40 Days of Lamentations - 2009 Lent

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February 5, 2009
My dear brethren,
Once again we will be entering into the season of LentAsh Wednesday is on February 25, and we go all the way to Holy Week ending onEaster Sunday which is on April 12. Lent of course is when we go on repentance mode. We start on Ash Wednesday with ash put on our foreheads, reminding us of our human frailty and out returning to dust. Thereafter we continue to figuratively weak sackcloth, in our journey of reconciliation to God.
Why do we do this year after year? Well, it is simply because we are sinners. And even as we have already been washed by the blood of the Lamb, even as we have already accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, we still sin, at times grievously. So in fact it is not only during Lent that we are especially mindful of our sinfulness, but this is something we do all year round.
Repentance is a wonderful gift from God. We can be the greatest of sinners, but if we truly repent, then we are reconciled with God. Then he remembers our sins no longer. Then we are washed clean and become as white as snow. Then we move on to greater holiness of life. Then we become more fitting and able instruments that God will use to accomplish His purposes in the world.
For us as CFC-FFL, given the task of renewing the family and defending life, we need to be truly one in heart and mind with God, and walking in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus, so that we can be empowered by His Spirit. Much has been given to us, and where much is given, much also is expected. We must repent of our sins and our infidelities, and we must carry our crosses daily, in order to truly follow Jesus. 
What are our infidelities? There are many. Ironically, even as we are already restored as God’s holy remnant, I see that many of our past infidelities that led to the crisis and split of 2007 are still with us. While we are back on track on our evangelization, there is a need for greater passion and singlemindedness. While we are united in heart and mind with our brethren, there are still the conflicts, even among top leaders. While we are resolved to really serve God and His people, there is still a lack of full understanding as to the meaning of servant leadership and how to live this out.
While many of these shortcomings will always be with us, given our sinful human natures and the attacks of the enemy, we must strive every year to overcome the flesh and resist the lures of the world, thereby undermining the devil’s influence on us. Thus we focus especially during Lent. This is a time of grace and mercy for us.
Given our particular situation as CFC-FFL, we need to revisit the lessons of Lamentations. There is much still to be learned. And indeed, this learning will take our whole lifetimes, until we are fully secure in the embrace of our Father in heaven.
I thus encourage you to again take up the book “40 Days of Lamentations.” The readings in 2007 for Lent are the same as the readings this year, except for Sundays and a few other days. For those days when the readings are different from those in the book, I will be providing the appropriate reflection. Look too at the many lessons to be learned in Part II of the book. Discussions of these lessons can take a lifetime in your households.
I know that God has allowed everything that happened for a purpose. God allowed the crisis of 2007 to impress upon us the unacceptability of infidelity and the importance of covenant. God allowed the split to be able to raise a holy remnant, and get us back on track according to His original purpose for CFC. Now God desires that we truly become a people He can use. Our work is this third millennium, that of renewing the family and defending life, is crucial. It is a great privilege for us, as well as a great responsibility.
Let us not fail the Lord. He has provided everything we need. His grace is abundant. His divine mercy knows no bounds. It now depends on us. Let us always look to Jesus on the cross, where our sins put him. And let us lament our failings and repent of our infidelities.
As we are laid low, God Himself will raise us up. Let us humble ourselves before His glorious majesty, and resolve to be more like Jesus each day.
God bless us all.
Your brother and servant,
Frank Padilla

(Part 3)
Our mission is to proclaim the full gospel of Jesus, with its spiritual and social dimensions. Our basic mission is evangelization. An important collateral work is our so-called work with the poor. One of our core values is “Living a preferential option for the poor.” We participate in building the Church of the Poor. In this, aside from bringing people to Christ, we also look to their material needs.

Because of widespread poverty throughout the world, because of such patent injustice to the greater majority of people, this work with the poor is urgent and crucial. Our love for Jesus and transformation in Christ should lead us to love our neighbor, especially the least among them. If we have faith but not works, then such faith is dead (Jas 2:14-17).

But here lies a danger. It is to get so involved in helping the poor materially that we miss out on the more important aspect of helping them spiritually. Those who embraced the theology of liberation ended up going the way of violence in order to fight poverty and injustice. In our own work, some of those who were doing the wonderful work of GK ended up marginalizing Christ, partnering with those who violated Catholic values (such as pharmaceuticals with contraceptives), and even bringing New Age into the work.
The Lord did warn us about such veering away. At the center of our covenant is Jesus, and anytime we stray away from that, we will be in deep trouble.

The reflection last April 2, 2007, in “40 Days of Lamentations,” the readings of which are also the readings for today, is very relevant. It is worth revisiting, as we now do.
*     *     *
Day 35
Jesus at the Center of our Covenant
“The Lord is my light and my salvation”
(Psalm 27:1a)
April 2
Isaiah 42:1-7
Psalm 27:1-14
John 12:1-11
Isaiah 42:1-7 is the first of four “Servant of the Lord” oracles in Isaiah. These prophecies find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This passage also teaches us about the purpose of our covenant, sealed by the blood of Jesus on the cross. Jesus is the center and focal point of our covenant. “I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people” (Is 42:6).

Jesus and his relationship with the Father is our model in our own relationship of covenant with God. Just like Jesus, those whom God calls into covenant are those who are chosen to be His Spirit-filled servants, who become pleasing to Him and who are sent to renew the world according to His ways. “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations” (Is 42:1).

Jesus’ work is to bring justice to the world (Is 42:1,4,6). Justice in biblical usage is about righteousness and about giving every person what is their due. To God is due worship. To every person is due recognition as having dignity as children of God. To the poor is due an equitable share of the world’s goods. In other words, Jesus’ mission is to establish the kingdom of God as God intended for it to be. It is a restoration of paradise. Of course the fullness of that restoration will only be fulfilled in the new Jerusalem at the end of time.
For us, as part of our covenant and in living out our vocation to be God’s people, and in following the way of Christ, we are to be “a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness” (Is 42:6-7). This is our work of global evangelization, proclaiming the good news in its fullness, including its spiritual and social dimensions. Through this work, the sorry situation of people in the world will be reversed the blind shall see, the prisoners will be freed, and those in darkness will see the light. This work is all about salvation and liberation.

That is quite a task. It is the work of God Himself. The powerful enemy will certainly oppose it. There will be hardships, trials, oppressions, persecutions, pain, crosses. We need to be able to persevere. We need to carry on in spite of seeming defeats. We need to depend on strength that is beyond our own. We need to place our hope in God.

Psalm 27 gives the reason why we hope in God (our theme this year from Lamentations 3:24). The essence of our hope is our trust in God. Why do we trust God?
  • Because He is our light, our salvation and our life’s refuge (Ps 27:1).
  • Because He will deliver us in time of trouble and from our enemies (Ps 27:5-6).
  • Because His love for us surpasses even the love of our own parents (Ps 27:10).
Now if we trust God, then we must not be afraid. In fact, fear and trust are opposites. “Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear; though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.” (Ps 27:3).

