Thursday, July 15, 2010

Devotional 150710

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Praise God for giving us earth life to cultivate relationship with Christ, before we will spend eternity with Him. When we meet the One who sits on the Throne of Glory in Heaven, we know that He is not a stranger but a friend. Jesus said, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15b). We can freely go to Him just as a friend would do to each other. And He promises that He is always there for us.

No one is born free. Our common human experience prepares us to receive this revealed truth; for when we leave the warm security of the womb, we are immediately embraced in protecting and nurturing arms. If we were set free then, we would merely die. Hunger and thirst, weather and disease, accidents and animals would make short work of us if we were set free. An infant is not born into freedom, but into a network of security and care. If the infant is carefree it is because of the constant attendance of many who are careful. We begin our lives in an intricate arrangement of constraints, limits, boundaries and restrictions. No one counts that bad. Everyone, in fact, agrees that it is good. But it is not free. If we have nostalgic longings for those years of golden innocence, they are longings not for freedom but for security. We are, if we are fortunate, born secure; we are not born free. We are, however, born with a destiny to freedom and a capacity for freedom which are realized in a life of faith.

It has been two thousand years since Christ lived and died and rose again. The world had seen succession of political and social revolutions that had featured the word freedom. Especially in the Western world, but hardly confined there, aspirations to freedom were very strong. But when I (Eugene Peterson) looked at the people I was living with as pastor—fairly affluent, well educated, and somewhat knowledgeable about the Christian faith—I realized how unfree they were. They were buying expensive security systems to protect their possessions from burglary. They were overcome with anxieties in the face of rising inflation. They were pessimistic about the prospects for justice and peace in a world bristling with sophisticated weapons systems and nuclear devices. They were living huddled, worried, and defensive lives. I wanted to shout in objection: Don’t live that way! You are Christians! Our lives can be a growth into freedom instead of a withdrawal into anxious wariness.

Instead of shouting I returned to my regular round of work— preaching and teaching, visiting and counseling, praying and writing, encouraging and directing—but I was determined to seek ways in which I could awaken a hunger and thirst for the free life among people who had lost an appetite for it, and then, having awakened the appetite, to find the food and drink that would satisfy it. The more I did this, the more I became convinced that the experience of freedom in the life of faith is at the very heart of what it means to be human.

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you (Galatians 5:1). Freedom is not an abstraction, and it is not a thing. It is a gift and a skill. It is a gift that another provides; it is a skill that must be exercised by each person within the learned limits of reality. If we would understand freedom, we must be taught; if we would acquire freedom, we must be trained. Among the writers of Scripture, Paul is the specialist in matters of freedom. He said, “My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness” (Galatians 5:16-17). Train yourself to exercise freedom in Christ by focusing not on your own wants and desires but Christ’s. The more we yield to the Holy Spirit, the more we find ourselves free from the bondage of sins and selfish cravings. Indeed, we are free in Christ!

Please remember me in your prayer. I am leaving tonight for China until end of the month.

Love you freely in Christ,

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Devotional 140710

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Thank God for another beautiful day. We find new joy and new strength to serve God as we choose to fill our hearts with thanksgiving. When a person chooses to dwell in worry and bitterness, he or she will only deteriorate or wither faster. Choose thanksgiving at all time, whether you are in plenty or in want. The joy of the Lord is my strength only when I focus on Him with thanksgiving that He is truly the CEO of my life. Amen?

Emerging into adolescence, children become capable of realizing the spirituality of sin. Sin is not merely something that they are forbidden to do because God says they must not under penalty of hellfire. They gradually (or suddenly!) realize that sin is an offer of godlike independence, it is an offer to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). It not only promises sensual gratification (“good for food … a delight to the eyes”), but it promises spiritual deepening (“… to make one wise,” v.6). Until they become adolescents, with their growth spurt in spiritual capacity and their huge hunger for transcendence, children are not capable of being tempted in this way. As long as they are children, mostly dependent on others for their welfare, it never occurs to them that they might make it “on their own.” But at adolescence, with adulthood in sight, they are impatient to throw off the restrictions of childhood and reach for adulthood, and the devil promises a shortcut by promising godhead and godlike independence. Prohibitions are no longer accepted as “for their own good,” but resented as restrictive, denying them access to a spirituality which is theirs by right.

