A Friday Reflection: Because it’s Friday

Sometimes I write on Fridays, thus, I have several posts entitled, A Friday Reflection. More than any other day, Fridays are reflective days for me. With that said, I don’t claim that I do my best writing on Fridays:), just that the way my Fridays are structured, they are very important to my spiritual and contemplative life. This Friday, I want to share how my Friday routine that is structured around being with Jesus and striving to be like Jesus led to my experience of doing Jesus’ kingdom ministry. I want to share that as we journey with Jesus, he will work through us to minister to the hearts and lives of people.

I follow an ancient tradition of viewing every weekend as a “mini” Easter weekend. Basically, this is a practice that weekly reflects on the Friday through Sunday events of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Each day has a specific focus and related spiritual discipline. For example, Fridays are focused on Jesus as the suffering servant on the cross, and the related spiritual discipline is fasting. Saturdays are focused on the mysteries of the Friday events and the profound silence of the grave. The related spiritual discipline is spending time in silence and solitude while contemplating and learning. Sundays are focused on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the related spiritual discipline is gathering with others in celebration. This is a summary of the tradition; much more could be said. I simply want to set the background for my Fridays.

I begin my Fridays spending time with Jesus. I set my gaze upon him and reflect on his life and ministry. I read Philippians 2:5-11 and begin to focus my day and life on following his example. I pray cross centered prayers from the Book of Common Prayer (ACNA 2019)

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your son our Lord. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your name. Amen.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Throughout the day, I fast from food. There are many aspects to fasting and people have written lengthy books on the topic, so again there is much that could be said here. I fast to experience some minor physical suffering while reflecting on Jesus’ physical suffering on the cross. I fast to experience the pains of hunger so that during the hunger pains I may focus on hungering and thirsting for God and his righteousness. I fast to devote my body to God and depend on his life-giving sustenance. I fast to discipline my physical urges. I fast to stand in solidarity and pray for people who are starving throughout the world. I fast to give up something in order to make room for God to work in my life and to make room for joy as a result of God’s work. I fast because Jesus fasted, and he explained to his disciples that with prayer and fasting comes power to confront evil (Matt 17:14-21).

My Fridays are also marked by labyrinth walks. A labyrinth is an elaborately designed meditative or prayer path. I walk the path with God towards the center releasing to God all my concerns, fears, trials, desires and sins. I arrive at the center and focus on receiving God and receiving his blessings. I reflect on his provisions with gratefulness and thanksgiving. I listen for anything that God might want to say or show me. Then, I re-walk the path with God with renewal, restoration and rejoicing. I focus on re-entering my Christian life with all that I have received and experienced at the center. I re-imagine my life lived with God.  It is at the labyrinth where on this Friday, my Friday structure intertwined with a ministry experience.  

When I arrived to walk the labyrinth, there was a young man in the distance sitting with his back towards the labyrinth. Typically, I am the only person in this secluded area, so him being there was a unique situation. I began my walk and a few minutes into my practice, the young man’s parents arrived which immediately started a heated argument. I kept walking. They were having a conflict about the young man’s drug abuse that has been going on for years. He had been to treatment several times and his parents were demanding that he admit himself to a treatment program today. I kept walking and started praying for this family. There was a fast approaching time deadline for the young man to enter the prearranged treatment program. The family was in a power struggle. They argued back and forth in a circular pattern.

I have a history of working with youth and families in crisis, so the longer the conflict went on, I started praying and thinking about intervening. I kept walking and started to sense that maybe this was a divine appointment for God to use me in this family conflict. I don’t typically interject myself into this type of scenario, and I considered minding my own business and just leaving after my labyrinth walk. However, I sensed that God was giving me the words to introduce myself to the family and giving me a strategic approach if they were willing to let me sit with them for a while. I felt I had to be obedient to God and trust that he might be up to something in this situation.  The setting, timing and issue along with my sense of preparation was extraordinary.

