Imagine Heaven

Read:

Joel 2:12-27

Reflect:

“Don’t be afraid, O land. Be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things. Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field, for the wilderness pastures will soon be green.” Joel 2:21-22, NLT

At the concert of my grandson’s school, the choir sang John Lennon’s song, Imagine. It was a song with the message that where there is no heaven or hell, no countries or religion, people will have nothing to kill or die for. John Lennon’s dream was that people will live a life of peace in the brotherhood of man in a world where there are no possessions, greed, or hunger.1 

To imagine there is no heaven or hell is a foolish and futile exercise. Religion, nationalism and materialism are the inevitable manifestations of pride, fear, greed and lust – these are the root causes of much of the suffering in the world.  To find the cure for the woes of our world, we need to make the right diagnosis. We are living in a dark world of chaos, brokenness, suffering, evil and death because of sin and evil. God’s justice demands that there be punishment for sin and evil:

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 2 

God has a better dream. God’s judgment is not to throw us into hell but to reveal the reality that we are now living in hell when we seek to do our own will and live without the grace of God. The prophet Joel shared the promise of God’s restoration and renewal of the world with the the Jews in the face of their punishment when they were exiled to Babylon. Joel exhorted them to practice the repentance of the heart and gave them God’s promise:

“Don’t be afraid, O land. Be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things. Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field, for the wilderness pastures will soon be green.”3 

We live in hell when envy, greed, pride and fear reigns. But God so loved that world that He sent His only Son to be the Light of the World and to save the world.4 Jesus came to restore and renew the earth and to draw us back to the kingdom of heaven with cords of love. Heaven is not a pipe dream nor a figment of our imagination. Kindness, goodness, humility and peace are the hallmarks of the person who is abiding in Christ and living in the kingdom of heaven.  Heaven is an existential reality that is beyond space and time. To search for answers to the hard questions of life, we need to seek God’s presence with all our heart:

“I have asked one thing from the Lord. This I will seek: to remain in the Lord’s house all the days of my life in order to gaze at the Lord’s beauty and to search for an answer in his temple.”5

Jesus came to lead us out of the Babylon of this world and to be pilgrims in this world. We are to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven with Jesus reigning in our hearts as our King of kings. We are to be ambassadors and priests to share the love, joy and peace  of God’s Kingdom of love in a messy and godless world.  We are to give the world a foretaste of a new heaven and a new earth through our lives as new creations in Christ Jesus.

Our mission is to live a life of thanksgiving and praising the Lord – telling the nations what God has done and let them know how mighty He is.6  We are to give thanks to the Lord for His faithful love that endures forever.7 The practice of silence is a simple but difficult way to do so every morning and evening. Silence is the expression of our reverence for God and enthrone Jesus as our Servant King.  Silence is an ancient path to find rest for our souls:8

“But the Lord is in His holy temple,
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”9
“Be silent before the Lord, all humanity, for he is springing into action from his holy dwelling.”10 

Silence expresses our reverence for God and empties our hearts so that God’s love can be incarnate in us. In silence, we rest in God and wait on Him. In silence we can live in God’s loving embrace which is far more wonderful than imagining heaven. It is in silence that we rest in peace (R.I.P.) even before we die:

“Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with you above the storm
Father, You are King over the flood
I will be still, know You are God.”11

Respond:

Lord, teach me to rest in You so that my life may overflow with Your love.

Reframe:

  1. What do I believe about heaven and hell?
  2. How can we be God’s servants to restore and renew the earth?
  3. How does silence help me to find rest for my soul?

Song of Praise

Still

SDG

Notes:

  1. Imagine, John Lennon
  2. Romans 8: 20-23, NLT
  3. Joel 2:21-22, NLT
  4. John 3:16-21, NLT
  5. Psalms 27:4, GW
  6. Isaiah 12:4, NLT
  7. Psalms 106:1, NLT
  8. Jeremiah 6:16, ESV
  9. Habakkuk 2:20, NKJV
  10. Zechariah 2:12, NLT
  11. Still, Hillsong Worship

What Really Matters

Read:

Lamentations 3:25-58

Reflect:

“But I called on your name, Lord, from deep within the pit. You heard me when I cried, “Listen to my pleading! Hear my cry for help!” Yes, you came when I called; you told me, “Do not fear.” Lamentations 3:55-57, NLT

Queen Elizabeth served as a servant Queen for more than 70 years and lived a very fruitful life. Death is part and parcel of life. As the whole world mourns her death, I am reminded of the truth that we are a puff of smoke that appears for a short time and then vanishes.1  People are like grass whose beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field beneath the breath of the Lord.2  But we can take comfort that though God brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love.3  

It is not how well we live but how we prepare ourselves for death so our lives can bear fruit in the generations that follow us.4  It is how we hang on to our faith in times of suffering and sorrow. Times of adversities and tribulations are times to examine our ways – to turn back to God in repentance. When we do so and call on God’s name, God will hear our cry:

“But I called on your name, Lord, from deep within the pit. You heard me when I cried, “Listen to my pleading! Hear my cry for help!” Yes, you came when I called; you told me, “Do not fear.”5

