A Little Yeast 

MTS-3393

A Little Yeast

“A little yeast works through the whole
batch of dough.”

            Gal 5:9

 

Some ideas seem rather harmless when they surface at first, yet they may snowball on you
if you fail to bring them under control. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to
Christ.” This should be our daily discipline if we intend to lead a life of
holiness both in our thoughts and actions.

Sin appears to follow an expected path and pattern, and it
doesn’t take that much spiritual discernment to detect it. In essence, most
sins are premeditated and sinful actions usually follow sinful thoughts. We
will sin much less if we make a concerted effort to “take captive every thought
and make it obedient to Christ.”

I had a hard time going to sleep because I was bothered by
a negative thought. I tossed and turned for a long time until one in the
morning, battling the thought that something awful was going to happen to my
loved ones. How do I keep the yeast from rising up and permeating my entire
being?

“You need to combat it with pure and positive thoughts
derived from the Scriptures,” my wife suggested, which is thinking God’s
thoughts after him, I suppose.

Disciplining our thoughts is ninety percent of the success
in our struggle against sin. What the evil one did was merely to plant a seed
in Eve’s mind and the first woman was unable to keep the idea from growing.

Most temptations start out with an idea.

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin;
and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death,”  wrote James. Evil ideas need to be aborted
immediately when they are implanted in our hearts. They will take root if we
continue to nurture them by thinking about them or making space for them. We
may have to discard the whole batch of dough if we want to get rid of a little
yeast within it. It takes drastic measures to remove drastic sin from our
heart.

Are we supposed to police every church member’s morality
and ethics? If not, how are we going to keep God’s church from condemnation from
invisible yeast?

All we can do is to create an environment of purity and
cleanness by preaching the message of holiness to crowd out the bad elements
within the church doors. The best way to keep weeds from growing in a lawn is
to nurture the good grass. If sinners are not convicted after they listen to
the message of God’s righteousness and divine judgment, surely they will not
remain in our fellowship.

If we are being transformed by the reading of God’s words,
we will become less and less likely to conform to the image of the evil one by
yielding to his temptations.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, November 30, 2012 6:42:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Faith and Love 

MTS-3392

Faith and Love

“The only thing that counts is faith
expressing itself through love.”

                Gal 5:6

 

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing
that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Getting circumcised is
relatively easy for the Jews, or anyone else. It can be done in a matter of
minutes and the wound usually heals in a few days. Salvation is pretty
effortless to attain, if effort is what it takes.

Obviously, there are tons of regulations and stipulations of the law that one must observe
after he becomes circumcised. Circumcision is just the beginning of a long
journey of earning one’s salvation through observing the law, not an ending. By
the same token, getting baptized is just the initiation of a person’s new life
in Christ, an outward sign of an inward transformation, and from the moment on,
they must strive to express their inner faith through outward love.

Which of the two is easier to achieve? Redemption validating itself through work or faith
expressing itself through love?

We are endowed with various mental capabilities and some people are more capable than others
as far as keeping the law is concerned, redemption is likely only for people with
strong will and resilience, not for the weaklings and the phlegmatic. It seems
unfair if this is truly the case, but even the strong and mighty among men are
incapable of keeping the entire law at all times. It doesn’t seem to make any
difference whether one is strong or weak; we are all doomed if salvation hinges
entirely on our ability to perform good deeds or to keep the smallest details
of the law.

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Come to think of it, this appears to be a far more difficult task than what we have discussed
previously, for before we can express our faith we must have faith, and it’s
out of our control whether we have faith or not. Isn’t this paradoxical?

Faith is a gift from God, which isn’t something we earn through our work or personal
merit. What we need to do is to humbly ask the Lord for the precious gift and,
after we receive it, we can start to nurture it and it will start to express
itself in due time. How then do we nurture our faith after it’s been given to
us through God’s mercy?

We must put ourselves in a healthy environment where our faith can grow steadily, surroundings
where the word of God is preached and Christian fellowship is present. We can’t
possibly expect our faith to increase if we continue to saturate ourselves in
an ungodly atmosphere after we are saved. When our faith grows to a certain
stature, it will express itself spontaneously through loving our Lord and our
neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, November 29, 2012 6:02:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Grace 

MTS-3391

Grace

“You who are trying to be justified by
the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”         Gal 5:4

 

Doing good deeds does make us feel good about ourselves; it doesn’t, however, make us good
people. We are what we are; not what we do. Our action does reflect our inner
selves and the nature of our beings, but it’s not the only indication of who we
really are.

