Separation 

MTS-3107

Separation

“Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.”

               II Co 6:17

 

     I ought to give fasting a new definition, which does not involve food or drink. Abstaining from screens may be more difficult for some of us than not eating. We have come to depend on TV and internet so much that it’s unthinkable to do without them for a day or two.

     I started panicking when I realized that I had left the charger for my smart phone behind, knowing that I wouldn’t have internet connection at the campground for three days and my only link with my favorite internet sites was going to be my Evo.

     “Why can’t you separate from you screens for a few days?” I asked myself. It bothers me that I seem to have developed some sort of codependency on my laptop and television set.

     “You ought to do something about it,” again, I urge myself.

     My friend brought my charger back for me and I was able to check Aggie football scores and keep up with all the conference alignment mess while I was supposed to be getting my heart in shape to speak to the people at the retreat.

     “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.”

     How can we separate from the world if we immerse ourselves so deeply into the world, both in our thinking and our action? We are so similar to non-Christians that people can hardly tell any difference between us. I guess what separate us from non-believers is we go to church to worship on Sunday, albeit rather irregularly.

     I found myself staring at the screen of my ThinkPad this morning, trying to write something but my mind was drawing a blank. I became discouraged and clicked the Explorer icon on the desktop and my morning quickly slipped away. I wasted half of my morning doing nonproductive things. Isn’t that what most people do to kill time?

     I have a strange longing to turn myself into a hermit or a monk and spend the rest of my life in a cave or a remote monastery, for I often get weary of my inability to be transformed by the renewing of my mind and becoming more like Christ. Trying not to conform to the image of this world is akin to swimming against a strong current and failure is almost always assured.

     This is indeed quite discouraging.

     Do I feel like a fish out of water in this world? Not quite. Although I have never struggled to breathe, I am aware if the air is filthy or polluted. Even so, I can only keep myself from breathing for a minute or two, which is quite laborious.

     I suppose true separation from the world won’t take place until I cease to breathe completely and, meanwhile, I just have to try not to take in filthy air as much as I can.    

Monday, September 12, 2011 6:54:00 AM Categories: Devotional

God's Presence 

MTS-3106

God Presence

“I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”          II Co 6:16

 

     God’s presence in our life isn’t imaginative or illusionary, it is concrete and real. We may not see him physically, but he is always within our sight if we close our eyes. We can see his face so much more clearly if we shut the world out and usher in his glorious presence.

     William Blake, a romantic poet, once claimed that he could see angels dancing on trees, which were invisible to most people. There was no doubt in his mind what he witnessed was real, even though most people might have begged to differ. He produced many art works, including poems and paintings, based on his visions.

     People with deluded minds often make the claim that they see things that aren’t really there. One guy walked into our church while people were having lunch and introduced himself by saying with supreme confidence: “Hey, I am Eric the Messiah.” Obviously no one was taking him seriously. We got him something to eat and sent him away.

     We may have made many idols out of wood and stone over the ages, but we don’t create God out of our vain imagination or our delusions, because the deities we have forged are entirely different from the self-revealed God. Out of our self-centeredness I don’t think we would create a God whose intent is to rule over us and demand that we call him Lord and Master. The gods we have made in our own image are meant to be our servants.

     We create idols for purely utilitarian reasons. They exist for our sake, not vice versa.

     God created us with the sole purpose that we may have intimate relationship with him. We can only imagine how sweet and harmonious the relationship between God and Adam was, which made the breakup between the two so much more tragic. Disobedience created fear and terror in the first couple’s hearts and their instinct was to run away when God called their names in the cool of the evening. There would be no more evening walks and intimate conversation between the human and the divine from then on and life would become unbearable and toilsome for the first man and woman, and billions of his offspring after him.

     “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

     Through Jesus Christ this has turned into a reality which we experience every day. No one in the entire world is as close to me as the Lord and the intimacy between us can never be replaced by any human relationship. I may be delusional if I claim to be Christ, but it’s perfectly reasonable for me to say that I live with Christ or he lives within my heart. To me, nothing is as real and concrete as this.      

