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

Sabbath Rest 

~~MTS-4472
Sabbath Rest (end of 2 Ch)
“The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested…”   2 Ch. 36:21
    The ruthless Babylonians finally surfaced on the horizon and what was going to transpire to Judah inevitably took place. The temple was destroyed, the holy city was in utter ruin, the people who survived the sword had been taken away in exile, and the nation was no more.
    The music ceased and the temple worship had become a distant memory, and the name of the Lord was no longer mentioned. The glorious nation founded by David and Solomon had vanished from the face of the earth. The destiny of the chosen people was controlled by foreigners and they appeared to be abandoned.
    The people who shepherded the sheep or tilled the land were either slaughtered by the sword or had been led in chains to foreign soil, never to return. The land was in desolation, yet we read: “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested…”
    The land had been tilled and the soil turned over repeatedly and the last drop of juice had been squeezed out from her and she had nothing left to give. The people had been embraced by the land like children by their mothers, and the caretakers finally got to breathe a sigh of relief after the children were taken away. The land finally got to enjoy the rest that she had long been promised.
    Indeed, the land had been taken for granted for hundreds of years, and never received the gratitude she rightly deserved. After years of moaning and groaning under a tremendous pressure to produce, her Sabbath finally arrived, and the time of desolation was actually a good thing for the overworked cattle and land. 
    Does the land have any feelings at all? Does it even moan and groan when it’s abused by all sorts of pollution and misused by overplanting?
    There was a river with clean water not far from our village where we fished with bamboo sticks and learned how to dogpaddle as little boys. Yet that was over fifty years ago and now the water is filthy and the river bed is filled with empty plastic water battles and dead animal’s carcasses. What the land badly needs, I often thought when I witnessed what was going on, is a long Sabbath rest.
    God’s people continued to ignore God’s commands and mock God’s servants until they eventually become irredeemable. Therefore, the suffering and dislocation they had to endure was in essence a good thing, a sort of Sabbath both for them and for the land, for unless desolation had taken place, restoration wouldn’t have come about.

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, April 17, 2018 6:10:00 AM Categories: Devotional

No Remedy 

~~MTS-4471
No Remedy
“But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.”        2 Ch. 36:16

    It’s not merely one decision that we have made to despise God’s words and to scoff at God’s servants; all the decisions that we have ever made in life do have a cumulative effect and they will snowball on us before we know it. No single decision we make is truly isolated and one bad decision tends to lead to another and, if they are not corrected in time, the consequence of all our ill-advised choices will become irredeemable. 
    I am what I am at the present time is a direct result of all the choices I have made up to this very moment. Decision-making is habit-forming, and all the bad decisions we have ever made will eventually turn into habits, which will become deeply rooted in our hearts and become integral parts of our beings. I am, actually, is the cumulative effect of all the decisions I have ever made.
    We are not entirely helpless in the scheme of things, however, for we can determine what sort of people we desire to become by making all the decisions conducive to the desirable outcome. 
    Perhaps there is such a thing as a “generational curse,” and the way we have been brought up may actually contribute to what kind of person we will turn out to be. Therefore, I am not entirely responsible for what and who I am, and all my vices can be traced back precisely to their environmental or genetic roots in the not so distant past. By the time I became aware of myself, all the bad habits caused by all the bad decisions made have been formed and the bondage may take an entire life time to break. The chain isn’t as easy to sever as one may surmise.
    The remedy is nowhere to be found except in Christ Jesus, however. Paul wrote in Romans: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
    My power to resist the urge to look at screens every waking moment of my day, be they big screen or small, has become weaker and weaker, and it finally got to the point when I realize I am totally powerless to fight back and ultimately succumb to their tyranny. My life, unfortunately, will be defined by all the superfluous things I do routinely every day, and I simply can do nothing about it. This is rather depressing, isn’t it?
    It’s an act of self-abandonment if I cease to fight against all things which I reckon undesirable, unspiritual, and displeasing to God. I will not get to the point when I become absolutely irredeemable as long as I continue to wage war against my dark self.   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, March 30, 2018 8:22:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Again and Again  

~~MTS-4470
Again and Again
“The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people…”        2 Ch. 36:15
    What we can do as a parent is to not cease talking to our children about things we consider important. I know it has long turned into nagging and a broken record to them, yet to quit speaking is to give up hope that the message may finally register and make a difference in their lives.
    As long as are able to speak and they have ears to hear, there is always hope that our words may create a desirable reality in the lives of our loved ones. In fact, I can still speak to them with my written words after I am no more; therefore I will keep on speaking even after I die.
    To not speak is to give up hope. Did the Lord ever give up the hope that his people would someday turn away from their evil way of idolatry and to abide by the truth?
    “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people…”
    The Lord never did stop speaking to his people, did he? Even when it appeared that he had become silent, there were still numerous occasions when his voice was heard in the land of captivity. Indeed, there was the Babylonian captivity, yet there was also the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple and holy city.
    We must not cease listening to God’s voice, either through the written Word or by various circumstances that transpire in our lives. To suffer the ills in life passively is to miss the message the Lord intends to communicate to us and to actively endure whatever adversities fall our way is to detect the divine information hidden in daily events.
    It’s possible that we have never received the message, even though the Lord has been speaking to us throughout our lifetime, yet he will continue to speak until we finally receive the message. It’s also likely that we don’t want to hear because if we listen it also means we have to give up something that we may have always deemed precious.
    Indeed, our ability to hear God’s voice may be determined by our deep sense of humility. It’s rather superfluous if we claim to listen to God’s voice, yet have absolutely no intention of obeying his command. To listen to God’s voice is to take appropriate action to rectify our misdeeds.

