Being Strengthened 

~~MTS-4482
Being Strengthened
“…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.”                 Col 1:11 
 
    We have no idea what will happen to us until something actually happens, therefore it’s a waste of time to be preparing how to react to it. How does it feel to be in hospice care? I often caught myself thinking about this when I was standing by Kathy’s mother’s hospital bed. How would I have behaved had I been placed in her position?
    Of course, I have no earthly idea.
    I couldn’t have imagined going through a major surgery a few months ago, for it made me cringe at the thought of going to a doctor, let alone going under the knife. Yet that was something I had to do after I ran out of options. Had I been sufficiently strengthened to go through the venture when the time came? I wish that were the case, but that wasn’t how I was feeling consciously. I merely went through the motions and did what I was told to do, for the alternative was just so much worse.
    I guess my strength was just sufficient for that very moment, for I simply had no other place to turn. I suppose that’s a natural reaction for all humans, for we all do what’s necessary to survive. I honestly cannot make the claim that I was empowered by divine strength. I was afraid.
    “Great endurance and patience” was what I desperately needed at the time, and somehow I did survive the whole ordeal. It’s been a mouth and half since the procedure, and I have yet to return to the clinic for the follow-up, so can I honestly say that my inner self has been strengthened after the experience? Probably not. I will feel the same way as before if I have to go through a similar experience.
    Billions of people in human history have lived and died, and their end of life experiences must have been rather similar. How are Christians different from pagans in the way they suffer and die?
    Come to think of it, I probably have failed to claim the power and strength that was available to me at the time when I needed it the most. Perhaps it’s more likely that I was indeed strengthened unaware at the critical juncture. I was merely speaking from the level of my natural experience, and failed to take account of the supernatural, which was also in operation.
    No matter how I feel, the fact remains that I have had great endurance and patience during the time when I needed it the most, and I certainly can’t credit that to my will or strength, for I am by nature frail and weak.
    Indeed, I have been “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might” during the time when I desperately needed it.

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, May 10, 2018 7:46:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Darkness 

~~MTS-4481
Darkness
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”             Col 1:13
    Darkness becomes a lot more visible if it’s perceived from the sphere of light; but we can get accustomed to it if we remain in darkness long enough. When the light is turned off at night, we seem to be blind for a short while, but are able to see after we get used to the darkness. Yet the main issue is this: it’s nearly impossible to detect our darkness if we remain in the dark. Light is absolutely necessary for us to see our darkness. Not only does it cast away darkness; the light also reveals and exposes darkness as well.
    There was a period of time in my youth when I dwelt in utter darkness, yet I had no idea of the reality at all. My life might have been in danger because of what I was involved in, yet I was totally oblivious to it. The darkness of my sin appeared to keep me from perceiving the blackness in me.
    We must be brought to a point when we become aware of ourselves and our dire predicament before we start to seek any help. I seem to wear the same dress shirt week after week, even though the collar has been stained. I continue to wear it on Sundays because the stain isn’t visible to other people. Indeed, the degree of darkness does not alter the essence of darkness at all, and sin is sinful by whatever name it’s labeled. I often become self-conscious wearing a white shirt with a stained collar, even though I may be the only one who is aware of the fact.
    “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”
    The more we are illuminated by the light, the clearer we will see our darkness, and we will remain ignorant to the degree we have been stained if we do not read the word of God. The closer we get to the light, the more obvious our darkness will be, and it may even get to the point when we cease to make excuses for ourselves. To be in the light is to identify reality as black and white; the farther we depart from the light, the grayer realities will become. Ultimately, the two seem to merge into a giant glob of greyness, where black and white can no longer be distinguished.
    The darkness I had to deal with when I was converted with was my drinking habit, and I thought I was home free when it was resolved, not realizing it was just a baby step that I took towards being immersed in the light. In fact, I was merely out of the edge of darkness and my journey to the light was just starting.

