Mystery 

~~MTS-4092
Mystery
“…that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.”           Eph 3:3

Being a writer, I have always been striving to be more original in my thinking and writing, yet it’s been quite an unsuccessful attempt since no matter how hard I have tried, my writings are still littered with clichés and worn out ideas void of freshness and thought-provoking ideas. Indeed, “there are no new things under the sun” and, if my aspiration is to unveil some new things to my readers, I am bound to fail. “All writings in the world are mere copies from others,” goes a Chinese saying. It’s quite discouraging, isn’t it? We envision ourselves to be creators who create new ideas, yet in truth we are just parrots, mimicking other people’s voices.
We are aspiring to be divine if we attempt to create something out of nothing; we create something out of something even at the best moment of our creative endeavors. We should be thrilled if we are successful in making something relatively fresh and new. I guess that’s the best we can hope to achieve and anything beyond is delusional.
Unlike the prophets of old, prophets in the New Testament era are the one who exposited the word of God from the Scriptures; they were not to seek any revelation to add on to the old, something I have been doing for the last twenty years as a preacher and writer, and I will consider myself a success if I do it faithfully.
The temptation to deviate from the teaching of the Scriptures has always been present however, and I am often assaulted by my creative instinct in the process of preaching or composing. I hate to put people on the pews to sleep, which happens rather often, by my stale messages and much-repeated sermon illustrations. “Isn’t there anything new to say?” people may be wondering.
Of all preachers I will be the most dangerous if I come up with something new to speak every time, for such is how most heresies got started. Wasn’t that what the Gnostics believed, who led so many people astray? It’s just such a seduction for us creative types who often become discontent with speaking and writing about the same old things.
There must be something seriously wrong if I ever get tired of preaching and writing about the gospel. Indeed, my goal of preaching and teaching isn’t to tell people something they haven’t already known. People don’t really need to be taught, they just need to be reminded. This is what I need to constantly remind myself.
“I feel like I am saying the same thing,” I said to my wife whenever I ask her to go through my writings. There is definitely truth to my fear since, no matter how hard I try to be innovative in the composing process, what comes out from my pen will always be “thinking God’s thought after him.” I guess this is quite alright. One can do a lot worse.

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, November 16, 2015 7:30:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Grace 

~~MTS-4091
Grace
“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you…”        Eph 3:1

Is God’s grace personal or communal? Good question, isn’t it? Of course, most of us deem the former to be true. The grace we receive from the Lord is for our benefit in most cases.
That wasn’t how God’s grace was administrated according to Paul. He was perceiving God’s grace more from a communal perspective, considering the grace he had received from the Lord was for the benefit of the entire church. Whatever grace he received from the Lord was for the building up and edification of the church.
It was early summer that I started writing daily devotional essays in Chinese and, after three or four months of composing, I was getting a little tired and the thought of quitting surfaced from time to time. As that happens, what I usually do is to ask the Lord for some sort of indication that I should continue, which was the thing I did yesterday. I waited and waited throughout the day and there was no epiphany of any sort and I concluded that no sign itself was a sign and decided not to get up before five to work on the Chinese writing of the day. Yet before going to bed I received a text from William that reading my English devotion does lift him up for the day. Was that the indication I was searching for? Not really. But something was better than nothing, so I woke up at ten till five this morning and dragged my feet to my easy chair and started composing.
Surely the grace of thinking and writing has been endowed me by the Lord for the purpose of edifying and exhorting the church and not to do it faithfully is disobedience to God. Composing should not be a self-intoxicating, narcissistic act or a mere expression of personality; it should be for the building up of the entire church.
By God’s grace he has given to us a variety of gifts which we can utilize to serve God’s church, and it’s an ultimate betrayal and selfishness to keep them for oneself or to use it as a way of self-aggrandizement within the church. I have been rather reluctant to put my spiritual gifts on public display for fear of treading on the dangerous ground of self-expression, using God’s gifts to boost my ego and to advertise my talent. 
The apostle Paul had no such issue at all. His conscience was clear and his integrity was impeccable, which is something of which I might have fallen way short, therefore I have always chosen to keep myself hidden behind the curtain, knowing how very seductive the limelight is and how I long to be recognized by the masses.
For this reason I might have gone to the extreme to put myself down and to keep God’s grace merely for personal benefits. This is obviously not a Biblical mandate of utilizing God’s grace. God’s grace can be personal, but it’s never meant to be entirely personal. We are blessed so that we can become a blessing to others.
 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, November 13, 2015 6:55:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Being Built 

