At Ease 

~~MTS-3700
At ease
“While he was still talking to them, the messenger came down to him.”
         2 Kings 6:33

The danger was imminent, yet the prophet seemed to be perfectly at ease. While the king of Israel was sending a messenger to chop off his head, the prophet kept on casually speaking to the elders at his house as if nothing urgent was going to occur. “It s your own life you are risking, flee quickly!’ we might have exclaimed had we been there with the man of God.
Elisha was becoming more seasoned in his faith as time went by and his trust in the Lord was unwavering. He realized nothing would happen to him at the time did God not allow it to happen. There was yet work to be done before he was done.
We tend to measure the remainder of our earthly time by month or years; not so with the man of God, who calculated his life by the assignments the Lord gave him for to do. He was invincible until they were completely done.
In his prayer, Moses said that our earthly days are seventy, and eighty if we are strong. By that calculation I may only have nine years left, nineteen at best. This is depressing, isn’t it?
“Unfair,” my pastor friend once protested. “He himself lived to one hundred and twenty.”
“Well, even so, he didn’t outlast what the Lord had for him to do,” I replied. “He would have hung around a bit longer had the Lord allowed him to cross the Jordan.”
Instead of praying for longevity, perhaps we should be praying for a longer to-do list on earth. How do we do that, then? One of the ways is to ask for greater spiritual gifts from the Lord, for “from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
So much for my speculation. I was just admiring the prophet’s bravery and perfect ease in the face of grave danger. O how I long to be like the man, for I am often overcome by fear, even though death or the threat of death has yet to come knocking at my door. I am akin to the wicked who flee though no one pursues.
The prophet’s heart might have been fortified by foreknowledge, for if he knew nothing bad was going to happen to him at the time, he could remain calm. That might have been the case, yet faith was still required for him to hold onto the divine revelation, for there is always the nagging question of “what if;” a question such as “what if the Lord doesn’t come through this time?”
The prophet remained at ease in time of danger not because he knew things would be well; it was by his perfect trust in the One who was faithful that he stayed calm till the end. Indeed, his end would arrive sooner or later, but God’s faithfulness was endless.  
   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, March 31, 2014 6:32:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Blame 

~~MTS-3699
The Blame
“May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!”      2 Kings 6:30

Ben-Hadad king of Aram was laying siege to Samaria; the city was running out of food and the people were starving. Under such dire circumstances, the king of Israel directed his anger toward God and God’s prophet, swearing that Elisha must die.
What did the prophet have to do with the difficult situation they were encountering? Not a whole lot. The prophet couldn’t have kept the disaster from befalling the city even if he had wanted to. The Lord might not have caused the calamity to occur, yet it was nevertheless the Lord who allowed all the bad things to take place, therefore the Lord was to blame for all the evils the Israelites were suffering.
Have I ever blamed my dad for all the abuse that I endured as a little boy? Never once did I do that, since my father was neither omniscient nor omnipotent, so he was incapable of doing anything to prevent all the bad things from happening to his son. He was a mere human with all the infirmities and limitations we all share.
Not so with the Lord, however. He knew what was going to happen to Samaria and could have done something, yet he decided not to take any action and simply let his people suffer loss and unbearable pain. Did the sovereign Lord ever shed a tear over children and women being slaughtered and homes being broken and burned?
The Lord created us, therefore he should be responsible for our well-being, we reason. Surely we did not ask to be born into a sinful world, let alone to be born to suffer the consequences of sin. A deity is cruel beyond words if his sole purpose for creating living creatures is for them to suffer pain for a number of years and die at the end.
It was a risk on his part, but it was a chance worth taking. In the midst of difficulty and suffering, some of the Israelites might have turned to the Lord and were saved. Redemption isn’t confined to the world only, but beyond. I think things will start to make sense if we look at them from the perspective of eternity.
Whether their lives were spared or not throughout the horrendous ordeal, the way the Israelites reacted to the calamity would determine what sort of people they truly were and what their eternal destiny would be. Out of the millions of creatures, the Lord was choosing some for himself, and what they were experiencing was part of the process of choice. 
The king of Israel reacted to the whole thing in anger and put the blame for all evils on the Lord, which only indicated what sort of person he was and where he eventually was heading as a man. We can either submit or rebel against our Creator in time of trouble, yet it may determine who we truly are and qualify or disqualify us from being what the Lord created us to be essentially.                 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, March 28, 2014 7:03:00 AM Categories: Devotional

