Lenten Devotions 2015: Will you please fetch me a donkey?

13818806203_9aca056616_zWe just celebrated Palm Sunday marking Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with much fanfare. In the cacophony of hosannas and hallelujahs, much like the first Palm Sunday where Jesus came to Jerusalem, we often forget about the people who fetched a little colt for Jesus to ride. The Gospel according to Mark describes the event in this way:

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. (Mark 11: 1-7 NIV).

We are not told who this colt belonged to except that he was willing to lend it to Jesus. However, what is more disappointing is that we are not told who these two men were whom Jesus sent out to fetch a donkey. We know that they were Jesus’ disciples. However, they remain anonymous in spite of their significant ministry. I am sure they had nobler ideas of a grandeur ministry and their role in the Kingdom of God than being sent to fetch a colt when they first accepted Jesus’ call to follow him. It was not an easy task. Imagine entering a village as a stranger looking like a suspicious animal thief! After locating the precise house and the right owner of the colt, they had to bring the untamed colt which no one had ever ridden before to Jesus Christ. They probably had to literally drag the colt out several miles away from its village. I am sure they thought that this is not what they had imagined being sent for when they heard Jesus call out to them: “Follow Me”!

These two disciples of Jesus teach us several things. First of all, the ministry is not ours. It’s the Lord’s ministry and we are called to prepare the way of the Lord. This must relieve us from unnecessary stress we often carry around in ministry. Secondly, in preparing for the Kingdom of God, no task is mundane and unbecoming of a servant of God who has answered Jesus’ call to follow him. If the Lord assigns us the task of only fetching a donkey for him, we should gladly and willingly do it for the Lord. As a matter of fact, this is what many of our ministries look like today—mundane, routine, boring, and without much joy or fruitfulness. However, they are all significant in God’s economy of salvation for the world. Whatever you may be going through in the little tasks of ministry, which seem like fetching a donkey, be encouraged that the Lord is using each one of them for his work of redeeming the world and establishing his Kingdom on earth. May you be encouraged by this fact today. Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: When you feel abandoned…

Jesus Christ clearly warned his followers: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16: 33). So, today, if you or someone you know is suffering to the extent of feeling abandoned, you should not be surprised at all. Instead, we need to find encouragement from Jesus Christ who himself suffered for us. That’s why he hastened to add: “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). How is Jesus able to encourage those who are suffering today and feel dejected? Is it through some lofty ideal or philosophical thought? Is it through a best-seller, self-help book that he penned? Absolutely not. And that is the main difference between him and many gurus of this world: unlike others, Jesus personally suffered dejection. He came out victorious from his sufferings, pain, and abandonment to show us that we, too, could overcome.
Psalmist David composed this song centuries before Jesus walked on this earth:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest…” (Psalm 22: 1-2).

We immediately recognize these words because Jesus used them as he hung on the cross of Calvary. Whatever Psalmist David was personally going through when composing it, he was also prophetically describing the coming Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ. Jesus would have read and memorized this song during his life on earth for it came so readily to his lips when he suffered on that cursed cross for you and me. When Jesus went through this rejection by his own people and was abandoned by his own disciples, it was something that he was expecting and was prepared for. However, when he realized the unbearable burden of sins laid on him at the cross, he could not take this anymore. The sins of the world brought a momentary separation between him and God the Father, which was unbearable for Jesus who had lived in a constant fellowship with God. Hence, in such an agonizing separation, Jesus cried out in a loud voice:

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27: 46).

Nevertheless, let’s thank God that it was not Jesus’ last cry from the cross. He did not die with the feeling of abandonment on Calvary. If that was the case, you and I had no hope and no salvation. However, Jesus quickly gained back his belief that God is holy, and that holy God was his Father who would not leave him forever. That is why, the last words on Jesus’ lips were the words of love, hope and absolute confidence before he breathed his last:

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23: 46).

