The Treasure of Faith – Overflowing Joy

“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:21, NLT

We are living in one of the very dark times of human history.  The Jews during the reign of King Asa lived in such a time like what we are facing now:

“During those dark times, it was not safe to travel. Problems troubled the people of every land. Nation fought against nation, and city against city, for God was troubling them with every kind of problem.2 Chronicles 15:5-‬6 NLT

From 1346 to 1353, 75 to 200 million people died from the Black Death, the bubonic plague pandemic in Eurasia and North Africa. Some regarded it as a divine punishment for the world’s wicked ways and thought it marked the end of the world. Others blamed Jews, foreigners, travelers and lepers for the pandemic. Some towns barricaded themselves in, afraid to let anyone in who was not already there and equally afraid to let anyone out.  New plague cemeteries were opened as the parish burial grounds were insufficient for the massive numbers of the dead. What is happening now in the COVID 19 pandemic should therefore not surprise us – our human weaknesses and fears are exposed in such times.

Fear spread even faster than the bacteria or virus.  Pandemics, tragedies and adversities in life are times when  the condition of our hearts are revealed.  Are we living in fear of death or in the love of God? Is the garden of our heart full of the weeds of lust, greed and pride?  Has the seed of God’s love blossomed into the fruit of love, joy and peace? It is a time to draw near to God and to deepen our roots of faith. The best antidote to fear is faith in a loving God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In these dark times, we have the opportunities to be the “burning bushes” of God – to draw others into God’s loving presence. It is a time to embark on the exodus from our slavery to sin to the Rest of God. We need to move from a capitalistic society that idolizes money, sex and power to a co-operative community that is rooted in love, joy and peace. The love of God is the consuming fire that burns up the weeds of greed, lust and pride and fuels the light of Christ through our acts of love and deeds of faith.

Our hearts need to be circumcised  before we can obey the new commandment that Jesus gave us – to love one another as He has loved us. Then we will obey, not in order to please God, but out of the love of Christ who is in us. And when we do so, we will have the inexpressible joy that overflows:

“When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” John 15:10-12, NLT

It is such overflowing joy that will empower us to face the storms and adversities in life.  Henri Nouwen reminds us that every bit of life is touched by a bit of death. Joy and sadness are born at the same time from the deep places in our hearts. Henri Nouwen observed:

“But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us.”

Jesus conquered death by dying on the cross to give us the joy of salvation:

“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right-hand side of God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:2, GNB

Overflowing joy is the hallmark of a disciple of Christ who knows that God is for us, that Christ is in us and that the Spirit is with us. Overflowing joy is the fruit of  abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in us.  Trials, adversities and persecutions prove the genuineness of  our faith as well as purify our faith.  Overflowing joy is the treasure of a faith that is more precious than gold:

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT.

Our purpose in life is to be witnesses of the joy of God’s great salvation by rejoicing in all circumstances with the peace that is beyond human understanding. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit which we bear when we deepen our roots of faith. The treasures we seek reveal the desires of our hearts. When the joy of the Lord is our treasure, our heart’s desire will be to seek the Presence of our Divine Lover. When we do so, life becomes simple and straightforward.  I felt deeply touched and inspired by Eugene Petersen’s translation of Colossians 2:6-7:

“My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live in him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.”

In our messy and confusing world, we cannot be sure of what to believe at times. But we can always know what love requires of us – to seek the joy of the Lord in all circumstances and not happiness in our pleasures.  And this is found in full obedience, holy reverence and true humility:

Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.

SDG

The War On Evil

Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world.” Ephesians 6:12 NIRV

With the COVID-19 vaccination, people are divided into two groups – the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.  The primary objective is to prevent the spread of the corona virus infection. Unfortunately, such division may lead to the discrimination of those who are not vaccinated. The COVID 19 pandemic is but a grim reminder of how interdependent we are on one another in sickness and in health. But even more lethal than a viral infection is the sin infection that is not only lethal to our body and soul but to the community as well. As with the COVID 19 virus, we need to be ever vigilant of sin  which is infectious and cancerous.

