Great Distress 

MTS-3042

Great Distress

“For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears…”            II Cor 2:4

 

     Paul could easily have ignored what was happening at the church of Corinth and moved on to his next mission elsewhere, but being a true pastor of the church he helped plant, he simple couldn’t do that. His love for the church in Corinth was so deep that he couldn’t have turned his back on them, as if nothing serious were happening at the time.

     The news must have greatly saddened him and he felt that he had to do something to right the ship. He did not expect perfection out of the Christians there, but what had happened was just too much - someone in the church had taken his father’s wife. That was unheard of even among the pagans.

     How could such an atrocious thing have taken place? Paul asked. The apostle must have blamed himself for not doing a better job teaching while he was in Corinth. Most of the Christians at the church were new converts and it seemed to take a while for them to make the transition from paganism to Christianity. Paul did all he could within a couple of years, but evidently that wasn’t quite enough.

     I blame myself for baptizing some people without preparing them properly. There was one occasion when I even agreed to baptize a girl after she suddenly decided to receive baptism a few minutes before the actual ceremony, because I simply couldn’t say ‘no’ to people who appeared to have received Jesus into their hearts. Yet I blame myself for doing so when those people quit coming to the church months or years later.

     Paul’s ill feeling toward the church in Corinth wasn’t personal at all. What a few “bad apples” had done within the church did not injure the apostle personally, for Paul believed he had done all he could to educate the people in sound doctrine. What bothered Paul the most was God’s name had been dragged through the mud by someone who claimed to be a Christian, yet did something that was far worse than what pagans would have done.

     It wasn’t time for Paul to give up on the church, though. Out of his great anguish he wrote a letter to the church, urging the church leaders to exercise church discipline, which was done promptly as far as we can tell from reading his second letter to the church.

     What have we done to bring prodigal son and daughters back into the church fold? Very little indeed. I have stressed over the ones who seem to have gone astray, but have done very little to turn the tide, for I seem to have taken it personally. Paul wouldn’t have done all he did for the church in Corinth had he taken anything personally. We should do all things unto God’s glory and not take anything personally in our church ministry. I will not cry foul, even if I am trampled under people’s feet, as long as God’s name is being lifted up.           

     

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 7:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Reaffirmation 

MTS-3043

Reaffirmation

“I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”

              II Cor 2:8

 

     I don’t know whether the Corinthian Christian who committed the wrong act was excommunicated or not. Paul seemed to have urged the church to do just that in his previous letter and it was quite likely that the man was kicked out from the church.

     From what we read in this letter, the man appeared to have repented and had already suffered enough pain and shame for what he did. He might even have ended the marriage to his stepmother, albeit we have no proof that he did that. In this letter Paul seems to imply that the punishment exacted on the person was sufficient and it was time for reconciliation. He encouraged the church people to reaffirm their love for him and welcome him back into fellowship.

     We don’t exercise church discipline merely to punish, but to bring about a positive effect. We always pray that the one who is penalized may come to genuine repentance and, consequently, he may be brought back into the fellowship of the church.

     It doesn’t usually happen that way, though. Instead of producing true repentance, church discipline may easily create the opposite effect, with the chastised person becoming bitter and never returning to the church.

     Fortunately, we as a church haven’t had to exert a whole lot of discipline on our members, but the only time we practiced it didn’t seem to end that well. I lost touch with the brother after he moved away, but I pray that he remains in the faith.

     Shall I reaffirm my love to him even if he refuses to repent?

     We should not base our forgiveness on someone else’s repentance; we do it because the Lord tells us to do so. In fact, we continue to forgive, even if the perpetrator keeps on offending us up to seventy times seven times.

     To affirm our love for the one disciplined within our fellowship is to have genuine compassion for him; yet we can only create true sympathy for him by affirming our love to him either by word or by action. We can kick off this positive cycle through our daily prayer.

     I seem to be harboring ill feelings toward the one who left our fellowship because of church discipline and the reason for my feeling is quite obvious - I haven’t been praying for this particular brother; therefore my feeling toward him remains unchanged over the years.

     It’s about time for me to take action and the best place to start is on my knees. The ones who have offended us may have been out of sight, but they will never be out of our mind unless we release them in our fervent prayer of forgiveness.   

