Losing Heart 

MTS-3064

Losing Heart

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.”              II Co 4:1

 

     It’s not what I can do for God; what ultimately counts is what God can do through me. We may be very zealous for God and firmly believe that we can do something great for the kingdom, but no matter how capable we are, we still need God’s help in order to accomplish anything for him. Without God’s anointing and assistance, we can do nothing.

     “What have I done in my ministry that is worth mentioning or praiseworthy in God’s sight?” I ask.

     By merely asking this question, I am guilty of harboring the unholy idea that I can single-handedly move God’s kingdom on earth forward an inch or two. Yea, I have preached a few sermons and baptized a few in the course of eighteen years, but those things were nothing unless the Lord decided to make them into something.

     I have become very reluctant to baptize people, for there have been a few who fell away not long after they received the sacrament. I am afraid to make the mistake of baptizing someone who isn’t genuinely saved.

     This is faith work, isn’t it?

     I would have found another line of work had I not considered that the Lord was actively at work in whatever ministry I was engaged. I continue to work because the Lord has never ceased working. The Lord through the Holy Spirit is still in the business of saving people from their sins.

     “Have you been baptized yet?” a husband asked his wife, who was doing short-term research in the States, over the phone.

     “I will wait until we can be baptized together,” the lady replied, which was a statement of faith, for her husband was yet to accept the Lord.

     Only God knows how long she will have to wait, I remember thinking. Surely the Lord is merciful and desires all people to be saved, but in reality he only brings a few people to himself, as far as we can tell. I admire the lady’s faith but am a little apprehensive about her situation. There is always a risk that her beloved will remain an unbeliever.

     Yet we do not lose heart, knowing that the Lord has predestined some people to be redeemed and my calling is to continue to proclaim the gospel faithfully.

     Instead of focusing on the people who have fallen away or have rejected the gospel, I should be looking at the few believers who have remained in God’s kingdom and are bearing much fruit. The aforementioned lady heard the gospel preached for the first time at our church and became a believer months later. What had happened to her could easily occur to her husband, and for this reason she was willing to wait until the day when both of them can be united spiritually in Christ.      

Monday, July 11, 2011 6:52:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Being Transformed 

MTS-3063

Being Transformed

“…are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”        II Co 3:18

 

     We possess no genuine glory of our own even if after we have achieved renown by doing some remarkable things on earth. All the vainglory that we have earned through our labor is artificial and fleeting. Besides, it’s a very dangerous thing to be glorified by people, and is something we need strive to avoid. Most of us may not have come close to being worshipped, but I think the temptation has always been there. Deep inside, we desire to be glorified.

     Paul and Barnabas were appalled when the people in Lystra were making an attempt to worship them with sacrifices, considering them divine because of the miracle they had performed in their midst.

     It would have defeated the mission Paul and his colleagues were trying to carry out had they accepted glory from the ignorant idolaters. Paul would have had great difficulty succeeding in spreading the name of Jesus in the pagan world had he had any intention to make a name for himself.

     We may not have the ability or the audacity to actually be glorified by people, but there is still something within us hungering for attention and recognition. Remaining unknown is extremely difficult for us. It’s against the grain of our sinful nature. Craving for human glory may be one of the most sinister temptations that we Christians face daily. If we succumb to its enticement, all our labor in the Lord will be for naught, for in the name of serving the Lord we may actually serve ourselves.

     The glory we should strive to attain is a “reflected” one. Our splendor comes by being transformed into the likeness of Christ and the more we grow to be like Christ Jesus, the greater our glory will shine. We want people to see Jesus in and through us and there is no other way for us to achieve this feat unless we become as transparent and invisible as a mirror, serving as a reflector of the divine light.

     It’s quite unpleasant, appalling even, for us to see ministers who are full of themselves.

     Rev. Webster was a rather large man who always wore a warm smile in his face. He appearance was unappealing and his speech was far from eloquent, but the sermon he delivered at the small seaside retreat I attended still resonates in my heart up to this day. It seemed to me that the man of God became invisible because of his humility and his complete lack of self-awareness. He was being absorbed by the love for the Lord and a burden for lost souls while he was preaching and he most likely had zero concern for how he was performing as a speaker and how his audience perceived him. Apparently the man had spent all day in his cabin, praying for the mere hour he was going to speak at the evening session. I guess we must labor long and hard to be clean and translucent so that the light can shine through us.                    

