Fear Blinds, Faith Sees

Read:

Deuteronomy 1:19-40

Reflect:

“Look! He has placed the land in front of you. Go and occupy it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be discouraged!” Deuteronomy 1:21, NLT

Old age is filled with the dark clouds of life – loss of loved ones, poor health, disability, financial struggles and death. Old age is a nightmare when we are gripped by fears of the “geriatric giants” of disease, disabilities, depression, dementia and death. Fear of old age blinds us to the amazing grace of God to give us joy and peace in the winter of life. Instead of a time of wonder and a beautiful time to draw close to God, such fears lead us to live “lives of quiet desperation” or to “die with all our music in us.”

The story of the Jews in the wilderness provide us with a metaphor of our spiritual journey in life. After traveling through the great and terrifying wilderness, the Jews were told to occupy the land of the Amorites when they arrived at Kadesh-barnea:

“Look! He has placed the land in front of you. Go and occupy it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be discouraged!”

But the Jews were demoralized by the half-truths given by ten of the scouts. Instead of trusting in God, they complained and felt that God hated them. They forgot how God had cared for them as they traveled through the wilderness like a father caring for his child.1 This story is a depiction of spiritual warfare – to open our eyes to the power of lies and half truths which draws us away from the love of God.

Evagrius Ponticus, a desert father in the fourth century AD, shared his experience of fighting the demonic temptation against  thought patterns, internal narratives and internal belief structures that enslave the soul.2 In our modern world, our minds are bombarded by lies, fake news and misinformation. We are confused and live with much dread and anxiety. Fears blind us to the power of love and drive us to put our trust in the idols of health and wealth. 

To be reborn spiritually is to wake up to the reality that there is a battle between the power of love and the love of power in the world and within our hearts. We need a transformation of our minds to understand our sinful nature. Sin is not just disobeying the commandments of God. The story of Adam and Eve is a revealing narrative of the evil of seeking the love of power and losing sight of the power of love.3 The love of power leads to a godless world in which shame and blame reigns supreme.

By the grace of God we are set free from a godless world to embark on the journey into the Kingdom of Heaven. Like Jesus we will be led into a spiritual wilderness to prepare us for the spiritual war against the forces of evil. Wilderness experiences are times to seek God’s refuge, to experience the miracles of His Presence and Power and to reprogram our minds. The wilderness is a time to rewire our thoughts patterns. Old habits need to die and new habits need to be cultivated. To grow the fruits of the Spirit we need to get rid of the weeds of sin. 

Fear, doubts, anger, and guilt are the spiritual giants that keep us from victory over sin and evil. Without trust in God, we are easily discouraged and react to challenges and struggles in life in panic and with fear. Without trust in God we see our weaknesses and not the power of God. It is only by faith that we can face the giants of negative thought patterns and overcome them with the power of the Holy Spirit. When we listen with our hearts and understand God’s Word with our minds, we will be filled with great joy when the joy of the Lord is our strength.4

In faith, we can practice solitude, spending time alone with God, to put off our old self and put on our new self. We do so not by trying to be alone but by abiding in Christ and letting the Holy Spirit break down the brick walls of our negative thought patterns and false beliefs so that Christ can build bridges of love and compassion through us. In solitude, we learn to listen to our thoughts and feelings without judgment so that we can bring our guilt and fears to God who is reigning deep within our hearts.

Fear blinds but faith sees. Faith is not blind but we need to acknowledge our spiritual blindness before we can pray for the faith to see. It is only by faith that I can face the Goliaths of negative thought patterns and overcome them like David, with the grace of God.5  Power reigns in the world but it is Love that reigns in God’s Kingdom. With trust in God I will not fear, for the battle belongs to God. I just need to stand firm, put on the armor of God6 and hold up God’s banner of Love over me.

“By faith we see the hand of God
In the light of creation’s grand design
In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness
Who walk by faith and not by sight”7

Respond:

Lord, help me to see by faith the power of Your love so that I will not be blinded by my fears of the “geriatric giants” of old age.

Reframe:

1. What are the negative thought patterns that keep me from doing God’s will?

2. How can I reprogram my mind so that I can see by faith?

3. What are God’s blessings in old age that I need to keep in my heart?

Song of praise:

By Faith

SDG

Notes:

1. Deuteronomy 1:19-40
2. Quoted by John Mark Comer in his book, Live No Lies, page 6
3. Genesis 3:1-13, NLT
4.  Nehemiah 8:7-12, NLT
5. 1 Samuel 17:32-51, NLT
6. Ephesians 6:10-18
7. By Faith, Keith Getty

The Peace Of Silence

Read:

John 14:23-27

Reflect:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27, ESV

Life is full of ups and downs. Our hearts are troubled as our peace of mind is broken by fears, doubts and guilt. Our monkey minds and deceitful hearts drive us to pursue peace and happiness in worldly pleasures and possessions which do not satisfy but only turn us away from God:

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me – the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!”1 

In Christ, our Heavenly Father opens His arms all day long to us but we are disobedient and rebellious2 and unable to listen and respond to His loving cry:

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink – even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk – it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.”3

When we are not touched by God’s love, we are part of God’s problem. We are breaking His heart. We cannot follow Christ to be God’s solution to redeem the world. Our hearts need to be broken so that the Holy Spirit can put God’s laws in our minds and write them on our hearts.

