Worthy of the Gospel 

~~MTS-3842
Worthy of the Gospel
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”             Phil 1:27

Fear of being exposed may keep us from doing a lot of things. If it requires us to venture out to a dimly lit theatre or back alley porn shop to view pornographic materials, we may be quite reluctant to do so, for fear of being discovered; but we may be more open to doing it in the privacy of our own home with the doors tightly shut. There are more people, Christians included, who are addicted to pornography these days than previously because it’s so readily available through the internet.
We may have to ask ourselves this question before we venture out to the world of illicit sights and sounds: “Is what I am about to do worthy of the gospel?” This question alone should be enough to keep us away from surfing the web sites that appeal to our senses and satisfy the desires of our flesh.
Christ’s death on the cross was what made our salvation possible and we crucify the Lord repeatedly if we don’t conduct ourselves worthy of the gospel. We also invalidate the gospel and diminish its power whenever we don’t act according to its teaching, for we are witnesses of the good news and through our actions the gospel comes alive. Our lives should be a vibrant illustration of how and what the power of God can do in a frail and wicked person and how it can transform him or her into a new creation in Christ Jesus.
May the gospel not remain a theory only, but may it become something that we can put into action in the market place. Our lives should be an embodiment of the power of the cross that overcomes sin and death and all temptations that fall our way.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
What and who we are is totally transparent before God, so there is nothing we can keep hidden from him. Will we feel entirely at ease to invite him over to our living room or our study and let him be a silent spectator of whatever we do throughout the day? Obviously there are places that I will never frequent since my wife has a program on her phone that informs her of my whereabouts every minute of the day.
 Where do we think we can go to hide from the face of an omnipresent God?
I have mainly been speaking more from a negative viewpoint. It’s not out of fear of being exposed or punished that we try to walk the straight and narrow; we rather do so out of our love for Christ and for fear of bringing shame to him and doing damage to the cause of his kingdom. May we all be found worthy to be called the children of God and may our conduct be reckoned worthy of the gospel of Christ Jesus.    

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, October 31, 2014 6:40:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Necessity 

~~MTS-3841
Necessity
“…but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
            Phil 1:24

When she found out that she was terminally ill, Mrs. Graham, wife of a missionary educator in Taiwan, was convinced the Lord would heal her, for she thought the Lord spoke to her through this particular verse. There were a lot of students who still needed her spiritual guidance and it was necessary that she remain in the flesh. She lasted for a few more months and then the Lord took her home. Obviously many people needed her at the time, but she wasn’t absolutely necessary.
Paul was needed by so many people and he could have done so much more than what he had already accomplished had he lived a few years longer. Even though he had done so much for God’s kingdom, he still left a lot of work half done or undone. I don’t think there is anyone who truly believes that he or she has finished all work on earth and is perfectly ready to enter into eternity. Our earthly mission will remain unfinished even when we are finished.
Who is to determine whether we are truly necessary in this world or not? Millions of people have perished while they were still needed by their loved ones. Recently a young mother up north drove away from her home to do some chores and never returned to her two young children. She drove into the woods and finished her own life for some unknown reason. The fact that her husband and two young children still needed her didn’t keep her from ending her own life prematurely. The young mother became so desperate that her being needed by her loved ones paled in comparison to whatever inner demon she was fighting against.
Paul believed it was necessary that he remain in the flesh for a little bit longer so that he could finish what he was called to do. It wasn’t for selfish reasons that he desired to live longer; he was still needed by so many people in so many ways. Yet no matter how many earthly days were granted to him, there would still come a day when he had to say good-bye to all and leave whatever he was doing for others to finish. The greatest missionary in church history was indeed more necessary than most people, but wasn’t absolutely necessary.
“Don’t you want to see your grandson grow up?” Michael asked me as I was moping around, musing about the uncertainty and mutability of human life.
“Of course I do. But my being there will not be all that necessary,” I replied. Indeed, our life span on earth isn’t determined by our being needed, for we will always be needed; it’s rather decided by what the Lord deems necessary, and he will raise people up to take our place when we are no more.
Paul was well aware that he wouldn’t be available some day when he was desperately needed; therefore he had been preparing someone to take up the task he would leave behind. I believe Timothy was one of the men who stepped up to the plate to bat when Paul was no longer there.   

