Surpassing Glory 

MTS-3058

Surpassing Glory

“For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.”          II Cor 3:10

 

     It was a glorious moment when the Lord carved his law on the stone tablets, which was the very first time God spoke to his people in written words. The self-hidden Creator, who had been “hiding” from his creatures for years, finally resurfaced and revealed himself to his people, and told them exactly what he expected from them. From then on, God’s people didn’t have any excuse for not knowing what God’s will was for them. The Almighty had spoken with his finger and in plain writing and confirmed what he had already written on people’s hearts.

     “For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.” Why is this so? God had broken his years of silence and opened up a channel of communication and from then on, the divine and the human were reconnected and a way was carved out for lost children to return to their father. Surely it was a glorious moment that was worth celebrating.

     But the glory was becoming less and less glorious as the years went by, because the way of salvation through obeying the Lord was a lot more difficult than it appeared to be and many people had tried and failed. People might have attributed their failure to not trying hard enough to achieve the goal, but history appeared to be repeating itself and the failure and frustration continued.

     God spoke one time, would he speak again? 

     People could hardly sense that something great was going to take place in that small town called “House of Bread.” Yes, there was a bright star that paused above the town for a brief moment but most people didn’t pay any attention. Yes, a child had been born in a manger, but people considered it commonplace, for babies were being born everyday. “What child is this?” they asked. “He is just like any other infant,” they concluded.

     There was no fanfare at all when God spoke for the second time. There was no fire and smoke coming down from the mountain and there weren’t people who were waiting at the foothill to hear the divine voice. This time there were three magi coming from the east and a few shepherds who knew what was going on and the rest of the world was fast asleep.

     Again, the glory was kept hidden for the next thirty long years. There was no beauty or glory in the person who was born into a poor carpenter’s family and would become one himself. We don’t seek glory in such a family or such a person. Glory is lodged with kings and in their palaces, not in a small village home in Nazareth.

     Yet things started to change when a voice was heard in the wilderness and many people flooded to the River Jordan to be baptized. The road was being prepared for the glory of God to march on and such glory would continue to increase until it dazzled the entire world.          

  

Thursday, June 30, 2011 6:39:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Righteousness 

MTS-3057

Righteousness

“…how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!”

             II Cor 3:9

     We have no righteousness of our own; it must come from elsewhere. It eludes us the moment when we think we have gotten a hold of it. In fact, righteous people are not always aware of their righteousness.

     Am I actually helping people to become righteous when I tell them about Christ? I am not always conscious of this reality when I witness to people.

     Becoming righteous isn’t necessarily people’s felt need; it’s more their real need that they have neglected to meet for the longest time. I can’t just approach people and tell them that I am going to point out a way for them to meet their real need. We don’t always know what our real needs are.

     “Do you want to become righteous?” I think we will probably draw a blank stare when we approach non-believers with this question. Unlike some of us Christians, they don’t lose sleep over being unrighteous or unjustified before God. They have many other important issues to occupy their minds.

     Spiritual imagination aided by the Holy Spirit is essential for us to appreciate the concept of righteousness.

     If being right is essentially relative, why bother? Yet we seem to be obsessive about it. We can all live harmoniously with one another since everyone is right according to the philosophy of relativism. No wonder the virtue of tolerance has become the paramount of all virtues, a concept we have been driving into young people’s psyche. 

     People who insist that they are absolutely right are bigots. This is the view held by all. There is no truth but this. 

     Whose righteousness is it?

     Evangelism is an act of imposing one’s view of righteousness on others and people who do such thing are not always welcome. Yet we continue to do it since we consider our perception of righteousness is absolutely right.

     God has spoken, hasn’t he? If he hasn’t spoken, we mere humans have no divine right to pronounce what true righteousness is, nor is it necessary for us to do so in the grand scheme of things. In a world without God, being right isn’t important, being a law-abiding citizen is.   

     Is being righteous before God important to you? It is not unless you believe it determines your eternal destiny. Yet the ones who live in time are incapable of comprehending the idea of eternity.

     How do we get out of this circular reasoning?

     “Eating beef is wrong,” mother told me when I was young and I accepted it as true until I started to do my own reasoning. There are thousands of such incidents when I was misguided in the process of getting an education.

     I think listening to God’s voice from the Scriptures is a better and safer option. 

    

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 6:06:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Glorious 

MTS-3056

Glorious

“…will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?”

