What is Purim? Purim is the Jewish holiday whereby the Jews commemorate being saved from persecution in the ancient Persian empire. Haman, the Agagite Prime Minister of Persia, plotted to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, men or women in a day. Esther risked her life to save the Jews. She trusted in God to deliver them. God, although not mentioned in the story of Esther, delivered His people.
Each year, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar. Purim in 2022 begins on Wednesday night of 16 March to Thursday, 17 March.
In Esther’s day, the Jews trusted in God for deliverance. And He delivered them. For us today, we can also depend on God who is the same, today, yesterday, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) to deliver us. God will respond when His people cries out to Him (Isaiah 59:1).
We may not observe this holiday as Chinese/Asian Christians, but we can take this time to remember God’s greatness, faithfulness and goodness in our lives. He is faithful. Let us too, ask for God’s grace to remain faithful to Him and hold fast to our faith in Him through trials and times of difficulties.
Lent is a period of 40 days before Easter whereby we examine ourselves in reflection to the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ for us. During Lent, we can:
Habouring resentment is hard. Psychological studies show that there are negative effects on our bodies if we are resentful or are angry at someone. Just as God has forgiven us of our sins which we have committed knowingly and unknowingly, ask God for His grace so that we can forgive those who have wronged us.
2. Thank a person
Are there people in your life whom you appreciate but you hardly tell them their presence in your life means a lot to you? Let us say something nice to our family and friends. Lent is a time to appreciate and thank someone. It also means appreciating the people in the society. We can do so by saying “thank you” to them or give them a smile, or even acknowledging their presence by having an eye contact with them. Their selfless contributions bring improvement to the society.
3. Do an act of kindness
Lent is a wonderful time to do an act of kindness to others. Do you see someone a need? You can offer your help. In our day to day life, we can be caught up with our own needs. Let us look beyond ourselves and see how we can help those who are in need.
4. Exercise and take care of our bodies
In the midst of pandemic, it doesn’t take long for one to realise the importance of having a healthy body. If we have been neglecting our bodies due to work or bad eating habits, Lent is a time for us to give it the proper nutrition, adequate rest and some exercise.
Lent is a season for us to draw closer to God. Through these acts of love and kindness, may we experience His love in our daily living.
Though tested positive for my antigen test on Day 6, I felt much better physically, and emotionally today. I am physically stronger to move about the house to clean, to sweep the fallen leaves on the porch, to delight watching the cats play from across the road, to water my plants and to end the day by preparing a simple dinner for myself.
The aroma in the kitchen smells different today: fresh and lovely. I was more present when I was washing the veggies, cutting them and cooking them in the pan. I was taking my time to enjoy the process of meal prepping and cooking.
A week ago, these simple chores of taking care of the house, gardening and cooking were done in a rush and mindlessly. They were things that I needed to get over and done with because there always something else more important that needed my attention: some messages to reply, some assignments waiting to be completed, another email to respond to, cleaning the house before the visitors arrive, rushing to church for some activities and so on. But, when I am in home quarantine, activities become slower, time seems longer and tasks are manageable. I can slow down and enjoy the beauty in the simple things in life, and not rush from chores to chores.
Apostle Paul writes, “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”(Philippians 4:4-5)
Rejoice in the Lord is not something that we do when we feel like it. It should be our lifestyle as the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Joy comes from God. Joy is knowing that God sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, the Holy Spirit is with us and we have eternal life with God. We can rejoice regardless of our present circumstances because we stand on the promise and assurance of who God is and what He is doing and will do in the life of His people.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (verse 6)
What are you worried about? Our list can go on and on. Apostle Paul urges us not to be anxious or worried about anything but to commit everything to God in prayers. We are invited by God to tell Him the things that are bothering us. In prayers, we are reminded of the sovereignty of God who cares and loves us. When we tell God our needs and requests, we are to give thanks to God, simply because He is good. He has been faithful, merciful and loving to us. In our desperation, He hears us and delivers us.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
Peace is a state of well-being. In the Old Testament, the word “Shalom” in Hebrew means: harmony, wholeness, completeness, health, tranquillity, safety, rest, peace with God, and these are permanent state.
