A Certain Hope In An Uncertain World

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:2 ESV

As we come to the end of 2021, we face an uncertain future, a future that appears more unknown and unpredictable than in previous years. This is the grim reality the present pandemic is forcing all of us to see.  The only certainty in the 3rd millennium, besides death and taxes, is that world is heading for destruction.  Scientists have warned that if we continue with the reckless consumption of the earth’s resources and ignore the signs of climate change and global warming, the world will come to an end from the folly of humankind.

The coronavirus is God’s megaphone to awaken humankind to the horror of a fallen and broken world and the hopelessness of living with what Pope Francis has described as an “isolated consciousness.” Such a consciousness sows division and is a major obstacle to the union of hearts and minds.1  When each of us live in the world of “I, me and mine” and see others as “them,” we are all prisoners of sin condemned to live with masks, social distancing and quarantine – not only physically but psychologically.  We need to be inoculated with God’s virus of love to live with the certain hope of eternal life – as the children of God, as the family of God, and as the Body of the Risen Christ. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven,” to teach us to live together in a community of love – with a “us, we, and our” mindset and to live with transparency, vulnerability and intimacy.

This is the hope, grounded in the love of God, that came down at Christmas more than 2000 years ago.  Advent is the celebration of the certain hope of God’s overflowing love that is revealed in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas to declare the good news that Jesus came to lead us from death to life. Evil is the opposite of “live” and evil forces draws us from life to death. Jesus came to give us the Holy Spirit to lead us from death to life and to be partners in God’s new heaven and earth. We follow Christ in order to be the people of God and to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit binds us together as a community of believers through the church. The church is not a museum of saints but a hospital for sinners. Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus did not found the Church as “a citadel of purity nor is it a constant parade of heroes and saints.”2 We need the fellowships of small groups to be the spiritual ICUs to nurse us back from spiritual death to eternal life.

The Covid pandemic marks the dawn of a new age. Pope Francis wisely observed that “in times of crisis and tribulation, we are shaken out of our sclerotic habits” as the love of God purify us and reminds us that we are a people of God.  We are invited to “abandon the self-defeating isolation of individualism” – to flow from our “little lagoons” of our limited physical life into the broad river of eternal life.3

The birth of the infant Jesus, helpless and dependent,  is the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace of God to teach us that God’s grace is sufficient for His power is greatest in our weaknesses.4 It is by God’s grace that we can live with joyful hope in the face of our problems and trials:

“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 disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”5

Faith is our response to the grace of God – by faith we see the reality of what we are to hope for and the evidence of things we cannot see.6 Our faith is rooted in the hope that love always trumps evil. This hope is the wondrous gift of God’s heaven given silently when we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit with meekness and faith:

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”7

The practice of silence leads us to the mind of Christ8 and opens our eyes to the evil of an “isolated consciousness” that is within us. As the Holy Spirit fills our open hearts with the love of Christ, we can live by faith with the certain and overflowing hope of God’s amazing grace – our doubts are overcome by a love that is stronger than death, our sorrows by unspeakable joy and our fears by the peace that is beyond all human understanding. With Jesus in our hearts, we stand with hope as children of the promise to be a light in a world darkened by the pandemic:

“We will stand as children of the promise
We will fix our eyes on Him our soul’s reward
Till the race is finished and the work is done
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight.”9

SDG

References

1.  Pope Francis, Let Us Dream, The Path To A Better Future, (London, Simon & Schuster) pg 69-74

2. Ibid, pg 70

3. Ibid, pg 99 – 102

4. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT

5. Romans 5:3-5, NLT

6. Hebrews 11:1, NLT

7. O Little Town Of Bethlehem

8.  1  Corinthians 2:16, NLT

 9. By Faith – Keith & Kristyn Getty

Life Before Death

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die.” John 6:47-50

Our hearts sank when the doctor called us to go down to the hospital as a loved one was critically ill. The doctor shared her concern that our family member had a high risk of having a cardiac arrest. By the grace of God, his condition stabilized later that night . The encounter with the power of darkness drew my attention to the victory over death that Christ has secured for us. 