~~MTS-4090
Being Built
“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”        Eph 2:22

The key here is being built together, not separately. One person can never be built into a church, two or three at the least. The church of God is not a one-man band.
Being an introvert and a self-professed poet and loner, I am by nature a misanthropist and disdainer of the masses. My motto as young man used to be “I have not loved the world, nor the world me,” quoting from one of Byron’s poems. In fact, I was more a misfit than anything then and was deemed a failure in all ways from a worldly point of view. Undoubtedly, the world couldn’t care less about me.
Becoming a Christian made a great difference in my life, yet it seemed to have failed to transform me into an extrovert or a social butterfly that feels totally at home in the world. I am still who I am, an avoider of people and, if at all possible, I would very much to become a one-man church. Well, perhaps two people, my wife and me, that is.
Ironically, the Lord appears to have had a sense of humor and called me to be a minister of his church and, over a period of twenty three years, I have been shaped and chiseled into someone I can hardly recognize. The Lord has turned an outcast into one of the small bricks in God’s building. I have not exactly become what the Lord designed me to be; at least I am somewhat functional in God’s kingdom. This wouldn’t have been possible had I not joined the church and been incorporated into the body of Christ.
It wasn’t as smooth as it could have been in the beginning, to be very honest. In fact, I vowed to myself never to seek God’s call to be a pastor again after serving a year as an assistant minster in a Chinese church out West. I was ill-suited and poorly prepared to be the minister of the gospel. I was by nature a romantic poet through and through and that was what I was destined to be. What a feeling of liberation and euphoria it was when I saw the skyline of LA covered with smog in my rearview mirror. Yet about a year later, I found myself searching for another calling from above, and the pursuit took me to yet another church where I would stay for twenty two years. There is no doubt the Lord decided that I needed to be built in a church, and there simply was not any other way for me to become functional as a Christian unless I became functional in God’s church.
“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” We need to be constantly reminded that we are being constructed into a dwelling where the Holy Spirit will find his home. Over these years, I found myself being built by the church a lot more than building others as a pastor. I am not so much of a leader; I am merely learning how to be led.            

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, November 12, 2015 6:54:00 AM Categories: Devotional

In Him 

~~MTS-4089
In Him
“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”       Eph 2:21

How do we see the invisible from the visible? It takes an eye of faith to see it. We have to look beyond the mundane and see eternity but, unfortunately, many of us only see the visible and end there and, as a result, they are blinded by what they see.
What do we look to see when we go to God’s house to worship? We may see people who dress inappropriately for the church service or we may encounter the ones far below our social echelon and, in normal circumstances, they and we would not be found at the same gathering. In the midst of different kinds of people, we may sometimes ask ourselves a question: “Why am I here?” We may oftentimes feel so ill-at-ease among people from other walks of life that we are tempted to escape from the house of God and ease back to the community where we feel the most comfortable.
We may be quite different in terms of education, race, and family background, which matters very little if we only have one thing in common - our love for Christ. The same love may unite us in Christ despite all the differences we may still have. We may look rather different outwardly, but the indwelling Spirit within us remains exactly the same. The Spirit is the adhesive that makes our bond strong and inseparable.
Of course, we must be united with Christ before we can be united with our brothers and sisters in God’s church. We immediately have a strong feeling of kinship when we visit Protestant churches both in the States and in foreign countries. We are obviously brothers and sisters if we all have the same heavenly Father. We often hear brothers or sisters who were separated at birth either by adoption or other factors, developing an instant strong bond the moment when they are reunited as adults. Family members can never be severed by physical separation. We are either family members or not; as simple as that.
Can a member of the body be severed from the body and survive by itself? That’s quite impossible, for the member must draw its nutrients from the body to become viable, and it must also be connected to the head to become a living organism with purpose and function. This is the reason why I find the phenomena of promoting individual spirituality separated from the sustaining power and support of the church quite strange. Don’t we all hear people claiming far too often that they are Christians but they want to have nothing to do with any church? How can it be possible that people love a severed head on a plate, completely separated from the body? Of course, Christ as the head of the church is completely self-sustaining and self-sufficient, but the body will never survive without him. A member who isn’t connected to the living body Christ will die in a short time. In fact, it shouldn’t be considered a part of the body at all.    