The writer of Lamentations reminds us that God does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow. There are spiritual laws and consequences for breaking God’s laws. The writer of Lamentations drew attention to God’s justice that is manifested through God’s anger and judgment against injustice and evil. The good news is that in the face of disease and death, we can put our hope in God’s redeeming love. God is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him – to sit alone in silence and wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.6

There will be times when we struggle to find meaning in suffering. However, even when our pain seem meaningless, God can use our pain to bring hope to others through our weaknesses and vulnerability for His power is made perfect in our weakness.7 Jesus died and rose from the dead to show us how much God loves us – that God is in Christ, we are in Christ and Christ is in us.8  We are to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ:

“Christ for the world we sing, the world to Christ we bring
With loving zeal, the poor, and them that mourn, the faint and overborne,
Sin sick and sorrow worn, whom Christ doth heal.”9

Jesus Christ gave us the Beatitudes which are the keys into the kingdom of heaven – blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven and blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.10  We are to seek the Kingdom of God in our todays and not to worry about our tomorrows.11  What really matters is whether we are living as citizens of heaven in a manner that is worthy of the Good News about Christ –  standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for our faith in Christ, and making every effort to keep ourselves united in the Spirit and binding ourselves together with peace.12  For we are called to share in God’s Kingdom and glory.13

When God dwells in us through Christ, the Holy Spirit binds us together as the Body of Christ. We are empowered to live out His commandment to love another. When we are of one heart and mind, the world will see the love of Christ in us. Only then will the stories of our lives be of significance in God’s unfolding love story.

God is Love and Love is the presence of God in me. When I am full of myself, there is no room for Christ in my heart and there can be no fruit of the Holy Spirit. I can only overflow with love, joy and peace when I am emptied of my ego and filled with the Holy Spirit. We will be challenged to give of ourselves and to put our trust in God’s providence and God’s perfect will each day. That is why we need to pray every day, “Give us  this day our daily bread.”14 For blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.15

The discipline of prayer is to open ourselves to the kingdom of heaven in the here and now. We pray to enthrone Jesus in our hearts so that our hearts will be filled with the love of God by the Holy Spirit.16  With the death of Queen Elizabeth, the anthem of the United Kingdom has been changed to “God Save The King.” I felt led to use the following words as my personal anthem to remember that I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God:

God is our gracious King.
Our lives to Him we bring
God is our King

Christ’s reign is glorious
From sin victorious
With joyful hearts we sing our praise
God is our King

Respond:

Lord, be enthroned in my heart so that my life and death will bear fruit for Your kingdom.

Reframe:

  1.  How does suffering and sorrow help me to live well and die well
  2. What does it mean to live as a citizen of heaven?
  3.  How does prayer help me to live in the kingdom of heaven in the here and now?

SDG

Notes:

  1. James 4:14, NET
  2. Isaiah 40:6-7, NLT
  3. Lamentations 3:32, NLT
  4. Henri Nouwen, Dying Well, 10th Feb 2018
  5. Lamentations 3:55-57, NLT
  6. Lamentations 3:25-42, NLT
  7. 2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV
  8. John 14:20, NLT
  9. Christ For The World We Sing
  10. Matthew 5:3-4, NLT
  11. Matthew 6:34, NLT
  12. Philippians 1:27, Ephesians 4:1-4, NLT
  13. 1 Thessalonians 2:12, NLT
  14. Matthew 6:11, NKJV
  15. Matthew 5:6, NKJV
  16. Romans 5:5, NLT

The Consuming Fire Of Love

Read:

Matthew 10:5-33

Reflect:

“But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:30-31, ESV

Jesus turned the world upside down and was crucified by the religious leaders when he confronted their hypocrisy and idolatry. When we follow Christ and advance the kingdom of heaven here on earth, we will also face opposition and persecution. Jesus did not sugar coat the trials and tribulations of discipleship. He cautioned his disciples to count the cost of following him:

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!”1 

To be a disciple of Christ is to embark on the journey to love God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind.2 It is easy to write, teach and preach about discipleship. But to be mastered for discipleship is to fall into the hands of God. And it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.3 It is to face the reality of being in a spiritual war. It is to let the power of love consume me.  It is to live with one foot in the hell of self-righteousness and one foot in the heaven of total surrender to the Holy Spirit.

To fear not, we need to fear only God as we all have to face the judgment of God. The judgment of God is a refiner’s fire to purify our hearts like gold and silver.4 We need to see the fear of God through the lens of God’s love. God’s fire of love reveals what is deep within our hearts. Trials in life are God’s consuming fire of love to test our faith and prove that it is much more precious to us than gold.5

Shadrach, Meshrach and Abednego were thrown into the fire when they refused to worship the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. They  were not afraid of King Nebuchadnezzar who can kill the body but not the soul. They were prepared to die in the furnace rather than to worship the golden statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. They chose to be living sacrifices to prove their faith in God’s omnipotent power. And their faith in God shone brightly in the fire of the furnace when King Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth person, who looked like a god, walking with them around in the fire.6 

Shadrach, Meshrach and Abednego chose to worship God who they believed has so much more power than King Nebuchadnezzar. They fear only God, the King of kings who can destroy both soul and body in hell.7 God wants us to worship Him out of love and not out of fear.  Jesus came to show us the power of love – to open our eyes to see God as our Heavenly Father, our Shepherd of Love and our Divine Lover, who cares for us and who will provide and protect us:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” 8

These words came alive to me a year ago when two baby birds fell from their nest in our porch as they were unable to fly.  We found them among our plants in the driveway from their chirping and put them back in the nest. For three days we had to pick them up from our garden and even in the drain outside our house when they kept falling out of the nest. As I was thinking of getting a bird cage to keep them safe I felt led to message my small group to pray for them. To my surprise, one of them was then able to fly soon after and the other, a couple of hours later. 