He knew that the greatest pain he would face on this earth was the abandonment from his Father God, so that God could assure the world that he would never abandon his people. So, my friend, if you are in pain and feeling like King David in Psalm 22— cheer up. Even when you feel God is silent or so far away from you, you can be confident that He is with you and will never abandon you. Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: Laid-Off In Lent!

4169446509_6aa98da329_oMy day began today with a depressing phone call from a fellow believer who shared the bad news of his being laid off from work. He has worked for this company for over 3 years now and suddenly found himself out of work. He is the only bread-winner in his family of five and obviously quite worried as it is not easy to land a new job soon. I wish I could tell my friend and a thousand others in his situation, like some prosperity preachers, that you could have “Your Best Life Now”!

The Bible makes it very clear that God wants us to work with our hands and to earn an honest living. So if God intends us to work what does he want us to do when we lose our job? Doesn’t God know that mortgage and bills need to be paid and the family needs are to be met? I know these are difficult questions. I know what it means to be out of work. I have spent months in that situation while eagerly waiting to welcome our first child in this world. What I have learned from my personal experience and from the Word is that, of course, God knows all about us and our needs. We need to trust God to supply all our needs even during the laid-off period. This trust is very important because even when we earnestly pray, it may take a long time before one finds a well-paying job of one’s liking. While we must diligently do all we can to search for a good job, we should put our trust in God to lead us in the right direction and to open the right doors for us.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3: 5-6)
“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
….
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing” (Psalm 37: 3-7; 25-26).

Secondly, God wants us to use this time of unemployment to grow spiritually and to be keenly involved in our interests and passions. Just as in our good times, God wants us to call upon him in times of our need and distress (Hebrews 4: 1). There are several psalms in the Old Testament that testify to what King David says in Psalm 18:

“I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

Thirdly, God wants you to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5: 7 NIV). When you lose a job or are in some need, you normally turn to someone who cares about you. Here, the Apostle Peter clearly shows that our difficult times are not hidden from God. He not only knows but really cares about us. Therefore, we need to turn and come closer to him for help during the time of unemployment, too.

These difficult times may last longer than expected; however, in the end they will result in a better you. You will come out of this period of trial as a better person knowing God better and being able to help others who find themselves in similar situations as yourself. For this reason, let us be encouraged through the Apostle Paul’s exhortation:

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5: 3-4 NIV).

Lenten Devotions 2015: Why bother with a local church?

ojRQoUyMany surveys tell us that the number of people regularly attending a church is steadily declining. Not many who call themselves Christian have any active relationship with or participation in a local church. I meet such “Christians” almost every day. When asked the reason of their absence from the church, many say, “Oh the church is full of hypocrites.” And I often counter them by responding: “Hey, let that not bother you, as we always have room for one more!”

Well, jokes apart, association with a church is a serious matter. What you think of the church and what it looks like in your neighborhood does not alter the necessary place of the church in God’s economy of salvation. To God, church is the primary institution through which he is working out his plan of salvation and establishing his kingdom. It is another matter, for another day, that the almighty God cannot be confined to the church. He can and often does use people, movements, and institutions outside the church to fulfill his mission. However, his primary concern is with what the church does and does not do until the second coming of Jesus Christ. Therefore, a follower of Jesus Christ must find a local church to be in a regular fellowship with it.

We are socially inclined to seek other human beings and to live in relationships with them. We have been created this way. From the beginning, God desires for us to have companionship:

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Genesis 2: 18 NRSV).

The author of Letter to the Hebrews, in the New Testament, instructed the followers of Christ:

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10: 24-25 NRSV).

One of the most interesting ironies of today is that we live in a world swamped by the impersonal social media but without enough time to have personal, one on one interactions, and fellowship with one another. A local church has provided this opportunity for social interaction, fellowship, and spiritual growth for the past 2000 years or so. The church is far from being perfect; however, it is sanctified enough to sharpen us spiritually, to hold us accountable in our relationship to God and to each other, and to encourage or spur us when we need it most. Yes, I understand, you personally know several churches and ministers, who have lost the way. They are no longer worth your time and support. However, let us not throw the baby out with the bath water by completely neglecting to have fellowship with a local church due to some wrong people. We are often committed or loyal to our gym, social club, credit cards, banks, airlines, grocery stores, medical clinic, school/university, and most often to our favorite sport teams. Are they all perfect? Is there no corruption in their daily business or leadership? No. We do not abandon our favorite team just because they have lost most games in a season. However, when it comes to a local church, we leave it and its God appointed leaders in the lurch at the drop of a hat.