We have the free will to say “no” to God. We have the choice to say “yes” to God and make Him our refuge and to hold fast to His love.4 Obedience is the hallmark of our love for God. God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is not a reward for obedience. It is our fears and lack of trust in God’s love that keeps us from receiving the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us for obedience. It is our desire to trust and obey God that opens our hearts to the Holy Spirit who will teach us everything and give us peace of mind and heart:

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”5 

We can express our desire for God’s gift of the Holy Spirit by abiding in Christ through silence. In silence true prayer is born. Prayer, according to Henri Nouwen, is listening to Jesus who is dwelling in the depths of our hearts. He found that spending ten minutes each day for Jesus alone can bring about a radical change in our lives. It is not easy to be still even for ten minutes as many other noisy and distracting voices that are not from God will demand our attention. 

But as we persevere to listen to our hearts daily, we will come to hear the gentle voice of love and will long more and more to listen to it.6 In silence, I learn to hold fast to God’s love as I watch, without attachment or rejection, all my thoughts, positive and negative, flowing through my mind. Instead of letting the thoughts fill my heart with worry, I rewire my mind through prayer:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all that he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

In silence we intentionally seek Jesus who is in our hearts so that our attention is not directed by the thoughts in our minds. Each time my inner silence is punctured by my thoughts I use it as an opportunity to return to the peace of silence by acknowledging the thoughts and letting them go. Instead of trying to master silence, I seek to be mastered by the Holy Spirit in the embrace of silence. In silence I breathe in the peace of God that is beyond this world:

“Peace 

Holds me when I’m broken

Sweet peace 

That passes understanding

When the whole wide world is crashing down, 

I fall to my knees

And breathe in Your peace.”8

Respond:

Lord, may I be mastered by silence and live in Your loving embrace.

Reframe:

  1. What broken cisterns am I digging to find peace?
  2. What disturbs my peace of mind and troubles my heart?
  3. How am I breathing in the peace of God each day?

Song of Praise

Peace Holds Me When I’m Broken

SDG

Notes:

  1. Jeremiah 2:13, NLT
  2. Romans 10:21, NLT
  3. Isaiah 55:1-2, NLT
  4. Jeremiah 31:33 NKJV
  5. John 14:27 NLT
  6. Nouwen Meditation: Listen to the Voice of Gentle Love, 18 May 2022
  7. Philippians 4:6-7, NLT
  8. Peace – https://bethelmusic.com/chords-and-lyrics/peace-peace/

A.W.E. (A Wonderful Experience) of God

Read:

Isaiah 41:1-21

Reflect:

Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you, I will strengthen you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10, NKJV

Becoming a grandfather was a wonderful experience when our grandson was born more than twelve years ago. It was a second chance to appreciate the sacred work of being a father. As a grandfather, I had the luxury to behold the wonder of an infant coming to terms with a brand new world without being caught up with the anxieties and pressures of parenting.

My eyes were opened to the truth expressed by the Swiss philosopher, Henri Arniel: “Blessed be childhood, which brings down something of heaven into the midst of our rough earthliness.” Children are God’s messengers to remind us to live with spiritual ears attuned to the voice of our Heavenly Father. As a grandfather, I began to appreciate how amazingly “grand” our Heavenly Father is and how true it is that I need to be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven and have A Wonderful  Experience (A.W.E.) of God.  

But first I need to face the reality of evil and my need for the grace of God. I need to see clearly the wrath and judgment of God against sin and evil. I need to hear and understand the call of the prophet Isaiah:

“Listen in silence before me, you lands beyond the sea. Bring your strongest arguments. Come now and speak. The court is ready for your case.”1 

The prophet Isaiah was warning the Jews of the spiritual cancer of idolatry. The fruits of idolatry are greed and violence that cause so much suffering that we are seeing in the current Ukraine war. The world has not really changed since the time of Isaiah:

“The lands beyond the sea watch in fear. Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war. The idol makers encourage one another, saying to each other, “Be strong!”

The idols of our modern society are money, sex, health and power. Greed drives us to worship money. Many are led away from the true abundance of living in the Kingdom of Heaven by the false gospels of health and prosperity. God’s judgment is to open our eyes to our need to have a “Get Out Of Hell” pass to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We need to wake up to the sinful desires, ulterior motives and hidden agendas of a worldly life which are causing the hellish conditions here on earth. Just as a doctor has to destroy the cancer cells to save the patient’s life, God’s judgment is directed towards the diagnosis and treatment of the spiritual cancer of idolatry so that we can live in the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now:

“Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you, I will strengthen you with My righteous right hand.”2 

God does not want us to live in fear of His wrath against evil. The antidote for idolatry is to fall deeply in love with God . Only then will we be able to seek to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This is the chief end of man according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. We will not fear when we know that we have been redeemed by God and have been created for His glory:

“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.’”

“Everyone who is called  by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”3

We live in a dark and fallen world that is blind to the awe of God’s love – a world that needs to see that “the Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him.”4 God’s love fills us with compassion so that we have the perseverance and patience to love the people in our lives who are difficult to love. God’s love gives us wisdom to discern the fake and false news so that we can know and desire God’s perfect will for us. God’s love gives us courage to make difficult decisions. We need not be afraid to fail at anything when we trust that God will put everything right.

We will encounter suffering and struggles in a broken and godless world. Pain and suffering are the wages of sin and idolatry – they are not the will of God. It is how we see, hear and experience God in our suffering and struggles that is important. Will we face crises, challenges and conflicts with anger, guilt and fear or with love, joy and peace? Unless we learn to rest in God in good times to deepen our roots of faith, it will be very difficult to have a wonderful experience of God in stormy times when God seems to be absent.

