A Taste Of The Living Word

Read:

Ezekiel 3:1-11

Reflect:

I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.” Ezekiel 3:9, NLT

The Jews were given the Book of the Law by Moses because they were a rebellious and stubborn people. The Law was a witness of their stubborn hearts.1 It was to reveal our human need for God’s grace and love. The Old Testament was the bible of Jesus and the early Christians. The bible is not a magical book to teach us the secrets of spiritual power. The bible is the sacred and mysterious written Word of God to draw us to the Living Word – Jesus Christ.

What is most important is not just what we read in the bible but how we listen to God through the Word of God by the Holy Spirit. It is through God’s Living Word that our hearts are touched by the love of God and our minds transformed by the Holy Spirit. The bible is the Sword of the Spirit2 – the sharpest two-edged sword which is alive and powerful to expose our innermost thoughts and desires.3

The prophet Ezekiel was given a scroll to eat and to give its message to the people of Israel. It tasted as sweet as honey and Ezekiel was directed to share God’s Word to the people whether they listen to him or not. Ezekiel was warned that the people will be hardhearted and stubborn but he was not to be afraid:

“I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.”4

Sharing God’s Word is a spiritual battle. To be a voice in the wilderness we need to be prepared to encounter rejection and ridicule. We need to be thick skinned and fear God rather than hanker after human praise. Like John the Baptist, we may lose our head. Like Jesus, we may be tempted in the wilderness, we may face betrayal and rejection by loved ones, we may encounter opposition, persecution and even crucifixion by religious and political leaders.

But the good news is that the battle belongs to the Lord and Jesus has already won the battle for us on the cross. All we need to do is put on the armor of God through the disciplines of prayer and meditation on God’s Word so that we will not live by bread alone but by every Word from the mouth of God.5 We are to use God’s Word as the Sword of the Spirit instead of weaponizing the bible and using it to control others. Jesus and the early Christians lived out the truths of the Old Testament as God’s Word. The New Testament is the living testimony of the communion of saints. We are to keep our eyes on Jesus who endured opposition from sinners so that we will not be discouraged and give up.6

The challenge is to live our lives as the Fifth Gospel and Chapter 29 of the Acts of the Apostles. As our small group discussed the book of Jonah, we saw how God used Jonah to lead the unbelieving sailors to worship the true God. After our meeting, we prayed for a member of our small group who has a wound in his foot The next morning I felt led to ask my small group to meditate on Jonah Chapter 1 and to reflect on the following:

–  Am I a “Jonah” causing storms in the lives of others?

– Who is a “Jonah” in my life that I am trying to “save” by my own efforts?

– What is the “Jonah” in my life teaching me about prayer and my relationship to God?

I had a taste of the healing power of the Living Word when my small group member shared the following message in response:

“Just to let you know, as I went to sleep, my wound was enormous. And as you prayed and I prayed, it subsided in the late morning. God healed my wound and it looks normal now. God did wonders through the night. I thanked God for His wondrous work for healing me. I have now experienced how Jesus healed the lame man. Praise God.”

It was a reminder of the power of prayer and the importance of reading the bible for transformation and not for information – to have a five-senses relationship with God – to see, hear, taste, smell and be touched by the Holy Spirit. It is not merely reading and studying the bible with our minds but meditating on God’s Word and living it out in our lives with our hearts. Only then will we grow in our trust in the truth of God’s love for us.

God’s Word will be boring and burdensome until we have tasted God’s Word to be as sweet as honey and know that God’s law is perfect, reviving the soul  and making wise the simple.7 Then we will discover the joy of sharing the breaking good news of how God is writing His story of love in the days of our lives:

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord has come
Oh, blessed is he who hides in Him
Oh, fear the Lord, all of you saints
He’ll give You everything, he’ll give You everything”8

Song of Praise

Psalm 34 (Taste and See)

Respond:

Lord, help me taste Your Living Word each day to be empowered to share Your gospel.

Reframe:

  1. Why was it necessary for Ezekiel to taste the sweetness of the scroll?
  2. How can I taste the sweetness of God’s Word?
  3.  How is God’s Word reviving my soul and simplifying my life?

