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

Love Sees , Fear Blinds 

Read: 

Isaiah 41:11-20

Reflect:

“I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand and say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid; I will help you.”  Don’t be afraid, Jacob, you worm. You people of Israel, I will help you.” declares the Lord, your Defender, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 41:13-14, GW

Where there is no hell, we will not long for heaven. Our longing for heaven is the expression of our hunger for the love that lies deep within our hearts. Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in God.1 When for me to live is everything else but God, death will be hell when I die and lose everything that is dear to me. It is only when for me to live is Christ, that to die is gain.2

Pseudo-evangelism, according to Oswald Chambers, makes an enormous blunder when it insists on conviction of sin as the first step to Jesus Christ.3 Evangelism is sharing the love of God that is revealed by Jesus Christ. Jesus came to restore our identity as the children of God. Love sees the horror of sin that keeps us from the love of God. Fear blinds us to the love of God as His children:

‘See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.”4 

We are to love God not because we are afraid of going to hell but in response to His amazing love that is revealed by the cross of Christ. In fact, we are living in hell on earth when we are living without God. That is why we pray for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.5 

The story of the Jews is a revelation of how terrible they can be even after they had been chosen to be a people filled with the wonder of God and to live in the Kingdom of God here and now. In a time when they felt God’s wrath and judgment for their sins, God gave them His message of comforting love:

“I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand and say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid; I will help you.”  Don’t be afraid, Jacob, you worm. You people of Israel, I will help you.” declares the Lord, your Defender, the Holy One of Israel.”6

It is only with God’s love, revealed by the cross of Christ, that we can see our new identity as the children of God. Love sees the truth of God’s judgment. Fear blinds us to God’s love. Love sees God’s discipline. Fear fills us with the fear of God’s punishment. Jesus did not come to condemn us for rebellion but to redeem us from our slavery to sin that keeps us in rebellion. It is only when we are abiding in God’s love that we can love and not fear God’s commandments. And we have the wonderful promise that God holds our right hand with His right hand.

We cannot see God when we “tie God up in His laws and in denominational doctrines and orders of services.”7 We need to see the Bible as an invitation to see with a new set of eyes instead of making the Bible into “a bunch of ideas – about which we can be right or wrong.”8

Without love, we feel like a lowly worm or a fragile insect.9 But with God’s love, we can see ourselves as a caterpillar that will be transformed into a butterfly. In the meantime, we can dance with God for He holds our right hand with His right Hand as we sing:

“The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.”10

Response:

Lord, lead me with Your chains of Love so that I will be driven by my fears.

Reframe:

1   What are the fears that blind me to the blessings of God?
2   How can I see God’s extraordinary love  in the ordinary events of my life? 3   How can I live with a sense of wonder of being in God’s Kingdom?

SDG

Notes:
1.  St Augustine’s Confessions
2.  Philippians 1:21, NKJV
3. Oswald Chambers, Hope, A Holy Promise devotional, day 13
4.  1 John 3:1, NLT
5.  Matthew 5:6, 9-10
6.  Isaiah 41: 13-14, GW
7.  Oswald Chambers, Hope, A Holy Promise devotional, day 14
8.  Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, June 30th 2022
9.  Isaiah 41:14, MSG
10. The Love Of God, Frederick M. Lehman

The Secret Of Happiness:

Read:

Luke 12:22-32

Reflect:

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” Luke 12:32, NLT

How on earth can we be happy in an unhappy world? We have been deceived into thinking that material success will bring happiness. But the sad reality is that money and success often leads to pride, greed, and envy that generates more stress, unhappiness and meaninglessness. It is foolish and futile to chase after success to seek happiness. Fear of failure, fear of missing out and fear of death will keep us from the joys of living. True success comes from happiness rooted in the love of God. 

Happiness is found in the kingdom of heaven where we can have Transforming Listening Conversations with God, free from a fearful and slavish obedience to a set of rules. Jesus taught us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come on earth.1 He gave us the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven in the Beatitudes2. The greatest secret is that we can live in heaven here and now when our minds are rewired and our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit.