 

Friday, July 8, 2011 9:28:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Bondage 

MTS-3062

Bondage

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”          II Co 3:17

 

     We are bound by sin, but the Lord broke the bondage through his atoning death. Putting our trust in him can liberate us and make us completely free.

     “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

     This is the essence of our salvation, but making it a daily reality is entirely different. We may be liberated spiritually, but we may still live in bondage physically. I am not speaking here about the physical freedom that may be taken away by the authorities; I am talking about the bondage that we experience by not leading a spirit-filled life style. The Lord has liberated us through his death on the cross and made us righteous before God, but we still need to make the liberation our daily experience by leading a life of holiness.

     No Christian can be completely free unless he or she is completely holy.

     Since complete holiness while we are still in the flesh is impossible to achieve, does this mean that we won’t be able to experience perfect spiritual freedom as long as we live? That’s quite discouraging if it’s truly the case.

     Being in bondage of any sort causes us to be miserable and robs us of our joy in the Lord. There are indeed quite a few joyless Christians in our midst, for most of us are still under some kind of bondage from which we have been struggling to escape.

     “Woe is me,” we sigh with the apostle Paul, who seemed to be experiencing some kind of affliction in the flesh.

     “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul concluded, which I believe is the key to our freedom. We strive to be perfect and completely holy, yet must accept it if we fail to achieve our goal, trusting the Lord by his death will make up our deficiencies with his sufficient grace and the merit of his atoning death.

     Self-condemnation is one of the major causes of our spiritual bondage. We Christians are perfectionists, for we think the Lord expects nothing short of perfection from us, and we become miserable if we somehow fall short of reaching our goal. Even though there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, as Paul pointed out, we are still quick to condemn ourselves through Satan’s prompting and accusation after we stumble in our walk with the Lord.

     We do have divine pardon, but are still in want of human forgiveness. We forgive ourselves because the Lord has forgiven all our sins through Jesus Christ. We can bring spiritual freedom to an experiential level only if we practice self-forgiveness. Instead of succumbing to Satan’s incessant accusations, we need to rest in God’s perfect forgiveness through his Son’s redemptive death. We don’t have to embrace our imperfection, but it at least reminds us of how far we have fallen and how thrilling it will be to attain it someday when we are set free physically.      

Thursday, July 7, 2011 7:58:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Veil 

MTS-3061

The Veil

“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

              II Co 3:16

 

     The veil is something that keeps us from seeing the face of Jesus. Be it our prejudice or our hardness of heart, there is always some sort of veil out there, separating us from the Lord. I seem to have spent a lot of time trying to remove the veil through my preaching and teaching, but produced very minimal results. The veil must be removed from their faces for people to see the Lord, yet they are not drawn to the Lord, because they fail to see his beauty and glory.

     We fail to embrace the Lord and put our entire trust in him because we fail to see who he truly is.

     “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him,” wrote the prophet Isaiah, prophesying about the coming Messiah. Considered from this aspect, it’s probably not love at the first sight when we meet our heavenly bridegroom. We can’t seem to see him beyond his seemingly ordinary appearance.

     “What do you think about Miss Chen?” I asked a friend of mine who was looking for a romantic relationship.

     “Absolutely no feeling,” he replied nonchalantly.

     “Hey, you have to look beyond appearances,” I said to him half-jokingly. “Beauty is only skin deep.”

     How many times have we missed out on getting to know some beautiful people or having a meaningful relationship with them because of our inability to look beyond the outward appearance or failing to recognize what true beauty is?

     Many Chinese students may pay the church one visit and it turns out to be one too many. The veil they wear keeps them from seeing the beauty and glory of Christ and most of them don’t give the Lord a second chance. One date is quite enough for them.

     I ran away from meeting my pen pal for the first time when I was twenty years old because she wasn’t what I had envisioned her to be. Up to this day I still blame myself for being superficial because I might have missed getting to know a beautiful person. No great loss for her, but a big loss for me, I suppose.

     Running away from the Lord can be an irreparable loss and it’s likely that we may not get another invitation to his heavenly banquet again. Surely the almighty God does not act like a jilted lover and he loses nothing by our rejection, but neither will he take our slight lightly.

     May the Lord remove the veil from our eye so that we can behold his beauty and glory and be drawn to him.    

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 7:14:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Boldness 

MTS-3060

Boldness

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.”