Jesus encouraged his disciples with the example of God’s care for the sparrows after warning them that the world will hate them and that they may even be betrayed by their family members. The disciples were sent out to announce that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.9 We are called to show the world that the Kingdom of Heaven has come by offering ourselves as living sacrifices in our mundane lives each day.10 

This is the challenge of discipleship –  to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice by following Jesus’ example of kenosis – the “self-emptying” of our own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will.11 As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us  – “when Christ calls a man,  he bids him come and die.”12  Jesus died and rose from the dead to teach us that it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Henri Nouwen wrote that “dying is the greatest act of love, the act that leads me into the eternal embrace of my God whose love is everlasting.”13  

So to follow Jesus, I need to practice kenosis – letting go of my will so that I can be a channel of God’s will – to be transformed from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Kenosis is to go through the stage of the chrysalis.  When I am not afraid to face death, like Shadrach, Meshrach and Abednego, I will not be afraid to face the consuming fire of God’s love.  When the desire of my heart is to do God’s will and to advance His kingdom, my trials and tribulations becomes the Refiner’s fire to “strangely warm” my heart.

“Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for you Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You my Master
Ready to do Your will”14

Respond:

Lord, may Your fire of Your Love consume all that keep me from Your perfect will.

Reframe:

  1. What does discipleship mean to me?
  2.  What do the tribulations in my life reveal about what is in my heart that needs to be purified by God’s consuming fire of love? 
  3. What does it mean to live as a living sacrifice each day?

Song of Praise

Refiner’s Fire

SDG

Notes:

  1. Luke 14:28, NLT
  2. Matthew 22:37, NLT
  3. Hebrews 10:31, ESV
  4. Malachi 3:2-3, NLT
  5. 1 Peter 1:7, NLT
  6. Daniel 3:1-30, NLT
  7. Matthew 10:28, ESV
  8. Matthew 10:29-31, ESV
  9. Matthew 10:5-18, ESV
  10. Romans 12:1, ESV
  11. Kenosis, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. See also Philippians 2:5-8, NLT
  12.  Deitrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
  13. Henri Nouwen, Nouwen Meditation: Dying Leads to Love, 6 Sept 2022
  14. Refiner’s Fire, Brian Doerksen

Monkey Mind

Read:

2 Kings 6:8-23, NLT

Reflect:

“Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” 2 Kings 6:16, NLT

It was such a joy to have birds building their nests in our garden and front porch. At one time, we saw God’s loving care when two baby birds were able to fly off from their nest after they had fallen out of the nest a couple of times. However, a few days ago, we were devastated when a monkey snatched and ate up two baby birds from a nest in our front porch. It was so heart breaking to see the mother bird flying frantically looking for her babies in the broken nest.

The monkey had seen the baby birds as food but we had a special relationship with the birds as we saw them as our guests. It dawned on me that there is a “monkey mind” in all of us when our relationships with others are dictated by lust, greed and pride. To live a life of love, joy and peace we need the mind of Christ to see that all of us are children of God.

The king of Aram had sent a great army to capture Elisha at Dothan. Elisha’s servant was frightened when he saw troops, horses and chariots everywhere. But Elisha told him, “Don’t be afraid! For there are more on our side than on theirs.” He prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened and he saw the hillside around Elisha filled with horses and chariots of fire.

Then Elisha prayed for the Aramean army to be blinded so that they could not recognize him. He then led the army to the king of Israel. Instead of having a “monkey mind” like the king of Israel who wanted to kill the soldiers, Elisha demonstrated the compassion of God and told the king of Israel to give them a great feast and send them home.1  Instead of looking only at our circumstances, we need to see beyond our circumstances in prayer. In solitude and silence we can pray to be aware of our “monkey minds” – the thoughts that take us captive and lead us to unloving actions.

In life, we will be tempted to lose our faith in God when we encounter suffering which seems meaningless. In days when life appears hopeless, when there are no answers or conclusions to the pain of life – we are tempted to try and change our circumstances  in order to avoid changing ourselves.2 But it is in such times that we are to practice the power of biblical faith – that God is good, God can be trusted and God is actively involved in our lives.3 

It is not our actions that are the problem but the attitudes and motives that direct our actions. Elisha did not call on the horses and chariots of fire to destroy the Aramean army. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus could have called for thousands of angels to protect him but he chose to be the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.4 Prayer is not asking God to get rid of our problems but opening our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit so that He can reveal our sinful desires, ulterior motives and hidden agendas. The delights we crave for and the desires of our heart drive our choices in life.