We need a radical change in how we see God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. Jesus came to open our eyes to God’s mysterious plan that the Holy Spirit is in us to empower us to fulfill God’s will in our lives. We are to set our sights on the realities of heaven. God is our loving Heavenly Father whose greatest happiness is to give us the Kingdom of Heaven:

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”3

Jesus came to set us free from the fear of death and suffering.4 God wants us to live in the joy of His Presence, Providence and Power for everything in life. Like a loving father, God wants us to live with intentional intimacy with Him in His Kingdom as this gives Him great happiness. The Beatitudes are the “be-attitudes” of a poverty of spirit, a spirit of mourning, a spirit of humility, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, a forgiving spirit, a pure mind, a peaceful heart and a spirit of perseverance. We need these “be-attitudes” to overcome the sins of lust, anger, pride, gluttony, greed, envy and acedia that draws us away from God’s grace and disfigures the image of God in us. 

The daily doses of bad news of war, pandemics and rising petrol prices are but alarm bells warning us of the folly and futility of a life without the love of God. The good news is that God’s goodness and unfailing love pursues us5 when we rest in Him – we do not have to chase after happiness! We need to wake up to the truth that we are living in the hell of our own thoughts6 which blind and deafen us to the awesome thoughts of God that are way beyond our human understanding.7 God wants us to know the great secret that Christ lives in us and we have the blessed assurance of sharing his riches and glory in heaven.8 

We need to be like children and babies singing songs of praise9 to lead us to the Rock that is higher than our problems so that we can stand on the precious truth that God’s ways are beyond our understanding and imagination.10 Faith is not blind when our vision is focused on the realities of God’s Kingdom. Through centering prayer, we can grow in awareness of our selfish thoughts, worldly thoughts and sinful thoughts and replace them with godly thoughts. We can detoxify our hearts by choosing to think about things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable.11 We can choose not to waste time with the fake news in the social media but to feed on God’s Word each day as we sing:

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Allelu, alleluia

Man does not live by bread alone
But by every word
That proceeds from the mouth of God
Allelu, alleluia.”12

Respond:

Lord, help me to seek Your Kingdom to find real happiness. 

Reframe:

1.  What are the fears in life that I need to face?
2.  How am I seeking happiness in life?
3.  What does it mean to live in the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now?

Song of Praise

Seek Ye First

SDG

Notes:

1.  Matthew 6:10
2.  Matthew 5:1-12, EASY
3.  Luke 12:32, NLT
4.  Hebrews 2:14-15, NLT
5.  Psalms 23:6, NLT
6.  Romans 1:28-32, NLT
7.  Isaiah 55:8, NLT
8.  Colossians 1:27, NLT
9.  Psalms 8:2, ERV
10.  Isaiah 55:8, NLT
11. Philippians 4:8, NLT
12.  Seek Ye First, Maranatha! Singers

The Beatitudes:

‘Happy are the people who know that they need God very much. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like that. 

Happy are the people who are sad now. God will come near to help them. 

Happy are the people who are kind. The whole earth will belong to them. 

Happy are the people who want to obey God, as much as they want to eat food. God will give to them everything that they need. 

Happy are the people who help other people and who forgive them. God will forgive people like that. 

Happy are the people who have only good thoughts. They will come near to God and see him. 

Happy are the people who bring people together to be friends. God will call them his children. 

Happy are the people who do what is right but other people hurt them because of it. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like that.”

Matthew 5:3‭-‬10 EASY

A Future Pregnant With Hope

Lectio:

Scripture for reflection: Matthew 1:18-25

Meditatio:

“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20

An unplanned pregnancy can be a messy problem for an unmarried couple or an unexpected miracle in God’s Hands. We can only imagine the struggles of Joseph with the demons of confusion, doubts, and fears when Mary told him that she was pregnant. It took much courage and faith for Joseph to do God’s will – to take Mary as his wife instead of leaving her to be a single mother. By doing so, he earned his place in history as the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The Christmas stories of Joseph and Mary are more than historical autobiographies – they are the beautiful and wonderful sacred and metaphorical stories to open our eyes to the movements of the grace of God in our lives.

Joseph became the greatest husband in all history by hearing the voice of the angel in his dream and obeying God’s will for his life. The heart of Christmas is our response to God’s invitation to have Christ born in our hearts. It is our “spiritual biography”1 and not our autobiography that is eternal. Spiritual biography is discovering the story of God’s grace in our lives. It is the journey to explore the glimpses of grace and the moments of transformation in our lives through contemplation on the way of the cross.

