Conformists or Transformers

Read:

Jeremiah 10:1-16, NLT

Reflect:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not act like the other nations, who try to read their future in the stars. Do not be afraid of their predictions, even though other nations are terrified by them.” Jeremiah 10:2, NLT

The human heart is idolatrous. In the ancient world people worship idols made of wood, silver or gold and they prayed to the idols for their provisions and protection. As human beings prospered materially, they prayed for health, wealth and prosperity. In the modern world, the idols we worship are comfort, pleasure, money, sex and power. To lead human beings out of idolatry, God led the Jews out of Egypt into the Promised Land to be His show piece to the world of what it means to be a special people of God:

“What other nation on earth is like your people Israel? What other nation, O God, have you redeemed from slavery to be your own people? You made a great name for yourself when you redeemed your people from Egypt. You performed awesome miracles and drove out the nations and gods that stood in their way. You made Israel your very own people forever, and you, O Lord, became their God.”1

The Jews were to show the world that they worship a God that is way beyond the idols of human imagination. They were not to act like the other nations or to be afraid of their predictions of the future:

This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not act like the other nations, who try to read their future in the stars. Do not be afraid of their predictions, even though other nations are terrified by them.2

They were not to be afraid of the idols of the nations around them which cannot harm them nor do them any good. These gods are like helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field who cannot speak and need to be carried as they cannot walk. There is no one like God who is great and whose name is full of power.3 The Jews were to be a shining example of a people who are living by God’s instruction manual for the abundant life:

 If you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in His ways, the Lord will establish you as his holy people as he swore he would do. Then all the nations of the world will see that you are a people claimed by the Lord, and they will stand in awe of you.”4

Unfortunately, like Adam, they became gluttons for power instead of being stewards of God’s creative power. They became conformists instead of transformers. And so they had to be led into exile in Babylon. Like the Jews, we too fall into idolatry and turn away from God when we adopt a comfortable, materialistic and successful lifestyle. And we need God to turn us back to Him.5 This is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”6

The Good News is that the Kingdom of God is in our hearts when we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and King. It is only by faith in the revelation and evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that God can set us free from our addiction to sin by changing our stony and idolatrous hearts. Our faith journey is to let our hearts be flooded with light so that we can understand the confident hope of being the holy people of God. Then we will grow in understanding of the incredible greatness of the power of Christ’s resurrection to transform our minds and hearts.7

When the gospel of Jesus Christ is rooted deeply in our hearts and minds, there will be a radical difference in the way we think about our meaning and purpose in life as well as about suffering and death. N.T. Wright makes the point that the true Good News for every person in the whole world is that Jesus is our King. When this Good News influences how we think, make personal decisions, endure hardships or navigate conflict, our worries and problems can become part of the tapestry of God’s work to recreate his beautiful world as we pray and lend our energies to his good purposes to flood all of creation.8 Only then can we be transformers instead of conformists as we live in the power of the Cross:

“Oh, to see my  name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death,
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the power of the cross:
Son of God, slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.”9

Respond:

Lord, help me to be Your transformer in the world as You reign in my heart.

Reframe:

  1. What are the idols in my heart that blinds me to God’s grace?
  2. Am I living as a conformist or a transformer?
  3. How does my living show that Jesus is King in my  heart?

Song of Praise:

The Power of the Cross

SDG

Notes:

  1. 2 Samuel 7:23-24, NLT
  2. Jeremiah 10:2, NLT
  3. Jeremiah 10:5-6, NLT
  4. Deuteronomy 28:9-10, NLT
  5. Psalms 80:3, NLT
  6. John 3:16, ESV
  7. Ephesians 1:18-20, NLT.
  8. N.T. Wright, Simply Good News.
  9. The Power Of The Cross, Stuart Townend

Life Changing Words

Read:

Ezekiel 2:1-10

Reflect:

“Son of man, don’t be afraid of the people or what they say.” Ezekiel 2:6, NLT

The rise and fall of human leaders and nations are in the hands of God. Donald Trump and his followers thought he was God’s instrument to make America great again. However, I believe God was using Trump to make God great again in America – just as God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.”1 

The downfall of other leaders like Boris Johnson and Liz Truss in the United Kingdom and of Dr Mahathir Mohamed in the recent Malaysian general elections are but reminders that God rules human kingdoms and makes leaders out of losers.2  We have the inspiring example of the late Queen Elizabeth II. She was faithful in her calling to be queen of the United Kingdom and became the monarch with the longest reign of more than 70 years in history. She saw the monarchy not as a privilege but her mission in life to live out her faith in Jesus Christ.