To live an awesome life, I need A.W.E. (A Wonderful Experience) of God. I need to rewire my mind so that it is not filled with negative chatter but is full of “sticky positive thoughts” of God’s eternal love. I need to calm my restless mind which is like a mirror full of puzzling reflections and turn it into a pond with still waters so that I can see my true self more and more clearly in it. I need to follow Christ by living as a lamb of God in a world that is full of wolves – to be a living sacrifice in a world filled with wars and violence. With God as my Heavenly Father who holds me in my awful situations with His awesome power, I can live with my fears as I pray:

“Then hear, O gracious Savior,
Accept the love we bring,
That we who know your favor
May serve you as our king;
And whether our tomorrows
Be filled with good or ill,
We’II triumph through our sorrows
And rise to bless you still:
To marvel at your beauty
And glory in your ways,
And make a joyful duty
Our sacrifice of praise.”5

Respond:

Lord, help me to see that awful situations are golden opportunities to have A Wonderful Experience (A.W.E.) of Your awesome Love.

Reframe:

  1. How can I be more aware of the negative chatter in my mind?
  2. What “sticky positive thoughts” can I use to counter my negative thoughts?
  3. How can I have a wonderful experience of God’s amazing grace each day?

Song of Praise:

O God Beyond All Praising

SDG

Notes:

  1. Isaiah 41:1, NLT
  2. Isaiah 41:10, NKJV
  3. Isaiah 43:1,7, NKJV
  4. Nahum 1:7, NLT
  5.  O God Beyond All Praising

Living In Love Or Living In Shame

Read:

Isaiah 54:1-8

Reflect:

“Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood.” Isaiah 54:4

The news of a Singaporean member of a Catholic order being jailed for five years for engaging in sexual acts with two teenage boys sometime between 2005 and 2007 led Archbishop William Goh to share his dismay, shock and shame.1 The scandal is a grim reminder that we all have sinful desires within our hearts keeping us from living a life of love.

Sexuality is God’s gift of love to teach us the beauty and wonder of an intimate relationship between a man and a woman who are committed to serve one another. But evil turned this beautiful gift of love into lust to use one another for carnal pleasures. The story of Adam and Eve is not about the breaking of God’s rules but to open our eyes to  the consequences of a broken relationship with God – of living a life of shame instead of a life of love.

When Adam and Eve were filled with shame, they tried to cover their nakedness and tried to hide from God. Shame then led to the blame game with Adam passing the responsibility for his disobedience to Eve and Eve accusing the serpent of deceiving her. The beautiful and intimate relationship of Adam and Eve with God was broken.

Being separated from the love of God, human beings were condemned to live in darkness with closed minds and hardened hearts. When we have no sense of shame we live for lustful pleasure and practice every kind of impurity.2 And we are driven to look for scapegoats for our failings and weaknesses instead of assuming responsibility and confessing them. Jesus came to fulfill God’s promise to the Jews to take away our shame so that we can live in love:

“Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood.”3

This assurance of God in Isaiah Chapter 54 to deliver us from shame is sandwiched between the description of the Suffering Servant in Chapter 53 and God’s call to live in His covenant of faithful love in Chapter 55.  Like Adam we hide from God when we turn away from the cross of Christ:

“He is despised and  rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised , and we did not esteem Him”4 

Scandals and suffering are not from God they are a revelation of the war that God is waging against evil. It is only through the cross that I can listen to my grief and the sorrows of others.

“Listen and come to me. Pay attention to me. Then you will live. I will make a covenant with you that will last forever. I will give you my faithful love.”5

During Yom Kippur, the celebration of the Day of Atonement by the Jews, two male goats were chosen – one to be sacrificed as a sin offering and the other to be a scapegoat to carry away the sins of the people into the wilderness.6  Jesus came to be the sin offering as well as the scapegoat to set us free from shame and blame. We can choose to follow Jesus and be a lamb of God or we can be tempted to blame others for our sorrows.  

Pride, guilt, fears and doubts fill our hearts with shame and blinds us to the agape love of God. The scandal in the Catholic Church according to Archbishop Goh, is a wake-up call to take our spiritual life seriously. We need to be awakened from a complacent faith.7 We need to spend time in silent meditation to observe our thoughts and to take them captive to Christ.8 It is so easy to shame and blame, to judge and criticize, until we find that the evil we see and condemned in the world are also deep within our hearts:

“These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.”9

The cross of Christ draws our attention to the horror of evil and sin that is present in the depths of each of our hearts. It is also God’s prescription to live a life of love. To follow Jesus is to die to my old self so that I will not look for scapegoats in others.  And I can do so only by the grace of God:

“God chose us to belong to Christ before the world was created. He chose us to be holy and without blame in his eyes. He loved us.”10 

When we belong to Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation and nothing can separate us from the love of God.11 There is a spiritual war and the battle belongs to God. My responsibility is not to save the world but to lift up the cross of Christ so that others will be hungry and thirsty for the Kingdom of God:

“Who, oh Lord, could save themselves
Their own soul could heal?
Our shame was deeper than the sea
Your grace is deeper still.

You alone can rescue,
You alone can save You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us, led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise.12

Response:

Lord, thank You for setting me free from the prison of shame so that I can live in Your Kingdom of Love.

Reframe:

  1.  What fills my heart with shame?
  2.  Why is it important not to blame others for my unhappiness?
  3.  How am I lifting up the cross of Christ in the world?