   

Friday, May 27, 2011 11:56:00 AM Categories: Devotional

What is to Come 

MTS-3041

What is to come

“…and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”             II Cor 1:21

 

     We have a very vague idea about what is to come; therefore we are not all that eager to move on to the next stage of our lives. We hold onto what we have as long as possible.

     Moving forward often means leaving something we treasure behind. We probably wouldn’t mind moving forward if we didn’t have to forsake what we have accumulated.

     When it was time for us to take a trip to Switzerland and Italy we found ourselves very reluctant to go because we didn’t want to leave our house. Instead of wanting to take a trip to a foreign country with a rich cultural heritage and beautiful scenery, we seemed to prefer staying home and going through our daily routine, which was something we have always enjoyed doing.

     It was a free trip for both of us, yet we were grumbling a little bit before we left. We felt a lot better after we took off and started to anticipate what was to come in the next ten days. It turned out to be a fabulous trip, which we enjoyed immensely.

     It doesn’t necessarily mean that we didn’t want to take the exciting trip; what bothered us more than anything was leaving our home in Lubbock behind, which obviously paled a great deal both in beauty and culture compared to places like Venice and Florence.

     What’s heaven like? We ask.

     No matter how hard we try, we can never describe the place in concrete terms; we can only think about the place in abstract since we have never been there, and it’s difficult for us to conjure up enough desire within our hearts to want to be there.

     We sometimes act as if the Holy Spirit isn’t doing his job within our hearts, revealing to us what is to come after we “have shuffled off this mortal coil.” By the assurance of the Holy Spirit we know there is a blessed life waiting to happen in the future and by the revelation of the same we come to know the beauty and grandeur of the heavenly realm. I believe the more we are in tune with the Spirit, the more eager we will be, as far as going to our eternal home is concerned.

     It may not bother me as much now if someday I have to move to Italy permanently since I have visited the place twice and have come to love the country. The difference is there is no possible way that we get to visit heaven before we actually move there for good, so there is always great apprehension when we have to make the move. As a matter of fact, we try our best to prolong the ultimate journey, and we probably would never make the trip if we had other choices.

     It may make a difference if we frequent the place through the Holy Spirit more often. We may be lifted up by the Spirit to the “third heaven” to behold the grandeur and, by doing so, our yearning to go there may be greatly enhanced.          

Thursday, May 26, 2011 7:01:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Ownership 

MTS-3040

Ownership

“He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us…”

             II Co 1:21

 

     I have determined not to succumb to too much self-pity, which I have often done both in private and in public.

     “You are not as bad as you consider yourself to be.” My wife has been trying to convince me that I am not a bad person and doing all she could to enhance my self-image.

     She hasn’t been all that successful. I think something fundamental must be changed before I start to feel better about myself. Both my mind and heart need to be transformed. I have to think right before I can start to act right.

     “This has to end,” I said to myself last night.

     “I can count with my ten fingers the ones who would cry for me if I were to pass away today,” I said to the congregation in my sermon, which might not have had anything to do with the thrust of my message.

     Self-absorption is a sure sign of Narcissism. I was thinking about myself even during the moment when I was supposed to completely forget myself.

     What I think about myself isn’t nearly as important as what God deems me to be; yet I continue to make verdicts on my thoughts and conduct. Self-judgment may not be as bad as judging others, but it’s not necessarily pleasing to God. We have a tendency to either judge ourselves too harshly or too lightly.

     We play both roles of master and servant if we judge ourselves.

     The Lord has put his seal of ownership on us, therefore he is the one who will evaluate us and make a final verdict concerning our thoughts and conduct. It’s an affront to God if we assume the ownership of our being by self-judging and self-condemning.

     Learning to rest in God’s grace and mercy is the key to this sticky issue. The Lord knows our makeup and is well aware of our limits and potential.

     O how thrilling I was as a new dad when I witnessed my boy learning to crawl and struggling to take his first baby step. Does my heavenly Father feel the same way when I take one baby step after another toward spiritual maturity? I may shed a few tears when I fall, but I always get up and move forward. I guess my Father in heaven is pleased with my persistence. I haven’t made a lot of progress as a Christian, but I don’t think I am going backward. I may not be running very fast toward my goal, but at least I always keep my destination within my sight, and will not be wavering from left or right. I have been trying to keep my line straight.

