To Preach 

~~MTS-4097
To Preach
“…this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ…”         Eph 3:8

I had become a Christian just about a year before and my knowledge of the Bible was rather limited, yet the church was in a bind, for the one who was scheduled to preach at the Sunday service wasn’t able to come. They decided to put me in the pulpit to deliver the message, making that the first time I ever preached the Word. I have no recollection of what I spoke about to a very small congregation; what I remember about the occasion was it all came so naturally, as if it was meant to be that way from the beginning. I had absolutely no sense of being called to be a preacher and, in fact, that would have been the last thing I would have chosen to do if I had had to make a choice at that time. I had often envisioned myself as a writer and a poet, and was preparing myself to be a college teacher. I thought I had preached my last sermon after the service was over and didn’t preach another one until I became a seminary student four years later. In spite of my continual resistance to the idea of becoming a preacher, the Lord wasn’t about to quit calling me to preach. True to what I had planned, I became a college teacher, even though I had been trained to be a pastor and was fully qualified to be ordained. I taught for three years with the intention of making teaching my career, which was the reason behind my going back to school to get a doctorial degree in English Literature.
Yet the Lord persisted, and he would see to it that what he preordained before the foundation of the world came to fruition. Different things occurred during the third year of my studies and I decided to leave the university and enter into ministry. I took a detour after a year in LA, but my destiny was sealed and I couldn’t have become anything but a preacher of the gospel.
John Donne was a broken man and all opportunities of career advancement were blocked merely for one mistake he had committed. The only career path left for the poet to pursue was the ministry, which he took rather begrudgingly; yet when all was said and done, Donne might have been known more as a preacher than a poet. He remained in the city of London, ministering to a dwindling congregation while most people were fleeing the Black Death by moving to the countryside. He was created a servant of the gospel and he couldn’t have become anything except a preacher.
Being a poet myself, the story of Donne’s life never fails to move me, sometimes to tears, for I see so much of myself in the man who seemed to have ruined his life by his passion for romantic love, yet the Lord brought the prodigal back to the fold and made a great preacher out of a poet in the end.
I have long given up the aspiration to teach literature and for certain will end my life behind the pulpit, which is what I was called to do from the beginning.     

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, November 30, 2015 6:59:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Less than the Least 

~~MTS-4096
Less than the Least
“Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me…”          Eph 3:8

That was how the apostle Paul perceived himself and he wasn’t just saying that, he truly believed it. How could he see himself any other way except this way, considering who and what he had been before he was converted? He could have boasted about many things had he looked at himself from a worldly point of view, since he was far superior than most disciples in many ways, yet there was only way he could view himself, he was a sinner saved by God’s grace.
How do we perceive ourselves, then? Can we consider ourselves other than this - sinners saved by God’s grace? Indeed, we may become boastful if we continue to look at ourselves from a worldly perspective, for no matter how lowly we are, there are still things in ourselves of which we can be proud.
Self-forgetfulness is a great Christian virtue, for apart from it true humility becomes impossible to achieve. Indeed, humility isn’t the putting down of oneself; it’s the forgetfulness of oneself. It’s a must that we forget what our upbringing was and what we have achieved by using our natural talent when we come before the throne of grace. These things may stand in the way of us truly knowing the Lord and appreciating what he has done for us, and understanding the essence of our salvation, which is justification by faith alone, not by works.
Even though we have been saved by faith, we somehow feel that we have earned part of our redemption by our merit. We are by nature arrogant and it makes us feel rather ill-at-ease to receive something that we haven’t earned. It makes feel us weak and inferior, which tends to leave a bitter taste in our mouths.
When will we get to the point when we can make the same proclamation the apostle made? We may deem ourselves somewhat unworthy, yet deep inside we may still believe that we do have something to contribute toward our own salvation in particular and God’s kingdom in general as well. We may be poor, but not yet poverty-stricken; we may be running out of funds, but are still pretty far away from declaring bankruptcy.
Paul was bankrupt, for he knew there wasn’t anything good in his flesh and apart from God’s grace he had absolutely nothing. Yes, he deemed himself less than the least and worse than the worst among of God’s people. How could he not look at himself this way rather than any other way; how can anyone not see himself this way rather than any other way?
“There isn’t a single day in my entire life that I can consider a perfect day,” I said to my wife during our tea time after she came back from work. She might not have thought much about what I said, yet what I meant was I am the worst of all people, since I have failed to spend each day of my life according to how the Lord designed them to be spent. I am completely bankrupt as far as leading a life of holiness is concerned.    
 

