Divine Promise 

MTS-3387

Divine Promise

“Now you, brothers and sisters, like
Isaac, are children of promise.”

            Gal 4:28

 

I would have had chosen many other things but the Lord during the time of my conversion to
Christianity. After three years in the service, I was suddenly a free man and
was just trying to figure out how to deal with my new found liberty.

I rented an apartment in Taipei and found myself a job assembling toys for export, earning
enough money to pay for my daily expenses. I was kind of in a daze and had no
idea what would happen to me moving forward. I still kept my habit of drinking
and smoking and I recall buying a bottle of wine and drinking it by myself in
my little room, which, to my great dismay, failed to bring me any excitement
like it had when I was in the military, drinking with my buddies.

I was just trying to carve some sort of life out of my meaningless existence then, not
knowing the time had come for the Lord to intervene with whatever I was doing.
He was fulfilling his promise to me, of which I was totally unaware, and things
started rolling.

Was I a willing participant of God’s divine intervention? Not really. I just went along
with what was taking place, without the slightest knowledge of what was
happening to me. A few months after the Lord started his work, I turned into an
entirely different person.

I instantly became a child of promise, who would inherit all the blessings my Father had
prepared for me before the foundation of the world. I remained relatively poor for
the next thirty-five years, but I have never felt poor for a single moment and
my life has been very abundant in so many ways.

What I was planning on doing as I was drinking Saki alone in my little room with single
mattress and a few books? Perhaps I was just figuring out how to make a decent
living by doing something and, if I was lucky, I would find a girl to be my
wife and start a family. I have never been a man of great ambition, and merely
to live was a worthy aspiration for me at the time. I was, in fact, enslaved by
my sin and bound by my selfishness, but what I was internally didn’t concern me
a bit. I was just going with the flow with the current of my life which would
sweep me away without me knowing or caring about it.

Why do I continue to visit and revisit that brief period of my life over thirty years
ago? I guess that was the defining moment of my life when I turned from a child
of slavery into a child of promise. Out of God’s mercy and grace an
extraordinary event happened to an ordinary man during that time and made an
immeasurable difference in his life. If I only have one story to tell, that’s
the tale I will continue to say to whoever wants to hear. Many things have
taken place since then, but the story of my conversion still remains the only
one worth telling, and worth listening to.

    

Thursday, November 15, 2012 6:05:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Flesh 

MTS-3386

The Flesh

“His son by the slave woman was born
according to the flesh…”

         
Gal 4:23

 

Abraham could have waited for the divine promise to come true and not yielded to his wife’s
wishes concerning Hagar the Egyptian maid. Humanly speaking, the Lord’s promise
was pretty far-fetched and it seemed foolish to put any hope in that. All
Abraham and his wife needed to do was to take a look of their aging bodies and
come to realize the extreme difficulties of them producing an heir by
themselves. They needed someone who was young and fertile to do the job for
them.

Things seemed to have worked out quite smoothly and Hagar gave birth to a son in due time.
They had done it and there was no need for them to wait for another ten years to
taste the joy of parenthood. Even so, Abraham still had this nagging feeling
that something wasn’t quite right. He was constantly reminded of his encounter
with the Lord and the divine promise he received.

Ishmael was a good-looking boy and the apple of his father’s eye, yet he was not the child of
promise, even though Abraham would very much like to think so. Through human
ingenuity they had produced a son and there was no need for divine
intervention, end of story.

“His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh.” What was done by the flesh
would remain carnal forever and it could never be spiritualized through human
rationalization.

We seem to have a bad habit of doing just that.

There is no arguing that we often fall in love with something physically more pleasing and
carnally more appealing and reckon it to be God’s will for us to pursue it without
consulting the Lord. It does take a person with deep spiritual insight to look
beyond the façade of gaudy appearance and detect what’s hidden behind skin-deep
beauty. Hagar must have been a young exotic girl who was pleasant to behold and
it wouldn’t have taken much persuasion for the patriarch to do what comes so
naturally to any man. “I am merely trying to give God a hand by bringing the
divine promise to pass,” Abraham might have rationalized before he yielded to
the temptation.