Song of Praise:

You alone can rescue

SDG

Notes:

  1. Today;  https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/dismayed-shocked-ashamed-archbishop-apologises-after-member-catholic-order-jailed-sex-acts-teen-boys-1890466?cid=braze-tdy_Today-Evening-Brief_newsletter_05052022_tdy
  2. Ephesians 4:17-19, NLT
  3.  Isaiah 54:4, NLT
  4. Isaiah 53:3, NKJV
  5. Isaiah 55:3, NIRV
  6.  Leviticus 16:7-10, NLT
  7.  Today;  https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/dismayed-shocked-ashamed-archbishop-apologises-after-member-catholic-order-jailed-sex-acts-teen-boys-1890466?cid=braze-tdy_Today-Evening-Brief_newsletter_05052022_tdy
  8. 1 Corinthians 10:5, NLT
  9. 1 Corinthians 10:11-12, NLT
  10.  Ephesians 1:4 NIRV
  11. Romans Chapter 8:1, 39
  12. You Alone Can Rescue, Matt Redman

From Fear To Love

Read:

Exodus 20:1-21

Reflect:

“Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning.” Exodus 20:20, NLT

When the world was struck with the Covid-19 infection, nations all around the world reacted in fear to control the pandemic with apparent draconian rules for lock-downs, quarantine and social distancing. For two years, normal life was totally disrupted. Family gatherings, religious activities and travel were restricted. We had to sacrifice personal freedom and privacy to comply with the very inconvenient and frustrating rules to control the spread of the Covid-19 infection.

Spiritually, sin is just as lethal and contagious as the Covid-19  virus. It wreaks much havoc personally, socially, and spiritually. The Ten Commandments are God’s rules to protect us from evil and to keep us from falling into sin.  The first three commandments are to keep us close to God so that we can live in the presence of His unfailing love which is a holy and consuming fire. The fourth commandment to rest on the Sabbath is God’s prescription for a balanced rhythm of life and to have quality time with God. The remaining six commandments are given to promote love in the family and community.

After receiving the Ten Commandments from Moses, the Jews were filled with fear when they experienced the Presence of God through the loud thunder, bright lightning and smoke on Mount Sinai. It was an experience of the consuming fire of God’s awesome love. They felt that they will die if God spoke to them. Unlike Moses, they did not have a personal encounter with God.  They were spiritually challenged with an immature relationship with God. Moses told them not to be afraid as the fear of God was to keep them from sin. They had been chosen to live in the Kingdom of Heaven by loving God as their King with reverence, obedience and love for one another. As citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven they were to live by the laws given through Moses.

Sin fills us with guilt, fears, and doubts that keep us from God and from one another. God’s laws are to open our eyes to see the sins of lust, anger, pride, gluttony, greed, envy and acedia that are in control of our minds and choking the seed of God’s love in our hearts. The ten commandments reflect the reign of God in our lives. The ten commandments reveal the sinful nature of our hearts that keep us from the joy of obedience. God’s laws expose our spiritual condition – we are spiritually dead and enslaved by sin. Like the apostle Paul, we all struggle with sin:

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong. It is sin living in me that does it.”1 

We can only understand the teachings of the Old Testament when God is a living, personal presence in our lives and not locked up in a book. When my heart is stony, I cannot have a  face to face  encounter with God. It is only by God’s grace that the veil covering my mind is removed so that I am set free from being controlled  by my thoughts:

“But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.”2 

When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.3  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.4  Jesus came to fulfill God’s promise of His unfailing love and to empower us to live out God’s commandments with joy and not in fear. Without the grace of God, the voice of the Lord is like thunder and fills us with fear. It is only by grace that we can hear the voice of the Lord as whispers of love that are drowned out by the pleasures of the world. As C.S. Lewis wrote:  “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Our thoughts are spiritual energy. Like nuclear energy we need to learn to harness and direct them towards love and away from evil. Many of us “eat, sleep, and breathe fear.” Fear is a normal human response to danger. However, we are unaware that our mammalian brain reflexes of fear are being constantly reactivated by the thoughts, feelings and fears in our daily interactions.  We are enslaved by sinful pleasures and live godless lives in malice and envy.

We can choose to live in F.E.A.R. (False Expectations Appearing Real) or in L.O.V.E. (Love Overcoming Virtual Evil). It is only when we have tasted God’s agape love that we will understand and experience the wonderful providence of the fear of the Lord.5  To do so, we just need to give ourselves to the Lord and to listen to his unfailing love:

“Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.”6 

Let us thank God for His steadfast love that is new every morning:

“The Steadfast Love Of The Lord Never Ceases,
His Mercies Never Come To An End,
They Are New Every Morning, New Every Morning
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (Oh Lord)
Great Is Thy Faithfulness”7

Respond:

Lord, help me to delight in Your Word so that the desire of my heart is to seek and do Your will.

Reframe:

  1. What are the commandments of God that I find hard to obey?
  2. Am I living in fear of God or in love with God?
  3. How can I taste God’s unfailing love each morning?

