To Trust 

MTS-3052

To Trust

“…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God…”

                II Cor 3:3

 

     It may seem pretty effortless to the laymen sitting in the pews, but it does take a lot of spiritual energy for preachers to speak effectively. When a minister stands behind a pulpit, he speaks for God.

     We speak because God has spoken.

     When we give a lecture on a certain subject, we may speak with a lot of passion, but what we are trying to do is merely to share our knowledge in order to impress our audience. We want people to think highly of us. Preaching the word of God is just the opposite. We will accomplish nothing if our only goal is to showcase our eloquence and our knowledge.

     What we attempt to reach through preaching isn’t people’s brains; we mean to touch their hearts. People are not necessarily persuaded to put their trust in Christ; they are moved by the Spirit to do so. Our faith in God isn’t irrational, but our efforts will all be in vain if we only try to know God through our own reason. To believe in God may sound like an act of rationality, but love should be involved in the process as well. The devil believes in God, yet he trembles, for he does not love God.

     To believe in God is to love God, and love comes from the heart. What people often do is to love first and do the rationalization and justification later. I am, of course, speaking about human love here. Divine love needs no rationalization or justification.

     Believing in God is beyond reason; therefore rationality alone should never be something that keeps us from coming to the Lord. If our rationality is totally consistent with God’s, then believing in God will be as easy and natural as taking a breath. We have such a difficult time believing in God because we are not omniscient.

     There seems to be a thin veil of human rationality that covers people’s eyes when I preach to them and they look at me as lf seeing through a dense fog. I often get discouraged when I see people struggling so much, but there is nothing I can do to help them except continue to preach the word of God.

     To understand the message of God is to surrender our entire being to him, including our rationality. Faith isn’t unreasonable; it is beyond reason. As a matter of fact, we will realize it is the most reasonable thing to do after we put our trust in Christ.

     Why is it so hard to call him “Abba, Father” if he is truly our father in heaven?

     I will no longer try to impress people’s rationality through my preaching, which will not do any good; what I need to do to pray to God to write something upon people’s hearts through his Spirit. I have been doing enough wooing for God with human reasoning, which didn’t seem to work very at all. May the Lord draw people to him through the inner operation of the Holy Spirit.        

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 7:56:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Our Letter 

MTS-3051

Our Letter

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.”              II Cor 3:2

 

     The people to whom we have witnessed are our letter of recommendation. To be more exact, the ones who have been saved under our ministry are the letter Paul was referring to in this verse. There was no need for him to have any letter of recommendation, for the people he led to Christ were all his letters.

     If that was the case, most of us may need an actual letter of recommendation, because we may not have led anybody to Christ during our entire life.

     As far as leading people to Christ, I have become quite deferential. I am extremely reluctant to claim that I have done any of that. Christ was the one who led people to himself. Paul must have felt the same way I do; yet why did he even claim that he had so many “letters?”

     There was no doubt that the apostle was well versed about the sovereignty of God and his unconditional election of sinners, but he was unapologetic when he made the claim for his labor among the pagans. He had put his entire life into his ministry and he shouldn’t have had to make any apology for it. Albeit he didn’t play the essential role in people’s coming to Christ, he effort was nonetheless vital and absolutely necessary.

     It’s likely that we haven’t put enough into leading people to Christ if we make a statement such as: “it’s God’s work; not mine,” or “I just make myself available.” If we have put an all-out effort into evangelism, we can at least claim a tiny credit for whatever success we might have achieved and rejoice with the Lord of the harvest.

     I may have become a little hesitant about claiming the result of my labor in the past, for the fruit hasn’t been all that good. I tend to blame myself for not doing a good job teaching when new converts seemed to have faltered not long after they were baptized.

     The fruit Paul produced didn’t turn out to be ideal, yet Paul offered no apology for it. He obviously didn’t perceive that people’s justification from sin was the end of their salvation. He believed that, to some extent, sinners continue to get saved even after they have been saved; therefore, his work among the newly saved in the city of Corinth was ongoing.

     The Corinthians Christians were letters carved on Paul’s heart, which Paul seemed to have been reading everyday. The ones who were converted to Christ under his tutelage were his spiritual children and he felt obligated to instruct them and to bring them back to the fold when they had gone astray.

