Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 34

Day 34, Saturday, March 31, 2012

 After His wilderness experience Jesus returned to Galilee, his home. He did so glowing from being in the presence of God, and full of the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit. You would expect that people must have been in awe of Him, accepted His teachings, repented from their sins, and soon He was a great leader with a huge following. Well, the first reaction at home was great, as Luke says, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him” (Luke 4:14-15 NIV). However, as soon as Jesus began to apply the Word of God to Himself and preached about God’s grace in choosing Israel, out of many nations, to be His people, the folks got mad at Jesus. In the same chapter 4, where we just saw people praising Him, Luke further says, “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:28-30 NIV). They were His own people, as they knew Him and His family well. They did recognize God’s presence with Him and the anointing and authority with which Jesus spoke to them: “And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth…” (Luke 4: 22 RSV). But as I just said, they became indignant the moment Jesus proclaimed that God’s Word is about Him and for Him. He applied the words of prophecy to Himself. He also proclaimed the gospel of grace by citing the history of Israel that deals with God’s act of choosing people for His purpose and glory through His grace alone and not because of their merit. People were not ready to accept it and immediately wanted to end His life.

The world is no different today. We often expect that our life will be easy and received well once we spend time with God and are anointed by the Holy Spirit for His work. All people will just praise us and glorify our life and ministry. In fact, this is exactly the impression that many televangelists and prosperity preachers give today as they show images of “miracles” amidst huge crowds in mega cities of the majority world. They claim to be popular because God is supposedly with them and working through them. But we need to test if they’re living according to the Word and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. This Lent, we need to pause and reflect on the life of Jesus and assess our lives today in light of Jesus’ life and the Word of God. Are we applying daily the Word of God that we received in our wilderness experience in our lives or are we just listening/reading it? Satan is very happy if we only read or listen, but we will make him really mad the moment we begin to apply it in our lives personally. The world is not going to love it; in fact, they are going to hate us and shun us completely when we walk in the light of His Word and the grace brought to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, miracles or no miracles, God’s Spirit and His power are always with us and He will help us lead a holy life according to His Word. The world is not going to accept us or receive us favorably if we proclaim the gospel of grace, as Jesus Himself has already warned us in John 15: 18-27. May God’s Spirit be with you this weekend. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating with Jesus into the wilderness, Day 33

Day 33, Friday, March 30, 2012 

Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar, as in ...

Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar, as in Numbers 27:12, by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have a lot to learn not only from the wilderness experience of Jesus, but also from the Israelites, as their experience has a plenty of similarities with Jesus. Out of the crucible of the wilderness experience God has an amazing way of producing some godly leaders. For example, Moses and Jesus both chose their disciples before finishing their earthly missions.  For today’s devotional, please read Deuteronomy 31-6-8. These are Moses’ parting words to the people of Israel and to his beloved disciple, Joshua. What a great legacy Moses left for his followers—to be strong and courageous along with the promise of God who will not leave, fail, or forsake them. A whole generation of young leaders was inspired to cross over to the Promised Land by Moses’s words. They become more significant if one considers that they are spoken by a veteran leader who has been trained by God mainly through the crucible of a series of wilderness experiences. You might imagine that Moses must have become a very bitter, frustrated, and negative person after all the wilderness problems he has been through. In spite of being faithful and a man who did as the Lord commanded him, Moses was barred from entering the Promised Land. On the contrary, we find that at the end of his life, Moses oozes confidence and courage in God through his presence and words. He challenges and motivates the new generation to press on to the Promised Land to make it theirs.