 
     

   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, October 30, 2014 6:39:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Better By Far 

~~MTS-3840
Better By far
“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…”           Phil 1:23

If we don’t enjoy being with Christ here on earth, will we enjoy being with him in heaven? A good question to ponder, isn’t it?
My father-in-law was called home to heaven few years ago and it will be a joyful reunion when I finally get there, whenever it will be. But besides a few acquaintances, I don’t know that many people up there; therefore my longing for going there is at the minimum. The people whom I treasure the most are here with me, so when the day comes, there will be more “good-byes” to say down here than “hellos” up there, and we all know which of the two is more pleasant.
Aren’t we supposed to love Christ the most and enjoy being with him more than with anyone else on earth? If so, why do we still feel going to God’s house to worship is so difficult and spending a few moments daily with the Lord so hard to maintain? We can sit in front of a television set or computer screen for hours and not feel any sort of boredom, yet we start to check our watches after sitting in a church pew for a few minutes. The truth is hard to deny: we don’t really enjoy being in God’s presence.
Is there genuine friendship between Christ and us? We do enjoy spending time with our friends, don’t we?
Paul wasn’t among the twelve when Christ was in the flesh, so he didn’t have the opportunity to build an intimate relationship with the Lord, and the intimacy he had built up with Christ was through fellowshipping with him in spirit. Paul must have spent an ample amount of time speaking with the Lord through prayer and meditation, and by doing it consistently, his friendship with Jesus deepened.
Is there true love between Christ and us? We do enjoy being with our loved ones, don’t we?
If we claim to love Christ, yet are reluctant to walk with him and to spend time with him, we may be fooling ourselves. Indeed, we turn to him for help in time of need, but keep a distance from him in time of ease. Do we treat our loved ones this way? Surely not. The deeper we love people, the less self-interested our relationship with them will be, for we love them not out of need, but out of want. Unconditional love is the least self-interested kind of love.
Some of us go through days and days without thinking about Christ, and don’t miss him at all even after we haven’t met him for a long while. He is more a stranger than a friend to us, and we may not recognize him if we happen to run into him or if he tries to speak to us. It will be a lie if we make the claim as Paul once did: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…”   
Isn’t this the time to redeem the situation and reestablish our friendship and love for Christ by spending time with him daily and by meditating on him day and night? We will have no yearning for the afterlife unless we learn to enjoy life with Christ here on earth, for heaven is the fullness and expression of Christ himself.  
  

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, October 29, 2014 6:43:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Choice 

~~MTS-3839
The Choice
“Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!”
             Phil 1:22

Paul was torn between the life he was leading at the time and the life to come. Why was that even a choice? I suppose life had become too unbearable for him and it was natural for him to consider a better option. Anyone put in his dire position would probably have done so, but choosing life here and now over life hereafter is something we have gotten used to doing, for this is the only life we know and the life hereafter is pretty much unknown. We know this life by sight; yet we can only perceive the next one by faith.
O the sights and sounds we have come to love so much and bidding all of them adieu will be the most heart-wrenching thing we will experience. Surely we have been informed by our faith that the life to come will be so much more glorious than the one we know, yet it still remains something that “eyes have never seen and ears have never heard,” and we can only imagine what it will be.
Do we have a deep longing for the life to come? Have we ever spent time contemplating what will take place when we cross the Jordan and enter into the Promised Land above? Perhaps only the ones who are teetering between life and death entertain such morbid thoughts, for they will soon be there. As far as we are concerned, there is just so much to live for on earth and entertaining the idea of going to heaven is the last thing that enters into our mind.
Was it because Paul was just suffering too much pain that he became anxious to leave his earthly tent and be covered and clothed by his heavenly dwelling? I don’t believe that was the case. Homesickness for his heavenly home wasn’t caused by any other reason except his love for Christ and his genuine desire to be with him. 
The ones who feel ill at ease on earth may explore better options elsewhere, but such isn’t the case with us Christians. Earth is the right place for us to be, even though we know that we are mere sojourners and someday we will have to bid the world farewell. There is a purpose for us being here and we should seek to fulfill it before we are called home. It was such a tough choice between the two for the apostle, because he felt that his mission was yet to be finished and there were a lot of people who still needed his spiritual nourishment.
None of us is entirely indispensible in God’s kingdom and whatever we leave undone on earth will eventually be carried on by the next generation. Even as great as the apostle was, he must have left a lot of things he wanted to do unfinished, which is going to be the case for all of us. May we entertain this idea more so that we will not be torn when it’s time for us to leave our earthly work behind and make our homeward journey.     
  