If today you do not fully take part in a local church, and as you have been praying, fasting, and reading the Scriptures this Lent, may the Lord lead you to a godly local church. May you be plugged in there to be a blessing to others. However, as my seminary president used to say, if you do find a perfect church please do not join it because you would make it imperfect! 🙂

Lent Devotions 2015: Surrender, but not to your temptations!

Photo courtesy: https://flic.kr/p/7mB8oF

Photo courtesy: https://flic.kr/p/7mB8oF

One of the most subtle temptations that followers of Christ and particularly ministers of the gospel face is to think that their life and ministry are for their own self-aggrandizement. Even Jesus Christ faced such temptations throughout his life and ministry on earth. For example, before he began his earthly ministry, Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness fasting and praying. During this time of loneliness, Satan tempted him with various offers of which one was his suggestion for Jesus to use his vocation for his own selfish purposes. Satan wanted Jesus to exalt himself and to use the power and authority at his disposal for his personal glorification. We know that Jesus fiercely resisted such temptations because he knew that his life was not his own. Jesus knew that he was sent for a purpose and he had to accomplish the mission for which God had sent him to earth.

Such temptations did not end with the forty-day period of fasting in the wilderness. In fact, they continued throughout his life and did not leave him alone until his death on the cross. People impressed with Jesus’ life, teaching, and ministry often surrounded him and wished to make him their leader and even king. In all these situations, Jesus withdrew himself from such people and circumstances. At times, even his disciples did not know where he was going to escape such temptations of aggrandizement by spending time alone with God.

How was Jesus able to resist such temptations that many Christian leaders and ministers easily succumb to, today? The answer is simple: Jesus always surrendered his will to the will of his Father. This continued even in the Garden of Gethsemane where, again, Jesus was found praying alone to the Father. Notice that Jesus concludes his prayer by surrendering to the will of God:

“Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[e] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26: 38-42)

This life of surrender was finally completed only with his death on the cross, when Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” Therefore, if God’s Son had to surrender to the will of God in order to overcome temptations, we have no other way. I know that surrendering is not easy. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things due to our sinful human nature. However, if we do not want to succumb to the daily temptations of using our life, ministry, church, our finances and resources, for self-aggrandizement, we need to learn to live like Jesus by daily surrendering to the will of God. When we learn to live in surrender, God brings out something beautiful from a surrendered life, which become a blessing even for others. I close with what E. Stanley Jones wrote on self-surrender:

“With self-surrender, Christ asks us to take the one thing that we own (the self) and give it back to God. Self-surrender is the only remedy. I cannot go down any road on anything with anybody who has problems without running straight into the necessity of self-surrender. All else is marginal; this is central. I only have one remedy, for I find only one disease – self at the center; self trying to be God” (E. Stanley Jones: Victory Through Surrender. Exact quote cited from: http://www.estanleyjonesfoundation.com/about-esj/theology/victory-through-self-surrender/)

Lenten Devotions 2015: The Gospel and a Suffering Believer.

16266444492_34f8eacdac_zEveryone suffers in one way or the other. A follower of Christ is no exception to this rule. In fact, quite often, a disciple suffers more than others do. However, a disciple suffers differently than others…in the sense that a believer has agonizingly to reconcile the reality of one’s misery and pain with the goodness of God. To the person who does not believe in the love and grace of God, suffering is just physical pain; however, a believer has the difficult task of solving complex questions of faith and philosophy. The very gospel we believe in makes it more difficult for us to understand and explain pain and suffering, because the gospel tells us that God is not only good but he also cares about us: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” ( I Peter 5: 7). Thus, for a disciple, the gospel adds the anguish of skepticism to the reality and mystery of suffering. I submit that, at times, I am like a child who feels that my parents love and care for me but deep down in my heart I doubt if that is the case!

