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April 2017

A Song For the Lent Season

"And can it be that I should gain. . . " This great Charles Wesley hymn will always be a part of my life, especially so during this Lent Season. I remember the resounding chorus sung by students and participants at the Estes Chapel in Asbury Seminary. I could almost feel the angels of heaven singing with us. I would close my eyes and sing with all my might all the lines of the hymn, and sense my whole being soaring a few feet above the ground. This hymn brings me to a visceral experience of God's glory and splendor.

Last Sunday of March, I went to church with a longing in my heart for a meaningful encounter with God's beauty, hoping that one of the songs or hymns would touch me in a very tactile way. This is the Lent Season. I wanted to feel God's presence. I needed to see His majesty in the palm of my hands. I wanted to bow down before the feet of our Creator and actually smell His goodness surrounding the church sanctuary. I wanted to say with the Psalmist: "Taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8) And praise His holy name! He came and move my heart in a very physical way. He used a song that the congregation sang during the morning church service. Let me back track a little and explain the situation.

You see, that last Sunday of March, I went to Fong Shan Free Methodist Church. This is a Chinese church here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Most of the hymns sang here are not the ones I am familiar with nor the ones written by Charles Wesley. It is always a struggle for me to emotionally connect with the church liturgy. What makes the experience more difficult is that everything happens in Mandarin Chinese. By the time I translate the song or prayer in my mind, I am already ten seconds behind the liturgical flow. However, that last Sunday of March, God spoke to me through a Mandarin song. 我的心,你要称颂耶和华 / 不可忘记他的恩惠 . This is a song based on Psalm 103. "Oh my soul, do not forget all His benefits." I came home from that church service with a full heart. I could still taste the flavor of God's goodness in my mouth. Bless the Lord, oh my soul!

This Easter Sunday, I do not know which hymns will the Kaohsiung churches sing for the Day of Christ's Ressurrection. One thing I remember, from growing up as a second generation Free Methodist in Butuan City Free Methodist Church, Butuan City, Philippines, is that we always include one hymn from the many selection for the Easter morning service. This is the hymn "Up From The Grave He arose." It makes me smile to remember all the church members bellowing with a loud resounding crescendo, singing the last line of the chorus, "He arose, he arose. hallelujah, Christ arose!" Happy resurrection, everyone! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Grace That Renews Me

"Though your sins are like scarlet / they shall be white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18) I find myself singing the song based on this Isaiah chapter. "Though they be red, red as crimson." Today, my devotions start with the book of Isaiah. It is a liberating thought to know that all my sins are washed away. His mercy set me free. I continue singing the song that I learned when I was in college. "They shall be white, white as snow." I remember now how hard it was for me to sing this song. Let me reminisce a little bit.

When I was in college, I was greatly involve with campus ministries and student camping activities. I was a leader of our local Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. Everyone knew I was a good Christian and a promising church speaker for the near future. And yet, in my personal life I was struggling with many difficulties. Without going into detail, I could say it was a low point in my spiritual pilgrimage. I was burdened with low self-image, poorly managing my relationship with my Christian girlfriend, and troubled with family issues. I was bombardened with guilt and shame. And yet this song reminded me of God's grace that renews our lives. "Come now let us reason together, let us reason together says the Lord." I would be sitting on our "veranda," our little porch area in our Project8 house, with my guitar and singing this song. I remembered the tears and the comfort the song brought me, and the truth of God's forgiving grace, cleansing me of all my sins.

Today, I still face many similar issues with sin. But it has lost its power over me. God's grace renews me, everyday. John Wesley says that the same grace that justifies us (brings salvation into our lives) is the same grace that sanctifies us (brings transformation into our lives). I maybe done with college life issues. Perhaps, I am facing more mature concerns, struggles with sin that are real to a person my age. However, the grace that brought me out of bondage, in Charles Wesley's words, "fast bound in sin, and nature's night," is also the same grace that is renewing me, healing me of my imperfections, and transforming my life to the image of our Creator and Savior. Just as the great Wesley hymn says: ’Tis mercy all, immense and free, For, O my God, it found out me! 

On this Lenten Season, remember God's grace and His love that forgives and renews us. "Amazing love! how can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me."