I stepped out in faith and obedience, and the family allowed me to speak and listen to them. The young man was attentive, and we had a productive conversation. I could tell that he was challenged, and that he was reflecting on the things we were discussing.  I was not going to solve all the family’s issues, but I was a different voice and perspective to change the dynamic of the interaction. The family still had work to do, and they still had to figure out the treatment program option and timeline. I encouraged the family and departed, trusting that God would somehow use my intervention to help the young man and his parents.

This was not a typical Friday. After reflecting on the day, I am amazed how everything works together. I believe that God used the structure of my Friday to prepare my heart and my mind to minister to this family. God leading me to focus on Jesus and on his example enabled me serve and support this family. God leading me in the spiritual discipline of fasting enabled me to be more dependent on him and to confront the undergirding evil that has gripped this young man. God leading me to practice walking with him enabled me to help this family with their journey.

This is a Friday reflection because it’s a unique Friday, but this type of scenario can happen on any day. May we remember that God is always at work and that he will use every aspect of our lives to work all things together for his good purposes.    

A Friday Reflection: Deliverance

Deliverance has been on my mind for several months now. I suppose my reflection started from a pastoral posture while thinking of the people I know and the people I support who are experiencing or have been through severe violence, turmoil, challenges, grief, illness, pain and suffering. I groan for their rescue, removal and escape from these things. My reflection also has focused on my own life and circumstances. I too need deliverance from troubles, disappointments, fears, dangers and sins. Moreover, I look out into society and see the unfathomable chaos, the rampant evil, the seething anger and the extreme division, and I am wobbled saying: “We need deliverance!”  “How will we escape this?” “Who will rescue us from our condition?” 

There are many voices trying to address, protest, change and solve personal and societal challenges. Deliverance is offered through various means. There is the overprescribing of and the overdependence on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications in place of real deliverance and profound transformation. There is the overindulgence in distractions and the shirking of the issues. There is the notion that a political party or a social justice group will lead us out of bondage and into the utopian plains. There is the riotous protesting that demands justice and reparations. There is the increase in gun sales for self-protection against violence. There is the prideful self-reliance by humans that they can lift themselves out of the slimy pit. 

These responses cannot deliver true deliverance because only God is the deliverer of true deliverance. Only through God and through the means of God does true deliverance happen. This was the experience of the Israelites when God delivered them out of Egypt and when God delivered them throughout history from danger, illness, trouble, fear, sin and death. God directly delivered and used people as deliverers (i.e. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Samuel, Saul, Jonathan and David). 

God’s deliverance was the song of David when he sang,

Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people (Ps 3:7-8)

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Ps 18:2)

God’s deliverance was the prophetic promise by Jeremiah and by Daniel when they declared,

The Lord said, “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress (Jer 15:11).

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book (Dan 12:1).

God’s ultimate deliverance is through the salvation deliverer, Jesus, the anointed one who came and preached good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). God-the Son became incarnate in order to suffer and die so that those who are in bondage to sin, evil and death would be set free and rescued from ‘the Devil,’ ‘the present evil age,’ ‘the domain of darkness’ (Heb 2:14-15, Gal 1:4, Col 1:13). After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, his deliverance ministry continues by God-the Holy Spirit and through the ministry of the Church being guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Triune God is still delivering people from all kinds of circumstances, conditions and perils. As 2 Peter 2:9 states, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” God has been delivering people for a long time.

God will deliver people spiritually, emotionally and physically in this life and in the life to come. Thus, we should pray for deliverance as Jesus taught us to pray (…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. Matt 6:13). We should cry for help and trust in him and wait patiently for him to lift us up out of the mud and the mire (Ps 40:1-3). We should rely upon him to heal our suffering, to calm our fears, to transform our lives. We should be careful not to look to other gods (means) for deliverance. Rather, we should delight in God’s deliverance and give thanks and praise to him (1 Sam 2:1, Ps 30:11-12, Acts 3:8). 

May we look to God for deliverance. Open our hearts to him. Receive him and receive from him. Come to Jesus. Be delivered. No matter how much suffering. No matter how much guilt. No matter how much anger. No matter how much rioting.  