To See 

~~MTS-3698
To See
“Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”      2 Kings 6:17

It’s quite predictable what we will see when we open our eyes in the morning, for we have been seeing the same thing throughout the years and have long gotten used to what meets our eyes. In fact, we don’t expect to see anything different from what we have been beholding since the day we became conscious of our seeing.
The sky is blue and the grass is green, and there are various shades of predictable colors behind there two base colors. The formation of clouds is different every day and so are the shades of light, but they are still quite predictable since we have learned to look at them the same way. Changes in scenery both above and below are frequent and exciting, yet we are hardly amazed by them. All the extraordinary and wild have become ordinary and tame and the supernatural has turned into mundane because of our inability to see them or to be aroused by them.
The hills were full of horses and chariots of fire, yet Elisha’s servant was preoccupied by his immediate concerns and his terror of the impending danger. He was totally blinded to the heavenly scene, the beatific vision that might transform his life and completely alter his outlook on things.
To see only the physical and the material world can be quite depressing indeed. The happiness and excitement that we derive from the physical is so fleeting and life is not worth living if that is all there is and nothing more. "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Paul’s idea sounds pretty rational, isn’t it?
Spiritual imagination is required if we desire to lead a more abundant life. I am not saying that we should fantasize or create things out of a vacuum to make our lives more joyful; what I intend to express is that we should extend our vision from the seen to the unseen, the material to the spiritual,  the natural to the supernatural, by employing our spiritual imagination. It’s really a matter of associating earthy things with heavenly things, and by doing so, we may be able to bring a bit of heaven down to earth, causing us to enjoy earthly things more and also making our yearning for heaven increase a little.
Elisha’s servant wouldn’t have remained the same person after he had witnessed the spectacular scene. Indeed no one will remain the same if he or she starts to see the unseen from the seen. Peter and John must have made a giant leap in their faith after the Lord Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes, making them realize heaven could break open at any time and engulf the entire world with waves of lucid light.       

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, March 27, 2014 6:57:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Confidence 

~~MTS-3697
Confidence
“Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
           2 Kings 6:16

“Please turn it off,” my wife asked me when I was listening to a podcast program in bed.
“Why?” I replied.
“I don’t like to listen to what atheists have to say about Christianity,” she answered.
I turned it off and went to sleep, feeling a bit uneasy. The program produced by the Veritas Forum was thought-provoking, even though I disagreed completely with the speaker’s approach to the subject. The title of the lecture was “Moral Mammals.” The professor’s belief was that morality can exist independently without the endorsement or support of the supernatural.
Do we sometimes find ourselves ill at ease listening to something opposed to our worldview and ideology? If so, we may need to reevaluate or reexamine our philosophy to see if it can withstand any assault from the opposing side. We are fearful to confront challenging viewpoints because we are not entirely confident about our own belief system.
Why was Elisha’s servant so frightened when he found out the city of Dothan was surrounded by enemies? Simple enough. The man had zero confidence that they could withstand the Arameans’ attack with the resources they had within the city.
Do we sometimes feel a little insecure about our faith?
“What if God doesn’t exist?” my son asked me, half-jokingly, just before I was about to drive back to Lubbock.
“We exist because he exists,” I answered, not knowing exactly what point I was trying to make. I suppose the reason why we question God’s existence is because he truly exists. The question is meaningless if he does not exist. We have to doubt our own existence if we question God’s existence, for we are his creatures, created with keen senses of self-awareness and god-awareness. 
“Am I a butterfly dreaming about being human or human dreaming about being butterfly?” An ancient Chinese philosopher asked this probing question after he woke up from a dream. I guess we can question all things if we question our own existence.
If we are convicted emotionally and intellectually that our faith is valid, then no atheist can invalidate it with cunning arguments or mockery. Elisha’s servant was fearful because he had lost faith in the fortifications of Dothan and the unseen Power that was guarding the city.
So why do I have to be so concerned about losing my faith in God, even if it’s assaulted from all sides? “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Paul wrote in Romans.
“Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” We need to be reminded of this verse often. Seriously, what’s with them anyway? There is no victory kicking against the goads.

