Other Gods 

~~MTS-3761
Other Gods
“They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them…”        2 Kings 17:8

Since people have no way of knowing for sure that the deities they worship are true, they just have to go by the effectiveness of their worship to determine the validity of their religion. The experiment that most people do is through prayer. They offer their prayers to certain gods and they will put their trust in them if their petitions are answered according to their wishes.
How can people be sure that when their prayers are made to certain gods, these gods are the ones who heal their illnesses or solve their financial difficulties? By nature, idols are vanity; therefore they can do nothing for their worshippers. If praise must be given to someone, God should be the right one to receive it since he is sovereign over all and he is the one who brings all things to pass.
Invoking the names of certain gods through our prayers does not make them real or cause them to do anything for us. Idols are in essence the product of people’s vain imagination that satisfy their instinctive need to worship. It’s utter foolishness, really.
Had the deities in Canaan been powerful and true, why did they fail to protect the Canaanites from being driven out from their homeland or being utterly destroyed by the Jews? This simple logic didn’t seem to cross their minds when the Israelites decided to bow down to Baal and other gods of the land. Certainly the gods who had failed to protect their faithful worshippers who were losers in battle wouldn’t be able to bless the victors, who were the Israelites.
This is puzzling, isn’t it?
Worshipping the Lord can sometimes be boring and monotonous, can’t it? Walking with the Lord by faith is the thing we do, which does not appeal to our senses in any way. Our religion seems to be lacking the sensationalism that idolatry provides for its worshippers. It was not that unusual for sexual union with temple prostitutes to occur within the worship activities of the pagan gods in Canaan.
When we become tired of walking in the Spirit, we are often tempted to worship gods that appeal to our flesh, with all its senses. Compared to the pleasure of sin, the joy of the Lord runs much deeper and takes more time to cultivate and nurture. We have often witnessed that before the Lord had an opportunity to start working in their lives, many seekers from our church quickly fell into the pit of filth and sin, which caused them to become addicted to whatever pleasure has to offer, and they quickly vanished from the church door. Sexual pleasure seems to be far more pleasurable and enticing than what we have to offer to some young people, and they often take the bait offered to them by the evil one. I suppose that’s how idolatry worked among the Israelites of old; and that’s how it works among us today.         
 

   

   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, July 3, 2014 7:03:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Because 

~~MTS-3760
Because
“All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God…”             2 Kings 17:6

We can’t always trace all the ill-effects we suffer to the causes we have committed, yet for sure effect is generated by some sort of cause. This may be a generalization, but it’s nonetheless true - we have sinned, and therefore are punished by God, either in the flesh or out of the flesh.
Isn’t this an over-simplification of an extremely complex reality? Things do occur daily, and most of them seem random in our eyes, and it’s not always that easy to trace all the effects to their original causes.
That’s what we would like it to be, really. We sure do hope things are air-tight and we know exactly how they function, and there is a straight line between causes and effects.
I almost hit a car yesterday when I was trying to merge to the right, not seeing it in my blind spot. I swerved just in time to avoid the impact because of my wife’s shout of alarm. I could have caused an accident, but it was averted because of God’s mercy; this is my assumption. I was going to cause an accident, but the Lord stopped it from happening. The relationship of cause and effect seems quite clear in this incident. We can never cause anything to happen unless the Lord allows it to happen; therefore the Lord is the ultimate cause of all things, isn’t He?
“All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God…” How simple this is! Sin and punishment seems to be so straight forward if we look at things by faith alone. Otherwise a can of worms will be kicked open and we become totally lost in a labyrinth of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
Free will is what makes sin possible and God is the one who has endowed us with this precious gift, therefore God is to blame for all our ills, we argue according to our logic.
There is no such thing as cause and effect if two things occur exactly at the same time. Time keeps on progressing in human drama and events keep on unfolding till all things are resolved in marriage or in death, yet behind the stage the director dwells in timelessness and isn’t impacted by all, for he isn’t part of the human drama and isn’t caught in the intricacy and complexity of human affairs. He wrote the play and the actors and actresses on stage do all the interpretations, and he is by no means the cause or responsible in any way for all the misinterpretations and screw-ups that occur so frequently on stage.
The drama failed miserably, for the actors, who were the Israelites, misinterpreted what the script told them to act. How can we blame the director for some performers’ lousy performance of intentionally misrepresenting and misinterpreting the play?      

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, July 2, 2014 7:46:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Exiles 

~~MTS-3759
Exiles
He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.         2 Kings 17:6

Was it because of the collective sin of the Israelites that they became exiles, or was it their individual sin that caused them to be thrown into such a horrendous situation?
The accumulation of every individual sin eventually turned into a collective sin and, when they were judged, no one could make the claim that they were innocent.
What do you make of it then, that the entire nation of Israel suffered the ill-effects of Achan’s sin? He took some spoils for himself from the fallen city of Jericho, which was forbidden by the Lord.
Achan might have been the only one who committed that particular sin, but that didn’t mean that every individual in the congregation was entirely innocent. Many others were also tempted to do the same thing that Achan did. This is beside the point, however; the Israelites were not being punished merely for one person’s misdeed. It was because of the arrogance of the Israelites collectively that they failed in their campaign against Ai.
What occupied the people’s thoughts probably wasn’t the cause of the calamity they were encountering; they were merely trying to deal with the effect. They just were trying to stay alive in the strange-sounding cities of Halah and Gozen on the Habor River. Indeed they had become strangers in a strange land.
Their homes were torched and many had lost their families and friends, and the prospect of their future was quite grim. They didn’t have the luxury to reminiscent over what they had lost, for they had to muster every ounce of their energy to survive the present. “By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” After they had done all the weeping, they picked up all the pieces and managed to make a living out of the entirely unlivable situation.
Although their destiny appeared to be far worse than the ones who had fallen during the siege or the battle afterward, they did have an opportunity to reflect on what was transpiring and come clean with the Lord. They could at least have repented of their individual sins and made peace with the One who caused all things to take place.
Life provides us with ample opportunities to make amends for all our mistakes in the past and to start anew. The exiles could have led their lives among the Medes in remorse and depression, and died as broken men and women, void of hope and joy; or they could instead renew their hearts through repentance and dwell in a strange land in peace and rest. Returning to their homeland might have become a hopeless dream, but they could definitely return to the Lord and embrace his mercy and love, wherever they were.    

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, July 1, 2014 7:20:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Day of Reckoning 

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

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

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

Two Altars 

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

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

     

 

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

Uriah the Priest 

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

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

 

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

An Altar 

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

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

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

Union 

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

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

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

Bribery 

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

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

   

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

Human Sacrifice 

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

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

 

 

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