            II Cor 3:12

 

     Paul and many of his companions had the privilege of seeing the risen Lord and had likely witnessed many miraculous signs, which naturally greatly enhanced their faith in the Lord and increased their hope of glory for the future, and made them bold in the face of many dangers. We are at a disadvantage, because all we have is the Scriptures for the most part. “No wonder their faith was so strong. I might have been able to do the same thing they did had I been placed in their position.” Do you sometimes feel the same way as I do?

     “Did Paul ever have doubts?” Kathy asked while we re discussing the issue of faith and doubt.

     “To doubt is human,” I responded. “The one who is without any doubts is omniscient.”

     Even if he had some doubts, Paul would never have put them in writing and share them with church, which might have defeated his purpose of exhorting the believers. He had to be optimistic and uplifting out of necessity. Being a leader, when he doubted, he always kept it to himself.

     What was on his mind when Paul was sitting in a dark dungeon alone, waiting to be sentenced, dreading that his head might fall at daybreak? What was the man of unsurpassed faith thinking when he saw Nero and his cohorts rounding up Christians and setting them on fire? Paul waited, as doubt was clouding his mind.

     “Lord, Why don’t you do something at such a time as this? ” he must have questioned.

     “Are we waiting for someone else?” John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus with this inquiry. We can hardly believe that the one who heard the affirmation from heaven concerning the identity of Jesus would raise such a question before his head was chopped off and placed on a silver plate. John the Baptist was a great prophet, but he was human, wasn’t he? 

     “Why have you forsaken me?” Didn’t the Lord Jesus ask this question during the time of his uttermost desperation? The Lord Jesus was completely God and completely man, and when his human self took over, doubt and fear might have surfaced for a brief moment.

     We may feel forsaken during the time of severe trial, but we can always overcome such feeling by faith, which we have been accumulating through the years, which has also been proven true and reliable through various difficult circumstances.

     “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold,” Paul stated. What caused the apostle to be so bold while he was experiencing so many hardships and danger was hope of glory. We will not be fearful as long as we hold onto our hope in Jesus.    

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 6:44:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Lasting Glory 

MTS-3059

Lasting Glory

“And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!”           II Cor 3:11

 

     What is it like to be glorified by people? I have very little idea, for I have never had the personal experience. It must be a glorious thing to be praised and lifted up by men.

     Human glory is artificial and fleeting and is hardly worth our pursuit, yet it is something we all want. To be glorified is to be accepted and deemed worthy of praise as a person.

     True glory comes from our Creator and the only way to obtain the glory from above is to fulfill what we are created to be and, to a large extent, being something is far more important than doing something. The majority of things that the Lord creates are inanimate things, which are nor capable of doing anything. They just are what they are made to be for their entire existence, which is their only glory.

     Human glory, for the most part, is superfluous, which isn’t an essential thing; it is rather something that is added on by us, therefore it will also fade away when we vanish.  

     The law was given to us by the Almighty, yet its glory paled when God himself appeared in human form. The incarnation was far more glorious than the divine revelation through the interaction between human and divine on Mount Sinai. The light from the burning bush was rendered unnecessary when the bright sun appeared from the East.

     The glory of observing the law isn’t something that people are seeking today. People mostly ignore God’s law passed down by the chosen people. They instead have created their own law and the ultimate goal is to obtain human glory by keeping the rules and regulations they themselves have formulated. 

     What are the laws and regulations that govern the Oscars, the utmost honor and glory people in acting business can attain? Obviously it’s the people within the business who formulate them; therefore the glory the winners annually receive will “fade quicker than the roses.” By the same token, the fame and glory of all the Nobel laureates will suffer the same fate. Although people greatly value the prize, it is nevertheless men-made.

     We Christians ought to pursue the glory that lasts beyond the grave, something that we can take with us when we cross the Jordan. What sort of glory is it? We are not accustomed to getting human glory, for most of us are ordinary people and the idea of obtaining any sort of glory, human or divine, is pretty far-fetched to us.

     Our glory is reflected glory and all we ought to do is to first make sure that we as a reflector are translucent and clean both outwardly and inwardly and we also need to position ourselves, placing ourselves at the best angle, to reflect God’s glorious light. This isn’t really doing something; it’s being something. It’s the most natural thing that has been made unnatural by our sin, which is rather akin to the prodigal son’s homecoming.          

