Tradition 

MTS-3343

Tradition

“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many
of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of
my fathers.”     Gal 1:14

 

By nature, Saul was an idealist and did thing according to his understanding of Judaism. He
accepted the whole package of the traditions of his fathers before he was fully
equipped to examine the validity of such beliefs.

Most of us choose to accept the tradition handed down to us from the previous generation
without much reflection or examination. It’s not an intellectual exercise
really; it’s more of an emotional thing.

Filial piety is indeed a great virtue, but to base all virtues on this particular one is mistaken.
“Filial piety is the paramount of all virtues (百善孝為先.)” 
What this does to us is to lift the particular virtue so high that we
place it on a pedestal to admire and worship. We idolize our ancestors and turn
them into some sort of deities. This is the kind of tradition which we should
examine further to see whether it’s worthy of our adherence or not.

Charity as a whole should be the root of our virtues, and filial piety is simply charity
toward one’s parents.

Paul would have become a prominent member of the Sanhedrin had he not been converted to
Christianity and the damage he could have inflicted against the Way is
unimaginable. The man truly believed the evil he did against the Christians was
totally justified. He believed he was serving the Lord by persecuting the Lord’s
people.

“Tradition is the democracy of the dead,” wrote G. K. Chesterton. But not all the ideas
agreed upon by our ancestors are truthful, since they were indeed frail people,
both intellectually and physically, and were bound by sin both in thinking and
action. The “common grace” they were endowed with by the Almighty was easily
overtaken by their carnal nature, and the “democracy” they have created may be
faulty and misleading in many ways.

We should not embrace the traditions of our fathers blindly. If there were a divinely
inspired tradition that would be worthy of our observance, Judaism should have
been the one, but even this one was found wanting in some important aspects and
was in need of revision. The conflicts between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisees
mostly stemmed from their differences in the interpretation and applications of
the Jewish law. The Lord Jesus was zealous for the Law of Moses, but it was the
spirit of the law he was embracing, not its outward form.

“Why do you worship your ancestors?” I question.

“Well, this is our tradition. Besides, everybody is doing it.”

When something turns into a tradition, it’s etched in stone and cannot be violated
and the ones who dare to do so are deemed traitors and are cast out from their
community. By being so zealous for the Jewish law, Paul was well on his way to
becoming a great success; but he became an outcast when he ceased to do what
tradition demanded of him. 

      

Friday, September 14, 2012 6:43:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Previous Way 

MTS-3342

Previous Way

“For you have heard of my previous way
of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to
destroy it.”     Gal 1:13

 

The past is never past, since we are the point of contact and it will remain with us until
our past dies with us.

Will our past ever die? If there is eternity, our past, which is a part of us, will remain
eternally. If we are ever haunted by our past, we will be haunted by it like a
lengthening shadow, following us every step of the way eternally.

“For now the thought both of lost
happiness and lasting pain torments him,” lamented
Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost as he
was surveying his surrounding in hell, with no hope of ever escaping the
eternal flame. 

Our past, be it miserable or joyful, pure or sinful, has been
redeemed by Christ. Therefore, when we contemplate our past, our hearts should
always be filled with a sense of deep gratitude to the Lord. To a certain
extent, a new man in Christ does have a new past as well as a new present.

Why did the apostle bring up his “previous way of life?” What
purpose does it serve?

It did serve as a contrast between his previous way of life and
his present. People are constantly evolving, and though their past and present
are not exactly the same, they basically follow the same pattern. Unless
something dramatic happens, they will remain essentially the same, with very
little contrast between their past and present. Not so with Apostle Paul,
however. His present was entirely different from his past, and he was always
eager to tell how it transpired and what caused it to take place.

He persecuted the church out of his ignorance and embraced
the Way after he was enlightened.

A similar thing must occur to all of us, albeit on a much
smaller scale than what happened to the apostle. Our lives are turned upside
down when we are converted and we become totally different people. We may or
may not show it on the surface, but deep inside we know we have been completely
reformed and transformed.

I was in a daze when my conversion was taking place, but in
a matter of a few months, I became a new man both in thought and action. A line
in the sand was drawn, and my past and my present were clearly marked. From
then on I continued to use it as my reference point, telling the world that by
God’s mercy I am not what I was.

One question we need to address to ourselves at least once
in a while: Is my past my present? Am I still following my previous way of life,
even though I have accepted the Way? There is a cause for great concern if this
is truly the case. Surely our ungodly past should never be glorified by
repeatedly rehashing it, but at least it should serve as a reminder of God’s
mercy and grace.     