The role of a prophet of God is to proclaim the sovereignty of God. It is not to foretell or predict the future but to declare the will of God to the nations. Jonah was called by God to declare to the Ninevites that in forty days, Nineveh will be destroyed. Even though they were non believers, the people of Nineveh believed Jonah and expressed their repentance through fasting.

Jonah’s words from God were life changing. The Ninevites fasted to show their sorrow from the greatest to the least. Even the king of Nineveh sent a decree to command everyone to pray earnestly to God. In response to the godly desires in their hearts, God demonstrated His amazing compassionate love by sparing the Ninevites.3 

In sharp contrast, Ezekiel was given the task of giving messages of funeral songs, words of sorrow, and pronouncements of doom to the rebellious Jews. He was told that the Jews will not listen to him because of their stubborn hearts and Ezekiel heard the voice of God encouraging him:

“Son of man, don’t be afraid of the people or what they say.”4

Jonah’s message of God’s judgment was to demonstrate God’s compassion while Ezekiel’s messages of doom were to expose the stony and rebellious hearts of the Jews. God’s judgment reveals the spiritual condition of our hearts.5 John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.6 After John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and preached that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel.”7

Jesus came to show humankind how much God loves us8 and that God does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.9 God does not want the wicked to die but to turn from their ways and live.10 But without repentance, God’s Word cannot change our heart – it will only harden our heart. With repentance, God’s Word will lead us to turn away from living futile lives without God and to turn to God and live a life of coram deo – living before the face of God.

God’s Word is life changing only when we acknowledge our need for God’s grace through repentance. In repentance we offer our broken and divided hearts to Christ and cultivate the habit of pouring our hearts into the Word of God. As we ponder and practice the life giving words of God the heart of God is poured out into our lives by the Holy Spirit and life becomes a dance of love.  When God’s Word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our paths, we will shine like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people:11 

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path
I will not forget
Your love for me and yet
My heart forever is wandering
Jesus be my guide
And hold me to your side
I will love you to the end.12

Respond:

Lord, grant me the courage to proclaim the truth of the kingdom of heaven in my life.

Reframe:

  1. Why is repentance necessary for us to live a spiritual life?
  2. Why do we need courage to share the message of repentance?
  3. How can I live a life of repentance?

Song of Praise:

Thy Word

SDG

Notes:

  1. Romans 9:17 NLT
  2. Daniel 4:17, MSG
  3. Jonah 3:1-10, NLT
  4. Ezekiel 2:1-9, NLT
  5. John 3:19-20, NLT
  6. Mark 1:4, NET
  7. Mark 1:15, NET
  8. John 3:16, NKVJ
  9. 2 Peter 3:9, NLT
  10. Ezekiel 33:11, NLT
  11. Philippians 2:15, NLT
  12. Thy Word by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith

Warriors of Love

Read:

Joshua 10:1-15

Reflect:

Do not be afraid of them,the Lord said to Joshua, “for I have given you victory over them. Not a single one of them will be able to stand up to you.” Joshua 10:8, NLT

The wars in the world, like the Ukraine war, are but the grim and stark revelations of the sins of lust, greed and pride that enslaves humanity. God did not create humanity to live in violence – it is humanity that choose violence. The battles recorded in the bible appears to depict God as a God of war. But these battles are God’s declaration of war against injustice, oppression and inhumanity.1 

