Freedom 

MTS-3396

Freedom

“But do not use your freedom to indulge
the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”           Gal 5:13

 

“I am amazed that people come to church to worship week after week,” Kathy always comments
when I have complained to her that a few people have stopped coming to church.

She is looking at the issue from a slightly different angle. My thinking is that
Christians are obligated to observe the Lord’s Day, no matter how busy they
are; but her idea is that believers have to make an effort to choose to do what
the Lord calls them to do.

The fact is: people do have to make choices. It’s out of their volition that they come to
church to worship the Lord, even though the service may not be that appealing
to them. They come out of obedience to the Lord.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free,” said the apostle Paul.

We are called to be free; therefore there are hundreds of choices that we have to make daily.
Choice-making becomes somewhat unnecessary if we do all things by natural
instinct. It all boils down to this in our Christian walk - we either choose to
do the biddings of the Spirit or we determine to go against his commands.   

Freedom is not without its struggle.

Liberty without restraint creates chaos and confusion. We may dislike government of any form,
but the alternative of government is unimaginable. Unbridled freedom often
leads to riot. 

“But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in
love.”  Indulging in the flesh is something
we do instinctively; it takes conscious effort on our part to humbly serve
other people. We are indeed free in Christ Jesus; but we may not be that free
to do what Christ calls us to do.

What difference does it make for me to be a Christian, then, if doing God’s will is
a matter of exercising my free will and I am doomed if my free will is still in
bondage because of my original sin? Do I continue to cry out “woe is me” if I
continue to fall short in obeying the Lord?

Nurturing our inner life by prayer and meditation is the thing to do. As we grow healthier
and stronger spiritually, it will become second nature to love the Lord and to
serve our brothers and sisters. The second thing to do is make it into a habit
by doing what pleases the Lord consistently. It takes daily discipline to
transform our second nature into our first nature and to uproot our sinful
nature and to plant the seed of our renewed nature in its place. Indeed we are
endowed with precious freedom in Christ; we need to make it into a daily
reality by freeing ourselves from the bondage of our old selves and old ways of
doing things. 

            

 

 

   

 

   

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 6:35:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Offense 

MTS-3395

Offense

“In that case the offense of the cross
has been abolished.”

             Galatians 5:11

 

Why was Paul’s gospel message offensive to the Jews, to the non-Christian Jews as well
as the Jewish Christians? The answer to this is fairly simple: he preached the
doctrine of justification by faith alone, not the message of faith plus works.

The apostle could have gone along with some Jewish Christians who were advocating the idea
that Gentiles must be circumcised to be saved, and thus have avoided all the possible
conflicts. A little compromise on his part could have gone a long way in
forging peace with a certain faction of Jewish Christians. Yet, being true to
the Lord, Paul simply couldn’t make himself do such an atrocious thing, no
matter what temporary benefit it might have incurred. He would have torn down
what he was attempting to build had he compromised the pure gospel truth the
slightest.

The offense of the cross lies in its complete exclusivity, which excludes all other means
of human redemption except one - the crucifixion of Christ Jesus. People may be
willing to accept the notion that the way of the cross is merely one of the
means of salvation, but they become agitated if we make the claim that it is
the only way.

Many people worship Christ Jesus as one of the gods, not the one and only God. They play it safe by
paying homage to all gods, even to “an unknown god,” and it goes without saying
Jesus must be included. It becomes extremely offensive to non-Christians if
Jesus is singled out as the only deity and there is no other God besides him.

“All religions are one,” claimed William Blake, a romantic poet, who espoused the
idea that an evil force wasn’t necessarily evil, it was a positive force. If
that is the case, all demons are gods.

Is Christ Jesus just one of the gods competing for our allegiance in the market of
religion? If all gods are indeed gods, there is really no god at all. By the
same token, if all truth claims are valid, there is really no truth. How can
all the truth claims be equally valid if they conflict with one another? Surely
we can’t worship Christ Jesus, who claimed: “No one comes to the father except
through me,” and at the same time pay homage to other deities.