     I may have given up hope on people far too easily and tend to take it personally when believers quit coming to church, which was something Paul seldom did. He felt no need to make any apology for people’s faltering, since he believed it’s was the Lord who saved; yet he took personal responsibility for it because he realized that he could have worked harder to prevent it from happening.            

         

Monday, June 20, 2011 8:25:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Commendation 

MTS-3050

Commendation

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?”

            II Cor 3:1

 

     It’s a constant struggle for some of us to know whether to commend ourselves or not, or to what extent do we commend ourselves. We desire to be known, yet there is a voice within our hearts, telling us to keep ourselves hidden.

     We suspect that we may become objects of envy if we reveal to people our past accomplishments; we are aware of this because we often feel the same way when others share their accolades with us. It’s not an easy task to rejoice with those who rejoice. Our instinct is to become envious of others’ good fortune and pity our lack of the same.

     Did Paul feel the need to commend himself to the Corinthians? He was obviously tempted to do so, for he felt competition from other elements within the church and might have felt compelled to say something about himself, claiming that he was by no means inferior to the other “super” apostles.

     There was no need for him to do it, because the Corinthian Christians were all his living commendations. Paul and his colleagues obviously had played some part in their coming to Christ.

     “Dr Liu was one of the founders of our church,” I said, as I introduced a visiting speaker to the congregation. I realized there was something wrong in my brief introduction as soon as I uttered it. No one was the true founder of our church, the Lord was. Being a mature believer, I don’t think Dr. Liu had any intention to take the credit. I meant to commend him before the congregation, but I, in fact, made a blunder.

     We need to be very cautious not to lift people up too high, which we have a tendency to do within the church. I think it’s a lot safer for us to keep ourselves hidden in Christ, and not to fight for any sort of recognition. To be known unto men is a very dangerous thing.

     We are experts in creating heroes. We Protestants may not have canonized anybody like the Catholics have done over the years, but we have done our share of making many superstars within our circle long after the Protestant Reformation, something which would have been abhorrent to all the reformers.

     I don’t how many preachers secretly harbor a sinister desire to become a superstar who is constantly in demand as a speaker at revivals and conferences. I hope there aren’t many of those in our midst, but I suspect there are more than we care to know. We ourselves may easily become one of those if we succumb to the desire of our flesh.

     What John the Baptist did was one of the most challenging things that a minister could have encountered. He knew how lowly he was and directed people, including his disciples, to the One who had come after him. I believe the key to our spirituality lies in the simple statement that he made concerning the Lord Jesus: “He shall increase; and I shall decrease.” Our goal as Christians is to continue to decrease until we are reduced to nothing, absolutely nothing.                

Friday, June 17, 2011 7:11:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Profit 

MTS-3048

Profit

“Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.”

              II Cor 2:17

 

     Paul prided himself in not taking any money from the Corinthians while he was laboring there; he instead worked with his hands to provide for his own needs. In fact, it wasn’t his pride that kept him from accepting any money from the church; he merely wanted to preach the gospel for free, believing that people shouldn’t have to pay any money for the word of God.

     What the apostle was doing then is what we often call a “tent-making” ministry. Paul was a bi-vocational minister.

     I thought it was a nice gesture that some guest speakers we have had in the past have refused to accept the honorarium we were going to give to them, which was something that I have never done personally. As far as I can remember, I have never turned down a single cent that God’s people have offered to me in the from of a donation. I have always been quite grateful when it occurred and was more than happy to accept it. Does this make me a less spiritual person? Does this fact alone make me a minister who “peddles the word of God for money?”

     My motivation was by no means money when I accepted the call from this church some eighteen years ago, but my doctoral study was progressing slowly and I needed a job badly at that time. The call from the church was quite welcome news indeed, which I accepted without a second thought. Was I going to peddle the word of God for money? I question.

     I haven’t become wealthy after eighteen years of ministry at this church, but I have always had my basic needs met over the years and, with the church’s support, we were able to raise our three boys and provide for their education. I did not enter into the ministry for profit, yet it seems to have been profitable as I look at my past in retrospect. God’s provision and grace have always been quite sufficient.

     Perhaps Paul was speaking about something else in this context. He may have meant that no one should put the word of God up for sale by preaching the gospel of prosperity, which has become very prevalent in our time. As churches become wealthier, their ministers become more prosperous as well. We are all well acquainted with CEO-type ministers who appear to be no different from leaders of secular corporations. No one can deny the fact that for ministers of the gospel to become rich, the church must become wealthy.

