Say the Right Thing 

~~MTS-3780
Say the Right Thing
“Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD…”
           2 Kings 18:30

Might was on the Assyrians’ side and King Hezekiah couldn’t have done anything except invoke the name of God for help. The Israelites were backed into a corner and the Lord represented their last gasp of hope.
Hezekiah might have been a man of faith, yet under such dire circumstances, he couldn’t help but feel a little desperate. Like all people of faith, he aspired to hold onto the Lord’s promise through thick and thin; nonetheless it was quite a struggle for him to remain calm in a time of great turmoil.
It got to the point that Hezekiah could do nothing but cry out to the people by faith, not by sight. Had he uttered what he was feeling, people would have lost heart and melted like ice under intense heat. What he proclaimed by faith might easily have turned into sight.
Such a proclamation wasn’t some sort of self-affirmation or self-deception device made by Hezekiah when he was caught in a desperate situation; it was a declaration of faith that carried with it the dynamic power of God. The outer situation might have remained the same after the statement of faith was made; the inner fortitude would definitely have been renewed and restored. It was not the power of positive thinking based on illusion; it was spiritual strength grounded on God’s unfailing faithfulness.
I have found myself saying all the right things when trying to bring God’s comfort to the distraught, even though at times I might not have felt exactly like the way I was talking. I would have been no good to anyone had I always uttered what I was feeling in my heart. I am not called to speak what I feel, but to utter what the Lord has revealed, believing firmly that God’s word will not return to me void.
“I have had such a bad day,” Kathy said to me the other day, rather dejectedly.
“How so?” I asked.
“I didn’t get anything done all day,” she replied. Being a goal-oriented person, a day wasted in doing nothing concrete has to be a cause of dejection, I suppose.
“Have you thanked the Lord yet?” I asked, quoting the words her father used to say to her constantly.
Indeed it was a proclamation of faith that might not change anything; but what it did was to alter our perception towards things that happen to us, be they good or bad, trusting that God has the best intention in bringing about all things in our lives and, ultimately, all manners of things will be well. 
Under intense pressure from the enemy, King Hezekiah persuaded God’s people to put their trust in the Lord. It was the best and the wisest thing he could have done at the time.
   

   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, July 31, 2014 7:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Last Hope 

~~MTS-3779
Last Hope
“Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the LORD?”             2 Kings 18:25

The Assyrian commander said this to the leaders of Judah, claiming it was God’s will that they came to attack the Israelites. Surely the Lord might have done so to the Northern kingdom in the past, but it didn’t mean that he would do the same thing to the South. By making such a ludicrous claim, he was hoping to bring down the spirit of the people in the city and cause them to surrender to the invaders without putting up a fight.
The thought of the Lord turning against them might have been a lot harder to take for God’s people than being attacked by the Assyrians. No matter what was happening, God’s people would have liked to believe that the Lord was standing firmly on their side. It was one thing to be forsaken by people, but it was entirely different to be abandoned by God. The foreign invader appeared to know which button to push to set the Israelites on edge.
“Curse God and die,” Job’s wife said to her husband in utter hopelessness, believing that God had turned against her family and the only option left for them was to give up all hope and just die. That appeared to be the Assyrian commander’s intention, which was to push God’s people to the brink by suggesting that the Lord had deserted them.
“Praise God and live.” Job decided to take another more viable option. Under such horrific circumstances, he was determined to hold onto the Lord and believed that God’s intention was good, even though it appeared to be so evil.
Was the man totally blinded to the reality? All he had ever treasured in life had been taken away from him, and his life was spared only to suffer excruciating pain and unbearable shame.
Faith is what’s needed when faith is in short supply; and we need the Lord the most when we feel alienated from him most. We should run toward him when every fiber of our being seems to be pulling us away from him, for the Lord represents our last hope and we have nothing left when we give him up. It may appear to be self-deceiving when all things appear to be pointing to the opposite, yet we still hold onto God’s goodness.
All our earthly hopes will die some day and we will have a choice to make at the end. Will we choose to die with the Lord or without him, with the last hope or without it?
Upon hearing the Assyrian’s words, the Israelites could have chosen to surrender to the evil force, believing that the Lord had departed from them and they could only succumb to the power of darkness. Or they could have mustered whatever little faith they still possessed within their hearts, and persisted in trusting the Lord for yet another hour and another day, and even if they didn’t live to see God’s deliverance, they at least could depart from the world with their last hope intact.        
 

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, July 30, 2014 7:04:00 AM Categories: Devotional

On What? 