Sin is not only contagious, it contaminates and corrupts everyone. God’s judgment is not to punish us – it is to eradicate sin. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle for our hearts and minds. God is seeking to rescue and redeem humankind from evil.  We need to see the stories in the bible as our warning markers:

“These are all warning markers – danger! – in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-‬12 MSG

Before the  Israelites captured Jericho, they were given strict instructions of what they are to do when they succeed:

“But be careful when you are setting apart the riches for the Lord . If you take any of it, you will make the Israelite camp subject to annihilation and cause a disaster.  All the silver and gold, as well as bronze and iron items, belong to the Lord. They must go into the Lord ’s treasury.” Joshua 6:18-‬19 NET

However, Achan from the tribe of Judah was tempted by greed and took a beautiful Babylonian robe, two hundred silver pieces and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels for himself. Achan’s greed and disobedience led to the humiliating defeat of the Israelites by the army of Ai. Subsequently, he and his whole family were stoned to death for his theft. (Joshua 7:1-26)

Such stories in the bible are to invoke in us a horror for sin and to increase our awareness of the reality of evil that is in our hearts. In order for God to heal our deceitful hearts, we need to see the shadow side of our lives as Rob Bell reminds us:

“We all have a shadow side, the part of us in which our fears and insecurities and greed and terror and worst suspicions about ourselves reside. It’s a churning, restless, dark place, often containing truths that can cripple us with just a fleeting thought.”

When the followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit, they were of one heart and mind – they sold and shared their possessions. However, a couple, Ananias and Sapphira were tempted to keep a part of the money they received from the sale of their land for themselves. Both of them dropped dead when Peter confronted them with their lie:

“Peter then told her, “Why have you agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!” At once she collapsed at his feet and died. So when the young men came in, they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” Acts 5:9-10

There is a Achan, Ananias and Sapphira in each of us that leads us to be tempted by evil which is personified as Satan who seeks to deceive and discourage,  to distort and destroy the truths about God.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us out of temptation and deliver us from evil” to teach us the importance of drawing close to God every day. There is a war on evil but the battle belongs to God and Christ has already won the victory for us.  All we need to do is to put on our spiritual PPE – our personal protection equipment – the belt of truth, “gown” of righteousness, the “masks” of peace, the “gloves” of faith, the “cap” of salvation and be equipped with the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.

Learning to live with the COVID 19 virus requires us to change our mindsets – to think and care for others rather than only thinking and caring for ourselves. It is not just trying to avoid being infected by others but to stay healthy and not to infect others by isolating ourselves when we are not well. Likewise, we have to learn to live with sin but not to live in sin – to be aware that there is a war on evil raging around us.  

It is important to remember that the enemy is not our fellow human beings but the battle is against the spiritual forces of evil. All of us face desires that wage war against our souls. The best way to overcome such desires is take them captive to Christ so that the Holy Spirit can use them to advance Christ’s kingdom. “Your kingdom come” is a prayer that God is patiently waiting to answer through us. This brings to mind the object of the Boys’ Brigade that I had learned in my younger days:

“The advancement of Christ’s kingdom among boys and the promotion of habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.”

Cultivating habits of faith are not to seek God’s approval but to train us to run from evil and to hold on to Christ, in the midst of the war on evil. Just as the corona virus has taught us the importance of hygienic habits, we need to see the critical importance of spiritual habits to overcome evil.  One important spiritual habit is meditating on God’s Word. The objective is not to master the bible but to be mastered by the Holy Spirit through the bible and to live out spiritual truths such as:

“Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.” (Romans:12:9-10, MSG)

SDG

Come And See – A Narrative Based Faith

“Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day don’t stumble, because they see the light of this world. However, those who walk at night stumble because they have no light in themselves.” John 11:9-‬10 GW

The stories in the bible are not scientific or historical accounts  – they are sacred stories that reveal God’s amazing love to rescue, redeem and restore us from the dark world of sin. The narratives of healing, for example, are to inspire us to draw closer to God and to renew our souls in times of suffering.  

