I have been talking to several of our missionaries via text, including Cha and Hudson in Egypt, Sung in Indonesia, Joseph and Kim in Kyrgyzstan and Kisung in Mexico. It seems that their personal lives and ministries have been heavily affected by this COVID-19 pandemic as well. Some countries are in complete lockdown, most ministries are cancelled or postponed and many people in their churches have lost their jobs and are struggling to find food and other essential supplies for their families. In the midst of all of this, I was so moved to hear of the Christ-like generosity of one of our missionaries, who, despite not doing great himself, broke his alabaster jar and gave fifty dollars to ten families, so that they could buy sugar, flour, cones, etc.
I also heard that several of our shepherds and house church members here in Dallas have also been delivering food and other care packages, along with handwritten cards of encouragement, to other house church members as well, on top of supporting those who are financially affected and volunteering for various food distribution ministries and other charity organizations. I am so glad to hear that our ANF family is able to share the love of Jesus Christ with others not only with words but also with practical and sacrificial acts of kindness. Let’s continue doing so. Now is the time for us to show the world our true identities as Christ-followers.
Happy Easter, everyone. In order to more meaningfully celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, I want to share with you his vision of death that I recently read in my daily devotion.
When Jesus was anticipating his own death he kept repeating the same theme to his disciples: “My death is good for you, because my death will bear many fruits beyond my death. When I die I will not leave you alone, but I will send you my Spirit, the Paraclete, the Counselor. And my Spirit will reveal to you who I am, what I am teaching you. My Spirit will lead you into the truth and will allow you to have a relationship with me that was not possible before my death. My Spirit will help you to form community and grow in strength.” Jesus sees that the real fruits of his life will mature after his death. That is why he adds, “It is good for you that I go.”
If that is true, then the real question for me as I consider my own death is not: how much can I still accomplish before I die, or will I be a burden to others? No, the real question is: how can I live so that my death will be fruitful for others? In other words, how can my death be a gift for my loved ones so that they can reap the fruits of my life after I have died? This question can be answered only if I am first willing to admit Jesus’ vision of death as a valid possibility for me.
(From Henri Nouwen, You Are the Beloved, p. 96)
Following Good Friday service last night, several people texted me, worried that I might have been stressed due to some posing moments during worship. Not at all, no cap (lol)! I was just grateful for the privilege of being able to meet you all over Zoom and worship our Lord Jesus Christ together as one body. Last night, I also watched the musical, Jesus, presented by Sight & Sound Theatres, with my family (https://watch.tbn.org/sight-sound-theatres-presents-jesus). I was amazed by the spectacular set-up of the stage, which was way beyond my expectations. It would have been even better if I could have watched it in a real theater. If you haven’t watched it already and have children or parents at home, I strongly recommend making your house into a movie theater tonight, turning off all of the lights and getting comfortable on the sofa with snacks as a family.
More than anything, I liked the way that Jesus was portrayed in this musical. He was depicted as a person that had not only gone through many pains and sufferings for our sins but also read bedtime stories to children, played and laughed with them, made jokes about Martha’s food, while also resolving the tension between her and Mary, touched and healed the contagious and unclean with his hands and then intentionally touched his disciples who were afraid with a smile. It reminded me that Jesus had a great sense of humor.
Today is the day after Good Friday and the day before Easter. His body is still laying in the tomb. While we eagerly await his resurrection, let’s remember that he was a man of not only sorrow but also joy, thanksgiving, hope, humor and a beautiful smile, so that we can also appreciate and be grateful for every single moment of our lives, just as Jesus did, no matter the circumstance.
My heart feels especially troubled and sorrowful today. Jesus was mocked, beaten, insulted by the guards in the house of the high priest (Luke 22:54, 63-65). He was vehemently accused by the chief priests and the teachers of the law (Luke 23:10). He was ridiculed and mocked again by Herod and his soldiers (Luke 23:11). He was spit on and blindfolded, stricken with fists (Mark 14:65). He was flogged (Mark 15:15). He was stripped, spit on, mocked, humiliated and stricken on the head by Roman soldiers in Praetorium (Mark 15:16-20). During the dark night, Jesus went through unbearable sufferings. Jesus was crucified at 9 am and breathed his last at 3 pm.
How do you feel about the things that happened to Jesus? If you don’t feel anything and have become numb, do you know why? If these terrible things had happened to you or to someone that you love, would you feel any differently?
The reason why we have become indifferent and apathetic to Jesus’ humiliation, sufferings and death is because we think of them as someone else’s sufferings, and not our own. In our spiritual lives, one of the most important traits we can have is “compassion.” It literally means “a suffering with another,” derived from com “with, together” and pati “to suffer” in Latin. Just as Jesus always had compassion for us, let’s have compassion for him as well, if not always, then at least today.