 

   

Thursday, September 13, 2012 6:47:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Origin 

MTS-3341

The Origin

“I want you to know, brothers and
sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.”           Gal 1:11

 

We may think highly of ourselves, but we are still finite; we may want to think of ourselves
as divine, but we are still human; we may desire to believe that we are
limitless in our thinking and understanding, but we are in fact extremely
limited.

Concerning any issue beyond the physical world, we can only speculate, which is a hit and miss
ordeal in most cases. We may guess right concerning eternity occasionally, but are
mistaken most of the time. We often miss the forest for the trees.

I am puzzled how in the world the Darwinian theory of evolution become the truth adhered to by
most educated people today, even though it’s only one man’s speculation on the
origin of species through observation of the material world.

“It’s science, you idiot!”

“I know, I know. But isn’t science based on what can be observed?” I question.

What can be observed, classified, and documented are of the physical realm, therefore they remain
finite and earthbound. If the world is all there is, then the theory is of some
value; the idea is worthless if there is a reality beyond what we regard as real.

It’s more like a gamble, isn’t it? I bet there is something beyond the sensual world and
it can only be understood by reading the Bible, but I am deemed a fool for
believing such an outlandish thing.

What if there is something? Isn’t that something what creates terror in our hearts and an annoying
uncertainty in our minds?

“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human
origin.” Is this man Paul trustworthy? Most of us seem to prefer to believe in
someone who has dealt with the visible world, rather than the one who seemed to
be well acquainted with the invisible world.

“For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Salvation from human origin will surely die with humans, but redemption from a divine source
will survive beyond time and space. How do I know that? This is where faith
comes into play.

The apostle Paul didn’t change from an infamous chief persecutor of the Christian church
into the greatest proponent of this belief apart from the fact that something
dramati happened to him that turned his life upside down. Such a supernatural
occurrence didn’t just take place naturally. God played a vital part in
transforming Paul and revealing to him the gospel of salvation.

Most importantly, our own conversion experiences seem to concur with what happened
to the apostle on his way to Damascus, validating both experiences, which
appear to have the identical origin.     

  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 7:17:00 AM Categories: Devotional

People Pleaser 

MTS-3340

People Pleaser

“If I were still trying to please
people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

              Gal 1:10

 

The reward of pleasing people is instant, but the payback of honoring the Lord doesn’t seem
to materialize that quickly; therefore our inclination is to do the former a
lot more than the latter.

Pleasing people does pay, yet pleasing God may not be as much. Is this really so? Not
exactly.

By pleasing our loved ones in all things we can create a happy family, which in and of
itself is a great reward. There is nothing wrong in being nice to all our
neighbors and kind to strangers. Our society would become so much more harmonious
if that were the way we treated one another.

I think Paul was speaking about something else here. He was probably referring to people who
sacrifice all their moral principles for the sake of maintaining peace and
harmony with their neighbors. Being offensive to God is nothing to these people,
as long as they can please the crowds and earn their approval.

What do we try to achieve with our preaching? To bring the audience closer to us or to
God? There is nothing more important than moving ourselves out of the way when
we stand behind a podium, proclaiming the word of God. We ourselves can easily
become the biggest impediment, keeping the message of God from getting to the
people in the pews. Such is a weakness that we all share, really. Our natural
instinct to perform and to impress always kicks in immediately when we are on
stage, bathing in the limelight.

The pure salvation message we have been proclaiming may have been diluted by our
inclination to please the crowd and contaminated by our worldly learning which
we are so eager to share with our listeners. We may have turned the
God-centered message of salvation into a man-centered idea, void of any divine
potency.

What must we do then? There is no other solution except the solution of the cross. We need
to be crucified with Christ before we take the message of Christ’s crucifixion
to the world. The way of the cross is the only way to go.

Although the message of the cross is offensive to most, it should remain the focus of our
preaching. It may not tickle people’s ears; it at least makes people’s hearts
tremble and ears ring. People may not visit the church for the second time, so
we need to make sure they hear the gospel in its purest and most original form
when they are there.

What’s the benefit of drawing people to us? Absolutely nothing. Are we so very arrogant as
to think that we can save those who follow us? We are a mere voice crying out in
the wilderness, pointing the way to the Lamb of God, who is able to save
sinners from their sins.          

  

 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 6:07:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Approval 

MTS-3339

Approval

“Am I now trying to win the approval of
human beings, or of God?”

            Gal 1:10

 

What makes me human is my self-consciousness; but my self-awareness also makes me less human.
It causes me to want to be what people desire me to be, not what the Lord
created me to be.

