Fear of the Lord 

~~MTS-4325
Fear of the Lord
“The fear of God came on all the surrounding kingdoms when they heard how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.”        2 Ch. 20:29
    It was a resounding victory the Israelites had won and all the surrounding kingdoms certainly took notice. Surely usual news such as that must have travelled rather fast and people were stunned to hear that the Moabites and Ammonites were defeated and utterly demolished, for they were fully expecting the latter to emerge victorious. Something spectacular must have occurred, they concluded.
    Of course it’s human nature to attribute it to the divine if an unusual event cannot be explained humanly. It had to be the deity whom they worshipped which brought forth the triumph, they thought. Of course, this particular conclusion didn’t necessarily cause them to turn to the Lord; it merely made them to become fearful of God and, consequently, they decided to keep a proper distance between themselves and the Almighty.
    The fear of the Lord may well be the beginning of wisdom; but it doesn’t seem to drive people to the Lord in worship and adoration. Didn’t Confucius only suggest that people should “hold ghosts and gods in high regard, but stay far away from them”?
    Do we always attribute whatever victory we have won or successes we have earned to the Lord so that he gets all the glory? Or do we merely pay him lip service and deep inside we feel exactly the opposite. We don’t seem to mind bathing in the limelight and receiving all the praise for our achievements and, frankly, giving God the honor and glory due to him is just an afterthought.
    We should escape from people’s applause and appreciation as if they were a scorching fire and wild beasts, for we can easily be devoured by them and, before we become aware of their seduction, we have already become thoroughly entrenched in the customs of this world. In the battle against worldliness, we easily become victims, not victors.
    We are doomed not by our failures; but by our successes. Failures drive us to God in repentance and humility; yet successes and victories cause us to lose sight of who we really are, and we even gradually become unaware of the divine presence in our lives 
    The temptation of stealing God’s glory is a real one, which is more dangerous than anything else on our spiritual journey. Surely, such is the evil of practicing idolatry, for the Lord isn’t interested in sharing glory with anyone, be they human or something else.
    Knowing the risk, I think the best way to avoid such a tempting situation is by declining to accept people’s praise or by determining not to bring up our successes and glories from our past.  
           
 
 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, January 31, 2017 8:11:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Valley of Praise 

~~MTS-4324
Valley of Praise
“This is why it is called the Valley of Berakah to this day.”     2 Ch. 20:26
    The things for which we need to be thankful are just too numerous to count, yet instead of bringing them up in our prayer of thanksgiving, we seem to be able to find things so readily about which to complain. We are people of very little gratitude and an abundant amount of bitterness.
    We often look at what we lack and start to grumble, failing to see what we already possess and becoming thankful. The more we count our blessings from above, they will surely increase; yet if we dwell on our miseries, they will increase as well.
    So the Israelites called the place “Valley of Berakah” and whenever they walked by the location, they couldn’t help but utter words of praise to God. Their memory of the triumph over their enemies might soon have been forgotten had they not been reminded often by the memorabilia relating to the monumental event.
    It will be our 36th wedding anniversary in a few days and the day never fails to bring back the happy memories of our past as a couple and, most importantly, it reminds us of what great things the Lord has done throughout our marriage. So the celebration of the day should be done in such a way that the Lord’s name is lifted up and glorified.
    Whenever I am in the vicinity of our old neighborhood, I never fail to drive by our old house where we raised our three sons. Of course I often became nostalgic about our past, yet our past is closely and intricately connected to God and the familiar surroundings always cause me to recall what he did during the days when we struggled financially.
    Indeed, all our homesickness is homesickness for our Heavenly Father, and apart from his grace and mercy, our homes and the happiness within them couldn’t have been established. How can anyone not give the Lord thanks and praise when they look at their past in retrospect?
    Where is our Valley of Berakah? Is there such a place at all?
    Surely, the place is located in the deep valley of our memory, and we can pay it a visit as often as we desire, and the visit should always end up in a shout of praise to God.
    Grandma is turning ninety-eight in a few days and she seems to be living in her memory most of the time, for she rarely leaves her little room where her life is confined. Yet when the story of her past is read by her daughter every night, I seem to hear a low murmur of praise rising from the bottom of her heart, her Valley of Berakah. That’s the way our life should always be as we age.  Isn’t it the moment when “emotion recollected in tranquility” as Wordsworth rendered concerning the creation of poetry?  Indeed, such is the moment when our praises to God, our best poetry ever, should always be composed. 
     