Our small group had been reflecting on the Acts of the Apostles. We read the story of the young man, Eutychus, who was listening to the apostle Paul talking till past midnight. The room was lighted with many flickering lamps and Eutychus was sitting on the windowsill. He became drowsy and fell down three stories to his death. But Paul simply went down, took him in his arms and said, “Don’t worry, he’s alive.” Then they went back upstairs, shared in the Lord’s Supper and Paul continued preaching till dawn!It was an eye opener that the disciples were not distracted by the miracle of Paul raising Eutychus from the dead – they simply continued with the Lord’s Supper and the preaching of God’s Word. Miracles were their everyday experiences and their focus was not on the miracles but on the presence and love of God. 

The story of Eutychus is a graphic reminder of the weakness of our flesh – we may fall asleep during sermons and pastors need not be offended by those who do so! God knows that our spirits are willing but our flesh is weak.2 It was an encouragement to me as I fall asleep at times during my silent meditation. I can now take comfort by choosing to see such times as the times that Christ is picking me up and restoring my soul.

The practice of meditation is more than resting in God. There may be times when we are lead into the darkness of our souls and even the absence of God. This is to humble us as we face the reality that without Christ,  we are the living dead – living under the power of darkness. It is only with the spirit of humility that we can truly understand and be grateful for the good news of Advent – that God is waiting and seeking to deliver us from darkness so that we can live in the light.

 Advent is a time to share the good news of God’s amazing grace that through faith in Christ we are reborn again – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.3 The only work God wants from us is to believe in Jesus Christ.4 Through faith in Jesus Christ, we have the keys to enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Jesus came to be the Light of the World5 to show us the way out of the dark world of suffering and to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Beatitudes are the keys to the kingdom of God.  We need to come to terms with our spiritual poverty for it is the poor in spirit who will mourn and seek the comfort of God.  When we do so, our humility fills us with meekness so that we can inherit the kingdom of God. Then we will hunger and thirst for righteousness.6  Before going to the cross, Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper as God’s means of grace.  Jesus told the Jews that they need to eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life:

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever.”7

Like the deer longing for streams of water, we thirst for the living God.8 We hear Christ, the well of our salvation, calling us to quench our spiritual thirst:

“Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, “Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.”9

Journeying with a loved one in the intensive care unit provided me with a better understanding of the narrow way. The door to eternal life is narrow because it is an intimate and personal relationship between me and Christ. The narrow way is not about giving up our pleasures but surrendering our will that God’s will may be done in our lives. The way of the cross is a movement from death to life.

Without Christ we are spiritually dead and on the journey from life to death –  living the “dash” between our birth and death. Jesus Christ is God’s gift to lead us from spiritual death to live the eternal life before death. Advent is a time of waiting and preparing our hearts so that God’s Word can be made “flesh” in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Waiting on God through meditation is to enter into the rest of God – to remember that there is nothing that we can do to earn God’s grace. It is the expression of our trust in God’s unconditional love that is revealed on the cross of Christ. Christian meditation is a journey into our hearts to see ourselves as God sees us and not who we pretend to be. We can take off our masks when we know that God loves us just as we are. As we do so, the Holy Spirit will lead us to become the person God wants us to be.