We can carry on, whatever the circumstances in our life and in our work. We do so because God called us to this work, God gave us the privilege of our covenant, and God assures us that He will always be there for us. God will show us the way, God will not abandon us to the will of those who oppose us and His work, and on top of everything else, we shall enjoy the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living (Ps 27:11-13). There is nothing else then that we need.
Now in doing our work of liberation, there is one critical point. For us to enjoy all the blessings of covenant, for us to truly have hope, we must always be focused on Jesus. Again Jesus is the center and focal point of our covenant. Because of this, it is critically important for us to realize that Jesus is the one priority before everything else, including the mission he gives us to do.

Jesus’ mission is to bring glad tidings to the poor. That is our mission as well. But when Judas was complaining why Mary used costly perfumed oil to anoint Jesus’ feet rather than selling it and giving the money to the poor, Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (Jn 12:8). Here they had a choice: to sell the oil and give the money to the poor, or to honor Jesus by anointing his feet with it. Jesus’ words make the choice clear to us. We must first and foremost be focused on him, giving him the honor, praise and worship that is his due. Then, if we are truly focused on him, if we are living our lives in him, we will certainly go forth and help the poor. Indeed, it is Jesus himself who sends us out on such a mission.

This is a very crucial point in our life and work. At times, in our enthusiasm for our work with the poor and given so much to do, we may neglect our spiritual foundations of prayer and community life. In our desire to give money to build homes for the poor, we may deprive community and its mission by taking the money from our tithes. In our focus on providing for the material needs of the poor, we may neglect their spiritual needs. In our passion for liberation of the body, we may miss out on salvation of the soul. In doing a great humanitarian work, we might not be carrying out the very plan of God for CFC.
Let nothing of that happen, as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
*    *    *  
The kind of God we have: A God we can trust.
Covenant response: Be a light to the world.
Lamentations action: Examine your ways in doing your share of our work with the poor, in relation to community life and mission.
  • Do you fail to attend your households, prayer assemblies and major CFC events because you choose to rather do some GK work?
  • Do you take your contributions to GK from your tithe to CFC?
  • Do you consciously and urgently try to bring our beneficiaries and partners to our CFC renewal programs?
  • Are you just doing some great humanitarian work, or are you carrying out the very plan of God in allowing CFC to give birth to GK, in order to bring God’s light, justice and peace to the world?
 Lamentations prayer: “Hear my voice, Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. ….. your face, Lord, do I seek! Do not hide your face from me; do not repel your servant in anger. You are my help; do not cast me off; do not forsake me, God my savior! ….. Lord, show me your way; lead me on a level path ….. Do not abandon me …..” (Ps 27:7,8b-9,11a,12a). Lord, I believe I will enjoy your goodness in the land of the living; I will wait for you, Lord, I will take courage; I will be stouthearted, I will wait for you (Ps 27:13-14). Amen.
*     *     *
Because of our veering away, CFC was plunged into crisis, with the eventual split. This is something that must not happen again. God already restored CFC (with CFC-FFL), and we must never veer away again from our covenant and God’s call.

How do we ensure that?

We must learn the lessons God wants to teach us. These are the lessons of Lamentations. In this Lenten season, I again bring you to another one of the many lessons of Lamentations (from Forty Days of Lamentations).
*     *     *
Lamentations 121  Social without spiritual

God calls us to be instruments of both salvation (spiritual dimension) and liberation (social dimension). The two are two dimensions of the one gospel. At times, those who work for renewal think only of the spirit, while neglecting the social. But faith without works is dead (Jas 2:17). Indeed, the very mission of Jesus is to bring good news to the poor (Lk 4:18). So the work of renewal is not complete unless the social dimension is included.

But at times the problem is the other way around. Some work for social liberation but neglect the spiritual dimension. Some are so passionate in fighting poverty, injustice and oppression, but in losing track of the things of the Spirit, fall into the so-called theology of liberation or into the gospel of prosperity. This is liberation without Christ at the center. If we freed people from captivity but are not able to bring them to Christ, then that would not fulfill God’s will.

There are many Christians also doing good works but not based on prayer and the word, or are not undergoing sufficient formation in the faith. Now even atheists do a lot of good work. But this is not enough. Our ultimate task is to bring people to Christ and to build God’s kingdom on earth. We are to be witnesses, by the way we live out lives, in holiness and righteousness.

*     *     *
In CFC-FFL, we continue to do our work with the poor and work for justice through our Social Ministries. We continue to build communities among the poor, looking to their shelter, health, education, livelihood and other material needs, without neglecting the all-important aspect of bringing them to a vibrant relationship with Jesus and providing a spiritual environment for their growth in faith.

We are also doing prison ministry. Among other places, we are working with inmates of the Maximum Security Compound of the National Bilibid Prison. According to the world they are the scum of the earth. But to Jesus they are his beloved brethren.
In a way, these prisoners are much worse off than those poor who are homeless.

First, they have no freedom. This has been taken from them and they are incarcerated, their movements severely restricted.

Second, they have no family. They have been separated from their families, and for many of them, some of whom are serving life terms, they have been abandoned and forgotten by their relatives.

Third, they hardly have any future. They have lost everything. Even if they are eventually released, they carry the stigma of being an ex-convict. Many are afraid of being near them and would not hire them.

But what they can have is a vibrant faith. In Jesus they can look to love, peace and joy in their lives. We are privileged to be Jesus’ instruments for proclaiming this good news to them.
There is much injustice in the world, causing poverty amidst the bountiful resources provided by God. This is not God’s will.

We in CFC-FFL have been called “for the victory of justice,” and Jesus has grasped us by the hand and formed us, entering into covenant with us, so that we might bring his light to the nations (Is 42:6). We are privileged to be given our mission, the very mission of Jesus, “to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” (Is 42:7).
Liberation and salvation. The social and the spiritual. The poor and the pure. Two sides of the same evangelistic coin. Both intended by God as the authentic and full gospel of Jesus.

May we truly understand, and live out our calling.

(April 6, 2009)

(Part 2)
The role of CFC-FFL in the world today is prophetic. That means that we speak on behalf of God, that we take on His mind and heart, and that we confront a world that is in sin and seek to bring it to repentance and faith. It is doing the very work of God, being His very mouthpiece, reflecting His very image, and bringing His light to a world in darkness.

Now darkness and light are contradictory. The meeting of the two brings conflict.

Evil cannot stand the light. It exposes sin. In fact, “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” (Jn 3:19). As such, those who prefer darkness can be expected to oppose those who bring light. The prophets that God sent were persecuted and executed. Then God sent light itself, His very own Son Jesus who was the light of the world (Jn 8:12). But the people extinguished that light by crucifying him.
At times, persecution might come even from our own brethren. This is what we experienced in the crisis in CFC, and such persecution continues even up to now. Why does this happen?
  • There are indeed those, even those who are supposedly in the Lord, who still cannot accept truth and the light. We were persecuted because of our prophetic actions.We spoke about the veering away from our authentic calling, but there were those who persisted on pushing their hidden agenda.
  • We averred that all had sinned, but there were those who claimed to be sinless.
  • We called on the top leadership to let go of power and position, but there were those who clung to these even more.
  • We exhorted brethren to go into lamentations mode, but there were those who mocked this and impatiently proceeded with their own human priorities.
  • We looked to obeying the hierarchy that was helping us, but there were those who insisted on legalities and followed their own human will.
 So persecution of prophets is a reality.

