Rejoice 

MTS-3100

Rejoice

“…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…”

           II Co 6:10

 

     We may be sorrowful, but we should never be overcome by sorrow. Whatever we feel is determined by our makeup as a person; therefore we can’t always help it whether we have a feeling of joy or sorrow. Besides, so much of our feeling is our emotional response to whatever happens in our lives, which is spontaneous in most cases.

     We can’t help but feel sad when something bad occurs in our lives, can we? Surely it’s not unspiritual to have feelings of sorrow when there is a reason to be sorrowful.

     There were plenty of reasons for Paul to feel sad during the course of his ministry. As a person Paul was very much misunderstood and under-appreciated and, as a servant of God, he was often the target of other people’s jealousy and unwarranted criticism. Being a single person, Paul had nobody to turn to when sorrow overtook him and it might have taken a long time for him to recover from his “dark night of the soul.”

     Can we even imagine how the apostle was feeling when he sat in a deep dungeon waiting to be sentenced? There was no way for him to be gleeful outwardly when stones were raining down on him outside the city of Lystra and, in another incident, how could he be joyful when he was sitting in the dark, nursing his wounds caused by severe whipping?

     Indeed Paul was sorrowful on far too many occasions, but the excruciating pain he was experiencing didn’t overtake him. He instead rose above wave after wave of sorrow and became triumphant over them all, for he put his hope in the eternal, not in the temporal. With God’s help, he was able to “depart” from his body for a while, when it was inflicted with physical and emotional pain, and to feel the warmth of Christ’s embrace and to experience the peace and joy that passed all understanding.

     Earthly things tend to cause us sorrow and pain, but heavenly things always make us glad. We will have less sorrow if we meditate more on the things that are unseen, for “the unseen are eternal.” This is exactly the thing we do to cause ourselves to rejoice in the midst of sorrow, which is something I call “shifting focus.”

     The reason why sorrow takes such a strong hold on us is because we simply don’t want to let it go, or do nothing to get rid of it. We tend to become passive when sorrow comes and only wait passively for it to depart, which may take a long time. Feeling sorrowful is a kind of mental focus that can be shifted and be removed if only we proactively direct it elsewhere. Instead of dwelling in our misery we need to focus our attention on God’s mercy and grace; in place of thinking on our adverse circumstances, we ought to meditate on the healing and recovery that we will eventually receive. Shifting our focus from self to God is the key to rejoicing in the midst of sorrow.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 6:46:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Known 

MTS-3099

Known

“…known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on…”

            II Co 6:9

 

     Paul and his companions in ministry were just ordinary people with an extraordinary mission. They were nothing to the world, but something to the Lord.

     What’s the advantage of being recognized by the world? We will become objects of people’s envy if we become the target of their admiration. People may desire to be like us when we become successes, but they may not like us as persons. In fact, they may actually rejoice over our failure.

     “Go ahead and jump! Why don’t you jump?” Some people from the crowd gathered on a street in Shanghai yelled at a young college student sitting on the patio on the fifth floor, threatening to jump to her death. With the jeering of some people, the girl leapt and landed on an air mattress prepared by firemen. Fortunately the girl survived.

     Wasn’t that appalling? Of course it was. Maybe we ought to ask ourselves a probing question: Are we better than those heartless people on the street who held such evil intention against another person?

     If we know who people are, we lose any yearning to be known or admired by them, for their praises for us may turn into curses, and the applause they make on our behalf may quickly change into mocking.

     The Lord Jesus was unmoved by people’s reaction to what he did, for he knew what was in people’s hearts. The ones who shouted “Hosanna” to him while he was entering into Jerusalem might have turned into the mob that cried out at the top of their lungs: “crucify him!”

     It’s far better to be known unto God than to be known unto men. Nothing is more frightening than to hear the Lord pronouncing: “I don’t know you” when we meet him before the judgment throne. What’s the advantage of being known by the entire world, yet not known by the One who actually counts for something?

     “It’s not who you are, but who you know.” There is some truth to this statement. Networking and building connections may be crucial to our job hunting and career advancement, but it can do absolutely nothing to alter our eternal destiny. The only connection that matters is our connection with Christ, as far as our spiritual destiny is concerned.  

     To know God is to be known by him, and the more we strive to know him the greater he will make himself known to us. Interestingly, the more we know God and are known by him, the less we will care about being known by men.

     In conclusion, I believe dying to the self is the only way for us to live. The carnal desire to be known by the world will be ever present in our walk with the Lord and the only way to get rid of it is through self-denial, which is a kind of death.