    
 
   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, January 27, 2017 7:27:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Valley of Berakah  

~~MTS-4323
Valley of Berakah
“On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berakah, where they praised the Lord. This is why it is called the Valley of Berakah to this day.” 
2 Ch. 20:26
    The Israelites gathered together to celebrate the victory they had won against the Moabites and Ammonites and they were overjoyed, for the plunder was so abundant that they had trouble collecting all of it. It was indeed an occasion for celebration, wasn’t it?
    The people from Judah really didn’t do anything to secure the victory except singing praises to God during the process. It was the Lord who did the heavy lifting for them and not a single life was lost in the battle.
    Thousands of lives perished when the dust finally settled and all of them were invaders. Did they all deserve to die? I can’t help asking this question. Did the Lord kill them all in order to save his people from destruction? Weren’t the Moabites and Ammonites also God’s creatures? Should their lives have been treasured by their Creator? Didn’t the pagans’ lives matter at all?
    Of course, the narrative would have been rather different from what it was if it had been narrated by Moabites or Ammonites. Is there an entirely objective perspective uncolored by human prejudice through which we can perceive the event?
    Why are our celebrations often related to our enemies’ deaths and our successes closely connected to others’ failure? Indeed, while the American and Chinese were marching through the streets, cheering the victory of the war, the Japanese and Germans were buried deep in mourning and were trying to dig themselves out from the depth of their sorrow.
    How did the war get started? Wasn’t it initiated by a few ruthless and ambitious leaders from both continents? As a result, many countries were sucked into its craziness and insanity. Therefore, the day we celebrate a war victory should also be a day of mourning and remembering. Many people, be their enemies or friends, were children of their mothers and husbands of their wives.
    For sure the Lord doesn’t celebrate such occasions, for he does not take “any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and he instead desires that they should turn from their ways and live.
    The Israelites had ample cause to rejoice and to celebrate, because they witnessed what the Lord had done for them and they were glad that justice prevailed in the end. Yet their dignity as humans was lost if they rejoiced over their enemies’ death. The Moabites and Ammonites should suffer for their insolence and ruthlessness, yet the majority of the people in the ranks were victims themselves, for they merely followed orders from their superiors.
       
    
      

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, January 26, 2017 7:37:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Self-destruction 

~~MTS-4322
Self-destruction
“After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.”          2 Ch. 20:23
    They intended to slaughter the Israelites, yet they instead killed their allies, and after they had done so, they started to destroy one another. Their invasion of others ended up in self-destruction.
    The Ammonites and Moabites should have known that starting a war was, in essence, an act of self-destruction. Things such as this seem to happen rather often in human history. The conquerors don’t necessarily fare any better than the conquered, and both are destroyed in the end.
    “War is hell,” a famous general once stated, and from its deadly grip no one seems to be able to escape. If so, why do people continue to march to war, as if they somehow can benefit from it as a result?
    If our original sin needs any further proof, we don’t have to look beyond the fact of war, and the reality that people seem to enjoy killing each other and don’t seem to mind being killed.  The act of slaughtering has been romanticized and, to a certain extent, glorified.
    Quite a few heroes whom we worship and adore are war heroes whose sole exploit was killing other people and nothing more. We even go to such an extent as to erect statues in their honor, singing praises to them, writing volumes about them, and even requiring our offspring to commemorate what they did and how many people they slaughtered.
    In light of these, do we need to go any further to illustrate the sinfulness of sin? Merely open up the daily news and the evidence of the utter sinfulness of our sin will be amply supplied.
    When the Lord Jesus was about to be arrested, blood was indeed shed, yet the only casualty was a man who lost his ear. Even so, his wound was healed in the end. “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword,” the Lord stated following the event. Indeed, drawing swords against others is an act of self-destruction.
    Death to oneself is our ultimate goal in life, actually. Only through dying to self can we build both ourselves and others up. Our final aim in this life has always been and forever will be self-conquest, not conquest of others. Our original image will be restored by self-conquest; yet by conquer of others we will sink deeper and deeper into the quagmire of original sin.
    People who are preoccupied by self-conquest will definitely lose their desire or ambition to conquer their neighbors. The pursuit of personal holiness will always turn into a communal thing.       
    