                II Cor 3:8

 

     Moses came down from the mountain and the radiance of God’s glory remained on his countenance still, which kept the Israelites from looking at him directly. Moses had to put a veil on his face so that he could speak to God’s people face to face.

     What do people see when they look at you? Do they witness any of the glory of God, the brilliance people may receive after they spend time with the Almighty in secret places?

     I am afraid we may be immersing ourselves into the customs of this world too deeply to have any of the light of the glory of God remaining on our countenance. People are no longer curious about us Christians, since we act and think exactly like non-believers and what seems to distinguish us from the rest of the people is we spend a couple of hours on Sunday in church.

     Do ministers of the gospel fare any better in this aspect?

     We seem to be lowering the bar of morality by our teaching and actions and have failed to lift people up from where they are. Followers can hardly rise above their leaders, I have heard, and this appears to be the phenomena we witness in our age. The line that separates the sacred and the secular has become increasingly vague.

     It’s time to reclaim what we have lost.

     The way we perceive ourselves is a good place to start. If we view ourselves as glorious, we may start to act like it. My perception of the ministry has been polluted by the world’s view of it and I seem to have become very apologetic about my profession. “Will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?” Paul’s question should put me to great shame.

     We have been brainwashed by worldly philosophy far too long and our value system seems to remain unchanged, even after the Spirit has transformed our hearts. We are glorious in essence, yet we do have a strange urge to cover up our glory with a veil, as if we are ashamed of who we are.

     Yes, we are glorious, more glorious than all the creatures in the world. We are God’s beloved and the crown of his creation. We may have lost some of the radiance, but we can recover God ‘s image within our being bit by bit through imitating our Lord Jesus. Our ultimate goal in life is to become more like Jesus, thus becoming more and more glorious.

     If we think highly of our God, we will have a proper view of our unique identity and will treasure ourselves more. We also have a unique mission, which is the ministry of the Spirit through which we bring people out from darkness to light. Nothing is more honorable and glorious than this.   

    

Monday, June 27, 2011 10:16:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Letter 

MTS-3055

Letter

“…not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”             II Cor 3:6

 

     The law tells us what not to do and the consequence of violating it, which may cause us to fear and to tremble, for we seem to rebel against God’s law daily.

     “Woe is me,” we cry out.

     If we are completely frank to ourselves, we know very well that we have fallen short of God’s demands by a lot. In order to keep our conscience clear, we continue to lower the bar of God’s standard for us so we can meet it. Instead of raising ourselves up to meet God in heaven, we bring him down to earth. That’s not what the incarnation of Jesus is supposed to mean. Christ Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us only for a season, yet we have been trying to keep him earth-bound for all seasons.

     We must rise up from our collective death since Christ has risen from the dead.

     Is my life full of life or permeated with the stench of death? This is something we need to ask ourselves daily.

     “Are you reading your Bible daily?” This is the question that I am accustomed to ask people when they come to me for counseling, as if merely reading God’s holy word would solve all manners of problems. Reading the Scriptures is a good start, but it’s definitely not an end.

     Knowing the will of God isn’t all that hard; putting it to practice is what causes us problems. In this case, the more we know God’s word, the more we are condemned, for compared to what we know, what we practice is extremely meager.

     Rejoicing in the Lord isn’t always easy if we think that the Lord is angry with us everyday for what we have done or failed to do. I have met enough miserable Christians than I care to remember during the course of my Christian life. As a matter of fact, I myself have been one of them.

     Our deliverance from ourselves doesn’t just happen once when we first put of trust in Christ; it should take place everyday when we walk with him. In Christ is life and in our carnal self is death. We will exude an odor of death if we live according to the spirit of this world. For us Christians, conformity to the image of this world is a recipe for discontentment and misery.      

     Frost’s melancholy verse surfaced in my mind as I was walking down the street alone late at night, meditating on the meaning of something that was happening to me. The seduction of the night seemed to be quite alluring at the time and the streetlights were becoming dim and frail and I feared that I was walking on the edge of darkness. “ I have been one acquainted with the night…” I recited to myself, overcome by self-pity.

     Such was the moment when I need deliverance from above. I am well versed about the Bible and acquainted with the Christian doctrines over the ages, but such in depth knowledge brought me no consolation in moments of crisis, “for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”

       

Friday, June 24, 2011 7:51:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Competence 

MTS-3054

Competence

“…but our competence comes from God.”

