Tithing Made Simple

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At my life group gathering on Wednesday, we had a very interesting discussion on tithing. Having explained my biblical understanding of tithing, my group encouraged me to preach on this at church. I probably will when people come back from their holidays but I thought I might share briefly my understanding of tithing in this blog.

The principle of sacrifices and tithing existed in the ancient culture before it was included in the Mosaic Law. Tithing is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 14: 17-20 where Abraham encounters Melchizadek, the king of Salem, and gives him a tithe of all his possessions. The first mention of tithe as law is in Leviticus 27:30-33 where a tithe of the livestock, grain, fruit, etc. was declared holy to the Lord and was to be given to Him. The purpose of the tithe is mentioned in Numbers 18: 20-32 and that is to support the Levitical priesthood since the tribe of Levi had no land or inheritance in the Promised Land. All the other tribes were given an inheritance. The tribe of Levi was set apart to offer worship to God on behalf of Israel. The tithes were to be brought into the place of worship so that God’s name is worshipped and remembered (Deuteronomy 12: 5-6, 11). As the Levites had no land to farm but were called to ensure the worship of God continues amongst God’s people, the rest of God’s people were called to support the Levites and the work of worship that they offer on their behalf. This Old Testament Law was part of the Old Covenant where God’s people were kept holy because they kept the principles of the law.

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Jesus heralded in the New Covenant. Did the New Covenant replace the Old Covenant? Yes and No. Yes because the Old Covenant shows us how far we have fallen from God’s righteousness and makes us realise our need for a Saviour. However, the New Covenant does not replace the Old Covenant but fulfils it. The New Covenant did what the Old Covenant could not do and that is to give us God’s gift of righteousness through our faith in Jesus Christ. This enables us to fulfil the requirements of the Law. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5: 17).  We now fulfil the principles of the law through a transformed heart rather than through human efforts.

Following on from this, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9: 6-7). We often look at this verse and think that this means we don’t need to give a tithe but we decide what is the best amount to give. Yes that’s true. But Paul is actually encouraging generosity rather than holding back.  Because our heart is transformed we give more than is expected of us and we decide to be generous and give more than just a tithe because that is what is expected of us.
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If you were to read the Sermon on the Mount carefully, the New Covenant demands more from us. For example if you have anger in your heart, you have committed murder (Matthew 5: 21-24), or if you have lust in your heart, you have committed adultery (Matthew 5: 27-28). When Paul is writing about being generous, he is following a New Covenant principle of going way above the requirements of the Old Covenant. In other words, don’t stop at 10%. Decide in your heart what is God saying to you and give that amount cheerfully.

This principle of tithing has not ceased under the New Covenant.  Just as Abraham offered a tithe as a form of worship and as Israel gave their tithes to support the worship of Yahweh, now the church as people of the New Covenant gives tithes so that we can fulfil God’s calling to be a people of worship and also reach out to others in order that worship is offered from every tribe and people in the world. Likewise, in the New Testament, Christians gave generously to meet the needs of people and to ensure that the church fulfilled the Great Commission of making disciples from every ethnic group (cf. Romans 12: 13; 1Corinthians 8; Hebrews 13: 16).

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Today we tithe so that we can ensure that God’s Kingdom presence and worship will continue in the world we live in. Through our generous tithes and offerings, we can fulfil our calling  to be salt and light in a broken world.

What does a Spirit-filled Church look like?

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Last Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, was an awesome day! I have been getting feedback on how the Holy Spirit was moving in people’s lives at both the 8 and 10 am services. Thanks for all the stories!
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Personally, I woke up last Sunday with an overwhelming anticipation of what God was going to do. As I went through the day I felt God’s Holy Spirit – at the 8am service, 10am service and at the baptism. The editor of “Sai Kung Buzz” was there to report on the baptism (You can click here to read the article). After the baptism, he came up to me and said there was something spiritual about this whole experience.

At Resurrection Church, we look forward to Pentecost Sunday because we expect to encounter the Holy Spirit. A week before Pentecost Sunday, people were already talking about looking forward to this year’s Pentecost Sunday. My question is this. Why do we wait for a year to encounter the Holy Spirit? For the early church, Pentecost was only the beginning of a regular encounter with the Holy Spirit.  Each Sunday we should come to church anticipating this encounter. If we all did that, every Sunday would be a Pentecost Sunday.

So, what does it mean to be a Spirit-filled Church?

  • There is an openness and anticipation for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our worship services and gatherings. In the period leading up to Pentecost, the early disciples waited with an eagerness for the promised Holy Spirit. Jesus had taught them about this Spirit and they were anticipating his arrival. A Spirit-filled church is continually praying and seeking for more of the Holy Spirit’s presence in its services.

 

  • There is an intense desire for the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst. In the book of Acts, we see this intense desire for the Holy Spirit active in the life of the church. They were continually filled with the Holy Spirit as they sought to remain faithful to the work God had called them to fulfil. A Spirit-filled church has a strong passion for the Holy Spirit’s work in their midst.

