Example 

~~MTS-3895
Example
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”           Phil 4:9

I tend to forget who I am when I get into a jolly mood and often say whatever comes into my mind. I guess we can describe this kind of phenomenon with this Chinese phrase- 得意忘形, which describes someone who forgets all decorum when he is in a euphoric state. I don’t think the apostle had such a problem; otherwise he wouldn’t have been so confident that he urged the disciples to emulate him in his words and actions.
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” This is something I will never say to anyone, realizing that I have often faltered in my teaching and action, and there is a lot of inconsistency in my Christian walk. I prefer people to look away from me, not look at me, for there is no beauty or redeeming value in me for others to imitate. I can only hide in the shadow of his wings and point to the light, not necessarily with my actions, but with my words. I may not do right all the time, but whatever I try to teach is mostly right. I think I have put more effort in guarding my teaching than my practice over the years. In fact, I don’t really mind telling people to put what I have taught them into practice, but telling them to do what they have seen in me is entirely different. I will be thoroughly exposed if I dare to make such a command.
I obviously believe in the omnipresence of God, yet in real life I have often acted like the Lord isn’t present in my life; I also believe in the omnipotence of God, yet I have often behaved as if he is unable to help me in time of great difficulty. How can I, a man of little faith, ask people to emulate me? I have rarely mis-taught as far as I can tell, but surely I have often misled by my lack of courage and faith.
The chasm between us and the apostle in our practices as God’s servants can never be bridged.
 My honesty in self-assessment might again have made some people feel uncomfortable. But fortunately the Lord has never asked me to lift myself up as a shining example for people to behold or to emulate. Even the very apostle who asked people to imitate him unequivocally stated elsewhere that he preferred to boast about his weaknesses, for he stated; “for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Come to think of it, Paul was by no means perfect, for he was flesh and blood like all of us, yet he had the courage to make such a statement, because he had done his best to maintain a clear conscience before God and men and there was very little in his faith and practice for which he had to apologize. I pray that I may get to the point someday when I will be able to encourage people to emulate my teaching and action without having to make apology for it. 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, January 30, 2015 7:18:00 AM Categories: Devotional

EXcellent and Praiseworthy 

~~MTS-3894
Excellent and Praiseworthy
“…whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”          Phil 4:8

“As soon as God becomes real, other people become shadows,” wrote Oswald Chambers in one of his devotionals. “Nothing that other saints do or say can ever perturb the one who is built on God,” he continued, defining the previous statement.
“Other people have become shadows,” I said to my wife, in a fit of depression.
“Just make sure that God is real to you,” she replied, sort of tongue in cheek. What Kathy said in passing did make me think a little bit about my mindset at the time.
If what I have been doing in the ministry has been praiseworthy, why hasn’t any praise fallen on my way? I guess I was wondering about this. Just when I was feeling a little self-pity about the whole thing as I was doing the dishes the other day, the Lord seemed to be speaking to me through the Bible reading I was listening to: “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.”
Wait, you have gone too far, I said to myself. I am no prophet and, besides, the Lord was referring to himself in the context of his discourse. Who do I think I am? What have I done over the years that has been excellent or praiseworthy?” I guess I opened a can of worm by feeling self-pity or by asking this probing question. Better lay low and be humble, so that I won’t be exposed.
Being excellent in all aspects, spiritual or otherwise, just isn’t my cup of tea and receiving praise from both above and below is merely a pipe dream. I should be more than thankful for what the Lord has endowed me with, and that he considered me worthy to do what he has called me to do.
Even so, I can still entertain the thought of becoming more excellent in God’s sight and working on becoming more honored and praiseworthy, can’t I?
“You have changed as a Christian over the years,” my wife was trying to be more positive.
“Not so,” I replied tersely. In fact, my love for God seems to have decreased compared to what it was as a new believer thirty years ago. The first love for Christ seems to have gone, and what’s remaining in my heart is a lot of self-loathing and doubt.
“…whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” This verse is indeed redemptive, since my longing to be excellent and praiseworthy is still present, even though in reality I am not trying or have failed to achieve it. If I had attained my goal, there wouldn’t be any more work to be done in me and I would be finished, literally.        