God’s peace guards our heart and mind. May He guard and protect our heart and mind from cumbersome worries and anxieties. Wait upon God. Rest in Him.
During this season of Lent, let us continue to:
Deepen our relationship with God through prayers. We pray and also hear for His voice when we pray.
(2) Read God’s Word
God’s Word illuminates our path. It leads us to the path of righteousness, holiness and wisdom. Let us read His Word, meditate on it and apply it in our lives. St John of the Cross (1542-91), a Spanish Catholic priest, said that when we read God’s Word, the new life of Christ gets brighter and brighter in us.
(3) Obedience to God
Perhaps much of our anxieties in our relationships, our chores and daily activities are more manageable if we commit them into God’s will and time. We can find peace and rest in God if we are mindful that God is with us in our chores and in our relationships with others.
May the peace of the Lord be with you in whatever you do and in the people you meet.
My retreat came earlier this year than I had planned. I had planned one in August right around my birthday. The reason for this unplanned retreat: I was down with Covid.
I could not believe it when I was tested positive. I had all those symptoms: flu, chills, muscle ache, cough but the results from the antigen tests were negative. I was hopeful that I might just be having a common flu. I prayed hard that I would remain ‘negative’ for Covid tests.
How could I get Covid, right? I am relatively healthy: I take my supplements daily. I have always been super careful: double my masks, sanitize the cart at the supermarket before using, sanitize my hands every time I touched something (may be I was a little extreme) and once I return home, I immediate sanitise my handbag and my phone. How can someone so careful like me get Covid?
On the morning of Day 5 of my exposure to the virus, I did an antigen test upon waking up. It said, “positive”.
I stared at the result. I was shattered.
I was given a ‘Home Isolation Or Surveillance Order’ for one week.
Home Isolation. Away from people. I am used to being away from people for retreats but this time, while in home isolation, I was in isolation with angry thoughts, bitter thoughts, sad thoughts.
On the first day, I spent much of my time being angry: I was angry at the person for giving the virus to me. My breaths were hot, like a fiery dragon’s. Nobody wants to be infected. Nobody in their right mind wants to pass the virus on to others, I understand. My friend is feeling guilty, I understand. But still, I was very angry. I have to announce to the church that I am a “Covid Positive”, a label I was trying to run away from ever since the start of Covid 2 years ago. And it has been miserable getting Covid. It was a terrible experience.
On the second day, I spent most of my time sulking and getting angry at God. I complained to God. Why would You allow this happen? What about Sunday? Who would preach at the church on Sunday? What would the church leaders think of me? Would the people run away from me when I see them in church on Sunday?
On the third day, I re-watched some of my favourite movies and TV series (grateful for streaming services and good internet connection). I laughed and laughed at my favourite scenes. The movie therapy took away my sadness and anger for a while. I talked to some friends (via chat, I couldn’t talk due to the persistent sore throat and cough). One of them commented that I have “joined the Covid party” which I thought was hilarious.
On the fourth day, I was ready for a therapy session with God. I stopped sulking and stopped throwing myself a pity party (but still angry at my friend!). Throughout these couples of days, family and friends remind me that God is with me. I may be angry and bitter but this does not change the fact that God loves me.
We are in the Season of Lent. Lent is to remember that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and night to prepare Himself for the public ministry. I would love to have been there to hear His intimate conversations with His Father in Heaven. In these 40 days, Jesus was tempted by the devil three times but every time He was tempted, He leaned on God’s Word and power and He was victorious over these temptations.
May be God wanted me to experience Him in a new way in this season of Lent. May be I should lean upon God and rest in Him, no matter what the circumstances I am in.
Looking back at the past couple of days, I am so grateful for family and friends who sent me words of encouragement. They check in on me daily to make sure that I am physically (and emotionally) healthy. There are friends who send me groceries, lunch and dinner, snacks, coconut juice, and a slice of yummy cheesecake. I am never hungry. I spent a lot of time at the dining table enjoying these little surprises. There are friends who go to the pharmacies for me to get the needed medication. I am never in need. My needs have been supplied.
