Category: Spiritual Life


Past and Future

Oscar Wilde once quipped: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Looking back at our journey to faith in Christ, we are reminded of the gracious invitation to follow Jesus. At some point in our past, we responded to the love of Jesus and experienced His forgiveness. But we are also mindful of doubt, skepticism and fear that affected our response. Following Jesus was not easy and I would suggest it is still not easy today.

There might be memories of past traumas and hurts, past failures and sins that impact our current experience of grace. Perhaps, we feel inadequate and unworthy to be called a Christian. Perhaps, we find it hard to let go of past criticisms and complaints. Perhaps, we are discouraged by the lack of care and compassion from other Christians in the local church.  Perhaps, we have made some poor choices and given way to temptation. Perhaps, we are afraid our past will catch up and ruin our future.

I believe Jesus looks at us with deep love and real grace. Our past has been redeemed by Jesus and therefore nothing we have experienced is wasted. Jesus assures us of His forgiveness and healing for all that has taken place in our past. But He also challenges us to embrace our future as defined by His calling and purpose. We are no longer strangers or foreigners to the Kingdom of God. We are now beloved members of God’s household, brave citizens of God’s Kingdom, and bold partners in the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ. Therefore, we are called to live and to act as chosen disciples of Jesus. We have a future that is filled with hope and grace.

The Apostle Paul describes his own journey of faith in Jesus: “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT) Every disciple can forget the past and forge ahead towards the future defined by Jesus’ call.

How would you describe your personal story of faith? Does your past weigh heavily on your present? What is Jesus saying to you about your future? Where are you headed in your journey of faith? Are you looking back or facing the future?  Every Christian has a past and every disciple has a future in Jesus Christ. Following Jesus today is not easy but it is the only path that leads to total freedom from our past and total fulfillment for our future. We are destined to reign with Christ Jesus in the glorious Kingdom that He will establish at His return. For that reason, we persevere in faith and endure all difficulties by His grace. My dear friends, do not lose heart and do not be afraid.

Last Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, was filled with the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in our worship services. We were reminded that Jesus chose us out of the world to belong to Him so that we might be sent back to live by the Spirit, testifying to His love and grace in the world. Indeed, we give praise to the Lord for His magnificent grace in touching lives and turning hearts back to Him.

As the Spirit came upon us and moved freely in our hearts, many responded to the occasion for healing prayer towards the end of the services. One by one, and in some cases, couples and families, received anointing oil and prayer. Invariably, tears flowed. Hearts were opened to the Spirit. Lives were touched by the Spirit. What a joy to witness the hunger and yearning for the Holy Spirit. A profound sense of hush and reverence came over the congregation. We are simply grateful for the outpouring of God’s Spirit during this season. Praise the Lord for what He is doing in our community.

I believe the Spirit will continue to draw people closer to Jesus. I am confident the Lord Jesus will deliver individuals from mediocre faith and lukewarm hearts. I am praying for a deeper work of the Spirit in our lives so that we will experience freedom from fear and despair. I am trusting the Lord to move us from passive indifference to passionate investment in the work of the Gospel. I am anticipating a season of renewal, restoration and reconciliation. I am inviting you to partner with WVBC in prayer and service, leveraging our gifts and resources for the sake of God’s Kingdom. I am calling you to stand up for Jesus and to subvert the world’s influence with the truth and love of Jesus. I am challenging each person to reach out to one another with compassion and hospitality.

As we respond to the Spirit’s movement, I believe we are empowered to make a difference in our community. Where there is despair, let us give hope. Where there is fear, let us raise faith. Where there is hurt, let us show mercy. Where there is loneliness, let us offer friendship.  Where there is sickness, let us pray for healing. Where there is confusion, let us speak truth. Where there is sadness, let us share the joy of Jesus. Where there is a need, let us give generously.