 
 
 

 

   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, January 29, 2015 6:30:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Lovely 

~~MTS-3892
Lovely
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…think about such things”
                Phil 4:8

We love lovely things without thinking much about their loveliness. We, in fact, are drawn to them instinctively and it’s effortless to have affection for them. We will probably have a hard time giving an explanation of our love for them; we just do.
Most of the loveliness we have come to adore are natural things, void of any artificial adornment or make-over. In general, natural beauty is more lovely and loveable than artificial beauty, and what God creates naturally is more adorable than what we make artificially. We all know the vast difference between the two in someone who has gone under the knife of a plastic surgeon.
We need to learn to see loveliness in seemingly unlovely things, for beauty indeed is just skin deep and, if we look beyond the skin, there is a lot of loveliness to be discovered and appreciated.
Obviously I never had my teeth straightened by braces when I was young. In fact, never a single time did I visit a dentist before I became an adult, so I have always been quite sensitive about my crooked teeth, as if nothing but my teeth were on my face. The loveliness in a person will be missing if we only focus on the part, not the whole, and we need to learn to see the whole in God’s creation. A tree branch may be slim and crooked by itself, but it’s perfect when it remains a part of a tree. I think this principle is applicable to a lot of things.
You have a “deep appearance.”  Someone made this comment about my appearance when I was a little boy. It was more an insult than a compliment, actually. It simply meant that I would become better looking if people looked at me for a long time. I suppose that we can get used to their appearance if we look at some unlovely things for a long time, but this isn’t the point I am trying to make. We should learn to “see into” God’s creatures and make a conscious effort to unveil their loveliness and beauty. 
How often do we miss the essence of things because we only focus on the outward appearance in someone and miss seeing the inner beauty for the outward loveliness.
How do we “think about such things?” you may question.
It simply means that we need to do a thorough examination concerning the way we judge what’s lovely and what’s not, and develop affection for what’s truly beautiful and reject the artificial and plastic kind of beauty. When we see the loveliness in all things, we will surely see the benevolence and creativity of their Creator. 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, January 27, 2015 6:27:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Pure 

~~ MTS-3891
Pure
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure… think about such things.”       Phil 4:8

What’s purity? What’s pure is what things are created to be, not what they appear to be or are made to be. It’s purity by creation, not by association. Things are pure in and of themselves, and whatever is added on decreases, not increases their purity.
Women without make-up are purer than the ones with it, and ladies with different “jobs” done on them are obviously not as pure as the ones without them. Whatever is original is purer than copies or copies of copies.
We have been programmed to think about things in a certain way, which is the pollution of our thinking. Our thinking has been polluted by our sins and by the customs of this world.
The way we see women differs a great deal from how Michelangelo or other accomplished artists in history perceived women. Some of us men may have been colored by our lust when we look at women, quite different from pure artists who look at women as creatures of great grace and beauty. Adam and Eve started to look at each other’s naked bodies with shame after they had fallen into sin, and they became incapable of seeing each other without some “added on” attributes. Sin has turned women from creations of beauty into objects of sex, which explains why pornography has become such a thriving industry.
Indeed the fashion business started with the first couple in the garden when they weaved for themselves something to wear with fig leaves. This kicked start the fashion industry, and from then on, humans have been mastering the art of covering and uncovering women’s bodies. I guess this kind of thing would have become something to be laughed at and mocked had we been holy and pure. Like all beauty created by God, the beauty of women has been distorted and polluted by our lust and sin so that what we behold isn’t what women are, but what we desire them to be, or fancy them to be.
Let’s move on to “think about such things.” How do we think about pure things, or rather how do we purify our thinking?
“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.” In this verse found in Psalm 119 the Psalmist has given us a perfect solution to our dilemma. “To the pure, all things are pure,” Paul wrote to young Titus. The way we purify our mind is by reading and obeying God’s words, which reveal to us the essence of all things. When all the added-on qualities and trappings invented by human imagination are stripped away, layer by layer, from all things, their true attributes will be uncovered and their purity unveiled. The Bible reveals to us what truth is, and whatever is true is pure also. 
   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, January 26, 2015 7:10:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Right 

~~MTS-3890
Right
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right…think about such things.”          Phil 4:8