    

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, March 26, 2014 6:45:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Iron Float 

~~MTS-3696
Iron Float
“When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float.”         2 Kings 6:6

The iron axhead was heavy and the only way to fetch it out from the bottom of the river was for someone to go into the water to find it. There was probably not a single one among the prophets in training who had the ability to do so, therefore they had to do something drastic to find the axhead, which they had borrowed from someone. The head might have been a common tool, but it could have been costly since it was made of iron.
Did the accident occur just to give the prophet an opportunity to showcase his ability of miracle-performing?
In fact, the thing could have been taken cared of rather easily, and there was no need for the supernatural to take place. It might have taken them a long time to locate the axhead, but it would have been found at the bottom of the river had they made an effort. I suppose when something can be accomplished naturally, there really is no need to invoke the Lord for supernatural aid, is there?
“It’s hard for me to understand the reason behind Christians giving thanks to God before every meal,” non-Christians often comment. “Why give thanks to God for something you have earned through your own effort?” they question.
Indeed, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and some ways are more difficult than others. If one can cause an axhead to float to the surface by merely throwing a stick into the river, why go to the trouble of diving to the bottom to fetch it? Perhaps Elisha was just there to save his disciples some trouble. That was all, wasn’t it?
There was more to this incident than meets the eye, really. This seemingly random event might not be that random if we meditate on it a little further.
We went through all the books in the house to search for a few bills that we had hidden in one, but to no avail, yet days after we gave up the search, they suddenly surfaced randomly. We could have easily shrugged our shoulders and attributed the whole thing to luck, or we could learn some spiritual lesson throughout the process. We chose to do the latter, which was a spiritual discipline that we must do routinely.
The Lord was reminding us of the all-important spiritual lessons of gratitude, contentment, and trust through the lost-and-found incident. The money was lost because we grumbled about the meager amount my wife had received from her work, and it was found after we confessed our sins of greed and discontentment and lack of gratitude for the abundance that the Lord has richly bestowed on us. The event itself became less significant compared to the lesson it was meant to convey.    

     

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, March 25, 2014 5:44:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Gehazi 

~~MTS-3695
Gehazi
“My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought.”      2 Kings 5:20

Elisha was rightly motivated when he was serving Elijah, for what he wanted the most from his master wasn’t material in nature; he was craving spiritual gifts from Elijah more than anything else. He gave up everything he had to follow the greatest prophet of the time and I don’t think he had any intention to gain anything earthly thing out of his venture. The man was spiritually motivated from the get go.
Not so with Gehazi, Elisha servant, however. Even though he was doing the same thing for Elisha as Elisha did for Elijah, he was doing it with an entirely different motivation - he was craving material gain from his service. Therefore, he was overjoyed when the opportunity arose, for occasions such as this did not come up very often.  He hoped his master would seize it and make a great haul, and he would have been greatly benefited by it had Elisha done so.
Gehazi was sorely disappointed when it didn’t happen. In fact, he considered his master a buffoon for not doing the thing most people would have done without the slightest hesitation. Money was there to be taken, yet Elisha just gave it up as if it were nothing.
Gehazi decided to take matters into his own hands and went after Naaman. What a difference between the two servants - Elisha and Gehazi. The former’s passionate pursuit was the spiritual gifts his master possessed and he was rewarded at the end; but the latter’s burning desire was to become wealthy and he ended up contracting a fatal disease which led to his death.
I suppose what we are truly craving in our hearts determines who we really are and eventually it will shape our eternal destiny.
What we do to earn a living should also be a channel through which we serve a higher purpose. We are to be pitied if we only work for a better living and nothing beyond that. Both Elisha and Gehazi were lowly servants, yet one became a great prophet and the other a leper. What they aspired to be made a great difference in their lives.
Does making a lot of money bring glory to God? Not necessarily so, but the name of the Lord is lifted up if we aspire to be salt and light wherever we are and whatever we do. Wealth creation should always be secondary compared to seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. Whether we are making a great or meager living at our jobs pales a great deal compared to the Christian testimony we project to the world.
Gehazi might have been in some sort of ministry, for he was serving God’s prophet, yet it didn’t do him any good spiritually since he was on the lookout to make money. What he did as a servant of God’s prophet wasn’t an indication of who he truly was.       
    