The series of messages on emotionally healthy spirituality will invariably elicit different responses to the challenges and issues. According to Peter Scazzero, some of the responses from church leaders and pastors serve to highlight the importance of this subject for the local church. Here are some examples:

  1. I have neglected my inner life.
  2. I have given away my walk with Jesus to manage my congregation; I have impoverished my marriage in the process.
  3. My stoicism, in reality, is a self-protective device, and it demeans who God made me to be.
  4. I need to have more self-awareness.
  5. No more “flying by the seat of my pants” – emotional health takes discipline and hard work.
  6. I need to place a higher priority on time with God and trust Him with the rest.
  7. My congregation needs emotionally healthy practices if we are going to mature as a family of faith.
  8. I am spiritually dry, running on empty. I need to slow down for Sabbath rest.
  9. I am more insecure and averse to conflict than I admit.
  10. Exploring my past is not dwelling on my past.
  11. I take things too personally when it is not my personal responsibility.
  12. The world will go on without me; but I cannot go on without Christ.

As we grow in emotional and spiritual health, we will discover essential changes in our heart and soul reveal significant growth in our personal spirituality. Some of these changes will include the following:

  1. We have a greater capacity to wait on God and surrender to His will.
  2. We are kinder and more compassionate.
  3. We are less pretentious and less attached to nonessentials in our life.
  4. We are liberated from having to impress others.
  5. We are able to live more comfortably with not knowing everything while embracing the mystery of God’s purposes.
  6. We are characterized by a greater humility and brokenness.
  7. We enjoy a new, vivid appreciation of the sacredness in all of life.
  8. We have fewer fears and a greater willingness to take risks.
  9. We have a greater sensitivity for the poor, the weak, the broken, and the wounded.
  10. We are more at home with ourselves and with God.
  11. We perceive others as persons made in the image of God.
  12. We live as the beloved of God who love as we are loved by Jesus.

The vital key to growing into an emotionally healthy spiritual person is Jesus Christ. Knowing Jesus, loving and trusting Him in our daily lives will engender liberating changes in our attitudes, emotions and choices. Believing in Jesus involves becoming the kind of person Jesus calls to be. At heart, we are called to love God and to love one another just as Jesus loves. The question remains: do we love as Jesus loves? Jesus models and embodies the fullness of God’s love for us. We are compelled by the love of Jesus to see ourselves and others as the beloved of God. Knowing we are loved, we are set free to love others with genuine compassion and kindness. Love actually defines our identity, our values, our purpose and our destiny in Jesus Christ who said: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” John 15:9 ESV

Enjoy the rest God gives

Life on the West Coast of Canada cycles through the seasons of the year. Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn feature distinctive opportunities for business, work, recreation, and leisure. The weekly routine for most of us revolves around the weekend.  Sunday is regarded a typical “day off.” We are free to stop work, change the pace, dress casual and enjoy the day as a personal entitlement. For many people, the speed of business and stress of work have stretched our weekly engagement. For some, even Sunday is no longer assured as the usual “day off.”

What is your idea of a great “day off?” Would it include…

  • reading a good book
  • getting some extra sleep
  • spending time with family
  • walking or hiking—alone or with someone I like
  • going shopping
  • watching sports—on TV or at the game
  • eating a meal with friends
  • playing your favorite sport
  • going to the movies or a concert
  • attending a worship service?

We realize the demands of work, study, business and social obligations impose great burden on our soul and body. Success, achievement, competition, and busyness disrupt our balance between engagement and rest. We feel tired, exhausted and weary. Over time, we sense the emotional and spiritual deficits building up in our life. We do not seem to have enough time for God, for our spouses and children, for our friends and neighbors and even for ourselves. We suffer from lack of sleep, anxiety, and hurry. Ironically, our time-saving devices seem to drain our capacity to reflect, to contemplate and to slow down. The need for rest, renewal and replenishment is evident. But we seem unable or unwilling to change our pace of life and to slow down. The idea of a weekly sabbath for rest and refreshment seems more of a luxury.

