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 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 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!