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April 2021

Love In Word And Deed

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

(So, I wrote a short reflection on my social media posting. And one of my friends shared her response. I gave some more thought about the challenges of practicing love and forgiveness in our lives. Please read below.)

Today’s reflection comes from our lectionary readings from the New Testament, 1 John 3:16-24. Verse 16 says: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers [and sisters].” This is such a great challenge for each of us. One area we can practice this unselfish love is in the area of forgiveness. Jesus taught the prayer “to forgive those who offended us” (Matthew 6:12). Paul said to forgive others as Christ forgave each of us (Ephesians 4:32). Adele A. Calhoun puts it this way: “A person who forgives joins one’s heart to Jesus’ heart for sinners, and risks that love can lead a wrongdoer to repentance and into the arms of God.” (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. 2015:213). The practice of forgiveness brings us closer to the presence of Christ Himself. May you find God’s love real and present in your life today.

My friend shares: "Yes! I’m saddened by loved ones who are holding grudges and ruining their lives. Any suggestions how to help them?"

My thoughts: "Crystal [not her real name], there is no easy answer here. We need lots of prayer seasoned with compassion, and simple acts of love and kindness filled with Christ's humility. In addition, I would suggest they get connected to a community of trusted and encouraging friends. May the Lord help us all."

Declare His Glory

“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalm 96:3)

We are to declare God’s glory among the nations. This is the essence of missions work. In all of Scriptures, it is clear that God is already declaring His glory. Even in places where there are no missionaries, God is already there and revealing Himself to the people of the land. Our part is to participate in this declaration. Are we participating?

We participate in many ways. Praying for missionaries, giving to missionary work, sponsoring a child, and going to places for missions activities. These are all good. But do these things help? 

Helping in missions is like playing basketball or some other kind of team sports. You do not have to be the highest scorer or even have the ball in your hand all the time. You can help your team by focusing on other things such as assisting the play makers, posting for defense, saying words of encouragement to your team mates, or moving around to create space for the ball handlers. Just like playing in a team sports, we help the missions work by participating. Are we helping?

Maybe, we should change the question to give us a better picture. We should ask: “Who is receiving our declaration of God’s glory?” If it is the people from the places we go to, then we will always experience failure in this work of missions. If it is ourselves, then we will be a depressing bunch of selfish workers. The answer really is God himself. We do missions so that God will be delighted with us.

We help in missions work so that God will be pleased. The end result is God himself receiving all our gifts, sponsorship, prayers, and missions trip, with joy in His heart. If our gifts and sponsorships are acknowledged, our prayers are answered, and our going to missions trips are meaningful, then we thank our God. But these things should never be our focus. Our focus and main goal is to know God better and deeper, and to bring joy to God through these missions activities.

We participate in missions knowing that God himself is watching us, all of us, as we play this game of missions work.  We, all of us, are the players, coaches, referees, statisticians, trainers, and other support staff. God receives all our efforts with joy in His heart. So the question really is: “Are we giving joy to our Father in heaven?”

My daughter Carmen is very active in sports all her life. She played with passion and was a great encouragement to her teammates. I was a very proud father watching from the sidelines. I cheered her and her team. I clapped the loudest every time she made a basket. In so many ways, my daughter Carmen gave me so much joy. I appreciate her so much.

We are to declare God’s glory among the nations. Are you participating? Are you helping? Are you giving joy to our Father who is in heaven?

Resurrection Sunday's Reflection

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). — (John 20:15-16)

      How do we practice being alone with God? How do we start? Actually, these questions are not the right questions. They are important, but not the correct ones to begin practicing the discipline of solitude. Rather, the question should be: Where do we start? This question is not about a location or a physical place, but rather, the condition of a person’s heart and an inner self that one brings to his or her meeting place with God. We are not saying human conditions dictate the nature of our meeting with God. On the contrary, every outcome of this meeting is borne out of the grace of God. We respond to God because he first reaches out to us. Jesus longs to reveal himself to us. He loves to talk to us and share his resurrected life with every Christian. Thus, we respond by practicing the discipline of solitude.

       So, when we ask the question, Where do we start?, we really are opening our hearts to God. We simply are responding in faith and love to our resurrected Lord. Just like with Mary Magdalene, there are conditions for the practice of solitude and these conditions will prepare us to meet God and to hear his intimate voice calling out our name.  What then, are the conditions for this discipline? I am suggesting the conditions of surrender and silence.

       One is surrender. The condition of surrender is a person’s total abandon to God’s guidance and leading. One of the ways surrender shows up is in the area of our thought life. This is a moment when we can think of nothing else except being in the presence of God. Mary and the other disciples were certainly caught up in the aftermath of the death of Jesus. All they could think of is when they can see the body of Jesus. All their thoughts were for their friend, their Teacher, their Lord Jesus. It is in this state of abandon that Jesus reveals himself to them.