May this Advent prepare us for the journey to eternal life. As we face the storms of the Covid pandemic and other illnesses in our lives, let us learn to be still as we wait on God:

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

SDG

References:

  1. Acts of Apostles 20:7-12 NLT
  2. Matthew 26:41, Mark 14:38
  3. John 1:12-13
  4. John 6:29
  5. John 8:12
  6. Matthew 5:3-6
  7. John 6:55-58
  8. Psalm 42:1-2
  9. John 7:37-38

The Wisdom of the Cross

“But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:24-‬25 NLT

A year ago, I witnessed the “miracle of the triumphant crossing” of my 91 year old aunt from her earthly life to eternal life. She was a kidney cancer survivor of more than 40 years. Two months before her death, she miraculously survived a medical crisis when she had to be intubated in the intensive care unit and had a renal dialysis. This was a “miracle of God’s guidance to a cure” which gave her the opportunity to prepare her family for her departure to heaven. She was homesick for heaven and felt that she had already been given her passport to heaven. She was waiting impatiently for her ticket to heaven. She was longing to be “absent from the body” and to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8).

I was much encouraged by my aunt’s preparedness for her heavenly destination. The day before she passed away,  a devotional aptly described her life – “sometimes God chooses to deliver us from hardships, and sometimes he delivers us through them.”  But what is most important is that we are set free from the fear of death:

“Being God’s friend does indeed come with fringe benefits. Yes, you’ll have a host of blessings while you’re alive, but what a comfort to never be in terror of dying, because you have nothing to fear.”

The apparently futile and horrifying death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the awesome demonstration of the amazing love of God that sets us free from sin and the fear of death. The good news of the cross of Christ is foolishness when we are not hungering and thirsting for a loving relationship with God as our Heavenly Father, with Jesus as our Divine Lover, or with the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Guide.

How can it be, Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn, that God should die for us who caused his pain? The Jews were offended by the gospel of the cross of Christ as they were seeking signs of God’s power from heaven while the Greeks saw the gospel as nonsense as they were seeking human wisdom. But the wisdom of the cross is that it reveals God’s dramatic cure for our mortal addiction to sin. We may be physically alive but spiritually dead. We are separated from a holy God by our sinful nature.

The cross of Christ sets us free from the judgment of God against sin and evil so that we can live a life of grace and not a life under the law. But our human nature wants to control and manipulate others through fear and greed. Hence, we will face opposition to the message of the cross which sets us free to live for God and not for our egos. The apostle Paul was persecuted when he was sharing the gospel of Christ crucified in Corinth but he was encouraged to persevere and to speak out:

“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent!  For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” Acts of the Apostles 18:9-10 NLT

We need to speak out even when we feel that we are a voice in the wilderness. But to be chosen by God is to embark on a journey out of our comfort zone which may result in losing our heads like John the Baptist. Believing in the Risen Lord, according to Henri Nouwen, means believing that, in and through Christ, the evil one has been overcome and death is no longer the final word. Like Abraham, we are chosen to live a life of faith in the love of God.  Abraham had to face struggles, strife and conflicts when he answered God’s call. Jordan Peterson makes the following perceptive observation:

“The biblical account insists that Abraham stayed safely ensconced within his father’s tent until he was seventy-five years old (a late start even by today’s standards). Then called by God – inspired by the voice within, let us say, to leave family and country – he journeys forward into life. And what does he encounter, after heeding the divine call to adventure? First, famine. Then tyranny in Egypt; the potential loss of his beautiful wife to more powerful men; exile from his adopted country; conflicts over territory with his kinsmen; war, and the kidnapping of his nephew; extended childlessness (despite God’s promise to make him the progenitor of a great nation); and finally, terrible conflict between his spouses.”

The way of the cross is daunting when life is centered only on ourselves and we see life only from our limited human perspective. Our negative attitudes and perspectives towards the calling of God needs to be changed. David Livingstone posed the challenging question:

“There is one safe and happy place, and that is in the will of God. If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?”