    

Friday, September 9, 2011 6:45:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Temple 

MTS-3105

The Temple

“For we are the temple of God.”

           II Co 6:16

 

    It took the Israelites forty years to build God’s temple, but in three days the Lord Jesus erected a new temple, constructed with his body cemented by his blood. A new and glorious house of God was completed when Christ rose from the dead. We are the sacred building of God where the Holy Spirit takes His residence.

     I dare not treat this house of God, which is my body, with contempt. What I need to do is to keep it from any sort of contamination to make it more appropriate for the Holy Spirit to dwell. How uncomfortable will it be for him to reside if I fill his dwelling place with filth and indecent things.

     “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

     If the Holy Spirit takes his residence in the center of our hearts, we will be able to meet him on a daily basis. But sometimes we have great difficulty beholding his blessed countenance because we indulge in habitual sins. The Holy Spirit may seem to depart from our hearts for a season if we continue to live in sin.

     God’s presence within our hearts needs to be guarded with vigilance and protected with care.

     There are warning signs.

     “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” Paul exhorted. I am very sensitive to my wife’s joy and sorrow since we are so close, and I have always tried not to offend her in any way to avoid causing her any sort of annoyance or grief, for it doesn’t pay if Kathy is unhappy. By the same token, after years of walking with the Lord and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we should know very well what causes the Spirit of God to grieve.

     How can we be joyful if we can’t sense God’s presence in our lives? How can we rejoice in anything if we cease to rejoice in the Lord?

     I know for sure what the consequences will be if I do certain things or utter certain words and it may take days or weeks to restore what I have damaged. I know the mercy of the Lord is inexhaustible and God’s forgiveness is only a prayer of repentance away, but the process can be quite shameful and painful. Besides, some of the damage that I cause may easily become irreparable on a human level. God’s forgiveness does not do away with the reaping from what we have sowed.

     The fear of losing God’s presence within our hearts may be a great deterrence that keeps us from sinning or indulging in sin.

     The long yin that I was going to put into my month was a little darker than usual and I was a little alarmed by it, but I put it into my mouth anyway. It was so bitter that I spit it out right away and it would be quite unthinkable to try the same thing again. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” so people say. 

     Why do we continue to eat our vomit? This is something that’s beyond human rationality. 

     

Thursday, September 8, 2011 6:52:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Light and Darkness 

MTS-3104

Light and Darkness

“Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

             II Co 6:14

 

     There is a brief moment during the day when light and darkness have fellowship, which is the time when day and night meet, the gray period of the day when it’s neither day nor night, neither light nor darkness.

     The gray area in life has greatly increased these days.

     When the sun rises, it chases all the darkness away and nothing can hide from the penetration of its rays, and no one in their right mind can deny the presence of the light and call light darkness and darkness light. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we do in the sphere of morality where right and wrong blend together as one jumbled mess, the “everything goes” philosophy, the “feel right, do it” type of mindset.  

     There is no absolute right or absolute wrong in this big mess of grayness, and what’s left is only personal opinion.

     “What fellowship can light have with darkness?” Paul asked.

     Well, the fellowship has become so intimate that they have become one cluster of gray matter, totally unified.

     Do we light a lamp and carry it in broad daylight to show people that light is actually darkness, as Diogenes of Sinope once did so in Athens to prove that honesty didn’t exist? What do we do to reveal to people that light and darkness do have different attributes and are completely incompatible?

     We must make an all out effort to keep ourselves clean and translucent, both in thoughts and in actions, so that the light within us can shine through without any hindrance. We will lose all our creditability as Christians if people see intimate fellowship between light and darkness in the way we do things and they will consider us mere hypocrites.

     The dawn will quickly turn to light, but a colorful sunset will always be swallowed up by total darkness. We may be tempted to linger in the alluring beauty of twilight, but darkness will always overwhelm all visible things and turn them into oblivion.

     Is moral dusk appealing to you?

