Fifteen Years 

~~MTS-3800
Fifteen Years
“I will add fifteen years to your life.”
              2 Kings 20:6

It was quite a reverse of fortune for Hezekiah. He was supposed to prepare for death, yet a new lease on life was given to him and he would have another fifteen years on earth. Surely fifteen years was a long time, considering he was about to die. For one who is about to depart from the world, a day or two remaining on earth is quite precious. Fifteen years must have felt like ages for the one who was counting down the remaining days of his earthly life by minutes.
What mattered the most for the king wasn’t really how much time he was going to have on earth, it was how he was going to use the time given to him by God’s grace. The king could have squandered his time by doing worthless things and render God’s gift to him useless, or he could have used his time wisely and made every minute of his days count for something.
The value of our time varies according to how we spend it; therefore one person’s time may be far more valuable than others. The hour that my wife spends talking to her elderly mother on the phone surely is more valuable than the same amount of time I spend watching sports on television or merely sitting in my Lazyboy daydreaming. The way we utilize our time determines the value and worth of our time. We are all endowed by God with a lifetime of time, and some may have longer than others, but the difference isn’t that great. Besides, the value of our life isn’t really determined by its length; it’s rather decided by the way it’s used.
“Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil,” we read in the book of Ephesians. What did the apostle mean by that? I suppose he meant that the days are evil unless we redeem them by doing something good and constructive. Life presents us with ample opportunity to do good to bring glory to God and a chance once missed becomes unredeemable. How many times have we missed opportunities to do good to others when the chance was presented to us? I am afraid there were a lot more than we care to remember.
A lone homeless man was standing under the scorching noonday sun on the corner of a busy street, holding a cardboard sign with something written on it. I drove by him many times, but not a single time did I stop and perhaps bless him with a small gift. Indeed I have missed many opportunities to become a blessing to other people. If so, what the use of God giving me fifteen or fifty years of earthly life if I continue to waste my days by doing superfluous things, like surfing the internet or watching television.
There was nothing worth mentioning in Hezekiah’s last fifteen years on earth except the pompous display of his wealth to the Babylonian envoys, which displeased the Lord. From this aspect, it would have been better had he died a little earlier. Wasn’t this the reason why the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave up his practice of medicine and entered the ministry? He didn’t think it was such a good idea to bring people back to sound health so that they simply became fitter to sin.  

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, August 29, 2014 6:25:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Timeless Prayer 

~~MTS-3799
Timeless Prayer 
“I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.”
           2 Kings 20:4

The Lord sent his prophet Isaiah to tell the king of Judah that he would not recover from his disease and he would soon die. Hezekiah was heartbroken when he heard the bad news and he wept bitterly before the Lord.  He also prayed earnestly for healing by stating his case before God: how he had been faithful to him and had been devoted to him his entire life. The Lord heard the king’s prayer and saw the tears he had shed, and decided to spare the king’s life and give him fifteen extra years of life. “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.” The Lord told Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah.
The Lord just told the king that he would die moments before, and later changed his mind. It did appear that Hezekiah’s prayer made a difference and through it he managed to persuade God to change his mind concerning his illness and recovery.
Does this episode encourage us to pray without ceasing, no matter how hopeless the situation is? God is sovereign over all, and he does listen to our plea and often responds to our prayers according to the desire of our hearts. We may not be able to persuade the Lord to do our bidding, but we at least can present our case before him, and perchance he will decide to pour his mercy upon us.
While it appeared that the Lord changed his mind concerning his dealing with Hezekiah, it might not have been so at all; he merely did what he deemed the best at the moment. The changing of one’s mind involves a progression of time, and the Lord dwells in timelessness, so there is no such thing at all. Indeed, “there is no shadow of turning” in him.
Before a script writer finalizes his manuscript he must go through many revisions, which take place long before the actual performance of the play. The performance happens in time, but the creating and crafting of the divine play occurs outside of time; therefore there is no changing of mind when the show is going on. I guess this illustrates somewhat the decision-making process of the Director of the human drama. We may do our best to convince him to alter his mind, but we would have to do so during the time when he was still in the process of creating his work, which occurred before the foundation of the universe, not after he finalized his work.
Why even bother to pray then, if that was truly the case, for all the prayers are always a step late since the verdicts have been determined. We are merely acting out what has been written and the Director will not change his manuscript midstream. Therefore whether it be comedy or tragedy, we just have to play our part the best we can and exit from the stage when the lights are dimmed and the curtain comes down, and our protest against it will not make a smidge of difference.
Our prayers did make a difference if they were uttered when the Lord was still in the midst of composing his manuscript before time began. How can that be possible? It’s probable because what happens in our time actually takes place in God’s timelessness when it’s still possible for God to change his mind concerning our destiny. From this perspective, our prayers do make a difference.   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, August 28, 2014 6:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Illness 