 

  • There is a determination to remove any obstacles to what the Holy Spirit wants to do in the church community. The early church faced many challenges that often shook their courage and determination, however, they chose not to let these challenges distract them. They often came together to pray for God’s Spirit to fill them with boldness. A Spirit-filled church strives to remove fear, traditions, persecution, division, conflicts and negativity so that they can receive power and courage from the Holy Spirit.

 

  • There is a recognition and willingness to allow the spiritual gifts to operate fully within the church community. The early church recognized the spiritual gifts at work within the body and people used their gifts to edify and build up the church community. There was no hierarchy of gifts, but rather, recognition that different people were called to fulfill different roles within the church. A Spirit-filled church seeks to fit people into the life of the church according to their spiritual gifts.

 

  • There is a recognition that the Holy Spirit “blows” where he chooses. Consequently, space is given for the Holy Spirit to move in unusual and unexpected ways rather than maintaining institutional structures and preservation. The early church was continually seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit who led them often in strange and unpredictable ways. A Spirit-filled church always leaves room in their services and meetings for the Holy Spirit to provide leadership and direction.

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My prayer is that these 5 points would play a very strong part in the life of your church and my church so that we can truly be a Spirit-filled church and that every Sunday would be a Pentecost Sunday in our worship gatherings.

Living a Christ-focused Life

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In the early 1990’s when I just started out pastoring my first church, I was praying about what God’s calling and mission for me was in ministry. In my prayer time that morning I was reading Exodus 18 where Moses’ father-in-law was visiting Moses and his family.  In Exodus 18: 19-20, Jethro advised Moses, “Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You are to be the people’s representative before God, and to bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do.” As I was reflecting on Exodus 18, I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to me about my calling and mission as a pastor. I was to intercede for the people I lead, bring their challenges and situations to God, teach them God’s ways and help them walk in God’s ways so that they fulfil their calling and mission in life. So, over the following 25+ years of ministry, this has been my purpose in ministry – to help people live Christ-focused lives.

What does living a Christ-focused life mean?
A Christ-focused life is lived where Christ is our focus in every decision, thought, action and behaviour we make. We enjoy being aware of his presence every moment of the day. In all our dealings and relationships, we want to glorify Christ.

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We do not have a segment in our life called “sacred” and all the other segments called “secular”. All our work, family life, personal life, leisure moments, recreation and sleep are lived in the presence of Christ. There is no moment in your life where Christ is not present. Our life is lived being aware of this presence of Christ.

So how do we live this Christ-focused life?                                                                            

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The Bible helps us understand what this Christ-focused life looks like. In God, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17: 28). The Christ-focused life is lived by:

  • doing everything in the authority and glory of Christ (Colossians 3: 17, 23-24; 1 Corinthians 10: 31)
  • being constantly thankful (Ephesians 5: 20: 1 Thessalonians 5: 20)
  • walking in the light of God (1 John 1: 5-7; Psalm 56: 13)
  • embracing a life of worship (Romans 12: 1-2; Psalm 68: 3)
  • placing our confidence in God (1 John 3: 21; Psalm 141: 8; Hebrews 4: 16)
  • striving to please Christ (Ephesians 5: 10; Colossians 1: 10; 2 Corinthians 5: 9)
  • living to God (Galatians 2: 19; Romans 14: 7-8)

I would like to invite you into this Christ-focused life. Putting Christ on the fringe of your life is not what being a Christian is all about. As I write this, I am reminded of the number of times whales are beached on a New Zealand shore. People spend hours pouring water over the whales trying to keep them alive, but pouring water over them is not the answer. The answer is getting them into the sea because that is where they are meant to live their lives. It’s the same as Christians. Coming to church alone is like pouring water on the whale. It is not what being a Christian is all about. Being a Christian means being immersed in Christ so that our lives are Christ-focused and we live experiencing the joy and peace that Christ offers.

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Having a Godly Self-Image

For the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to sit with different people and hear their life story. Some of these stories are sad and upsetting, others are horrendous. As I listened to these stories and asked some questions, I got a glimpse of the image these people have of themselves. Their self-image has been marred by the things they experienced in their past and this now affects how they view and value themselves. Both their self-esteem and confidence has taken a blow.

Having a healthy self-image, or opinion of yourself, comes from having a healthy self-esteem and positive feelings about yourself and is so important to help us function well in life. How you view, or feel about yourself, will affect just about every aspect of your life. You will think, speak, and behave as the person you think you are. The New American Standard Bible translates Proverbs 23: 7 in this way: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

What happens when we have a low self-image?

Quite often when I meet with a person with a low self-image, I find that they are very fearful because they are worried that others may discover how they really feel about themselves. They carry a lot of guilt because they focus on their failures. They are insecure because they have a sense of worthlessness and they may struggle with resentment and rejection.

Start seeing yourself the way God sees you
As a Christian, we need to realise that our worth and value comes from God, not from the world. The devil will use what others have said to keep us feeling down and defeated. He makes us believe the lies that others have said about us so that we are unable to reach the potential God has for us.

