Momentary and Eternal 

MTS-3077

Momentary and Eternal

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”           II Co 4:17

 

     Very few of us have actually experienced the weight of God’s glory in this world; therefore it’s difficult for us to bring it into the context of our suffering. How can we, mere humans, acquire such foresight to lessen the pain that we are going through on earth. For most of us, pain is all too real and heavenly glory seems to be always in the future tense. The present is known and the future is unknown, and it’s not always easy to compensate the known present with the unknown future, which is the point where faith and sight collide.

     How do we solve this predicament?

     One of the solutions is to learn to add the weight of eternal glory to our momentary suffering. “How do we do that?” you may ask. To be honest with you, I don’t really know the solution to this and all I can do is speculate and the answer that I reach may not be that applicable, for there may be a wide chasm between theory and practice.

     We need to try to ponder the glorious aspect of our pain, which is indeed a daunting task. We can sometimes inject meaning into other people’s suffering, but we become numb and lost when we ourselves are in the midst of it. Besides, the meaning we conjure up as a third person concerning people’s suffering is often misconstrued. It would have been far wiser for Job’s three friends to remain silent than to spew out words void of real meaning.

     Suffering is a means to an end, so considering its ultimate end in the midst of our trouble may actually soften its blow. When we are in any sort of difficulty, dwelling on the present is always troubling, but thinking about the future brings us hope. Aspirations for tomorrow may ease today’s tribulation.

     Our suffering enables us to better identify with the suffering of Jesus and also causes us to have more hope for the resurrection afterward. Suffering isn’t glorious, but resurrection sure is.

     First it was feeling of numbness and desperation followed by depression. That was how I felt when I found out about my mother’s illness. When there was nothing that could be done to ease the difficult situation, I had no one to turn to but God. When the sad news finally arrived, all I could do was to endure the pain silently. I couldn’t have transferred the pain to anyone and all I could do was to absorb all of it, knowing that the sorrow would lessen as time went by. Earthly sorrows are, no matter how severe, momentary by nature, and after the pain is lifted, heavenly glory awaits.

     Just a brief glimpse of our future glory may ease up the lengthy sorrow we are going through. All earthly things, either good or bad, must come to an end, but God’s glory is endless. May the weight of our future glory crush our momentary troubles of today to pieces.       

             

Friday, July 29, 2011 7:04:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Being Renewed 

MTS-3076

Being Renewed

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”           II Co 4:16

 

     Being renewed may sound like a passive act, but it does take effort on our part. It’s natural that our bodies will waste away as we slowly age, but our inner selves need not waste away with time. We can do something to prevent that from occurring.

     The most common resolution that we make during special occasions is to exercise and lose weight. We certainly pay a lot more attention to our outward appearance than our inner condition. We do so because we are outwardly visible to the watching world but are invisible to her inwardly. Our preference is to present our best to the world. By doing various things we try to defy our age and to keep our bodies looking good as long as we are able in order to impress our friends and neighbors.

     Much to his parent’s displeasure, one of Michael’s friends at medical school gave up medicine after he graduated to become a personal trainer. The young man must have thought keeping people looking good was more vital to their well-being than keeping them healthy.

     We seem to have all our priorities misplaced. Our fine appearance may impress our peers, but it will never impress God, who undoubtedly considers our inner beauty far more important than our physical shape and appearance.

     “Lubbock Chinese Spiritual Gym.” This is going to be the name for our church. Church should be the place where people go to get their spiritual life in shape so that they will be fit for heaven. Even though we don’t charge a membership fee, not many people are interested in coming to join us. Why?

     We make our bodies strong and fit so that we will get to use them for about eighty years, yet we neglect shaping our spiritual bodies which we may need for eternity. This is indeed quite irrational, isn’t it?

     There is only time, and eternity is a myth. We seem to stake our lives on this half truth. What if we are wrong? I suppose the reason why we are so fearful of death is because we are so ill prepared and poorly equipped for eternity.

     How in the world can our inner selves be renewed daily if we spend several hours a week exercising and working out, yet spend very little or no time in fasting and prayer? No wonder many of us have become giants outside, but dwarfs inside who are well suited for the world but ill fitted for the world to come.

