Friday, April 23, 2010

Devotional 230410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Can’t believe it is Friday already! When life is so full of excitement and challenge, you don’t have time to count your date. And I am flying to seminary again this Sunday. Please remember me in your prayer that I will be able to focus on my study in the next two weeks. There are two major papers from my previous two classes that are due by the end of May. Pray that God will give me energy and right attitude to enjoy the studying process. Indeed, I learned a lot in the last couple of months. Praise the Lord!

Before Jeremiah knew God, God knew Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This turns everything we ever thought about God around. We think that God is an object about which we have questions. We are curious about God. , We make inquiries about God. We read books about God. We get into late night bull sessions about God. We drop into church from time to time to see what is going on with God. We indulge in an occasional sunset or symphony to cultivate a feeling of reverence for God. But that is not the reality of our lives with God. Long before we ever got around to asking questions about God, God has been questioning us. Long before we got interested in the subject of God, God subjected us to the most intensive and searching knowledge. Before it ever crossed our minds that God might be important God singled us out as important. Before we were formed in the womb, God knew us. We are known before we know. “Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day” (Psalm 139:16).

What is God doing? He is saving; he is rescuing; he is blessing; he is providing; he is judging; he is healing; he is enlightening. There is a spiritual war in progress, an all-out moral battle. There is evil and cruelty, unhappiness and illness. There is superstition and ignorance, brutality and pain. God is in continuous and energetic battle against all of it. God is for life and against death. God is for love and against hate. God is for hope and against despair. God is for heaven and against hell. There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square foot of space is contested.

Jeremiah, before he was born, was enlisted on God’s side in this war. He wasn’t given a few years in which to look around and make up his mind which side he would be on, or even whether he would join a side at all. He was already chosen as a combatant on God’s side. And so are we all. No one enters existence as a spectator. We either take up the life to which we have been consecrated or we traitorously defect from it. We cannot say, “Hold it! I am not quite ready. Wait until I have sorted things out” (E. E Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed). For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:3-5).

When we encounter evil in the world, we do not ask whether God is on our side or not, but rather whether we are on God’s side or not. We Chinese cherish the ‘modesty principle.’ We don’t want to go extreme to one way or the other. We don’t want to eat too much meat or too much vegetable. We want to be right in the middle properly in all things in life. We thought it would be ideal to achieve “modesty or middle ground.” In many ways this principle helps Chinese to achieve compromise in conflict resolution and in building good eating habit. But it does not serve well for taking side between good and evil. If we try to put our foot on two sides, we will be torn into two. God will not pull you to His side but Satan will. God respects the free will that He has given you as His ultimate gift for mankind. He will open His arms to wait for your response. Will you accept His invitation to stand on His side in the spiritual warfare of this world? Or you will allow Satan to pull you into his camp…

Love you by His power,

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Devotional 210410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Thank God for a gorgeous day. And thank God for giving me life to enjoy this day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Indeed, this is the kind of life that God expects His children to enjoy. So don’t let fear, worry or pessimism to ruin your day. Seize this moment of life to fully experience the grace of our Lord for you, for your loved ones and for the people whom He puts in your neighborhood.

Jesus said, “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:2-3). Anytime that we move from personal names to abstract labels or graphs or statistics, we are less in touch with reality and diminished in our capacity to deal with what is best and at the center of life. Yet we are encouraged on every side to do just that. In many areas of life the accurate transmission of our social-security number is more important than the integrity with which we live. In many sectors of the economy the title that we hold is more important than our ability to do certain work. In many situations the public image that people have of us is more important than the personal relations that we develop with them. Every time that we go along with this movement from the personal to the impersonal, from the immediate to the remote, from the concrete to the abstract, we are diminished, we are less. Resistance is required if we will retain our humanity.

As some sociologists describe, we are living in dehumanized culture. People are no longer being treated as dignified human beings. We are seen as just ‘things’ or commodities for consumption. When human beings become just statistics, we don’t need to deal with their feelings or aspiration in life. When people interact with a person based on his or her title, they don’t want to know their personality, family, health condition, emotional struggle and relational issue with God. We get used to diminish people to just the functional aspect of life that you are interested. That’s why we feel odd to reach out to our coworkers in office. Even if you do, people will immediately put up their defense without knowing why you care about them as human beings. It may cause them to doubt your motive for ‘drawing so close’ or being so ‘personal.’ Some will choose to keep a distance and remain impersonal. But if you brave through this ‘suspicious’ testing period, people will appreciate your effort in treating them like a human being and as a friend. Jesus did not treat us as one of the statistics of believers. He treats us as an individual friend. Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

Love you as a common friend of Christ,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Devotional 210410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. God chose not to speak to Prophet Elijah in storm like we have this morning, or in earthquake like we had experienced worldwide in the last couple of months. God chose to speak in gentle whisper/silence. And it is in silence that Elijah came out from his cave to meet God (1 King 19:12). Are you willing to leave your cave and meet God in silence? In a fearful environment that we live today, hiding in the comfort of our cave/home does not give you true security of life. Leave your cave and listen to His gentle whisper in your heart. This is how Elijah found strength to enter his fearful world again with a strong sense of mission.

