Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Devotional 201010

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Hope you have a great start for the day despite of cloudy weather! A pastor was once asked by a new Christian, “I know Jesus is in Church on Sunday, but where is Jesus on Monday? Is he remaining in church or He is back to heaven?” It may sound like a childish question. But if you meditate on it a little bit more, it could be a very profound question to contemplate. Does Jesus go to work, school or doing house chores with us on Monday? A lot of Christians prefer Jesus to stay in church on Monday than going to work or wherever with them. But Jesus prefers to go with His people wherever they may be – for the sake of growing them to become light and salt of this world. How would you perform differently by knowing that Jesus works with you today?

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:12-14). It is in the nature of what God is doing in us that we grow. But this “naturalness” does not mean that growth is painless. Growth calls into action new parts of our minds, our emotions, our bodies. What we experience at these times often feels like pain. We are not used to stretching ourselves in these ways. But the pain should not surprise us—our muscles ache when we take up any new activity. Athletes expect to get sore muscles when they begin training. A commitment to Christ and obedience to his commands stretch us beyond ourselves, and that hurts. But this is a very different pain from that inflicted by torture or punishment. Growth pain is the kind we don’t regret; it leads to health and not disease or neurosis.

The problem with most of us was to avoid pain or any uncomfortable feelings. We therefore shy away from doing exercise, which causes problem to our body eventually. The author of Hebrews made it very clear to us. We need to grow in Him. We need to stretch our faith or apply our faith to action. People compare faith with muscle – the more you use or exercise your muscle, the stronger it will grow. In the same token, the more you exercise your faith, the stronger your faith will become. And we will become mature believers who can discern the will of God in our lives.

Eugene Peterson did not advice using introspection for our spiritual growth. The spiritual masters in our faith consistently discourage introspection. Growth takes place in quietness, in hidden ways, in silence and solitude. The process is not accessible to observation. Constantly taking our spiritual temperature is bad for our health. When we are introspective about our growth, what we are actually doing is examining our feelings—and feelings are notorious liars, especially in matters of faith.

Attentiveness to spiritual growth that does not become introspectively neurotic is only accomplished by participation in a worshiping community. Healthy spiritual growth requires the presence of the other—the brother, the sister, the pastor, the teacher. A private, proudly isolated life cannot grow. The two or three who gather together in Christ’s name keep each other sane. The Bible said, “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world” (James 1:27 The Message). We need Christian community to nurture our faith, because only in and through which our faith and love will be stretched and we will really grow to become a Christ-like person. It is through the community of faith that we understand what agape love is all about. Have mercy on introverted persons like me, O Lord. Help us participate in a worshiping community to nurture our spiritual growth in you…

With Love in growing process,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Devotional 191010

Dear brothers and sisters,
Thanks for your prayer for my preaching trip to New York. It was a fruitful experience of seeing God’s work in a very mission-minded church. This church is a growing church with clear focus on the Kingdom of God worldwide. All the pastoral staff and key leaders of the church commit to evangelize both locally and globally. I thanked God for giving me the opportunity to learn from this church in how to mobilize a big congregation for world missions. God cares for the well being of all nations. He loves all those whom He created according to His own image.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8)

Prayer is an orienting act. We begin to discover who we are when we realize where we are. Disorientation is a terrible experience. If we cannot locate our place, we are in confusion and anxiety. We are also in danger, for we are apt to act inappropriately. If we are among enemies and don’t know it, we may lose our life. If we are among friends and don’t know it, we may miss good relationships. If we are alongside a cliff and don’t know it, we may lose our footing. While praying Psalm 8, we find out where we are and some important aspects of who we are.

We are the children of God who were appointed to manage the planet earth for His glory. God gives us ability to interact with the Creator God and the creativity to manage this beautiful world. But when we lost the orientation of why we are here, we failed to fulfill our calling and miss the blessings that God intended for us to have. We did not use our capability to interact with the Creator God, and we abuse the creativity for our own selfish gain. As a result, we bring curse to the Nature, we abuse the earth and we suffered from it. Have mercy O Lord.

Alongside the basic fact that God made us good (Psalm 8) is the equally basic fact that we have gone wrong. We pray our sins to get to the truth about ourselves and to find out how God treats sinners. Our experience of sin does not consist in doing some bad things but in being bad. It is a fundamental condition of our existence, not a temporary lapse into error. Praying our sin isn’t resolving not to sin anymore; it is discovering what God has resolved to do with us as sinners.