We lose the joy of God’s presence when fears and doubts keeps us from pursuing God’s wisdom. Lazarus had to die so that Martha can experience the truth that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that we can be reborn again and have everything we need to live the eternal life here and now:

“A thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But I came so that my sheep will have life and so that they will have everything they need.” John 10:10 GW

The surrender or sacrifice in following Christ is not giving up what we love but our response of love to our Divine Lover. It is living out the truth that God’s grace is all we need and that God’s power works best in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8). The wisdom of the cross is to open our eyes to see that heaven is found in the Presence of God and hell is the absence of the Presence of God. The cross of Christ beckons us to turn back to God and to rest in Christ so that the Holy Spirit can fill us with the love of God. This is folly to the worldly person but heavenly wisdom to those whom God has called. In the cross of Christ, we have the power for the hour. So let us live in the wisdom of the cross:

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

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

SDG

The Fire of Love

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.  Psalms 23:4 NKJV

Journeying with a loved one who is critically ill in the hospital intensive care unit brought me face to face with the hard truth that all of us will have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death – some of us are currently walking in the valley, some have walked out of the valley and some will be walking into the valley at some time or other. The dark times of our lives reveal what is in our hearts. In these times our faith is tested by the fire of love:

“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 1:7 NLT

In such times, the fire of love may feel like a refining fire as we struggle to understand the judgment of God and the love of God. When our hearts are filled with greed, pride and lust, we are enslaved  by sin, self-righteousness and Satan. These sins keep us from the kingdom of heaven. God’s judgment is against the sin of greed; the self-righteousness of pride; and Satan who tempts us through the lusts of the flesh. God’s judgment is the refining fire of love to lead us from an idolatrous faith in wealth, health and success to a repentant faith in Christ crucified so that we can live as God’s beloved children:

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him – though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.” Acts of the Apostles 17:27-‬28 NLT

Walking through such a dark valley, I am confronted to search my heart – “Is Jesus truly Lord of my life?”, “Am I walking each day with the Spirit?.” “Am I trying to master life or to be mastered by the Spirit for the glory of God?” The storms of life reveal how I have been building my life on the Rock of Christ:

“Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-‬13 NLT

God’s refining fire is a reminder that we are saved by grace and not by our works. Our acts of kindness flow spontaneously from our walk with the Spirit – we are not driven to be do-gooders.  In the parable of the sheep and the goats we see that the sheep are not aware of the good they had done and the goats are not aware of the good they had not done:

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:37-‬40 NLT

All the work that I do for God through my own self efforts are of no value if the underlying motive is pride. It is only what the Holy Spirit does through me that is of any value. It is not what we do or have done but whether we know Christ and that Christ knows us. It is whether our lives are Christ-centred or self-centred:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’  But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ Matthew 7:21-23 NLT

The fire of love is a consuming fire that burns away the false self of our egos so that “it is no longer I who lives, but Christ.” When Christ is in us, we will know and fully understand the divinity of Christ.  Only then can we be the channels of His teachings and miracles:

“But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me.” John 5:36 NLT

“But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” John 10:38 NLT

The fire of love is a purifying fire that burns away self righteousness which keeps us from receiving Jesus as our Lord and Saviour:

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!  Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” John 5:39-‬40 NLT

“Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” John 8:47 NLT

When Jesus is our Shepherd of Love, we can walk in the valley of the shadow of death with no fear even when we go through the fire of love. It is a refining fire to lead us from a superstitious faith to true faith in the crucified Christ – to live out the truth that “it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.” Love will then be the hallmark our faith.

It is a consuming fire to burn away our guilt so that we will be filled with the unspeakable joy of salvation. It is a purifying fire to transform our minds and fill them with the peace that is beyond all human understanding.  And the fire of love becomes our light to lead us out of our valley of deepest darkness.

When our heart’s one desire is to be holy and to be set apart for our Master, we will experience the fire of love as God’s refining fire to purify our hearts:

“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”

SDG

Performance Or Worship

“My beloved spoke, and said to me: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, And come away.” Song of Solomon 2:10 NKJV

As I watched my grand-daughter practice her piano lessons for a recital, I saw the importance of our attitude towards the practice of spiritual habits. At times, when my grand-daughter was asked to practice her piano, she would be a little grouchy as it felt like a task she had to do. It is necessary to practice in order to play well, but the focus on performance can take away the joy of playing the piano. It is only when we have a love for music that the habit of playing a musical instrument regularly will not be stressful but joyful with the music flowing out of us.

