Anointing For A Funeral

“She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time.” Mark 14:8 NLT

Jesus was having dinner in the home of Simon the Leper, when a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume. She broke the jar and poured the perfume over his head. It was a wasteful action that made no sense to everyone at the dinner. The perfume was worth about a year of wages – it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus turned the woman’s act of extravagant love into a memorial of his impending betrayal and death:

“Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me?  You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me.  She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time.  I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” Mark 14:‬6-‬9 NLT

It was a catalytic event that triggered the betrayal of Jesus by Judas – an act that is unimaginable for a disciple of Jesus. The essence of the story was recorded in all  four gospels although the details differ in the gospels of Luke and John – the woman’s deed was indeed remembered and discussed wherever the Good News is preached.

The woman’s action marked the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life on earth. In caring for the dying, it is very critical to be able to identify when a patient is at the end of life.  When doctors are able to identify that a patient is at the end of life, they can focus their attention to provide the patient with terminal loving care instead of subjecting him or her to futile and painful death denying and delaying measures. When we deny the reality of death, we cannot truly live. The good news of the Christian faith is that Jesus came to empower us to face death and to live the abundant life by remembering His death on the cross through the ritual of the Holy Communion:

“For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.” 1 Corinthians 11:26-‬30 NLT

Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover feast into a means of God’s grace for all of us who accept Him as our Lord and Saviour. It is not a magical ritual to save us from hell – it is a sacred act that leads us from having a transactional faith with an impersonal God  to a transforming relationship with the Risen Christ. We no longer have to strive to obey God out of fear with a transactional faith – that God will bless us only when we please Him. We will seek to obey God out of love because we have become the broken body and the poured out wine of the Risen Christ. We are set free from God’s judgment so that we can live as a forgiven and forgiving community of love.

The most important act in the celebration of the Holy Communion is the examination of our hearts and the confession of our sins. God does not want us to live in the shadow of His judgment but in the light of His unfailing love. Self examination and confession are not rituals to appease an angry God.  As our loving Creator, God knows what is in each person’s heart and knows that we cannot be trusted  (John 2:25). We have a sinful nature and we are perfectly imperfect.  Spiritual disciplines are to help us grow in our relationship with God – to be in a right relationship with God rather than to be perfect:

“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.” 1 John 1:8-‬10 NLT

The woman’s apparent waste of the expensive perfume aroused negative and sinful emotions in Judas that led him to conspire with the Pharisees to betray Jesus. Meditating on this story drew an awareness that the spirit of Judas lies deep within all of us. It is so easy to be critical and judgmental when we see things only from the human point of view. Our actions are driven by our thoughts and feelings. Judas’ act of betrayal is the fruit of anger, greed, envy, pride and lust.

Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him and told the disciples as they were eating, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.” But Judas was so blinded by anger, greed and envy that not only did he ask, “Am I the one?”(Mark 14:17-‬19 NLT), but he took the bread and the wine and then went on to betray Jesus. Our sinful desires keep us from hearing the whispers of love in the silence of God.

God’s agape love dictates that we have the power to choose. We are not created to be robots but to be God’s beloved children. Just as Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, Judas was tempted to betray Jesus. Likewise, we too will be tempted to disobedience and rebellion.  Even Jesus was tempted in the wilderness to test God – to jump off the highest point of the Temple to prove God’s promise in Psalm 91:11-12. But he held fast to God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 6:16 – You must not test the Lord your God Matthew 4:5-7).  Jesus came to be the spiritual bread and wine for us to change our distracted and deceitful hearts into discerning and devoted hearts  for “obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols” (1 Samuel 15:22-‬23 NLT).  

Many of us have not been able to celebrate the Holy Communion over the past year or so and our souls are hungry and thirsty for God. The woman anointed Jesus for his funeral but God is waiting to anoint us and has prepared a feast for us:

“You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.” Psalm 23:5, NLT.

We are called to be God’s anointed priests to mediate His love and grace to a hurting world. God’s amazing grace is that He is always waiting for us to turn back to Him:

“So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.” Isaiah 30:18 NLT

With the social distancing measures and restrictions for corporate worship, we need to find new ways to nurture our souls and to draw near to God. The best way to counter the spirit of Judas that is in us is to remember that Christ is in us and our hope of glory. Cultivating times of silence each day to wait on God is a simple way to seek God’s presence. God is waiting to anoint us and fill our cup with His love.  And as we do so, we will find what Thomas Keating found –  the freedom to do what God likes – the freedom to be our true self and to be transformed in Christ. 

SDG

From F.E.A.R. To F.A.I.T.H.

