Shutting the Door 

Shutting the Door
“He shut the door of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem.”              2 Ch. 29:24
    Surely Ahaz was making it rather convenient for people to practice their religion. All they needed to do was to walk to the street corner to pay homage to whatever deity they desired to worship. By erecting all those altars everywhere, Ahaz made their religion quite user-friendly. The gate of the holy temple had been shut and the avenues that led to all sorts of gods were wide open. Surely it was the time when all the gods, foreign and domestic, were free to vie for people’s attention in the marketplace of religion.
    The Lord Jesus uttered many sayings, yet this particular statement appears to be the most difficult for people to swallow: “I am the truth the way and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Why is this saying so offensive to the non-believing world? The reason is quite simple, really. We have been programed to consider reality mostly in relative terms, and automatically reject any truth claim if it’s presented as something absolute. Jesus’ statement is of course way off board and far too absolute and straightforward for men’s collective eclectic taste. Such a view is obviously too user-unfriendly to be embraced by so-called open-minded people, the intelligentsia of the postmodern world.
    Isn’t religion a trial and error kind of thing for the most part? We are just far too pragmatic to continue to embrace something that doesn’t seem to work or contradicts with reality as we perceive it. 
    It doesn’t seem to bother us all that much if the deity whom we worship turns out to be bogus, for we can always turn to the next in line and we will eventually get it right. Isn’t it a wise thing not to put all our eggs into one basket? Indeed, we all need a plan B to fall back on if something doesn’t work.
    We are all doomed if Jesus turns out to be right in his claim. Surely, he is the one and only and all the rest are imposters.
    I suppose that’s where our faith in Jesus comes in and such faith will be tested by our daily walk with the Lord and constantly affirmed by the Holy Spirit within our hearts. It has gotten to the point where there is no return and we simply continue to follow the Way for, besides Christianity, there is no other religion in the entire world that appears to be more plausible and satisfying, both intellectually and emotionally.
    “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” Peter exclaimed.


Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, July 5, 2017 7:59:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“But they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel.”     2 Ch. 28:23
    King Ahaz’s downfall was no longer personal at this time, for he was dragging the entire nation with him. The decisions he had made both politically and religiously would resonate far and wide throughout the nation and everyone in the land of Judah would be impacted.
    We would probably do things rather differently if we took the time to consider how our decisions great or small would affect our friends and neighbors, particularly our loved ones.
    Surely no man is an island and not a single action that we have ever taken remains isolated; it will surely create one reaction or another, either positive or negative, some anticipated, and other completely unexpected.
    There was quite a bit of old paint left in the shed and I was about to dump all of the cans into the dumpster, yet my wife had another idea. She’s never the one to take an easy way out concerning environmental issues. The things which I have often considered “out of sight, out of mind” she seems to have always deemed otherwise. I may be able to get rid of my problem by discarding the paint in the dumpster, but it can easily become a big problem for my children and grandchildren. Whatever I do with my garbage now does have impact on people in the distant future. If this is really so, shouldn’t I be more cautious where I place my trash?
    I crumbled a small piece of paper in the Home Depot parking lot and was about to throw it away then a thought surfaced: “The paper will not vanish mysteriously. Someone will have to pick it up.” A sense of shame came upon me and I put the crumbed paper into my pocket. Indeed, taking care of one’s own garbage is never a small thing, isn’t it?
    How could Ahaz lose sight of who he was and underestimate the impact he would create by all the decisions he made: whether to wage a war or not, or which god to worship. Had his decisions been merely personal and his downfall remained so, being reckless in his actions might have been less damaging to all, but unfortunately it wasn’t so at all. The king suffered for all his ill-advised actions, and the entire nation suffered along with him.
    All our actions, either good or bad, all have a rippling effect, and the impact they create will never be fully known until the day we stand before the throne, being judged by the Omniscient. This is indeed a frightening thought, for I seem to have been rather careless with all my deeds and thoughts, thinking and hoping they would forever remain personal, which isn’t really so at all.