Truth by nature is offensive because of its exclusivity. We either embrace Jesus as the
one and only, or do not believe in him at all. The Lord Jesus didn’t provide us
with another option. “If he is not Lord over all, he is not Lord at all.” This
may sound a little trite; it is nonetheless the truth. This is the gospel
message that we proclaim at our church and I don’t have to make an apology for
it, for I firmly believe what Peter proclaimed in the book of Acts: “Salvation is found in no one
else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be
saved." 

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 10:47:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Confusion 

MTS-3394

Confusion

“The one who is throwing you into
confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.”           Gal 5:10

 

The Galatians believers seemed to be heading in the right direction under the sound tutoring
of Paul. They believed in the doctrine of justification by faith alone and were
bathing in God’s grace, and then something happened out of the blue.

“One must get circumcised to be saved!”

They probably had no idea who was espousing this strange teaching, but before they knew it,
everybody seemed to be talking about it. In fact, some Gentile Christians
within the church were even pondering the idea of getting circumcised. 

“Well, just to be safe,” they thought.

There would be no end to it
after the Pandora box was opened. The Gentiles simply had no earthly idea that,
besides circumcision, there were thousands of regulations they would be
required to keep.

Paul had learned the lesson
the hard way in his youth and he knew firsthand how burdensome it was to keep
the law daily. More importantly, he was convinced one could never be justified
by observing the law. Perfection both in thought and in action is what God
requires of us, which is entirely impossible to achieve. Mercy is what we need
from the Lord if we can’t meet the demands of God’s justice.

It wouldn’t have been necessary
for Christ to descend to this sin-stained earth had people been able to earn
their salvation through personal merit by keeping the law or acting in exact
accordance with their conscience. God had prepared a way for us to be
reconciled to him, yet we still try to carve a path leading to the heavenly
throne. This is indeed foolishness.

What sort of people were
creating this kind of confusion among the Galatians? The strong and the arrogant,
I suppose.

Those were the ones who sought
to achieve great things for the Lord as well as for themselves, and merely
accepting God’s free grace didn’t seem to sit too well for them. Being who they
were, they had to do something to enhance their position before the Lord. They
were action-oriented people whose measuring stick of success led only to the
tangible. There seemed to be very little they could have done to contribute
toward their salvation based on God’s free grace, which made them feel rather
uneasy. However, they found a goldmine when they turned to the law, which
opened up an avenue by which they could earn their own redemption. Therefore,
they started to propagate the new message in the church, creating great
confusion among the believers.

People sitting in the pews
seem to pay special attention when I occasionally touch upon the issue of
earning God’s approval through personal merit. We have been redeemed by God’s
grace, yet we seem to have a desire to make ourselves more worthy of his grace
through work.

  

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 10:45:00 AM Categories: Devotional

A Little Yeast 

MTS-3393

A Little Yeast

“A little yeast works through the whole
batch of dough.”

            Gal 5:9

 

Some ideas seem rather harmless when they surface at first, yet they may snowball on you
if you fail to bring them under control. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to
Christ.” This should be our daily discipline if we intend to lead a life of
holiness both in our thoughts and actions.

Sin appears to follow an expected path and pattern, and it
doesn’t take that much spiritual discernment to detect it. In essence, most
sins are premeditated and sinful actions usually follow sinful thoughts. We
will sin much less if we make a concerted effort to “take captive every thought
and make it obedient to Christ.”

I had a hard time going to sleep because I was bothered by
a negative thought. I tossed and turned for a long time until one in the
morning, battling the thought that something awful was going to happen to my
loved ones. How do I keep the yeast from rising up and permeating my entire
being?

“You need to combat it with pure and positive thoughts
derived from the Scriptures,” my wife suggested, which is thinking God’s
thoughts after him, I suppose.

Disciplining our thoughts is ninety percent of the success
in our struggle against sin. What the evil one did was merely to plant a seed
in Eve’s mind and the first woman was unable to keep the idea from growing.

Most temptations start out with an idea.