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, November 23, 2015 8:02:00 AM Categories: Devotional

A Servant 

~~MTS-4095
A Servant
“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.”       Eph 3:7

I can’t say I feel the same way toward what Paul was referring to concerning being a servant of the gospel. In fact, the view I used to hold, perhaps am still holding, toward becoming a servant of the gospel is the opposite of the apostle’s perception. I used to be ashamed of the gospel and I am not at all sure that I have overcome such an adverse feeling. In fact, I am rather ashamed of having such a feeling, which is the reason why I have been constantly arguing in my writings that my feeling isn’t really me and I am not supposed to be held responsible for all my feelings. My true self is the spirit that dwells within my body, which is the antithesis of the feelings produced by my flesh.
I know it’s a tremendous honor and privilege to be called by God to become a servant of the gospel, yet I seem to have believed this only rationally, but never emotionally. I think a lot of Christians may feel the same way as I do, for if this weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be any shortage of Christian workers in God’s kingdom. We may consider the calling to be God’s servant an honor and privilege, yet we often feel like escaping if by chance the Lord decides to bestow on us such a privilege. All the good things we say about being in the ministry are only lip service and nothing more beyond that.
“Hey Dr. Sea, how are you?” one of Kathy’s students yelled across the hall at me when I was going to meet my wife for lunch at her school, and I caught myself at the moment thinking and wishing that I were a physician, not a minister of the gospel, and was hoping the ones who heard the call mistook me as an MD as well. I guess we all know the reason behind my sentiment.
What would Paul have become had the Lord not called him to be a servant of the gospel? He might have become a great rabbi like his teacher Gamaliel before him and it was quite likely that he would eventually have become one of the members of the Sanhedrin. He might also have become one the most feared persecutors of the Way and his hands would have been stained by the blood of many martyrs. All things considered, being called to be a servant of the gospel was a truly a blessing for Paul as a person and for all of us in the following generations who have been blessed by the apostle’s teaching.
We tend to consider Paul’s perception toward the ministry from a worldly point of view, and don’t put too much weight on it, and as far as our career choices are concerned, we hardly ever give the ministry a serious thought at all. It’s probably at the lowest place in the pecking order of our career choices, and if we do choose to become a servant of the gospel, we may do so begrudgingly, as if we were too good for the occupation.
I haven’t been thoroughly transformed by the Spirit if my value system and worldview remain the same as that of unbelievers. I am afraid I still have a lot of inner transformation to be done since my view toward the ministry is still rather secular.   

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, November 20, 2015 7:41:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Mystery 

~~MTS-4094
The Mystery
“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body…”       Eph 3:6

The chosen people of God used to consider that they had a monopoly on God’s favor and salvation and the thought of sharing such a privilege with the Gentiles was unthinkable to them. It was something that they didn’t think would ever take place, and it was highly unusual for any Jewish person to even entertain such a possibility.
The idea doesn’t seem to be all that farfetched to us since God is the Creator of all people and we are all God’s children by virtue of his creation; therefore the coming together of the Jews and the Gentiles as one body shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Yet what we take for granted was mysterious to God’s chosen people, Paul included.
Whatever we don’t understand with our mind and embrace with our hearts is mysterious to us. What makes it mysterious isn’t the thing itself; it’s something inside our hearts causing us to cast it away, thus turning the easily understandable and acceptable into something puzzling and incomprehensible. Our sins and prejudices keep us from seeing the visible and perceiving the perceivable. 
How can racism, sexism, or any other “isms” be rational and justifiable at all? Why is it such a mystery that all people are God’s children and they should be treated as equals?
I have walked by Customer’s Service section at Wal-Mart at least a dozen times, hoping to apologize to a service lady who works there whose name is Ronda whom I offended about a month ago. What I did to her was an example of prejudice and disrespect, for I wouldn’t have done that to her had she been a worker at the Dillard’s or another high-end stores. Why should it be such a mystery to me that the way I interacted with her was a form of racism, sexism, and classism?
It might have been mysterious to Paul that both Jews and Gentiles would be brought together through the death of Christ Jesus, which is the essence of the gospel, but it shouldn’t remain mysterious to us, for the truth has been revealed and brought into the daylight. God does not practice favoritism and both Jews and Gentiles are his beloved ones who are entitled to salvation through the merit of God’s only Son.
This truth remains mysterious for those who still hold the false belief that they are superior to others by virtue of their birth or skin color, and thus have a monopoly on God’s love. We are different not by our own doing at all, and taking credit for the differences, either good or bad from a human perspective is ignorance and arrogance of the highest degree.  