   

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, November 11, 2015 7:00:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Foreigners 

~~MTS-4088
Foreigners and Strangers
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household…”    Eph 2:19

You are not what you perceive yourself to be; you are what others consider you to be. You may be feeling pretty much the same wherever you are, yet that’s not how you are perceived. You become an entirely different person when you move into a strange land and foreign culture. You haven’t changed a bit intrinsically, but outwardly you turn into someone with a label, a sticker, and a prefix. People no longer look at you, they look through you. You become invisible.
My wife doesn’t enjoy socializing and it makes her nervous speaking to people she doesn’t know. It’s rather taxing for her when she is with people, for she feels that she must think of something to say if there is any silence at all. I am just the opposite. Even though I am an introvert, it doesn’t bother me to be with people that much, and silence does not bother me within a conversation. Last night we went to her school’s Thanksgiving party and for some odd reason I felt quite foreign among a sea of white folks. I suddenly felt that I was being labeled and defined as someone foreign and a bit strange. There was not a sense of belonging and I felt like escaping from the gathering.
Don’t we often see ourselves in other people’s eyes, in how they interact with us and the way they speak to us? How do we like it when people speak to us as if we were children who had just learned to talk? Indeed, our English language ability may not be up to par, but we would very much like to be addressed as adults, not children.
O the loneliness and alienation that we feel in a foreign land, where people still ask you where you are from even though you have long considered this land your home. The question becomes even more annoying when addressed to someone who was born in this land and people consider them foreign merely because they have a different skin color.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers…” Indeed, this ideal is yet to become a reality, for there are still numerous strangers and foreigners in our midst against whom we are prejudiced. There are divisions among Christians, albeit we are from the same household. I am sure a white or black American coming to visit our church might feel rather uncomfortable, invisible even.
I guess this is a matter of the will and we must overcome our feeling of prejudice when we interact with foreigners or people from other races and must treat them with the utmost respect. How I feel toward others is not really me, yet how I act indicates who I really am.
    

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, November 10, 2015 7:40:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Far and Near 

~~MTS-4087
Far and Near
“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”          Eph 2:17

How could it be possible? Where it originated was just a small place that one can hardly locate on a world map, yet from there the gospel of salvation would start to spread to the four corners of the world. No one would have believed had they been told what would eventually happen. Some of the disciples might have thought the end of the world would never come when they heard the Lord Jesus proclaim: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Two thousand years later, it’s not all that farfetched to believe the Lord’s words will be coming true in the near future. The gospel of peace has already been taken to all nations on the face of the world, and the day will soon come when people will no longer be able to make an apology that they had no opportunity to hear the gospel.
Indeed, even in a small fishing village tucked away in the far west corner of the island of Taiwan, there was a small Presbyterian church located a few miles from our village and I assume the gospel was being preached among all the idol worshippers. There are now three Protestant churches located in the small township where my mother was born with a population of a couple of thousand at best. Without a doubt “the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
The Lord looks at the world as a whole, undivided by races or distance. The perception of far and near is how we see it, yet for the Lord all things are within his sight and all people are dear to his heart. He first reached out to the Jews with the ultimate intention of reaching out to the Gentiles and his final goal was to make the two peoples one, and what seemingly was impossible had become quite doable. The Lord is true to his word and nothing is impossible with him.
What must we do then?
We are ambassadors of the gospel and the Lord has commissioned us to take the good news to the market place where we work. Surely, people will know who we are if we become the “gospel-incarnate.” “Preach the gospel, use words if necessary.” I came across this saying somewhere, which made a lot of sense to me. We should be peace-makers wherever we are since the message we embrace is the gospel of peace. We become the antithesis of who we should be if we create dissension by gossiping or speaking ill against our friends and neighbors. The gospel of peace must be preached and lived at the same time.   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, November 9, 2015 7:11:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Cross 

~~MTS-4086
The Cross
“…and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”        Eph 2:16