~~MTS-3778
On What?
“On what are you basing this confidence of yours?”
                       2 Kings 18:19

The Assyrian commander mocked the leaders of Judah by spitting out: “On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” Indeed it was nearly impossible for God’s people to withstand the onslaught of the Assyrian army who was taking down one nation after another with absolute ease. Judah would just be the next in line to fall prey to the ferocious beast.
It wasn’t as if King Hezekiah hadn’t done anything to appease the anger of the Assyrian king. He even stripped off gold and silver from the doors and doorposts of the holy temple and gave it to the conqueror of nations. But the goodwill gesture just wasn’t enough. The Assyrians had determined that they weren’t going to slow down until they had taken the nation of Judah down once and for all.
Considering what they were encountering and the daunting challenge the people were facing, how could they afford to have any confidence at all? It might have been the time to set their houses in order and do whatever they could do to prepare for the inevitable.
The death sentence against Judah and all the people within her city walls had been declared and the outcome appeared to be irreversible. Hope against hope when hope was just a mere illusion shouldn’t have been the thing they entertained. It only made them more depressed, and nothing more.
All things die, but hope lives on if we look at realities from a proper perspective. If there is no eternity, all things end at death; if there is, like eternity, hope for us Christians lives on.
“If Christianity happens to be false, I will still believe,” I told the congregation yesterday, “since a life with God is so much more joyful and exciting than without him. Besides, our faith is absolutely true.”
The debate that took place years ago between a prominent atheist and a renowned Christian scholar wasn’t even all that heated, for one simply refused to returned mockeries and insults with the same. One appeared to be arrogant, sarcastic, and bitter, but the other seemed gentle, humble, and thoughtful. The atheist might have won the debate on the ground of his reasoning, but I knew full well which side I would have taken and which man of the two I would very much like to emulate.
“Please don’t pray for me,” the aforementioned atheist debater insisted when some Christians wanted to do so. There was no more hope in him when his last enemy cancer was about to sweep him away, for thus end all his earthly hopes and, from his viewpoint, there was nothing but nothingness beyond the horizon.
“On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” A probing question, isn’t? We are indeed walking toward a precipice, where we will all fall at the end, yet I would like to consider our falling down as really flying up, since down is actually up for people of faith.        
  
 
 
    

   

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, July 29, 2014 6:35:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Gold 

~~MTS-3777
Gold
At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the Lord…”   2 Kings 18:16

Up to this point, King Hezekiah had been trying to do the right thing before the Lord and it appeared that things were going rather well. The Lord was with the king and the nation was blessed. But the Assyrians were invading all the surrounding nations and the kingdom to the north had been taken and her people had been put into exile. Under the circumstances, King Hezekiah had to do something drastic to appease the Assyrian king and to protect his people from being harmed by her enemies. What else could he have done at the time? He could have turned to the Egyptians for help, yet Pharaoh and his men were probably trying to save themselves from the Assyrians. Although he could have mustered his army and fought, he might have figured out that the chances of winning against the ferocious Assyrians were quite slim, and the loss of life might have deterred him from going that route. The last option out there was to win favor from the enemies by surrendering to them and working out a peace agreement, which almost always involved an annual contribution of silver and gold. Normally, the king would tax the people and exact as much gold as he possibly could. Since there were probably no more precious stones to be taken from the Israelites; the king did what he was very reluctant to do – he stripped off gold from the doors and doorposts of the holy temple.
The king could easily have justified his drastic action, since the nation was in such great peril. If the Lord failed to save them from the Assyrians, the gold of his house would have to come down and do the trick. Besides, gold and silver could be restored in the future when the situation improved; there wouldn’t be a second chance if human lives were lost. The king simply was doing the most expedient thing at the time.
Instead of giving the Assyrians silver and gold, could there have been another option the king failed to see and to take? Possibly. He could have waited on the Lord and trusted him completely for the redemption of Israel.
The Lord didn’t live in a house built by human hands, yet the grand building was nonetheless a symbol of God’s presence. Some might have concluded God was absent from his people and his glory had departed from Israel when the holy temple was tarnished and defaced. The king should have done all he possibly could to protect God’s presence and glory in Israel by preserving the holy temple.
The gold and silver were stripped off layer by layer and the presence of the Lord among his people thus became dimmer and dimmer, until it became hardly visible. Would we have done the same had we been put in a similar position? Would we have sacrificed our lives to protect God’s honor and presence in our lives? Was it really something worth dying for?     
  

