Thursday, September 30, 2010

Devotional 300910

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. I have been on the road in the last two weeks, and will continue so until end of October. I sincerely covet your prayers for me. Pray that the Lord will use this “loud speaker” to communicate His words to His people despite his inadequacy.
Lately, I learnt a fresh new lesson on divine appointment. I received an email from someone I never met, who responded to my devotional from this blog. He read my devotional that I mentioned about the tragic death of Joyce Lau, and he was the eye-witness of the hit and run incidence. Owing to his attempt to follow the car and reported to police the license plate, it led to the arrest of the suspect. His email said that he was moved by the devotional, and asked me to send his condolences to the Lau’s family. I thanked him for his help on behalf of the family.

Last Friday, I received a long email from this witness’s mother, who told me that his son died not soon after, and told me the story of her son. In her message, this mother told me how she was glad to read her son’s message to me. She said, “While I felt I couldn't mention God (but he read them later with the word God) but shared that life is fragile" and also that I was so proud of him how he showed honor to this woman's life. I told him that you made her matter, you honored her and you didn't even know her. I am so proud of the Man he was, or is. He was a champion of the little guy.” I thank God for using this young man to bless the Lau’s family, before He called him home. God used this young man to make a difference on earth, and touch the life of “strangers.” Indeed, we should treasure the time we have and seek to become a channel of God’s blessing to others.

Eugene Peterson said it well, “In every site, every meeting I attend, every appointment I keep, I have been anticipated. The risen Christ got there ahead of me. The risen Christ is I that room already. What is he doing? What is he say? What is going on?” In the remote mountain region of China, our risen Christ had been there before we went. It was not our initiation or research to go there to reach out to a people group. It was the risen Christ who invited us there. All we need to do is to respond in obedience, and follow His prompting with full anticipation of His active guidance. Peterson continued to say, “We are always coming in on something that is already going on. Sometimes we clarify a word or feeling, sometimes we identify an overlooked relationship, sometimes we help recover an essential piece of memory – but always we are dealing with what the risen Christ has already set in motion, already brought into being.” In a similar manner, it was not a coincidence that this young man was there at the scene to witness Joyce Lau’s accidence. It was some "good" that God brought out mysterioysly even in the midst of a sinful and chaotic world.

I am reminded from the connection of these two deaths. We really don’t know how long we may live on earth. It could end unexpectedly. So, enjoy the time we have today in making a difference in the life of others. Maximize our influence just like what the Apostle Paul said, “Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:16-21).

You may not hear from me tomorrow because I will be flying to Vancouver. Please remember my comprehensive examination on Tuesday. I will have 10 hours to answer all the questions that my professors give me in one day. I need to pass this examination before I can begin my final research project and dissertation. At the mean time, my priority is to prepare my sermon and teaching materials for a mission conference in Vancouver. Thanks

With love in Christ,

Friday, September 17, 2010

Devotional 170910

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good afternoon. There were a lot of last minute things to do before I take off to LA this afternoon for a weekend ministry. Please remember me and our team in your prayer. We will have two vision sharing dinners and one whole day of workshop on Bivocational missions. Pray that these events will mobilize more Christians to follow His will.

The main difference between Christians and others is that we take God seriously and they do not. We really do believe that he is the central reality of all existence. We really do pay attention to what he is and to what he does. We really do order our lives in response to that reality and not to some other. Paying attention to God involves a realization that he works…

God works. The work of God is defined and described in the pages of Scripture. We have models of creation, acts of redemption, examples of help and compassion, paradigms of comfort and salvation…

In every letter St. Paul wrote he demonstrated that a Christian’s work is a natural, inevitable and faithful development out of God’s work. Each of his letters concludes with a series of directives which guide us into the kind of work that participates in God’s work. The curse of some people’s lives is not work, as such, but senseless work, vain work, futile work, work that takes place apart from God…Be prepared. You are up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, very weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet (Eph 6:10-11).

We are always the recipients of God’s work. God is always active in His creation and revelation to mankind. We respond to His good work in prayer and service. It is He who began the good work in us and will bring to completion at the end (Phil 1:6). Thus, our attitude should respond with humility and obedient heart. Whatever happened to us is not a coincident. It depends on how you respond to the experience as a way to nurture your life in Christ. If we are too busy to think and meditate, then we will miss the lessons to grow our being. Hope you find time to listen to God this weekend.