Song of Praise:

The Steadfast Love Of The Lord

Notes:

  1. Romans 7:18-20, NLT
  2. 2 Corinthians 3:14, NLT.
  3.  Matthew 27:51
  4. Hebrews 10:20
  5. Patrick Kee, Living With Our Shepherd of Love, pg 26-27
  6. Psalms 143:8, NLT
  7.  The Steadfast Love of the Lord

Courage For The Winter of Life

Read:

Genesis 46:1-7

Reflect:

“I am God, the God of your father,” the voice said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make your family a great nation. I will go with you down to Egypt, and I will bring you back again. You will die in Egypt, but Joseph will be with you to close your eyes.” Genesis 46:3-4 NLT

 It is human to be afraid of the unknown and I need to hold fast to the truth that God’s plans are beyond my human understanding and wildest imagination.1 I will never fully understand the reasons for the Ukraine war or the Covid-19 pandemic. The tragedies of life lead me to face the hard truths of life and the reality of sin, evil and death. As Benjamin Franklin reminded the American people:

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

As I journey into the mid autumn of my life, old age looms as a time of losses, vulnerability and uncertainty. It is a time “to live into our belovedness with courage.”2  The story of Jacob going to Egypt to spend his last days in a place away from the Promised Land encourages me to trust in God’s plans for my old age.

Jacob had never expected to see his favourite son, Joseph alive. He was led to believe, by Joseph’s ten brothers, that Joseph may have been killed by a wild animal.3  Jacob could not believe his ears when he was subsequently told by his sons that Joseph was in fact alive and the governor of Egypt. When he was finally convinced that Joseph was alive, Jacob worshiped God by offering a sacrifice at Beersheba before he set out for Egypt. It was then that he received a vision from God who told him:

“I am the God of your father. Don’t be afraid of going down to Egypt. I am going to make you a great nation there. I’ll go with you down to Egypt; I’ll also bring you back here. And when you die, Joseph will be with you; with his own hand he’ll close your eyes.”4 

As Jacob worshiped God, he was given the promise of God’s presence to go down to Egypt and that God will make his family into a great nation there. He was also assured that Joseph will be at his death bed. The story of Jacob’s dysfunctional family is a revelation of how God is always turning evil to good. The evil actions of Joseph’s brothers were used by God to save the Jews during the famine.5 The story of Jacob and Joseph is a beautiful story to encourage us to build our trust in a loving God who is always in control and whose ways are beyond our comprehension.

In the winter of life, I need the courage that comes from a confident faith in God. I can take heart in God’s promise not to be afraid of the future for Christ came to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The good news of Easter is that Christ died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. God has sown the mustard seed of the resurrection power of Christ in my heart – Christ is in me and the Holy Spirit is with me. 

Old age is a golden opportunity to follow the example of John the Baptist to decrease so that Christ can increase and others can behold Christ, the Lamb of God as their Saviour.6  Power and  influence corrupt. We will be tempted to use our knowledge to increase our status and reputation.  We are living in a world of sorrows that tempts to draw away from God:

“What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrows awaits the person who does the tempting”7

Contemplative prayer is a spiritual discipline to overcome pride.  Like Jacob and Joseph, we may be led through times of great love and great suffering so that we may be fruitful in our deaths. In contemplative prayer, we rest in the faithfulness of God so that we can see life and death from God’s perspective and not from our limited human minds. Old age is a blessing when we see it as a time of letting go and preparing to return home to God. We have the victory over death when death is no longer the wages of sin – we are dead to sin and alive to God.8 Until we cross the river of death, life is worth living because Christ lives in us:

“And then one day, I’ll cross that river
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain
And then as death gives way to victory
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He reigns

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 a living just because He lives.”9

Response:

Lord, thank You for the promise of Your Presence in the winter of life.

Reframe:

  1. What is God’s will for me in the winter of my life?
  2. How can I find the courage to face the uncertainties in old age?
  3. How am I to live in the winter of life so that my death may bear fruit in my loved ones?

Song of Praise:

Because He Lives

SDG

Notes:

  1.  Isaiah 55:8, NLT
  2. Kristen E. Vincent, We Are Beloved: A Lenten Journey with Protestant Prayer Beads (Upper Room Books, 2019). Quoted in New Every Morning | April 17, 2022.
  3. Genesis 37:31-35 
  4. Genesis 46:3-4 NLT
  5.  Genesis 50:19-21
  6.  John 1:29-34, NLT
  7.  Matthew 18:7, NLT
  8. Romans 6:11,23
  9. Because He Lives

Snakes and Ladders Of Life

Read:

Matthew 28:1-10

Reflect:

“Then the angel spoke to the women, ‘Don’t be afraid!” he said, ‘I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here. He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.” Matthew 28:5-6, NLT

As I sat in silence on the morning of Good Friday, I heard the familiar chirping of a bird and then the thunderstorm began. The rolling sounds of thunder and the flashes of lightning brought the horrors and terrors of the war in Ukraine to mind. Good Friday is a day when we encounter the horrors of sin and evil. The pain and suffering Jesus suffered on the cross more than 2000 years ago, revealed the depths of inhumanity in human hearts.  The unseen bird continued singing through the thunderstorm –  a song assuring me of the faithfulness of God’s steadfast love which endures forever.