               II Cor 3:5

 

     Humanly speaking, this job is close to impossible. There are only a few hundred Chinese in this town, and most of them are not Christians.

    “We don’t have a sufficient Chinese population to support a Chinese church,” the previous pastor once commented. “We can probably establish a “gospel station” here,” he added.

     I had no idea what he meant by “gospel station.” I guess he meant a place where the gospel is preached. A new concept, I suppose.

     Yet we have never cancelled a single service for lack of participation, and the church continues to pay me a stipend over the years. I believe this church will stand long after I am gone.

     The smallest attendance we have ever had over the span of eighteen years was in the thirties, but we were never in any danger of not having any people coming to the worship service.

     I sometimes worry about it occurring, though. University Baptist church, the facility where we used to meet for worship, used to have five hundred plus members, but it has since dissolved for lack of participation. If it happened to a church of five hundred, it could easily happen to a church of fifty for sure.

     Who is equal to this task?

     How in the world did the slightly built Jew with neither eloquence nor good looks think he could take on the entire unbelieving world of Asia Minor and the European continent? No one was competent for that, not even the greatest man in the world. Had Paul looked at his own abilities and competence, he would have lost heart, but he kept his eyes on Christ Jesus and the power of his resurrection.

     Students have come and gone through the years and we were able to witness to some of them and a few of them were baptized and moved away. We are the little engine powered by the Holy Spirit that could.

     We are more than competent when the Lord chooses to use us as instruments to accomplish his eternal purpose. We just need to be patient and raise our sail to catch the breeze when it starts to blow and learn to stand still and wait when the wind is calm.

                

Thursday, June 23, 2011 7:15:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Confidence 

MTS-3053

Confidence

“Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.”

           II Cor 3:4

 

     Nothing is personal in ministry; therefore we should not take anything within our ministry personally. The problem is we are persons and can’t help taking things personally.

     “What did they not like about me?” I asked. “Why didn’t they stay at our church?”

     Some Christians moved to the city and frequented our church once or twice and disappeared, which puzzled me a great deal. We are the only Chinese church in town and I assumed that, since they were Chinese, they would surely join our church fellowship.

     I was often wrong. There were many options for them, and the Chinese church was merely one of them, and many people ended up going elsewhere.

     It would have bothered me a lot had I taken the slight personally. The Lord obviously had led them to the place of worship that was most suitable for them and I should just accept the way it was, yet I sometimes couldn't help questioning myself.

     “Was it because of my deficiencies as a minister that they chose not to stay?”

     We are doomed to fail if we build the ministry on the basis of our personal gifts and charms. We may be charming and gifted, but our appealing qualities may actually become a veil that keeps people from seeing Christ. We preachers need to step out of the way and let God perform his amazing work of salvation.

     We will quickly lose our confidence if we are confident in our own ability to draw people to God. The glamour and glitz can only last for so long and, when the lights dim and the crowds dissipate, only the strong in Christ will remain in Christ. The fireworks we create may explode in the night sky with millions of bright lights, but they can never rival the dim starlight, which has been shining for years.

     If I continue to do his work faithfully, he will surely do his own. Even if he doesn’t seem to be working, I will keep on doing the work he has given me. Such is the confidence I have. “The word of God will not return to me void.”

     I do have ample reason to question myself if I only preach about myself. Why did it bother me when Chinese Christians walked away from our church? The answer is simple. I was insulted that they didn’t find me charming or spiritual enough when they were visiting so they went elsewhere. It’s better that I quit the ministry if I continue to feel this way.

     Let’s wait on God and trust that he will do his work in convicting and regenerating sinners whenever and wherever he deems the most appropriate. It’s never about me, and it’s always about him.  

              

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 8:20:00 AM Categories: Devotional

To Trust 

MTS-3052

To Trust

“…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God…”

                II Cor 3:3

 

     It may seem pretty effortless to the laymen sitting in the pews, but it does take a lot of spiritual energy for preachers to speak effectively. When a minister stands behind a pulpit, he speaks for God.

     We speak because God has spoken.

     When we give a lecture on a certain subject, we may speak with a lot of passion, but what we are trying to do is merely to share our knowledge in order to impress our audience. We want people to think highly of us. Preaching the word of God is just the opposite. We will accomplish nothing if our only goal is to showcase our eloquence and our knowledge.