~~MTS-3798
Illness
“In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death.”
           2 Kings 20:1

Even though it doesn’t happen very often, in the back of our minds we know it will take place eventually. Someday we will become ill, and the illness will take us away from our loved ones and from the world we have grown to love so much.
I remember feeling rather dejected as a little boy when I learned at school that four things are inevitable in life - birth, aging, illness, and death (生老病死). Life was just starting and a lot of years were still in store for me, yet I began to become anxious about the things that would come my way from then on, that might rob me of the joy of living.
One danger was just averted, yet another one started to rear its ugly head. The Assyrians were the king’s mortal enemies, yet there was another deadly foe who would remind Hezekiah of his mortality and render his joy of victory over the Assyrians inconsequential. “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death.”
Hezekiah wasn’t a young man by this time, but he wasn’t ready to leave everything behind and to meet his destiny. As a young man, I didn’t mind counting down my earthly days, for there were still so many; yet not so now, since ten or twenty years doesn’t seem to be all that long. I have actually a little less than twenty years if I can last to my eighties, which is by no means a given.
Our felicity of the day can easily be ruined by our anticipation of what may transpire tomorrow. I became anxious as a little boy when I considered what would occur to me some sixty years later, and life became so much less enjoyable because of my preoccupation with the future.
Whether young or old, all we have is the present and it’s something we have to treasure the most. There was good reason the Lord told us not to be anxious about tomorrow, for we simply don’t have enough emotional strength to handle what may take place the next day, let alone all the burdens of the next years. The Lord Jesus only had thirty three years on earth and he made every day count for something. The excruciating pain of the cross that was awaiting him at the end of his short journey in life didn’t seem to rob the Lord of his joy of the day, or keep him from doing what he was called to do each and every day of his life. In fact, he was still engaging in various activities just days before he was arrested, and he appeared to enjoy the Passover feast with his beloved disciples just moments before he was betrayed and arrested. Indeed, the Son of God seemed to be enjoying his last supper just as much as he did the one at a wedding banquet that had taken place three years ago. The threat of death didn’t rob him the joy of living in any way.  

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, August 27, 2014 6:17:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Zeal 

~~MTS-3797
The Zeal
“The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”
        2 Kings 19:31

Nobody resists God’s will, and whatever he wants done is instantly done. God will see to it that his will is fulfilled.
Have we ever done something that is totally against our will? Perhaps. There were times when we didn’t want to do something, but there seemed to be a voice crying out in our heart that we should do it, and we couldn’t have any rest until we obeyed the inner voice.
The voice of the Holy Spirit is irresistible. We may grieve the Holy Spirit for a while, but to continue to do so is unpleasant and painful.
Kathy felt the inner urge to go to Taiwan as a missionary teacher after she heard a message given by an old missionary. She resisted the idea for a year but she finally had to surrender. God was going to see to it that his will was done in her, and it turned out to be the best thing she had ever chosen to do.
Indeed, “The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”
I almost decided not to accept the call from our church to be a minister, yet it only took a day or two for the Lord to override my decision. I couldn’t have resisted God’s will even if I had wanted to, and twenty one years later, I am still here.
Compared to what the Lord did to the powerful Assyrian army, the things that happened to us are quite small. Humanly speaking, it was inevitable that Jerusalem would soon be sacked by the Assyrians, and no one could do anything to keep it from happening. Yet the zeal of the Lord would prevent it from occurring.
"But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”
I am invincible until the time when the Lord determines that I should depart from the world, and the time of my departure is exactly the moment when I finish what he calls me to do on earth. With this assurance in mind, we should rest easy, knowing that the “zeal” of the Lord will accomplish his will in me, and no one can snatch me away from his loving hand.
The zeal of the Lord is produced by his love for us. He is unlike human parents, who might have every intention to help their children in time of trouble, but sometimes can only wring their hands, feeling rather helpless, for they are unable to do anything to release their loved ones’ sorrow and pain. There is no such problem with our Heavenly Father, however. No issue is too great for him to accomplish, and no problem is too small for him. “The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” What a comforting thought!
 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, August 26, 2014 6:36:00 AM Categories: Devotional