Jesus, too, came out of the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit and the confidence of God’s power and presence was reflected daily in his ministry. Immediately after return from the wilderness, Jesus also chose the Twelve and prepared for the ministry ahead (see Luke 5:1-11). It is a given that the wilderness experiences of our life can make us bitter and negative. What is the crucible of wilderness doing to you and your confidence? Are you turning your negative thoughts into positive ones so that you, too, can become an instrument ofencouragement and motivation for others to follow Christ? If you are in the leadership position, are you doing your best to develop a second line of leadership who will carry out the mission of God? May God turn our crucible of wilderness a matter of His glory. Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 32

Day 32, Thursday, March 29, 2012

 The wilderness account of Jesus in Luke’s gospel chapter 4 is sandwiched between these two significant statements: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (4:1). After the devil “left Him until an opportune time,” Luke makes a point again, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside” (4:13-14 NIV). This is a very encouraging observation. The wilderness experience of Jesus was according to God’s plan. God’s Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And He made sure that when he went in there, Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit.” Obviously, God’s Spirit didn’t leave Him alone in these difficult times. As a matter of fact, Jesus had such a fabulous time in the presence of God during His wilderness experience that at the end of it He returned to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14). He would not actually dare venture out without being first “full” of the Spirit and then being led in the “power of the Spirit” to do what He was sent to do on earth. The Spirit of God accompanied Him and empowered Him for His daily ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus was completely dependent on the Holy Spirit as His companion as well as the source of His ministry. Therefore, at the inaugural speech of His ministry in Galilee, in what is referred to as the “Nazareth Manifesto,” Jesus’ first words were: “The Spirit of God is on me, because he has anointed me…” (Like 4:18 NIV).

 The Lord is faithful and He knows that in our own strength we cannot travel through the wilderness. Therefore, He has provided us, too, the uninterrupted presence and power of the Holy Spirit (please read, John 14: 25-27 and Acts 1:8). The Spirit is called our Helper, Comforter, and Advocate. He is the One who comes along side us and remains beside us to speak on our behalf. If you find yourself in a wilderness, today, where you feel lonely and deserted by even your loved ones, don’t be disheartened. Reread prayerfully the passages mentioned above, right now, and ask the Lord to fill you with the Holy Spirit. God has promised the Spirit to every believer. If you have never experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit; maybe, it’s your day today to claim your gift. He waiting to fill you and live in and with you forever, as a beloved child of God. The Spirit will guide you as He did Jesus not only in the wilderness but also throughout your life. Let us not attempt living through our difficult wilderness experiences without the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. May we go ahead in the rest of the journey in the power of the Spirit. Amen. 

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 31

Day 31, Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Moses Views the Promised Land, engraving by Ge...

Moses Views the Promised Land, engraving by Gerard Jollain from the 1670 "La Saincte Bible" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Regarding Israel’s experience in the wilderness, there’s an interesting fact stated in the book of Deuteronomy 2:14 (NIV): “Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them” (also see Deut. 1:46).  That is 95 percent of their journey in the wilderness was spent in and around Kadesh Barnea, a place not very far from the Promised Land! Moses tells that it was only about 11 day’s journey but it took them about 38 years (see Deut. 1:2-3; 2:14). It was from Kadesh Barnea that Moses had sent out spies to explore the Promised Land (Joshua 14:7). The meaning of the name of this place is not very clear, but it’s believed that the Israelites named it so because they regarded it as a ‘holy,’ ‘sacred’ place. It also meant a ‘spring’ of judgment or ‘refreshment,’ because most of their ancestors (1.5 million people) died and were buried in this place (Numbers 14:29-35). It was a not a bad place to dwell and maybe that’s why they spent so many years in it. However, Kadesh Barnea was not the place that God had chosen for them. It was not the Promised Land into which God was leading them. But they got tired of waiting for it and wished to settle down there. God, however, remembered His promise to His people and did finally lead a remnant of people into His intended place for the Israelites—Canaan—just a few days journey from there.