A few weeks before Christmas this year, I journeyed through the valley of the shadow of death with a loved one who was dangerously ill with the coronavirus in the ICU. I was touched by God’s amazing grace as I witnessed the miracle of healing in our family member. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.2 It gave me a foretaste and a hunger for heaven in the here and now. On Christmas day this year, one of the songs in the worship service was “Christmas Isn’t Christmas” and it brought to mind the Christmas Eve cantata service I attended in 1986 during which the pastor made the point that Christmas is not Christmas unless it is Christmas in our hearts.  Christmas is a time to remember that it is only Christmas when there is room in our hearts for Jesus.

In 1986, this message had struck a chord in me as a few months before Christmas in 1986, we were shocked by the diagnosis of cancer in our sister in law who later passed away in July 1987.  But it was so difficult to live out this truth when life got better after the storms of life have passed. In his Christmas message this year, Bishop Robert Solomon made the insightful observation that it is not Jesus who pass us by – we are the ones who have passed by the moments of grace when there is no room in our hearts for Christ.  Over the past 2 years, the practice of silence provided me with a discipline to give my heart to Jesus by presenting my body as a living sacrifice to God.3 

In the face of an unknown and unexpected future we need, like Joseph, to hear God’s message – “do not be afraid.”  Jesus did not come to give us a ticket to heaven but to empower us to bring heaven to earth – to bring joy to the world. Our faith in Jesus is the beacon of hope in a world of despair. To keep the flame of hope alive in our hearts we need to be in touch with the Holy Spirit. But the virtual world of the Internet, through social media, computer games and innovations like the Metaverse, draws us further and further away from the physical reality of God’s Universe as well as the spiritual reality of life.

We are tempted to spend our time in the virtual world created by humans instead of embarking on the adventure to seek our Divine Lover who is waiting patiently for us in the depths of our hearts. We are called to journey into the silence of the heart of God –  to be still in the holy presence of God.4  The church victorious is the church at rest.5  Practising silence is the simple way to open our hearts and minds to the Spirit of God – to be in touch with the angels of God in the spiritual world. This is so much more edifying than spending time interacting with virtual friends in the social media or the avatars of our human imagination in the virtual world of the Internet.

Covid 19 is the Cyrus of the 21st century – humbling the nations6 and drawing us to seek a future pregnant with hope in the silent and holy night when the Christ Child was born. The good news is that Jesus has given us the beatitudes as the keys to the kingdom of heaven.7 Let us embark the journey to have Christmas in our hearts each day in 2022 as we listen for God’s messages to “fear not” so that our fears can become the “footprints of grace” as we step out in faith to live out the beatitudes. The season of  Christmastide is a time to begin living a life that is totally invested in God. Let us not keep Jesus in the manger or in the tomb in our hearts. Let us seek the grace of God to become the Body of Christ and a temple for the Holy Spirit.

Oratio:

Lord, it is so easy to be distracted in our modern world. Help me to hear the voices of Your angels so that I may have an obedient and humble heart like Joseph.

Contemplatio:

What is God calling me to do in the new year?

What are the fears that I need to overcome?

How can I listen for “angel voices” each day?

Song of Praise:

There is a Hope8

SDG

Notes:

  1. “Spiritual biography” has been described by Kathleen Dowling Singh in her book, “The Grace In Living,”  as the process of learning “to trust and have confidence in the exquisite, indestructible attraction of our love for the sacred and the sacred’s love for us.” It is looking at our struggles, pain and sorrow beyond self – from heaven’s perspective – to recollect the movements of the grace and presence of God. For the  Christian,  it is the journey of sanctification – to die to self, to be reborn ,and to become a new creation of God.
  2. Psalms 139:14
  3.  Romans 12:1
  4. Psalms 37:7
  5. The Church’s One Foundation
  6.  Isaiah 45:1
  7. Matthew 5:3-10
  8.  Stuart Townend – There Is A Hope

A Taste Of Heaven

“God has  rescued us from the power of darkness and has brought us into the kingdom of His Son, whom he loves. His Son paid the price to free us, which means our sins are forgiven.” Colossians 1:13