Christ was put to death on the cross, and by the act of his death he put  death to death.
“One short sleep past, we wake eternally and death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.” John Donne declared victory in the face of death in one of his holy sonnets. When Black Death was taking lives from all over the city of London and the smell of death permeated every alley and street, Donne wasn’t threatened by it at all, and even after he himself was confined to a sick room when he was diagnosed for possibly having the plague and his earthly days seemed to have been numbered, the Dean of Saint Paul still held onto her faith, believing that death was defeated long ago on the hill of Calvary. Indeed, “through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.”
Death is inevitable, yet it’s something we avoid talking about, as if it will never occur to us and, even if it finally does, we are still pretty much caught by surprise. We will not win the war against our mortal enemy unless we look him in the face and know who he really is. The Lord Jesus knew exactly what he was going to face and constantly reminded his disciples what was going to transpire when they arrived at the Holy City, yet the followers simply brushed it aside, thinking it was a bad omen to even mention the cross. To them, their Master was about to become a great victor, not a helpless victim, and the mentioning of the cross was an anathema to them.
How did two piece of crossed wood employed by the ruthless Romans to put people to death in the most horrific manner ever turn into a sign of glory and a symbol of love and mercy? It would never have happened had the Son of God not been crucified on it. Surely thousands of war criminals and thugs had been sentenced to death on the cross, yet it made absolutely no difference to the world, for they all died for their own sins; yet it only took one man’s death on the cross for other people’s sins to change the cursed tree into a sign of glory. Whether we are Christians or not, the appearance of the cross in any shape or form conjures up a feeling of warmth and comfort, causing us to feel hopeful in the midst of the many woes of this world.
I have always loved the cross, even during the time when I had no earthly idea what it stood for. The village idols my family worshipped, which were adorned with gold plate and colorful ribbons, often evoked within me a feeling of strangeness and fear, even though they were considered our protectors. I knew by instinct even then, unlike the symbol of the cross, that they were something sinister and dark, harboring ill intention toward the ones who bowed down to them.        
 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, November 6, 2015 7:13:00 AM Categories: Devotional

New Humanity 

~~MTS-4085
New Humanity
“His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace…”          Eph 2:15

The Lord intended to create a new humanity in Adam and Eve and, had it been successful, it wouldn’t have been necessary to create another one. God didn’t fail in his enterprise of creation; there was no doubt that the first man’s moral failure didn’t catch him by surprise, for there couldn’t possibly have been any surprise to the Omniscient. Perhaps he had planned all along that a new humanity would be created in Christ Jesus.
What are the differences between the old and the new then? The old has failed; will the new succeed? This is something worth pondering. Adam was free not to sin, yet by his volition he committed what wasn’t allowed by God; will we be any different from the first man since we are also endowed with a free will, and we do have a choice to remain holy or to rebel against the Lord? Does the Lord have any contingency plan in case the new humanity fails just like the old?
The first Adam failed miserably, but the Second Adam will not fail and will never fail and, since we are created in the Second Adam, which is Christ himself, therefore we will never fail. The new humanity will stand the test of time and will remain holy and new eternally.
It was inevitable that the first couple would fall since the temptation was just beyond human ability to overcome. They might have been victorious thousands of times in beating back the enticement before they ultimately succumbed to the temptation. The tempter needed to succeed in his sinister endeavor only once to ruin God’s eternal plan. It was rather risky for the Lord to build his eternal enterprise upon the shaky ground of one human’s will and determination to obey the Almighty.
No such issue with the new humanity, however. Jesus has died and human salvation is built on the solid foundation of the cross, not on the shifting sand of human will, and human redemption has been achieved by the blood of Jesus, not by the merit of men’s good works.
Surely temptations are forever present still and the fruit from the tree of knowledge is still enticing and failure remains a distinct possibility, yet we will not be cast out from the garden even if we fail to keep God’s commands, for our sin in its totally has been atoned for on the cross and the new humanity will forever be new.
O what a blessed assurance that the Lord will not become hostile toward us, for peace has been achieved, and we are clothed in a robe of righteousness stained with blood of the lamb, and our names written in the Book of Life will not be blotted out since they are carved on the Rock.  

