Newsletter July, 2004



July, 2004

Sharing on Florida Summer Retreat

Abraham Wang: My wife and I were blessed to have attended the summer retreat at Lake Yale. I would like to share on what moved me most.

First of all, the retreat makes me ponder how a faithful Christian should live. Many a time we are satisfied that we have Jesus and simply enjoy this great joy by ourselves at home. We feel quite special because God has separated us from the world and are hence proud of ourselves wherever we go. However, a true Christian's life is to carry the cross and follow Jesus. We are the branches of the vine. Not only should we bear fruits in our own spiritual growth, but we should also be God's vessels to preach the good news so others may also bear fruits. Therefore, a critical part of Christian life is to serve God, to preach the gospel, to minister, to teach, or to serve in many possible ways in church. 

Second, we should be ready to suffer as we follow Christ. We have seen how brothers and sisters in China are suffering persecutions from the documentary film "The Cross - Jesus in China". In fact, true Christians may face persecutions even in a Christian country like America. When we reproach homosexuality, people may say that we are trampling upon human rights. When we want to read the Bible or talk about Christ in schools, we are forbidden. Even our "old selves" may also persecute us spiritually from time to time. When we try to do what is right and good, our own weakness may prevent it (Roman 7:18). Persecution may fall on those who persistently preach the gospel and glorify Christ. Therefore, we need courage and determination in following Christ. We can't help but marvel at those who have victories over sufferings and glow with the glory of Christ. Both Livingstone and his wife gave their lives to Africa. People identified his body by the teeth mark left by a lion. We wonder what power had strengthened his faith till the end when he prayed at his death bed. We can hardly understand how Brother Wang Mingdao could walk back to jail for twenty years after eight years of spiritual failing. We ask why Paul was fearless before he was beheaded. We also want to know why Peter changed and requested to be crucified upside down after he denied Christ three times out of fear. 

These questions bring us to my third point. How can we bear the sufferings of the cross? The answer is that we should give our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1). A great minister once said, "You won't understand the will of God until you are fully submitted to Him. Once you do submit yourself totally, He will show you the way." We know that our Lord wants us to purge ourselves from evil to become honorable and sanctified vessels fit for the master's use. This is the true meaning of following Christ. I love the example once shared by a brother. A bamboo cannot become a useful vessel bringing the living water to the thirsty unless its branches are cut off and its body is emptied first. Once we fully submit ourselves in like manner, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38). Only through such self-sacrifice can we become useful. Having fully submitted to the Lord, we will no longer be afraid to labor for our Lord when we are called to serve whether in hyena-abundant Africa, curry-floating India, or Mongolia where it is extremely hot in the day and extremely cold at night. We have nothing to fear, because the Bible tells us, the "sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night" (Psalms 121:6). Thank God for making us a chosen nation and a royal priesthood. If we are willing to fully submit to God, we can have victory in following Christ. 

Finally, I'd like to share a beautiful hymn as an encouragement for us all: "Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou art the Potter; I am the clay. Mould me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still."

Yang Gao: I am grateful for this opportunity to share my thoughts about the retreat. I am a new comer here. The kindness of everyone in the church greatly warms the heart of students like me who have come to study overseas. We are like members of a big family. 

The "self-sacrifice" that Yuan Zhiming talk about was like the verses in a Chinese poem, "a silkworm gives away silk until it expires; a candle gives out light until it dries." A drop of water in the sea lasts longer than a drop of water on the table or carpet. The latter dries up quickly and is good for nothing. Likewise, we should submit ourselves to our Lord to become useful. We are only servants who help tend a portion of boundless assets of our Lord. All that we have - our career, our family and our possessions - belongs to our Lord. We should learn to take care of it all for our Lord.