When I count my blessings, I have less to grumble about. No more complaints. No more worries. No more asking God why. After all, this is what Lent is all about: focusing on the love and sacrifice of Jesus. Not on our current misery. For now, I will nurse myself to good health and to be strong for ministry again, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Suggestions from Pope Francis on Fasting for Lent:
Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a 40-day period when Christians prepare themselves for Easter by fasting, repentance and practicing spiritual disciplines. These 40 days of Lent represented the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness before starting His public ministry. He spent time fasting, praying, preparing Himself and enduring the temptations of the evil one.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of 2 truths: (1) we are mortal beings and (2) we are sinful beings in need of the grace and mercy of God. We are but dust. God has formed the first human beings, Adam and his wife Eve, out of dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). After they had sinned, God said to them, “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).
But God loves us. He sent Jesus Christ to us and died for us. By His blood shed on the Cross, we are no longer enemies with God but are reconciled to Him (Romans 5:10). Jesus had conquered death and offers us the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16).
At the Ash Wednesday service, ashes (made by burning the palm leaves from last year’s Palm Sunday), are smeared on our foreheads in the shape of a Cross to remember our mortality and as a sign of repentance. As the Cross are being drawn on our foreheads, these words were spoken, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”.
Ash Wednesday is a day for us to repent of our sins. In the 40 days of Lent to come, let us remember the sufferings and sacrifices of Jesus on the Cross for us. Lent ends with Easter Sunday, a victorious day to remember that Jesus has conquered sin and death.
Life is an interesting journey. Throughout our life, we meet a lot of people: there are those who are lovely, those who became dear to us but unfortunately, we will meet some nasty people too.
Not everyone we meet is for us. Some seem to be our friends— until our heart tells us otherwise. Here are some signs that you are in a toxic friendship:
1.Your friend puts you down
It may be something you are wearing, or something you plan to do. Instead of wanting the best for you (we all make mistakes from time to time and we need a trusted someone to correct us), your friend only mocks you and make fun of the way you look. She finds opportunities to put you down, though it may be her way of hiding her insecurities.
2. There is always competition
Whenever you are with your friend, there is always a sense of competitiveness. Whatever you do, she will try to belittle you or to one step you. Yup, everything of her has to be bigger and better than yours.
3. She does not celebrate your successes
True friends celebrate our successes. They want to see us achieve our goals and encourage us during tough times. We will also celebrate their successes when the spotlight is on them. The toxic friend, however, will make you feel unworthy for succeeding!
4. She takes you for granted
In a healthy friendship, both friends give and take. In the toxic friendship, however, she takes and takes from you, and hardly ever reciprocate.
5. She gossips about you
A friend should make you feel safe and loved. Someone who gossips about you does not have your best interest at heart.
7. She doesn’t appreciate you for who you are
With true friends, our different personalities are celebrated. With the toxic friend, you will feel judge for being yourself. She is always giving unsolicited advice to change you.
8. She makes you feel uneasy
One of life’s greatest joys is being able to enjoy healthy and wholesome friendships with others. Hanging out with good friends is therapeutic. It energizes us, gives us courage to conquer the day and brings us great joy. When I am with my good friends, we will be sharing our hearts, knowing that it is a safe space to do so. There are also delightful moments when we burst into happy laughter by cracking jokes. We laugh and we cry together. The atmosphere is light, relaxing and refreshing.
But if you have a friend that makes you feel horrible about yourself and you dread to see her again, it may be your internal alarm sending you a signal that it is better to establish healthy boundaries with her.
What brings you the greatest delight? It may be entertainment, your family, your children or pets or your hobbies. We are living in a time in human history where we the most self-sufficient due to the advancement of technology. We can easily get the things we want on the internet and have it delivered to us. If we want to see the world, we can purchase air tickets online and hop on the plane, and find and book accommodation through the apps on our phones. If we are bored, we can entertain ourselves, keep ourselves happy and occupied. We can do everything on our own. But do these activities give us lasting joy?
The Bible is very specific that God alone is our greatest joy and delight. The psalmist says in Psalm 16:11, “in Your presence, there is fullness of joy”. In God’s presence, there is joy so deep and so satisfying that we can not find anywhere else. In the psalm that follows, Psalm 17, the psalmist wrote, “because I am righteous, I will see You. When I awake, I will see You face to face and be satisfied” (Psalm 17:15). God is near to the righteous.