As we read the story of the healing of the cripple at the Temple by Peter and John, a small group member noted that Jesus did not heal the cripple although he must have seen him during his visits to the Temple. However, the healing of the cripple by Peter and John provided them with the golden opportunity to preach the power of the resurrection of Christ:

“You rejected the man who was holy and innocent. You asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the source of life. But God brought him back to life, and we are witnesses to that. We believe in the one named Jesus. Through his power alone this man, whom you know, was healed, as all of you saw.” Acts 3:14-‬16 GW

When Lazarus was dying, Jesus went to see him only two days after he had received the news.  It may appear that Jesus did not care. But Jesus knew that Lazarus had already died for when he arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days:

“Jesus meant that Lazarus was dead, but the disciples thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was only sleeping. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, but I’m glad that I wasn’t there so that you can grow in faith. Let’s go to Lazarus.” John 11:13-‬15 GW

“When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.” John 11:17 GW

Instead of arriving for Lazarus’ funeral, Jesus delayed his visit in order to demonstrate to the disciples that He is the Light of the world (John 8:12, John 12:46) who has the power over death as well as the one who brings people back to life for he is life itself (John 11:15).

Without the light of Christ, we cannot see the new and life-giving way that Jesus died to give us. I had read the scripture passage from Hebrews 10:19-25 in the Upper Room devotional on Tuesday morning:

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.” Hebrews 10:19-‬20 NLT

When I attended a meditation group later that evening, the following verse from the song, “Maranatha, O Lord Come,” tore away the veil in my mind to see the truth of Jesus opening a new and life-giving way that I had read in the morning:

“Now we watch , for Your appearing

When the veil Is torn away

As we see our freedom nearing

May this prayer grow stronger every day”

During the lectio divina meditation with the passage from John 1:45:51, I felt drawn to the verse, “Come and see.” I was encouraged by the promise of Jesus to Nathanael:

“I tell you the truth, you will see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.” (John 1:51, NLT)

This was the experience of Jacob who was not aware of God’s holy presence in his life. God broke into Jacob’s consciousness in a dream of a stairway reaching from earth to heaven with angels of God going up and down the stairway:

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”

God is always present with us but we are blind and deaf to His presence. Rob Bell noted that we can be very religious and well versed in complicated theological systems and yet not be a person who sees. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has given us a new and life giving way to come before the throne of God to receive His mercy and find grace to help us when we need it most (Hebrews 4:16, NLT). We have victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57, NLT). Our mission is live our way into this new kind of thinking – a life of resting in the love of God.

The Christian faith is not a fearful performance based religion of a slave of sin but the Spirit filled life of a child of God. Silence is the first step of the spiritual ladder to heaven. It is the invitation to the Holy Spirit to use scripture to judge our thoughts and intentions and to fill our hearts with the love of God.  Our stories of fears and failures become our narrative based faith that is rooted in God’s faithful presence, protection and power when we pray:

“Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh;

Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.

To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,

Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.”

SDG

The Exodus to Eternal Life

“And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” 2 Corinthians 12:3-‬4 NKJV

Many years ago, when we were on a  holiday in Nepal,  we heard a chant that sounded like, “No money take me home.” It was actually a Buddhist mantra, “Om Mani Padme Om.” But I had heard  it incorrectly as “No money take me home,” which convicted me of the truth that we can be so comfortable here on earth and forget that we are citizens of heaven. It is only in times when we are suffering that we are homesick for heaven. 

Caring for the dying over the past twenty years gave  me a vicarious foretaste of heaven and hell in the here and now –  heaven is love without pain and hell is pain without love. At the end of life many struggle between heaven and hell when they have pain with love. The dying has also taught me that death is beautiful and a masterpiece when it is the doorway to eternal life which begins even before we die.  Bishop Fulton Sheen described a happy death as a masterpiece and noted that no masterpiece was ever perfected in a day  – death is beautiful only for those who dies before he dies, by dying daily to the temptations in life. It is only when Christ means everything to us in this life that we’ll have even more when we die (Philippians 1:21).

Our purpose in life is to live as God’s masterpieces so that we do not die as copies of another. Each one of us is special and an original. The good news of the gospel is not that we are saved from hell but that we are saved to bring heaven to earth as the children and ambassadors of God as we pray, “Our Father who is in heaven, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.” Morton Kelsey paints for us the following inspiring picture of heaven:

“Heaven is the state of being in which we develop and grow in relationship with other human beings around us. We can also relate to the communion of saints, those who have stepped beyond our mortal life. And we can have fellowship with the angelic beings, and with the loving Trinity as well. Love opens incredible experiences of heaven to us.”

