His Presence 

~~MTS-3768
His Presence
“So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence.”        2 Kings 17:18

There is no possible way that we can get out of God’s presence, for the Almighty is omnipresent; but it’s entire likely that he can look away or beyond us. That’s what my mother did when she was displeased with me. She might look straight at me, but she didn’t cast her sight on me. I became invisible in her sight.
We can become invisible before God if he intends it to be so. Indeed out of his anger he can make us disappear before him, never to resurface again.
How can the Lord, who is completely holy, look at me while I am engaging in sin? Do we sometimes look away when we see something filthy and unbecoming, because we consider it’s below us or unbecoming for us to behold such a thing? If we, being unholy, feel that way when we happen to witness something filthy, can we imagine how the holy God would feel when it happens?
Unless we remove all the filth from us, God will surely remove us from his presence. How can we expect God to look at filth without flinching? How can we ask the Holy One to dwell in a heart that is filled with unholy things?
We may have gotten used to not living in the light of God countenance, and don’t really sense any difference. The likelihood is that we have never felt what it was like to be living in his presence at all, and consider our present state to be normal. Those who have never been married may not miss the bliss of marriage, for they have never tasted it. Similarly, we may never have enjoyed the sweetness of God’s presence to even miss it. We have become so accustomed to life without him to even miss the life with him.
What does it feel like to be living in the light of God’s countenance?
My wife and I were usually the first ones to receive a call when our children did something good or received some sort of award, for they wanted to share their joy with the people who would feel the most proud of them. I think such was the time when they would like to see how our faces beamed with pride and delight upon hearing the good news. By the same token, they would most likely avoid seeing or telling us if they were to be caught drunk driving or doing something bad. Get the analogy?
God still sees us even though he hides himself from us, and his presence is only a prayer of repentance away. If the Lord were to demand that we achieve complete holiness in order to enter into his presence, it would never happen. Knowing the impossibility of this, he instead sent his only Son to accomplish the impossible for us. So the key to dwelling in God’s loving presence without interruption is to be covered by the blood of Christ at all times through confession and repentance.       

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, July 16, 2014 9:01:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Divination and Omen 

~~MTS-3767
Divination and Omen
“They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger.”     2 Kings 17:17

It was natural for people to want to know what would happen to them in the future and to seek illumination and guidance from the divine so that they could better control or plan their future affairs. Dealing with the unknown was a frightening thing for them then; and it’s still the case for us now. We do sometimes find ourselves seeking to know our future by consulting with fortune-tellers or other sources of information. During the severe drought in Lubbock, I have often found myself looking at the weather report, forecasting what would happen in the next days and weeks, searching for a hint of rain in the air. Of course it was often wrong.
Even though I have no control over the weather, I still want to know what it is going to be like, so that I can better prepare for the future, be it sunny or rainy; I hate to be caught unprepared. By the same token, we desire to know our future not because we are capable of changing or controlling it; we merely want to be prepared.
As far as our health is concerned, we want to know the condition of our health so that we can catch something before it becomes serious. That’s the whole point of privative medicine, I suppose. The crux of the matter is: doctors are not omniscient and we are in many ways the subjects of their practice; their knowledge of the state our future health is still a hit and miss proposition and to put our trust entirely in them is a dangerous thing. This Chinese saying, I believe, is quite sound advice concerning God’s sovereignty and human responsibility- “doing what humanly can be done and be obedient to what God has commanded (盡人事, 聽天命.)
There is nothing wrong with being curious about what will transpire in our future; what’s displeasing to God is to whom or what we turn for the secret information. Divination and omen-seeking are mostly connected with idolatry, which is something we must avoid. In fact, turning to the Lord for fortune-telling or information about our future is offensive to God, since he has told us clearly not to be so concerned about tomorrow. Besides, knowing our affairs of tomorrow only increases our anxiety and robs us of our peace today. The Lord gave King Hezekiah an extra fifteen years on earth, but it wasn’t necessarily a blessing, for from then on he was probably counting down the days before his passing, which wasn’t a good way to live, was it? Not knowing about our future is better than knowing in so many ways. 
“I don’t know about tomorrow, but I know who holds my hand.” We may long to lead our life by sight, but the Christian life is still a life of faith, in which we exercise our trust in the Lord daily. The Israelites of old sought to take control over their own destiny by listening to pagan gods and demons to reveal to them their future, and thus provoking God’s anger, for it was a clear sign of distrust and disbelief in the Lord.
 