Jesus said, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10b).It is enormously difficult to portray goodness in an attractive way; it is much easier to make a scoundrel interesting. All of us have so much more experience in sin than in goodness that a writer has far more imaginative material to work with in presenting a bad character than a good person. In novels and poems and plays most t of the memorable figures are either villains or victims. Good people, virtuous lives, mostly seem a bit dull. Jeremiah is a stunning exception. For most of my adult life he has attracted me. The complexity and misty of his personhood caught and kept my attention. The captivating quality in the man is his goodness, his virtue, his excellence. He lived at his best. His was not a hot-house piety, for he lived through crushing storms of hostility and furies of bitter doubt. There is not a trace of smugness or complacency or gullibility in Jeremiah—every muscle in his body was stretched to the limits by fatigue, every thought in his mind subjected to rejection, every feeling in his heart put through fires of ridicule. Goodness in Jeremiah was not “being nice.” It was something more like competency.

We live in a society that tries to diminish us to the level of the ant heap so that we rush mindlessly, getting and consuming. It is essential to take counteraction. Jeremiah is counteraction: a well developed human being, mature and robust, living by faith. His life can be described by what our Lord said, “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?” (Matt 5:13a).

In Jeremiah it is clear that the excellence comes from a life of faith, from being more interested in God than in self, and has almost nothing to do with comfort or esteem or achievement. Here is a person who has lived life to the cutting edge, but there is not a hint of human pride or worldly success or personal achievement in the story. Jeremiah arouses my passion for a full life – a life that is contagious and influential. This is the kind of life that our Lord wants all of His disciples to live, “Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

Many of his contemporaries described Jesus as like Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Matt 16:14). It is the same kind of life like Jeremiah that God wants all of His children to live on earth, so that we can truly become light and salt of the world. We don’t have to form ourselves into political pressure groups or use political manipulations. We need more genuine and ordinary Christians who seek to be Christ like in their workplace and neighborhood – live a life of goodness without just being nice, a life of piety without judgmental, and a life of love without overbearing. We can’t live out this kind of life by our own strength; it has to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we need to constantly draw close to God through meditation and prayer, so that the power of God can freely flow through us according to His timing and method. We just need to make ourselves available to Him. Amen.

Love you because He is Love,

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Devotional 200410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. My nose is especially grateful for the rain that helped cleans the pollens from the air. My office is very quiet as some of my coworkers are in ministers’ retreat. Hopefully it gives me more time to catch up on my writing. The busyness of life always take away our time to reflect on the Words of God for our well being in Him.

All the same, we continue to have an unquenchable thirst for wholeness, a hunger for righteousness. When we get thoroughly disgusted with the deceptions and cretins that are served up to us daily as celebrities, some of us turn to Scripture to satisfy our need for someone to look up to. What does it mean to be a real man, a real woman? What shape does mature, authentic humanity take in everyday life?

When we do turn to Scripture for help in this matter we are apt o be surprised. One of the first things that strikes us about the men and women in Scripture is that they were disappointingly non-heroic. We do not find splendid moral examples. We do not fine faultlessly virtuous models. That always comes as a shock to newcomers to Scripture: Abraham lied; Jacob cheated; Moses murdered and complained; David committed adultery; Peter blasphemed.

We read on and begin to suspect intention: a consistent strategy to demonstrate that the great, significant figures in the life of faith were fashioned from the same clay as the rest of us. We find that Scripture is sparing in the information that it gives on people while it is lavish in what it tells us about God. It refuses to feed our lust for hero worship. It will not appeal to our adolescent desire to join a fan club. The reason is, I think, clear enough. Fan clubs encourage secondhand living. Through pictures and memorabilia, autographs and tourist visits, we associate with someone whose life is (we think) more exciting and glamorous than our own. We find diversion from our own boring existence by riding on the coattails of someone exotic.

When I heard and saw, I fell on my face to worship at the feet of the Angel who laid it all out before me. He objected, “No you don’t! I’m a servant just like you and your companions, the prophets, and all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (Rev 22:8-9) Hero worship is truly a natural tendency of mankind. Moreover, it is common for mankind to deify our hero too. Angels are above mankind in terms of their ability and roles. They are spiritual beings with longevity. We admire their supernatural power, their beauty and their longevity, so we worship them as our hero. But the angel that John admired, stopped John to worship him, because they are being created with equal roles with men, which is to be the servant of God.

Throughout the Scripture, God used imperfect people to inspire our faith. The message is loud and clear. We all need a savior and a God of second chances. He knows our weaknesses and He is ready to forgive our sins. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Sometimes, it is because of our human desire for hero worship that we do not allow another human being to show signs of weaknesses. Pope for example cannot be wrong or weak because he is the earthly head of the Catholic Church. In the same token, we do not allow some “star pastors” to be weak or make mistake in general (not necessarily the immoral one). The mega-church becomes his fan club. People go to church each week mainly to listen to his sermon. They will tune in to his radio program and buy his book. This kind of practice is not only a bad theology. It gives a lot of pressure and temptation for those pastors to put on an image according to the expectation of their fans. This is dangerous to build our faith on human beings or angels because we are only servants created by God. You should worship God and God alone! Amen.