 

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, May 9, 2018 7:08:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Bearing Fruit 

~~MTS-4480
Bearing Fruit
“…bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,”       Col 1:10
    There are different fruit trees that bear fruit in different seasons according to how they are created, and they are expected to bear fruit within a short period of time during the year. Yet before they do that, all conditions must be met for them to bear much fruit. If the weather conditions aren’t suitable or a drought occurs, trees will not produce. It’s not as automatic for fruit trees to bear fruit as we think. It’s puzzling why the Lord Jesus even cursed the fig tree after he failed to find fruit on it. Was he just frustrated to see the tree failing to perform its duty, even though it might not have been the season for it to bear fruit, or did he merely mean to teach us an important lesson that, unlike fruit trees, our bearing fruit should never be seasonal at all?
    We only have ourselves to blame if we fail to bear spiritual fruit “in every good work” all four seasons of the year. Unless we do so, we will be cursed by the Lord Jesus like the fig tree of old and become withered.
    If all natural conditions and human factors are fulfilled, a fruit tree will naturally bear fruit in season, and it does so not out of its volition. Fruit trees don’t have free will and they bear fruit instinctively. Well, if they have instinct at all. They simply can’t help it, can they?
    How often during the short span of a day do we consciously resist a nudge from the Holy Spirit, moving us to do certain good work or to bear some spiritual fruit? I hate to start counting, for there are just too many. Instead of driving a few blocks to a nursing home to visit a despondent invalid, perhaps to bring him some comfort and hope, I decided to take a longer nap and to bathe myself in the warm spring afternoon sun. I had an option to bear good fruit, and chose not to do so, for doing something takes more effort than doing nothing.
    Some conditions must be met for us to bear the fruit of good work, and unless we spend time and effort cultivating those conditions, not bearing fruit will turn into a bad habit, and non-productivity will gradually become our second nature.
    What are the conditions, then? I suppose we are quite familiar with the parable of the vine and the branches, which is the single most important condition to be met for us to bear much fruit. We must spend time fostering our connection with the Lord so that we will have an inner urge to bear fruit. The next condition is equally vital, which is to take immediate action to do what we are called to do, not from personal affection but from undeniable obligation. One must be duty-bound to bear fruit consistently, in season or out of season.

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, May 8, 2018 4:25:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Worthy 

~~MTS-4479
Worthy
“…so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.”         Col 1:10
    This is indeed quite a tall order, a kind of calling we can never measure up to. How can our lives ever be worthy of the Lord? Surely we have been called to do the impossible and to be someone we can never be.
    This is rather discouraging, isn’t it? How can we spend our entire life feeling that we are a disappointment to all our loved ones and, unfortunately, to our Heavenly Father as well?
    Not only I am a disappointment to both my earthly father and my Heavenly Father, I am also a disappointment to myself. Before I was converted, I could at least adjust my standard according to my performance, and come to terms with myself. This is no longer a viable option since my conversion, for the benchmark remains immovable and I have no choice but to try to conform to it.
    Every single act of sin becomes a reminder of the cruel reality that I still have feet of clay and not worthy to be called a child of light.
    I seem to have missed the fact that the Lord is omniscient who knows me better than I know myself and his expectation for me may not be as unrealistic as what I have for myself. Surely his expectation for a five-talent man is different from his requirement from a one-talent man. Surely the all-knowing God will never get disappointed about anything, for disappointment implies lack of knowledge concerning the future.
    Foreknowledge shelters us from being disappointed about anything and also enables us to be more understanding and considerate. What the Lord requires from us isn’t necessarily the result of our own effort; it’s rather the effort itself.
    Why should I be discouraged about myself if the Lord isn’t disappointed in me? I have always thought my dad was disappointed in me, for I didn’t turn out to be what he had envisioned, yet this may not be so at all, for my father never breathed a word about it. He might indeed have been very proud of me and was pleased with me in every way.
    We have been conjuring up a lot of things on our spiritual journey concerning our Lord’s feelings towards us, and a lot of them are merely the result of our vain imagination, which has nothing to do with the truth.
    The truth is found in the book of Romans that says “for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” We may have a lot of regrets concerning the call because of our low performance, but there is absolutely no regret in the Lord. 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, May 2, 2018 5:45:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Intercession 