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, October 28, 2014 6:56:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Long Life 

~~MTS-3838
Long life
“If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”
           Phil 1:22

We all long to live a long life, yet rarely think what a long life really entails. What’s the use of living long if we don’t live a good and fruitful life? Do we really believe that the Lord will give us more days on earth so that we can enjoy more earthly pleasure? This doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to me.
What does longevity mean to you?
Living a long life in our bodies simply means that we will suffer the trials and tribulations of aging longer, which isn’t all that much fun. I am just starting to experience the troubles of aging, and it’s not pleasant at all. I am just recovering from painful oral surgery, and in the not distant future, I will most likely have to have cataract surgery on one of my eyes. The list may go on further as my body parts start to break down one after another. Are we really that anxious to live in our broken bodies, which often give us more pain than pleasure? Is it really worth it?
It all depends how we are going to use our bodies. It will be well worth the pain if we intend to use our bodies an instrument of righteousness by which we produce abundant fruit to bring glory and praise to God. That’s exactly what Paul was talking about when he wrote: “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” “Fruitful labor” is what motivated the apostle to go on living. He didn’t continue to live in the flesh for the sake of living; he did so for the reason of producing spiritual fruit.
I guess the Lord will take me home if I cease to be productive.
My mother-in-law is approaching 95 and she is home bound most of the time. In fact, she doesn’t even come out of her room that often and her eyesight is fading, so there is very little she can do to be productive, either physically or spiritually. Surely she has severe limits at her advanced age, yet the physical limitation doesn’t seem to keep her from being productive. She spends a lot of time praying for her loved ones, memorizing the Scriptures, listening to teaching materials, and maintaining a blog by dictating to her daughter over the phone. Who is to say that her life is not productive and fruitful? In fact, her life may be a lot more productive than a lot of younger people who are spending their days doing superfluous things. Come to think of it, her aging life may be more abundant than mine, since I seem to spend a lot of my time doing unproductive things. I believe the Lord will continue to sustain grandma’s life since she continues to be producing fruit. Indeed hitting one hundred seems to be within the great realm of possibility.
What did it mean for the first emperor of China, whose burning passion was longevity, to live a few years longer? More heads would fall, right? What would have taken place if Alexander the Great had survived for a few more years on earth? The people in India and elsewhere might have suffered the ill-effect of his long life. I guess we will have to give the Lord a good reason to grant us our prayer if we plead for longevity.   


   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, October 27, 2014 6:40:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Gain 

~~MTS-3837
Gain
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
           Phil 1:21

“I don’t want to discuss such a morbid subject all the time.” Kathy finally put her foot down on the topic I have enjoyed talking about the most - things concerning the end of our lives.
“I don’t even know life, how can I know death (未知生,焉知死?”) Confucius once said to his disciples. Being a humanist, I guess he meant to say that we ought to strive to know something that is knowable, and leave the unknowable alone. It appeared to him pointless and a waste of time to speculate on something beyond the physical realm.
Death will always be there, casting a giant shadow over us, even if we choose to ignore it, for none of us can face it head on without blinking our eyes a little bit. Nothing in life is more certain than death; yet we are so ill-prepared for it and, when it finally arrives, we are always caught by surprise as if something unusual has occurred.
How can we be better prepared for the inevitable?
Here lies the perfect answer: “For to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  The best way to be prepared for death is to live for Christ. Indeed, “love is as strong as death,” and the love of Christ is more powerful than death; only through the power of love is death conquered.
Michael was surprised by my answer to his rhetorical question when he asked whether I would choose a sudden death in five years or fifteen years of life after battling cancer for three months. “Five years” was my answer. The conversation was silly, for how we will exit this world is entirely out of our control. Yet it seems a given to me that ten years in heaven beats ten years on earth.
“But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep,” wrote Frost in his famous short poem. The promise I will always try to keep to the best of my ability isn’t necessarily what I have promised my loved ones; it’s rather the promise that I have made to God - I will always live for him.
Death is a total loss unless we live for Christ.
To live entirely for ourselves is to confine our hopes and aspirations to this world, and death will erase all traces we have left behind and render all things we have ever achieved on earth unprofitable. Death will always have the last laugh unless we overcome it through living for Christ and for eternity.
What would Paul gain by dying?
He was not necessarily thinking about the reward he might harvest in the heavenly realms; he was really contemplating about the euphoria of meeting Christ and spending an entire eternity with him. I can’t think of any earthly thing that is more appealing and thrilling than that.
 