He also cited an analogy by Rabindranath Tagore (a famous Indian Christian poet) about the precious truth of Christianity: a beggar met the King of kings on the roadside and asked the King, "What can you give me?" However, the King asked him the same question, "What can you give me?" The beggar was bewildered and gave the King a piece of grain out of his pocket. He thought to himself how the King who has everything could ask for something from a man having nothing. The King of kings refers to God while the beggar denotes us. When the beggar went back home, he found a piece of gold in the same size and form of the grain given to the King. Immediately, he regretted not having given all that he had to the King. The meaning of this analogy may be hard for non-Christians to understand. However, it is very enlightening and meaningful explanation of self-sacrifice.

Grace Kang: Brother Yuan mentioned a few quite interesting parables: First, the path of a man's life to God is like the path of moving ants to us. Without moving, we can easily see the whole path the ants are to take. However, all the ants can see is a short distance ahead of them. They have no idea of what is laying before them. It happened that there was a fire burning on the other end of the path. Because a man wanted to save the ants from the fire, he blocked their way after some of them had passed by. The ants at the back found that their way had been blocked. They started to complain about having to take more time because of the detour. When these ants walked around the blockade, the fire had died out. The saved ants complained about their unfair experience without knowing that the blockade was for their own good. This parable reminds us of the times in our lives when we suffer difficulties and pain, not knowing God allows them to occur for our own benefit. If the ants had known that their difficulty came from a man's love, they wouldn't have complained at all. As Christians, we know that God loves us and is with us under all circumstances, so we should not complain about difficulties either.

Second, Brother Yuan once bought a new house, which brought great joy to his whole family. One day, he noticed a group of ants inside the house. Because he had mercy on these ants, he decided not to kill them. Instead, he sealed all possible paths the ants could take to get in. However, the ants still found other ways to come inside the house. After a great deal of consideration, he decided that the only way out was for him to become an ant to tell the ants about the rules of house's owner. He wanted to tell the ants that they should pass the narrow gate but not the broad way that leads to destruction, even though many ants are passing through the broad gate. However, the gate to eternity is narrow, so few ants can find it. He would also say, "When you see me, you see a man. I am a man but not an ant." Unfortunately, the ants did not buy it, " You are only an ant. How could you call yourself man?" Another group of ants shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Thus, this ant was nailed to the cross. However, three days later, the ant rose again as a man. This is a very lively parable because we are as small as ants in the eyes of God. Because we have no way of understanding the will of God, He had to become a man and proclaim His will to us. 

Third, if we are caught in a muddy swamp, we cannot grasp our own hair in order to lift ourselves out of the mire. Only an external help can get us out of the dirt. God has shown the way toward eternal life through His Son. Only through our faith in God could we be saved from our dying bodies.

This retreat has been so helpful that it lifted much burden from my heart. I have just graduated and am now facing the difficult decision between finding a job and having more education. I have a scholarship from a university in Chicago. But four more years in academia seem too long for me. Besides, I do not like to leave my friends here, so I prefer to find a job here if possible. Even though I am sure that God will be with me wherever I go, my heart has been struggling painfully. The university is pushing me to file my I-20 so I have to find a job within a month in order to stay here. However, the trouble is that to find a job within such a short time almost seems impossible. When I came back from the retreat, I was still unsure about whether I should let go of my scholarship. I fasted for a whole day on Monday to seek for God's guidance. God made me reflect on Brother Yuan's advice about fully putting ourselves in the hands of God. I finally calmed down with the understanding that God would be with me either way and that He will keep me wherever I go. Even though I am still not sure whether I will continue with study or go to work, I have totally surrendered the decision to God such that I have great peace and happiness. Praise God!

Bing Chen: Brother Yuan's advice about "self-sacrifice" also moved me most. He also mentioned that it could be difficult to totally lay ourselves in God's hand because we would not die easily when we tried to nail our old selves to the cross.

