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Tag: penitence

Lenten Reflections 2021: Return to the Lord! What do you mean?

By Vinod John @johnvinod | February 20, 2021

We often hear the phrase “return to the Lord” especially during the Lent season. Unfortunately, it has become one of the phrases of Christianese that many people find meaningless and irrelevant today. Despite it coming across as a cliché, I invite you to read the book of Joel again (all three chapters in one sitting). I would like to share what returning to the Lord meant for Joel and his people in the midst of a locust plague that we have talked about and what it could represent for us amidst the current pandemic.

As we saw in the past two posts, “Return to the Lord” and “Calling all ministers of the Lord to Repentance,” prophet Joel was issuing this call to primarily three categories of people:

  1. The ordinary folks whom he calls “drunkards” (1:5),
  2. The group that suffered the most in terms of losing their crops, i.e., the “farmers” (1:11),
  3. And the clergy that could not sustain the liturgical worship at the temple, i.e., the “priests” or “ministers of the Lord” (1: 13).

Enjoying the prosperity and blessing of Israel, the people had become callous and were enticed into drinking excessively to the extent that prophet Hosea had to declare: “Wine and new wine take away the understanding” (Hosea 4:11 NRSV). Joel thundered:

Wake up, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you wine-drinkers,

over the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth (Joel 1: 5 NRSV).

People did not limit their drinking just to the wine as the word “drunkards” does not refer to just ordinary wine drinkers; rather, in its original language, it refers to a strong or intoxicating drink. Drinking strong drinks and debauchery had become so widespread in those days that it constrained the prophet to call them “drunkards” even as he was calling them to return to the Lord. 

Joel calls “farmers” to return to the Lord mainly because they had slipped into practicing fertility cults prevalent around them.

Joel then calls the “priests” to return to the Lord, because they, too, had failed in their ministry of keeping the worship and liturgy holy to the Lord.

However, what does it entail to “return to the Lord?”

First of all, the call to return to the Lord indicates that the covenant is broken through people’s disobedience. It means the people of God have rebelled against Him and his law. For a detailed description of the sacrilegious rebellion, please see the book of Amos and Hosea.

Second, by inviting people to return to the Lord prophet Joel means turning away from their immoral and wayward life and walking back to their covenant God Jehovah! His call is precise. They must unambiguously make their way back to Jehovah, and not just to any god or any religious cult:

Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
    and relents from punishing. (Joel 1:12-13 NRSV)

Third, a genuine return to the Lord must be accompanied by distinguishable signs that everyone may be able to see.  Joel says, some of these signs are: fasting, weeping, and mourning over their sins and disobedience (Joel 2: 12).

Fourth, the result of returning to the Lord is a changed life. And it must be seen in one’s worship and service of God (2:14).

Fifth, a genuine return to the Lord implies abandoning not only our sinful ways, but also forsaking our idols, whatever they may be in either material or ideological form. It means acknowledging the covenant God as the only God to believe, worship, and serve. Joel stresses that the returning devotees must recognize what Jehovah says: “I am your God and there is none else” (2: 27 and 3:17). In fact, for this emphasis, in just three chapters of his book, Joel repeats the phrase “your God” seven times (indicating perfection in the Hebrew Bible)! In the aftermath of a locust plague this was a huge assurance that people needed that God has not abandoned them, despite their rebellion and sins; however, he is still their God if they would return to him in penitence.

Finally, a sincere return to the Lord would result in an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit of God upon His people (2: 28-29) to declare that God loves the contrite hearts and would dwell in their midst through His Spirit, if they truly repent and return to Him. The gift of the Holy Spirit would be the greatest blessing to people.

In the midst of our current pandemic, I believe God has provided a unique opportunity to us, especially during Lent, to sincerely return to the Lord as Joel proclaimed to the covenant people. And in doing so, may we too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to abide with us. I hear a great deal about revivals breaking out here and there all the time; however, let us be clear, there is no revival, no renewal, and no pouring out of the Holy Spirit without the genuine return to the Lord. Amen!

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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 12.

Day 12, Tuesday, March 6, 2012

 Fasting is part of almost all religions in all parts of the world. So, what makes Christian believers’ fasting any different from others? Usually fasting involves going without food for a certain period. Now, food is one of the greatest blessings we receive from God, but it may also become one of the most common hindrances between God and us. Lack of discipline may easily lead us to be guilty of the sin of gluttony. Apostle Paul talked about some people whose belly had become their god (see Philippians 3:19). In fact, anything that takes the place of God in our lives may become our idol. Fasting aids us in overcoming gluttony and strengthening our dependence on God. By fasting we regain control over our most basic need—food—by surrendering it to God so that He

People gathered to break fastingmay help us place it in its rightful place.

 However, Christian fasting is different from other fasting in that it’s not just about going without food, especially during the Lent. Rather, fasting in the Bible is associated with repentance. For example, read passages like: Leviticus 16:29-34; Numbers 29:7-11; I Samuel 7:6; Joel 1:14, and Jonah 3: 5-9. These biblical cases remind us that fasting that’s not accompanied by genuine penitence over our sins and an honest readiness to mend our ways is not of much spiritual value. Unlike other religions, Christian fasting is not a way of self-punishment. The act of denying us food or drink alone does not make us holy unless there is remorse over sin in our lives and seeking God’s forgiveness. The Bible doesn’t teach that you have to fast in order to be saved. God in Christ Jesus has already completed the work of our salvation. So, God does not want us to hate or destroy our bodies. He loves us, we are precious in His eyes; therefore, God wants the best for us. He will never be pleased with any self-inflicted pain to our bodies. In fact, the Bible says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (I Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, God desires to purge His temple, that is, our souls and bodies, so that they become more suitable to worship the living God. Thus, let us introspect of our lives along with our fasting that we may benefit most from our fast this Lent. If we have no wish to repent and change after Easter, let us stop our Lenten fasting today. I promise God will not be angry with us! He desires mercy and honesty. Amen

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