You Have Heard 

~~MTS-3790
You Have Heard
“Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries…”        2 Kings 19:11

What keep us from seeing the unseen is the seen. Faith enables us to see the invisible, and we won’t be able to see it if we do so with our eyes wide open, which is the reason why we often keep our eyes closed when we pray.
The more the Israelites heard what the Assyrians had done to all the other nations and the devastation they had caused, the more frightened they would become. For sure, what had happened before would continue to occur afterward, they might assume. Isn’t that how things operate all the time?
Nature will always run its course unless God intervenes. The probability of the Israelites being devoured by the Assyrians was quite great, but it wasn’t an absolute thing. Nothing is absolute unless the Lord proclaims it to be absolutely so. The high probability of something occurring does not mean it will definitely take place. There is always a chance that it will not, however slim the chance may be.
The probability of my wife marrying to me was quite slim indeed, yet the unthinkable did happen and I had no choice but to attribute the whole thing to God’s grace.  Whatever things God does, whether they appear to be natural or supernatural, all are miraculous.
Perhaps we need to keep our ears open and our eyes closed, and ground our lives on faith, even though we continue to operate on human reason. Common sense doesn’t always make sense and the supernatural does occasionally override the natural.
“Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries…”
By looking at the visible and listening to the tangible, we will become accustomed to lumping ourselves with the great mass of humanity and therefore lose the distinctiveness of individuality, as if the Lord deals with us as a nameless mass, not as a people with faces and names, and each individual with uniqueness and personality. We are not merely children of God; we are sons and daughters of a loving Father. Indeed our Heavenly Father does not stereotype in his dealings with all his children. He may let nature run its course in our lives if nature works in exact accordance with his sovereign will, and he may intervene if intervention is what he intends to do.
So what we have heard may not be what we will be hearing, and what has taken place may not necessarily repeat itself, and to enclose the Lord in a tight box doesn’t seem to make sense. God is absolutely free, yet we make him predictable so that we can manage him better, not realizing God’s unpredictability is what makes following him such an exciting experience. My friend jumped away when water suddenly poured out from a sprinkler while we were resting by the courtside after a game of tennis, yet I remained sitting there and enjoyed the man-made rain dropping down from above. A little bit of a surprise in life might not be that bad of a thing after all.                 

  

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, August 15, 2014 6:22:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Deception 

~~MTS-3789
Deception
“Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says…”
           Kings 19:10

Idolatry is a form of self-deception in which people merely believe what they desire to believe and its truthfulness is the least of their concerns. The idols they have formed with their hands out of wood or stone don’t deceive them, for they are vanities and without a will or mind of their own; it’s the worshippers themselves who deceive themselves by their wishful thinking. Indeed it’s their thinking that makes it so.
They just attribute what the sovereign God has done for them or to them to mere idols and give thanks and praise to gods of stone and wood. This is a form of deception, because the true Giver of all their blessings is robbed of all the glory and honor he rightly deserves.
The Assyrians mistook the Lord as one of many idols, and concluded he was just as deceptive as all the other gods who failed to deliver their promises and to protect their worshippers from their enemies. The Assyrians’ assessment of idols was true, but their perception of the Lord was wrong, and they would find out the truth soon enough. It’s an extremely dangerous thing to misconstrue the identity of the true God.
You may be one who is taking this risk.
Either we are deceived by the Lord or we are deceiving ourselves by assuming that either he does not exist or he simply doesn’t care. The kind of deity who deceives us is not worth believing, but the outcome of us deceiving ourselves by denying the existence of God can be horrifying. It’s like an unbearable nightmare coming true when we wake up from our stupor and there is no opportunity for us to revise the dream by going back to our dreamland again, and we lay awake in fear and trembling.
We know who the father of deception is, and idols are mere instruments which he employs to deceive us. We will quit seeking the original when we believe its copy to be the real thing; neither do we look for the true God if we consider idols to be authentic. Idolatry is something devised by Satan to keep people from seeking the true God.
“Robin Williams was able to play any other characters except himself,” someone said, commenting on the recent death by suicide of the great comedian who brought us so much laughter over the years. We may admire the man for his great talent and feel sorry for his untimely demise, yet to idolize the actor is a deceptive thing, for like most of us, the man continued to strive with his inner demons and succumbed to their tyranny at the end. He would have been the first to tell us not to idolize him. We humans are simply too lightweight to bear such a heavy burden of being worshipped. The one who has the audacity to assume the position of God and to accept our worship and adoration is none but Satan himself, the master of deception. Indeed knowing what we truly worship is far more important than knowing anything else, for nothing is worse than being deceived and the outcome of the deception is eternal damnation.

