURE: John 15:5-8
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 1st, 2015

"5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:5-8)

You have just heard a great sermon. You can sense that many people were touched. There is that feeling that going to Church is so good, so heartwarming, and so meaningful. Yet, after the refreshments and the fellowship hugs and kisses, come Monday, and things appear to be back to the usual grind. Familiar?

When we talk about the Christian life, it is not only about what happens during the Sunday service, but also what happens after the Sunday sermon. In my experience as a preacher, there are at least 4 types of respondents. The first type is the diplomatic type. These are the ones who tell you "Great sermon!" no matter how bad you thought your sermon was. They would smile at you and say nice things simply because you are God's servant and they had to give you the benefit of the doubt. This happens most of the time. It's a wonderful way to just be nice and not commit oneself to be defensive in any way. Unless the preacher was to ask: "Which part exactly did you find it great?"

The second are the skeptical who would either give you a quick piece of their mind about your message or send you some negative feedback sometime over the next few days. Friends of mine would appreciate not having any feedback at all within the first few hours after delivering a sermon. Giving one is already mentally and emotionally exhausting. It is not easy for the preacher to receive criticisms in a "weakened" state. While people may claim to speak the truth in love, the suggestion is to pray and wait until at least a 24-48 hours gap before giving a comment. Alternatively, congregation members can put down in writing via an email but keep it in DRAFT mode. Usually, over time, any negative feedback would be more nuanced and tampered with more grace. Shooting off the hip is never a good thing, especially when giving complaints.

The third are the nonchalant where no amount of pulpit feeding can ever get them to get outside their comfort zones. They are anchored on their concrete ground of self-affirmation and absolutely determined not to let anything interfere with their way of life. Maybe, their focus is simply on the refreshments and the fellowship time at the end of the service. Some may have dozed off for the most part of the sermon, so they do not have much to feedback about, little act on them.

The fourth are the ones who would keep the message in their hearts. They remember the key points and appreciate the way God has been speaking through the weeks. It can be a story shared or a quote said. It can be a passage that jumps out of the page like never before. When the seed of the Word is sown, the Spirit will aid in the germination and the people will respond accordingly.

Being fruitful is a mark of the Christian. More precisely, it is abiding in Jesus that we see Jesus bear fruit, and if necessary, through us. Very often, we hear teachings from the pulpit that we need to do this or to do that. We must practice kindness, show grace, or help the poor. We must give of our best to our work and be faithful in our service in society. What about putting the focus not on what we can do but on Jesus who is the enabler of all good works? What about living in such a way that our good work is a direct reflection of the goodness and love of God? What about acknowledging that without Christ, we can do nothing?

In a recent documentary entitled, "Godless," I was appalled at how some wayward Church denominations have lost their spiritual bearing and focus on God and chose human wisdom instead. One such church is West Hill United Church in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada that had changed "the glory of God" to the "glory of good." Led by an atheist minister called Gretta Vosper, the church no longer have any mention of God in their beliefs. They worship the good, the moral choices of human beings, and the nice fellowship of people who are there on the basis of moral good. They think that the living is more important than the believing, putting the focus on good works more than good traditional doctrine. This essentially means that they have come to a point where God, a Divine Supernatural Being, is no longer necessary for faith, and irrelevant to daily living.

How can any church call themselves "Church" when they do not worship God? By removing God altogether, they are surely on their own. John 15 is an urgent call for us to remember that no matter how skilled or how brilliant we are, we are never in control of the world. Try we may, venture forth we can, but to think we are the masters of our own fate will be a serious error. Whatever we do, we do in gratitude to the grace of God. The words to Job powerfully remind us about how limited we are.

4“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— 7while the morning stars sang together and all the angelsa shouted for joy? 8“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?
I shudder to think about people who happen to boast their own abilities over God's providence. There are way too many unsolved puzzles in this world, let alone trying to take on Almighty God. Our responses to God's Word must never be in our own ability to produce fruit. It needs to be in being faithful to God, in remaining in God's grace, displayed in holiness and God's goodness. As we see this world more and more from God's perspective, practice living like Jesus, and to be responsive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we are on the way to fruitfulness.

Whatever good deeds we do in the Name of the Lord, make sure we acknowledge the One who is the true worker: God. This should be our response each Sunday, and every Sunday. The pulpit message preached must reside in our hearts to push us to abide in Christ, that Christ may bear fruit, and if necessary, through us.

THOUGHT: The fruit of the Christian life is not about good works. It is about God's work done as we abide in Christ and Christ in us. The visible sign of fruitfulness is when people see our good work and are pointed to the Source of all good works: God in Christ.

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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 inquiries. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any person(s) or organization(s).

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