SDG

Notes:

  1. Deut 31:19-27
  2. Ephesians 6:17, NLT
  3. Hebrews 4:12, NLT
  4. Ezekiel 3:9, NLT
  5. Matthew 4:4, NLT
  6. Hebrews 12:3, GW
  7. Psalms 19:7-10, ESV
  8.  Psalm 34 – Taste and See by Shane & Shane

The Power Of Silence

Read:

Acts 18:1-17

Reflect:

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! Acts 18:9,NLT

A dark, divided and confused world desperately need to hear the good news of God’s S.O.S – Story Of Salvation. God is our Heavenly Father who wants the nations to seek Him and to feel their way toward Him. We can find Him for in Him we live and move and exist – we are His offspring1 The Jews rejected the good news and Paul was led to preach it to the Gentiles. He was encouraged to do so when he had a vision from the Lord telling him:

“Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent!2  

Paul was accused of persuading people to worship God in ways that were contrary to the Jewish laws and faced much persecution.3 The good news is that Jesus opened a new and life-giving way for us to go before God’s throne of grace and seek God’s Presence.4 We are to live with the New Covenant in which God’s laws are put in our hearts and written on our minds.5

God speaks to each one of us in different ways. God spoke to Paul and Isaiah in a vision, to Moses in a burning bush, to Elijah as a still small voice and to John Wesley in a strangely warm heart. Mother Teresa espoused the simple path of silence for silence is the key to true prayer. It is our connection to God’s internet of wisdom and love. Before we can speak out for God, we need the spirit of obedience that flows from a listening heart. There is a time to keep silent and a time to speak.6

When I visited my elder daughter in San Francisco, she took us for a walk through a forest of redwood trees in Muir Woods. A part of the forest was aptly called Cathedral Grove  where visitors were encouraged to enter quietly. It was an awesome experience which filled me with a wonder of silence. It brought Morton Kelsey to mind. He had taught “The Other Side Of Silence” in silent retreats conducted by the Methodist Church in the 1990s, He shared his experience with the red wood trees in his book, Prayer & The Redwood Seed:

“I wonder how these seeds can give birth
 to a living cathedral like this in which I stand.
Gigantic buttresses of wood and bark
support great tapering columns arching overhead,
filtering a stream of soft light
Upon carpets of ferns and fallen twigs.
I feel as tiny as the seed I hold.”7

I feel inspired to sow the seed of the ancient tradition of spending time with God in silence. We need to be in touch with the silence in our hearts for it to have the power to transform our lives. The eyes see and the ears hear the truths of God but it is in the silence of our hearts that we understand how to live them out.

The Covid 19 pandemic provided everyone, poor or rich, sick or healthy, with the golden opportunity to practice solitude and silence. Unfortunately we have not harnessed the power of silence. We fear silence when we have False Expectations that Appear Real. Such fears are justified as silence can bring forth the dark secrets kept hidden in our hearts and expose us to attacks from the evil one.

We need companions for our inner journey.  Morton Kelsey noted that members of the early church emphasized community and fellowship because they knew the dangers of embarking on the inner journey alone. We need prayer groups in which we can one listen and share and test one’s experiences of the Holy as we learn the meaning of real fellowship with one another.We need to develop fellowships of the broken hearted.

To do so, it is important to have the right motive for the practice of silence – desire to be filled with the power of Divine Love. In silence, we may be led to face spiritual battles and to taste death. In silence we learn to number our days that we may grow in wisdom.9 In silence, we seek God’s loving embrace with the reverence that the Lord is in His holy Temple:

“The Lord is in His holy temple,
The Lord is in His holy temple:
Let all the earth keep silence,
Let all the earth keep silence before Him—
Keep silence, keep silence before Him.”10

Our troubled and messy world needs the power of silence – to listen to the wonderful truth that all is calm and all is bright in the silent and holy night when Jesus Christ was born!

Respond:

Lord, grant me the patience and wisdom to share the power of silence.

Reframe:

  1. Why is it important to practice silence?
  2. How can I practice silence?
  3. What is God saying to me in my silence?