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, March 29, 2018 8:30:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Arrogance 

~~MTS-4469
Arrogance
“He did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke the word of the Lord.”       2 Ch. 36:12
    Even though his kingdom was standing on very shaky ground and danger was looming from all sides, King Zedekiah remained rather defiant, refusing to bow down to God or to men. He might have believed that he was invincible and no one, either human or divine, could possible bring him down.
    He obviously had no regard for the Lord and, quite naturally, he didn’t have any respect for the Lord’s servant. How could he, being a king over a nation, humble himself before Jeremiah who was a symbol of weakness and powerlessness, and the one who seemed to be weeping most of the time?
    Being a minister of God’s church, I have seldom felt that the title ever brought me any sort of entitlement or respect. I have indeed occasionally sensed some disrespect from the people I have come in contact with.
    “I don’t want to become a minister because it’s such a hard job,” someone responded while I was urging him to at least consider full-time ministry as a future career option.
    I suppose the profession wouldn’t have been so difficult if it were handsomely compensated and well-respected. Well, this is beside the point. I am digressing. 
    Why should Jeremiah the prophet be commanding any respect from the king, or from anyone else? There was no other reason except this: He was the one “who spoke the word of the Lord.”
    Instead of becoming so concerned about how I am perceived by lay people, I should focus my entire attention on speaking the word of God from the pulpit. Indeed, people may still fall asleep or become restless during the service, but their disrespect must be directed to God. I may be uttering my own words if I ever feel insulted when people quit listening to me.
    People must know who God is before they can come to realize who they truly are. I am often amazed how highly people perceive themselves and what greatness they believe they are capable of achieving. Had Zedekiah had any personal encounter with the Almighty, his self-perception would have been radically different. True humility is impossible to achieve unless people become aware of their humanness.

 

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, March 28, 2018 9:13:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Three Months 

~~MTS-4468
Three Months
“Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months and ten days. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord”   2 Ch. 36:9
    One couldn’t have done a lot within a period of three months and ten days, could he? Jehoiachin was merely eighteen years old when he assumed the kingship, and we have no clue to what he did during his reign that earned him the reputation: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”
    Perhaps it was not because of what he did that he was thus defined; it was really what he was as a person. He might not have had time to implement what he intended to do, yet it didn’t change the fact that he was an evil king.
    Three months and ten days, however, actually was long enough for Jehoiachin to do something sinister that would forever define him as a king. Obviously he must have had a certain approach toward his kingship and, whether he had the time to execute his plans or not, the fact would remain the same. He was on his way to becoming an ungodly king no matter how long his reign was going to be.
    Is a period of three months long enough to make a difference in one’s life? For sure it is. The one who was crucified beside the Lord Jesus only needed one day to change the course of his eternal destiny. Well, he only needed a brief moment of the day to make a vast difference in his life.
    As a matter of fact, the king must have done enough evil to earn him his reputation at the end. He might have encouraged people to practice idolatry or ushered into his country another foreign god, enticing people to bow down before him. How much time would it have taken to do all these things?
    Indeed, whether we are young or old, we still have an ample amount of time to make a meaningful change in our lives. Surely three months and ten days is an eternity if we make an absolute determination to alter our life’s direction and start heading toward a heavenly direction.   
   The prodigal came to his senses when he was just feeding the pigs, and it didn’t take long for repentance to take place. When his mind was renewed and the course of his life shifted, the remainder of his life would merely follow suit accordingly, whether it be long or short. Essentially, our lives are not depicted merely by length of time; they are rather defined by significant events. Things that touch the core of our being are what create eternal differences. 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, March 27, 2018 8:15:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The End 

~~MTS-4467
The End
“Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle.”               2 Ch. 35:22
    King Josiah was doing rather splendidly in every way before this event transpired. He almost always tried to do the right things when he found out what the right things were. His fear of the Lord couldn’t have been questioned and his walk with God was impeccable. Now this question surfaces: Why did he even go to battle with Necho king of Egypt, and end up losing his life at the Egyptian’s hand?
    Did the king have anything else to prove at his old age? Obviously there must have been reasons behind what Josiah did, and whether they were justifiable or not isn’t for me to ponder. That was just what happened, which marked the end of the illustrious career of a remarkable king.
   According to the Biblical narrative it does sound like the battle with Necho was rather unnecessary, and Josiah could have laid low and done nothing to interfere with what the Egyptians were going to do.
    “Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle.”
    It was a mistake, judging by what transpired at the end. The king was wounded, and later died in Jerusalem. The elderly king was brave enough to march against the enemy, yet he did so in disguise, which was probably a self-protecting mechanism. Perhaps he was eager to experience the adventure of war, yet had no intention to risk his own life to do so.
    This is merely my musing over the event, and there must be other plausible explanations, justifications even, done by Biblical scholars over the ages, had I done some reading about this. Yet it seems more reasonable to me to look at the incident from a human point of view.
    His life was drawing to an end and the king might have become slightly restless and was looking for an occasion to test his manhood, something that would defy his age and would again prove his worth as a man and a king over a nation.
    Perhaps we can still do a lot of things in our old age when we develop a sense of urgency, yet some of the things we choose to do may be utterly unessential and they are better left undone, or done by someone else. Retirement might have been the best thing for Josiah to do at the time. It was indeed a shame for a godly king to die a horrific death in battle, when he could have rocked himself to eternal sleep on his throne.  

 

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, March 26, 2018 8:32:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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