A Friday Reflection: Playing with Words

In her book, entitled Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn Chandler McIntyre writes about stewardship strategies for using words in various forms of communication. Her #10 strategy involves the concept of play in the communication process. She encourages a ‘free play of the mind’ as a precursor to the ‘process of playing around with words’ in communication. According to McIntyre, creative wordplay is often overlooked by communicators, which is unfortunate “[b]ecause to play with words is to love them, delight in them, honor their possibilities, and take them seriously.” McIntyre gives examples of playing with words and how wordplay may be used to inspire, encourage and entertain, which initiated my own ideas on examples and experiences with wordplay.

I thought of a few wonderful examples of wordplay in Holy Scripture. The first chapter of Jeremiah describes God’s call of Jeremiah to prophetic ministry, and v.11 states, “[a]nd the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

Lost in the English translation of this text is a Hebrew play on words. God gives Jeremiah a vision of an almond branch which in the Hebrew text is rendered שָׁקֵ֖ד, shāqēd, almond branch. Then, God responds using the Hebrew word שֹׁקֵ֥ד, shōqēd, I am watching over. In Hebrew these words look and sound alike and have similar meanings. The vision of an almond tree is significant because it was the first tree to bloom in the spring. It was used in the watching for the spring. Thus, as people watch the almond tree for the realization of spring, God watches over his word for the fulfillment of his promises.

I like to imagine that in this interaction Jeremiah may have smiled and said something like, “God, I see what you did there with the wordplay.”  Or maybe Jeremiah collapsed to the floor with amazement at the profoundness of the wordplay. Whatever Jeremiah’s response, I think God was playful with words to address the challenging reality of Jeremiah’s call to preach the message of judgement and of hope and renewal, “to pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). The people needed to know that past prophetic declarations of judgement and renewal would come true. God would watch for the spring-like moment, the first opportunity to carry out his word. The people needed to be reminded that like their watching the almond tree, God was watching them, and they needed to watch for God as he fulfilled his word.

A New Testament example of wordplay is in Matthew 16:18 which reads, “[a]nd I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In the English text, the name Peter is derived from the Greek name Πέτρος, Petros which also carries the meaning of a stone or a rock. Moreover, in the Greek text the word πέτρᾳ, petra, stone or rock is used. Here we see similar looking and sounding words with similar meanings. With this knowledge, the reader may smile and say, “Aha, I see what you did there Matthew!” Or if one believes in the divine inspiration of Matthew, “Aha, I see what you did there God through Matthew!”

I acknowledge this is a notoriously debated passage between Roman Catholics and Protestants, specifically regarding the topic of the Pope. Sorry, I won’t be commenting on or resolving this debate, and I wish I could come up with some playful words to transition, but I got nothing. This is a strategy that I am just starting to learn, but I digress.

Regardless of how readers interpret this passage, I think we should recognize and appreciate the personal and powerful play on words within the broader textual context that also has a personal and powerful message for those confessing that Jesus is the Christ. Amid this profound and mysterious passage, God deemed it fitting to be playful with words to encourage and inspire and maybe even bring a smile to our faces. There are many other examples of wordplay in the Bible, and I think we should explore them, learn from them, enjoy them and share them with others. By doing this, I believe that we will develop God-like wordplay fruitfulness in our communications with others.

Personally, I have little experience or examples of being playful with words, so I will close with the example of a past colleague and friend named Bridget. I worked with Bridget in a homeless youth program where she is the founder and executive director. She has decades of experience serving youth experiencing challenging circumstances, but she always finds a way to make them smile. One way is by using wordplay. When I worked alongside her, she often used catchy limericks or a playful use of words that would stop youth (and me) in their tracks and jolt them into a positive and happy mood. I thought this was just something she did. Just a funny characteristic. Now, I think there is more to it. I think it is a gift that she has and a skillful strategy that she has developed. I think she knew something that I did not know at the time, that is, the power of the playful use of words. She has impacted hundreds of young people through wordplay, and so I think she stands among the great users of logopoeia (word creation). Bridget is an inspiration and an example of McIntyre’s strategy on the playful use of words which instigated this blog post.