Our society claims our attention and active engagement at all times. Stores are open 24 hours a day. Cable TV and the internet channel almost unlimited content and programming into our lives. We are easily overwhelmed by the choices as much as by their coercive messages. We are constantly driven to consume, to acquire, to gain knowledge, to procure services, to be amused and entertained. It seems the possibility of silence, solitude and stillness is largely a figment of our imagination. The reality is we are just too busy, too driven and too self-obsessed to stop once a week to enjoy the rest God has given to us.

The gift of sabbath is intended for our benefit. As Jesus countered the legalists of his day, “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) Perhaps, we need to reclaim this gift and practice the rhythms of rest and renewal. We can begin a quiet revolution of change in ourselves and our families. Let us slow down, rest, pray, meditate, walk, sing, eat and take time to be present to those we love. For one day a week, let us cease our striving for more, and instead taste the blessings we have already been given and give thanks to God.

When we are broken

On the journey to emotional and spiritual wholeness, we are not surprised by the seasons of trouble, pain, disappointment, and suffering. Emotional baggage from the past along with personal issues in relationships and identity could also stifle our progress on the spiritual journey. We may find ourselves doing church rather than being church. Just showing up on Sunday for the usual routine of worship, sermon, and prayer does not measure up to the kind of engaging discipleship Jesus presents in the Gospel. Before long, we feel discouraged by our lack of spiritual passion and disoriented by our lack of mission as followers of Jesus.

Life seems more difficult and demanding than we care to admit. We wake up to the harsh reality of dealing with demanding relationships and emotional tensions. Sudden illness, marital problems, death in the family, loss of employment, and personal addictions destabilize the soul. We are left with more unanswered questions. Where is God when it hurts? Why is this happening to me? Why has God failed me? In a fallen world, sin, failure and trials seem inevitable. But when we are personally afflicted with suffering and pain, we question God’s purpose.

The Apostle Peter reminds us that the journey of faith towards Christ involves trials, persecutions and suffering. “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 The Message) Likewise, the Apostle Paul explains: “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.” (Philippians 1:29 NLT) The call to follow Jesus involves taking up the cross, sharing in His suffering and learning from Him.

Being human means embracing our frailty and fragility. In the midst of our brokenness, we desperately long for God’s presence and comfort. The greater our pain and suffering, the stronger God embraces us. Perhaps, this is God’s way of lovingly breaking us so that we might experience His redemptive work in our lives. Each crisis of faith will test our relationship with God. When we come to the place where we are broken within, we have a choice. We could invite God to do his gracious work in our heart, mind and soul. Or we could withdraw and turn inward, blaming God and spurning all gestures of grace. Ironically, the more we feel weakened by our brokenness, the more we need to lean hard on God’s grace and power. The Apostle Paul clarifies the nature of our spiritual journey: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:3-5 NLT)

Finding God in the dark

In a recent book on Mother Teresa titled “Come Be My Light,” we read the private letters and prayers of a godly woman who was deeply aware of her spiritual struggles. She described her feelings of emptiness, loneliness and darkness throughout a significant period in her life. Her spiritual experiences are comparable to that of St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic who wrote “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Teresa felt the pain of longing for God while sensing the purging work of God in her soul. It seemed as if God was absent and silent. Yet, this season of purging was somehow a necessary preparation for a deeper union with God.

“Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone … Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them …When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?”

— Mother Teresa, addressed to Jesus, at the suggestion of a confessor, undated.

The Psalmists also describe similar laments of a soul crying out to God, longing for a deeper connection and communion with the Holy One. In Psalm 42, for example, we hear soul talk, a spiritual soliloquy: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?” Day and night, the psalmist thirsts and longs for God while others taunt by asking, “Where is your God?” The soul cries out in pain, in suffering, in desolation. Like Mother Teresa, godly believers have been troubled by their feelings of inner loneliness, dry emptiness and heavy darkness. It seems there are seasons in the spiritual journey when our hearts long for a deeper communion with God but somehow God seems distant and silent. It seems during such times, the soul is purged of natural and spiritual imperfections. Our desire to love God for who He is may be affected by our preoccupation with those experiences and desires which God gives.