But I Know 

~~MTS-3796
But I Know
“But I know where you are and when you come and go…”
           2 Kings 19:27

The Assyrians might have been thinking that they were accomplishing their goals by bringing all the nations down, yet they had no idea that they were employed as mere instruments by the Almighty to achieve what he intended to do to the people who had rebelled against him and had become thoroughly corrupt. They were mere pawns without knowing it, though they considered themselves to be rulers and conquerors of nations.
We may be thinking that we are daily doing our own thing and have complete control over our every action and determine our own coming and going, not realizing there is an unseen Force that governs all things. Indeed, the sovereign Lord is never caught by surprise by all our actions and no matter what we do, it will still be within the framework of his will. He is the primary cause of all things and we are secondary causes. The Lord sets everything in motion and we just roll along with it.
We are robots, though we do have a free will that other creatures don’t possess. But our freewill does not hamper God’s will in any way; otherwise God wouldn’t be free to do what he pleases.
Was it within God’s will when Adam exercised his freewill to disobey God’s command? If that were the case, wasn’t God the one who caused the first man to fall, ushering in sin and death into the world?
Freewill is what defines us as humans and without it love becomes impossible and we function like beasts or machines.  Yet I have often found myself greatly puzzled by the conflict between human freewill and God’s sovereignty. How can freewill be truly free if the Lord has sovereign control over all and all things that have ever happened were pre-ordained by God? Besides, how can the Supreme Judge hold us responsible for all our actions if he himself is the primary cause, and God’s sovereignty over all things seems to have rendered our moral obligation moot and invalid?
“Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” I guess Paul himself might have been struggling with the same issue as well, and how he resolved this dilemma was by bringing up God’s absolute freedom to do what he desires to do, and whatever he chooses to do is just. This could be such a mysterious thing that it is impossible for the human mind to comprehend, therefore “because God says so” might be the only available answer the apostle could come up with.
As long as we make moral choices based on freewill, we will be held accountable for our choices, and to look beyond the obvious doesn’t really serve any purpose. Undoubtedly many factors within and out of our control enter into our decision-making process and, it doesn’t take away the fact that we are still the decision makers. The Assyrians might have been utilized to exact divine justice against the nations, yet they were the ones who stained their swords with human blood out of their freewill to slaughter other human beings. 

   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, August 25, 2014 6:51:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Preordination 

~~MTS-3795
Preordination
“In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass…”
           2 Kings 19:25

Because we have no idea how things will eventually transpire, we do what we are called to do with the best of our ability, despite the fact that all things have been preordained by God. We don’t become fatalistic, thinking that whatever we do will not make a smidge of difference in the scheme of things; therefore we just sit tight and do nothing, merely waiting for the inevitable to take place.
What could Hezekiah and the Israelites have done to make any difference? Not a whole lot, really. But surely they could still do something to improve their situation. People could still go to their shops and their fields to do what needed to be done for the day, and parents could still continue to nurture and teach their children as if they would be there for another fifty years. Surely the Assyrians might arrive with swords and spears in their hands to put an end to all the people within the city the next day, but they could at least hold onto their last day and do what they were assigned to do.
Wasn’t that what all of us should do, even though there seems to be no threat coming toward us on the horizon?
We do all things to prepare for time, not for eternity, which appears to me a serious mistake. Why spend the first twenty or thirty years of our life laboring at school or jobs so that we can have a better life the last twenty years of our life? Why can’t I spend the formative years of my life taking in all the pleasure this world has to offer, and do whatever I need to get by in my old age, since it takes youth and physical vitality to enjoy the pleasures of life more fully. People save their entire life for retirement, yet some people never get to retire and others find themselves homebound because of ill-health. One of my friends took early retirement, so that he could enjoy the benefits, yet Alzheimer got the first jump on him and all he had planned on doing became completely moot.
Not so if we work for eternity. We don’t work to prepare for our future on earth or for our retirement; we labor daily, for all the things we do have eternal value. Therefore we continue to do the same things no matter whether we have one day or ten thousand days remaining on earth. We merely work for a living or for our employers if we work for time; but we labor for the Lord’s sake and for his glory if we work for eternity. Didn’t Paul tell us that, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters?”
God’s preordination of all things should never make us lazy or passive, thinking that whatever we do doesn’t make any difference, it should instead encourage us to work so much harder since all we do will bring about the final fulfillment of God’s sovereign will, which does have an eternal resonance to it.      