     Let’s make a new resolution to make our physical and spiritual life more balanced. From now on we should at least spend an equal amount of time whipping our physical and spiritual bodies into shape. If we discipline our inner selves consistently, we will be pleasantly surprised that, albeit we are growing old grow physically, we will become younger and younger spiritually, and we will finally become spiritual infants fit for heaven when we depart from this world.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011 7:08:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Grace 

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Grace

“…so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”        II Co 4:15

 

     We have to know what God’s grace is before we develop a thankful heart, and the more we know it, the more thankful we are to God. My main calling as a minister of the gospel is to point out to people where to locate God’s grace and to become more appreciative of it.

     Concerning God’s grace, we don’t need to be taught; we just need to be reminded. Deep inside, we are quite aware of our inherent limitations as a person and, by God’s grace, what we are able to do is a lot more than we are capable of doing.

     We see miracles everywhere if we have an eye for miracles. How can’t we not be overwhelmed by the interior universe when we look within and not be completely dumfounded when we look at the exterior world.

     It’s through God’s grace we are what we are, and we are to consider anything otherwise as an anathema. I pray we won’t wait until it’s too late to know this truth. Many of us only start to treasure something beautiful after we lose it.

     We don’t really appreciate the stunning beauty of life until we are about to lose it. The ones who are given a second lease on life tend to treasure life more than those who take life for granted because their lives have never been threatened. 

     The first thing you do after you wake up in the morning is to wiggle your toes and move your fingers to see if they are still functioning properly, and then you slide to the edge of the bed and get on your feet and take your first step of the day. Do you shout with excitement, as if you were an infant who was just learning how to walk, or do you just walk to the bathroom without thinking about the fact that you can actually walk?

     We will lose sight of God’s grace unless we do all things as if they may be the last time we do them and, with this in mind, we will regain the joy and excitement of doing something for the very first time. This is what I call “conscious living,” which simply means people lead their lives in such a way that they are conscious of God’s presence every moment of the day.

     Paul intended to cause more thanksgiving to God by spreading God’s grace. We Christians are both the possessors and dispensers of God’s grace. May we never forget this.

     There is more and more self-glorification and narcissism in this world and God’s name is completely ignored. We continue to draw attention to ourselves by being more and more talented and spectacular. What matters to us is what we can do through our own strength, not what God can do through us. Even we Christians seem to desire more of God gifts and have very little knowledge of God’s grace.   

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 6:51:00 AM Categories: Devotional

I Believe 

MTS-3074

I Believe

“It is written: ‘I believe, therefore I have spoken.’”

          II Co 4:13

 

     I couldn’t read through the first few chapters of Joshua without pausing and sighing a few times. “Was it necessary to kill all of the people in the city of Jericho and Ai, including women and children?” I found myself questioning. I was unable to believe, therefore I couldn’t speak with boldness.

     I seemed to have put myself in a position of judging as I was reading the Scriptures. At least, I thought it was essential for me to come up with an apology for God for all the slaughtering that appeared to have been sanctioned by him.

     Billions of people throughout human history have died, and the Lord should be responsible for every death since he is a sovereign God. Was death a necessity?

     Come to think of it, God has sovereign control over death, but he does not cause death to happen. The One who creates life does not produce death at the same time. When sin entered into the world, so did death. Death was generated by Satan and was caused by our sin. We are the secondary cause of our own death. 

     From a non-Jewish perspective, the settlers in Canaan were merely protecting their home against the invaders, which were the Israelites. Their homeland might have been the Promised Land for some other people, but it had been their home for generations and they were not about to give it up.

     Watching the history of the Aztec Indians on PBS solved some of my predicament. Did the Indians deserve to die at the hands of the ruthless Conquistadors led by Cortez? They probably did, judging the way they practiced human sacrifice and cannibalism. It’s well researched and documented that they ripped people’s hearts out while they were still beating and presented them to their sun god.

     What would you have done to those people had you created those creatures with your own hands? This may be a little bit far fetched. What do we do to computer software or programs we have created that have gone bad? We trash them, right?

     I believe some of the Canaanites practiced human sacrifice

     “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you…” said the Lord in Deuteronomy. This particular verse provides for me a good apology concerning the conquest of the Promised Land. 