I have been quite weak spiritually since I accepted Christ two years ago. Even though I know that Christ is the Master and we, as servants, should submit fully to Him, I am not really submitting myself completely in my daily life. For example, I always read the Bible only when I have finished all other things and when I am too exhausted to concentrate. Without effective Scripture reading, we cannot obtain the power, the comfort, and the revelation from God and little change is realized in our lives. I gave other activities higher priorities over reading the Bible and attending church meetings. I used to attend a Bible study in Brother Ting's house this past spring. In mid-April, I was about to take the final exam. Being afraid of not well prepared, I made an appointment with a classmate to study together in the lab. I called Brother Ting at six pm to tell him that I could not attend the Bible study because of the exam. Brother Ting said, "Fine." I didn't know what to say. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to say either "Thank you" or "Sorry". Thus, I simply hang up, but I felt really bad. I arrived at the lab at eight, but the classmate never showed up that night. The next day, he emailed me telling me that he forgot about our appointment. I felt very terrible that night. I guess it was a punishment from God.

Many people are great in putting Christ as the first priority in their lives. Some people file the priority list in this order: God first, wife the second, and himself the last. But a preacher once said, "The Lord should be our whole life for all that we have." I am sharing this because it has touched me. May God have mercy on us and be with us!

David Shen: How can we fully submit ourselves? The cross has accomplished three things: our old selves are nailed on the cross; our sins are forgiven because of the blood of Christ; we will have victory over of the power of sin. Self-denial means the death of our old selves. Brother Yuan used many examples. For instance, if a man were already dead, how would he respond to irritating things? Would a dead man still have worries? The answer is no. Therefore, we should ask ourselves how we would respond if we were already dead when we face difficulties, sin or temptations from the enemy. Many problems are solved and many struggles over because dead men do not struggle. We are dead to these things when we submitted all including our lives to God. Our Lord Jesus died on the cross and rose up again on the third day. Therefore, we died with our Lord and are living for Him today. This is the key to full submission to God.

Ray Han: I have learned quite a lot from this retreat. What impressed me the most was that Brother Yuan felt that he learned much more back in China than he could preach, even with a seminary degree from the U.S. He found out that unlike Christians in America, Christians in China have much better testimony before Christ and before men in face of difficulties and persecutions. They consider each detainment a new training opportunity to grow stronger in faith. Therefore, they spend their time in jail joyfully just as shown in the documentary film "The Cross - Jesus in China". Across the country and in highways and byways, God has shown the Chinese people His merciful love with His presence, and called millions to follow Him with faith. May Christians everywhere be united in the love of God. May God strengthen our faith so we have hope for a brighter future!

Jian Ping Wong: In the first session of the retreat, Brother Yuan talked about Jesus as the Word that became flesh, and about science. Chinese people used to think that science was the answer to everything. Chinese also know that there is God, but are not sure who the true God is. Such a lack of knowledge leads people to the worship of unknown God with their own ways. The development in science has humbled many scientists and helped them realize that there is an immeasurable God behind all sciences. Till now, no one knows the foundation of the world. Besides, scientific research and observations are all done within time and space. Therefore, people's thought and understanding are always limited by time and space. Men live in a visible world with no knowledge of the invisible and immeasurable universe that has existed for a long time. For example, any visible programmed action of a computer is formed only because the programmer has worked out an invisible plan in his mind. Likewise, before everything in the universe was created, God already had the wisdom and power to create it all. Men cannot reach God through the use of a spaceship as God is beyond time and space. Men search for knowledge but know little because men's wisdom is limited. Men search for goodness but find none because everyone has sinned. Men search for everlasting life but everyone is doomed to die. Though no one desires death, all must die. Men have the desire to search for perfection, but there is no perfection except God Himself. To reach these goals, we need to pursue heavenly things as shown in the Bible.

Men are never satisfied even when the physical body is pleased. A man may be willing to do good things when he is in a good mood. The same man may become worse than animals when his heart is hardened. Man is a spiritual creature as God gave us His spirit when He created us. Christians who believe in God should love one another and should even love people who may hate them.

God is the one who can descend on earth and still be in heaven. How can a man know God who is beyond his own dimension? Jesus said, "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" Brother Yuan illustrated this point with the difference between ants and man (see Kang's sharing above). Jesus has come for us and is preparing a place for us to go in the future. He said that He came from God to tell us what God wanted us to know. Therefore, we can only know God's will through Jesus.