Keep Watching 

~~MTS-3877
Keep Watching
“…and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”          Phil 3:17

Twenty some years serving in the same church as a minister should be long enough to observe people’s faith and come to a conclusion concerning their walk with the Lord. We may make a mistake if we only have a few years to do so, since people may be able to persist doing what they believe to be the right things through their natural strength, but doing faith work consistently for twenty years does take faith.
Paul told the Philippians to keep an eye on people’s walk with the Lord, not so much for making a judgment on the validity of their faith, but to find the ones whose walk with the Lord they could emulate. So much of our Christian walk is a “show and tell” kind of thing. Christians must express their belief through their actions so that they can show the watching world their true colors.
I have become rather reluctant to baptize new believers, for some of them seem to have fallen away a mere few months after their received the ritual. People may say the right thing and even act the right way, but change pretty quickly when circumstances become different. They melt and buckle rapidly when they are put under fire.
It isn’t how one starts that counts for anything, it’s how one ends that reveals the truthfulness of one’s love and faith towards someone. Most marriages seem to start so gloriously well with earnest vows and abundant flowers, yet about half of them may end up in court years later, divorcing or fighting for the custody of the children. Making a profession of faith and getting baptized don’t seem to mean a whole lot to the ones who fall away for various reasons not long after the sacrament. They might have started with the best intentions, yet lack the determination to end it well.
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith,” we read in Hebrews. Some who led me and taught me the Word of God when I was a young believer have passed away with their faith intact and a good testimony preserved and I praise the Lord for them, but there were one or two who stumbled along the way and their final verdict is yet to be determined. By looking at their lives I have learned what and what not to do as a servant of God and have become more mindful of my walk with the Lord, realizing that my words and conduct as a Christian are being watched and studied both by angels above and people below as well.
Indeed what we do temporally does count for eternity, and we as Christians may become either stumbling blocks, causing people to fall, or stepping blocks, elevating people to higher ground to gain a better view of divine glory.  
  

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, December 29, 2014 7:16:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Example 

~~MTS-3876
Example
“Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters…”
        Phil 3:17

Paul was fully confident that he was following Christ and what he was doing for the most part was unblemished, therefore he could ask the Philippians to follow his example. It would have been preposterous for him to do that unless he was modeling Christ in all he did. He was in fact drawing a portrait of Christ for all people to behold through his words and deeds, so that they would have a better idea of how a follower of Christ should act under various circumstances.
I am afraid not many of us have the audacity to make such a proclamation, and the most we can do is to ask people to follow the example of Christ. People would have been greatly misled had we asked them to follow our examples, for we are merely frail human beings who are prone to making mistakes. “Listen to what I say, but don’t do what do.” Don’t we all feel this way occasionally?
“Preacher, preach to yourself!” This is the accusation I have often heard from the evil one after I have delivered a sermon, and it has never failed to put me to great shame, for I know how deep and wide I have fallen short and couldn’t possibly measure up to the standard of my teaching. Therefore I have always been very cautious not to lift myself up for people to emulate.
Even so, people are going to do what I do one way of another anyway, since I have been placed in a leadership position and, whether I like it or not, people within the church are going to look at what I do, and follow suit in some way. I may easily become a stumbling block for other people if I fail to watch my every step.
I may have to bring my loose lips under control. I have been convicted by the Spirit more than once, and it does take a conscious effort for me not to spill out unsound words and unbecoming language just to bring a little laughter from my listeners. Surely I don’t want to be known as a jokester, do I?
“Watch your life and doctrine closely.” Paul urged Timothy in his letter, reminding his spiritual son that he ought to guard himself from becoming a bad example for ones under his watch. In the same way, we ought to strive to have more consistency between our doctrine and our practice, so that we won’t be accused of being hypocrites.
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” I have always considered being spontaneous as my right, without knowing that in the name of freedom and spontaneity I may have led many people astray. Bring a Godly example may require us to suppress our natural instincts with all their unbecoming expressions and do the right and Godly thing at all times.
 

