The Charge 

~~MTS-4019
The Charge
“Then he called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the LORD, the God of Israel.”        1 Ch 22:6

The kingdom had been firmly established and, with the crown on his head and the throne as his chair, he should have been fully satisfied with what he had accomplished and he could gracefully exist from the stage without the slightest regret. Surely the man had done more than enough for himself and his country, yet there was still one thing that he had failed to do, which gave him the deepest regret - the house of the Lord was yet to be built.
What’s the use of building a great earthly kingdom without erecting a grand house for the Lord? David must have considered his earthly work unfinished unless he finished building a temple for God’s name to dwell. In fact, the idea of building God’s house in the holy city had occupied his mind for the longest time. He often found himself drawing the picture of the temple in his mind when he was alone, meditating on God’s grace and grandeur. It would have been such an honor had he been able to construct the temple for the Lord, thought the king of Israel.
What he wasn’t able to achieve, his son would have to pick up and do it for him. Even though David had his concerns, he had no choice but to turn the responsibility over to his son. It wasn’t for lack of resolve or ability that he was kept from launching the great building project; it was God’s sovereign will that prevented him from doing the work. What could David have done except to submit to God’s command?
The holy temple was going to be a grand symbol of peace and the builder should be a man of peace as well. True to the name, King Solomon was to be a king reigning during a time of peace. Yes, the temple would be built under his watch.
“Then he called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the LORD, the God of Israel.”
Solomon had been chosen to succeed his father as the king of Israel, yet that doesn’t mean that the son felt exactly the same way toward the Lord as the father. There was only one who was called “the man after God’s own heart,” and the future king of Israel might have had an agenda of his own, so David wanted to make absolutely sure that his son would fulfill what he was told to do. He must have made the solemn charge more than once, drilling into his son’s mind the vital importance of the sacred project.
What do we consider the most important thing that we have been called to do on earth and that is yet to be accomplished? Is it a book we are charged to write or a building project we are called to construct? I guess we can do all we possibly can to fulfill our heavenly calling, but there will be time when we have to hand the baton to the next generation, trusting the Lord will finish his work through other people. No one should ever consider himself indispensible in God’s kingdom. If he so chooses, the Lord can raise stones to fulfill his praises.
      

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, July 31, 2015 7:24:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Preparation 

~~MTS-4018
Preparation
“So David made extensive preparations before his death.”
            1 Ch 22:6

We make preparation for our future and future events, and there is no need to make any preparation if we have no more future to concern us. We study hard at school so that we can be better prepared for our future and we search for a spouse to make preparation to have a family, and we work hard at our jobs so that we can get promoted and earn a better living for our children. In fact, everything we do is one kind of preparation or another. So a nagging question arises: do we still make any preparation if we no longer have any future? What do elderly people do to prepare for their future? Not a whole lot, really, since there isn’t that much to do to get themselves prepared for their future except perhaps a burial lot and the costs for the funeral, which can easily be covered by buying insurance.
Quiet a depressing thought, isn’t it?
Isn’t it an exciting thing when we make preparations for our future, for only the ones with a future do so? I sure miss the days when Kathy and I made preparations for our wedding and, about a year or so later, we found ourselves preparing for the arrival of our first child and, from then on, there was one preparation or another that we had to do, and most of them involving raising our children. Thirty years later, the thing that concerns us more than anything is our impending retirement, which is the last big preparation we will be doing in this life, I suppose, except the last preparation isn’t as thrilling as all the previous ones, since this final preparation seems to involve so much downsizing and giving up, with very little excitement of anticipation of things to come.
Was David making preparations for the future as well when he did all the accumulation of building materials of the holy temple for his son? Unlike some of the oriental kings who spent years erecting their last resting place, merely to preserve their bodies from decaying, what concerned the elderly king was the project he himself didn’t have the honor and privilege of constructing - God’s holy temple. Yet it didn’t keep him from getting involved in the future enterprise his son was going to be conducting. The king’s days on earth might be getting fewer, yet the shortness of his earthly days didn’t prevent him from looking into the future and into how he could participate in building God’s kingdom on earth. Whether he was present or absent from the scene, David was determined to play a part in doing his Father’s work.
How often have we heard mothers making preparations for their children’s future lives by leaving their voice or image behind when they found out their earthly days are being cut short by terminal illnesses? With their deep love for their children, they simply can’t give up getting involved in their son or daughter’s life, even in their absence from the world. Indeed there is a lot we can still do to make preparations for our future work in the world before the time when we are long gone.      