     It’s such a blessing that our Owner allows us to grow at our own pace and is quick to comfort and slow to anger. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 6:53:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Standing Firm 

MTS-3039

Standing Firm

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.”

               II Co 1:21

 

     Have you ever been amazed by all the things that you are able to do. I don’t mean the complex maneuvers or the incredible feats that you have accomplished; I am merely saying the simplest things that we do routinely, such as eating and drinking, walking and running, things that we often take for granted when we can do them without thinking.

     We are in trouble when we start thinking about how to do those things. The moment when natural things become unnatural to us is the time when we realize to live isn’t as natural as we have envisioned.

     All things are supernatural if we perceive them properly. Every part of our body becomes chaotic if our brain is deprived of oxygen for a few minutes, yet we rarely entertain the thought because the air is easily assessable. We will never know how supernatural breathing is until the time when we have trouble breathing. We can apply this to all aspects of our physical activities.

     Has prayer become second nature to us and do we often do it with such ease? I am amazed that some Christians can just utter an eloquent prayer without any preparation as if it were the most spontaneous thing to do.

     Quite a few people that I have baptized over the years seem to have forsaken their faith, yet many of them are still walking with the Lord and some of them have become church leaders. What made the difference? I often ponder. The Lord must have been doing wonders among the latter.

     “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.”

     My walk with Christ has always been shaky and apart from God’s help, I would have had gone astray many times. The thought of me being ill-suited to be a minister has been vexing me for the longest time, yet with God’s grace and mercy, I have not been fired yet, which could easily have happened many times.

     The worst mistake that we make as Christians is to rely on our own strength to lead a holy and unblemished life and by doing this, our lives seem to be filled with frustration and discontentment. How can the Lord be pleased with us if we are not even pleased with ourselves?

     The Lord is pleased with Christ; therefore let us rest in him.

     We may be occupied every minute of the day doing things for Christ, not realizing that doing does not equal being. Being in Christ and serving through the power of Christ is something for which we ought to strive continuously. It’s truly an effortless effort and non-laborious labor that we do daily. It’s something so supernatural that it feels so natural.      

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 6:45:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Yes 

MTS-3038

Yes

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”         II Cor 1:20

 

     We cannot claim God’s promise on the basis of our own work; we need to do so on Christ Jesus’ merit. It’s through the Lord Jesus that we can approach the throne of grace and ask for anything from God.

     “Why do bad things happen to good people?” We often hear people asking this question, as if God owes the so-called good people anything and it is his duty to keep them from any physical or emotional harm.

     Are there true good people in this world? Not exactly. If we raise the bar a little higher, the ones who rise above it will become fewer; and if we raise it to the highest, no one will be able to reach it.

     How high is our bar of goodness? All the deceased are always portrayed as good and kind in their obituaries, as if their flaws and iniquities are completely erased by death. It costs us nothing to be kind to the dead, does it?

     “Why me?” this is a common question that people ask when something bad happens to them. Most of us don’t think that we deserve to suffer ill fate, but almost all of us take it for granted when good things befall us, considering that we are totally worthy to receive them.

     “If you truly exist, God, do this for me and I will believe in you.” I have come across this kind of prayer more times than I care to remember from different sources, and many people seemed to claim that it really worked. I don’t doubt people’s sincerity when they made this assertion, but I also believe God is absolutely not beholden to us and wouldn’t heed our bidding by performing some task or chore to prove his own existence to us and cause us to believe in him.

     This kind of faith is quite fragile indeed. If the touchstone of our belief is based on God doing something on our behalf, our faith will crumble rather easily.

     Can a mere peasant capriciously approach a monarch and ask him to do him a favor or to give him anything of value? This isn’t possible unless the man has a powerful advocate to speak to the king on his behalf.

     The promises that God made are only “yes” in Christ Jesus. We have no claim on them unless Christ claims them for us. Isn’t this the reason why we always pray in Christ’s name?

     “Not my will, but your will be done,” the Lord Jesus said in his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, which gives us a perfect guideline when we pray. Our prayer will never be “yes” without the Lord Jesus’ approval. Therefore the key to have our prayers answered according to our wishes is to always pray according to Christ Jesus’ will.             

Monday, May 23, 2011 6:37:00 AM Categories: Devotional

God's Grace 

MTS-3037

God’s Grace

“We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.”