Enjoy His loving companion,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Devotional 160910

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. My day started with waiting in line at DMV, reading and meditating at the same time. Time flies by when your mind is engaged with the word of God and Lover of your soul. You don’t feel restless even though the line does not seem to move at all. I was captivated by Peterson’s opening statement in his devotion. His discussion on prayer is something we seldom consider but important to be reminded from time to time.

The plain fact is that we cannot be trusted in prayer. Left to ourselves we become selfish—preoccupied with our pious feelings, our religious progress, our spiritual standing. We need guides and masters to refocus our attention on God, to keep us ever mindful off the priority of God’s word to us.

In the process of re-attending to God, all the intervening doubts and cynicisms and seductions in which we have become entangled by our self-attentiveness have to be attended to. We require an alert theologian at our right hand. A good theologian brings the requisite skill, single-mindedness, and patience that can help us re-establish the primacy of God in our prayers.

Peter Taylor Forsyth is just such a theologian. A British Congregationalist, he was dead (in 1921) before I was born, but I have kept him at my side for thirty-five years as a friend and ally in my own life of prayer and the lives of my friends. I find him utterly trustworthy and immensely energizing.

May be the thing that I like best about Forsyth is that he is a theologian who stays a theologian. He cannot be distracted, will not be diverted. Here is a no-nonsense theologian who goes for the jugular. In Forsyth’s company we are aware of both the glory and the gravity of what we are doing when we go to our knees in prayer. Just as Paul said, “…every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing Him personally" (Eph 1:16-17)

I believe we all need a spiritual mentor (theologian in Peterson’s term), who helps to direct the attention of our soul toward God. We can easily be distracted in our prayer. We tend to pray for things that we desire and consider beneficial to us. It takes a “theologian or a spiritual mentor” who will redirect us to the mind of Christ in prayer.

Enjoy our oneness in His love,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Devotional 150910

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. I believe God is doing new and wonderful thing in your life today. This is our Lord who proclaims this, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). It is because of the work of the Holy Spirit in us, that we can accomplish great and fresh new things for His glory. Amen?

Most of us, most of the time, feel left out—misfits. We don’t belong. Others seem to be so confident, so sure of themselves, “insiders” who know the ropes, old hands in a club from which we are excluded.

One of the ways we have of responding to this is to form our own club, or join one that will have us. Here is at least one place where we are “in” and the others “out.” The clubs range from informal to formal in gatherings that are variously political, social, cultural, and economic. But the one thing they have in common is the principle of exclusion. Identity or worth is achieved by excluding all but the chosen. The terrible price we pay for keeping all those other people out so that we can savor the sweetness of being insiders is a reduction of reality, a shrinkage of life.

Nowhere is this price more terrible than when it is paid in the cause of religion. But religion has a long history of doing just that, of reducing the huge mysteries of God to the respectability of club rules, of shrinking the vast human community to a “membership.” But with God there are no outsiders.

God is the God of outsider non-Jews as well as insider Jews. How could it be otherwise since there is only one God? God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion (Romans 3:29b-30). God is bigger than our religion. Religion is a man made system in preserving some traditions, rituals or code of conducts that people use to experience God. It is easier and safer for believers or members of the same religion to identify with one another about their shared practice of belief system. It generates support and energy toward a religious piety. But religion could also confine or reduce the Almighty and unfathomed God into a man-made system – something within the finite system and human understanding of divinity. We do not want God to be dangerous and unsafe. Thus, a man made religion helps put God into a safe and secure container for people to “enjoy.” And the Son of God was killed by man made religion! He did not behave within the expectation of the religious leaders of his time.

Have mercy on us O Lord! How often we will replace the end by the means. Religion and church are supposed to be means to point us to the end – worship the Triune God. But throughout church history, religion and church could become the “end” that believers worship instead of God. Believers killed and fought against those who did not share the same tradition and ritual, even though they believed in the same Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing is wrong with religion and church if they are in the right place of serving as a means or agent to introduce people to the Triune God. But we should constantly recognize the fact that our God is much greater than human religion can contain and describe. We should abide in Christ but not in any man-made religion.

Enjoy His unfathomable love each day,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Devotional 140910

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Before I head out for two appointments, I would to leave you with the devotional thought of Eugene Peterson that I read this morning. It is a good reminder for us who live in a culture of consumerism, not to be swallowed into its under-current.