     We all desire to be all loving, all embracing, and all accepting, and by being so receptive to all beliefs and ways of life we may actually accept all ideas as equal, therefore all conflicting ideas are equally valid, thus equally invalid.

     We can’t stand firm unless we take a position. We are either moving toward the light as the dawn or going toward darkness as the dusk, getting increasing better or worse. Of course we have to have an unchangable standard by which to measure our digression or improvement; otherwise getting better has absolutely no meaning.  

         

Wednesday, September 7, 2011 6:32:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Unequally Yorked 

MTS-3103

Unequally Yoked

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.”

          II Co 6:14

 

     When two mules or horses are yoked together, there is no escape for them except to continue to walk side by side and carry the load placed upon them. Unless they are unyoked by their masters, they must learn to get along with each other; otherwise life will be pretty miserable and unbearable for them.

     Paul was speaking about more than just marriage, yet this verse has been used repeatedly as an argument against unions between Christians and non-Christians. Whether Paul had this in mind when he was composing it is debatable, but surely this verse is applicable to the most intimate union of all unions - marriage.

     It’s clear that there were mixed marriages between believers and unbelievers in the church of Corinth and Paul encouraged them to stay together unless the unbeliever decided to leave the marriage out of his or her own volition. The apostle most likely discouraged the Christians from being unequally yoked with non-believers, for he knew how difficult it was going to be. Paul was a realist as far as marriage was concerned and he would like most men to be like him - a single man who devoted his life solely to the work of the kingdom.

     Had Paul been married before? We have no clear evidence either way, but I suppose he must have had some sort of married life; otherwise he wouldn’t have had any idea concerning the difficulty of domestic life. This is, however, not relevant to our discussion. I believe Paul was looking at the issue more from a spiritual point of view.

     Any union is flawed if a spiritual element isn’t prsent. I found it rather difficult to have an intimate friendship with people who didn’t share my faith after I went through a dramatic transformation in my early twenties. I didn’t end any relationship with my friends intentionally, but we seemed to gradually drift apart because of having different interests and passions in life. Divorce wasn’t necessary since we were just friends, but there was regret and remorse that things just didn’t work out.

     The line between genuine believers and non-believers has become increasingly vague nowadays and people may be in for a great surprise when they wake up from their marriage bed. We need God’s mercy more than anything in marriage, for no human relationship is as volatile and explosive as marriage. It brings us the most joy, but it also generates the most sorrow in our lives. We cannot be easily unyoked after we are yoked, and for better or for worse we must make it work, for the alternative isn’t always that attractive. If married couples are truly committed to each other on a human level, they may make an effort to be yoked for life, even though the tugging and pulling of the heavy load may become progressively more unbearable. Yet there is more to married life than merely being together. We must endure to the end to truly love, but we can endure so much better if there is also great joy in love.

     Our water buffalo had never been yoked with others since he was able to haul whatever was placed on him on his own. As far as I could tell, he seemed to be doing his labor quite willingly. I reckon his life would have been much happier had he been yoked with a like-minded water buffalo, preferably a female, but there was also a possibility that one would be placed beside him against his will and his life would have been very difficult indeed.

     I guess there is a great risk involved in choosing a mate for life, and we must consider all aspects, the spiritual side being the most important one, before we decide to be yoked for life.

          

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 6:53:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Possessing 

MTS-3102

Possessing

“…having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

          II Co 6:10

 

     Tangible things are what we see and from them we derive our sense of well-being. Our primary task in life is to survive, and the things that support our physical lives are of major importance. All things are empty to us unless we are fed, for we can hardly accomplish anything with an empty stomach. Starving people don’t dream dreams, except dreams of getting fed.

     “You can retire after we pay off our debt,” Kathy said to me after hearing my usual grumbling.

     “I won’t retire unless we retire together,” I replied. She works ten times harder than I do, so if either one of us should quit working, it should be my wife.