      Two is silence. The condition of silence is a person’s acceptance of the ways of God. There is quietness and stillness, maybe, not all the time. Sometimes, there is an exchange of words or gesture. Here, the stance of the person is an attitude of trust. The main thing is that the person is not distracted by one’s emotions or any outside circumstances. Silence gives focus to the person’s solitude. Mary’s silence brought her to a conversation with the two angels, and finally to the “gardener,” who turns out to be Jesus. Her heart was silent before God. When Jesus called her name, her solitude allowed her to listen in and from the depths of her inner soul.  It is here when Jesus reveals his resurrected self to Mary.

      Mary Magdalene’s silence and her surrender bring her to a time and place of solitude. In turn, this solitude opens her heart to hear Jesus’ call and receive the gift of the presence of God. In our present time, Jesus is searching for people who have silence and surrender in their walk with God. Jesus desires from us to enter into solitude, to be alone with him. When you are in prayer, meditating in God’s word, or spending time in fellowship with your brothers and sisters, take time to be alone with Jesus. He loves you so much. He wants to reveal Himself to you. Find a place to be in solitude with Jesus. 

Have a blessed Resurrection Sunday, 2021 !!!

John's Belief

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:1-2 ESV).

     In that first Easter Sunday, the disciples had a hard time believing the resurrection of Jesus. Earlier, they saw signs that Jesus has risen from the dead. The women believed. We see this in Luke 24:10 and Matthew 28:8. In John 20:7, we see that John believed. But in verse 8, we know that Peter had a hard time understanding and believing. (Also, see Luke 24:11-12.) What exactly did John see that made him believe? What were the signs of Jesus resurrection that helped John’s belief?

      The text says that John saw the cloth folded neatly. John 20:7 states “… and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” We do not know exactly what John was thinking. Perhaps, being the brother of Jesus, growing up with him, he knew what the sign of the folded face cloth meant. Those of you who grew up with siblings, sharing a room with them, seeing them everyday, you know your brother or sister better than anyone. I think John here saw a sign of his brother (Jesus) showing him that he is alive. Maybe, the folded cloth told him that it was his brother who did this. He believed.

      The Bible says that the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that is working in us. (See, Ephesians 1:19-20.) Do you believe this? It is easy to say “I believe” when things are doing well in your life. However, when one is experiencing a crisis in his or her life, then this question above becomes challenging. Do you believe in the resurrection power even if you are going through the experience of having a dying family member in your life? What about financial problems that seem to be impossible to solve? Can you still say, “I believe the resurrection power will bring a solution to my problems.” It is hard when these things are happening, or when your marriage is failing, or relationships are broken. It almost looks impossible when past failures come back or depressing memories haunt you. How can we say with Paul “As God raised the Lord from the dead, he will also raise me up from my situation.” (See, 1 Corinthians 6:14).

      Jesus knew this is going to be difficult. That is why, he came and visited with Mary Magdalene, to remind her that his resurrection power is also for everyone. He came to see each disciple. He reminded Thomas, who was struggling with doubt. He asked his disciples to remind each other of his resurrection power. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Have a blessed Resurrection Sunday this 2021 !!!

Emerging Out of Silence

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.” (Matthew 27:61). These women were silent, perhaps sad, but importantly expectant of a coming miracle. They were the first ones to visit the tomb—the first ones to see our Resurrected Lord. At this juncture, however, they are simply quiet and silent. In the midst of their silence God’s victorious announcement of the Lord’s resurrection comes to them. It all started with them being silent before our God.

Henri Nouwen explains to us the value of words in the context of silence. He says: “Words can only create communion and thus new life when they embody the silence from which they emerge. As soon as we begin to take hold of each other by our words, and use words to defend ourselves or offend others, the words no longer speaks of silence. But when the word calls forth the healing and restoring stillness of its own silence, few words are needed: much can be said without much being spoken.” (The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. 1981:57). 

On this Good Friday, let God speak as we all become silent before Him. “Silence offers a way of paying attention to the Spirit of God and what He brings to the surface of our souls.” (Adele A. Calhoun. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. 2015:122). And when the time comes that we feel the need to speak, may our words emerge out of our silence. Let us all sit in front of the tomb and be silent before our God. Silence “can form your life even if it doesn’t solve your life” (Calhoun 2015:123). Receive God’s grace for you today.

Reversal of Our Culture: Love

Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) Loving others is hard, especially when we are out of control. Our tendency is to create structures of control, and sometimes pathways of domination, so that we are able to dictate the terms of our actions of love. However, Jesus says to let it go—to love others the way He loves us. When we stop and let God take over, then our acts of love become avenues of God’s grace.

Robert Mulholland says that we have this “powerful tendency in our culture to objectify everything and everyone around us—to make them objects that are to be arranged within our ordering of our world.” We shape these things or persons according to our own desires and following our own agenda. He continues: “The practice of silence is the radical reversal of our cultural tendencies. Silence is bringing ourselves to a point of relinquishing to God our control of our relationship with God. Silence is a reversal of the whole possessing, controlling, grasping dynamic of trying to maintain control of our own existence. Silence is the inner act of letting go.” (Invitation To A Journey: A Road Map For Spiritual Formation. 1993:137)

When we are silent before God, then loving the other person becomes a little bit easier, and this spiritual practice of silence leads us to the path of Jesus’ love.