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, November 19, 2015 7:13:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Insight 

~~MTS-4093
Insight
“In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ…”         Eph 3:4

We seek to know something in order to put it into practice and, unless we do so, knowledge will not do us any good. Some of us may pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and nothing more. Indeed, “knowledge puffs up, and love builds up.”
Do people need more insight into God’s mystery, as if mystery itself weren’t quite enough? I don’t think this is what Paul was trying to say. He was merely trying to make God’s mystery more accessible to the common man and bring the mysterious things of God into the light of common understanding.
Surely that was quite a challenging task, for in order to achieve the goal, he had to know God’s mystery very well so that he could digest the whole thing and explain to laymen in a simple manner that they could comprehend.
I am always overcome by a sense of shame when I consider how I used to teach some subjects in college about which I knew very little. I took on the task of teaching Shakespeare, even though my knowledge of the master was extremely limited, yet I did it anyway, which was rather irresponsible on my part. A few years later I was again asked to teach a survey course of Western Civilization, of which I only knew bits and pieces, yet I pieced the little bits that I knew and managed to teach the course. I suppose I did alright, yet deep inside I knew I could have done better, and I really did my students a disservice by accepting the job. I was merely a parrot who regurgitated what I knew about the subject, which was the best I could do at the time and my students must have been mystified by my half-baked instruction.
Am I doing the same thing teaching the Bible and preaching from the Scriptures? This thought does bring terror to my heart, for compared to teaching secular subjects in colleges, this calling is a far more daunting thing since what I am dealing with is people’s eternal destiny and failing to do a good job might have eternal consequences.
How do I gain insight into the mystery of Christ and communicate it to people in a simple and understandable manner? This is a tough question, isn’t it? I can spend hours studying the Word and writing my sermon, yet what comes out from my preaching may still sound like “a resounding gong or clanging cymbal,” full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. People may be overwhelmed by the message, yet unimpressed by the messenger, for there may be a severe lacking of spiritual insight, which can only be attained through wrestling with God in prayer.       

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, November 18, 2015 7:02:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Mystery 

~~MTS-4092
Mystery
“…that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.”           Eph 3:3

Being a writer, I have always been striving to be more original in my thinking and writing, yet it’s been quite an unsuccessful attempt since no matter how hard I have tried, my writings are still littered with clichés and worn out ideas void of freshness and thought-provoking ideas. Indeed, “there are no new things under the sun” and, if my aspiration is to unveil some new things to my readers, I am bound to fail. “All writings in the world are mere copies from others,” goes a Chinese saying. It’s quite discouraging, isn’t it? We envision ourselves to be creators who create new ideas, yet in truth we are just parrots, mimicking other people’s voices.
We are aspiring to be divine if we attempt to create something out of nothing; we create something out of something even at the best moment of our creative endeavors. We should be thrilled if we are successful in making something relatively fresh and new. I guess that’s the best we can hope to achieve and anything beyond is delusional.
Unlike the prophets of old, prophets in the New Testament era are the one who exposited the word of God from the Scriptures; they were not to seek any revelation to add on to the old, something I have been doing for the last twenty years as a preacher and writer, and I will consider myself a success if I do it faithfully.
The temptation to deviate from the teaching of the Scriptures has always been present however, and I am often assaulted by my creative instinct in the process of preaching or composing. I hate to put people on the pews to sleep, which happens rather often, by my stale messages and much-repeated sermon illustrations. “Isn’t there anything new to say?” people may be wondering.
Of all preachers I will be the most dangerous if I come up with something new to speak every time, for such is how most heresies got started. Wasn’t that what the Gnostics believed, who led so many people astray? It’s just such a seduction for us creative types who often become discontent with speaking and writing about the same old things.
There must be something seriously wrong if I ever get tired of preaching and writing about the gospel. Indeed, my goal of preaching and teaching isn’t to tell people something they haven’t already known. People don’t really need to be taught, they just need to be reminded. This is what I need to constantly remind myself.
“I feel like I am saying the same thing,” I said to my wife whenever I ask her to go through my writings. There is definitely truth to my fear since, no matter how hard I try to be innovative in the composing process, what comes out from my pen will always be “thinking God’s thought after him.” I guess this is quite alright. One can do a lot worse.