     What should I have done with the money given to me after I spoke at a small retreat except deposit in my bank account? I could easily have turned it down and felt good about myself, but my bills would still have to be paid. I just try to humble myself and consider it God’s way of providing for my needs, which is no different from how he provides for people who work in corporate America for their livelihood.   

              

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 8:03:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Who? 

MTS-3047

Who?

“And who is equal to such a task?”

             II Cor 2:16

 

     Being the fragrance of life is indeed a pleasant experience, for we all desire to be well liked. We love to draw people to ourselves by our sweet smell.

     “Hey, you are nice looking,” a middle-aged guy said to me while I was visiting my sister in her little restaurant.

     “You must be kidding me. That was the first time in my entire life that somebody besides my wife made such a complement to me,” I replied. I may be many things, but good looks have eluded me my whole life. Maybe I am aging well.

     The comment made me feel pretty good, nonetheless.

     Don’t we all like to project such an image to the world? We want people to perceive us as beautiful and successful, and being an ambassador of Christ may easily defeat that purpose. We may become someone to be avoided if we decide to bring the good news to our neighbors and friends.

     “I witnessed to ten people in the span of two days; how many times have you?” one Christian brother who was visiting our church shared from the pulpit.

     “How many have I?” I asked myself and was greatly embarrassed by the answer. I have not witnessed to anyone for quite some time now.

     “And who is equal to such a task?” Paul asked. The apostle obviously had experienced the hardships and suffering first hand from being a messenger of the gospel and knew quite well the awesomeness and the challenge of being the one who bore both the fragrance of life and death. He had brought many people to life through his preaching, but he also had condemned many to death, not by his own doing, but by their disbelief.

     I have never considered myself up to such an awesome task. I am by nature shy and reserved, and have been afflicted by an inferiority complex my entire life. Such a person is ill suited to be the bearer of the good news.

     Paul wouldn’t have asked such a question had he deemed himself equal to the task. He was in fact compelled to do what he was doing, and continued to do it faithfully until the day he died. The task might not have always been all that pleasant, but the apostle kept on carrying out his calling just the same.

     It matters not whether we are equal to the task or not, the baton has been handed to us and we must run with it until we pass it on to the next person.

     The Lord obviously thinks we are well suited for the job if he assigns us the task and any act of self-deprecation isn’t pleasing to him.             

  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 7:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Fragrance of Life 

MTS-3046

Fragrance of Life

“To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”            II Cor 2:16

 

     I didn’t think my message was getting through to the ones who were seekers during the service at a retreat. They were just sitting there, seemingly resisting what I was trying to convey in my sermon. To most of them, my message probably had the stench of death. Yet the majority of the people there seemed to be paying attention, for they were Christians, and they might have smelled the fragrance of life in my talk.

     No one likes to be the bearer of bad news.

     The crowd was small, no more than fifty, I guess. I have no trouble speaking to a small audience, as long as people are attentive, or at least pretending to be. But I tend to lose focus when I see someone in the audience yawning or becoming restless. There was a man who put his head on the backrest in front of him and seemingly was going to sleep. I took my eyes off him and continued my sermon until I finished, which took about an hour and fifteen minutes. Being confined in a small chapel full of the smell of death for over an hour can be quite intolerable, I suppose.

     Yet there was clapping and applause from the audience after I ended my talk. They might have done it out of politeness, but I believe some were sincere and appreciative, for they had taken in the aroma of life during the service.

     “To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”  This phenomenon is indeed hard to comprehend. How can a smell convey both the fragrance of life and the stench of death? I had every intention to be a messenger of life, yet became an ambassador of death to some people.

     We need to first choose life before we can appreciate the fragrance of life.

     Some people seem to enjoy going to the gym to work out, but it’s not my preference because the thought of taking in recycled air within a room where people are huffing and puffing, perspiring profusely, doesn’t seem to be all that appetizing to me, but some may find the aroma that’s repulsive to me quite appealing. This is, however, not an issue of life and death.

     Do we take in the fragrance of life whenever we go to a house of worship or do we smell something else? What we smell may determine who we are. Many of us may actually find going to a church that preaches the sound message of salvation to worship boring and intolerable, because we may be smelling something foul both from the pulpit and the pews.          