               II Cor 1:12

 

     “For we know in part and we prophesy in part,” wrote Paul in the first epistle to the Corinthians. He said that what he saw was nothing but a poor reflection of perfection itself.

     I am often puzzled by what I see and often plagued by uncertainty and doubt. I have always found it daunting to overcome disbelief and doubt with faith.

     What alternative do I have left? There are some obviously, but they don’t seem to be all that appealing, and the end result of taking their bait is most likely depression, alienation, and annihilation. Life doesn’t seem to be all that attractive if we take eternity out of the equation and the supernatural out of our imagination. I am not what I am if He is not who He is. If there is no God, I am merely a thinking beast, and even my thinking is absolutely futile, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” 

     The philosophy of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is indeed very depressing, and people who choose this route must be very courageous.

     “I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from?” asked the Psalmist.

     I guess I have been looking around for help from below far too long and have been immersed in worldly affairs and earthly pleasures and, as a result, I have lost all my spiritual energy and my spiritual insight has become dim. I am struggling to breath under a heavy burden of sadness caused by undesirable circumstances.

     The problem is that I have been relying on worldly wisdom in dealing with various difficult situations and, by doing so, I am risking losing my integrity as a Christian.

     Running away from God during trying time is never a good option. In fact, it’s the worst of all possible options. We plunge into utter darkness if we run away from the light. We will see glimpses of hope if we continue to walk in the light, for “with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

     Paul was obviously discouraged when he wrote the letter to the Corinthians, for the church he helped plant had turned out to be carnal in many ways. He would have given up hope had he operated on the principle of flesh and blood or on worldly wisdom at that moment. Under such difficult circumstances, he relied on the grace of God to get him through the adversity and was able to continue to work with the church with compassion and love.

     “We live by faith, not by sight.”

     We will become more and more despondent if we live by sight, because there are just too many disasters in this world that cause us to lose courage and hope. I don’t see any hope for us all if there is no God and no eternal life through Christ Jesus. 

    

Friday, May 20, 2011 7:12:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Integrity and Sincerity 

MTS-3036

Integrity and Sincerity

“Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world…with integrityand godly sincerity.”     II Cor 1:12

 

     Paul was indeed a very spiritual person; he was also a man of great integrity and sincerity. His intention for the Corinthians wasn’t tainted by any selfishness; he merely wanted the Corinthians to honor the Lord in their words and deeds.

     Were the Corinthians a little suspicious of him? Probably. They might have suspected that Paul was harboring some sort of bad intention toward them, thinking that the apostle might be seeking worldly fame or financial gain in his dealing with the church in Corinth.

     Paul was a man with impeccable integrity and sincerity whose sole goal in life was to preach the gospel and, for fear of being misconstrued, instead of depending on the church for livelihood, he continued to work as a tentmaker to support himself, albeit he didn’t see anything wrong in doing so. It was a privilege that he willingly gave up.

     No matter how perfectly he conducted himself, he still found himself criticized and judged by people in Corinth. He was in many ways targeted by people from within and without the church, and on a few occasions Paul couldn’t help becoming a little defensive. It would have been necessary for him to defend himself had he been wrongly judged.

     It must have caused the apostle a great deal of sorrow to think that people were suspicious of his integrity and sincerity. He must have done a lot of soul searching as well and was able to state with certainty that his conscience was clear and his motivation was pure concerning all he had done for the church in Corinth.

     His desire was for the Corinthian Christians to remain pure and unblemished in a perverted city and to grow spiritually. He had this goal in mind in all he did throughout the years he was in Corinth. Yet it hurt just the same when he heard that people were still murmuring behind his back, implying that he might have been a little self-serving in his actions.

     Being misconstrued and misunderstood is unavoidable if we devote ourselves to God’s work, for workers are few and bystanders are far too many in our churches. What do bystanders do? They find fault with other people’s action to justify their inaction. They seem to have this attitude that plagues our minds and causes us to be afraid of doing anything in the church. “Do more, make more mistakes; do less, make fewer mistakes; do nothing; make no mistakes.” Haven’t we all heard this Chinese saying, which pollutes our mind and renders us incapable of taking any action in advancing God’s kingdom? This kind of mindset may turn all of us into the wicked servant who buried his one talent in the sand.