Instead of believing the lies, we need to start believing the truth. Think about the following statements:

  • God loves and values you highly (Romans 5: 7-8; 1 John 3: 1-2)
  • God has removed all condemnation from you because you are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
  • God says you are his masterpiece and he is planning every detail of your life (Ephesians 1: 3-5; 2:8-10)
  • God created you as a unique person (Psalm 139: 13-16)
  • You are created in the image of God (Genesis 1: 27)
  • God loves you and cares for you as a loving heavenly Father (Matthew 6: 25-34)
  • You belong to God’s family (Ephesians 1: 5)
  • God values you so much his Son died for you (Ephesians 2: 4-9)
  • Jesus death and gift of new life gives you hope (Romans 8: 32)
  • God has given you a purpose – you are called to be his ambassador in the world (2 Corinthians 5: 17-21)

My prayer for those who are struggling with a low self-image is to be able to see themselves as God sees them.

Moving from a Consumer Church to a Discipling Church

On Wednesday, my church leadership will go on a retreat to reflect and pray about the spiritual health of the church. In preparing for this retreat I keep asking myself what do we need to do to become a disciple-making church? If we want to help individuals and families become committed followers of Jesus, what should we do? Basically, there are four different types of churches in the world.

  • The Consumer Church – the church exists to meet the needs of the people
  • The Dead Church – there is no sign of life within the church
  • The Stressed Church – many expectations are put on the members and they are in spiritual burn-out
  • The Discipling Church – members are empowered to be fully committed followers of Christ.

Jesus’ relationship with his disciples is a picture of what a church should look like, In the featured diagram it is called the Discipling Church. In John 1: 14, we read that Jesus became a human being, full of grace and truth. The call, “Come follow me” was an invitation to be with Jesus and experience His grace. “I will send you out to fish for people” – a vision of God’s plan, of truth and the promise made in the Old Testament. As we look at the gospels, we see this combination at work. At times the disciples are shown grace, encouraged and affirmed and at other times shown truth to challenge and bring about change in their lives. They were inspired and empowered after the ascension to change the world.

The exact opposite is a Dead Church where there is very little grace and truth. This church is heading nowhere and probably has a small group of people going to church out of duty.

The Consumer Church focuses on making people feel good and the focus is on “What can I get out of church today?”. There is a lot of teaching about blessings and very little about sin and the challenge to live holy lives. Commitment level at a consumer church is very low. People will only come if they have a need or nothing else to do. This church would preach “hypergrace” messages that God loves you and its ok to come along and just enjoy the cosy fun-filled environment.

Finally, we have the Stressed Church where the focus is on the truth but there is very little grace. People come to church and feel judged or guilty and there is no support and encouragement for those struggling with sin or problems. There are a lot of rules and expectations for people to follow resulting in people feeling stressed or distressed.

On Wednesday, I shared a variation of this diagram with my life group and asked them where they would put Resurrection Church. All of them pointed to the “High Grace Low Truth Quadrant, the one I have labelled Consumer Church. I asked, “why?” and they mentioned that we are very good in welcoming people and helping and supporting them. We also have great social activities. Consequently, it’s very easy for our members to be cosy and comfortable without being challenged to grow in the Truth. They also said that with my preaching and teaching, there is a challenge to take truth seriously.

So, if we are in the Consumer Church quadrant, how can we move into the Discipling Church quadrant? Initially, I suggested to my life group that we just raise the Truth temperature. But, as I thought about it, I realise it’s actually not a good move. If you have a church of people cosy and comfortable, it becomes very uncomfortable when people are pressured by the truth. The better way is, I think, is to first lower the grace temperature and stop making the primary focus to meet the needs of church members. This will slowly bring the church down into the Dead Church quadrant. However, we don’t want to stay here too long or it could kill the church.

After that, we can increase the truth temperature so that people are no longer seeing church for themselves but rather true nature of church and why it exists. People will start having “aha” moments where the truth sinks in. (Actually, quite a few people have emailed me this week sharing their “aha” moments with me and it is exciting hearing stories of you are having truth encounters of the biblical kind.)  Of course, staying too long in the high truth area can cause people to feel stressed from too much truth but very little grace to help them through life so you don’t want to stay there too long either.

So, following that we need to increase the grace temperature again so that as the truth sinks in and grows in the church, we can also increase the grace to create the Jesus environment – full of grace and truth.

My prayer as my leadership team and I go away on a retreat, we can plot a path that would help us become an effective discipling church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing for Christ – Driven by love or force?

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There have been a lot of support for Rowan County Clerk, Kim Davis, from Christians around the world. Whilst I applaud her for standing for her convictions, I struggle to accept her behavior as Christian.

Here is my understanding of this whole situation.