Rather than thinking of heaven as a post mortem destination, it may be more fruitful to think of our life here on earth as a journey to eternal life. Our thoughts and beliefs determine how we feel and how we live. God does not want to send anyone to hell – He wants all people to have the opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act (2 Peter 3:9 GW). It is our godless and hateful thoughts that lead to hell.  Godly and loving thoughts lead us to heaven.  When our hearts are filled with love, joy and peace, we are in heaven. When our hearts are filled with anger, fears and guilt, we are in hell. The bad news, according to the apostle Paul, is that we are slaves to the power of sin in our hearts and are unable to love God:

“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.” Romans 7:21-‬23 NLT

Bishop Fulton Sheen noted that when we think of heaven or hell as something that happens to us at the end of time, we keep on postponing it. And if we postpone the thought of heaven until the moment we die, we will be very much like the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert:

“The poor Jews were at one time within about eleven days of the Promised Land. It took only three weeks for them to make the journey form Egypt to the Promised Land, but because of their disobedience, failures, backsliding, and rebellions against Moses, it took them forty years to get into the Promised Land, which represents a pilgrimage in many of our lives. We make progress and then we slip back.”

The Exodus of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt is a picture of our journey of faith from our slavery to sin to a life filled with the love of God. Our Exodus from our slavery to sin is the beginning of the adventure of living the eternal life in the here and now rather than waiting to go to heaven when we die. Eternal life is not the absence of pain, sorrow, or death. Eternal life is the presence of God that swallows up pain, sorrow and death. Eternal life is seen when God turns the worst moments of life  into moments of great testimony. In a recent devotional, I read how God used a plumber, who was nearly consumed by the heart wrenching grief over the death of his thirty year old son, to be a channel of comfort to those who have lost a child. I was also inspired by the testimony of  a divorcee who was moved by the suicide of her teenage son to start a suicide prevention movement.

Like the apostle Paul, we can have a taste of Paradise in times when we experience the amazing grace of God in our dreams or in times of contemplative prayer. Let us learn to wait patiently in the silence of worship and offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God so that we will not conform to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In silence, we seek the Holy Spirit to search our minds for the  negative thoughts of anger, fear and guilt and take them captive to Christ.  In silence, we empty our heart of the idolatry of health, wealth and prosperity so that the Holy Spirit can fill our heart with the love of God. It is not the worship of silence but the practice of silence that is the first step in the journey to eternal life. So let us listen to the voice of God in our silence:

“Speak, O Lord and renew our minds.

Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us.

Truths unchanged from the dawn of time

That will echo down through eternity.

And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises

And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.

Speak, O Lord till Your Church is built

And the earth is filled with Your glory.”

SDG

From Deadly Fears To Faith Alive

And now it has been shown to us in the coming of our Savior Christ Jesus. He destroyed death and showed us the way to have life. Yes, through the Good News Jesus showed us the way to have life that cannot be destroyed. 2 Timothy 1:10 ERV

It is becoming increasingly clear that we have to learn to live with the COVID-19 virus. We need to counter the deadly fears about the virus and vaccination that are distorting our thinking and fueling negative beliefs which lead to unfounded anxieties and irrational actions. The viruses of misinformation and disinformation infecting our minds with illogical and selfish thoughts are more deadly than the COVID-19 virus. To make matters worse, our sinful human nature has politicized and commercialized the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 is the angel of death to wake us up to the spiritual dimension of life and the power of love. We are confronted with the harsh reality of living in slavery to evil through our fear of death. Our lives are being ruined by the sins of greed, lust and pride. We have lost our identity as the children of God. Like the prodigal son, we need to come to our senses. Like the alcohol addict we need to hit rock bottom to turn back from our foolish and futile ways.  Like the Israelites who were living in slavery in Egypt, we need to cry out for deliverance.

COVID-19 is a blessing if it draws us closer to God and to one another and change us from human doings into human beings. St Ireneus wrote that “the glory of God is the human being fully alive.” We can be fully alive only when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit we are driven by our sinful desires, ulterior motives and hidden agendas. Our egos drive us to be  successful – to achieve and accumulate. We need to be led by the Holy Spirit to be faithful and fruitful servants of God.