     “I believe, therefore I have spoken.”

     God is not a capricious God and he does not do thing randomly. I have no business proclaiming his name if I ever lose my faith in his integrity and his loving kindness. God does not owe me an answer to all my questions and doubts, yet I do owe him my ability to think and to doubt. I guess this is one of the ways to read Descartes’ “ I think, therefore I am.”  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 7:13:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Life Through Death 

MTS-3073

Life Through Death

“So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

             II Co 4:12

 

     We are redeemed through the death of our Lord Jesus. Salvation wouldn’t have been possible had Jesus not died on the cross. Had Christ Jesus decided to conquer the entire world with his sword as his disciples had expected, he might have established the greatest kingdom on earth, but he wouldn’t have had any power to save us from our sins. The greatest news in human history was Jesus chose to die. Death was at work in him, but life was at work among the people in Christ Jesus’ generation, and the generations to come.

     Christ died two thousand years before I came into being, yet his death had something to do with me. He died for my sin before I started to sin and resurrected so that I can be raised from death after I die.

     To be saved by the blood of Jesus is to live for Christ; and the only way to live for Christ is to die for him. Unless death is at work within us, life will not be at work among the people to whom we minister. Jesus’ death is the key to our life, and our death may become the key to other people’s life.

     Why aren’t we effective ministers of the gospel? The answer is indeed quite simple: death is not at work among us. We are too alive to be of any use to God and to his kingdom.

     We may be alive to fame and fortune; we may be alive to the vainglory of the world; we may be alive to people’s applause and praise; we may be alive to our aspirations and dreams. Yes, we are so alive and vibrant that we believe we can single-handedly achieve great things for the Lord. Yes, we are totally essential, indispensable, and irreplaceable in God’s kingdom, aren’t we?

     If we become silent, the stones may cry out to sing praises to God. By the same token, if we don’t do our job reaching out to the unsaved, God can raise stones up to take our place. Yes, we may be talented and greatly endowed with spiritual gifts, yet we can easily be replaced by lesser men.

     Let death come to me, O my soul. Let me die to myself so I no longer care when people slander me and say all sorts of things against me; when people look down on me and consider me rubbish; when people deem me a lousy preacher and worse pastor; when people treat me with disgust and contempt. O Lord, may you become everything in my life and let me be nothing; may you be magnified and let me diminish; may you increase and let me decrease; may you live and let me die; may death continue to work in my life so that life may be at work among the people you have placed under my care.

Monday, July 25, 2011 6:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Death and Life 

MTS-3072

Death and Life

“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”      II Co 4:10

 

     Baptism symbolizes our unity with Christ, both in his life and his death. We have no problem unifying with him in his life, but we seem to have great difficult identifying with Jesus in his death. No wonder we have such trouble revealing the life of Christ in our mortal bodies. Unless we unite with him in his suffering and death, the life of Jesus will not be “lively portrayed” in us.

     To a certain extent, our eternal life means eternal death while we are still in the flesh. For us who are redeemed, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Paul was obviously speaking about his physical body in this context, but he also remarked elsewhere by quoting the Psalmist: “For your sake we face death all day long.” We must die thousands of death before we actually die.

     To die to the self is to consistently deny our bodies’ titanic demands and to bring our every thought and action into conformity to the will of God. We will not be any good to God’s kingdom if we continue to pamper our flesh and cater to its every little need, which eventually will make us wimpy Christians who are unfit to fight any spiritual warfare. We have become “chocolate solders,” as one of my missionary friends put it. We melt away rather quickly under the heat of pressure.

     People who are unified with Christ in his death are no longer hypersensitive to how they are perceived by the world; therefore fame and fortune are not something they desire to pursue. Their passion in life is to be more like Christ and their daily pursuit is to get closer to Christ in their walk.

     For us to magnify the Lord in our lives is to become so small that we are almost invisible and, when people look at us, they see no one but Jesus and nothing but the things the Lord has wrought in us.

     Putting ourselves to death is an endless endeavor that may last for a lifetime. No doubt the Lord calls us to conquer the world with the gospel, but he first demands that we bring our bodies into submission, which may be a greater and more difficult task for us to do than the great commission. Many Christians may have brought the gospel to others, but they themselves are forsaken.