We live by faith, not by sight. Living purely by sight will cause us to lose our faith.

Many of our spiritual problems may be caused by our incessant inward looking and interior searching.
We don’t always like what we see when we look inside of ourselves, do we? Do we
enjoy looking at our outward actions? Not necessarily. The best thing to do is
to not to be constantly looking at ourselves, period.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto
the mountains: From whence shall my help come?” asked the Psalmist.

From whence will I find my help? On a hill far away- the
hill of Golgotha, where our Lord Jesus was crucified.    

I seem to have fallen farther and farther away from grace because I have been paying too
much attention to my inner thoughts and outward actions and feeling awful about
all my shortcomings. By doing so I have opened up a gateway from which the evil
one could launch his assault. The Accuser will continue to accuse me if I keep
on accusing myself for being a lousy Christian.

There was gray serpent chasing me in my dream last night and I couldn’t get rid of it, no
matter how fast I tried to run. Finally I had to turn around and kill it with a
wooden stick. We have to face our inner demon by slaying it, not through our
own might, however, but through the power of Christ.

Grace is free; let’s not give it a steep price tag and spend our entire lifetime paying for
it. The gift of salvation is to be enjoyed; not to be endured. It’s unfortunate
that some Christians seem to be marching to heaven with their eyebrows knitted
and countenance downcast, gnashing their teeth every step of the way, striving
to earn something which has been granted to them freely.

To accept what we are doesn’t mean that we cease to fight against our carnal nature; it
does mean that we are fully assured that the victory has been won; therefore we
are able to fight with total confidence. We battle not to earn the ultimate
victory; we do so to strengthen our spiritual muscles and mental fiber so that
we can be better utilized in the heavenly realms to accomplish our heavenly enterprise.

We have been justified by the blood of Christ; therefore the goal of our earthly labor is
for our sanctification, which is connected more to our future than to our
present; more to heaven than to earth.   
    

 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 6:55:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Slavery 

MTS-3390

Slavery

“Stand firm, then, and do not let
yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”              Gal 5:1

 

I am a new creation in Christ, yet I seem to have been enslaved by the old creation in me.
I accumulated some things over the period of twenty-three years when I was a
pagan and they are still haunting me and refusing to let me break free from
them completely.

We are indeed enslaved by fear of death and we continue to tiptoe over the issues relating to
it, for fear of disturbing the sleeping monster and causing it to pay special
attention to us. Growing up in a community filled with stories of ghosts and
goblins and a variety of other superstitions certainly had a strong impact on
my psyche as a child. Even though my inner being has been transformed by the
Spirit, there is still residue from my old way of life, surfacing in my
thinking from time to time, seeking to enslave me.

The fight against my old self is ongoing and I seriously doubt it will ever end until
heaven.

Our fundamental makeup as a person and our personality traits remain basically the same after
we are born again and, unless we bring them into total conformity with the new
life by crucifying them with Christ, they will become the staunchest allies
of our enemy. We must go through death in order to live.

I have been battling against my personality and my constant effort to overcome it has been pretty futile. I
guess many Christians may have the same struggle as I do. Our innate
personality does not equal spirituality, yet many of us are unable to tell the
difference between the two. We often mistake a naturally optimistic person as a
person of great faith and a pessimist as one without joy in the Lord. 

I have met Christians who are
enslaved by various things that they have inherited from their old selves, such
as self-righteousness, strong self-confidence, self-loathing, feelings of
superiority or inferiority, and the list goes on.

To yield to our carnal selves
or our old way of thinking is to be enslaved by them. We may not have
completely overcome them, but we must vow never to surrender to them.

What are the things that seek
to enslave you? We can’t fight against them unless we pinpoint what they are.
The scariest thing is that they might have become our allies without us knowing
it and the service we have reckoned spiritual and God-honoring might have been
carnal and displeasing to God after all. Paul honestly believed he was serving
the Lord by persecuting the Christians, didn’t he?

My enemies are: sloth,
self-pity, melancholy, feelings of inferiority and superiority, disdain for
others, belief in classic romanticism, lack of patience, lack of love, fear of
the unknown. Wow, this is a long list. What are yours?

 

Monday, November 26, 2012 6:57:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Freedom 

MTS-3389

Freedom

“It is for freedom that Christ has set
us free.”

         
Gal 5:1

 

Paul seemed to know exactly what he could and could not do under the law, and as long as he
did all that was required of him, he would be justified. Even though he was bound
by the law, the bondage was what he embraced, since he appeared to have no
trouble figuring out what the Lord demanded of him.