   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, August 14, 2014 6:47:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Prayer 

~~MTS-3788
Pray
“Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.”
            2 Kings 19:4

We don’t pray for the dead; we do for the living. “The final verdict is pronounced after the casket is closed,” goes a Chinese saying. What we do here above does nothing for the ones below. Once the ruling is made, making a change is no longer possible. I ceased to pray for my parents after they departed. I miss them and occasionally dream about them, but that’s the only connection we have had, and anything I do for them beyond that doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning.
“Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.” King Hezekiah urged the people to pray for the ones who were still surviving. As long as they still breathed and walked about, there was still hope for them. That was why they continued to pray; that’s also the reason why we keep on praying until all survivors are gone.
Do my prayers have any impact on the Christians who are suffering under the tremendous persecution in Iraq? Does my prayer do any good at all for the ones who are fighting terminal illness?
Perhaps I should pack up and fly to the war-torn region and do something to help my brothers and sisters there. A fleeting thought surfaced as I was contemplating about such things. Isn’t prayer just a cop-out device, excusing us for not doing anything to help the needy? I get off rather easily if prayer is the only thing that I do.
Do I merely soothe my guilty conscience through prayer? The empty promise of “I will pray for you” has become an escape route for us when we are caught in a situation when there seems to be nothing we can do to relieve another person’s pain or to resolve their predicament. It’s more of a sign of surrendering than empowering, really.      
 If that’s what we believe, why even pray? What will be, will be and we can’t do anything about it. We are just little worms trapped in a sticky intricate web, waiting helplessly to be devoured, and all our feeble struggles are more a mere mockery than anything else.
There is still hope as long as we can still pray, for prayer represents the last hope that we have; it’s the colorful rainbow surfacing in a dark sky, signifying that rain will be forthcoming and, even if doesn’t fall, we still know for certain that the rain is there. Even though our prayers may not produce the desirable result, we are nonetheless convinced a more desirable answer is given somewhere somehow. Our prayer is more an expression of our faith in a loving God than an act of desperation during a difficult situation. So our prayers serve a double function of persuasion and submission, and one of the two will definitely come to fruition. “Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.”   

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, August 13, 2014 6:59:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Words 

~~MTS-3787
Words
“…and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard.”
             2 Kings 19:4

The Assyrian king who put the mocking words against the Lord in the field commander’s mouth would be held accountable at the end. He had reason to feel prideful since his military might was unequaled at that time and people of all nations trembled with terror when they heard the Assyrians were approaching their boarder. The king had absolutely no fear of men, and neither did he have any reverence of God.
Out of our prideful hearts we may utter things that will eventually bring us deep regret. We may not be aware of it, but the Lord hears every word coming out from our mouths and every murmur of the thoughts from our hearts. Someday he will play it back word for word right before our eyes and serve us evidence of our condemnation.
The more things good and edifying we speak in our lives, the less we will be condemned at the judgment day.
I can’t help bringing up my late father-in-law from whose mouth I never heard any evil words against anyone, and all he had to say, as far as I can recall, were words of praise for all people. He was not perfect, yet he must have always put a lot of thought into what he was going to say. I wish I were more like him in his words and deeds.
I have often found myself feeling gleeful when I hear something unfortunate has happened to other people, which reveals fully the sinfulness of my sin, for I seem to be operating on the evolutionary philosophy which perceives our neighbors as people against whom we compete, not men and women whom we should love.
Out of my negative feelings towards my neighbors, words of ill-will, criticism, and bad intent are often spewed out uncontrollably, and I will be judged on the basis of all that I have ever spoken. “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken,” we read in the book of Matthew. If this doesn’t cause fear and trembling in our hearts, I don’t know what will.
What we need to practice daily is to think God’s thoughts after him. If we have goodwill toward men at all times, we will be incapable of uttering any word of ill-will against them. How does our Heavenly Father perceive his children? I often wonder. If he is anything like earthly fathers at all, he must see us as beloved children with all the good attributes. It’s likely that he magnifies our strengths ten times more and minimizes our weaknesses hundreds of times less. “Have you considered my servant Job?” How can we not envision the Lord’s pride and joy surfacing on his face when he praised Job before Satan? When are we going to discipline ourselves so that we perceive our neighbors as the Lord sees them? When we do, our good thoughts and words toward them will surely follow.
 