Posted by Robert Sea Friday, June 16, 2017 8:26:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.”           2 Ch. 28:23
    About ten miles from our college by the coastal highway there stood a small temple dedicated to the worship of a dog, which was called “the shrine of a faithful dog.” I have never done any research behind the erection of the shrine and how the dog earned such great esteem from people. I suppose the dog might have done something in its life worthy of great respect and people went to the great extent of building a shrine in its honor. It mattered very little what the dog had done to deserve such honor, really; the fact remained that people considered it so highly that the dog was deified.
    As time went by, for reasons unknown to me, the shrine became a popular place of worship, particularly for women of ill-repute, prostitutes and such. How did this come about? It is all too irrational to be comprehended by sound minds. How in the world could a dead dog, deified nonetheless, bless human beings who are alive and walk about? Idolatry indeed is rather an unreasonable thing, and idolaters seem to have lost their capability of thinking as far as their religions are concerned.
    What the king of Judah did thousands of years ago didn’t seem to be all that different from what Chinese people are doing today on the island of Taiwan. Ahaz evidently made at least two mistakes in his reasoning concerning his worship: First, he believed the Aramean’s’ triumph in the battleground was caused by the help of their gods and, secondly, he appeared to believe that the Aramean gods could be bribed by his sacrifices to do what he intended them to do. It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to realize both ideas are erroneous, merely wishful thinking for the most part. Undoubtedly, it becomes clear by examining Ahaz’ s mindset that one can easily come to the conclusion that idols are created in the image of men to be enslaved and exploited by men.
    “Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.” This is the logic of most idol worshippers from east or west, ancient and modern, with very few exceptions. Idols are indeed vanities, entities that don’t exist and the practices of idolatry are actually hijacked by Satan, who is rather pleased to receive people’s adoration and praise. 


Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, June 7, 2017 8:07:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord.”   2 Ch. 28:22
    When his country was in trouble, king Ahaz of Judah seemed to turn every which way for help except to the Lord. He searched up and down both at home and abroad, human and divine, for resolution for his dire predicament, yet things appeared to get even worse. What went wrong?
    There was an important spiritual lesson to be learned for the king under such circumstances, and the best thing to do at the time was to remain still and wait on the Lord. What the king did during this time of personal and national crisis probably was no different from what we would have done if we found ourselves in such a difficult situation. Ahaz first sought help from humans, and when all else failed, he turned to the divine.
    Yet for some unknown reason, he was rather reluctant to turn to the Lord for help in time of need. As a matter of fact, “King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord.” I think it was likely that he no longer believed the Lord could do anything for him since the Almighty seemingly had failed to respond to his prayer so many times. Do we cease to pray to the Lord for help after we have experienced some rejections from him? Worse, we might even have concluded that he either doesn’t care or doesn’t even exist since there was nothing but silence coming from the other end.
    Ever so gradually, we may become indifferent as far as seeking the Lord is concerned, and entirely uninterested in the mysterious ways he conducts his business in the universe. We have, consciously or unconsciously, decided to turn to other sources for help. That was exactly what transpired with king Ahaz in the end after he had done his trial-and-error experiment with the Lord. It just didn’t work, he concluded.
    How is our faith in the Lord supposed to work?
    Does our faith in God need to be productive to be effective? Do we give it up totally if it does not produce the desired effects? This is the question we must ask, for it’s a given that we will find our faith “ineffective” one way or another in our journey of following the Lord.
    The effectiveness of our faith should never be measured by its tangible productivity; it must be weighed on the balance of truth, for whatever is truthful will always be fruitful. Faith remains and will always be a way of seeing, not a means to bring forth an end.