After he was set free and was under grace, Paul suddenly was required to make choices
concerning what he could or could not do, which made his new life of freedom in
Christ rather challenging. Things didn’t seem to be so clear cut anymore. The
law basically informed him to refrain from doing something, but the new law in
Christ demanded him to do many things that he wasn’t necessarily equipped to
do.  

What kind of life is more liberating, the inside-out or outside-in life? We are bestowed with
a new life within, not a new lifestyle, when we become born from above. The new
lifestyle will become a reality naturally when the new life becomes more mature
and all we need to do is to nurture the life within by consistently doing
certain things. Eating and drinking are liberating and not to do those things
regularly is repressive. Besides, only the sick eat and drink for utilitarian reasons;
the healthy take in food and drink for enjoyment, for the most part.

If our nature is reformed, we should be able to do what God requires us to do more naturally,
which is true freedom. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Why then can’t we always do what the Lord wants us to do? This seems to be our collective
experience as Christians. “What a wretched man I am!” mourned the apostle Paul.

It obviously takes a little baby a couple of years to learn how to walk, and it must feel
awfully cumbersome not to be able to walk, which is akin to how we feel as new
born babes in Christ. The joy and freedom of walking and running will happen in
due time as long as we continue to grow, but if we become envious of the eagles
after we have learned to walk and desire to be just like them, we will be
sorely disappointed. We may grumble about being earth-bound and easily fall
into bondage by our aspiration to soar in the sky, which is the reason why we
lose our freedom as God’s children.

As I age, I seem to walk a little slower and run with much greater effort, if I run at all.
I have no choice but to succumb to the tyranny of time, but much to my frustration
my interior life seems to be digressing as well. My inner life doesn’t seem to
be renewed every day as Paul implied. This kind of self-accusation and
discontentment is exactly the very thing that keeps us from enjoying the
freedom of being God’s beloved children.      

   

Monday, November 19, 2012 6:42:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Persecution 

MTS-3388

Persecution

“At that time the son born according to
the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit.”           Gal 4:29

 

Ishmael was quite a bit older than his brother Isaac who was born “by the power of the
Spirit,” and for one reason or another, he must have mistreated his baby
brother and caused a headache for his parents. Sarah took it especially hard
and, since Ishmael wasn’t related to her by blood, she decided to send the boy
and his mother away. “Ishmael should have no part of my son’s inheritance,” she
resolved.

The son who was born according to the flesh was strong and vibrant and was well-adapted to
the worldly way of thinking and ideas. In fact, the boy might have become a
good hunter and was well on his way to becoming a man of the world. Not so with
Isaac, however, who was still frail and was in need of constant attention and
care. He wouldn’t have survived had his parents not taken good care of him.

“For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing
with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

Isaac wouldn’t have survived the sibling rivalry had he been
left alone to fend for himself. He was no competition for his brother in any
shape or form. Abraham and Sarah had to intervene for their son to grow up
without interference or persecution.

We are often persecuted by people born of the flesh for
what we are, not necessarily for what we do. The term Christian seems to immediately
conjure up ill-feelings among non-Christians when it’s uttered. People often
consider us bigots, racists, and the scum of society. What have we done to
warrant such ill-will?

Just being who we really are and being faithful to our
Lord will cause worldly people to dislike us and to persecute us verbally, if
not physically. We are being naïve and misguided if we believe otherwise. "We
must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” said the apostle.

Have I ever been the victim of racial prejudice? Even
though I have always been treated fairly in this country, deep inside I know
that people perceive me differently and probably consider me less than they are
merely because of the color of my skin. Don’t we all instinctively feel
superior to the ones who are stereotypically considered less appealing or
desirable as a race, whatever they are? Why are we labeled as nerds and geeks
merely because we do better than most academically?

“At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the
Spirit.” 

I might have been doing some sort of spiritualizing over this simple statement concerning
the relationship between two brothers, but what I have concluded is nonetheless
true, since we often do what comes natural to us. Unless our nature has been
transformed by the Spirit, we will always act according to who and what we are.
Education and other social restraints may keep us from becoming racists and
bigots outwardly, but how we feel internally is an entirely different story.

There will always be division and persecution of some sort in this world if there is no
genuine conversion among all of us.   

 

    

   

Friday, November 16, 2012 6:28:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Divine Promise 

MTS-3387

Divine Promise

“Now you, brothers and sisters, like
Isaac, are children of promise.”