  1. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows homosexual couples the right to get married.
  2. All county clerks were required by law to issue licenses to gay couples. The Rowan County Clerk refused to accept this requirement and she stopped issuing marriage license to all couples. She also prevented all the deputy clerks in her office to issue any marriage license.
  3. By doing that she used her own person convictions to prevent the citizens of Rowan County the right to receive a marriage license from a government office. She also imposed her own personal convictions on her staff who did not share the same convictions as her.
  4. Four couples sued her. The ruling of the circuit court was that she had to issue marriage license. She appealed and asked for stays pending that appeal. But the courts, including the Supreme Court, denied the stays. She still refused to issue licenses.
  5. Kim Davis was then called before the Ashland Circuit Court to face contempt of court charges. The judge tried hard to work with her suggesting that the deputy clerks could issue the licenses so that she does not have to compromise her convictions. 5 of the 6 deputy clerks were willing to issue licenses (deputy clerk who was not prepared to issue the licenses was Kim Davis’ son who was employed by her). The judge showed grace to Kim Davis by allowing her to hold on to her religious convictions. But Kin Davis, by not allowing the deputies to issue licenses insisted that her religious convictions must be upheld by her entire office. This, to me, is not reasonable and unChristian.The judge had no choice but to hold her in contempt and to throw her into prison. No she is not in prison for her Christian convictions but because she refused to allow her office to issue any licenses. She is in prison because she wanted to force others to believe the way she does.

If I was in that situation where my convictions are in conflict with my employers, I would resign rather than force my workmates and my employers to follow or live by my convictions. If I use force to stand for Christ, then I am no different to other religioys terrorists who place undue pressure on others to accept and follow their faith. As a follower of Christ I am driven by love, not force.

An Evangelical Protestant Encounters Catholic Spirituality: Part 4. Drawing from the deep love of Jesus

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This is the fourth of a four part series chronicling my experience in an Ignatian retreat.

The retreat is almost over. In about 4 hours I will be heading home. I went to sleep last night with a sense of God’s deep love for me. I woke up this morning with that same feeling. I asked the Holy Spirit to draw me into God’s presence so that I can experience what he had in store for me.

I imagined myself back in the Father’s embrace. I heard the Father say to me, “This is where I want you to be daily. Don’t worry about the past. Don’t worry about the future. I am El Shaddai who cares for and nourishes you. Remain in this experience and I will lead you”. There was a strong sense of peace and that deep deep love of Jesus bubbling inside me.

As I spent time enjoying being still in the Lord’s presence (a very different picture to when I first started the retreat), I felt drawn to make this practice of working through the seven statements of Jesus a monthly examen, allowing my imagination to be guided by the Holy Spirit to keep me grateful for what Christ has done for me, to feel the fathers love and pleasure over me, and to help me remain in Christ’s love.

My imagination shifted back to the Good Shepherd and I just rested once again with Jesus in the green pastures. A thought came to me as I sat with Jesus, “There are other sheep that I need to lovingly bring into the fold”. I imagined Jesus getting up and my heart wanted to follow Jesus. I want to be where he was going. I asked the Good Shepherd to take me with him as he seeks out the other sheep. He stopped and turned and I imagined him giving me a piercing gaze. He then reached out his hand and heard him say the words he said when he called his disciples, “Come follow me”. But in my imagination, instead of Jesus continuing “I will make your fishers of men”, he said, “What you experienced with me on the cross, I want you to help others experience”.

My imagination again brought me to that place where I was drawn into the Father’s embrace in the last statement of Jesus on the cross. “This is where I call my children to be.” Then my imagination went down a strange path. I imagined myself looking at a list of things that would prevent me from inheriting the Kingdom. It was like the lists found in 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5. In both these chapters Paul provides a list of sins that can prevent us from entering God’s Kingdom. But I felt an overwhelming sense of not being able to keep that list. This thought came into my mind, “If it is about doing, then you will need to follow that list perfectly or else you will not inherit the kingdom.” I looked at that list. Wrong doers won’t inherit the Kingdom. I felt a sinking feeling because I constantly do wrong. Have I cheated? Have I always been truthful? Have I been greedy or slandered or gossiped about others? Yes I am selfish and have ambitions that are for my benefit. If it is about that list I saw in my imagination, I will never inherit the Kingdom.

Then, in my imagination, the list disappeared and I saw Jesus standing in front of me. And he spoke in my imagination, “You see the list and you know that there are things on that list that will keep you out of the Kingdom. But I came so that in me you will enter the Kingdom.” The words of Jesus to remain in him kept bubbling up within me. It was a strange experience. Again I imagined the emotions I felt as I experienced being on the cross with Jesus. Being with Jesus and experiencing that deep love motivates me to change. When I saw that list in my imagination, I felt I could never be certain that I would make it.

My imagination went back to the incident where Jesus told his disciples to abide in him because he is the true vine. It is abiding in him that would cause us to bear fruit that would last. I want the fruit of the Spirit to grow in me so that I can love the way Jesus loves. That cross experience made me realize how my love falls short of the way Jesus loves. His love is deep. What I experienced this past week has left me desiring to “be” rather than to “do”. And I had a deep sense in my spirit that the Lord is seeking to draw other sheep into that deep experience of his love. It is that experience of the deep, deep love of Jesus that has left me wanting to remain in his presence and to allow him to make me more like him.

Here is the link if you would like to listen to this hymn

There is a fountain filled with blood

drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;

and sinners plunged beneath that flood

lose all their guilty stains.

Lose all their guilty stains,

lose all their guilty stains;

and sinners plunged beneath that flood

lose all their guilty stains.