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, July 30, 2015 6:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Sword 

~~MTS-4016
The Sword
“Then the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.”          1 Ch 21:27

The Lord is sovereign; therefore he should be responsible for all the suffering and atrocities that man has ever experienced in this world. Indeed he should be hold accountable for all the dead that have died in human history, right?
This is right if we follow human logic strictly. He created humans with a free will, and whatever we do by our free will, good or bad, should all be attributed to the Author of the will. How can we be morally responsible if we are by nature incapable of choosing to do the right thing all the time? Original sin has rendered us incapable of remaining holy at all times.
    When will the angel put his sword of punishment back in to the sheath?
We are terrified, for we constantly hear the footsteps pounding behind us, following us every step of the way, and the sword may fall at any given moment. We are all fugitives and the vassal of justice is following hard a few steps away.
We may win some in our battles against sin, but we seem to lose most of the time. At the least that’s my case, for no sooner do I overcome an assault from the mortal enemy, my carnal self, then another foe rears its ugly head, and the battle goes on endlessly.
Woe is me, I cry out.
Indeed, all my sins have been cleansed and forgiven and I can always derive some comfort from this eternal truth, but it doesn’t seem to eliminate my strong sense of guilt when I fall into one temptation after another. I may seem to be quite at ease with myself outwardly, but there is always warfare waging within my heart - whether to submit to the Holy Spirit or to the evil force that dwells within my flesh.
Being a man with a free will, I am responsible for all the moral choices I have ever made and the sovereign Lord, being just and merciful, has done what’s necessary to do away with the punishment that I rightly deserve. Surely, “therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
As long as we dwell in the flesh, our struggles against our carnal selves will be ongoing and our victory over sin is always a possibility. We seem to be fighting and struggling in a ballgame where the final victory has already been secured, yet we still have to play the game as hard as we possibly can until the end, as if our winning were still pretty much in doubt. Indeed, we should play more like winners, not losers. We may be losing battles here and there, but we will win the war, for it was already won two thousand years ago.
“Then the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.” The sword was out for a season, but it has been put back into the sheath, and it will remain there. There is no punishment for our sins necessary if there is no more condemnation remaining.          

 

   

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, July 29, 2015 7:12:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Aging 

~~MTS-4017
Aging
“So David made extensive preparations before his death.”
         1 Ch 22:5

The hero of Israel was aging quickly and it was about time for him to prepare to exit from the stage of this world. He had finished what he was called to achieve and there weren’t a lot of things left for him to do. The king could easily have glided gracefully toward his west and not concern himself with anything.
What could a great man have done in his old age when he found himself weakening both physically and mentally? He might have felt that he could still do things, but others would remind him ever so subtly that those days were behind him.
Aging is not to be fought against; it’s to be surrendered to and accepted. “It’s the battle we have absolutely no chance of winning,” I often tell people my age who seem to have great difficulty accepting who they are and continue to fight a losing battle by doing all kinds of superfluous things to reverse the irreversible.
I have been playing tennis with a guy twelve years my junior who I had beaten routinely eighteen years ago when he was a graduate student at Tech. I have now adopted the philosophy of “losing less is winning, (少輸為贏)” for I have lost a step or two and my body has determined not to do what I demand it to do. What can I do now? Push my aging body to the limit? Well, I might get hurt.
“Don’t overdo it!” Kathy never fails to remind me before I step out of the door with my tennis racket, for she realizes I have a tendency to overestimate what my aging body can perform and then get injured as a result. She has witnessed me limping home after playing tennis or basketball way too many times.
Well, it doesn’t mean that I should retire from serving the Lord at my age, because it does not take that much physical strength to preach a sermon, does it?
“You used to read a lot; why you don’t do that anymore?” Kathy asked curiously the other day. In fact, she has questioned more than once, as if to remind me that I have exhausted whatever I have stored up in the past and no longer have anything fresh to give. Indeed, at the rate I am using the old and stale stuff stored in my aging brain, it will quickly run out and I will outlive my usefulness to the Lord.
David didn’t have the privilege of building the holy temple because he had shed too much blood, yet that didn’t keep him from accumulating and acquiring materials for his son to do the work. By gathering the building materials he must have felt he was a participant in this great enterprise. Surely aging didn’t keep David from doing some things for the following generation, and by doing so he would continue serving the Lord even after he was no more.
I guess I ought to start reading and gaining more new knowledge as if there were still twenty years or more for me to serve God’s church. Even if that isn’t so, what I do daily will help equip the following generation to build God’s kingdom. The building materials David diligently acquired would come in handy when Solomon started his construction project.