The second best didn’t take the place of the best; it only became the main rival of the best
and forever served as a reminder of God’s sovereignty and man’s frailty. Ishmael
had to leave his father’s home and the wound it created in Abraham’s heart
would never heal. The son he had come to adore so much for so long was forever
gone.

May we always choose to do the best and not to be tempted to replace it with the second best
because of our lack of patience to wait for God’s perfect timing and end up
being haunted by the nagging “what if” question the rest of our lives. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 6:30:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Childbirth 

MTS-3385

Childbirth

“My dear children, for whom I am again
in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…”           Gal 4:19

 

This guy came to our church as a seeker for a while and finally got baptized about a year ago.
 Not long after receiving baptism, the
student vanished from the church, never to be seen again. Why did it happen? I
ask.

Well, most likely his spiritual needs weren’t being met by what we had to offer at our
church; therefore, he moved on to greener pastures where he could get fed in a
better fashion. What should we have done to keep the ones who were pondering
about leaving our fellowship? I often wonder. Could we have done something
differently? I suppose there were a lot of things we could have done, yet for
lack of human resources and sufficient spiritual gifts, they remained undone.

We seemed to have given birth to quite a few spiritual babies and subsequently gave them up
for adoption because we couldn’t raise them up properly. Was this really the
case?

It was quite disappointing to Paul, for he thought the new born babies in Christ were well
on their way to growing up to be strong men and women of God, not realizing
that Christ hadn’t really been formed in their hearts. He had to go through the
painful process of giving birth one more time. The image of Christ might have
been partially formed in the new believers, but it was misshapen and it would
take a long while for Paul to reshape the broken picture and restore what was
distorted.  

Is there anything wrong with our preaching and teaching at the church? This might be the
problem we have avoided to address. We cannot keep the sheep within our fold if
they are not been fed sufficiently.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” This basically sums up Paul’s entire
ministry.

If Christ’s crucifixion wasn’t sufficient to draw people
to the church and to keep them within the fold, nothing is. This should remain
our main concern when we evaluate what we are doing as a people of God. We have
no beauty by which to attract people to our church door; but we do have Christ
in our midst and, if that’s not enough, I have no earthly idea what else is.
What we must do is to place Christ in the front and center of all we do as a
church, including our teaching and preaching and all other activities. I think
all things will take care of themselves if this is truly the main focus of our
church ministry.

Is Christ being lifted up in our lives? We must ask
ourselves this important question daily. People have come and gone, but the
ones who have grown mature in Christ will remain in the body of Christ. It’s
painful to see people dwindling away from the fold, and to bring them back is
akin to giving birth to a spiritual baby yet another time, but ultimately it’s
the Lord who does the heavy lifting and we are merely his instruments by which
he accomplishes his task. All we can do is to make ourselves available when we
are needed.    

 

 

   

Tuesday, November 13, 2012 6:45:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Zeal 

MTS-3384

Zeal

“It is fine to be zealous, provided the
purpose is good…”

           Gal 4:18

 

Paul knew what zeal was because he himself was quite a zealous man, but he was well aware
of what misguided zeal looked like and what damage it could incur. His zeal for
the Jewish law seemed to have driven him mad and ultimately caused him to
become a madman and a murder.

Zeal that is justified in people’s mind may cause them to commit unthinkable atrocities that
are utterly unjustifiable. If the cause of people’s zeal is misdirected, the
greater the zeal they possess, the worse the damage they will inflict on the world.
All the tyrants and despots in human history are man and women of great
ambition and tremendous zeal.

“It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good…” We know what Paul was talking
about. The purpose of his zeal determined the consequence of the same. His
enthusiasm for the law spelled destruction for the ones who were opposing him.
The ruthless man was able to justify the unjustifiable.