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood

shall never lose its power

till all the ransomed church of God

be saved, to sin no more.

Be saved, to sin no more,

be saved, to sin no more;

till all the ransomed church of God

be saved, to sin no more.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue

lies silent in the grave.

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,

I’ll sing thy power to save,

I’ll sing thy power to save,

I’ll sing thy power to save,

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,

I’ll sing thy power to save,

An Evangelical Protestant Encounters Catholic Spirituality: Part 3. Experiencing the Gospel of Love

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This is the third of a four part series chronicling my experience in an Ignatian retreat.

The night before I had asked the Lord for the grace to help me experience living in this abiding presence of the Father. There had been a strong sense in my heart that I should immerse myself in the experience of Jesus on the cross and to listen to him make the seven statements from the cross. That feeling was still strong in me so I entered into the scene in my imagination. It became the most emotional experience I have had in a long time. I felt the Holy Spirit wanting me to be with Jesus on the cross. So I imagined myself there on the cross with Christ. I imagined myself feeling his pain and sorrow and grief. He would be feeling the pain physically and emotionally and I imagined myself feeling that pain, sorrow and grief. it was horrendous! I began to journey with Jesus through the seven statements.

  • “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.”                                  

I saw Jesus looking around. He saw the soldiers, members of the Sanhedrin, and the crowd who wanted him crucified. He was experiencing so much pain because of what these people did. I was hard for me to look at the faces of the soldiers, Sanhedrin and the crowd. I felt anger and bitterness. It was my flesh feeling the injustice and the situation. Surely God will judge these people!

Then I heard a voice say “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” I couldn’t comprehend how Jesus could pray that. I looked at Jesus and saw that look of love and compassion. I could see his heart. There was no bitterness at all just love. “Father forgive them” he prays with tears rolling down his cheeks.

There I am on the cross with Jesus holding on to resentment and bitterness towards people who put Jesus on the cross. In my imagination I caught a glimpse of my heart and I saw that it was a storehouse of bitterness, resentment, anger, hurts. I get annoyed, frustrated and hurt and I keep these emotions in my heart. I felt Jesus look at me and say “let them go”. Jesus was wanting me to forgive those who have hurt me, rejected me, and caused me anger and bitterness. I realized I needed the grace of compassion and forgiveness that Jesus had. Lord give me your heart of love. Give me your eyes of compassion. Give me your will to forgive. Give me the grace to forgive.

  • “Truly I say to you, today you will be in paradise.”                                    

Looking at Jesus I saw the pain he was feeling on his face. I could feel that pain. More than that his heart was aching for people to experience the love of the Father. This was demonstrated in the way he looked with love to the convict and assured him of his place in paradise. Jesus, in pain still chooses to show love to those needing love, to give hope to those needing to receive hope. With painful gasps he looks at the convict with eyes of love. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

I imagined myself in moments of pain and weariness. How do I respond to people when I am worn out, in pain or burdened by the situations I find myself in? Often I just want to retreat and think of myself and the burdens I am carrying. I just want people to go away. With Jesus on the cross I felt the heart of Jesus. He talked about loving our neighbour. Here Jesus was practicing what he taught. I fall short when it comes to loving my neighbour. I don’t love people the way Jesus loves. I felt Jesus loving eyes on me as he calls me to examine how I love others. Lord forgive me, Give me your heart that puts people before me. Give me your compassion where you are wanting to bless another human being, even at the point of death. What love! I want to love like you Lord. Give me the grace to love my neighbour, people whom I work with, people whom I come across having needs, people who need hope and grace in their lives.

  • “Woman this is your son. This is your mother.”                                                

In the midst of ministry, Jesus never stopped loving his family. As I imagined myself on the cross of Jesus and looking at his mother through his eyes, I could feel the pain he felt leaving his earthly mother. He took care of her needs even at the point of death. Mary, whose heart must have been broken many times and who did not fully understand Jesus yet kept all these things in her heart, pondering over them time and time again, was being cared for by her Son. In the midst of his own pain, Jesus felt the pain of his mother.

As I experienced the way Jesus loved his mother and ensured that she was looked after, I wondered if I loved my family the way Jesus loved his. His was an unconditional sacrificial love that put his family’s needs over his own. Even in the midst of his own distress, Jesus took on board the distress of his mother. As I felt the gaze of Jesus on me, I realize my call is to love my family unconditionally, even willing to carry their distress above my own. Once again I realize I fall short of Jesus’ love and how much I need his grace of love and compassion. Lord give me your heart to love my family the way you did. Even in the midst of my pain and suffering, help me not to stop loving them.

The first three statements pointed to me how much I fall short in the way Jesus loved unconditionally. I need the grace to love like Jesus did. But the Holy Spirit did not stop there. I then entered into the fourth statement of Jesus.

  • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”                                        

This was the beginning of the darkest moments before his death. I heard the loud painful cry of anguish as Jesus felt forsaken by the Father. Then Jesus turned and looked at me. That was an awkward moment in my imagination where I felt deeply that this rejection and abandonment Jesus was experiencing was because of me. I knew in my head that Jesus took my sins upon himself. But this is a heart experience of anguish. My sin, my rebellion, my wickedness has turned God’s face away from my Saviour. This is the God who at the start of Jesus’ ministry said this was the Son he loved and was pleased with him. What changed? He did nothing wrong. He was innocent.