“For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.” Philippians 1:10 NLT

 After I came home from work on Monday I found I had a fever when I did my routine temperature check. It was providential that I just had my routine swab test for COVID-19 earlier in the afternoon. My wife isolated me in the bedroom in compliance with the COVID-19 measures and we sent our neighbor’s son who was playing with our grandchildren home as we practiced a mini “lockdown” while waiting for the result of my swab test. Later that night, I had diarrhoea and the fever came down. I felt relieved that the fever was probably due to an attack of gastroenteritis. The swab test result came back 27 hours later and was negative. We lifted my isolation and our lockdown.

My brief illness was a taste of the biblical truth that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms 139:13-14). Fever is the body’s perfect defence mechanism to kill bacteria, viruses and cancer cells. Diarrhoea is the body’s cleansing system. I did not take any medications but simply rested in my wife’s TLC and drank more fluids.  It was a time of resting in God’s loving embrace.

The enforced solitude for more than a day was a time for reflection – to understand what really matters. Our technological advances in modern society have turned the human body into a machine. Thomas Moore, in his book, Care of the Soul, described the modern view of the human body:

“The modern body is an efficient machine that needs to be kept in shape so that its organs will function smoothly and for as long as possible. If something goes wrong with any part, it can be replaced with a mechanical substitute, because that is the way we picture the body – as a machine.”

Human beings are behaving and treating each other like robots and trying to create robots that behave like human beings. But we are embodied souls and not robots. In the sixteenth century, Paracelsus gave doctors the following advice which holds true even today:

“The physician should speak of that which is invisible. What is visible should belong to his knowledge, and he should recognize illnesses, just as anyone who is not a physician can recognize them from their symptoms. But this is far from making him a physician; he becomes a physician only when he knows that which is unnamed, invisible, and immaterial, yet has its effect.”

Thomas Moore noted that modern medicine trusts the microscope to reveal the roots of illness, but the microscope doesn’t look far enough within. I was challenged by the perspective of a Paracelsian physician – to  take into account the invisible factors at work in illness – emotion, thoughts, personal history, relationship, longing, fear, desire, etc.  In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic we can live in F.E.A.R. or we can live by F.A.I.T.H.

Fearful Expectations Appearing Real or Feeling Afraid I Trust Him

One of the important lessons we can learn from COVID-19 virus is that we need to face the reality of death. Death is part and parcel of life and much of our human suffering comes from the denial of death. To be infected with a COVID-19 virus is not a death sentence. In fact most of the patients will recover and many are even asymptomatic. It is the fearful expectations about COVID-19 that appears real that are the problems. It is a time to grow in F.A.I.T.H. – Feeling Afraid I Trust Him. The good news is that Jesus came to set us free from the fear of death:

“Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.” Hebrews 2:14-‬15 NLT

False Expectations Appearing Real or Feeling Abandoned I Trust Him

We are living with a false expectation if we think we can get rid of the COVID-19 virus.  The reality is that we need to learn to live with this ubiquitous virus by learning to appreciate the blessings of solitude as we practice isolation and social distancing. Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” to show us that in life there will inevitably be times when we feel abandoned. But in such times, we have a God whom we can trust. The times of lockdown are opportunities for Christians to draw close to God through prayer and meditation – a time to experience F.A.I.T.H. – Feeling Abandoned I Trust Him. It is a time to stand on God’s promise:

“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.” Romans 8:38 NLT

Fickle Experiences Appearing Real or Facing Anger I Trust Him

Life has been uncertain and unpredictable with the COVID-19 pandemic. With the appearance of new clusters, new rules for social distancing had to be implemented. Many couples had to make adjustments or changes to their wedding plans. The holiday plans of many were disrupted.  It is human to feel frustrated and angry in such situations. But these are times to live out the truth of God’s Word:

“Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that. Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.” James 4:13-16, NLT.

We do not have to deny or bury our anger.  We can exercise F.A.I.T.H. – Facing Anger I Trust Him to help us channel our anger into constructive and healing acts of love.

Fake Evidence Appearing Real or Facing Adversity I Trust Him

In the social media we are bombarded by so much fake evidences about so many things in life. Even cow’s urine and cow dung are being promoted as remedies for the coronavirus infection – an example of “cow-sense” taking over common sense. This is but a reflection of our human nature to seek easy and short term solutions for our problems and suffering. Thomas Moore draws attention to the important following truth:

“Illness is to a large extent rooted in eternal causes. The Chrisian doctrine of original sin and the Buddhist Four Noble Truths teach that human life is wounded in its essence, and suffering is in the nature of things. We are wounded simply by participating in human life, by being children of Adam and Eve. To think that the proper or natural state is to be without wounds is an illusion. Any medicine motivated by the fantasy of doing away with woundedness is tryng to avoid the human condition.”