Love you as fellow servant of Christ,

Monday, April 19, 2010

Devotional 190410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. The Scripture that we read in staff prayer meeting this morning still ring in my ears. We came to the last chapter of Revelation where it describes the glory of our heavenly home. The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17). God is offering us a free gift of life that can meet our thirst and truly can settle our deepest desire of life. No one can fulfill us than God. He is the ultimate Giver of life. In Him we find true fulfillment of life. Amen?

The puzzle is why so many people live so badly. Not so wickedly, but so mindlessly. Not so cruelly, but so stupidly. There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture. We have celebrities but not saints. Famous entertainers amuse a nation of bored insomniacs. Infamous criminals act out the aggressions of timid conformists. Bad-tempered and spoiled athletes play games vicariously for lazy and apathetic spectators. People, aimless and bored, amuse themselves with trivia and trash. Neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness gets headlines.

This condition has produced an odd phenomenon: individuals who live trivial lives and then engage in evil acts in order to establish significance for themselves. Assassins and hijackers attempt the gigantic leap from obscurity to fame by killing a prominent person or endangering the lives of an airplane full of passengers. Often they are successful. The mass media report their words and display their actions. Writers vie with one another in analyzing their motives and providing psychological profiles on them. No other culture has been as eager to reward either nonsense or wickedness.

[Jesus said,] “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. River of living water will brim and Spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says” (John 7:37-38). People are thirst for meaning in life. People cannot live without meaning. They have to find something to make their lives meaningful. Or else they do not want to get out of bed or continue to live a boring life. Jesus came to offer our empty lives with meaning. He reminded us of an abundant life that God intend for men to live. A life that is full of purpose and love. Love makes life full of meaning and joy. Somehow Satan creeps in to replace love with hate, or to poison love with indifference. “Whatever” becomes a common word that our generation uses to indicate their ‘careless’ attitude about lives. Yes. We enjoy materialistic abundance. But we are numb to genuine love and meaningful life. People cheer for celebrities but not saints. People reward entertainers but not educators who commit to change life. Are you thirst for divine meaning of life and starve for genuine love from above. Come to Jesus. He is willing to offer life to those who genuinely seek Him for abundant living.

Love you in Him,

Friday, April 16, 2010

Devotional 160410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. It feels like Spring weather today. I am thankful for having a ‘cave’ – my office/study surrounded by windows. It makes me feel like working out door but with controlled room temperature. God knows my need for a quiet place to prepare my study, lectures and sermons. Of course, it is a bonus in having such a beautiful study to do devotional reading and prayer.

Saving is all him idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! (Eph 2:8-9). The Christian Life consists in what God does for us, not what we do for God; the Christian Life consists in what God says to us, not what we say about God. We also, of course, do things and say things; but if we do not return to Square One each time we act, each time we speak, beginning from God and God’s Word, we will soon be found to be practicing a spirituality that has little or nothing to do with God. And so it is necessary, if we are going to truly live a Christian life, and not just use the word Christian to disguise our narcissistic and Prometheus attempts at spirituality without worshipping God and without being addressed by God, it is necessary to return to Square One and adore God and listen to God.

Given our sin-damaged memories that render us vulnerable to every latest edition of journalistic spirituality, daily re-orientation in the truth revealed in Jesus and attested in Scripture is required. And given our ancient predisposition for reducing every fragment of divine revelation that we come across into a piece of moral/spiritual technology that we can use to get on in the world, and eventually to get on without God, a daily return to a condition of not-knowing and non-achievement is required. We have proven, time and again, that we are not to be trusted in these matters. We need to return to Square One for a fresh start as often as every morning, noon, and night.

We live in a functionalistic society and culture. Everything we do is being measured by effectiveness and efficiency. Are we effectively investing our time? Did we accomplish this goal efficiently? No wondered some scholars describe our time as dehumanization – human is being treated as a means or an instrument for achieving certain goal or meeting certain needs. We consider a waste of time to talk to someone who is not ‘useful’ to us. We value a certain relationship if it meets your emotional or physical needs. We learn to accommodate with people whom we do not want to have relation with, but helpful to our career goal. When we employ such functional attitude in relationship, we are operating in a narcissistic mode – a self-centered attitude. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude is part of our DNA. It is deeply seated in our mind and soul. We cannot totally root it out. We can only lessen the effect of its influence in our daily life by returning to Square One attitude.

Spiritual sensitive and humility should become a part of our lifestyle. It is to practice a contemplative lifestyle. Lately, I talked to a new mother who confessed that she needs to constantly watch herself not to do parenting like the way her mother did to her. It is not easy. It required constant introspection and accepting other’s observation – she needed to humbly accept her husband’ observation when she reacted to her child like her mother. This should be the way we conduct our spirituality – we need to engage in constant introspection through God’s words, and humbly accept other’s observation when we react to life situation in our narcissistic manner. If we allow ourselves to be ‘natural,’ then the consequence will be self-destructive spiritually, and hurtful interpersonally. For our healthy growth as a child of God, we need to return to Square One as often as we could.

Love you because of His Love,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Devotional 150410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. The traffic was sluggish but my heart was filled with the joy of His presence. “What a gorgeous day!” I said to myself. When my heart was filled with the spirit of thanksgiving and praise, it drove away negativism and complains. Yes the traffic was still slow, impatient drivers still cut in front of you. They might give you a mean look as they past by. But they could not take away the joy of the presence of God. You could even wave back and said, “Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God's Spirit is doing, and can't be judged by unspiritual critics. Isaiah's question, ‘Is there anyone around who knows God's Spirit, anyone who knows what he is doing?’ has been answered: Christ knows, and we have Christ's Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:15-16 The Message).

Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Go away from me, you evildoers!' (Matt 7:22-23) Christian spirituality is not impressed with the supernatural. Supernatural is neither here nor there for those of us who are standing at Square One, getting ourselves oriented, coming to terms with our human finitude, getting a glimpse of God’s infinitude.

We are immersed in a world of Spirit, and so why wouldn’t we have spiritual experience? But such experience does not confer authority upon our counsel or our character. The return to Square One is not only a return to God, but to God Said. For not only is there God, there is God’s Word.

Christian spirituality does not begin with us talking about our experience; it begins with listening to God call us, heal us, forgive us.

This is hard to get into our heads. We talk habitually to ourselves and about ourselves. We don’t listen. If we do listen to each other is almost always with the purpose of getting something we can use in our turn. Much of our listening is a form of politeness, courteously waiting our turn to talk about ourselves. But in relation to God especially we must break the habit and let him speak to us. God not only is; God says.

Christian spirituality, in addition to being an attentive spirituality, is a listening spirituality. This is the area that we are weak in. We are too eager to talk or assert ourselves. We want to show others how spiritual we are. We want to demonstrate to the world that we have power like god. We want to be in control. We desire to be served and listened to. We want to be esteemed as being in, being right, being good, being insightful, being welcomed and being the authority. This is the temptation since day one. And Satan can still use it to detour us from the Truth.

Many found the truth but not necessarily grew in the truth. The more you we grow in the truth, the more we realize how little we know about the truth. In another word, the more knowledgeable a person is in spirituality, the more he or she is humbled by the Spirit. God will only reveal more to those who are humble and meek. The more we stand before God with an open heart to listen, the more we are ready to put down our agenda and assumption to listen to others. Your spiritual habit will affect your interpersonal habit and vice versa. The more we experience the unconditional love of God in Square One, the more we can love others unconditionally. Just as Apostle John said, “if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us…If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:12, 20).

For some of you who would like to pray for our missionaries, I will post one mission field on Facebook on every Wednesday for you to learn more about our missionaries there and how you can pray for them. Check out GOI on facebook:!/pages/GOI-shen-zhou-hua-chuan/116618455019750?ref=ts

Love you because I love Jesus,

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Devotional 140410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Thank God for another beautiful day and another opportunity to serve Him. God wants to fill our lives with high expectations, enthusiasm and joy from above, provided that we accept Him as our Lord and Savior for each day. The more we try to be our own boss and rescuer, the more we become stressful, dreadful and fearful each day. It may seem to be an easy act of abandonment of ourselves to God. But it is very difficult as we try to implement it in our lives because we too used to be on the driver’s seat.

When we first arrive at Square One, we are breathless before the unguessed splendors of infinity, stretching out endlessly. That is wonderful. And then we begin to realize the effect, if there is such a thing as infinity, I am not it. I am finite. If there is God then there is no room for me as god.

The virtually unanimous response to this realization is some form or other of either narcissism or Prometheanism. Narcissism is the attempt to retreat from Square One back into the spiritual sovereignty of ‘self.’ Forget infinity. Forget mystery. Cultivate the wonderful ‘self.’ It might be a small world, but it is my world, totally mine.

Prometheanism is the attempt to detour around Square One into the spirituality of infinity, get a handle on it, get control of it, and make something of it. All that spirituality sitting around idle, needs managing. Prometheanism is practical. Prometheanism is entrepreneurial. Prometheanism is energetic and ambitious. Prometheanism wants to put all that power and beauty to good use. Most of us, most of the time, can be found to be practicing some variation on narcissism or Prometheanism. It goes without saying then that most spirituality is a combination of narcissism and Prometheanism, with the proportions carefully customized to suit our personal temperaments and circumstances. And that is why I use the word “return”—it’s back to Square One, back to the place of wonder, the realization of infinity, the worship of God.

The primary way in which we counter our stubborn tendencies to narcissism and Prometheanism is by cultivating humility. Learning to be just ourselves, keeping close to the ground, practicing the human, getting our fingers in the humus, the rich, loamy, garden dirt out of which we have been fashioned. And then listen. Paul reminded us, “The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him” (Romans 12:3b).

Eugene Peterson reminds us of this natural tendency of mankind. None of us are immune from this egocentric or self-centeredness, which is part of human DNA, or someone calls it the original sin. Deep down inside our soul or being we want to be god. And Satan knew how to target his attack to the first couple – “you can see like god!” They fell to that trap and so do we. We are tempted to seek supreme power, divine wisdom, supernatural experience, and special favor from God, in order to satisfy our narcissistic tendency. That’s why God makes it clear in the Bible, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6), and “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Using Peterson’s word, it is important to return to Square One – worship God with humility – surrender ourselves to God and admit our finiteness before the Infinite Creator of the Universe. Let our inner being echoes our prayers as Jesus taught, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). This is the attitude and act of worship that should permeate our daily living. O Lord, empower us to be your worshipper each day!