We are living in chaotic and unpredictable times and life can seem meaningless, purposeless, unfair and unjust. In such difficult times, we are filled with doubts and we feel hopeless and helpless. In these times we are drawn to our need for a confident and sustaining faith in a power beyond ourselves to deliver us from despair.  We need the power of love that always trump evil.  And this power can only be experienced in our powerlessness and helplessness.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples were unable to keep watch with Jesus as he wrestled in prayer to surrender his human will. Jesus then took the way of the cross to fulfill God’s perfect will. God knows that our spirits may be willing but our flesh is weak.1 Jesus died on the cross so that we can now watch and pray with him because he is watching and praying for us through the Holy Spirit:

”And the  Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.”2

On Good Friday, Jesus went through the hell of experiencing the absence of God on the cross when he cried out on our behalf, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?”3 Jesus expressed our perfectly normal and human cry to pain, suffering and grief. It was the perfect example of what authentic prayer is. Prayer is not giving God a laundry list of our personal needs or the problems of the world that needed to be solved. True prayer is the honest and intimate confession of our fears, doubts, anger and guilt to our Heavenly Father. We may feel abandoned by God but Jesus died and rose from the dead to assure us that God will never abandon us:

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”4

Life from the human perspective is like a game of snakes and ladders. We climb up ladders of material and spiritual success only to slither down the snakes of our lust, pride, greed, anger, envy, gluttony, acedia, fear and guilt. Jesus came to give us God’s perspective of life – to live the cruciform life as God’s beloved. Jesus died on the cross so that we can stop trying to do good to feel good. We are empowered to do good when the Holy Spirit fill our hearts with the joy of salvation.  

The silence of Holy Saturday after Good Friday is a time to prepare for the resurrection of Christ in our hearts at Easter. Silence is not trying to empty our minds – it is being attentive to our noisy thoughts and letting them go. Silence is spending time with God by resting in Christ to wait for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with the love of God.  We need not fear the silence of a mind that is waiting on God. It was a frightening experience for Mary Magdalene and the other Mary when the angel rolled aside the stone of the tomb. But the angel told them not to be afraid as Jesus has risen from the dead.5

We cannot find Jesus when our mind is entombed by fears, guilt, doubts and other negative thoughts. The practice of silence is the practice of giving our everything to God by doing nothing. It is a journey into the Galilee of our hearts. When Jesus met the disciples on their way to the tomb, he told them not to be afraid but to leave for Galilee to see him there.6

The empty tomb of Jesus is a metaphor of life after death – when we die, we leave our bodies just as a butterfly leaves the chrysalis. We will find true life when the Holy Spirit rolls away the stone of the tomb of a worldly life. As “spiritual butterflies” we can watch with Jesus the “monkey thoughts” flying through our restless “caterpillar minds.” Just as Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in our hearts, Easter isn’t Easter till our hearts have been set on fire with the flame of God’s love and our minds transformed by the power of the resurrection.  Then we can truly sing:

I serve a risen Saviour, He’s in the world today
I know that He is living, whatever men may say
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer
And just the time I need Him He’s always near

He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way
He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.7

Response:

Lord, thank You for rolling away the stones of fear, doubts and guilt in my life. Fill my heart with the flame of Your love and rewire my mind with the power of Your resurrection.

Reframe:

  1. What are the negative thoughts that have been entombed in my mind?
  2.  What ladders of success am I trying to climb?
  3.  What are the “snakes” that  are drawing me away from the love of God?

SDG

Song of Praise

He Lives!

Notes:

  1. Matthew 26:36-46, NLT
  2. Romans 12:26-27, NLT
  3. Matthew 27:46, NLT
  4. Romans 8:38-39, NLT
  5. Matthew 28:5-6, NLT
  6. Matthew 28:8-10, NLT
  7. He Lives, Alan Jackson

A Mustard Seed Kingdom

Read:

Genesis 26:12-23

Reflect:

“The Lord appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not  be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” Genesis 26:24 NET

Life is full of failures in a dark and depressing world but love never fails. When we live our lives with our egos on the throne in our hearts, we will be afraid of failure. We will be discouraged when we encounter difficulties and disappointments in life. But times of failure are the best times to experience God’s Presence in our lives.

The story of Isaac’s life in the land of the Philistines during a famine is a revelation of the unfailing faithfulness of God’s agape love. Isaac had obeyed God’s commandment not to go down to Egypt during a famine. However, he repeated the failure of his father, Abraham, when he told the Philistines that Rebekah was his sister. But in spite of his deceit, God protected Isaac through King Abimelech and blessed him with so much wealth that the Philistines became jealous of him. Isaac was then ordered to move away to the Gerar Valley.

There he faced opposition from the shepherds in Gerar and he moved to Beersheba where he encountered God in a vision. God told him not to be afraid and promised that his descendants will become a great nation. When Isaac responded in worship, he experienced the fidelity of God’s promise to Abraham. King Abimelech came to make a covenant of peace  with him and Isaac’s servants  then found a new well.But Isaac needed courage and wisdom in his old age. Esau’s foreign wives made life miserable for him and Rebekah. Then Jacob tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing of the first born which belonged to Esau.  And to save Jacob from Esau’s wrath, Isaac had to send him away to Laban, Rebekah’s brother.2

In the Old Testament we read stories after stories of how God used feeble, flawed and foolish human beings for His glory. This is to teach us the spiritual truth that the meek will inherit the earth.3 When we are trying to be the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T), we are blind and deaf to God’s whispers of Love. It is only when we are meek and seeing heaven everyday in every person (S.H.E.E.P.) that God can plant a mustard seed of His Kingdom in our hearts.4 The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.5 God knows our hearts and is waiting patiently for the right time to break through to us.

Like Abraham, God will call us to leave the comfort of our religious beliefs to embark on a journey into the Kingdom of God that is in the depths of our hearts. God’s promise of His Kingdom is not a reward for those who obey but a gift to be received by cultivating a right relationship with God:

“Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless.”6 

It is futile to try and break through to God with our willpower and human strength. Faith is a gift that we can only receive from God when we come to the end of ourselves. God is waiting to break through to our minds when we come to our senses like the Prodigal Son7  and turn from our foolish and futile ways. The Holy Spirit will then show us the way through the wilderness of our hearts to God’s Kingdom.