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin;
and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death,”  wrote James. Evil ideas need to be aborted
immediately when they are implanted in our hearts. They will take root if we
continue to nurture them by thinking about them or making space for them. We
may have to discard the whole batch of dough if we want to get rid of a little
yeast within it. It takes drastic measures to remove drastic sin from our
heart.

Are we supposed to police every church member’s morality
and ethics? If not, how are we going to keep God’s church from condemnation from
invisible yeast?

All we can do is to create an environment of purity and
cleanness by preaching the message of holiness to crowd out the bad elements
within the church doors. The best way to keep weeds from growing in a lawn is
to nurture the good grass. If sinners are not convicted after they listen to
the message of God’s righteousness and divine judgment, surely they will not
remain in our fellowship.

If we are being transformed by the reading of God’s words,
we will become less and less likely to conform to the image of the evil one by
yielding to his temptations.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, November 30, 2012 6:42:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Faith and Love 

MTS-3392

Faith and Love

“The only thing that counts is faith
expressing itself through love.”

                Gal 5:6

 

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing
that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Getting circumcised is
relatively easy for the Jews, or anyone else. It can be done in a matter of
minutes and the wound usually heals in a few days. Salvation is pretty
effortless to attain, if effort is what it takes.

Obviously, there are tons of regulations and stipulations of the law that one must observe
after he becomes circumcised. Circumcision is just the beginning of a long
journey of earning one’s salvation through observing the law, not an ending. By
the same token, getting baptized is just the initiation of a person’s new life
in Christ, an outward sign of an inward transformation, and from the moment on,
they must strive to express their inner faith through outward love.

Which of the two is easier to achieve? Redemption validating itself through work or faith
expressing itself through love?

We are endowed with various mental capabilities and some people are more capable than others
as far as keeping the law is concerned, redemption is likely only for people with
strong will and resilience, not for the weaklings and the phlegmatic. It seems
unfair if this is truly the case, but even the strong and mighty among men are
incapable of keeping the entire law at all times. It doesn’t seem to make any
difference whether one is strong or weak; we are all doomed if salvation hinges
entirely on our ability to perform good deeds or to keep the smallest details
of the law.

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Come to think of it, this appears to be a far more difficult task than what we have discussed
previously, for before we can express our faith we must have faith, and it’s
out of our control whether we have faith or not. Isn’t this paradoxical?

Faith is a gift from God, which isn’t something we earn through our work or personal
merit. What we need to do is to humbly ask the Lord for the precious gift and,
after we receive it, we can start to nurture it and it will start to express
itself in due time. How then do we nurture our faith after it’s been given to
us through God’s mercy?

We must put ourselves in a healthy environment where our faith can grow steadily, surroundings
where the word of God is preached and Christian fellowship is present. We can’t
possibly expect our faith to increase if we continue to saturate ourselves in
an ungodly atmosphere after we are saved. When our faith grows to a certain
stature, it will express itself spontaneously through loving our Lord and our
neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, November 29, 2012 6:02:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Grace 

MTS-3391

Grace

“You who are trying to be justified by
the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”         Gal 5:4

 

Doing good deeds does make us feel good about ourselves; it doesn’t, however, make us good
people. We are what we are; not what we do. Our action does reflect our inner
selves and the nature of our beings, but it’s not the only indication of who we
really are.

We live by faith, not by sight. Living purely by sight will cause us to lose our faith.

Many of our spiritual problems may be caused by our incessant inward looking and interior searching.
We don’t always like what we see when we look inside of ourselves, do we? Do we
enjoy looking at our outward actions? Not necessarily. The best thing to do is
to not to be constantly looking at ourselves, period.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto
the mountains: From whence shall my help come?” asked the Psalmist.

From whence will I find my help? On a hill far away- the
hill of Golgotha, where our Lord Jesus was crucified.    

I seem to have fallen farther and farther away from grace because I have been paying too
much attention to my inner thoughts and outward actions and feeling awful about
all my shortcomings. By doing so I have opened up a gateway from which the evil
one could launch his assault. The Accuser will continue to accuse me if I keep
on accusing myself for being a lousy Christian.