Friday, July 1, 2011 7:10:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Surpassing Glory 

MTS-3058

Surpassing Glory

“For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.”          II Cor 3:10

 

     It was a glorious moment when the Lord carved his law on the stone tablets, which was the very first time God spoke to his people in written words. The self-hidden Creator, who had been “hiding” from his creatures for years, finally resurfaced and revealed himself to his people, and told them exactly what he expected from them. From then on, God’s people didn’t have any excuse for not knowing what God’s will was for them. The Almighty had spoken with his finger and in plain writing and confirmed what he had already written on people’s hearts.

     “For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.” Why is this so? God had broken his years of silence and opened up a channel of communication and from then on, the divine and the human were reconnected and a way was carved out for lost children to return to their father. Surely it was a glorious moment that was worth celebrating.

     But the glory was becoming less and less glorious as the years went by, because the way of salvation through obeying the Lord was a lot more difficult than it appeared to be and many people had tried and failed. People might have attributed their failure to not trying hard enough to achieve the goal, but history appeared to be repeating itself and the failure and frustration continued.

     God spoke one time, would he speak again? 

     People could hardly sense that something great was going to take place in that small town called “House of Bread.” Yes, there was a bright star that paused above the town for a brief moment but most people didn’t pay any attention. Yes, a child had been born in a manger, but people considered it commonplace, for babies were being born everyday. “What child is this?” they asked. “He is just like any other infant,” they concluded.

     There was no fanfare at all when God spoke for the second time. There was no fire and smoke coming down from the mountain and there weren’t people who were waiting at the foothill to hear the divine voice. This time there were three magi coming from the east and a few shepherds who knew what was going on and the rest of the world was fast asleep.

     Again, the glory was kept hidden for the next thirty long years. There was no beauty or glory in the person who was born into a poor carpenter’s family and would become one himself. We don’t seek glory in such a family or such a person. Glory is lodged with kings and in their palaces, not in a small village home in Nazareth.

     Yet things started to change when a voice was heard in the wilderness and many people flooded to the River Jordan to be baptized. The road was being prepared for the glory of God to march on and such glory would continue to increase until it dazzled the entire world.          

  

Thursday, June 30, 2011 6:39:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Righteousness 

MTS-3057

Righteousness

“…how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!”

             II Cor 3:9

     We have no righteousness of our own; it must come from elsewhere. It eludes us the moment when we think we have gotten a hold of it. In fact, righteous people are not always aware of their righteousness.

     Am I actually helping people to become righteous when I tell them about Christ? I am not always conscious of this reality when I witness to people.

     Becoming righteous isn’t necessarily people’s felt need; it’s more their real need that they have neglected to meet for the longest time. I can’t just approach people and tell them that I am going to point out a way for them to meet their real need. We don’t always know what our real needs are.

     “Do you want to become righteous?” I think we will probably draw a blank stare when we approach non-believers with this question. Unlike some of us Christians, they don’t lose sleep over being unrighteous or unjustified before God. They have many other important issues to occupy their minds.

     Spiritual imagination aided by the Holy Spirit is essential for us to appreciate the concept of righteousness.

     If being right is essentially relative, why bother? Yet we seem to be obsessive about it. We can all live harmoniously with one another since everyone is right according to the philosophy of relativism. No wonder the virtue of tolerance has become the paramount of all virtues, a concept we have been driving into young people’s psyche. 

     People who insist that they are absolutely right are bigots. This is the view held by all. There is no truth but this. 

     Whose righteousness is it?

     Evangelism is an act of imposing one’s view of righteousness on others and people who do such thing are not always welcome. Yet we continue to do it since we consider our perception of righteousness is absolutely right.

     God has spoken, hasn’t he? If he hasn’t spoken, we mere humans have no divine right to pronounce what true righteousness is, nor is it necessary for us to do so in the grand scheme of things. In a world without God, being right isn’t important, being a law-abiding citizen is.   

     Is being righteous before God important to you? It is not unless you believe it determines your eternal destiny. Yet the ones who live in time are incapable of comprehending the idea of eternity.

     How do we get out of this circular reasoning?

     “Eating beef is wrong,” mother told me when I was young and I accepted it as true until I started to do my own reasoning. There are thousands of such incidents when I was misguided in the process of getting an education.

     I think listening to God’s voice from the Scriptures is a better and safer option. 

    

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 6:06:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Glorious 

MTS-3056

Glorious

“…will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?”