 Adam and Eve were led by their “monkey minds” to the delight of their eyes and the desire for wisdom to disobey God. They were deceived into thinking that knowledge will make them wise and powerful. But knowledge without love leads to  pride. Without the power of love, the knowledge of evil fills us with fear and guilt. For it is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom. Like Adam and Eve we are blind to the truth that when we delight in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts.5

Good actions from wrong motives are just as bad as wrong actions from godly motives. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the  highest point of the Temple to prove that God will order his angels to protect him and hold him up with their hands.6 Saul (before he became Paul) was driven by the mistaken zeal to do God’s will to persecute the early Christians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer draws attention to the danger of seeking an ideal church:

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”7

The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. It was the beginning of a new age in the history of humankind. It was a time when people were forced into isolation through the lockdown measures. It was a time when the deepest desires of our hearts were revealed. It was a golden opportunity for true followers of Christ to experience the joy of solitude by spending time with God through silence. Only then can we have good actions from godly motives that will bear the fruit of compassion.

Solitude leads to community when we learn to meditate in silence together. We are drawn together in true community as we invite the Holy Spirit to bind us together in love.  When we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to transform our “monkey minds” to the mind of Christ we will not love the world nor conform to the world.8 We will be set free from the craving for physical pleasure, the craving for everything we see and pride in our achievements and possessions.9  

I need to rewire my mind with God’s covenant promises so that I can see the glimpses of truth that will set me free from my monkey mind:

“Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free

Silently now I wait for thee
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”10

Respond:

Lord, open my eyes and reset my mind so that I may be set free from my “monkey mind.”

Reframe:

  1. How does the monkey mind affect my actions in daily life?
  2. What keeps me from seeing God’s providence in my life?
  3. What causes me to lose sight of God’s covenant promises?

Song of Praise

Open My Eyes That I May See

SDG

Notes:

  1. 2 Kings 6: 8-23, NLT
  2. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, 19th August, 2022
  3. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation,  21st  August,2022
  4.  Matthew 26:52-54, NLT
  5. Psalms 37:4
  6.  Matthew 4:6, NLT
  7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: Prayerbook of the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) page 36
  8. Romans 12:1-2
  9. 1 John 2:15-17, NLT
  10.  Open My Eyes That I May See, Clara, H. Scott

Stones Alive!

Read:

Haggai 2:1-9, NLT

Reflect:

“My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.” Haggai 2:5, NLT

In the autumn of life, I am attending more funerals than birthdays and weddings. But these are times when I witnessed the miracle of the triumphant crossing to eternal life – walking through the valley of the shadow of death with the blessed assurance that we are going home to our “mansions in glory.”

Last week, one of my cousins passed away peacefully after suffering from a stroke more than a year ago. At her funeral, one of her close friends played a number of beautiful hymns on a harp. As her body was cremated the truth dawned on me that our lives will bear fruit in the lives of those we leave behind in ways beyond imagination. In Christ we have the hope that our ashes will be transmuted into crowns of beauty:

“He has sent me, to provide for all those who grieve in Zion, to give them crowns instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of tears of grief, and clothes of praise instead of a spirit of weakness. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, the Plantings of the Lord so that he might display his glory.”1

Grief can feel like a stone in our hearts.2 The good news is that our Heavenly Father is the God of all comfort. Jesus suffered and died on the cross so that we can experience the overflowing comfort of God through the sufferings of Christ. Our struggles and suffering in life are times to experience God’s comfort so that the power of Christ’s resurrection will overflow to others.3 The Holy Spirit turns our tears of grief into tears of joy and leads us to worship God with a garment of praise. We become stones alive who are overflowing  with joy in God’s living sanctuary.

After the Jews rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, they were discouraged as the Temple appeared to be nothing compared to the former splendor of the Temple. They were given words of encouragement through the prophet Haggai:

“Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.”4

Times of sorrow are times to sow righteousness. The bad news is that we cannot be righteous when we have stony hearts. To sow seeds of righteousness, our stony hearts need to be broken before we can harvest a crop of steadfast love.5 Our calling is to be Oaks of Righteousness who are being led in the paths of righteousness by our Shepherd of Love.6

We are to be living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple as well as His holy priests.7 The future glory of this Temple will be far greater than its past glory.8 And the Temple will be called, “The Lord Is our Righteousness.9

I need to return to the heart of worship which is all about living and breathing God in my daily life.10 Jeremiah reminds us that the human mind is the most deceitful of all things and is incurable. We need God to search our minds and test our hearts.11 I need to practice the presence of God through prayer. I need to turn away from sin in repentance, and to turn back to God in surrender. Without repentance and surrender, I am at risk of losing my first love12 and become a lukewarm Christian13 or even a Christian atheist. It is only in returning to the Lord and resting in Him that we can rewire our deceitful minds.14 In quietness and confidence I can be a stone alive with God looking deep into my heart:

“I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You’re looking into my heart

I’m comin’ back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus14

Respond:

Lord, help me to be a stone alive that is overflowing with Your Love.

Reframe:

  1.  Why do our hearts need to be broken before we can be filled with the joy of the Lord?
  2.  What does it mean to be a living stone?
  3.  How can I live as a living stone?