Here is one place that the adolescent insight is absolutely right. Sin is, in fact, mostly spiritual. There are moral dimensions to it, of course, matters of behavior that put them in danger and/or make them hard to live with, but mostly what sin involves is spirituality, the quest for meaning and purpose and significance. It is the moral dimensions of sin that are prominent in childhood; it is the spiritual dimensions of sin that surface in adolescence. The first sin, to aspire to “be like God,” is nothing if not spiritual. Most, if not all, sins ever since are attempts, primarily, at spirituality—attempts to become something other or better than we are, attempts at experiencing something that takes us beyond our humdrum mortality, if only momentarily.

We all went through adolescence or teenage years. For those of us parents who had teenagers before, we experienced the stormy journey of life, when teenager attempted to access their spiritual liberty to become someone different from their parents. They want to try out their desire of experiencing godlike independence at all cost – this is the realization of the sinful nature of mankind. The Bible said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1:8-10). Imagine if all human being never grew out of adolescence or teenage attitudes, what kind of world we will live in? Unfortunately, this is what the culture of America is like: a teenager who does not want to grow up. A highly individualistic society is like a teenager who seeks godlike independence without considering his consequence. The culture of this society is promoting a promise that can give her followers a temporal experience beyond their humdrum mortality by her philosophy and morality. Let’s see you can see the similarity of Satan’s temptation with many of today’s advertisement or not, “‘God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you'll see what's really going on. You'll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.’ When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it - she'd know everything! - she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate” (Genesis 3:5-6). Watch out!!!

Love you in Christ,

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Devotional 130710

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. I came back yesterday afternoon from Vancouver, Canada. It was a fruitful weekend to rekindle some friendship and explore new network of relationship. I encourage you to visit my blog (if you have not done it yet) to see my ministry album or slide show. The picture will surely give you an idea of the activities we had in Vancouver. I shared at a vision sharing banquet of about 190 people. Praise the Lord for His presence.

Happiness is not a word we can understand by looking it up in the dictionary. In fact, none of the qualities of the Christian life can be learned out of a book. Something more like apprenticeship is required, being around someone who out of years of devoted discipline shows us, by his or her entire behavior, what it is. Moments of verbal instruction will certainly occur, but mostly an apprentice acquires skill by daily and intimate association with a “master,” picking up subtle but absolutely essential things, such as timing, rhythm and “touch.”

When we read what Paul wrote to the Christian believers in the city of Philippi, we find ourselves in the company of just such a master. Paul doesn’t tell us that we can be happy, or how to be happy. He simply and unmistakably is happy. None of his circumstances contribute to his joy: He wrote from a jail cell, his work was under attack by competitors, and after twenty years or so of hard traveling in the service of Jesus, he was tired and would have welcomed some relief. That’s why he wrote, “I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance” (Phil 1:19).

The kind of happiness that Paul described was not the same kind of happiness our world promotes. The world promotes the happiness that requires something happens. It is circumstantial and materialistic. But the kind of happiness that Bible describes is internal and supernatural. It is “irrational” to the world that a Christian could rejoice in a circumstance that is not pleasant and happy. Just as Prophet Habakkuk said, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Hab 3:17-18). To many brothers and sisters who have been going through economic down turn is experiencing this kind of lesson. May God strengthen their joy from within so that they experience a major break through in life!

