The Cross Before Me by Ashish Joseph

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Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” – Matthew 16: 24-26

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When I accepted Jesus into my life, I thought to myself “That’s it! Life is set from here on out.” I imagined the rest of my life riding on blazing chariots of fire through each day till I met Jesus in heaven. At first, it was wonderful, and I saw God transform an unsure and insecure kid into a someone with a passion and desire. Slowly, the reality and circumstances of life hit me. 

In a period of my life where I was pouring myself out for God’s calling, I saw my personal ministry lack fruit. Everything I tried seemed to end in disappointment, at least in my own eyes. Whenever I prayed for something, it didn’t seem to go the way I wanted it to go. Yet I wanted to persevere and continue to serve in different capacities in hopes that I would be able to break “the funk/drought/desert” periods in my journey with God. I had read of many instances in the Bible and missionaries going through similar periods. However, these servants repented and turned back to God. They chose to be filled with His Spirit and re-entered into their areas of ministry. I, in my immaturity and recklessness, forged forward. 

What ensued was envy towards my fellow Christian brothers and sisters and bitterness towards God. God became the reason I was miserable. I started to gradually withdraw myself from the church and other Christians. Instead of community, I chose to look after myself and pursued belonging in the world through work and relationships. Healthy boundaries that were ordained in my life by God were thrown out and I exposed myself to the ways of the world.

This distancing continued for 2 years. One day, I decided to reject God and the church. It seemed perfect. I was starting a new job and I was ready to taste “the good life.” I was done waiting for God to save me out of my misery and decided to take my future into my own hands. I was now excited to live my life to my own expectations. The second I made the decision, it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off. At first, life was fresh and full of hope, but soon the sense of impending doom crept in. I was confronted with futility of my choices and found myself helpless. The question of “Am I damaged beyond repair?” would ring through my mind and I would find anything to drown it out. However, I was stuck in a cycle. I went from week to week of going to work followed by weekends of escape and trying to numb the pain. Outwardly, I professed to my friends that I was no longer a Christian and God did not matter to me. 

Yet, God never gave up one me. Praise Him! A handful of my Christian friends stayed in touch with me and never gave up on Jesus bringing me back. On the way to meeting one of them, I was debating how I would be able to fix my life. The thought of going back to church and repenting entered my mind. That’s when I heard God speak clearly, “I can forget the last two years of your life.” For the first time forgiveness and grace felt real. I no longer had to work my guilt away like a prison sentence. Instead of listening to the voice of self-criticism, I was overwhelmed by love that I could never manufacture. I did not know how to contain my joy in the moment. That week, I joined a small group and went to a church service at lunch. My colleague and partner-in-crime asked me what had suddenly changed. I had no “cookie-cutter” response and all I could tell him was that I was excited about following Jesus again. 

The journey back to faith has been one of surprises, turns, falls, anger, regrets, love and filled with grace. There have been days and weeks filled with the same doubt and struggle where the bitterness towards God followed by the guilt of my past actions overtakes me. Yet in those moments, I feel God telling me “It’s ok. You’re ok.” My response to that is to repent, praise Him and thank Him for saving me from my own self-destructive ways. I thank God that I have a future in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

God has instilled compassion in me for the people around me. God has taken away envy and judgement I had towards people in the Christian community and instilled in me love and grace for my brothers and sisters. My current work as a recruiter means that I figure out a person’s strengths and weaknesses and find their ‘Red Flags’. After receiving repeated forgiveness, I now feel empowered to extend grace to my candidates. God has opened so many opportunities to me to show the same grace that I have received. My conversations with candidates are no longer about their work but about helping them realize that they have been gifted and called for a special purpose in life. I now feel ready to trust God more in my work and believe in His transforming power in people’s lives.

The call to come back to Jesus was a very clear and distinct one. It was borne out of a need to fix myself and find a purpose. I have come to understand now that I cannot do this on my own strength. Instead, I thank God for my salvation and that I do have a future in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Everyday, I chose to wake up and praise Him for my life up to this point and what the future holds. 

“The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back, no turning back.”

Ashish has been attending Redemption Church since 2011. While he is not networking with every Architect, Engineer or Construction Manager in Vancouver, he enjoys music, sports, learning about the latest advances in the wheelchair and walking all around Vancouver. 