Song of Praise

The Heart Of Worship

SDG

Notes:

  1.  Isaiah 61:3, GW  
  2. Dorothy Day, The Reckless Way Of Love, page 49
  3. 2 Corinthians 1:5, NET
  4. Haggai 2:4-5, NLT
  5. Hosea 10:12, ESV 
  6. Psalms 23:3
  7. 1 Peter 2:5, NLT
  8. Haggai 2:9, NLT
  9. Jeremiah 33:16, NLT
  10. Psalms 34:2, MSG
  11.  Jeremiah 17:9-10, GW
  12. Revelations 2:4-5, NLT
  13.  Revelations 3:15-16
  14.  Isaiah 30:15-16, NKJV
  15. The Heart of Worship, Matt Redman

A Living Sanctuary – C.A.L.M.

Read:

1 Chronicles 28:11-20

Reflect:

“Then David continued, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the Lord is finished correctly.” 1 Chronicles 28:20, NLT

There is always a battle between fear and faith especially when we are seeking God’s will in our lives.  Many of us are spiritually crippled by the Fear of Failure (FOF), Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), and the Fear Of Death (FOD). We are in the midst of a spiritual war “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.”1

But the battle belongs to the Lord and our responsibility is simply to worship God – to replace our FOF, FOMO and FOD with the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is not being fearful of God – it is living with the humility of being a child of God and the awe of God’s sovereignty over everything that happens in our lives. The fear of the Lord is the spirit of surrender that allows God to renovate our hearts. In Christ, I am a child of God as a spiritual being. I am born again with a soul – the physical manifestation of my spiritual being – in which my will, attitudes, beliefs, thoughts and feelings are alive to God.2 When I surrender my life to God, He will build a living sanctuary for the Holy Spirit in my soul that is deep within my heart.3  

King David encouraged his son, Solomon, to build the Temple of the Lord as God’s sanctuary. David told Solomon to be strong and courageous in his faith that God is with him and not to be afraid or discouraged by his fears.4 The Temple was a place for the people of Israel to experience the Presence of God. In the Temple, there was an Ark of the Covenant containing the two tablets of the Ten Commandments and the Manna,5 the altar and the lamps.

To be a living sanctuary is to create a space in our hearts where we can have a transformational instead of a transactional relationship with God – a space to put God first in our lives and to be aware of His Presence. The physical Temple of Jerusalem provides us with a template to be a living sanctuary so that we will be C.A.L.M. in the midst of our fears:

C – the Ark of the Covenant symbolizes our calling to be ministers of God’s new Covenant – that we are God’s beloved and we are to be His channels of love to others

A – the Altar challenges us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices on the altar of our hearts – to surrender our wills to God.

L – the lamps draw attention to our need for the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of our heart to see God’s loving Presence in our fears and to listen and understand God’s Word.

M – the Manna reminds us of our need for God’s grace every day.

We need a heart of worship to stand firm in the battle against evil. To be steadfast in my faith, I need to deepen the roots of love in my heart.6 To deepen the roots of love, I need to open the eyes of my heart to listen and understand God’s Word. To open the eyes of my heart, I need a heart of worship. To have a heart of worship, I need to be a living sanctuary for the Holy Spirit.

There are spiritual forces of evil that seek to draw us away from God’s love. The best way to face and overcome these spiritual forces of evil is to be a living sanctuary. When I am a living sanctuary for the Holy Spirit, the light of Christ will lead me in every part of my life.

In troubled times I need to calm down to hear God’s whispers of love calling me to rest. I need C.A.L.M. – to minister God’s new Covenant of Love, to offer myself as a living sacrifice on the Altar of my  heart, to light the Lamp of faith in my heart and to feed on God’s Manna daily – in order to transform my fears to faith. I need to pray and ask the Lord to prepare me to be a living sanctuary:

“Lord prepare me
To be a sanctuary
Pure and holy
Tried and true
And with thanksgiving
I’ll be a living
Sanctuary, oh for You”7

Respond:

Lord, help me to have a heart of worship that my life may be ablaze with holiness.

Reframe:

1.  What are the mental and emotional clutter in my heart that needs to be cleared?
2.  What does it mean to be a living sanctuary for the Holy Spirit?
3.  How does being a living sanctuary help me to overcome sin and evil?

Song of Praise

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary

SDG

Notes:

1.  Ephesians 6:12, NET

2.  Trina McNeilly wrote in Unclutter Your Soul: “When I was growing up, my dad taught me that “I am a spirit, I have a soul, and I live in a body.” (page 7)

3. Inspired by following comment by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing……You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” page 172

4.  1 Chronicles 28:20, NLT

5.  Exodus 16:31, NLT

6.  Ephesians 3:17, NLT

7. Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary

A Taste Of Death

Read:

Mark 5:35-43

Reflect:

“But Jesus  overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” Mark 5:37, NLT

Last year I had a vicarious taste of death when I had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with my niece. Her husband was critically ill with the Covid 19 virus and the doctors fought desperately for his life in the ICU for three months. God worked through the doctors and nurses in the ICU and our prayers for a miracle of healing were answered. 

Jesus was on the way to heal Jairus daughter when messengers came to tell Jairus that his daughter had died. But it was an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate his power over life and death. Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” The people were weeping and wailing and Jesus told them that the child was not dead but only asleep but they laughed at him. 