For most Christians, prayer, worship, solitude and contemplation are valuable spiritual disciplines that draw us closer to God. However, our attention and focus should not be directed towards those disciplines. Instead, we learn to pray by being present to God rather than being more self-conscious of how we pray or the words we use. We learn to wait on God by being silent and still rather than being more concerned with our physical posture or location. Paradoxically, we may also experience a profound purging of our sinful thoughts and inclinations. We sense the immense light of God’s holiness overwhelming our sense of sin and darkness. We feel the weight of God’s glory and goodness overwhelming our infirmities and superficiality. We feel the purging power of God’s love overwhelming our pain and brokenness. Indeed, the more we long for God’s presence, the more we feel the emptiness and inner loneliness within. We are invited to find God in the dark.

I wish to share an ancient hymn written by Aurelius Prudentius in the 5th century that expresses a deep faith in the Father’s primal love for Christ Jesus, and for all of creation. Out of love, the Saviour was begotten. Out of love, the long expected Redeemer enters our world. Out of love, the grace and glory of God revealed.

Of The Father’s Love Begotten (Corde Natus Ex Parentis)

Of the Fathers love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,

Of the things that are, that have been,

And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

 

At His Word the worlds were framed; He commanded; it was done:

Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;

All that grows beneath the shining

Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

 

O that birth forever blessed, when the virgin, full of grace,

By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Saviour of our race;

And the Babe, the worlds Redeemer,

First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

 

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;

Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;

Now He shines, the long expected,

Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

 

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;

Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!

Let no tongue on earth be silent,

Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

 

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,

Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:

Honour, glory, and dominion,

And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

From the original Latin of Aurelius Prudentius (5th C.) translated by John M. Neale & Henry W. Baker (19th C.)

Advent season is upon us. We now enter a season of the Christian calendar which anticipates the unfolding story of Christmas. As we learn to inhabit the amazing story of God, our hearts are filled with wonder and awe. The ancient promise of a child who will be the Chosen Messiah and who will dwell in our midst to establish peace, joy and love captures our imagination and hope. When will this happen? Where will this take place? Who will witness his arrival? How will the people receive this event?

The prophets of Israel have foretold the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah, Zephaniah, Micah and Malachi presented their messianic visions through eloquent poetry and oracles.  The Gospels record the fulfillment of the prophecies with exciting detail. Even without the broadcasting tools of modern communications, the news about the coming of Jesus spread swiftly across the land. From the rulers to the shepherds in the fields, many heard and enquired about the Christ Child.

Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation. We long for the coming of Jesus. Living in between the first and second advent, we are waiting for the unfolding story to lead us to the climactic conclusion when Jesus will return in glory, power and judgment. Nevertheless, we learn to wait. We watch for the seasons and watch for the signs of his presence. We pray and long for God to change our darkness into light; to turn our hardship into celebration; to transform our weary hearts into joy and hope; to overcome evil with love. In our waiting, we are stretched in faith and formed in character. In our waiting, God makes our soul yearn for justice, truth, and goodness. As the story of God dwells in our lives, we are inspired to live intentionally and fully for Him.

What are you waiting for? What do you long for? Do you sense God doing something new in your life? Are you anticipating a season of growth and change? Will you discern God’s future for your life? What makes the work of waiting paradoxical? I believe the stories of Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist and certainly Mary can help us wait expectantly. Perhaps, we can listen to their words and pray their prayers. Over the next four weeks leading to Christmas, we can attune our hearts to the joyous mystery of Christ’s incarnation. We can go back to Bethlehem and relive the story of Christ’s first coming. By so doing, we deepen our longing and hope for Christ’s return.