 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 7:14:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Centering 

MTS-3098

Centering

“…in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love…”

             II Co 6:6

 

     Being in the Holy Spirit is doing what the Spirit tells us to do, but before we can do that, we must know what the will of the Holy Spirit is. We cannot dwell in the Spirit unless we know his intent for us.

     Exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit does not equal living in the Holy Spirit. I may speak in tongues all day, but my heart may wander aimlessly. Dwelling in the Holy Spirit takes intense concentration and focus, which is something called “centering.” We need to bring ourselves to the center of our hearts where the Holy Spirit resides.

     Being servants of God, we need to spend more time listening than speaking and, more importantly, we have to try to listen to the inner voice of the Holy Spirit even as we speak. We may lead people astray if we don’t listen and speak at the same time.

     “Centering” is a good spiritual exercise.

     There are many hiding places in our hearts where we may feel more comfortable to be than being in the center where the Holy Spirit sits on the throne. God the Spirit is always in his temple, which is our body, but it doesn’t mean that we go to meet him every moment of the day. We may wander away from the Lord for the longest time, forgetting that the Holy Spirit is waiting to speak and to fellowship with us.

     Take a deep breath and close your eyes and consciously bring yourself back to the center of your heart to meet the Holy Spirit and to listen to his voice.

     I am easily agitated when my heart isn’t in tune with the Holy Spirit and serving the Lord may easily become more like a chore, something that I do out of duty and necessity, not out of my love for God. There should be joy unspeakable stirring within our hearts if we serve the Lord in the Spirit and do all things through his power and strength.

     We can be entirely still if we rely on God’s strength in all our spiritual services. God will be totally responsible if what we do is, in fact, his work, not ours. Failure is disheartening if we consider our ministry as ours. If God is sovereign over all, there is simply no failure in him. In the scheme of things, success is always guaranteed, no matter what the outcome is. We may fail from human point of view, but divinely speaking, we can never fail.

     Being in Him is resting in Him.

     If our victory is truly assured in Christ, why do we still fret as if defeat is still a possibility? I may feel defeated and discouraged when I only see less than ten people sitting in the pew in our English service on Sunday, but I feel jubilation and encouragement when I start to preach; I may feel disheartened when I see people falling asleep during the worship time, but I am greatly strengthened when I lift my head up and behold the victorious Lord sitting on his throne.

     We will not be tossed to and fro by the waves of this world if we anchor our lives on the Holy Spirit and eternal joy and rest will not depart from us as long as we remain in him.   

    

Monday, August 29, 2011 7:09:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Purity 

MTS-3097

Purity

“…in purity, understanding, patience and kindness…”

             II Co 6:6

 

     We cannot be completely pure, but at least we have a goal toward which we continue to strive. We may not be able to be understanding all the time, but we can at least try to be most of the time. We are not always patient and kind, yet we know God wants us to be that way, and we must work hard to be what he desires for us to be.

     Instead of bringing down the bar of perfection, we ought to strive to reach the bar. We may not be good all the time, but we at least know what true goodness is.

     It’s hard for us to be transparent, isn’t it? How can we afford to be, for people seem to expect us to be perfect because we adhere to a perfect standard?

     I doubt Paul was claiming to be completely pure, kind, and patient. Far from it. But there is no doubt that Paul and his co-workers were purer, kinder, and more patient than the people to whom they ministered. They were the ones whom people looked up to for direction and guidance.

     Paul seemed to be losing patience with the Corinthian Christians when he found out the church was becoming divisive and increasingly tolerant of heinous sins. The apostle seemed to deem church purity so important and so vital to her survival that he became extremely agitated when he found out the church was losing her integrity. In another word, he appeared to be unkind to the church in Corinth, particularly to the one who had committed sexual sin.

     I may be speculating at this point, but what I am trying to prove is that Paul as flesh and blood was frail, just like all of us, but the effort he had invested into becoming godly must have far surpassed that of ours. We don’t buffet our bodies and beat them into submission as hard as he did; therefore we lag far behind as far as godliness is concerned.

     Let’s be transparent. We are not quite there yet.

     What can we do, then? Let’s take a small step today toward becoming purer, kinder, and more patient, which is something the Lord wants all of us to do. We will never get anywhere closer to our destination if we are at a standstill. Doing nothing to enhance our Christian character simply is not an option.

     There are a lot of things we can and must do if we claim to be God’s servants, and they all start from small to great, from private to public, from home to church. Are we keeping ourselves pure in our inner chamber when nobody is watching? Are there any skeletons hidden in our internet cookies for which we will blush if they are opened for the whole world to see? Are we being kind to our wives and children and showing great patience to them when they irk us with their idiosyncrasies?         

