Friday, July 31, 2015

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?

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

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

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.”