Doing the right thing doesn’t always bring instant gratification, but it always pays in the long run. Avoiding doing the right thing may give us temporary relief, but it almost always comes back to haunt us.
We instinctively want to drive away when we back into another car in a parking lot, with nobody around. By driving away we may avoid an immediate consequence of our wrong doing, but the guilt of doing the wrong thing will remain with us as long as we live.
We face these kinds of choices all the time, and our tendency is to pamper our natural selves by yielding to our natural impulses and ignoring the tender voice of either the Holy Spirit or our conscience, urging us to do otherwise.
What people consider right may not always be right Biblically. This is something we should spend time thinking about and examining, and we know which route to take when the two are in disagreement with each other. Not only do we have to think about things morally, we should also think about them Biblically. A morally upright person may not necessarily be Biblically sound and acceptable.
Considering the Pharisees. Being right before men does not always equal to being right before God. Yet Paul urged his readers in Romans: “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” Doing the right thing obviously beats doing otherwise and, compared to the Pharisees, we may be falling way short in doing the right thing.
Do we always observe the Lord’s Day? Do we always give our tithes and offerings? Do we make fasting and prayer our routine practice? Do we always read and meditate on the Scriptures? If not, we have no right to mock the Pharisees and deem them hypocrites. They might have been wrongly motivated and misguided by their tradition; they nonetheless tried hard to do whatever they considered right.
Shouldn’t we devote some time to think about such things?
Doing the right thing is merely the beginning of our religion, not the end. The greatest error the Pharisees committed was to make doing the right things an end in itself, not a means to an end. The purpose of doing right is to please the Lord, and to fulfill what he has called us to do and to be. We will get no approval or reward from the Lord if we do all the right things merely to draw attention to ourselves, which was exactly what the Pharisees intended to do. We, however, should do what the Pharisees used to do with a proper motivation, which is to bring glory and honor to God by doing the right thing. 

   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, January 23, 2015 8:03:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Noble 

~~MTS-3889
Noble
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble… think about such things.”
               Phil 4:8

Whatever we enjoy thinking and doing may be a clear indication of who we really are. We are carnal if we continue to occupy our mind with things of the flesh.
Things that bring pleasure to our flesh are obviously more appealing to all of us, and they are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves. If eating becomes less and less pleasurable, we will eat a lot less, and may stop eating all together. Things that we do routinely to survive are more or less pleasurable, and the pleasure that they produce not only motivates us to do them consistently and joyfully, it also reveals to us the goodness and thoughtfulness of our Creator. So bodily things are not essentially base or unspiritual; they in fact can be ennobled through our giving thanks and praises to God while we do them. I guess that’s why we say grace before we eat every meal. 
What are the noble things that we should be thinking about?
Evidently I will continue to occupy my mind with things of the flesh, if I am merely flesh and blood. People who are made of pure material cannot go beyond material in their thinking and understanding. Indeed they may entertain themselves pondering about non-material things, such as beauty, love, and the meaning of life, but deep inside they are well aware that they are merely wasting their time thinking about those things. Those things are merely created by our fancy and perpetrated by our wishful thinking. 
The concept of nobility is man-made, void of meaning. In fact, the way people talk about meaning is meaningless, quite similar to the discussion of God since God does not exist. Atheists who seek to be completely logical in the way they conduct their lives should always be leading their lives materialistically and mechanically. The idea of nobility is nonsense at best. Human kind is just a more advanced form of life than the low form of animals in the cycle of billions of years of evolution.
The idea of nobility makes a lot of sense if we are created in the image of God, and the closer we draw near to him, the nobler we will become, and the noble things are the ones that set us apart from other creatures of God. We nonetheless share the same elements with other animals and the materials by which we are made remain basically the same, yet there is an unlimited space to roam if we rise above our flesh. We should strive to be more like Christ, for in him is the full embodiment of God’s image in which we have been created. Instead of thinking about ways to maximize our physical pleasure by abusing our bodies, we should entertain our mind with Godly things which ennoble and energize us.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
  

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, January 22, 2015 6:14:00 AM Categories: Devotional

True 

~~MTS-3888
True
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true…think about such things.”
             Phil 4:8