    

Friday, August 26, 2011 6:39:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Endurance 

MTS-3096

Endurance

“Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses.”    II Co 6:4

 

     We don’t seek trouble and hardship, but when they happen, we believe God’s grace is sufficient for us. He is our helper in time of trouble and, with his assistance, we can endure to the end.

     I have had my share of sorrow through the years, but nothing has been beyond my ability to endure. There were sorrow and tears in ministry, but joy always followed.

     It’s a great privilege to be God’s servant, even though we are not lauded by men and honored by the world. We are known unto God but unknown unto men and that’s the way we prefer it. We may have a carnal desire to become well-known occasionally, but always try to keep ourselves hidden in Christ Jesus.

     Paul’s time is so far removed from us that we find it very hard to appreciate how the apostle must have felt under such great difficulties. We would like to identify with Paul in his suffering, but we often take the easy way out by avoiding any kind of hardship and suffering.

     Is it possible that we become unaware of the fact that we are going through pain and sorrow?

     From other people’s point of view, I might have been going through suffering, since I was poverty-stricken when I was a graduate student, but I wasn’t conscious of my trouble at the time, for the Lord was sustaining me in time of trouble. I think I was relatively happy at the time, albeit I should have been rather miserable, considering what I had to go through.

     Compared to what Paul experienced in his ministry, what I have had to go through during the past eighteen years is nothing. Yet it matters not whether our difficulties are great or small, God’s grace is always readily sufficient to cover them all. When our sorrow abounds, God’s grace will abound accordingly.

     Being an assistant minister in a Chinese church out west was indeed difficult for me, but I was able to take it and came out with very little damage to my fragile psyche. I remember deciding not to serve as a minister anymore, but a year later, I plunged back in and was able to last for a long time. I rarely thought about being an example of great spirituality or consciously sought suffering of any kind during those years, but things seemed to have happened without warning and I have always come out fine. I dare not commend myself for being a phoenix figure that rises up from the ashes of my suffering, even though I have had my share of trouble. I can only say that the time of my trouble has served as an occasion and opportunity for the Lord to demonstrate his mighty power in me; therefore his name would be lifted up and glorified through my various difficulties.

     Paul wasn’t boasting about his strength in the context of his narrative; neither was he commending himself for being strong and courageous in time of great tribulation. It was the Lord who enabled him to triumph over adverse circumstances.      

          

Thursday, August 25, 2011 7:21:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Stumbling Block 

MTS-3095

Stumbling Block

“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.”            II Co 6:2

 

     Am I willing to make meaningful changes in the ways I think and act for the sake of ministry? This is the question we must ask ourselves seriously.

     “Well, I have been this way my entire life. There is no way I can make any transformation.” Is this your answer? If so, you are just being stubborn. If changes are necessary for the sake of advancing the gospel, we should put out great effort to do it.

     “Preacher, preach to yourself,” I scorn to myself. I am the worse culprit, since I have been resisting the idea of making any change in the way I do things.

     “It’s harder to move a mountain than to change one’s personality (江山易改本性難移,)” goes a Chinese saying. This may be right, but with faith in Christ, we can move mountains.

     If this mountain has become a stumbling block, keeping people from coming to Christ, we must demolish it at all cost.

     I may have been feeding the monsters of my bad habit or ungodly attributes by allowing them to survive and to thrive. As a matter of fact, I may even be a little proud of them, for I have been defining myself by those attributes.

     “I am a romantic and you are a classicist.” I have been saying this to my wife for as long as I can remember, without thinking that my being a romantic might have become a stumbling block for some non-believers.

     It merely gives me a pretext for being free-spirited and lazy, yet I seem to have been quite proud of being some sort of Byronic hero who is undisciplined, capricious, and irresponsible.

     I have to make a change in order to become more effective as a minister of the gospel. Romanticism and spirituality are irreconcilable at best and contradictory in most cases.

     The life Paul was leading was truly a gospel-centered life and the apostle must have made many changes over the years. What we witness in this man is entirely different from the natural man. In fact, Paul continued to be transformed and renewed by the Spirit since the day the Lord opened his eyes in the city of Damascus. Taking an incident that took place in the early stages of his ministry for an instance. It might have been God’s will for him to separate from Barnabas on his second missionary journey over the issue of Mark, but he might not have made the same decision years later, for he seemed to have mellowed quite a bit as he grew older.