Suffering is part and parcel of human life but it is our response to our suffering that is important. False teachings about health and wealth blinds us to the truth that times of adversity are opportunities for spiritual growth – a time to grow in F.A.I.T.H. – Facing Adversity, I Trust Him. Suffering is never the will of God – it is the evidence of the reality of sin and evil and our need for the redemptive grace of God. Bishop Fulton Sheen gives us the following insight:

“Every mortal sin consists in a turning away from God and a turning to creatures. Because we turn away from God, we feel the absence of His Love, His Beauty, His Truth – and this is called the pain of loss. Because we turn to creatures and pervert them to our sinful purposes, we are punished in some way by the very creatures we abused. Hell fire is one of the aspects of this pain of sense.”

The COVID-19 virus is causing cracks in our capitalistic world and a new world is breaking through. The good news is that God is making everything new:

“And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5 NLT

Only the truth can set us free and Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is our Shepherd of Love who will use our adversities in life to turn us into wounded healers. What really matters is that we can carry everything to God in prayer:

‘What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear,

What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.

O what peace we often forfeit

O what needless pain we bear

All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.”

SDG

Living With The Hope Of Heaven

“The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return.” Mark 13:34 NLT

On Aldersgate Day, Monday, 24 May 2021, our small group was reflecting and discussing Mark Chapter 13. It was a chapter about the end times and we shared our thoughts and beliefs about heaven. One uplifting thought that surfaced was “heaven is our hope and heaven is having a personal relationship with the Risen Christ.”

Earlier that day, I had visited an elderly woman who had an episode of hallucination. I had seen the patient one month ago. She was well except for a poor appetite and had told me she was prepared for death although she did not have any serious medical condition. On my arrival, the daughter shared with me that the patient had been very distressed last Thursday when she saw three heads floating in the air and could not sleep. The patient, who was a Buddhist, then told her daughter that she wanted to be a Christian. The daughter quickly arranged for her to be baptized the next day. The patient experienced peace and did not have any more hallucinations.  

There were no medical causes for the patient’s hallucination that I could determine and her daughter thought it was a spiritual problem. It was an earthly medical problem that have only answers from above. As it was Aldersgate Day, it brought to mind John Wesley’s  experience of his joy of salvation:

“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

The “strangely warmed” heart experience of John Wesley on 24 May 1738 is our hope of heaven. Speculations abound about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ amidst the turmoil in the world caused by the COVID-19 virus, political crises, wars, and natural disasters. When our focus is on the chaos in the world we lose our joy of salvation.

The bad news about the end of the world is to wake us up from the comfort of our spiritual stupor – to make us spiritually hungry and thirsty for God. We are in the midst of a spiritual war but the battle belongs to the Lord. And God is patiently waiting for us to turn back to His love – to be born again and claim our spiritual inheritance:

“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! God has given us a new birth because of his great mercy. We have been born into a new life that has a confidence which is alive because Jesus Christ has come back to life. We have been born into a new life which has an inheritance that can’t be destroyed or corrupted and can’t fade away. That inheritance is kept in heaven for you,” 1 Peter 1:3-‬4 GW

Hell is the playground of sinners where lust, greed and pride reigns. Jesus came to transform our hells on earth into a training school for saints. Pain, suffering and adversity are not God’s will. They are the realities we have to face for we live in a fallen world that is dominated by sin and evil. But God will put an end to sin and evil in due course. In Mark Chapter 13, we read of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, of wars, earthquakes and famines which are the beginning of the end. There will be persecutions and false prophets and false messiahs. Sin and evil will be judged by God but the Good News must first be preached to all nations (Mark 13:1-27, NLT). But God does not want anyone to perish:

“The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 2 Peter 3:9 NLT

Jesus did not come as a Judge to condemn the world but as the Saviour to save and redeem our rebellious world:

“God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world.” John 3:17 GW

Some of us may see heaven as the dream playground for the saints – a place where there is no more tears or suffering. But in caring for the terminally ill, another picture of heaven comes to mind – a hospice for sinners. To be in heaven is not to be perfect but to be in an intimate relationship with God. Heaven is not the absence of suffering or pain but the Presence of God’s everlasting Love. Edwin Hatch provides us with a beautiful picture of heaven in his hymn, Breathe on me, Breath of God:

“Breathe on me, Breath of God, so shall I never die, but live with thee the perfect life of thine eternity.”