 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, August 12, 2014 6:41:00 AM Categories: Devotional

A Day of 

~~A Day of
“This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace…”
          2 Kings 19:3

This is a day of traveling 
And I have no plan for stopping
To visit historical landmarks
Or museums with great exhibitions
Displaying things unseen,
For I have a place to reach
And a deadline to meet.
So let all the trees drift behind me
And farmhouses and grazing horses
Appearing and vanishing
Along with cows’ melancholic lowing
And fields of sunflowers folding and unfolding
As I quickly turn the yellow pages of the field
Hardly able to wait to uncover the conclusion.
As if the course of the journey didn’t mean a thing
And days are mere building blocks
Constructing year after year
A haunting mansion
Until my age reaches its limitation
A destination of my vain imagination.

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, August 11, 2014 6:39:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Here and There 

~~MTS-3785
Here and There
“When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD.”       2 Kings 19:1

King Hezekiah turned to the Lord when he had no other place to turn. The Assyrians were about to lay siege to Jerusalem and the situation of the nation was indeed quite bleak. Apart from divine intervention, the city would fall in a matter of months.
What else could the king have done except plead for help from above? The Assyrians had swept away all the surrounding nations and Israel was just a little roadblock to be removed by this ferocious enemy. Hezekiah had exhausted all the gold and silver from the people and paid tribute to the invaders; he had nothing left to give but his life and the lives of his people.
Doing nothing wasn’t an option either. The last resort was the Lord, who represented everyone’s last hope. It seemed unrealistic to depend on the supernatural at such a critical juncture, yet it was perhaps the most realistic thing to do.
A hope that is grounded squarely on the solid Rock is the only real hope there is and the rest is just illusion and mere vapor. What we need to do every day is to exercise our hope on the eternal, not on the temporal, and discipline our mind so that we become more aware of the fact that all our temporal deliverances point to one end- timeless redemption.
Why did Hezekiah go to the temple of the Lord in mourning? He went before the Lord to seek deliverance for his people.
Even though our hope in heaven is sure and we know by faith where we are heading, we still struggle to last yet another day or another year here on earth, for this is the place we know so well and have come to love so much. If given a choice, most of us would prefer to stay below instead of going above. Wasn’t Hezekiah the one who begged the Lord for more years on earth when he was gravely ill?
The world may have been ripped apart by sin, but it still remains the garden the Lord created for the first man and we can still see inklings everywhere we turn of what it looked like before. Our instinct to live and our insatiable appetite to remain on earth can be translated as our passion to hold onto God’s creation.
There is always a tension between remaining here and going there, and our fight is more on the staying than the going, albeit going may be far better than remaining. Yet I am not one who makes such a spiritual claim that he simply can’t wait to go. I have often felt the same way as Robert Frost when he wrote in his poem Birches: “Earth’s the right place for love; I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.” Surely I know there is a better place, but it doesn’t keep me from clinging to what I know and love so dearly.  
 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, August 8, 2014 7:12:00 AM Categories: Devotional

How Then? 

