“The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord.”        2 Ch. 28:19
    It wasn’t through my own doing that I turned out to be what I am, for it wasn’t by own choosing that I was born into the family where I was raised. In fact, I would have become an entirely different person had my mother succumbed to my grandparents’ demand and given me away for adoption. I seem to have a bad habit of attempting to establish a close link between my present and my past and finding out the cause and effect between the two. By doing so, I may be able to find a reasonable apology for all my character flaws and all the missteps of my actions. There must be reasons behind who and what I am, and I should not be morally responsible for all my morel failures, I think.
    Surely I don’t intend to be dragged for yet another time into the sticky issue of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. I have dealt with this issue numerous times and it has never been clarified. I seem to have resolved, partially at least, to let the mysterious remain unresolved.
    This much is clear, however, that Ahaz’s unfaithfulness did adversely affect the people in Judah and they suffered merely because the king failed to obey God’s command. “The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord.” There seems to be a clear correlation between the king’s unfaithfulness to the Lord and the afflictions the people suffered.
    “How did you deal with so much suffering in your life?” I asked Johnny, the handy man who has been doing work for us off and on for many years. “Well, I just do what I can control,” he replied. Unlike me, he isn’t one who constantly tries to attribute all his ills to other people or to trace his sufferings back to unknown causes. Perhaps it takes so much effort to survive that he simply doesn’t have the luxury to concern himself with the rest. Suffering becomes less daunting when one becomes better acquainted with it, I guess. To Johnny, it’s more a way of life than anothing else, and he isn’t caught by surprise.
    I have never blamed my parents for who I am and what I have turned out to be, for they themselves were also victimized by their upbringing as well. If there is anything at all, a generational curse might have been the real cause of all our ills and, come to think of it, the curse can be traced back to Adam’s fall. Yet we do have cause to praise, for the curse was severed on Calvary’s hill and it was nailed on the cross.
    In view of the cross, the mystery of suffering is resolved.


Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, May 31, 2017 7:26:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“So they took them back to their fellow Israelites at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria.”             2 Ch. 28:15
    The homecoming for the two hundred thousand women and children was bittersweet, for their fathers and husbands were no longer there. They went back to a home filled with memories of a happier time, knowing things would never be the same. One hundred and twenty thousand men had perished and what remained were women and children, and so many broken homes to be restored.
    Such was what the war between Judah and Israel did to them. What exactly was the cause of the blood-shed? No one was quite sure on either side. When the order was issued, all the able-bodied men had no choice but to put down their plows  and pick up the swords and spears and to the frontline they went, marching to the wide-opened jaws of death.
    Whether it was more desirable to live or to die after the horrific ordeal was finally over no one was quite sure. The dead were at rest at the least, yet the living still had to continue to struggle to remain alive, which was by no means an easy task, for not only were they afflicted by outward pain, their inner selves were torn apart by the losses of their beloved and their homes.
    Most of the captives were in a daze and were preparing for the worst, and after hundreds of miles traveling on foot and deprived of any sleep, they were all dead tired. For sure they found no reason to continue to live in such miserable condition except for their children. Being mothers and protectors of their sons and daughters, they were able to remain strong and endure hardship far beyond what they had ever imagined. “Being a mother is to be strong,” a Chinese saying renders.
    So the Israelites from the north clothed the naked and put the weak and frail on donkeys, and took them home. “So they took them back to their fellow Israelites at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria.” Indeed, there was a glimpse of mercy in the midst of severe trial and pain.
    What could these women and children have done except what was necessary to survive and what their hands found to do at the time? I presume they all went back to their homes and, as devastating and heartbreaking as it might have been, they picked up what was left behind by their deceased husbands and continued to make a living.
    Surely it wasn’t by their own doing that a tragedy such as this happened, yet wars have continued to occur throughout human history, and we the common folks continue to suffer the collateral damage of them all.    