Song of Praise

Silent Night, Holy Night

SDG

Notes:

  1. Acts 17:27, NLT
  2. Acts 18:9, NLT
  3. Acts 18:13-17, NLT
  4. Hebrews 4:16,10:19-22
  5. Hebrews 10:16, NLT
  6. Ecclesiastes 3:7, NET
  7. Morton Kelsey, Prayer & The Redwood Seed, page 2
  8. Morton Kelsey, The Other Side Of Silence, page 102
  9.  Psalms 90:12
  10. The Lord Is In His Holy Temple

The Fellowship Of The Broken Hearted

Read:

Zechariah 8:9-23, NLT

Reflect:

Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid. Be strong, and get on with rebuilding the Temple!” Zechariah 8:13, NLT

We are living in a broken world with stony hearts that have been broken, being broken or will be broken. Our broken hearts are but a reflection of our broken relationship with our Heavenly Father. God does not break our hearts to punish us – we have been deceived into making God in our own image. God is heartbroken when we hide from His Presence like Adam and Eve. God is patiently waiting for us to return to Him. Our hardened hearts need to be broken to restore our identity as the children of God who are childlike, humble and thankful.

The Jews had been chosen to be both a symbol and a source of blessing for humankind. Zechariah reminded them that their ancestors  had stony hearts when they refused to listen to God’s message to show mercy and kindness to one another. Their disobedience led them to be exiled to Babylon.1  After their return from their exile in Babylon, Zechariah called the Jews to turn from their times of mourning and to celebrate festivals of joy by loving truth and peace. Then the world will seek to worship God in Jerusalem:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.2

But the temple they were rebuilding was nothing compared to the glory of the temple that King Solomon had built and the Jews were discouraged and brokenhearted.3 Zechariah comforted them with God’s promise to restore Jerusalem through a small remnant of God’s people. They were not to be afraid as God was going to bless them. He encouraged them to continue rebuilding the temple to fulfill God’s plan for their lives:

“Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid. Be strong, and get on with rebuilding the Temple!”4 

God’s plan to redeem the world may appear impossible but nothing is impossible for God.5  It may seem impossible to be happy in a broken world.  As our loving Heavenly Father, God wants us to be happy but is through our brokenness that we discover the secret of true happiness – the Peace and Presence of God in our lives:

“Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!6 

God does not want us  to be sadists who find happiness in pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is inevitable in a broken world – God keeps track of all our sorrows and collects all our tears in His bottle.7  Jesus came to preach good tidings to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted – to comfort all who mourn and to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.8  Jesus Christ came to restore our relationship with God so that we can glorify God and enjoy Him forever.9 We are to be a fellowship of the brokenhearted – to live as saints who belong to the family of God and in need of healing for our broken hearts.

The fellowship of the Alcoholic Anonymous provides us with an ideal model of how to do so. In their meetings, the recovering alcoholics share their struggles of overcoming their addiction to alcohol with the knowledge that they can never be free of their addiction. They confess their powerlessness over alcohol and affirm their need for a power greater than themselves.

We need fellowships of the brokenhearted – saints who are battling sin with the grace of God rather than as sinners trying to be saints. As a fellowship of the brokenhearted, we embark on the inner journey to heal our brokenness through His loving Presence in the mystery of silence. It is in silence that real prayer is born as we open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit:

“Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity”10

Response:

Lord, help me to embrace my brokenness as I wait upon You in silence.

Reframe:

  1.  What is the root cause for our broken hearts and broken lives?
  2.  How does brokenness in our lives lead us to true happiness?
  3.  How can we journey with one another to discover our identity as the children of God?

Song of Praise:

Hosanna

SDG

Notes:

  1. Zechariah 7:8-14, NLT
  2. Zechariah 8:18-22, NLT
  3. Haggai 2:1-5, NLT
  4. Zechariah 8:13, NLT
  5. Zechariah 8:6, NLT
  6. Matthew 5:4, GNT 
  7. Psalms 56:8, NLT
  8. Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18-19, NKVJ
  9. Westminster Shorter Catechism
  10. Hosanna, Hillsong

Our Divine Lover

Read:

Zephaniah 3:1-20

Reflect:

“On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! ……With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:16, 17, NLT

God is love and we are created by love, for love and to be loved. The theme song of an American romance-drama film in the 1950s described love as a many splendored thing and love as nature’s way of giving us a reason for living.1  Indeed, we need a  wonderful experience (A.W.E) of God as our Divine Lover to transform our minds, to fill our hearts with a hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness and to strengthen our will to face suffering and death with joy and peace. It is impossible to live a life of joy and peace without the love of God.

