Author Archives: Edgar Bazan

Unmet Expectations by Edgar Bazan

Isn’t it true that life will not always turn out the way you want?  Maybe you don’t get the promotion you think you deserve or you are struggling with your health. Maybe your marriage doesn’t turn out the way you imagined even though you feel you have worked hard for it and done everything you possibly can.

The truth is that we get disappointed when our expectations of what life is supposed to be are not met, even as we pray and pray, asking God, seeking his face, saying, “Do you even hear me? Are you with me?”

What are we to do in these situations?

Unmet expectations are one of the hardest things we have to deal with as people, and perhaps even more so as Christians. We have a tendency to write out our own life plans and then expect God to make it all happen. 

For example, consider the expectation that if we study hard in school and get a good education, we will be able to get a good job, earn good money, and then have a good life. Or if we come to church, say our prayers, serve people, and offer ourselves to God, everything will be blessed, exempting us from the bad. But life sometimes does not turn out the way we had hoped it to be.

Now, you think you are alone in this? That it all happens to you, or only to people who are not strong enough in their faith? Think twice.

The Bible is full of examples of how the people of God often have unmet expectations and how difficult it could be for them to deal with that. The story of Elijah the prophet is one of those times:

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”  So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shatteredthe rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.  Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” – 1 Kings 19:1-18

Who is this prophet, Elijah? Personally, I think that Elijah is one of the most interesting people in the Bible. He is one of only two men that have never known physical death (Enoch being the other). He is one of two men that appear in both the Old and New Testaments. He appeared in the time of Ahab and also with Moses on the Transfiguration mount as they spoke with Jesus. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the people thought Elijah would come and rescue him. Elijah was chosen by the apostle James to illustrate for us the might of a person of prayer.

By all accounts, he is an outstanding man of God, but in this chapter, we find him at an awkward moment, where he is neither heroic nor courageous. Instead, we see a broken human, like many of us would find ourselves at times.

Let’s see what caused Elijah to go from hero to someone who gave up and wished to die.

The books of 1 and 2 Kings are about the story of God’s people in relation to God’s covenant, about kings who kept the covenant or disregarded it altogether. King Ahab was a bad king who did not care about God’s covenant, and Elijah’s ministry took place during his reign in Israel. Ahab was self-centered, an easily influenced king who had married a pagan priestess named Jezebel. Jezebel was evil.

Elijah had become Ahab and Jezebel’s target. For them, he was no more than a troublemaker. We read,

“Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”

Why would Jezebel despise Elijah so badly? They have a history together. First, Jezebel was persecuting and killing the prophets and priests of God – of whom Elijah was a part – because they were in opposition to her kingdom. And second, Elijah humiliated Ahab and Jezebel by mocking, defeating, and killing their prophets: 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 18:19).

This defeating of the pagan prophets was a powerful display of God’s power and Elijah’s faith; it was a demonstration that Jezebel’s gods were powerless and the Lord was alive and on Elijah’s side, but it also made Elijah the primary target of this evil monarchy. He thought after winning the epic battle against the prophets of Baal and Asherah that Ahab and Jezebel would be stunned, repent, and convert from their evil, but instead comes a message from Jezebel, who said, “I swear to Baal, by tomorrow morning, you will be dead!” This takes Elijah totally by surprise; as a result, he seems to fall apart at the seams.

So we have this hero of faith, a valiant man about whom the Bible says, “the hand of the Lord was on Elijah,” a man of not only faith but also courage. However, after Jezebel sends word to find and kill him, this happens: “Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life…” After the miraculous and overpowering victory over the prophets of Baal, we find this same man afraid and running for his life.

“No! This isn’t what’s supposed to happen,” we can almost see Elijah crying out in this way. He thought he was done, because things did not go the way he expected.

What’s happening here? Elijah experienced a huge letdown. Even more, he experienced it in the midst of being faithful. He was wondering what he did wrong and if he was the person that he thought he was, if he was the right person for the job. Perhaps he thought to himself, “I did something wrong; it is my fault,” or, “I have been let down by God.”

In verses 9 and 10 we can see Elijah’s struggle:

“Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

If I were to paraphrase this, it might go, “I have given everything to God, I did my best, all that I could and it wasn’t enough. I am a complete failure.”

This is what’s going on inside Elijah’s head. He was so broken he even went so far to say, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” He can’t seem to find a way out beside escaping his challenges, giving up, running away, and hiding in a cave –literally.

Can you see the drastic change? First, he defeated hundreds of evil men, and now he wishes to be dead. Isn’t this what happens to us too? The way we feel and see ourselves when we are going through struggles?

When Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and Asherah, he experienced a degree of satisfaction and contentment, and his expectations were met. But when they were not met, he experienced anger, sadness, and fear, and this happens to us too: anger because you are mad that your expectations were not met and start looking to blame someone for it, whether others, yourself, or God. Sadness, because you grieve the loss of what did not happen. And fear, because you are afraid that your expectations will continue to go unmet.

Steven Furtick speaks of this when he writes about the “expectation gap” as the space between our expectations and our actual experiences. This gap is what we suffer as frustration that is caused by unmet expectations and goes something like this: “This isn’t what marriage was supposed to look like.” “I thought this job was going to be different.” “I never thought my kids would act that way.”

We have been there, overcome with frustration and left with nothing but unmet expectations. How are we supposed to respond? Do we tough it out and get on with life? Do we just lower our expectations? Or is there another way?

This brings me to our hope: look for the provision of God in the middle of unmet expectations. God’s plan for us may not meet our finite human expectations, but it will certainly and ultimately exceed all of them.

This is exactly what God showed Elijah. The prophet couldn’t see it because of the cloud of disappointment he was under. So God showed Elijah the big picture when,

There came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [He was in a cave.] He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.

Can you see this? Can you hear? God was up to something, a lot more than what Elijah had realized. God was not denying his prophet’s challenges and emotions but was telling him, “we are not done yet, I get how you feel, but see, what we are doing together is much greater than just winning a battle; it is much greater than your personal victories. We will win together … everything.”

What God is doing in our lives is much greater than an unmet expectation. When things seem impossible, with God, there is always the element of surprise, the possibility that something greater is going to happen and change everything.

Here is a profound truth: God’s thoughts, his desires for us, far exceed our wildest expectations. We need to learn to see and define our place and purpose in life from the big picture perspective as opposed to the immediate emotions and challenges we are facing. It is at this moment when we are in the midst of volatile emotions, noise, and distractions, that we hear God’s voice telling us: I am working in the background a far greater victory for you; your unmet expectations will become surpassing expectations.

My friends, our unmet expectations are not dead ends. Don’t let go of God and don’t let go of yourself. Practice a stubborn faith and hope!

And here is the key to this: our focus shouldn’t be on getting what we want from life or this world, but on living to the fullest of our potential, listening and following God. You see? There is a shift here, from, “getting what we want,” to “pursuing what God wants.”

It is not easy; in fact, it might be the hardest thing we ever do, but our love for God will be our greatest strength which will carry us through however far and however long we need to go.

Edgar Bazan ~ Remember Me

I have met many people who believe they need to earn God’s favor. They are insecure about the goodness of God. They believe they need to give something up, to pay the price or suffer in some way in order to merit God’s blessings.

I also have met people whose issue is not insecurity but pride: those who feel they have paid their “dues” and are entitled to the blessing. The teaching of today’s word will address these issues. And this is the premise: God looks to our hearts, not to our works, to grant us grace. So, what does it take for anyone, regardless of their path, to experience the blessing of God, the healing and wholeness only God can provide?

To answer this, we are going to look at what happened to Jesus and what he did in the last moments of his life. Let’s read from Luke 23:33-43 (NRSV). This is the story of the crucifixion of Jesus:

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

For most of the Gospel accounts, we see the attractive side of Jesus: healing people, protecting the powerless, going after and saving the lost, feeding the hungry. In very few instances do we find Jesus struggling or in sorrow. But today we do as we recall the crucifixion. In this text, we find Jesus among criminals dying nailed to a cross after being rejected, betrayed, and despised by his enemies. Death by crucifixion represented the most shameful and worst way to die. It meant that God (or the gods) had cursed you. The place called The Skull was a place of death. The sight is that of a horror movie; worse because if you were there, you could actually smell the rotting flesh. The smell was so thick that anyone could hardly breathe.

Furthermore, just to help us get in the context of this event, consider the following. It was like going to a funeral, except that the people coming were not family and friends joining to celebrate the memory and life of a loved one.

This was a death-bed among enemies.

There were no cookies and coffee before or after, nor were you there meeting your third cousin for the first time. Instead of being surrounded by people who loved you, you were surrounded by people who cursed and despised you. And if this was not bad enough, you were not even dead yet, but you were the main attraction, expected to become the last punchline of mocking and humiliation.

It is in this context that we find Jesus’ last moments. In most artists’ conception of the crucifixion, Christ is painted as valiantly facing death, straight and committed with a glow of light all around him stronger than all others around the Cross. But this picture is not the one the Gospels paint. In the crucifixion, Jesus is weak, collapsing, tired, miserable. In the eyes of his enemies, he did not die a hero, but a criminal. In the eyes of his friends, he did not die in victory but in shame and defeat.