 

Return to the Lord by Maria Sibaja

Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel 2:13

At the age of 15, I was exposed to a world that until that point I hadn’t believed truly existed. One of my classmates and close friends tragically passed away one Friday night while we were all at a school function. We were in the midst of celebrating when the school’s director got on stage and shared the news. I don’t remember exiting the theatre or how I got to a bathroom stall but sometime later another girl found me where I was huddled in a corner, in shock. Finally, as I was surrounded by my family and teachers I remember turning to the school director and asking her how it happened. It scares me to know that upon asking that question, somewhere a part of me knew that this hadn’t been some accident. She merely looked down and I knew that my friend had made the decision to say goodbye.

I knew what suicide was but in my world it wasn’t real. It was portrayed on TV or in books, perhaps the opening scene of a cop show or Holden Caulfield’s blasé remarks. It was so removed from the world I lived in that it felt like it was meant for shock value; nobody you knew actually committed suicide. Worst of all, I thought that if someone were to ever decide to take their own life you’d know. You’d see the warning signs, the obvious suffering. Never, in my very short 15 years did I ever think a 14 year-old boy, who seemed relatively happy, would decide that the world was so unbearable he didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.

I don't remember much about the days that followed but bits and pieces stand out. His mother’s anguished cries as she held on to me and tried to thank me for being her son’s friend through a mixture of tears and mucus. The colourful balloons used in the ceremony we had at school. The whispered conversation in the kitchen while my aunts discussed the friend of a friend who had also taken their own life and how tragic it was that I was going through something similar. A whole summer went by without my noticing, but throughout it I was left with a constant burning sensation inside and along with this burning sensation was the heavy aching of three questions. Three questions that had been playing on repeat inside my head since that night:

  • Was I not a good enough friend? 

  • What could I have done differently? 

  • Why did God allow this to happen?

That burning and aching, I would later learn, were the physical signs of fear and anxiety. I now lived in a constant state of alertness, tense like a rubber band that’s about to snap, always checking for signs that this could happen again. If a friend said “goodbye,” I wanted to be sure it wasn’t a permanent goobye. If anyone was sad or angry I needed to check throughout the night that they were still around. I had constant nightmares of finding out my loved ones had chosen to leave their lives behind prematurely. In the years that followed, that anxiety spread into every area of my life and with it spread anger and resentment. I had lived in a world of safety, love and comfort. I’d grown up extremely active in the church, a place that told me that there was a God who loved us so much he had sacrificed his only son to save us. He loved us so much he’d always be looking for us, protecting us, fighting for us. How could this same God let this happen? How could I live in a world where a boy suffered so much he chose to leave it? 

At some point in my late teenage years, my anger and resentment continued to grow until one day I decided God did not exist. There was no way the God I grew up loving and worshipping would allow this type of suffering in the world. With that decision came a break that at the time I saw as a break to freedom but in reality was a break in my relationship with God. All my life God had been the hard rock that I leaned on, my anchor and focus point; with him gone I thought I was free of the “silly” Christian rules that governed my life. What truly happened is I was left in a kind of void, like an astronaut whose tether has been severed, aimlessly floating in the cold vacuum of space. My lifeline was gone.

The years that followed were hard, my anxiety developed into a more serious problem and invited its friend depression. I entered university and was constantly in an exhausting state of mind where everything felt too big to tackle and I was living in a constant state of panic and fear. Small things like ordering a coffee became so stressful that I avoided leaving my dorm; big things like exams and projects felt like they could potentially end my world. Finally one night, during finals week of my sophomore year it all became too much.

I remember sitting on my dorm room floor, surrounded by my friends as I bawled my eyes out over a calculus exam that was the tipping point after a long series of events. I came to the point described in Joel 2:13 where my distress and grief were such that I might as well have been rendering my garments. My world was falling apart. Later that evening, as I was trying to pull myself together from hours of crying I got a message from someone I hadn’t seen in years, an old coworker of my father’s who had no reason to be messaging me. In this message he wrote that he’d been praying that evening when he saw a picture of me, sitting on the floor crying in grief. Upon seeing that picture he felt God tell him to reach out to me and let me know that everything would turn out okay.

You can imagine what this did to me. Here I was, five years after my friend’s death, after years of turning away from God, lost and angry and yet God was still reaching out to me. He was still trying to love me whether I wanted him to or not. In that moment I realized what I had known all along. God was always there for me, still willing to look for a lost sheep that had stubbornly run away. He is gracious and merciful. I had pretty much renounced him, turned my back on him and yet he held on. He was not angry with me; he didn’t disavow me, or give up on me. It took a long time after that for me to forgive myself but God had already forgiven me. Like the father in the Prodigal Son, he’d been standing with his arms open waiting for me to return home. 

He is our Father, who gives his grace freely to those who ask for it, rich in mercy and always ready to forgive. He is slow to anger, he doesn’t pour out the wrath that our sins deserve nor does he retain anger forever. He is our good and kind father, who will never leave or forsake us.

