Meeting the Resurrected Jesus

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Human sin and contradiction lead to the vilest of tragedies.  None of these can compare to the crucifixion of the Son of God at the hands of the religious elite of Israel, the very people to whom Christ was sent and who witnessed His many signs.  For his followers, the crucifixion was also the end of their hopes for a free and revived Israel.  As their collective and individual worlds collapsed, they found themselves locked in fear, in grief and perplexity.

But, it was a woman who came to the tomb first that resurrection morning.  Mary Magdalene did not come to see the resurrected Christ but to embalm his body.  She came still clinging to the physical Jesus, the one she had seen crucified, pierced and pronounced dead.  She had seen Him die and came to honour His memory.  Encountering the empty tomb did not quicken faith in her, but led her to believe that His body had been stolen.  As she ran back to tell the other disciples, she was overwhelmed with a sense of loss.

The rest of the disciples are hunkered down in fear behind locked doors, and it is John and Peter who run to the tomb and see the grave-clothes.  John believes yet Peter is perplexed, yet even John’s faith is incomplete.

But Mary, stays at the tomb, her last connection with the physical Jesus and weeps.  God in all His grace, allows her to see two angels who question her grief and prepare her for what is to come.  It is at this point that Jesus reveals Himself to Mary, although she does not recognize Him at first.  Once she does, her impulse is, understandably, to cling to Him.  But the resurrected Jesus now has a glorified body and she is not to relate to Him physically but in a new way.   She is commissioned as the first Apostle, sent to proclaim the resurrection to the other disciples.  How her heart must have throbbed with joy, expectation, and hope.  Jesus has met her in her grief and she believes.

The rest of the disciples, save Thomas, see Jesus that night and He stands in their midst.  He pronounces peace to them and commissions them in continuity with His own mission.  As the Father has sent Him, so He sends them.   He breathes on them and sends the Holy Spirit to empower and indwell.  He bestows the proclamation of the gospel and the declaration of forgiveness upon them. The torch of mission has been passed to them.

By Thomas is not present and when he hears, refuses to believe.  He is trusting in what He has seen and not in what He has heard.   But Jesus, in all His grace, meets Thomas at his need.  A week later He invites the disciple to place his fingers into the wounds of crucifixion.  Thomas falls down and believes exclaiming “My Lord and my God!”  At last he believes.

Jesus then pronounces a blessing on all those who unlike Thomas, will believe without seeing Him.   Ultimately the gospel is oral.  It is proclaimed.  It is also aural, it must be heard.  We must not rely on our eyes but our ears.  It is not seen but heard.  Faith is quickened by hearing the word of God, through the Holy Spirit.

Yet Jesus is intensely personal.  He meets each of us in our own need.

Believe it: He is Risen!

Towards the Last Passover

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Holy Week is haunting.  I try to put myself in the place of Jesus, who ever since the resurrection of Lazarus is more famous, and infamous,  than ever.  There is the celebration dinner thrown for him by Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised to life after four days of death.  Just six days before the Passover, the house is packed for the news has gone viral.  It is at this meal that Mary takes that pound of pure nard and pours it over Jesus feet, filling the room with its sweet fragrance.  She wipes his feet with her hair as an act of pure devotion; costly, intensely personal mixed with a sadness born of insight.  Judas gives her a hard time “Why this waste?”, he scorns.  But Jesus rebukes him and reminds the whole house that this anointing is for his burial, which is near.  For “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  He continues: “now is the judgment of this world, now is the ruler of this world cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  

Jesus has set his face “like flint” to go to Jerusalem one last time, for one last Passover, where he will be the sacrificial Lamb.  The forces of evil coalesce and Jesus, in those last few days shifts his focus to his disciples.  “You are my friends” he says, for I am about to lay down my life for you.  There is no greater love than for  someone to lay down his life for his friends.

And then there is that final Passover meal.  Have you ever tried to eat when you have that feeling in the pit of your stomach that something horrible is about to take place?  I cannot imagine it, but only wonder.  To die is one thing, but to know for certain that you are going to die is something else.  To walk towards death by crucifixion is too much for me to fathom.  But he does it.

Tomorrow night, our fellowship gathers for a Christian version of a Seder meal that will seek to re-enact that night.  We will try to enter into the spirit of it.  But that feeling in in the pit of my stomach will still be there.  