Faith is the fruit of God’s seed of love. When our hearts is a path, a stony ground or filled with weeds, we cannot bear the fruit of faith.8 We need contemplative practices to  become aware of the negative beliefs, thoughts and feelings that keep us from growing deep roots of faith. Faith in the love of God can only grow when we invest our time to build our trust in God by “wasting time” with Christ – opening our hearts to the Holy Spirit through a totally surrendered will. The good news of the gospel is that we can face our fears by resting in the cross of Christ. We will then grow a confident faith by building a radical and courageous trust in the everlasting faithfulness of God’s love through a totally surrendered will.

Faith is a reflection of our relationship with God. Fear, induced by adversities and failure, is the biggest obstacle we need to overcome. When our lives are ego centered and not God centered, we will be afraid when we are buffeted by the storms of life. We are all infected and impure with sin. Our righteous deeds are nothing but filthy rags.9  We can only live by faith when Jesus is our cornerstone10 and the gate of our righteousness.11

Jesus came as the Prince of Peace at Christmas to shine the light into the dark places in our hearts. On Palm Sunday, we welcome Jesus as He rides into our hearts as the King of Glory. It is only when I enthrone Jesus as Lord that my heart will not be divided and I will be set free from fears, guilt and sinful desires. Obedience to God’s Word becomes an exciting experiment of faith in the love of God and not a neurotic reaction to the fear of the judgment of God. Peace will guard my heart and mind in moments of anxiety and fear as I experience the power of God’s Presence in my daily life:

“Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place
He comes to cleanse and heal, to minister His grace
No work too hard for Him, in faith receive from Him
Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place”12

Respond:

Lord, grant me patience and perseverance to water the mustard seed of Your love by waiting on You and feeding on Your Word.

Reframe:

  1. How can I keep my heart from becoming a path when I am successful?
  2. Is my heart a stony ground that keeps me from growing deeper roots of faith?
  3. What are the weeds that are choking the seed of love in my heart?

Song of Praise:

Be Still In The Presence Of The Lord

SDG

Notes:

  1. Genesis 26:12-23
  2. Genesis 27:1-28:5
  3. Matthew 5:5, NKJV
  4. Mark 4:30-32, NLT
  5. 2 Chronicles 16:9, NLT
  6. Romans 4:13-14 NLT
  7. Luke  15:17
  8. Mark 4:13-20
  9. Isaiah 64:6
  10. Acts 4:11
  11. John 10:9, NLT
  12. Be Still For The Presence of The Lord, David J. Evans

Growing Faith In Trying Times

Read:

1 Kings 17:8-24

Reflect:

“But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son.” 1 Kings 17:13

Difficult situations and circumstances are times to experience the mysterious ways of God and to grow our faith in God’s providence and power and to change our mindsets about scarcity. As we do so, our struggles become the crucibles to test the authenticity of our faith and to purify it like gold.1 Fear is our human response to any threat to our well being. However, it can be the “devil’s playground” in our minds when we live without without any consciousness of God’s presence. Hence, we have many exhortations, “don’t be afraid!” in the bible.

Elijah was told by God that a widow in Zarephath will provide for him after the Brook Cherith dried up during the famine. However, the widow told him that she had only a handful of flour and a little oil with which she was preparing some bread to eat with her son as their last meal.  But Elijah told her not to be afraid and assured her that her bin of flour will not be used up nor her jar of oil run dry till the end of the famine. By faith, in the face of scarcity and death, the widow gave Elijah a little piece of bread and experienced the miracle of God’s providence.

However, her faith was then more severely tested when her son fell seriously ill and died. She felt that the death of her son was God’s punishment for her sins. But Elijah cried out to God on her behalf and raised the boy from death. To the widow this proved that Elijah was a man of God and that the Lord truly spoke through him.2 This story was cited by Jesus as an example of God’s mysterious ways – it was by God’s grace that she was chosen to provide for Elijah.

Jesus was only able to perform a few miracles in Nazareth because of the unbelief of the people.3 They had expressed skepticism of Jesus’ ministry and Jesus reminded them that Elijah was not sent to any of the needy widows in Israel but to the widow of Zarephath in Sidon who was a foreigner.4 God’s surprising ways are always unexpected, unpredictable and unimaginable.

Love is the energy that heals. Fear and doubts are obstacles to the flow of healing love.  It is also energy draining to practice the healing touch.  Jesus was on the way to heal Jairus’ daughter and felt the healing power going out from him when a woman with a bleeding disorder touched him. However, he told the woman that it was her faith that healed her. The woman’s testimony was a powerful booster for Jesus who then went on to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead.5 

Jesus came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God here on earth – a kingdom of abundance and not a scarcity of love. Times of scarcity are times to grow our faith. With Jesus as our Shepherd of Love, we can live by faith that we will lack nothing. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” so that we will remember that it is God who gives us everything we need. God is God of the powerless and a Father to the fatherless and defender of the widows.6 When we are the channels of God’s mercy and grace, God’s power and providence are limitless.

