In Memory of Francisco Camacho

This is what I wrote for Francisco’s memorial service on 2/12/2022, and here is the livestreamed recording.

~~~~~

“Francisco was a part of my life even as I was a little child. I can only barely recall the time I went with my dad to Ensenada. All I remember was being on the Camacho’s property, and getting scared when I saw a trail of ants; in my mind, those ants were like the size of my hands. I don’t remember much after that, but I know my dad was a huge impact and help to Francisco back then. 

Fast forward to when I was in middle school and high school. During those years I went a couple of times with the Sunset Church team, led by Edward Ng, to support Francisco’s ministry to the families and children of Ensenada during the summers and winters. Those trips were impactful and enjoyable for me, but not gonna lie, there were a lot of moments that I did not enjoy during those trips as a young teen. Ensenada can be a hot and dusty area, and it was rough on those trips with limited access to showers; and if you know me well, you’d know that I take my showers very seriously. Regardless, God used those times to challenge and push me well beyond my comfort zone as I stepped into a different country, a different culture, a different language, and a different home. I loved getting to know the kids that Francisco served through our Bible lessons, skits, games, and home visits. I saw how God shaped Francisco’s heart to love the poor and needy, and to pour himself out for the sake of those around him.

When I was in college, God used Francisco to change my heart toward Ensenada, its people, and its culture. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but during the winter trip to Ensenada in my first year of college, I was inspired to learn the Mexican culture and language after spending time with Francisco, the families, and his ministry. Soon after, I and a friend, Lester, spent six weeks during the summer to live with and walk alongside Francisco. We ate together, visited families together, prayed and went to church together, even fought wildfires together. Throughout those six weeks, I was able to see Francisco’s day-to-day life in a far more intimate way than before: through his prayers for us, through his stories and wisdom that he would share, through his tireless service for the churches and families he cared for, and through his love for the groups that would visit from the States. I saw and felt his love through his powerful hugs, through his giant smile, and through his generosity even in small and simple ways (like giving me a shirt when I ran out of clean laundry, which i still wear to this day). Even years after those moments, his life would continue to impact me as I read about his work with pastors and churches in remote areas and as I partnered in prayer for him.

The past few months – let alone the past few years – have been difficult for everybody, but even more so for the Camacho Family. I cannot imagine the loss and pain they have felt, and the weight of the burden they continue to bear without their husband, father, mentor, and leader. Yet his family’s enduring testimony is a witness to the power and grace that worked in Francisco’s life and ministry: it is a witness that God is always near, that He is always good, that his promises always endure and never fade away. Their testimony is a witness that God continues to work and move despite – and even through –  tremendous suffering, and it is a witness that sin and death do not have the last word. Their testimony is a witness that their light, momentary affliction is preparing for them an eternal, incomparable weight of glory, the same glory that Francisco is experiencing right now.

Lorraine said it well last month, that Francisco’s family does not simply include his wife and children, but also all those whom he treated as his own – from the children of Ensenada to the Chinos living in the States. We trust and pray that God continues to use Francisco’s life and ministry in unseen ways to bear fruit through those children, families, pastors, churches, and leaders that he has impacted. We are so thankful, and we praise God for how he has shaped Francisco throughout his life to be a man of great faith, strength, joy, and conviction. 

We miss you, Francisco, and we are excited to see you again soon. We are glad to know that you are enjoying your new life and new body right now, and that you’re enjoying all the tacos you could ever want up in heaven, in the presence of our God and our Savior.”

Youth Retreat 2021 Devotionals (Part 6 of 6)

We recently had our youth retreat – not during January as per usual but rather in June, due to COVID – and if you know me, you might also know that I enjoy writing the devotionals each year for retreat. The devos for this year have been particularly challenging to write (different deadlines and circumstances than past years), but once they were complete, I thought it might be nice to document them here.

For our youth retreats, we typically prepare pre-retreat devotionals (to be read before the retreat), devotionals during the retreat, and post-retreat devotionals (to be read after the retreat). I plan to post each devotional that I have written in the order they are meant to be read: three pre-retreat devos and three during-retreat devos, exactly as I have written them. I hope they are an encouragement and exhortation to those of you who choose to read them!

~~~

Monday Morning: The Silence of God

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
   Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.”
– Psalm 22:1-2

It’s a vast understatement to say that this past year has been difficult for most people – if not for everybody. If the chaos of a pandemic, political unrest, injustice, fear, and division were not enough, we have felt the stinging throb of loneliness and distance from others. Because of all these circumstances, it is very easy and natural to believe that God is distant and silent – the very same God who says that he is Love, who says that he is near to the brokenhearted and the crushed in spirit. If I were to guess, this has likely been your experience over the past year or so. You likely have experienced this even before this past year as well. I know this because I have experienced it as well. 