There was gray serpent chasing me in my dream last night and I couldn’t get rid of it, no
matter how fast I tried to run. Finally I had to turn around and kill it with a
wooden stick. We have to face our inner demon by slaying it, not through our
own might, however, but through the power of Christ.

Grace is free; let’s not give it a steep price tag and spend our entire lifetime paying for
it. The gift of salvation is to be enjoyed; not to be endured. It’s unfortunate
that some Christians seem to be marching to heaven with their eyebrows knitted
and countenance downcast, gnashing their teeth every step of the way, striving
to earn something which has been granted to them freely.

To accept what we are doesn’t mean that we cease to fight against our carnal nature; it
does mean that we are fully assured that the victory has been won; therefore we
are able to fight with total confidence. We battle not to earn the ultimate
victory; we do so to strengthen our spiritual muscles and mental fiber so that
we can be better utilized in the heavenly realms to accomplish our heavenly enterprise.

We have been justified by the blood of Christ; therefore the goal of our earthly labor is
for our sanctification, which is connected more to our future than to our
present; more to heaven than to earth.   
    

 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 6:55:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Slavery 

MTS-3390

Slavery

“Stand firm, then, and do not let
yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”              Gal 5:1

 

I am a new creation in Christ, yet I seem to have been enslaved by the old creation in me.
I accumulated some things over the period of twenty-three years when I was a
pagan and they are still haunting me and refusing to let me break free from
them completely.

We are indeed enslaved by fear of death and we continue to tiptoe over the issues relating to
it, for fear of disturbing the sleeping monster and causing it to pay special
attention to us. Growing up in a community filled with stories of ghosts and
goblins and a variety of other superstitions certainly had a strong impact on
my psyche as a child. Even though my inner being has been transformed by the
Spirit, there is still residue from my old way of life, surfacing in my
thinking from time to time, seeking to enslave me.

The fight against my old self is ongoing and I seriously doubt it will ever end until
heaven.

Our fundamental makeup as a person and our personality traits remain basically the same after
we are born again and, unless we bring them into total conformity with the new
life by crucifying them with Christ, they will become the staunchest allies
of our enemy. We must go through death in order to live.

I have been battling against my personality and my constant effort to overcome it has been pretty futile. I
guess many Christians may have the same struggle as I do. Our innate
personality does not equal spirituality, yet many of us are unable to tell the
difference between the two. We often mistake a naturally optimistic person as a
person of great faith and a pessimist as one without joy in the Lord. 

I have met Christians who are
enslaved by various things that they have inherited from their old selves, such
as self-righteousness, strong self-confidence, self-loathing, feelings of
superiority or inferiority, and the list goes on.

To yield to our carnal selves
or our old way of thinking is to be enslaved by them. We may not have
completely overcome them, but we must vow never to surrender to them.

What are the things that seek
to enslave you? We can’t fight against them unless we pinpoint what they are.
The scariest thing is that they might have become our allies without us knowing
it and the service we have reckoned spiritual and God-honoring might have been
carnal and displeasing to God after all. Paul honestly believed he was serving
the Lord by persecuting the Christians, didn’t he?

My enemies are: sloth,
self-pity, melancholy, feelings of inferiority and superiority, disdain for
others, belief in classic romanticism, lack of patience, lack of love, fear of
the unknown. Wow, this is a long list. What are yours?

 

Monday, November 26, 2012 6:57:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Freedom 

MTS-3389

Freedom

“It is for freedom that Christ has set
us free.”

         
Gal 5:1

 

Paul seemed to know exactly what he could and could not do under the law, and as long as he
did all that was required of him, he would be justified. Even though he was bound
by the law, the bondage was what he embraced, since he appeared to have no
trouble figuring out what the Lord demanded of him.

After he was set free and was under grace, Paul suddenly was required to make choices
concerning what he could or could not do, which made his new life of freedom in
Christ rather challenging. Things didn’t seem to be so clear cut anymore. The
law basically informed him to refrain from doing something, but the new law in
Christ demanded him to do many things that he wasn’t necessarily equipped to
do.  