As someone who loves the Lord and trusts that God is good, I see tragedies happen to me and to the people of God around me. However, the unbearable fact that I have to live with the knowledge that I do not understand why this is happening and would never be able to fathom it makes it even more difficult. As a minister who is supposed to be well versed in theology and who preaches the goodness of the Lord, his unconditional love, and unlimited grace, I often find myself dumbfounded at the bedside of a mother who refuses to be consoled at the loss of her young child. I find myself at a loss of words when I have to explain to young parents why their infant was born with a certain abnormality. I am sure, you, too, know that since Job in the Old Testament several people have faced this dilemma and have asked such questions about evil and pain. However, no one has been able to find answers. Therefore, many expect Jesus Christ to solve and answer the mystery of evil in the world. However, he did not provide us with an easy all-in-one answer. As much as Jesus knew and personally understood pain, he chose not to answer this old mystery for humanity. Instead, the one who suffered and died the most brutal and cursed death of his time, stated: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16: 24). He categorically stated that his followers have to be prepared to face the same kind of sufferings that he experienced for us.

Nevertheless, I draw my encouragement from the fact that our Savior, Jesus Christ, confidently ended his painful death on the cross with these wonderful words on his lips:

“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23: 46).

Jesus did not despair in his death. He knew the purpose of his pain was to defeat death. Moreover, not only did Jesus Christ conquer death, but he has also revealed to us how the story ends. This makes me confident about how it is all going to end even though I do not know every detail of it right now. I want you also to know that our sorrow will be swallowed up in joy and death will be destroyed by eternal life (Isaiah 35: 10; 51: 11; I Corinthians 15:54)! Therefore, friends,

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5: 3-5).

Lenten Devotions 2015: Is commitment an option?

8661316458_0d00155ed0_zIn several surveys, most “Christian” people readily confess their belief in God. However, the ground reality in our churches shows that the same people do not necessarily have a commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ or to his church. For many, a Christian faith sans commitment of any sort appears to be a viable option today. However, one needs to ask if such an option is even available to a follower of Christ. Could one claim to believe in Jesus’ Lordship and to be his follower without a firm commitment to the demands of the gospel?

Once, when Jesus healed a deaf person, his adversaries accused him of doing such ‘magical tricks’ through Satan’s help. Jesus, realizing this to be a spiritual battle, responded:

“Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul…..
20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. 22 But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11: 17-23).

Thus, Jesus declares that he and his Kingdom are in a spiritual battle. Obviously, in such a battle, there is no room for neutrality. Whoever enlists with Jesus in fighting the spiritual battle cannot sit on the fence, because the demands Jesus makes are total and exclusive. For instance, Jesus says:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16: 24).
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14: 26).

Obviously, Jesus does not wish that we literally hate our parents or cease to care for them. Nevertheless, he demands that our commitment to him and to the Kingdom be so strong that all our other attachments appear as hatred in comparison. Furthermore, the exclusive “I am” claims of Christ throughout the Gospels and the apostolic teachings of the church also reflect such demands on us. These claims of complete commitment may sound too demanding in today’s context of “broadmindedness;” however, without them our faith does not make any sense. Without such commitment, the Apostles would not have suffered cruel martyrdom, I would not have come to faith in Christ, and you would not be reading it today. Let us pause and think were we stand today. Could you remain indifferent or neutral after Jesus confronts you with his claims and demands upon you? Jesus says:

“Whoever is not with me is against me…” (Luke 11: 23)

“Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9: 40).

May we be wise enough to make an unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ and to apply the first saying to ourselves and the second one to others! Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: St. Patrick’s relevance for missions today.

5637776309_47f2a485e9_zSt. Patrick’s Day has just been celebrated in the western world in many different ways including parades, sporting greens, shamrocks, and Irish beer. There is nothing wrong with celebrating Patrick’s Day with such things. However, one must go beyond the popular traditions to ask: Why is Patrick significant as a Christian missionary?