Love you as fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God,

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Devotional 130410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Isn’t the weather beautiful? It felt so good to soak in the warm sunshine as I drove to work. The Bible reading was also very uplifting as we came to Revelation 19 that talks about the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb. One day, we will all be invited to this glorious wedding when the Lamb of God receives His Bride – the Church into His eternal Glory. We are not just a guest but the honorable guests whom Christ had paid a highest ransom to secure us for His own. We belong to Him. We are His new bride. Praise the Lord!

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd (Hebrews11:1-2). The first few months of our lives are spent in getting things ready, getting our basic needs met so that we can journey. Many of you have had an analogous experience in, say, going for a backpacking trip into the mountains. You spend days getting things ready, laying out the proper clothing, measuring out quantities of food, making sure the tent is waterproofed, checking the first aid kit for essentials. And then you are at the trailhead. Up to this point nearly everything has been under your control; after this point almost nothing is under your control—most of what you are dealing with now is invisible, uncertain, unpredictable—changes in the weather, the appearance and behavior of wild animals, your own physical endurance and the mood of your hiking companions. You have arrived at Square One.

Up to Square One, you live by sight; after Square One you live by faith. Basic biology now gives way to basic spirituality. No longer confined by sense, feelings, and immediacy; we are launched into exploration and participation in the immense world of memory. Anticipation, waiting, trust, belief, sacrifice, love, loyalty, faithfulness – none of which can be reduced to what you can see and handle. None of these things that go into making up what is distinctively and characteristically human in us can be possessed – they all must be entered into. Most of what is, is not where we can touch it, put it in our mouths, be wrapped in its warm comfort. Square One is the place from which we begin learning how to live with Absence with the same ease with which we have come to live with Presence. The generic word that we use for this is Faith—in its classic and never yet improved upon definition, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

People make science a religion – they believe in what they see, hear or things that verified by their senses. They exhaust themselves in planning and analysis, expecting it could cover all the lost ends or unknown. But life usually takes them by surprises. They will finally realize and accept the fact that unpredictability is part of reality of life. We need faith to encounter the unpredictability of life. Faith is to depend on the One who is unchanged, and whose word is the ultimate foundation of life. The unpredictable circumstances in life will serve as purifying fire in testing out the ultimate reality of our hope or faith. Remember, there is only one foundation, (of your hope or faith), the one already laid: Jesus Christ. Take particular care in picking out your building materials. Eventually there is going to be an inspection. If you use cheap or inferior materials, you'll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won't get by with a thing (1 Corinthians 3:11-13). An economic tsunami can wipe out the things that we have built in life. If the ultimate foundation of life remains, we can start rebuilding all over again. And if the foundation is gone, then it is not too late to choose a dependable one. Many people came to know the Lord in China in the last twenty years. It is simply because their foundation of faith in atheistic communism and hero worship were gone. People in China were searching for a new foundation of faith – something they can depend on in rebuilding their lives. What is your foundation of life and hope? You said you believe in Jesus. But do you really build your foundation of life on Him, as your ultimate reality of hope and faith?

Love you in accordance to my faith in Him,

Monday, April 12, 2010

Devotional 120410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Thank God for the April rains even though it may cause inconvenience in traffic. Our land needs even more rains to help resolve our water shortage. We give thanks to God, our ultimate Provider and Protector of life. It is Him who creates all things and sustains all things for us to enjoy. We exalt His Holy and Lovely Name.

It seems odd to have to say so, but too much religion is a bad thing. We can’t get too much of God, can’t get too much faith and obedience, can’t get too much love and worship. But religion the well intentioned efforts we make to “get it all together” for God—can very well get in the way of what God is doing for us. The main and central action is everywhere and always what God has done, is doing, and will do for us. Jesus is the revelation of that action. Our main and central task is to live in responsive obedience to Gods action revealed in Jesus. Our part in the action is the act of faith.

But more often than not we become impatiently self-important along the way and decide to improve matters with our two cents worth. We add on, we supplement, we decorate. But instead of improving on the purity and simplicity of Jesus, we dilute the purity, clutter the simplicity. We become thoroughly religious, or anxiously religious. We get in the way.

That’s when it’s time to read and pray our way through the letter to the Hebrews again, written for “too religious” Christians, for “Jesus-and” Christians. In the letter, it is Jesus-and-angels, or Jesus-and-Moses, or Jesus-and-priesthood. In our time it is more likely to be Jesus-and-politics, or Jesus-and-education, or even Jesus-and-Buddha. This letter deletes the hyphens, the add-ons. The focus becomes clear and sharp again: God’s action in Jesus. And we are free once more for the act of faith, the one human action in which we don’t get in the way but on the Way. “You don’t make your words true by decorating them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no’” (Matthew 5:36-37).

This is a common temptation for some serious Christians like we, pastors, to make relation with God to become too complicated. I always compare myself with the Pharisees and the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, lest I fall into the same “religious snare” of trying to help God determine religiosity or framework of religious expression. In America, religious community is corrupted by consumerism and narcissism. We go to church not to worship and desire God’s words, but to meet my religious needs. My “need” becomes the center of worship. People look for church to meet their needs. This is a consumer’s attitude of “shopping for a church.” And we, pastors, are therefore tempted to meet the congregation’s needs. The pastor becomes like a “chef” of a restaurant who seeks to produce more delicious “dishes/sermons” to attract and retain his customers. Just like a good restaurant, the church needs to provide a nice ‘spiritual dining’ environment, ample parking space and entertaining music in order to please the customers and create their appetite for spiritual food. When all the perfect ingredients for a spiritual restaurant are in place, this church will grow and more resources will come in as a result.