The reflection in “40 Days of Lamentations” for today is very relevant. It is worth revisiting, as we now do.
*     *     *
Day 33
Persecution as a Gift
“I love you, Lord, my strength,
Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer,
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold!”
(Psalm 18:2-3)
March 30
Jeremiah 20:10-13
Psalm 18:2-7
John 10:31-42
Today’s readings are all about those who are persecuted from Jeremiah, to David, to Jesus. People who stand up for God can expect to be persecuted those who are prophets, those who govern God’s people, those who do the very work of God. Prophets are persecuted by those who do not want to hear the truth God has to say to them. Governors are persecuted by those who disagree with the way they pastor the community and by those who want to take their place. Those who do God’s work are persecuted by those who oppose God and who are aligned with the enemy.

Jeremiah was persecuted even by his friends. David was persecuted even by his king. Jesus was persecuted even by his own people, the very people of God, the ones whom God had entered into covenant with.
So you who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, you are in good company. Know that you are blessed, for thekingdom of heaven is yours (Mt 5:10). You who are insulted and slandered because of Christ, “rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:11-12). This is the overturning of the wisdom of the world. Those who suffer are blessed. Those who ought to be sad and miserable are those who should rejoice. This is because God will turn your seeming defeat into victory, whether here or hereafter.

Know that “the Lord is with (you), like a mighty champion” (Jer 20:11). Just entrust your cause to Him, and then sing and praise the Lord (Jer 20:12-13). Know that the Lord is your strength, your rock, your fortress, your deliverer, your refuge, your shield, your saving horn, your stronghold (Ps 18:2-3). God is all these, so what more do you need! Even when surrounded by the breakers of death, by the menacing floods, by the tightening cords of Sheol, by the snares of death, all you need do is call out to the Lord, and He will hear your cry from heaven (Ps 18:5-7).
In this world we can expect troubles, pain and even persecution, but we can always look to God for our deliverance.This is what covenant is all about.

As such, we need never fear. In fact, we rejoice in all circumstances. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:4)

Then you can always say: “Praised be the Lord, I exclaim! I have been delivered from my enemies.” (Ps 18:4).
*     *     *
Did you catch the title of that day? It is “Persecution as a Gift”!

Now since when did persecution become a gift? It is indeed a gift, if it is allowed by God, in order to fulfill His divine purposes. What purposes are those? It is purification for holiness. It is the privilege of allowing God’s instrument to follow in His footsteps to the cross and to be “crucified” with him. It is training and empowerment to be effective for mission. It is to deepen trust in God’s divine mercy.
Remember that we are being used as God’s instruments. As such, we are into raging spiritual warfare. Satan 
will throw everything he has against God’s prophets. He can even use our own brethren to afflict us.

We must know the fate of prophets. We must be willing to endure for the sake of Christ. We must persevere, knowing God is working out His divine plan in our lives, and using us to touch the lives of others.
In this Lenten season, I again bring you to another one of the many lessons of Lamentations (from Forty Days of Lamentations).
*     *     *
Lamentations 245  Willingness to suffer
“I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” (Is 50:6)
When we evangelize, we encounter the enemy. The evil one will not want to let go of his dominion over the lives of people. Those who belong to the enemy camp will not cede ground and will fight us with full force. Those who are in bondage to darkness will not welcome and will even resent being presented with the gospel, for it becomes an indictment on their way of life and their choices in life.

Thus we can be persecuted. No, we will be persecuted. We must then be willing to suffer for Christ. “For your sake I bear insult, shame covers my face.” (Ps 69:8). We must realize that it is then that we are truly blessed and our reward will be great in heaven (Mt 5:10-12).

But when we suffer for the gospel, we can rejoice. The buffets and spitting will be our badge of honor. We would have gone the way of Christ, that of the cross.

*     *     *
Now did you catch that last part? When we suffer for the gospel, we can rejoice!
No wonder Jesus spoke that way about prophets. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus warned his people about being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. He said that “they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:12c). But Jesus called those so persecuted as blessed! “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.” (Mt 5:11).

Because we are blessed, then we can “rejoice and be glad” (Mt 5:12a). We are filled with joy, for our “reward will be great in heaven” (Mt 5:12b).
We are merely pilgrims in this life, just passing through, with the goal of making our way to heaven. While here, we serve God, and He enlists us as prophets. As prophets we can expect to be persecuted. As we are persecuted, we are blessed. The ultimate blessing is precisely our very goal making it to heaven.

“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:10).
The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. We say that we are centered on Christ, that we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. If that is so, then everything now has fallen into place. Jesus himself has shown us the way. “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame” (Heb 12:2b).

Our privilege and joy is to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. All the way to heaven.

(April 3, 2009)

Supplemental Reflections for Lent 2009
(40 Days of Lamentations)
Day 29
A God Who Protects
“The Lord is my shepherd”
(Psalm 23:1a)
March 30
Daniel 13:1-62
Psalm 23:1-6 
John 8:1-11
In today’s readings we have the stories of two very different women, but both blessed by one and the very same God. One is the sinful woman. The other is the virtuous Susanna. The first was caught in an adulterous sexual relationship (Jn 8:3), and rightly accused by the scribes and Pharisees (elders). Susanna was alleged to have been caught in an illicit sexual relationship, but falsely accused by the two judges (elders). In both cases the two women were brought for judgment, the first before the assembly of the people, the second before Jesus. Both were being led to execution (Jn 8:5; Dn 13:45a). The first was guilty while the second was innocent. Both escaped condemnation.

In both cases God acted. For the first God used Daniel. For the second God used Jesus. In the end, the adulterous woman would sin no more (Jn 8:11) and become virtuous just like Susanna.
It is interesting that in both cases the targets were innocent. The target of the scribes and Pharisees was not really the adulterous woman, but Jesus (Jn 8:6).

It can happen to us too. Because of the sin of others, we may be afflicted. People, like the scribes and Pharisees, might have a hidden agenda, and use circumstances to afflict us. Others, like the two judges, might have their own guilt to hide, and so fabricate charges against us in order to cover up their own wrongdoing. These can be powerful people, even spiritual leaders, and we can feel really powerless. Susanna groaned, “I am completely trapped, …. I cannot escape your power.” (Dn 13:22). The adulterous woman remained quiet, knowing she was completely powerless.