You might have experienced the silence of God in the loneliness of your room while the world was trapped inside during quarantine. You might have felt it when friendships became broken and estranged, and relationships seemed beyond hope of reconciliation. You might have watched it as the streets grew dark under an orange sky. You might have heard it on the news channel when statistics and mandates about the pandemic were covered. You might have seen it on your social media feeds as the world became even more polarized, stubborn, and bitter with each new headline. In those moments when God’s silence seems to scream so loudly in you, these words from the psalmist resonate so well: “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:2)

When God seems so silent and absent, how can that be loving in any way? How is it that God can be so near to the others around us who are in the throes of joy of experiencing God’s goodness and presence, and yet I am alone and God seems far away, if indeed he is anywhere at all? It can be so easy to intellectually understand that God is love, that only he can fully satisfy, and that he provides for all your needs, but so hard to believe and to trust in that. 

However, there is one other person who also experienced this silence, in the most true and real sense possible. He is kneeling alone in the garden of Gethsemane, praying and knowing that his time has now come. Only a couple hours ago, his closest friends boldly declared that they would never leave him and would lay down their lives for him. But now, in his moment of great anguish, they are sleeping around him unaware. He prays to his Father, who has been ever near to him his whole life, and who declared him as his Beloved Son. As he is praying, he asks,

“Can this cup pass from me? Is there another way?”

He is met with silence. There is no other way. An angel comes to comfort him, but he knows he must drink this cup. In a few short moments, he will be taken, beaten, and mocked. His closest friends will abandon him. He will pick up a cross and walk to a hill and hang on that very same cross to die. As he drinks this cup of wrath, he will be truly alone, forsaken even by his ever-present Father. And the earth will shudder in horror and the skies will darken in the lingering silence.

This person endured the silence of God so that you would experience the love of God. He didn’t just feel forsaken, he truly was forsaken – so that though you may feel forsaken, you never truly are. In his book Living the Cross-Centered Life, C.J. Mahaney puts it this way: “The personal desolation Christ is experiencing on the cross is what you and I should be experiencing – but instead, Jesus is bearing it, and bearing it all alone. Why alone? He’s alone so that we might never be alone. He cries out to God, ‘Why have You forsaken Me?’ so that you and I will never have to make a similar cry. He was cut off from His Father so that we can boldly say, ‘Nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’ He’s forsaken so that we might be forgiven.” (72)

If you’re experiencing loneliness and pain or cannot feel the love of God, would you run to Jesus in dependence and cry out to him? He knows your suffering and feels your hurt and sorrow intimately. He longs to bring you back into his loving arms and care for your needs in the deepest ways possible. He desires to lavish you in his love so that you can be a conduit of that same love to those around you.

~~~

  • Have you experienced moments or seasons of silence from God? If so, how did you respond to them? If you haven’t, what do you think your response would look like?
  • How does the Gospel give you hope in your times of loneliness or pain? How can you also share the Gospel to those who are hurting?
  • Is there someone specific in your life who is going through a tough season of pain or loneliness? How can you care for them practically and demonstrate the Gospel to them in their need?

Youth Retreat 2021 Devotionals (Part 5 of 6)

We recently had our youth retreat – not during January as per usual but rather in June, due to COVID – and if you know me, you might also know that I enjoy writing the devotionals each year for retreat. The devos for this year have been particularly challenging to write (different deadlines and circumstances than past years), but once they were complete, I thought it might be nice to document them here.

For our youth retreats, we typically prepare pre-retreat devotionals (to be read before the retreat), devotionals during the retreat, and post-retreat devotionals (to be read after the retreat). I plan to post each devotional that I have written in the order they are meant to be read: three pre-retreat devos and three during-retreat devos, exactly as I have written them. I hope they are an encouragement and exhortation to those of you who choose to read them!

~~~

Sunday Morning: The Grace of God

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
– 1 John 4:9-10

For yesterday’s devotional, we sought to define love – in a very short amount of space – and see what the Bible says about both vertical love (between us and God) and horizontal love (between us and other people). We also saw how God showed his love to the world through his common grace toward all humanity. Today, we will look into the love of God shown to us primarily and supremely through his grace in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

What is humanity’s greatest need? If you asked this question to anybody off the streets, you’ll get a bunch of different answers: unity, social justice, environmental concern, financial security… and the list goes on. For those of us who are Christians, if God is love and if love is “an overflow of affection toward another that leads to joyfully meeting their needs”, then that question drives to the core of who we are. 