   

   

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, July 14, 2014 8:20:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Imitation 

~~MTS-3766
Imitation
“They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”        2 Kings 17:15

I am pretty conscious of being different from the masses everywhere I go. If I become unaware of it for a short while, people will remind me by their stare or by the way they speak to me. Being a Chinese man in this so-called melting pot nation, I seem to stand out in the crowd in many ways because of the color of my skin. I often feel different and insecure.
There is nothing I can do about the features of my face or the color of my skin, but there are a few things I can still do to make myself fit in better with the majority. I can imitate how people act and speak, and how they cloth themselves. By doing so, I can at least get rid of some of the things that make me different from the rest of the people in this country.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” By imitating all things American I seem to declare to the world that my native culture is inferior and my skin color is less desirable than other colors.
I can’t hardly remember what it feels like to be part of the majority since I have lived in a foreign land for so many years, and have in many ways turned into an American. I felt like a foreigner whenever I went home to visit and actually felt quite ill at ease among my own people. I guess my hyper-eagerness to imitate all things American had taken me farther and farther away from who I really am.
Why does this even matter, anyway, since the world has turned into a global village, and it’s inevitable that people are becoming more and more alike through imitation and assimilation of culture and language. It’s no shame to lose one’s racial identification a little bit in order to become more adapted in a global village environment. People who do so may gain an edge in their competition for jobs or business.
Imitation of other people’s religious practices and their world and life view is an entirely different thing. That was what the Israelites did after they entered into the Promised Land, even though the Lord commanded them sternly not to do that. Losing one’s accent or culture is nothing compared to losing one’s religion, for it’s something by which we are identified as a people. Take Christ away from our name, we become nothing and everything, no different from all the rest.
The more we imitate our unbelieving neighbors in their ways of dressing, acting, thinking, and worshipping, the more we will lose our identities as Christians and, before we become aware of it, we will have become completely the same with the world. Isn’t this what’s happening to us? What can we do to stem the tide? 
Building a sound Christian world and life view by studying the Scriptures is a good start, for if we are fully assured of the truthfulness and superiority of our belief and philosophy, we will cease trying to imitate our neighbors’ ideas, as if we are deficient in anything. Part of the reason why I try to act and think like a white person is because I feel inferior as a Chinese. No question about it.   

   

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, July 11, 2014 8:00:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Worthless 

~~MTS-3765
Worthless
“They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”
          2 Kings 17:15