The Galatians were saved from the damnation of the law, yet not long after they were
liberated from this bondage, they became zealous for the law’s teaching, as if
their salvation through Christ needed to be compensated by their keeping of the
law’s stipulations.

I have often felt that I am not worthy of the salvation I received freely, since I am not
all that zealous in witnessing or in pursuing God’s holiness and righteousness.
This morbid thought has caused me to become despondent and joyless in my
Christian walk in the past years. How can people be truly joyful if they feel
that they somehow have disappointed their fathers by not being good enough?

It has been my zeal to become good enough to warrant my heavenly Father’s love for me.
Needless to say this zeal has robbed me of the joy of being God son, for my
pursuit has often ended in failure and disappointment. I am a prodigal son who
has returned home for good, but I still feel ill at ease in my Father’s house
since I often feel I am not worthy of my Father’s love.

I will succeed as long as I try a little harder.

Is this really the case? The only way we can succeed in becoming what the Lord wants us
to be is to bring his standard a lot lower so that we can meet it, or pray that
he would graciously grade our lousy performance on a big curve.

What kind of zeal must we possess?

“Zeal for your house consumes me.”  We can be
zealous for the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth and such zeal will cause
us to labor and to toil, yet we do so not to earn God’s approval or acceptance,
for he has already accepted us; we labor and toil merely to bring a smile to
our Father’s face.      

Monday, November 12, 2012 7:05:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Telling the Truth 

MTS-3383

Telling the Truth

“Have I now become your enemy by telling
you the truth?”

              Gal 4:16

 

Salvation is free, yet we sometimes try to earn it by work, and the harder we work for it,
the more precious it is.

The Galatians were saved under the ministry of the apostle Paul who preached the doctrine of
justification by faith alone, but for some reason the people felt they needed
to add something to their salvation to spice it up. The Judaizers appeared to
see an opening in the new converts’ faith and started to teach them the
doctrine of salvation by observing the law.

Redemption based on human effort is carnal and displeasing to God.

What should the apostle have done after he discovered the enemy had infiltrated their ranks
and was spreading false teaching? The people were thrilled about the teaching
they had received and many of them started to observe the law they had left
behind when they were converted to the Way. This must have broken Paul’s heart
and he simply could not remain silent for long. He had to tell them the truth
before it was too late, even though it might be offensive to them.

Surely Paul wasn’t a warm and fuzzy person whose main concern was to make people feel good.
Truth does hurt sometimes and it takes courage for us to proclaim it.

It might have been a little easier for Paul to bring the Galatians to Christ the first time
than to bring them back again from their belief in a false doctrine. Only the
ill need physicians and the ones who consider themselves righteous will never
come to Christ for help. Grace isn’t really needed when human strength seems
sufficient.

“What can I do to be saved?”

“It’s not a matter of doing; it’s refraining from doing.”

Our natural instinct is to do something to earn whatever we get from the Lord, or to
perform some good deeds to make ourselves more deserving to receive God’s
grace. When someone gives us a gift, it’s unimaginable for us to offer to pay
for it, yet this is something we try to do all the time concerning the gift of
salvation. Indeed the Galatians were trying to pay for God’s grace by their
good works.

The work we perform unto the Lord is not a form of payment; it’s rather a token of our
appreciation to the Lord that we do out of our profoundest gratitude to him. We
can never make the Lord love us an inch more by our good deeds or cause him to
treasure us a little less by our bad deeds. God’s love for his children is
based on God’s attribute of love, not on our loveliness. 

I cannot fathom how teaching such sound doctrine would create some enemies among the
Galatians. I guess it’s possible, since out of our arrogance we may insist on
earning from the Lord what’s free and offering a price for something priceless.
  