When we seek a problem and pain free life we will only get a false peace of mind. In our volatile world, we can expect to have problems but we can choose to use them to search our hearts and to draw closer to God. Our most important task is to ask and live out the right questions in our problems rather than to seek superficial answers to the problems of life. It is not why bad things happen to good people but how we are to grow our faith as we see God transforming our suffering into blessings. When we reflect on the immensity of God that is revealed in all creation,  we will be filled with the awesome truth of how insignificant and small we are and yet precious in the sight of God. 

“By faith we see the hand of God
In the light of creation’s grand design
In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness
Who walk by faith and not by sight”7

Response:

Lord, help me to see my problems as windows into Your amazing and awesome grace.

Reframe:

  1. How do my fears of not having enough and not being enough keep me from being who God wants me to be and what God wants me to do?
  2. What are the insecurities and limitations in my life that I need to surrender to God?
  3. How can I grow my faith in trying times?

Song of Praise:

By Faith

SDG

Notes:

  1. 1 Peter 1:7
  2. 1 Kings 17:8-24
  3. Matthew 13:38
  4. Luke 4:24
  5. Luke 8:40-56
  6. Psalms 68:5
  7. By Faith,  Keith Getty

Living In The Light Of Death

Read:

Luke 8:49-56

Reflect:

“But when Jesus heard what had happened, he said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.” Luke 8:50

We are spiritually dead, blind and deaf to our spiritual needs. We are all infected with the incurable disease of sin which leads to death.1 The apostle Paul gives us a graphic diagnostic picture of our spiritual disease:

“Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent,proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.”2

Jesus came to deliver us from sin and to wake us from our deathly slumber.  He was asked to see the twelve year daughter of Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue who was dying. Jesus was on his way after healing a woman with a bleeding disorder when a messenger came to tell Jairus the bad news that his daughter has died. But Jesus assured Jairus: “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.”3

When Jesus arrived, the house was filled with people weeping and wailing. Jesus told them to stop weeping as she was not dead but only asleep. And the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. But Jesus had the last laugh when Jesus commanded the girl to get up and life returned to her.4 Jesus performed the miracle of instant cure in the face of death to demonstrate his power over death and to show us that death is not the will of God. God’s will is for us to die to sin so that we can live fully as the children of God.

But we need to confront death before we will seek a Saviour to deliver us from sin and be reborn as the children of God. When we lose sight of our precious spiritual identity we live our lives as mere human beings enslaved by the fear of death. However, as beloved children of God, the greatest pain and even death are times to experience the love of God.  Henri Nouwen wrote:

“For us, the greatest temptation is to lose touch with the Blessing. We are Beloved Sons and Daughters of God. When we live our suffering under the Blessing, even the greatest pain, yes, even death, will lead us deeper into the forgiving and life-giving heart of God. But when we think we are not loved, when we reflect on ourselves as living under a curse, when we say or think: “I am not good,” our suffering will lead us to despair and our death cannot give life.”5

When we follow Jesus to the cross, death become the miracle of the triumphant crossing.  Death is the final healing of our afflictions and the end of our physical suffering. Rob Moll found that life’s passing can be a beautiful gift of God. However, we may use heaven as an excuse to avoid unnecessary pain and pretend that the loss of death isn’t real because we will be united with our loved ones in heaven. He shared the following important insight:

“Death is real; there is no need to say that because our loved one is in heaven, death doesn’t exist. Death is a fact, and its sting is painful. So we mourn. But death has been defeated, and, comforted  by the Holy Spirit, we ask with the apostle Paul, “Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:15:55 KJV”6 

The challenge is to live in the light of death with a culture of the resurrection. Al Weir lamented the lack of emotional healing and community support for the chronically ill, disabled, frail and the elderly who lose their community and church connections over time. Rob Moll saw caring for the elderly as an important spiritual discipline for everyone as this will help us face death whenever it meets us. This will also empower us to live more faithfully in every area of our lives. 7 He discovered beauty and blessing in the art of dying as he cared for the dying:

“There is beauty and blessing in being with someone as she moves from this world to the next. As we attend to another believer whose soul is returning to God, we capture a glimpse of the beautiful destiny that awaits us. We are reminded of our need for Him. We are spurred on to live with eternity in view, knowing that it is our living well that will define our death.” 8

The elderly can teach younger people what it means to live a good Christian life and die well in the loving embrace of God’s love.  The elderly sick and the dying can still do great things for God when they have a sense of mission and are well supported with spiritual care. We have a mission to live out the following truth:

“For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose – to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.”9

Death reminds us that our life stories will all come to an end. But we can trust that God will make it a good end when we live by faith in Christ. With the hope of the resurrection of Christ, the darkness of death is turned to light:

“There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
And every longing satisfied.
Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul,
For I am truly home”10

Respond:

Lord, may I grow in faith and rejoice in hope as I wait for Your Spirit to fill me with Your everlasting love. Help me to live in the power of Your resurrection that I may see Your light in the winter of my life.

Reframe:

  1.  How can I find light in the darkness of death?
  2.  How am I to live that my aging and dying will glorify God?
  3.  How will caring for the elderly sick and dying as a spiritual discipline make a difference in my life and in my community

Song of Praise

There Is A Hope

SDG

Notes:

  1.  Romans 6:23
  2.  Romans 1:29-31.NLT
  3.  Luke 8:50
  4.  Luke 8:52-55
  5.  Nouwen Meditation: Live Under The Blessing, 20 March 2022
  6.  Rob Moll; The Art of Dying, page 132 
  7.  Ibid, 161
  8.  Ibid, 178
  9.  Romans 14:7-9
  10. There Is A Hope, Stuart Townsend