Sin has alienated us from the love of God and distorted our image of God when we see God as an impersonal and uncaring Creator or as a wrathful Judge. Sin led the Jews to question God’s eternal love for them in spite of all the blessings and care God had showered on them. The prophet Malachi had to remind them of how God had chosen them to be His special possession.2  The Jews lived with the mindset of the elder son in the parable of the prodigal son who obeyed his father out of obligation rather than of love:

“All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf.”3

In the midst of God’s judgment for their idolatry, the nation of Israel was given the promise that the Creator will be their husband.4 The prophet Zephaniah painted a beautiful picture of God’s unfailing love with the background of the rebellious and disobedient spirit of the Jews. God, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, was patiently waiting for the remnant of Israel who were lowly and humble to return and live in the Kingdom of Heaven. God wanted to take delight in them, to calm all their fears with His love and to rejoice over them with joyful songs so that the announcement to Jerusalem will be, Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid!”5

It is so difficult to see the wonder of God’s love in the stories of God’s judgment on the idolatry of the Jews. In the 17th century, Saint Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower,”  found that people are afraid of God as they saw Him as a being who permitted suffering and sorrow and who punished even the smallest of sin. They dread death and felt that it was impossible to reach heaven. However, St Therese encountered God as a being of love and mercy as well as justice with an infinite love for mankind which was not appreciated. Throughout her life, she shared the spirituality of imperfection through “The Little Way” – a gospel of radical grace.6 

We are living at a major crossroad in human history, an apocalyptic time that feels like the Day of the Lord. We are bombarded by horrific news of wars, climate change, economic crises and pandemics. Such times are a time to “stand in silence in the presence of the Sovereign Lord, for the awesome day of the Lord’s judgment is near.”7 Our failures, weaknesses, imperfections and suffering are the consequences of our slavery to sin.  We are perfectly imperfect and in need of deliverance from sin. We need the wondrous love of God that is revealed in the cross of Christ. 

Love is the antidote for all our fears in life. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of love. Love is not a feeling but the essence of God for God is love.8 God’s love is the blood stained cross of Christ and the many splendored thing that turns our tragedies into victories, failures to growth, grief to joy and death into resurrection. It is time to listen to what God is saying to us:

“Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.”9

In silence, solitude and stillness we learn to hear the voice of the Lord which can be powerful and majestic10 or a gentle whisper.11 In silence we listen to our Shepherd of Love leading us to rest in green pastures beside the still waters.12  In silence we kneel before God’s throne of grace so that God’s love may be perfected in us:

“O perfect Love, all human thought transcending,
lowly we kneel in prayer before thy throne,
that theirs may be the love which knows no ending,
whom thou in sacred vow dost join in one.”13

Response:

Lord, help me to transcend my human thoughts that I may be filled with Your perfect Love.

Reframe:

  1. How can my imperfections and weaknesses help me to experience God’s love?
  2. What have been my experiences of God’s judgment?
  3. How can I listen to God’s voice in my daily life?

Song of Praise:

O Perfect Love

SDG

Notes:

  1. Love is a many splendored thing, Wikipedia
  2.  Malachi 1:2-5, NLT
  3. Luke 15:10, NLt
  4. Isaiah 54:5, NLT
  5.  Zephaniah 3:16, NLT
  6. Gabriel Lopez, Saint Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower” – Her Beautiful “Little Way” For Christ, https://stmuscholars.org/st-therese-of-lisieux-the-little-flower-her-beautiful-little-way-for-christ/
  7. Zephaniah 1:7
  8. 1 John 4:8, 16, NLT
  9. Jeremiah 6:16
  10. Psalms 29:3-9, NKVJ
  11. 1 Kings 19:12, NLT
  12. Psalms 23:2, NJKV
  13. O Perfect Love, Dorothy F. Gurney

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

Monkey Mind

Read:

2 Kings 6:8-23, NLT

Reflect:

“Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” 2 Kings 6:16, NLT

It was such a joy to have birds building their nests in our garden and front porch. At one time, we saw God’s loving care when two baby birds were able to fly off from their nest after they had fallen out of the nest a couple of times. However, a few days ago, we were devastated when a monkey snatched and ate up two baby birds from a nest in our front porch. It was so heart breaking to see the mother bird flying frantically looking for her babies in the broken nest.