Our worth as a person is determined by what we worship; therefore we must take our worship seriously.
Idols are worthless, so the ones who worship them will end up having nothing of real worth.
One of my uncles who lived next door to us was a devout worshipper of idols and he became an envy of all the villagers, for he excelled at school and was a great success in all his did. He certainly wasn’t worthless worldly wise and, by the same token, the idols whom he worshipped faithfully were not worthless either.
Satan is behind all the practices of idolatry and all the worldly honor and glory is at his disposal, and he is free to give to whomever he pleases.
Under what condition would Satan have given the Lord Jesus an earthly kingdom with all its glory? "If you will bow down and worship me."  As simple as that.
Indeed the ones whom we admire the most are the ones with great material worth and earthly glory. We idolize them because we desire to be like them and we lead our lives vicariously through them. If they are worthless in God’s eyes, we must be perceived exactly the same way. Both are utterly worthless.
We need to know what true worth is in life and earnestly seek it. We do need to work to make a living for ourselves and our loved ones, but it’s merely a means to an end, not an end itself. If working and making a handsome living is our ultimate aim in life, the end of our earthly lives will render it void and meaningless; our goal in doing all things in life is to bring glory and honor to God, which is where true worth lies.
My worth is not in how much stock I own or how much money I earn annually; it’s rather to whom do I devout all my earnings and unto whom do I give all my credit for my earnings.
I am not here to instruct, but to remind, for what I am trying to express isn’t anything new and most Christians are familiar with this truth; what I am attempting to do is to cause you to reevaluate your worth as a person and to re-center your life on that which is the most worthwhile and valuable, that which doesn’t fade away at the end of our life and beyond. We need to be conscious of what we are doing as Christians and keep our ultimate goal in life clearly before us, so that we won’t be blinded by the temporal and lose sight of the eternal. Remember the words of Paul who write in Second Corinthians: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 
 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, July 10, 2014 6:51:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Anger 

~~MTS-3764
Anger
“They did wicked things that aroused the LORD’s anger.”
            2 Kings 17:11

My dad had a bad temper and I remember being afraid of him when he became angry. He was a usually a loving man and never laid a hand on me as far as I can recall, yet the few times he lost his temper did leave a lasting impression on me. The last thing that I wanted to do was to make him angry in any way. I was indeed quite frightened of my father’s wrath, even though I was totally confident of his love for me.
Compared to human anger, we seem to care or fear much less about God’s anger, for we don’t seem to believe there are any serious consequences in his displeasure. We may even think that God is incapable of becoming angry at us since he is all-loving and all-forgiving, and he will never punish us, for he has punished his only Son already.
God does become angry when his attribute of justice is violated, and his anger may cause him to do something to correct the wrongs committed against him. A God without anger is a deity void of justice.
God’s anger is different from human anger, however. We become angry when we are offended in any way, even though the offense may not be a true offense at all. People who are overly sensitive or have a big ego are easily offended and become angry, yet their anger may be righteous or unrighteous. God’s anger is always righteous since all our actions are measured against his attribute of perfect justice, and God becomes displeased when we do not reach his standard.
“God is angry at the wicked every day.”  Surely we know full well the reasons behind God anger. 
My dad often acted irritated during mealtime because of low blood sugar, and after I figured that out I remember trying hard to mind my behavior during that time to avoid provoking his anger in any way. Do I do the same thing concerning God’s anger? Not so much. I think I dread my dad’s wrath more than I am afraid of God’s anger.
“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” We read in the book of Deuteronomy.
Our relationship with the Lord is a loving relationship, but that doesn’t mean that we can act like spoiled children who have no fear of our Father’s displeasure or anger. The fear of the Lord should keep us from doing anything that may bring our Heavenly Father shame, causing him to become angry at us. There is, however, no need for us to live in fear, fearing that God’s hammer may fall on our head at the very moment we take a misstep. Out of my love for my dad, I tried very hard not to make him angry; maybe I should do the same for my Father above as well.  

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, July 9, 2014 7:40:00 AM Categories: Devotional

No Difference 

~~MTS-3763
No Difference
“At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the LORD had driven out before them had done.”         2 Kings 17:11