   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, March 24, 2014 6:51:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Future Concerns 

~~MTS-3694
Future Concerns
“…when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.”        2 Kings 5:18

“I am not able to accept the Lord and get baptized this time since I am a government official and will be required to attend temple worship when I go back to China,” Mr. Wang, a renowned artist from China told me when I was visiting him at his son’s house. He had been coming to our church with his wife for a while and seemed to be interested in becoming a Christian. He stayed about a year and returned back to China without making a profession of faith, but I thought he was quite close to doing it. A few years later, I by chance got the news that he had been baptized in California when he was staying with his son and not long after that he had a heart attack and passed away. I think he was in his early sixties.
I sensed that he was seriously considering accepting the Lord when he shared with me his concern about what would happen when he returned to China. I don’t remember encouraging him to accept salvation since he was still processing the whole thing. The timing just wasn’t right. Thank God that he finally did before he went on to meet the Lord.
Naaman’s concern was a real one, which indicated that the man was serious about his new found faith and had decided to follow the Lord. He wouldn’t have raised the issue had he not intended to take the faith back to his hometown. He was anticipating what would transpire when he practiced his new found faith in a pagan nation.
The first thing that entered my mind after I became a Christian was how I was going to deal with the idolatry that my family had been practicing for generations. I would be able to avoid bowing down to idols with minimum effort, but there was no way for me to avoid eating the food polluted by idols, for most the dishes we ate during festivals had been presented to idols first. I would have to eat unless I avoided going home throughout the years. I chose to do the former.
“Go in peace,” Elisha said to Naaman.
Naaman could have resigned from his post and avoided being polluted by idolatry; but he could also stay at his job and ask the Lord for sufficient mercy and covering when he visited the Temple Rimmon with his master. I felt extremely uneasy when all the grandchildren were lined up before my grandfather’s altar to pay him homage at his funeral service. I refused to hold a burning incense stick, and that was the least I could do. There is indeed a delicate balance between what and what not to do on those occasions and we need wisdom from the Lord to know the difference. 
What Naaman was required to do with his master could have been avoided had he tried, but it might have been quite costly. There is a price to pay for us to remain uncontaminated by idolatry and, if by chance we fail to live up to God’s standard of holiness, God’s mercy is still sufficient to cover our sins, I believe.          

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, March 14, 2014 6:58:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Gold for Dirt 

~~MTS-3693
Gold for Dirt
“…for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD.”        2 Kings 5:17

Naaman brought six thousand shekels of gold with him to Israel, seeking healing for his leprosy. He would have been more than willing to exhaust all the silver and gold he had brought with him in exchange for sound health. He thought the prophet in Israel, like all the prophets and medicine men in Damascus, would require a large sum for his service, and he was greatly amazed that Elisha refused to accept any of his gifts. He was speechless. It was just beyond his understanding that a man would turn down such a sizeable payment for his service. Had Elisha asked for all the gold and silver that Naaman carried with him, he would have received them. After the man was healed, gold didn’t seem to carry such a heavy weight any more.
Naaman must have been healed spiritually as well when his health was restored. He decided to dig as many loads of dirt as his two mules could carry and haul it back to Damascus, indicating that he had forsaken the gods he used to worship and had taken on the worship of the Lord. Was he going to build an altar to the Lord with the dirt he had unearthed in Israel? Possibly. The man had come to know the Lord personally through the whole healing process, and it would have been unthinkable for him to continue practicing idolatry.
The dirt from Israel seemed to have turned to gold and the gold he carried with him had become dirt of sorts. The man’s outer self was restored, and his inner self was renewed as well. He returned back to his home country a new creature inside and out.
Naaman went back to his hometown and assumed his old position, which is the extent we know about the man. It’s rational to assume that the man might have given up his hot pursuit of fame and fortune and led a lifestyle entirely different from his old one before he became ill. He might even have resigned from his lofty position as the right hand man of the king, for he became increasingly uncomfortable accompanying the king in his practicing of idolatry.
The man started to seek a new form of life to match his inner transformation, and he couldn’t keep himself from telling about the event that took place in Israel years before. The general might have turned into a storyteller, for he had a story to tell, and perhaps he continued to tell it until he died.
There was once a leper in Damascus who was wealthy and powerful, and he hauled mule loads of gold with him to Israel to seek healing from his fatal disease. A prophet by the name Elisha told him to bathe in the Jordan seven times and his leprosy was gone. Strangely the gold he possessed suddenly lost its luster and he replaced it with dirt from Israel’s the holy ground. That was the way the story went and the listeners from his generation simply couldn’t comprehend - the thing they treasured the most was turned into something people trample on the ground.     