Only when we admit our sinful nature and helplessness, will we seek God’s help to resolve our problem. Self help will not lead us to God but to our self destruction. The more we focus on the greatness of God and our dependence on Him, the more we can put off the “old self” that hold us back to our sinful nature. We are totally helpless but God is totally majestic and powerful. It was the Lord who made His salvation known to us (Psalm 98:2a). In another word, it was Him who invented our salvation but not us.

The world is a fearsome place. If we manage with the help of parents, teachers and friends to survive the dangers of infancy and childhood, we find ourselves launched in an adult world that is ringed with terror—accident, assault, disease, violence, conflicts. Prayer brings fear into focus and faces it. But prayer does more than bravely face fear; it affirms God’s presence in it.

Indeed, we live in a fearful land, a spiritual battle field. Temptation is everywhere. Satan will do whatever to pull us into hell. We are helpless in fighting against the evil force around us. If we continue to rely on our own strength to deal with our enemy, we will fail. Prayer gives us the assurance that God is with us in facing our daily battle. In Him we have hope. Through Him we have strength. With Him we see His victory in our lives.

With love through prayer,

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Devotional 141010

Dear brothers and sister,
Good morning. I am heading to airport for New York at around noon. Pray that I will witness His work in the life of the community where He ordained me to serve. This is a distinct honor to be in His service. And this is a humbling experience to see God at work through an unworthy and inadequate person like me. Your prayer for me is greatly appreciated. Pray that people are motivated to participate in His Kingdom dream.

It is both natural and appropriate to be excited about a person’s conversion. It is the most significant event in life—to be born anew, to be a new creature in Christ. But that significance and the excitement accompanying it do not excuse ignorance and indifference to the complex process of growth into which every Christian is launched via this new birth. Because growth involves so much—so much detail, so much time, so much discipline and patience—it is common to dismiss it and turn our attention to something we can get quick handle on: the conversion event. Evangelism crowds spirituality off the agenda. But having babies is not a vocation; parenting is. It is easier, of course, to have babies. But a church that refuses or neglects the long, intricate, hard work of guiding its newborn creatures into adulthood is being negligent of most of what is in Scripture.

The Bible is full of references to growth and growing. Luke, for example, describes both Jesus and John as growing. John “grew and became strong in spirit” (1:80), and Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (2:52). The word grew is the last word on both John and Jesus before their public ministries are narrated. Both the greatest of the prophets and the unique Messiah grew into the fullness of their ministries.

The apostle Paul used growth words frequently as he urged people to enter into the full implications of their life in the Spirit. When we become mature in the faith, he said, “we will no longer be infants…but we will in all things grow up into him who is the lead, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:14, 15). “Your faith is growing note and more” is his commendation to the church at Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

Peter urged believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Comparing them to newborn babies, he said, “Crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you nay grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

Growth is the basic metaphor in several parables that involve us in participation in the kingdom. The most dramatically placed growth image is at the center of the Gospel of John (12:24). Jesus said that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it does not grow, but if it dies, it grows. Growth is a major concern of John’s Gospel—maturing into everything that God does in Christ, gathering all the parts of our lives and all the details of Jesus’ life into a single whole. John arranges his Gospel into two almost equal parts: this growth image in 12:24 is the hinge that holds the two halves together.

[Jesus said,] “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, its sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal” (John 12:24-25). It takes a life time to realize this goal of dying to the world. Our ego always gets in the way for our growth. Not only do the new converts have this problem, even mature Christians are battling with this process of putting to death our “old self” on a daily basis. Being a minister of the Gospel, we have nothing to boast as though we are better than those young in faith. We are as vulnerable if not more to temptations. Pray that we will all be alert at all times, and hold each other accountable to bury our “grain” for the sake of growing a new life from it. Hope you find time to re-examine your lives during this weekend.

With love through Christ,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Devotional 121010

Dear brothers and sister,
Good afternoon. What a hot day in October! After running some errands and attending a meeting before lunch, I hardly slowed down for meditation without falling asleep. But I need time to recharge myself, otherwise, I will be running low on spiritual energy. Tomorrow is a clean up day in my office. It will be a day for work out – I hope I will not be too tired for my preaching trip to New York the day after. Pray that it is a bonding time for our team in truly working on a common project together. I look forward to this exercise day.

