Category: Lent 2010

Death be not proud

In the days leading up to Good Friday, we may be filled with a sense of dread and awe. When Jesus approached his impending death, he faced the daunting journey to the cross with humble resolve and vulnerability. There was no other way. It was clear that he had to take the cup of suffering and endure the pain of death and separation from the Father. Jesus faced his own death without giving in to fear or fatalism.

In the Gospels, Jesus explained his life mission after Peter’s great confession that He is the Christ, the Chosen Messiah – “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31) On the one hand, Peter’s confession was clearly remarkable. Yet, immediately following Jesus’ explanation that he must suffer and die and then rise again, Peter’s confession turned into confusion. On this occasion, Peter revealed his own “salvation anxiety.” His fear of death and its dreadful implication for Jesus generated the dilemma.

Our mortality complicates matters in life. If death is inevitable, why do we struggle with this universal human condition? Why do we deny death by seeking to prolong life at all cost? Why do we avoid talk about death by resorting to euphemisms? What causes dreadful anxieties about the prospect of death? Why do we seemingly accord death such power as though it possesses a personality of grave proportions?

As we remember the crucifixion of Jesus, we are confronted with the necessity of death for Jesus. It was not inevitable. It was necessary. Jesus faced death as the divinely ordained act of sacrifice to atone for the world’s sin. His death was intended to deliver the death blow to Satan’s hold on the fallen world. Jesus’ death would render death powerless by making the hope of resurrection and eternal life possible for anyone who identifies with Jesus in his dying and rising to life. The mystery of the cross points to the power of God in making Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us and then to make Jesus   victorious over sin and death.

John Donne, the 16th century English poet and preacher, applies profound wit and faith to the language of poetry concerning death in Holy Sonnets X:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so …
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.

Donne puts death in its place and declares the reality of death’s demise in the promise of God’s salvation. Death has no power over us. It is not a semicolon but just a comma, a pause between life on earth and life eternal. For those who know God, their experience of life after death begins in the present. For those who sleep in their death, they will wake up in a moment and find eternal dwelling in God’s promised home.

Thus, following Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:54,55, we declare: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” So with Donne and Paul, we look at death without fear or dread. We can face our mortality without anxiety or anguish. We can embrace the cross of Jesus without shame or guilt. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).

Moments before Jesus died on the cross, he declared triumphantly, “It is finished.” What did Jesus finish? What did the cross achieve? We know now that Jesus’ death fulfilled the divine purpose of salvation. By his death, we have been redeemed. By his death, we have been delivered from condemnation. By his death, we have been forgiven. By his death, we have been made right with God. By his death, we have been saved from the power of death and sin.

From now on, we can praise God for the cross of Jesus. From now on, we can look beyond our mortality and see the hope of resurrection and eternal life in Jesus Christ. From now on, we can declare, “Death be not proud…death thou shalt die.”

May this Good Friday and Easter Sunday celebrations fill your hearts with the powerful inspiration of faith and hope in Jesus Christ. Alleluia!


A New Thing

One recurring feature of life is the practice of remembering dates and events. We remember birthdays. and anniversaries. We recall historical events that have impacted our lives. We commemorate and review our past. Each year, we go through the Lent season in anticipation of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We find it hard to forget the past. We might even find it harder to let go of past traditions.

As we recall our past experiences, what do we dwell on? Do we remember pain, tragedy, failure, guilt and shame? Or do we find it hard to forget the hurts and disappointments? Do we regret the former way of life? Or do we long for the past because they were so special and unforgettable? Do we prefer the way things were and find ourselves resenting how things have changed?

I have been reflecting on the words of the prophet in Isaiah 43:18-21:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not
perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

The Lord God speaks such powerful words of promise during this Lent season. We are invited to forget the past and to let go of our past. But it seems counterintuitive. Can we really forget the past if we are not able to erase certain memories? Can we actually let go of past experiences if they have been traumatic? Our God assures us that He will do a new thing. Like the spring season, when the earth yields new growth and shows forth new life, we are told that God will make something new for  us. Yes, God can change our past by giving us a different future.