When  EGO rules in our hearts, we are in hell for we are Edging God Out. We are in heaven when our EGO takes its rightful place in our hearts so that we are Embracing God Only. For God is not a wrathful dictator but our loving Heavenly Father. It is only when Jesus is our Servant King that we can  live with the hope of heaven as God’s beloved children. And with Jesus as our Shepherd of Love,  we can be the channels of God’s love, joy and peace as the broken body of Christ to others.

Jesus taught the disciples that when the fig tree sprouts leaves, summer is near.  Events of the world are signs of the end times. In such times we are to prepare to meet God by paying  attention to God’s Word so that we will be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit:

“So we regard the words of the prophets as confirmed beyond all doubt. You’re doing well by paying attention to their words. Continue to pay attention as you would to a light that shines in a dark place as you wait for day to come and the morning star to rise in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:19 GW

Prayer and meditation are to help us pay attention to the Light of God shining in the dark spaces in our lives and in the world. God does not demand our presence but patiently waits for us to delight in His presence. It is a waste of time discussing when and how the world will end or when Jesus will come again. Our time will be better spent to bring heaven to earth by turning our churches from museums of saints into hospitals for sinners. We can turn the hells on earth into training schools for saints by caring for the poor and companioning the sick and dying through the valley of the shadow of death.  

God has a special work for each of us to do and which only we can do. Let us praise God that we can live each day in these end times with the hope of heaven. As we turn our eyes upon Jesus the things of this earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace!

SDG

To Have Nothing But God

“For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.” Mark 12:44 NLT

We are living in a very difficult and fearful time – a time when life is uncertain and unpredictable, a time when we feel imprisoned in our own homes. We are paralyzed by fears as our minds are bombarded by bad news and false news. We lament the loss of our freedom to meet in fellowship and for worship. But at the same time, we have more time to spend with our families as well as in  solitude. It is a sobering time to reflect on the meaning of life and death and our relationship with God.

Jesus was having a debate with the Sadducees and a teacher of religious law asked Jesus which of the commandments was the most important. Jesus replied:

“The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord .  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’  The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-‬31 NLT

When the teacher of religious law saw the truth that the love of God and neighbor is far more important than the all burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law, Jesus assured him that he was not far from the Kingdom of God (Mark 12:32-34, NLT). Indeed, the hallmark of life in the Kingdom of God is the love for God and neighbor. Unfortunately, it is so easy to lose our first love for God. Like the church in Ephesus in the book of Revelations, we may work hard and endure trouble by standing up against false apostles and false teachings but our zeal for right doctrines may lead us to lose the love we first have for God:

“I know what you have done—how hard you have worked and how you have endured. I also know that you cannot tolerate wicked people. You have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not apostles. You have discovered that they are liars. You have endured, suffered trouble because of my name, and have not grown weary. However, I have this against you: The love you had at first is gone. Remember how far you have fallen. Return to me and change the way you think and act, and do what you did at first. I will come to you and take your lamp stand from its place if you don’t change.” Revelation 2:2-‬5 GW

The early Christians had to be reminded that the Christian faith is not about being right but being loving which flows from our personal relationship with God as our Heavenly Father. Jesus gave the following warning:

“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces.  And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.  Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.” Mark 12:38-‬40 NLT

Without a prayerful relationship with God, the bible is only a book of rules and may even become an idol in our lives instead of the amazing story of God’s love for us. Jesus asked the people in the Temple:

“Why do the teachers of religious law claim that the Messiah is the son of David?  For David himself, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.’” Mark 12:35‭-‬36 NLT

Without the Holy Spirit, we will live by the letter of the law instead of the Spirit of God’s letter of love.  It is a spiritual law that all acts of evil which includes hypocrisy will keep us out of the Kingdom of God.  Just as patients with COVID 19 and their contacts need to be isolated and quarantined, those who are infected by sinful desires will not be allowed into the Kingdom of God:

“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-‬21 NLT

We are all suffering from “spiritual dementia” – we have forgotten God and do not know what we do:

“We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.” Isaiah 53:6 MSG

The good news of the gospel is that God is waiting for us to return to His Love for He has answered Jesus’ prayer on the cross for all of us:

“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

As followers of Christ, our calling is to live as forgiven people who can love God with all our minds, our hearts, our strength and our souls. This is seen when we give our all to God like the widow with two mites – she gave everything she had to live on. This was not so much a sacrifice but the exercise of her spiritual freedom to make life meaningful and purposeful. In giving her two mites instead of one she chose to love God in spite of her circumstances. She gave freely because she was free from her fears for the future through her faith in God’s eternal love.