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, August 22, 2014 6:27:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Reflection 

~~MTS-3794
Reflection
“…so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, LORD, are God.”          2 Kings 19:19

All things are manifestations of their Creator, for the Lord put a little bit of himself into them when he made them, with the purpose that they may reflect the image of God and, the more he put his image in them, the greater they must make the reflection. Men are created in the image of God with the sole purpose of manifesting their Creator’s image.
Heaven declares God’s glory, as do all other things. The difference is all things declare God’s glory and handiwork, but with their freewill people have a choice whether to reflect God’s image or not. Flowers blossom in season according to how they are made and their splendor speaks of God’s beauty. The towering redwoods continue to shoot upward year after year, absorbing the mist in midair to nurture their majestic trunks to reflect the majesty of their Maker. They seem to do it so effortlessly and naturally, as if they were programmed by their Creator to do so, and it is absolutely impossible for them to violate the purpose of their creation. Not so with us humans, the crown jewel of God’s creation, for we are endowed with freewill and we often choose not to reflect God’s image in us by creating images of our own.
As a budding poet in high school, I intentionally created an image that was consistent with my new-found identity, even though I had no idea exactly what a poet’s image was supposed to be. I started to drink a little and grew my hair long and wore no socks through the year. I think I looked more like a bum than anything else, and actually became nothing in the process of creating something in myself. The image I was attempting to formulate was grotesque and laughable and neither looked nor smelled very good, nor appealed to anyone but myself.
Being lousy artists, the self-created images we have made for ourselves are mostly out of character and strange and funny looking. Instead of assuming the images we have been given by the divine Artist who knew exactly what he was doing and what suited us the best, we make a fool of ourselves by inventing some sort of identity for ourselves, which merely reveals our insufficiency and foolishness.
Knowing who we are and what we should do as God’s creation is a good start. Self-made men will end up perishing with the self, but God-made men will survive eternally, for the image of God is imperishable.
What do people see when they behold us? Is it someone whose being reflects God’s glory and they see God’s handiwork when they see us, or are we the ones whose primary goal in life is to make a name for themselves and there is nothing in us but human vanity and frailty?   

   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, August 21, 2014 6:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional

To Know 

~~MTS-3793
To Know
“Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed?”
          2 Kings 19:22

Can we know anything for certain? Probably not. If not, why do we make all kinds of assertions with one hundred percent certainty?
There is a severe lacking of humility in people when they discuss various issues. Indeed we must be self-assured and self-confident in order to become more convincing; yet we must leave a space to which we can retreat in case we are wrong. In fact, the possibility of us being wrong and committing an error in all our assertions is rather high.
All our knowledge is based on the knowledge established previously and all our new discoveries are founded on our old discoveries. We merely assume the old paradigm upon which we build our knowledge to be true, and to question its validity is to overturn what we are attempting to establish and to ruin our career as a researcher. 
How can atheists be so sure in their assertions and be so bold in mocking Christians and spewing out blasphemies against God so very casually? This is something that often puzzles me. Indeed there is a small chance that God does not exist and what we Christians believe and do is merely farcical, but since what we do in thinking and practicing doesn’t seem to harm anyone in any way, why are some atheists so offended?
They are offended, they say, because we mislead people by telling people lies, causing them to become delusional. There is no worse sin than this from their point of view, for by believing in Christianity people miss all the pleasure this world has to offer.
Why is it such a big loss when people determine to worship the only true God and to lead a life of purity and self-restrain, even if the deity doesn’t really exist? For sure some have committed unthinkable cruelties in the name of Christianity, but these were more an anomaly than anything else. In many cases the atrocities were politically motivated and driven by ambitious and ruthless men who were Christians in name only.
Perhaps there is a slim possibility that we are wrong and delusional in holding onto our faith so firmly, yet we are merely trying to make sure that we stand on God’s side and, if by chance we are wrong, we lose nothing of any significance. Surely to love is better than to hate and to praise is nicer than to curse, and it’s far more exciting to believe that God exists than to consider otherwise. Besides, there is a confirmation within our hearts from the Spirit, telling us with full certainty that he exists and he does care.
If God does exist, then he sees and hears, and to mock him with our words and actions does have serious consequences. All things considered, it’s still a prudent thing to act and to speak as if he truly exists even if you remain unsure that it is the case. 
    