~~MTS-4478
Intercession
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.”      Col 1:9
    It’s been months since I spoke to my sister, and when I finally called, I found out she and her husband are both dealing with illnesses. Besides, they themselves, who are going through severe trial, there are a few other relatives of ours who are teetering between life and death. I also heard that my brother-in-law, my elder sister’s husband, has been in and out of ICU, dealing with complications with kidney issues. I suppose these things are not all that unusual since we are all aging, yet I should not be blinded to all those things, for unless I am aware of what’s going on among my own siblings, how in the world can I intercede on their behalf?
    I have failed to pray for my sisters and brother and it pained my heart when I was reminded of Paul’s admonishment when he wrote: “Anyone one who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Furthermore, didn’t our Lord once say to his disciples: “For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”
    I have been trying to escape from my family and its influence since the days of my youth and whatever I did for my loved ones was performed out of duty. Therefore, intercession on their behalf hasn’t always been that consistent, since I don’t often think about them. To be brutally honest, I haven’t loved my siblings as I should have and, consequently, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time praying for them. Of all the people who I am related to, my sisters and brother may be needing my prayer more than anyone else. Yet I have been rather negligent in doing it. What’s the main reason behind it? I am either a hypocrite who claims to believe in something that I don’t really believe; or I don’t really love them and, by the Lord’s Jesus’ logic, neither do I love the Lord whom I have not seen.
    This is by no means my usual self-degradation; I am merely stating the truth, ever though it’s rather painful to do so. What did the Colossians, many of whom Paul had probably never met before, have to do with him? Yet he wrote: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” Paul obviously wasn’t sentimentalizing the whole thing, or just saying this to please the recipients of this letter; he was in fact doing what he was stating: he had never ceased praying for the Colossians.
    Enough of self-blaming. Whether personal affection for my siblings is present or not, all I need to do is to never cease praying for them, both for their immediate needs and long-term salvation.

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, May 1, 2018 8:10:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Among You 

~~
MTS-4477

Among You

“…just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.”           Col 1:6

     In the same verse Paul was speaking about how the gospel had been preached throughout the entire world and was bearing much fruit, and immediately followed the same theme by making the reality of the gospel a lot more personal. He wrote “…Just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.”

    What was truly crucial was not what the gospel was doing among other people, but how it was operating among the Colossians, whom Paul’s letter was addressing.

    The gospel may be universally applicable and effective, yet what it does to each individual is always personal and subjective. Undoubtedly, the gospel truth is an objective truth, yet it must be experienced subjectively.

    What did the gospel do to you when you were converted, and what is it doing to you at the present time? This is our concern, really. We are fully aware of the fact what the gospel may do to others, yet it’s meaningless to us unless we also know firsthand what it has done to us. The term “personal Savior” may have long become a cliché, yet it still laden with meaning. Indeed, the Lord Jesus is a Savior for all, yet He is my personal Savior.

    I have three sons, yet I am not their collective father; I am their personal father. My children may be sharing the same father, but to each of them I am just as personal as personal can ever be, and the experiences I share with each one of them is irreplaceable and unique.

    The One who named all the stars in the vast universe has given each individual on earth a name also; and the One who takes notice of each sparrow’s fall also pays close attention to my every predicament and remembers my every tear. How unthinkable and unfathomable is this!

    How can there be any other way but this? How can there be any exception to the all loving and all-knowing God?  But this is the all-important reality: He knows all of us individually and his care and love for all of us is indeed tailor-made.

    “For God so loved the world that he …” This saying has become so common place that it may not create any ripple in our hearts, for “the world” is merely a collective term, but when it gets to “whosoever” the collective seems to turns individualistic and we ourselves are included in the conversion. We turn into a person with a face and name whom the Lord loves personally.