Adoni-Zedek the king of Jericho had called on the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon to attack Gibeon after the Gibeonites made peace with the people of Israel. The Gibeonites then called on Joshua to save them from the kings of the Amorites. Joshua was assured of victory by the Lord: Do not be afraid of them,” the Lord said to Joshua, “for I have given you victory over them. Not a single one of them will be able to stand up to you.” And it was recorded that the sun stood still for a whole day until the Amorites were totally defeated.2

The most important lesson from this story is that God is not a God of war but a God of love and peace who has the power to make the sun stand still. It is not whether we believe the sun had stood still but whether we have a mind set that limits the omnipotence of God. We need a mind-set that believes that God can make the sun stand still to have a  faith that expands our imagination and opens us to a universe with endless possibilities.3 

The story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is mind blowing when we read of how darkness came over the land for three hours and the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. There was an earthquake and tombs were opened and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised.4 Such stories are to blow up our logical, dualistic and exclusivistic mind and fill our hearts with a childlike wonder of God’s spiritual atomic power. Only then can we live our lives with the power of the resurrection and a pocketful of miracles in our daily lives.

Secondly, the stories of wars in the bible draw attention to the inner wars that are deep within our souls. We are a people of war because there is “a war that rages deep within us that boils over and sets the world on fire.”5  Our human nature drives us to fight for positions, possessions and power in the world. But there is a spiritual dimension of life that is beyond our thoughts as well as beyond space and time.  We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.6 But we do not wage war with human weapons:

For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.” 7

Jesus is our Prince of Peace and we are warriors of love. As a warrior of love we have to fight for peace within our souls. We cannot bring peace to the world, according to Erwin McManus, if we have never come to know peace within ourselves. Winning the battle for peace is by one person at a time, one heart at a time, one soul at a time.8 In Christ we can have inner peace even when the world is not at peace. But there can be no world peace when we do not have inner peace.

The biggest enemy of peace is fear. Fears steals our freedom and courage. What we fear has mastery over our souls.9  We become slaves of the devil instead of being the children of God. Jesus died to break the power of the devil over us by setting us free from the fear of death.10 To be a warrior of love we need to face death and to embrace pain and suffering in order to experience the power of the resurrection:

Times of affliction are the wars we go through to experience the joy of a resurrection life. They are times to turn our eyes from our transient afflictions to the glory of an eternal life in Christ Jesus.11 They are times to endure suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus:12

“Soldiers of Christ, arise, and put your armor on,
Strong in the strength which God supplies, through His eternal Son;
Strong in the Lord of Hosts, and in His mighty pow’r,
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts is more than conqueror.”

Response:

Lord, help me to be a warrior of love by being at peace with myself, with others and with You.

Reflect:

  1. What does it mean to be a warrior of love?
  2. How can I battle the negative thoughts that flood my mind?
  3. How can I change my mindset from one that limits God to one that is open to the miracles of God?

Song of Praise

Soldiers of Christ, Arise

SDG

Notes:

  1. Erwin Raphael McManus, The Way of the Warrior, page xii
  2.  Joshua 10:1-15, NLT
  3. Erwin Raphael McManus, The Way of the Warrior, page101
  4. Matthew 27:45-56, NET
  5. Erwin Raphael McManus, The Way of the Warrior, page xiii
  6. Ephesians 6:12, NLT
  7. 2 Cor 10:3-5 NET
  8. Erwin Raphael McManus, The Way of the Warrior, page 98
  9. Erwin Raphael McManus, The Way of the Warrior, page 7 
  10. Hebrews 2:14-15, NET
  11. 2 Timothy 2:3, NLT
  12. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, ESV
  13. Soldiers of Christ,  Arise, Charles Wesley

A Taste Of The Living Word

Read:

Ezekiel 3:1-11

Reflect:

I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.” Ezekiel 3:9, NLT

The Jews were given the Book of the Law by Moses because they were a rebellious and stubborn people. The Law was a witness of their stubborn hearts.1 It was to reveal our human need for God’s grace and love. The Old Testament was the bible of Jesus and the early Christians. The bible is not a magical book to teach us the secrets of spiritual power. The bible is the sacred and mysterious written Word of God to draw us to the Living Word – Jesus Christ.