 

Monday, June 13, 2011 7:46:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Triumphal Procession 

MTS-3045

Triumphal Procession

“…leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”      II Cor 2:14

 

     We often act like we are defeated for various reasons and, where we turn, we spread an aroma of failure and discouragement. Why? Have we lost the spiritual warfare we have been fighting? If not, why do we act like it?

     The victory has been won, and what we are doing is to recover what was lost. We are fighting a losing battle if the war hasn’t already been fought and won.

     Satan was completely defeated over two thousand years ago when Christ was crucified, died, and rose again from the dead. In fact, the Lord Jesus has been leading us in triumphal procession for the past two thousand years.

     Yet we don’t always act like victors.

     I may have been overcome by an attitude of defeatism, for I haven’t experienced a lot of successes, either in personal or corporate warfare against the evil one. Safe to say, I have tasted a lot more failures than successes.

     The failures that I have experienced don’t make me a failure, for the war has been won. I need to remind myself of this truth often and remain positive no matter how dire the situation may become.

     “Are there any persons who would like to accept Jesus to be their Savior tonight?” I was asked to issue an altar call at the end of the last service at the church retreat. There was no indication from the pews and I quickly closed the service.

     Did I act like a failure afterward? Why should I be, since there was not any fruit to be harvested at the time? I just move on to the next mission field and do what my Master calls me to do.

     We need to remain upbeat and positive. The soldiers who march in triumphal procession have absolutely no reason to hang their heads as if they have been beaten. They instead should shout for joy.

     We go on evangelizing because there are still lost souls to be found and broken hearts to be mended. The Lord’s victory has made our victory possible.

     We have ample reasons to feel defeated if we rely on our own talent and strength to gain victory for Christ. We are mere instruments by which the Holy Spirit performs his miraculous work of salvation made possible by the redemptive death of Christ Jesus.

     “Campus ministry is becoming more and more difficult,” I said to someone in a casual conversation during the retreat.

     “Yes, things have changed. It used to be easier,” the one to whom I was talking agreed.

     What I did in that brief conversation was to spread an aroma of discouragement and defeat, which was something Satan wanted me to do. The evil one might have failed, yet he often behaves like a victor and, unfortunately, we seem to concur with him by the way we think and act.          

Thursday, June 2, 2011 5:09:00 AM Categories: Devotional

To Love 

MTS-3044

To Love

“…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”         II Cor 2:11

 

     An unforgiving heart is a bitter and disturbed heart. Harboring hatred within our hearts for someone is the quickest way to lose our inner peace.

     What’s the main goal of our chief accuser for us? His intention for us is to hate and to do so continuously. The main attribute of our Lord is love, and it’s quite obvious that the main character of Satan is hatred. We fall into our enemy’s trap when we succumb to hatred.

     Instead of finding reasons to love, he wants us to look for causes to hate.

     The mob was very eager to stone the woman who was caught in the act of committing adultery and the reason behind their rage was very simple - they had found a perfect target to hate.

     The Christians in the church of Corinth also found an easy object to hate in the man who took his father’s wife. Was it “righteous anger” that they held toward the man? Not necessarily. They just had to blow off some steam from their hearts of discontentment.

     It was a strange thing that we may call “catharsis,” a kind of cleansing that we seem to experience when we witness something tragic befalling our neighbors or friends. We may get a similar effect after we have watched a Shakespearean tragedy.

     What was to loathe in that particular Corinthian Christian who took his father’s wife was indeed quite obvious, but in the midst of the sordid affair, one could still find ample reason to love the man. Satan appeared to seize a perfect opportunity to stir up anger and hatred among the Christians at the church through what was taking place, but it did not need to be that way. Paul’s intention was that the church would turn the negative into the positive by not yielding to their instinct to hate.

     We need to remain vigilant at all times so that we won’t fall into Satan’s snare.

     Hatred and anger would have driven the man who was disciplined by the church away, never to set foot to the church again, which was obviously what Satan had designed and desired for the poor man, yet there was still hope for him if there was still love and compassion for him from the brothers and sisters.

     To love is always a much better option than to hate. In fact, it’s the only option we have. The Lord Jesus did not give way to hatred even during the darkest hour of his life, and by his Father’s help, he could still muster enough spiritual energy to love his enemies and to utter a priestly prayer with his dying breath for the ones who had just hammered rusty nails into his hands and feet.

