Day of Reckoning 

~~MTS-3758
Day of Reckoning
“In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.”         2 Kings 17:6

They had been doing the same things year after year and nothing seemed to be happening. The Israelites continued to worship their idols at high places and under every spreading tree, fearing absolutely no consequences would come out of what they were doing.
What made them feel so secure was everybody seemed to be doing the same thing. They might have believed that the consensus of public opinion was the thing that made a certain dubious practice morally right. The Lord’s prophets, if there were still some left, would have kept on crying out in the wilderness, but their voices were drowned out by the strong current of the times, and faded in the wind of public opinion.
Things of the flesh will always emerge victorious in battles against things of the spirit. Truth doesn’t always prevail, for falsehood has gained a strong hold in the human heart. We are obviously more inclined to do evil than to do good and like the evil one, when we lie we are speaking our native language.
The Lord led the Israelites into the Promised Land so that they could practice pure and holy religion, yet in a matter of years, they appeared to look no different from the pagans in their belief and practices. Their worship was corrupted first and their morality followed.
They continued to sin again God, believing the day of reckoning would never come. As a matter of fact, they ceased to believe what they were doing was an anathema, for they seemed to have worked out a neat system of belief, justifying their practice of idolatry and the morals derived from it. Idols seemed to be notoriously tolerant of moral failures amongst their worshippers, and even encouraged them to engage in wrongdoings in many ways. It was to the evil one’s great pleasure that people continued to dwell in filth and sin.
War cries were heard in the distance. The Assyrians was gathering strength and many of their neighboring nations had fallen, yet the Israelites seemed to hold onto the hope that they could always turn to Pharaoh for help and their lives would be spared, not realizing a siege was being laid and their hopes of survival would quickly be dashed.
O fear the accumulative effect of our sins!
We may consider things are going so well and we can continue to worship our idols of wealth and fame, sex and all things sensual, without any fear of dire consequences, yet the day of reckoning is marching slowly toward us and the weight of sins that we have accumulated will crush us.
All things are not right when they seem to be going right, for the day of reckoning still waits at the end of the tunnel and the supreme Judge will hold us accountable for all things we have ever done in the flesh. The dread and terror of facing that dreadful day should drive us to the cross like nothing else. If it doesn’t, I don’t know what will.

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, June 30, 2014 8:11:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Two Altars 

~~MTS-3757
Two Altars
“But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance.”
                2 Kings 16:15

Although the bronze altar had been consecrated for the Israelites to offer their sacrifices upon it and it had been done this way for years, out of his desire to please his benefactor, the Assyrian king, King Ahaz erected a larger altar that was a replica of the one he saw in Damascus. He used it as the main altar in the temple on which the people were to burn their offerings, removing the original altar and placing to the side. He made the bronze altar a place where he would seek guidance from God according to pagan custom and, by doing so, he turned the sacred altar into an instrument of superstition.
Indeed we do approach God’s altar to seek divine guidance, but we primarily turn to God to offer sacrifices, not to ask for a favor from him. By switching the altar around and making God’s people change their way of worship, he in essence replaced the pure religion of Israel with pagan worship. People started to make sacrifices on the altar dedicated to pagan gods and, in the mean time, sought guidance and support from the Lord when they were in need of help. Does this remind us a little of our worship today?
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.”
Whatever we do for a living, either sacred or secular, we do unto the Lord and for his glory. We should always be conscious of this truth and act it out accordingly. We live for God; therefore we work for him as well. Unfortunately, we have drawn a clear distinction between the worldly and the spiritual, as if we make sacrifices on the pagan altar daily at our work, and turn to God in worship or petition for guidance or help occasionally. By doing so, our loyalty to God is clearly divided, and the Lord only gets the leftovers after we have devoted most of our energy to the world.
There was only one altar in the holy temple, not two. What was added on by Ahaz was an anathema.
     Upon the same altar we should offer our daily sacrifices and from it we should also seek guidance and support. The altar isn’t divided, neither is our loyalty to God. “But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance.” After the pagan altar was built, worshipping the Lord in truth became an afterthought for Ahaz, and seeking the Lobrd was merely a lip service. The bronze altar he kept in God’s house served no other purpose but for show. He somehow kept the Lord in his life just in case he needed him, and nothing beyond that, really.
    Upon which altar are we making our daily sacrifices? This is an important question that we should address to ourselves.