“In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’” Isaiah 5:2-3 NIV

In the OT, David is fondly remembered as the great king of Israel who was strong in courage and sensitive in heart. Apart from kingly work, David was inspired to compose music and psalms in praise of God. His gifts and talents were used of God to shape the worship experience of Israel. The Book of Psalms, which includes 73 attributed to David, have historically served as the prayerbook and hymnal for the People of God. We read, pray and worship with the Psalms.

When the Samaritan woman at the well enquired about worship, Jesus assured her that a new era had dawned when God’s People would freely worship in diverse places. In reality, Jesus promised: “But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24 NLT)

True worship is not defined by culture, tradition, rituals or location. Jesus directs our attention to the Father who initiates worship by seeking out true worshippers who engage in spirit and in truth. By the Spirit of God and by the Word of God, worship is an act of submission and devotion to the Father. We are invited to worship with our whole being and with our whole life. Therefore, true worship exalts the Triune God and edifies the People of God. True worship is deeply personal and spiritual. But it is also communal and sacramental.

As we reflect on our current experience of worship, perhaps it is timely to review our practices and expectations. What affects your personal engagement in worship? Are you sensitive to the style and genre of music? Are you inspired by the beauty of the sanctuary? Are you edified by the preaching? Are you able to focus on who God is and what He is communicating to you? Are you encouraged to pray and to praise God? Do you contemplate the presence of God and remain open to His Spirit at work in your life? Do you come prepared to worship and to offer your gifts to the Lord with a grateful heart? Do you sense the joy, unity and celebration of faith in the company of God’s people? Do you feel energized to live the rest of the week as an act of worship to God?

Jesus emphasizes the priority and significance of worship. We need to realize that the Father is looking for true worshippers. Therefore the question is not “Do you enjoy corporate worship at WVBC?” but “Is the Father pleased with our worship?” The former question is prompted by a consumer mindset while the latter is guided by a heart of devotion and discipline.

On October 5th, the world bade farewell to a compelling, creative genius. Steve Jobs, artist and entrepreneur, inspired a global passion for simplicity and elegance in how we use intelligent products for expressing our humanity and personal yearnings. The iPod, iPad and iPhone are certainly well-crafted technological showpieces. Steve Jobs was a consummate advocate for following one’s heart. Instead of riding on the cultural waves of popular sentiments, Jobs created a cultural revolution in the way we communicate and share ideas, values and stories. Apple is now the most highly valued technological enterprise and will likely lead the industry in innovative design for the coming years. Steve Jobs followed his heart and lived out his vocation with passion and determination.

How does a person discover his heart’s true voice in a busy, chaotic world where a thousand voices compete for attention? While Steve Jobs was an exceptional individual, we might feel less significant. What is my heart saying to me? If I follow my heart’s desire, will it lead to personal fulfillment and contentment? Where is my heart leading? Who are those God has placed in my heart, not as a burden but as a blessing?

In Psalm 37, we hear the voice of David, a man whose heart was fully devoted to God. David writes: “Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” (Ps. 37:3,4 NLT) When we trust in the Lord and take delight in Him, God will grant us the desires of our heart. David emphasizes the priority of entrusting our heart to God by nurturing a singular desire for God. The more we delight in Him and desire His will, the more our hearts will discover a harmonious voice of agreement with God. We learn to desire what He desires. We sense His purpose for our life. We discern His heart for the people we are called to serve. We feel His pleasure when our life echoes His truth and love.

At the 2005 Stanford University Commencement address, Steve Jobs spoke about following his heart and facing his own mortality. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

David followed his heart and intuition by desiring what God desires. It is not what others think that really matters. It is what your heart says that ultimately matters. So trust in the Lord and delight in Him. Then follow your heart’s desire, for God will make your life speak His goodness, His love and His truth.