 It can happen with us, too. God may be leading us into His best place, but in the wilderness journey we often get exhausted. And we often settle down for what we see around as good forgetting God’s best for us. The comfort of our today’s situation in life may become a hindrance for us to keep seeking what God ultimately has kept for us. Recall in prayer today the day when you were born again or became a follower of Christ. Recall the passion you had to grow in Him and to study and live by His Word, the desire you had to serve Him and make His name known among the nations. But, perhaps, on the way, you’ve lost that desire and seem to be happy with what you have now. However, today, God wishes you to look up to Him in earnest, and to trust Him to take your hand and lead you with Him to the place that God intends for us to be—our Promised Land. Are you willing to walk with Him all instead of remaining a long time at Kadesh Barnea (Deut.1:46; Judges 11:17)? Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 30

Day 30, Tuesday, March 27, 2012

 You may have heard of the popular saying, “good is often the enemy of best” and some people add, “the best is the enemy of better!” This truly is a relevant saying if we apply it in the church and even in own our spiritual lives. We need to remember that the wilderness of Sinai stood in the midst of Israelites’ slavery in Egypt and the Promised Land of Canaan. And if you read the account of their experience in the wilderness as recorded in the book of Exodus, you would realize that, all through the journey, most Israelites were looking back instead of looking ahead! They complained about food and water and the so-called “comforts” of a life of slavery in Egypt than focusing their energies and imaginings on what was to come for them in the Promised Land. They ruminated on the past that was behind them, than envisaging about a better future that awaited them in Canaan. Therefore, many were ready to settle for the “good” that they had seen in Egypt, rather than moving ahead to claim the best of everything promised to them in land flowing with milk and honey.

 Jesus Christ, in contrast, endured the suffering, hunger, loneliness, and incessant temptations of the devil, even the cruelest death on the cross, “for the joy that was set before him.” He believed that the Resurrection—the-victory-over-death-forever—was just around the corner. So, let us heed the exhortation of the writer of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV). You and I need to persevere in the wilderness until we reach our Promised Land and be Christ-like in our spiritual pilgrimage. There may be several things on the way that may seem good and adequate to us, but let us not be content with the mediocre Christian life. Our calling is higher and better than what most Christian seems to have settled in. Pray in the rest of these ten days of the Lenten season that God will help us keep on moving to the best and not be content with the good that we may have seen thus far. The best is yet to come! And we’ll not settle down for anything less than the best that God has in store for us. Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 29

Day 29, Monday, March 26, 2012

We have noted earlier on in our Lenten retreating into the wilderness with Jesus that His experience is like that of the Israelites in the wilderness of Mt. Sinai. Today, I’m reminded of their response to a bump in their journey as found in Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV): “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

This is very often our reaction when the Lord leads us into the wilderness of wants and discipline. Most of us become too impatient too quickly without taking a moment to ponder the purposes of God for us. And yet, the Lord is gracious and long-suffering with us in our rebellion. When we think we are lost and lonely in the wilderness, as the Psalter often says, “God’s steadfast love endures forever” (see Psalm 118, 136). When we become ungrateful for God’s provisions, God’s love endures forever. When we only look at the negatives—the wild beasts, desert, lack of material comfort and entertainment that we have become so used to, even for a short period—God still continues to be gracious and forgiving to us for a long time. When our attitude is reflected only in murmuring and grouchy words in spite of God providing us with daily manna in a miraculous way, God overlooks it and constantly showers us with His mercies that are new every morning. God’s mercies are unfailing, His love is steadfast, and His provisions never wanting. That’s why the Psalmist declared, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8).

What is your response today to the difficulties, pains, privations, sicknesses, not getting your own way, and so on, as you may be experiencing them now? Are you able to see beyond these things and fix your eyes on the Savior and His experience in the wilderness? That’s what Lent is for—an opportunity to look within and beyond ourselves—to focus on Christ and His passion. And move forward with a new perspective on our life on earth. May the Spirit remind you today of God’s steadfast love that endures forever! Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 28

Day 28, Saturday, March 24, 2012

 One of most significant thing the wilderness experience did to Jesus was that He became consumed with just one desire, that is, to fulfill God’s will, His mission, while on earth. He completely surrendered His will and dreams

King David in Prayer

King David in Prayer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

at the altar of God, and rose from there to do His will. This reminds us of the prayer of King David, as he penned Psalm 27: 4 – “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” In our pursuit of the will of God, the Holy Spirit should bring us to a point where we surrender our will to the Father’s  will and His will become our own will. We become consumed with a longing to be with Him and everything else becomes secondary in our lives. Like King David our hearts’ one passion is to be in a close relationship with God.