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, December 24, 2014 7:56:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Maturity 

~~MTS-3875
Maturity
“All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.”
           Phil 3:15

Our perception of things determines who we are, for we are what we see, not what we claim to be. What we claim to be is what we perceive laudable and acceptable by society, and what we see is who we are intrinsically.
Paul was urging the Philippians to see things from a spiritual viewpoint and to avoid looking at things from a worldly perspective. For us followers of Christ, growing into maturity is to conform more into the image of Christ and to be transformed by the renewal of our mind through reading the Scriptures. Christian maturity lies mostly in one’s thinking, and when thinking is transformed, actions will follow according.
Most of the battle we fight against the evil one takes place in the sphere of our thinking.
Paul was mostly addressing our value system in his discussion previously, and his main point was what he considered so precious as a carnal man he now deemed rubbish as a spiritual person. His world and life view and value system stemming from it was the old wine which he had discarded along with the old wineskin.  
“All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.” The measure of our maturity as followers of Christ should be measured by how much we have adapted the new way of thinking and new measure of valuing things. The new way of Christ and the old way of the world is incompatible and should not be merged into an unholy union.
“Isn’t this something we Christians do routinely?” we ask. We seem to glide between the new and the old world and sometimes remain somewhere in the middle. We have been saved, yet not completely redeemed; we have become saints, yet haven’t entirely been sanctified. I suppose this is what makes our discussion meaningful, for maturity indicates various degrees of differences among all people and there must be a perfect standard by which our maturity is measured.
No wonder Paul was the first one to admit that he was yet to get hold of what Christ called him to achieve as a servant of God. What’s interesting about spiritual maturity is that the ones who are the closest to the goal are often the ones who claim that they are the farthest from getting there and act that way in their word and deed. The goal of spiritual maturity is just so noble and lofty that it has a way of making us feel so small, so humble, and so unequal to the task.
Such is the view that we should take, for there is no alternative offered to us. We are new creations in Christ and we must adapt a new way of thinking and action; we will get better at what we do if we continue to practice, and spiritual maturity will gradually take place.  
    

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, December 23, 2014 6:30:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Prize 

~~MTS-3874
The Prize
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”            Phil 3:14

Paul’s goal as a young Pharisee was clearly defined: he wanted to advance as far as he possibly could in his religion and, preferably, to become someone at the top of Judaism. His goal was clear and the steps it would take for him to get there were concrete and precise.
The young Saul’s goal in life was changed entirely after he experienced a dramatic encounter with the risen Christ, yet this time the prize he would be pursuing became much less clearly defined, a little vague even. It was something thus described: "What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived." What eyes have not seen and mind has not conceived certainly cannot be fathomed or defined.
It was a prize, nonetheless, which was what the apostle sought his entire life after his conversion. What exactly was the prize then, and how did he take hold of it? Here seems to be the answer: “Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
We seek the ultimate prize through seeking Christ Jesus. That was the very thing Paul was doing his entire life, which is something we should devote ourselves to do as well. Knowing Christ is the prize in and of itself, and anything beyond it is a bonus.
To know Christ is to build an intimate relationship with him and nothing, absolutely nothing, is more desirable and sweeter than having a close connection with Christ. I have often mentioned elsewhere that most of our joy in life is generated through having good relationships, be they friendly or romantic ones, but the sweetest of them all is our relationship Christ, which is joy unspeakable and beyond measure. This is exactly the prize we seek to win in this life, and will get to enjoy it both in this life and the one to come afterward.
How do we know for sure whether we have achieved the goal or not, for our relationship with Christ seems to be hard to quantify or to qualify, and the degree of its intimacy is so difficult to define?
A simple test will yield the answer: Are you in love with Christ as a father, a friend, and a lover? Do you miss him when you fail to meet him for a few days through reading the Bible and prayer? Does he surface in your mind from time to time even if you are not thinking about him consciously? Do you often have an indescribable longing for him? These are all on the feeling or emotional level, and their presence in your life only indicate that you do have a personal relationship with him. The quality of it needs daily cultivation, and the closer you are with him, the greater and the more desirable the prize will be. In another words, the prize we are pursuing as followers of Christ is realized in our deeper knowledge of and more intimate relationship with him.