            Gal 4:28

 

I would have had chosen many other things but the Lord during the time of my conversion to
Christianity. After three years in the service, I was suddenly a free man and
was just trying to figure out how to deal with my new found liberty.

I rented an apartment in Taipei and found myself a job assembling toys for export, earning
enough money to pay for my daily expenses. I was kind of in a daze and had no
idea what would happen to me moving forward. I still kept my habit of drinking
and smoking and I recall buying a bottle of wine and drinking it by myself in
my little room, which, to my great dismay, failed to bring me any excitement
like it had when I was in the military, drinking with my buddies.

I was just trying to carve some sort of life out of my meaningless existence then, not
knowing the time had come for the Lord to intervene with whatever I was doing.
He was fulfilling his promise to me, of which I was totally unaware, and things
started rolling.

Was I a willing participant of God’s divine intervention? Not really. I just went along
with what was taking place, without the slightest knowledge of what was
happening to me. A few months after the Lord started his work, I turned into an
entirely different person.

I instantly became a child of promise, who would inherit all the blessings my Father had
prepared for me before the foundation of the world. I remained relatively poor for
the next thirty-five years, but I have never felt poor for a single moment and
my life has been very abundant in so many ways.

What I was planning on doing as I was drinking Saki alone in my little room with single
mattress and a few books? Perhaps I was just figuring out how to make a decent
living by doing something and, if I was lucky, I would find a girl to be my
wife and start a family. I have never been a man of great ambition, and merely
to live was a worthy aspiration for me at the time. I was, in fact, enslaved by
my sin and bound by my selfishness, but what I was internally didn’t concern me
a bit. I was just going with the flow with the current of my life which would
sweep me away without me knowing or caring about it.

Why do I continue to visit and revisit that brief period of my life over thirty years
ago? I guess that was the defining moment of my life when I turned from a child
of slavery into a child of promise. Out of God’s mercy and grace an
extraordinary event happened to an ordinary man during that time and made an
immeasurable difference in his life. If I only have one story to tell, that’s
the tale I will continue to say to whoever wants to hear. Many things have
taken place since then, but the story of my conversion still remains the only
one worth telling, and worth listening to.

    

Thursday, November 15, 2012 6:05:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Flesh 

MTS-3386

The Flesh

“His son by the slave woman was born
according to the flesh…”

         
Gal 4:23

 

Abraham could have waited for the divine promise to come true and not yielded to his wife’s
wishes concerning Hagar the Egyptian maid. Humanly speaking, the Lord’s promise
was pretty far-fetched and it seemed foolish to put any hope in that. All
Abraham and his wife needed to do was to take a look of their aging bodies and
come to realize the extreme difficulties of them producing an heir by
themselves. They needed someone who was young and fertile to do the job for
them.

Things seemed to have worked out quite smoothly and Hagar gave birth to a son in due time.
They had done it and there was no need for them to wait for another ten years to
taste the joy of parenthood. Even so, Abraham still had this nagging feeling
that something wasn’t quite right. He was constantly reminded of his encounter
with the Lord and the divine promise he received.

Ishmael was a good-looking boy and the apple of his father’s eye, yet he was not the child of
promise, even though Abraham would very much like to think so. Through human
ingenuity they had produced a son and there was no need for divine
intervention, end of story.

“His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh.” What was done by the flesh
would remain carnal forever and it could never be spiritualized through human
rationalization.

We seem to have a bad habit of doing just that.

There is no arguing that we often fall in love with something physically more pleasing and
carnally more appealing and reckon it to be God’s will for us to pursue it without
consulting the Lord. It does take a person with deep spiritual insight to look
beyond the façade of gaudy appearance and detect what’s hidden behind skin-deep
beauty. Hagar must have been a young exotic girl who was pleasant to behold and
it wouldn’t have taken much persuasion for the patriarch to do what comes so
naturally to any man. “I am merely trying to give God a hand by bringing the
divine promise to pass,” Abraham might have rationalized before he yielded to
the temptation.

The second best didn’t take the place of the best; it only became the main rival of the best
and forever served as a reminder of God’s sovereignty and man’s frailty. Ishmael
had to leave his father’s home and the wound it created in Abraham’s heart
would never heal. The son he had come to adore so much for so long was forever
gone.

May we always choose to do the best and not to be tempted to replace it with the second best
because of our lack of patience to wait for God’s perfect timing and end up
being haunted by the nagging “what if” question the rest of our lives. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 6:30:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Childbirth 

MTS-3385

Childbirth

“My dear children, for whom I am again
in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…”           Gal 4:19

 

This guy came to our church as a seeker for a while and finally got baptized about a year ago.
 Not long after receiving baptism, the
student vanished from the church, never to be seen again. Why did it happen? I
ask.

Well, most likely his spiritual needs weren’t being met by what we had to offer at our
church; therefore, he moved on to greener pastures where he could get fed in a
better fashion. What should we have done to keep the ones who were pondering
about leaving our fellowship? I often wonder. Could we have done something
differently? I suppose there were a lot of things we could have done, yet for
lack of human resources and sufficient spiritual gifts, they remained undone.

We seemed to have given birth to quite a few spiritual babies and subsequently gave them up
for adoption because we couldn’t raise them up properly. Was this really the
case?

It was quite disappointing to Paul, for he thought the new born babies in Christ were well
on their way to growing up to be strong men and women of God, not realizing
that Christ hadn’t really been formed in their hearts. He had to go through the
painful process of giving birth one more time. The image of Christ might have
been partially formed in the new believers, but it was misshapen and it would
take a long while for Paul to reshape the broken picture and restore what was
distorted.  

Is there anything wrong with our preaching and teaching at the church? This might be the
problem we have avoided to address. We cannot keep the sheep within our fold if
they are not been fed sufficiently.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” This basically sums up Paul’s entire
ministry.

If Christ’s crucifixion wasn’t sufficient to draw people
to the church and to keep them within the fold, nothing is. This should remain
our main concern when we evaluate what we are doing as a people of God. We have
no beauty by which to attract people to our church door; but we do have Christ
in our midst and, if that’s not enough, I have no earthly idea what else is.
What we must do is to place Christ in the front and center of all we do as a
church, including our teaching and preaching and all other activities. I think
all things will take care of themselves if this is truly the main focus of our
church ministry.

Is Christ being lifted up in our lives? We must ask
ourselves this important question daily. People have come and gone, but the
ones who have grown mature in Christ will remain in the body of Christ. It’s
painful to see people dwindling away from the fold, and to bring them back is
akin to giving birth to a spiritual baby yet another time, but ultimately it’s
the Lord who does the heavy lifting and we are merely his instruments by which
he accomplishes his task. All we can do is to make ourselves available when we
are needed.    

 

 

   

Tuesday, November 13, 2012 6:45:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Zeal 

MTS-3384

Zeal

“It is fine to be zealous, provided the
purpose is good…”

           Gal 4:18

 

Paul knew what zeal was because he himself was quite a zealous man, but he was well aware
of what misguided zeal looked like and what damage it could incur. His zeal for
the Jewish law seemed to have driven him mad and ultimately caused him to
become a madman and a murder.

Zeal that is justified in people’s mind may cause them to commit unthinkable atrocities that
are utterly unjustifiable. If the cause of people’s zeal is misdirected, the
greater the zeal they possess, the worse the damage they will inflict on the world.
All the tyrants and despots in human history are man and women of great
ambition and tremendous zeal.

“It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good…” We know what Paul was talking
about. The purpose of his zeal determined the consequence of the same. His
enthusiasm for the law spelled destruction for the ones who were opposing him.
The ruthless man was able to justify the unjustifiable.

The Galatians were saved from the damnation of the law, yet not long after they were
liberated from this bondage, they became zealous for the law’s teaching, as if
their salvation through Christ needed to be compensated by their keeping of the
law’s stipulations.

I have often felt that I am not worthy of the salvation I received freely, since I am not
all that zealous in witnessing or in pursuing God’s holiness and righteousness.
This morbid thought has caused me to become despondent and joyless in my
Christian walk in the past years. How can people be truly joyful if they feel
that they somehow have disappointed their fathers by not being good enough?

It has been my zeal to become good enough to warrant my heavenly Father’s love for me.
Needless to say this zeal has robbed me of the joy of being God son, for my
pursuit has often ended in failure and disappointment. I am a prodigal son who
has returned home for good, but I still feel ill at ease in my Father’s house
since I often feel I am not worthy of my Father’s love.

I will succeed as long as I try a little harder.

Is this really the case? The only way we can succeed in becoming what the Lord wants us
to be is to bring his standard a lot lower so that we can meet it, or pray that
he would graciously grade our lousy performance on a big curve.

What kind of zeal must we possess?

“Zeal for your house consumes me.”  We can be
zealous for the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth and such zeal will cause
us to labor and to toil, yet we do so not to earn God’s approval or acceptance,
for he has already accepted us; we labor and toil merely to bring a smile to
our Father’s face.      

Monday, November 12, 2012 7:05:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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