Maria can currently be found at Redemption Church’s office where she is the office manager. She is originally from Costa Rica but has fallen in love with Vancouver and its people. Her greatest treasure is her cat Sherlock, who is a truly wonderful ginger purr-ball and she loves talking about him.

All Who Are Sick by Simon Jung

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Mark 2:17

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I recently went through a “dry season”. I have to say, I used to feel mystified by this church language, but through the process, I've come to realize that it's an important part of the faith journey, and one that still has God's call to come deeper. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect it, and I didn’t realize where I was going until I was already there. For me, this season felt shameful and worrisome as I wrestled with an already challenging question: why should I (continue to) follow Jesus?

How did I end up in this place? Let me backtrack a bit. During our fast in January, God called me to surrender a long term--perhaps even a lifelong--addiction. I had known for a long time that it wasn’t anything to be proud of, but the addiction was my safe place, a way to cope with trauma, and, to a large extent, my identity. In my brokenness, God’s conviction felt condemning and overwhelming. As I struggled to keep the fast going for the sake of fasting, I eventually came to a crossroads where my love for God and my other love were in direct conflict.

But I still felt reluctant and apprehensive. How do I let go of something that feels like a friend or even my own body? I didn’t know how, I didn’t fully understand the reason, and I obviously didn’t really want to. I felt truly stuck. And the more I thought about all of this, the more I felt defensive about meeting my needs that were being displaced. And then I started to feel that Christians only cared about their righteousness and not about me or my suffering. Soon enough, I was full on angry, and I remember thinking, ‘God’s standards are impossibly high, and the call to follow Jesus is too much for me. I don’t want to do this anymore’.

It’s difficult to recount the details of this journey, especially through my introverted and introspective lens. It certainly took another one of God’s miracles (and grace) for me to uncover that God is--as I have once believed and known--good, and that He has been good all along. There was plenty of turmoil, frustration, and anger throughout the process, but in the end, through my very own brokenness, God was able to bring about a greater healing and redemption in my life than I had ever experienced before.

I want to share some of my key learnings. Number one is that I was holding onto lies about God. The usual suspect, right? But understanding how and why the lies took hold in the first place helped me to see my journey not through shame but through the grace and compassion that God extends to all of us. Evidently, I had picked up a lot of guilt and negative self-worth throughout my life, and it was making me view my relationships through a lens of oppression and rejection. And, even more importantly, I realized that I had built up a pattern of withdrawal and escape, even towards God.

Next is that there is a faith aspect to all of this. At the “turning point”, I had made a conscious decision to trust God; to believe that He is good and that He is for me, even if my shame, hurt, and anger didn’t feel that way. One of the biggest things that helped me was hearing what Jesus had to say about how it’s the sick who needs the doctor. This made sense (logically), and so I was able to recognize that I shouldn't have to feel shameful about getting help. And if what Jesus said on His Sermon on the Mount (ex. Matthew 5:4) were true, there seemed to be a place in His Kingdom for me.

I want to acknowledge that God’s Kingdom doesn’t always seem welcoming without His grace. And perhaps it never does. With my partner's encouragement, attending church even when it was filled with upsetting triggers gave me the opportunity to be reminded that God gives freely to everyone. I may have been too hurt and/or too prideful to have asked for forgiveness, but Jesus has already paid the price and He just wants me to come and receive Him. This part defies the logic of justice, but here we all are having received God's grace when we were still His enemies. Once I started to understand and process the forgiveness that Jesus offered, I started seeing God differently. From this place, I was able to ask for His forgiveness and ask for help, which is something that I am continuing to press into.

In my field (special education), educators take on somewhat of a detective role. We look at behaviour fundamentally as a form of communication, and when we see a student struggle--or completely fail--we take responsibility to identify any barriers that may be in their way. I see now that my barrier was (and still is) shame. But I wonder what other barriers stand in the way of us coming closer to Jesus--just as we are, sick and broken. If you are questioning, my heart feels for you. If you’re questioning, I see that you’re seeking and fighting.

I have come to realize that God is always and actively calling us into a deeper relationship with Him. Every Christian, no matter how ‘spiritual’, is in the process of overcoming something through God’s help. After all, this is the very nature of what it means to be a Christian and a follower of Jesus.

In this season of Lent, we are told to come. What does this look like for you? I think we all have different postures for coming to King Jesus. In my experience, Jesus sometimes simply said, “Look at me”. Sometimes it meant singing a bit more with my heart. And sometimes, it meant going up to the prayer ministry and asking for help, allowing God to work through the members of our community. And I think, more often than not, the picture isn’t so much as us coming to God, but rather us coming to answer the door.