     

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, June 27, 2014 7:50:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Uriah the Priest 

~~MTS-3756
Uriah the Priest
“So Uriah the priest built an altar in accordance with all the plans that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus…”       2 Kings 16:11

If the priest failed to keep the purity of temple worship in Judah, who was going to do it?
Uriah should have been the one who raised serious questions concerning building a new altar to replace the old one, yet he was stony silent. Either he thought there was nothing wrong in building one or he simply didn’t have the courage to voice any opposition. Being a priest of God, he was supposed to know the history of temple worship and all the rituals involved in it, and how the ceremonies should never be revised or changed in any shape or form, yet he succumbed to the king’s wishes without putting up a fight. Uriah was a mere puppet, a compromiser and a coward whose only concern was his own welfare and his survivability as a priest, not the integrity of the temple worship. 
“So Uriah the priest built an altar in accordance with all the plans that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus…”
“How could Uriah do such a thing with a clear conscience?” we question. Of course he could, for such a thing wasn’t hard to do at all. Many of us would have done the same thing had we been placed in a similar position. Instead of holding firmly onto our principles, we are more than ready to yield if we are under any sort of pressure. We are both master compromisers and expert justifiers of our compromises and moral failures. We seem to spend more time justifying our ways to God than justifying the ways of God to men.
“Two altars in God’s temple are better than one, right?” Uriah might have reasoned. At least, it would give people more choices when they make sacrifices. It would even give people’s worship a punch and make it more exciting and colorful.
Was the priest totally convinced about the legitimacy of erecting another altar, one duplicated from a pagan religion? He couldn’t have, had he any integrity left in him at all. He might have been convinced and convicted that it shouldn’t have been done; yet he still lacked the gusto to oppose the king’s opinion and to risk losing his position and the benefits derived from it. Uriah was a coward.
"We must obey God rather than men!” Peter and the fellow apostles exclaimed. They continued to proclaim that Jesus was resurrected even when they were threatened by the Jews. Compromising the message of the cross was never a choice at all, even though their lives were in great jeopardy.
Compromising the purity of the gospel message and our moral and spiritual integrity is indeed an evolving process, and it always starts from small matters and gradually evolves to great things. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much,” said the Lord. Uriah didn’t become a compromiser in one day.   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, June 26, 2014 6:42:00 AM Categories: Devotional

An Altar 

~~MTS-3755
An Altar
“He saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction.”     2 Kings 16:10

The bronze altar in the holy temple was built years before and thousands of Israelites had been making their sacrifices on it. It might have been old and a bit old fashioned; it nonetheless was the original one. The Lord had found it holy and acceptable in his sight and there was no need to replace it with a new and fancier one.
While Ahaz was visiting Damascus, building good will with the pagan king, who had lent him a helping hand when Judah was under attack, he spotted an altar that was devoted to pagan gods and found it quite appealing. “Why not build one just like it and place it in the holy temple?” he mused.
Unlike the simple lines and solemn dignity the altar in the temple, the pagan attar he saw in Damascus was ornate and exotic, something he had never seen before. His heart was drawn to its strange design and stunning colors the moment he first saw it and a mysterious sensation rushed through his veins. A decision to have a replica built was made instantly.
“This altar may pump new blood and new life into our old and worn out religion,” he pondered.
Ahaz wasn’t particularly religious, really. He could care less about the purity of religion of his fathers, as long as it served a certain purpose. In fact, his perception toward religion was more political and cultural than anything else. He was more interested in pleasing men than God, as far as worship was concerned.
An altar copied from Damascus would certainly excite people when they stepped onto the temple grounds and it would give their waning spirits a boost. By nature, most people are romantic and are easily drawn to something new and foreign. The ancient religion might have lost its attraction and its orthodoxy had become stale; therefore something new and energetic must be introduced.
Can orthodoxy be revitalized and renewed by introducing into it new ways of interpretation or worship? Obviously many believe this can be done and must be done in order to make our religion more viable and relevant to the new generation; therefore many new “altars” have been erected and placed all over the old sanctuaries.
Was this what Ahaz was intending to do by building a new altar thousands of years ago in the holy temple? Not so, as I have mentioned previously. Orthodoxy can be and should be revisited from time to time in different generations, but its inner spirit and essence must be kept when its outward form is being tinkered with. The altar may be replaced, but the sacrifices placed upon it must remain holy and pleasing in God’s sight.         