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, November 16, 2015 7:30:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Grace 

~~MTS-4091
Grace
“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you…”        Eph 3:1

Is God’s grace personal or communal? Good question, isn’t it? Of course, most of us deem the former to be true. The grace we receive from the Lord is for our benefit in most cases.
That wasn’t how God’s grace was administrated according to Paul. He was perceiving God’s grace more from a communal perspective, considering the grace he had received from the Lord was for the benefit of the entire church. Whatever grace he received from the Lord was for the building up and edification of the church.
It was early summer that I started writing daily devotional essays in Chinese and, after three or four months of composing, I was getting a little tired and the thought of quitting surfaced from time to time. As that happens, what I usually do is to ask the Lord for some sort of indication that I should continue, which was the thing I did yesterday. I waited and waited throughout the day and there was no epiphany of any sort and I concluded that no sign itself was a sign and decided not to get up before five to work on the Chinese writing of the day. Yet before going to bed I received a text from William that reading my English devotion does lift him up for the day. Was that the indication I was searching for? Not really. But something was better than nothing, so I woke up at ten till five this morning and dragged my feet to my easy chair and started composing.
Surely the grace of thinking and writing has been endowed me by the Lord for the purpose of edifying and exhorting the church and not to do it faithfully is disobedience to God. Composing should not be a self-intoxicating, narcissistic act or a mere expression of personality; it should be for the building up of the entire church.
By God’s grace he has given to us a variety of gifts which we can utilize to serve God’s church, and it’s an ultimate betrayal and selfishness to keep them for oneself or to use it as a way of self-aggrandizement within the church. I have been rather reluctant to put my spiritual gifts on public display for fear of treading on the dangerous ground of self-expression, using God’s gifts to boost my ego and to advertise my talent. 
The apostle Paul had no such issue at all. His conscience was clear and his integrity was impeccable, which is something of which I might have fallen way short, therefore I have always chosen to keep myself hidden behind the curtain, knowing how very seductive the limelight is and how I long to be recognized by the masses.
For this reason I might have gone to the extreme to put myself down and to keep God’s grace merely for personal benefits. This is obviously not a Biblical mandate of utilizing God’s grace. God’s grace can be personal, but it’s never meant to be entirely personal. We are blessed so that we can become a blessing to others.
 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, November 13, 2015 6:55:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Being Built 

~~MTS-4090
Being Built
“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”        Eph 2:22

The key here is being built together, not separately. One person can never be built into a church, two or three at the least. The church of God is not a one-man band.
Being an introvert and a self-professed poet and loner, I am by nature a misanthropist and disdainer of the masses. My motto as young man used to be “I have not loved the world, nor the world me,” quoting from one of Byron’s poems. In fact, I was more a misfit than anything then and was deemed a failure in all ways from a worldly point of view. Undoubtedly, the world couldn’t care less about me.
Becoming a Christian made a great difference in my life, yet it seemed to have failed to transform me into an extrovert or a social butterfly that feels totally at home in the world. I am still who I am, an avoider of people and, if at all possible, I would very much to become a one-man church. Well, perhaps two people, my wife and me, that is.
Ironically, the Lord appears to have had a sense of humor and called me to be a minister of his church and, over a period of twenty three years, I have been shaped and chiseled into someone I can hardly recognize. The Lord has turned an outcast into one of the small bricks in God’s building. I have not exactly become what the Lord designed me to be; at least I am somewhat functional in God’s kingdom. This wouldn’t have been possible had I not joined the church and been incorporated into the body of Christ.
It wasn’t as smooth as it could have been in the beginning, to be very honest. In fact, I vowed to myself never to seek God’s call to be a pastor again after serving a year as an assistant minster in a Chinese church out West. I was ill-suited and poorly prepared to be the minister of the gospel. I was by nature a romantic poet through and through and that was what I was destined to be. What a feeling of liberation and euphoria it was when I saw the skyline of LA covered with smog in my rearview mirror. Yet about a year later, I found myself searching for another calling from above, and the pursuit took me to yet another church where I would stay for twenty two years. There is no doubt the Lord decided that I needed to be built in a church, and there simply was not any other way for me to become functional as a Christian unless I became functional in God’s church.
“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” We need to be constantly reminded that we are being constructed into a dwelling where the Holy Spirit will find his home. Over these years, I found myself being built by the church a lot more than building others as a pastor. I am not so much of a leader; I am merely learning how to be led.            