In all the times that my brokenness and sin--which I think are often the two sides to the same coin--were revealed, it has been both a time of blessing and a time of feeling shame, inadequacy, and helplessness. I'll say it right here: being truly vulnerable is hard and the healing process can be painful. But through my dry season, I was able to affirm God’s character: God is encouraging and God wants to help us become whole; shame and guilt do not come from Him. Knowing this, I find the strength again to come back to His presence and worship Him with others. And so my journey with Jesus continues. I’m not sure where your journey begins, but may the hope and peace of Christ Jesus help you to come find the healing you need.

Simon is getting married soon. He is working as an EA in the school board now. He enjoys music, writing, and watching TV. He still loves getting brunch after church.

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Keep Coming by Naomi Wong

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Have you ever thought being “faithful” looks like putting your feelings aside and proclaiming only the goodness of God? I’m pretty sure that way of living is promoted as holy in many Christian circles. I thought like that too, until I had a very real, personal encounter with the Lord. During an all-church fast, I believe God put it on my heart to bring everything to Him, even the stuff I thought of as unholy. “Just come,” He said. Since then, I have seen a huge increase of intimacy and loving trust as I bring everything to the Lord: my praise, my junk, my doubt, my delight, all of it. 

For this season of Lent, my prayer for Redemption Church is that every person who desires deeper intimacy will respond to God’s open invitation to come. At the beginning of this process, I experienced a lot of fear about how imperfect my expressions of love were compared to the spotless, righteous love of God. In response to that fear, I felt like the Lord put the following poem in my heart.


Title: Keep Coming

Keep coming, love

Even when self-hatred pulls you back

Even when there’s snot mixed with your tears

And your hair might leave dirt smudges

On my feet

My feet don’t mind


So, keep coming, love

Even when condemnation weighs you down

Even when your “old ways” take over

And you think I’m like an ordinary man

I’ll turn your grime to gold

And your shame to praise


Just keep coming, love

I know you’re bruised

But I won’t break you

You’re smoldering

But I won’t quench you

I’m not afraid of your pain

Your urges, your doubts, your rage

My love, just keep coming.

Blessings on your Lenten reflections. And may you know the joy of deep intimacy with our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Naomi Wong is a writer whose permanent residence is in California. She spends her days writing novels and poetry and loves prayer ministry, too. She has attended Redemption Church since January 2019.

Receiving Grace by Sarah Chen

“For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.”” Ezekiel 34:11

Growing up, there was no reason to question my faith. In the family I grew up in, being a Christian didn’t just mean going to church, but rather an intense journey of faith, not knowing what each day would bring, facing an assortment of immigration, financial, and health issues that no amount of planning or preparation could resolve on its own, except through God’s grace and provision through miracles.  

After working at the church, I felt like I had gained a greater depth of knowledge to my faith that I had lacked in evangelical churches growing up. I was a ‘good’ Christian who served in the church, had an intellectual understanding of my faith, prayed and heard from God. My faith was invincible, or so I thought.

However, in 2018, I started wrestling with the reason for my faith. Having witnessed the people closest to me experience a time of distance in their own faith amidst my own questioning led me to wonder what the point of it all was. My lifelong experiences of God could not save the amount of apathy I felt towards my faith nor my fear of burning in a pit of fire in hell (somebody please tell me I’m not the only one who grew up reading those terrifying Chick tract comics). I wanted absolutely nothing to do with God, the same God who I credited as having saved my life (literally) and having been with me through all of the pain and suffering I had experienced in my past.

This is where I wish I could tell you that I had a very mature way of working through all of this. However, I did not. I made distressed pleas and complaints to God, all of which ended something like this, “God, I really don’t care, and if you’re real and want me to come back to you, then you’re going to have to make it happen, because I have absolutely no interest in that right now, and can’t foresee myself making it happen.” In the following months, I experienced a strange sense of listlessness. Whenever I was not distracted by work, TV, or social activities, in the moments of quiet in my life, I would feel indescribable anxiety about something I couldn’t place my finger on and tiredness that wasn’t physical, emotional, or mental, something I did not attribute to being spiritual until much later.