The Lord was expecting a holy nation out of the people of Israel after they entered into the Promised Land, yet it did not turn out to be that way at all. The Israelites didn’t fare any better morally or spiritually compared to the pagans who dwelt in the land before them. What went wrong exactly?
“At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the LORD had driven out before them had done.” The Israelites became corrupted in their worship and everything went down with it. The process of a people becoming gradually corrupted usually starts with their religion. Our worship determines who we really are in many ways.
Not only is “the fear of the Lord … the beginning of wisdom,” it’s also the beginning of all sorts of things, morality included.
People tend to choose a religion that matches their moral and physical appetite; or rather they are more inclined to pick up the gods who don’t keep them from seeking what their flesh desires the most. It’s natural for them to shy away from adhering to the gods who are too demanding, or who set a clearly defined barometer for their behavior. Not long after they set their feet in the land, God’s people found out rather quickly the local deities were more to their liking than the Lord God. Indeed, the gods of the Canaanites were a whole lot more “user-friendly” than the Lord, who was too moralistic and uncompromising for them.
God’s people were constantly shopping for new gods, and they were more than eager to embrace what was left behind by the pagans because of their dissatisfaction with the old God who rescued them from the Egyptians and moved them to the Promised Land.
What could the Lord have done for the chosen people to prevent that from happening? Why did the Lord keep on putting his hope on a people that were hopelessly depraved and lost? Why does the Lord even put his trust in us, the new Israelites, anyway? Have we fared any better than the Israelites of old after we were redeemed by the blood of Jesus and were called to be salt and light in the dark world? Do we have the courage to look at ourselves in the mirror and not to blush?
Surely we don’t bow down to worthless idols and burn incense like the chosen people did, yet there are high places that we have erected for ourselves to secretly bow down to the idols of materialism and all sorts of other “isms.” Christians are hardly recognizable among nonbelievers nowadays, and the difference between us and our unbelieving neighbors might have been reduced to only one thing - our church attendance, and nothing beyond that.
We are called to become different from the world, yet we seem far too eager to identify with all her thoughts and practices, and have become corrupted. Shall we continue to yield to the enticement and seduction of the pagan gods or to keep on fighting to hold onto our faith and to remain pure and holy, which is what are called to be?     
 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, July 8, 2014 7:14:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Do the Right Thing 

~~MTS-3762
Do the Right Thing
“The Israelites secretly did things against the LORD their God that were not right.”         2 Kings 17:9

What we consider right may not always be right; and what most people believe to be right may not be right. We may get some things right sometimes, but we cannot get all things right all the time. Getting things right is often a hit and miss kind of proposition, and our ideas of right and wrong are always colored by our prejudices and contaminated by our selfishness.
It’s wise to let the omniscient God make all the calls concerning our moral choices and then we should make a great effort to be obedient to him after he makes his will and mandates clear to us.
It wasn’t the right thing to do for the Israelites to worship gods other than the Lord. Didn’t God make it abundantly clear in the Ten Commandments with “you shall have no other gods before me?” It wasn’t not even all that smart to practice idolatry since the Psalmist had told them, “The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.” Want to be miserable and unhappy? Try idolatry.
I was quite miserable without knowing it in my younger days, for I was seeking something other than God. The moment when I thought I had reached my goal, the destination moved farther away from me. Indeed I was trying to hit a moving target that charmed and haunted me at the same time and gave me a profound sense of dissatisfaction at the end.
That was a form of idolatry, because I was seeking self-fulfillment rather than God-fulfillment. I shouldn’t have been the one to blame, since I didn’t know God, neither had I heard his words preached.
Does it mean that those who know God will always do what’s right in God’s eyes? Not necessarily so. The Israelites seemed to know their God, for they had ample opportunities to experience God’s mercy and might in their lives, yet they continued to do wrong. How could the ones who witnessed the Red Sea parting and crossed the ocean on dry ground make for themselves two golden calves and considered them as gods afterward? Simply amazing, isn’t it?
To know God is to do what’s pleasing in his sight, and whatever is pleasing to him is the right thing. Is it possible to do the things that are both pleasing to God and to ourselves? “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This verse appears to be the key to achieve that end. “Love God and do whatever you please,” wrote St. Augustine. We need to cultivate our love for the Lord and learn to delight ourselves in him and all the other things will follow.
Doing the right thing may sound a bit moralistic and didactic to you, but doing whatever is pleasing in God’s sight appears to mean exactly the same thing. Our aim isn’t not only doing the right things; our ultimate goal in life is to please the Lord in all things.      

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, July 7, 2014 7:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional

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
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