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May 2020

Hopeful Conclusion

      Paul lived in Rome for two whole years. The Book of Acts concluded  its twenty-eight chapters with the statement: “. . . proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:31) What a hopeful and victorious way of concluding a book.

      Let us not forget that Paul went through many trials and difficulties. He was unjustly imprisoned, publicly flogged like a common criminal, rejected by his countrymen many times, stoned, shipwrecked, and wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit. And on top of these, he was, at many times, financially challenged, so much so that he had to work his trade as a tent maker. In this way, he is able to “pay the bills” and continue his missionary work. Paul was in constant turmoil, “in toil and hardships, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure,” he endured them all (2 Corinthians 11:27).

       Despite all (or, maybe, because) of these, Dr. Luke concludes his writing of the Book of Acts with this hopeful description that the kingdom of God is freely proclaimed and Paul’s ministry in Rome is unhindered and unrestrained. What a victorious conclusion.

      Our Christian ministry (and missions work) amidst this global pandemic is not yet concluded. Many of us are continuing in the ministry of preaching, encouragement, helping, feeding, and healing. My prayer is that, at the end, after this global pandemic is concluded, we can say we preached the kingdom of God, “speaking with all boldness and freedom” (Acts 28:31, GNT).


Contagious Joy on a Virus Day

      Nowadays, people are talking about ways of celebrating life after the end of these lockdowns and quarantine brought about by this Covid-19 pandemic. Do we have to wait? Can’t we celebrate now while we are in the midst of this crisis? Let me suggest some ways of celebration. I will limit my sharing time in the area of the spiritual discipline of celebration. I think practicing this discipline will bring some sanity to our lives, at the least, and usher in joy and freedom, at the most, which only God can give.

      Spiritual disciplines will give us focus in our journey as followers of Jesus. Let us talk about the spiritual discipline of celebration. What is the discipline of celebration? It is the spiritual discipline that brings the practitioner to an experience with God’s joy and freedom. Pastor Dallas Willard says celebration “dwells on the greatness of God as shown in his goodness” for all people. (See, The Spirit of the Disciplines. 1999:179.) Pastor Richard Foster says “celebration is central to all the spiritual disciplines.” There is a joyful festive spirit in celebration. (See, Celebration of Discipline. 1988:191.) Joy and freedom are constant companions to this discipline. Celebration brings a person to an experience with God’s joy and a sense of freedom coming from the Spirit of God.

      Let me suggest three ways of practicing the spiritual discipline of celebration, these are celebrating worship, celebrating creativity, and celebrating commonalities. My prayer is that these three ways will bring us closer to Jesus as we continue to follow him as our Lord and Master.

      One. Celebrating worship means a time and place whereby we focus our whole being to God. We use music and testimonies to exalt God’s goodness in our lives. There is encouragement from the Bible and from our fellowship with one another. We are very familiar with this way of celebration. This is a time and place of recharging and drinking from God’s presence. In John 15:5, Jesus said: “I am the vine and you are the branches.” We draw strength from our Lord. We follow Jesus and abide in his presence. This is the spiritual experience of celebrating worship.

      In this time of COVID-19 pandemic, and all the lockdowns and physical isolation, we are forced to go back to the original meaning of the church. It is not a physical building, but church refers to the people who are gathered for worship. Here are some questions for you. Can we still have celebration, even if we are meeting at our homes or gathered through the use of modern technology and the medium of video conferencing? Our answer is yes. The main element is that Jesus is still with us in this journey. Jesus is present with us in our house churches and our online gatherings. We still experience the jubilation of the heart and bearing spiritual fruit when we worship God. In other words, we still experience God’s joy and the freedom that comes from the Holy Spirit.

      Two. Celebrating creativity means appreciating beauty in God’s creation. It also means affirming the creative works of artists, thinkers, and craftsman. We tune our hearts and sharpen our eyes so that we can witness the display of God’s work in our midst. In John 8:12, Jesus said “I am the Light of the world.” He also said in chapter 9: Look instead for what God can do. . . . For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.” (John 9:3-5 MSG). When we celebrate creativity, we also celebrate God’s goodness in the world—the Light that is in the world. We follow Jesus because we see God is present everywhere. He shines his light to everyone. His light drives away the darkness and we see the beauty of his creation. We respond with joy and freedom because Jesus is with us.

      Three. Celebrating commonalities means standing side by side with humanity. We find common things around us. We identify with every person and celebrate common experiences such as the birth of a child, the festivities at birthday parties, and others. Jesus is a prime example of this way of celebrating. In John 10:11, Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd.” As the Good Shepherd, he desires abundant life for everyone. He calls every person by name. And his final act as a shepherd is that he gave his life for all the people of the world. We celebrate because we are like everyone else.

      In this COVID-19 pandemic, how do we celebrate commonalities? Our answer is that we stand together with other people. When they are suffering, we mourn with them. When life is difficult and sadness is all around us, we respond in lamentation. We do not pretend to be immune from the world’s suffering or carelessly declare an end to our human difficulties. Peter said we should rejoice insofar as we share in Christ’s suffering. (1 Peter 4:13). What did Jesus do? He suffered and died for every human being. And then, he rose from the dead so he can give everyone hope unto life eternal. When we stand side by side with our neighbors who are in fear and in pain, we do so with hope in our hearts and the resurrected Lord leading the way. The Good Shepherd is with us.

      In this time of global pandemic, social distancing, and quarantines, how can we live out our Christian faith? Below are some practical ways you can express your experience as a follower of Jesus:

1.) Spend time in prayer, solitude, and meditation to our God.

2.) Write a journal and document your spiritual journey.

3.) Start a reading plan to read through the whole Bible.

4.) Pray with someone. Do not just pray for them. Call them up and pray with them over the phone.

5.) Read an encouraging book.

6.) Tell a story that is wholesome and uplifting. Avoid rumors and gossip. Post only good reports on your social media accounts.

7.) Spend more time with family and friends, if not in person, through your use of social media and online connections.

8.) Capture pictures of the beauty of nature and share them with your friends. You can include pictures of your dinner table and share your favorite recipes with your friends. Celebrate the beauty and joy of God’s creation.

9.) Start a hobby. Maybe you can start taking care of a garden, learning how to play a musical instrument, or studying how to draw the face of your friend. Find ways to express yourself in a constructive way.

10.) Write a song, paint a picture, or create something artistic. Use the camera on your smart phone to collect beautiful sceneries or photos of flowers around the house. Enjoy the freedom you have in expressing yourself creatively.

11.) Find wholesome entertainment, such as a good movie on Netflix or a classic concert on Youtube. Share these with your family members.

12.) Become a church to someone in need by providing help or offering a solution to a problem. You can use your phone, write letters, or access your social media to encourage them.

13.) Practice one or two of the Spiritual Disciplines. You can start with Solitude, Meditation, Service, or Celebration. Review sermons that mention these disciplines.

14.) Organize an online church service or a “Watch Party” of your church’s livestream services. Invite your friends and have a small group gathering.

15.) Pray and pray some more. Maybe, you can set aside a time of the day that you and your friends can all pray together at the same time, even if you are all from separate locations. Select a certain time and spend 3-5 minutes of prayer. Pray together where ever you are. You can do this.

      Will you follow Jesus in this journey of celebration? Do you have joy and freedom from God?