What is most important is not just what we read in the bible but how we listen to God through the Word of God by the Holy Spirit. It is through God’s Living Word that our hearts are touched by the love of God and our minds transformed by the Holy Spirit. The bible is the Sword of the Spirit2 – the sharpest two-edged sword which is alive and powerful to expose our innermost thoughts and desires.3

The prophet Ezekiel was given a scroll to eat and to give its message to the people of Israel. It tasted as sweet as honey and Ezekiel was directed to share God’s Word to the people whether they listen to him or not. Ezekiel was warned that the people will be hardhearted and stubborn but he was not to be afraid:

“I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.”4

Sharing God’s Word is a spiritual battle. To be a voice in the wilderness we need to be prepared to encounter rejection and ridicule. We need to be thick skinned and fear God rather than hanker after human praise. Like John the Baptist, we may lose our head. Like Jesus, we may be tempted in the wilderness, we may face betrayal and rejection by loved ones, we may encounter opposition, persecution and even crucifixion by religious and political leaders.

But the good news is that the battle belongs to the Lord and Jesus has already won the battle for us on the cross. All we need to do is put on the armor of God through the disciplines of prayer and meditation on God’s Word so that we will not live by bread alone but by every Word from the mouth of God.5 We are to use God’s Word as the Sword of the Spirit instead of weaponizing the bible and using it to control others. Jesus and the early Christians lived out the truths of the Old Testament as God’s Word. The New Testament is the living testimony of the communion of saints. We are to keep our eyes on Jesus who endured opposition from sinners so that we will not be discouraged and give up.6

The challenge is to live our lives as the Fifth Gospel and Chapter 29 of the Acts of the Apostles. As our small group discussed the book of Jonah, we saw how God used Jonah to lead the unbelieving sailors to worship the true God. After our meeting, we prayed for a member of our small group who has a wound in his foot The next morning I felt led to ask my small group to meditate on Jonah Chapter 1 and to reflect on the following:

–  Am I a “Jonah” causing storms in the lives of others?

– Who is a “Jonah” in my life that I am trying to “save” by my own efforts?

– What is the “Jonah” in my life teaching me about prayer and my relationship to God?

I had a taste of the healing power of the Living Word when my small group member shared the following message in response:

“Just to let you know, as I went to sleep, my wound was enormous. And as you prayed and I prayed, it subsided in the late morning. God healed my wound and it looks normal now. God did wonders through the night. I thanked God for His wondrous work for healing me. I have now experienced how Jesus healed the lame man. Praise God.”

It was a reminder of the power of prayer and the importance of reading the bible for transformation and not for information – to have a five-senses relationship with God – to see, hear, taste, smell and be touched by the Holy Spirit. It is not merely reading and studying the bible with our minds but meditating on God’s Word and living it out in our lives with our hearts. Only then will we grow in our trust in the truth of God’s love for us.

God’s Word will be boring and burdensome until we have tasted God’s Word to be as sweet as honey and know that God’s law is perfect, reviving the soul  and making wise the simple.7 Then we will discover the joy of sharing the breaking good news of how God is writing His story of love in the days of our lives:

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord has come
Oh, blessed is he who hides in Him
Oh, fear the Lord, all of you saints
He’ll give You everything, he’ll give You everything”8

Song of Praise

Psalm 34 (Taste and See)

Respond:

Lord, help me taste Your Living Word each day to be empowered to share Your gospel.

Reframe:

  1. Why was it necessary for Ezekiel to taste the sweetness of the scroll?
  2. How can I taste the sweetness of God’s Word?
  3.  How is God’s Word reviving my soul and simplifying my life?