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, November 12, 2015 6:54:00 AM Categories: Devotional

In Him 

~~MTS-4089
In Him
“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”       Eph 2:21

How do we see the invisible from the visible? It takes an eye of faith to see it. We have to look beyond the mundane and see eternity but, unfortunately, many of us only see the visible and end there and, as a result, they are blinded by what they see.
What do we look to see when we go to God’s house to worship? We may see people who dress inappropriately for the church service or we may encounter the ones far below our social echelon and, in normal circumstances, they and we would not be found at the same gathering. In the midst of different kinds of people, we may sometimes ask ourselves a question: “Why am I here?” We may oftentimes feel so ill-at-ease among people from other walks of life that we are tempted to escape from the house of God and ease back to the community where we feel the most comfortable.
We may be quite different in terms of education, race, and family background, which matters very little if we only have one thing in common - our love for Christ. The same love may unite us in Christ despite all the differences we may still have. We may look rather different outwardly, but the indwelling Spirit within us remains exactly the same. The Spirit is the adhesive that makes our bond strong and inseparable.
Of course, we must be united with Christ before we can be united with our brothers and sisters in God’s church. We immediately have a strong feeling of kinship when we visit Protestant churches both in the States and in foreign countries. We are obviously brothers and sisters if we all have the same heavenly Father. We often hear brothers or sisters who were separated at birth either by adoption or other factors, developing an instant strong bond the moment when they are reunited as adults. Family members can never be severed by physical separation. We are either family members or not; as simple as that.
Can a member of the body be severed from the body and survive by itself? That’s quite impossible, for the member must draw its nutrients from the body to become viable, and it must also be connected to the head to become a living organism with purpose and function. This is the reason why I find the phenomena of promoting individual spirituality separated from the sustaining power and support of the church quite strange. Don’t we all hear people claiming far too often that they are Christians but they want to have nothing to do with any church? How can it be possible that people love a severed head on a plate, completely separated from the body? Of course, Christ as the head of the church is completely self-sustaining and self-sufficient, but the body will never survive without him. A member who isn’t connected to the living body Christ will die in a short time. In fact, it shouldn’t be considered a part of the body at all.    

   

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, November 11, 2015 7:00:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Foreigners 

~~MTS-4088
Foreigners and Strangers
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household…”    Eph 2:19

You are not what you perceive yourself to be; you are what others consider you to be. You may be feeling pretty much the same wherever you are, yet that’s not how you are perceived. You become an entirely different person when you move into a strange land and foreign culture. You haven’t changed a bit intrinsically, but outwardly you turn into someone with a label, a sticker, and a prefix. People no longer look at you, they look through you. You become invisible.
My wife doesn’t enjoy socializing and it makes her nervous speaking to people she doesn’t know. It’s rather taxing for her when she is with people, for she feels that she must think of something to say if there is any silence at all. I am just the opposite. Even though I am an introvert, it doesn’t bother me to be with people that much, and silence does not bother me within a conversation. Last night we went to her school’s Thanksgiving party and for some odd reason I felt quite foreign among a sea of white folks. I suddenly felt that I was being labeled and defined as someone foreign and a bit strange. There was not a sense of belonging and I felt like escaping from the gathering.
Don’t we often see ourselves in other people’s eyes, in how they interact with us and the way they speak to us? How do we like it when people speak to us as if we were children who had just learned to talk? Indeed, our English language ability may not be up to par, but we would very much like to be addressed as adults, not children.
O the loneliness and alienation that we feel in a foreign land, where people still ask you where you are from even though you have long considered this land your home. The question becomes even more annoying when addressed to someone who was born in this land and people consider them foreign merely because they have a different skin color.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers…” Indeed, this ideal is yet to become a reality, for there are still numerous strangers and foreigners in our midst against whom we are prejudiced. There are divisions among Christians, albeit we are from the same household. I am sure a white or black American coming to visit our church might feel rather uncomfortable, invisible even.
I guess this is a matter of the will and we must overcome our feeling of prejudice when we interact with foreigners or people from other races and must treat them with the utmost respect. How I feel toward others is not really me, yet how I act indicates who I really am.
    

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, November 10, 2015 7:40:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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