The monkey had seen the baby birds as food but we had a special relationship with the birds as we saw them as our guests. It dawned on me that there is a “monkey mind” in all of us when our relationships with others are dictated by lust, greed and pride. To live a life of love, joy and peace we need the mind of Christ to see that all of us are children of God.

The king of Aram had sent a great army to capture Elisha at Dothan. Elisha’s servant was frightened when he saw troops, horses and chariots everywhere. But Elisha told him, “Don’t be afraid! For there are more on our side than on theirs.” He prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened and he saw the hillside around Elisha filled with horses and chariots of fire.

Then Elisha prayed for the Aramean army to be blinded so that they could not recognize him. He then led the army to the king of Israel. Instead of having a “monkey mind” like the king of Israel who wanted to kill the soldiers, Elisha demonstrated the compassion of God and told the king of Israel to give them a great feast and send them home.1  Instead of looking only at our circumstances, we need to see beyond our circumstances in prayer. In solitude and silence we can pray to be aware of our “monkey minds” – the thoughts that take us captive and lead us to unloving actions.

In life, we will be tempted to lose our faith in God when we encounter suffering which seems meaningless. In days when life appears hopeless, when there are no answers or conclusions to the pain of life – we are tempted to try and change our circumstances  in order to avoid changing ourselves.2 But it is in such times that we are to practice the power of biblical faith – that God is good, God can be trusted and God is actively involved in our lives.3 

It is not our actions that are the problem but the attitudes and motives that direct our actions. Elisha did not call on the horses and chariots of fire to destroy the Aramean army. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus could have called for thousands of angels to protect him but he chose to be the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.4 Prayer is not asking God to get rid of our problems but opening our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit so that He can reveal our sinful desires, ulterior motives and hidden agendas. The delights we crave for and the desires of our heart drive our choices in life.

 Adam and Eve were led by their “monkey minds” to the delight of their eyes and the desire for wisdom to disobey God. They were deceived into thinking that knowledge will make them wise and powerful. But knowledge without love leads to  pride. Without the power of love, the knowledge of evil fills us with fear and guilt. For it is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom. Like Adam and Eve we are blind to the truth that when we delight in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts.5

Good actions from wrong motives are just as bad as wrong actions from godly motives. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the  highest point of the Temple to prove that God will order his angels to protect him and hold him up with their hands.6 Saul (before he became Paul) was driven by the mistaken zeal to do God’s will to persecute the early Christians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer draws attention to the danger of seeking an ideal church:

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”7

The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. It was the beginning of a new age in the history of humankind. It was a time when people were forced into isolation through the lockdown measures. It was a time when the deepest desires of our hearts were revealed. It was a golden opportunity for true followers of Christ to experience the joy of solitude by spending time with God through silence. Only then can we have good actions from godly motives that will bear the fruit of compassion.

Solitude leads to community when we learn to meditate in silence together. We are drawn together in true community as we invite the Holy Spirit to bind us together in love.  When we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to transform our “monkey minds” to the mind of Christ we will not love the world nor conform to the world.8 We will be set free from the craving for physical pleasure, the craving for everything we see and pride in our achievements and possessions.9  

I need to rewire my mind with God’s covenant promises so that I can see the glimpses of truth that will set me free from my monkey mind:

“Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free

Silently now I wait for thee
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”10

Respond:

Lord, open my eyes and reset my mind so that I may be set free from my “monkey mind.”

Reframe:

  1. How does the monkey mind affect my actions in daily life?
  2. What keeps me from seeing God’s providence in my life?
  3. What causes me to lose sight of God’s covenant promises?