     May the Lord help us to be determined and decisive to make some changes in our lives, so that we don’t become hindrances and stumbling blocks for people to come to the Lord. I want to be the best I can possibly be when I meet the Lord someday. Yes, I can be so much better spiritually, but I will make absolutely no progress unless I do something drastic to mortify my carnal self.            

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 6:56:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Now 

MTS-3094

Now

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

         II Co 6:1

 

     God’s timing is the present, but Satan’s tense is always in the past or the future.

     Remember what the apostle said in the letter to the Philippians? “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” What tense is this often quoted sentence? I think it’s present progressive.

     Satan’s cunning scheme is for all of us to either dwell in our past, which creates in our mind regrets and remorse, or live in our future, which engenders uncertainty and inaction. It’s paralyzing to lead our lives this way.

     Timing is everything.

     “My time is not yet come,” the Lord Jesus made this remark many times. Christ knew exactly how everything was going to transpire and wouldn’t rush any action. Had he dwelt in the future like many of us, out of his anxiety he might have shortened the waiting time by rushing some crucial actions, which was something he didn’t do. In fact, he became a little annoyed when his mother implored him to perform a miraculous sign at a wedding. His timing was entirely determined by his Father in heaven.

     Does God offer his favor to us repeatedly and endlessly? His salvation through Jesus is always available to those who are willing to accept it, but our willingness seems to be very fleeting and unpredictable.

     Love doesn’t always happen, so when it does, we need to take hold of it before it flees. As far as romantic love is concerned, timing is everything. Our connection with the Lord is also a love relationship, which is the most intimate of all relationships.  

     We need to act instantly when we are moved by the Spirit, for God the Holy Spirit is in no way beholden to us and he operates precisely according to his own timing, not ours. He may come to knock at the door of your heart occasionally and he may not come back for a very long time, if he comes back at all, when he hears no response from inside. The Lord is patient, but how many times can he take our rejection?

     How many times can we take other people’s rejection? Maybe one or two. Yet we expect the Lord to take our refusal repeatedly, as if he were required to oblige to our timing and our demands.

     “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

     We may become a little reluctant to start a new relationship, for we may have some misgivings about our partner. Do we feel the same about the Lord? What sort of misgiving do you have about the almighty God? Do you think he harbors some sort of evil intention against you or he will lead you astray? If not, why wait for another day, or another year, before you bow down before him and call him “Abba, Father?”

     “Well, the Lord doesn’t mind waiting. Doesn’t he have eternity at his disposal?” you muttered as you walked away.    

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 6:43:00 AM Categories: Devotional

In Vain 

MTS-3093

In Vain

“As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.”           II Co 6:1

 

     If I consider that all things that I possess have been earned by my own ingenuity and effort, then all things are at my own disposal to enhance my emotional and physical pleasure according to my whims. Therefore we start to acquire things that we believe will increase our well-being after we have accumulated some wealth.

     “We can probably start thinking about buying a new car after we have our debt paid off,” I said to my wife casually the other day.

     “Well, we will see,” she replied, void of any enthusiasm in her voice.

     I wasn’t really thinking about buying a vehicle, really. I was just teasing her, knowing that acquiring a new car is something she is very reluctant to do, no matter how wealthy we may become. It’s just not a necessity at the moment.

     What shall I do if my cup runs over? I remembered thinking.

     “We ought to give more money to the needy,” I told Kathy as we were sipping tea one afternoon. This time I was serious. We need to spread God’s grace around when God grace abounds in our lives and I am not just speaking about material things.

     Life is a gift, and we need to use the gifts we have received from above to bless others.

     We seem to have an inclination to focus on our scarcity, not on our abundance. We are, for lack of a better term, glass-half-empty people; therefore we tend to receive God’s grace in vain and squander what we have received from God on superfluous things.

     We all have twenty-four hours, right? Some people jam their hours with activities that are beneficial to their spiritual life and edifying to others; but many others merely spend their time daydreaming or being couch potatoes. Which of these two receive God’s grace in vain?

     I ought to convert my talent of writing into spiritual gift. This is something I have been contemplating lately. I enjoy writing poetry and have been doing it off and on for the last forty years; yet it has been an narcissistic act most of the time, which is a good example of receiving God’s grace in vain, for God doesn’t endow me with such a gift to boost my ego or to enhance my self-worth. What the Creator wants me to do with my gift is to glorify him and to serve his people. Readers of poetry are indeed very few, but I should at least bring them an inch or two closer to God by my artistic endeavor.

     May we never receive God’s grace in vain.