It was my being there with Jesus on the cross that turned the Fathers face away from his Son whom he loved. A question rose in my spirit. Why is Jesus remaining there with me? Why didn’t he leave me to face the penalty of my sin? There was an overwhelming awareness that Jesus would remain with me on the cross and carry my sins even to the point where he faced rejection from the Father because he loved me so deeply. I felt that deep love of Jesus, which broke my heart. Jesus chose to be with me on the cross. I am crucified with Christ because he chose to be there with me. He could have left me to be there on my own, paying the price for my sins. And I deserved it. He didn’t deserve it. Yet he chose to remain with me because HE LOVED ME! You did not desert me Jesus. You did not leave me to face the wrath of God on my own. You took it upon yourself so that I did not have to suffer. You faced rejection from the Father so that I do not need to face the rejection. You took the “bullet” for me. My heart was shattered as I experienced this sense of amazing love. The grace I now needed was a heart of gratitude for what Jesus did for me because he loved me so deeply.

  • “I thirst.”                                                                                                            

It is really hard being on the cross, being all alone. Feeling separated from the Father who is the source of all life. As I was reflecting on the deep love of Jesus to me, and the gratitude I felt, I heard Jesus say that he was thirsty. What was he thirsting for? He had lost a lot of blood and he had been sweating profusely because of the pain and distress he was in. Was he thirsting for a drink? Jesus was separated from the Father. Was he thirsting for the Father’s presence? I am there with Christ on the cross. He is looking at me with loving eyes. Was he thirsting for me? For me to let go of my life? Is he waiting for me to give up control? Is he thirsting for more of me so that he can bring more of God in my life?

I felt the deep sense in my imagination that Jesus was waiting for me to let go and yield myself to him so that his life could flow through me. Lord you stood by me when you felt separated from the Father. You did not leave me all alone on the cross facing the penalty of my sin. You look to me with pleading eyes. “I thirst.” “I thirst for you to let go and enter with me into my Father’s Kingdom. I thirst for you to be blessed with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. I thirst for your life so that you can experience mine.” Jesus is thirsting for me. He loves me so much that he is on the cross thirsting for me to experience the abiding love of the Father! “Lord I hear your voice, thirsting for me to let go, to stop living my life the way I want, to turn around and live your life in me, the Kingdom life.” I hear you say “how can I give you up?” You long for me to let go. “Lord you stood by me on the cross and did not desert me even when you felt forsaken by your Father. I cannot desert you after what you have done. I yield my life afresh to you. Just as you thirst for me, I thirst for you. I long to be one with you. Give me grace to leave my life in your hands.”

  • “It is finished.”                                                                                                

The work of the cross is finished. It is accomplished. It is knowing in my heart that Jesus did not leave me to face my sins but that he took it upon himself so that I am not on the cross alone. He did not desert me. Jesus did not desert me. What a lovely deep feeling of joy knowing that Jesus did not desert me. He stood by me like he stood with the adulterous woman who had broken the Father’s Law. He is faithful to the very end. And knowing what he did, I respond to Jesus’ thirst by giving my life to him. He and I are one. He abides in me and I abide in him. Apart from him I can do nothing. The work on the cross is finished in my life. God give me the grace to celebrate the accomplished work of the cross in my life.

  • “Father into your hand I commit my spirit.” .                                                  

There I am on the cross with Jesus. My sins are forgiven. I feel clean and new. I feel the deep love of Jesus for me. I feel that oneness with Christ. Jesus now turns to me and he says, “Come. meet my Father and yours”. He takes me by the hand and leads me into the Father’s embrace as he prays “Father into your hand I commit my spirit”. Jesus led me into the Father’s hands. I see the Father’s hands. My name is inscribed deeply in his hands. Welcome home good and faithful son! Welcome home good and faithful son! It dawned on me as I heard the voice of the Father. My faithfulness rested not on what I have done but what Christ has done. I had known that in my head but now my heart is bursting at experiencing the voice of the Father welcoming me into his presence. I experienced what the prodigal son would have experienced when his father rushed to welcome him home. Like the prodigal son being embraced by a father who was waiting for him, I am now being embraced by a Heavenly Father who loves me and is proud of me. “Father give me the grace to live in your embrace and presence daily. Give me the grace to abide in your light daily and not daily stumble in the dark.”

The hymn on my lips as I experienced the gospel afresh is “And can it be”. The words spoke deeply to me as I listened to the hymn. Click the link if you would like to listen to the song.

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood?

Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—

Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:

’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;

Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

For me this was the climax of the whole retreat. The Spirit prepared me to come to this place to experience the gospel afresh in my life again. This time it wasn’t a head response but an experience of what the gospel can do to bring me in and keep me in the Lord’s presence.

An Evangelical Protestant Encounters Catholic Spirituality: Part 2. Abiding in the deep love of Jesus

dirt-crew-deep-love-2

This is the second of a four part series chronicling my experience in an Ignatian retreat.