   

   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, July 28, 2014 7:05:00 AM Categories: Devotional

This Happened Because 

~~MTS-3776
This Happened Because
“This happened because they had not obeyed the LORD their God, but had violated his covenant…”          2 Kings 18:12

“This happened because they had not obeyed the LORD their God…” The answer to the question of Israel’s destruction and exile was simple and direct, and there is no arguing against it. The relation of cause and effect was clearly established and stated. What happened to the Northern Kingdom of Israel was definitely caused by their failure as a people to obey God’s commands.
Isn’t this an over-simplification and over-generalization of a very complex event? Perhaps. This is nonetheless true if we look at the monumental event in general, for God was obviously the One who brought all things to pass, and there must have been a good reason behind his action. God’s people sinned, therefore they were punished.
God’s people sinned corporately, yet they were being punished individually. We may find this hard to accept. There must have been thousands of people in Israel who were following the Lord and doing their best to obey God’s law, yet when the judgment day came, they suffered with the rest just the same.
The first death doesn’t usually lead to the second death, however. Some day each individual will have to stand before the throne and be held accountable for what they have done in the flesh. We may suffer physically if we reside within an unrighteous regime, but even so, we can remain spiritually pure and lead a life of holiness and integrity.
People who had the means all rushed to the States during the time when tension between the Communist China and Taiwan intensified during the fifties and sixties. They did so to avoid being punished corporately as part of a nation for whatever sins she had committed. I would have done so myself if I had had the means. When a nation is being punished by God, no one within the nation is immune to, including both the righteous and the unrighteous.
A nation is composed of different individuals, therefore what every individual does has an impact on the nation as a whole, yet the black tidal wave created by the majority simply cannot be stemmed by the minority who swim against the current and march to a different drumbeat. God’s judgment against a nation will always be based on the thoughts and actions of the majority, not on the minority.
What then can we do as an individual who happens to dwell in an unrighteous nation and is frightened to be going down with her when God’s judgment falls?
What else can we do except continue to remain vigilant and prayerful so that we don’t become conformed to the image of this world unaware and turn into an integral part of the collective rebellion against the Lord?  

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, July 25, 2014 6:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Hold Fast 

~~MTS-3775
Held Fast
“He held fast to the LORD and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses.”        2 Kings 18:6

Hezekiah was a devout king who “held fast” to the Lord and was considered one of the best kings in the southern kingdom of Israel. What impresses us the most was that he never stopped following the Lord, which wasn’t an easy feat to accomplish, especially for a king.
We are often tempted to sin and the main reason why we are victorious in overcoming it is not necessarily out of the fear of the Lord, but because of the lack of means. Had we been endowed with the power of a monarch, we might have done something beyond our wildest imagination. Indeed power does corrupt, and the more power we possess, the more morally corruptive we will become.
It was far more difficult for King Hezekiah to remain pure and holy than for an ordinary citizen in Jerusalem. It might have been relatively easy for a person who had nothing to lose to follow the Lord than the ones who had great possessions. The rich young ruler in the Gospels is a good illustration of my point.
What did it mean for Hezekiah to follow the Lord?
It simply meant that he was required to come down from his throne and submit to the highest authority like a pauper. It also meant that he must consider himself the least even though he was deemed by all as the greatest. His being a follower of the Lord might also have required him to give up all the privileges all the kings before and after him seemed to have taken for granted.
Surely many kings in Israel might have had auspicious beginnings and had every intention to remain faithful to the Lord, but they all failed miserably at the end. Failing to maintain one’s integrity (晚節不保) is such a common occurrence among people in high position, and this appeared to be the case for many Israeli kings, Solomon included. 
May we hold fast to the Lord and continue to follow him no matter what our life’s circumstances are.
We should resist being defined by our titles or positions and remain the same whether our wealth increases or decreases. It’s a trap when we start to perceive ourselves as others perceive us, whether positively or negatively. Our situations change constantly, as do people’s perceptions toward us, yet how the Lord sees us remains constant. We are his beloved children now and forever.
It would have been rather difficult for Hezekiah to remain faithful to the Lord had he let the golden crown he was wearing gradually sink down to his head and had he started to act accordingly. It’s not easy for people with big heads and giant egos to humbly follow the Lord. 