Likewise, God wants us to spend time with Him because we are His beloved and not His minions who are slavishly trying to please Him. It is not our acts of devotion but the attitude of our heart that brings joy to God. Following Christ is not a performance but a response to God’s invitation of love to get up and spend time with Him:

“My beloved spoke, and said to me: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, And come away.” Song of Solomon 2:10 NKJV

God gave His Son to save us, not just from hell when we die, but from sin and for us to have a relationship with Jesus as our Divine Lover. When we read and meditate on the bible as God’s love letter to us, it will not be boring nor a chore.  We will delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night (Psalms 1:2, NLT).  God’s laws become our treasure:

“Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart’s delight. I am determined to keep your decrees to the very end.” Psalms 119:111-‬112 NLT

Meditating on the bible is the expression of our wholehearted desire to seek God’s will. Before we can do so, our hearts need to opened by the Holy Spirit like Lydia:

“A woman named Lydia was present. She was a convert to Judaism from the city of Thyatira and sold purple dye for a living. She was listening because the Lord made her willing to pay attention to what Paul said.” Acts 16:14 GW

By grace, we will hunger and thirst for God’s Word. When we feed on God’s Word,  we will be led by the Spirit – like Paul and Silas – who were asked go to Macedonia for their first missionary journey:

“Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.” Acts of the Apostles 16:6-‬7 NLT

The attitude of our heart is of utmost importance for it is the filter that determines our reactions or responses to situations in life. The trials and tribulations of life reveals what is truly in our hearts. When Paul and Silas were thrown into prison after they were beaten in Philippi, they turned it into an opportunity to worship God instead of feeling sorry for themselves:

“After they had hit Paul and Silas many times, they threw them in jail and ordered the jailer to keep them under tight security. So the jailer followed these orders and put Paul and Silas into solitary confinement with their feet in leg irons. Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God. The other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:23-‬25 GW

I imagined Paul and Silas praying and singing the Psalms and sharing the gospel with the other prisoners. Their worship led to the miracle of the prison doors being opened and the loosening of the chains on the prisoners as well as the salvation of the prison jailer and his family:

“Suddenly, a violent earthquake shook the foundations of the jail. All the doors immediately flew open, and all the prisoners’ chains came loose. The jailer woke up and saw the prison doors open. Thinking the prisoners had escaped, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul shouted as loudly as he could, “Don’t hurt yourself! We’re all here!” The jailer asked for torches and rushed into the jail. He was trembling as he knelt in front of Paul and Silas. Then he took Paul and Silas outside and asked, “Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you and your family will be saved.” They spoke the Lord’s word to the jailer and everyone in his home.” Acts 16:26-‬32 GW

These stories in the bible are to open our hearts and minds to the reality of God’s amazing grace. The bible is a record of God’s love for us and to remind us that evil seeks to draw us away from the love of God.  The bible reveals how God is drawing us back to Him through Jesus Christ and how we can remain in His redeeming love through the Holy Spirit.

There is a God shaped vacuum in our hearts that only Christ can fill but we have packed it with the idols of health, wealth and success.  The practice, not the performance, of the spiritual habits of silence and meditating on the bible are to draw us to the cross of Christ – to receive Christ as our righteousness. Then the fire of God’s love will purify our hearts from the sins of pride, greed and lust. Instead of living our old life of performing for God under the law, we become new creations filled with a new life of worship by grace. With hearts filled with the love of God, our hands and feet becomes Christ’s for Christ has no hands and feet but ours.  And God’s love with overflow from our lives as our lips are filled with praise:

I love you, Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship You
Oh, my soul, rejoice!

Take joy my King
In what You hear
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
In Your ear

SDG