Fresh Vision

 

How constrained is our vision,
how inadequate our words,
how paltry our love for you, Lord God,
in the wake of all that you have done,
in the wake of all that you have disclosed of yourself in your Son through your Word.

Fill our hearts with joy
that we may not only be ashamed of sin and loathe it,
but also that we may be drawn to your own dear Son,
to holiness, to transparent love for one another –
all secured by Christ and his work on the cross on our behalf.

Draw us on to the new heaven and the new earth
precisely because that will also make us better stewards of your grace here.

Grant that even now we may understand in our own experience
how the Holy Spirit is the deposit of the promised inheritance,
the anticipation of what will one day be.

Grant us the power to grasp,
together with all of God’s people,
the limitless dimensions of your love for us.

Shape our lives by gratitude and adoration.

Give us courage and stamina
and with it holy joy and a love for all that is holy.

Open our eyes to see Jesus,
the cost that he bore,
the grace that he pours out upon us,
until we are ravished by his beauty,
consumed by a heart full of adoration.

For Jesus’ sake,
Amen.

D.A. Carson, The God Who Is There

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The Gate of the Year

 

I remember reading this poem some time ago and I stumbled upon it again in the last few days.

THE GATE OF THE YEAR (or ‘God Knows’)
by Minnie Louise Haskins

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

Selah

 

Days like these and this time of the year  – they all feel like a post-marathon breather (not that I have any idea what that would feel like physically). Yes, there is a sense of relief and achievement spiked by some tiredness and regret.

It’s a time to slow down and reflect. A chance to recalibrate expectations, schedules and give our souls a chance to catch-up with our bodies perhaps.

Here are some beautifully penned words from the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter (1615-1691):

‘He can deliver me from myself
and the noise I’ve welcomed into my life.
He can bring stillness and give abiding.
He delights in his children—in who you are more
than what you could ever do for him
or have done against him.
And he does it because of his steadfast love.
Oh – that we would know it!
That the love of God would quiet our hearts
and cure us from the addiction to movement,
the want of approval
and the fear of quiet.’

 

Aftermath

 

We have all been shaken by the tragic events in Manchester, a few days ago. The nearer death gets to us – the more real it becomes. We seem still vaguely immune to the distant tragedies of other places in the world, where similar events occur weekly – remember this?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-39613313

The combination of the young age of the victims, the immediacy, the senseless damage done by one individual and the long-term effect on families and communities – all bring a huge emotional turmoil to all of us.

What can we do with all of this? How do we react? How do we process this mentally? How do we address our feelings?

Here are some of my humble suggestions:

  • we stay silent: social media is such a frustrating place at times like this. People went their hatred and scapegoat indiscriminately or parade simplistic naive solutions. Better to stop and follow Job’s action: ‘I put my hand over my mouth.’ (40:4)
  • we lament: we take the time to feel the sadness, share in the pain of loss and internally express the righteous anger against injustice like David did (Psalm 55:1-30): God, listen to my prayer and do not hide from my plea for help. Pay attention to me and answer me. I am restless and in turmoil with my complaint, because of the enemy’s words,[abecause of the pressure[b] of the wicked. For they bring down disaster on me and harass me in anger.
  • we love – at times like this people use the ‘all religions are the same – they are the cause of trouble in the world’. This is the perfect time to ‘say and show’ that Christ-followers are about love (not a naive and condoning one but gracious love that doesn’t perpetuate hatred): Matthew 5:43-44 (CSB): 43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies[b] and pray for those who[c] persecute you.
  • we pray – we don’t broadcast boastfully about it, but we take our tearful grief to God and ask for His extraordinary comfort for those affected and for our empowering to be His messengers of hope, healing and forgiveness.
  • we reach – each action of senseless evil in our community is a silent commentary on our ineffective influence for transformation. The message of Christ can change broken lives, seduced by lies and deceit. We need to speak and show – as living adverts – about the transformation God wants to bring to in our hearts, homes and ‘hoods’. This is a picture of it: Galatians 5:22: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentlenesses, and self-control.

Lord of all compassion
We pray for all of those caught up in the midst of tragedy or disaster.
For those who have lost life and those working to save life
For those who are worried for people they love
For those who will see their loved ones no longer
Lord Have Mercy.
For those in need of the peace that passes all understanding
For all who turn to you in the midst of turmoil
For those who cry out to you in fear and in love
Lord Have Mercy.
For those in confusion and those in despair
For those whose tears are yet to dry
For those in need of your unending love
Lord Have Mercy
Amen.

(Church of England Prayer)

Timely Reminder

 

It’s ever so interesting how some special days become part of the celebrated church calendar and others not. Today, the Christian world celebrates Ascension Day – when we remember Jesus ascending into heaven. While, this day does not have the same popularity as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Good Friday, Shrove Tuesday or Ash Wednesday – I feel it ought to be a cause for celebration.