Viktor Frankl shared memories of the people in concentration camps who walked through the huts comforting others and giving away their last piece of bread. He saw in these people the truth that everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances and to choose one’s own way. When we cannot change a situation, we always have the freedom to change ourselves. We can choose to be a beloved child of God and not a slave of the world. When we are filled with awe and gratitude for God’s love that is seen through the cross of Christ,  we have God’s promise:

“Delight yourself also in the Lord , And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalms 37:4 NKJV

Jesus drew attention to the sacrificial giving of the poor widow to show us the truth of how important it is for us to have nothing but God – and we will have nothing when we die. Perhaps, this is the most important lesson that the tiny COVID 19 virus is teaching us:

“Naked I came from my mother, and naked I will return. The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away! May the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:21 GW

True wealth is found when our lives are a sacrifice of praise to God as we sing and pray:

“Breathe on me Breath of God, Fill me with life anew

That I may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou wouldst do.”

SDG

Seeing Life With Heaven’s Eyes

Seeing Life With Heaven’s Eyes

“Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” Mark 12:24 NLT

Hari Raya Pausa on 13th May 2021 was also Ascension Day – a day when the Muslims celebrate their New Year and when the Catholics commemorate the ascension of Jesus to heaven after his resurrection. It was a time to reflect on the meaning of life and on life after death. The COVID 19 pandemic has also opened our eyes to the harsh reality of the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death. Discussions about end times and about life after death abound. We all want to live a life that matters as well as to die a death that will bear the fruit of love in the lives of our loved ones.

In Chapter 12 of the Gospel of Mark, the Sadducees who do not believe in the resurrection from the dead, tested Jesus with a ridiculous question about a woman with seven husbands. Their question was but a reflection of their lack of understanding of the Scriptures and the power of God. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus died and rose from the dead so that we can see our lives with heaven’s eyes.

The parable of the tenants in Mark 12:1-12 is a story to show us how dangerous the sin of pride can be. Pride blinds us to the truth that we are not owners but stewards of God’s gift of life. Pride tempts us to use God blessings only for our own good and pleasure instead of blessing others. When we do so, we will have to face the judgment of God. But it is not God’s will for us to live in fear of His judgment – God wants us to live the abundant life of joy by abiding in His love.  Jesus drew attention to Psalm 118:22-23:

“Have you not read this scripture: ‘ The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes ’?” Mark 12:10‭-‬11 NET

Psalm 118 is a psalm to remind us that God’s faithful love endures forever. It is a psalm of praise for God’s answers to prayers for deliverance and affirmation of God’s amazing grace. It is a reminder to rejoice each day of our lives by remembering that each day is a special day that God has made. This is God’s prescription for the sin of pride that blinds us to the “burning bushes” and deaf to God’s loving whispers in the mundane activities of our daily lives.

When we see the whole of life with heaven’s eyes, we will not divide our lives into the secular and the spiritual – all of life will become a “sacred seminary for our souls.” Answers to questions such as “is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? (Mark 12:14) becomes crystal clear when we have a right relationship with God. It is so easy to politicize social problems instead seeking to be God’s solutions to these problems. When we truly want to see God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we will be challenged to walk by faith. We will encounter difficult people and situations to test our faith and patience.

We will be challenged to totally surrender our lives to God.  I  need to let go of my desire to feel good by living a comfortable  life and being in control of my circumstances. I need to let go of my desire to look good by seeking the praises of men and making success an idol in my life. I need to let go of my fear of failure by trusting that God will use my failure for His glory.

The task of our Christian faith is not to be a dedicated Christian but to be a committed disciple of Christ. The spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation and bible study are not mundane chores we do to please God – they are God’s loving invitations to enter into an intimate and personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. We will be discouraged by our struggles in life. We will face doubts as we seek to do God’s will. Our minds are distracted and our hearts divided. Sin and evil sow distorted images of God that keeps us away from the throne of grace.

The power of the resurrection is to awaken us to our identity as a child of God so that we can overcome our doubts. Through centering prayer and meditation we can become more aware of our distracting thoughts. We can turn our “monkey” thoughts into messengers to seek the mind of Christ. As we do so, we will be more attentive to God’s loving presence to heal our divided and deceitful hearts. We will then no longer be dead branches but pruned branches connected to the Living Vine and bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control.

When we are spiritually alive and connected to the Risen Christ, we will not live in fear of God’s judgment but we will have the blessed assurance of God’s promise:

“Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? ” 1 Corinthians 15:54‭-‬55 NLT

Let us stand firm on the mystery of our faith:

“Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith : Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16 NLT

And see life through heaven’s eyes.