However, these seemingly hopeless situations can be great blessings, if they move us to turn to God. In our utter helplessness, we turn to the One who is in control of all situations. Susanna cried aloud to God (Dn 13:42), and “the Lord heard her prayer.” (Dn 13:44).
We can put our well-being totally in God’s hands, because “the Lord is (a) shepherd” (Ps 23:1a), who cares for His flock. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will even give his life for his sheep. If that is the case, then “there is nothing that I lack” (Ps 23:1b)! If God Himself is caring for me, interested only in my well-being, then I have everything! I need never fear, whatever the distressing circumstances of life.

What does it mean that the Lord is my shepherd?
  • He guides me. “You guide me along the right path” (Ps 23:3b).
  • He keeps me safe. “To safe waters you lead me” (Ps 23:2b).
  • He strengthens me. “You restore my strength” (Ps 23:3a).
  • He gives me courage. “Your rod and staff give me courage” (Ps 23:4b).
  • He provides for what I need in order to live well. “In green pastures you let me graze” (Ps 23:2a). He even provides abundance! “My cup overflows” (Ps 23:5b).
  • I need never be afraid, even in the direst of circumstances. “Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side” (Ps 23:4a).
  • He shows the world, including my enemies, that I am His friend and guest. “You set a table before me as my enemies watch” (Ps 23:5a).
 What a blessed life! Even as enemies pursue us to cause our downfall, we can truly exclaim, “Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life” (Ps 23:6a). God intervenes in our lives, and that is how we endure the crosses and experience the blessings in life, as we live in and with Him. We can confidently aver, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” (Ps 23:6b).

No, not just for years, but for all eternity.
*   *   *
The kind of God we have:  The Good Shepherd.
Our covenant response:  Bless God who saves those that hope in Him (Dn 13:60).
Lamentations reflection/action:  What great trials and crosses are you facing? Are you able to fully trust in Jesus? 
Lamentations prayer:  “O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be” (Dn 13:42). Though there are dangers all around me, I fear not, for my life is entirely in your hands. Please always extend to me your protection, guidance, strength and courage. I rejoice in your salvation. Lord, I look up to you and trust in you wholeheartedly (Dn 13:35b). Amen.

(You are encouraged to use the book “Forty Days of Lamentations” during this period of Lent 2009. Most of the scripture readings are the same. In case they are not, a supplemental reflection is provided. Let us continue to learn the lessons of Lamentations.)

Supplemental Reflections for Lent 2009
(40 Days of Lamentations)
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Our New Covenant in Jesus
“Whoever serves me must follow me”
(John 12:26a)
March 29
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:3-15
Hebrews 5:7-9 
John 12:20-33
God’s covenant with Israel was something awesome. God took a slave people and made them His own. Today, we Christians are the new Israel. God has made “a new covenant with” us (Jer 31:31). And it is even more wonderful than the old covenant.

First, the covenant will be written in the heart and not on tablets of stone. “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31:33b). The covenant would be something internal and not merely external.

Second, unlike the covenant that the Israelites broke, causing God to punish them (Jer 31:32b), this new covenant would not be broken. As the generations last till the end of time, so too would the new covenant last forever.

Third, being in the heart passed on from generation to generation, the people would know the Lord, even without formal teaching (Jer 31:34). The covenant would be lived out, manifest to all as a distinct way of life, carried on through the generations.

Fourth, the mediator of the old covenant was Moses. The mediator of the new covenant is Jesus, the very Son of God. Jesus won for us our renewed relationship with the Father on the cross, as “when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 5:9).
The Israelites had a covenant with God but did not live it out. How can it be assured that we will be able to live out our new covenant? This is why we need to have a new heart. Since the new covenant is to be written in our hearts, the condition of our hearts becomes crucial.

What kind of heart must we have? God insists “on sincerity of heart” (Ps 51:8a). How do we have a sincere heart?

First we must desire such a heart. “A clean heart create for me, O God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.” (Ps 51:12). Such a desire is not something we take for granted. The attraction of the world is strong, while our flesh is weak. It is easy enough to allow our heart to become a little dirty.

Second, we acknowledge and repent of our sins. “Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me. For I know my offense; my sin is always before me.” (Ps 51:4-5). What does this entail?
  • We aver that we are sinners, that we have a sinful, weak human flesh. “True, I was born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother conceived me.” (Ps 51:7). We recognize the challenge of having a pure heart even as we are burdened by original sin.
  • We acknowledge that when we sin (for example, against another person), it is really God we sin against. “Against you alone have I sinned” (Ps 51:6a). This is important because our covenant is with God.
  • We recognize than in the face of a perfect God who stooped down to enter into covenant with us, any sin is an abomination. “I have done such evil in your sight” (Ps 51:6b). Such recognition enables us to be eager to repent.
  • We accept that it is just by God’s mercy that we are forgiven. If God were to punish us, the reality is “that you are just in your sentence, blameless when you condemn.” (Ps 51:6c). When the Israelites were punished, only they were to blame. Though we deserve to be punished, we trust in God’s mercy and compassion. “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense.” (Ps 51:3).
Third, while being graced by God whenever we repent and turn to Him, we need to know how much more we need to learn about Him and His ways. This is not mere head knowledge, but godly wisdom. It is wisdom that penetrates and permeates our whole being. Our prayer must always be: “in my inmost being teach me wisdom.” (Ps 51:8b). We get such wisdom through personal prayer, studying the Bible, undergoing community formation, and interacting with holy brethren.
Fourth, we recognize that a truly clean heart can only come and be sustained by holiness. Thus we need to desire to be holy as God is holy. “Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow.” (Ps 51:9).

Fifth, if we are to be holy, then we must live in the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who enables us to live a vibrant life in Christ. It is the Spirit who empowers us. It is the Spirit who enables us to remain in the presence of God. “Do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit.” (Ps 51:13).
How can we have a truly clean heart? How can we be holy as God is holy? How can we be faithful to our covenant?

These can only happen as we follow and serve Jesus. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.” (Jn 12:26). How do we follow Jesus?

First, we must be obedient to God not matter what is demanded of us, no matter how difficult or painful. “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” (Heb 5:7a). Even as Jesus prayed for the cup to pass him by, even as he was the Son who could ask the Father to save him from death (Heb 5:8a,7), he accepted the Father’s will. Thus “he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Heb 5:8b).

Second, just like Jesus, we must hate our life and be willing to lose it. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25). The world and the devil entice us to pamper our lives and enjoy worldly pleasures. Our fallen flesh would just be willing to oblige. So we need to die to self. In fact, we need to put to death what is fleshly within us.

But the wonderful thing with dying to self is that it is the key to life, in fact, to eternal life. This is the way it was with Jesus. He died on Good Friday, only to resurrect on Easter Sunday. The fruit of that is salvation and eternal life for us. So Jesus reminds us, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn 12:24).

Third, while we can be troubled with the crosses we bear in life, we do not avoid these crosses (Jn 12:27), which God uses to purify us. We embrace our crosses, and through such surrender to the will of God, and through our perseverance in affliction, we give glory to God’s name (Jn 12:28a).