 There are three features of David’s pursuit of God: 1. To dwell in the house of God which means to be constantly in the presence of God “all the days of my life.” We know that God no longer resides in temples made with human hands. Jesus has made a perpetual and anytime access to the Father possible through His sacrifice on the cross. That’s why he assured that those who have seen Him have seen the Father as they both are in each other (John 14: 8-11).

 Secondly, David prayed that while in God’s presence, he wants to just “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” Wow! What a prayer! He doesn’t always come to God in prayer with a long wish list of bless me and give me this or give me that. He wants to be in Gods’ presence just to behold the beauty, glory, majesty, and goodness of the Lord…to soak in the experience of just who God is without seeking what He can do for me. If and when we’re able to come to this point in our spiritual journey, our lives will be transformed. That’s an amazing thought that needs to sink in us, today. When was the last time you went into prayer just for the experience of His joyous presence and to behold His beauty, leaving behind your shopping list?

 Thirdly, David prayed to seek God in His temple. That shows a passion to strive for God and His righteousness more than anything else. Such seeking after God is what Jesus had in mind when He asked His disciples “but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). What is the intense longing of our heart as we draw near to Him in the Lenten season? Is it for more of the stuff or for the sake of just God, His presence, His glory, His beauty, and His righteousness? God is not against the “stuff” per se. He knows that we need it and promises that it shall be supplied, but are we longing with all our heart for His mission, glory, and righteousness? God bless!

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 27

Day 27, Friday, March 23, 2012

 Jesus lived not only in the wilderness but also throughout His life time with just one motto—doing the will of God. There are many of us today who are facing uncertainties in life with regard to their marriage, jobs, future, children, and in so many other areas. In one sense, it seems that gone are the days of certainty and security of job and a peaceful life after retirement. It is not only for younger generation, but very much so for the older generation, too. The older people worked hard and saved a lot for their peaceful retirement. However, most of that investment has been wiped away in the economic recession and the meltdown of the Wall Street. Thus, most people today live in an uncertain world of anxiety. Dear friends, we think Jesus didn’t know what it means to live in today’s environment of fretfulness and qualms, but we are wrong in thinking that way. If we read the Gospels at a slow pace, we’ll find that Jesus’s life and circumstances were not much different from ours. He had no idea where His next meal would come from. When folks asked for his address, Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 NIV; Matthew 8:20). The Jewish and Roman authorities were always after His life from the time he was born until they succeeded in hanging Him on the Tree. They always sought to arrest Him to put Him in prison or to kill Him because He was claiming to be God or challenging their hypocritical lives (see, e.g., John 7:1; 8:58-59; 10: 30-32; 11:53-54; Luke 4:28-30; Luke 20:19-26).

 Therefore, be encouraged that Jesus fully understands and sympathizes with what you’re going through today. And His counsel to us is that, like Him, we should desire God’s perfect will. Of course, we do not know for sure what that fully means. Don’t worry, keep seeking it, and God will show it to you. It may not be what you wish. But are you ready to accept that His perfect will may require loss for greater gain? It may require you stepping outside of what is comfortable to do the extraordinary? May be it will require you make a move to a new place, a new experience, or even a new calling to serve Him? Whatever it may be, we are not sure, but this much is certain that God’s will for you is good, perfect, and if accepted, it will make you happy for life. Are you passionate about seeking His best and perfect will for your life as Jesus was (see yesterday’s devotion)? Do you trust the Lord today to lead you in the center of His will, and to grant you the strength to walk in it? God bless!

