Thanksgiving 2014 

~~Thanksgiving 2014
        “Let everything that has breath…”  Psalm 150:6

For all that you have given
To the undeserving
And often unresponding,
For all that we have seen
And mostly unseen,
For protection throughout the year,
Things that could have been, yet prevented
And what has been, and remedied;
For the wholeness mostly
And the brokenness mended,
For all the forgiving
That was pleaded, and unbidden,
For the washing and baptizing
And daily transference of all my sins;
For the joy speakable and unspeakable
And for the grace untold
For love given and received,
For smiles and laughter shared
And many tears dried without a trace;
For family and friends bound by faith,
For most of all
Christ my Lord.  
 

 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, November 27, 2014 7:27:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Epaphroditus 

~~ MTS-3860
Epaphroditus
“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier…”         Phil 2:25

When the church in Philippi was deciding to send a person to Rome to assist the apostle when he was imprisoned, the name Epaphroditus came up and every one concurred. This man with a common name possessed uncommon Christian character that was unparalleled among his peers. Epaphroditus was a brave and loyal man who was loved by all, and his devotion and faithfulness to Christ had been proven repeatedly over the years. Indeed, there wasn’t anyone better equipped to make a long journey to the capital city and to be both a helper and a comforter to the apostle.
The long trip must have taken a toll on the man whose health wasn’t great to start with. He rolled up his sleeves and started to work tirelessly after he arrived in Rome by ministering to Paul and other brothers and sisters in the city. By Epaphroditus’ arrival, Paul’s spirit was lifted and he was greatly comforted as he came to realize how the brothers and sisters in the church of Philippi loved and cared for him.
Paul immediately found a “brother, co-worker and fellow solder” in Epaphroditus and developed a genuine affection for him. The man became a shining light in Paul’s otherwise rather dark days and through this faithful servant of God the apostle’s daily provisions were provided. In this man not only did Paul feel the warmth and love from God’s church in Philippi, he also had a strong sense that God did care for him in his time of need. The goodness of God was revealed to Paul through the kindness of Epaphroditus, and through the strong testimony of these two men God’s name was lifted up and glorified.
Whether Epaphroditus actually became the first bishop of the church in Philippi after he returned back to the city matters very little compared to what he learned throughout the journey. What he had experienced during the time when he was accompanying Paul equipped him for his future ministry and he was fully aware the Lord had spared his life so that he could be of some use in the kingdom for a few more years.
The man only appeared in Paul’s letter once and his entire life was covered and defined by merely a few verses, but he has been forever immortalized by his love for God and the service he rendered to the apostle. He was most likely converted as a young man and he had been preparing himself for an opportunity such as this. When the time came for him to demonstrate his love for Christ through spiritual service, he did it splendidly.
Epaphroditus as a person may sound foreign and obscure to us, yet what he did with his life was anything but. The man risked his life serving the Lord, and was lauded by Paul as a soldier of God. Surely that is the kind of life I would really like to emulate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, November 26, 2014 7:43:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Timothy 

~~ MTS-3859
Timothy
“But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.”    Phil 2:22