 

   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, July 24, 2014 6:48:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Nehushtan 

~~MTS-3774
Nehushtan
“He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”      2 Kings 18:4

The bronze snake Moses made was called Nehushtan, and it had become an idol of sorts, for the Israelites had been worshipping the image by burning incense to it. The bronze snake had served a particular purpose years before and it carried a symbolic meaning for the following generation, but the object carried no magical power and it was best to be put aside as a memorial. Well, knowing how people are so inclined to worship whatever object they deem supernaturally endowed, it would have been far better to get rid of the object altogether to avoid its worship from ever occurring.
The bronze snake might have had healing power during the time when people were being bitten by poisonous snakes for their sin of grumbling, but it was a thing of the past. In fact, the object could have been serving as a reminder, reminding the following generation not to grumble against the Lord. Yet the history behind Nehushtan had long been forgotten, and the object itself was deified and deemed as a god.
Nehushtan could easily have become a god of healing.
It was probably far easier for people to handle if idols had clear job descriptions. The Israelites could have turned to Nehushtan for help when they were ill. An omnipotent God who was sovereign over all things might have been too difficult for people to comprehend, for it is impossible for the finite to understand the infinite. Wasn’t that the reason why God’s people seemed to prefer to bow down to idols that were a lot more manageable and user-friendly for them?
The gods who micromanage human affairs are more to our liking than the Sovereign One who has control over all things. We don’t have much taste for a tyrannical God who is untamable and uncontrollable, therefore we bring the gods down to our level and give them clearly-defined job description, so that they can be better controlled, utilized, and abused. Idols are created by us and we endow them with supernatural power so that they can become our servants.
Want to become prosperous in your business endeavor? Better usher in a god of wealth into your business or shop and burn incense to it daily. Yearn to become pregnant? Better bow down to a goddess of fertility and make your plea. And the list goes on. All the gods and goddesses only do one thing, so they can do it more efficiently. The gods with limited power can better utilize their power to serve us, we suppose.
Isn’t it time to break our Nehushtans to pieces, if we have any?
Out of our love for them, we may still be wearing the “good-luck” charms our parents acquired from Buddhist temples or other sources. The things we deem merely symbolic may eventually turn into idols to which we start to burn incense. The charms we are wearing on our necks or our wrists may turn into spiritual bondage over our souls.  

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, July 23, 2014 6:43:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Pragmatism 

~~MTS-3773
Pragmatism
“Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols.”             2 Kings 17:41

We will always do what’s the most beneficial to us, for by nature we are selfish and self-centered. Or am I merely speaking from my own perspective, since that is what I am? I am basically quite selfish and self-centered.
 Take romantic love for an example: We seem to say the magic words so readily and easily, even on the first date with a desirable person. What does the three letter word really mean? I love you because I need you, want you, or find you physically appealing? We will be greatly surprised, appalled even, after we do thorough soul searching concerning our true intention when we so boldly express our love and affection to our loved ones.
All loves are need-loves, according to C.S. Lewis in his book “The Four Loves.” For the most part, we love for our own sake, not for other people’s sake. We are so fearful of losing those who we love dearly because it would hurt us so much. One of the main reasons why we try so hard to hold onto our loved ones is we simply are trying to avoid being hurt by their departure, which is why it’s so vital that we convert our self-centered love into God-centered agape love.
Perhaps we need to take the time to examine our religion and worship as well, to see whether we are truly disinterested in our worship, and to find out whether our worship of the Lord is me-centered or God-centered.
Indeed we turn to the Lord for the forgiveness of our sins and therefore avoid eternal damnation. Isn’t this motivated by selfish reason? It does sound that way, doesn’t it? Forgiveness of sin and having a harmonious relationship with the Lord eternally are such wonderful gifts and one has to be a stubborn fool to reject them. But it’s safe to say that accepting God’s grace is in essence a selfish act, isn’t it?
How can anything we do be God-centered, or for the sake of meeting God’s needs, since the Lord is completely self-sufficient and there is absolutely no need in him of any kind from anyone. Therefore all we have ever done is motivated by our needs, which are self-centered in nature.
“Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols.” It was all too natural for the Israelites to do such a thing, since they felt the need to cover all the bases, so that they wouldn’t miss the blessing coming from other divine sources. No wonder the Athenians felt the need to erect an altar dedicated to “an unknown god.”
Surely it’s not an affront to God that our love and worship of him is motivated by our needs or even our selfishness, because we are deficient and incomplete by nature, therefore we need both spiritual and physical support and sustaining from both human and divine. No shame in that. The ones who claim to be completely disinterested in their worship or their deeds of charity are indeed quite arrogant and prideful. These people will find it extremely difficult to yield to the Lord, or to any deity.
Ultimately it’s a severe lack of trust in the Lord when we turn to idols, for by doing so we deem our Lord insufficient in meeting all our needs, as if we were turning to our neighbors, enemies even, for aid while our father has more than enough to meet our every need. That was what the prodigal son finally discovered after going through a period of rebellion against his father.   