   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, December 22, 2014 8:26:00 AM Categories: Devotional

One Thing 

~~MTS-3873
One Thing
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…”           Phil 3:13

One of the most important things that we should do in life is to forget what we should forget and remember what we must remember. What causes the most pain is remembering what we should forget and forgetting what we should remember.
What must we forget?
We must strain to forget what happened to us in the past, be they good things or bad things. This appears to be quite impossible to achieve since we all have memories and they often come back to us even if we don’t think about them consciously. Our memory is part of us and we aren’t who we are if we don’t have it. Our past is what makes us who we are and we are pretty much defined by it.
To forget what’s behind is not to be mindful of the past. Our past will always seek to define and qualify us and keep us from moving beyond its control. It will always inform us that who we once were is what we will always be and we can’t do anything about it. It constrains us to live in the past, be it successful or a failure.
I am still bound by the failures that I suffered in years past and am pretty much defined by them. My past, for the most part, still dominates my present and keeps me from advancing any farther in my pursuit of becoming more like Christ, and I have long become who I was, not what I can be or will be. I have decided that I have dyscalculia, which is the real reason that I did not advance past long division in my career of learning how to do math. My identity as a mathematician had already been defined, for I can never forget the failures that I suffered doing sums.
Our past may have become so heavy and burdensome and it keeps us from moving toward what is ahead. Therefore every day becomes an old day harking us back toward our worn-out past, not calling us into the exciting present and bright future. We are beaten up and dragged down by our memories that seek to put us in chains. The memory of our past successes tends to drug us with arrogance and vanity and our past failures continue to poison us with a sense of worthlessness and inflict us with feeling of inferiority. They are both forces of bondage, not liberation.
What must I do to be liberated from myself? The simple answer is found in this verse: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…”    
By doing this “one thing,” every day will become a new day with all its exciting possibilities, and we will be defined by our present, not by our past.         
     

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, December 19, 2014 6:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Small Things 

~~ MTS-3872
Small Things
“…but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
          Phil 3:12

Being a loner and anti-social bohemian, I was never placed in any leadership position, which suited me just fine, for I have absolutely no desire to rule over other people. If Christ hadn’t taken hold of me and changed me into a totally different person, I would have been more than happy remaining who I was. Yet the conversion took place and I assumed a new identity.
I would have remained who I had always been had I had my choice. Unless we put out effort to steer it in the right direction, our personality will always move toward the way of least resistance. I long to be free and spontaneous, not realizing my spontaneity may be defective and controlled by my sinful nature, and by obeying the call of my nature I may be siding with my enemy unaware.
Surely Christ took hold of me, but not to accomplish great things in my life, for greatness and I are incompatible in every way and success as defined by the world has not found me so far, and I doubt it ever will. Preaching to less than ten people Sunday after Sunday in our church’s English worship service does remind me of the reality of how far and wide is the chasm that still exists between me and success as a minister.
The fact is: my circle of impact is about ten people or so, and I will just have to do the best I can to be a good influence and testimony among the ten. I think the world will become a much better place if every person is more mindful of their circle of influence.
This often quoted poem by Emily Dickinson might have become somewhat of a cliché, but it does serve a purpose in my discussion:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain;
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain.

We would like to believe that the Lord has called us to do things on a grand scale and we will become known all over the world as great warriors of God. A desire such as this is fine and dandy, but it’s rather unrealistic, for most of us will fail to reach that goal. Christ is far more realistic than we and he knows our limitation and is wise enough to assign us to do something that is actually achievable. Indeed Christ took hold of us to be salt and light within our small circles, and our primary responsibility is to our friends and neighbors. The Lord calls most of us to remain in Jerusalem and be faithful in doing small things. Out of his sovereign will he will also call a few of us to the ends of the earth, but it’s a waste of time for us to neglect doing what’s at hand by looking beyond the horizon and dreaming about accomplishing great things.