In an amazing picture of hope and renewal, God promises to make a way through the wilderness by providing water and streams. Instead of removing us from the wasteland, our God gives us refreshment, sustenance and renewal. In the midst of challenges and difficulties, we are given new reasons to praise God; new opportunities to perceive God at work in our lives. We are being formed into a people who truly belong to God and who know in their hearts that God is there for them.

However, in order to embrace God’s new future for our lives, we must be willing to let go of the past. We do not need to hold on to the former things no matter how hard it might be. We are urged not to dwell on the past. We are encouraged to imagine new possibilities for our life and faith together as God’s People. In other words, the past does not determine our future for God has forgiven us completely in Jesus Christ. Nothing in our past is wasted for God has redeemed it.

We need to realize that God desires to do a new thing in our hearts. He promises to give us new experiences of His greatness and goodness. We may even be surprised by what God will do for us in the present so that we can anticipate His future. But we need to move forward instead of looking backward. We are assured that no matter how stressful or painful our past might have been, God has chosen us to experience a new thing – a new and more abundant life, a new hope, a new reality.

Inspired by St. Patrick

St. Patrick, St. Valentine and St. Nicholas are probably three most popular saints that the secular world has adopted. St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 has become an occasion for parades and parties as it coincides with the date of his death around AD 460. While the world commemorates St. Patrick’s Day, I was reflecting on his significance for the Christian community. What can we learn from this missionary to Ireland?

We know that Patrick was first taken as a slave to Ireland where he suffered hunger, thirst and terrible living conditions. Yet, during that period, he turned to God in prayer. In his Confessions, Patrick recalls: “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours. The love of God and fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less.” After six years of slavery, he received divine guidance that led to his escape to the European continent.

Later, Patrick received training for the ministry and responded to a call to evangelize Ireland. So he returned to Ireland as missionary. For the next 30 years, Patrick engaged in proclaiming the Gospel to the many kingdoms and tribes on the island. Often, he would seek out the kings and chiefs so that when they converted to Christianity, the rest of the followers would welcome the Gospel message. Patrick practiced persistent prayer. He loved the sacred Scripture and was filled with a rich imagination. He kept an open heart to the voice of God through visions and dreams. He also maintained a sacred view of God’s creation, keenly aware of God’s work in nature and in human lives.

There is no doubt that Patrick established a lasting presence of Christian witness in Ireland that eventually inspired the spread of the Gospel to Scotland, England and continental Europe. As he describes in his Confessions: “For God gave me such grace, that many people through me were reborn to God and afterward confirmed and brought to perfection.” Patrick was one of the great missionaries that will always inspire Christians everywhere to be thankful in all things and to be faithful to the message of the Gospel. He also exemplifies a humble dependence on God in the face of spiritual obstacles and threats. There was a deep sense of God’s involvement in his life that validated his ministry with divine authority and power.

I am amazed at the humility, authenticity, and down-to-earth character of Patrick’s life and ministry. His commitment to making disciples and to establishing churches everywhere the Gospel was received produced an enduring movement of faith in the power of the Spirit. I am persuaded that Patrick’s approach to communicating the Christian faith was effective because he transformed the spiritual worldview of the Irish into a Christian one. By incorporating the sun with the cross to symbolize the power of God through the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ, we are blessed with a beautiful design of the celtic cross. I am learning to be constantly aware of God’s presence in the ordinary rhythms of life. I am growing in a daily posture of reverence prompted by a spirit of prayerfulness. During the Lent season, I am grateful for Patrick’s life and example. I hope you are also encouraged and inspired by this man’s story. If you are interested in learning more about Patrick, you could read the book by Philip Freeman, “St. Patrick of Ireland – A Biography” (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

Grateful Recovery

In the aftermath of the Men’s Olympic finals, Sidney Crosby lost his glove and hockey stick. Understandably, the winning goal from Canada’s team lifted the spirit and national fervor. But what happened to Crosby’s gear? When the media reported this week that the missing glove and hockey stick have been recovered, we might feel a grateful sense of relief. Recovering something that was lost is a good feeling. However, recovering something that has historic significance is more than a feeling. It becomes a positive celebration of something good and special.