 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, April 30, 2018 6:10:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Bearing Fruit 

~~MTS-4476
Bearing Fruit
“In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world…”     Col 1:6
     Humanly speaking, it wasn’t quite possible for the gospel to bear so much fruit in such a short period of time.
    The world was a much smaller place from Paul perspective than what we know today. It might have been confined within the Roman Empire. Even so, due to traffic constraints at the time, the world was immensely large, and it would have taken a great amount of time for the gospel to travel all over the world.
    Yet the apostle wrote: “In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world…” This wasn’t hyperbole at all. Paul was speaking about the world as he perceived it. In fact, by this time the gospel had already reached the capital city of the Empire, and there were a lot of Christians in Rome, who later became the main target of persecution under the emperor Nero.
    It was truly miraculous how the gospel spread during the first century, and great numbers of people were converted to the Way despite how dangerous it was to become a follower of Jesus. Martyrdom became a distinct possibility to the brave ones who were converted to Christianity.
    “Can I get baptized secretly?” a seeker from China asked one of the brothers in our church. “How do I respond to such an inquiry? He brought the puzzling question to me.
    “Well, we must get this straight. Getting baptized doesn’t save anybody, becoming converted does. If one is truly born again, such a question will no longer exist,” I replied. “Faith must be present to be proclaimed publically; and faith is needed when baptism does occur.”
    Indeed, the gospel message had already extended to many obscure areas within the Empire at the time of Paul, for as long as there was a single genuine conversion taking place in a given city or village, we can conclude that the gospel had already reached that place.
    There must have been others from my village located on the west coast of the island of Taiwan who were converted to Christianity, yet to my knowledge I was the only one. And by this fact alone, the gospel had been preached in my home town, which was probably considered the obscurest among the obscure among all the villages.
    My heart is filled to the brim with gratitude when I ponder about how on earth the seed of the gospel was able to grow and bear fruit in such barren soil where people’s hearts had been hardened by the tradition of idolatry.

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, April 24, 2018 8:30:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Faith and Love 

~~MTS-4475
Faith and Love
“…because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.”              Col. 1:4
    Indeed, it was something to be thankful for, for Paul had heard of the Colossians’ faith in God and their love for their fellow believers. He might not have known the specific things people did for one another, but it was enough as long as such love had been demonstrated among the believers, for such was the sure proof that they indeed had faith in God.
    Faith in God and love for men are closely connected and one without the other shows the inconsistency of one’s walk with the Lord, for as James put it, “faith without works is dead.” Love in action is faith in operation.
    Becoming sanctified is a slow process in which we gradually learn the dual lessons of love. The first is to love the Lord and the other is to love people, and the love of the Lord is reflected in the love of people.
    If love is so warm and fuzzy, as most of us understand it, it won’t take an entire lifetime to master it. In fact, after a long time of learning and crafting the art of love, we are nothing but novices in the school of love, who merely have scraped the surface of the great discipline and hardly have moved beyond the introduction.
    There is nothing in the entire world with which we seem to be so familiar, yet know so little; and have been practicing for our entire life time, but remain so awkward in doing it. We feel so insufficient and poorly equipped when we are called upon to perform the duty.
    Nonetheless, it was a splendid beginning for the Colossians, whom Paul commended generously: “because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.”
    To truly love people we must always start with faith in God and strong faith in him is required if we intended to love strongly, for ultimately, our love either for our beloved or our neighbors will be severely tested, and from which there will be no escape. To love is an endless enterprise and we can never draw a line in the sand. Faith in God must be applied if we expect it to last.
    “Is this different from changing a baby’s diaper?” asked grandma as Kathy was changing her.
    “Yes, slightly,” she replied.
    To be entirely honest, the difference is heaven and earth, for the former is a preparation for life, and the latter for the end of it. Changing a small diaper is a rudimentary kind of love, but replacing a large one is far more advanced, for which much stronger faith is God is surely needed.