I did not pray to God again, until later when I decided to pray about a few job prospects for my parents’ sake, as it would have affected them in some way. While I was at it, I figured I might as well try to reconnect with God, because I was so uneasy and I felt the need to do something meditative to ease the uneasiness. I would tell Him how tired I was; pray about my job prospects, and soon I ran out of things to say. All I could do was sit quietly and stare out into the distance from wherever I was, mind blank. In one of these moments, I decided to let myself rest and wait. If God wanted me to return to faith in Him, He would make it happen. I resigned myself to the fact that I had no means to go back on my own and I let go of the fear of it. I let myself do what I wanted, and to escape the anxious feeling that cropped up at times, I spent most of my free time reading the psalms, listening to quiet instrumentals, or sitting outside and journaling.

Somehow, in that time and space, I finally understood the grace of God. When I reached an all-time low in my lack of faith, I was disoriented, anxious, and had no interest or reason to seek God. How I even turned to God again is a mystery to me, and nothing I did out of my own volition. It is something I can only attribute to God, for having answered my desperate plea from months previous. He chose me, a person who wanted nothing to do with Him. I had no good deeds to give Him. The only thing I could give him was my own disinterested heart, and He took it, and made it His own.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16

Having realized this, I finally felt free. He asked for us, empty-handed. It might seem like being subservient and weak, but to me, I finally knew what it meant to come to God with no agenda, no good responsible duties on hand to offer, but just me, as I am, like a friend. And life has never been more beautiful. For the first time, I felt incredibly grateful to be alive.

Of course, this is not a happy ending story. I am still regaining my step in life and recovering my energy. I still have not figured out my future. There are still things I struggle with and still many unanswered prayers that I am waiting on. There will be more hurdles down the road, and more I can learn about God. The thing that has changed is my perspective on God, which has changed my faith. Faith has seasons, and with each new season comes a renewal in faith and a new perspective gained. I hope that if your faith is dry, apathetic, non-existent, or exhausting, then you will receive a new faith in Christ that leads you to freedom and joy.

Sarah is a church attendee who has been at Redemption since she was an undergraduate student. She really loves cats (especially her parents’ cat), hiking, eating Asian food, and reading (A LOT). If you want a good book to read this lent season, she recommends “Til We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis. She is usually found hidden in the back of the church on Sundays. Come say ‘hi!’

 

Lent Blog Week 5- Laura Bulk

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So 

Psalm 107

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
3 those he gathered from the lands,
    from east and west, from north and south.

4 Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    finding no way to a city where they could settle.
5 They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
7 He led them by a straight way
    to a city where they could settle.
8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
9 for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
    prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
    and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
    they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
    and broke away their chains.
15 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
16 for he breaks down gates of bronze
    and cuts through bars of iron.

17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
18 They loathed all food
    and drew near the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings
    and tell of his works with songs of joy.

23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
    they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
    his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
    that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
    in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
    they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the sea[b] were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
    and praise him in the council of the elders.

33 He turned rivers into a desert,
    flowing springs into thirsty ground,
34 and fruitful land into a salt waste,
    because of the wickedness of those who lived there.
35 He turned the desert into pools of water
    and the parched ground into flowing springs;
36 there he brought the hungry to live,
    and they founded a city where they could settle.
37 They sowed fields and planted vineyards
    that yielded a fruitful harvest;
38 he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased,
    and he did not let their herds diminish.

39 Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled
    by oppression, calamity and sorrow;
40 he who pours contempt on nobles
    made them wander in a trackless waste.
41 But he lifted the needy out of their affliction
    and increased their families like flocks.
42 The upright see and rejoice,
    but all the wicked shut their mouths.

43 Let the one who is wise heed these things
    and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.

(the reading from the lectionary for this blog is actually just verses 1-3, 17-22, but I reflected about the whole passage – and I can’t resist the beauty of scripture, so gave you the whole thing). 

I am overdue writing this blog. Honestly, a big part of that is I couldn't decide between all the wonderful treasures I learned through my study of Psalm 107. I urge you to read it again. Observe the story in this psalm. Observe what is repeated. Notice the patterns. 

For this short blog I decided to comment on a word used in the first and final verses (and a few times between) because it relates to our Lenten theme of covenant. 

Steadfast love (two words in English, but one in Hebrew) 

First, a disclaimer: I am sadly unable to read ancient Hebrew. What I've learned about this word comes from reading a variety of sources online and elsewhere. I share my reflections based on this passage, time spent meditating on it, and the adjacent readings/listening I’ve done. I am open to correction and instruction from those more knowledgeable in the area. 