What we desperately need in these unpredictable and perilous times are not better vaccines against the COVID-19 virus but an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Our fears are deadly when they lead us away from God. The challenge is to see our deadly fears as opportunities for our tiny mustard seed faith to be transformed into a Rock of Salvation.

But for our mustard seed faith to grow, we need to be filled by the Holy Spirit. After Jesus rose from the dead, he told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit:

“Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5, NLT)

The dark clouds and storms of life are difficult times but when Christ is in us, they are times when the Holy Spirit breaks open our seeds of faith.  In times when God seems absent, our false and idolatrous beliefs about God are revealed and rectified by the Holy Spirit. In such times we need to learn to wait, to be broken, to die to our false selves  and to turn our eyes upon Jesus. God knows it is difficult for us to walk in faith during the storms of life and has promised us the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not a reward for our obedience – it is the gift of God to empower us to face our problems and trials when we have little faith:

“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)

We are to grow from being infants who lives on milk to being partners with Holy Spirit so that  we will be less dependent on signs and wonders to overcome our problems. Our faith is changed from a relationship of “God and me”, to “Spirit with me”, to “Christ in me”:

“So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.” (Hebrews 6:1-3, NLT)

 When we are abiding in Christ we will bear much fruit:

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John15:4-5, NKJV)

We need a spiritual revival but this have to begin in each one of us. Our hearts need to be changed before the world can be changed. For it is only when our hearts are changed that the Holy Spirit can work in us to move mountains with our mustard seed faith:

“Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do. I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John14:11-14)

In these gloomy times of the pandemic, let us share the good news that Jesus came to be the Way to turn our deadly fears into a faith that is alive in our daily lives and a life that cannot be destroyed.

“Breathe on me, Breath of God, so shall I never die,

but live with thee, the perfect life of thine eternity.”

SDG

Making Visible Our Invisible God Of Love

“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do,  because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT

A world darkened by the COVID 19 virus is a world in which the gospel of Christ can shine the brightest. Our invisible God of Love become visible when we are living as the children of God shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people (Philippians 2:15). The Risen Christ become visible when the followers of Christ are living as the invisible Body of Christ in complete harmony giving praise and glory to God, our Heavenly Father with one voice (Romans 15:4-6).

The COVID 19 may be more a messenger than an enemy – to teach us the truth that “grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.This, according to Richard Rohr, is what we will learn if we are honest and acknowledge that we are dying throughout our life.

The Heightened Alert restrictions are golden opportunities to do so as we cultivate the habit of silence and solitude. We need to take time to stand before God’s throne of grace and wait for the Holy Spirit to fill us with his love:

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”

Romans 5:3-‬5 MSG

The times of Heightened Alert are times of “Alert Expectancy” to watch how God becomes visible to the world when the Holy Spirit fully controls us and we bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control. These are times to turn from being a part of the crowd who are following Jesus for his miracles of healing.  For we are called to be a part of God’s Covenant Community of love by being followers of Christ who are living out the Messianic Pattern of sacrifice and service:

“Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.” (Romans 15:1-3, MSG)

The social distancing measures necessitated by the need to control the COVID 19 virus reveal the limitations of the visible church as well as the potential of the invisible church. These are challenging times for followers of Christ live out the truths that they are the Body of Christ and the living temples for the Holy Spirit.

We are no longer constrained by the physical limitations of space and time. However, we are more exposed to the viruses of lust, pride, greed, anger, envy and gluttony in the social media. We need the Holy Spirit to draw us and bind us together in small groups to encourage one another as well as to share our burdens and struggles. It is in small groups that we learn to love one another. And God’s love is perfected in us when He resides in us (1 John 4:12 NET). No one can see God but the world can see the love of God in our love for one another.

Instead of asking God to deliver us from the COVID 19 pandemic, we can thank God for the peace that is beyond all human understanding when we turn our eyes to Jesus to face our fears with faith in God’s providence and protection. When we know how much God loves us and we put our trust in his love, perfect love drives out all fear:

“God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.” 1 John 4:16-‬17 NLT

In our times of suffering, we have the comfort of God’s loving Presence through the Holy Spirit and have the joy that is unspeakable. We can pray for the Holy Spirit  to open our eyes to the glimpses of Truth that will set us free to live out the perfect love of God in these difficult times and to care for one another.