Because an appetite for God is easily manipulated into a consumer activity, we need these wise, sane friends as guides and companions. There are entrepreneurs among us who see the wide-spread hunger for spirituality as a marketplace and are out there selling junk food. The gullibility of the unwary who bought relics from itinerant monks in the Middle Ages—splinters of wood from the true cross, finger bones from the saints, a few pieces of thread from Jesus’ seamless robe—is more than matched by North Americans in matters of spirituality.

We are trained from the cradle to be good consumers. It is understandable that we seek to satisfy our hunger for God along the lines in which we have been brought up. But it is not excusable, for we have clear counsel in the Gospels to steer us away from this consumer world: “Blessed are the poor . . . Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me … Love not the world nor the things that are in the world.” And our Lord’s counsel is confirmed and expanded in numerous ways by our wise evangelical ancestors in the faith. “The world with all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity” (1 John 2:17 The Message).

Living in His unconditional love

Monday, September 13, 2010

Devotional 130910

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Thank you so much for some of your prayer support, I have finished all my course work from Western Seminary last week. At this point, I have to finish my three writing assignments, prepare for my final comprehensive examination, and begin to conduct my dissertation research in the month to come. I still covet your prayer for this journey of learning.

Even though the weather is foggy and gloomy in San Francisco, this new day is beautifully filled with the wonderful grace from the Lord. He is our Creator and Lover. He faithfully provides and protects us on earth until we see Him face to face. Life was constantly greeted by all kinds of ups and downs. On Saturday, we said farewell to our beloved sister, Joyce Lau, at her memorial service and received good news from Dorothy and Wilson about the arrival of a new life in the same day. Life comes and goes each day. And it is all in the sovereign hands of God. Thus, while we are enjoying the earthly provisions from God, we want to maximize the resources and opportunities He gives us for His glory. I like the motto of William Carey, “Expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God.” By conducting our lives with this kind of commitment, our lives will count each day in making greater impact as light and salt of the world.

Eugene Peterson has five items of counsel in matters of spirituality for all who hunger and thirst after intimacy and transcendence. Each item provides evangelical focus, precision, and rootage to spirituality. As we get it straight ourselves, we will be equipped to provide leadership to others, an evangelical leadership that is so conspicuously lacking at present.

1. Discover what Scripture says about spirituality and immerse yourself in it.
2. Avoid spirituality that does not require commitment.
3. Embrace friends in the faith wherever you find them.
4. But then return home and explore your own tradition.
5. Look for mature guides; honor wise leaders.

Spirituality is not the latest trend but the oldest truth. Spirituality, the alert attention we give to a living God and the faithful response we make to him in community, is at the heart of our Scriptures and is on display throughout the centuries of Israel and the church. We have been at this a long time. We have nearly four millennia of experience to draw upon. When someone hands you a new book, reach for an old one. Isaiah has far more to teach us about spirituality than Carl Jung (famous psychologist). Just as James said, “Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything. Went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course (James 5:10-11a)!

We lost our freedom in talking about God with our friends and family members. Many people feel uneasy to even talk about their relationship with God to their spouse. They can talk about house chores or about their children. But it is hard for many couples to engage in some kind of “spiritual conversation” that is edifying to each other. We need to break this kind of bondage among us. Otherwise, we will become isolated from the community of faith, and compartmentalized as a person – we can’t see that spirituality is the base of our whole being. We are supposed to live, eat, sleep, walk and talk in Christ. If we only count God’s blessing in church but not in the office or at home, we are dividing ourselves into the secular and divine. This kind of attitude toward life will eventually hurt our growth as a godly person. Give us the freedom, O Lord, to live freely in the light of your presence each day.

Love you in His joy,

Friday, September 3, 2010

Devotional 030910

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Thank God for giving us such beautiful weather – we can experience the feeling of “winter” and “summer” in just one day. This is the beauty of living in Daly City and working in Burlingame. This kind of swing in feelings happens all the time in our lives on earth – from one minute happiness to the other minute of sadness. I thank God for this emotional capability that God designs in us. But what is the purpose behind all our experience in life? Eugene Peterson gives me some good insight in his devotion.

If all your friends were suddenly to begin talking about the state of their digestion—comparing symptoms, calling up for advice, swapping remedies—you would not consider it a hopeful sign. Nor does his widespread interest in spirituality today lead me to think that the North American soul is in a flourishing condition.