Thanks to your prayer and support. Loretta got a permanent job in the City of San Francisco. She is going through training this month. During this period of laid off from last May, she really experienced the joy and provision (a temp job) from above. God is faithful and kind. He wants His children to enjoy His abundant life regardless of materialistic abundance. And through this journey of waiting, we drew closer to the Lord for His daily presence and provision. We learnt to ask for His Kingdom before asking for our daily bread. It reminds us of our commitment to “seek Him first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we know for sure that He will provide all that we need in life. Amen? May God strengthen your walk with Him today!

Love you in Christ,

Friday, July 9, 2010

Devotional 090710

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Praise God for another beautiful day. I am leaving for Vancouver, Canada for a weekend ministry this afternoon. Pray that God will open doors for us to meet the kind of people who will partner with us in the gospel. Appreciate if you will remember me in your prayer. God is good and He is good to us all the time. I know I am not going out alone but with His companionship. I thank God for the privilege to watch Him at work globally.

Watch is the essential word in the Morning Prayer. A biblical trained ear hears a story in the word. Jacob, fleeing from his father-in-law Laban, was caught in Gilead. Laban thought he had been defrauded by Jacob; Jacob was sure he had been gypped by Laban. In Gilead, through argument and prayer, they came to an agreement. They set up an altar pillar and ate a covenantal meal before it. They named the pillar, “Watching Place.” They had spent twenty years watching each other suspiciously, watching for opportunities to take advantage of each other. Here they agreed to quit watching each other and let God watch them. Early in the morning the two old antagonists parted – Laban returned to Haran and Jacob entering Canaan where he still had to face the enmity of his brother Esau – with their morning prayer echoing across the Gilead hills: “The Lord watch between you and me, while we are absent one from the other.” Leaving the place of morning prayer and watching, the first things Jacob saw were the angels of God. He exclaimed, “This is God’s army!” (Gen 31).

The “Watching Place” is a borderline experience repeated as often as every morning. We watch to see what God will do with the assemblage of hopes and fears we set before Him. Morning prayer places us before the watchful God and readies us to enter the day watchful, watching our dangerous past recede, watching the dangerous day fill with God’s angels.

Indeed, every day is an adventure that requires “watchfulness.” Satan will put different road blocks and hidden attacks in our daily life path. Our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan need to be watchful at all time especially when they need to go into town or enemy’s territory. We need the same kind of watchfulness in our lives at all time. But most importantly, we need God to watch over us at all time, and we surrender to His guide as we venture out in life. Paul said in Ephesians 5:14-16, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

The way to “wake up from the dead” must first involve “putting to death our old self.” Once we recognize the root of our problem (our old sinful nature), and surrender our body to the molding of God, then we become watchful according to His agenda and guidance in life. By doing so, we walk in the light with the joy of Christ flowing through us. As we respond to His watching, we will make the most of every opportunity in life for His glory. In whatever business or challenge you face in life, you know His is watching.

Love you in Christ,

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Devotional 080710

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. It was good to have some solitude time in the office before my coworkers came back… a time to reflect on what the Lord has been doing in my life, and how He wants to use me in days ahead. Besides work, I have a lot to catch up in my study. The ministry was so overwhelming in the last six weeks plus jetlag adjustment…I was not in the mood to work on my school assignments which are due in a month. Pray that I could calm down, refocus and find time to work on my papers during my teaching trip in China.

This morning, I chose to look at Peterson’s sharing on “anger” management in the light of Jonah’s story. Quarreling with God is a time-honored biblical practice: Moses, Job, David, and Apostle Peter were all masters at it. It is a practice in which men and women in ministry have much practice. We get a lot of practice in this because we are dealing with God in some way or other most of the time, and God doesn’t behave the way we expect.

Jonah is quarreling because he has been surprised by grace. He is so taken aback that he is disagreeable about it. His idea of what God is supposed to do and what God in tact does differ radically. Jonan sulks. Jonah is angry. The word anger occurs six times in this final chapter.