We are only capable of renouncing a false life when we are familiar with a real life. Those years of association with Jesus for the disciples, years of “growing up,” were years of realizing in sharp and precise detail that life is what God gives us in Jesus: grace, healing, forgiveness, deliverance from evil, a miraculous meal, the persona presence and word of God. And now that they know what it is, they know it is not self-preservation, self-help, self-aggrandizement, self importance. Life is the Jesus-revealed life that becomes plain as day in the cross—the sacrificial life, the life that loves generously and extravagantly, the life that through voluntary and sacrificial death to self becomes resurrection for the world. So—“deny yourself and take up your cross.”

Renunciation clears out the clutter of self, of false spiritualities, of pseudo-life so that there is room in us for God and true spirituality and eternal life. Not infrequently in dealing with these matters of intense and precious and endangered spirituality in our youth, we parents in a shock of recognition see that our spirituality is in question: we have let a busy life substitute for a spiritual life, and a responsible life replace a responsive life. Sometimes, to our surprise, we realize that pseudo spiritualities have turned into addictions that are destroying our inner life, robbing us of freedom, leaving us flatfooted and tuneless in our midlife. When that happens the adolescent in our home very often is in a position to do John the Baptist work for us as a “prophet of the Most High” (Luke 1:76) and make us aware of the presence and glory of Jesus. We’re given a second chance to cultivate the resonant depths of soul that make it possible to both “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Indeed, God used our children to humble us – to make us aware of our inadequacy, and make us depend on Him even more. Our adolescence children frequently removed our pseudo-life and make us naked before the Almighty God in begging for mercy. Yes, how much do we need to grow up and be real to ourselves – but we need to recognize our pseudo-self before we can truly renounce it. Otherwise, our true “old self” is still safely preserved behind our false holiness and superficial spirituality. Have mercy on us O Lord!

With love in Him,

Monday, October 11, 2010

Devotional 111010

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. The weather is extremely beautiful. I am thankful for such treat when I am in home base. It is indeed a good feeling to be home for more than a week and with such good weather – what a bonus! God intended for us to enjoy life in accordance to His original plan for mankind. If we obey His design for us, we will be truly blessed. Unfortunately, our rebellious nature gets in the way. Our soul detours us from the great plan of God for our lives….we suffer and groan without knowing why. We even demand God for an answer of our suffering. As a result we live in our own bitterness and rebellion – our little self-centered world. Have mercy on us O Lord!!!

Poetry is language used with intensity. It is not, as so many suppose, decorative speech. Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us. Poets use words to drag us into the depths of reality itself, not by reporting on how life is, but by pushing-pulling us into the middle of it. Poetry gets at the heart of existence. Far from being cosmetic language, it is intestinal. It is root language. Poetry doesn’t so much tell us something we never knew as bring into recognition what was latent or forgotten or overlooked. The Psalms are almost entirely this kind of language. Knowing this, we will not be looking primarily for ideas about God in the Psalms or for direction in moral conduct. We will expect, rather, to find exposed and sharpened what it means to be human beings before God.

Prayer is language used in relation to God. It gives utterance to what we sense or want or respond to before God. God speaks to us; our answers are our prayers. The answers are not always articulate. Silence, sighs, groaning—these also constitute responses. But always God is involved, whether in darkness or light, whether in faith or despair. This is hard to get used to. Our habit is to talk about God, not to him. We love discussing God. But the Psalms resist such discussions. They are provided not to teach us about God but to train us in responding to him. We don’t learn the Psalms until we are praying them.

I totally agree with Peterson that we always like to talk about God but not to God. Only if we are aware of what and who we are before God, we will not be able to live a full abundant life in Him. God intended for us to live an enjoyable life. We just need to recognize who we are and who God is before we can enter into this beautiful communion with our Creator – just like the good old days in the Garden of Eden, where the Creator had daily communion with His creatures – Adam and Eve. Deep down inside, our soul desires this kind of communion because it is the ultimate void within us.