The real battle is not with the COVID 19 virus but within our hearts. To overcome our reactions of fear and doubt, to be freed from guilt, we need to develop the simple habits of faith – silence, feeding on God’s Word, prayer, practicing compassion and building community. These habits are not to make us successful Christians but to open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit so that we can be faithful and fruitful disciples of Christ.  Loving one another then becomes our second nature. And as the Holy Spirit binds us together as the invisible Body of Christ, our Heavenly Father will be glorified as He becomes visible to the world. Let us renew our minds as we pray to the Holy Spirit:

“Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.”

SDG

The Light Of Compassion

The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:31 NLT

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to give us the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Through Christ we not only have the passport to heaven but we can live in the presence of God in the here and now through the power of the Holy Spirit. But first we need to be convicted by the horror of sin and understand the judgment of God on evil. There is a spiritual battle that keeps us from the abundant life that Christ died to give us. The parable of the weeds and the wheat is to show us that there will be no sin or evil in the Kingdom of Heaven:

“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” Matthew 13:41-‬43 NLT

To live in the kingdom of heaven in the here and now, we need more than a passport to heaven – we need the gift of the Holy Spirit. Reading the bible with restless minds and guilty hearts keeps us from hearing our Shepherd’s call to listen and understand His promise that the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. In a world darkened by COVID-19, natural disasters, political conflicts and personal struggles, we need to be the light of Christ:

“For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” 2 Corinthians 4:6-‬7 NLT

The light shining in our hearts comes from the fire of God’s love burning up the sin and evil in our hearts. The hallmark of the Kingdom of Heaven is the love of God revealed in the cross of Christ.  It is not how successful we are in living the Christian life but how faithful we are following Christ in loving others and be a light of compassion in the world.

God’s commandments of love are not rules to be obeyed but recipes for the abundant life in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are to  feed on God’s Word so that our acts of love and deeds of faith will become a habit. Compassion flows from the obedience of a childlike faith in the agape love of God and not the obedience of a childish faith rooted in fear of God’s judgment. Our roots of faith grows deeper as we trust the Holy Spirit to remove the weeds of sin, fear and guilt from our hearts so that the seed of God’s love will fulfill God’s purposes for His glory:

“Speak O God, as we come to You

To receive the food of Your Holy Word

Take Your Truth plant it deep in us

Shape and fashion us in Your likeness

Then the Light of Christ will be seen today

In our acts of love and deeds of faith

Speak O God and fulfill in us

All Your purposes for Your glory.”

SDG

The Heartbreaks Of Our Heavenly Father

“And because we are His children, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Galatians 4:6

Recently, Singaporeans were shocked by the tragic and senseless murder of a teenager by another teenager in a school. This came at the heel of a worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic in the nation with clusters in the KTV lounges started by men seeking pleasure from Vietnamese hostesses. It was a grim reminder of  the fragility and unpredictability of life as well as the reality of our sinful nature and need for God’s healing grace.

My initial reactions and responses to these events revealed the spiritual condition of my heart – the presence of the weeds of lust, pride and anger and the absence of the wheat of the love, joy and peace.  As a worldly citizen, I was tempted to complain, to criticize, and to blame the authorities in the futile attempts to find answers that cannot be found. As a worldly Christian, I prayed for comfort, healing and recovery but with a faith that was rooted in human wisdom than in the power of God.

I was convicted by the hard truth that when my heart is a thorny soil, the seed of God’s grace cannot bear the fruit of love, joy and peace:

“The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.” Matthew 13:22 NLT

Without the presence of God, our souls are dead. Sin is our “spiritual genetic dysfunction” that leads to our failure to experience God’s presence in our daily lives. Furthermore, there are spiritual forces of evil in the spiritual dimension that governs this world of darkness. The evil we see in the world is also very much present deep within our hearts.

