Warriors of Love

Read:

Joshua 10:1-15

Reflect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response:

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

Reflect:

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

Song of Praise

Soldiers of Christ, Arise

SDG

Notes:

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

Imagine Heaven

Read:

Joel 2:12-27

Reflect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond:

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

Reframe:

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

Song of Praise

Still

SDG

Notes:

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

What Really Matters

Read:

Lamentations 3:25-58

Reflect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond:

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

Reframe:

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

SDG

Notes:

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

The Consuming Fire Of Love

Read:

Matthew 10:5-33

Reflect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond:

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

Reframe:

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

Song of Praise

Refiner’s Fire

SDG

Notes:

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

Stones Alive!

Read:

Haggai 2:1-9, NLT

Reflect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond:

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

Reframe:

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

Song of Praise

The Heart Of Worship

SDG

Notes:

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

A Taste Of Death

Read:

Mark 5:35-43

Reflect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond:

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

Reframe:

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

Song of Praise

Search me, O God

SDG

Notes:

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

Life Beyond Death

Read:

Matthew  17:1-13

Reflect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond:

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

Reframe:

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

Song of Praise

Because He Lives

SDG

Notes:

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

Living In The Light Of Death

Read:

Luke 8:49-56

Reflect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond:

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

Reframe:

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

Song of Praise

There Is A Hope

SDG

Notes:

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