With love in Christ,

Friday, October 8, 2010

Devotional 081010

Dear brothers and sisters,

Good morning. It makes me feel so good to have a whole week at home. I treasure the time at home or in office more than at the lounge in airport. Praise God for giving me this ministry to mobilize churches for global missions in wherever God wants me to go. I am thankful to be at home as much as being on the road for His Kingdom’s sake. This is a gift from above that I can still travel and fall asleep on new bed wherever I go. I appreciate how Eugene Peterson caught so much insight from Psalm 131 in his meditation. I am sure his message is from God at all time, but we are simply too busy to listen when we study our bible.

My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore (Psalm 131).

Our lives are only lived well when they are lived in terms of their creation, with God loving and we being loved, with God making and we being made, with God revealing and we understanding, with God commanding and we responding. Being a Christian means accepting the terms of creation, accepting God as our maker and redeemer, and growing day by day into an increasingly glorious creature in Christ, developing joy, experiencing love, maturing in peace. By the grace of Christ we experience the marvel of being made in the image of God. If we reject this way the only alternative is to attempt the hopelessly fourth-rate, embarrassingly awkward imitation of God made in the image of man.

Many who have traveled this way of faith have described the transition from an infantile faith that grabs at God out of desperation to a mature faith that responds to God out of love … as content as a child that has been weaned.” Often our conscious Christian lives do begin at points of desperation, and God, of course, does not refuse to meet our needs. There are heavenly comforts that break through our despair and persuade us that “all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” The early stages of Christian belief are not infrequently marked with miraculous signs and exhilarations of spirit. But as discipleship continues the sensible comforts gradually disappear. For God does not want us neurotically dependent upon him but willingly trustful in him. And so he weans us. The period of infancy will not be sentimentally extended beyond what is necessary. The time of weaning is very often noisy and marked with misunderstandings: “I no longer feel like I did when I was first a Christian. Does that mean I am no longer a Christian? Has God abandoned me? Have I done something terribly wrong?”

The answer is, “Neither: God hasn’t abandoned you, and you haven’t done anything wrong. You are being weaned; the apron strings have been cut. You are free to come to God or not come to Him. You are, in a sense, on your own with an open invitation to listen and receive and enjoy our Lord.”

The last line of the psalm addresses this quality of newly acquired freedom: “O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.” Choose to be with him; elect his presence; aspire to his ways; respond to his love. This is the expression of a mature child of God. We don’t crave for God’s constant attention. We love and enjoy His presence at all time. We have confidence or security that He is a faithful God who will never forsake us. Whether we “feel” His presence or not, we know He is always here for us. Earthly kingdom may change and economy may collapse but He remains in reign forever. This is the kind of hope we have in Him that can make a difference in our daily encountering with our world and the people around us. It should be our joy to see God’s name be glorified in and through our lives! Amen? Have a blessed weekend.

With love for His glory,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Devotional 071010

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Thanks for your prayer for my final comprehensive exam. My professors were very gracious (each professor graded the part of exam question that he or she gave). I got an “A” from my 5 combined scores!! It means I can move on to begin my dissertation project now. This is like the last leg of my academic program. I need to submit my paper by the end of this year if I want to graduate next year…Pray that the Lord will grant me enough strength and concentration to finish this research project. Again I covet your prayer for me. Please intercede on my behalf….thanks!

It is difficult to recognize pride as a sin when it is held up on every side as a virtue, urged as profitable, and rewarded as an achievement. What is described in Scripture as the basic sin, the sin of taking things into our own hands, being our own god, grabbing what is there while you can get it, is now described as basic wisdom: improve yourself by whatever means you are able; get ahead regardless of the price; take care of me first. For a limited time it works. But at the end the devil has his due. There is damnation. Apostle Paul said, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).

It is additionally difficult to recognize unruly ambition as a sin because it has a kind of superficial relationship to the virtue of aspiration—an impatience with mediocrity, and a dissatisfaction with all things created until we are at home with the Creator, the hopeful striving for the best God has for us—the kind of thing Paul expressed: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). But if we take the energies that make for aspiration and remove God from the picture, replacing him with our own crudely sketched self-portrait, we end up with ugly arrogance. Ambition is aspiration gone crazy. Aspiration is the channeled, creative energy that moves us to growth in Christ, shaping goals in the Spirit. Ambition takes these same energies for growth and development and uses them to make something flashy and cheap, sweatily knocking together a Babel when we could be vacationing in Eden.