God chose a man named Saul to be Israel’s first king. However, instead of obeying God’s commandments, Saul was relying on his logic. Because of his disobedience, God removed him from the kingship and gave it to a man whom God said had a heart like His own— King David. King David adored Jesus Christ as his greatest satisfaction, joy and delight.
Our Human Heart
In the medical world, our heart is “the muscle that pumps blood received from veins into arteries throughout the body.” It pumps blood into every area of our bodies. In Biblical terms, however, our heart is more than a muscle; it is who we really are. Our heart is the wellspring of our life.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Our heart is the place where you connect with God and connect with other people. Everything we want to achieve in life: our desires, our passions, our dreams, flow from our heart. Everything we are: the words we say, our thoughts, and the things we do when we are alone, all these come from the heart.
How can we have a healthy heart?
Let’s look at this list: brother, son, musician, worship leader, warrior, general, king, poet, outlaw, adulterer, murderer, shepherd, husband, father, leader, hero, ancestor of Jesus Christ…this list is about a man. He is a powerful man, a man gifted in music and battle but at the same time, he was also an adulterer and a murderer.
David realised how serious his sin was. He was filled with lust, anger and jealousy. David repented and asked God to cleanse his heart.
David specifically prayed in Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight (vv 2-4). Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow (verse 7). Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (verse 10)”
The reason he has a heart after God’s is because he genuinely repented of his sins. Every one of us had committed sins. We are not perfect. Some of us may be still holding on to our sins. Let us remember that our sins do not define us. We need to face the consequences of our sins, like David did but we also can receive forgiveness from God like David did.
“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9, NLT). If we are truly repentant, God will forgive us and cleanse us from our sins.
When we are so broken by sin, we will realise we have nothing apart from God. We can’t even save ourselves. We are helpless. When we acknowledge we have nothing, and put our trust in Jesus, Jesus will be our greatest delight. He forgives us and helps us to start all over again.
(2) Delight in the Lord
The second thing we can pray for our hearts is that it will seek God as the greatest joy and delight in our hearts.
George Müller (27 September 1805 – 10 March 1898) was a Christian evangelist and the director of the Ashley Down orphanage in England. During his life time, he cared for 10,024 orphans and provided educational opportunities for the orphans. He established 117 schools that offered Christian education to more than 120,000 children, many of whom were orphans.
Despite being busy running orphanages and caring for these children, he said, the first and most important duty of his day was to get his heart happy in God—-through reading the Bible and praying. His first priority was not to make them the teachers or the orphans happy. His first priority was to make his heart happy in God first, before he could face the challenges of the day.
King David’s heart was happy in the Lord. Even when he faced challenges and his enemies were trying to kill him, he found his greatest joy and satisfaction not on his circumstances but in the Lord. In difficult and dangerous circumstances, he could still sing praises to God.
Many of these psalms reveal to us his heart, which is him delighting in God’s Law. God’s Word encouraged him through the toughest times. He held on to the unchanging, unfailing promises of God. He meditated and thought about God’s Word, and his heart was happy in the Lord because of these.
“Praise the Lord! How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands.” (Psalm 112:1 NLT).
Sometimes we make our problems so big that it is like a tsunami crashing down on us. When our problems is too big, we see God as too small.
Making God our delight need not have to be dependent on our situations. How many of us think our day is ruin by some careless words someone said to us or angry emails from colleagues? Our circumstances in life do not determine our joy. Our level of joy does not depend on how others treat us. Do we say that if we have a better job, we will be happy? People and circumstances do not determine how happy we should be. Make our heart happy in God because the joy of the Lord is our strength.
The Psalmist of Psalm 43 was in a time of darkness. His soul was downcast. He had been crying out to God, waiting for him to rescue him from wicked people. He was waiting for God to answer his prayers and even felt that God was not answering his prayers.
Instead of getting angry at God or throwing a pity-party for himself, the psalmist he picked up his harp and sang to the Lord, “You are my joy and my delight” (Psalm 43:4)
He sang to God, “You are my joy and my delight” even at a time when he was oppressed by wicked people and felt rejected by God.