In Matthew 26:21, on the night before he was crucified, Jesus tells his twelve disciples, “One of you will betray me for money.” In verse 25, Judas Iscariot asks Jesus, “Is it I, Rabbi?”, and Jesus answers him, “You have said so.” Jesus then explains to Peter in verses 34 and 35, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter responds, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” In verse 38, following the Last Supper, Jesus goes to Gethsemane to pray and asks of Peter, James and John, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” However, despite the criticality of this request, the three disciples fall asleep in their wait, until Jesus asks Peter in verse 40, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” In each of these three episodes, was Jesus criticizing and condemning them for betraying him, denying him, failing to stay awake or otherwise do what he had asked of them?
He was doing quite the contrary. In fact, by telling them the truth and revealing to them the poorness of their spiritual lives, Jesus was calling them into truer, more intimate relationships with him. He was giving them opportunities to choose not to betray, not to deny, not to fall to asleep out of his compassion for them. Still, they failed to admit the truth and realize how deficient they were in their spiritual lives, effectively losing their last opportunity to change and be transformed. Their spiritual blindness and arrogance seem more propounding problems to them. What about you? Are you not Judas or Peter or John or James on that night? I pray that we would all be able to admit the truth about who we are, hear Jesus’ calling into truer, more intimate fellowships with him and make different, better decisions before him on this last day before Good Friday.
In Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-8, a woman goes to Jesus, breaks her alabaster jar and pours an ointment of nard worth almost a full year’s worth of wages onto his head. Even though this extravagant act of love towards Jesus was done to prepare him for a proper burial, the disciples observing nearby failed to understand its deeper meaning. Instead, the disciples harshly rebuked her, telling her that the money should have been used to help the poor. However, in Mark 14:7, Jesus responds to them, “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.” Our list of Daily Bible Reading Passages for Passion Week does not include this story because, according to the Gospel of John, this happened before the start of Passion Week. Still, I want to encourage you all to read this story today whenever you get a chance.
It’s not trying to teach us that acts of service to the poor are less important than acts of service to Jesus, or vice versa. Instead, it teaches us about the importance of bestowed time. In simpler terms, if we could always have Jesus by our side, we wouldn’t need to break an alabaster jar for him today because we could always do it tomorrow, or any other day in the future. But our allotted time with Jesus during this Passion Week is limited. Jesus will be leaving soon. If we don’t take the time to open our alabaster jars for him today, we won’t be able do it tomorrow, even if we really wanted to.
People often make the excuse, “I’ll do it later,” or “I’ll do it tomorrow.” However, in this case, there is no “tomorrow.” Imagine that today were the only day that you could spend with the person that you love. Let’s break our alabaster jars for them, telling them how much we love them, care for them and are thankful for them.
On Sunday (Palm Sunday), after entering the city of Jerusalem, Jesus returned to Bethany, where he was staying that week. Each morning, he went to Jerusalem, and each night, he returned to Bethany. It was his daily routine that week. It was two miles from Bethany to Jerusalem, and vice versa. How long do you think that it took him to travel those two miles? On the way to Jerusalem, there was an incline created by the Mount of Olives. From the peak of the Mount of Olives, Jesus was able to look the temple, as well as the whole city of Jerusalem. It would have taken him about an hour if he and his disciples were to have walked at a decent walking pace. I encourage you to look at a map for better visualization.
I wonder what Jesus was thinking while he was walking to Jerusalem each morning for an hour. This morning, I imagined that I were walking with him from Bethany to Jerusalem. On the way, I tried to think about the same things that Jesus would have been thinking about during that walk. I wondered if Jesus might have been lonely not because of social distancing but because of spiritual distancing. I hope that I might be able to feel what He felt, hear what He heard, see what He saw, think that He thought, pray what He prayed, wait for what He waited for and do what He wanted to do. Let’s walk together with Him today from Bethany to Jerusalem having the same heart and mind that He did.
This morning, 21 people gathered at 6 am via Zoom for the first day of Passion Week Early Morning Prayer and Fasting. Following the guidelines posted on our website at https://anfdallas.org/sites/default/files/2020-03/passion-week-fasting-and-prayer-guideline.pdf, we praised, meditated on the Word, journaled and prayed for our personal lives, the church and the world. Some people might question how necessary it is for us to be doing Passion Week Early Morning Prayer and Fasting, given the whole COVID-19 crisis going on. I find it to be absolutely so. It is our way of confessing that we need Jesus Christ even more desperately during this season and symbolizes our effort to draw nearer to Him. I hope that the rest of you can join us and grow in your relationships with God even more during this Passion Week.
I wanted to share the text messages that I received from two people after I shared some of my struggles in my daily journal yesterday. I took them as an encouragement from God. Thank you.
“Pastor Daniel. I saw your message in the GroupMe just now and saw that you have been struggling in different ways. I hope you know that you have been a wonderful and loving pastor in every way and that I believe that God is pleased with all that you have done. I pray the physical pain in your eyes will subside and for you to heal quickly. Hope you are feeling better and happy to see you share the word later this afternoon.”
“Pastor Daniel, thank you for your vulnerability in today’s message. I love you and am always inspired by you. Praying for you all the more today!”
During yesterday’s time of commitment, five people sent me their commitments and prayer requests via e-mail and text. I have included some of their commitments below, hoping that our ANF family might be reminded of Jesus Christ’s willingness to enter into the city of Jerusalem, understanding that this dangerous situation was an opportunity to accomplish his God-given calling on Earth:
“I commit to being more active in my faith this week by reading the bible more and seeking for ways I can practically share my faith.”