In short, if you’ve been part of our youth group for any length of time, I hope you won’t be surprised to read that our greatest need is God himself. If God is the only person who can satisfy more than food and drink (John 6:35), who can give the fullest and longest joy (Psalm 16:11), who is eternal and unchanging (Psalm 90:2, 102:25-27), who will provide for all our need (Romans 8:32), who does not fade or degrade like money or material things (Matthew 5:19), whose love cannot be taken from us (Romans 8:38-39), then how could he not be the one greatest need for our souls and for all humanity? Of course, we can fill pages and books about our great need for God, and countless books have been written on this, but for the sake of space we must be brief.

God is indeed our greatest need and the one that can fully satisfy us. However, in our rebellion and sin, our hearts are set on a futile and evil endeavor, conditioned to find our greatest joy and satisfaction in lesser things (Jeremiah 2:12-13). But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ! In Christ, our hearts are now alive to see God as our greatest treasure, a treasure worth selling everything we have to obtain (Matthew 13:44-46), and because Jesus took upon himself the penalty of our sin and clothes us with his righteousness, we can step into God’s presence with the confidence that our greatest need can be satisfied. 

Take a moment and let that sink in: not only does he feed us, cloth us, and care for our physical needs, but he loves us so much that he gives us what we need most, namely, himself. This is the magnitude of God’s love, that he would come as a man to bring rebellious men back to himself. There is no need we have that is greater, and no love we can experience that is greater. Such a solid deal. And you know it doesn’t get better than solid. 

~~~

  • If someone were to ask you what your greatest desires are, what would you say (or what would you see if you were to look into a certain mirror)? Honestly ask yourself, if these desires were met, how would they satisfy you compared to God?
  • Have you personally experienced this satisfaction that God gives? If so, do the family and friends in your life know about the love and satisfaction God offers? 
  • Spend time to meditate on whether your satisfaction is in God during this time or in other things. What steps would you need to take to rest in God’s grace?

Youth Retreat 2021 Devotionals (Part 4 of 6)

We recently had our youth retreat – not during January as per usual but rather in June, due to COVID – and if you know me, you might also know that I enjoy writing the devotionals each year for retreat. The devos for this year have been particularly challenging to write (different deadlines and circumstances than past years), but once they were complete, I thought it might be nice to document them here.

For our youth retreats, we typically prepare pre-retreat devotionals (to be read before the retreat), devotionals during the retreat, and post-retreat devotionals (to be read after the retreat). I plan to post each devotional that I have written in the order they are meant to be read: three pre-retreat devos and three during-retreat devos, exactly as I have written them. I hope they are an encouragement and exhortation to those of you who choose to read them!

~~~

Saturday Morning: The Love of God

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
– Psalm 63:3-7

What is love (Baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more)? If we should rightly recognize and experience the love of God and rightly demonstrate that love toward others, we should seek to understand what “love” is. 

How does the Bible define love? One of the first verses that may come to mind is that “love is from God” and that “God is love” (1 John 4:7-8,16); so we know that God’s character and actions are the basis of love. We can also know that God loves his people and shows his love by pointing us to himself as the greatest source of joy and life, and by sending his Son to take away our sins and have us draw near to Him again (Psalm 16:11; Jeremiah 2:12-13, 31:33-34; Hebrews 10:19-22; 1 John 4:9-10) There are also many biblical examples of God’s people showing love toward others, one of which is found in 2 Corinthians 8:1-8. Paul gives the Macedonian church as an example to the Corinthians, in order to “prove by the earnestness of others that your love is also genuine” (v. 8). The Macedonian church, in their deep joy and despite their extreme poverty, earnestly begged to give physical and financial support for other Christians. In the same letter, Paul also shows his love for the Corinthian Church, messed up as they were, in that he had joy in their joy, and he wrote to them strongly not to give them pain, but to show his love for them. Though much more can be said, we can see that love is an overflow of affection toward another that leads to joyfully meeting their needs and bringing them near to God

Of the infinite facets of God’s love, one facet is shown through his common grace toward the world (both believers and unbelievers alike). Isn’t it crazy that God would make humanity in his image – and not just the part of humanity that loves him, but the whole of humanity! We all, regardless of our appearance, beliefs, or status, bear the very image of God as we go about our lives, and in our diverse personalities and preferences we all portray different aspects and qualities of God: his nurturing love, his justice and righteousness, his strength, his humility, his creativity. And not only that, but he causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both sinners and saints (Matthew 5:45)! In his love toward the righteous and the evil, God has provided the beauty and glory of nature, the pleasures of good food, the wisdom and knowledge of science and technology, to the whole world without distinction.