Our circumstances do not dictate our joy. But we will be happy when we secure ourselves with God’s Word. God loves us. Nothing can ever separate His love from us. He is with us. He watches over us.
We can delight in the Lord by doing these things:
Pray and Praise God
To remind us Who God is
David is grateful for what God has done. Again and again in different psalms, he thanked God for what He had done. Keep track of all the answered prayers and the blessings we have receive from God and the things that we are grateful for
Honour the Lord’s Day
Worshipping God on Sundays
Come to God with a heart of expectancy. Expect that God will speak and reveal Himself to us through His Word, worship songs and worship services.
Recognise Jesus as your greatest treasure
Nothing in the world lasts or stands the test of time but in Jesus, we will be satisfied
(3) Dependency upon God
In Psalm 18:2, David said of the Lord, “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”
Throughout his life, David depends fully in the Lord. When he was a young boy, he depended on God for victory against his fight with Goliath, the Philistine army whom the Israelites were frightened of.
Later on in his life, David also depended on God. Psalm 25 showed us his dependence upon God in the midst of all of his own sins; when his heart ached and the consequences he had to face; the conflict, the sin, the unbelief all around him; the unjust attacks upon him and upon the name of God. Everything happened to him all at once but he depended on God.
Corrie ten Boom is a hero to people who grew up after World War II. She and her family helped Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. And they saved about 800 lives. Her life was a legacy of godliness and wisdom. She had been arrested and sent to the concentration camp. And she survived to tell her story of dependence on God during those years of suffering. In 1971, she wrote the book, “The Hiding Place” which talked about her experiences.
Corrie once said, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that, I still possess.”
Throughout her life, Corrie experienced losses: she lost her family, her sister who was arrested and was sent to concentration camp with her died in the camp, she lost her possessions and lost years of her life. Yet, she learned to keep the best things in life: things that were gained spiritually and emotionally by putting everything in the hands of her Heavenly Father. What should we place in God’s hand? Your family? Your future? Everything?
Depend on God, we will not lack or be in want as He has promised us in His Word. Pray that God will help us to depend on Him, for our daily provision, for wisdom in our daily living, and to depend on Him as the supreme joy in our lives.
David makes mistakes too but he sincerely wanted to follow God’s commandments and live a life pleasing to Him. Only God can fill the hole in our hearts. If we look for fulfilment elsewhere apart from God, we will not be satisfied for very long. To make Jesus as our greatest delight, (1) repent deeply for the sins of our lives, (2) make our hearts happy in the Lord, (3) make our heart the dwelling place and depend on God for everything in our lives.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and he did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
God has always been faithful to us. Time and time again, we rebelled against God. But God’s love never fails.
In 735 BC, the nation Assyria was quickly becoming more and more powerful. It was not because the leader was wise or strong, nor was it because it had a strong military power. God raised up Assyria to punish His people who were sinning and unrepentant. The king of Israel, King Pekah, and the king of Syria, King Resin, wanted to make a treaty with Ahaz, King of Judah. With this treaty, they hoped that would weaken Assyria’s power. However, Ahaz, King of Judah, refused. Because of that, the king of Israel and the king of Aram went after King Ahaz.
Assyria began to attack the Israelite territories. In the midst of this turbulent time, God remembered the promise which He had made to Israel and to David (Isaiah 9:6). Through prophet Isaiah, God said that a child would be born.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
This Child could not be a human king. He could not be an Israelite or a Judean king. No king in the history was ever mentioned or known as a “mighty God”. This Child here referred to the promised Messiah, who would reign over God’s people with perfect wisdom, perfect justice and perfect righteousness. No earthly ruler or king could ever do that. The government which will be on His shoulders will be a government that will be eternal. No human rulers or kings could achieve that.
700 years later, this prophecy came to pass. This Child was born.
The wise men came to worship this little baby and bought him 3 gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. These 3 gifts represented 3 identities of Jesus:
During the time of Jesus, only the royalty and the rich people could afford to own gold. In the past, and even today, gold is used for the crown of the king. By giving baby Jesus gold, it represented the majestic kingship of Jesus. He is the king, as the title of this sermon says that Jesus is the king.