Sadly, if this wasn’t bad enough, most of his disciples failed at this time. He was abandoned, forsaken. Judas Iscariot betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver; Peter denied him three times with oaths and affirmations of a strong nature. The exceptions were his mother, Mary, along with a handful of disciples. She didn’t want to be there; she was witnessing her firstborn son crucified in shame and dishonor, in between thieves, but she had no choice, she was a mother and loved him as such.

However, Jesus was not weak nor was he a victim.

He freely, willingly, deliberately took the journey to the cross. It was not Judas Iscariot’s treachery, or the hate of his enemies, or the power of the Roman Empire, or Pontius Pilate who brought Jesus to the cross. What brought Jesus to be crucified before them all was his love for them, his very own enemies; he brought himself to this occasion because of his love for each one of us. He suffered our guilt, being himself innocent, dying among criminals.

And here is where the answer to our question lies. It is not found with the disciples, or even with Mary, mother of Jesus but with the thieves.

The clue for us to learn the path to healing is found among the condemned.

Let me recall, “when they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” In my opinion, paradoxically, love and grace are nowhere illustrated in Scripture as well as in this case. Our healing, love, and grace are found among the criminals. 

Let’s be clear, these vile men had no “good works” to rely on. They had no high standard of morality. Rather, they were wicked men; they respected neither the law of God nor the law of man. There is no way that either could say they had earned God’s favor. They were thieves, lawbreakers, arrested, tried and condemned. Their misery was immense, and they were receiving the reward of their deeds. No time for good works, for getting baptized, becoming a member of the church or anything like that, if salvation was to be attained in such a way.

However, for one of them, the time he had left was enough to mutter one of the most consequential and profound words we read in the Gospel: “Remember me.” He had a change of heart. He recognized that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah, that he had the power to help him. (Exell, 589-591) And instead of mocking him, he rebuked the other thief and challenged him with these words: “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

The thief hanging felt his guilt, but his faith was also unhesitating, full, confiding. (Exell, 589-591) The thief was changed in an instant, gained spiritual discernment on his deathbed and was able to see beyond the broken humanity of Jesus. He saw a king. And he did not ask for a favor, for blessings, even for mercy. In his misery, he dared not to ask anything, but to be remembered.

Somehow, he understood that Jesus was not a pretender, and as he looked across he saw not another dying man, but the Messiah, and decided to place his fate in him.

How can any kind of human being have such faith in such dark, hopeless and excruciating moment? Yet here we have the poorest of them all, being convicted by the Spirit of God, finally understanding in the grimmest hour the gravity of his sins, and his inability to provide for his own redemption; a humbled, broken soul. A miracle in the making.

And it is here that we see the promise of Jesus being fulfilled when he said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To be poor in spirit means to know our place in God’s creation. It is not about lacking, but about an honest assessment of our need for God. It is the time when we realize that we can’t make it on our own. It is the time when we are totally and completely dependent upon God. Here is a poor man.

And Jesus heard the cry of this poor soul, honoring the exercise of his faith by blessing him as he had promised and answering, “I tell you the truth, you will be with me in paradise.” The thief asked Jesus to remember him, but Jesus goes further by saying in essence, “you will be with me, you will not only be in my thoughts but in my presence. You will be home.” In the context of being mocked about his claims of saving others, Jesus extends salvation to yet another person. (Nolland, 1153)

Jesus took this broken cursed man, a thief that was dying for his crimes, straight with him to paradise. Jesus escorted a lowly sinner saved by God’s grace beyond the gates of hell and through the gates of paradise. How effortlessly can divine grace raise the vilest, rudest and worst of us by a simple request just to be remembered?

This man found what he had missed his whole life, and it was on a deathbed. He found hope where there was only death, pain, and despair. He had made choices throughout his life that pushed people away; he had already been abandoned. He was the shame of his family, yet no one had experienced what he did at that moment. This is love and grace; this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what he does for us. It is the gift only God can give, one that we can’t earn or win.

I personally have discerned that grace is what God does for us, not based on what we deserve but on what we need. This man next to Jesus is proof that none of us have to reach a certain standard or level of holiness before God accepts us as a child. That thief is proof that we don’t have to get our lives under control to merit approaching Jesus and be blessed by him. The thief on the cross is proof that salvation is by faith and grace alone, and anyone that calls on his name can be saved.

What does this mean to us?

No matter where you are right now in your life, where you are coming from, or what you have done, hope can find you.

I know the past has a way of haunting us; don’t be possessed by it. Even if you find yourself on a deathbed figuratively or literally, feeling forsaken, abandoned, doubtful, confused, or scared to death, hope will find you. And it has today. Hope will dare to go to the darkest places to find you. And it has today. If you would only open the eyes and ears of your heart, you will see hope right now standing before you with open arms. And it will suffice only to say, “remember me” to have access to all God’s goodness, love, grace, forgiveness, and hope through Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel.

So today, would you ask to be with him? And I do not mean it as in, “rest in peace.” But to be with him as you continue to walk in this life, so your journey may lead you to paradise too. Would you ask to be remembered?

My friends, I take this Word today on the assumption that there are those of us who are seeking God, either because they have never yet found him or else because their faith is weak and they have lost assurance that they belong to God. I take this Word to those of you who also have relied on personal merits and efforts to approach God.

These are my last words as you are being convicted by the Spirit of God and considering how to respond to this invitation. In his own weakness and suffering, Jesus learned yours. He knows of your suffering; he knows of your pain; the things you can’t tell anyone else, he knows them all. Whatever is your experience right now, today, we all are offered salvation. What is there to do but to rely on Jesus’ compassion? No payment is needed, no prerequisites demanded but a humble heart. To quote Psalms 51, “a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

Let’s place our life, our destiny in Jesus’ hands. Let’s be blessed and healed.

Don’t be forgotten, be remembered.

Works Cited
Comfort, Philip Wesley. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Tyndale Publishers, 2005. Print.

Exell, Joseph S. The Biblical Illustrator: St. Luke Volume 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1963. Print.

Nolland, John. World Biblical Commentary. Vol. 35c. Thomas Nelson, 1993. Print.

Nouwen, Henri. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. HarperCollins

e-books, 2010.

This archival post originally appeared in 2018.

Edgar Bazan ~ Relaunch

In the past, I’ve talked about reset as the ability to embrace and move into the new things that God has for us by not allowing the hurts of the past to hold us back. We can’t change the facts of the past, but we can change how we feel about them and how we allow them to affect us today. It’s possible to reframe our past experiences into a story of redemption by looking at them and talking about them through the lens of Jesus’ love and grace.

The outcome is that, as we experience redemption, we are able to move into the new life God has for us; we stop keeping our future a hostage to our past. We free our future by allowing God to redeem our past and reframe our whole lives around a new story of hope, redemption, and new life.

Today, I want to talk about our future. When I use the word “relaunch,” I mean the action, the opportunity, or the decision to try again that which has not been going well.

Our text comes from Isaiah 43:18, 19:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

The context of Isaiah’s writing to the people of Israel takes place at a bleak period in Israel’s history. They were in captivity, conquered by the Assyrians who had become the dominating military and political power of the region. They had lost everything they thought they would keep forever, and they were homesick for the land and the blessing God had promised them.

This happened because they were suffering the consequences of wrong choices against each other and God. Israel had abandoned everything they once represented as God’s people; they had become selfish and unjust. They had missed the mark of their mission and calling as people of God. They had forgotten time and time again that the blessing given to their father Abraham and their mother Sarah was meant to be stretched out to all the families of the earth and that this was the reason for their existence, their purpose and goal as people of God. They failed because they forgot who they were meant to be. Instead of pursuing their purpose, they settled with ephemeral comforts and tried to become like everyone else.

No doubt Israel was discouraged because they thought this was the end of them. They were stuck – emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – in their past, unable to see the new life and opportunities that God was opening up. God was speaking hope and encouragement to them in the midst of their darkest times.

God wanted them to know that even though they were suffering, they were not forsaken. God wanted the people of Israel to understand that the hardship they were experiencing would not be the end of them. God wanted to give them a fresh start, a new beginning in their life, a relaunch, so to speak. By telling them, “forget the former things,” God was saying, “it is time to move on.”

Maybe that is where we are! We may feel we are stuck, that we have failed people we love – including God – so many times that we are just getting what we deserve. If God dealt with us based on what we deserve, we wouldn’t be here. No, God deals with us with grace, to bring out the best of us and make us whole again.

God is not in the business of annihilation, but of redemption. Our God does not dwell in the past, for he is always doing a new thing. Don’t ever believe that God doesn’t want anything to do with you. If you think that you have no future, I have good news for you. God is saying, “it’s not over, I have plans for your life. I am about to do something new for you,” because God is always on the move, and he is always calling us forward.

Today, I am saying this so you can not only believe it, but so that you can also fully embrace a new life.

How can we embrace this new thing that God wants to do in our lives?

We begin by realizing that our God is forward thinking. Consider: the moment things went wrong at the beginning with Adam and Eve and their sin, God introduced a plan of salvation. Every time people got it wrong and messed up God’s work, God would continue to keep his plan unfolding. When Jesus called the disciples, and everyone else for that matter, he did it so they would follow a new path, a new way of living. He called them forward. So it is with us!