   

   

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, October 24, 2014 6:32:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Sufficient Courage 

~~MTS-3836
Sufficient Courage
“…but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”        Phil 1:20


Paul was incarcerated at this time and, normally, he would have been feeling a little concerned and would have had self-pity about his dire situation, and must have been praying hard for his own delivery. Was that the case? Not really so. The apostle’s main concern at the time was for the name of the Lord to be exalted, whether by his life or by his death.
Death was a distinctive possibility under the circumstances. Unless the Lord intervened, Paul’s future was looking pretty grim. Justice doesn’t always prevail under an unjust and ruthless government.
When Paul Han, the late president of a renowned medical college in Taiwan, found out that his brain tumor was incurable and  his earthly days were numbered, the first thing he did was pray earnestly for the churches on the island of Taiwan with all the ones who visited him in the hospital. In life he worked tirelessly to advance God’s kingdom, and he was trying to lift the name of the Lord up even in his death.
“What would you do if you only had three days to live?” he once asked his students this probing question.
“I would do exactly what I have been doing every day.” Among all the answers, Dr. Han found this one the best. Our mission in the world is to glorify God under whatever circumstance we find ourselves. I have always found Paul’s words to the Philippians edifying and encouraging: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” What was the key to Paul’s contentment? The things that seem quite difficult for us to achieve through human strength, with God’s help all become possible. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
“Where in the world will I get that kind of courage if I am placed under such a horrific situation?” we may wonder. Surely we can never muster enough strength to deal with phantom fear and the Lord will never provide sufficient strength for us to overcome difficulties and hardships yet to happen. We are called to deal with the known, not the unknown, with today’s concerns, not tomorrow’s worries.
There have been a few things that I have done in the past which were quite extraordinary and I am amazed that I had sufficient courage to do them, considering how timid I have always been. I once stood between two furious people who were about to fight and another time I mustered enough courage to quiet a professor when he was mocking one of my classmates in class. There are other things that I don’t feel comfortable sharing, but the things that I experienced illustrate that God provides sufficient strength for us to exalt his name when divine courage is needed. He provided the courage for Paul; and he will do the same for all his children.
   
 

   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, October 23, 2014 6:48:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Rejoice 

~~MTS-3835
Rejoice
“And because of this I rejoice.”
       Phil 1:18

Do we rejoice when people come to the Lord even if we have played no part in their becoming saved? I am pleased when people decide to make a profession of faith, for I think I am a vital link in their obtaining salvation through Christ Jesus.
Does it really matter whether I am instrumental in people getting saved or not? The Lord does mysterious things and the tracing of his operation in bringing people to himself is past finding out, so it’s ludicrous to consider ourselves totally necessary in people getting redeemed.
Why do we rejoice then if we are not rewarded for our efforts in evangelism?
“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents," we read in Gospel of Luke. Angels in heaven are even farther removed than us earthlings, yet they rejoice over “one sinner who repents.” Shouldn’t we rejoice even more?
Do angels in heaven play a part in bringing people to the knowledge of salvation? Indeed they are “serving spirits” who do things for the ones who are going to inherit the kingdom of God, and we are often unaware of the service they render to us. As far as our salvation is concerned, Christ himself and the Holy Spirit must be doing the bulk of the work, and angels are mostly spectators.
We rejoice over people’s salvation because we love them; therefore our hearts are filled with unspeakable joy when they are saved. Besides, we also rejoice over the fact that God’s family is strengthened by adding more members and God’s name is glorified even more.
We rejoiced greatly when a new baby was born into our family and it has been extremely joyful for all of us to witness the baby’s growth, both mentally and physically. By the same token, it’s such a privilege for the body of Christ to add a new member and to gradually incorporate him or her into the whole family. A joyful church is a church that is actively evangelizing and bringing people to Christ.
“I want to study theology,” a lady said to me after our Sunday service, with her voice full of enthusiasm and face beaming with joy.
“Well, you need to accept Jesus and get baptized first,” I responded since she had only been to the church a few times and probably has no idea what salvation really entails.
I nevertheless rejoiced over the fact that someone was so eager to embrace the Lord. I played absolutely no part in her coming to the church and at the time had no idea what her name was, but I was happy for her just the same. I suppose our joy will abound even more if we remain a bit more disinterested in witnessing to others and give all the credit to God when people are saved.     