A person who has a healthy digestion does not talk about it. Neither does a person who has a healthy soul. When our bodies and souls are working well, we are, for the most part, unaware of them. The frequency with which the word spirituality occurs these days is more likely to be evidence of pathology than health.

By taking this stance, I am not dismissing current interest in spirituality as sick. The interest itself is not sick, but sickness has provoked the interest. There is considerable confusion regarding the appropriate treatment, but virtual unanimity in the diagnosis: Our culture is sick with secularism.

But deeper and stronger than our illness is our cure. The Spirit of God that hovered over the primordial chaos (Gen. 1:2) hovers over our murderous and chaotic cities. The Spirit that descended on Jesus like a dove (Matt. 3:16) descends on the followers of Jesus. The Holy spirit that filled men and women with God at nine o’clock in the morning in Jerusalem during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) fills men and women still in Chicago and Calcutta, Moscow and Montreal, around the clock, 365 days a year.

Our culture has failed precisely because it is a secular culture. A secular culture is a culture reduced to thing and function. Typically, at the outset, people are delighted to find themselves living in such a culture. It is wonderful to have all these things coming our way, without having to worry about their nature or purpose. And it is wonderful to have this incredible freedom to do so much, without bothering about relationships or meaning. But after a few years of this, our delight diminishes as we find ourselves lonely among the things and bored with our freedom.

Our first response is to get more of what brought us delight in the first place: acquire more things, generate more activity. Get more. Do more. After a few years of this, we are genuinely puzzled that we are not any better.

We North Americans have been doing this for well over a century now, and we have succeeded in producing a culture that is reduced to thing and function. And we all seem to be surprised that this magnificent achievement of secularism—all these things! All these activities!—has produced an epidemic of loneliness and boredom. We are surprised to find ourselves lonely behind the wheel of a BMW or bored nearly to death as we advance from one prestigious job to another.

And then, one by one, a few people begin to realize that getting more and doing more only makes the sickness worse. They realize that if it gets much worse, the culture will be dead—a thoroughly secularized culture is a corpse. The psalmist was right in his experience, “Still, when I tried to figure it out, all I got was a splitting headache…until I entered the sanctuary of God, then I saw the whole picture: The slippery road you’ve put them on, with a final crash in a ditch of delusions” (Psalm 73:16-18).

I believe there is plenty of food for thought for you this weekend. When you enjoy all the convenience of things in this culture, hope you think about the meaning and purpose behind all these. How do these things help you accomplish the purpose of your life on earth, or what God intended for you to live on earth as salt and light? Have a fruitful long weekend to rest in the Lord…

Love you in Him,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Devotional 020910

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. I was saddened by the sudden passing of a beloved sister in Christ, who was killed in a hid and run traffic accident yesterday. Joyce Lau was a caring and active member of our church. She volunteered her retirement time to serve in our senior citizens’ fellowship and among the new immigrants in Chinatown. She will be remembered as a very caring and sincere sister in Christ. Yes, it is a tragic loss to her family and us, but she left a legacy of a committed Christian life – Joyce had made a difference in many people’s life ever since her life was impacted by the love of Christ. This incidence reminds me once again that life is so fragile and short. I need to treasure the time to love and serve God while I am still alive and alert. Indeed, my dear brothers and sisters, don’t give yourself excuse to put off another day or to procrastinate in your pursuit of the commissioning from God.

Everyday is a gift and a bonus – something we do not deserve. Our Creator God wants us to invest our lives to maximize the potentials that He has vested in us. Each one of us is a steward of God’s given resources. God expects us to invest those resources even though it may involve risk. Jesus wants His followers to calculate their cost to follow Him. Yes, following Christ involves risks – risk of our complacency, our time and money etc. But comparing with the eternal blessings to come, those risk and cost are nothing. Apostle Paul was a smart teacher. He knew what it took to follow Christ. He gave up his fame and social acceptance as a religious leader in Jerusalem for the sake of Christ. It might sound like he was giving up a lot to follow Jesus. But to him, it was nothing in comparing to what Christ has given up for him and us. Paul said, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my LORD, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). I don’t want to regret for not spending my time wisely when opportunity is no longer available for me to serve Christ and live for Him.

Love you in Him,