This tells us that God is far more interested in our future than in our past, that we are not a final product, and that God wants to do something new in us every day regardless of what has been. Some people think that all God wants to do is remind them of the things they have done wrong. God is more interested in your future than in your past. God is always working a future for us.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Back to the Future. In this movie, when Marty goes back to the past, he stands out. He knows things and has seen things and acts differently because he is from the future. In the first film, there are some scenes where he is thought of as weird for making peculiar decisions because his peers don’t understand where he is coming from.

In the same way, we can view all of us, Jesus’ followers, as people of the future. Let me explain. If you jump back 2,000 years to when Jesus was walking the earth, a majority of the Jewish people believed in the resurrection of the dead. They believed that at the end of time, when God set the world right, the righteous would be resurrected and vindicated. The twist is that Jesus accomplished that in the middle of the history, not at the end. God did for Jesus in the present what Jewish people thought he would do for all at the end. So, in the resurrection, it’s like Jesus became a person of the future.

In the same way, everything else Jesus has done for us – how he brought a new world, a new way of living – is about bringing the promises of the future into the present. With this, God calls us to live as our future selves right here in the present, to step into what God says is true about us, and to stand out.

We don’t have to wait for our best life to happen someday; it can begin to happen right now if we step into it. Most of the things that get in the way are our choices. I know you are thinking, easier said than done. And you are right.

How do we relaunch our lives to embrace the new thing that God wants to do in our lives? Let’s look again at the story of Israel and the challenge they had.

The problem that this story presents may help us to understand why we too struggle to embrace new life today: they forgot who they were meant to be. They lost their way. They allowed things to get in the way that disrupted their purpose and sent them onto a path God did not intend for them.

The miracle in the middle of this story and all of our stories is that God never gives up on us. God is always working to give us a future. God is always invested in our healing, redemption, and restoration so we can get back on track.

This is not just about wanting to save us but wanting to give us a good, abundant life that accomplishes the desires of God’s heart and our hearts. God has written in our hearts his goodness and creativity, all the best he wants for us.  

What is your heart telling you today? What are the things that have gotten in your way, in your marriage, your family? What are the thoughts, the dreams, the desires of your heart that have been lost or forgotten over time?

Many of us have learned to have our faith in God –and that is a beautiful gift. Our faith in God grounds us in the hope for tomorrow. But let me add something else that has do with the voice of our heart: our faith in God does not mean we must doubt ourselves. Our faith in God ought to lead us to trust ourselves too. Our faith in God leads us to know not only how much we are loved but also why we were created.

Here is where many of us struggle. Do we know how much we are worth? Do we know how large our life is meant to be? Let me tell you something. Self-doubt forces us into lives that are too small for our dreams. We settle too soon. For the most part, our lives are about safely conforming to what has been, rather than building up new and wild dreams. And we doubt ourselves because we focus on our weaknesses, on our mistakes, on what people think and say about us, rather than on the beautiful ways we were created and gifted by God.

To this God says: “Forget the former things!” My friends, this word today is God telling us, “remember who you are, who you are meant to be. I am always with you.” God knows that when we live in doubt and undervalue ourselves, we give up on what we are meant to be, on any pursuit of our heart’s dreams. But we are the only creation in the universe that was created after God’s own image. Are we to reject that? No, we need to embrace it because by doing so we honor and glorify God.

Today, God is telling us to stop doubting ourselves and to find our strength and purpose. I believe that God placed dreams in our heart as the fuel to move and encourage us to live forward, and that God is overjoyed when we pursue those desires.

Can you hear God’s voice in your heart? What is God saying? How is God encouraging you right now? What dreams have been placed in your heart?

Often, when we pray over and over again for the same thing, it is not because God is failing to give us an answer, but because we have not heard the answer we want. What if this year we go with what we have already been told, with what is in our hearts, as scary and challenging as it may be?

I finish with this. To relaunch is not to keep things the way they are but to endeavor into new things. When God says “I am making a new thing,” that new thing is for you… you are not forgotten. What we think is the end is actually the beginning of the next chapter. It is time to move on to what’s next. You can only grow if you allow a new chapter to be written in your life. To relaunch is not about replaying the same old song but learning a new one.

If we welcome God’s love and grace in our lives; if we have faith in the future he has promised us; if we know that God is for us and not against us, then no matter what situations we face, we will be able to engage with them in a positive way, because we know that we have life ahead of us, and that whatever the former things were, they have no claim over us anymore: we have moved on from them.

I invite you to look for the courage to act on the dreams God has placed in your heart, on what you are meant to be. Maybe you are like a bird who for a long time has had thoughts of flying but is in a cage. Here, the door is open. God created us to spread our wings toward the bright sky he created for us to enjoy. May your choices reflect your hopes for the future and not the fears of your past. Live tomorrow today. Amen.

Edgar Bazan ~ A Hard Reset

What do you do when a phone freezes, stops working, or is unresponsive? You toss it to the ground, step on it really hard, and make sure is completely crashed, right?

Well, probably not. Most likely you do what most of us have done: we reset our phones to reactivate its functions, we don’t discard it. Depending on how bad it is, we may remove the battery, or do a hard reset which restores the factory functions, deleting everything in the hard drive. It’s not a good situation, but you get your phone back and start all over again.

Have you thought about your life along those lines? That sometimes we need some kind of reset when life gets so thick and unbearable that we stop functioning in healthy ways and find ourselves thinking, behaving, or making choices that are not good for us or the people we care about? In such times, what we need is a fresh start. I know I do sometimes for a variety of reasons, and maybe you do too.

Why bring this up? Maybe you have a bunch of stuff going on in your life right now that keeps getting in your way and keeps you from fulfilling what you know is God’s plan and calling for your life. You may have regrets, remorse, or guilt, the sadness of unmet goals and past disappointments that distracts you from seeing a future for your life to the point that you give up hope, saying: I am broken, I will never be whole again, there is no future for me, I gave that up long ago. These experiences and memories from the past threaten to overpower us to the point that what happened in the past is ruining our present and our future.

The sad part of it is that we think it’s normal, that we just have to deal with it. In a way, we do have to deal with the not-so-positive happenings in life. But here is the trick: we are not called to do this alone.

God wants to work his good will in everything that happens in our lives, and God is in the business of making things new, in transforming the old into a new creation. Our God is a God of opportunities and new beginnings. Our God is a God of the ultimate Reset.

Do you need a reset today, a new way of living, of moving from what was to what can be? If you feel purposeless, broken, or like a frozen, unresponsive phone, then it is time for a reset, and you are not alone.

Now how do we do this? Well, let’s learn together.

The scripture for today is 2 Corinthians 5:17. It is just one verse. And it says,

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Let’s get some context first.

Like us, the Corinthians were struggling with many problems and difficulties. One of them was living into their new identity as followers of Jesus. As new believers in Christ, they were becoming a part of a new way of living that was in drastic contrast to their old ways. The Corinthian Christians needed to be reminded of this and encouraged constantly about their faith, to not give up and give in to the old ways of living before they knew Christ.

For this reason, in this text and within the context of the letters to the Corinthians, Paul talks of a “new creation” as the transformation that takes place in us that makes us to be “born again,” meaning, saved from the condemnation of sin and death, and the evil powers of this world, to become people of God: children of light with a restored and new life.

However, there is always conflict when you have two elements at odds, in this case the old versus the new. There is a sort of battle between these opposing elements. The moment we embark on our new life, the old yells back at us, reminding us who we were, what we did, or what happened to us, with the only intention of holding us back by discouraging us and putting in doubt our worthiness.

For this reason, a common struggle Christians face today as much as back then is to fully leave behind the old and fully embrace the new. Although your soul has been saved, maybe your mind has not caught up: a part of you is still stuck in the past, in the old, in the very thing about which God has said: “you are the one talking about it, I don’t even remember that anymore!” In other words, what happens in practice is that the devil will always bring up your past to discourage you, but God will always remind you of your future to encourage you to keep moving on.

So when I talk about a reset in this context, I mean the ability to embrace and move into the new things that God has for us by not allowing the hurts of the past to hold us back. Becoming new creatures, as Paul says, is the ultimate reset for anyone, “for everything old has passed away and everything has become new!”

But this is one of the most difficult practices, isn’t it? How do we move away from the old? Is it possible?

I think it is, but we have to change it. What do I mean by “change it”? Like changing the past? Yes, like changing the past.

At first this sounds like a contradiction. How can we change something that already happened? But why does the past matter at all? What is the past to us today? What do we get to keep from something that already happened? Why does the past have so much power over us?

Well, because of the memories; we get to keep those –either the bliss or the trauma.

When we talk about the past, it is really the memory that we are talking about. The story that runs on a loop in the back of our minds of what has happened. This is critical because the past – those memories – only exists in our mind; but they have a direct effect on what happens today and will happen to us in the future. Why?

Because they define us. Although those events may not even matter anymore, they have so much power and control over our minds that they affect our decisions.

Recently I learned about epigenetics, the science that tells us that we are the sum of our experiences, that what happens to us – mentally, physically, emotionally – affects our biological composition, which means that everything that happens to us lays itself like tire tracks tattooing itself across our body-mind and literally making us the product of what has come before.