We do things mostly
to be seen and to be lauded by people. That’s how we are motivated. We fool
ourselves if we think otherwise.

For whom did
the early Egyptian monks weave their baskets in their narrow cells day after
day, even though they had no intention to sell them since the nearest town was
many miles away? They ended up burning all the fruit of their labor when the
cells became too crowded and started over again and the tedious process
continued until they died.

My writing is my weaving. I will be happy if this is truly the case.

Indeed the devotionals I have produced over the past thirteen years are nothing but the
empty baskets of reeds weaved by the desert hermits when they were spending
their days praying and meditating in the arid Sinai desert.   

It is the process, not the product, of our labor that counts the most in God’s eyes.

I still have a few readers who read my writings every day. Would I continue to type away if
no one reads them any more, not even my wife and children? This is truly
doubtful. I cannot say so boldly that I write for nobody on earth but One, and
I preach for no audience but One.

My words may echo down the halls of our small sanctuary and travel through human minds at
lightning speed and vanish into empty air, leaving no trace, yet I still yearn
to hear a few words of praise from the audience, as if to give a stamp of
approval to what I do as a preacher.

Woe is me, for I am still seeking approval from men by tickling their ears and by uttering
what they desire to hear, not what they desperately need to hear. I might have
kept my job doing this year after year, not knowing that the Lord’s spirit
might have departed from me and from this church.

O Lord, forgive me for being a pleaser of men.

Dr. Graham, a career missionary and educator in both China and Taiwan, was a stern man who never
seemed to care that much that his audience might have been offended by his
messages when he was delivering the word of God. He once bellowed out “You are
marching down to hell,” to a man who left the sanctuary in the middle of his
sermon. It wasn’t a nice thing to do, but being nice to men was the least of
his concerns; his main focus was being faithful to his Master. I wish I were
more like the old preacher, but I might not last too long in a church if I had
such gusto. It takes great courage to quit “bending one’s body to earn five
buckets of rice (為五斗米折腰)”
by securing people’s approval. 

  

 

Monday, September 10, 2012 6:11:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Cursed 

MTS-3338

Cursed

“If anybody is preaching to you a gospel
other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”         Gal 1:9

 

A curse is an absence of blessing, just like darkness is the absence of light. We may have
become so accustomed to darkness that the mere presence of light causes us to shudder.
We are night owls who are energized by sheer darkness and the first ray of
sunlight makes us slumber.

Prosperity is good and poverty
is bad. No one can argue against this simple logic. “People who romanticize
poverty are fools,” said JK Rowling. The dispenser of all blessings will surely
bless his people with material wellbeing if he desires to bless them at all.

No wonder people flood to mega
churches in large cities to hear this kind of gospel proclaimed. Not only do
they obtain admission into heaven above after they die, they also get to enjoy
all the material blessings while they are here below. That’s quite a bargain,
isn’t it?

Some people may actually
become wealthy, but their wealth may turn out to be their worst curse, which
was something that happened to the rich man in the gospel who intended to build
more barns to store his grain and to the rich young ruler who walked away from
Jesus.

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through
the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Despite this stern warning made by the Lord Jesus, most of us, Christians
included, are seeking to become rich just the same.

JK Rowling might have told us
not to romanticize poverty, since she herself had experienced it first hand and
knew well its awful inference, but with his net worth close to a billion, I
doubt she will ever tell us that the source of our happiness is wealth.

“What do you yearn for the most?” asked an interviewer.

“A happy family,” the creator of Harry Potter quickly replied.

Whether we are rich or poor,
we must know what true blessings in life are, so we won’t be seeking for
happiness in all the wrong places and end our earthly lives with regrets. The presence
of wealth does not mean the absence of God’s blessing, and the absence of
material possessions does not indicate the absence of God’s abundant blessing.
We are cursed if we don’t know the difference.

According to statistics, over
fifty percent of the entire world population survives on a mere two dollars a
day, yet we who live in the richest country in the world have the audacity to
claim to be poor and to develop a sense of self-pity just because we are poorer
than our neighbors. Cursed are the ones who are bathed in God’s abundant blessing,
yet remain totally ignorant of the reality.

What kind of gospel are we listening to? 

 

  

 

Friday, September 7, 2012 6:32:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Gospel 

MTS-3337

The Gospel

“If anybody is preaching to you a gospel
other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”       Gal 1:9

 

Being saved seems to be easy, but following the teachings of Jesus is quite difficult.

All you need to do is to make a profession of faith and you shall be saved. “I don’t think
you will get this idea by reading the Gospels,” a well-known speaker implied in
his talk. Kathy is a fan of his and relayed to me his idea yesterday.