Thus, with the examples in McIntyre’s chapter, the examples in the Bible and the example of Bridget, I am confident that I too (and others) can develop the strategy of wordplay in my communications with others.  This will no doubt take practice. As McIntyre states regarding wordplay, “Try it out. Spin it out. Play it out. See how it feels.” Now that’s grandandioadvice!  

Caring for Words

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.- James 1:19

It was said about Abba Agathon that for three years he carried a pebble around in his mouth until he learned to be silent. – From Desert Wisdom: Sayings From the Desert Fathers

A word with power is a word that comes out of silence. A word that bears fruit is a word that emerges from the silence and returns to it. -Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

In the age of social media there are a lot of words being used, sometimes for good and sometimes to the detriment of a whole nation. Words are important, and we should learn to care for words. However, we should first reflect on silence and listening before strategizing about loving and using words. I think active and attentive listening is a primary language of loving others well and of effective communication. We listen by first being silent, and we learn to be silent in the silence and solitude with God. How do we care for words? By entering the silence. By learning to be silent. By speaking and writing out of the silence on what we have heard, experienced and learned in the silence.

A Tribute to My Parents (50th Anniversary)

This is a theological essay on marriage as a tribute to my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Christians believe in one God in three persons. A Trinity in unity. God is a being. God is personal. God is loving. Thus, God is a relational being and from this nature, God created human beings in his own image. The image of God in humans includes various aspects while primarily corresponding to the loving, relational life of God-the Father, God-the son and God-the Holy Spirit. Humans were created to participate in this divine relationship. They were created to lean into the Trinity’s loving embrace, to experience the magnificent glory of the Godhead and to enjoy and to be completely satisfied in the Triune goodness. 

In the Genesis creation narrative, Adam begins his life journey without a suitable relational companion and helper. Then, God declares the relational truth about humanity, that it is not good for the human to be alone. God recognized Adam’s capacity for relationship as an image bearer and his detrimental isolation among the animals. Adam needed companionship with a distinct-yet-corresponding other. He needed belonging and togetherness within a peer community. God responds to Adam’s situation by creating another human (Eve) to relate with and to experience life’s journeys with. When Adam encounters another human, he responds with joy and relief uttering, “Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman, for she was made from Man” (Gen 2:23). Eve fulfilled Adam’s capacity for human relationship and vice versa Adam for Eve.

God created humans, male and female. He blessed them and commissioned them to “[b]e fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Within the blessing and the commissioning of humans, God instituted marriage between a man and a woman for future generations. The aside statement of Genesis 2:24, “[t]herefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” describes the man’s new primary loyalty to and loving embrace of his wife and the profound ‘one-flesh-ness’ unity of marriage. The ‘one flesh’ meaning of marriage involves one man and one woman in one fully shared life whereby the two become a new God-designed, God-purposed, God-supported and God-guided ‘one life.’ It is a committed, exclusive and lifelong partnership. This ‘one flesh’ union becomes the most profound bond that exists between two human beings.

The marriage relationship reflects the image of the triune God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are intimately relating equal and distinct persons of the same nature and essence with different roles in the pursuit of a glorious common purpose. The Father loves and leads; the Son submits and redeems; the Holy Spirit proceeds and sanctifies. Likewise, husbands and wives are of the same nature and essence while being equal and distinct with unique roles for a common purpose. The husband loves and leads, the wife yields to and supports her husband’s leadership and together they go out into the world as a sanctifying presence.

Throughout the Old Testament, marriage is used to describe the relationship between God and Israel. God is described as a husband declaring his marriage vows to his wife Israel. God speaking through the prophet Ezekiel states, “I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine” (Eze 16:8 MSG). The prophet Isaiah states, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name” (Isa 54:5). Jeremiah 2:2 describes Israel’s early faithfulness by using the marriage metaphor, “Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” While celebrating the intimacy between a married couple, the Song of Solomon is also a marriage metaphor about God and his people. The people of God are the beloved of God, and God’s desire is for them. 