     The death of Christ isn’t necessarily his physical death on the cross; it’s rather the death-in-life he was leading. The Lord probably only carried his cross for a short distance before he became exhausted and Simon had to do it for him, but in essence, he had been carrying an invisible cross his entire life, which is the very cross we are commissioned to bear. It’s the cross of “not my will, but your will be done,” which is a life of dying to the self and living for Christ. There is no other way for Christ’s life to be revealed in us except this way.        

Friday, July 22, 2011 6:21:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Hard Pressed 

MTS-3071

Hard Pressed

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair…”         II Co 4:8

 

     “One day at a time.” Dad wasn’t a Christian, but this was what he repeatedly said to me when I called to ask how his health was. He had had a stroke three years prior and from then on, he was sitting on a time bomb, anticipating something big to happen. Another stroke took his life instantly a month after I last visited him. He was a worrier like me but, deep inside, he knew he couldn’t do anything to alter what was going to happen. He did everything to keep his BP low, but what was inevitable inevitably took place and he passed away at 76.

     We can deal with the pressure this day, but the thought of handling it tomorrow and the day after tomorrow may put us into a great depression. The days were very difficult when I was in the service, but what made it so much harder was I kept on counting the days before I would be discharged and, the more I calculated, the slower the days passed. I was indeed hard pressed from all sides, including from inside. I was extremely restless and depressed. The days would eventually become a little easier, but my inner turmoil didn’t ease up until the day when I walked out of my camp a civilian.

     What did the apostle Paul have to look forward to had he looked at his immediate and distant future? The Roman Empire wasn’t going to suddenly loosen up her tight grip on the Christians, and the Jews would still be there, attempting to stone him. There were dangers and death looming from all sides and he couldn’t have done anything to change the adverse circumstances. I would probably have been overcome by anxiety and terror had I been in his shoes, but that did not seem to be the case with Paul. In the midst of uncertainties, he was certain about one thing - the Lord was in control and nothing would happen outside the realm of God’s loving will. With this assurance in mind, Paul was able to carry on his mission without fear.

     For sure we will be hard pressed one way of another in life, but the pressures will not crush us if we learn to handle adversities the right way.  “Strength for today is mine always and all I need for tomorrow.” May this line in a hymn always remind us in times of difficulty.

     What we fear isn’t necessarily the ultimate reality when death strikes all of us; we mostly dread the painful process of getting to our final destiny; yet it’s not up to us to choose when and how it will take place. We believe the Lord will provide for us enough strength whenever strength is needed. Therefore, before it happens, let’s strengthen our faith by practicing the important lesson of trust by trusting in all areas of our lives.

     “When will I get good in Spanish,” my son asked impatiently.

     “Learning a new language is accumulative,” I responded, which is quite similar to learning the lesson of trust, I suppose. As long as we learn our vocabulary and grammar daily and faithfully, we will become proficient in a new language someday.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011 6:17:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Jars of Clay 

MTS-3070

Jars of Clay

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”     II Co 4:7

 

     It’s not unusual for people to bump into a glass door if it is so translucent that it is hardly visible. When I was working at the National Palace Museum, I often witnessed people bumping their forehead against the glass when they got too close to the treasure displayed within the glass container. The workers in the museum had to keep the glass transparent so that people could see the treasure stored within more clearly.

     I guess it’s not that easy for people to see the riches that are enclosed within jars of clay. What they see is merely unimpressive, non-descriptive, earth-toned jars and their appearance alone certainly doesn’t cause people to become curious about the contents within the vassals.

     I see a jar of clay when I look at myself. In me you see a late middle-aged man of average stature and looks whose hair is turning gray and whose muscles are sagging. Can I draw people to me by my outward appearance? Surely that’s out of the question. What do people see if they take a close look at my résumé? There is really nothing to see in it, for it is so plain and insignificant. No wonder I often act like I have something to hide.

     “Are you a doctor?” a lady in an Asian grocery store asked me out of the blue.

     “No, I am not. I am a pastor,” I replied.