The Hebrew word hesed is used here in Psalm 107, and our English translation just doesn't seem to do it justice (as, I think, is oft the case). Hesed does not just mean lovingkindness, steadfast love, or mercy (frequently used translations). Hesed is loyal, dependable, committed lovingkindness. Hesed can also be referred to as covenant love – it is devoted love that makes one willing to dedicate their love and commitment in a solemn promise. God’s hesed does not, however, flow from a covenantal obligation, but rather from his very nature. God’s steadfast, devoted, unwavering love 

In this time of Lent, we have the opportunity to reflect on God’s story of redemption. By looking back and recalling through the stories depicted in our series of lectionary readings (which, by the by, I encourage you to read – we are united with the Church globally in reading these same passages together, to me that seems powerful!), we see over and over how God is faithful to his covenant with the people of Israel even when they are not. Over and over, Israel strays from the good path God has for them. They do not remember the covenant, and they forget God’s faithful deeds. We are grafted into Israel, and this is also our story – we stray from the path God has laid before us, The Church. We wander in desert wastes, we choose to sit in darkness, we behave as fools through our sinful ways, and we take destructive paths. 

I confess that too often I wander away from God’s story for me, from his good paths…am I alone in this? If not, please join me, as we cry to the Lord in our trouble, for he will surely deliver us from our distress. God offers hesed (lovingkindness) even to us – those in disgrace and in need of redemption. 

O Lord, You’ve shown us mercy; Sinners are washed as saints You’ve shown Your loving-kindness (hesed); 

We the disgraced are righteous made. God, in his hesed, has mercy on us. He is faithful and steadfast...here is love, vast as the ocean, hesed as the flood! I seize this opportunity to thank the Lord for his hesed, and to extol him in the (virtual) congregation of the people. 

Have you been redeemed, gathered from east and west, north and south? Are you redeemed from trouble? YES! 

We are the redeemed of the Lord. Let us tell of his deeds in songs of joy! Let us consider deeply the hesed of the Lord, let us be wise and give heed to the deeds of the Lord – demonstrations of his hesed for those he has made.

Lent Blog: Week 3

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Exodus 20:1-17 Commandments and Law

By Tseday Z. Tegegn

(Graduate student at UBC Department of Pathology and Laboratory medicine, Redemption Church Service Crew)

What a great time to reflect on this passage while taking a break from school work and staying in a beautiful island. This past weekend, I had an opportunity to travel to Denman Island, BC for an annual retreat organized by UBC’s Intervarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship. This retreat is conveniently scheduled during the reading break so that hard working graduate students at UBC have a chance to rest.

The travel is long but it comes with lovely experience of riding two ferries and a beautiful drive up from Nanaimo to Buckley bay on Vancouver Island. Leaving fact that Denman is an amazing island to visit, the weekend felt restful in just the fact that we got away from the big city and got out of routine.

What a great way to change a routine than to work in a farm instead of our usual desk and computers (for me it also involves laboratory work). For few hours of Saturday, we collected eggs, feed the cows, split wood etc. Until our supper was ready, we walked along the beach and did short hike around the cottage we stayed in. Most importantly, we had memorable times praying and sharing meals together followed by worm discussions around the fire place (there were a lot of games and puzzles involved too).

While enjoying my stay in Denman, I was reflecting on Exodus 20:1-17 passage and thinking how it may be useful for us in the lent season that we are in. Since the location and setting we are in change our understanding of passages we read, my understanding of this passage is shaped with my experience at Denman.

Two points that stood out to me and I quite often overlook as a graduate student and modern day adult were:

·    Making God a priority in our lives

3 “Do not put any other gods in place of me… 5 Do not bow down to them or worship them. I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God. I cause the sins of the parents to affect their children. I will cause the sins of those who hate me to affect even their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Among many things that can replace God in our lives as grad students, I think we could agree that our smartphones and electronics are one of the main candidates. The main reason being we can justify our use as they are deeply integrated into our daily lives.

As much as I would like to say I did not use my phone or the internet during my stay in Denman. I had enough reasons to rationalize my use weather it’s documenting my stay or checking the weather. At times, I was preoccupied with taking pictures instead of absorbing the experience. The most interesting point was that I was aware of what I was doing and really judging myself.

The electronics we worship and swear by that take away precious time spent focused in our work and most importantly quality time communicating with God. On line 6 it tells us “Do not bow down to them or worship them. I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God. I cause the sins of the parents to affect their children. I will cause the sins of those who hate me to affect even their grandchildren and great-grandchildren”.

Although I cannot picture how our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will look at us. I sure know that I don’t want to be remembered as less present in most the activities we take part in. and disconnected with what is going on around me since I am documenting everything for later. I have to admit that it gets really tricky when your favorite hobby is photography and journaling (which I claim as my interest). The question then be do we draw the line?

Especially in the lent season that we are in where we should maximize our connection to God and pay attention to the real moments that God has created for us to enjoy.