It felt really good experiencing the rest Jesus offered for my soul and I thought this was it. I looked forward to spending the rest of the retreat in that place of rest and the feelings and emotions that the Holy Spirit was stirring within me through my imagination. But God had other plans.

With the advice of my spiritual director I entered into the life and ministry of Jesus. I immersed myself in 3 events in Jesus life – his baptism, his ministry to Bartimaeus and the raising of Lazarus. As I allowed my imagination to paint the scene of Jesus’ baptism I imagined how Jesus would have felt hearing how much his Father loved him. But then as I got drawn into this story, I realized that Jesus had not started his ministry yet but the Father’s love for him was so deep. Being with his Son mattered more to the Father than his Son doing things for him.

This started to unfold further as I continued with imagining myself being present when Jesus ministered to Bartimaeus and Lazarus. It was such a wonderful feeling when I saw Bartimaeus healed; Bartimaeus, a man who had nothing. The crowd knew about Bartimaeus and they disliked him. He irritated them with his begging and was always making a lot of noise on the side of the street. Many of them saw him as cursed by God and felt he should be ignored. That was what I imagined as I walked with the crowd. Yet Jesus stopped. He noticed. He was interested. Why? It’s just one lone man shouting. I imagined looking at the face of Jesus. It was the same love and compassion I saw when he came to me as the good shepherd. It was His unconditional love that caused him to see people very differently from the crowd. Making a difference in the life of one person mattered to Jesus. It was like I mattered to Jesus when he came to me as the Good Shepherd. Bartimaeus experienced the love and compassion of the Good Shepherd. I saw myself as Bartimaeus. How would Bartimaeus have felt? He was noticed. He was not insignificant. He mattered to Jesus. I felt cocooned as I felt wrapped in the love and compassion of Jesus. I felt deep warmth as I continued walking with Jesus. My imagination drew me into the story of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

As I journeyed with Jesus and his disciples, we heard that Lazarus was sick. Jesus didn’t seem rushed to go to Lazarus. He seemed calm about it. We all thought that it could be because he didn’t want to enter Judea because of the risks. A statement that Jesus made to the disciples made me realize that Jesus was not afraid. I saw the puzzled looks on the faces of the disciples when they could not understand what that statement meant. I imagined Jesus looking at me when he made the statement. “Anyone who walks in daylight doesn’t stumble because there’s plenty of light from the sun. Walking at night, he might very well stumble because he can’t see where he’s going”. What did Jesus mean? It was only later as Jesus was talking to Mary in my imagination that I wondered if this was really what Jesus meant. Was he showing his disciples and me the difference between remaining in the light of God’s presence and stumbling along in the dark? I replayed the whole incident again in my imagination. The disciples were afraid to go back to Judea in case Jesus and perhaps themselves would be killed. Thomas was overzealous wanting to die with Jesus. Martha was very discouraged but still clinging to a slight hope that Jesus would do something. And now Mary had shattered dreams because Jesus did not get there in time. Were they all stumbling in the dark trying to work out what the Father was saying or doing? Am I like all these people feeling that doing something is more important than being in the presence of the Father and seeing what He is doing? Only Jesus knew the heart of the Father. Jesus told us that this sickness is an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son. Jesus was walking in that abiding presence of the Father and all of the others were stumbling in the dark. Jesus delayed his going to Lazarus because he was abiding in the deep love of the Father and was in tune with the purpose and timing of the Father.

This struck me deeply. I imagined Jesus just abiding in the Father’s love. Maybe that’s what he meant when he invited us to come to him to find rest. He told me to learn from him, as he is gentle and humble. Jesus knew what it meant to abide in the Father’s love. I fret on a whole lot of stuff that keeps me doing rather than just being with the Father and seeing what he wanted. I am a driven and aggressive person when it comes to meeting goals unlike Jesus who is gentle. I am also self-driven whereas Jesus is humble. I felt deep down the voice of the Spirit calling me to “be” not to “do”. I found myself retreating to the green pastures to be with the Good Shepherd and just rested in his presence. I could feel joy and peace within myself, with a warm feeling covering my whole body. The grace I needed was one of abiding. Teach me Lord how to abide in the Father’s presence.

The thought of abiding led me to John 15 and I started imagining myself with Jesus and the disciples at the Passover meal. Jesus did a lot at the Passover meal. He mentioned how Judas would betray him and Peter would deny him. He broke bread and passed the cup around and explained this was his body and blood. After the meal he washed our feet as an act of servanthood and told us to follow his example. Then we walked towards the Garden of Gethsemane. There was deep sadness in the midst and I experienced that sadness being felt. Is this the beginning of the end?

Jesus started speaking and I imagined myself being pushed forward as the disciples tried to hear what Jesus was saying. “I am the true vine and you are the branches.” “Remain in me and in my love.” “Apart from me you can do nothing.” “Remain in my love so that you can love others with my love.” These words kept going around and around in my imagination. Jesus had earlier mentioned that he is the way, the truth and the life. The only way to the Father is through him. Now he is not just talking about being the way to the Father but that to be pleasing to the Father I needed to abide in him and remain in his presence so that I bear fruit that last. Having rested in Christ’s presence over the past few days and feeling his love on me, I so wanted to experience this abiding. I wanted his life to flow through me. I didn’t want it to be head knowledge but a real experience.