The Old Testament prophets also describe Israel’s unfaithfulness as a broken marriage covenant, which led to a form of divorce between God and his people. Jeremiah 3:20 states, “But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord.” Hosea 2:2 states, “But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.” However, speaking through the prophets, God calls Israel to return as his bride (Jer 3:12-14) and promises to restore the marriage relationship (Isa 62:4-5).

The metaphor of the marriage relationship between God and his people extends to the New Testament. In John 3:29, John the Baptist describes himself as the best man who eagerly waits and listens for the arrival of the bridegroom, knowing that upon hearing the voice of the bridegroom there is great joy. John the Baptist explains that he experiences such joy because Jesus has arrived as the bridegroom. Jesus also refers to himself as the bridegroom throughout his ministry (Matt 9:15 pp Mark 2:19-20 pp Luke 5:34-35; Matt 22:2; 25:1-13).

While teaching on marriage, the Apostle Paul identifies marriage as a ‘profound mystery’ revealing Christ’s marriage relationship with the church. Paul points to parallels between the marriage of a man and a woman and the ultimate marriage of Christ and his church. As a husband and a wife are ‘one flesh’ in marriage, Christians are members of Christ’s body. According to Paul, Human marriage is the earthly type, pointing towards the spiritual reality. Earthly marriages should reflect the heavenly marriage with Christ. Thus, husbands should love their wives with the sacrificial love that Christ has for the church, and wives should submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. Together a husband and wife have the sacred privilege of declaring through their union the greater profound union with Christ (Eph 5:22-33).

Human marriage is a good thing, but all human allegiance ultimately belongs to Christ. There is no human marriage in heaven. The heavenly kingdom with Christ is the marriage. The Apostle John writes, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”(Rev 21:2). The heavenly multitude shouts, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear”(Rev 19:6-8). 

In view of the theological aspects of marriage, here are some practical points about marriage. First, marriage cultivates spiritual formation. Marriage is one way in which the Holy Spirit transforms people into the image of Christ. Through marriage, the Holy Spirit sanctifies, heals, challenges and blesses people. Second, because of sin entering the world and its effect on the human condition, no marriage is perfect. Every marriage involves work and the giving and receiving of grace and mercy. Couples must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and grow their marriages. Third, marriage is the intended context for raising children. Marriage is the nucleus of the family. Children need a mother and a father in the home. They need the commitment, exclusivity and stability that a marriage relationship provides. Fourth, marriage is the most basic and instrumental social relationship for the welfare of society. Without marriages, society will collapse. Thus, marriage as God has designed and purposed must be upheld. 

For 50 years, my parents have emulated many of the theological and practical aspects of marriage. They are a testimony of God’s intention for marriage and of God’s faithfulness to married couples who set their gaze upon and follow Christ.

A Friday Reflection: Love, Mercy and Patience

So stubborn, so irritable, so rough around the edges, and yet so loved. Always shrinking back, always making excuses, always pursuing my own way, and yet always being wrapped in mercy. Slow, lazy, distracted, and yet patience abounds.  

Oh, the goodness of God in our lives. His love, mercy and patience is abundant. God is not exhausted with us in our feebleness and shortcomings. Rather, he is eager to meet us in the hideousness. He is willing to look past our faults and embrace us with compassion. He is desirous to walk with us in our slowness and to guide us in his ways and in the works he has prepared for us to do. 

In fact, God wants to be with us and bless us with his goodness so much that God-the Son entered the broken and sin ravished world in order to reconcile it to himself. He pitched his tent among us. He became incarnate. He became the God-man, Jesus. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). Jesus was born to be the savior of the world. He was born to become a substitutional sacrifice for us. He was born to conquer sin and death. 