I don’t think our Lord Jesus would be able to find a pastor’s job or survive in many churches in America. It is simply because He would not work well with those “religious leaders” by playing their game, and He would be “political incorrect” in his sermon as well. His message/spiritual food would NOT be appealing to their audience, who expect to be entertained instead of being irritated by His challenging words. Have mercy on us O Lord! Help us take caution with our “religious inclination” and take the teaching of Christ to heart, in building a genuine relationship with our Triune God, and a community of faith.

Love you as your brother in Christ,

Friday, April 9, 2010

Devotional 090410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. God has timing for everything. Today is always a good day simply because the One who ordains this day to us is good. Our God may not be nice. He will put us through difficult trials or pruning that we hate. We complained to God when things did not come our way. We hate running into dead-end street. We hate being trapped in desperation and destitutions. We hate to be out of control. We question the existence of God when He does not answer our prayers according to what we want. Yes. Our God is not nice, but He is always good and faithful to those who abide in His love.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor 1:20-22). The end result of the act of worship is that our lives are turned around. We come to God with a history of nay-saying, of rejecting and being rejected. At the throne of God we are immersed in God’s yes, a yes that silences all our noes and calls forth an answering yes in us. God, not the ego, is the center. God is not someone around whom we make calculating qualifications, a little yes here, a little no there. In worship we “listen to the voice of Being” and become answers to it. The self is no longer the hub of reality, as sin seduces us into supposing.

We are trained from infancy to relate to the world in an exploratory, exploitive way, refusing and grabbing, pushing and pulling, fretting and deceiving. As knower and user the ego is a predator. But in worship we cease being predators, who by stealth approach everyone as prey that we can pull into our center; we respond to the center. We are privileged listeners and respondents who offer ourselves to God, who creates and redeems. Amen! Amen is recurrent and emphatic among God’s people. It is robust and exuberant. There is nothing trembling, cautious, or timid in it. It is an answering word, purged of all negatives.

Eugene Peterson is a prolific writer. It is not easy sometimes to follow his trace of thought. He likes to dig deep into simple or ordinary things in life. I will not look at my ego as a predator trying to explore and exploit the world of knowledge or the mind of other human being. But when he put such light on our ego, it dawns on me a reality that we are egocentric. We look for things or human beings to meet our needs, whether it is psychological, physical, emotional or intellectual. We look for things that are pleasing to our sights, tastes and desires. But in worship, we surrender ourselves or our ego to the altar, and wholeheartedly say Yes to God in whatever He wants from us. Unless we say Yes to God, we are still seeking out things for our ego, including our ministry.

Have mercy on us O Lord! We are so used to see things from an egocentric perspective but not Theocentric or Christocentric perspective. We don’t see what God wants us to see or hear what God wants us to hear. Once again, I am reminded by what our Lord said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). The more I focus on God, the more I become sensitive to what God is doing around me. Enjoy your Sabbath and time with your family in this coming weekend.

Love you in Him,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Devotional 080410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. The Nature proclaims His glory. Indeed, the beauty of Nature describes the beauty of God’s attributes. What a creative God He is! In no way we can fully fathom His creativity. We can only discover His greatness and creativity a little bit more each day. Our lives on earth are preparation to spend eternity with Him in discovering the greatness of our God, who also cares enough to listen to our insignificant prayers.

(Rev. 8:1): God listens. Everything we say, every groan, every murmur, and every stammering attempt at prayer: all this is listened to. All heaven quiets down. The loud angel voices, the piercing trumpet messages, the thundering throne songs are stilled while God listens “Hush, hush, whisper who dares? Loretta Fung is saying her prayers.” The prayer of the faithful must be heard: the spontaneous hallelujahs, the solemn amens, the desperate “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” the agonized “Take this cup from me,” the tempered “Nevertheless not my will but your will,” the faithfully spoken, “Our Father who art in heaven,” the joyful “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.”

All the psalms, said and sung for centuries in voices energetic, subdued, angry, and serene are now heard – heard personally, carefully, accurately. God silences the elders and the angels. Not one of our words is lost in a wind tunnel of gossips or drowned in a cataract of the world’s noise. “The distinctive feature of early Christian prayer is the certainty of being heard.” We are listened to. We realize dignity. Dramatic changes take place in these moments of silence. The world rights itself. We perceive reality from the vantage point of God’s saving work and not from the chaos of desperate confusion. We acquire hope from our living God who cares and listens. Remember. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all – all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help (Hebrews 4:15-16, The Message).

God is listening to our prayers. We may be too busy to interact with God, but He is always ready to listen. We may be too lazy to read His word, but He is always ready to give us guidance and grace. This is the teaching of the Bible. This is the reassurance of the Holy Spirit who utters His words to our soul, “you are my child, whom I love; with whom I am well pleased” (borrow from Matthew 3:17). Our obedience to be is as important as our obedience to do. God wants us to be His beloved children who desire to do His will by entering into union with Him on a daily basis, just as He is in union with His Son and the Holy Spirit. It’s time to take a prayer break in seeking Him through contemplative prayer – watch, listen, read and then pray.