     “We will have nothing if we both do.” She didn’t say this, but I could sense what she was thinking. I don’t usually worry about our daily provision, for I don’t usually plan ahead.

     “Elderly people should guard themselves from greed,” remarked Confucius.

     I guess I had very little fear in my twenties, because I was shielded by youth and faith; therefore I was able to do a lot of things that were considered ill-advised by many people. Yet by God’s mercy, things seemed to have worked out. We didn’t become wealthy in the process, but neither did we starve.

     Why can’t I do the same thing now as I did when I was a baby Christian, since I am spiritually more mature and my faith has grown a little stronger? I should be able to live by faith if the Lord so desires.

     The crux of the matter is that we need to adjust our focus and see things as they are, not as they seem to be. What earthly things did the apostle possess? Just a few things to keep him warm and fed, yet he claimed that he possessed everything. Did Paul see something we fail to see?

     Owning something does not equal possessing it. Besides, fear of losing what we possess may take away all the excitement of owning something. Our enjoyment of earthly things may miraculously increase if we quit claiming ownership of them.

     Everything is the Lord’s; therefore everything is ours because we are God’s children, who are heirs of all God’s richness and bounty.

     Enjoyment and appreciation of some things equal possessing them, even though we don’t actually own them. Many people have witnessed the beauty of the Rockies and the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, yet only very few people truly possess them by recognizing and appreciating what they truly are- they are ours because they are God’s creations.

     What did the blind man see for the very first time when the Lord Jesus opened his eyes? Can we imagine seeing the world with all her grandeur for the first time? It may take quite an effort to do this, but it’s well worth the labor since this is the key to possessing and enjoying all things, albeit we have nothing.          

Friday, September 2, 2011 6:46:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Enrichment 

MTS-3101

Enrichment

“…poor, yet making many rich…”

          II Co 6:10

 

     Paul was by no means rich in the things of the world. In fact, most people would consider him poor since he needed financial support from Christian brothers and sisters. He did work as a tent-maker to meet his own needs, but the income from that must have been meager since he couldn’t have devoted himself to the work full time. The apostle was indeed quite poor, yet out of his poverty he was able to make many people rich. How did he do that?

     We are entirely wrong if we think only financially able people are able to give financially. The opposite of this may be the truth. Only the Lord knows how much his people are giving, but I suspect that the middle class and the poor may be giving more than the rich proportionally. We may be poor, but being poverty-stricken doesn’t mean that our privilege of giving to the poor is stripped away. If the poor widow in the holy temple was able to give a small coin, all of us can give a little something, thus enriching many people who are in need.

     Paul never breathed a word about his own giving toward the church and the poor, but we can easily surmise that he must have given a lot more away than what he kept for himself, for he would not have asked people to give financially had he not practiced it himself.

     I don’t think, however, he was speaking about financial enrichment in this narrative. Being a faithful servant of God, Paul and his companions must have made many people rich spiritually through their ministry, which was indeed his main concern. He would have helped to relieve people from their poverty if he had been able, but he knew that men didn’t live on bread alone. He had something far more important and valuable to give to hungry people for free, which was the gospel of Christ Jesus.

     “Dear Lord, please make me a blessing to other people.” This is the prayer that I pray constantly. My life’s greatest desire is to become a blessing to all the people with whom I come in contact. As a matter of fact, all Christians should become blessings to their neighbors since they all have the gospel to share. Preaching the gospel is the single most important act of enrichment we can do for our friends and neighbors. I believe this was what Paul was speaking about.

     Remember what Peter was saying to the paralyzed person who was begging bread in the temple? “Silver or gold I don’t have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” The man was obviously expecting something tangible to tide him over to the next day or the next month, but the enrichment he received from the apostle was far beyond his wildest imagination. If the beggar received Christ after he was healed physically, which I believe he did, his enrichment would have lasted eternally.

     What kind of enrichment are we trying to obtain from the Lord and his servants? What kind of blessing are we to our friends and neighbors.

 

Thursday, September 1, 2011 6:51:00 AM Categories: Devotional

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
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