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, June 25, 2014 8:07:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Union 

~~MTS-3754
Union
“Then King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria.”
           2 Kings 16:10

Might was power and it was the king of Assyria who had the might.  Ahaz had to pay him a visit and express gratitude to his benefactor in person. He did not do so out of his love or respect for Tiglath-Pileser; it was more for the survival of his nation than anything else.
Unions between countries have been formed and broken throughout human history, and reasons behind them have always been for the self-preservation of individual countries and territories. There has rarely been friendship and genuine goodwill among all the nations.
A goodly amount of treasures was given to Assyria in order to procure her help in time of Israel’s national crisis and a union of two nations was formed as a result. How long this union would last was anybody’s guess, for the bond could easily be broken when the situation changed.
It was a union of convenience so to speak. The Israelites got what they wanted from the Assyrians, and the Assyrians received something they craved in return, and all parties were happy. Yet we know for sure this union, like all human unions of convenience, would not last for very long time.
Human unions are fragile, for we are fragile human beings who seem to be incapable of keeping our promises. We have many reasons to form unions, for we are insufficient in many ways and help is needed from others; yet we always find stronger reasons to break unions, because we are constantly on the lookout to better ourselves, and an old union that we have formed may become a new hindrance to our advancement.
Although friendships are the most disinterested kind of union that we form throughout our lives, we still find ourselves breaking up with old ones and forming new ones for various reasons, and our friends today may become strangers, enemies in some cases, tomorrow.
Marriage should be a bond between a man and a woman that is unbreakable, shouldn’t it? Yet that is not what we witness today, and it appears that’s the one union that is severed the most.
King Ahaz was willing to forsake his God in order to form a union with the Assyrians. He was indeed a pragmatist who would choose to do whatever worked the best at any given time under any given circumstance. The trip that he took might have been a journey of good will, but he was more than willing to adopt the customs of a pagan nation and usher pagan gods back into his own country.
There is only one union on earth that is unbreakable - our union with God through Jesus, which is the only union that can stand the test of time. Humans unions will have a much better chance of survival if they are based and grounded on our union with God.              

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, June 24, 2014 7:39:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Bribery 

~~MTS-3753
Bribery
“And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria.”
           2 Kings 16:8

When bribery that he made to the deity in the form of a human sacrifice failed to work, King Ahaz turned to the king of Assyria for help by offering him the treasuries from the royal palace. When the gods failed to help him, he turned to humans, who seemed to be far more reliable than the gods at times.
We oftentimes do the opposite, though. Instead of seeking the divine for assistance when we are in trouble, we always look for human means to resolve our issues first, which is a natural thing to do, I suppose. In another word, the divine is always our last resort, not our first option.
“Why don’t you use yourself as an instrument of experimentation,” I said to a young man who had recently lost her girlfriend of three years and was suffering great pain. “What I mean is, you can first try to pray to God to see if he will reduce your pain,” I explained.
I doubted he would heed my suggestion, for he was still trying to get his girlfriend back by employing other means, and would never give up hope until he exhausted all human efforts, and only then and not until then would he seek comfort from above.
I turned out to be right. When the pain became too great to bear, he prayed for deliverance and the Lord did just that. He ended up making a profession of faith after church the other day. The experiment had a positive result this time.
Offering a human sacrifice to the gods didn’t seem to do him any good, so Ahaz decided to turn to the Assyrians for help. What else could he have done except that which was necessary? He was assaulted by the King Aram and Pekah, king of Israel, and ended up bribing his powerful neighbors to help him.
I have had great difficulty resolving the dilemma between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility and have often leaned toward one extreme or another, depending on what the situation was at the given time. I tend to yield to God’s sovereignty for the things that I have tried to avoid doing for the longest time, and handle the issues I am capable of doing on my own.
Although we often do whatever it takes to survive instinctively, it’s wise that we turn to the Lord in all situations, even if it may appear that the Lord isn’t doing his job in helping us. Bargaining with the Lord by bribery or other means never works; what works is our submission to him in all circumstances. We may not always get the desirable result through prayer; we nevertheless will learn the all-important spiritual lesson that all things will ultimately work out for our good according to God’s sovereign will.     

