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.

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Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, day 2

#2. Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012

As we continue our retreat with Jesus into the wilderness, please read the Gospel of Luke 3:21-22 and 4:1-2. When Jesus was baptized at the Jordan River, Luke says, he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” And then, it was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus in to the wilderness (4:1). Once there, the devil tempted Jesus for forty days. It’s not that the devil tempted Jesus only at the end of His fast; rather, it was a relentless temptation from the devil throughout this period of lent. And towards the end of the fast, the devil intensified his temptations as he wished to break Jesus during his frailest point in life and thus thwart the plan of God for humanity if he could. It seems quite odd here. How could Satan tempt Jesus, the Son of God, who has just been baptized thus fulfilling “all righteousness,” on whom the Holy Spirit has just descended, and whom God has declared publicly as his “beloved son” and with whom He is “well pleased” (Matthew 3: 15-17, Luke 3:22)? How could God let that happen, we ask.

Most of us feel that if we draw near to God during Lent, if we grow spiritually, and if we fulfill all the external things during the Lenten season, then, we would not face any temptation or suffering. We assume that God should not let problems and pains come in our lives. Many prosperity preachers also tell people today that just believing in Jesus will solve all their problems and heal all their diseases. Friends, it doesn’t work that way! As we just saw, none of us have done or can ever do what Jesus did and yet, the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness by  to be tempted by the devil!

Beloved child of God, if today you find yourself in the wilderness of pain, suffering, disease, loneliness, lack of financial resources, marital discord, or any other trouble, please ask the help of the Holy Spirit. Even if we draw near to God, we will still face problems and temptations in our life on earth. But the good news is that God has given us a helper and even an advocate called the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16-17). God has promised His Spirit to those who ask, as it is written: “As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks” (Luke 11:13 Contemporary English Version). So, the Spirit will help us in our walk with God and help us overcome our troubles and temptations. Therefore, let us travel with Jesus in the rest of this season with the confidence that the Spirit is with you to the will of God. Amen!

VJ

Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating Into the Wilderness with Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11)

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012.

The English word “lent” comes from some European roots that simply mean “spring” because of the season of the year in which observance of the Lent falls. However, in the original Latin and Greek languages, “lent” meant “fortieth” day before Easter. Lent is observed from the early days of Christianity for six weeks or forty days excluding Sundays. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). The Sundays are excluded because each Sunday is a mini-Easter that reminds us to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. These forty days remind the believers of their Lord’s forty days spent in the wilderness of Israel just before he began His earthly ministry. Therefore, the theme of our Lenten devotionals will be “Retreating into the Wilderness with Jesus.”

The church has historically set aside the Lenten season for a time of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock of lives. It’s a preparatory time for the celebration of Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, believers try to follow Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness to spend time in solitude with fasting for forty days (Read: Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

Thus, Lent helps us take Jesus’ life and death more seriously, and celebrate his resurrection more fully. Let us resolve, therefore, that with the help of the Holy Spirit we will set aside some time in our clogged schedules to read the Scriptures, meditate on it, and pray. Spending time in the Word of God is significant for Lent because you will notice in the passages above that in every instance of temptation Jesus fought back Satan by saying: “It is written!” As we journey together with Jesus during this solemn season, let us begin by asking ourselves a few questions today, such as: When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, April 8, 2012, how will I be different? Is there sin in my life that gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart? What am I going to do about that sin in the next forty days? Is there anyone in my life from whom I need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation? What are some things in my life that I can give up for Lent that will help me draw near to God? How does giving it up draw me closer to God and prepare me for Easter?
May God be with you in your forty days spiritual journey! Amen.