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, July 29, 2015 7:12:00 AM Categories: Devotional

For Nothing 

~~MTS-4015
For Nothing
“I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”       1 Ch 21:24

The threshing floor was the site assigned by the Lord on which to build an altar, but the land belonged to Araunah. The man was willing to give David the land for free, yet David turned down the favor, for he said that he wouldn’t “sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me (him) nothing.”
The more it costs us, the more valuable our sacrifices to the Lord will be. This idea sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Does that mean that the value of our sacrifice to the Lord decreases if it doesn’t cost anything? Not so at all, since whatever it costs when we make a sacrifice to the Lord comes from the Lord as well.
Being a king over a nation, David could certainly afford to buy the land and build an altar unto the Lord. In fact, he could afford to buy almost anything since he was probably immensely wealthy, our common sense tells us, and paying the price for a small plot of land would have been nothing to him. So in one sense, his sacrifice really didn’t cost him anything.
I guess the principle is what counts. Besides, Araunah might not have wanted to sell the land or he could have raised the price of it to a point where no one could afford it. We are all familiar with what happened to Ahab who became despondent when Nabob turned down his proposal to purchase a piece of land.
No matter what kind of sacrifice we render to the Lord, it will always cost us something, either materially or physically. Yet from God’s viewpoint, he merely gets back whatever he has bestowed on us; therefore he is not beholden to us in anyway. “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?" asked the Apostle Paul in Romans. 
Do we make a sacrifice to the Lord according to what he deserves to receive from us? Why did the rich young ruler sadly walk away from the Lord? The answer to this is simple: the Lord Jesus was demanding from him what rightly belonged to God. Indeed, making the right sacrifice to the Lord will cost us everything, including our life. We are to present our bodies to the Lord as “living sacrifices,” yet how often do we act as if our bodies are entirely our own and we can do whatever we please to them.
“How do we observe the Sabbath, our Lord’s day?” I asked a church member during our Bible study time.
“We go to church and listen to a sermon,” he replied.
I am afraid some of us may have the same idea. Out of the entire week, we only need to devote a couple of hours attending worship service, and some of us may even find it rather difficult to do. The Lord has bestowed on us millions of dollars, yet we can’t even offer to him a dime in return to express our appreciation and thankfulness to him. Does this make sense to you at all? I think this analogy works if time is indeed money, and all our time in this life is given to us by God.
It’s indeed extremely unpalatable for mere humans to speak about costs when they make sacrifices to God in any shape or form. It’s an anathema even. 
 

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, July 27, 2015 6:48:00 AM Categories: Devotional

God's Hands 

~~MTS-4012
God’s Hands
“I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”    1 Ch 21:13

David seemed to have made the right choice by deciding to “fall into the hands of the Lord” as far as his punishment was concerned, but after all was said and done, seventy thousand men in Israel fell dead. It didn’t seem to be such a good choice, did it? Would things have been any different had he chosen to fall into the hands of men? I guess being a military man, David must have known how brutal his enemies could have been and it wouldn’t have been fun had he fallen into their hands. Therefore, he chose a plague from the Lord over his enemies’ swords.
Seventy thousand is quite an insanely large number. Had David known it, would he still have made such a choice? Probably not. His thinking was sound, since he trusted in God more than he did in men, yet the result was a lot less than desirable. Did God’s mercy fall short in this incident, or was the crime just so heinous that the punishment had to be equally severe?
There simply wasn’t a good choice there. Innocent people were going to suffer severely for David’s foolishness, no matter what he chose among the three options offered to him.
How in the world David had failed to learn his lesson after his infant son was stricken dead for the sins of adultery and murder he had committed? Even so, he merely suffered the ill effect personally for his personal offense. This time it was quite different: the entire nation suffered with and for him.
The offense David committed against the Lord must have been so severe that that the severity of punishment couldn’t have been reduced even if the Lord had desired to do so. When the justice of God required it, the sovereign Lord exacted the punishment accordingly without considering so much its severity. Didn’t he go to such an extent to send his only Son to die on the cross for the sin of the world?
“It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” we read in the book of the Hebrews. How can anyone take God’s justice so nonchalantly as if he will never hold us accountable for all the unlawful things we have ever done? How naïve it is for us to even consider that our sins are nothing to him and can easily be forgiven. How great is the sacrifice God has made in order to satisfy both his attributes of justice and mercy. Wasn’t the life of God’s only Son far more valuable than seventy thousand Israelites who died in the plague?
David evidently had faith in God’s mercy and was willing to stake his life on it, yet he seemed to fail to recognize that God’s justice was a consuming fire that devours all that is filthy and impure. 
 