     The poor widow the Lord Jesus mentioned was indeed desperately poor and utterly destitute. In fact, although she lacked the necessity to keep her family fed, she was still able to scatter God’s grace around by donating a little coin in the temple. She appeared to have received very little grace from above, but however small he had received, she did not receive it in vain. We do have a lot to learn from this poor widow.

     

Monday, August 22, 2011 8:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Be reconciled 

MTS-3092

Be Reconciled

“We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

           II Co 5:20

 

     If there is a God, then there is nothing more important for us to do than to get to know him and be at peace with him; and if we find out through some credible revelation that he is hostile to us for some reason, we need to do all things possible to become reconciled to him. Unless we do so, we will never have peace of heart and mind and our lives will continue to be in turmoil.

     “God is unknowable, if there is one, and he will never demand to be known since he is engulfed in deep mystery,” some may protest.

     “How is it reasonable for a father who leaves home for good before his child is born to demand that the child seek to know him and to love him unconditionally? Is God an absentee father who has vanished from this world since the creation?” remark others.

     “Some people are just predestined not to know God and not to be reconciled to him since they are born into families of different religious persuasions or, in many cases, no religion at all. How do we expect them to be reconciled to God if there is no sufficient information provided for them concerning the attributes and demands of this God?” This is a puzzling question raised by many people.

     There is, however, evidence that points to the opposite of these arguments and render us without excuse not to be reconciled to him and not to love him.

     Life is a gift.

     We tried to get prepared as much as we could before our first son arrived. We started to get the nursery ready months before the due date and Kathy spent tons of time reading books concerning childrearing. Had Rob known anything at all the moment after he was delivered, wouldn’t it have been quite preposterous for him to assume that all things that he had ever needed for survival were all there by accident? 

     It’s magical that we are alive. This we may agree, for most of us have experienced some sort of magic in this world and have had a deep sense of awe. If we have the slightest idea of how much it takes for us to be alive, we will never take our lives for granted. Yet we have the audacity to deny that there is a magician who is performing the magic.

     God is unknowable in a sense that he cannot be known entirely, but he can surely be known in accordance with the amount that he chooses to reveal himself to us through general and special revelations. We know there is a God through the universe he created; and we come to realize his plan of our salvation through Christ Jesus, the eternal Word who became flesh and dwelt among us for a season.

     God will not hold us accountable for what we don’t know, but he will hold us responsible for what we do know, and he knows fully well what we know and how we have failed to put our divine knowledge into action.

     In other words: We have no excuse not to be reconciled to him.    

Friday, August 19, 2011 6:47:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Reconciliation 

MTS-3091

Reconciliation

“And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

          II Co 5:19

 

     “Your Heavenly father is mad at you.”

     “What?”

     “You need to be reconciled with your Father in heaven.”

     “What?”

     Silence.

     Is it a felt need that we should be reconciled with our Father in heaven? Not exactly.

     I knew it when my earthly father got angry at me, and I would do anything to make peace with him again, but the idea of a heavenly Father is just so vague. 

     First, we need to accept the reality that we have a Father in heaven who desires to have an intimate relationship with us.

     It’s quite puzzling, isn’t it? A heavenly Father. That’s just so far-fetched.

     I wonder why something children and infants have no trouble believing presents such difficulty to us adults. Perhaps we have become too sophisticated to believe in anything.

     I have been trained in academia to think critically and not to accept anything unless it has creditable evidence.

     Do we really have to doubt? To grow up is to become more and more suspicious and, unfortunately, we may become incapable of believing in anything when we are old and frail.

     Innocence is hard to restored after it is lost.

     What our heads fail to detect, our heart will easily identify. We may have to return to our hearts to find the vital message that was lost in the maze of our fuzzy reasoning 

     Who is the Author of our conscience that constantly nags us and urges us to heed its voice?

     Who writes the chips and places them in human computers?

     Why do I have some secret longing of which I am not always aware, yet it seems to be ever present in the depths of my heart?

     Why is there fear of the unknown if the unknown is merely nothing? Why do I sometimes look beyond the horizon and search for something if there is nothing out there?

     Why am I moved to tears when I behold something beautiful or hear something exquisite?

     “You are just fooling yourself, for you have created something to fill the void in your heart.”

     “Why is there a void if the human heart is a whole?”

     “Ok, there is no void.”

     “But…”

     What I am doing is trying to convince you that there is a Father in heaven for all of us, and our relationship with him has been broken because of our sin, and unless we are reconciled with him we will find no peace, joy, or fulfillment in life.

     That’s all. 

    

Thursday, August 18, 2011 7:26:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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