SDG

Notes:

  1. Deut 31:19-27
  2. Ephesians 6:17, NLT
  3. Hebrews 4:12, NLT
  4. Ezekiel 3:9, NLT
  5. Matthew 4:4, NLT
  6. Hebrews 12:3, GW
  7. Psalms 19:7-10, ESV
  8.  Psalm 34 – Taste and See by Shane & Shane

The Power Of Silence

Read:

Acts 18:1-17

Reflect:

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! Acts 18:9,NLT

A dark, divided and confused world desperately need to hear the good news of God’s S.O.S – Story Of Salvation. God is our Heavenly Father who wants the nations to seek Him and to feel their way toward Him. We can find Him for in Him we live and move and exist – we are His offspring1 The Jews rejected the good news and Paul was led to preach it to the Gentiles. He was encouraged to do so when he had a vision from the Lord telling him:

“Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent!2  

Paul was accused of persuading people to worship God in ways that were contrary to the Jewish laws and faced much persecution.3 The good news is that Jesus opened a new and life-giving way for us to go before God’s throne of grace and seek God’s Presence.4 We are to live with the New Covenant in which God’s laws are put in our hearts and written on our minds.5

God speaks to each one of us in different ways. God spoke to Paul and Isaiah in a vision, to Moses in a burning bush, to Elijah as a still small voice and to John Wesley in a strangely warm heart. Mother Teresa espoused the simple path of silence for silence is the key to true prayer. It is our connection to God’s internet of wisdom and love. Before we can speak out for God, we need the spirit of obedience that flows from a listening heart. There is a time to keep silent and a time to speak.6

When I visited my elder daughter in San Francisco, she took us for a walk through a forest of redwood trees in Muir Woods. A part of the forest was aptly called Cathedral Grove  where visitors were encouraged to enter quietly. It was an awesome experience which filled me with a wonder of silence. It brought Morton Kelsey to mind. He had taught “The Other Side Of Silence” in silent retreats conducted by the Methodist Church in the 1990s, He shared his experience with the red wood trees in his book, Prayer & The Redwood Seed:

“I wonder how these seeds can give birth
 to a living cathedral like this in which I stand.
Gigantic buttresses of wood and bark
support great tapering columns arching overhead,
filtering a stream of soft light
Upon carpets of ferns and fallen twigs.
I feel as tiny as the seed I hold.”7

I feel inspired to sow the seed of the ancient tradition of spending time with God in silence. We need to be in touch with the silence in our hearts for it to have the power to transform our lives. The eyes see and the ears hear the truths of God but it is in the silence of our hearts that we understand how to live them out.

The Covid 19 pandemic provided everyone, poor or rich, sick or healthy, with the golden opportunity to practice solitude and silence. Unfortunately we have not harnessed the power of silence. We fear silence when we have False Expectations that Appear Real. Such fears are justified as silence can bring forth the dark secrets kept hidden in our hearts and expose us to attacks from the evil one.

We need companions for our inner journey.  Morton Kelsey noted that members of the early church emphasized community and fellowship because they knew the dangers of embarking on the inner journey alone. We need prayer groups in which we can one listen and share and test one’s experiences of the Holy as we learn the meaning of real fellowship with one another.We need to develop fellowships of the broken hearted.

To do so, it is important to have the right motive for the practice of silence – desire to be filled with the power of Divine Love. In silence, we may be led to face spiritual battles and to taste death. In silence we learn to number our days that we may grow in wisdom.9 In silence, we seek God’s loving embrace with the reverence that the Lord is in His holy Temple:

“The Lord is in His holy temple,
The Lord is in His holy temple:
Let all the earth keep silence,
Let all the earth keep silence before Him—
Keep silence, keep silence before Him.”10

Our troubled and messy world needs the power of silence – to listen to the wonderful truth that all is calm and all is bright in the silent and holy night when Jesus Christ was born!

Respond:

Lord, grant me the patience and wisdom to share the power of silence.

Reframe:

  1. Why is it important to practice silence?
  2. How can I practice silence?
  3. What is God saying to me in my silence?

