Monday, December 31, 2012

Jesus, Be...

   Christmas and Advent have come and gone, New Year's Eve is suddenly upon us. I just got back home from a beautiful candle-lit New Year's Eve service at Willingdon Church. It was a fitting and memorable way to end my year, surrounded by the gathering of faithful men and women to remember God's faithfulness in our lives over the last year, hear His Word, and place our trust in Him in the new year to come.

   As the candles flickered and steadily burned through the evening, we progressed through the readings of Scripture, the singing of songs and testimonies of men and women who came forward to share with us about God's amazing work in their lives over the past year. I sat in quiet contemplation throughout it all, silently reflecting on the events of my own life over the last 12 months - tests of faith and conviction; a point of difficult decision-making and the accompanying feelings of loss; processing the difficult terrain of my spiritual history and its theological implications; a wonderful year's journey with my church small group as close bonds of fellowship were formed; finding the happiness, comfort, support and companionship of a helper sent from God, even as I was let go from my job four months ago and thrashed about in a hole of internal conflict and uncertainty for two months, before finally climbing out and finding my feet again. It has indeed been a tumultuous year.

     It was in this context that I was deeply stirred in mind and heart by one of the responsive reading of towards the middle of the service:

"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace."
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NKJV     

    "It has indeed been a time of many things this year," I thought, as I read those verses in response. And as I looked for words that would similarly guide my thoughts to the year to come, I took note of a song as the service came to an end, "Jesus Be The Center." I have noted part of it here:

"Jesus, be the centre
Be my source, be my light

Be the fire in my heart
Be the wind in these sails
Be the reason that I live
Jesus, Jesus"

     This indeed is my prayer for the coming year - "Jesus, Be..." I have made it through this last year only because Christ was with me. I know that I cannot make it through the coming year (which is just over an hour away) without Him. As I head to bed, I pray that the coming year will be a blessed one for you, and that Jesus will be to you all that you need, and more.
- The Wisdom Seeker

Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent 2012, Day 3: God Arrives On Time

"'Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,' says the Lord of hosts." - Malachi 3:1, NKJV

   400 years of silence followed that proclamation from the mouth of the prophet Malachi. I wonder how many generations passed during that time, as Israel clung on to the word of their God who had repeatedly issued this promise, but seemed to take endlessly long to deliver. I also wonder what it would have been like if I had lived during those centuries of silence. Would I have held on in expectant faith till my last breath, or would I have given up, doubting as the years went by without any sign of fulfilment?

   But God operates in history at His own time and purpose, pulling the threads of lives, places and events together; weaving a tapestry of an intricate and complex pattern, beyond the comprehension of His creation that is but "a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales" (Isaiah 40:15, NKJV). And when He decides that the time has come to implement His promise, it begins at a most unlikely source - an old priest, rendered impotent by his age and his barren, childless wife. When God delivers the news to him, Zechariah's matter-of-fact response seeps with the faithlessness that plagues even the best of us: "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years." (Luke 1:18, NKJV). Contemplating God's methodology, the natural tendency is to wonder if He could have perhaps chosen more "capable" candidates. But then I am reminded that even in this there is purpose, for "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence." (1 Corinthians 1:27-29, NKJV).

   Reading the Advent passage of the day (Luke 1:68-71) from John Piper's devotional, "Good News of Great Joy",  I was struck by what he had to say regarding Zechariah after the birth of his son: "Now, filled with the Holy Spirit, he is so confident of God’s redeeming work in the coming Messiah that he puts it in the past tense. For the mind of faith, a promised act of God is as good as done."

    Bringing my devotional time to a close, I was reminded of a short but interesting text message I had received on my cellphone many years ago, regarding God's timing:

"Don't run ahead of God,
Don't lag behind.
God's clock is neither early nor late,
It always strikes on time."

   "Now the long-awaited visitation of God was about to happen", wrote John Piper. "...indeed, he was about to come in a way no one expected." May we look forward expectantly to His coming this Christmas.
- The Wisdom Seeker

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent 2012, Day 2: With Us, For Our Sake

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive
and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."
- Isaiah 7:14, NKJV

   "We needed not only God for us, but God with us." That insightful observation came from Kelly Boyce, writing for the second instalment of Gordon-Conwell's Advent devotional. Contemplating the passage of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, the emphasis fell on the latter half of verse 5:

" you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake." - 1 Thess. 1:5, NKJV

   Noting the incarnational principle referenced by the Apostle Paul, Boyce reminded me that "...Christ joined our world, felt the full range of human emotion and experienced for himself our struggles and joys." Those words of comfort mean much to me this Advent, looking back on the sometimes winding and bumpy road that I have travelled this year. 

