Pastoral Perspectives

Inhabiting the Story of God

As a church, we have been observing the Church Calendar for a number of years now. The Church Calendar has altogether 7 seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Ordinary Time. The purpose of observing the Church Calendar is so that we can inhabit the Story of God. We can live in God’s redemption story because His story did not end when Christ ascended into heaven; His story continues until Christ comes back again for us. We therefore have a part to play in this story of God, and observing the Church Calendar is one way that can enable us to play our part more faithfully.

In Advent, we await the coming of the Light of the world and in Christmas, we celebrate the arrival of that Light. Just as the first coming of Christ has been established as a historical fact, as we await His second coming, the second Advent, we can be sure that, in the fullness of time, God will also bring to pass what He has promised. Living with this hope in the midst of the atrocities and uncertainties of this world and the pain and suffering of our transient lives is to inhabit the Story of God. If Advent is a time when we await the coming of the Light and Christmas celebrates His arrival, in Epiphany, that Light reveals the glory of the Triune God to the world through His teachings which amaze the people, authenticated by miraculous signs and wonders which equally stun the people. Jesus proclaims: ‘I am the Light of the world.’ He also tells His disciples: ‘You are the light of the world.’ We are the light of the world. As light, we too have the responsibility to reveal the glory of God to the world. We can do that by articulating clearly the Gospel, the redemptive plan of God, which shows his justice and love, his wrath and mercy, his holiness and compassion. We can also reveal God to the world by upholding justice and showing mercy so that through our lives, we demonstrate the character of God. Since we are His children, we ought to bear some semblance of our Abba Father. Since we are disciples of Jesus, we ought to grow in His likeness. As we reveal God to the world, we inhabit the Story of God.

We come next to Lent, which is the present season we are in. The last three seasons together are sometimes known as the Cycle of Light, but now our attention shifts from light to shadows as Jesus makes His way to the cross. His opponents are becoming increasingly antagonistic and hostile, He speaks openly about his death and resurrection, and there is a growing heaviness of spirit.

Lent is a journey, a 40-day journey towards Calvary. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday which, for this year, happened to fall on the eve of Chinese New Year. It stretches 40 days to the Saturday before Easter, excluding all the in between Sundays. In some Christian circles, on Ash Wednesday, a cross is drawn on the foreheads of Christians using ashes mixed with water. Dust and ashes. These symbolise two themes at the heart of Lent: finitude and failings (sins). Finitude because we will die one day, and when we die, we will return to the ground, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Failings because we are sinful people and therefore there is a need for us to repent in dust and ashes. That is why Don E. Saliers said: ‘Lent is a double journey – a journey together (and alone) toward the mystery of God’s redemptive embrace in the death and resurrection of Christ. At the same time, it is a journey into the depths of our humanity.’

How do we make this journey into the depths of our humanity? Spirit and Word. Do you not know that ‘God’s Spirit dwells in you’ (1 Corinthians 3.16) and the ‘Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart’? (Hebrews 4.12) Through the Spirit and the Word, we realise how sinful we are. In humility and penitence, we confess our sins before the holy God. We echo the words of the psalmist: ‘I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me; against you, you alone, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.’ (Psalm 51.3-4) Some Christians however claim that there is no need to ask God for forgiveness anymore since Christ died for our sins once for all – past, present and future. Of course we do not need to be paranoid in thinking that we need to confess all our sins and if we don’t, we will lose our salvation. This is wrong theology. We believe that all our sins have been and will be forgiven in Christ and it is God who will make us perfect in Him. Why then the need to practise the spiritual discipline of confession and repentance? This discipline is not to secure our salvation. This discipline is for our sanctification. As we allow God’s Spirit and Word to search the depths of our humanity and reveal the deceitfulness of our hearts, the first step to take in our turning away from sin is confession, to tell sin like it is – without any rationalisation, denial or blame – to the only person in the universe who knows us thoroughly and loves us dearly.

What are some practical things we might do? First, you can set aside some time for self-examination each day. In the presence of God, ask for light to pierce your defences. Honestly consider where some of the following sins show up in your life: envy, lust, greed, gluttony, deceit, lying, exaggerating, pretence, avoidance of responsibility. Ask yourself: ‘Who have I injured recently through thoughtlessness, neglect, anger and so on?’ As the Holy Spirit reveals where you have fallen short of God’s expectations or brings people whom you have hurt to mind, ask God to forgive you and need be to give you grace and courage to right the wrong. Write an apology, make a phone call or confess out loud in an attempt to put the relationship back on track. Second, ask some of your family, close friends or DG members to help you see your blind spots. Ask questions like: ‘What do I do that hurts you? How could I better love you? What is it like to be with me? Do I show interest in others or talk mostly about myself? Let their answers guide you in a time of confession. Cry out in relief: ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions; wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.’ (Psalm 51.1-2) As we adopt this posture of humility and penitence, and turn to God acknowledging our finitude and failings, we will find him turning to us in mercy. Forgiveness is at hand because Christ has paid the ransom for all our sins. Herein we inhabit the Story of God once again.

Now that we are in the season of Lent, it doesn’t mean that we do away with the other aspects of inhabiting the Story of God. We will still continue to await Christ’s second coming with hope. We will still continue to shine for Jesus, revealing Him to the world through word and deed. At the same time, we want to have a heightened awareness of our finitude and failings, which should cause us to run back to the cross where the power of death has already been destroyed, wrath appeased, sins forgiven, relationships (both vertical and horizontal) restored.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

March 8, 2015