Finally, we must desire that all accept Jesus as Savior and come to salvation in him. God’s great gift of covenant is not for us alone, but for everyone. This is why Jesus went to the cross. “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” (Jn 12:32). Thus, those of us who are first called are to share the good news of salvation with others. We are to evangelize. “I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.” (Ps 51:15).
What is the result of all these?

First, we are forgiven by God and restored fully to Himself. “Turn away your face from my sins, blot out all my guilt.” (Ps 51:11). This is amazing. The holy God will erase our guilt and remember our sins no more. We can then live out the fullness of our covenant.

Second, our hearts and our lives will be filled with great joy. Rightly so, as we experience the fullness of our new covenant with God. “Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.” (Ps 51:10).
*   *   *
The kind of God we have:  A God who enters into covenant with us.
Our covenant response:  Live in purity of heart.
Lamentations reflection/action:  Do you recognize the many ways you have sinned  against God? In what ways have you not lived out your covenant? Repent, and ask Jesus to show you the way.
Lamentations prayer:  I praise and thank you Lord for extending to me the wonderful gift of covenant. I know that I am not worthy, being a sinner. But I trust in your divine mercy, in your abundant compassion. Wash me clean. Create for me a sincere heart. May my life, lived in the power of your Spirit, always give honor and glory to you. Amen.

(You are encouraged to use the book “Forty Days of Lamentations” during this period of Lent 2009. Most of the scripture readings are the same. In case they are not, a supplemental reflection is provided. Let us continue to learn the lessons of Lamentations.)

Supplemental Reflections for Lent 2009
(40 Days of Lamentations)
Day 25
An Amazing Work of God
“To do your will is my delight”
(Psalm 40:9a)
March 25
Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 40:7-11
Hebrews 10:4-10 
Luke 1:26-38
In today’s readings we encounter the amazing work of the Father in sending His Son Jesus into the world.

With the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, we have the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary (Lk 1:31). Nine months from now, in what we celebrate as Christmas, Jesus will be born. This birth of Jesus by the virgin Marywas prophesied by Isaiah, as he said: “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son” (Is 7:14). Finally, Jesus came not to live but to die. His death on the cross was to be “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10).
Why did Jesus have to die? It was to atone for the sins of mankind, to satisfy the justice of the Father, to win for us reconciliation and restoration. It was to save us. Since “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins” (Heb 10:4), what had to be offered needed to be perfect and unblemished. Only the very Son of God could fit the bill. So according to His plan, God prepared a body for Jesus (Heb 10:5c), and this was the virgin Mary, through whom Jesus came into the world.

Then Jesus died for us, according to the Father’s will. “By this ‘will,’ we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:10). We have been saved, we have been restored in our relationship with the Father, we have been tremendously blessed.
What an absolutely mysterious plan of God! Mary could not understand it (Lk 1:34).

But indeed God uses ordinary people to accomplish His extraordinary plan. God used Mary (Lk 1:31-33). God used Elizabeth, who was barren, to give birth to John (Lk 1:36), who would prepare the way for Jesus. And of course, God also uses nobodies like us.

God certainly can do that, because “nothing will be impossible for God” (Lk 1:37).
How do we respond to such mysterious designs of God?

First, even though we might be troubled whenever God calls us, we must never be afraid, because it simply means we have found favor with God (Lk 1:30). What a great privilege and blessing for us! What a great joy it ought to be!

Second, we must open ourselves up to the action and plan of God, whatever that might be. Jesus already purchased us on the cross. We belong to him. We are his servants. Just like Mary, our proper response can only be to say, “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38b).

Third, we must listen to God, and when He speaks to us, we must obey. God is pleased with “ears open to obedience” (Ps 40:7b).

Fourth, we must not obey grudgingly, but willingly and joyfully. We must not act mechanically, but always in a deeply heart-felt way. God’s call to us is such a great privilege. We must recognize that, and be greatly delighted by it. “To do your will is my delight; my God, your law is in my heart!” (Ps 40:9).

Finally, we must proclaim God’s great deeds to all. We must evangelize, sharing the good news of Jesus to others. We must not keep this gift to ourselves, but let others partake of it as well, as God intends. “I announced your deed to a great assembly; I did not restrain my lips; you, Lord, are my witness. Your deed I did not hide within my heart; your loyal deliverance I have proclaimed. I made no secret of your enduring kindness to a great assembly.” (Ps 40:10-11).
*   *   *
The kind of God we have:  A God who gives us the privilege to participate in His salvific work.
Our covenant response:  Delight in such a God and obey Him.
Lamentations reflection/action:  Has God been calling you to do more for Him? How are you responding?
Lamentations prayer:  Jesus, you came into the world to save me. I am so grateful for that. I am so astonished at the ways of the Father. I am even more amazed that He intends to use me. Lord, grant me the grace not to be afraid, but to boldly do your will. I know that nothing is impossible for you, even to take a worthless wretch like me, and use me for your divine purposes. Let me simply delight to do your will, and boldly proclaim your kindness and deliverance to the whole world.  Amen.

(You may also look at the reflection for Day 29 in the book, as the readings are the same as for today.)
(You are encouraged to use the book “Forty Days of Lamentations” during this period of Lent 2009. Most of the scripture readings are the same. In case they are not, a supplemental reflection is provided. Let us continue to learn the lessons of Lamentations.)

(Part 1)
Many of our brethren today are undergoing intense suffering. There are those who are seriously ill, those who no longer know how to meet their financial needs, those who are seeing a loved one seriously going astray, those who continue to be maligned and attacked even by brethren.

It is acceptable for them to ask the Lord for relief, even to beg to let their cups pass from them. But in the meantime that they carry crosses, they are to embrace them and rejoice, for God is fulfilling a purpose. God is purifying them. God is teaching them. And God is preparing the way to glory.
The way of the cross is God’s way. The gospel of the cross is the authentic gospel. If God then wants us on the right path, why would He withhold the cross?

But many reject the cross. Certainly the secular world does. The world is preoccupied with comfort, pleasure, success. But are these not the very things that can draw us away from God?

So we must decide. Do we want to be formed by the world or by Christ? Do we want the wide paths of the world that lead to destruction, or the narrow path of God that leads to abundant life? How do we see abundant life anyway? Is it a life of wealth, power and pleasure? God certainly can give you those. But the abundant life, a life lived to the full, is a life in Christ, a life of holiness, a life of obedience to God’s will.

How do you achieve such a life? It is only by way of the cross.
In this Lenten season, I bring you to one of the many lessons of Lamentations (from Forty Days of Lamentations).
*   *   *
Lamentations 116 – Crises in life are necessary for deeper faith, love and hope.

Crises in life can be our crosses. God allows crosses in life in order to purify us, draw us closer to Himself, and deepen our faith. When we go through the fire, the impurities are burned away. When we are pruned, which is painful, we bear more fruit (Jn 15:2). When we are disciplined or reproved by God, that is when we are loved as His sons and we are able to grow in holiness (Hb 12:5-8,10-11).