Eugene Peterson helps surface the hidden pride that we may not be aware of in life. It hides behind the “good character” that we want people to see. Only when we take time to carefully examine our souls on a regular basis, we cannot recognize the sins that held us back from our freedom to serve God. That’s why we need to draw close to God in order to allow the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to see our hidden problem. I don’t think any woman will do make up on their face without turning on the light. The more clearly you want to see, the brighter light you need. Let the best make up artist, our Holy Spirit, improves your look each day. But you need to walk into the light of His presence.

With love in His presence,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Devotional 061010

Dear brothers and sisters,
Thanks for praying for my comprehensive examination yesterday. I felt so peaceful and enjoyable to spend 10 hours at home to answer 5 big questions. I could tell somebody must be praying for me…10 hours went very smoothly. Yes, I have to budget my time well in answering all 5 questions. No, I wished I had more time to do a better job. Anyway, I have done my part. I leave it to the Lord to do His part, so that I know what to do next in life. I covet your prayer for my last phase of this study – 3 course assignments and one big dissertation to finish before the end of this year….At the meantime, I still need to preach in different places until Thanksgiving: New York, North Carolina, Brazil and Philippines.

My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore (Psalm 131). Psalm 131 is a maintenance psalm. It is functional to the person of faith as pruning is functional to the gardener: it gets rid of that which looks good to those who don’t know any better and reduces the distance between our hearts and their roots in God.

The two things that Psalm 131 prunes away are unruly ambition and infantile dependency, what we might call getting too big for our breeches and refusing to cut the apron strings. Both of these tendencies can easily be supposed to be virtues, especially by those who are not conversant with Christian ways. If we are not careful, we will be encouraging the very things that will ruin us. We are in special and constant need of correction. We need pruning. Jesus said, “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2). More than once our Lord the Spirit has used Psalm 131 to do this important work among his people. As we gain a familiarity with an understanding of the psalm, he will be able to use it that way with us “that we may bear more fruit.’

Jesus said, “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every ranch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken” (John 15:1-2). Since we are part of Christ, we are expected to bear fruits. And the way to bear fruits involves trimming or pruning – take away all the extravagant leaves and branches, so that all the nutrition will go to fruit bearing. This is priority setting and life-purpose checking. Don’t busy yourself in doing a lot of good “stuff,” instead of the most important stuff in life. It is time to trim your calendar and reserve more time to serve God.

With love in Christ,

Monday, October 4, 2010

Devotional 041010

Dear brothers and sisters,
Thanks for your prayer for my preaching trip in Vancouver, Canada. It was a blessing to witness God’s work in His church. I thank God for this healthy missional church. God is motivating young people in this church for missions, and many adults are faithful in answering God’s call to serve Him in whatever capacity. Pray that God will bring to completion the good work that He has started in this congregation, so that they can become the channel of His blessings to their community.

The world of religion generates a huge market for meeting all the needs that didn’t get met in the shopping mall. Pastors are conspicuous in this religious marketplace and are expected to come up with the products that give customer satisfaction. Since the needs seem legitimate enough, we easily slip into the routines of merchandising moral advice and religious comfort. Before long we find that we are program directors in flourishing business. We spend our time figuring out ways to attractively display god-products. We become skilled at pleasing the customers. Before we realize what has happened, the mystery and love and majesty of God, to say nothing of the tender and delicate subtleties of souls, are obliterated by the noise and frenzy of the religious marketplace.

But then who is there who will say the name of God in such a way that the community can see Him for who He is, our towering Lord and Savior, and not the packaged and priced version that meets our consumer needs? And who is there with the time to stand with men and women, adults and children in the places of confusion and blessing, darkness and light, hurt and healing long enough to discern the glory and salvation being worked out behind the scenes, under the surface. If we all get caught up in running the store or the program of the church, who will serve as the pastor?

This happened to the first church in Acts. The Bible said, “The Twelve called a meeting of the disciples. They said, “It wouldn’t be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor. So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy spirit and good sense, and we’ll assign them this task. Meanwhile, we’ll stick to our assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God’s Word” (Acts 6:2-4). We need pastors in this world of consumerism to remain watchful for the well being of the flock, instead of busying themselves in entertaining the flock. Have mercy on your church O Lord. It is definitely not an easy task. We need to pray for our pastors, who will spend time listening to the Great Shepherd in knowing how to lead their flock with spiritual boldness from above. And we also need to pray for congregation who will encourage their pastors in focusing on prayer and preaching God’s Word.

With love in Him,