As Christians, we celebrate this birth. We celebrate the incarnation. We celebrate Jesus. While we celebrate, let us reflect deeply on the meaning of Jesus, and let us prepare and open our hearts to receive God and all his goodness. May we see the ways God has shown and is showing himself to be loving, merciful and patient.

A Friday Reflection: Peace, Peace…But?

They have treated my people’s brokenness superficially, claiming, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Jer. 6:14

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. A day of commemoration of a meal in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. It was a gathering of different cultures to celebrate and to give thanks for a successful harvest. It was a peace meal that would initiate fifty years of peace between the distinct people. However, eventually the peace faded and war broke out between the two groups. 

Fast forward to 1863 during the American Civil War where Abraham Lincoln, on the heels of his issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, pointed back to the 1621 peace meal as an example of the spirit that would heal the wounds of war, put an end to the civil strife and restore the nation. He declared the last Thursday of November as an offical annual holiday marked by thanksgiving, celebration and peace. Also, Lincoln stirred the people to humbly repent of “national perverseness and disobedience” and to provide tender care to “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.”[1]

Lincoln cast the vision for future Thanksgiving Day observance, and thus throughout the years on Thanksgiving Day most U.S. citizens have strived to gather together with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers to give thanks, to celebrate, to pass the peace and to take care of one another. There has been many annual meals commemorating that first thanksgiving meal and Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day vision. The nation says peace, peace!

But we need to ask ourselves, is it superficial? Is it sincere? Will it last? In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving Day is referred to as “Black Friday” and throughout the years, Black Friday has been creeping in reverse into Thanksgiving evening and extending to “Cyber Monday” and into the Advent season. Black Friday is all about saving on material goods. People camp outside waiting for the stores to open so they can take advantage of all the deals. Every year there are people getting into fights over the hot deal items. On Thursday people offer a turkey wing to their neighbor while on Friday they elbow a stranger in the face. Seemingly peaceful on Thursday but a complete savage on Friday. We can celebrate and be grateful for the harvest but then get completely overrun with materialism, consumerism and discontentment. 

We can gather with family, friends and neighbors, and we can even put our differences aside for a few hours all in the name of Thanksgiving Day. We can feast and go around the table saying why we are thankful while neglecting to apologize or repent for the wrongs we have committed to one another. Thanksgiving Day can become a superficial treatment to the brokenness of our relationships. We can say “peace, peace when there is no peace.” 

How do we experience geniune and lasting thankfulness and peace? Well, I think Lincoln touches upon this with his emphasis on grace, mercy and providence of the Almighty God. Lincoln explains that even “in the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity” the nation has experienced bountiful blessings. He states, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”[2]

Thus, we should sincerely and humbly look to God praising and thanking him. Not just with our lips but with our whole hearts, with our whole being, with our whole life. We should always be quick to confess our sins to God so that we might experience his grace, mercy and peace. We should always be quick to genuinely confess our wrong doings to one another so that we may experience forgiveness and reconciliation. We should always be quick to forgive so that we may experience God’s restoration.  

Moreover, we should resist the “Black Friday” culture. I think the team over at Advent Conspiracy has done great work at reversing the hijacking (which begins on Black Friday) of the Advent and Christmas seasons. They do a good job at explaining how materialism and consumerism have crowded out the meaning and purpose of Advent and Christmas.

If we celebrate on Thanksgiving Day to the glory of God and settle into the true meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons, then we will more fully experience God’s goodness and greatness through the redemptive life and work of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus became incarnate and died for our sins and was resurrected, we also are resurrected and our resurrection hearts and lives will be filled with genuine and lasting thankfulness and peace. 

On the western church calendar, the Advent season starts on Sunday Dec. 1. Let’s forgo Black Friday (or cyber Monday if your already shopped today) and prepare to settle into Advent.  


[1] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

[2] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

A Friday Reflection: Wilderness

Oh that wilderness, desert place. A place of such history and ambivalence. The wilderness is “vast and dreadful… a thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions”(Deut 8:15). It is a “barren and howling waste” (Deut 32:10), an uninhabitable place, a dangerous place, a place of death. The Israelites said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?”