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, October 22, 2014 6:52:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Selfishness 

~~MTS-3834
Selfishness
“The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely…”
           Phil 1:17

We are all trapped within ourselves and can’t really help but being selfish, can we? In order to become selfless we have to escape from the bondage of ourselves, which isn’t an easy thing to do.
“Can you do me a favor?” I have always dreaded to hear this request, because it’s almost always going to cost me something, either my time or my energy.
“Of course I will.” Being a pastor, I really have no other option but to say yes, yet I have often prayed in my heart that whatever I needed to do for others wouldn’t cost me too much or take me out of my comfort zone. Even though I always try to act very pleasant while asked, I am in fact being selfish, because I often start to think about myself and the cost of helping others.
Why do I even preach the gospel then if I am such a selfish person, for preaching is such an altruistic and selfless act? One of the primary goals of preaching is for non-believers to be saved through believing in Jesus, and if it doesn’t make a smidge of difference to me whether people are actually saved or not, why bother? 
I am merely trying to be obedient to the Lord’s Great Commission, that’s all. If this is the answer, the whole thing is still about me actually, for what I do is for my own sake since I don’t want to become disobedient to God. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” wrote the Apostle Paul. Wasn’t he thinking about his own feelings of guilt if he failed to preach the good news? In order to maintain a clear conscience before the Lord, he had to do what he did.
Had I really thought about the eternal welfare of my parents, I would have put a lot more effort into witnessing to them, yet I avoided talking to them about Christ to avoid creating any feeling of awkwardness and unpleasantness between us. Indeed I cared more about my feelings and pandering to my fear than I was concerned about their eternal destiny. That was my selfishness and timidity for which I can never forgive myself as long as I live. 
Thoughts such as these are quite depressing and discouraging. It does make me feel like Queen Gertrude after her son Hamlet revealed to her all her sins: “Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul; and there I see such black and grained spots…” All the supposedly good deeds I have ever done, including preaching the gospel, have been tainted and contaminated by my selfishness and sin, which causes me to feel so utterly naked and exposed. I can only cry out like prophet Isaiah in the holy temple: “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
Is there any hope for this selfish person whose righteous deeds are nothing but “filthy rags”? Indeed there is. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In me there are selfishness and other unspeakable filth; but in Christ there is forgiveness.

   

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, October 21, 2014 6:40:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Why Preach? 

~~MTS-3833
Why Preach?
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.”          Phil 1:15

Am I rightly motivated every time I step behind the pulpit and deliver my message? Not necessarily so. Why do I have such a hard time listening to other preachers deliver their message? I think I know the reason quite well, even though I hate to admit it.
Does it serve any purpose that I do so much self-examination? Not a whole lot. Self-forgetfulness is so much better than self-focus. We become self-absorbed if we think about ourselves too much and lose sight of what’s really important.
We should instead focus our attention more on the Lord Jesus than the one preaching the gospel. That’s what Paul was doing. He seemed to be able to set his personal feelings aside and pay attention to the truly important - people’s salvation.
“Why has Wang quit coming to our church?” someone asked me after the Sunday service.
“I heard that he was attending another church,” I replied. The student to whom he was referring used to come to our services regularly.
“Well, that’s too bad.”
I felt a little annoyed as well, since we probably aren’t good enough to satisfy him at our church. But there simply is no reason for us to feel insulted if he is saved through another church’s effort. Shouldn’t we be rejoicing greatly with all the angels in heaven if one sinner turns away from their sin? Do we preach the gospel “out of envy and rivalry?”
“Who was supposed to take credit for me coming to the Lord?” I ask myself this question. Was it the founder of the college where I heard the gospel preached for the very first time, or the ones who helped me in my journey of searching for the truth, or the ones who had prayed for me when I was wandering up and down the world like a lost sheep? Indeed, I guess all of them should share part of the credit since they worked as a team in bringing me to the Lord. Yet the Holy Spirit should be the One who gets all the credit since apart from his help I couldn’t have come to the Lord.
Whether we are cheerleaders standing on the sidelines or players who labor on the field, we should all be joyful when our team is victorious. To consider who should take greater credit over others for the triumph is indeed a selfish act.
Therefore I will do my part the best I can when opportunities present themselves to me to do a little bit in ushering people into God’s kingdom, either by prayer or witnessing. It’s a waste of time and energy for me to examine my motivation behind all I do. Why does it concern me so much if my motive for witnessing is less than one hundred percent pure, as if people come to know the Lord purely based on the purity of my motivation and earnestness of my action?

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, October 20, 2014 6:38:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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