“Well, it’s more Paul’s idea, but his words are also inspired by the Holy Spirit, right?” I
said to my wife. Indeed Paul had systemized the Lord’s teachings in the four Gospels.

Salvation is cheap so that everyone can afford, but the way it was achieved wasn’t cheap at
all. It cost the life of our Lord Jesus.

Are the barely saved truly saved? This is a puzzling question. They are, according to
Paul. “If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one
escaping through the flames,” wrote the apostle.

“Many of them are no longer in the church,” I mumbled to
myself when I was surveying the old photos from our church’s site. I have no
idea how many people I have baptized over the years, but I sometimes question
how many of them were truly redeemed.

I am in no position to judge, really.

I may feel a little insulted when people have claimed to
believe and were baptized, yet quit following Christ not long after that.
Instead of feeling sorry for them for missing out on the blessings of following
the Lord, I feel sorry for myself for misreading people’s intentions.

“What kind of gospel have I been preaching?” I ask myself
this probing question. “Have I ever deluded the strong spirit of the gospel
with water to make it easier for people to take and to digest?”

I might have done so a few times, but never intentionally.

We are so eager for people to come to Christ that we
sometimes emphasize the blessings of salvation and rarely mention the cost the
Lord demands from those who intend to follow him. New believers start to dwindle
away when they realize it’s no bargain to be members in God’s kingdom. The
demands seem to increase by the day and the earthly blessings are pretty slow
in coming.

May we never compromise our Lord’s teachings in the
gospels.

The Lord appeared to make salvation difficult by telling
the seekers to count the cost; yet apostle Paul seemed to stress the free grace
of God by claiming that salvation can easily be achieved merely by making a
profession of faith.

There is absolutely no contradiction between the two and
the essence of the gospel lies in the middle of both views. The perfect
combination of the two makes the gospel perfect. This is the gospel message we
should proclaim. 

 

  

Thursday, September 6, 2012 7:02:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Zeal 

MTS-3335

Zeal

“…who gave himself for our sins to
rescue us from the present evil age…”

           Gal 1:4

 

“We need to stop being so negative about ourselves,” Kathy said to me when we were having
our tea one afternoon.

“I am tired of it.”

The woman to whom I am married used to be quite zealous for life. It amazes me when I am reminded
that this timid girl once took flying lessons and went to a foreign country as
a missionary teacher at age 26. How she has changed over the years! I guess
it’s partly my fault that she has turned into what she is now - cautious and a
bit fearful.

She is becoming more and more like her husband, which is really a bad thing.

I have always been a loner and a disdainer of this world. It’s nothing short of a miracle
that I have lasted this long as a minister. I should have been fired a long
time ago.

The Lord Jesus gave himself up to rescue me from all my sins, but he hasn’t delivered me
from this present evil age yet. Even though I feel ill at ease in this world, there
is still work to be done before my master calls me home.

Do I continue to go through the motions and do what’s required of me to do daily, as I have
been doing over the years? What difference will it make if I become more
aggressive in serving the Lord?

I need to become more ambitious. We all do. The world may be rotten to the core, but there
are still tons of things we can still do as Christians to keep her from rotting
any further.

I came across on YouTube a ninety-something guy singing in a quartet. His voice was a little
chirpy and weak, but he was there singing away, enjoying himself. Indeed he was
making a difference to his audiences worldwide.

My mother-in-law has a lot of time on her hands, but she doesn’t stare at a
television screen like most oldies do; she devotes most of her time to studying
the Bible and acquiring new knowledge by listening to DVD produced by the
Teaching Company. Her zeal for life puts me to great shame. She is younger than
me in so many ways.

“Only through time is time conquered,” wrote Eliot. I have continued to quote this in my
writings; isn’t this the time to put it into practice? “Make the most of every
opportunity, because the days are evil,” said Paul to the Galatians. We should not waste any minute of the day, since every second of
our lifetime can be an opportunity to make a positive difference in somebody
else’s life. Every minute wasted is a perfect opportunity missed.

The Lord indeed has rescued us from this present evil age, yet he sends us back into the
world to rescue as many people from destruction as we possibly can. We do have
a mission yet to be accomplished and a lofty goal yet to be achieved.

Will I attempt bungee jumping, like my son did in New Zealand? Probably not. Will I
take flying lessons like my wife did? Definitely not. But as long as I can
speak I will continue to preach and keep on writing if my fingers can still
move. We don’t have to be young to have a zest for life, and zeal for the Lord
is for people of all ages.     