What happens when we recover something more significant than a piece of sports equipment? It depends on what was lost. How would we feel if we lost our reputation? How would we survive if we lost our dignity and self-esteem? How would we face the public if we lost our integrity? How would we continue living if we lost faith in God? How would we face the future if we lost hope and assurance that God loves us?

Unlike Crosby, when Tiger Woods lost his public standing as a golf champion through personal indiscretion and infidelity, he lost more than reputation. He lost the trust of his family and the confidence of the advertisers. After a period of rehabilitation, Tiger Woods issued a public apology. The media seems to have been more forgiving in this instance. According to some reports, more Americans are willing to forgive Tiger Woods than Bernie Madoff. In this instance, Tiger has recovered a measure of personal goodwill. But the deeper question remains: will he recover a true sense of freedom from guilt and shame? Will he feel genuinely forgiven by the people who matter most to him, including his wife and family?

Recovery is more than gaining one’s ability to swing a golf club. Recovery is more than making up for what was lost. Recovery is more than hoping that things will become better. True recovery is a gift that involves a new sense of freedom and a profound sense of gratitude. When God gives us a new lease of life; when we experience healing; when we are forgiven the wrong; when we regain a sense of balance; when we renew a broken relationship; when we are given a second chance; when we re-establish faith in God and in the local church; we are truly grateful for the amazing recovery.

So what have you lost that needs recovery? Where are you searching? Are you grateful in your heart for what God has been doing in your life? Are you finding new purpose, or renewed love or profound forgiveness? We may find that God has been waiting patiently for us because the ultimate recovery is a sense of gratefulness that we belong to God and that we will always find our true self in God alone. God specializes in the mission of recovery. As the prophet Isaiah declares: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 55:6-8)

Shameless Persistent Prayer

One vital discipline practiced during Lent is prayer. We know prayer focuses our attention upon God. As we raise our prayers silently or audibly, we direct our concerns and hopes towards our Father in heaven. We pray for those who are sick and suffering. We remember those who are engaged in doing God’s work in a far country. We intercede for those who face enormous challenges in life. We appeal for mercy and we ask for grace. We seek the Lord’s face and desire to draw near in faith. Prayer is not simply an exercise in petition. It is a discipline in total dependence upon God.

But prayer is a practice in persuasion and persistence. Some of us may have been praying for someone for a long time and we wonder when God will answer. We may have been knocking at heaven’s door and begging for God to pour forth His blessing. In our hearts, we are confident that God is powerful and compassionate. We believe in God’s promises according to His word and we anticipate His response to our prayers. Is it appropriate for us to persist in persuading God to do something that only He can do?

Jesus taught his disciples about prayer on several occasions. According to Luke 11:5-10, Jesus presented this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (ESV)

In this story, Jesus encourages us to persist in prayer without reservation and without fear. He invites us to pray and to ask with shameless persistence. We are urged to pray in a brazen, boldface, and impudent manner. But our persistent petition is not based on a notion that God will answer simply because He is a “nice guy.” Our God is more than the friendly neighbour who gives whatever is needed, for He is the remarkable Father in heaven who choses to act in the interest of His children. Jesus reminds us that God is a loving Father who will uphold His own honour and will not let us be ashamed when we pray. God the Father will be consistent and faithful. Out of His great mercy and kindness, God choses to respond according to our prayers.

Therefore, we emboldened to pray for those who are exhausted by their circumstance; for those who are strained to the edge of their existence. Like pastor Jim Cymbala, we call upon God to “bring us those whom nobody wants so that we may love them in Jesus’ name until they are whole.” So do not give up. Do not grow weary. We need to persist in prayer. We need to ask, to seek, and to knock on heaven’s door until God answers. It is our duty and our desire to pray for those who have no recourse unless God acts and intervenes. We expect miracles and wonderful surprises from God. So we keep praying with shameless persistence.