Song of Praise

Silent Night, Holy Night

SDG

Notes:

  1. Acts 17:27, NLT
  2. Acts 18:9, NLT
  3. Acts 18:13-17, NLT
  4. Hebrews 4:16,10:19-22
  5. Hebrews 10:16, NLT
  6. Ecclesiastes 3:7, NET
  7. Morton Kelsey, Prayer & The Redwood Seed, page 2
  8. Morton Kelsey, The Other Side Of Silence, page 102
  9.  Psalms 90:12
  10. The Lord Is In His Holy Temple

The Fellowship Of The Broken Hearted

Read:

Zechariah 8:9-23, NLT

Reflect:

Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid. Be strong, and get on with rebuilding the Temple!” Zechariah 8:13, NLT

We are living in a broken world with stony hearts that have been broken, being broken or will be broken. Our broken hearts are but a reflection of our broken relationship with our Heavenly Father. God does not break our hearts to punish us – we have been deceived into making God in our own image. God is heartbroken when we hide from His Presence like Adam and Eve. God is patiently waiting for us to return to Him. Our hardened hearts need to be broken to restore our identity as the children of God who are childlike, humble and thankful.

The Jews had been chosen to be both a symbol and a source of blessing for humankind. Zechariah reminded them that their ancestors  had stony hearts when they refused to listen to God’s message to show mercy and kindness to one another. Their disobedience led them to be exiled to Babylon.1  After their return from their exile in Babylon, Zechariah called the Jews to turn from their times of mourning and to celebrate festivals of joy by loving truth and peace. Then the world will seek to worship God in Jerusalem:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.2

But the temple they were rebuilding was nothing compared to the glory of the temple that King Solomon had built and the Jews were discouraged and brokenhearted.3 Zechariah comforted them with God’s promise to restore Jerusalem through a small remnant of God’s people. They were not to be afraid as God was going to bless them. He encouraged them to continue rebuilding the temple to fulfill God’s plan for their lives:

“Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid. Be strong, and get on with rebuilding the Temple!”4 

God’s plan to redeem the world may appear impossible but nothing is impossible for God.5  It may seem impossible to be happy in a broken world.  As our loving Heavenly Father, God wants us to be happy but is through our brokenness that we discover the secret of true happiness – the Peace and Presence of God in our lives:

“Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!6 

God does not want us  to be sadists who find happiness in pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is inevitable in a broken world – God keeps track of all our sorrows and collects all our tears in His bottle.7  Jesus came to preach good tidings to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted – to comfort all who mourn and to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.8  Jesus Christ came to restore our relationship with God so that we can glorify God and enjoy Him forever.9 We are to be a fellowship of the brokenhearted – to live as saints who belong to the family of God and in need of healing for our broken hearts.

The fellowship of the Alcoholic Anonymous provides us with an ideal model of how to do so. In their meetings, the recovering alcoholics share their struggles of overcoming their addiction to alcohol with the knowledge that they can never be free of their addiction. They confess their powerlessness over alcohol and affirm their need for a power greater than themselves.

We need fellowships of the brokenhearted – saints who are battling sin with the grace of God rather than as sinners trying to be saints. As a fellowship of the brokenhearted, we embark on the inner journey to heal our brokenness through His loving Presence in the mystery of silence. It is in silence that real prayer is born as we open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit:

“Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity”10

Response:

Lord, help me to embrace my brokenness as I wait upon You in silence.

Reframe:

  1.  What is the root cause for our broken hearts and broken lives?
  2.  How does brokenness in our lives lead us to true happiness?
  3.  How can we journey with one another to discover our identity as the children of God?

Song of Praise:

Hosanna

SDG

Notes:

  1. Zechariah 7:8-14, NLT
  2. Zechariah 8:18-22, NLT
  3. Haggai 2:1-5, NLT
  4. Zechariah 8:13, NLT
  5. Zechariah 8:6, NLT
  6. Matthew 5:4, GNT 
  7. Psalms 56:8, NLT
  8. Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18-19, NKVJ
  9. Westminster Shorter Catechism
  10. Hosanna, Hillsong

Our Divine Lover

Read:

Zephaniah 3:1-20

Reflect:

“On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! ……With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:16, 17, NLT

God is love and we are created by love, for love and to be loved. The theme song of an American romance-drama film in the 1950s described love as a many splendored thing and love as nature’s way of giving us a reason for living.1  Indeed, we need a  wonderful experience (A.W.E) of God as our Divine Lover to transform our minds, to fill our hearts with a hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness and to strengthen our will to face suffering and death with joy and peace. It is impossible to live a life of joy and peace without the love of God.