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 26

Day 26, Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Word of God stained glass window at St. Ma...

The Word of God stained glass window at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC. Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spending forty days without food is not easy. The question is often raised—where did Jesus find His strength to survive those difficult days of hunger and nights of solitude in the wilderness? Both accounts of His experience in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 show us that Jesus’ capability came from the Word of God. He constantly fed on the Word and the presence of God during His hard times. The Word of God became not only the indispensable part but also the source of His daily life. This is what also gave Jesus the power to fight His own inner urges as well as the outside temptations of the devil. As we have already seen in the past few days, He always fought back Satan’s various seductions with the Word of God and was ultimately able to come victoriously out of the wilderness to accomplish the mission He had come for on this earth.

There is a second source of Jesus’ ability to fight the tempter and his diverse deceptions and that is—doing God’s will always. The devil tempted Jesus to go against God’s plan and will for Jesus and to fulfill His own desires of eating bread, show off to the world that He truly was the Messiah, and to become the King of all the kingdoms of the world, as Satan had offered Him. However, in all of these, Jesus remained committed to only fulfilling the will of God for His life. That is why, later on, when evangelizing and teaching His disciples, “Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 RSV). In fact, Jesus repeated this several times. For example, He said, “I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30 RSV). And again He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 RSV). Thus, Jesus made His work—the mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God—His meat and his drink. He was always so consumed with doing His Father’s will that He didn’t worry much about the basic necessities of life such as food, drink, or clothing and shelter. Nevertheless, the Father did supply these for His Son. Today, if you’re in the wilderness, what is the place of God’s Word in your daily life? Is it a prominent place or just another task in the long to-do-list of your hectic life? Moreover, what place the will of God—the mission of God—has in your life? In what practical ways are you fulfilling it? God bless!

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 25

Day 25, Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Temptation of Jesus in desert. HOLE, WILLIAM: ...

Temptation of Jesus in desert. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 One of the ways believers can discern Satan’s temptation is by recognizing that he proposes an easy way out of the situation and/or a short-cut to achieve our goals. Satan was fully aware of Jesus’ mission and His goals to achieve that mission. Satan, therefore, proposed Jesus to reach his goals by doing a miracle of turning the bread into wine, by bowing in worship to Satan, or by just throwing himself off the cliff (See, Matthew 4:1-11). As you’ll notice, these actions would have helped Jesus to satisfy His hunger, and seemingly realize His kingdom on earth. The reason Jesus refused to accept all of Satan’s proposals is that none of them helped Him obey God’s will. They carried a very small price tag attached to them compared to the life of suffering and pain that was part and parcel of Jesus’ calling according to God’s plan. Satan often offers a huge prize for a little bowing of our heads before him, as he promised kingdoms of the world to Jesus. But Jesus knew the hidden cost of a small price tag of succumbing to Satan’s tricks—losing out on God’s plan for us.  Satan has a master’s degree in deception, as he often uses deception as a tool to lead people astray. He will always say: Look, God’s way of living in the world takes too long and requires too much effort. If you follow me, I could give the same stuff to you right now if you will just bow down to me. Satan will always encourage instant gratification. Thus his shortcuts can eventually cut short our very lives from attaining the eternal life.

If we suddenly come across an opportunity to satisfy our physical need of food, sex, power, or money, let us pause and think over it. What would have Jesus done in this situation? Would He take advantage of the situation or realize it as Satan’s plan to distract and lead us into sinning? Or may be today, some of us are going through hardships, long-term or terminal sickness in our bodies or someone we love and care about. And Satan comes along with an offer that sounds too good to be true. He provides a short-cut to success, healing, wealthy, and pleasant life at the cost of a mere bowing to his will instead of God Almighty. May we do what Jesus has taught us in the past few days—base our response to the temptations in the Word of God. God will give us victory. Amen.