 

  
 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, July 24, 2015 2:48:00 PM Categories: Devotional

Enough 

~~MTS-4013
Enough
“The angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”        1 Ch 21:15

“Enough, withdraw your hand,” the Lord said to the angel who “was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite,” and was about ready to destroy Jerusalem. Had the Lord not relented, the holy city would have been devastated. The plague had been going on for a few days and seventy thousand people had already perished; if that wasn’t enough, I don’t know how much enough would have been.
Surely the Lord is merciful and slow to anger, yet when his anger is kindled, there was no telling how far and wide it will reach. The Lord had been working in David for years, and surely there was a long and winding road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem littered with guts and blood, yet the Lord was with the shepherd lad every step of the way, and he eventually placed him in the throne of Israel. At the end of the long journey when the kingdom was finally established, however, the shepherd who turned king did something entirely unfathomable - he started to number the people of the nation as if they were his. He was in fact acting like he was the one who had accomplished the incredible feat of conquering nations and possessing territory. The human was starting to act divine.
That was David, we may say. What about the seventy thousand who had done nothing to deserve death in the plague?
Were the seventy thousand totally innocent? Not necessarily. Indeed they were the ones who were about to harvest the benefits of David’s victory and all they had desired was that the government would leave them alone from then on so that they could till their own land and raise their young without any interference. Yet how many of the people among the seventy thousand truly give the Lord all the credit for what they were about to enjoy - their peace and prosperity? How many Israelites among the deceased really centered their lives on the Lord and weren’t at all pompous and arrogant just like their king? Not all that many, I am afraid.
Never ever utter “enough is enough” to the Lord, for the punishment of our sin will never be enough considering how great it is. How much effort have we put into defeating our habitual sins? When do we cry out to our carnal selves: “Enough is enough” and remain pure and unblemished for the rest of our life. For the Lord enough is never enough since we are incapable of turning away from our sin and crying out to our carnal selves: “Enough is enough. I will no longer be subject to your tyranny.”
O how gracious and merciful that the Lord even decides at some point it’s enough. Did the gracious God declare “enough is enough” when he sent his own Son to get rid of sin once and for all? If so, why do we still grumble as if the Lord hasn’t done enough for us?      

   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, July 23, 2015 7:20:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Evil 

~~MTS-4011
Evil
“This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.”
          1 Co 21:7

I have made many attempts at counting in my life, particularly in my old age. What kind of numbering have I been doing lately? How many years have I been in the ministry? How many people have been baptized in the past twenty two years? How many years do I still have on earth?
Counting is a sort of controlling, really. We crunch all the numbers in order to bring all things in order, and give credit to all who are responsible for bringing all things into being.
What comes into my mind when I consider how many people have been coming to the Lord under my watch? I always have a strange sense of satisfaction, as if I had anything to do with people accepting Jesus as their Savior. Was it through my own stamina that I was able to last in the same church for almost twenty two years? If it’s not so, why bother about counting?
If I am not supposed to take the credit for all I have achieved, why work so hard to achieve anything at all? The academic degrees I have earned and the nice little career I have managed to build, aren’t they the fruit of my labor?
We will surely lose all motivation to achieve greatness if we give all the credit of our successes to the Lord. Seekers who frequent our church often raise this question, for achieving successes in this life is very important to them and it sounds rather hollow to them if we explain that Christ is the means and end of all our earthly endeavors.
“Talent on loan from God!” A well known talk show host often bellows out this slogan in the midst of his long rambling about various issues. Even though the man is pompous and vain, he may be onto something here. Our lives, including all the talents we may possess, are indeed on loan from God, and to act otherwise is unrealistic and foolish. Don’t we all give everything back to our Creator at the moment when we breathe our last?
“Glory be to God Almighty!” This is what we must shout from the mountaintop when we ponder about what we have accomplished with our lives thus far.
Indeed I have done something in God’s kingdom, and have achieved a little bit with the talent endowed to me. It may be quite meager and insignificant, but like the poor widow in the holy temple, I will offer it to God with the profoundest sense of gratitude.
Even so, I have often looked at myself with wonder, amazed at the fact of how far the Lord has brought me and what amazing work he may still have in store me.
We should all end with “how great Thou art” after doing any sort of counting, and it’s sinful beyond measure if we cry out “how great I am” after we finish numbering.   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, July 20, 2015 10:14:00 AM Categories: Devotional