Jesus then went with the parents and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying. He held her hand and said to her, “Talitha koum” –  “little girl, I say to you, arise.” The girl arose and walked! Jesus then commanded them not to tell anyone what had happened. It is so easy to encourage a shallow faith in miracles instead of deepening the roots of faith in God.1

The stories of the dead being raised to life in the bible are demonstrations of the reality that death is not the end of life and of the power of God over life and death. Jesus tasted death on the cross to give us life through the power of the resurrection. It is our fear of death that keeps us in slavery to sin and the devil. Jesus conquered death on the cross so that we can live without fear in the face of suffering and death:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?2

In the hospice ministry, I have witnessed the victory over death in many of my patients who looked forward to their lives after death. Unfortunately, modern medicine has given many people the illusion that doctors can save them from death. But resuscitation is different from resurrection. Doctors may win many battles with death but they will always lose the war. It is foolishness to think that we can cheat death:

Therefore, listen to this message from the Lord, you scoffing rulers in Jerusalem. You boast, “We have struck a bargain to cheat death and have a deal to dodge the grave. The coming destruction can never touch us, for we have built a strong refuge made of lies and deception…..

“I will cancel the bargain you made to cheat death, and I will overturn your deal to dodge the grave.”3 

Jesus died a cruel and meaningless death on the cross to reveal the unimaginable love and awesome power of God. Jesus did not die to appease an angry God – the crucifixion reveals the horror of sin and the inhumanity of humankind. Jesus rose from the dead to demonstrate the power of Love and to transform a fear based religious faith to a love empowered spiritual faith. To give us the Holy Spirit so that we are like a signet ring on God’s heart and who have hearts filled with love that is as overpowering as death and a devotion that is as unyielding as the grave.4 

The good news is that death is not the end of life but the beginning of eternal life for “blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”5  And in the Presence of God, there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain for God will wipe every tear from our eyes.6 

The fear of death is the biggest obstacle towards having good care at the end of life. Many patients suffer unnecessary and futile medical procedures to keep death at bay. It is sad that many patients have the misconception that hospice care is about dying peacefully when the mission of hospice care is to provide loving care and to empower patients and their families to live meaningfully everyday for as long as possible. 

There is no resurrection without death. We need to taste “little deaths” each day – to be aware and to surrender our pride, greed, lust, anger, envy and gluttony. To put to death our negative anthropomorphic images of God that keep us from God’s loving embrace. A simple way to do so is through centering prayer – to keep our eyes on the cross of Christ and to let the Holy Spirit search our hearts for any idolatrous tendency and to lead us in the reliable ancient path.7 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from ev’ry sin and set me free.”8

Respond:

Lord, help me to taste the “little deaths” each day so that I may live in Your loving embrace.

Reframe:

1.  Why is it important to come to terms with the reality of death?
2.  What is my greatest fear about death? 3. 
What are the “little deaths” that confront me each day?

Song of Praise

Search me, O God

SDG

Notes:

1.  Mark 5:35-43
2.  1 Corinthians 15:54-55, NLT
3.  Isaiah 28:15,18, NLT
4.   Song of Songs, 8:6, GW
5    Revelations 14:13, NLT
6   Revelation 21:4, NLT
7   Psalms 139:24,NET
8   Search Me O God

Life Beyond Death

Read:

Matthew  17:1-13

Reflect:

“But Jesus touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid!” As they raised their heads, they saw no one but Jesus.” Matthew 17:7-8, GW

How we live our lives on earth in the here and now depends on what we believe about life beyond death. If we believe that there is no life after death, then it is logical to seek to live life to the fullest now by enjoying the pleasures of this world – “let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we’re going to die!”1 

However, if we believe that there is life beyond death because there is a loving God who created us to be His masterpieces and to be His children, we will see that even the mindset to eat and drink and find satisfaction in our work comes from the hand of God.2  Having lived past my 75th birthday, I have a vested interest to reflect on the existential question, “Is there life beyond death?”

The greatest evidence of life beyond death is the resurrection of Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ is rooted in His resurrection. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we cannot have any victory over sin, death and evil. Our faith is worthless as sin will still have power over us. And as the apostle Paul reminds us, if Christ is our hope only for this life, we deserve more pity than any other people.3

Jesus brought Peter, James and John to a high mountain where they could be alone. There the disciples saw Jesus transfigured in the presence of Moses and Elijah. But Jesus ordered them:

“Don’t tell  anyone what you have seen. Wait until the Son of Man has been brought back to life.” 

The story of the transfiguration of Jesus makes sense only in the light of the resurrection of Christ. It is a dramatic revelation that Moses lives on after death and Elijah was taken up into heaven. Hearing the voice of God was an awesome experience. The disciples were terrified when they heard a voice from a bright cloud telling them, “This is my dearly beloved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” Then Jesus touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid!”4

The good news is that Jesus came to show us that God is our Heavenly Father and His greatest joy is in our listening to Christ as our Shepherd of Love. The transfiguration of Jesus points to a spiritual dimension beyond death. If we believe that there is life beyond death, we have to face the reality of heaven and hell. Taoists observe the “Hungry Ghosts Festival” during the seventh month of the lunar year – a time they believe the gates of hell are opened. Christians also believe that hell exists. But we do not have to come before God with the awful fear of an angry Judge but with the awesome fear of God as our loving Heavenly Father. The reality of life beyond death also reminds us that there is a spiritual battle against evil which Jesus has won for us on the cross.