Paul listed six things in this verse and encouraged the believers in Corinth to occupy their hearts with the thought of those things. The first one he mentioned was “whatever is true.”
In the process of receiving our education, we have been taught to perceive reality in a certain way, and it’s awfully difficult to alter our presuppositions after they have been firmly established. There is obviously a conflict between the truth we have been taught by our elders and teachers and the truth we have received from the Bible, and it takes time and effort for us to process them and to separate the truth from the falsehood. This is a demanding task since, in order to do it right, we have to familiarize ourselves with knowledge of both the sacred and the secular, and most of us only know this knowledge on a surface level.
“Whatever comes into our mind first often takes a dominating position over all others (先入為主.”) This Chinese saying does make a lot of sense. Before we were able to think on our own, a bunch of material from the previous generation on which to base our thinking had been handed down to us; therefore our presuppositions on various truth claims basically remained the same as our predecessors. Not only do we look like our ancestors, we pretty much think like them as well.
How do we break away from our fathers and think according to what has  been inspired by God, not by what has been instructed by men? Good question, isn’t it?
Human history both reveals and covers up; it’s written by people with a certain point of view, and the same historical data can be interpreted many different ways. They may be looking at identical historical evidence from the American Civil War, yet the Rebels and the Yankees may come up with totally opposite interpretations of the same event, and the truth may lie somewhere between the two viewpoints.
The truth isn’t how humans perceive reality; it’s rather how God views things. There is no debate about it if the Author of truth has already made the final verdict on things. No matter how strongly we feel about them, it does not change the essence of them in any shape or form. If Darwinian evolution is essentially wrong, we will never be able to build a perfect case on the basis of all the evidence we have accumulated. It appears to me that we have been attempting to prove a philosophical premise with scientific data and to ruin unseen faith with seen evidence, not realizing that so much of the unseen is yet to be discovered, or may never be discovered.
As so-called intellectuals, since we spend the majority of our time and energy engaged in some sort of thinking, how crucial it is for us to truly think about “whatever is true!” I firmly believe the truth will continue to illuminate and we will become more and more convicted of its truthfulness as we spend time pondering on it. On the contrary, falsehood will continue to mystify and to mislead us, and our doubt about its validity will only increase even after more evidence is unearthed from the ground.        
 

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, January 21, 2015 6:29:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Peace of God 

~~MTS-3887
Peace of God
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”        Phil 4:7

Does the peace of God remain at our conscious level or rise above it?  This is the question that I have, since I rarely experience the peace of God consciously when I am depressed or bothered by certain issues. In theory, I am aware of the reality that the peace of God will always be there, yet in practice I am still anxious just the same, and my depression subsides only when my difficulty is removed.
Does it mean we will be free of all anxiety even when we are challenged with insurmountable problems? Does the peace of God still govern our hearts even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and our natural selves are transformed into supernatural ones? Aren’t we bound by our flesh and blood and we basically feel the same way as all flesh on earth when we are threatened with danger?
I was in fact trying to skip this verse in my meditation and move on to the next, for I didn’t think my ideas on this would be all that edifying to all, and perhaps wouldn’t be all that biblical, because my understanding of this promise would surely be colored by my melancholy temperament and my personal experience. I can’t seem to rise above my humanness and enter into the realm of faith where the peace of God reigns supreme.
Surely personal experience shouldn’t be the touchstone of biblical truth, should it? God’s eternal truth shouldn’t be nullified by the temporal experience of a few people; this verse has been proven true repeatedly over the years by millions of saints who remained peaceful and serene in the face of severe persecution and death.
The peace of God surely is on an experiential level, which may be touched and tasted, yet it may rise above it as well. We do have faith even if we are not aware of its presence on a conscious level; and by the same token, we do have peace within even though we don’t feel that way at all. Am I overstepping the bounds of human rationality since peace by definition is how we feel in reality, not what we possess in essence? Perhaps I am merely trying to make an apology for the biblical truth that I have trouble comprehending or have rarely experienced.
I may find the solution to my puzzle.
The Lord may find it utterly unnecessary to provide the kind of peace that passes understanding for the ones with little faith who are often afflicted by phantom fears and unnecessary worries, for they can easily be resolved with understanding. People who think clearly and act rationally surely have a lot less anxiety than the ones whose thinking and actions are governed by their feelings and emotions. I guess I am merely kicking against the goads by taking issue with this precious biblical promise.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


    

 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, January 16, 2015 6:38:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Every Situation 

~~MTS-3886
Every Situation
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”   Phil 4:6