 

 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 6:28:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Sent by God 

MTS-3334

Sent by God

Paul, an apostle —sent not from men nor
by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father…”                 Galatians 1:1

 

Paul had a very strong sense of mission even before he was converted. He must have felt he
was called to do something great. Indeed he was groomed to be the leader of
Israel, one of the members of the Sanhedrim, the ruling council of the nation.

He also had a sense of entitlement since he was born into a prominent family and his father
somehow had obtained his Roman citizenship, which was a hot commodity. The
education he had received as a young man was first rate and his teacher of the
law was none other than Gamaliel, the master teacher.

Why was the man so zealous for the law of Israel? Surely he wasn’t seeking fame and fortune
by observing and promulgating the law. The man must have honestly believed it
was the Lord who had called him to do what he was doing, and he would never
have changed the course of his life unless God revealed to him otherwise.

That is exactly what happened. We are very familiar with what transpired in the man’s
life when was travelling on a desert road leading to Damascus.

The young Saul’s mission before his conversion was a misled one, but at least he had a
sense of mission while most of his peers might have been hotly hunting for fame
and fortune.

The man was admirable not because he was pursuing a lofty course; we admire him, for he at
least had a course, be it right or wrong. His ideal might have been wrong, but
unlike most people, he was at least idealistic, which was something we might
not be able to claim for ourselves. Most of us are realists and pragmatists

My intention was to major in either Chinese literature or English literature in college and the thought of
making a living had never entered my mind. I might have chosen to do that out
of necessity, since I have dyscalculia and there was no other goal in choosing
the particular study than the fact that it was the only thing I could do. I
wasn’t idealistic even though I would like to think so. Mere survival was quite
difficult for me and I simply could not afford to entertain any other
unrealistic ideals.

Life would have been quite meaningless had Christ not found me and given me a sense of direction. I have
remained poor for the majority of my days, but being poverty-stricken didn’t
seem to deter me from answering to a higher calling and seeking to fulfill the
mission from above.

Do I have a sense of mission in life? This is a vital question that we must all answer. On his way to
Damascus the Lord got hold of the apostle Paul and replaced his misguided ideal
with a righteous one. I pray the Lord will do the same thing for you.     

Friday, August 31, 2012 6:32:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Sacrifice 

MTS-3333

Sacrifice

“I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

             2 Sam 24:24

 

Araunah, the owner of the threshing floor and the oxen, was willing to give these
possessions to the king for free, so that the king could make his sacrifice to
the Lord. But David declined his offer by replying: “I will not sacrifice to
the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

Do the sacrifices we make to God cost anything at all? I guess we need to know what
kind of sacrifices the Lord demands from us. We obviously don’t make burnt
offerings to the Lord anymore, but that does not mean that we no longer make
any sacrifice to the Almighty.

Paul taught us in the book of Romans that we must present our bodies to the Lord as living
sacrifices. Does making a living sacrifice cost us anything?

I can’t imagine any other sort of life than the life that I have been leading for the
last thirty seven years and will continue to lead until the day I die. Being a
Christian is more of a lifestyle than anything else. How can I change my
lifestyle if I can’t alter the core of my being?

“I am a squirrel,” a young girl who was staying with us said to me with a straight
face.

“No you are not. You are a human,” I replied.

“No, I am a squirrel. Don’t I look like a squirrel?” she insisted.

As you can imagine, the conversation wasn’t going anywhere. People who think that way
should never be taken seriously. They have no earthly idea what being a
squirrel is really like or how costly it would be for a human to change into a
squirrel.

Becoming a Christian is no joking matter, however, and making a daily sacrifice does cost
us something. I am not speaking about the worldly pleasure that we must forsake
in order to follow the Lord and to live for Christ as a living sacrifice; it is
the giving up of the ownership of our life to which I am referring.

How costly is it? It costs us nothing and everything. We merely return to the Lord what he
has given to us. No life is more joyful and exciting than a life of receiving
and giving. It seems costly, yet it costs us nothing; it seems demanding, yet
its only demand is for us to surrender.

“Does the loss of freedom bother you at all?” some may ask, thinking that Christians are
not free to do certain things, to be more exact, not free to sin.

“It’s just the opposite. The truth has set me free and I feel truly liberated.” This will
be my response.

I am almost feeling guilty for not paying more for what I have received from the Lord. I
guess the cost has been paid by Christ so that I get to enjoy the gift of
salvation for free. To tell you the truth, making a daily living sacrifice to
the Lord is quite enjoyable.    

 

 

 

Thursday, August 30, 2012 6:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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