When Jesus reigns as King in our hearts, life on this earth is a foretaste of life after death. God’s Kingdom is seen on earth when the Risen Christ is in our hearts and we are living our lives according to God’s will and not ours. Without Christ, we live like Adam, hiding from God. With Christ, we are restored to an intimate relationship with God through transforming listening conversations. The resurrection of Jesus Christ empowers us to live with hope in this life as we face pain, suffering and loss. 

The most powerful witness of our faith in the Risen Christ is seen in our joy and peace in the midst of our sorrows. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that we are blessed when we feel we have lost what is most precious to us. For only then can we be embraced by the One who is most dear to us..5 Through faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit transforms our grief to the glory of God:

“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who is compassionate and the God who gives comfort. He comforts us whenever we suffer. That is why whenever other people suffer, we are able to comfort them by using the same comfort we received from God. Because Christ suffered so much for us, we can receive so much comfort from him.”6

As I care for the dying, the nearing death awareness experiences of some of my patients have reinforced my belief that there is life after death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the hope for a life beyond death –  something we cannot see but we eagerly wait patiently and confidently for it,7 And with this hope we can face the unknown, uncertain and unpredictable future without fear but with faith in our Risen Savior:

“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives”8 

Respond:

Lord, thank You for the power of the resurrection to help me overcome sin, death and evil.

Reframe:

1. How does the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ help me to face death?
2. How does a belief in life beyond death help us in our grief of losing a loved one?
3. What changes in my life do I need to make if I believe that there is a life beyond death?

Song of Praise

Because He Lives

SDG

Notes:

1  Isaiah 22:13, NLT;  1 Cor 15:32, GW
2  Ecclesiastes  2: 24, NLT
3  1 Corinthians 15:19, GW
4  Matthew 17:1-13, NLT
5. Matthew 5:4, MSG
6. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, GW
7  Romans 8:25, NLT
8  Because He Lives – Bill Gaither

Dancing With God

Read:

Isaiah 43:1-13

Reflect:

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” Isaiah 43:1, NKJV

Love has been described by Pierre Teilhard Chardin as the very physical structure of the universe. He saw gravity, atomic bonding, orbits, cycles, photosynthesis, ecosystems, force fields, electromagnetic fields, sexuality, human friendship, animal instinct and evolution as the manifestations of love under different forms.1 Dorothy Day found that love is the only solution to every problem that comes up:

“If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”2

Divine love is seen in sacrificial, forgiving and generous human love. And to love another human being in the deepest way possible, we need to be touched by the love of God.3 In the Old Testament, the love of God is often hidden. But we can hear God’s whispers of love through the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine…………….Since you are precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you. Therefore I will give men for you, and people for your life. Fear not, for I am with you..”4

Jesus is the human incarnation of God’s love. God’s amazing love is revealed when Jesus was crucified on the cross. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that the Holy Spirit can pour God’s love into our hearts.5 It is God’s perfect love that casts out fear.6  In Christ, we can stand firm on the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God.7 Without Christ, we hide from God like Adam. In Christ, God invites us to live life “as a sacred dance, as an adventure to anticipate, not a peril to avoid.”8 To dance with God is to look for His Presence in the ups and downs of life. We are to keep in step with God’s rhythm – to His heartbeat and not ours.

When I imagine God holding my right hand with His right Hand9, I see God dancing the Cha Cha Cha dance with me. My wife and I cannot dance, but while holidaying on a cruise ship a few years ago, we saw two girls demonstrating the Cha Cha Cha dance. The steps were simple: 

  “Backward, forward, to the right; 
 Forward, backward to the left.” 

The rhythm of the Cha Cha Cha dance helped me to appreciate the devotional disciplines of surrender and self examination. In the first dance step, I take a step backward with the discipline of surrender. Then I take a step forward to God with repentance. With surrender and repentance, I affirm God’s presence with the prayer of the heart, “Jesus Is Lord.” In the second dance step, self-examination is followed by the step of  confession. Through self-examination and confession I commit my life to Jesus as my Shepherd of Love.10

It is so easy for our faith in God to become lukewarm through the deception and distraction of success and activities that keep us busy. We are tempted to think we are rich and have everything we need and don’t need a thing when the truth is that we are spiritually poor, blind and naked.11 We tend to live without God in comfortable times. It is the hard times that lead us to cry out for God’s presence. We need the spiritual disciplines of surrender, repentance, self examination and confession to keep the fire of love burning in our hearts and to remember that it is only by grace that we can do what God has called us to do. 

The resurrection of Christ is the greatest evidence of life after death as well as God’s steadfast love for us. The most powerful witness of our faith in the Risen Christ  is seen in how we face pain, suffering and loss – when we can dance with joy in the face of pain, suffering and loss. Our challenge is to live out the truth of God’s steadfast love as we daily lift our hands and sing of God’s love forever:

“Oh, I feel like dancing
It’s foolishness I know
But when the world has seen the light
They will dance with joy Like we’re dancing now”10

Respond:

Lord, fill me with Your fire of love and lead me to live my life as a sacred dance with You.