·    keeping Sabbath

8 Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy. 9 Do all your work in six days. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to honor the LORD your God. Do not do any work on that day.

For a graduate students or any adult there is always something to do which makes us guilty to respect the Sabbath which is created to give us rest and replenish our energy for the rest of the week. It is also a way of relaying on and trusting in God that the work we have to do spread out could be completed in much shorter time if we just took a break and get back to it with full energy. Giving our body and mind a rest even though we can’t afford it is probably a very wise decisions for increasing our productivity in long-term.  

While doing farm work, I had a chance to think about my field of study in very broad spectrum. Often times doing totally different task gives our worn out mind a rest while still being productive. So for many Sabbath may not be sitting idle (especially if you spend your week sitting at work) where others they may need to be idle and let their body and mind a rest.

The questions are how to be bold enough to take unapologetic rest day? How can we structure our week that we can afford to take a Sabbath?

Tying these two points, keeping Sabbath is possible if we don’t waste time on our modern day gods and learn to use them appropriately.

What can we do for the season of lent and beyond? I challenge you and I to limit the distractions created by our unnecessary use of our smartphones (varies for each individuals) and fill those slots with short prayers on our desks or reading a verse or two to fuel the rest of our day. Be more efficient and work truly at work so we can afford a Sabbath that is enjoyable and rejuvenating. Most of all a day connects with God at much deeper level.

Obey

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Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel,the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. ~ Romans 16:25-27

Advent is a season of waiting: we all know that, particularly by now as we draw near to the end of Advent and anticipate the joy of Christmas. The one we are waiting for is almost here! And as the angels proclaimed: that is good news which brings glory to God and peace on earth to those on whom His favour rests.

Yet how does this peace come? What will bring about the shalom – the putting-back-everything-in-its-place order – of this world?

Well, it comes through our calling, and God’s faithfulness.  

Our calling to be witnesses of the gospel: which is, in its simplest form, the good news about Jesus Christ. The Lord of all creation is no stranger to humanity, no distant deity, no angry tyrant or passively sentimental grandfather. No, He is the promised one, the hope of Israel, and the true picture of God Himself. Our calling is to tell His story: the good news that Jesus is our Saviour, Teacher, Lord and Friend.  

When we tell the story of Jesus, God is right there with us actively working to bring about faith: an ever-increasing trust that the story of Jesus is true, and an ever-increasing allegiance to Jesus as Saviour and Lord, that soon leads to an ever-increasing intimacy with Him as our Teacher and Friend. This maturing faith results in faithfulness: they are two sides of the same coin. 

Faith and faithfulness is none other than trusting obedience. Nothing is more natural for a follower of Jesus than obedience, since we not only love Him, but trust Him. Our obedience of faith was where this great redemption project of God’s was heading all along.

So this Christmas, as we joyfully celebrate the birth of Christ, consider again the goodness of faithfulness, and the peace it brings. And give glory to God for it: for all the ways peace has come, in large ways and small.  

Yes, there is still much about this world and our lives that is not in peace: that longing for shalom, for salvation, and for justice is central to Advent itself. We are still waiting. But in the meantime, let’s not lose sight of the peace that comes through our obedience: the addictions and idolatries we have turned away from, the gifts we have received and shared, the blessings we gave in response to evil, and the forgiveness we offered that led to reconciliation. It is very likely that much of this peace is evident around you this Christmas – not perfectly, and not completely – but present nonetheless. May you be given eyes to see and celebrate the many ways in which your faithful obedience to Jesus, and the obedience of your sisters and brothers in Christ, has brought a measure of shalom to this world.  

Which all brings “glory to God forever through Jesus Christ.”  

Bless you this Christmas.

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Kim Boldt

Home With God

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After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you:

Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” ~2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Home. Such a simple yet complex word. 

Is it the dwelling you live in? 
Is it where your family is?
Is it a familiar setting?
Is it a place of origin?

What if I don’t have a solitary answer for any of these? 

So…where is my home? This is a question I’ve pondered for most of my life and there is really no answer for this. 

But home isn’t just about the ‘where.’ It’s also about the ‘who.’ And that in itself can also bring along a source of confusion, pain, and suffering. 

Wherever you are coming from on this spectrum, you’re not alone. All of our earthly homes, physical or relational, are limited in its provision and can never fully satisfy us, no matter how great they are.

I know that my family will never be perfect. There will always be situations that are painful and hurtful - not that this gives me an excuse to slack off in my relationships. I’ll probably never fully feel at home in any given location. 

In 2 Samuel 7:1-11, God tells David that He has been moving place to place along with the Israelites. He promises David that He will provide a place for Israel, and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own. The Lord Himself will establish a house for David and the Israelites. This is a magnificent promise. What an honour it is to receive such a gift from God. 