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, November 5, 2015 6:46:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Peace 

~~ MTS-4083
Peace
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…”       Eph 2:14

There can be no peace without forgiveness, and peace among people cannot be achieved without Christ. Christ Jesus was the one who made peace and harmony among us possible. How did he do it? Through his death on the cross.
We forgive those who offend us on the basis of Christ’s forgiveness. We are enabled to forgive our enemies through the example of Christ and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. When forgiveness becomes difficult, prayer becomes absolutely necessary.
We may become fond of feeling anger and bitterness, considering that a payback against the ones who have offended us. It’s as if we have been hurt by our enemies, but we hurt ourselves more by harboring ill-feeling toward our adversaries.
I was in fact quite hesitant to pray for the power to forgive someone who had offended me very deeply and would very much have preferred to dwell in my anger and bitterness, for I knew full well that after I started to pray for forgiveness my anger against my enemy would cease, which was something I really didn’t want to occur.
Unfortunately, we may deem our anger against our enemies the best form of revenge, yet such a feeling does nothing to our foes at all; what it does is to harm ourselves more. We don’t want to forgive, not because we are incapable of doing do; it because we simply are not willing to do it.
Forgiveness has very little to do with the ones whom we need to pardon and whether they have repented or not; it has everything to do with Christ and what he did on the cross, making true forgiveness possible. Unconditional forgiveness is a form of obedience. We disobey the Lord and make his death on the cross void if we refuse to forgive. This is just very simple logic. Indeed, “to forgive is divine.”
“For he himself is our peace,” and apart from him true peace simply cannot be attained. We may make peace treaties to maintain peace and to promote harmony among peoples and nations, yet we have witnessed repeatedly that peace promises are made to be broken, for such treaties are cut on the basis of human interests and selfishness. How can anything founded on such shaky ground remain standing when it is tested?
If we consider forgiveness an option, we obviously won’t choose to do so, for from our flesh hating is more enjoyable than loving and not forgiving seems to be more desirable than forgiving. The Lord Jesus has come and forgiveness has become a viable thing if we truly want to do it. The end has been achieved and the means to reaching the end has also been provided.          

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, November 3, 2015 6:51:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Brought Near 

~~MTS-4082
Brought Near
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”        Eph 2:13

In fact, the thought of God rarely entered my mind when I was a young man, for I was man of the world for the most part. I remember wanting to pray occasionally, yet I had no earthly idea to whom I should make my petition. God was merely an idea to me more than anything else, an idea without substance or real essence, a fleeting thought that didn’t at all register in my mind. If I was ever visited by the idea of the Almighty, it sure didn’t leave a mark whatsoever. I suppose God left no footprint on my mind, for the invisible has no feet and he simply glided over my head without making the slightest sound.
I thought he was absent at the time, not realizing he was present everywhere. He was nearer to me than my heartbeat, yet I was further from him than the farthest star and, unless he did something to bring me back to him, I would have continued to travel further and further away from him into bottomless abyss.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” How miraculous that was!
Surely I would never have sought for someone who I deemed didn’t exist, let alone love someone who was utterly invisible. I was wrapped up in my passion for the things of the flesh and I longed to embrace whatever could be embraced and love anyone who was willing to be loved by me. Apart from divine intervention, I would have kept on treading on the path I had mapped out for myself and ended my journey in total darkness. Life without Christ was getting darker by the day but, instead of turning to the light, I merely attempted to adjust to the “darkness visible” and did the best I could do to enjoy what wasn’t all that enjoyable and to appreciate the unappreciable. I was lost without knowing that I was lost, dying yet unaware that I was about to perish. I was further away from God than could be imagined, yet God still remained in the center of things, and so much like a wandering falcon to the falconer, I could never have escaped from him unless I could somehow have managed to escape from myself. How could the prodigal even escape from the omnipresent love of his father who was standing at the door, looking into the boundless space, waiting for the son to come home?
I was merely running from myself, for my heart was filled with terror for the unknown and fear was following hard after me like my own lengthening shadow in the evening from which I couldn’t escape. I was enslaved by myself and my sin and I longed to be set free.
It must have been the easiest thing that I have ever done, for I really didn’t do anything at all. I merely went along for the ride with whatever was working within my heart in transforming me from the inside out. What could have been the most difficult task in the entire world was accomplished in me in an instant; one moment before I was lost, and moments later I was found. I couldn’t have been further from him, yet I was brought nearest to him in the twinkling of an eye, and would from then on never depart from his presence again.   

   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, November 2, 2015 7:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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