Omicron, the latest variant of the corona virus threatens to cast a dark shadow over the world in this season of Advent. We are living in a changing and turbulent time. Pope Francis saw this as a time of reckoning, when ways of thinking are shaken up and our priorities and lifestyles are challenged. The trials of life reveal what is truly in our hearts.1 

The season of Advent is a time to proclaim the good news that God has rescued us from the power of darkness to bring us into the kingdom of heaven.  Advent 2021 is a time to see the Covid 19 pandemic from another perspective.  The tiny virus opens our eyes to the harsh reality of the hellish conditions here on earth.  We are living in a dark world of sin, evil and death where so much suffering is caused by human lust, pride and greed. The world desperately needs to hear the good news that Jesus is the Light of the World. Jesus came to show us that heaven, not hell, is God’s perfect will for the world.

Heaven is not a pipe dream nor a figment of our imagination – it is the promise and perfect plan of our Heavenly Father. Jesus did not come to send anyone to hell.2 Jesus died and rose from the dead so that we can become God’s new creations3 who are living to glorify God and not ourselves. We are to be the living stones of God’s temple as well as His royal priesthood.4 We are to have a taste of heaven here on earth with a personal relationship with God as our Heavenly Father.

The greatest proof of God’s unconditional love is Christ Crucified.  Like the prodigal son, we need to take the first step of repentance – to turn from our foolish ways and to turn back to God.5  However, like the early disciples in Ephesus, we need to move from repentance to faith in the Risen Christ in order to receive the Holy Spirit.6 It is through faith in the Risen Christ that our hearts are filled with the love of God and the blessed assurance that we are God’s beloved.7

When our image of God is distorted we are unable to experience the forgiveness and unconditional love of God. When we see God as our Judge and not as our Heavenly Father,  we live our lives as slaves of Satan and not as the children of God –  fear, guilt, unbelief, and false beliefs  keep us from seeing the loving presence of God in the mundane activities of our daily lives. When we learn to be thankful for the small mercies of God each day, we will have a taste of heaven.

Advent is the season of expectant waiting and preparation to remind us to make room in our hearts for Christ. The discipline of silence and contemplative prayer provides us with a way to do so. According to Henri Nouwen, we celebrate Christ’s victory over the world, over death, and over the evil one, every time we spend silent time in our prayer room.8 As followers of Christ we are to stand on the victory of Christ over evil. We cannot have victory over evil when we are not standing firm in our identity as a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is only when Jesus is Lord in our lives to lead us into the rest of God9   that we can have a taste of the heavenly peace that comes from this victory.

Most important of all, in Christ, we can have a taste of heaven even when we walk in darkness for we have the bright light of God which shines on those who live in the land of death’s shadows.10 When we go through suffering, trials and persecution, we have the comfort of God through the Holy Spirit.11 Our bodies may be dying but our spirits are renewed every day as we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.12 Our problems become an opportunity for great joy for it is a time when our faith is being refined and perfected.13 In persecution and fiery trials, we are partners with Christ in his suffering and we will have the wonderful joy of seeing the glory of Christ when it is revealed to the world. 14

Advent is a time when the world is waiting in hope for the good news that Christ is the Light to lead us out of our dark times. May the fire of God’s love in our hearts shine forth as a beacon of light for those who are walking in darkness. Let us bring the good news, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” as we share our hope in Christ:

“There is a hope that burns within my heart
That gives me strength for every passing day
A glimpse of glory now revealed in meagre part
Yet drives all doubt away
I stand in Christ with sins forgiven
And Christ in me the hope of heaven
My highest calling and my deepest joy
To make His will my home.

There is a hope that lifts my weary head
A consolation strong against despair
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit
I find the Saviour there
Through present sufferings future’s fear
He whispers courage in my ear
For I am safe in everlasting arms
And they will lead me home.”

SDG

References:

  1. Pope Francis, Ler Us Dream, (London, Simon & Schuster, 2020) 1
  2. 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:32, Ezekiel 33:11
  3. 2 Corinthians 5:17
  4. 1 Peter 2:4-5
  5.  Luke 15:17-21
  6. Acts of the Apostles, 19:1-7
  7.  Romans 5:1-5
  8. Nouwen Meditation: Reflect the Peace of Christ, November 23, 2021
  9.  Hebrews 4:1-2
  10.  Isaiah 9:2
  11. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
  12.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18
  13.  James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7
  14. 1 Peter 4:12-17