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, August 20, 2014 6:38:00 AM Categories: Devotional

First Things 

~~MTS-3792
First Things
“Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.”        2 Kings 19:14

Hezekiah read the letter sent by the Assyrians, taunting and mocking him, with the intention to discourage him and cause him to lose all hope. Certainly the situation was desperate and the king didn’t seem to have any place to turn except to the Lord. He had no military might and, humanly speaking, the destruction of Israel had become inevitable.
After he had read the letter, Hezekiah “went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.” The king realized the Lord represented his last hope during the seemingly hopeless situation. Whatever he could have done had failed and he turned to the One who could not fail and would never fail.
God can turn all our failures into stunning successes if we give him a chance.
When I was eleven years old, I tasted the bitterness of failure for the very first time and from then on, academic failures seemed to have followed me the rest of my life. “This student isn’t going to be admitted,” the note I received from a local junior high school read, which seemed to be foretelling what was going to take place in my future. Yet the Lord took a hold of that opportunity and worked things out according to his purpose, and turned my failure into his success.
Hezekiah knew the cold reality that he was going to fail had he continued to rely on his military might, and the only chance he had was for him and the entire nation to turn to God for help, and only the Lord could turn the human impossibility into divine possibility.
We may appear to have won in all our endeavors and are feeling rather pleased with ourselves, not realizing that all human successes will turn to dust unless we bring the Lord into the equation of all our accomplishments, and let his name be glorified and honored in the process. It’s far better to bathe in the light of the Lord than to swim in the limelight of vainglory.
I pray that we don’t wait until the final moment when all our hopes have vanished to put the Lord first in our lives. It would have been far better for Hezekiah to turn to the Lord in prayer and praise in time of peace and prosperity than to go to him when the situation became desperate. Surely it’s a lot more pleasant to learn a spiritual lesson through joy than sorrow, through tranquility than adversity.
So I paused three times in the midst of playing tennis to thank the Lord for giving me sound health and stamina to play the game at my old age. That was an exercise of turning something natural into supernatural, something temporal into eternal. We need to be reminded at all times to put first things first no matter what we do.   
  

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, August 19, 2014 6:07:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Forgotten 

~~MTS-3791
Forgotten
“Where is the king of Hamath or the king of Arpad? Where are the kings of Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah?”        2 Kings 19:13

As we grow a little older, we must learn to get used to being forgotten and being ignored. Old folks are invisible people.
I am becoming more and more invisible even within my own family. I have often found myself puzzled by my children’s conversation over the dinner table, for they seem to speak at lightning speed.
“Dad, you speak so slowly,” one of my sons complained, as if that were the main reason why he doesn’t like to listen to my discourses that often run too long and are pretty boring.
I can still envision my late father-in-law straining his eyes at the dinner table, trying in vain to follow the conversations of his grandchildren. While the rest of the people were laughing and having fun, he and grandma just sat there in silence. They were the ones who were supposed to be honored, yet they seemed to have lost the privilege of participating in what was going on during the meal time simply because of the fact that they had lagged behind in keeping up with the pop culture of the day and their slowness of hearing.
“Did grandma join in with the family for a meal today?” I often ask my wife, who routinely spends about an hour everyday speaking to her elderly mother over the phone, and the response to my inquiry has mostly been negative. My mother-in-law spends the bulk of her day sitting in her own room, listening to CD’s and watching television. She is well cared for by her loved ones, but is mostly forgotten by the world.
Even though I have long past my prime, I still feel the same physically and mentally, yet people have started to look past me, not at me, and I have learned to be very discreet when I look at people, particularly young women, for fear of being labeled as a “dirty old man.” I have slowly, but surely, adjusted to my advanced age, and think and act in accordance with how and what others perceive me - an old man to be tolerated occasionally and mostly to be ignored.
Even my moaning and groaning about aging and being forgotten may become offensive to the young and vibrant. I am merely stating a reality that all people, be they princes or peasants, will experience sooner or later in their lives. Does it bring a deep sigh from all of us when we read Shelley’s poem?

“’My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Indeed, no matter who we are, nothing will remain after our passing except our dry bones and our names in the lengthy genealogy of our families. If this being the case, why do we still take our worldly fame so seriously and our heavenly fortune so very lightly?

    

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, August 18, 2014 7:02:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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