Patrick was not Irish, rather he was born and raised in fifth-century Scotland where he grew up in a Roman Catholic household. Even though his grandfather was a Catholic priest, Patrick ignored his religion in his teen years. He was captured in a raid and taken to Ireland as a slave. While in captivity, he was appalled at the pagan religious practices of his captors and determined to cling to the religious teachings and practices he grew up ignoring as a teenager. Even though he did not know the true God whom he grew up learning about, he decided to engage in prayer to this God. Following a dream he once had, Patrick escaped from his captors and returned home to Scotland. However, his faith and an indubitable calling compelled Patrick, in his 40s, to go back to Ireland as a missionary. His faithfulness to the Lord coupled with his firsthand knowledge of the culture and customs of the Irish people made him quite successful in his missionary work. Celts of Ireland had a reputation for their brutal military and “barbarian” ways; therefore, it was a vital historical accomplishment that they could be evangelized without violence unlike other people in Europe. Therefore, the following are some of the lessons we can learn from Patrick:

1. To remember our God, the Creator, even in the midst of trying circumstances (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

2. To be faithful to the teachings of faith we have received in our childhood even though we may not fully understand them at the time (2 Timothy 1: 1-6).

3. To remain faithful to the calling we have received from the Lord even in the midst of challenging circumstances (Isaiah 8:11-22).

4. To be faithful in sharing our faith boldly and wisely even though the culture around us may be completely strange and hostile (Acts 4: 27-31).

5. Having a heart for the lost, answering the call to missions, and going where God sends us is just the beginning of participating in God’s mission. Knowing the culture and customs of the people we serve and identifying with them is a major step in evangelism. Even though Patrick was enslaved in Ireland, when he came back as a missionary he loved them and adopted their customs so much so that he almost became an Irish and was proud to be identified such.

6. For example, fully knowing the clan system of the Irish and how it practically worked in Ireland, Patrick adopted the strategy of first leading the chiefs of the clans to the Lord who would, in turn, bring their clan members to faith. Patrick understood the significant role the societal and familial ties play in accepting or rejecting a new faith in any culture. This principle holds true even to this day in almost all cultures and our evangelism must reckon with this fact.

7. The churches that Patrick planted in Ireland were rooted not only in a fervent faith and devotion to the Lord, but they were also relevant to their culture and ultimatly became self-evangelizing. That is why their faith could survive for so long. May we learn to establish the faith deep in our people and equip them to share it with others (Colossians 1: 1-8). Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: You, too, can “fly a horse”!

2204626835_07f1a7bb9e_oOn my drive this morning I listened to a very interesting discussion on CBC radio’s program, “The Current.” It was an interview with Kevin Ashton, the co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Auto-ID Lab, and the man who first coined the term “The Internet of Things.” His book, with a clever title and cover page, “How to Fly a Horse” is just out of the press. You can watch a brilliant promotional trailer of his book here.

Ashton brilliantly argues that creative genius is a myth, which perpetuates the idea that a few people are born genius and that creativity just comes naturally to them in a flash of inspiration. We have unthinkingly bought the idea that only a certain geniuses and whizzes are blessed with a rare ability to see and imagine the wonderful things in their minds and bring awesome stuff into being. He “showcases the seemingly unremarkable individuals, gradual steps, multiple failures, and countless ordinary and usually uncredited acts that lead to our most astounding breakthroughs. Creators, he shows, apply in particular ways the everyday, ordinary thinking of which we are all capable, taking thousands of small steps and working in an endless loop of problem and solution. He examines why innovators meet resistance and how they overcome it, why most organizations stifle creative people, and how the most creative organizations work. Drawing on examples from art, science, business, and invention, from Mozart to the Muppets, Archimedes to Apple, Kandinsky to a can of Coke, How to Fly a Horse is a passionate and immensely rewarding exploration of how ‘new’ comes to be” (source: http://www.howtoflyahorse.com/about-the-book/).