SDG

The Power of Our Thoughts

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.” Mark 11:24

The stories in the bible are sacred and powerful – not to fill our minds with information but to transform our deceitful hearts. Hence we need to “bookend” our bible study with prayer. What we read and understand with our minds is determined by what we believe in our hearts.  It is so important to study and meditate on the bible – not to know about God – but to listen to what God wants to tell us about what we are to do with our lives. The stories of Jesus in the Gospels are to teach us spiritual truths and spiritual laws for us to live by. So to discover them, we need to pray:

“Lord, open my mind to Your Word and open Your Word to my heart.”

Reflecting on the thoughts my small group had shared in our study of Chapter 11 of the Gospel of Mark, I discovered four spiritual truths. Firstly, Jesus came to deliver us from our spiritual slavery to sin and change us into a people of prayer. But the Jews were hoping for liberation from the political and military oppression of the Romans. They welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as their military and political leader shouting:

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is our ancestor David’s kingdom that is coming! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Mark 11:9-‬10 GW

Jesus came, riding on a donkey, to be a powerless, suffering Servant King and not a powerful, victorious and demanding king. But his anger was aroused by the commercialization of the religious activities when he went to the Temple. He exercised his spiritual authority, driving the money changers and the people who were buying and selling animals for sacrifices out of the Temple. He reminded them:

“Scripture says, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a gathering place for thieves.” Mark 11:17 GW

Jesus died on the cross to reveal the power of God’s agape love to overcome evil. Jesus rose from the dead to transform our human lives into the living stones of God’s spiritual temple and ordain us to be a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:4-5). To be a follower of Christ is to be the temple of the living God (2 Cor 6:16) as well as to be the living sacrifices each day to transform our minds so that we can know God’s perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Secondly, Jesus demonstrated the power of our thoughts and prayer. Jesus was hungry when he was on the way back to Jerusalem. He saw a fig tree with leaves but could not find any figs and said to the fig tree: “May no one ever eat your fruit again.” When they were leaving Jerusalem the next day, the disciples found that the fig tree had withered from the roots up and Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the fig tree. It was a grim reminder of the power of words to cause death as well as healing. The barren fig tree provided Jesus with the opportunity to teach his disciples of the power of our thoughts and prayer:

“Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.  I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.” Mark 11:22-‬23 NLT

It is a spiritual law that we will receive whatever we pray for with faith. We can pray for anything but not everything is good for our souls. The effect of the words of Jesus on the fig tree teaches us of the power of our words. With great power comes great responsibility and hence we need to follow the example of Jesus in the wilderness and in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he did not confront the devil as God. He confronted the devil as a man with the Word of God. When he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus did not resist and told his disciple to put his sword away:

“Don’t you think that I could call on my Father to send more than twelve legions of angels to help me now?” (Matthew 26:53 NLT)

Thirdly, the hunger and anger of Jesus is a demonstration of his humanity – to show us how to live with sin but not in sin. The theology of the cross teaches us that we can find strength in our human vulnerability. Vulnerability is not weakness. Through the cross of Christ, the stories of those who are betrayed, rejected, weak, lonely, sick, dying and afraid become parts of God’s love story. Jesus died on the cross not to appease an angry god but to transform our suffering in this world:

“Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” Hebrews 2:14-‬18 NLT

Fourthly, we need to experience the joy of being forgiven in order to forgive. We are unable to forgive without the grace of God. Following Jesus is not trying to become a super saint or a perfect human being – it is living out the prayer of Jesus on the cross by the grace of God:

“Father, forgive them. They don’t know not what they’re doing.” (Luke23:34 GW)

The discipline of meditation is to help us to be more conscious of our thoughts and feelings so that we can be more forgiving. Discipleship is the exciting journey of discovering  the wonder of growing up as a child of God and to be fully human and fully divine. Our lives are all stories in the end and the most important question is whether they are a part of God’s love story or just a human story of futility, comedy or tragedy. 

SDG

Gratitude And Hunger For God’s Word

“Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:3 NLT

The experience of the Jews in the wilderness is to teach us the importance of gratitude and hunger for God’s Word. God gave the Jews ten simple commandments to enable them to live a life of worship that is rooted in Spirit and Truth. The Ten Commandments are our Creator’s loving instructions to help us overcome the 7 cardinal sins, to cultivate the 8 beatitudes of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to bear the 9 fruits of the Spirit. Richard Rohr gives us the following prophetic insight about the importance of the Ten Commandments:


“Without laws like the Ten Commandments, our existence here on earth would be pretty pathetic. What if you could not rely on people to tell you the truth? Or not to steal from you? What if we were not expected to respect our parents, and we all started out with cynicism and mistrust of authority? What if the “I love you” between partners was allowed to mean nothing? What if covetousness, which Rene Girard calls, “mimetic rivalry,” was encouraged to grow unstopped, as it is in capitalist countries today? Such shapelessness would be the death of any civilization or any kind of trustworthy or happy world. I wonder: Are we there already?”