Posted by Robert Sea Friday, May 26, 2017 8:00:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“Now listen to me! Send back your fellow Israelites you have taken as prisoners, for the Lord’s fierce anger rests on you.”        2 Ch. 28:11
    It was probably the richest day of my entire life up to that point in time. I was about thirteen years old and was attending an agricultural junior high school about twenty miles from my seaside village home. It was Saturday afternoon and school was off at noon and the campus was entirely empty, yet I didn’t want to head home, for I knew grandmother must have some chores for me to do, such as grazing the water buffalo or other jobs in the field. So I just walked around the campus aimlessly and, as I was walking, I spotted a dirty envelop and picked it up. I found out there was fifty NT dollars in it, which was about a dollar and a quarter in U.S. money. Had I been taught right, I would have turned it in and that would have been the end of it, yet I considered it mine, for I had been taught the ethic of “finders keepers” and was perfectly comfortable keeping the money for myself. I immediately went the nearby market where there were many little food stands and ate all the Taiwanese delicacies to the full and then went to see a movie. There was still a sizeable amount of change left in my pocket that greatly enhanced my sense of wellbeing for another week or two. Was the money a “godsend,” and was it a sign of God’s grace and mercy toward me? I have often wondered about it. I would like to believe that was the case, yet I have never been quite convinced, for that isn’t the way God usually operates. Even if he intended to shower his mercy on me at that particular moment, he could have done something that was morally and ethically acceptable. What I did with the money was morally wrong and God would have expected me to do the right thing. The problem was I had always been taught as a child that it was acceptable to keep what others lost and many even considered it good fortune when it happened.
    Right actions will not be produced unless we have right knowledge and, unless we know what right things are, doing right things become entirely impossible.
    The Israelites were about to commit a heinous sin by making slaves of their fellow Israelites from the south. Fortunately Oded the prophet pointed their sin out just in time. What was more important than anything else was their willingness to listen to the prophet and back up their obedience with decisive action. They sent the captives home.
    What I experienced as a youngster was quite a small thing, really, yet it has never ceased to bother me, for it unveiled a moral dilemma to me that was rather difficult to satisfactorily resolve: how could the Lord hold me morally responsible for something I had never been taught? I honestly had no idea it was morally wrong to keep the money I had accidentally found.


Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, May 25, 2017 7:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“But aren’t you also guilty of sins against the Lord your God?”        2 Ch. 28:7
    The Israelites from the Northern Kingdom might have become a little cocky since they were the one who emerged from the war victorious. Wrongly or rightly, they might have concluded that the Lord was on their side, and they could rest easy and enjoy the fruit of their victory, which included making their foes slaves.
    The Israelites failed to realize that the victory they won in battle didn’t in any way make them more righteous than the ones on the losing side. They were also guilty of sinning against the Lord in other aspects.
    Job’s three friends appeared to be placing themselves a notch above the afflicted one since they firmly believed Job’s suffering was caused by some specific sins he had committed. Perhaps unbeknownst to them, the ones who meant to bring consolation to their suffering friend might have harbored an attitude of arrogance and self-righteousness, considering themselves more accepted, beloved even, by God than the one who was afflicted.
    If only the logic was so straightforward and simple, we would no longer be bothered by problems of human suffering and pain. If a clear-cut connection could be established between cause and effect concerning sin and punishment, there would no longer be any struggle in resolving the issue of pain. The logic is quite clear from Job’s friends’ viewpoint, isn’t it?
    “Not so fast, my friend,” to use a cliché a TV sports analyst likes to employ. The reality just isn’t that apparent and matter-of-fact. Human joy and suffering are equally mysterious and we just have to either embrace them with enthusiasm or accept them with resignation as they happen and deduce spiritual lessons from both. Both our joy and sorrow are undeserving and unwarranted, and attempting to connected dots between cause and effect will eventually fail. The mystery is indeed beyond finding out.
    “You will also die if you don’t repent,” the Lord told the curious inquirers concerning a seemingly random tragedy that took place. Wasn’t this the mindset the Lord wanted us to cultivate when we witness one tragic event after another in our midst?
    “But aren’t you also guilty of sins against the Lord your God?”
    Indeed, instead of spewing out one apology after another for human suffering, Job’s three friends should have kept quiet and meditated on the fact that what had happened to their friend could easily happen to them as well. Nothing humbles us more and brings us face to face with our own sin and frailty than suffering.


Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, May 24, 2017 7:32:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“But a prophet of the Lord named Oded was there, and he went out to meet the army when it returned to Samaria.”             2 Ch. 28:9
     While all the Israelites were thrilled over the victory they had scored against Judah and were all expecting to get a part of the spoils brought back from the south, Oded the prophet felt rather differently from all of them. He felt dejected and heart-broken, for he realized the Israelites were misguided and they were provoking God’s anger by doing what they did. The prophet had to take drastic action, risking his life by being the conscience of the nation.
    It would have been so much easier to just stand by and do nothing at this particular juncture. He could have even rejoiced with the crowd as if there were something truly worth celebrating. What could the cause of their celebration have been? Two hundred thousand people from Judah had perished in the war and many more became orphans and widows as a result. Was this a good reason to rejoice, simply because the dead were the enemies?
    Oded knew better than that, and the so-called victory on the battlefield merely meant death and bloodshed. Life was to be lauded, and death should never be celebrated in any way. So the prophet went out to meet the returning army and poured a bucket of cold water on them, tempering down the heat of their celebration.
    Surely Judah was being punished for their sins, yet the Northern Kingdom wasn’t by any means innocent. They were used as the instrument by which the Lord executed his judgment and the sword could easily fall on them as well.
    While a lot of people on the far left were passionately celebrating as the final verdict of the previous presidential election was revealed, I found myself dejected at the prospect of having yet another less than ideal president governing the nation for another four years. I was once ideologically driven like the rest and was blown to and fro by the party’s talking points. But there came a time when I suddenly came to my senses and quit listening to the crowd. I am certainly no Oded the prophet who found enough courage to sound the warning trumpet and march to a different drum, but at the very least I can support whom my conscience detects and the political agenda clearly informed by the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.
    What the prophet did was rather risky and the result generated by his bold action could have been minimal. Even so, the man of God did what he was called to do, and his action did make a great difference and thus gave thousands of people a new lease on life.      


Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, May 23, 2017 8:11:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Making Sacrifices 

Making Sacrifices
“He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.”              2 Ch. 28:4
    Idolatry is a religion of fear and the ones who adhere to it are constantly searching for right places to worship. There was a tree that seemed to cause traffic accidents so, instead of removing it, people in town decided to place a stone underneath the tree and started burning incense to pay homage to it, as if by doing so the anger of the tree spirit would be eased.
    It doesn’t make any sense, come to think of it. But there is no rhyme or reason to the practice of idolatry at all and people simply do it without looking into the justification behind it. The last thing Satan wants his worshippers to do is to use their brains.
    “Why do we worship the idols,” I sometimes asked my mother.
    “Well, everybody is doing it.” Her answer was so predictable that I finally quit asking. It appeared to be a perfect reason for her to continue doing something to avoid being perceived as someone who was out of line or even radical. To be received into the community meant she had to do what was deemed normal and ordinary.
    Doing what everybody in the village was practicing was the best way to avoid being noticed by both humans and spirits; therefore she and her children wouldn’t be singled out to be punished. My mother was just being cautious, perhaps. Was this also the reason why Ahaz “offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree”?
    What the king was practicing would never remain personal, for the entire nation was paying attention to his every move. Therefore he was setting an ungodly example for the entire nation to follow, causing people to believe there was sound reason behind his ritualistic routines.
    The worship of the true God isn’t confined to a particular spot or location, for the Lord of love is omnipresent and there is no need to search for him in hilltops or high places. When idols was ushered into our house for a specific purpose or on special occasions, it only invoked in me dread and fear, as if something sinister had fallen into our house. I had always wanted to escape from my home as a youngster. Could the desire to escape from the shadow of idols and the influence they cast been one of the main reasons?


Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, May 18, 2017 7:14:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his children in the fire…”            2 Ch. 28:3
    This was the ultimate betrayal, truly. King Ahaz had complete authority over those who were entrusted to him and he was supposed to care and protect them to the best of his ability; yet he put them in harm’s way by sacrificing them to Baal in the fire. This is too far-fetched and irrational to be believed, but it did happen during the ancient times in many civilizations and, unfortunately, the Hebrews were included.
    Such a practice was from the devil, obviously. Idolaters in the past were so eager to express their devotion to their gods that they went so far as to sacrifice their flesh and blood, which is a totally unnatural thing for humans to do.
    Did the Lord ever make such an unreasonable demand on his worshippers? It happened once, didn’t it?
    Abraham did value a lot of things, yet Isaac was the most precious among all his treasures. The Lord demanded that he offer his son as a burnt offering on the altar. Had it actually happened, we would have a great problem on our hands, but it was only a test. Indeed, we must be willing to give up our best, including our lives, to the Lord, but by God’s grace our willingness rarely turns into reality. What we have the most difficulty doing, God himself actually followed through by giving up his own Son as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. By doing the unthinkable the Lord appeared to draw a broad line separating himself from the evil one. Satan demands blood from the children of his worshippers, the Lord shed the blood of his only begotten Son on our behalf. That’s the difference.
    “He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his children in the fire…”  We can hardly imagine or envision how horrific the scene was and to what great extent people’s hearts could easily be beguiled and misguided. What’s frightening is what happened in the past may occur in the future, albeit in a rather different form than the former.
    Children are neither our property nor an extension of ourselves, and they are not created in our image. Their true father is their Father in heaven, and we are merely entrusted with the duty of bringing them up to be godly women and men. It’s rather akin to sacrificing them to honor the evil one if we attempt to raise and to create them according to our own image in order to fulfill our unrealized dreams or failed aspirations.
    We can always do a self-evaluation to see where we are spiritually after we read a historical narrative such as this.               


Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, May 17, 2017 6:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Difference 

The Difference
He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done, but unlike him he did not enter the temple of the Lord.”       2 Ch. 27:2
    Jotham assumed the kingship at age twenty-five and he did what was right in God’s eyes, which was “just as his father Uzziah had done.” This may sound a bit surprising since the former king was disgraced for his misdeed and ended his life as a leper, isolated from his loved ones and subjects. Yet one misstep didn’t seem to take away the fact that Uzziah was essentially a good king who meant well in most things he had done as a ruler.
    Jotham was well aware of what had happened to his late father and became rather cautious so that he wouldn’t make the same mistake by entering into the temple of the Lord in an unworthy manner. Indeed, he had learned from his father’s blunder and was content to be what he was and to do what he was called to do. He was appointed to be a king, not a priest.
    Not a whole lot was written about him and he only reigned for sixteen years, which was relatively short. He died at age forty-one and he launched some building projects while he was governing and fought and won a war against the Ammonites. These things weren’t earth-shattering by any means compared to what some of his predecessors had accomplished, yet unlike his father before him, he at least didn’t commit any significant sin during his reign by which his life was defined. He died as Jotham, a good king of Judah, certainly not as Uzziah the leper.
    “But contentment with godliness is great gain,” Paul wrote to Timothy. Am I content being who and what I am? This is a dicey question for us to answer, isn’t it? The temptation that I have been bombarded with in life has always been discontentment and overreaching, and I have yet to come to final acceptance of who I am - a man of little determination and greatly prone to being temperamental and pessimistic, which is a perfect recipe for unhappiness and misery. How can anyone embrace such innate flaws with gratitude and thankfulness?
    King Jotham might not have been as ambitious and talented as his father, yet he seemed to operate his life within the confines of his limitation and didn’t attempt to overreach in any way; therefore he was considered a success, albeit on a much smaller scale. Indeed, what we should strive to master in life is godliness and contentment, and all others are mere trappings and superfluity, outwardly appealing yet essentially unnecessary.
    Come to think of it, the war I have been waging against myself my entire life may not be necessary after all. There are boundaries and limitations in life to which I must surrender and be subject.


Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, May 11, 2017 7:14:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house   leprous, and banned from the temple of the Lord.”         2 Ch. 26:21
    Had the king visited the temple merely as a king and a worshipper of the Lord  as he used to do up to that point in his life, he would have been fine; yet he decided to assume the role of a priest, which became the greatest downfall in his life. Unfortunately, that visit became his last, and he would never step inside the holy temple ever again.
    Was it some sort of divine aspiration that Uzziah had when he decided to assume another role while he was paying homage to God? He might have considered it too mundane to worship the Lord just as a layman, and determined to experience something more exotic by being a priest. He might have been getting tired of approaching the Lord through a priest, a middleman of sorts, and decided to take things into his own hands. That was the way things went, and we know what transpired at the end. The whole thing backfired on him, and the king was kept from coming into the presence of God from then on.
    Was it essential for the king to become a leper to know that he was truly unclean? Perhaps it was a better route for Uzziah to gain a deeper knowledge of the Lord by contracting leprosy, stripping away all the trappings with which he had identified himself and becoming completely naked and transparent.
    In essence, could it be God’s mercy, not justice, that King Uzziah turned into a leper? I suppose, as far as gaining knowledge of both the Lord and the self was concerned, becoming a leper apparently was a better avenue than remaining as a king.
    Uzziah died as a leper, isolated from all his loved ones and void of any earthly glory and power, and there was no mention of him after he made his curtain call. He might have gone down in history as a failure and a grasper of priestly privilege, yet we will never know how he will be judged at the end. Having a passion to present incense before the Lord doesn’t seem to be all that unpardonable; it may even be commendable.
    Perhaps there is a little bit of Uzziah in me, causing me to feel sympathetic toward the demise of the king.


Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, May 10, 2017 7:30:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry.”      2 Ch. 26:19
    The king was not entitled to burn incense before the Lord even though he was the head of Judah. No matter how powerful and lofty his position was, there was some things that he wasn’t supposed to perform, particularly the sacred duties that were reserved for the priests.
    The boundary between the church and the state must be drawn clearly, and the king shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the business of the church. Uzziah seemed to believe his power and authority was limitless, and he became angry when others, especially the Levites and the priests, deemed otherwise. The king took it as a challenge against his authority, and presented the incense despite severe opposition; therefore he suffered the dire consequence - he became a leper.
    One single act of offence and the king came down from the highest and sank to the lowest, and remained one to be scorned and belittled the rest of his life. Had he been content to be who and what he was, he would have remained a king until he died. This wasn’t the case nonetheless. His overreaching pride became the cause of his downfall.
    Why did Uzziah even consider it essential to cross the line separating the sacred and the secular, the human and the divine?
    Isn’t this the case with some of us who continue to climb upward until we reach the heavens in whatever area we have chosen to pursue? Even at the height of his royal enterprise, the king appeared to be reaching for more beyond what was permissible, thus crossing the clearly-drawn line separating the finite and the infinite.
    There are millions of things that I will never understand and an infinite number of mysteries I won’t be able to penetrate no matter how hard I try. I will forever remain human with all its frailties and limitations throughout eternity and I must accept the way things are with thankfulness and gratitude.
    Things could always be different and our circumstance could be far better than what it is, yet our present lot is the way things are and to embrace it with gratitude is an act of obedience; to grumble and complain about it is an act of overreaching, attempting to usurp God’s position in our lives.
    Indeed, things could be a lot better, but they could also be far worse than what they are. Life does not end in midstream and we have no option but to pack up and continue to move onward, trusting who and what we are has always been divinely intended.
    How easy it was for the king to turn into a leper, and it was caused by mere discontentment.    


Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, May 9, 2017 7:38:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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