Love you because He first loves us,

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Devotional 070410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen (Revelation 1:4-6).

Our staff have been studying the book of Revelation in our Prayer meeting in the last couples of week. God revealed to Apostle John the glory and cruelty of the last days before His glorious return. Throughout the prolonged suffering of mankind during those horrible days, God hopes to give humanity the opportunity to repent but they don’t. It was similar to the ten plagues that came to Egypt before Pharaoh set the Israelites free from bondage. But at the end, Pharaoh still remained stubborn in his rebellion. Therefore, God had to destroy his entire army at the merciless Red Sea. Unfortunately, humanity in the Judgment Day will repeat the same mistake as Pharaoh did. Pray that the Book of Revelation calls people to repentance before the horrible judgment pours down from heaven one day.

The everyday data of a typical week are assembled on the pages of the Revelation: political terrors and liturgical mysteries, painful separations and unanswered prayers, glorious hymns and unfulfilled prophecies, felt glories and brutal cruelties, heartrending deaths and unquenchable hopes. All this is the experience of persons who decide to live by faith in Christ. Apostle John’s Revelation choreographs all this is in a ballet of images. The repeated use of the number seven, a number that communicated a sense of wholeness to the ancient and biblical mind, sets up rhythm of wholeness in the imagination. The “Lord’s Day” is the first day of resurrection in which the fallen creation enters a new week of redemption.

The pagan would assigned each day of the week to the care of a god or goddess. Each divinity made its own unpredictable demands and dispensed good or ill randomly. The pagan deities were at odds with each other, struggling and quarreling. The week was a mixture of scheming and intrigue. The Christian, in contrast, discovered all time under the lordship of Christ. Time is redeemed. God shapes creation; Christ redeems creation. The first day is the headwaters of the ever rolling stream of time. The Lord’s Day is the source for the succeeding days. All the events and experiences of the week flow out of the typical patterns of creation and redemption.

Each day we live by God’s grace because of the Lord’s Day that started on His resurrection. We count God’s blessing with thanksgiving simply because we are a new creation in His grace. Ever since we turned toward God through the cross, each day is a new day and wonderful day because He has special purpose installed for us to live for. We look forward to what this day may bring, regardless of how the environment may change. God is good. And He is good all the time. Amen?

Love you in Christ,

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Devotional 050410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. I hope this devotional sharing comes at your “prayer” break! You need to pause for prayer from time to time, a time to connect with your loving God who breathes you with His own presence. He intends to impact your neighbors/coworkers through you. Drink from His love so that you can share His love with others. A starving and thirty person does not want to share, because he or she is so wrapped up with his or her own needs. On a contrary, a person who has abundant supply of love will not hesitate to share it with others. Bless your coworkers by doing a prayer walk, and give them a silent but joyful presence of God through you while you are taking your coffee/prayer break.

I like Eugene Peterson’s devotional here, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest” (Matthew 11:28-29 The Message). The suggestion to do something is nearly always inappropriate, for persons who come for spiritual direction are troubled over some disorder or dissatisfaction in being, not doing. They need a friend who will pay attention to who they are, not a project manager who will order additional busywork. Precipitate actions are usually avoidances. They distract for the time being and provide temporary (and welcome) relief. The attraction for “giving a physic and letting blood” is nearly irresistible in a highly ambiguous situation. The sense of definition provided by clear-out action provides tremendous satisfaction. But there is no growth in the spirit, no development into maturity.

Pastors are particularly endangered in this area because of the compulsive activism, both cultural and ecclesiastical, in which we are immersed simply by being alive at this time in history. It takes cautious and persistent watching to avoid falling into the activist trap.

It is God with whom we have to do. People go for long stretches of time without being aware of that, thinking it is money, or sex, or work, or children, or parents, or a political cause, or an athletic competition, or learning with which they must deal. Any one or a combination of these subjects can absorb them and a for a time give them the meaning and purpose that human beings seem to require. But then there is a slow stretch of boredom. Or a disaster. Or a sudden collapse of meaning. They want more. They want God. When person searches for meaning and direction, asking questions and testing out statements, we must not be diverted into anything other or lesser. Meditate on what Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33).

You don’t need to prove yourself to be capable, smart, useful and worthy for God’s love. He loves you unconditionally. Jesus came to make you the target of His love. He loves us more than we can imagine. It is busyness that put us in doubt of his love because we have no time to rest and enjoy His love. Our culture convinces us to search for more and more “stuff” to fill our empty soul. But at the end of the day, we know it does not work. We find meaning and fulfillment by returning to Him who calls us “His beloved children.” We find the assurance of His worth within us that make us whole. You are holy because you are made whole in Christ.

Love you because of our being in Him,

Monday, April 5, 2010

Devotional 040410

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Did you have a happy celebration of the resurrection of Christ (proper description of Easter) yesterday? I had a wonderful worship at Anaheim’s stadium with the congregation from Saddleback Baptist Church. About 20,000 people participated in the worship celebration, many accepted Christ and many received baptism at the parking lot of the stadium right after worship. It was an awesome day of witnessing God’s grace at work in our midst. And then, we experience a significant earthquake ((7.2 at Baja) in the afternoon. We were sitting by the pool in a friend’s house, and the quake created a big wave in the pool (it was like spilling a cup of water) for a couple of seconds. Wow…what an amazing day we had in counting God’s mercy and grace in our midst!