   Remembering the Child that was born, the Son that was given, the fire of God's word that would light the darkness [3], I am reminded that God did not treat His undertaking as a project to a nameless and faceless population. The coming of the Son, the "..glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14, NKJV) was not purposed and defined by much that marks our human endeavours - constraints of time and resources; efficiency; paperwork; numerical projections; bean counting; statistical and simulation models; profit-loss margins; return on investment. Rather, the sending of His Son is demonstrated as the loving act of a personal God who shows Himself as "Father", of whom it is said "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16, NKJV). And like His Father, it is written that the Son looked upon the hapless humanity that He had come to, and when "...He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd." (Matthew 9:36, NKJV).

"..among you for your sake."
The presence, compassion and comfort of Jesus, who comes among us this Christmas.

   I am reminded of the words of A. W. Tozer, writing on the character of God in his book "The Knowledge of The Holy": "The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing, too. God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end. In Chistian experience there is a highly satisfying love content that distinguishes it from all other religions and elevates it to heights far beyond even the purest and noblest philosophy. This love content is more than a thing; it is God Himself in the midst of His Church singing over His people."
"..among you for your sake."
The love of God, personally present in the midst of His Church.

     John Piper, reflecting on "Mary's Magnificat" in Luke 1:46-55, reminded me of Mary's reflection of the personal occupation of God in the midst of directing history: "...for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant" (Luke 1:48, NKJV). "The most important three decades in all of time are about to begin", says John Piper, "And where is God? Occupying himself with two obscure, humble women—one old and barren (Elizabeth), one young and virginal (Mary)." [2]

"..among you for your sake."
The Almighty God of history, who condescends to occupy Himself with the lowly and obscure.

   I was reminded of the following verse from the book of Hebrews, as I brought my second day of Advent devotions to a close: 

"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,
but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."
- Hebrews 4:15, NKJV
- The Wisdom Seeker


Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent 2012, Day 1: A Fire Lights The Darkness

"'Is not my word like a fire?', says the Lord..." - Jeremiah 23:29, NKJV

"Gather ‘round that fire this Advent season. It is warm. It is sparkling with colours of grace. It is healing for a thousand hurts. It is light for dark nights." - John Piper

   This is the first post of December, and the beginning of Advent as Christmas approaches. As a tumultuous year of challenges, ups and downs, achievements and setbacks draws to a close, I wanted to try something different this year that would make Christmas relevant and meaningful. Realizing that I had never engaged in serious devotion during the season of Advent, I have decided to attempt a daily following of readings and meditation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary [1], as well as John Piper's Advent devotional readings "Good News of Great Joy" from Desiring God [2]. I hope to do so everyday, and post my own thoughts in the light and comfort that they shed on my own life and journey as I look both backward on the road to here, and forward to the road ahead.

   "Jesus is not lonely....We, not He, are starving for something. And what Jesus wants for Christmas is for us to experience what we were really made for—seeing and savouring his glory." So began John Piper in introduction, referencing the words of Christ in John 17:24. Those words brought me up short, startled by their directness. Besieged, embattled, tired, weary, struggling, worn down - those would be some of the embellishments I would add to that choice descriptor, "starving." To see and savour His glory, to know the name that He has made known; aye, I want that. I really need that. I would gladly run to take shelter in the warmth of that comfort that Christ offers to the weary soul.

But where must I start? What must I do?

   Both Gordon-Conwell and John Piper pointed me to historical reminders of the human condition, plainly stated truths of the word of God in Isaiah 11:1-9 and Luke 1:16-17 respectively - that my problem is first vertical and internal before it is external and horizontal. I suffer in body, mind, heart and spirit because of the disobedience and rebellion against a holy God that I have been part of because of my very human lineage. The "...turpitude of mankind that resides in the sinews of our sinful hearts,...the base desire to claim the rights and privileges that belong exclusively to the Father" has indeed taken its heavy, heavy toll. "Christmas is an indictment", said John Piper, "before it becomes a delight." As I contemplate my own, largely public failings with the prayer of Ps. 139:23-24, the "pound of flesh" that must be paid for our rebellion with a clenched fist against Heaven is heavy indeed.

   What hope, then, does someone like me have? "By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan," said Isaiah, "in Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined...For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgement and justice from that time forward even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." - Isaiah 9:1b-2 6-7, NKJV

   There. That's what I need. The Child that is born, the Son that is given. He is the promised fire of the word of God that I'm waiting for, the fire that lights the deep darkness. I'm looking forward to His arrival this Christmas.

- The Wisdom Seeker