The Ten Commandments are to keep us from becoming slaves of our human egos. They are God’s instructions to help us live in the Kingdom of Heaven here and now. But God’s commandments are onerous when our hearts are filled with greed instead of gratitude for what God has done for us. The Jews had been delivered from their crushing slavery in Egypt and yet, they complained time and again when they encountered physical hunger and thirst in the wilderness. Like the Jews in the wilderness, we too complain when we are faced with troubles and sufferings that are designed to purify our hearts – to change the soil of our hearts from a footpath and rocky soil to a fertile soil for God’s seed of love to germinate. It is gratitude that will keep us close to God as we remember His providence in our everyday life:


“Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles. His faithful love endures forever.

Give thanks to him who made the heavens so skillfully. His faithful love endures forever.

Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters. His faithful love endures forever.

Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights— His faithful love endures forever. The sun to rule the day, His faithful love endures forever. And the moon and stars to rule the night. His faithful love endures forever.” Psalms 136:4‭-‬9 NLT


Gratitude is more than being thankful for God’s blessings. It is a spirit of thankfulness for what God is doing, not only in our lives, but in the lives of others and in the world. The apostle Paul was encouraged and filled with gratitude for the faith and love of the followers in Thessalonica as they were initially less open minded to the gospel:


“But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence.” 1 Thessalonians 3:6‭-‬9 NL

We will have trials, problems and suffering in the wilderness of our lives. These are not times for complaints but a time to hunger and thirst for God’s promises, presence and power. It is a time to feed on God’s Word to be deeply rooted in the love of Christ. After listening to Paul’s message, the followers in Berea searched their Jewish scriptures day after day to confirm that Paul and Silas were teaching the truth (Acts 17:11-12). We have the advantage of having the New Testament as a testimony of the faith of the early followers in the Risen Christ. Jesus came to fulfill God’s Word and not be abolish it:


“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” Matthew 5:17‭-‬18 NLT


God’s Word is to lead us our Saviour and Shepherd of our souls, Jesus Christ. We need the discipline of Silence to open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit. As we search the Scriptures with the Holy Spirit, the Logos of God becomes the Rhema of God in our lives. Then our souls will be restored by our Shepherd of Love as He leads us in the paths of righteousness to the glory of God.

Finding Joy In Difficult Times

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” James 1:2‭-‬4 NLT

When I called the dermatological clinic to get an appointment for my wife, I was told there were no more appointments and we need to go down to the walk-in clinic and be prepared to wait for two hours or so. So we went down in the morning. While waiting in the clinic for registration, James 1:2-3 came to mind as one of our small group members had also been admitted to hospital for a complication following a biopsy of the lung.

To my utter surprise, my wife was called to see the doctor just 20 minutes after registration! When we returned home, I read the Upper Room devotional as I did not had time to read it in the morning. I felt uplifted when I found the scripture reading in the devotional was from James 1:1-12! It was God’s Rhema to me – to find joy in the problems we face in our daily lives.

Pain and problems are inevitable in our fallen world. Jesus came to show us the secret of joy and peace in the midst of the storms of life. Jesus came to show us the secret of finding joy in the midst of our trials and tribulations which can be expressed as follows:

                Joy = Suffering x Acceptance

When we are unable to accept our suffering, it is not possible to have joy. Our joy is determined by our attitude towards suffering. And our attitude depends on our attachment to the outcomes of our situations. Jesus came to demonstrate the power of acceptance when he died on the cross with much pain and suffering. We can therefore cultivate acceptance by keeping our eyes on Jesus:

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:2 NLT

The bad news is that there will be pain, suffering and death in our broken and fallen world. The good news is that we have victory over pain, suffering and death through the Good News of Christ. The apostle Paul was worried for the followers of Christ in Thessalonica and sent Timothy to visit them:

“He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles. Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know.” 1 Thessalonians 3:2‭-‬4 NLT

The followers of Christ in Thessalonica had received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought them (1 Thessalonians 1:6 NLT). Their faith was not rooted in blessings but in the power of love that is mediated through the resurrection of Christ. The example of the Thessalonian followers of Christ is an inspiration to all of us.

Faith is the confidence in what we hope for and the assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). This is what we received from God when we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God. Trust is our response of faith to commit our lives in total dependence on the power of love to overcome the evil that is present in the world and in our lives.