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, July 22, 2014 7:59:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Deliverance 

~~MTS-3772
Deliverance
“Rather, worship the LORD your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.”          2 Kings 17:39

It’s natural for us to put our trust in the seen rather than in the unseen, for the seen seems to be so much more reliable than the unseen. Compared to faith, sight appears to be so much more appealing and revealing.
The Israelites would often turn to the Egyptians for help when they were under duress from the Assyrians or the Babylonians, and they would finally turn to the Lord after they had exhausted all human means of assistance. I guess that’s how we operate as well.
Human deliverance often arrives directly and quickly, but divine aid seems to come in a more round-about way and at a much slower pace. Patience is the key to getting God’s help in time of trouble. Unlike us mere humans who are bound by time, I guess God can afford to take his time since he has all eternity at his disposal. A thousand years may just be a day to him, so why the hurry?
Worship the Lord our God and make an effort to change our perception of time. That’s the key to getting deliverance from him.
Time will render all we have ever done on earth void if all the things we do are time-sensitive or time-bound. I have always tried to look beyond time and space in all I do, albeit have not always succeeded in doing so. When I try to speak through my writings, I often envision that I will continue to speak to a few people after I depart from the world. If I always keep this in mind when I compose, my writings will become less time-sensitive and more eternally significant, and it will bother me less for having such a small readership - twenty regular readers total.
The deliverances we yearn for the most are usually earthly or physical, aren’t they? Such as restoration of sound health or healing of broken homes. Indeed, we want all our brokenness to be made whole and our shattered selves to be mended so that we can be happy again. Surely the Lord has been doing this and will continue to do so until the day he quits doing it and we yield to what’s to come, which is to say that the Lord will fail each one of us once.
His greatest success may be achieved in us through his failure. He is incapable of bestowing on us the eternal unless the temporal self is done away with for good. The thousands of deliverances great or small the Lord has done for us on earth all point to the one great deliverance “when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.” This is the true “consummation devoutly to be wish’d” by us all.
“Rather, worship the LORD your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.” We all know who our last enemy is and the Lord is the One who can deliver us from him also.        
     
  

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, July 21, 2014 7:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Exile 

~~ MTS-3769
Exile
“So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there.”         2 Kings 17:23

The Israelites did not honor the Lord by staying away from idols while they were in their homeland; it was unlikely they would remain pure in their worship when they became exiles in a foreign land. Did they even make a connection between their idolatry and the calamity they suffered at the time? Did the people ever connect the dots and come to realize what was really going wrong in their lives?
They probably didn’t spend too much time contemplating the connection between cause and effect, the relationship between the physical and the spiritual, between the temporal and the eternal. Their homes were ruined and what little bit they had was taken away from them, and all they could think about was survival. They had to deal with the effect, without worrying about the cause.
The cause of their exile was simple enough: they had sinned against the Lord by paying homage to foreign gods. What went wrong with the people was their worship, and everything collapsed with it.
Can we also attribute all the sufferings we have ever encountered to our bowing down to idols and foreign gods? Perhaps. “Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more,” wrote the Psalmist. Sorrow and death were ushered into the world after sin entered into the world, so it’s obvious there is a cause and effect relationship between sin and sorrow, and no sin is more offensive to the Lord than the sin of idolatry.
Whenever we place the Lord in a secondary position, it’s a form of idolatry and the end result of it is always dreadful. By doing so, we may still have pleasure in the flesh, but surely it will definitely rob us of joy in the Lord. What can be more awful for us Christians than not having the joy of the Lord present in our lives?
We are often depressed and although some depression may be caused by physical issues, it may also be caused by our self-worship or worship of idols, for our life should always be joyful if we put the Lord first in all things. This is not an over-simplification of a very complicated issue, for it appears to me that if we apply the Apostle Paul’s formula found in the book of Philippians, there is no chance we will ever get depressed or be overcome by sorrow: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” 
Are we leading a life of an exile unaware?
It would have been awful had the Israelites not come to their senses that they had sinned against the Lord after they suffered the great pain of exile. They would have suffered in vain had they continued to worship idols in a foreign land.     

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, July 18, 2014 8:20:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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