For example, an experience of trauma from the past seen through a certain lens can physiologically create stress responses like cortisol, stress hormones, and anxiety. All these responses may exist today –even if the event took place many years ago. According to epigenetics, we are the product of what we were and what we continue to allow to affect us today. That is why it is so hard to let the old go. Because it is tattooed all over our lives and we think that that is normal. And the more we replay it in our minds, the more it takes over us, printing itself all over our lives, defining who we think we are.

This idea led me to ask the question, “can we change what has already been, meaning our past experiences? Can we remove those unhealthy marks out of our lives?”

I think we can.

Here is something amazing: our cognitive framing, our interpretation of reality, our use of thoughts, memory and language to frame our past experiences, even how we speak about them, can actually allow us to change our very past experiences. The story we tell, the story we choose to tell about what has happened, can change what has happened insofar as it may change how we respond to those very experiences today.

Of course, we can’t change the facts of the past; but we can change how we feel about the facts and how we allow them to affect us today. So, if the past can affect you negatively today, perhaps you can change the past positively by changing your response to those negative past experiences by reframing them and seeing them through a different lens.

While we can’t ignore the past – it happened – we can reframe it into a story of redemption by looking at it, by talking about it, by thinking about it through the lens of Jesus’ love and grace. We change our past by allowing it to be redeemed.

This is the reset we need! We stop keeping our future a hostage to our past. We free our future by allowing God to redeem our past and reframe our whole lives around a new story with the hope we get through Jesus Christ. We don’t let our past get in the way of our future anymore. We break the cycle of oppression. We don’t choke on our fears and disappointments but rework these experiences through our faith in Christ. And in turn, we output all of our stories from the past into a story of redemption, knowing that we are more than we were because of what has happened to us today, because of our faith in Jesus the Christ.

I believe that there is a lot more for us in our lives that God wants to bless us with, but we don’t see it because we continue to allow an unredeemed past to dictate our future. And just like the Corinthians, we may find ourselves with a new faith but old thinking, old behaving, old brokenness marking us for life.

We can’t ignore the past. It is never going to go away, as long our memories of it exist. So, change it; redeem it; let the gospel of Jesus, the Word of God, bring healing into your past and transform it into a beautiful story of redemption. Don’t let it haunt you anymore. Look straight at those fears, unmet goals, disappointments, and hurts, and say: you are forgiven, you are redeemed.

I know this is not easy at all. The brokenness from the past holds us by making us feel as if what has been must always be. But here is the truth. We were never created to live defeated, guilty, condemned, ashamed lives defined by feeling unworthy. We were created to be the ultimate reflection of God’s self, full of light, life, and goodness. Let us stop building on brokenness and start building on hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and acceptance. Let us allow our past to be transformed into a story of redemption, where our decisions of today reflect our hopes for the future and not our fears and brokenness from the past. Remember, new faith with old thinking does not work well. So let’s also stop acting on the brokenness of our past, and start living in the power of the new life Christ makes possible for us day after day.

Finally, let us be certain of this: what God is offering to all of us today is a wonderful thought: the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet. We are not here by accident. This is your confirmation. Everything is going to be alright. God is making a way for you right now. All you have to do is to welcome God’s Word into your life, so it can speak new life into your mind and soul, reframing your feelings, thoughts, and everything from your past that has been getting in your way for so long.

I invite you to frame your life, your whole self, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the love God has for you, in the grace that has been bestowed on you. That is our reset!

Be encouraged today: you are going to make it. Your life still lies ahead of you. You are becoming as you keep on living and walking the pathway Jesus sets before you. Go ahead. In the words of Toby Mac: “You’ve got a new story to write and it looks nothing like your past.”


Edgar Bazan ~ Emmanuel: God Wants to Be With Us

Christmas is around the corner, and for the Christian church this is the beginning of the Advent season.

Advent is a season when we are reminded that God is with us. In fact, one of the names for God that we hear often during Christmastime is Emmanuel, which means: God with us. (Isaiah 7:14)

However, many times we don’t feel that God is with us. So today I want to address this concern: is God with me? Perhaps many of us have asked this question.

What I do know is that most people struggle with feelings of loneliness or abandonment at some point in their lives. They have felt the heavy weight of loneliness through the loss of people we love or missed opportunities in life. These experiences set on us as a heavy burden and make us wonder if God cares about our lives or if God is with us at all.

Other times, as it relates to our faith, we believe that God is not with us or that God does not want to have anything to do with us because either we don’t think we deserve the presence of God in our lives or simply that God does not care enough to be with us. Even more, our acting sinfully causes us to struggle with shame, guilt, and fear and these sentiments make us distance ourselves not only from God but also even from the people we love.

In such times of loneliness when we are confused, afraid, tempted, hurting, or discouraged, what does God do for us? How does God speak to our needs? Are any of us, today, feeling alone or abandoned?

One of the things that I have learned by ministering to people and by having my own personal challenges is that God is always with us, but we don’t always feel God’s presence, right? Well, feelings are not infallible; sometimes our feelings are misplaced and misguided. From this, I have learned that God is with us not because you or I feel it, but because God has promised God’s presence in our lives.

So, when we feel alone and struggle with all kinds of heavy thoughts and emotions, there is a gift we can always rely on: God’s presence. The God we believe in has chosen to be present in all of our pains and needs. Our God joins us in our brokenness. Our God feels as we feel. Our God has been with us since always.

Psalms 139 gives witness to the presence of God through the struggle of someone that thought deeply about the same things we are thinking right now. Hear the Word,

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.

King David wrote this Psalm. A beautiful one indeed. In this Psalm, David tells us that he knew that God knows everything, and God is everywhere. He is reflecting about a place and time where he may find himself truly alone, yet there is none. Even if he goes deep into a pit of darkness, God will meet him there. Even before he had a consciousness while he was being formed in the womb of his mother, God was there with him. And, he says: I come to the end of everything I can possibly think of, and I am still with you.

But he did not know this always, he experienced a great deal of loneliness in his life and endured a myriad of struggles that led him to write this and many other Psalms.

He was the youngest of seven brothers, often left out of any important family discussion. Throughout his life, David was persecuted by people he loved; was left to die in the hands of his enemies; he committed dreadful sins like killing and adultery, and he did so many other things that we wouldn’t think a man of God would do. Yet he always came back because in spite of all his mischiefs he truly loved God, and the moment he realized his wrongs he would return to God confessing and imploring for God’s presence to not abandon him. (See Psalm 51 as an example of this.)

David soon learned that God’s presence never abandons us but that it is we humans who run away and hide from God, even reject God, because we have yet to realize how much God loves us. We say things like: “God would never want me. God would never welcome me. God has abandoned me because of what I have done. God does not care.”

King David would challenge these statements because he learned that God’s love was greater than any of his fears, shame, and guilt; that even though God knew his brokenness or lack, God had never abandoned him.

This knowledge or revelation of God’s heart changed everything for King David and can change everything for us too. God, knowing everything and being everywhere, was not a cause for fear but for comfort, hope, and confidence in the future. Even when he felt alone or forsaken by all others, he knew that God was there with him. To this, David exclaims (v. 6): “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.”

And so, David reflects: God isn’t just everywhere, but everywhere I go God lays hold of me (v. 10). God’s presence is not like a force field that follows me but is personal, a warm, caring, and guiding embrace that upholds us.

The Bible is the constant narrative of God’s work to bring God’s presence into our lives, of God’s continual struggle to be with us. If anything can be said about God, it is not: “why have you abandoned us,” but, “why do you keep insisting on being with us?”

This is a very significant theological theme in the Bible: the unwavering presence of God. This is so important that it changes the way we pray, worship, and practice our faith if we realize its meaning.

To explain this properly, I need to elaborate on a particular theme in the Bible: The Temple.

In general terms and across religions, a temple is a place of worship. In the Bible, it specifically was the place where heaven and earth met, as if heaven and earth were two separate circles, and the circles overlap in the middle, and they called that place the temple.

This is because heaven was seen as God’s dimension. The place where God dwelled. And the Jewish people saw the temple as that space ripped down from heaven here onto earth. Once they entered the temple, they were entering the space where human space collided with God’s.

Jefferson Bethke writes in his book It’s Not What You Think about the meaning and significance of the Temple and the presence of God in the Bible. He explains,

“All temple-building texts had two huge markers to distinguish themselves from other literature. The first thing to recognize is all temples, when they would be completed, would put the image of that god in the temple on the last day as a sort of seal or marking that it was done. The second thing would be the builders would rest and celebrate the day after they had finished, and formally invite the god to take up residence. It was an ancient version of an inauguration ceremony. It would be seen as a day of rest where you would invite the god [or goddess] to flood the temple with his [or her] presence.” (Chapter 2)

This observation takes us back to the beginning: the book of Genesis.

In Genesis 1-2, on the last day of creation, God placed Adam and Eve in the garden as God’s image-bearers and rested from all the work, making the seventh day the Sabbath –a day of rest and enjoyment. Hebrew and Israelite listeners and readers would have recognized those markers and said, “God is following temple-building patterns in the telling of the story.”