Reframe:

1  Why are the disciplines of surrender, repentance, self examination and confession important to prevent my faith from becoming lukewarm?
2. How can I experience God leading me in a sacred dance each day?
3. How does dancing with God help us to know God better and love Him more?

Song of Praise

I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever

SDG

Notes:

1. Pierre Teilhard Chardin, quoted by Richard Rohr in his book, Universal Christ, Chapter 5, Love Is The Meaning.
2. Dorothy Day, in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Love Is The Only Solution, 22 July 2022.
3. Richard Rohr, Universal Christ, Chapter 5, Love is The Meaning
4. Isaiah 43:1,4-5  NKJV
5. Romans 5:5, NKJV
6. 1 John 4:18, NKJV
7. Romans 8:38-39, NLT
8. Steve Harper, Walking In the Light, page 28
9. Isaiah 41:10-13 NKJV
10.Patrick Kee, Living With Our Shepherd Of Love, page 47
11. Revelations 3:14-22, NLT
12. I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever

King Of Hearts

Read:

1 Samuel 12: 13-25

Reflect:

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you – they are totally useless!” 1 Samuel 12: 20, NLT

Climate change, pandemics and wars are signs that we are living in the end times. The end times do not necessarily mean the end of the physical world but may also refer to the end of world systems like the fall of the Roman Empire. In fact we are living in times that are reminiscent of the times in the New Testament. At that time the Roman Empire lost control of Europe and the people faced wars, climatic changes as well as endemic and epidemic disease.1 In our time, we are seeing the decline of Western capitalism and facing wars and pandemics. 

Such times are also demonstrations of the judgment of God. When we trade the truth of God for a lie and worship the things of the world instead of the Creator of the world, God will allow our foolish thinking to lead us to do things that should never be done.2  God does not need to inflict any punishment on us – He  just simply allow us to suffer the consequences of our foolish actions but He is suffers with us!

This is the important lesson we can learn from the Jews who asked Samuel for a king even though the Lord their God was already their king. God told Samuel to grant them their request although it was a rejection of God as their king.3  The Jews were later terrified when they experienced the Presence of God supernaturally through thunder and rain and were convicted of the wickedness of their request for a king. But Samuel reminded them of God’s faithfulness and warned them to keep away from idolatry:

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you – they are totally useless!”4 

Our foolish human tendency is to choose to be a slave of sin rather than a servant of God, to be in bondage to sin rather than to be in the freedom of joyful obedience to God.5 As a follower of Christ, we are called to live as citizens of heaven and conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.6 We are to advance God’s kingdom here on earth with Jesus Christ as King in our hearts.

When I joined the Boys’ Brigade in my youth I was imbued with the objective of the Brigade –  the advancement of God’s Kingdom among boys and the promotion of the habits of obedience, reverence, discipline and self respect. These habits are still relevant in my old age. To do so, I need to read Scripture not for information but for spiritual formation – to rewire my mind with the promises of God so that I can confront my worries and doubts with the hope and peace of God. It is not reading the bible to know about God but reading the bible as the sharpest two-edged sword to expose my innermost thoughts and desires.7

In silence and solitude we enthrone Jesus as our Suffering King, our Servant King and our Shepherd King in our hearts. We wait in silence and solitude to create a spiritual space for the Holy Spirit and breathe in the oxygen of God’s love into our minds so that the Spirit can have more of our hearts. 

Through centering prayer, we wait to hear the voice of our Shepherd of Love in the silence of our hearts. As our eyes are opened to the evils lurking deep within our hearts, we can breathe out the carbon dioxide of our sins. We are then prepared to taste the goodness and wonder of God’s Word with our minds as we practice lectio divina. As we spend time with our Shepherd of Love, we will smell like His sheep and smell others as sheep and not goats. Then we can touch others with God’s love as well as be touched by God’s love through others.

Let us deepen our roots to have a steadfast faith in God by waiting in confident hope and putting our trust in God’s faithful love. Let us lift up our eyes to the cross of Christ and remember that Jesus Christ has won the victory over sin and evil on the cross. Let us fight the lies of this world by enthroning Jesus Christ King of our hearts as we sing:

“So let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone Him; 
Each other’s needs to prefer
For it is Christ we’re serving 

This is our God, the Servant King 
He calls us now to follow Him 
To bring our lives as a daily offering 
Of worship to the Servant King8

Response:

Lord, be enthroned as the Servant King in our hearts that Your love may overflow in our lives.

Reframe:

1.  What are the desires and beliefs that keep me from enthroning Christ in my heart?
2.  What is occupying the throne of our hearts?
3. How am I living my life differently with Jesus as King of my heart?

Song of Praise

The Servant King

Notes:

1. Fall of the Western Roman Empire, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_the_Western_Roman_Empire
2. Romans 1:21-32, NLT
3. 1 Samuel 8:4-9. 
4. 1 Samuel 12: 20
5. Nehemiah 9:17
6. Philippians 1:27
7. Hebrews 4:12, NLT
8. The Servant King, Graham Kendrick