   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, January 25, 2017 8:11:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Victory 

~~MTS-4321
Victory
“As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.”        2 Ch. 20:22
    What did the Israelites do to secure their victory against their enemies? Not a whole lot, actually. They merely sang praises to God, as they were told to do, and what they did was enough to defeat their foes. It sounds rather simple, doesn’t it?
    Even though it sounds so simple, it doesn’t mean the whole thing was that easy and effortless. In fact, singing praise to God before their enemies might have been far more difficult than actually fighting against them with swords and shields. In times of crisis, doing something is much easier than doing nothing, and being quiet is far more difficult than being active, for being occupied with doing something does keep us from becoming anxious.
    Singing praises to God might have been considered by many as doing nothing. I am sure some of the Israelites would have liked to fight against their enemies rather than just singing and praying. Surely, just singing wasn’t something all the alpha males in the military would have liked to do under such circumstances.
    What do we do to reconcile the conflict between self-reliance and God reliance? Are they really in conflict with each other at all?
    Doing something to enhance our situation doesn’t mean that we cease to rely on God’s help anymore. Particularly in a time of crisis, we may have to do all things humanly possible to resolve whatever we are facing and, in the meantime, we should invoke divine help as well. Yet deep inside we should have a strong conviction, believing that all the solutions to our predicaments, be they human or divine, are in essence divine in origin. Out of his sovereign will and omniscience, God can employ all kinds of means to achieve desirable ends. Indeed, God’s way of operation is beyond finding out. 
    God was quietly at work while his people were singing praises to him. “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.”
    If all else fails, praying and praising are the things to do, and they will never fail, for by doing so, we become more willing to submit to him, trusting whatever transpires at the end will be good.
   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, January 24, 2017 8:02:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Have Faith  

~~MTS-4320
Have Faith
“Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”         2 Ch. 20:20
    The Israelites led by King Jehoshaphat were about to march to the battleground to face their enemies. Humanly speaking, the chance of winning the war was extremely slim, yet they seemed to be quite optimistic about the outcome of the impending struggle, for they were equipped and fortified by their faith in God.
   “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”
    Obviously, the result of the battle was still pending, and unless they stepped out from their comfort zone to face the enemies, they would never be able to find out the outcome. Indeed, they all had their swords and arrows, but their greatest weapon and most reliable ally was the Lord himself.
    Doubt about the trustworthiness of the Lord and his promise was ever present in their midst, I am afraid. What was crucial at the moment was that they continued to hold fast to their faith and were not overcome by their fear and doubt, for they could have done nothing beyond what they had been told to do. Trusting the Lord was the key to the whole thing.
    What else could they have done? Come to think of it, there were just two options from which they could choose - trust or perish. To perish would have been the worst outcome and, by trusting the Lord, it didn’t seem to matter all that much whether they lived or died.
    Ultimately, the result of us trusting the Lord isn’t always to live, for to die remains a distinct possibility. In fact, to trust is to leave all things in God’s hands, whether to live or to die. Faith in God is unconditional, evidently, and it does preclude any bad thing from happening or guaranteeing only a good outcome to transpire at the end. We may have our wishes and wants, yet the outcome of our faith in God remains open-ended, entirely determined by the sovereign God who has our best interest in mind. So looking from this aspect, all possible outcomes generated by faith will be good.
    If the Israelites believed death in the battle remained a possibility, death would become less of a threat to them. Even if by chance the worst were to happen to them, their faith in God would remain intact and their trust in God would continue. To die with one’s faith unbroken for sure is a thing devoutly to be wished.
    The promise given to the people in Judah by the prophet was etched in stone and there was zero chance for it to fail. So in this case, the end result followed suit accordingly. Of course, things become crystal clear if they are viewed retrospectively.    
     