The meaning of this is that Genesis is all about a temple being built: the creation itself. But the strange thing about this text that is completely unique and different from other ancient Eastern religions is that there is no building or imageries of metal, wood, or stone placed in a temple. In Genesis, the images are flesh: spirit, flesh, love, and humanness. And the Temple is the whole of creation. While other gods were regional and controlled only particular elements of nature such as the sun or sea or field, this God was God of all and God of everywhere. The whole world is God’s temple.

But this is just the beginning of temple-building work. Soon after, as Genesis tells, sin broke into the Creation, and those who were the reflection and witness of God’s presence couldn’t carry it anymore. What Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden when they sinned was the presence of God –not because God abandoned them but because they rejected God. Nevertheless, God continued to carry on pursuing all people and designed a new plan to make himself available to humanity.

As the story continues and goes beyond Genesis, in Exodus, God tells us that God, “will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.” For this, right after God pulled the Israelites out of slavery and oppression in Egypt, God provided instructions for building a tabernacle, basically a tent, a new means and place for God’s presence to manifest and dwell temporarily.

As the story continues, once the Israelites had settled in their new land, God gave Kings David and Solomon permission and instructions for building a permanent dwelling place for him: The Temple.

However, this did not last long. The people of God rejected God and lost everything again like back in Genesis: their home and this time their new Temple. This exile was such a disaster for the people of God because they were away from God’s presence. But what happened next changed everything.

This is where Jesus comes in. Jesus is Godself becoming flesh to dwell among us. In the very words of John 1,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and [dwelt] among us… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (v. 1, 14, 16)

A significant detail in this text is that the Greek word translated as “dwelt” in verse 14 is eskenosen, which can literally mean “to fix a tent or tabernacle.” With this, John is saying that Jesus himself (Bethke would say) is “pitching his tent” (that is, his holy tabernacle) among us. His body was now the place where heaven and earth met together.

This means that through Jesus God was pitching God’s tent with us—to be with God’s people. Jesus is the ultimate and perfect manifestation of God because “God became flesh and [dwelt] among us…” In other words, Jesus was the walking Temple of God, the very presence of God’s self. What Jesus did, what he said, everything he accomplished was a manifestation of God’s heart for humanity, for all of us.

Hence, when we ask: How does God uphold us? How is God present in my life? How am I not alone? What is the value of God’s presence? We need to look no further than to Jesus. He was fully present in everything. Fully caring, for everything. Completely invested in all people.

But now what? Jesus is not here anymore. Is God still present? Does Psalms 139 still hold true today? Well, there is one more thing that Jesus accomplished that answers these questions.

After his death and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled his promise of sending his Spirit to dwell in us. Now, God’s presence is not just walking among us, but truly dwelling in us! Jesus spoke very clearly about this. (I won’t quote the whole chapter, but I do encourage you to write it down and study it later in your home.) This is from John 14, excerpts from verses 15-20,

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day (when the Spirit comes to you) you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

What we hear and read here from Jesus himself is that the overarching theme of God’s presence in Scripture is the progressive movement of God to dwell with God’s people. God in creation, God in the temple, God in Jesus, and now God in us through the Holy Spirit.

King David saw a glimpse of this, and he shared it with all of us through Psalms 139: “God, you are with me always; I am with you always. I am never alone or forsaken. I come to the end, and I am still with you.”

Let me ask you now: What is the “end” for you, when you feel like there is nothing else left for you?

My friends, there is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still. And there is no “end,” no place where we can be completely lost, or we can run away to because God is already there. Hope and new beginnings can find us in all places and circumstances. We may come to what we think is the end, but God is still with us giving us the power to change everything for good.

Today, let us know that dwelling is God’s goal.

This is what the apostle Paul wrote in the letter to the Ephesians,

“[Through faith in Jesus] You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God… a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” Ephesians 2:19-22

We, the people of God, are the dwelling place of God, we are the overlapping middle place where heaven and earth meet. We are the Temple of God forever. We are now the dwelling place of God. So, we can’t go anywhere that God is not with us and in us. As King David said, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? I come to the end, and I am still with you.”

When we are confused, God’s presence will guide us; when we are afraid, God’s presence will protect us; when we are tempted, God’s presence will help us resist; when we are hurting, God’s presence will comfort us; when we are discouraged, God’s presence will encourage us; when we are lonely, God’s presence will be our companion. God sees us, walks with us, and cares for us no matter where we are.

In the beginning, God impressed his presence in everything he created, including us –particularly us. But now, through Jesus, God’s presence is not just an impression on us, but we are now a dwelling place of God, where the fullness of God’s presence is our gift forever.

Let us come to God today and always, and dwell in the fullness of the gift of his presence: Jesus, Emmanuel.

Edgar Bazan ~ Prayer: A Source of New Life

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to South Korea and visit some of largest churches in the world: Kwanglim Methodist Church with 85,000 members and Yoido Full Gospel Church with 900,000 members. We met with their senior pastors and leaders and learned about their leadership. We were, so to speak, drinking from a fire hydrant all week.

The food was great. The people were amazing. And some of the cultural differences were shocking, and I noticed some contrasting differences between Westerners and Asians.

One observation in particular is that Koreans, in general, are not individualists; they have a culture of collectivism. They are compliant with each other, and their main concern is the greater good. This cultural context influences the ways in which they practice their Christian faith, including how they read the Bible and pray.

Here in America, a question that we typically ask is “What is God’s will for my life?” But this is not a question that is common in Korea. A more common question for Korean Christians would be, “What is God’s will?” Period. The difference between these questions is that the latter focuses on God, on pursuing God’s kingdom, and not on ourselves.

To us, this may not be a big deal since we have been taught about the value of individualism. But for many Koreans, this is not typical. They don’t ask the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” They seek God’s will collectively by studying the Bible and praying. Their main concern is not asking for God’s will but aligning themselves with the teachings of Jesus. In general, the concept of having a tailored plan for oneself is an alien one to them.

In essence, Korean Christians fulfill God’s will for their lives not by waiting for a specific answer from God about a plan for them but by pursuing what they already know God is doing. Their prayer life is more about joining God than asking God.

This experience led me to reflect deeper on my own practice of prayer. A Scripture that spoke to me in very significant ways is in Matthew 20:20-23,

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.'”

This Scripture of Matthew is the story of a mother who wanted only the best for her sons. She came to Jesus with a bold request. She asked that when Jesus comes into his Kingdom, he would have her sons seated on his right and the other on his left. She was doing what any mother would do. I don’t think we can blame her for coming to Jesus and asking what she thought was the best for them.

If we read the other gospels, it’s clear that this was a shared controversy among the disciples all the way until the night before Jesus was crucified. No matter what we may think about James and John (and their mother), the other disciples wanted those seats as well.

The basic problem is that James and John didn’t ask for work in the coming Kingdom but for a place of honor. Through their request, they were not pursuing the purposes of the kingdom but the benefits of the kingdom.

To this request, Jesus provides an answer. He says, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” And they replied, “Yes, we can.” And Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:22-23).

Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke the mother or her sons. There was no problem with asking. However, Jesus does tell them that they don’t know what they are asking. And, at that moment, Jesus then asks them if they can drink the cup he is about to drink. With commendable bravery, they replied, “We can.”

Here is a critical moment for all of us as we look to learn more about the power of prayer.

The concept of the “cup” in the Bible speaks of intense personal experience. It is the same image Jesus used in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed that the cup he was about to drink might be taken from him. Luke 22:42 says of this, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

That “cup” for Jesus particularly meant to him the burden of bearing the sins of the world, of having to face death on a cross. His drinking of the cup was his willingness to accomplish the will of God no matter the cost to him. And he did, because he trusted that the Father’s desire would result in the greatest good for the greatest glory and joy possible for all the saints. And so, even while sweating blood in tortuous expectation of his impending execution, Jesus exclaimed to the Father, “Not as I will, but as you will.”

What then is our cup? When Jesus says, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” he is telling us that just as his cup represented his submission to the will of God and the purposes of God’s kingdom, so it means to us how we too submit to God. In this context, the cup is something taken voluntarily when our goal is not personal gain but accomplishing God’s will. Drinking the cup is the ultimate act of obedience and trust to God.

What does this have to do with prayer? When we pray, are we only asking for a seat, or are we drinking the cup, submitted wholly to God? When we pray, are our main concerns our individual comforts, or are we pursuing the kingdom of God?

Of course, Jesus does invite us to ask for whatever we may think we need. The point is not to stop that, but to go beyond that. Jesus spoke of this when he said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

If we look closely, all this time Jesus has been telling us that prayer is not a means for personal gain (a “seat of honor”) but a source of life. Prayer is the cup that leads us beyond brokenness into new living.

When we tell God, “all these are my wants, but let it be your will and not mine,” we are basically saying, “I want that seat, but that is not the most important thing; above everything else, I want to please you.”

This is the cup Jesus was talking about; this is the meaning of the cup to us. And here,is where the power of God is unleashed in and through us. When we drink this cup we are taken to new heights in our spiritual life.