As we get closer to Christmas, the birth of Christ this Advent, we, as gentiles have also been invited to a home that has been established by God through Christ. In the same way that God has moved with the Israelites, He has also been with us everywhere we have gone and will go. God is both watching us and protecting us. 

This brings me great comfort. To know that when our earthly homes are confusing and mixed up, we still have one home to turn to that is steadfast, and is more than anything our earthly homes can provide. However, being a part of God’s home is not just a lofty idea that exists only in the heavenly realm. We are currently united with each other as brothers and sisters of Christ. We are all part of God’s family and collectively a part of God’s home together. 

The thing about home, is that it is not a passive relationship. In a ‘healthy’ family, children obey their parents, not out of fear but out of reverence. Parents who are more mature, older, and wiser know what’s best for their children. It is a two-way relationship. An example that my parents love to use to explain this is one of a small child and a stovetop. A child cannot see the top of a stove, but the child’s parents can. When the child is told not to touch the top of a stove, the child listens because of their trust in their parents. When the child grows older, they will see and understand why they were told not to touch the hot stovetop. Of course, our earthly families will never be perfectly healthy. We’re all a bit dysfunctional. However, through Christ, we have access to a holy and perfect Father.

In that same vein, being a part of God’s home is also a call to obedience. We put our trust in the Father, and through our trust in Him, we flourish. We will not get burned by that hot stovetop. As we mature, God reveals parts of Himself to us, and we understand more. Our faith and love for Him grows. This is the relationship that God has invited us into, and the home that we have been adopted into. 

As this Advent season closes, I invite you to join me in receiving God’s invitation into His home and family.

Sarah Chen

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Sarah is the Admin/Communications Coordinator or otherwise known as the person that lives in the office, soon to be moving out of the office. You can apply for her job here! Things she loves doing are reading books, cafe-hopping, and eating Asian food. You are more than welcome to join her on any of these escapades. She also has an irrational love for cats (and buns - see the creature in her photo), so if you have a cat (or a bun), please contact her asap. 

God of the Impossible, Making All Possible

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Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Be Joyful always. 
Pray continually. 
Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

These verses keep coming up for me at this time each year. I have the dates written beside the verses in my Bible. Perhaps God is saying “Listen!” As I begin to dissect these simple verses, there comes an understanding. I love it when God puts things in black and white. No grey area here – a 3-step programme for being in God’s will. These are commands given in love, a road map for us earth-wanderers following an unseen Savior. At first glance however, they seem
impossible. 

I have always wished the verses were in a different order, a 1-2-3 list, with prayer first as it comes easier than being joyful – at least then I could check off #1. Digging in deeper, as it turns out, they are in a perfect circle, not a list at all. Inner joy that is not moveable by outside circumstances comes from the knowledge of our salvation, redemption, grace, eternal life, and Christ dwelling within me. It is not external – living up to the world’s standards; and it is not saying ‘no’ to sadness or pain, loneliness or struggles either. 

It is feet firmly cemented to the truth - we have an eternal home, an eternal Father, a Christ to consider, with hope eternal – its unshakeable, immoveable, and remains our inner joy-anchor when all else seems like whirling winds.

With joy in place because of what Christ has done, ‘praying continually’ is next in line. The last few months I have been reading The Only Necessary Thing by Henri Nouwen. From it a little nugget of insight set me on an exercise these past few weeks of changing every thought into a prayer. Every thought into a prayer goes something like this: “I’m so tired today but have to go to work” transforms into “I may be feeling tired, Father but you give strength to the weary and I’m so blessed to have work to go to.” If every thought becomes a prayer because of what Christ has done for us and is continuing to do, the natural outflow is thanksgiving, the next command in the circle. Inner joy produces prayer, prayer produces thanks, which in turn solidifies joy – the circle complete.

A list appearing all but impossible, now possible and the greatest part of all - it is God’s will for us. Have you ever wondered what God’s will was for your life? This is it – BEing joyful, BEing prayerful, and BEing thankful! LISTEN this Advent to His simple command, all laid out in ‘red and yellow, black and white’ – human form come down to dwell and live in us.

Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.  
Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo.  
Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lighting.  
Karl Barth

Terri Rosenau

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Terri is a mother to one, a sister to three, a friend to anyone who wants one, and a passionate lover of beauty. Her heart has two homelands – Vancouver and Uganda. She loves to cook and create. She’s a child of God and His Master's piece in progress. She lives under grace, with a grateful heart, but often with a dash of doubt and fear.