Song of Praise

Open My Eyes That I May See

SDG

Notes:

  1. 2 Kings 6: 8-23, NLT
  2. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, 19th August, 2022
  3. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation,  21st  August,2022
  4.  Matthew 26:52-54, NLT
  5. Psalms 37:4
  6.  Matthew 4:6, NLT
  7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: Prayerbook of the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) page 36
  8. Romans 12:1-2
  9. 1 John 2:15-17, NLT
  10.  Open My Eyes That I May See, Clara, H. Scott

Dancing With God

Read:

Isaiah 43:1-13

Reflect:

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” Isaiah 43:1, NKJV

Love has been described by Pierre Teilhard Chardin as the very physical structure of the universe. He saw gravity, atomic bonding, orbits, cycles, photosynthesis, ecosystems, force fields, electromagnetic fields, sexuality, human friendship, animal instinct and evolution as the manifestations of love under different forms.1 Dorothy Day found that love is the only solution to every problem that comes up:

“If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”2

Divine love is seen in sacrificial, forgiving and generous human love. And to love another human being in the deepest way possible, we need to be touched by the love of God.3 In the Old Testament, the love of God is often hidden. But we can hear God’s whispers of love through the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine…………….Since you are precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you. Therefore I will give men for you, and people for your life. Fear not, for I am with you..”4

Jesus is the human incarnation of God’s love. God’s amazing love is revealed when Jesus was crucified on the cross. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that the Holy Spirit can pour God’s love into our hearts.5 It is God’s perfect love that casts out fear.6  In Christ, we can stand firm on the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God.7 Without Christ, we hide from God like Adam. In Christ, God invites us to live life “as a sacred dance, as an adventure to anticipate, not a peril to avoid.”8 To dance with God is to look for His Presence in the ups and downs of life. We are to keep in step with God’s rhythm – to His heartbeat and not ours.

When I imagine God holding my right hand with His right Hand9, I see God dancing the Cha Cha Cha dance with me. My wife and I cannot dance, but while holidaying on a cruise ship a few years ago, we saw two girls demonstrating the Cha Cha Cha dance. The steps were simple: 

  “Backward, forward, to the right; 
 Forward, backward to the left.” 

The rhythm of the Cha Cha Cha dance helped me to appreciate the devotional disciplines of surrender and self examination. In the first dance step, I take a step backward with the discipline of surrender. Then I take a step forward to God with repentance. With surrender and repentance, I affirm God’s presence with the prayer of the heart, “Jesus Is Lord.” In the second dance step, self-examination is followed by the step of  confession. Through self-examination and confession I commit my life to Jesus as my Shepherd of Love.10

It is so easy for our faith in God to become lukewarm through the deception and distraction of success and activities that keep us busy. We are tempted to think we are rich and have everything we need and don’t need a thing when the truth is that we are spiritually poor, blind and naked.11 We tend to live without God in comfortable times. It is the hard times that lead us to cry out for God’s presence. We need the spiritual disciplines of surrender, repentance, self examination and confession to keep the fire of love burning in our hearts and to remember that it is only by grace that we can do what God has called us to do. 

The resurrection of Christ is the greatest evidence of life after death as well as God’s steadfast love for us. The most powerful witness of our faith in the Risen Christ  is seen in how we face pain, suffering and loss – when we can dance with joy in the face of pain, suffering and loss. Our challenge is to live out the truth of God’s steadfast love as we daily lift our hands and sing of God’s love forever:

“Oh, I feel like dancing
It’s foolishness I know
But when the world has seen the light
They will dance with joy Like we’re dancing now”10

Respond:

Lord, fill me with Your fire of love and lead me to live my life as a sacred dance with You.

Reframe:

1  Why are the disciplines of surrender, repentance, self examination and confession important to prevent my faith from becoming lukewarm?
2. How can I experience God leading me in a sacred dance each day?
3. How does dancing with God help us to know God better and love Him more?

Song of Praise

I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever

SDG

Notes:

1. Pierre Teilhard Chardin, quoted by Richard Rohr in his book, Universal Christ, Chapter 5, Love Is The Meaning.
2. Dorothy Day, in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Love Is The Only Solution, 22 July 2022.
3. Richard Rohr, Universal Christ, Chapter 5, Love is The Meaning
4. Isaiah 43:1,4-5  NKJV
5. Romans 5:5, NKJV
6. 1 John 4:18, NKJV
7. Romans 8:38-39, NLT
8. Steve Harper, Walking In the Light, page 28
9. Isaiah 41:10-13 NKJV
10.Patrick Kee, Living With Our Shepherd Of Love, page 47
11. Revelations 3:14-22, NLT
12. I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever

King Of Hearts

Read:

1 Samuel 12: 13-25

Reflect:

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you – they are totally useless!” 1 Samuel 12: 20, NLT

Climate change, pandemics and wars are signs that we are living in the end times. The end times do not necessarily mean the end of the physical world but may also refer to the end of world systems like the fall of the Roman Empire. In fact we are living in times that are reminiscent of the times in the New Testament. At that time the Roman Empire lost control of Europe and the people faced wars, climatic changes as well as endemic and epidemic disease.1 In our time, we are seeing the decline of Western capitalism and facing wars and pandemics. 