~~MTS-3784
How Then?
“How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”
          2 Kings 18:35

We may question God’s willingness to help us, but we can never doubt his ability to deliver us. He may be unwilling to rescue us from trouble, for it may not be in accordance with his sovereign will, yet at the moment when he decides to act, the thing is immediately done.
“How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” the Assyrian general taunted. Many gods had failed to keep their worshippers from being devoured; the God of the Israelites would soon be proven to be the same as all the others.
Was the Lord any different from all the other gods who had failed to deliver their people from the Assyrians?
All the other gods were created by people with the sole function of bringing their worshippers protection, and they became mere images of wood and stone if they failed to deliver. They were created to serve, not to be served, and their masters were the ones who made them.
We are created to serve the Lord and have absolutely no right to demand that he do anything for us, and whatever he does for us is out of his mercy, not out of his responsibility. We are beholden to him in all ways; he owes us nothing and we owe him everything.
So we submit to him when things don’t go our way and we give him thanks and praise when he decides to shower us with goodness. There is no room for grumbling at all, for whatever he does to or for us is for the sake of our eternal well-being.
May we always align our will with his will, our delight with his delight, our goal with his goal, and our desire with his desire. If we do so, there is nothing but redemption in our lives and, no matter what befalls us, it’s always God’s success.
All things are redeeming, because they are designed with a redemptive purpose, which is to bring us closer to the heart of God, and away from the desire of men, causing us to be more like Christ, and less like the world, more Christ-centered, and less me-centered, more God-conscious, and less self-aware.
So we no longer ask the “why” question, but always ask the “how” question. The “why” question leads nowhere and often hits a dead end, yet the “how” question opens up all possibilities. “How shall I glorify the Lord under the circumstances?” This is the question that we should ask ourselves in whatever situation we find ourselves, be it good or bad, joyful or sorrowful.
The Assyrians were in for a great surprise, for they had no earthly idea what the Lord was able to do and how he was going to do it. When the Sovereign God decides to act, there is no stopping to him.   

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, August 7, 2014 6:26:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Protection 

~~MTS-3783
Protection 
“Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?”          2 Kings 18:33

We worship some sort of deities in exchange for their protection, don’t we? It’s really a good deal since, compared to what benefit we may harvest, the investment we make is quite meager - making a bow here and there or occasionally uttering our praise and prayer directed toward the gods. It doesn’t take too much effort to do those things, does it?
It’s just one of those wish-fulfillment types of things, really. We have no earthly idea what’s going on behind the scenes and we merely interpret what’s taking place in our lives according to our own specific point of view. We often attribute good things that occur to us to the deity we happen to worship and credit the unfortunate to unknown forces from the dark side.
No one could refute the truthfulness of what the Assyrian leader was claiming: “Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” Indeed many gods had fallen with the people who paid homage to them. Divine power seemed so futile and all the gods seemed to be overpowered so easily. When grave danger occurred, the divine was just as helpless as the human.
Even the nation of Israel was divided and then destroyed by foreign powers at the end, and the Lord didn’t try to save his people from utter devastation. Looking from this point of view, the Lord didn’t seem to fare any better than all the foreign gods. The Assyrians were probably right in their taunting outside of the city wall, mocking that the Lord was unable to bring deliverance to his people.
Is an earth-bound and human-centered religion what we are looking for or are we searching for something beyond the visible and the tangible? Indeed the creator God does protect and sustain us throughout our lives, but he will eventually fail to do so when our time on earth finally runs out. Death will always prevail before it finally dies.
Only through death is death conquered. If this is the case, death is just another form of protection, which is our last line of defense against the slings and arrows of this life.
True protection that we long to have extends beyond the boundary of this life, which is something false gods are unable to provide. We know the prosperity gospel is false, not unlike other man-centered religions which we seem to encounter everywhere we turn. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” We do pray for daily protection from harm and pain for ourselves and our loved ones and the Lord does grant us our wishes in most cases, yet we are well aware that someday our hedge of protection will be removed and we will move on to a greater and long-lasting protection, a city of refuge that lies beyond the river.
 