Sin has alienated us from the love of God and distorted our image of God when we see God as an impersonal and uncaring Creator or as a wrathful Judge. Sin led the Jews to question God’s eternal love for them in spite of all the blessings and care God had showered on them. The prophet Malachi had to remind them of how God had chosen them to be His special possession.2  The Jews lived with the mindset of the elder son in the parable of the prodigal son who obeyed his father out of obligation rather than of love:

“All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf.”3

In the midst of God’s judgment for their idolatry, the nation of Israel was given the promise that the Creator will be their husband.4 The prophet Zephaniah painted a beautiful picture of God’s unfailing love with the background of the rebellious and disobedient spirit of the Jews. God, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, was patiently waiting for the remnant of Israel who were lowly and humble to return and live in the Kingdom of Heaven. God wanted to take delight in them, to calm all their fears with His love and to rejoice over them with joyful songs so that the announcement to Jerusalem will be, Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid!”5

It is so difficult to see the wonder of God’s love in the stories of God’s judgment on the idolatry of the Jews. In the 17th century, Saint Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower,”  found that people are afraid of God as they saw Him as a being who permitted suffering and sorrow and who punished even the smallest of sin. They dread death and felt that it was impossible to reach heaven. However, St Therese encountered God as a being of love and mercy as well as justice with an infinite love for mankind which was not appreciated. Throughout her life, she shared the spirituality of imperfection through “The Little Way” – a gospel of radical grace.6 

We are living at a major crossroad in human history, an apocalyptic time that feels like the Day of the Lord. We are bombarded by horrific news of wars, climate change, economic crises and pandemics. Such times are a time to “stand in silence in the presence of the Sovereign Lord, for the awesome day of the Lord’s judgment is near.”7 Our failures, weaknesses, imperfections and suffering are the consequences of our slavery to sin.  We are perfectly imperfect and in need of deliverance from sin. We need the wondrous love of God that is revealed in the cross of Christ. 

Love is the antidote for all our fears in life. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of love. Love is not a feeling but the essence of God for God is love.8 God’s love is the blood stained cross of Christ and the many splendored thing that turns our tragedies into victories, failures to growth, grief to joy and death into resurrection. It is time to listen to what God is saying to us:

“Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.”9

In silence, solitude and stillness we learn to hear the voice of the Lord which can be powerful and majestic10 or a gentle whisper.11 In silence we listen to our Shepherd of Love leading us to rest in green pastures beside the still waters.12  In silence we kneel before God’s throne of grace so that God’s love may be perfected in us:

“O perfect Love, all human thought transcending,
lowly we kneel in prayer before thy throne,
that theirs may be the love which knows no ending,
whom thou in sacred vow dost join in one.”13

Response:

Lord, help me to transcend my human thoughts that I may be filled with Your perfect Love.

Reframe:

  1. How can my imperfections and weaknesses help me to experience God’s love?
  2. What have been my experiences of God’s judgment?
  3. How can I listen to God’s voice in my daily life?

Song of Praise:

O Perfect Love

SDG

Notes:

  1. Love is a many splendored thing, Wikipedia
  2.  Malachi 1:2-5, NLT
  3. Luke 15:10, NLt
  4. Isaiah 54:5, NLT
  5.  Zephaniah 3:16, NLT
  6. Gabriel Lopez, Saint Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower” – Her Beautiful “Little Way” For Christ, https://stmuscholars.org/st-therese-of-lisieux-the-little-flower-her-beautiful-little-way-for-christ/
  7. Zephaniah 1:7
  8. 1 John 4:8, 16, NLT
  9. Jeremiah 6:16
  10. Psalms 29:3-9, NKVJ
  11. 1 Kings 19:12, NLT
  12. Psalms 23:2, NJKV
  13. O Perfect Love, Dorothy F. Gurney

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