Anger is most useful as a diagnostic tool. When anger erupts in us, it is a signal that something is wrong. Something isn’t working right. There is evil or incompetence or stupidity lurking about. Anger is our sixth sense for sniffing out wrong in the neighborhood. Diagnostically it is virtually infallible, and we learn to trust it. Anger is infused by a moral/spiritual intensity that carries conviction: when we are angry, we know we are on to something that matters, that really counts. When God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” Jonah shot back, “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die” [Jonah 4:9].

What anger fails to do, though, is tell us whether the wrong is outside or inside us. We usually begin by assuming that the wrong is outside us—our spouse or our child or our God has done something wrong, and we are angry. That is what Jonah did, and he quarreled with God. But when we track the anger carefully we often find it leads to a wrong within us—wrong information, inadequate understanding, underdeveloped heart. If we admit and face that, we are pulled out of our quarrel with God into something large and vocational in God. Apostle Paul said, “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life” (Eph 4:26-27).

It takes a self-reflective person to discern what anger implies. God designs “anger” as a device to detect problem inside us. It is like what a red engine light does in our car. When this light is on, it tells you a problem needs to be fixed in your engine. But if the driver chose to believe it was outside factor that triggered the light, then the engine might eventually died down or fatal accident might occur. Anger, therefore, calls for introspection, and the focus should be more on examining the reason of your reaction than the stimulation. Of course, there are times when we react in anger too fast that it is too late to reflect, regret or remorse because a damage is already done. But we still need to examine the cause of our anger in order to prevent future reaction and heal the wound. It is always easier to make a decision not to react in anger before it flares up. That’s why Apostle James advised us, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20). Let’s watch out and pray for each other on anger management…

Love you in Christ,

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Devotional 070710

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. I thank God for giving me a good night sleep last night. That means I have recovered from my jetlag. Praise the Lord! And next week is another trip to Asia that needs your prayer support again. But His grace is always sufficient for His servants. In my experience, the more I focused on God and His word through prayer and meditation, the more strength and healing power I received from above.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). As we prepare to pray, to answer the words God addresses to us, we learn that all of God’s words have this characteristic: they are torah (the Law or Principles of God) and we are the target. God s word is not a reference book in a library that we pull off the shelf when want information. There is nothing lifeless or bookish in these words. God’s words, creating and saving words every one, hit us where we live.

The moment we know this that God speaks to us, delight is spontaneous. “The psalms are the liturgy for those whose concern and delight is the torah of the Lord” [James Luther May]. These are not words that we laboriously but impersonally study, as if for an exam. These are not words that we anxiously examine lest we unintentionally disobey a boundary or break a protocol. These are words we take in—words designed for shaping new life in us, feeding the energies of salvation. This delight develops into meditation, torah-meditation. Meditate {hagah} is a bodily action; it involves murmuring and mumbling words, taking a kind of physical pleasure in making the sounds of the words, getting the feel of the meaning as the syllables are shaped by larynx and tongue and lips. Isaiah used this word “meditate” for the sounds that a lion makes over its prey (Isaiah. 31:4). A lion over its catch and a person over the torah act similarly. They purr and growl in pleasurable anticipation of taking in what will make them more themselves, fulfilling, strong, lithe, and swift: “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free (enlarge my capacity of understanding)!” (Ps. 119:32).

This is quite different from merely reading God’s word, or thinking about it. This is not so much an intellectual process, figuring our meanings, as it is a physical process, hearing and rehearing these words as we sound them again, letting the sounds sink into our muscles and bones. Meditation is mastication or chewing food in your mouth. This concept is similar to what Prophet Ezekiel was asked to do, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 3:1). Apostle John shared similar experience from God, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey” (Revelation 10:9b). Apparently they were challenged not to physically swallow the scroll into their stomach. They were asked to “devour” the word of God like the way we devour our favorite food. The word of God will enter into our soul like food into our body that turns into energy and all kinds of nourishments. Meditation is this “craving” and “devouring” of God’s words.