My heart needs to be broken by what breaks God’s heart. God suffers with us in our pain with “all creation groaning as in the pains of childbirth” and the “longing to be released from sin and suffering” (Romans 8:23, NLT).  A world darkened by the absence of God’s presence is not God’s will but the consequence of God’s judgment:

“Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.” Romans 1:28-‬29 NLT

But God sent Jesus to show us how great His Love is and to open the way for us to become the children of God. Only the Love of God can turn misery into ministries. Jesus died and rose from the dead to give us the Holy Spirit so that we will have servant hearts and servant hands to serve others. It is only by the grace of God that we can offer our suffering as our sacrifice of praise trusting that God will take our pain and fill us with His love so that we can comfort others.  Every suffering we go through is not pointless but has a divine purpose when our misery is turned into a ministry.

Henri Nouwen found that the closer he came to the poor and broken people of the world, he had a greater desire to speak directly about God and less impelled to deal with the burning issues of the day. The poor and the broken were calling him to be more and more God-centered and to reveal to others God’s immense  and intimate love for them rather than to help them solve their problems. He felt led to address suffering and sorrow in a different way:

“Through prayer we can carry in our heart all human pain and sorrow, all conflicts and agonies, all torture and war, all hunger, loneliness, and misery, not because of some great psychological or emotional capacity, but because God’s heart has become one with ours.”

Our calling is to be faithful disciples living as the children of God so that the Light of Christ may be seen in our acts of love and deeds of faith. As a faithful disciple we will pray, not to possess more of the Holy Spirit, but for the Holy Spirit to possess more and more of us and to fill our hearts with the Love of God. We will pray for the Holy Spirit to bind us together for a single grain of salt cannot do very much but when we are living together as the family of our Heavenly Father we can “add to and transform the flavor of life all around the world.”

The good news is that Christ has won the victory over sin and evil through the power of His Resurrection. Let us praise God for giving us the Holy Spirit to empower us with inner strength and  to experience and share the love of God:

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.” Ephesians 3:17-18 NLT

SDG

Mission Impossible Or Miracle Incognito

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, it is the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)

It seemed like a strange coincidence that the day after I set a goal to write a book on 365 devotionals over the next two years on God’s command to “fear not”, the scripture verse in my morning devotion was Matthew 10:31: “Don’t be afraid! You are worth more than many sparrows.” It brought to mind two baby birds that had fallen from their nest in our porch three weeks ago and were unable to fly for three days. But they were able to fly away after we prayed for them.

Later that evening, I attended a meditation group practising lectio divina with the passage from Matthew 11:20-24. I was drawn to the word, “miracle.” Over the next few days, a series of encounters primed me to pray for miracles – my brother had experienced sudden deafness in his left ear, a cousin had catheter problems,  a friend’s son was admitted to hospital for an unusual medical problem, another friend had depression and a pastor was stricken with cancer.

Problems can be stumbling blocks to weaken our faith or stepping stones to a deeper faith to see the invisible Hand of God holding us in His loving embrace. It dawned on me that problems appearing to be “mission impossible” are actually “miracle incognito.” Miracles are not to prove God’s existence but are the evidence of the invisible Presence of God which is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. Miracles reveal God’s amazing grace and inspire wonder and gratitude for God’s loving embrace.

It has been noted that “warfare surrounds the birth of a miracle” for there is a spiritual battle for our hearts and minds. Satan is evil personified and seeks to draw us away from God. Jesus is love personified drawing us to the bosom of our Father’s love.  As we seek to draw close to God, we can expect more and not less problems.  We will encounter people who will test our patience to grow the fruit of love. We will face suffering and sorrow but God will turn our tears of sorrow into tears of unspeakable joy of being in God’s loving presence. We may hit rock bottom in our lives but then we will discover the Rock of our Salvation and experience the peace that is beyond all human understanding. For the good news is that love always triumph over evil.

Life can be impossible at times especially for some of us in this season of the COVID 19 pandemic. It may appear to be mission impossible to find joy in such times. But it is precisely in such times that our eyes need to be opened to see the miracle incognito of God. It is in such times that we learn to entrust ourselves to God who knows our needs even before we pray for them and to experience the miracle of a calm and quiet mind described by Rob Bell:

“This is calm, grounded, centered, nonreactive living in which we trust that no matter how chaotic or uncertain things are, we will be okay. He’s teaching us to have a quiet mind, to silence the voices that can run wild in our heads.”