Frankincense is made from the sap of a tree. When it is burned, it released a sweet aroma. In the Old Testament, the priests burned incense as an offering to God. When the wise men offered baby Jesus Frankincense, it signified that Jesus is our High Priest. He is the mediator between us and God.
Myrrh is also derived from the sap of a tree. It is bitter when eaten. When the tree bark is cut to get the sap, the milky sap will turn into red colour due to the reaction with the air. Myrrh was used to embalm the bodies during burial. The gift of myrrh to baby Jesus symbolised that Jesus is the Saviour. His pour was poured out for the forgiveness of sins.
2,000 years ago, at the perfect timing of God, God sent His one and only begotten Son Jesus Christ into this world. He was the long-awaited Messiah, the prophesied fulfilment of God’s promise of deliverance for both the Jews and the Gentiles.
The Creator of the universe who existed outside of time was now God incarnated who was bound by time; He was restricted to the movement of time like we do. The Omnipresent God, now incarnated, was bound by space; He could not be everywhere at a time. He only had 2 feet, and 2 hands. The God who does not slumber, now incarnated, needed rest. He would often withdraw to rest. Yet, He knew the importance of fasting to draw closer to God, His Father in Heaven. From the incarnated God, we see the human side of Him. Through Him, we could experience the love of God. Jesus came to preach the Good News, to heal the sick and to set the oppressed free (Matthew 4:23).
Jesus, though the Son of God, came into this world as the most unlikely King. He was not born in a grand palace. He had no servants around Him at His birth. He was not born with grand royal announcements from the palace. But His birth was the most significant event in history. Heaven and earth were a part of His birth. A bright star shone in the sky. Choirs of angels declared His birth in the starry sky.
The Wonders of the Birth of Jesus:
(1) It was through the Holy Spirit
Jesus came from Heaven to earth incarnated, meaning God came into this world in human flesh, like ours. He came into this world through the virgin Mary. A virgin, means a young girl who is never married and never had a child. Mary was greatly troubled when she heard that she, an unmarried girl, would be pregnant with baby Jesus. Though afraid, she trusted in the Lord and was willing to be the Lord’s vessel.
(2) It was prophesied
At the time of political unrest during Ahaz (734 BC), Isaiah prophesied that a virgin would bear a son and when the son is born, he is to be named Immanuel, meaning, God with us. it was a symbolic hope of God’s presence during the dark times of the nation. Before this child was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, Judah would be delivered from the threats of Israel and Aram (Isaiah 7:14-17). And what Isaiah said actually happened.
This prophecy was also a prediction of a future Messiah whose government is on His shoulder. That is Jesus. God’s way to hostility of the cruel world is to send His Son as a helpless human baby. His birth is the expression of God’s love for us. His birth is “Emmanuel”, God with us. This eternal king came to bear the Good News that God is with us and God wants to turn our darkness into light, our confusion into peace, our loss into abundance and our despair into joy. This is the nature of God: full of love, bringing peace, joy and hope into His people.
If you are still trying to get by on your own, why not come to God and experience His peace and love.
(3) It was a gift
Jesus’ birth was a gift to us human kind. Jesus came to save us mankind from the wrath of sins. We do not deserve this gift of salvation. But because of His great love for us.
Lamentations 3:22, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.“
Jesus’ birth is to declare to us that God is with us. We lived in a troubling time. Immanuel, that is what He was to be called at birth, reminding us that God has not forgotten about us in troubled and uncertain time such as this. But through it all, God is with us. Take some time this advent season to ponder on the depth of love and faithfulness of God. He never forsake us. Not only that, God became one of us. The Prince of Heaven made Himself low so He could raise us from our pitiful states to be children of God. What a marvellous gift this is.
Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, encouraging them in their faith and walking in holiness.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
Which words speak to you in this passage? May be you caught the words such as joy, prayer, faith, presence of God, love, strengthen your hearts and holy in the presence of God.
Apostle Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians and also the 2 Thessalonians to the Christians at the church at Thessalonica. Paul established this church during his second missionary journey (about AD 51).