 

Thursday, May 19, 2011 6:52:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Present salvation 

MTS-3035

Present Salvation 

“On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…”

            II Cor 1:10

 

     I have no idea when was the exact time I was redeemed from all my sins. Nothing happened on the experiential level as far as I could tell when I accepted the Lord into my life intellectually. In fact, I didn’t receive the Lord formally by making a prayer of confession; I just started telling people that I had become a Christian. Did the Lord save me during that period of time when I was wandering between two worlds - the kingdom of God and worldly kingdom?

     Why does this even matter to me anyway?

     It was likely that the Lord began his work of redemption in me from the day I received his Son and has never ceased working his salvation in me, and will never finish his work as long as I live, both here and hereafter, in this world and the world to come, for providing that I am an unfinished project, the Lord will keep on shaping me into the image of his Son.

     The work of salvation of the eternal “I Am” is forever present; so is his work of redemption in me. I have been justified and become righteous before God, but I am by no means completely sanctified and God’s effort in making me perfectly sanctified is on going.   

     “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” Paul wrote. He was probably speaking about physical redemption, for he was bombarded by perils everywhere he turned and was in great need of God’s protection, yet his need of physical protection ended at the moment he departed from his body. Does that mean the apostle needed no defense from the Lord anymore?

     I like to imagine that we continue to be sanctified even after we die. This may not be an orthodox view, but we may need the Lord’s help even more after we are glorified, in terms of our growing into God’s perfect image. Being a saint simply means that we are sanctified, but the process of being sanctified doesn’t end at any point in time or out of time. Being sanctified means being made perfect in Christ in every way, and the process in ongoing eternally, which is something that makes eternality so challenging and thrilling. Nothing brings more joy to Christians than growing more like the image of Christ.

     What we should do now is to bring God’s work of salvation with us to an experiential level, which is to make the reality of God’s redemption more real to us by experiencing it daily. Are we experiencing God’s salvation today? How do we know that God’s grace is sufficient for us unless we keep on drawing from his grace? How do we know that we have been saved unless we continue to experience his forgiveness? How do we know we are being forgiven unless we ask for it daily? We should make reality real to us through experience.     

    

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 6:58:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Deliverance 

MTS-3034

Deliverance

“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again.”              II Cor 1:10

 

     How many times has the Lord delivered us from perils? I don’t think anyone of us knows the number of times exactly, for we are not always aware of it when the Lord delivers us from deadly danger.

     There were a couple of times when I knew precisely it was the Lord who saved me from a dangerous situation. One time he kept me from taking a bus, which was about to have an accident, and the Lord also saved me from drowning in a river during a camping trip when I was in college. Other than these two occasions, I am not really aware of other incidents when the Lord rescued me from any physical danger, but it doesn’t mean that the Lord through his angels hasn’t been working to keep me from getting harmed physically and spiritually. Apart from God’s protection and sustenance, I don’t think I could even survive for a single second.

     The Lord’s saving grace and sustaining power have never ceased functioning in our lives and the more we are conscious of this fact, the more we are grateful to our Maker. People who are not thankful to God are the ones who bury their heads in the sand and are blinded to the reality that it’s in the Lord that we “live and move and have our being.”

     I may sometimes complain about being inferior to other people both physically and intellectually, but I have never ceased being thankful to God for what I am everyday and his grace is sufficient for me in all ways. I know what I was and what I am and it’s entirely to his credit that I have turned out to be what I am, which has surpassed my wildest dreams.

     It was one thing that the Lord delivered me from physical dangers, but it was completely another when he saved me from spiritual damnation. Compared to the latter, the former pales by a great deal. Spiritual redemption is by far the greatest thing the Lord has done for me. I was heading rapidly toward a bottomless pit and he reached down and snatched me out from hell fire. I was indeed “a burning stick snatched from the fire.”

     Saul was consumed by the fire of passion that he had for the law and was on his way to eternal perdition and, had the Lord not intervened, the young man who have become the champion of Judaism and had no part in salvation through Christ Jesus. After he was saved from such “deadly peril,” the apostle was fully assured that the Lord would continue to save him from any danger until he finished his earthly mission.

     Do we possess Paul’s conviction and confidence? We will continue to live in fear unless we have the same conviction. The Lord will never cease saving us physically and spiritually, both in this world and the world to come. He is the eternal “I Am,” and so is the salvation and protection he has provided for his children.        

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 6:55:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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