Defining Moments

This week, Canadians have experienced a defining moment. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver has galvanized a nation for we are feeling very good about being Canadian. A recent survey found 52 per cent of Canadians believe the Vancouver Games has been a defining moment – more so than previous national events such as the 1972 Hockey Summit Series, the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and the Montreal Expo 67. If Canada continues to win more medals, the defining moment will certainly be etched in the historical consciousness of Canadians.

Last Sunday, we were graced by a defining moment during our worship service. Pat Gallaher’s testimony to God’s miraculous intervention and answer to prayer evoked gratitude and joy. Some of us were moved to tears. We rallied together in worship and praise for our God is a great and gracious God. We felt a solidarity in faith and in fellowship. We were assured that God knows our weaknesses and that He hears our prayers. We experienced the compelling love of Jesus to embrace one another as brothers and sisters in the family of God. Anyone who witnessed this defining moment will surely echo the sentiments that God was wonderfully present and real.

What are some defining moments in your life? Did God meet you in a moment of crisis? Did your heart pulsate with love when someone reached out to you in forgiveness? Did your faith resonate with confidence when God answered your prayer and confirmed your future direction? Did your mind light up with new conviction when God’s Word spoke powerfully into your situation? Did the Spirit of Christ set you free from the past and enabled you to overcome certain feelings of fear and guilt? Did something happen in your life that re-defined your perspective of God and the world?

For the younger son in the parable of the father with two sons, his defining moment occurred when he came to his senses and remembered that he has a father who cares. For the elder brother, the defining moment took place when he discovered how he was lost in resentment and how he needed to reconcile with the father and the younger sibling. The defining moments for the father came when he saw the younger son from a great distance and when he reached out to the elder son during the feast. This amazing parable told by Jesus is filled with several defining moments.

Defining moments galvanize our sense of solidarity with God’s People. Defining moments rouse our spirit to celebrate what God has been doing in our lives. Defining moments challenge us to move beyond our comfort zones. Defining moments empower us to face the future with greater determination and purpose. May God grant us the grace and wisdom to perceive those defining moments as opportune moments for transformation and resolution.

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of the Lenten season. For a period of forty days, we are invited to reflect on our journey of faith. Like the prodigal son, our path takes us from rebellion to repentance and then to recognition of the Father’s love. We are invited to experience forgiveness and reconciliation as we contemplate the journey that Christ Jesus took from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross and beyond death to resurrection.

The Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty-days of Lent because each Sunday is meant to be a celebration of the resurrection. When we come together in worship, we celebrate the life and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Whenever, we reflect on the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus, we encounter the mystery of God’s love and mercy.

How can we, as children of God, be prone to sin and yet be drawn to grace? We may feel divided in our hearts. The voices of the world – money, success, power, prestige, and pleasure distract us from hearing the things that matter to God. We desire to hear the voice of Jesus; to attend to the Word of God; to be present to the community of faith. May the Spirit of Christ whisper into our ears the timely message of Lent that we need to follow Jesus through the narrow path of obedience.

Take some moments each day to ponder on what holds your attention. Are you distracted or even deceived by certain things that seem good but do not come from God? Are you desperately seeking your own satisfaction? Are you disturbed by the restless uneasiness in your heart? Are you devoted to those things that grant temporary pleasure but ultimately fail to meet your heart’s deepest longing?

We are invited to enter a deeper intimacy with Jesus that leads to a deeper awareness of God’s heart. But it does not come easy. During the Lenten season, we are invited to choose wisely by giving up those things that are less important. We are given the choice to follow the way of Jesus – the way that leads to repentance, renunciation, and renewal. May the Lord Jesus grant us the courage and strength to practice self-surrender and self-abandonment.

Let the words of the prophet Joel encourage us:

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2:12-13)