In Acts, Luke mentioned how Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica, and founded the church. They led to the Thessalonians’ conversion to Christ (Acts 17:1-15). Thessalonica is a city that still exists today but it is now called Thessaloniki. It was one of the very few cities that survived from the New Testament era. Today, it is still an important industrial and commercial city in the modern day Greece.
Paul wrote this letter to encourage these young Christians to reassure them of God’s love for them. In this letter, Paul thanked God for their strong faith and their good reputations (1:1-10). Paul mentioned that it was him and his companions who brought the Gospel to them (2:1-12) and they were responsive to the Gospel (2:13-16).Paul longed to see them again (2:17-20). Since he was not able to see them that soon, he had sent Timothy to encourage them in their faith (3:1-13).
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul talked about a few things, about our conduct and the life we have as:
Live holy lives by avoiding sexual immorality (4:1-8)
Love each other (4:9-10)
Live as good citizens in this world (4:11,12)
Comfort of the hope we have in Christ (4:13-18)
New life in Christ (5:1-11)
1 Thessalonians was also a letter that talked about the second coming of Jesus. We had to prepare for the second coming: warn the idle (5:14), encourage the timid (5:14), be patient with everyone (5:14), be kind to everyone (5:15), be joyful always (5:16), pray continually (5:17), give thanks (5:18), test everything that is taught (5:20,21) and avoid evil (5:22).
The Love of Christ is in us
Paul was thankful for these new believers in Thessalonica. At the same time, Paul and his co-workers prayed night and day earnestly for them.
“10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”
Three things he prayed:
(1) Their faith might mature (verse 10)
We can never be perfect in our faith. Until the day we meet Jesus face to face, we would not be perfect in our faith. There is always room for growth. We go “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17).
(2) Their love will increase and overflow for each other (verse 12)
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”
During times of distress and sufferings, people’s ugly side is revealed. People can be selfish and demanding, or shutting off people. But some people will use this time to draw closer to God and to reach out to those in need. Christian love is not only limited to Christians, but to everyone else. Who can you share the love of Christ with this advent season?
(3) Their holiness of life (verse 13)
“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (verse 13)
Jesus Christ had come and He will return again. When Jesus Christ comes again the second time, He would not return as a baby again, but He would be the glorious Victor, who had victory over sin and death. Let us remember, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to holiness.
Prayers make a difference in our lives. In tough times, the Thessalonians remained firm in the Lord. They continued their relationships with Paul, and they with them. It is relationship with other brothers and sisters in Christ that helped us through tough times. We know that we are keeping one another in our prayers.
Light of Christ has shine among us
Christmas is to celebrate that the love of God has come from Heaven to Earth and dwelled among us. Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of God’s love. Without Jesus Christ coming to save us, we will all perish. We will die not only physically where our bodies will decay, but we will also die spiritually—perish in God’s wrath for our sins forever.
God sent His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to us so that those who believe in Him and call upon Him will be saved from God’s wrath and eternal damnation. Jesus Christ came as flesh and blood. He lived among us so that through Him, we could experience God’s great love for us. In Jesus Christ, we experience the peace of God. Peace that is deep within us. We experience God’s love. We experience hope. Hope that one day, Jesus Christ will come again for us.
2,000 years ago, Jesus had come. Light has shone in the dark. Today, the light of Christ is still shining. May it shine brightly in our lives. Let us live a life of thanksgiving for the goodness of God in our lives, for all the blessings we receive. Because all that we have comes from God. Let us live prayerful lives: praying and let us live a life that matures in faith and live a holy life. While we were still in the dark, Christ’s light shone in us. May we carry His light wherever we go.
As Christians, we are commanded to grow in the Lord. Here are some of the spiritual disciplines which we can put into practice in our daily living.
“The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God, and the greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God” –Jeremy Walker, Life in Christ.
Isn’t it true? Before we became Christians, we gave our heart to God. And after we become Christian, it is our duty to keep our heart with God or else we will be distracted and stray away.
We should always strive to be growing spiritually. Apostle Paul said to the Thessalonians: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
“Make every effort to…be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14). It is important to make every effort, strive to grow towards holiness because it is only through holiness, we can see the Lord.
