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 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 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 23

Day 23, Monday, March 19, 2012

 For today’s devotional please read once again the passage on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness from either Matthew’s or Luke’s chapter 4. As we have noted in the past, Satan continues to incessantly tempt God’s people. The devil is always subtle in his words and actions, as we’ve noticed from his dealings with Jesus. Therefore, in the daily course of our lives, it’s not always easy to discern God’s will and to perceive in advance the consequences of our words and actions. Believers often ask: how can we know if a particular proposition is a temptation from Satan. The simplest response is: ask yourself if the action proposed by Satan will result in fulfilling God’s righteousness. Will it produce righteousness or not? Satan will never promote righteousness or inspire people for righteous deeds. He may and does surely promote good works by deceiving people into believing that by virtue of doing good deeds they would find salvation. There are billions of people within the church and outside who fall prey to Satan’s deception.

 Nevertheless, Satan does act as though he is promoting righteousness. However, that righteousness is a counterfeit righteousness. He not only has “false prophets [and] deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ”, but as Apostle Paul says, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11: 13-14 RSV). It is easy to recognize the difference between the righteousness of God and Satan. What Satan calls righteousness will always elevate our own performance and works thereby excluding God’s all-sufficient provision for making us righteousness by His grace in and through Jesus Christ. So, if we realize that we are living our Christian life in order to gain acceptance with God we have fallen prey to the deception of Satan. Moreover, even after doing the good deeds of “righteousness” sin is still reigning in our lives instead of making us righteous, holy, and pure vessels for His glory (2 Tim. 2:22), then, we need to come back to the true righteousness of God. This righteousness is imputed into us only through the grace of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22). Let us not let Satan entice, trick or deceive you with his counterfeit system of “righteousness.” Amen!

Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wildernss with Jesus, Day 9.

Day 9, Friday, March 2, 2012

In His wilderness experience, Jesus spent most of his time praying. From this exceptional prayer time, He learned total dependence on God the Father. This is such an important aspect of the whole wilderness experience, which God wanted to teach the people of Israel, too. That’s why instead of supplying plenty of food for all their journey, God gave them fresh manna daily that was only enough for the day. Through this experience, God wanted the Israelites to learn to cultivate not just dependence, but a daily, habitual, and utter dependence on God. Through Jesus’ wilderness, He learned this lesson well, and afterwards, He was able to teach His disciples the most important prayer. This is known as the Lord’s Prayer, but in reality, it’s’ the “disciples’ prayer” (read Matthew 6: 7-13; Luke 11: 2-4). Therefore, it is yours and mine for us to pray daily.

One of the most significant prayers in the “disciples’ prayer” is: “Give us this day our daily bread.” In this prayer, Jesus is asking us to learn to recognize that the source of everything in our lives is God and He wants us to ask Him everything we need for our daily sustenance. However, in the wilderness of our lives, the stress of our greatest needs leads us to depend upon our own strength. When our own strength diminishes, we often look elsewhere and seek the help of our friends and relatives. God usually comes only as the last resort. But when we do finally come to God asking His help and provisions, He embraces us lovingly and answers our prayers. But, Jesus wanted us to learn that we need to daily and habitually depend upon God for everything. When we fail to learn that, God may teach us again by bringing us into the wilderness. It is in the wilderness experience we find ourselves at the end of our own strength and resources. Any other sources that we had learned to be dependent on have also been depleted. This makes us pray the “disciple’s prayer” in the most meaningful way and then learn to be dependent on God. When we do so, God has promised us to renew our strength in such a way that Isaiah (40:31) wrote:

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

            they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;

            they shall walk and not faint.”

May God help us to learn utter dependence on Him sooner than later, so that we may be able to not just walk but soar in His strength daily. Amen.

Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus

Day 7, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

In the wilderness experience of Jesus, only Mark narrates in his gospel that there were “wild beasts” in the wilderness with Jesus (please read Mark 1: 9-13). It is not unusual for the wild beasts to be present in the wilderness. However, what is most remarkable is that Jesus was among the wild beasts for over a month, and yet, none of them touched Him, as He came out unscathed from the wilderness. This reminds us of Adam at the beginning of the creation in the book of Genesis. Before the fall, Adam, too, was in the Garden of Eden surrounded by all sorts of wild beasts and yet unharmed. Daniel was also unhurt in the lions’ den. So also, the second or last Adam, as Apostle Paul referred to Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:45-47), remained unharmed in the midst of wild beasts. He knew that those wild animals were gentler with Him than His own fellow Jews among whom he dwelt! It must have revealed to Him the vicious inhumanity of the people of that generation in whose midst He was to live and minister. He learned that they could be worse than the wild beasts in the wilderness when swayed by the sins.

We have seen from the Scriptures that wilderness experience is a must for the followers of Christ. Today, we realize that wilderness times have their wild beasts! The wild beasts represent the temptations and problems we often face as we try to draw closer to God. The wild beasts of aridity, despair, distractions, doubt, fear, loneliness, sickness, temptation, and so on, raise their ugly heads, and are just waiting for the opportunity to pounce and strike us. They will try their best to dissuade and discourage us from walking with Jesus. These wild beasts each present us with seemingly insurmountable challenges in our spiritual walk. However, when we find ourselves surrounded by such wild beasts we need to remember that Jesus’ innocence regarding sin, holiness, as well as the favor of God upon Him during this time helped Him overcome these wild beasts. He not only walked out unscathed from the wilderness but, afterwards, He also became a channel of blessings to many. Just as the heavenly Father cared for Jesus, protected, and preserved Him from the wild beasts, God will be with us when the wild beasts taunt us. God’s protection and security are ours when we completely trust Him and his provisions. Aren’t your wildernesses times complete with wild beasts? Take them as challenges to be overcome by your holy living and complete dependence on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Let God slay each one of these beasts and make you and me a blessing to others when we have come out of our wilderness times. As Apostle Paul writes, “We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 Contemp. Eng. Ver.). Amen.

Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 6.

Day 6, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012

Jesus’s time in the wilderness afforded Him a period of solitude that is so vital to one’s spiritual growth. Jesus knew He was soon to embark upon a very busy and demanding schedule of ministry. Particularly in the gospel according to Mark, Jesus is portrayed as a very busy person moving rapidly from one place to the other. In Mark, Jesus is almost always involved in urgent action, which is obvious in the very frequent use of the terms such as “immediately,” “right away,” “at once,” and as soon as,” at least 42 times in the gospel (read a few passages in Mark to get the feel of it). Therefore, Jesus made the best use of the solitude He found in the wilderness by conversing with His Father. His time alone with God made Him completely depend on Him for everything in His life. The Father became the only and constant source of His might, ministry, and miracles in the coming days. The power of silence and solitude also equipped Jesus to face the temptations Satan brought before Him, to resist him, and ultimately to overcome and defeat Satan. Later on, Jesus cherished the time of solitude in the wilderness. In fact, seeking solitude became one of His spiritual disciplines. He sought time alone with God just before making significant decisions for ministry, such as choosing the Twelve Apostles (see Luke 6:12-16). Whenever He was grieved and troubled, Jesus withdrew to spend time in solitude with God, such as when He heard the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod (see Matthew14:10-13). Even when he felt the pressure of fame, Jesus immediately withdrew to spend time alone with God in prayer (see Matthew 14:23) because that is what he sought more than popularity.

Solitude and silence, therefore, is one of the best disciplines that you and I could cultivate this Lent. This is actually essential if we want to draw near to God in our busy, busy world of activities and programs. In the midst of myriads of responsibilities and doings in our fast paced world, the Lenten season offers us an opportunity to seek tranquil times of quiet to be just with God. It will certainly help deepen our intimate, personal relationship with God. Solitude will also help us get rid of the illusion of our possessiveness. It will help us look within and then to look up to God for everything, as we learn dependence on Him rather than on our material possessions. As Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite authors, says:

It is in solitude that we discover being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It’s there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received (Renewed For Life, p5).

Lord, help us, therefore, to seek solitude and silence with you in the rest of our retreat with you. Amen.