 

 

 

     

Friday, November 9, 2012 6:16:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Identification 

MTS-3382

Identification

“I plead with you, brothers and sisters,
become like me, for I became like you.”       
Gal 4:12

 

It wasn’t an easy task for Paul to do that really. He was an educated man with very good
family background, and it must have been hard for him to come down from his
level to identify with the Galatians, who were most likely people from the lower
echelons of society.

It was a kind of self-denial, like death to the self.

“I consider them rubbish,” said the apostle, referring to what he was before he was
converted.

The apostle’s previous successes and accomplishments became worthless when they were measured
against his transformed value system. The transformation might not have taken
place instantly after he became a new creature on the desert road when the resurrected
Christ appeared to him. It’s far more difficult than we think for Christians to
forsake their old wineskin, the carnal self with all its achievements by which
a man identifies himself and is known by his peers.

People may not consider it such a big deal, but I still consider myself a poet, even though
I haven’t been practicing the craft consistently for the last thirty years. In
fact, I often perceive myself to be more of a poet than a pastor.

“I consider them rubbish.” This is the right way to perceive who we were and what we had
achieved before our conversion. Our old selves are merely old rags and old
wineskin. Unless we change our old way of viewing ourselves, we will have great
difficulties identifying with the ones to whom we try to minister.

The sole purpose of Paul becoming like the Galatians was that he wanted them to become more
like him - his new life in Christ Jesus.

We tend to be a little apologetic about our Christian walk and don’t have the courage to make
the kind of claim as Paul did. “I am just a sinner saved by grace.” This has
become some sort of security blanket for us when we feel insecure about our
testimony as Christians. Not so with Paul, though. The Lord was invisible to
the new converts in the church and he did his best to reveal Christ by his
thoughts and actions. He unapologetically asked the Galatians to imitate him.
Paul was, in reality, a visible portrait of the invisible Christ.

Perhaps the reason why I am so reluctant to ask people to imitate me is I am not a good
imitator of Christ; and I am afraid to ask people to follow me because I am not
following Christ very closely. How are the seekers and new converts going to
see the Lord unless we “lively portray” Christ in our life style so that they
may imitate and follow. 

   

 

 

 

Thursday, November 8, 2012 6:22:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Effort 

MTS-3381

Effort

“I fear for you, that somehow I have
wasted my efforts on you.”

            Gal 4:11

 

The story was quite moving and I had trouble believing it when I first heard. A young widow
eloped with a man ten years her junior and together with her four children they
lived on top of a remote mountain for over fifty years. They brought some seed
with them and managed to make a simple living by growing corn and vegetables.
Four more children were born and the husband delivered the babies by himself,
but this was nothing compared to what the husband did for his wife over the
years. After years spent away from her family, the wife became homesick and
wanted to visit her loved ones down the mountain, but the road down from the
mountain peak was quite treacherous so the husband decided to carve a path down
the mountain for her wife. With a hammer and an iron rod the man managed to
carve over six thousands flights of steps, which took him the grand total of
fifty-six years. What motivated a man to do such a thing? His deep love for his
wife. The couple became famous when the story was revealed and their mountain
top cottage suddenly became a tourist attraction. He amazed many people by his
answer when he was asked how he was able to love his wife so deeply for so
long: “I just try to maintain a good conscience in the way I have treated my
wife.” A bit unromantic, wasn’t it?

Was it worthwhile for the man to spend his entire life carving a path out of the rocky
sided of a mountain for his wife? Did he waste his efforts doing that? Nothing
done out of love is ever wasted, be it love for one person or for one thousand.
The man was uneducated and all he had was his physical strength and he devoted
it all to his beloved. What he did with his life should put many of us husbands
to great shame. We may even grumble a little when we do some household chores
for our wife occasionally, but can we imagine carving a single step out of rock
with primitive tools for our wives to walk on?