Apostle Peter also wrote, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
As the apostles urged the Christians, it is important and necessary to grow. We can not remain stagnant forever, or worse, to go backwards. When we plant a seed, we expect growth. We expect the seed to sprout, and that it will grow into a plant and eventually bear fruits that we can enjoy.
When we have a baby, we want to see the baby grow day by day. It is very worrying if the child does not grow. There will be sleepless nights of worry, going to hospital for check-ups to find the reason why. Similarly, it is worrying if we do not grow spiritually.
In the letter to Hebrews, the original audience were the Jews who believed in Jesus. They did not grow spiritually. Instead of growing, they go backwards. They were at the danger of falling away from the faith.
“11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14)
These Christians were no longer trying to understand God’s Word. Were they callous? The fact is, they had become lazy. Their ears had become dull. We see this same word in Hebrews 6:11-12, which is used to describe sluggish. They had become lazy in hearing God’s Word, sluggish in their relationship with God.
These Christians should have been matured enough to be teachers already. They were supposed to be teachers of God’s Word. Yet, they were regressing to the point of having to go back to the elementary school again. They needed someone to teach them about the basic truth of God all over again. At one point, they were able to enjoy steak: a thick, rich, flavourful steak but they went so backwards to drinking milk again.
How do we know if spiritual growth is happening in our lives?
As important as it is to grow spiritually, growth is in God’s Hands. Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians regarding this matter. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” Apostle Paul planted the seed, Apollos watered it. God was the one who provided sunlight and water to make the seeds growth but nonetheless, Paul and Apollos still worked hard and diligently in their respective tasks. God gave the growth but we have to do our part to grow spiritually.
Our growth is in God’s timing. Will we still be diligent in taking care of our spiritual growth? We cultivate spiritual disciplines because our end goal is not just the growth, but our end goal is to know God better and to love Him deeper.
Richard of Chichester (1197-1253), wrote this prayer called “Day by Day”:
Thanks be to thee,
my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which
thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults
which thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer,
Friend and Brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly.
It is St Richard’s prayer to see God more clearly day by day. Love God more dearly day by day. Follow God more nearly day by day. There will be ups and downs in our life but may this be our prayer too: that we strive to see God, love Him more and follow God ever closely day by day.
Spiritual disciplines is important so that we can grow spiritually. John Wesley our Methodist spiritual forefather, set the example for us. Below are some of the spiritual disciplines he practiced:
John Wesley meditated. He read the Bible first and meditated on what he had just read. John Wesley meditated a lot and out of these came his doctrinal and spiritual teachings. The purpose of meditation is to hear God clearly and then we obey Him. When we meditate, we invite the Holy Spirit to illumine us so that we can understand and obey God’s Word.
John Wesley was one of those who spent a few hours on his knees in prayers. He said prayers should include “public prayer, family prayer, and praying in our closet”. His directions for prayers? “Tell Him simply all you fear, all you feel, all you want…. Pour out your soul and freely talk to God…. Pray just as you are led…. in all simplicity.” Wesley urged the people to pray written prayers in the Bible as well as using the written prayers in “The Book of Common Prayer”. He prayed 4 hours a day and before his death, 8 hours a day in prayers.
Fasting is to abstain from food or certain pleasures for a period of time to seek God’s face. Wesley fasted 2 times a week. For us who are not able to fast because of health reasons, we can also fast from things that distract us: social media, entertainment, shopping sprees and so on. The purpose of fasting is so that we can whole heartedly seek God.
It was said that John Wesley gave away 80% of his income to help the poor. Though he had good income from his writings, he still lived on 28 pounds per year, just as he had in his student days. He gave away the rest of his money to the widows, the orphans. He also built orphanages to care of the orphans.
Worship is important for our spiritual growth. We should make it a priority to worship God, especially on Sunday—the Lord’s Day. Each worship service is an encounter with God: we gather together with other believers to adore Him, praise Him, confess our sins, listen to His Word and be refreshed to enter into the world once again. Even at times when we do not feel like worshipping God, we can tell God how we feel and ask for His grace to help us to worship Him. Being together with other believers will help to encourage our faith.
These spiritual disciplines help us to grow spiritually and enable us to reject the things that are not beneficial for our souls. May God give us the grace and the wisdom to grow in Him day by day.