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, March 13, 2014 6:20:00 AM

A Gift 

~~MTS-3692
A Gift
“As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.”
          2 Kings 5:16

I used to look forward to getting an honorarium after I served as a guest speaker at a retreat or a church, yet there was always a sense of guilt lingering in my heart after I received the gift, for I have always thought that I should preach the word of God for free. Even so, there wasn’t a single time in my career as a preacher that I turned down an honorarium when it was offered to me. Well, I have turned down all the gifts offered to me after I performed a wedding or funeral service, but that is another topic all together.
“The worker deserves his wages," my pastor at College Hill Presbyterian told me when I was trying to turn down an honorarium when he handed it to me as a form of payment for the previous Sunday when I supplied the pulpit for him. I was a poor graduate student and one hundred dollars would have helped to cover our expenses, but I felt extremely uneasy accepting the money, which I did eventually. Was I wrong to accept payment for my preaching? I often wonder.
“Where then is my reward?”  Paul once asked this question concerning the preaching of the good news. “That in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.” He answered his own question. For some reason, Paul seemed to pride himself for not accepting any stipend from the church of Corinth, even though he did so from the Macedonian churches.
 I guess we must deal with the issue case by case. Elisha must have been strongly convicted that he shouldn’t accept any gift from Naaman for the service he rendered him. What could have been the reasons behind his refusal? This I can only speculate. I suppose he wanted the general to realize that it was the Lord’s hand that had brought everything to pass and men should never take any credit for what the Lord has done. Therefore, if a gift was going to be tendered, it had to be given to the Lord to be burned on the altar. Had the prophet accepted the gift, Naaman might have thought that he had paid for the service and therefore was deserving of the service rendered to him.
I would have returned all the honorariums given to me had I been able to, yet I was just too needy to do so at the time. This might have been an excuse, for Elisha was by no means a man of wealth, and surely he could have used the handsome gift Naaman was going to give to him. In fact, the prophet might have been tempted by it a little bit, but out of his fear of the Lord and his complete trust in him, he turned the gift down.
It is a lack of trust in God and a sense of insecurity about our future that causes us to become greedy and continue to think of means to increase our wealth. I guess I could have done better.     

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, March 12, 2014 6:53:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Restoration 

~~MTS-3691
Restoration
“…and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.”
            2 Kings 5:14

After Naaman emerged from the Jordan the seventh time, he took a quick glance at his skin, and found out his leprosy was gone. The whiteness of the disease that used to bring him terror and nightmares had turned into the color of “that of a young boy.”
The man couldn’t believe his eyes at first and he looked at his once-leprous skin again from a slightly different angle; he even pinched it to see if the feeling had been restored. Indeed, the disease was gone! he exclaimed, hardly able to contain his joy.
He felt a little numb at first, then waves of excitement flooded into his heart, and he felt as if he were being lifted up and floated in the air. Instead of counting down the days before he must bid farewell to the fair earth and to all his loved ones, he could again look into the future without fear and dreadful anticipation.
Only deathly-ill people whose health has been restored can appreciate how euphoric Naaman must have felt at the moment when he realized he was completely healed. Moments ago he was a leper, and then he was cleansed. A new lease on life was given to him. How wonderful it was!
Naaman could again make plans for the next year and the years after; he could also anticipate the pending marriage of his sons and the arrival of all his grandchildren. The man who had no tomorrow suddenly regained the luxury of having sound health.
“Surely a blessing is reserved for the ones who survive great suffering (大難不死, 必有後福,”) a Chinese saying is rendered. The healing itself was a great blessing in and of itself for Naaman, for the disease had robbed him of his earthly joy and rendered all he possessed, wealth and other things, entirely meaningless. Would he turn back to the material things that were so important to him before he contracted the illness?
Chen was visiting his son in the States when he discovered physical symptoms that forced him to cut his journey short and rush back to China to take care of the issue. He came to our church the Sunday before he went home and I had an opportunity to witness to him and pray for his illness. A few weeks later, I got a call from him and was told that his disease wasn’t as serious as it could have been and he had decided to seek the Lord seriously after he regained his health. “I am just so thankful,” he said. It was indeed a blessing that his health was restored, but the greatest blessing wasn’t that at all; it was his desire to build a healthy relationship with the Lord after he had experienced suffering in this life. I guess that was exactly what happened to Naaman as well.   
 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, March 11, 2014 6:32:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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