Where John Mark had failed, Timothy succeeded. Paul must have had great aspirations for Mark who accompanied him on his first missionary journey. But for some unknown reason, the young man left the team at the beginning stage of the venture; for that reason Paul refused to give the young man a second chance to prove himself when Paul launched his second mission trip, for he had failed to prove himself as a faithful servant of God.
Paul found a rare quality in Timothy that he wasn’t able to find in other young Christian workers, Mark included. Timothy might have been weak physically; he was nevertheless quite stout spiritually. Even though the young man was not related to Paul by blood, the apostle felt a kinship with him, for he saw a reflection of himself in Timothy. In the young servant of God Paul found a true son in Christ.
There wasn’t a whole lot in Timothy that attracted people’s attention or drew their admiration, for the young man was a “mixed-breed’ who was neither fully accepted by either the Jews or the Greeks. And he was totally rejected by the Jews after he was converted. He probably wasn’t all that impressive physically, was by nature quite timid, and was prone to illness.
What the apostle witnessed in the young man was his zeal for the Lord and his faithfulness and persistence in doing God’s work, which was an attribute rarely seen in young people. Indeed Timothy had proved himself to be worthy as God’s servant.
Timothy was the kind of young man Paul would have liked his own child to be had he had one. He was a young man who was faithful to God and tender-hearted toward men and, mostly importantly, he treated the elderly apostle with affection and admiration, as if Paul were his true father.
Paul seldom expressed his longing for a family and seemed to consider the ones who he led to Christ his children and the church of God his true family. But from the special way he dealt with Timothy, we come to realize that the apostle’s natural affection was tapped and he had come to love the young man both naturally and supernaturally.
Paul might have ordained many overseers to watch over the church he had planted, but he would have preferred his spiritual son to take up the responsibility to supervise all the churches after he himself was gone. The young man had been tested and proved to be suitable for God’s work, and in the young man Paul had found a perfect successor. Besides, the young man became a great comfort and consolation to Paul during a time when his life was filled with turmoil and sorrow.  
    

   

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, November 25, 2014 7:12:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Self Interest 

~~MTS-3858
Self Interest
“For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”
            Phil 2:21

“Would you do me a favor?” How do we react when we hear people asking for help? My first reaction has always been “How is it going to affect me? Is it going to be cost me something?”
So I hold my breath and listen to the verdict and, if it does not cost me more than I am willing to pay, I will consent to help. Otherwise, I will begin to do some brainstorming, trying to find an excuse to get out of the predicament. Rather than thinking about other people and the issue they might be facing, I have always thought about myself and what it’s going to cost me if I lend them a helping hand. I am by nature a selfish person and oftentimes have my one interest in mind under such circumstances.
I am sure there are quite a few selfless persons out there and they have my greatest admiration, for they are the ones who make the world a much better place.
I have since learned not to pamper my feelings that much when I am being asked to help others. I have often made the mistake of identifying myself with my feelings, as if I were merely how I feel and, consequently, I have been beating myself to death and have been afflicted by tremendous guilt, for I have considered myself a heartless and unhelpful person.
“I do, therefore I am.”
Of course I am not making any sort of philosophical statement here; I am merely trying to make a self-explanatory point: I am what I do, not so much how I feel. We just have to set our feelings aside when we are called to act and then do the right thing. People should be defined by their outward actions, not by their inner feeling.
“Indeed, I do not even judge myself.”
Self-judgment and self condemnation are mostly based on our feelings toward ourselves, which was something the apostle rarely did, for he believed the verdict of who we are belonged completely to the Lord.
So we finally get to the center of things: whether or not we act on self-interest when the serve the Lord. I don’t think we will like what we see if we place ourselves under intense scrutiny, for no matter how pure our motivation may be, there will always be a tinge of selfishness found in our inner selves when we do the Lord’s work. I have often found myself listening to my own singing during the rare occasion when I lead praise and worship at a church service, applauding myself for being a splendid singer from inside.
Feelings are out of our control and we may not be responsible for all our fleeting thoughts; but we do have some power over our actions and what we should do is to overcome our undesirable feelings with desirable actions. May all our actions be an outward sign that we are looking out for God’s interest.
 

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, November 24, 2014 7:13:00 AM Categories: Devotional

No One Else 

~~MTS-3857
No One Else
“I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.”          Phil 2:20