Here are my reasons:

Acts 1:6-11 (NLT):
6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” 7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

  • we received a gift: Jesus had finished his earthly ministry with a sense of unexpected turn-around.  The ever-changing trajectory seemed to head towards failure at Golgotha but became the final triumph at the empty grave. He became one of us – God who moved in our neighbourhood – loving to the uttermost and inviting us to embrace salvation and sanctification. All done!
  • we have a confidence: The Ascension marks Jesus’ return to the full place of authority at the right hand of the Father – and how we need that reassuring knowledge of His powerful divine involvement in our affairs. In a world that is breaking apart – He is still King. This is a timely truth and a comforting reassurance.
  • we have a calling: His final words to an emotionally fearful question about His return – was a call to mission. When the disciples looked inwardly, He showed them an outward-looking perspective. The vision was outrageously inclusive and epic in scale. It was an invitation to continue what He had started (enabled by His authority and empowering).

PS – Maybe it’s a bargain basement Christian holiday because most of the other ones have become some hijacked by our consumer culture and became a comfortable shadow of their former selves. Maybe even more reason to celebrate an authentic Christian feast.

Hail the day that sees him rise
(Charles Wesley)

Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia!
to his throne above the skies; Alleluia!
Christ, the Lamb for sinners given, Alleluia!
enters now the highest heaven! Alleluia!

There for him high triumph waits; Alleluia!
lift your heads, eternal gates! Alleluia!
he hath conquered death and sin; Alleluia!
take the King of glory in! Alleluia!

Lo! the heaven its Lord receives, Alleluia!
yet he loves the earth he leaves; Alleluia!
though returning to his throne, Alleluia!
still he calls mankind his own. Alleluia!

See! he lifts his hands above; Alleluia!
See! he shows the prints of love: Alleluia!
Hark! his gracious lips bestow, Alleluia!
blessings on his Church below. Alleluia!

Still for us he intercedes, Alleluia!
his prevailing death he pleads, Alleluia!
near himself prepares our place, Alleluia!
he the first fruits of our race. Alleluia!

Lord, though parted from our sight, Alleluia!
far above the starry height, Alleluia!
grant our hearts may thither rise, Alleluia!
seeking thee above the skies. Alleluia!

There we shall with thee remain, Alleluia!
partners of thy eternal reign, Alleluia!
there thy face forever see, Alleluia!
find our heaven of heavens in thee, Alleluia!

Weak or Strong?

 

Leadership lessons abound nowadays. Ranging from TED talks, podcasts, Twitter quips or Instagram motivational sayings – everyone seems to have something to say. Often the world-views collide and confuse. Let me give you an example.

I grew up with a model of leadership where strength was celebrated and weakness was hidden. A leader was supposed to inspire and stir up up admiration through their assured self-confidence. People were meant to look up to them and ‘have something of what they had’.  That inevitably created a huge pressure to live an impossible life, satisfy unreasonable expectations and often birthed a two-sided personality. There was the public leader and the private one, and the chasm between the two was often ever widening.

Nowadays, we moved on from that. Or maybe, we just overreacted. Disclosure is now pretty standard. Weakness is celebrated and uncomfortable vulnerability is worn like a badge of honour. It almost feels like you have to let your ‘demons’ be seen in order to gain credibility. While the transparency (truth) is always a better option – at what point does the celebration of weakness become another side of the same coin – a dangerous exercise in selfishness and attention seeking?

A tension – I love that word, and much prefer it to ‘balance’ – is needed. The check should always be on our real motive? Is this about building and encouraging others – or simply gaining a platform and stealing the spotlight? For a Christian leader – this is even more pronounced. I truly think that the apostle Paul ‘nails’ this one. He is transparent

He is transparent about his past and honest about his struggle with the thorn in the flesh:

Galatians 1:13
“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-8: So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.

But Paul is not attracting attention to his weakness (past or present) but directs people’s attention towards a sufficient Christ:

2 Corinthians 5:17:  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has[a] come!

2 Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

A good leader will not hide his limp, nor will they swagger – they won’t pretend nor attract attention to themselves. They will be appropriately honest and vulnerable, yet always lifting up Christ as our encouragement and example:

Hebrews 3:1a: “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus…”

Everyday Easter

Just another Monday. It’s so tempting to ‘move on’ from Lent and Holy Week. But that to me would be religion. A meaningless habit aimed to impress others and earn ‘brownie points’ with God.

Yet I chose to see it as a spiritual chance to reboot and refresh my relationship with God. What I have discovered and rediscovered during this season ought to affect the way I live in the mundane environments from now on.