What kind of life is more liberating, the inside-out or outside-in life? We are bestowed with
a new life within, not a new lifestyle, when we become born from above. The new
lifestyle will become a reality naturally when the new life becomes more mature
and all we need to do is to nurture the life within by consistently doing
certain things. Eating and drinking are liberating and not to do those things
regularly is repressive. Besides, only the sick eat and drink for utilitarian reasons;
the healthy take in food and drink for enjoyment, for the most part.

If our nature is reformed, we should be able to do what God requires us to do more naturally,
which is true freedom. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Why then can’t we always do what the Lord wants us to do? This seems to be our collective
experience as Christians. “What a wretched man I am!” mourned the apostle Paul.

It obviously takes a little baby a couple of years to learn how to walk, and it must feel
awfully cumbersome not to be able to walk, which is akin to how we feel as new
born babes in Christ. The joy and freedom of walking and running will happen in
due time as long as we continue to grow, but if we become envious of the eagles
after we have learned to walk and desire to be just like them, we will be
sorely disappointed. We may grumble about being earth-bound and easily fall
into bondage by our aspiration to soar in the sky, which is the reason why we
lose our freedom as God’s children.

As I age, I seem to walk a little slower and run with much greater effort, if I run at all.
I have no choice but to succumb to the tyranny of time, but much to my frustration
my interior life seems to be digressing as well. My inner life doesn’t seem to
be renewed every day as Paul implied. This kind of self-accusation and
discontentment is exactly the very thing that keeps us from enjoying the
freedom of being God’s beloved children.      

   

Monday, November 19, 2012 6:42:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Persecution 

MTS-3388

Persecution

“At that time the son born according to
the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit.”           Gal 4:29

 

Ishmael was quite a bit older than his brother Isaac who was born “by the power of the
Spirit,” and for one reason or another, he must have mistreated his baby
brother and caused a headache for his parents. Sarah took it especially hard
and, since Ishmael wasn’t related to her by blood, she decided to send the boy
and his mother away. “Ishmael should have no part of my son’s inheritance,” she
resolved.

The son who was born according to the flesh was strong and vibrant and was well-adapted to
the worldly way of thinking and ideas. In fact, the boy might have become a
good hunter and was well on his way to becoming a man of the world. Not so with
Isaac, however, who was still frail and was in need of constant attention and
care. He wouldn’t have survived had his parents not taken good care of him.

“For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing
with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

Isaac wouldn’t have survived the sibling rivalry had he been
left alone to fend for himself. He was no competition for his brother in any
shape or form. Abraham and Sarah had to intervene for their son to grow up
without interference or persecution.

We are often persecuted by people born of the flesh for
what we are, not necessarily for what we do. The term Christian seems to immediately
conjure up ill-feelings among non-Christians when it’s uttered. People often
consider us bigots, racists, and the scum of society. What have we done to
warrant such ill-will?

Just being who we really are and being faithful to our
Lord will cause worldly people to dislike us and to persecute us verbally, if
not physically. We are being naïve and misguided if we believe otherwise. "We
must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” said the apostle.

Have I ever been the victim of racial prejudice? Even
though I have always been treated fairly in this country, deep inside I know
that people perceive me differently and probably consider me less than they are
merely because of the color of my skin. Don’t we all instinctively feel
superior to the ones who are stereotypically considered less appealing or
desirable as a race, whatever they are? Why are we labeled as nerds and geeks
merely because we do better than most academically?

“At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the
Spirit.” 

I might have been doing some sort of spiritualizing over this simple statement concerning
the relationship between two brothers, but what I have concluded is nonetheless
true, since we often do what comes natural to us. Unless our nature has been
transformed by the Spirit, we will always act according to who and what we are.
Education and other social restraints may keep us from becoming racists and
bigots outwardly, but how we feel internally is an entirely different story.

There will always be division and persecution of some sort in this world if there is no
genuine conversion among all of us.   

 

    

   

Friday, November 16, 2012 6:28:00 AM Categories: Devotional

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
Page 110 of 149 << < 40 70 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 > >>
  • RSS

Statistics

  • Entries (1483)
  • Comments (0)

Categories

Archives