     What we attempt to reach through preaching isn’t people’s brains; we mean to touch their hearts. People are not necessarily persuaded to put their trust in Christ; they are moved by the Spirit to do so. Our faith in God isn’t irrational, but our efforts will all be in vain if we only try to know God through our own reason. To believe in God may sound like an act of rationality, but love should be involved in the process as well. The devil believes in God, yet he trembles, for he does not love God.

     To believe in God is to love God, and love comes from the heart. What people often do is to love first and do the rationalization and justification later. I am, of course, speaking about human love here. Divine love needs no rationalization or justification.

     Believing in God is beyond reason; therefore rationality alone should never be something that keeps us from coming to the Lord. If our rationality is totally consistent with God’s, then believing in God will be as easy and natural as taking a breath. We have such a difficult time believing in God because we are not omniscient.

     There seems to be a thin veil of human rationality that covers people’s eyes when I preach to them and they look at me as lf seeing through a dense fog. I often get discouraged when I see people struggling so much, but there is nothing I can do to help them except continue to preach the word of God.

     To understand the message of God is to surrender our entire being to him, including our rationality. Faith isn’t unreasonable; it is beyond reason. As a matter of fact, we will realize it is the most reasonable thing to do after we put our trust in Christ.

     Why is it so hard to call him “Abba, Father” if he is truly our father in heaven?

     I will no longer try to impress people’s rationality through my preaching, which will not do any good; what I need to do to pray to God to write something upon people’s hearts through his Spirit. I have been doing enough wooing for God with human reasoning, which didn’t seem to work very at all. May the Lord draw people to him through the inner operation of the Holy Spirit.        

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 7:56:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Our Letter 

MTS-3051

Our Letter

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.”              II Cor 3:2

 

     The people to whom we have witnessed are our letter of recommendation. To be more exact, the ones who have been saved under our ministry are the letter Paul was referring to in this verse. There was no need for him to have any letter of recommendation, for the people he led to Christ were all his letters.

     If that was the case, most of us may need an actual letter of recommendation, because we may not have led anybody to Christ during our entire life.

     As far as leading people to Christ, I have become quite deferential. I am extremely reluctant to claim that I have done any of that. Christ was the one who led people to himself. Paul must have felt the same way I do; yet why did he even claim that he had so many “letters?”

     There was no doubt that the apostle was well versed about the sovereignty of God and his unconditional election of sinners, but he was unapologetic when he made the claim for his labor among the pagans. He had put his entire life into his ministry and he shouldn’t have had to make any apology for it. Albeit he didn’t play the essential role in people’s coming to Christ, he effort was nonetheless vital and absolutely necessary.

     It’s likely that we haven’t put enough into leading people to Christ if we make a statement such as: “it’s God’s work; not mine,” or “I just make myself available.” If we have put an all-out effort into evangelism, we can at least claim a tiny credit for whatever success we might have achieved and rejoice with the Lord of the harvest.

     I may have become a little hesitant about claiming the result of my labor in the past, for the fruit hasn’t been all that good. I tend to blame myself for not doing a good job teaching when new converts seemed to have faltered not long after they were baptized.

     The fruit Paul produced didn’t turn out to be ideal, yet Paul offered no apology for it. He obviously didn’t perceive that people’s justification from sin was the end of their salvation. He believed that, to some extent, sinners continue to get saved even after they have been saved; therefore, his work among the newly saved in the city of Corinth was ongoing.

     The Corinthians Christians were letters carved on Paul’s heart, which Paul seemed to have been reading everyday. The ones who were converted to Christ under his tutelage were his spiritual children and he felt obligated to instruct them and to bring them back to the fold when they had gone astray.

     I may have given up hope on people far too easily and tend to take it personally when believers quit coming to church, which was something Paul seldom did. He felt no need to make any apology for people’s faltering, since he believed it’s was the Lord who saved; yet he took personal responsibility for it because he realized that he could have worked harder to prevent it from happening.            

         

Monday, June 20, 2011 8:25:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Commendation 

MTS-3050

Commendation

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?”

            II Cor 3:1

 

     It’s a constant struggle for some of us to know whether to commend ourselves or not, or to what extent do we commend ourselves. We desire to be known, yet there is a voice within our hearts, telling us to keep ourselves hidden.