Paul didn’t mean to say what he had done for the Galatians was totally wasted. Some
Galatians might have gone astray from the sound doctrine they learned from Paul
at the time, but they wouldn’t remain lost forever. The teaching they learned
from the Apostle had become the core of their being and it would haunt them the
rest of their lives unless they repented.

“The ladder leading to heaven.”  That’s what the path
was named. The man only intended to build a path leading to his cottage on the
peak of the mountain and therefore make it easier for his wife and children to
travel up and down the hill. What moves us to tears was his labor of love for
his wife and the lofty price that he paid for doing it. Both of them have
passed away, but the story will continue to be told for years to come. I
suppose that was the best the man could do for his beloved.

 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 6:26:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Enslaved 

MTS-3380

Enslaved

“Do you wish to be enslaved by them all
over again?”

            Gal 4:9

 

Observing the law with all its regulations is a good thing, isn’t it? Surely one cannot be
enslaved by it. How can one be bound by the habit of doing good things?

Shall we be reminded of the eldest son in the parable of the prodigal son? It appears that
duty-bound eldest son was bound by his duty to his father and his duteous
observance of the righteous law somehow caused him to become self-righteous.

Consider also the Pharisees, who were impeccable in their keeping of the law, yet they became
ensnared by their good deeds. “Do not be over-righteous,” we read in
Ecclesiastes. Our righteousness is derived from the Lord, but we can become
overly righteous by trying to establish our own righteousness.

I have found overly righteous people frightening and repulsive.

Following the Lord doesn’t consist of reading the Bible, observing the Lord’s Day, giving our
tithe, and having a quiet time every day. It goes far beyond doing these
things. If our religion is doing oriented, we will be enslaved by doing. Doing
what’s required of the Lord is just a means to an end, not an end in itself. Our
faith is an inside-out, not an outside-in kind of thing. We are enslaved if we
are bogged down by these external things.

We need to pay more attention to our interior life, which is invisible to the world and
visible to the Lord. Christians are to live unto the Lord, not to the world. We
must conduct our lives before the Lord’s countenance every minute of the day.

We may start doing what’s required by the Lord out of a sense of duty to God, but it may
turn into bondage if it remains so for a long time. We may keep God’s commands
out of our fear of punishment, yet doing things out of dread is quite
enslaving. It creates a rollercoaster of a vicious cycle of thrill and
despondence and robs us of our inner tranquility as God’s children.

We do want to perform good deeds for the Lord, but we should never base our salvation on our
performance; we do desire to become holy so that we can see God’s face at all
times, but we should not ground our sanctification on our personal holiness. We
need to catch the steady breeze before we can sail, otherwise we will just row
the boat inch by inch with our natural strength. 

“Be still and know that I am God.”

The thorn in the flesh wouldn’t have been necessary had Paul been naturally a little weaker.
Being a strong and talented man, Paul must have had a strong inclination to do
things on his own, and therefore became enslaved by his own accomplishments.
There was a good reason that the Lord decided to touch the socket of Jacob’s
hip and cause him to limp the rest of his life.        

   

 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012 6:56:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Turning Back 

MTS-3379

Turning Back

“…how is it that you are turning back to
those weak and miserable forces?”

           Gal 4:9

 

God’s grace is free, but it’s not cheap. It was the life of Christ that made his grace
possible. It’s extremely costly, for it cost Jesus his life; yet it’s free
because no one can afford it.

Many people are too proud to accept anything free. Freebies are for the poor and the weak,
but the rich will always pay for what they get.

I felt a little uneasy when I received a donation from the church for the first time,
even though I was very thankful for it. Accepting something completely free of
charge isn’t as easy as you may think.

“Can I rake the leaves for you?” a homeless man asked after I gave him some money, wanting
to do something to warrant what he had received from me. The guy might be
poverty-stricken, but there was still pride and dignity in him.

Do we really know what God’s grace is?

Even though the price has been paid in full through Christ’s death on the cross, we may
still insist on paying for it, which is insulting to God, as if Christ’s
payment wasn’t sufficient.