If we had a comfortable life, we would not learn endurance and sacrifice. If we all had agreeable friends and brethren, we would not learn forbearance and forgiveness and unconditional love. If God answered all of our prayers at once, we would not learn perseverance and persistence. If inviting others to a renewal program was easy and always fruitful, we would not spend as much time in prayer and in doing spiritual warfare. If life went smoothly, we would not have as much need for God. If there were no deep crises in life, we would not have to look to hope in God.

Crosses, occasioned by crises, are God’s blessing for us. And so Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily, if we are to follow him (Lk 9:23). For our part, we can rejoice and like Paul aver, “may I never boast except in the cross of ourLord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14).

Our lesson: Embrace the cross.
*   *   *
Living out this lesson will take a lifetime. But it starts with understanding. Then with acceptance, even just intellectually. And here you have to cope with a human mind formed by a secular world. But you are already in Christ, are you not? Jesus then desires to form your mind and your heart. But you need to be willing.

Go now before the crucifix. Meditate on the great love of God in sending His very own Son to the cross. Hear Jesus say, “Come follow me.”

Ask Jesus for grace and strength. Kiss the crucifix. Then go on your way.

(March 23, 2009)

Supplemental Reflections for Lent 2009
(40 Days of Lamentations)
Day 23
A God Who Brings Healing and Joy
“You changed my mourning into dancing”
(Psalm 30:12a)
March 23
Isaiah 65:17-21
Psalm 30:2-13 
John 4:43-54
At times we truly face desperate situations, and we are at the end of our wits. The Israelites had been conquered and were in exile, yearning for Jerusalem. The royal official had a son who was dying. For us it might be a failing marriage, wayward children, or a great shortfall in finances.

When everything seems lost and the situation seems impossible, that is when God intervenes. He reverses our fortunes. Jesus brought the dying child back to health (Jn 4:50-53). God brought His people back from exile to Jerusalem.

When God intervenes, He literally turns thing around.
  • From going down to the pit to being raised up (Ps 30:4).
  • From weeping at dusk to rejoicing at dawn (Ps 30:6b).
  • From being struck with terror to standing like the mighty mountain (Ps 30:8).
  • From sackcloth to being clothed with gladness (Ps 30:12b).
  • From mourning to dancing (Ps 30:12a).
 Unfortunately, many times people wait until things are desperate before turning to God. That means they turn to everything or everyone else, including themselves, before finally turning to God when all fail, and there is no one else to turn to. This means they do not recognize the prophet Jesus who is already in their midst and they give him no due honor (Jn 4:44). And when they do turn to Him, they look for signs and wonders before they believe (Jn 4:48). They miss out on the reality that they just need to believe, and then they will experience signs and wonders.
In fact, God is committed to our well-being. God created everything for us, and wanted us to remain with Him eternally in paradise. But it was not to be. His plan was thwarted, with the fruit of weeping and crying (Is 65:19b) and a shortened life (Is 65:20).

Intent on His original plan, God is “about to create a new heavens and a new earth” (Is 65:17a). Here “the things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness” (Is 65:17b-18a). This new Jerusalem is “to be a joy and its people to be a delight” (Is 65:18b).

God accomplishes this through His Son Jesus. Jesus did many miracles during his public ministry, like making the water wine in Cana (Jn 4:46). But the greatest miracle of all was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And with this, God paved the way for His plan for the world to be accomplished.

God looks forward to what is to come. “I will rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people.” (Is 65:19a). We should look forward to it too, as “No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying” (Is 65:19b). Our troubles and desperate situations will finally be done with.
So that we can truly look forward to what is to come, we need to turn to Jesus now. In Jesus we are restored to the Father’s plan, and can return to paradise.

The evil one has been triumphant over us, from the garden of Eden up to now. But no longer. Jesus has already won the victory. In Jesus we can truly say, “I praise you, Lord, for you raised me up and did not let my enemies rejoice over me. Lord, you brought me up from Sheol; you kept me from going down to the pit.” (Ps 30:2,4).

The royal official, as he turned to Jesus, experienced the miraculous healing of his son. We too can experience the same thing. Then we too can exclaim, “O Lord, my God, I cried out to you and you healed me.” (Ps 30:3).

In Jesus, we can experience the miracle of restoration, of healing, and of eternal life with God.
*   *   *
The kind of God we have:  A God who reverses our fortunes.
Our covenant response:  Believe and trust in Him.
Lamentations reflection/action:  Have you ever faced a situation of utter desperation and hopelessness? Can you see now how God intervened?
Lamentations prayer:  Lord, I sing praise to you and give thanks to your holy name (Ps 30:5). You have delivered me from the pit. You have blessed me with great things. Let me never be complacent lest I be shaken again (Ps 30:7). Never hide your face from me but always show me favor (Ps 30:8). As I fail you many times, I cry out to you and plead for mercy (Ps 30:9). “Hear, O Lord, have mercy on me; Lord, be my helper.” (Ps 30:11). “With my whole being I sing endless praise to you. O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks.” (Ps 30:13). Amen.

(You are encouraged to use the book “Forty Days of Lamentations” during this period of Lent 2009. Most of the scripture readings are the same. In case they are not, a supplemental reflection is provided. Let us continue to learn the lessons of Lamentations.)

Supplemental Reflections for Lent 2009
(40 Days of Lamentations)
Fourth Sunday of Lent
God’s Awesome Love
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”
(John 3:16a)
March 22
2 Chronicles 36:14-23
Psalm 137:1-6
Ephesians 2:4-10 
John 3:14-21
God’s covenant brings tremendous blessings when we obey Him and are faithful to His call. On the other hand, if we disobey and persist in infidelity, then we reap woes and disaster.

This is what happened to Israel. God raised Israel and blessed His people tremendously. However, they disobeyed and were unfaithful, and even became idolatrous. They “added infidelity to infidelity” (2 Chr 36:14).

God was merciful and loving, not wanting to turn away from His covenant. So “often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people” (2 Chr 36:15). “But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets” (2 Chr 36:16a). Since God is a God not only of love but also of justice, He no longer had any choice, as “the anger of the Lord against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy.” (2 Chr 36:16b). Even the very covenant of love demanded punishment. Jerusalemand the temple were destroyed and burned by the Babylonians. God’s people had lost everything.
We too merit God’s wrath because of our sins and infidelities. But God would always prefer to manifest His love rather than His wrath. And so God found a remedy. Since on our own we could never satisfy God’s justice, He sent His very own Son to do so. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). Rather than condemning the world as it rightly deserved, God send Jesus to save it (Jn 3:17).

What an awesome act God has done!
  • “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, (He) brought us to life with Christ” (Eph 2:5a).
  • Even as we were so low in the mire, He “raised us up with him” (Eph 2:6a).
  • Even as we deserved only condemnation, He “seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6b).
  • Even as we had been impoverished by sin, He would “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7).
 So we see that what God has done for us is pure grace and pure gift (Eph 2:8). We have neither earned nor merited it. It is simply due to His mercy and great love for us (Eph 2:4). “By grace (we) have been saved” (Eph 2:5b). Salvation “is not from (us); it is the gift of God; it is not from works” (Eph 2:8b-9a).
How do we appropriate God’s salvation for our lives? We do so “through faith” (Eph 2:8). “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned” (Jn 3:18a).