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, January 20, 2017 7:43:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Courage 

~~MTS-4319
Courage
“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”       2 Ch. 20:17
    The Lord told Jehoshaphat and the Israelites through Jahaziel the prophet not to be fearful and discouraged, and not to be frightened as they went out to meet their enemies in the battleground, for the Lord would be with them. For the ones who were going to the frontline, bravery and courage were obviously badly needed, yet such a thing is not self-generated, and the more we need it, the scarcer it turns out to be.  We often find out the precious commodity of courage is in short supply. We are often fearful and disheartened when we encounter our enemies who are far stronger than we.
    Escaping from the scene is always an easier route to take than staying the course and engaging our adversaries.
    Faith is relatively easy to maintain within the church doors, but it gets difficult when it’s tested in the marketplace. We will never know what it can do until we put it to the test when swords are crossed and bullets are flying all around. Faith in God is created for battle and it must be battle-tested.
    Instead of venturing onto the battleground, we prefer to stay behind in the comfort and safety of our homes where we are surrounded by our loved ones. Consequently, our faith in the almighty God remains weak and frail for it has never been proven and sharpened through frequent use and vigorous practice.
    I become fearful when I start to ponder how much time I still have left on earth, and how little I have accomplished for the Lord with my life thus far, and how much will be left undone that should have been done when I am undone.
    Is there another move for me to make toward accomplishing God’s vision for me in this life? I often question. Even if there is one, will I find sufficient courage in me to make the monumental move at my advanced age?
    “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.” May this be an encouragement for you and for me. By nature we will likely become frightened when we face danger, yet may we never be deterred from doing God’s will and venturing into the deep if we are called to do so.
    Surely advancing age didn’t keep Caleb from asking for his inheritance in the Promised Land or from throwing himself into battles against ferocious enemies. What concerned the old man the most was maintaining God’s promise and fulfilling what was in store for him on earth, fully realizing that he was invincible until it was God’s time for him to depart from the world.
      
 
   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, January 19, 2017 7:41:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Stand Firm 

~~MTS-4318
Standing Firm
“Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem.”          2 Ch. 20:17
    The Lord didn’t ask King Jehoshaphat and his army to fight the battle; he was merely telling them to take up their positions and, as long as they did so, the battle would be theirs. How could it be so simple?
    It might appear simple and straightforward to human eyes, yet it was never simple and easy, for it was faith work that demanded complete trust in the Lord. Contrary to what we think, showing up at the battleground is never an easy task, because such is the place where people lose their lives. Even though the Lord told them to do so and things would be well, it still took strong faith for them to make the move.
    They would still have been haunted by the question whether or not the Lord would come through. If the Lord failed to keep his promise, they would have had to fight their way out of danger, which was a daunting task indeed. So some might have become reluctant and many others even withdrew, and only the brave ones moved forward to take a stand on the frontline.
    Showing up is half of the success, thus we are told. O how we are tempted to give up and run when things go badly, for throwing in the towel may be less demanding on us than giving up and running away. Staying power is what we lack, isn’t it?
    Within the period of one year, come to think of it, I seemed to have given up twice on what I was doing. I forsook my doctorial work for pastoral work out west, and a few months later, I resigned from the church and went back to the university. When the going got tough, I lost the courage to keep on going. Things would have been entirely different had I continued to take up my position and fought the battle until the end. 
    I might have felt I had nothing left to give at the end of three and half years laboring in studying and teaching at Ole Miss. Was that really the case when I looked at my circumstance in retrospect? It wasn’t so, honestly. I was merely searching for a way out of my predicament, and did what came naturally to me, which was to escape.
    Surely, the Lord doesn’t demand that we fight or shed blood; he just asks us to wait on him, and he will do the heavy lifting for us. What he desires the most from us is trust, and what pleases him the most is our remaining still in time of turmoil and putting our trust in him.
    “Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem.”
    What he was asking the Israelites to do was to take up their positions and to see God do his mighty work. I guess we will never get to see God performing his miraculous deeds unless we are in a position to see them. 
 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, January 19, 2017 7:40:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Battle 