“to spend more intentional time with God.”
“to do early morning prayer for the upcoming week to grow spiritually with members of this spiritual family.”
“to provide acts of service to my HC members and fellow ANF members when I can.”
“as Jesus was willing to be an active participant, I would like to actively participate in spending intentional time with Jesus this week. I would like to take advantage of this unplanned time that was given to me to use it wisely, and rather than spend it alone in isolation and quarantine, spend that time diligently with God to strengthen the understanding I have of him, especially during Holy Week. So, I can continue to be reminded and further understand the powerful acts that were committed on my behalf and others to save us from our own sins.”
I arrived at church today with a mix of complicated thoughts and emotions: Coping with persistent migraines, feeling as though there is constantly something in my eyes, enduring the pain and discomfort in my eyes that doesn’t seem to be going away, sensing that my insomnia has come back, causing me to have difficulty falling asleep on many days, feeling as though I am going through life having forgotten something, having moments where everything feels tiresome and I don’t want to do anything, feeling lonely, feeling like I failed as a parent to raise my children as a person who genuinely loves God, feeling like I failed as a pastor to nurture the people of our church as disciples of the Lord... So, I went before God in prayer this morning, thinking, wouldn’t it be okay if I went before Him, presenting myself exactly the way that I am, without hiding or exaggerating anything?
It seems as though my Sunday morning prayer this morning was a prayer for me. It is my hope and desire that I can live a life loving our Lord Jesus Christ even more…
My dear Lord,
I can but tell you that you know
I long for nothing but yourself.
nothing but holiness,
nothing but union with your will.
You have given me these desires,
and you alone can give me the thing desired.
My soul longs for communion with you.
for mortification of indwelling corruption,
especially spiritual pride.
What a blessedness to be like you
as much as it Is possible for a creature
to be like its Creator!
Lord, give me more of your likeness;
enlarge my soul to contain fullness of holiness;
engage me to live more for you.
help me to be less pleased with my spiritual experiences,
and when I feel at ease after sweet communings,
teach me it is far too little I know and do.
let me climb up near to you,
and love, and long, and plead, and wrestle with you,
wrap my life in divine love,
and keep me ever desiring you,
always humble and resigned to your will,
more fixed on yourself,
that I may be more fitted for doing and suffering.
(from the puritan’s prayers, p.230-231)
Despite many things having been canceled and forgotten due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, I want to encourage our ANF family to remember the meaning and significance behind Jesus Christ’s suffering and death for us. Passion Week begins tomorrow, and the following Sunday is Easter. Let’s devote even more intentional time to pray, re-focus on God and intercede on behalf of the world, especially in this coming week. Last year, we did Passion Week Early Morning Fasting and Prayer at church, and this year, we will do it again with the same purpose, albeit a little bit differently. I hope that you all can continue to live your lives as a holy priesthood of God by actively and sacrificially seeking opportunities to SERVE and PRAY FOR the world.
Not long after ANF decided to move all of its ministries online in response to COVID-19, I asked several people to think about “10 Creatives Ways to Live a Life of Prayer” without having to gather in person. I want to share with you a few of their ideas, in hopes of encouraging and motivating you to grow even further in prayer:
“Have a prayer partner that we can pray together with through call/facetime at least 3 times a week.”
“We could do 14-day EMP at home and have at least 1-2 others in a group to facetime in the morning and pray together to keep each other accountable.”
“We could challenge people to give up secular music/tv and listen to only Christian music, Christian podcasts, or listen to/read the Bible for 14 days."
“Journaling. Journaling prayers also allows us to review our patterns of communication in prayer and reflect on the growth of our relationship in past seasons. I record prayers for people, situations, material things, even ramblings that come from my heart. I also use it to record lessons that God has taught me. I have enjoyed over the years going back and looking at all the different places God and I have “gone” together.”
“Say good morning to the Lord. Saying a good morning prayer is one of the best ways to keep an eternal focus, and to reflect on Jesus Christ.”
“Fasting is showing humility before God. Especially at times like this, when a lot of sacrifice is being required for social distancing not only for ourselves but also for people around us, it is a good practice to humble ourselves before God and others.”
“The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave us a brilliant model for prayer. It’s a good idea to read the whole passage in Matthew 6:5-15, where Jesus advises his listeners how to pray. It can be very easy to repeat this prayer because many of us have been taught it at an early age, but perhaps we haven’t really thought about its meaning. However, this brilliant prayer includes all aspects of prayer: praise; thanks; praying for God’s will; confessing sins and asking for forgiveness and help to forgive others; asking for what we need, and for help in situations of temptation. Take some time to read each phrase, think about it and even re-write each phrase in your own words.”
“With the amount of free time you have now, instead of using all your time watching YouTube videos, playing games, or watching Netflix and other TV shows, try to spend more intimate time with God. Try to fast at least one activity that you spend most of your free time on. Use that time instead praying for those who are affected by the Coronavirus in the world and for our brothers and sisters’ future well-being.”