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:1-2). Spiritual direction or discernment is usually perceived as prerogative of the ordained ministry. Some of the best spiritual directors are simply friends. Some of the most famous spiritual directors have been laypersons. But the fact that anybody can do it and it can occur at any time and place must not be constructed to mean that it can be done casually or indifferently. It needs to be practiced out of a life immersed in the pursuit of holiness.

What is required is that we bring the same disciplined prayer and discerning attentiveness into the commonplaces that we bring to the preparation of lectures and sermon, sharing crises of illness and death, celebrating birth and marriages, launching campaigns and stirring up visions. It means putting the full spotlight of prayerful concern on the parts of life that get no other spotlights put on them. Being a spiritual director is bringing the same care and skill and intensity to the ordinary, boring, uneventful parts of our lives that we readily give to the eventful conversation and proclamations.

Spiritual direction is like a lost art in Christian church. We will refer people to counseling or psychological evaluation, but we seldom refer people to seek spiritual direction. Yes, we will ask for appointment to see a pastor for some crisis in life. We seldom talk to a pastor about our direction of life; we prefer to talk to a friend instead. Yes, spiritual direction could take place at any time and any place. It should happen as part of Body life. We should minister unto one another in seeking to do the will of God. The pre-requisite, however, is to find someone who constantly immerses in the Word of God and in the pursuit of Holiness. Unfortunately this is not a norm in Christian church.

Holiness is not a perfect life without weaknesses, but a life that seeks to honor God and fulfill His agenda on earth. Pharisees were perfect in obeying all ceremonial laws in life – it was their resolve or commitment to accomplish religious purity in life. But our Lord Jesus rebuked them of their hypocrisy. Holiness is a life that immerses into the agenda of God and loving Him wholeheartedly. Tey recognize their imperfection and seek regeneration daily by God’s help. Since they are so focused on God, they can quickly discern the unpleasing elements in life. Just like the way a banker discern counterfeit money is by focusing more on the genuine ones, let’s spend more time on the Word of God as a means to discern His presence and guidance for our lives as well as for others.

Love you in accordance to His Word,

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Worship at Anaheim Stadium

Enjoying lunch at a sister's home when earthquake rocked the pool and fellowship time
Loretta and I enjoyed worship with our daughter and son-in-law at their church's service

Baptism at the parking lot of the stadium

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Devotional 010410

Dear brothers and sisters
Good morning. He is risen! Indeed our Lord is alive today!!! May Easter once again remind you of the foundation of your faith in Him! If our Lord was not raised from the dead, your faith is futile and you are to be pitied more than all men (1 Cor 15:19b). Loretta and I will visit our daughter and son-in-law in Southern California tomorrow. We look forward to spending the Easter weekend with them. If you don’t hear from me again, I wish you and your family to have a meaningful and blessed Easter celebration.

Jesus said, “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” (Mark 8:35-37 Message) America is in conspicuous need of unselfing. Concerned observers using the diagnostic disciplines of psychology, sociology, economics and theology lay the blame for the deterioration of our public life and the disintegration of our personal lives at the door of the self; we have a self problem and that problem is responsible for everything else that is going wrong…

In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s extensively reported and now famous sermon to America, delivered in 1978 at Harvard University, he said, “We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms. Only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. It is trampled by the party mob in the East, by the commercial one in the West.” What the journalists did not report – not a single expert has mentioned it – is that a significant number of people are actually doing something about Solzhenitsyn’s concern… The work is prayer.

Remember. Prayer is the action that gets us in touch with and develops the most comprehensive relationships – self, God, community, creation, government, culture. We are born into a web of relationships and continue in it throughout our lifetimes. But we often don’t feel like it. We feel isolated, cut off, fragmented, out of touch. We do not tolerate such isolation very well and move out to overcome it: we call up a neighbor, join a club, write a letter, and get married. The disparate attempts accumulate. The self is less isolated. Society is less fragmented. The facts add up. But if we do not pray, they do not add up to enough: in prayer and only in prayer are we able to enter the complexity and depth of the dynamic and interrelated whole. A failure to pray is not a harmless omission; it is a positive violation of both self and the society. “Pray for us. We have no doubts about what we're doing or why, but it's hard going and we need your prayers. All we care about is living well before God. Pray that we may be together soon” (Hebrews 13:18-19 Message).

We may feel like it is a spiritual overtone to change the world through prayer. We underestimate the power of prayer. To most Christians, prayer is nothing but a religious practice of good faith or good wishes for others. We don’t necessary believe prayer can really change things. Prayer may give us positive energy and will power to deal with the unknown future. Prayer does not replace our effort or hard work to make things happen. But this is not the way people prayed in the Bible and in church history. They sincerely believe that prayer can change history and the world. Do you? As we are entering into the holy week of Easter, let’s re-affirm our faith in the ONE who can raise death to life. And He is the ONE who does not only call us to pray but to pray for us in the heavenly realm each day (Rom 8:26). He prays. He saves. He leads. He changes the world…

Love you through prayer,