In his long journey of following the Lord, Paul was alone most of the time even when he was surrounded by his friends and companions. He was alone, yet not alone, for Christ was with him.
When the battle during the day was done and the light became dim, Paul retired to his little room with a little light burning on the table, reflecting on what had happened during the day. No one was there with him except the dark shadow he cast on the dirt floor.
He was feeling the most alone when he woke up in the night and had trouble going back to sleep. That was the time when memory of his past started to flood into his heart, and the man who rarely became emotional before men might have turned a little sentimental. He might have yearned to share with someone what he was feeling at the moment, but the night was deep and no one was there by his side.
He usually prayed during moments such as that, so that he would not succumb to his weakness and began to feel self-pity, asking why he alone had to be so destitute while everyone else seemed to have wives and children by their sides. “Didn’t Peter and James have their wives by their sides when their needed comfort?” he asked.
He was welcome into many homes and the warmth and love with different families never failed to melt his heart, causing him to wonder what it would have been like had he had a home and a wife. The thought of taking a godly woman to be his wife might have crossed his mind occasionally, but the idea was nixed before it had a chance to take root. It just wasn’t the time to be thinking about those superfluous things, since he was occupied by kingdom business.
There was no one else except the Lord by his side, which was quite enough. Yet the longing for human comfort was nonetheless there and he could only give a soft sigh when it surfaced and move on. He had learned to be content under such circumstances and tried to rejoice at such moments when he felt so alone.
Then the Lord brought young Timothy into Paul’s life who treated the apostle like a father, and in the young man the childless apostle found a spiritual son, from whom he sensed a tenderness and warmth that he had seldom felt. The Lord had always been with him and Paul was never alone, but Christ was gracious enough to prepare for Paul a companion and a son to make the difference in his life when he was feeling lonely and was in need of comfort from flesh and blood.
Divine companionship and comfort is all sufficient and is all we need, but realizing our weaknesses, our loving Father is kind enough to prepare for us consolation from other humans whenever we need it.  


   

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, November 21, 2014 6:44:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Even If 

~~MTS-3856
Even if
“But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith…”              Phil 2:17

The sacrifice of Paul’s service had been made, and Paul had no idea how much more time he still had left on earth to serve the Lord; therefore he was fully prepared to be poured out like a drinking offering, ending his earthly ministry as a martyr. Even though he was hoping that more earthly days would be granted to him, for the churches he planted still needed him, he was nonetheless ready for the end to come if it was God’s will. The apostle was truly torn between the two and would have rather gone to be with the Lord, for it was “better by far,” but if there was an unfinished task to be done out there, he would like to finish it.
By this time Paul was probably an elderly man whose physical strength had been completely spent, considering how much hardship and suffering he had experienced serving the Lord. Indeed, he had pushed his body to the limit and there simply weren’t a lot of miles left in him. The apostle might have suspected that his end was drawing near.
Even if that was the case, Paul had absolutely no regrets. He had done what he was called to do on earth, and a crown of righteousness was prepared for him in heaven.
Was there anything that he still had trouble leaving behind?
The bond he had been building with people through years of ministry was certainly strong and long lasting. He had come to treasure the friendships he made with a few people, and to leave them behind was gut-wrenching. Besides, there were a few people that he loved like his own children, particularly Timothy, to whom he would have the greatest trouble bidding a final adieu. Surely it’s extremely difficult for anyone to bid farewell to the world, no matter how loosely they hold onto earthly things. I don’t believe we see an exception in the apostle, who seemed to love and care about those who were around him so deeply and tenderly.
We should keep in mind that the day will arrive, either expected or unexpected, when we will have to cast our last glance at the sights we have come to love so much and glide away from it all. Yet we should not let morbid thoughts occupy our mind and heart, since anxiety for what will take place in the future may take away the joy we have in the present. Even if the worst may happen to us in death, it still does not do away with all the best the Lord has so richly bestowed on us in life. Besides, death does not swallow up life when it occurs; it simply transforms the life we know into another eternal life.
    In this case, death isn’t something “devoutly to be wished,” for we are yet to accomplish all that we desire to achieve. One thing we do have to make sure of is that we lead a life of living sacrifice unto the Lord here on earth, and when the time finally comes for us to depart, may we be “poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice” unto him as well.
   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, November 20, 2014 6:45:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Not in Vain 

~~MTS-3855
Not in Vain
“And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”       Phil 2:16