The secret to a powerful prayer life is drinking the cup: humility and submission to God’s teachings. It is not about not asking what you want or pretending that you really don’t want it by forcing artificial piety; but it is about not losing sight of what matters most even as you struggle with your own priorities. There is nothing wrong with asking and talking with God about our wants and desires. In fact, God welcomes that very much. However (in my Korean experience), prayer is not only about asking “what’s in it for me?” but a pursuit to learn to align our lives with God’s Word and the teachings of Jesus.

How have the Korean churches have been so successful in reaching out to the unchurched and making disciples of them? I came across Matthew 20 and realized that their power to minister comes from their unwavering commitment to please God and accomplish the purposes of God’s kingdom.

What are we to make of all this? We learned from Matthew about not being shy about asking but also about making sure we don’t miss what matters most. Don’t stop praying when you are finished asking for a seat; drink the cup after that. Don’t stop praying when you are finished asking God for what you want or need. Once we ask, then let’s consider also praying like Jesus did, “Not as I will, but as you will.” (Luke 22:42 paraphrased)

Prayer is ultimately a source of new life, not a means for personal gain. Take your prayer life to the next level. Ask everything you want, but then pursue the kingdom of God and offer yourself in complete obedience to what God is accomplishing around you. Say, “here I am, Lord, let me serve you in any way you want me to.”

Let’s not stop asking, but let’s also never stop pursuing the kingdom of God and offer ourselves in complete obedience to what God is doing around us today and every day.


Note from the Editor: the featured image is “Prayer” by painter Kazimir Malevich, 1907.

Edgar Bazan ~ Redeeming Justice

What is justice?

The theme of justice is pervasive in the Bible but also is widely misunderstood by its readers. Commonly, people depict justice as a harsh judgment or deserved punishment, portraying God as the ultimate punisher or executioner.

But if we look closely in the Bible, this is not how God practices or brings about justice to the world. For God, justice fundamentally has to do with right and good relationships, with fostering and encouraging wholeness and wellness for people and their interactions. The end goal of justice is to make things right by redeeming not destroying.

The ultimate example of this is when it is written, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to save the world through faith in him…” God was redeeming the world through Jesus, and for all practical and theological purposes, through this God brought justice by loving all people and not wanting anyone to perish but have eternal life. Jesus did not come to condemn us but to save us, to give us peace. That is God’s justice.

The Book of Jeremiah presents us with the biblical context to learn how this applies to us as people of God.

Consider Jeremiah 7:1-7:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

This text summarizes the issues that Jeremiah address throughout the book of Jeremiah.

The historical context is that in the days of Jeremiah (ca. 600 B.C.), the people of Israel were facing threats from foreign powers. The northern kingdom of Israel was history, taken into Assyrian captivity. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had defeated Assyria and was making his way into Judah. The threat was imminent, they had nowhere to run, and they were soon to be crushed and taken.

The question that I ask when I read this part of Israel’s history is: how did they get there? Did not God promise them a land of honey and milk, and to bless them? Indeed. God said: I will bless you to be a blessing (Genesis 12); you will be my treasured possession out of all the peoples, a priestly kingdom and a holy nation (Exodus 19).

So, what happened then?

Beginning with Abraham, the people of God (Israel) had entered into a covenant with God to be blessed with the purpose to bless others and to minister God’s love to all people as a missional agency. They were supposed to be different: priests, holy, a blessing, on a mission alongside God to bring healing to the world from sin. They were constituted to join God in “all that God is doing in God’s great purpose for the whole of creation and all that God calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose.” (N.T. Wright)

But over the years, they forgot time and time again who they were meant to be and went from blessing to suffering to oppression, from a Promised Land to a wasteland, for they stopped being the missional agency of justice in the world. Their religion became an oppressing behavior rather than a missional faith. They became unfair, uncaring, selfish, and unjust; oppressors of the alien, the orphan, and the widow, and shed innocent blood (7:6; 19:4).

And this is what the book Jeremiah is all about. As they were facing another threat from a foreign army, Jeremiah was sent to call them out. He, along with other prophets, tried to warn Israel about their sins and the consequences of not keeping God’s covenant.

Ironically, they did not listen to Jeremiah because they felt safe by having the temple in their midst –that which was meant to remind them of their covenant with God. But the opposite was the case. For them, the temple had become an icon of invincibility, and they thought that by having the temple in Jerusalem their lives and nation would be spared. They had a superstitious religion with empty displays of fasting and prayer, but that lacked any inward reality of faith and commitment to God.

Their confidence for their survival was in the Temple, not in God, to which the Lord responded, “Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” They had been deceived by the false witness of false prophets and God is telling them, “the temple has no power to save you.”

So, the prophetic word of Jeremiah is basically about two main concerns: their idolatry by putting their trust in the temple, and their disregard for the well-being of their neighbor.

For this, Jeremiah, along with many other prophets like Isaiah and Amos, were calling out Israel because they had forgotten their calling. And even after hearing the prophetic word of the prophets they were still not getting it. They were worshiping the temple, while God was telling them,

For if you amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:5-7)

This is clear, there is no room for confusion, yet they were still not getting it. I mean, how much lower did they need to fall to figure out that they were wrong? Stop worshiping the temple and attend to the needs of those around!

This is the prophetic word of Jeremiah to the people of God that is essentially a wakeup call that demanded from them, as well as from us, to love God and act justly with all people.

What do we make of this? How does this prophetic word speak to us today?

Well, Jesus spoke about some of the same concerns in Matthew 25:35-40. He said,

I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:36-40

Let’s make sure we are getting this right.

God’s calling of Israel and consequently of the church through Jesus is for the blessing of the nations, of all people, particularly those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and marginalized. When our mission becomes anything else, we are in the wrong.

What’s our story? What about us? Are we getting it or are we missing the mark too? God is advocating for those in our midst who are invisible to most, for those who are vulnerable and oppressed. Are we acting justly? Are we helping heal and redeem those who are hurting?

Let me give you a specific example to really challenge us today.

Let’s take the widow and the orphan as an example. For all practical purposes, they are also the single parents and their children living in poverty, who have been abandoned by husbands or wives, and are raising their children by themselves. Many of them struggle every day to provide for their children for they need to work twice as much just to provide for the basic needs of their children. Things like childcare, food, clothing, and transportation are barely met. Just think about how much they need to work when daycare cost is at least $1,000 for two children. Add to that rent or mortgage, food, car expenses, clothing, etc. Single parents are fighting for their children with little to no help. How does this make you feel?

Furthermore, consider how little quality time they get to spend with their kids and the side effects of this unjust situation. Next time you see a kid getting into trouble, and you ask, “where are their parents?” Maybe the answer is, “his parent is working two shifts that day while being threatened to be evicted if they can’t afford to pay the balance of their rent, while at the same time trying everything she can to keep her boy in school, so he can have a better future.”

Don’t you think God hurts when God sees his children been treated and judged unfairly, with no regard for their struggles and well-being? God cares and advocates for single parents and their children.

In many ways, this was my experience too. I was raised for several years by a single parent. My mom had me when she was 18 and had to work day in and day out seven days a week to provide for the needs of my brother and me. We were raised by our grandmother in our early years because my mom was almost always working. We never lacked anything because my mom was a hard worker, but we missed many things and time with her too. I am proud of her. I thank God for how she cared for us, but I wish I had more time with her.

Today we are reminded of our calling through the prophetic word of Jeremiah. I am here because my mom was brave and strong. But I am also here because churches – people – went into the community, to children like me, and brought Vacation Bible School, worship, and so on into my community. I did not go to church; church came to me.

Where is our church going today? Or have we settled? Can we not just focus on us, on our temple, but also on what is happening around us in our community?

What are we known for?

Are we known at all?

Can we bring our minds, hearts, and strength together and see our ministry of reaching out to others with at least the same passion we have when we are taking care of ourselves? I know we can, but will we?

Ask yourself: What is driving our vision for our church? What kind of church do we want to be today, and what do we want to leave behind to our children?

The book of Jeremiah is about this kind of stuff. The Gospel of Jesus is still about this stuff. Even James echoed Jeremiah and Jesus when he wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1:27) And yet still, people before Jesus and after Jesus remain concerned about the wrong things.

Our vision must be about real life: tangible, practical, redeeming, and healing justice. “The notion that the Church is a place only for spiritual deepening, character-building, mutual care and service ignores Jesus’ core message… the inauguration a new reign of justice and peace.” (Storey, preface) We don’t just pray for justice and peace; we act on it. We don’t ask God to send someone to do something about it, we say here I am, Lord, send me.

To all of us, we need to be more intentional about engaging with those God cares about, those who God is naming before us today. Remember that biblical justice is about aligning with God’s commands and faithfully keeping God’s covenant which then, in turn, is reflected in how we treat our neighbor: our aliens, orphans, and widows… our single parents and their children.

We have the mandate to make our world better not just for us but for those who are hurting and in need. We can’t honestly represent God and be Christians if we don’t care about this. Our lives and faith must be in agreement.

The people of Israel were promised a future if they amended their ways of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). So are we: we are promised a future too.

Does our corporate church and each one of us as individuals and disciples of Christ have a voice in favor of those God names in our Bibles and commands us to care for? Would our church speak up and act?