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, April 20, 2018 8:17:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Thankfulness 

~~MTS-4474
Thankfulness
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”     Col. 1:3
     Even though there seems to be nothing for which we can be thankful when we intercede for someone before the Lord, yet we can still be thankful about the fact that we still haven’t given up hope and there is still redeeming value in the person for whom we are still praying.
    Paul’s heart must have been flooded with thankfulness for the Colossians, even though he probably didn’t know all of them personally and each individual’s unique situation; yet he offered to the Lord his thankfulness on their behalf just the same. Indeed, there were things to be thankful for in everyone and every circumstance, which was the reason why Paul was able to give thanks to the Lord.
    Some people’s situation appear to be so dire that we hardly can find anything to be thankful for, yet if dig a little deeper, we can always find God’s grace, a silver lining of sorts, in their seemingly hopeless condition. The grace of God may not be that easily located in some people or some tragic situation, but it’s doesn’t mean it’s absent; the sunbeam is just hidden behind a dark and dense cloud and, thankfully, the cloud is constantly moving, but grace is constant.
    Where do we find grace in this family with two children born with severe handicaps who will never lead a normal life their entire lives? The young mother’s elderly parents knew no English and thought they would stay for six months to enjoy the pleasure of seeing their grandchild, yet this is their seventh year in the States. They decided to remain to help care for their granddaughter, and then five years later, their grandson who was born with the same affliction as his sister.
    My heart was often burdened with the suffering this family has experienced when I interceded for them and I found it nearly impossible to be thankful for their situation. My concern for these two children’s future sucks up all my emotional energy and being thankful for them appears to be the last thing I can do. Is there still redeeming value remaining in this particular predicament?
    Even so, I can clearly see grace shining through in how the grandfather holds the seven-year-old girl in his arms; his love for the girl is so palpable that everyone can sense it from miles away. Indeed, when God’s love is illustrated in human actions, the grace of God is clearly demonstrated, and for this we can always be thankful.
    It was not without reason that Paul wrote in his greeting to the Colossians: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, April 19, 2018 8:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Timothy 

~~MTS-4473
Timothy
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…”    Col. 1:1
    Following the name of the apostle, another name was added, that of the beloved son of Paul. This brings some joy and comfort to my heart, for Paul was all alone at this time. Someone who truly cared and loved him was standing by his side.
    I have always been moved by Paul aloneness when I read his letters. As far as we know, he didn’t have a wife or children and never made a home in one particular city over the years. He seemed to be constantly travelling from one city after another; indeed, he didn’t seem to stay in one city long enough to establish permanent and intimate friendships. He might have known many people and have come to love many of them, yet to many he was merely an acquaintance, a stranger ever, someone to be respected rather than to be adored and loved.
    Of course there was John Mark in whom the apostle had invested great hope and some affection in his early ministry, yet he was greatly disappointed. From this he learned not to place too much hope in people, and might have also learned to keep the ones closest to him on his missionary journeys at arm’s length.
    There was no such issue with Timothy, however. Paul seemed to find a kindred spirit in this timid young man, who was of mixed parentage and might have been looked down upon by both the Jews and the Greeks. In this young man Paul seemed to have found the son whom he had longed to have, one who was like-minded with him and could co-labor with him in God’s kingdom.
    “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…”
    For some strange reason it’s comforting for me to come across this seemingly insignificant greeting at the beginning of the letter. At least Paul wasn’t all alone in some forsaken place when this letter was composed, which made his situation a lot more inviting and his letter easier to digest.
    It wasn’t going to be permanent and both probably would soon go their separate ways for the sake of the gospel, yet for a short while their hearts would be comforted by mutual encouragement and the deep love and affection they shared for each other.
    Knowing what it’s like to be alone in church ministry and how it felt to be occasionally mistreated and misunderstood, I am just pleased to know that at the very least the apostle had both Timothy and Titus by his side, plus the one whom he came to love and trust, the beloved physician himself.    

 

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, April 18, 2018 5:33:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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