This isn’t the time to reflect whether my effort in the ministry has been in vain or not and, besides, I am not the one to give a final verdict concerning my work here on earth. I hope I still have some years left so that I can redeem where I have fallen miserably short so that my heart will be more at ease with who I am when the time to leave all things finally arrives.
I pray the last ten or twenty years will the best years in my life in terms of serving the Lord and walking with him.
I just entered into my sixties, yet things seem to remain exactly the same as before, and I may even have regressed somewhat spiritually, which is a cause of great disappointment. I seem to have trouble reaching the goals I have set for myself, let along getting to the destination the Lord has established for me. I am such a big failure.
Yet another session at a pity party? How tiresome it is!
Paul indeed had done the best he could have done to bring people to Christ, and to nurture them spiritually like a mother nurturing her children. There wasn’t a smidge of self-pity in the apostle and his main concern was always the spiritual growth of those who the Lord had placed under his care. He became extremely anxious when he realized that any one of his flocks was drifting away from the truth.
“And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”
How could the apostle run or labor in vain, knowing that Christ would honor what he had been laboring for by causing the believers whom he was overseeing to grow and to thrive as Christians. The apostle must have known by faith that it would take place, but he was still hoping that he would know it by sight. Our ultimate consolation is in store for us above, but it would be so nice if we could foretaste some of it here below.
“Well, what do you think?” I asked Kathy after she read the devotional I was about to send out.
“It’s good,” she replied.
“That’s it?” I questioned, with a tinge of disappointment.
How often do we have to be reaffirmed by the Lord that we are on the right track and doing the right thing and are not laboring in vain? What the Lord expects us to envision by faith we are so eager to see by sight; and we seem to be so anxious to cash in now what the Lord has in store for us in the future and turn our heavenly treasure into earthly possessions.
“They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…”  Indeed, like all the people of faith, we can only envision what is going to transpire from a distance, believing what our labor here on earth will not be in vain. 

     

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, November 19, 2014 6:37:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Shining 

~~MTS-3854
Shining
“Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.”             Phil 2:15,16

We live in obscurity most of our lives, yet there may be moments when we get to shine for a brief time, and we may have to spend our entire life time preparing for such a moment.
Stars are hardly visible when the moon shines brightly, and people hardly pay any attention to them. They are often outshone and outperformed by other lights, both man-made and natural. We nonetheless know that they are there, and the light we witness from them has been traveling for thousands of years to meet our eye-sight.
It matters very little for them not to be seen or to be amazed at, as if they were the greatest things since the creation of the universe. They may be thousands of time greater than the planet earth, yet they seem to appear so insignificant and obscure, and their names are unknown to most except a special few.
Their light keeps on traveling and penetrating the dense atmosphere in order for them to be seen by us, in spite of the fact that they are mostly ignored.
I was once a counter of stars who used to lie on a narrow wooden bench in the courtyard in front of our house at night, trying to number all the stars; I often fell fast asleep before I even reached the hundredth one. Stars are the stuff dreams are made of, yet they don’t seem to come alive except in fantasies and fairytales. The little boy who was anxious about the tedious labor he would have to do in the rice paddy under the scorching sun the next morning hardly knew that someday he himself would turn into another sort of star, shining in the dark world for people to behold.
The truth is, however, that most people could care less about the tiny circle of light that I have consumed all my energy trying to produce in a world where the masses are acquainted with the night, yet still remain quite foreign to the splendor of the stars. 
Some stars may be burning themselves out on the way, exploding into a brilliant light ball and vanishing in the night sky, yet most of us are still journeying across the dark and violent atmosphere at the speed of light, attempting to reach within people’s limited eyesight, to reveal to them the grace and beauty of creation, and the One who brought all things heaven and earth into being.
So I will continue “to hold firmly to the word of life,” like the stars hold firmly to their light for millions of years with a single and never changing purpose, which is to cast away the darkness surrounding them, and to form a perfect circle of light.    