~~MTS-4317
The Battle
“Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s”       2 Ch. 20:15
    I was merely a private second class the first year in the military and all I did was just what I was charged to do, period. I had no other responsibility but to heed what I was told and do it faithfully and accordingly. As long as I did my part, I wouldn’t be held accountable even if the military campaign failed miserably. There were high ranking officials who would shoulder the blame.
    The battle wasn’t mine; I was just playing a very small part in the battle. I was merely a pawn who was moved here and there by the ones who was in charge of military action.
    Being a small potato in a vast army, what could I have done except what I was bidden to do. Were there times I became discontent, for I desired to take part in the decision making process, and perhaps make some contribution toward the success of the military project?
    I had never been called upon to do that, because I remained a private second class even though I might have been well endowed and perfectly willing to be used.
    I might have been overcome with fear and overwhelmed by terror had I known what was involved and what might have transpired in the military campaign. The death toll might have been far greater that I had ever expected and I might even have become one of the casualties. It was truly a blessing that all the battles weren’t mine, and after I did my time, I was honorably discharged, relatively unscathed.
    Indeed, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” Moreover, the Lord is omniscient and omnipotent, and defeat in battle is simply out of the question. As long as I continue to follow his lead, victory is one hundred percent guaranteed.
The chance of defeating the coming vast army was pretty slim had King Jehoshaphat decided to fight the battle himself, which was pretty common for a king to do when his country was threatened or assaulted. Yet at the critical juncture the king knew better, and he instead turned the battle over to the Lord himself.
What he decided to do made a great difference at the end. 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, January 16, 2017 6:54:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Little Ones 

~~MTS-4316
Little Ones
“All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.”        2 Ch. 20:13
    There is no denial about this, to tell the truth, that I haven’t always been consistent in my Christian walk throughout the years, and no one knows it better than my wife and children, for they have repeatedly seen how I acted when some sort of crisis arose in our family. I wish I had kept my weaknesses both in thought and action hidden from them, so that I would not have become a stumbling block to them, yet whatever damage I have inflicted on them has already been done and cannot be redeemed. No wonder I have always felt like apologizing to them for being who I was in their formidable years - a temperamental and moody person who was prone to melancholy and depression.
    I might not have done a lot of teaching by my actions, yet there were a few things that I have driven into their psyches so deeply that they will never forget them as long as they live - that I want them to become “strong men of God.” I have repeatedly said this in my prayer for them or my exhortation to them, and they may have gotten tired of hearing it mentioned again. Indeed, that’s what I have always wanted for them.
    Have I ever wanted them to grow up to be like their father? By no means. My deepest desire for them is that they grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus.
    “All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.” I am touched by the mere mention of “children and little ones” in this context. What a wonderful picture it was when the entire family gathered before the Lord, pleading the Lord for mercy for the whole nation.
    We lived in a house rented from our church the last year of my doctoral work at Ole Miss and it was about a ten-minute walk through a dense wood from the house to the church. The boys and I walked back and forth through the brush every Sunday morning. It had to be one of the better memories during an otherwise rather difficult year in Oxford, and our family of five sitting in the second front pew from the pulpit worshipping the Lord is forever etched in my memory.
    I might not have always done the right thing during the years when we were raising the boys, yet my children must have known who and what I was striving to become, and I pray that was the thing that they have taken from their father.
    My wife managed to help our three-year-old grandson memorize his first Bible verse the other day, which is a great start. Our prayer for him remains the same - that he will become “a strong man of God” like his father. His grandfather, well, not so much.
   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, January 13, 2017 7:41:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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