                II Cor 3:8

 

     Moses came down from the mountain and the radiance of God’s glory remained on his countenance still, which kept the Israelites from looking at him directly. Moses had to put a veil on his face so that he could speak to God’s people face to face.

     What do people see when they look at you? Do they witness any of the glory of God, the brilliance people may receive after they spend time with the Almighty in secret places?

     I am afraid we may be immersing ourselves into the customs of this world too deeply to have any of the light of the glory of God remaining on our countenance. People are no longer curious about us Christians, since we act and think exactly like non-believers and what seems to distinguish us from the rest of the people is we spend a couple of hours on Sunday in church.

     Do ministers of the gospel fare any better in this aspect?

     We seem to be lowering the bar of morality by our teaching and actions and have failed to lift people up from where they are. Followers can hardly rise above their leaders, I have heard, and this appears to be the phenomena we witness in our age. The line that separates the sacred and the secular has become increasingly vague.

     It’s time to reclaim what we have lost.

     The way we perceive ourselves is a good place to start. If we view ourselves as glorious, we may start to act like it. My perception of the ministry has been polluted by the world’s view of it and I seem to have become very apologetic about my profession. “Will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?” Paul’s question should put me to great shame.

     We have been brainwashed by worldly philosophy far too long and our value system seems to remain unchanged, even after the Spirit has transformed our hearts. We are glorious in essence, yet we do have a strange urge to cover up our glory with a veil, as if we are ashamed of who we are.

     Yes, we are glorious, more glorious than all the creatures in the world. We are God’s beloved and the crown of his creation. We may have lost some of the radiance, but we can recover God ‘s image within our being bit by bit through imitating our Lord Jesus. Our ultimate goal in life is to become more like Jesus, thus becoming more and more glorious.

     If we think highly of our God, we will have a proper view of our unique identity and will treasure ourselves more. We also have a unique mission, which is the ministry of the Spirit through which we bring people out from darkness to light. Nothing is more honorable and glorious than this.   

    

Monday, June 27, 2011 10:16:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Letter 

MTS-3055

Letter

“…not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”             II Cor 3:6

 

     The law tells us what not to do and the consequence of violating it, which may cause us to fear and to tremble, for we seem to rebel against God’s law daily.

     “Woe is me,” we cry out.

     If we are completely frank to ourselves, we know very well that we have fallen short of God’s demands by a lot. In order to keep our conscience clear, we continue to lower the bar of God’s standard for us so we can meet it. Instead of raising ourselves up to meet God in heaven, we bring him down to earth. That’s not what the incarnation of Jesus is supposed to mean. Christ Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us only for a season, yet we have been trying to keep him earth-bound for all seasons.

     We must rise up from our collective death since Christ has risen from the dead.

     Is my life full of life or permeated with the stench of death? This is something we need to ask ourselves daily.

     “Are you reading your Bible daily?” This is the question that I am accustomed to ask people when they come to me for counseling, as if merely reading God’s holy word would solve all manners of problems. Reading the Scriptures is a good start, but it’s definitely not an end.

     Knowing the will of God isn’t all that hard; putting it to practice is what causes us problems. In this case, the more we know God’s word, the more we are condemned, for compared to what we know, what we practice is extremely meager.

     Rejoicing in the Lord isn’t always easy if we think that the Lord is angry with us everyday for what we have done or failed to do. I have met enough miserable Christians than I care to remember during the course of my Christian life. As a matter of fact, I myself have been one of them.

     Our deliverance from ourselves doesn’t just happen once when we first put of trust in Christ; it should take place everyday when we walk with him. In Christ is life and in our carnal self is death. We will exude an odor of death if we live according to the spirit of this world. For us Christians, conformity to the image of this world is a recipe for discontentment and misery.      

     Frost’s melancholy verse surfaced in my mind as I was walking down the street alone late at night, meditating on the meaning of something that was happening to me. The seduction of the night seemed to be quite alluring at the time and the streetlights were becoming dim and frail and I feared that I was walking on the edge of darkness. “ I have been one acquainted with the night…” I recited to myself, overcome by self-pity.

     Such was the moment when I need deliverance from above. I am well versed about the Bible and acquainted with the Christian doctrines over the ages, but such in depth knowledge brought me no consolation in moments of crisis, “for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”

       

Friday, June 24, 2011 7:51:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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