 
  

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, December 17, 2014 7:09:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Not Yet 

~~MTS-3871
Not Yet
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal…”         Phil 3:12

I am not a goal oriented person, so I may not have any earthly idea if I have reached my destination, for I don’t know for sure the exact place I am trying to reach. I just go with the flow each day brings, without thinking so much where the flow is going to take me. This is the kind of temperament that I dislike about myself the most, yet I don’t seem to have the strength or determination to do anything about it. I have been predominately leading a life of reaction rather than action. Instead of being proactive, I am passive most of the time and conduct a life of perpetual regret and remorse.
I am speaking from human point of view, really. In terms of accomplishing anything renowned from a worldly perspective, I have long given up on myself, for my personality is not conducive to earthly success. From a worldly perception, without a doubt I am doomed to fail in whatever venture I choose to employ myself.
Being a follower of Christ, however, the ultimate goal has been set for me and I have absolutely no excuse not to press on to achieve that goal. I am supposed to become more like Christ and knowing him and loving him is the chief end of my life. The crux of the matter is: what do I do daily to make this goal a reality in my life? Should I just continue to take one step forward and two steps backward, and make no visible progress in the pursuit of my ultimate goal?   
The reason why I have been degrading myself is I really do have ample reason to do so. I am not being self-effacing for no particular cause. I actually don’t like myself all that much - I mean my carnal self that seeks to dominate me and to use my body as an instrument of sin. As I age and life’s challenges become greater, I seem to become weaker spiritually and it’s dreadful for me to ponder what it will be like when the time comes when I face the ultimate challenge of life - sickness and death.
This is rather depressing, isn’t it?
Again I have perceived the whole thing merely from a human point of view and it sounds rather discouraging and disconcerting. The point is: all our weaknesses, which we all have in various degrees, should drive us to Christ, not away from him. We would have no need of him if we were able to achieve our goal through our natural strength. “Therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me,” wrote Paul to the Corinthians. I am actually rather ashamed of my weaknesses and have often pleaded in vain that they could totally be transformed and changed into something different. I am still who I am after years of struggle and Christ is still who he is, and I am often amazed at why I haven’t been forsaken. I guess he knows what I am made of and will continue to shape and mold me into his image. I have no reason to give up on myself since Christ hasn’t done so yet, and I don’t believe he ever will. 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, December 16, 2014 6:56:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Knowing Christ 

~~MTS-3870
Knowing Christ
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…”         Phil 3:10

Unless we go through the pain of death, we will never get to experience the sweetness of resurrection. The issue is: the suffering of illness and death is all too real, but the joy of resurrection is merely imaginative from our vantage point in time. We know what it is to suffer physically in this life, yet we have no idea what it’s going to be like when we are resurrected into the life to come. Therefore we do all things humanly possible to avoid suffering and try to keep death at bay as long as we can, until we run out of options.
Paul wasn’t necessarily speaking about our physical death and resurrection, which we eventually will experienced once; he was talking mainly about death to our carnal selves and our transformation after the sinful self is overcome and a new self has emerged.
A meaningful change will not take place unless we are willing to put our old selves to death. As long as we continue to hold onto our old ways of doing things or the carnal selves we have come to treasure, we will remain a mixed bag of new and old, void of the vitality and vibrancy of new life in Christ. 
Don’t we all know far too well about this thing called habitual or besetting sin, which we have been fighting for years to no avail? These sins are the eyes and the hands that cause us to sin consistently, yet we seem to lack the courage to gouge them out or to cut them off. We seem to have been maintaining a love/hate relationship with them and are so afraid to take the drastic measure of bidding farewell to them, for it would cause us great pain if were to attempt to do so. Therefore we continue to suffer under this tyranny year after year and even start to identify ourselves with what has been torturing us.
We are addicted to certain sins in some ways and have developed a deadly dependence on what’s harmful to us. What generates in our flesh a brief pleasure will eventually kill us. It’s not so much substance dependence that may bring death to our physical life; it’s rather a spiritual illness that robs us of the joy and freedom of being children of God.
We may sink deeper and deeper into the endless circle of sin and repentance, with no hope of real deliverance, if we continue to rely on the power of the flesh to fight against our flesh, for that’s exactly what the evil one wants us to do. Resurrection will not take place unless we die to our flesh once and for all. So being alive to God and dead to our flesh is akin to fighting a fight without really fighting.
“Be still and know that I am God.” This is the realization that through our death - giving up on ourselves - Christ’s resurrection power will start to work in us. The pain and suffering we experience is mostly caused by the process of self-denial and the giving up of our natural strength and pride. Indeed, “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”     

   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, December 15, 2014 6:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Garbage 

~~MTS-3869
Garbage
“I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…”
           Phil 3:8