        

Lent – a Time for Fasting

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The church has traditionally set aside the season of Lent, the forty days prior to the crucifixion as a time of self examination, repentance, self-denial and fasting. Self-denial is not a popular sell in our culture.  When I was doing my doctoral project, I developed a Spiritual Assessment Questionnaire that measured 38 different aspects of discipleship.  This was given to each of participants who volunteered to be part of my research project.  Of all the Spiritual disciplines, fasting and self-denial scored the rock bottom lowest of all the 38 categories. 

Fasting is refraining from eating for an agreed period of time. It is done for a specific spiritual purpose as a spiritual discipline. In fasting, I determine in my own heart before God to refrain from eating either completely or partially (certain foods) for a set time. Jesus assumed that His disciples would fast (see Mark 2:20). He also instructed His disciples to fast in secret (Matt. 6:16-18). Jesus himself fasted in the wilderness as He prepared Himself for ministry. (Matt. 4:1-2). John Wesley, the great evangelist of England stated that “The man that never fasts is no more on the way to heaven than the man who never prays.”[i] Wesley was not making fasting a requirement of salvation but was pointing out that one of the fruits of salvation is a life of self-denial and earnest wholehearted prayer, which ought to include regular fasting.

Why is fasting such a powerful spiritual discipline? When I fast, I release the hold of the physical over me. I deny my body that which is good (food) for a higher purpose. I also humble myself before God and declare by my actions that I am in desperate need. I acknowledge that I am too much tied to my senses and my appetites and I practice self-denial in order to draw near to God. The scriptures are full of examples of people of God fasting in times of distress, in times of seeking guidance, in times of great need. Moses fasted for forty days before receiving the Ten Commandments (Ex. 34:28). Queen Esther fasted with all the Jews when they were faced with certain destruction, just before she was to put her life on the line by going into the king (Esther 4:16). Daniel fasted for three weeks in order to understand the vision that he was given about the end times (Dan. 9:3).

When I fast for a specific purpose, be it guidance, healing, as a sign of repentance or sorrow for sin, or to plead for healing or for the salvation of someone, I come before God and show Him my earnestness by my self-denial. God takes notice when I do this. My physical hunger in fasting parallels my desperate hunger for God and His help. In the process, all my spiritual senses are honed and made more acute. I become more in tune with God and I allow the Holy Spirit to move me in profound ways.

In addition, fasting breaks the power of the flesh in me. The old man, that sinful-self is mortified with Spiritual power as I fast. In fasting I declare myself master over my body. I declare that I will not allow my bodily appetites to rule over me. Fasting ought not be legalistic, wherein someone else mandates it. Rather it ought to be as a purely voluntary act, with a specific purpose in mind that I lay before God in prayer. In this way, fasting and prayer go together. The time that I would have spent eating, I spend in prayer.  Fasting reminds me that I need God desperately. 

Perhaps this Lenten season, we should all take some time to experiment with this neglected discipline.


[i] John Wesley, “Sermons on Several Occasions” (Weslyan Conference Office. London, 1868), Vol. 3, Sermon 116, Section 14, P. 276.

India 2014 – Week 4

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My visit to Pastor Rajendra’s and Ravi’s ministry (Sion Assembly Churches) in Vijayawada was the busiest of my trip, with speaking engagements in 5 churches on Sunday, house visits, an open air celebration on Monday evening, a visit to Gudivada to meet Pastor Vijay, James Johnson and the orphans of Grace orphan home and then a prayer seminar back at SAC church on Tuesday evening.  This is the kind of pace that these brothers routinely keep in ministering to this community.  We have been praying that God would call up some young people in this assembly to devote their lives to spreading the gospel in word, lifestyle and deeds.  Rajendra and Ravi have a heart to start an equipping school for that purpose and to also use television as a media to reach the local people through three cable networks that are available.  I arranged for them to come down to Bengaluru for a few days just at the end of my trip to tour some of the ACTS group of Institutions and to meet Dr. Ken, Dr. Ricky, CEO Santosh and a number of key staff.  Having David and Grace from the UK sharing the guesthouse was also a blessing as this couple have keen in on the ACTS history from day one and ooze the ACTS ethos.