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, August 6, 2014 7:15:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Misleading 

~~MTS-3782
Misleading
“Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you…”
            2 Kings 18:32

There was a tragic gas explosion in Southern Taiwan and many people perished as a result. Many mourning relatives of the deceased gathered in a Taoist temple to perform some sort of ritual, attempting to communicate with the spirits by all sorts of mysterious devices, to comfort them and to usher them home.
Did the rituals really work? Was there a real connection between what they did and reality? Was communication between the natural and supernatural, the living and the dead even possible at all?
I remember enjoying watching Taoist monks performing their ceremony for the deceased at funeral services when I was a little boy. The amateur monks, many of them who were our neighbors, chanted and waved incense sticks in their hands, acting as if what they did was conveying certain deep spiritual power, enabling the departed to embark on a smoother journey into the underworld.
The rituals, it appeared to me, were more of a comfort to the living than to the dead, and it sped up the healing process of the loss they had suffered. From this perspective, the misleading rituals might not have a bad thing.
There are far worse misleading things to which we are subject daily, yet think nothing of it. In fact, we are willing participants in the deception in most cases. We are being cheated, rather willingly.
Love and happiness can be won by fame and fortune. Is this commonly-held idea a deception? We are bombarded by this propaganda wherever we turn and have pretty much accepted this as true.  We may have devoted all our energy to make it into reality, and it’s usually a little late when we finally uncover the lie. The truth is: love can only be earned by love, not by anything else.
The process of us being educated is the process of being misled in many cases. What we have been taught as true with the greatest sincerity by the ones whom we loved and respected may turn out to be far from the case at the end, and we continue to carry it on and hand it down to the following generation either knowingly or unknowingly. This is indeed quite tragic.
Yet the truth Hezekiah was telling was deemed as misleading by the Assyrian leaders. “Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you…” they exclaimed. The Israelites couldn’t help but be confused upon hearing this. Who was telling the truth?
We must turn to the Author of truth for answers to avoid being misled by half-truth and lies. The Assyrians leaders were threatening and misleading God’s people with a lie and only the truth told by Hezekiah could liberate them. Surely only the revealed truth from above can guide us through the dark maze of lies and deceptions in this world.  “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 

 
   

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, August 5, 2014 7:46:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Choose Life 

~~MTS-3781
Choose Life
“Choose life and not death!”
           2 Kings 18:32

Under the circumstances, the Israelites couldn’t have made any other choice had they wanted to. The choice was made for them already, either by their rulers or their foes.
“What kind of choice would they have made had they been given a chance to do so?" we ask. Obviously the majority of them would have chosen life rather than death.
There would have been a steep price to be paid, however, had they chosen life. They would have lost their freedom had they done so and it was likely that they would have been uprooted from their homes and spent the rest of their lives in exile.
Was that the kind of life they would have chosen?
They would have done so if that had been the only option they had. Life is better than death and, given a choice of the two, most of us would have chosen the former.
Those who choose life on earth will lose it eventually. We choose life only to prolong it for a few seasons, and there actually is very little difference between the two.
There is another similar choice that is far more serious than the one with which we are dealing, and the implications of our choice are enormous.
“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Such was a different sort of life that Moses was encouraging the Israelites to choose. It was life in the Lord, not in the world; one is eternal, and the other is temporal.
We often choose the temporal rather than the eternal, because one is seen, and the other in unseen. One has to be a fool to forsake the sure for the unsure.
Does eternity even exist at all? If it does, what kind of form and shape is it? If time doesn’t exist in eternity, will there be any movement of any sort? Is it just complete stillness, similar to what Buddhism claims, a state void of life and death?
If such is the life in eternity, I may choose otherwise. Life on earth as we know it is full of excitement and joy, albeit there are shades of darkness behind it. I like to believe that life in eternity is an extension of the one on earth, except the dark shade is removed from all things bright and joyful.
We better make the right choice; otherwise we will have an entire eternity to mourn for our mistakes, an endless regret. This isn’t a pleasant thought, is it? 
 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, August 1, 2014 7:26:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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