 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 7:47:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Great Distress 

MTS-3042

Great Distress

“For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears…”            II Cor 2:4

 

     Paul could easily have ignored what was happening at the church of Corinth and moved on to his next mission elsewhere, but being a true pastor of the church he helped plant, he simple couldn’t do that. His love for the church in Corinth was so deep that he couldn’t have turned his back on them, as if nothing serious were happening at the time.

     The news must have greatly saddened him and he felt that he had to do something to right the ship. He did not expect perfection out of the Christians there, but what had happened was just too much - someone in the church had taken his father’s wife. That was unheard of even among the pagans.

     How could such an atrocious thing have taken place? Paul asked. The apostle must have blamed himself for not doing a better job teaching while he was in Corinth. Most of the Christians at the church were new converts and it seemed to take a while for them to make the transition from paganism to Christianity. Paul did all he could within a couple of years, but evidently that wasn’t quite enough.

     I blame myself for baptizing some people without preparing them properly. There was one occasion when I even agreed to baptize a girl after she suddenly decided to receive baptism a few minutes before the actual ceremony, because I simply couldn’t say ‘no’ to people who appeared to have received Jesus into their hearts. Yet I blame myself for doing so when those people quit coming to the church months or years later.

     Paul’s ill feeling toward the church in Corinth wasn’t personal at all. What a few “bad apples” had done within the church did not injure the apostle personally, for Paul believed he had done all he could to educate the people in sound doctrine. What bothered Paul the most was God’s name had been dragged through the mud by someone who claimed to be a Christian, yet did something that was far worse than what pagans would have done.

     It wasn’t time for Paul to give up on the church, though. Out of his great anguish he wrote a letter to the church, urging the church leaders to exercise church discipline, which was done promptly as far as we can tell from reading his second letter to the church.

     What have we done to bring prodigal son and daughters back into the church fold? Very little indeed. I have stressed over the ones who seem to have gone astray, but have done very little to turn the tide, for I seem to have taken it personally. Paul wouldn’t have done all he did for the church in Corinth had he taken anything personally. We should do all things unto God’s glory and not take anything personally in our church ministry. I will not cry foul, even if I am trampled under people’s feet, as long as God’s name is being lifted up.           

     

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 7:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Reaffirmation 

MTS-3043

Reaffirmation

“I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”

              II Cor 2:8

 

     I don’t know whether the Corinthian Christian who committed the wrong act was excommunicated or not. Paul seemed to have urged the church to do just that in his previous letter and it was quite likely that the man was kicked out from the church.

     From what we read in this letter, the man appeared to have repented and had already suffered enough pain and shame for what he did. He might even have ended the marriage to his stepmother, albeit we have no proof that he did that. In this letter Paul seems to imply that the punishment exacted on the person was sufficient and it was time for reconciliation. He encouraged the church people to reaffirm their love for him and welcome him back into fellowship.

     We don’t exercise church discipline merely to punish, but to bring about a positive effect. We always pray that the one who is penalized may come to genuine repentance and, consequently, he may be brought back into the fellowship of the church.

     It doesn’t usually happen that way, though. Instead of producing true repentance, church discipline may easily create the opposite effect, with the chastised person becoming bitter and never returning to the church.

     Fortunately, we as a church haven’t had to exert a whole lot of discipline on our members, but the only time we practiced it didn’t seem to end that well. I lost touch with the brother after he moved away, but I pray that he remains in the faith.

     Shall I reaffirm my love to him even if he refuses to repent?

     We should not base our forgiveness on someone else’s repentance; we do it because the Lord tells us to do so. In fact, we continue to forgive, even if the perpetrator keeps on offending us up to seventy times seven times.

     To affirm our love for the one disciplined within our fellowship is to have genuine compassion for him; yet we can only create true sympathy for him by affirming our love to him either by word or by action. We can kick off this positive cycle through our daily prayer.

     I seem to be harboring ill feelings toward the one who left our fellowship because of church discipline and the reason for my feeling is quite obvious - I haven’t been praying for this particular brother; therefore my feeling toward him remains unchanged over the years.

     It’s about time for me to take action and the best place to start is on my knees. The ones who have offended us may have been out of sight, but they will never be out of our mind unless we release them in our fervent prayer of forgiveness.   

   

Friday, May 27, 2011 11:56:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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