“It’s finished,” Jesus exclaimed on the cross, announcing the debt of sin has been
paid in full.

What are “those weak and miserable forces” Paul was speaking about?

Self-occupation is what keeps us from leading a life of Christ-centeredness. Whatever we do for
the Lord, the Holy Spirit does through us; yet we often have a
self-congratulatory attitude as if we ourselves have single-handedly done it.
Instead of lifting Christ up in our spiritual service, we do have a tendency to
attract attention to ourselves.

We may applaud ourselves for giving tithes and offerings to God’s church as if we were
doing God a favor, not realizing that we are actually doing ourselves a favor,
for our giving serves as a reminder that we owe the Lord one hundred percent of
our income and “it’s in him we live and move and have our being.” Surely it’s
“weak and miserable” for us to try to earn God’s favor by our meager giving.

I always have a sense of “self-intoxication” when I sing, which is the reason why I am very
hesitant to sing in a choir or to “perform” on stage. It has to be so
unappetizing for the Lord and the host of angels to hear my lousy singing. I
will never sing to the Lord if I continue to hear myself singing.

Only young children can receive something without feeling slighted or insulted, for they are not
able to do anything for themselves. To grow up is to learn to become independent
and to do things for yourself. O how we need to restore the child-like
innocence when we depended on the Lord for all things. “Let the little children come
to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as
these."

We are in fact “weak and miserable” if we believe ourselves to be strong enough to pay
for what we have received from the Lord. Those who attempt to earn their
salvation will ultimately find themselves wanting.  

 

     

Monday, November 5, 2012 6:47:00 AM Categories: Devotional

God's Children 

MTS-3378

God’s Children

“So you are no longer a slave, but God’s
child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”       Gal 4:7

 

“We ought to increase our mission’s giving,” Kathy mentioned to me yesterday. She does the
books for the family and is free to do what she deems fit concerning our
offering, yet she decided to consult with me out of respect.

“That’s fine with me,” I responded. “Well, maybe we should wait for a while on that and be a
little “carefree” about our spending. We have been poor throughout our entire
married life.”  

Have we ever been poor? I caught myself thinking. How can we ever be poor if we are truly
children of God?

Feeling poor is a mindset forged by our comparing ourselves with the ones who earn more
money than we do. There is no absolute standard for making a distinction
between poor or rich, therefore it’s a misconception when we claim to be poverty-stricken
or wealthy.

It’s entirely possible that all of us Christians are enormously wealthy without knowing it.
We are indeed what we perceive ourselves to be and our self-perception should
not be based on our net worth.

“So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child,” Paul reminded the Galatians who might have
been laboring so hard to earn God’s approval by observing the law of this
important truth.

If we try to earn God’s approval by our good performance as Christians we will be leading a
life of slavery and bondage. Our burning desire to be model Christians will
enslave us and will cause us to become bitter and judgmental.

So many of us are not aware of this vital truth - since you are his child, God has made you
also an heir.”  We are both God’s
children and heirs of his immense fortune, yet we oftentimes act like slaves
and paupers.

We feel poor merely because we don’t own any real estate, not realizing that the entire
earth belongs to the Lord and we are co-heirs with Christ; we become so
despondent just because we occasionally stumble in our Christian walk,
neglecting to claim our Father’s unconditional forgiveness in times of
spiritual needs.

What’s vital to our spiritual well being is learning to turn spiritual truths found in the
Scriptures into concrete reality by constantly applying them to our daily
living. We are to conform to the image of God by thinking and acting like
children of God. Why do we often act poor if we believe ourselves rich in the
Lord? Why do we sometimes act like we are soundly defeated if we claim to be
victorious in Christ Jesus? Why do we behave as if we are slaves, even though
Christ has liberated us from sin’s bondage and made us princes and
princesses?       

 

  

Friday, November 2, 2012 7:02:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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