Seeing Jesus passionate resolve to obey the will of the Father, causes me to subscribe to the same longing for an uncompromising obedience.

His ‘I couldn’t care less about popularity’ makes me want to please God vs. man more than ever. Remember, Jesus never won a popularity contest and neither should we expect to win one….

I love the fact that suffering hallmarks the entire salvation story. It isn’t edited out. This confirms that God is IN the midst of our stark and dark realities of a fallen world.

He extends grace to the undeserving. To the sinner. To the condemned and despised thief. That’s me. And that’s such good news.

He despises the self-righteous. Those who see themselves above the need for grace. Those who make excuses and justify sin. Those who spend more time judging others. And that’s me too, at times.

The resurrection proclaims a new start, a myriad of supernatural possibilities: miracles, transformed lives, an otherworldly Kingdom breaking out in people’s lives and circumstances. And to that, I’m addicted!

Sunday

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It’s Sunday. If there has ever been a comeback, this is it. When all the dreams seemed shattered and all the hopes dashed – it happened. Not even the most optimistic of followers expected it. And many didn’t believe it. It was THAT good!

The unlikely heroes are in fact the usual suspects. Someone like Mary, the poster girl for Jesus’s grace and power. And Peter, who didn’t take heed of Jesus’s warning and despite his natural boldness, betrays Jesus repeatedly. They are the ones to discover the greatest surprise of all times… so like Jesus.

This truth is an experience. A personal one. A significant one. One that Christ followers have built their lives ever since. It’s awesome because it proves that what He said was true, and therefore He can be trusted with everything else! It’s awesome because it proves that He defeated, evil, sin and death on the Cross! It’s awesome because transformation and victory are, therefore, possible for us too!

Let Easter come into your life too, for the first time maybe or for the umpteenth time afresh this year. Let His unflinching resolve towards the Cross be your talisman of love. Let His grace be your whisper of love as you look on the cross. Let His victory fuel your hopes and dreams. Let the empty tomb be the assurance that because He lives you too can face tomorrow. Christ is Risen!

Matthew 28:1-8 | Mark 16:1-9 | Luke 24:1-8 | John 20:1

Saturday

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It’s Saturday. It’s very quiet. The quietness of broken dreams. The quietness of grief and loss. The quietness in which you can only hear the sighs and see the tears. It’s all gone wrong.

You know that maddening quietness that occurs after a sudden diagnosis, after a loss or breakup – as you’re almost too confused and shocked to even utter anything.
When it’s quiet it’s so much easier to be assaulted by so many questions. I guess that’s why we fill our lives with noise, in the hope that the questions will go away. But they don’t….

How could they do this to Him? Why didn’t He do something to stop His enemies? How does this all tie in with His words? Have I believed a lie? Will I be next?

Today is a hard day. Because all they have is broken dreams. But all is about to change because our human full stop becomes the divine comma that leads to the next step in HIStory.

Take comfort, dear friends, you’re not alone in how you feel. You might feel weak but it’s this kind of weakness that opens the door for God’s mighty power.

Luke 23:56

Friday

 

It’s Friday. This is the day with the paradoxical name. Good Friday. But at first glance, it was anything but good. Jesus is betrayed and arrested, tortured, humiliated, betrayed again, wrongly accused and crucified.

Everything screams ‘injustice!’. The supporters who seemed to vanish. The blind Jewish religious elite who seemed determined to eradicate the heresy of His teaching. The Romans who could not wait to show some muscle in dealing with alleged nationalist insurgents.Funny how evil aligns all those diametrically opposed forces. These people could not agree for five minutes if out in a room together yet they all seem to be on the same side on that day.

Yet go beyond the horror of the gruesome spectacle. This isn’t an accident. He isn’t a victim. This was the most daring and selfless act of sacrifice humanity has ever seen. Jesus was dying to pay for our sins. All of us. All of them. Once and for all. The Jewish people would understand this as they brought the sacrifice to the temple. Yet Jesus became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

He did intentionally. He did it voluntarily. He did it Himself. Even on the cross you see and hear the clues of who He really is: loving, forgiving, saving, surrendering to the Father.

The ultimate suffering is betrayed by his anguished cry, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. That’s what was worse than thorns and nails and whips. The separation from God. Because of sin. Because of me. And you. Us all.

Look at the cross afresh and ask yourself today. Who is He to me? Teacher? Wizard? Prophet? Socialist revolutionary? Jedi master? Lamb of God? King? The shortest sentence, it’s the most stunning. ‘tetelestai’. It is finished! Not a cry of relief but one of victory. And that my friend, can be our password into His kingdom. And that’s why this ugly, evil, dark Friday is known as Good Friday!

Matthew 26: 36-75; 37 | Mark 14:53-72; 15 | Luke 22:39-72; 23 | John 15; 16; 18; 19