This ethos sees life as an integrated whole where worship, work and witness simultaneously intersect every aspect of daily life.  For those in Christ, everything that we do is offered to God as worship and worship is our presentation of ourselves as living sacrifices, offered continually to God. Hence there is no worship that is not work and no work that is not worship as everything we do is an offering, with which offer to Christ. In this offering, our witness goes forth by the quality and thoroughness of what we do and the humility and gratitude with which it is done.  This characterizes the ACTS ethos where talented, humble servants offer up their lives to God as the serve together in this community.  It is humbling and refreshing to see how simply and unassumingly they live.  The challenge is to always keep the fires burning and guard against institutionalism and loss of passion.  It is my prayer that Rajendra and Ravi will take some of this back with them and start engaging their own community with “out of the box” thinking.

In between the Vijayawada visit and the final days in Bengaluru, I attended an Indian wedding in Vizak (an eight hour drive), and then, after flying back to Bengaluru,  embarked on a four day road trip with Dr. Jacob Varguesse and his wonderful daughter Joice to Kerela. There we visited Dr, Kunjemon Daniel’s church in Sulthan Bathery and launched the Malalayam translation of “Love’s Greatest Joy” at a Pastor’s Conference that drew people from far and wide. I am greatly indebted to Nobel Abraham who together with his wife worked late hours translating this book with a spiritual passion born of having been impacted greatly by the material.  After the book launch on Saturday morning, we travelled to Irrity, where Jacob’s home is and I spoke at another church conference on Saturday evening as well as on Sunday morning. This area is the most beautiful part of India I have seen in all my visits.  It looks like a tropical version of the Smokie Mountains of Tennessee, with Muskoka cottage quaintness; winding roads, rivers, lush green vegetation, coconut trees, rubber trees, coffee plantations and every home with a garden plot that includes goats, sheep, chickens and pets.  A village lifestyle characterizes the community as everyone knows everyone by nickname.  I visited many homes of Jacob’s childhood friends and in every one, I was the first foreigner ever to grace the doorposts. The people were so wonderfully humble and friendly and all delighted to have me in their homes.  Sunday afternoon, we had a few hours , so we drove to a beach on the Arabian Sea, where I got to frolick in the warm surf for an hour.

I am now back home in Barrie, helping my wife shovel ice and snow, enjoying the tail end of the olympics and recovering from jet lag.  More reflections to come.

Les

India 2014 – Week 3

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There is something about preaching the pure unadulterated gospel that leaves one in total awe of God.  It is knowing that the power of God to salvation is being shouted across the city to listening ears.  Somehow, the fact that I am a white westerner with a title and banner makes the people pay attention more.   For that I am grateful, because as my voice booms out over the streets and Pastor Rajendra’s  translation doubles the effect, it lends so much more credibility to the message.  And it is the message that is important.  That’s the dynamite of God, blasting away spiritual strongholds.

Preaching in the open air on a raised platform to a packed closed off street seating 600 people was certainly the highlight of this week.  The SAC church invested heavily in this event.  It marked the 20th anniversary of this little church on this little street in the slums of Vijayawada.  After taking all day to set up platforms, sound systems (donated from Canada), and laying out 600 chairs, not to mention cooking a full meal for 600 people, the celebration crusade began.  It would be 1:30 am before we got home, buy wow what night.  The seeds of the gospel were sown, the neighbourhood was fed and the message that Jesus Christ loves them was indelibly etched on this community.  

May many come to freedom as a result of sowing these seeds.  May His kingdom come on this little street.

I am humbled by what God id doing in this city. 

Les

 

India 2014 – Week 2

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This has been a much quieter week. The postgrad seminar students have left the campus and we were back to just the undergrads.  The staff here were gracious enough to allot me me 4 blocks of 1.5 hours each afternoon as well as the Community Chapel on Wednesday.   Having my own apartment, also allowed me to do some cooking and escape the “huge pile of rice at every meal” syndrome that is part of life in India.    The campus truly is beautiful, a gem on the outskirts of the bustling city, where a leisurely walk to the village of Rysandra becomes a daily retreat.  The forest that the path goes through is full of Eucalyptus trees and a favorite routine is to grab a bunch of leaves and crush them in hand, releasing the Eucalyptus oil that smells so wonderful and soothes the sinuses, dried out by smoke pollution from the city.