The things we view as rubbish are rubbish only by comparison. How can we perceive them as trash since we used to treasure them so much and have put out such an effort to acquire them?
There was such a drastic contrast between Paul’s present and past, for what he was pursuing with such passion was the antithesis of what the Lord wanted from him and he was opposing the cause of Christ in every way possible. 
Compared to the young Saul, we are not all that bad and there is really no need to consider the things we have been achieving, be they great or small, as garbage. They are some things of much less value compared to knowing Christ, yet they do have some value, don’t they?
Whatever is done with the sole purpose of self-glorification and self-advancement should be considered rubbish, for we are created for a completely different purpose, which is to glorify the Lord with what we are and all we do.
No matter how splendidly I perform as a worker, I will not be accepted or praised if what I am doing is not what my boss wants me to accomplish. I may turn in the best poem in the entire world, but what my professor wants is a mere essay, and the end result is I will fail the course and be utterly discredited as a student. What we have been laboring over may not be what our Creator wants and the fruit of our labor will be thrown into the fire. Our lifelong construction will be “revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.” Surely the things that have been constructed with wood, hay, and straw are mere rubbish, for they will be consumed by fire at the end.
Paul was a skilful tent-maker, a skill that he acquired as a young man, and he was able to support himself through that ability while he was serving the Lord as a missionary. We may have spent years obtaining a skill at school so that we can make a living, and what we do to earn a living is mostly value-neutral and should not be perceived as rubbish. We are what we are, not what we do, and we can always serve the Lord in and through our profession.
The key is not to identify ourselves with what we do for a living and become either arrogant or feel lowly. If this is the case, what we have accomplished or failed to accomplish in the past should be trashed, for it is laden with value and worth that it does not possess intrinsically. All add-on values are not true values at all.
My son has been trained to be a physician and no matter how he is perceived by others, he should derive his value in life from helping people get well and to glorify the Lord with what and who he is, not by how much he earns. Only by doing so can he embrace what he has achieved, or failed to achieve, in life. I think this principle applies to all of us.  

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, December 12, 2014 7:07:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Losses 

~~MTS-3868
Losses
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”  
          Phil 3:8

“What did the apostle lose after he was converted?” we wonder. He indeed lost the dreams and aspirations he had mapped out for himself, for he assumed a new identity at his conversion and all the things that came with it. All things had become new when he became a new creation in Christ.
Gone was the dream to become a renowned scholar of the law and the aspiration to become an influential figure in Judaism also vanished as well. A new wineskin was given to him and the old wine was ill-suited for the new container. The old wine had to be discarded with the old wineskin.
It was a total loss for the apostle; it was also a complete gain. That’s what conversion did for Paul; it will do the same thing for all of us, if we let the sovereign Lord have his way entirely. This, however, may not be the case, for we continue to struggle and fight, attempting to keep some of the old treasures that we have come to value so much, and trying to blend the new wine with the old in the new wineskin.
I might have given up some old practices externally when I became a Christian, but I was slow to deal with some issues internally and they remained thorns in the flesh that continued to prick and jab at me from then on and caused me discomfort and pain, keeping me from growing spiritually. Mixing the new with the old will never work.
 Aren’t we all grotesque mixes of the new and the old and don’t we continue to labor in vain to make the two operate together harmoniously?
We seem to have been trying more to justify what we deem acceptable before the Lord than merely doing the things that absolutely need no justification. Doing what new creations are required to do needs no apology; but practicing what the old creations have been practicing does demand endless explanation, clarification, and justification both to the Lord and to ourselves. Doing what is holy and pure as demanded by the Lord is unquestionably right, but doing otherwise is always wrong. Instead of doing the cut and dried things, we seem to dwell on the grey mess and spend our entire life wandering to and fro, staggering between light and darkness, debating within ourselves what should and shouldn’t be done, attempting to be everything, and becoming absolutely nothing at the end.
We will gain nothing of value if we are not willing to lose all things for Christ’s sake, “for whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” This paradox is not to be explained; it is to be experienced. All things will not truly become ours unless we are willing to give them up. If we love some earthly things so much and lift them up so high to the point of deifying and worshipping them, we end up stifling them and chocking them to death.      
 
 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, December 12, 2014 7:05:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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