To find joy in difficult circumstances as well as in the mundane circumstances of our lives, we need to change our ego centric attitude in life to a Christ centered attitude. As we do so, the trials and tribulations in life become opportunities to grow our roots of faith deeper into the soil of God’s love. And our joy is multiplied by the degree of our acceptance of God’s good and perfect will in the face of suffering and death. Then we can truly sing:

“Joy to the world! the Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.”

F.L.O.W. OR W.O.L.F.

“Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God – which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT

Human ideas cannot save us from our human nature – only God’s Word can set us free from our sins. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23-26) and we need a Saviour to deliver us from sin:

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” Romans 3:23‭-‬24 NLT

The apostle Paul preached the message of God’s amazing grace with demonstrations of the power of God’s presence when he delivered the slave girl from the spirit of fortune telling and when he was set free from prison (Acts 16). It was God who gave Paul the courage to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of great opposition. the gospel of Jesus Christ turns our world upside down and move us out of our comfort zones.

In a Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica, he had explained the prophecies of the Jewish scripture and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead to the Jews and God fearing Greeks. And he proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah to set us free from sin. (Acts of the Apostles 17:3 NLT)

He later wrote to the Thessalonians to warn them that it is so easy to preach the gospel from wrong motives – out of greed or guilt – instead of seeking to glorify God:

“So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery. For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:3‭-‬4 NLT)

The apostle Paul provides us with a model of sharing the gospel with servant leadership and sacrificial service:

“Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you.” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 NLT)

The apostle Paul challenged the Thessalonians is to live their lives in a way that God will be glorified. We can do so by taking “sacred pauses” in our daily lives to enter quietly into God’s presence and to give thanks for His rest and peace.

It is through silence that our minds are rooted in our faith in God. Our hearts will then be opened to the Holy Spirit to be filled with God’s love. Only then are we able to obey what God commands us to do. And our obedience will lead us to service as our act of worship to God.

So let us learn to F.L.O.W. (Faith – Love – Obedience – Worship) with the grace of God – to grow in our Faith in God so that we will be filled with the Love of God. Only then can we live a life of joyful Obedience that is our sacrifice of praise as our Worship to God.

When we seek worship and obedience in order to love and to have faith, we will become W.O.L.F. (Worship, Obedience, Love and Faith)in sheep’s clothing. This is not what God wants us to do. Through the prophet Isaiah, God reprimanded the Jews:

“When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all  your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting – they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.” Isaiah 1:12‭-‬13 NLT

True worship flows from a heart of obedience. Worship before obedience leads to a heart of idolatry. To have a heart of obedience we need to do more than just declaring that Jesus is Lord – we need to enthrone him in our hearts and keep our eyes on the cross of Christ. So let us encourage one another to live as children of the promise:

“We will stand as children of the promise
We will fix our eyes on Him our soul’s reward
Till the race is finished and the work is done
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight.”

Embracing Suffering Through Faith, Hope and Love

“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” Isaiah 40:29 NLT

The apostle Paul described the church in Thessalonica as belonging to God, the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the NLT, GNB and NRIV versions. The evidence of their identity as the chldren of God was their faith, hope and love revealed in the crucible of suffering. This was  seen through their lives of good deeds and perseverance:

“As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:3 NLT

The disciples in Thessalonica had not only received the gospel with great joy but their faith had spread throughout Greece and beyond even though the sharing of how they had turned from idols to serve the living God caused them much suffering. They were living out their faith in the Risen Christ and looking forwards to the second coming of Christ.

There is a vast difference between being a Christian who is thinking only about going to heaven and being a follower of Christ who is seeking to bring heaven to earth in preparation for Christ’s second coming as our Servant King. Our attitudes are our patterns of thinking and how we think determines our feelings, actions and beliefs.

If our attitude towards life is seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, the gospel of Christ will be nonsense to us. But if we have truly turned away from the idols of wealth, health and longevity and seeking to serve God, our weaknesses and powerlessness are transformed by God’s power and strength so that we will soar high on wings like eagles:

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 NLT

The early disciples in Thessalonica did not have the New Testament – the Holy Spirit was writing the New Testament through their lives as they lived out the truths in the Old Testament. We serve a mighty God not to make a great story out of our lives but because we believe our lives are a part of the greatest story of God’s amazing love.

We live in a world that is filled with evil, sorrow and pain. Jesus Christ embraced suffering and death on the cross and rose from the dead to show us how dearly God loves us:

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3‭-‬5 NLT

When we truly follow Christ, we will be able to embrace suffering with faith, hope and love so that our lives will shine like stars in a world of corrupt and sinful people. To follow Christ is not about seeking to go to heaven when we die or trying to second guess when Christ wll come again – it is to be the answer to the prayer that God’s Kingdom will come so that His perfect Will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.