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, November 18, 2014 7:12:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Grumbling and Arguing 

~~MTS-3853
Grumbling and Arguing
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure…”          Phil 2:14, 15

We grumble and complain when we feel that we are above what we do for a living, or think that we deserve far better than the way we have been treated by other people. Most of our grumblings and complaints are caused by our arrogance and pride.
If we suspect that we may be wrong in some way, we probably will become more humble about our opinion and other people’s reaction to it, and not keep on insisting that we are right. There are absolutes as far as morality is concerned, and the standard we derive from the Scriptures can never be compromised; besides this, all else can be negotiated. Truth is unbending and inflexible, but my personal opinions concerning it may easily be wrong or askew
Grumbling and arguing are symptoms of a much greater problem that we may harbor within our hearts and, unless we deal with it, it will became such a hindrance that it will keep us from growing spiritually and cause us to become the ones whom most people will try to avoid. Such is the inner pride that breeds bitterness, discontentment, and general unhappiness in one’s life and casts a dark shadow on all things he or she does.
We can look at all things either from a positive or negative point of view, and by doing either we may create reality out of whatever we have encountered in life. We may not be able to change the things dealt to us in life, be they good or bad, comical or tragic, but they nonetheless can be transformed by the way we perceive them. There is some truth to what some Buddhists hold true: “reality is generated through one’s mind “境由心生.”
Why do we grumble about anything if we truly believe that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose?” Isn’t it a lack of trust in God that we grumble and complain about what happens to us?
We can either actively embrace what occurs to us and take it in stride or passively endure it as if it’ were some sort of necessary evil and we just have to live through it, gnashing our teeth. I think the latter describes the attitude that most of us hold toward the undesirable things in life, which is a kind of stoic attitude that may not be pleasing to God. Stoicism may be needed when we endure any sort of pain, yet thankfulness in heart may be a better option when we deal with suffering in life, realizing that suffering and sorrow aren’t the ultimate purpose in life, holiness is. We can probably embrace suffering with joy if we are convinced it’s merely a purification purpose, making us more like Christ, as Paul rendered so poetically: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”    
 

   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, November 17, 2014 7:58:00 AM Categories: Devotional

God's Work 

~~MTS-3852
God’s Work
“…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”         Phil 2:12

God works within our hearts both “to will and to act” according to his sovereign will to bring his “good purpose” to pass in our lives. Even so, we do have a choice whether to cooperate with him or not, for we have been endowed with a free will, which is free to reject the One who empowers us with this precious gift.
People have been elaborating on the issue of free will ad nauseam, so there is no need for me to add my two cents worth of input into this discussion. Free will is what it is and the paradox will forever remain puzzling to all of us, yet all we are required to do is to make every effort to exercise it by God’s will, not by the will of our carnal selves.
There will be a constant struggle between the two, however. Why are we even required to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Because there is always a chance that we may quit working, or working to oppose God’s will and turning away from the direction he directs us to go. We are fearful because we may fall from grace if we are not on our guard every moment of the day.
Indeed, grace is absolutely necessary for us to remain in God’s grace, for apart from him we can so nothing. We are imprisoned by our reason and prejudices, and we will not be liberated until we are broken, as John Donne wrote: “Yet dearly I love you, and would be love faine; but am betrothed unto your enemy.”  A divorce from our mortal enemy needs to take place in order for us to become free to be cooperative with God in doing his will and fulfilling his good purpose for us.
Grace and more grace, I pray.
It was by God’s grace that I made the choice to follow him years ago, and it was also through his grace that I was able to make some monumental choices concerning living my life according to his will. Indeed, all the great issues have been worked out according to his good purpose; what’s left are thousands of small things that I seem to have great difficulty getting a grip on - things such as the usage of my time and leading a life of strong discipline. Did the Lord only bring the few big things to pass in my life and leave all the small things for me to handle by myself? I have often wondered. Did he just lay the foundation and erect the structure of my life’s building and leave me with the laborious task of laying all the bricks and filling all the holes and gaps?
I may need his grace more in doing the small things in life than the great ones, for life consists of millions of small details, and the strength needed to do them well is tremendous. One of the main reasons why we fail to fulfill God’s good purpose in us is we often fail to ask for sufficient grace from above to do the small things well. We may know quite well the direction we are heading, yet seem to stagger and stumble along the way.    


  
 


   
 
 
   
 


 
  

   

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, November 14, 2014 6:50:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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