But why am I saying all this in a Lent devotional? Well, it is because many of us also unthinkably believe the myth of saints, holy men/women, and high-flying celebrity pastors.

Most of us believe some people are born with certain magical powers and spiritual gifts that we, as ordinary believers, cannot possess.

Most believe that only a few gifted preachers and pastors should pray for healing our diseases and solving our problems. Many of us, therefore, do not even pray for ourselves as we believe that God only answers the prayers of certain holy people.

Most believe that only a specific group of us are called to be missionaries and evangelists and unless they do their job, the mission will not be done. That is why many of us have outsourced our responsibilities to these “gifted” holy men and women instead of participating in the mission of God ourselves. We readily write a cheque for mission agencies when our own church should be participating in the mission that God has called us to.

Most believe that only a certain few are chosen by God to have the gift of the Holy Spirit; therefore, many of us do not even try to ask and pray to receive the Holy Spirit for our walk with God.

Most believe that only a few people are called to live holy lives and to be declared saints by a church or some ecclesiastical authority.

We conveniently ignore what the scriptures declare for ALL followers of Jesus Christ. For example,

We are ALL “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” and should clothe ourselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12 NRSV).

We are ALL “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” ( I Corinthians 1: 2NRSV).

The Apostle Paul and Peter always refer to us as “saints” and the chosen ones whenever they address the followers of Christ. Check out the first few opening verses of all their epistles to different churches.

The Apostle Peter states,

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2: 9 NRSV).

And then Peter goes on to urge us:

“Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (I Peter 1: 13-16 NRSV).

We are all equipped and empowered by the grace of God to reach the highest level of excellence in everything God calls us to do. He has already sent the Holy Spirit to guide and help us to be His witnesses on earth. Therefore, let us get back to the Bible, learn who we are and from it and how we are supposed to be living today. And what better time to begin this, than with the Lenten season we are in! Stay blessed.

Lenten Devotions 2015: Repentance is the key.

Psalm 51There are more people found in the church for Ash Wednesday Service than for any other weekday services during the whole Lenten Season except for Good Friday and/or Maundy Thursday. However, we have a tendency to quickly forget the words and prayers we have said about ourselves during the Ash Wednesday service. For example, King David’s Psalm 51 is often part of that service and we readily say his words in our prayers. This Psalm highlights our acknowledgement of guilt and sinfulness:

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;

So you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51: 3-5).

However, by the end of that week we forget what we said about ourselves. We forget what we had repented about and asked God’s forgiveness for. We get busy with the Lenten activities of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and so on, without realizing that the key element of the Lenten season—repentance—has been dropped somewhere along the way.

Soon after coming out of his forty days fast in the wilderness, Jesus Christ, began his ministry by calling people to repent:

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1: 14-15; cf. Matthew 3: 2).

After his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ sent his disciples out to evangelize the whole world and their commission was to preach repentance (Luke 24: 47).

At the inauguration of the Church and its mission, on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter concluded his message by exhorting people to repent:

“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2: 38-39).

In the parable of the so-called “Prodigal Son” (it’s actually about the “prodigal” Father!), when the younger son came to himself, he says,

“I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands’” (Luke 15: 18-19).

Most stories of heroes of faith in the Bible are largely the stories of those who learned to repent, who were able to say, “I will get up and go to my father!”

Thus, repentance is one of the key elements of a renewed life with God. The Lenten season gives us an opportunity to repent. It is at the point of our repentance that God finds a lost person and reaches out to him or her in love and grace. It is here that God embraces us as the father who patiently waited for his “lost son,” to forgive us, and to shower us with his extravagances. Repentance, therefore, is a demand laid upon a follower of Christ which goes beyond just one solemn service at the beginning of Lent. Let us admit, repentance is also one of the hardest things to do for anyone. It is very difficult to say sorry, to truly turn from our sins, and to truly change. However, if you and I are willing to pause, introspect and repent, we will enjoy God’s close fellowship better than anyone else who refuses to repent. Amen.