A Dream 

~~A Dream
“…your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions…”
         Joel 2:28

    I don’t usually put any stock in my dreams since I dream a lot and most of them are fleeting things, reflecting mostly on my thinking or activities during the day. Indeed, this common Chinese saying rings true as far as my dreams are concerned: “What you think about during the day, you dream about it during the night (日有所思, 夜有所夢.)”
The dream I had the night before last was quite different, really. I knew it the moment when I woke from it. There seemed to be some sort of message from the dream.
In my dream I was just chatting with some Chinese people whom I didn’t know and they told me about a newly opened Chinese restaurant in town that I should visit. I asked for the name and the address, intending to pay a visit later, since I am always on the lookout for authentic Chinese cuisine. What I found strange was the name of the restaurant, which was a name I had never heard before, and it sounded nothing like a Chinese restaurant. The name of the restaurant was: 深耕 (Shen Geng) which means “plowing deeply.”
It was an ordinary building which didn’t have the appearance of a restaurant, and there was a small gold plaque mounted on the wall with an engraving of the name “深耕” on it. There was another plaque not too far to its right that said “更新” (Geng Xin) which means renewal. The furnishings of the restaurant were quite “Amish,” fairly simple and elegant, and there was not a single American inside. I sat for a while, yet no one came to serve me. Finally an elderly lady with a little girl approached my table and the woman started to tell me about all her sorrows. I don’t remember saying anything to her and, moments later, I woke up. It was about five o’clock in the morning.
I told my wife about my dream on our way to Austin.  She found it quite interesting and we discussed casually what it might mean off and on during the trip. We stopped for gas at a little town called Eden off a country road and went to DQ to get something to eat. An unusual thing happened there that might have given some clarification, my speculation perhaps, to my dream: we ran into a Chinese visiting researcher who has been coming to our Wednesday night fellowship meeting regularly. He was on his way to San Marcos to do some shopping with his wife and a couple of friends. It is quite unusual that we would run into each other out of nowhere a few hundred miles away from Lubbock. Was it merely a coincidence or is the Lord trying to say something to us through this chance encounter?
I guess this particular dream does need to be looked into a little more carefully to see if it was anything more than just a dream. Of one thing I am certain, however: I will change our Wednesday night fellowship to 深耕團契, (Shen Geng Fellowship) which is a pretty good start to implement what the dream might be saying to me.

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, July 17, 2015 7:48:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Guilty by Association 

~~MTS-4010
Guilt by Association 
“Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”
          1 Ch 21:3

Being the head of my family, whatever I have decided to do as a person has had some sort of impact on my family of five. The impulsive decision I made to leave my doctorial studies behind and move my family out west to LA certainly must have turned my family upside down and the idea to move back to Ole Miss after a year in La La land had much graver consequences. That was what I did to my entire family nonetheless. Even though my wife had her own idea concerning the whole thing, she pretty much went along and did what I wanted to do. There was, of course, no other option for my three boys at the time. They had no choice but to follow us even to the end of the world and take whatever consequences my ill-advised decision incurred.
Had I been the head of a nation, the entire nation would have suffered the result of all my decisions, be they good or bad. If I was guilty, the entire populace would have been declared guilty by association and suffered pain and loss for it.
Joab knew exactly what he was talking about when he uttered: “Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”
The decisions we make are never ours only; they have some sort of influence on other people as well. When we toss our trash away on the street, it contributes to the pollution of this world; when we fail to recycle our empty bottles and other waste, our negligence enhances the pace of global warming to a certain degree; and somebody else has to deal with the filth when we let our dogs do their business in other people’s yards. The troubles we have created as individuals never go away by themselves; they merely start a domino effect of something sinister.
Indeed all decisions that we have ever made or will make, either good or bad, are communal in nature. Not only do they affect us as individuals, they impact the community as a whole one way or another. Our spit never dries up by itself; it scatters whatever germs it happens to carry, and contaminates a small circle of the world.
Whatever David decided to do by his arrogance and vanity caused the deaths of thousands of people who had absolutely nothing to do with the decision; their only guilt was they happened to be subjects of the king.
Shouldn’t we think more about the possible consequences of all our decisions and think about their effects individually, communally, nationally, and globally? If we do so, it may make a great difference in our decision-making process.
What a great difference it would have made to my wife and children had I not made the impulsive decision to move to Los Angeles and back within the span of a mere year. A lot of hardship and pain would have been averted.       

   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, July 16, 2015 8:05:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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