The degree of severity of a given situation depends upon how we react to it. I have been startled by my wife’s overreaction to quite harmless situations many times when I drive and, I am afraid, the chance of me getting hurt in an actual wreck is probably far less than by her sudden screaming. I am not a good driver since I often get sidetracked by various things and my past driving record doesn’t seem to give my wife any assurance, yet her overreactions are often unwarranted and overblown.
“She was as calm as if she had been speaking about someone else’s illness,” Dr Keung, one of our church’s deacons, once said about a patient of his who had just found out that she had cancer. The lady wasn’t a Christian, yet the deadly disease didn’t seem to be all that threatening because of her even temperament.
“Most cancer patients are not killed by their disease; they are simply frightened to death,” a cancer specialist who survived the illness once stated. I guess there is some truth to his statement. Our physical issues may get a lot worse by our overreaction to them.
Of course I am not trying to deal with the issue I like to address the least. Our physical issues are included in the “every situation” Paul was talking about in his letter. Life presents us with challenges of many kinds, some more severe than others, and unless we react to them the right way our journey through this life will not be a pleasant one.
How do we handle difficult situations, then? Here is a perfect formula we can follow: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In this brief verse the apostle pointed out two things that we should do when adverse situations fall our way. One, there is no need for us to be anxious or frightened, since God is in control over all things and he can certainly resolve them for us. I guess my late father-in-law was right when he told us repeatedly that worry is a kind of sin, since it shows a lack of trust in God. Second, we should present our requests to God with petition and thanksgiving, which is the kind of prayer that is acceptable to God. We can be thankful, even though we may be afflicted by difficulty and hardship, knowing that nothing happens outside of our Father’s sovereign will. All will be well at the end, for we know God’s plan is not to harm us, but to ultimately prosper us and cause us to be more like Christ Jesus.
I guess I need to strive to become a better driver, but overreaction over a harmless situation on my wife’s part when I am behind the wheel is often uncalled for. Indeed we should all learn not to overreact in every situation, even when accidents actually take place.
   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, January 15, 2015 6:48:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Anxiety 

~~MTS-3885
Anxiety
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”   Phil 4:6

When something painful becomes inevitable, I always prefer to be the first one to go through it. Instead of waiting in line and witnessing the ones before me gnashing their teeth in pain when they were getting their immunization shots at grade school, I always tried to move up the line and get it over with. What causes me more anxiety than anything is not necessarily the pain I may have to experience when something awful actually takes place; it’s rather the anticipation of it that paralyzes me with dread, for the anticipated horror is many times worse than the actual occurrence.
In another word, what we often are anxious about is likely phantom pain, which is a lot worse that real pain. We can deal with real pain with drugs or other means, but there is no real treatment for phantom pain. We can either get rid of the demon, or allow it to continue to torment us.
Kathy didn’t particularly enjoy speaking in the college chapel service in Chinese while she was a missionary teacher there, so after weeks of anticipating the dreaded moment, she finally did it on a fine early summer morning, and after it was done, she was so excited that she wanted to go to the beach, about twenty minute bus ride from the campus. I went along for the ride, which seemed to mark the beginning of our long journey together. Why do I even mention this at all? I was merely trying to show there is very little redeeming value in anxiety, and great things take place when the dark cloud of phantom fear is blown away and we get to see the clear blue sky.
Is it really so that what makes the majority of Americans the most anxious is the thought of public speaking?
There are various reasons that cause us to become anxious and it seems inevitable that we will become worried over something one way or another. People with optimistic temperaments may worry less, but they will be anxious just the same when bad things are about to occur, or likely to occur. We all know the numbing feeling when we sit in the waiting room, waiting for the man with a long white coat to emerge and to inform us of the verdict of some testing we had to do.
Watching live sports events has become less and less enjoyable for me, for the dread of my favorite teams losing is sometimes so overwhelming that it becomes unbearable to sit in front of a television, with heart pounding and palms sweating. It seems a lot more pleasant to watch the rerun, with the outcome of the game already decided and our team has already prevailed.
What’s there to be anxious about since our team has already won the game? Didn’t our champion, Christ Jesus, already defeat our arch-enemy on the cross and all will be well at the end? If so, why do we still wring our hands in fear as if failure were still a possibility? Why do we still dread death if death has already died? How can we ever deny what causes us to become anxious and fearful is a severe lack of faith in Christ.        

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, January 14, 2015 6:56:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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