We need the bible, God’s S.O.S. – Story Of Salvation – to calm our minds and  empower us to transform the mission impossible of living a happy life in a messy world  into the miracle incognito of living the joyful life in the kingdom of heaven. The bible is not a book of rules for us to read and master. It is God’s microscope to search our hearts when we read the bible with the intention to let the Holy Spirit  transform our minds and master our will.

As I was writing this reflection, I was much encouraged to find 4 verses of “Fear Not” in my reading in one day! Spending time with the bible is not a burdensome chore but the adventure of discovering the gems of God’s promises to recreate the kingdom of heaven from a  messy world filled with anxieties and stress.

We can choose to be a slave of Satan who is blind to the burning bushes in the mundane activities of our lives or a soldier of Christ who has eyes opened like the servant of Elisha to see the horses and chariots of fire:

“Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord , open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire” (2 Kings 6:16-‬17, NLT).

Albert Einstein wisely observed that there are only two ways to live your life – one is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Without faith it is impossible to see miracles. Faith is rooted in the awareness that God is always with us for Christ is in us. Faith is the evidence of the unseen relationship with God which has been restored and renewed when we are reborn again through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is the journey to the miraculous life that God wants to give us – the victorious life of faith in Christ and not a life of fear under Satan. So let us feed on the Word of God to grow in faith:

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16, ESV)

Habits Of Faith – Silence

“I pray that my ways may become firmly established so that I can obey your laws.” Psalms 119:5

Two baby birds fell from their nest in our porch as they were unable to fly. We found them among our plants in the driveway from their chirping and put them back in the nest. For three days we had to pick them up from our garden and even in the drain outside our house. I was thinking of getting a bird cage to keep them safe but felt led to message my small group to pray for them. To my surprise, one of them was able to fly soon after and the other, a couple of hours later. Later that day I was convicted by the Holy Spirit through the following verse in one of the books that I was reading:

“What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin ? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-‬31 NLT

I had felt foolish about asking my small group to pray for the birds but the Lord was teaching me an important truth about prayer enunciated by John Stott:

“Prayer is the very way God has chosen for us to express our conscious need of Him and our dependence on Him.”

To be conscious of God’s presence and power we need to experience God’s miraculous interventions. And for a miracle to occur in our lives we need the deep conviction that what occurred was an act of God – a direct intervention of God on our behalf in response to our prayers.  We do not pray to get God to do what we want but to experience His loving Presence embracing us so that we can live a life of faith and not be enslaved by fear.

A living faith, according to Jean-Pierre de Caussade, is the steadfast pursuit of God through all the things that seek to disguise, demolish and destroy our faith in God. He encourages us to accept each moment as a revelation from God:

“Love and accept the present moment as the best, with perfect trust in God’s universal goodness……Everything without exception is an instrument and means of sanctification…..God’s purpose for us is always what will contribute most to our good.” 

In fact, it is God who is pursuing us, but like Adam we are hiding from Him. We need to cultivate the habit of silence to be still to hear God’s whispers of love in a noisy world where silence is drowned. We need to experience the Holy Spirit as the breath of God filling us with the spiritual oxygen of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control. As we become aware of the thoughts flowing ceaselessly  through our minds we can practice breathing out the spiritual carbon dioxide of lust, guilt, fears, anger, envy, greed, acedia, pride, and gluttony:

“Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure,

Until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.”

It is not easy to practice silence but it is a habit we need to develop to rewire our brains. Without silence, “ourlifebecomesajumbleofletters” – we need the blank spaces to read: “our life becomes a jumble of letters.” God is always speaking but we cannot understand what He is saying to us when we do not moments of stillness in our lives. The practice of silence is not a skill to master but a habit to develop so that we can be mastered by the Holy Spirit through silence.

Practising silence is the most concrete and simplest way to express our intention to seek the presence of God. But it requires humility and perseverance to wait on God. It may appear to be a  “waste of time” when it seems like we are doing nothing with God and God is doing nothing with us. But as Thomas Merton reminds us, it is only when we give ourselves fully to God that we can receive from God:

“We receive enlightenment only in proportion as we give ourselves more and more completely to God by humble submission and love. We do not first see, then act: we act, then see…..And that is why the man who waits to see clearly, before he will believe, never starts on the journey.”  

So let us pray for the practice of silence to be firmly established in our lives so that we can live a life of joyful obedience to God.

SDG