   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, June 23, 2014 7:02:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Human Sacrifice 

~~MTS-3752
Human Sacrifice
“He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire…”      2 Kings 16:3

Human sacrifice is a form of bribery that worshippers make to the one worshipped. They want to bribe the deity to do something for them by making the ultimate sacrifice, believing that the god or gods will honor their gift and repay them in some form or fashion.
The wooden idols in our village temple were loaded with gold necklaces around their necks, which indicated how they had been bribed into doing something for their worshippers. The villagers would often turn to the gods if they had any sort of difficulty or illness, and promised a sacrifice would be made in the idols’ honor if their issues were resolved according to their wishes. Therefore many banquets were held and gold necklaces made to honor and thank the gods whom they worshipped. The gods did not really do anything on their behalf, for they were incapable of doing so, yet desirable outcomes were attributed to them just the same.
Is our worship of the Lord to a certain extent a form of bribery in which we somehow talk God into doing some favors on our behalf by making a pledge or promise to him? This sort of thing happens a lot more often than we think. Somehow we become convinced that we have found a formula by which we can bring under control whatever situation we may encounter, and God will always be at our service if we follow the set formula. We do A and God will do B. Wasn’t this what the Lord spelt out when he made a covenant with the patriarchs? Indeed we do have a covenantal relationship with the Lord, and if we do our part, the Lord will have to fulfill the other end of the bargain.
The issue is: we will never be able to completely do the part mandated to us by the covenant; therefore this is a moot point. Whatever the Lord does on our behalf is out of his mercy and goodness, not because of our merit.
Yet we continue to make some sort of “human sacrifice,” as if we can bribe the Lord into doing something for us.
There are indeed prayers of desperation and the Lord seems to heed some of these. “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk,” Luther pleaded in the midst of a severe storm and God did just that and we all know what transpired at the end. Even so, that was more a cry of desperation than a bribe, really, and the Lord was hardly persuaded; he just did what he deemed appropriate at the time according to his sovereign plan for the reformer’s life.
Whatever form it takes, be it an oath, a vow, or a promise made to the Lord in order to cause the Lord to do a certain thing on our behalf, it will seldom work according to our wishes, for by doing so, we believe we can somehow bring the sovereign Lord under our control. Making human sacrifices is just one  of these desperate attempts which doesn’t work. It’s by God’s grace that we are saved; not by our merit.
 

 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, June 19, 2014 6:28:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Human Sacrifice 

~~MTS-3751
Human Sacrifice
“He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire…”      2 Kings 16:3

The Lord created us as human beings with a strong bond to our children and he would never ask us to do something so inhuman. Human sacrifice is an abomination to God and it’s an antithesis to God’s attributes. Such abomination only takes place in pagan worship and only blood-thirsty pagan gods would require such an inhumane thing from their worshippers.
The Lord did ask Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering, but he never meant for his servant to do that at all, for the purpose of the command was revealed at the end. The narrative unveils to us how great the patriarch’s faith in God was and to what extent he would go in obeying the Lord’s command.
If we truly put the Lord first in our lives, all things that stand in the way of achieving the goal must be removed, including the ones we treasure the most in the world. But it hardly means that we must put them on the altar to accomplish that end; we just have to constantly get them out of the way if by chance they become obstacles to following Jesus. To treat them with disregard or to regard them as not of primary importance in our lives is in essence a form of sacrifice.
I sometimes ponder the possibility of doing some long term mission work, but the faces of my children and grandchild often surface in my mind whenever I entertain the idea. It feels like a bucket of cold water is dumped on my head and cools my passion down a great deal, realizing that I will be so far away from the ones I love the most if I were to do that. Fortunately the call from above has never come, and I don’t have to make the necessary sacrifices.
Obviously the Lord will never give us a mandate to physically sacrifice our children in a form of an offering to him, yet it’s entirely possible that he may demand that we sever the unbroken allegiance that we have established with our earthly beloved in order to heed our heavenly call.
“Let’s move back to Taiwan and serve the people in the countryside,” I sometimes tease my wife.
“What about our children and grandchildren,” she replied. “I will follow if the Lord calls you, but I will be very sad.”
To deem our earthly beloved as secondary in our life and to act upon the conviction is indeed a form of human sacrifice, for we know humans pale a great deal compared to the Divine, and we will always place the Lord first in our lives and all earthly beings as second.
Do I have a desire to see my grandson grow up and to enjoy his presence every day? Definitely. But even that privilege will have to be placed on the altar to be burned if my call to depart arrives. I pray it will never materialize, but that’s not my call. 
   