Now here is the problem. God has extended His great grace and gift to us. But just like the Israelites, many continue to reject the fullness of His saving act. The tragedy is “that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light” (Jn 3:19b). As such, “this is the verdict” (Jn 3:19a): “whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (Jn 3:18b). How truly tragic.
For our part, we must see the truth and live accordingly.

We are God’s creation, “we are his handiwork” (Eph 2:10a). We belong to Him. We exist for Him. Further, we are “created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance” (Eph 2:10b).

Though we are saved by faith and not by works, true faith in Jesus must manifest itself in good works. We must not prefer “darkness to light, because (our) works (are) evil” (Jn 3:19c), but rather, we must live the truth and come “to the light, so that (our) works may be clearly seen as done in God.” (Jn 3:21).
With covenant, we have become God’s people. And we look forward to dwelling with Him eternally in the New Jerusalem. We are exiles on earth, where we dwell “mourning and weeping” (Ps 137:1) in this valley of tears. We are pilgrims on our way to our true home, which is heaven.

If we miss out on heaven, then we have lost it all. “If I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights” (Ps 137:6b), then I have not truly experienced the salvation of God.

Let us accept Jesus as our Savior, let us live fully in light and in truth, and let us rejoice in God’s great mercy and love.
*   *   *
The kind of God we have:  A God rich in mercy and full of love.
Our covenant response:  Desire God’s salvation with all our heart.
Lamentations reflection/action:  In what ways are you doing wicked things and living in darkness? What are the works you do not want to be exposed to the light? Repent of these.
Lamentations prayer:  Father, what great love and mercy you have shown me in giving your very own Son to die for me. What pure grace and awesome gift you have extended to me in granting me salvation. I cringe at the thought of my sins and infidelities, when I at times choose darkness instead of light. I know I am then choosing death over life, and will reap condemnation. Please continue to grant me the grace to accept fully what you are offering me. I want to live the truth in your light. I want to live my life in Christ. Amen.

(You are encouraged to use the book “Forty Days of Lamentations” during this period of Lent 2009. Most of the scripture readings are the same. In case they are not, a supplemental reflection is provided. Let us continue to learn the lessons of Lamentations.)

Supplemental Reflections for Lent 2009
(40 Days of Lamentations)
Day 20
Our Amazing Covenant
“Happy the people who know you, Lord”
(Psalm 89:16a)
March 19
2 Samuel 7:4-16
Psalm 89:2-29
Romans 4:13-24 
Matthew 1:16-24
God is great, powerful and awesome. He tamed primeval chaos (Ps 89:11), rules nature (Ps 89:10), and owns the whole universe which He founded (Ps 89:12). No one ranks with Him (Ps 89:7) and no one is like Him (Ps 89:9). Mighty and strong is He (Ps 89:14).

Thus it is just fitting that the “heavens praise (His) marvels” (Ps 89:6a).
But what is amazing is that this great and wonderful God enters into covenant with mere human flesh, and in the process blesses and uses them to do great things.

God called Abraham and “made (him the) father of many nations” (Rom 4:17a), despite the fact that he was already very old and his wife Sarah was barren (Rom 4:19). God chose David and anointed him (Ps 89:21), thus empowering him to defeat his enemies and rule over earthly kings (Ps 89:22-28). God raised up Solomon, making his kingdom firm and giving him the privilege of building His house (2 Sm 7:12-13).

God’s covenant endures, despite the shortcomings of His people. God’s covenant assures great blessings. God’s “promise was made to Abraham and his descendants that he would inherit the world” (Rom 4:13). God swore to David: “I will make your dynasty stand forever and establish your throne through all ages.” (Ps 89:5). God assured the most intimate of relationships with Solomon, that “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” (2 Sm 7:14a).
Now here is something even much more amazing. In order to establish His covenant with all of us, and in order to bless us, God raised and used His own Son. The way God did this was to send Jesus into the world by becoming man, born of Mary. God’s intent was for Jesus to “save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21b). Jesus is “‘Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’” (Mt 1:23b). Having then won for us our salvation, Jesus remains with us, to the end of the age.
What is our proper response to such an awesome God?

Do we do things for Him? Do we try to repay Him?  David wanted to build Him a temple. God said “No!” In fact, God reminded David that it was He who did things for him. “It was I who took you …. I have been with you …. I have destroyed all your enemies …. I will make you famous …. I will fix a place for my people …. I will plant them …. I will give you rest ….” (2 Sm 7:8-11). All is pure grace! All is gift!

We can only marvel at and praise God, as the heavens do (Ps 89:6a). 

We can only sing forever of His promises and proclaim His loyalty through all ages (Ps 89:2). We “sing joyfully all the day” (Ps 89:17a).
As we rejoice in God, we continue to look to our covenant and hold fast to His promise: “My love is established forever; my loyalty will stand as long as the heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen one” (Ps 89:3-4a). 

We continue to look to Him for His “justice and judgment” and His “love and loyalty” (Ps 89:15). We continue to be happy, as we “walk in the radiance of (His) face” (Ps 89:16). We continue to look to His “majestic strength” (Ps 89:18a).
It is then right and fitting that we have faith and hope in God. Even in the direst circumstances, with God we can hope “against hope” (Rom4:18a). We must “not doubt God’s promise in unbelief; rather, (we must be) empowered by faith” (Rom 4:20). We must be “fully convinced that what he had promised he (is) also able to do.” (Rom 4:21).

God’s promise was not just for Abraham, but “it was also for us” (Rom 4:24a). God’s promise is made operative “through the righteousness that comes from faith” (Rom 4:13), as we “believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24).

It is right and fitting that we trust in God’s covenant with us. As with David, we can look to God favoring us. “Forever I will maintain my love for him; my covenant with him stands firm.” (Ps 89:29).

We must always proclaim, with full trust and confidence, “Truly the Lord is our shield, the Holy One of Israel, our king!” (Ps 89:19).
*   *   *
The kind of God we have:  Our strength and our shield.
Our covenant response:  Have faith and rejoice.
Lamentations reflection/action:  Do you think of how much you are serving God, and miss out on how much He has blessed you?
Lamentations prayer:  Father, I am awed by your majesty and grandeur. “Lord, God of hosts, who is like you?” (Ps 89:9a). “Yours are the heavens, yours the earth” (Ps 89:12a), but you are mindful of me. You have blessed me tremendously. Jesus, you have even given your very life for me. I truly rejoice. And Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.
(You may also look at the reflection for Day 23 in the book, as the readings are the same as for today.)
(You are encouraged to use the book “Forty Days of Lamentations” during this period of Lent 2009. Most of the scripture readings are the same. In case they are not, a supplemental reflection is provided. Let us continue to learn the lessons of Lamentations.)