Posted by Robert Sea Monday, June 5, 2017 7:18:00 AM Categories: Devotional

No Help 

No Help
“Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came to him, but he gave him trouble instead of help.”            2 Ch. 28:20
    Ahaz might have had high expectation for the king of Assyria, since Tiglath-Pileser was supposed to come to help him while Judah was under the ruthless assaults of the Edomites and Philistines. Ahaz emptied out the royal treasury and articles from the holy temple and offered them to the foreign king as tribute, yet the end result was far from what he had expected. The Assyrians offered him no help at all, and Ahaz’s calculation during the time of national crisis was all for naught. It didn’t work and he had to start from square one.
    International politics was the same as it had always been and remains the same up to this century. It has always been power-based and national strength speaks louder than all other factors. Loyalty and faithfulness don’t really exist in the wheeling and dealing among nations. King Ahaz was way too naïve to believe the Assyrians would come to his aid.
    The king of Judah probably had no place to turn for assistance at this point and it was a rather desperate move when he turned in the direction of the Assyrians. Tiglath-Pileser could have turned into the archenemy of Judah the next day if the situation changed, yet Ahaz considered it a sound policy to unite Judah with a foreign country.
    Ultimately, all help we can possibly enlist in time of trouble will fail and what then can we do?
    How can we blame Ahaz for what he did during a time of utter desperation? Doing nothing wasn’t really an option and waiting on the Lord in time of danger was more of a copout than anything else. His mind had never been seasoned to trust the Lord in time of peace, and it became an impossible task in moments of danger. He merely did what he was informed by impulse, which turned out to be a big mistake.
    “Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came to him, but he gave him trouble instead of help.”
    No matter how ingenuous and resourceful we may be, we will eventually get to a point in life when there is nothing left to do except trust the Lord. Yet such trust will not always be at our disposal unless we have nurtured it our entire life. It’s just not as simple as we have often been led to believe. Trusting the Lord must be built from the ground up and it takes years of cultivation and seasoning before it’s ready to be harvested.  


Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, June 1, 2017 8:05:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord.”        2 Ch. 28:19
    It wasn’t through my own doing that I turned out to be what I am, for it wasn’t by own choosing that I was born into the family where I was raised. In fact, I would have become an entirely different person had my mother succumbed to my grandparents’ demand and given me away for adoption. I seem to have a bad habit of attempting to establish a close link between my present and my past and finding out the cause and effect between the two. By doing so, I may be able to find a reasonable apology for all my character flaws and all the missteps of my actions. There must be reasons behind who and what I am, and I should not be morally responsible for all my morel failures, I think.
    Surely I don’t intend to be dragged for yet another time into the sticky issue of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. I have dealt with this issue numerous times and it has never been clarified. I seem to have resolved, partially at least, to let the mysterious remain unresolved.
    This much is clear, however, that Ahaz’s unfaithfulness did adversely affect the people in Judah and they suffered merely because the king failed to obey God’s command. “The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord.” There seems to be a clear correlation between the king’s unfaithfulness to the Lord and the afflictions the people suffered.
    “How did you deal with so much suffering in your life?” I asked Johnny, the handy man who has been doing work for us off and on for many years. “Well, I just do what I can control,” he replied. Unlike me, he isn’t one who constantly tries to attribute all his ills to other people or to trace his sufferings back to unknown causes. Perhaps it takes so much effort to survive that he simply doesn’t have the luxury to concern himself with the rest. Suffering becomes less daunting when one becomes better acquainted with it, I guess. To Johnny, it’s more a way of life than anothing else, and he isn’t caught by surprise.
    I have never blamed my parents for who I am and what I have turned out to be, for they themselves were also victimized by their upbringing as well. If there is anything at all, a generational curse might have been the real cause of all our ills and, come to think of it, the curse can be traced back to Adam’s fall. Yet we do have cause to praise, for the curse was severed on Calvary’s hill and it was nailed on the cross.
    In view of the cross, the mystery of suffering is resolved.


Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, May 31, 2017 7:26:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“So they took them back to their fellow Israelites at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria.”             2 Ch. 28:15
    The homecoming for the two hundred thousand women and children was bittersweet, for their fathers and husbands were no longer there. They went back to a home filled with memories of a happier time, knowing things would never be the same. One hundred and twenty thousand men had perished and what remained were women and children, and so many broken homes to be restored.
    Such was what the war between Judah and Israel did to them. What exactly was the cause of the blood-shed? No one was quite sure on either side. When the order was issued, all the able-bodied men had no choice but to put down their plows  and pick up the swords and spears and to the frontline they went, marching to the wide-opened jaws of death.
    Whether it was more desirable to live or to die after the horrific ordeal was finally over no one was quite sure. The dead were at rest at the least, yet the living still had to continue to struggle to remain alive, which was by no means an easy task, for not only were they afflicted by outward pain, their inner selves were torn apart by the losses of their beloved and their homes.
    Most of the captives were in a daze and were preparing for the worst, and after hundreds of miles traveling on foot and deprived of any sleep, they were all dead tired. For sure they found no reason to continue to live in such miserable condition except for their children. Being mothers and protectors of their sons and daughters, they were able to remain strong and endure hardship far beyond what they had ever imagined. “Being a mother is to be strong,” a Chinese saying renders.
    So the Israelites from the north clothed the naked and put the weak and frail on donkeys, and took them home. “So they took them back to their fellow Israelites at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria.” Indeed, there was a glimpse of mercy in the midst of severe trial and pain.
    What could these women and children have done except what was necessary to survive and what their hands found to do at the time? I presume they all went back to their homes and, as devastating and heartbreaking as it might have been, they picked up what was left behind by their deceased husbands and continued to make a living.
    Surely it wasn’t by their own doing that a tragedy such as this happened, yet wars have continued to occur throughout human history, and we the common folks continue to suffer the collateral damage of them all.    


Posted by Robert Sea Friday, May 26, 2017 8:00:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“Now listen to me! Send back your fellow Israelites you have taken as prisoners, for the Lord’s fierce anger rests on you.”        2 Ch. 28:11
    It was probably the richest day of my entire life up to that point in time. I was about thirteen years old and was attending an agricultural junior high school about twenty miles from my seaside village home. It was Saturday afternoon and school was off at noon and the campus was entirely empty, yet I didn’t want to head home, for I knew grandmother must have some chores for me to do, such as grazing the water buffalo or other jobs in the field. So I just walked around the campus aimlessly and, as I was walking, I spotted a dirty envelop and picked it up. I found out there was fifty NT dollars in it, which was about a dollar and a quarter in U.S. money. Had I been taught right, I would have turned it in and that would have been the end of it, yet I considered it mine, for I had been taught the ethic of “finders keepers” and was perfectly comfortable keeping the money for myself. I immediately went the nearby market where there were many little food stands and ate all the Taiwanese delicacies to the full and then went to see a movie. There was still a sizeable amount of change left in my pocket that greatly enhanced my sense of wellbeing for another week or two. Was the money a “godsend,” and was it a sign of God’s grace and mercy toward me? I have often wondered about it. I would like to believe that was the case, yet I have never been quite convinced, for that isn’t the way God usually operates. Even if he intended to shower his mercy on me at that particular moment, he could have done something that was morally and ethically acceptable. What I did with the money was morally wrong and God would have expected me to do the right thing. The problem was I had always been taught as a child that it was acceptable to keep what others lost and many even considered it good fortune when it happened.
    Right actions will not be produced unless we have right knowledge and, unless we know what right things are, doing right things become entirely impossible.
    The Israelites were about to commit a heinous sin by making slaves of their fellow Israelites from the south. Fortunately Oded the prophet pointed their sin out just in time. What was more important than anything else was their willingness to listen to the prophet and back up their obedience with decisive action. They sent the captives home.
    What I experienced as a youngster was quite a small thing, really, yet it has never ceased to bother me, for it unveiled a moral dilemma to me that was rather difficult to satisfactorily resolve: how could the Lord hold me morally responsible for something I had never been taught? I honestly had no idea it was morally wrong to keep the money I had accidentally found.


Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, May 25, 2017 7:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“But aren’t you also guilty of sins against the Lord your God?”        2 Ch. 28:7
    The Israelites from the Northern Kingdom might have become a little cocky since they were the one who emerged from the war victorious. Wrongly or rightly, they might have concluded that the Lord was on their side, and they could rest easy and enjoy the fruit of their victory, which included making their foes slaves.
    The Israelites failed to realize that the victory they won in battle didn’t in any way make them more righteous than the ones on the losing side. They were also guilty of sinning against the Lord in other aspects.
    Job’s three friends appeared to be placing themselves a notch above the afflicted one since they firmly believed Job’s suffering was caused by some specific sins he had committed. Perhaps unbeknownst to them, the ones who meant to bring consolation to their suffering friend might have harbored an attitude of arrogance and self-righteousness, considering themselves more accepted, beloved even, by God than the one who was afflicted.
    If only the logic was so straightforward and simple, we would no longer be bothered by problems of human suffering and pain. If a clear-cut connection could be established between cause and effect concerning sin and punishment, there would no longer be any struggle in resolving the issue of pain. The logic is quite clear from Job’s friends’ viewpoint, isn’t it?
    “Not so fast, my friend,” to use a cliché a TV sports analyst likes to employ. The reality just isn’t that apparent and matter-of-fact. Human joy and suffering are equally mysterious and we just have to either embrace them with enthusiasm or accept them with resignation as they happen and deduce spiritual lessons from both. Both our joy and sorrow are undeserving and unwarranted, and attempting to connected dots between cause and effect will eventually fail. The mystery is indeed beyond finding out.
    “You will also die if you don’t repent,” the Lord told the curious inquirers concerning a seemingly random tragedy that took place. Wasn’t this the mindset the Lord wanted us to cultivate when we witness one tragic event after another in our midst?
    “But aren’t you also guilty of sins against the Lord your God?”
    Indeed, instead of spewing out one apology after another for human suffering, Job’s three friends should have kept quiet and meditated on the fact that what had happened to their friend could easily happen to them as well. Nothing humbles us more and brings us face to face with our own sin and frailty than suffering.


Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, May 24, 2017 7:32:00 AM Categories: Devotional


“But a prophet of the Lord named Oded was there, and he went out to meet the army when it returned to Samaria.”             2 Ch. 28:9
     While all the Israelites were thrilled over the victory they had scored against Judah and were all expecting to get a part of the spoils brought back from the south, Oded the prophet felt rather differently from all of them. He felt dejected and heart-broken, for he realized the Israelites were misguided and they were provoking God’s anger by doing what they did. The prophet had to take drastic action, risking his life by being the conscience of the nation.
    It would have been so much easier to just stand by and do nothing at this particular juncture. He could have even rejoiced with the crowd as if there were something truly worth celebrating. What could the cause of their celebration have been? Two hundred thousand people from Judah had perished in the war and many more became orphans and widows as a result. Was this a good reason to rejoice, simply because the dead were the enemies?
    Oded knew better than that, and the so-called victory on the battlefield merely meant death and bloodshed. Life was to be lauded, and death should never be celebrated in any way. So the prophet went out to meet the returning army and poured a bucket of cold water on them, tempering down the heat of their celebration.
    Surely Judah was being punished for their sins, yet the Northern Kingdom wasn’t by any means innocent. They were used as the instrument by which the Lord executed his judgment and the sword could easily fall on them as well.
    While a lot of people on the far left were passionately celebrating as the final verdict of the previous presidential election was revealed, I found myself dejected at the prospect of having yet another less than ideal president governing the nation for another four years. I was once ideologically driven like the rest and was blown to and fro by the party’s talking points. But there came a time when I suddenly came to my senses and quit listening to the crowd. I am certainly no Oded the prophet who found enough courage to sound the warning trumpet and march to a different drum, but at the very least I can support whom my conscience detects and the political agenda clearly informed by the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.
    What the prophet did was rather risky and the result generated by his bold action could have been minimal. Even so, the man of God did what he was called to do, and his action did make a great difference and thus gave thousands of people a new lease on life.      


Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, May 23, 2017 8:11:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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