Thursday, December 31, 2015

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

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 fiancée, 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

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

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: