The Best 

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The Best

“Then they can take pride in themselves
alone, without comparing themselves to someone else…”        Gal 6:4

 

“Am I the best I can possibly be?” This is the question we ought to ask ourselves from
time to time.

“Am I the best among all my peers?” This is the question we should avoiding asking
ourselves.

What does our Master require from all of us? To be the best of all or to be the best of me.
The answer is obvious, isn’t it?

Why was the one with one talent condemned in our Lord’s parable? It was not his fault that he
was only meagerly endowed; his shortcoming was his timidity and lack of effort
in investing what he had. The Lord didn’t judge him by comparing him with the
other two with greater talent; the man was judged for what he was and his lack
of action.

How best is my best? I guess we will never know, for no matter how hard we try, our best
still falls far behind our potential best.

“I am just repeating myself,” I complained to Kathy, feeling quite discontented with my
writings lately.

“No, you are doing a great job as usual,” Kathy was just being her usual self- comforting
and encouraging self. I know full well that I have become stagnant and my
creativity energy is drying out.

No, this is not my best; my best is yet to come; and my dream of becoming my best will
never be realized unless I continue to strive to become better and better, and
gradually narrow the gap between what I am and what I am capable of becoming.

President Obama was just chosen as “Man of the Year” by Time magazine, which is an award
we commoners will never achieve. Indeed the president’s best far surpasses all
of ours and we will become extremely discouraged and despondent if we compare
ourselves with him. In fact, we will get discouraged even if compare ourselves
with our friends and neighbors.

Can I “take pride” in myself and what I have accomplished so far? I guess I can be proud of
my achievements if I only measure myself against my own best, not someone
else’s best. Considering what I was and the way I was brought up, I think I am
doing quite well; but lest I become complacent, I need to remind myself that I can
be so much better as a Christian, a pastor, and a writer.

The Lord will always demand from us our very best, not some other people’s best. Therefore,
our question will always be: “Have I done my best?” and “what can I do to
improve myself so that I can be at my best?”

There are obviously concrete steps we can take to improve ourselves, both spiritually and
intellectually. Why not set a goal for yourself and concrete steps to achieve
that goal? Becoming our very best spiritually and physically takes both effort
and discipline and it’s a lifelong endeavor, which doesn’t happen
automatically.  

 

 

 

        

Friday, December 21, 2012 7:10:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Self-deception 

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Self-deception

“If anyone thinks they are something
when they are not, they deceive themselves.”             Gal 6:3

 

As a youngster, my greatest desire was to leave home and become an apprentice of
some trade in Taipei. It wasn’t much of an ambition, was it? My parents were poor
farmers and their primary concern in life was to keep themselves and their five
children sheltered and fed. Mere survival was quite an accomplishment for us.

Making a living wasn’t quite enough for me when I finally achieved my goal as an
apprentice, I wanted something more; therefore I decided to become a student
and started to envision myself as a scholar.

After years of schooling, have I become a scholar like I had expected? Not really. I am
just a half-baked scholar and poet who has failed to achieve renown in either
field. Here I am at age sixty, still wondering who I really am.

With such a limited time I have in store on earth, it’s doubtful I will be able to accomplish
anything worthy of people’s attention. What am I going to do, then? Just live out
the balance of my life doing nothing to enhance myself?

I have never considered myself anything significant, therefore self-deception isn’t really my issue;
but sometimes I am still bothered by my own insignificance and that I will
likely end my life as insignificant.

Billions of people have ended their lives that way, why should I be any different? I am
just a tiny grain of sand swept away by the vast ocean. I am only here for a
short while, and I will be no more.

Yet, somehow I think I am more than what I appear to be.

I am something because God thinks I am something, and this is not self-deception. Therefore,
my greatest concern is that I haven’t achieved what my Heavenly Father wants me
to achieve and have not become what the Lord desires for me to become.

My worldly accomplishments are the least of the Lord’s concerns and he is not at all
impressed by the few poorly written books and awkwardly composed verses I have
managed to produce. My Heavenly Father will only be impressed when he sees his
image magnified in me, for he is the only one who is worthy to be praised.   

Where am I spiritually? What do I desire to achieve as a Christian? These are the primary
questions that I must address. I want to better reflect the image of Christ in
all my thinking and action. Indeed, this is the only worthy aspiration that I
will strive to achieve for the balance of my earthly journey, be it two or
twenty years. I hope I can be more like my mother-in-law, who is 33 years my
senior, yet is still growing spiritually every day. What a godly example she
has set for her children!

Yes, the best is yet to come, for henceforth I will only strive to desire what the Lord
desires for me and to achieve what he prepares for me to accomplish. May I be
more like Christ before I meet him face to face. 

 

 

  

Thursday, December 20, 2012 6:25:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Prayer 

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Burden

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this
way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

             Gal 6:2

 

How do we lighten other people’s burdens? There is at least one important thing that we
can do.

The parents of the school children who were murdered recently will probably not be
comforted, no matter what people do to try to lighten their sorrow and to ease
their pain. In the face of this unthinkable tragedy we are left speechless. O
how we desire to do something more concrete for the wounded and the hurting,
yet we often resort in prayer.

Prayer seems to be our first and last resort when we don’t know what to do to bear the pain
of others. It’s just an easy way out, isn’t it? Prayer doesn’t seem to demand the
lifting of a finger to help; we just move our lips and mumble a few words and
then move on to our daily activities.  

Real prayer does take real effort, and it always leads to concrete actions. After we have
earnestly interceded for someone, we ourselves often become the instruments by
which the Lord carries out his work of charity. We are indeed God’s hands and
feet.

All works of charity start with prayer and end with prayer.

If there is a lack of love and compassion in our hearts for the wounded and the heavy-laden,
it’s most likely that there is severe lack of prayer on our part. Actions of
charity are often followed by sincere intercession.

Do we make a simple phone call and offer a few words of comfort to the ones who are
discouraged after we get up from our knees from interceding for them? Do we
take the time to write a card to the ones who may have suffered loss or have experienced
pain caused by severe adversity? By doing a few simple things we form
solidarity with the needy and help to carry a small part of their heavy burden.

It’s been a few months since a friend of our family lost their only son, but I continue to
remember her in my prayer, which is an act of trust, since I believe there is
no real comfort for her except the kind that comes from the Lord.

What is the Lord Jesus doing for us primarily? He is interceding for us before the Father,
which is really an act of sharing and carrying our burden. If all else fails,
we can always pray.    

 

 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 6:29:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Temptation 

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Temptation

“But watch yourselves, or you also may
be tempted.”

         
Gal 6:2

 

It’s by God’s mercy and protection that we are able to overcome various temptations that have
fallen our way. We are indeed capable of doing the unthinkable unless we rely
on the Lord in the face of many enticements. We fail the moment we consider
ourselves sufficient to fight back many sinful urges, seducing us to compromise
with the dark side and do the unthinkable.

“Surely I will never commit such a heinous sin,” we say to ourselves, as if to give
ourselves reassurance that we will never commit certain unthinkable sins, not
knowing that we are merely flesh and blood, like all the others who have done
the unimaginable, causing great pain to themselves and their loved ones

“I have never been tempted to commit adultery,” you reassure yourself.

“I will never commit murder or any other serious crime,” you promise yourself.

“There but for the grace of God, go I.” This is a good reminder that, apart from God’s grace
and protection, we are just like those people who have fallen into serious sin.

You have been cautious so that you won’t incur any DUI charge. So you limit yourself to a
beer or two before you take the wheel, but your heart starts to race when a
police car slows down next to you or turns on his flashing light behind you.
You may not be all that secure, even if you have always tried to play it safe.
This is no cliché at all: You will get burned if you play with fire too often.
How ironic that liquor commercials always charge people to “drink responsibly,”
even though their sole purpose is to urge them to drink more and more often.

I am not implying that drinking a little wine is sinful, but it seems to me quite unreasonable to
ask people “to sin responsibly,” if drinking does lead to a DUI or to the dark abyss
of alcohol addiction.

Instead of encouraging them not sin at all, we encourage our young to sin responsibly by
using protection to avoid any undesirable consequences of their action, not
realizing that the best protection is not to sin at all. Of course, it’s
another story entirely if we don’t consider certain acts are intrinsically
sinful.

Fear of punishment is a deterrent for people thinking about committing a crime, but it’s not
always effective, for they can figure out ways of avoiding being caught. They
will have no fear if they think they can get away with it. Indeed some people
always make sure that they sin “responsibly” and are able to keep themselves
one step ahead of law enforcement.

Surely we can never keep one step ahead the omniscient Lord if we believe he does exists and
will hold our every thought and action accountable. For us Christians, the fear
of the Lord is the best deterrent to keep us from falling into
temptations.   

 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 6:58:00 AM Categories: Devotional

In Step 

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In Step

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us
keep in step with the Spirit.”

            Gal 5:25

 

I used to hold my children’s hand when we walked down the street in our neighborhood, but
the handholding stopped when they became more aware of themselves and their
surroundings. Of course it was embarrassing for them when their friends happened
to see it and, besides, they desired to establish their independence by walking
on their own and setting their own pace. It’s been a long while since the time
when my boys kept step with me. They either walk ahead of me or lag behind.

It’s cumbersome to be equally yoked with the Lord, for we believe we can handle the
heavy load on our own. To be yoked with the Lord simply means a loss of freedom
of mobility for us. Being wild by nature, we long to roam on our own without
any constraints.

We may think the Lord is absent from our lives and we can do whatever we deem appropriate
and enjoyable. O how exciting it is to be hidden from his watching eyes and to
not have to worry about doing the right thing at all times. Being free to be
ourselves is indeed quite euphoric.

We lose ourselves the moment we think we have found ourselves.

At age six William thought he was free to roam at a campground where our church annual
retreat was held on a college campus not far from LA, yet he was as lost as he
could ever be until we found him. I remember the sick, sinking feeling when we
were frantically searching for him up and down the hill after most people had
left the campsite and gone home. Being omniscient, there is no need for the
Lord to seek for us, but he is probably equally as anxious as I was when his
children have gone astray.

We can truly be ourselves when we are found in his arms; and we can roam freely when we keep
in step with the Lord.

Indeed we are free to abuse alcohol and drugs, but such freedom often leads to deadly addiction,
which is the loss of freedom. True freedom can only be found in liberation from
the bondage of sin. Freedom not to sin is far more precious and liberating than
freedom to sin.

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

People may mock and belittle us when they see the Lord holding our hands and taking us to
wherever he wants us to go; they may also sneer and scoff when they witness us
locking step with the Spirit and consider our lives boring and dreary. What
does it matter if the whole world mocks us for being foolish, since we have
discovered our freedom and joy by embracing our Creator who knows what’s the
best for us.

I am sure my son was thrilled to be found and didn’t mind when I held his little hand so
tightly and wouldn’t let it go until we arrived safely at our home.       

Friday, December 14, 2012 6:50:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Flesh 

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The Flesh

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have
crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”          Gal 5:24

 

The Lord Jesus was crucified
once and his crucifixion is forever effective. There is absolutely no need for
Christ to be crucified again. It was truly finished when he uttered from the
cross: “It is finished.” The penalty of all our sins has been paid once and for
all, and therefore there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ
Jesus.

But our crucifixion of the
flesh with its passions and desires is ongoing and there is no end to our death
to ourselves until the day we die. Our sinful flesh brings darkness and death
to our lives and robs us of joy in the Lord, and it can only be conquered with
death - the death of Christ and our death to the selves.

Christians are sometimes
perceived as less than human, for they seem to be void of passion for life and
the joy of living, which is obviously a misperception.

“I did not kiss my wife until
our wedding night.” One of finalists for the annual Heisman award made this
statement in an interview, which caused an uproar.  

The ones who can’t wait to
jump into bed with their girlfriends will never appreciate the sweetness of
waiting and anticipation, for they have no inkling that the stronger the yearning
is, the more satisfying and exciting the fulfillment will become. When there is
no room for imagination, imagination is no longer needed and what’s left is
only bare carnal pleasure, which pales compared to the imaginative and
spiritual one.

Fruit plucked early often
tastes sour and the aftertaste is quite bitter. We are sorely mistaken if we
consider life in the flesh as the only life there is and there is no joy beyond
sensual pleasure.

The things of the flesh go far
beyond mere pleasure between sexes. There is more to it than meets the eyes.
Our enemies are numerous and one pops up after we suppress another, and there
is no end to our death to the flesh until our flesh is no more. Indeed, we
cannot take a holiday in the great enterprise of campaigning against our carnal
selves - our flesh.

Take envy, which is obviously a
thing of the flesh, for an example.

Do we become envious of the
ones who seem to be more spiritually gifted than we? This may not be your
problem; but surely it’s been mine for the longest time. Why can’t I rejoice
when God’s kingdom becomes prosperous through the labor of another brother and
sister? Surely our spirituality is flawed if we are jealous of the ones who
appear to be more spiritual than we. There are more people in our circle who suffer
from the plague of something sinister called “spiritual pride” than we realize.

“Those who
belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
If we claim to belong to Christ, death to the self is something we practice
daily. Indeed, Christ has been crucified on our behalf and our final triumph
has been eternally secured. May we never crucify the Lord repeatedly by not
putting our flesh to death daily.             

 

 

   

Thursday, December 13, 2012 6:37:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Kindness 

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Kindness

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love,
joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”   
Gal 5:22, 23

 

After living in the Deep South for a number of years, it caught me by surprise when people
in the other regions of the States weren’t as gentle and kind as Southerners.
People at a gas station just cast me an icy cold stare when I was pumping gas
when I arrived in LA for a new job years ago. There was heavy layer of smog and
the traffic was awful as we drove into the city on I-10. I remember wanting to
make a U turn and never returning to the beautiful city of Angels. I quit my
job and left West Hollywood for good a year later.

Are the people in Mississippi kinder than the ones in LA? Not necessarily so. There are
kind people everywhere and we can also find meanness in all places. I believe,
however, people in the Deep South try a little harder to be kind to one
another, especially to strangers, than people from other areas. I wasn’t
embraced by all by any means, but at least I felt relatively at ease there, for
people didn’t seem to be hostile to me merely because I wasn’t one of them.

Kindness is absolutely essential if we intend to build a harmonious community.

Do we perceive strangers with good will or with hostility? How do we react when misfortune
happens to strike our friends and neighbors or good fortune falls on them? Do
you want to know the sinfulness of sin? Look into your heart and see if you
gloat over other people’s misfortunes and gripe about their good fortune. We
seem to believe our peers’ gain is our loss and their increase our decrease. Isn’t
this the very theory espoused by Darwinian evolution? We strive to become
fitter than others so that we get to survive the longest.

We can only be kind and loving to our neighbors if we consider them our sisters and
brothers.

Do we say a prayer for the sick and the misfortunate when we see an ambulance zooming by or
fire engines racing down the street to put out a fire somewhere? Such is the kindness
we need to put into practice daily, since we are by nature unkind and charity
can only be produced through genuine penitence and prayer. I have been praying
that I would love the Lord more deeply almost every day since the day I was
saved, but I have failed to plead that I would love people more. No wonder my
love for God’s people seems to have decreased through the years. 

Why are we so curious about people’s misfortune and so inquisitive concerning our neighbors’
moral failures? Are we truly compassionate or are we merely trying to
compensate for our deficiencies deep inside by other people’s insufficiencies,
as if somehow we can become strengthened when other people are weakened?

Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, because it’s generated by the Holy Spirit. Human kindness
can only go so far and we may have to turn to the Lord for help when we hit a
snag in expressing our kindness and love to others.

 

 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 7:02:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Spiritual Fruit 

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Spiritual Fruit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love,
joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” 
Gal 5:22, 23

 

Through sheer effort, non-Christians are able to produce some things akin to spiritual fruit.
Besides, some people, whether they are believers or not, are born with all the
good attributes listed in the quoted verse. My mother, who wasn’t a Christian
as far as I could tell, was always loving and kind to people, and was always
willing to help those who were in need. Did my mother possess some fruit of the
Spirit even though she might not have the Spirit dwelling in her?

Through the common grace of God all people are endowed with some good attributes, which are
quite similar to the fruit of the Spirit. Even though people are greatly
impacted by Adam’s sin, they are nonetheless created in the perfect image of
God. Therefore, there are still inklings of God’s likeness present in them, and
some by virtue of their birth and upbringing have more of the good attributes
than others.

I am by nature a timid person and people with my character traits are usually pretty
kind-hearted and compassionate. I would have basically remained a relatively
good person had I not been converted to Christianity, but it would have been utterly
impossible for me to produce any spiritual fruit, since I didn’t have the
indwelling Holy Spirit. I would have been classified as “virtuous pagan” and “Limbo”
would have been my eternal dwelling place according to Dante.

I also have met some mean-spirited Christians who paled in many ways as persons of
character compared to some non-believers. Is this an indication that they were
not true Christians? We jump the gun if we make such a hasty judgment, for it
takes special discernment to tell what genuine spirituality is. I might have
been naturally kind and compassionate before I became a Christian, but those
desirable attributes were un-crucified and grounded on my selfishness and
self-protective mechanism. The primary characteristic of spiritual fruit is their
disinterestedness. We cannot produce spiritual fruit unless we have the
indwelling Spirit, which simply means non-Christians are incapable of producing
such fruit. Christians, however, won’t be able to bear much good fruit unless
they are willing to die to themselves daily and to yield their lives to God
completely. 

Why am I so unproductive as a Christian? We may ask ourselves this question. After years of
laboring to improve ourselves as Christians, we are still viewed by others as
unloving and unkind, and with a lack of peace and joy. This may not be the case
since our self-perception may not be accurate and we may actually be better
than we think. We may be producing spiritual fruit unaware, for the moment you
sense that you are bearing fruit; it’s most likely you are not. We should focus
attention on cultivating the trees of ours by feeding, watering, weeding, and trim
them and, if we do these things diligently, the tree will naturally bear much
fruit in season.  

 

   

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 6:53:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Acts of the Flesh 

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Acts of the Flesh

“The acts of the flesh are obvious:
sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery…”          Gal 5:19

 

I don’t have to be reminded of the things of the flesh, do I? I am doomed if I still do.

“The acts of the flesh are obvious.”  Paul made the
statement before he went on to make a long list, as if his readers needed to be
reminded.

Aren’t they obvious? “Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery…”  It was obvious to them, maybe, but not so much
to us. Isn’t there a moral ambiguity with which we are all struggling?

I have seen a few movies in which adultery is romanticized and glorified. Indeed, Hollywood
has been very successful in transforming sexual immorality into something
amoral. People may consider it laughable, outlandish even, that we are still
dealing with this very issue. It appears to most that this was settled long
ago.

What used to be obvious isn’t so obvious anymore.

A bum in the village came to knock at the window of my mother’s bedroom when my father was
absent and the event created a great stir in my village. The guy was brought to
my house and was beaten severely for the offense. Obviously there wasn’t any
moral ambiguity there, even though the young man was probably drunk and he did
something impulsive.

Another guy in our village evidently was having an affair. This created a big scandal and he
ended up moving away from our village for good. It was such a stigma that he no
longer felt welcomed in his hometown. These two events left a great impression
in my heart and it became obvious to me what was permissible and what was not.
Morality was pretty much a black and white issue in our village. Of course that
was over fifty years ago.

The red letter “A” is no longer red in our society; it perhaps has become white as snow
these days.

Indeed the Lord Jesus had great compassion toward the woman who was caught in adultery,
yet he urged her not to continue sinning. Even the ones who were condemning her
were well aware of their own sinfulness. It matters not whether we are able to
abide by the lofty moral standard or not; what really matters is we don’t bring
the standard down so low so that everybody can reach it. We seem to have made
sexual immorality an amoral issue since so many, Christians included, are
engulfed in the flame of sexual impurity.

What used to be obvious is no longer obvious anymore. We have pushed Biblical moral standards
to the brink and we are falling over a precipice of a moral vacuum with nothing
to hold onto and are left dangling in midair.

What’s obviously wrong should obviously be avoided. The tragedy is we don’t seem to
know the clear difference between black and white and continue to wallow in the
mud of gray.     

 

   

Monday, December 10, 2012 7:06:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Conflict 

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Conflict

“They are in conflict with each other,
so that you are not to do whatever you want.”          Gal 5:17

 

Our conflicts with our enemies will continue if we don’t surrender to them. As long as we
hold our position, we will continue to have struggle against our foes.

We are to be congratulated if there are constant conflicts between the flesh and the Spirit
within our hearts, for it indicates that we are still fighting to become holy
and are well on our way in our journey of sanctification.

We want to do what’s good and pleasing in God’s sight, but our carnal nature doesn’t seem to
want to give in to our wishes without a serious fight and turn our heart into a
battleground.

Our flesh often refuses to become an instrument of righteousness which we can utilize to
achieve what the Lord wants us to do, creating a lot of frustration among
Christians.    

I desire to read the Scriptures first thing in the morning, yet I seem to have developed a
habit of reading the sports page before I do anything else. I find myself
staggering to the driveway to pick up the paper every morning and often feel
despondent if it isn’t there.

Spending too much time reading about sports has always been the vice I have sought to
overcome, for no matter how we rationalize or spiritualize it, it still remains
a thing of the flesh. A nagging feeling of guilt often surfaces in my heart
when I spend hours watching a football game. 
I guess the feeling of uneasiness may be a good sign, reflecting that I
am not totally in the enemy’s camp; there is still a way out as long as I keep
on fighting.

Yielding to temptations from our carnal nature is always a lot easier than fighting against
it. It will be the end of me if there are no longer any struggles between what
I truly want to do and the opposing force that seeks to keep me from doing it.

“Seeingsomething strange as not strange (見怪不怪.)”
 I fear for myself if this is the case in
my way of seeing. We may have seen so many filthy things in the world that we
cease to be startled by them. We are bombarded by so much filth put out by
Hollywood and the mass media that we have ceased to be offended by it. Our
sensitivity toward evil and sin seems to have vanished. “Because of the increase of
wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,” said the
Lord Jesus.

Should we raise a white flag and give up the fight? Should we continue to withdraw inch
by inch until we have no more ground to give and fall into a moral vacuum?

There is still hope if we keep on holding the line and don’t give up an inch. We may not
be completely victorious as long as we remain in the flesh, but at least our
constant struggle against our mortal enemies declares loud and clear who we
really are.   

Friday, December 7, 2012 6:38:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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