My friends, today God is challenging us to think outside the box – literally – to hear to voices beyond this holy space of worship; to practice God’s justice –a redeeming justice that is concerned about contributing all that is good and kind to others.






NRSV Bible

Storey, Peter John. With God in the Crucible: Preaching Costly Discipleship. Abingdon Press, 2010.

Wright. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Zondervan, 2010.


Edgar Bazan ~ Shalom and the Kingdom of God

Note from the Editor: In the United States, Labor Day is being observed today. As a reflection on rest and on justice for workers, we revisit a reflection from Rev. Edgar Bazan and the nature of shalom and proactive well-being.

If there is one aspect of Jesus’ life that can help us gain insight into his mission, it is when he said: “My peace I [give] to you.” (Jn. 14:27) After his resurrection, this was a very particular way in which Jesus greeted the disciples: by saying “peace be with you.” Note John 20:21, when Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” This is a significant statement that helps us realize the nature of the mission of God here on earth.

This concept of peace has profound missional implications for learning what it means to witness the salvation brought by Jesus Christ and to bring life through his teachings—the essence of our Christian faith.

The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. This is the word we translate as peace in our language, but the meaning of this word is totally unlike our concept of peace. Our concept of peace is basically the absence of trouble, whereas Shalom means everything which contributes to the wellness of people’s lives.When the word Shalom is used as greeting it does not simply mean that you wish a person the absence of bad things, but it also means you wish them all possible good things.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:33, “for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.” The end goal of God’s Shalom is to bring order to our lives and to align us not only with what we consider spiritual wellness but with everything that contributes to our well-being in every area of our lives to experience the fullness of life. Such is the power and aim of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and manifested in powerful ways. Every healing, every forgiven sin, every act of reconciliation, and every act of justice against evil oppressors is an act of Shalom, of leaving his peace with us.

The presence of God – Jesus’ bringing of his kingdom – brings forth actions of peace, healing, and salvation. This is how we know that God is active in our lives and ministries: if we are peacemakers in this way. (And this is not the same as pacifism that avoids conflict or struggle; rather, it happens as people seek justice through acts of redemption in the way Jesus did.) Opposition and persecution are to be expected when dealing with opposing forces against the kingdom of God, for the evil in this world abhors God’s Shalom.

The mission of God that the church has been entrusted to steward and carry on is for the “healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2). This is an idea that is rooted in the Shalom of God. This is the hope the church ought to proclaim. In the midst of and in spite of the opposing evils of this world, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus and the manifestation of God’s kingdom is the light overpowering darkness, the healing overpowering death, and the Shalom overpowering condemnation.


The featured image is “And We Labor” by Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, ca 1922.

Edgar Bazan ~ The Rest of God

I believe that God wants us to enjoy our everyday lives.

John 10:10 says that Jesus came to us so we may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, until it overflows). But it seems that far too many people who say they believe in Jesus are not enjoying their lives.

Now, it is not only fair but it is necessary to say that life gets hard in spite of our faith. So although we believe that God wants what is best for us, we also recognize that while we are living this life, we all face challenges.

The key to dealing with the tension between what we know God wants for us and the struggles we face is to rest wholly in Jesus; to know that no matter what may come at us, we are not alone and he will always bring new life, resurrection to our brokenness and pain.

Do you believe that Jesus can bring healing and reconciliation to your life? Do you believe that he brings you rest?

Let’s look at Matthew 11:28-30 to hear what Jesus says on this matter:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus is talking about two main things here: his rest and yoke.

He refers to himself as the provider of healing and redemption from the things that hurt, oppress, and possess us: that which disfigures the image of God in us. All the ugliness of the heart and mind is forgiven and transformed. Jesus speaks of this as the new birth in John 3. Paul also mentions it in 2 Corinthians 5:17 by writing, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

So when we hear Jesus talking about rest, it is not the kind that you find in a couple of weeks in the summer, in a hammock, or in bed, but it is the relief in life that leads us to experience joy and the blessings of God through a grace/faith relationship with him. This is an invitation aimed at all people to bring them to a place of belief, trust, and a deeper level of commitment in which they are to follow Jesus and become like him.

But what does all this mean?

When Jesus says “come to me” he is offering an open invitation to everyone who hears him. For those without Jesus, it is equivalent to a call to believe in him, meaning, to repent and confess sin, to welcome healing into their lives, and to follow Jesus as new disciples. For those who are already believers, it is a call to follow him as a committed disciple; it is a call to turn their lives over to him completely.

In either case, the invitation is to be saved and to be healed, reconciled, and renewed. And then he says this: “and I will give you rest.”

This is a fascinating theological concept that we find throughout the Bible: rest.

In the first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1 and 2, we read about how God created everything, the heavens, the earth, plants and animals, man and woman. All these in six days. Some people may argue that these were six literal days as we know them; others would say they represent a process of millions of years, and that the language of “days” is figurative to indicate the beginning and end of each creative process. Regardless, what I want to bring to your attention is that after God created everything, on the seventh day of creation, God rested.

The Bible says that all God created was good and that God gave humanity all this goodness for them to enjoy. Creation is a reflection of God’s love and purposes. God moved creation from disorder and formlessness to a place of beauty, order, and creativity. And rest is the final gift of God to creation.

So, let me ask a theological question: are we supposed to be living on the seventh day right now? Meaning, in the rest of God? There is not an eighth day, right? Perhaps we may understand the eighth day as the day when Jesus comes back in glory. But for now, what if all this time we should be living in the time that God intended to be a time of rest for all creation?

This is not a difficult question; the answer is yes. God did not create us for misery but fruitfulness. I believe the exact words that God used were: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.”

This is a beautiful picture of God’s heart. God wanted us to enjoy life and be part of God’s creative purposes as we fill the earth and govern it. But that did not last long.

The first man and woman distrusted God and rebelled against him. They did not believe that God wanted the best for them and they decided to seek life somewhere else. Here is humanity walking away from the rest of God. Humanity was created to be partners with God, to enjoy creation alongside God and then become fruitful, but their sin brought upon themselves what Jesus describes as “heavy burdens.” Genesis 3:17 describes this saying, “All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.” Of course, this does not refer only to work in a literal manner, but to our relationships, thoughts, feelings, happiness, justice, goodness. Aren’t we all scratching in this life to find rest in all the areas of our lives?

Now, there is one more passage that speaks profoundly about God’s rest, too. Hebrews 4:9-11 says,

[A] sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

This is a fascinating Scripture. I encourage you to read chapters 3 and 4 and mediate further on them. But let it suffice to say for now, that what we are reading here is a reference to how the people of Israel failed to enjoy the rest of God promised to them as the Promise Land. It clearly says two things: God’s rest is still available, it has always been since day seven of creation, but because of sin through disobedience, we do not enter it. In fact, we run away from it.

The promise of rest we read here is the same as what Jesus is saying, Hebrews says, “for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors.”

Jesus says, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

The implications are the same: We no longer are at war with God and each other. We no longer fight and kill each other. We no longer are slaves to sin and disobedience. We no longer are infested by fear, anger, hate, and guilt; all those things have been lifted from us, they no longer weigh us down, control us, or define us. And most importantly, we no longer are in a struggle against the voice and will of God. We are at rest in the controversy between our souls and our Savior.

We are at rest in him.

It was unbelief, a distrust that led the first man and woman to abandon God and lose the rest of God. It was unbelief, a distrust that kept the people of Israel from entering into the promised land and the rest God had promised there.

And these stories, sadly, continue to repeat themselves in every person.

Now that we have established our theological framework let’s come back to Jesus and learn about what he means when he said,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus wants to heal us and help us live in complete trust in God. In other words, he wants to position us through our faith in him to live on the seventh day of creation: the rest of God. By resting in Jesus, we begin to enjoy our life in the ways God intended for humanity to do so. This is a reality, a place, where we assume our purpose to be fruitful and enjoy life as God intended for us to do. This rest is not a rest from work—it is rest in work. It is partnering with God to do what he is calling us to do by his grace and leaving the part we can’t do in his hands, trusting him to do it.

When we do this – believe and trust God – we find enjoyment. Being good is not a task or an effort, but what we have become. Living by faith is not a struggle either—all of these are rest, finally living in the desires of God’s heart for us. And you can enter into God’s rest in every area of your life.

However, we fail to enter or remain in God’s rest due to unbelief, distrust, a hardened heart, and disobedience. And that’s where the “yoke” comes in. Jesus said, “I will give rest, but you need me to keep it. Otherwise, you will squander it as everyone else has done it when they think that can make it on their own.”

What is the yoke? In practical terms, it refers to our continual walk alongside Jesus. It is about trusting God, telling Jesus: guide my steps, set my direction. It is not about controlling you but for you to not forget that you are not alone. To keep you close. Because if you stay close to Jesus, you can listen to him better, you can see him better; you will have a supernatural sense of security and confidence because you know who you are walking with. If you are close, you will learn faster from him, and you will become stronger and wiser for life in this world.

But at the end of the day, if we truly want his rest, it is about the Lordship of Jesus over our lives. Is he our Lord? Does he influence our life?