Such times are also demonstrations of the judgment of God. When we trade the truth of God for a lie and worship the things of the world instead of the Creator of the world, God will allow our foolish thinking to lead us to do things that should never be done.2  God does not need to inflict any punishment on us – He  just simply allow us to suffer the consequences of our foolish actions but He is suffers with us!

This is the important lesson we can learn from the Jews who asked Samuel for a king even though the Lord their God was already their king. God told Samuel to grant them their request although it was a rejection of God as their king.3  The Jews were later terrified when they experienced the Presence of God supernaturally through thunder and rain and were convicted of the wickedness of their request for a king. But Samuel reminded them of God’s faithfulness and warned them to keep away from idolatry:

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you – they are totally useless!”4 

Our foolish human tendency is to choose to be a slave of sin rather than a servant of God, to be in bondage to sin rather than to be in the freedom of joyful obedience to God.5 As a follower of Christ, we are called to live as citizens of heaven and conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.6 We are to advance God’s kingdom here on earth with Jesus Christ as King in our hearts.

When I joined the Boys’ Brigade in my youth I was imbued with the objective of the Brigade –  the advancement of God’s Kingdom among boys and the promotion of the habits of obedience, reverence, discipline and self respect. These habits are still relevant in my old age. To do so, I need to read Scripture not for information but for spiritual formation – to rewire my mind with the promises of God so that I can confront my worries and doubts with the hope and peace of God. It is not reading the bible to know about God but reading the bible as the sharpest two-edged sword to expose my innermost thoughts and desires.7

In silence and solitude we enthrone Jesus as our Suffering King, our Servant King and our Shepherd King in our hearts. We wait in silence and solitude to create a spiritual space for the Holy Spirit and breathe in the oxygen of God’s love into our minds so that the Spirit can have more of our hearts. 

Through centering prayer, we wait to hear the voice of our Shepherd of Love in the silence of our hearts. As our eyes are opened to the evils lurking deep within our hearts, we can breathe out the carbon dioxide of our sins. We are then prepared to taste the goodness and wonder of God’s Word with our minds as we practice lectio divina. As we spend time with our Shepherd of Love, we will smell like His sheep and smell others as sheep and not goats. Then we can touch others with God’s love as well as be touched by God’s love through others.

Let us deepen our roots to have a steadfast faith in God by waiting in confident hope and putting our trust in God’s faithful love. Let us lift up our eyes to the cross of Christ and remember that Jesus Christ has won the victory over sin and evil on the cross. Let us fight the lies of this world by enthroning Jesus Christ King of our hearts as we sing:

“So let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone Him; 
Each other’s needs to prefer
For it is Christ we’re serving 

This is our God, the Servant King 
He calls us now to follow Him 
To bring our lives as a daily offering 
Of worship to the Servant King8

Response:

Lord, be enthroned as the Servant King in our hearts that Your love may overflow in our lives.

Reframe:

1.  What are the desires and beliefs that keep me from enthroning Christ in my heart?
2.  What is occupying the throne of our hearts?
3. How am I living my life differently with Jesus as King of my heart?