Supplemental Reflections for Lent 2009
(40 Days of Lamentations)
Second Sunday of Lent
The Call to Obedience
“Lord, I am your servant”
(Psalm 116:16a)
March 8
Genesis 22:1-18
Psalm 116:10-19
Romans 8:31-34
Mark 9:2-10
At times God puts us to the test, including extreme tests. This might be a debilitating illness, serious business reverses, betrayal by a loved one, and the like. This has been God’s way of dealing with His beloved people. God has a divine purpose.

So it was that “God put Abraham to the test” (Gn 22:1). It was the most extreme of all, telling him to offer up his own son Isaac as a holocaust (Gn 22:2b). Isaac was Abraham’s only son, whom he loved (Gn 22:2a). It was a test of obedience. It was also a test of faith, since God had promised that He would make of Abraham a great nation and that all the nations of the earth would find blessing in him. How could it happen if he now ended the life of his son?

We know that Abraham passed the test. The Lord’s messenger approved. “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” (Gn 22:12b). Abraham was ready to give all. He exhibited radical obedience. He trusted God completely. He kept faith, even in the face of great affliction (Ps 116:10).
Here is something even more amazing. God sacrificed His own Son. God sent His Son Jesus to the cross as an offering for our sins. To obtain salvation for humanity, the offering had to be pure and unblemished. As all of us have sinned, no human being qualified. Only the very Son of God could quality. And so, as Abraham told Isaac, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” (Gn 22:8). And just like Abraham, God offered His “beloved Son” (Mk 9:7).

Now this radical action of God Himself not only won for us our salvation, but was the greatest proof of His love for us. It assured that God will always be there for us to help bring us to heaven. “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” (Rom 8:32).

God gave the life of His Son so that we might live. “Too costly in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful.” (Ps 116:15). God is grieved by the death of His faithful, but that did not stop Him from offering His most precious Son.
How can we ever repay God? Well, salvation is a free gift. Jesus has already paid the price. But we do need to respond to such a great love. “How can I repay the Lord for all the good done for me?” (Ps 116:12).

First, our hearts should overflow with gratitude. “I will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Ps 116:17a).

Second, we should turn to Jesus, who is our Savior. “I will raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” (Ps 116:13). We still need to fully appropriate the salvation won for us by Jesus. We can still fall by the wayside. We need the Lord’s constant help.

Now here is the good news. Jesus has not only restored our relationship with the Father, but he continues to be our intercessor before the Father. “It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” (Rom 8:34b). Jesus is our mediator, something like our lawyer before the Father. Satan made charges against Job before God. Satan continues to make charges against us. But now Jesus is there, standing between him and God. “Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn?” (Rom 8:33-34a). And so we can be confident. “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).
Third, we should “pay (our) vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (Ps 116:14). We should live out our covenant. We should be witnesses to all people of God’s love and His salvation. We should grow in holiness unto the Father, and do the work of evangelization.

Fourth, as we acknowledge what Jesus has done for us in freeing us from bondage to sin and darkness, we accept that we now belong to him. He is our Master. “Lord, I am your servant, your servant, the child of your maidservant; you have loosed my bonds.” (Ps 116:16). As a servant, we obey our Master. We do what God instructs us.

So God, who already gave us His Son on the cross, continues to give us Jesus to guide us. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (Mk 9:7b).
If we obey, and if we give God our all, we, just like Abraham, are assured of abundant blessings. “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly” (Gn 22:16-17a). God’s blessing will extend to our descendants. “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies.” (Gn 22:17). Further, God’s blessing will extend to the whole world, as “in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing” (Gn 22:18a).

Such abundant blessings! Why? “All this because you obeyed my command.” (Gn 22:18b).
*   *   *
The kind of God we have:  A God who is for us.
Our covenant response:  Obedience and faith.
Lamentations reflection/action:  Are you willing to give your all to God? Are you willing to sacrifice your most prized possession if the Lord requires it of you?
Lamentations prayer:  Father, you gave your very own Son as an offering for my sins. I am overwhelmed with such love. Jesus, you intercede for me before the Father. I am deeply consoled and assured of your continuing guidance. With you by my side, there is nothing that I fear. Please grant me the grace to be totally obedient to you, and to fully trust in you. I offer you my life. I am your servant, now and forever. Amen.
(You are encouraged to use the book “Forty Days of Lamentations” during this period of Lent 2009. Most of the scripture readings are the same. In case they are not, a supplemental reflection is provided. Let us continue to learn the lessons of Lamentations.)

Supplemental Reflections for Lent 2009
(40 Days of Lamentations)
First Sunday of Lent
The Call to Covenant
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.”
(Mark 1:15)
March 1
Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25:4-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15
Sin has terrible consequences. Because of the wickedness of man, God caused “a flood to destroy all mortal beings” on earth (Gn 9:15b). Only “a few persons, eight in all, were saved” (1 Pt 3:20). But God does not persist in His anger. And so he renewed His covenant with mankind, through Noah. “See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you” (Gn 9:9).

Still, man continued to sin, grievously. And that is when God no longer took the life of men, but rather offered the life of His very own Son. “For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” (1 Pt 3:18).

By the death and “resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 3:21), we are saved, restored as children of God, and can get into heaven, where Jesus “is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.” (1 Pt 3:22).

In all these we see God’s love for us for Jesus to take on our sins, for the Father to restore His wayward children to covenant, for us who are unrighteous to be able to enter heaven, and for “death in the flesh” to be replaced by “life in the spirit” (1 Pt 3:18b). Here we see what kind of Father we have, full of “goodness” (Ps 25:5), “compassion and love” (Ps 25:6), remembering “no more the sins of (our) youth” but remembering us “only in light of (His) love” (Ps 25:7). 
In the face of such great love, we need to respond. Our response? “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15c).

How do we do this? We acknowledge our sinfulness and repent of our sins. We accept the good news of salvation in Jesus. We walk in God’s ways.

And we are assured that “good and upright is the Lord, who shows sinners the way” (Ps 25:8). We just need to bow down before the Lord in great humility, knowing that we have made a mess of our lives, and only in Him can we ever be saved. Again we are assured that the Lord “guides the humble rightly, and teaches the humble the way.” (Ps 25:9).
*   *   *
The kind of God we have:  Good and upright.
Our covenant response:  Repent, and believe in the gospel.
Lamentations reflection/action:  Consider how you have lived out your covenant with God. Have you been faithful? If not, repent, and resolve to do better.
Lamentations prayer:  “Make known to me your ways, Lord; teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.” (Ps 25:4-5a). Jesus, I rejoice in the salvation you won for me on the cross. Keep me safe from the temptations of Satan. Grant me a clear conscience, as I walk with you. Grant me also the grace to be humble, knowing that I am nothing without you. And bring me to everlasting life with you in heaven. Amen.
(You are encouraged to use the book “Forty Days of Lamentations” during this period of Lent 2009. Most of the scripture readings are the same. In case they are not, a supplemental reflection is provided. Let us continue to learn the lessons of Lamentations.)


Renewing the Family and Defending Life