You know, we get yoked to all kinds of bad stuff throughout our lives that have brought burdens, hurts, and brokenness of all types. Adam and Eve tried to become independent from God, and they hurt themselves. Israel, the people God chose to represent him before all the nations of the world, did the same thing. They yoked themselves to themselves. They distrusted and rejected God altogether. Let’s not make the same mistakes.

So, try now to yoke yourself to the giver of life. Let’s say with all our hearts: I surrender, I trust you God, I want what you want for me.

My friends, if you do this, if you find rest in Jesus and commit yourself to walk alongside him, he will keep you on the new things, living the new life you received in and through him, to nurture you like the new creation that you became. He will take you to places you had never imagined; places where you become who God imagined you to be so you can bear the resemblance of God in the world. You can’t become what you can’t see.

Can you see Jesus?

Have you wandered away from him?

Jesus is saying to all of us today: I want to bring you back to goodness, to be a reflection of my glory.

Edgar Bazan ~ May All Your Plans Be Successful

There is a prayer that I recently discerned to pray: God, may all your plans for me be successful.

The rationale behind this prayer is that I want to position myself and do everything that is in my power to let God fulfill his plans in my life.

Notice that I did not say “my plans,” but God’s. This is a risky prayer by all standards. Basically, I am putting myself at the mercy of God! And you know what – that is the best place I could ever imagine to be.

However, sometimes I make it really hard for God to do this. Can you relate? We delay God’s success in our life. Don’t we? And because of that, we end up losing opportunities to fulfill God’s plans for us.

This message goes along the lines of what Billy Graham said: “End your journey well. Don’t waste your life, and don’t be satisfied with anything less than God’s plan.”

So it is my hope, whether it is today or in the next few days ahead, you too may find your way back to your life purpose and pray the prayer, “may all your plans be successful in my life, God,” because God indeed has a plan for you.

The question we all have asked in this regard is the key: What’s God’s plan for us?

Let’s look into this.

Our Scripture reading today is Matthew 4:1-17. Here, Matthew narrates the story of how, after he was baptized and recognized by God as his beloved Son, Jesus is taken by the Spirit of God to the desert, to the wilderness to be put to the test. After this time of trial, – 40 days to be precise – he then inaugurated the beginning of his ministry here on earth by proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

In this story, Jesus faced three tests or temptations. I believe there is a powerful connection between one of them and the proclamation of repentance and God’s kingdom that speaks to us about this idea of God’s plans for our lives.

Of the temptations, one dealt with hunger, another with trust in God’s provision, and the last, with love or faithfulness to God. The first one is the one on which I am focusing today because I believe this one in particular is relevant to the proclamation of Jesus about God’s kingdom.

This first temptation went like this:

[Jesus] fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

After 30 years of preparation, Jesus was almost ready to begin his ministry. Only one more thing was needed. To be completely ready to bring healing and salvation to this world, Jesus needed to be tested. And in this first test, we have the devil basically telling Jesus: It has been 40 days since you tasted any food, why are you starving when you can easily feed yourself?

Of course, the devil couldn’t care less about Jesus’ needs; he wanted to talk Jesus out of his purpose, out of God’s plans, into trouble, and even worse, into sin.

What we see here, then, is that the purpose of Jesus’ temptation or test was about challenging his trust in God’s plan and his complete dependence on God.

Would Jesus take a shortcut? Would he stay faithful to the Father’s will? Would he fall into doing things the devil’s way instead of God’s way? It would have been so easy for Jesus – the Son of God – to turn stones into bread. But in doing so, in choosing the bread, he would have compromised God’s plans for him.

My friends, how many times does bread get in the way of God’s plans for us?

Let me explain.

I believe that in this particular story bread represents a compromise of God’s plans. It is choosing something else before what we know God has said about us or has asked about us. It is the yielding or given up too soon because we can’t wait or endure God’s processes in our lives any longer.

What’s your bread? Is it comforts, satisfaction, or pleasure? Could it be wealth, fame, recognition, or any other? Just like actual bread, these are not bad, but if they take precedence over God’s plans for us, they will become a stumbling block in our lives.

Of course, all of these have merit and are valuable, and they may very well be part of God’s plans for us in one way or another; they are not intrinsically bad. However, they are finite endeavors that provide temporary comfort. Any of these, sooner or later, will need to be replaced with a new something else.

You see how difficult it is to refuse the temptation to feed on the bread because we can. But by doing so, we delay, interrupt, or miss altogether the plans of God for us. What is even more sad about this is that sometimes without even realizing it, our relationship with God is only a means to get the bread; we couldn’t care less about God’s desires and will for us.

But the bread did not get in the way of Jesus, for he said, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

This is what I want for me, my family, and I pray you may have it too: I don’t care if I am tempted with bread, crackers, or tortillas, the Word of God comes first, and I won’t compromise my relationship, witness, faith, and character for what is a mere temporary comfort.

This is what we can learn from Jesus’ temptation with bread: sometimes God will make us sacrifice something we want in order to secure our heart for the greatest good – himself and his purposes. What we will be given instead is much more valuable than any goal or plan we could have created for ourselves.

The point is not that God wants to keep us away from the things we want or need, but that we are willing to sacrifice them if they get in the way between God and us. When we submit ourselves to God’s Word, everything else falls into place and all the good plans God has for us become a reality. It is then that our prayer, “may all your plans for me be successful,” begins to take shape and becomes a tangible reality.

Now, what comes out God’s mouth? Words, right? But, what is God saying? I know God has unique words for each one of us just as God has particular plans and purposes for all of us. But there is a universal and constant word that God speaks that defines God’s plans for each one of us. This is the basis for everything that God wants to do in our lives, and without it, nothing can be done.

Here is where Matthew 4:17 helps us to discern this.

God’s plans for Jesus were about saving humanity from death and sin. And the first action Jesus took after being tempted by the devil was to proclaim this simple yet profound revelation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is what the devil wanted to keep Jesus away from: the proclamation of God’s kingdom and its arrival. This is what Jesus would have had left undone if he had chosen the bread when he was tempted early on.

This proclamation of repentance and God’s kingdom was a calling to people then as much as it is a calling for us today: to realign themselves with God’s Word and live in a new kingdom of heaven kind of life.

This proclamation is simple yet profound: “Repent!” he said first.

To repent is to make a radical reversal in life and realign with God. To repent or realign is a dynamic term that is more than a one-time event. Of course, there must be an initial turning to God, but repentance is not only a one-time crisis moment but rather an ongoing way of life.

We could more accurately capture Jesus’ message by translating 4:17 “Realign your life continually to God’s ways.”

Jesus’ words are an invitation and command to make sure our lives are in alignment with God’s character. This realignment involves turning away from obvious evils and sins, but more important than that, it also involves an ongoing assessment and shifting to virtues that represent the character of God and his kingdom – things like being kind and compassionate (Ephesians 4:32), living above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2), attending to the needs of others, especially the least fortunate (Proverbs 19:17), giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), praying for our friends and even enemies, loving our neighbor as ourselves – basically, everything we see Jesus doing and saying in the gospels. This is what aligning with God means.

So, when Jesus was tempted to eat the bread when he knew it was not the time to do that, he was for all practical purposes keeping himself in alignment with God’s plans. Because of this, Jesus blessed all humanity for all eternity because he himself was the greatest follower of God the Father.

Perhaps our challenge or struggle to see God’s plans for us fulfilled is not a lack of faith, but a lack of obedience and alignment with God’s Word.

My friends, this word is for all of us. Can we learn from this? Your life, everything you are, your thoughts, your strengths, your dreams exist for a purpose greater than yourself. Your greatest achievement in this life is to leave a mark of blessing in people’s lives, to leave this world better than you found it. And all of these can happen if we let God be successful in achieving his plans in our lives.

What we see in Jesus is the key to understanding what God wants for us and from us in order for God’s plans to be successful in our lives as they were with Jesus. If we sow in faithfulness and obedience, we will reap in blessings, in God’s promises.

Whatever your career, your education, your skills, and your dreams in life are, glorify and honor God through them by letting him be bigger in your life than everything else.

Now, I recognize how this may be challenging and perhaps even scary to do: surrender everything to God? Don’t be afraid to surrender your most wanted dreams, desires, and possessions to God. I know some people fear, if they give to God, what will there be left for them? What they don’t understand is that when you do surrender to God and confess, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God…” God is going to multiply the blessings in your life, and your cup will be overflowing.

Don’t believe me? Here is the proof: So, Jesus was tempted with bread, right? How ironic is that, because later we see that Jesus’ ministry was heavily centered around bread, feeding it to people and multiplying it miraculously.

What you are surrendering to God today may be the very thing that God will give you in abundance to bless many.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that if you submit yourself to God in all that you are and all that you have that somehow you are going to lose. When you unleash the Word of God in your life, pray to God, “May all your plans for me be successful,” and follow him as your shepherd, and you will lack nothing.

Jesus said best when he said in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

This is the invitation today: stop eating the bread that is getting in the way between you and God. Get back to the path. Get yourself together, and realign with God’s plans for you. Has it been a day, a year, maybe five or 20 years since you gave up on what you knew in your heart God wants to accomplish for you, in you, and through you? Well, you can start making it right today. Yield to God.

What is your calling? I pray for you: May all God’s plans for your life be successful. Amen.