I asked Jesus in my imagination to give me the grace to understand and experience this abiding. That night at the evening liturgy, we were reminded of the death of Jesus on the cross. The reading was how Jesus told Mary and John that they will now be mother and son. In the period of silence that followed, I was reminded of this verse, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me. The life I now live, I live by faith in Jesus.” I felt in my heart that the key to abiding is found in this crucified life I am called to live.

I prayed that night for the Lord give me the grace to experience what it means to daily live the crucified life. I felt the urge to immerse myself in the 7 statements of Jesus on the last day of the retreat. That became the deepest moment in the whole 6 days retreat.

That night in bed I listened to the hymn “Oh the deep deep love of Jesus” which was on my IPhone. Here is the audio if you wlike to listen.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!

Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!

Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
.

Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!

How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
.

How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;.

How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’.

Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;

And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

An Evangelical Protestant Encounters Catholic Spirituality: Part 1. Entering a place of rest

images

This is the first of a four part series chronicling my experience in an Ignatian retreat.

This past week I participated in a silent 6 day directed Retreat based on the spiritual practices of St. Ignatius Loyola. Having heard and read how these practices had a profound influence on countless people, I decided to join in the retreat. When I arrived at the retreat, I found out 2 very significant things. The first significant thing was that there were 5 of us. (Including me) who signed up for the retreat. Out of that there were 2 people I knew well. One was the senior pastor of a Baptist church in Christchurch and the other was an Anglican minister from the Wellington Diocese. This must be God’s sense of humour putting me, an ENFP, in a silent retreat with friends whom I did not realize had signed up for the retreat. Meal times were hard having to sit at the table with them and not say anything. The other significant thing was that there was no set programme to follow on the retreat. For me, a highly driven workaholic, this was hard to comprehend. How would I know what to pray about if there is no programme?

I learned that the retreat was more about “being” not “doing”. There was a bit of a structure for each day. Each day I was to spend 4-5 periods of prayer of between 45-60 minutes. I was told not to spend more than an hour for each prayer period. In between the prayer periods, I was to enjoy doing activities that were relaxing, like listening to music, doing puzzles or artwork, go for walks or just sleep. However I was not allowed to do work related stuff or communicate in any way like emails or Social media. Each day, in the morning, I would meet my spiritual director, who was there to listen, guide, encourage and feed me some bible passages to stir my imagination and help me in my retreat. Using the power of imagination to fuel one’s prayer life is one of Ignatius’ spiritual practices to help deepen your experience of God and his love. Part of that time is to ask God for a specific grace we need from him, a grace that will help enrich our experience of God. Ignatius believed that the imagination could respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit so that we can truly experience God in Bible passages and have our emotions stirred by these encounters. Also, there was a communion liturgy just before lunch and an evening liturgy before the evening meal and we were required to participate in them.

Looking back, I could see myself going through different stages culminating in a very deep experience that I have never encountered before. I found this “being” rather than “doing” very hard. It took me a day and a half to realize that my spiritual director was not joking when he said there was no prayer programme to follow. I had to just be still and let the Holy Spirit help me enter into what Jesus wants to do in me. However, whenever I tried to be still and focus all sorts of thoughts would go through my mind, all related to “doing”.

It was the afternoon of the second day that I started to enter into the spirit of the retreat. I had asked the Holy Spirit to give me the grace to experience Jesus. As I quietened myself, my imagination started to flow. I imagined myself seeing Jesus coming to me. I saw a shepherd’s crook in his hand. Jesus was coming to me as the Good Shepherd. I started to think about my current situation. As I started thinking over the past year and the past 5 years since the earthquakes I just felt weary, battered and wounded. I imagined myself as a sheep stuck in the brambles, cut, bleeding, not being able to get out of the predicament. Spiritual I just knew the grace I needed was renewal and healing. I imagined Jesus breaking off branches to get me free. He then carried me to an open pasture. He knelt down and gently cleaned the wounds and he poured soothing oil over me. I could feel the love of Jesus as he gently cared for me.

As I was cherishing the moment, Psalm 8 came to mind. I started imagining the vast universe. Looking at the stars, planets, meteors, and galaxies and the hugeness of the universe, I felt insignificant and alone. It was then that I heard a voice saying, “What is man that I am mindful of him? I am El Shaddai the creator of the universe but I have chosen to reveal myself as the Good Shepherd who is there to love, nourish and sustain you.” I felt an awesome sense of God’s love for me, and his wanting to nourish and renew me. I felt protected and cared for by the Good Shepherd. I felt significant because this great Elohim is also El Shaddai, the one who cares and sustains me. God answered my prayer and gave me his gift of healing and renewal. I felt renewed spiritually, emotionally and physically. I found a place of rest, not just physically at the retreat centre, but emotionally and spiritually as I entered a rest offered by the Good Shepherd.

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