The Israelites were expecting to die in the wilderness, but it was into the wilderness that God delivered them from the bondage of Egyptian slavery. The Israelites met their God in the wilderness, and God showed his power and compassion by providing food, water, clothing and healing. The Israelites received God’s greatest gifts–his statutes, commandments and holy sabbaths. God promised to be with them in the wilderness and to bring them into “a land flowing with milk and honey.” In the wilderness, God wooed the Israelites into a loving covenant relationship, and later through the prophet Jeremiah, God recalls this time in the wilderness by saying, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown” (Jer 2:2).

However, it was in the wilderness that the Israelites lost their vision and grumbled, protested and rebelled against God. Due to the Israelite’s unfaithfulness, the wilderness became a place of wandering, testing, judgement and punishment. This wilderness experience was not terminal because God remained faithful and did not allow his divine anger to erase his love for his people.

God allowed the Israelites to continue into the land, but the wilderness wandering became a prophetic reminder throughout history of the potential judgement of God upon the Israelites if they were disobedient and unrepentant. God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah says,

Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives (Jer 17:5-6).

Through the prophet Hosea, God explains that Israel must repent, lest he “turn her into a wilderness, and make her like a dry land” (Hos 2:3).

But God juxtaposes these wilderness statements with eschatological pronouncements that with the future outpouring of the Spirit, the wilderness will become a fruitful field (Is 32:15) and Zion’s wilderness will be made like Eden (Isa 51:3).

The Psalmist sums up God’s sovereignty and actions regarding the wilderness,  

He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle (Ps 107:33-36).

The wilderness is an important place used by God for his purposes, but the people of God must heed the words of Psalm 95:8,9

Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.

But there is more wilderness juxtaposition that should be considered.

Throughout biblical history, the wilderness was viewed as a place marked by uncleanness, defilement and evil. People were relegated to “outside the camp” if they were determined ceremonial unclean (Lev 13:46; Num 5:1-4) or if they had blasphemed (Lev 24:14). The wilderness was the “cut off” place where the scapegoat was sent after the sins of the people were transferred to it on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:10, 21-22). Moreover, it was believed that Satan and evil spirits were in the wilderness. Jesus is confronted and tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1-13). In Luke 8:29, the Gerasene demoniac was driven into the desert by a demon. In Matthew 12:43-45 and its parallel in Luke 11:24-26, the unclean spirit who had been cast out “passes through arid places.”

In contrast, the wilderness was also viewed as a place of refuge, a place to get away to meet with God and a place where kingdom work took place. David escaped to a stronghold in the wilderness during his flight from Saul (1 Sam 23:14; 26:2-3). Jeremiah wished he had a wilderness hut to get a respite from the sinful people (Jer 9:2). Jesus often withdrew into the wilderness in order to pray (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness (Mt 14:21; 15:32-39). The wilderness was a place of revelation and proclamation of the good news. As prophesied by Isaiah (Isa 40:3), John the Baptist lived in the wilderness (Luke 1:80) where the word of God came to him (Luke 3:2), and he preached and baptized (Mark 1:3-5). Philip’s missionary outreach to the Ethiopian takes place in the wilderness between Jerusalem and Gaza (Acts 8).

Today, we also may experience the wilderness in these ways by seeking God in solitude, silence and prayer. We can choose to get away with God, and we can experience his rest and refuge. God may lead us into the wilderness for his kingdom ministry. We may find ourselves in the wilderness not by our own choice but because God has led us there. Take Elijah for example, God led him to the wilderness for a season where he was fed by ravens before he continued on in ministry (1 Kgs 17). The Apostle Paul spent a season in the desert being taught by the Holy Spirit before starting his ministry (Gal 1:16-17). Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness before his ministry.  

These examples teach us about depending on God and not giving up while in the difficult places. God cares for us and is watching over us. As we cry out, “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1), God is preparing us for future things that are greater than we could imagine. He is leading us to things that we could not fathom doing if it were not for being formed in the wilderness.