     For some odd reason strangers always think I am a physician. Even a mailman came to our door to ask me a medical question. I guess I pass the “looks test” for being a medical doctor, but in reality I am just a nobody.

     Come to think of it, being a nobody is somebody that I should have been and will always be. Why do I want to be a jar of gold with rubbish within? (金玉其外, 敗絮其中) Isn’t this the phenomenon that we witness daily when we turn on the television set?

     We don’t see many jars of clay these days. We are unsuitable to store the treasure within us, because we decorate our exterior with elaborated painting and adorn it with various colors that naturally cause people to look at the outside of the jar only. Besides, jars like that may become too precious to be broken and they may become collectors’ items.

     The jars must be broken and shattered for the treasure hidden within to be revealed in the daylight. I am afraid we have become too protective of the earthen jars for the treasure within to be shown to the world. We have become so shallow and empty that people don’t realize that there is something stunningly beautiful stored within us. We Christians have become all jar but very little treasure.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 6:57:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Preaching 

MTS-3069

Preaching

“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”    II Co 4:5

 

     Self-awareness isn’t necessarily a blessing; it can become a curse sometimes, especially during the time when we are preaching, or doing something spiritually.

     “Wow, I am preaching the Word of God!”

     We may be overwhelmed by the solemn occasion and become petrified when we realize what we are doing. The very thought that what we do or speak from behind the pulpit may determine people’s eternal destiny can easily put our emotions into turmoil and render us ineffective in whatever we try to accomplish. We can’t afford to think about ourselves too much when we preach.

     There is just too much self-focus and narcissism from our pulpit nowadays. We preachers seem to succumb to the temptation of self-expression so often and, instead of preaching, we tend to perform on stage as if we were mere actors.

     We need to forget ourselves when the curtain parts and the limelight shines brightly on us. That’s the time when the Lord Jesus gets all the attention and glory.

     The more we preach ourselves, the less often people will get saved. We may be very impressive, but we will never leave any imprint on people’s hearts or cause any meaningful change in their lives. Only Christ can transform lives and we are mere instruments which he uses to achieve such a purpose.

     I am afraid there are just too many artificial salvations that occur in our churches, which may have been caused directly by the message from the preachers. Bad things happen to the church if Christ isn’t “lively portrayed” in front of the congregation.

     Christians are not making any difference in society because they are no different from the rest of the world. How can we cast out darkness in this world if our light does not shine? If the statistics we have so often come across are accurate, we Christians don’t seem to be leading a lifestyle that is different from the rest of people in the world. Our divorce rate is just the same as non-believers, if not worse, and only a tiny percent of evangelical Christians practice tithing. We may be claiming one thing, but we are doing the opposite.

     What people yearn to see is consistency from the pulpit. There are enough performances in the world and we don’t need to go to the house of God to see them. The preachers who focus on themselves are grotesque at best and they don’t do much to bring transformation to people’s lives, no matter how eloquent they are.

     What’s the solution to this problem? We preachers need to spend more time on our knees in fasting and prayer and batter our flesh repeatedly by practicing the lost art of self-denial, lest we ourselves be forsaken when we preach the gospel to others.             

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 6:55:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Perhaps 

Perhaps

             -“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”    II Co 4:17

 

Perhaps it was a homecoming of sorts

After a night of revelry,

I trampled upon my own shadow

As I was weaving through dark alleys.

With head bowed and back bent              

I silently counted my heavy footsteps,

And my heart seemed to echo with melancholy thumps,

Three, two, one…

Deep was the night

Yet daybreak was still an endless toss-and-turning away,

Ere the darkness was done.   

 

Perhaps this is a long journey,

Albeit laborious, yet dreading it would end too soon;

For there is a joy in mountain climbing and river crossing,

And perhaps, with stone pillow underneath,

I can see the ladder father Jacob once envisioned

And walk straight to the stars through the portal of my dream. 

 

Perhaps in this tattered tent we aren’t meant to remain,

For there is frost at night and brutal is the noonday sun,

And ominous signs of thunderstorm we often see,

And hear warnings of coming hurricane broadcast.

Perhaps the rainbow after the rain has a message to tell,

Reminding us, earth-walkers,

There will be a day of homecoming.

 

 

Monday, July 18, 2011 7:50:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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