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, June 18, 2014 7:00:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Evil 

~~MTS-3750
Evil
“He did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”
            2 Kings 15:18

Most northern kings during this period of history were evil, and Menahem didn’t seem to be more evil than the rest, except that he did something atrocious that had rarely been done before - “He sacked Tiphsah and ripped open all the pregnant women.”
It wasn’t out of curiosity that they did such a thing, for who could get any joy or satisfaction committing such an atrocity? Something such as this was done, I learned from a book, to Chinese women in Nanking during the Nanking massacre by the Japanese during the war, but I found myself not believing the report, for I didn’t think any human was capable of committing such brutality.
It must have happened, more often that we think, because out of the sinfulness of sin and man’s inhumanity to man, there is nothing that’s beyond our capability of doing. Without constraint, sin will take us to the darkest place, a place where we never dreamt of being.
What sort of a man was Menahem? He was just one of those ruthless men who took down Shallum and became king himself, which was by no means uncommon during the time. However, he seemed to take evil to another level by inflicting unthinkable cruelty to women and children.     
Is there still hope for humanity?
Indeed we have become more civilized and such occurrences would never happen in our generation or under our watch. We may be overconfident by making this assertion, for times might have changed, but human nature and our potential to do evil remain basically the same. Didn’t hundreds of school girls just get kidnapped and were going to be sold as prostitutes in Nigeria? Isn’t human trafficking still going all over the world and girls are routinely bought and sold as if they were merchandise?
We are as civilized as the way we treat the weakest and the most defenseless in our society. Who can be weaker and more vulnerable than the unborn babies within their mother’s wombs?
“He did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”
Whatever God deems evil is evil indeed and no one can change the final verdict. Menahem might have had his reasons behind all his evil deeds and might even have made an attempt to rationalize or justify his wicked actions, but ultimately, it was the supreme Judge‘s call whether he is guilty or not. What terrifies me the most is what caused King Menahem to commit such an atrocity against women and children may make me to do something terrible beyond my wildest imagination. I am merely a sinner redeemed by grace and, apart from God’s mercy through Christ, I am just as lost as king Menahem and may potentially become as ruthless and cruel as he.     

     

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, June 17, 2014 6:46:00 AM Categories: Devotional

One Month 

~~MTS-3749
One Month
“He attacked him in front of the people, assassinated him and succeeded him as king.”         2 Kings 15:10

Shallum took the throne away from Zechariah and he only lasted for one month, five months shorter than his predecessor. Before the cushy seat of the throne under him became warm, he was dragged down from the highest and placed in the lowest. Somebody did the same thing to him what he had done to Zechariah, and a month of kingship came to an abrupt end.
At least he was king for a month; what have you done with your life, by the way? Some may mock you by posing this question. Being a king over a nation for a mere month surely is worth a lot more than leading an ordinary life for years, isn’t it?
Although I have no aspiration to becoming a king since it is unattainable, I did have a strong desire to become a graduate of Tai Da, the best university on the island of Taiwan. The dream was dashed over forty years ago after I took the entrance examination. Not only did I not gain an admission to my dream school, I even failed to get into the worst one. Up to this day, I still wonder how euphoric it would have been had I actually attained my goal.
I can only imagine what the ramifications would have been had I gotten into Tai Da, and lived my glorious dream. By the grace of God, I could still have turned out to be who I am now, but the likelihood of that occurring is quite slim, knowing who I was and what I was aspiring to become as a young man. One of my best friends in high school did accomplish what I couldn’t do, and he has since become a well-known historian. What he is now is what I could have been or might have become.
Would I have traded in what I am today for whom I could have become or aspired to become? Surely I wouldn’t have, yet the yearning of becoming what I wanted to be still resides in my heart up to this day, and I continue to imagine what it would have been like had I actually succeeded and become the envy and admiration of all my peers. No wonder I continue to live my life vicariously through my boys’ academic successes and rehash their exploits to whoever cares to listen.
Doesn’t being a Christian for one day beat becoming a monarch over a nation for a month, six months, or even sixty years? Surely knowing God intimately and being known by him is far more valuable than being known and admired by the masses? If so, why do we still have the longing to become rich and famous, and to be reckoned by the world as someone special?
Indeed I have been perceived by most as the “scum of the earth” my entire life because of my failure, but becoming a child of God has made this slight moot, since the temporal pales greatly compared to the eternal. It was not a good deal for Shallum to sit on the throne for a mere month and to wallow in the dark for an eternity.           

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, June 16, 2014 7:25:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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