As we have seen, there is a lot to this wilderness place, but no matter why we are in the wilderness, God loves us and is faithful to us. He has a perfect, sovereign plan that he is accomplishing, and we can trust him and look to him.

A Friday Reflection: Shalom

For the most part in life, I am a transparent person; however, there are those times when I try to present an “everything is okay” facade in the midst of trials, turmoil, disappointment or failure. I don’t want others to see my struggles and pain, and so I hide behind a mask while sweeping my problems under the rug and denying my lamenting soul. What would others think if they knew the status of my life? What would God do if I laid out my complaints before him?

Then there are the times when the storms of life get so frantic that there is no hiding or denial. Everyone sees what is going on. It’s like the moment in the biblical story of Job when Job’s friends heard about all his adversity and all the things that had happened to him and upon seeing him, they were astonished and disturbed by his condition (2:11-13). What to do in these times? Typically for me, I go all comatose in distraction and comfort. Now some distraction and soothing is good when it comes to helping to mitigate the challenges and to regulate the emotions, but often it gets to the point where I completely depend on my own devices to alleviate my discomfort or to experience respite from the harshness of life.

As Christians, God calls us to be people of “shalom” (Hebrew translated, “peace”). The basic meaning of this is that we are to be in peaceful relationship with God and others, and we are to be agents of God’s peace in the world. For this post, I want to focus on the deeper meaning of shalom which involves the idea of flourishing, wholeness, delight, or the inner sense of satisfaction. Shalom is the way things ought to be in the world and in our lives. How are we to be people of shalom in the midst of trials, turmoil or disappointment? How do we live and experience shalom when, like Job, we may face circumstances where others would advise us to just “curse God and die” (Job 2:9)?

Shalom can only come from God. We cannot manufacture shalom, and so in the midst of challenges and chaos, we should resist the urge of trying to fix our problems all on our own. We should resist the urge of denying that there is real brokenness that we face. We should resist the urge of living with constant distraction so as to self-medicate ourselves. We cannot experience and live God’s shalom while living a facade or while hiding behind masks or while being in a comatose state of distraction or comfort seeking.

In order to experience and live God’s shalom, we need to turn to him in silence and solitude seeking his wisdom, strength and comfort. We need to make time in our busy and often noisy schedules to silently sit and lament before the almighty and loving God of the universe. We need to receive the shalom that is ultimately in Christ Jesus. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we have a present and future hope. No matter the trials or pain in this life, we can experience shalom knowing that Jesus has triumphed and that upon his return all things will be put back to right.

Nevertheless, in the meantime during this challenging earthly life, we also should be open to others by receiving and giving care and support as the body of Christ. We have one another and we need one another as expressions of God’s shalom.      

A Friday Reflection: Discipleship

How costly is it to be a disciple of Jesus? It costs our very lives. It requires our entire allegiance. It involves a cross. Like Jesus who “humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), his followers are to take up their cross with humility and denial of oneself. We are crucified with Christ. Our lives are put to death. We no longer live according to our own plans and desires. This involves having the same attitude and posture as Jesus who prayed to the Father “your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matt 6:10) and “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39).

But there is more to this cross-shaped life. More of God and his glory. Followers of Jesus experience Christ’s new life in intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity. We experience the beauty of God’s holiness and the wonder of his love. We experience his greatness in all its grandeur. Like Jesus who was glorified by the Father, followers of Jesus are also glorified. We partake in the magnificent glory of Christ. We are lifted up and exalted with Christ. Our lowly bodies will be transformed into glorious bodies, and we will rule and reign with Christ for all eternity to the praise of his glory.

Thus, followers of Jesus Christ proclaim Christ crucified, participate in his sufferings and experience the power of his resurrection. We imitate a crucified savior as people of the resurrection life. We walk in his steps by the power of his Spirit through a dark world in desperate need of experiencing the light.  May we joyously follow Jesus and humbly serve like he did on the cross, so that the world might also come to know, follow and experience the glory of the Lord.