Once we have the habit of enjoying the word of God through meditation, we can understand and say the same phrase to Satan like Christ, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We enlarge our appetite for God’s words as we develop the habit of enjoying the spiritual banquet from above. The more you eat, the larger the capacity of your digestion system and appetite you will develop for the word of God. On a contrary, the less you eat, the less appetite you have for His Word. This is dangerous if it is physical eating disorder – you will die of mal-nutrition like anorexia. But many Christian is suffering in spiritual anorexia without being aware of it at all. Have mercy on us O Lord! Deliver many brothers and sisters from this spiritual problem, which will affect their whole being as a whole. Open their eyes to see their “poor shape” and give them inner strength to fix it.
Love you in Christ,

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Devotional 060710

Dear brothers and sisters,
Thanks for your prayer support. I had a wonderful time at the Family Retreat. The couples came from different churches and locales. Some of them were frequent members of this retreat (It was the 19th one). Some came with and from a broken marriage and home. All of them were eager to improve their marriage and family. And one fourth of these participants were pre-Christian friends. Praise God for His work in our midst. Many raised their hands to seek divine strength for their marriages. Five expressed their desires to invite Christ into their lives as personal Lord and Savior. Even though they had not resolved many of their marriage issues, they learned to seek divine intervention and obey God’s principles for their marriage and family. Pray that God will enable these couples to experience major break through in lives. Indeed, prayer is our life-line with God and our ultimate source of strength from Him. However, we seldom utilize this powerful gift. Let’s see how Eugene Peterson shares about the importance of a prayer community.

Here in this great gathering for worship I have discovered this praise-life. And I’ll do what I promised right here in front of the God-worshipers (Psalm 22:25). The praying people, whose prayers are the Psalms, prayed as a worshiping community. All the psalms are prayers in community: people assembled, attentive before God, participating in a common posture, movement and speech, offering themselves and each other to their Lord. Prayer is not a private exercise, but a family convocation.

In the presence of God, “alone” is not good. Call a friend, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” By ourselves, we are not ourselves. Solitary confinement is extreme punishment; private prayer is extreme selfishness. Prayer, in itself, is not an automatic good. It is possible to practice prayer in such a way that it drives us deep into a manipulative, calculating egotism. And it is possible to practice prayer in such a way that it bloats us into a prideful pretension. Jesus was not indiscriminate in his praise of prayer; some people who prayed got a severe tongue-lashing from him.

Prayer often originates when we are alone. Deep within us are “sighs too deep for words.” We pray our guilt, our hurt, our cheerfulness on the spot, not waiting until we can meet with a congregation or get into a church. All the same, for these prayers to develop into full maturity, they must be integrated into the praying community.

And prayer continues into places of solitude. We pray on our beds at night, silently and secretly when surrounded by unbelievers, deliberately withdrawn from society in order to cleanse the “doors of perception” [William Blake]. We neither can nor should be with others continuously; and we are with God continuously.

But the believing community at worship, at regular times in assigned places, is the base of prayer. All the psalms were prayed in such communities. This is not obvious on the surface—we are apt to think of a shepherd on a grassy slope, or a traveler on a dangerous road—nevertheless, it is one of the assured results of devout research, confirmed in the practice of Israel and church. We are most congruent with the conditions in which the Psalms were produced and prayed when we pray in a praying congregation.

Being a private and introverted person, I treasure solitude time with God through contemplative prayer. I don’t think Peterson nullify our solitude time with God. He wants to remind us the value of congregational prayer or praying community. It is true that we tend to focus more on ourselves in private prayer than in public prayer. Once we focus on ourselves in prayer, our prayer becomes an extension of self-centeredness. The more you focus on your needs and problems, the more we become more narcissistic or self-centered. If we only treasure our personal prayer time but not the community prayer time, we miss the values of praying together as a Body of Christ – which tend to focus more on the attributes and agenda of God. Have mercy on us O Lord! Help us to value our time of praying together with the community of faith.

Love you in Christ,