Song of Praise

The Servant King

Notes:

1. Fall of the Western Roman Empire, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_the_Western_Roman_Empire
2. Romans 1:21-32, NLT
3. 1 Samuel 8:4-9. 
4. 1 Samuel 12: 20
5. Nehemiah 9:17
6. Philippians 1:27
7. Hebrews 4:12, NLT
8. The Servant King, Graham Kendrick

War Of Thoughts

Read

Joshua 8:1-8

Reflect:

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid or discouraged. Take all your fighting men and attack Ai, for I have given you the king of Ai, his people, his town, and his land.” Joshua 8:1

Following Jesus is more than a journey or lifestyle – there are evil forces that seek to draw us away from the Kingdom of heaven – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.1 We need to fight a war on lies as false narratives about reality seek to wreak havoc in our souls.2 There is an invisible but real intelligence that is at war with God and all that is good, beautiful and true.3 We have to put on God’s armor to stand firm against all strategies of the devil:

“For you 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.”4

The stories of war in the Old Testament point to the reality of spiritual warfare and the judgment of God. Such stories were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us and to give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.5 The stories of the conquests of Jericho and Ai reveal the reality and grievous consequences of the sin of greed. Like the Covid 19 virus, greed is extremely infectious and lethal to our souls. There is a battle in our hearts between the love of money and the love for God. The love of money is the cause of much suffering in our world. It is the love of God that brings great joy to the world.

To see the darkness in the stories of the Old Testament we need the light of the New Testament. Unfortunately, instead of feeling broken hearted, as God is, by human perversity, we are blinded by our fear of God’s judgment. We see God’s anger as vindictive rather than compassionate.6 The light of Christ in the New Testament shines into the darkness in the human heart recorded in the Old Testament so that we can see and understand God’s judgment as restoration and not retribution. Like Joshua we are called not to be afraid or discouraged for we will have victory over all the enemies of our souls:

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid or discouraged. Take all your fighting men and attack Ai, for I have given you the king of Ai, his people, his town, and his land.”7

There is a spiritual battle for our thoughts between our “Critical Parent” ego state and the Holy Spirit.  Our “Critical Parent” condemns and leads us to hide from God as Adam and Eve did. When our minds are filled with blame and shame, we are unable to come boldly to God’s throne of grace to receive His mercy. We are enslaved by thoughts that flow from fears of God’s punishment for disobedience. But the Holy Spirit convicts us to draw us to the cross of Christ so that our hearts can be filled with the love of God.8 We are set free from the deceptions of the evil one so that we can have transforming loving conversations with God.

Through prayer we can take our thoughts captive to Christ so that the mind of Christ will be formed in us.9 Our hearts will then be filled by the Spirit with discerning love to counter the deception of half truths that we are bombarded with each day.  As human beings, we are being spiritually formed every day by the choices we make and our responses to the problems we face. To be a better person or a bitter person. To be an optimist or a pessimist. To be joyful or to be depressed. 

Our thought patterns determine our habits and our habits determine our lifestyle. Our negative thoughts become strongholds of evil to keep us away from the love of God. As a follower of Christ, we have a choice – to be formed in our spirits or inner persons into the image of Jesus or to be deformed into the image of the devil.10 

Bad thoughts, wrong thoughts lead to evil actions. Gluttony for knowledge leads to fake news, false gospels and false teachers.  Our thirst for wisdom can only be quenched by seeking Christ to give us the springs of living waters through prayer.11 And true prayer is the fruit of silence and solitude. It is only through prayer that we can live a life of worship that is rooted in a total dependence of God that frees us from the sins of pride, greed and lust. It is only through returning to and resting in God that we will find strength in quietness and confidence12 as we pray:

“Lead me, Lord, lead me in thy righteousness,
make thy way plain before my face.
For it is thou, Lord, thou, Lord only,
that makest me dwell in safety.13

 Response:

Lord, fill my heart with discerning love so that I will not fall prey to the deceptive half truths of the world.

Reframe:

1.  How does my relationship with God affect how I feel about God’s judgment for sin?
2.  What are the wrong beliefs and false teachings that keep me away from God’s love?
3.  How can I be led by the  Lord in His righteousness each day?

SDG

Notes:

1  I John 2:16, NKJV
2. John Mark Comer, Live No Lies, page xx
3. Ibid, page 20
4  Ephesians 6:12, NLT
5. Romans 15:4 
6. Isaiah 54:7-8, NLT
7. Joshua 8:1
8. Romans 5:1-5, NLT
9.  2 Corinthians 10:5 
10. John Mark Comer, Live No Lies, pg 73, 88
11. John 4:1-14; 7:37-39,NLT
12. Isaiah 30:15, NLT
13. Samuel S. Wesley, Lead me Lord, Lead me In Thy Righteousness