     We suspect that we may become objects of envy if we reveal to people our past accomplishments; we are aware of this because we often feel the same way when others share their accolades with us. It’s not an easy task to rejoice with those who rejoice. Our instinct is to become envious of others’ good fortune and pity our lack of the same.

     Did Paul feel the need to commend himself to the Corinthians? He was obviously tempted to do so, for he felt competition from other elements within the church and might have felt compelled to say something about himself, claiming that he was by no means inferior to the other “super” apostles.

     There was no need for him to do it, because the Corinthian Christians were all his living commendations. Paul and his colleagues obviously had played some part in their coming to Christ.

     “Dr Liu was one of the founders of our church,” I said, as I introduced a visiting speaker to the congregation. I realized there was something wrong in my brief introduction as soon as I uttered it. No one was the true founder of our church, the Lord was. Being a mature believer, I don’t think Dr. Liu had any intention to take the credit. I meant to commend him before the congregation, but I, in fact, made a blunder.

     We need to be very cautious not to lift people up too high, which we have a tendency to do within the church. I think it’s a lot safer for us to keep ourselves hidden in Christ, and not to fight for any sort of recognition. To be known unto men is a very dangerous thing.

     We are experts in creating heroes. We Protestants may not have canonized anybody like the Catholics have done over the years, but we have done our share of making many superstars within our circle long after the Protestant Reformation, something which would have been abhorrent to all the reformers.

     I don’t how many preachers secretly harbor a sinister desire to become a superstar who is constantly in demand as a speaker at revivals and conferences. I hope there aren’t many of those in our midst, but I suspect there are more than we care to know. We ourselves may easily become one of those if we succumb to the desire of our flesh.

     What John the Baptist did was one of the most challenging things that a minister could have encountered. He knew how lowly he was and directed people, including his disciples, to the One who had come after him. I believe the key to our spirituality lies in the simple statement that he made concerning the Lord Jesus: “He shall increase; and I shall decrease.” Our goal as Christians is to continue to decrease until we are reduced to nothing, absolutely nothing.                

Friday, June 17, 2011 7:11:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Sincerity 

MTS-3049

Sincerity

“On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.”           II Cor 2:17

 

     

     I have always been sincere when I preached, but sincerity might not been quite enough. Besides, sincerity is very difficult to define. I may have a sincere desire for people to get saved, but my sincerity may be based on my ability and eloquence.

     Such wasn’t the sincerity that Paul was speaking about; he was perhaps implying that we must base our sincerity on God’s sovereignty and his ability to save sinners.

     It was a small crowd at the seaside retreat and I definitely spoke with a lot of zeal, but being zealous wasn’t quite enough. Anyone can be zealous when she or he is placed at a podium in front of an audience. Our instinct to perform immediately kicks in when the stage is ours and we tend to shine the brightest when there is an opportunity for us to shine.

     Was I preaching or was I merely performing?

     I was indeed quite animated, more so than I usually am, and I spoke for an hour and fifteen minutes nonstop. What was I thinking about when it was all done?

     “How did I do?” I asked my poor wife, who had to sit through my sermon, without understanding exactly what I was trying to say.

     ‘You did a good job,” she replied. What else could she have done except to give me a little affirmation and stroke my ego?

     “What did the Lord do through the Holy Spirit?” This should have been the question that I asked; yet I was only thinking about myself.

     “It’s not about you, stupid,” one coach said to his star player. ‘It’s about the team,” he added.

     “It’s about the Lord, not about me,” I said to myself. If I were to take the credit for people getting saved, which is a rare occurrence under my preaching, I would also have to take the blame for people not getting saved as well, which seems to occur on a regular basis.

     I was sent by God to speak to the small group of people gathered there. If my Master truly sent me, then I should have delivered his message. To be sincere is to be truthful, but in the context of our discussion, to be sincere is to be truthful and faithful to our Master. There is no sincerity but the sincerity of Christ himself when we preach.

     I am indeed a poor actor, but it’s my sincere desire to give my Lord, the director of my play, all the praise and applause when the curtain finally falls. I was dumbfounded when people clapped at the end of my sermon during the retreat, for the applause should have been directed to Christ alone.

     I will continue to preach, but will do so with more fear and trembling, knowing how difficult it is for me to be truly sincere before the Lord during the solemn occasions when I act as the spokesman of the almighty God.   

               

Thursday, June 16, 2011 8:00:00 AM
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