The undergrad students are a remarkable group from all over India and Myanmar, totally devoted to Christ and their calling.  I was undecided as to what to do with them, so I gave them four options on Monday and allowed them to vote.  This resulted in a tie between a series on How to Share Your Faith and Discovering Your Ministry Profile.  After praying, we cast lots and it was the Ministry Profile that came up.  It has been such a blessing to watch the students figuring out their spiritual gifts, passion, personality and abilities and putting it together to hone in on their calling.  We wrapped the course up in three sessions; so today we are ending with a session on sharing the gospel.  Thursday night, I showed the film Courageous, a wonderful production focusing on the importance of Biblical fatherhood.

Today, I head back to the city and fly out tomorrow to Vijayawada, where Pastor Rajendra has me speaking in no less that 5 churches on Sunday.  I am really looking forward to seeing the children in the Orphans’ Home.  They are so precious.  I will also joining him on a road trip where we will take in and Indian wedding.  I hope to connect with James Johnson who has just arrived in India and is also serving at an orphan home not too far from Vijayawada.

I have also had some time this week to work on my new book “Get in the Boat”, a light-hearted look at sailing as a metaphor for the Christian Life.   Look for an excerpt soon.

The amazing thing about trips like this is that we don’t ever know what impact our conversations and sharing will have.  Last Saturday night, I was in a restaurant alone, so they put me at a table with another couple.  Before the meal was over, we were sharing food and I was able to tell this Hindu couple the gospel and my testimony in a way that left them intrigued and thinking. Who knows what the Lord will do?  We see so little of the puzzle, but he puts it all together for good.  Each one of us is a agent of the King of Kings, the God of Love.

The Lord has been good.  It has been a restful week and I have enjoyed the weather and the spiritual climate on campus.  I have a feeling that this week has been a respite in advance of a hectic couple of weeks ahead as I do a fair bit of travelling.  May the Lord use each one of us wherever we are.

I appreciate your prayers.

Shalom

Les

India 2014 – Week One

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What a refreshing change to be in Bangalore again. There is of course the weather, which is perfect, 25-30 degrees C (70-80 F) during the day and a lovely 20 (70 F) at night. Then there is the vibrancy of India where life is lived close to the ground amidst a strange mix of earthiness and technology. But it is the incredible diversity of spiritual expression is most striking. There is the mournful morning call to prayer broadcast from the mosques, the array of brightly colored flower petals made into lays sold to Hindu worshippers, and on Sundays the sounds of Christian worship flowing through open windows in the various languages of India. This all testifies that human beings are truly spiritually driven creatures. The deep seated hunger in the human soul for spiritual expression is more acutely displayed in India. I spent my first weekend in Bangalore in an apartment just above the Christalya worship facility on the second floor of this building. Every time I have come to India, I have had the opportunity to speak at the English worship service. This church has grown over the years and is now packed out every Sunday. In addition, they have shared their facility with other Christian groups so that on the weekends there are now five worship services held in this facility. What a blessing to spend Sunday afternoon listening to the sounds of the worship of Jesus Christ in so many languages. Each has its own expression and unique passion. But they all share the commonality of a public witness to the God of all Grace. Last Sunday was also Republic Day in India, which is a celebration of the establishment of the Indian constitution marking India’s move from a colonial monarchy to and independent republic. It is the equivalent of the American fourth of July and Canada’s Canada Day. It was so good to just be out in the streets watching people enjoying the holiday, sitting in café’s and public places.

* * * * * * * *

This has been a very full the ACTS Academy, where 53 pastors and Christian leaders gathered for a residential ThM/M. Div. seminar. I was privileged to be invited to take all 5 chapel services . My sermon series focussed on Martin Luther’s theology of the cross and has been summarized in the previous three blog posts. The messages were well received, as God used this as an occasion to remind us all of the bedrock of our faith. We were also able to show 2009 movie “Luther”, on Thursday evening as a fitting last night together. In addition, I was able to deliver three integrated lectures on the topic : “Missio Dei – Rethinking Church”, which I used to stimulate the participants to think outside the box in their concept of ministry. Allan Hirsch’ s work was a source of much of our inspiration.

This, week I will be back at ACTS working with the undergrad students. I am praying that we will be mutually encouraged and uplifted through our interaction around the topic of discipleship.

Stay tuned from more….

Blessings

Discipleship-Today.com

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