However, it is one thing to experience God’s love in a general sense; that is, to feel a vague sense of peace when you’re in nature, or to feel contentment from a good meal, or to feel excited when playing a video game or feel joy from catching up with a friend. It is another thing to let that good thing point you to its Creator and cause you to rejoice in his goodness and love for you. The author C.S. Lewis gives a very helpful analogy for this: 

“I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.”
– “Meditations in a Toolshed”, in God in the Dock, p. 212

John Piper, in speaking of this quote, writes how we ought to not just look “at” the beam (that is, to see and appreciate the good thing in and of itself) but also look “along” the beam: to see and wonder at the love and goodness of the One who created that good thing. When you experience good in this world, does that point you to the love of God for you? When you know and experience the love of God, whether through his words, his Gospel, or through his creation, how does that cause you to think, act, and feel? There are infinite examples of God’s love demonstrated in the world, from the sweetness of ice cream to the hug of a friend to the warmth of the sun, and each one is a window in the world – a little glimpse of God’s love and goodness getting through, and all along the way the days are made of these little moments of truth! Our prayer and hope for you is that you would experience the love of God in a deep and profound way, so much so that your satisfaction is found in God and that you overflow that love in a way that meets the needs of others and draws them closer to God. 

~~~

  • What are blessings (both big and small) that you have experienced over the past year? Take time to think through this past year and make a list of those blessings. 
  • How do these blessings point you to God’s goodness and love? What do these blessings reveal to you about God’s character?
  • Pray for God to open the eyes of your heart to see His love for you, and pray for a softening of your heart to receive that love and give that love to others.

Youth Retreat 2021 Devotionals (Part 3 of 6)

We recently had our youth retreat – not during January as per usual but rather in June, due to COVID – and if you know me, you might also know that I enjoy writing the devotionals each year for retreat. The devos for this year have been particularly challenging to write (different deadlines and circumstances than past years), but once they were complete, I thought it might be nice to document them here.

For our youth retreats, we typically prepare pre-retreat devotionals (to be read before the retreat), devotionals during the retreat, and post-retreat devotionals (to be read after the retreat). I plan to post each devotional that I have written in the order they are meant to be read: three pre-retreat devos and three during-retreat devos, exactly as I have written them. I hope they are an encouragement and exhortation to those of you who choose to read them!

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Our Posture of Obedience

“Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’”
– John 4:31-34

Imagine a hypothetical man (let’s call him Truman) who is on a reality TV show that is running 24/7. Everyone around him is a hired actor except himself, and he is simply living his normal life while the whole world watches him through thousands of microscopic cameras. Now imagine that Truman has no idea he is even on a show – unaware of the cameras and actors, and blissfully ignorant of the show’s creator who is watching and directing the course of his life. How do you think this man would react when the creator reveals himself and the man realizes his whole life has been a fabricated TV show? Would he be content in his tiny false world, or would he run away to seek freedom and independence to live in his own way? 

We long for independence and freedom to do what we want, when we want. We bristle at the thought of obedience to our parents, our teachers, or anyone else in authority above us. When we’re told what to do and not do, something triggers in us, especially when it goes against what we want or what we think is best for us. This disdain against obedience and desire for independence is deep within our nature and culture. However, when you pick up and read your bible, you’ll quickly find that God thinks otherwise about obedience – specifically, obedience to him. From the outset, God demanded obedience with Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:16-17) and required obedience from his people throughout the Old Testament (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 30:16; Isaiah 50:10; Daniel 9:11). In the same way, the Christian faith is one of obedience to God and he desires our hearts, affections, and complete submission for himself. 

This idea of complete submission to God is one that does not sit well with most people, and humanity as a whole rebels in both outright and subtle ways. However, we can trust that obedience to God is in our best interest and for our greatest joy and good. Our parents and those who care for us are given as an example (albeit imperfect) of God’s care for us (Luke 11:11-13), and we know that God intimately knows our greatest needs and desires (Isaiah 55:2-3, 8-9). A life of obedience to God and his commands is one that’s filled with joy and blessing (Psalm 1:1-2; Matthew 25:20-21)! Most importantly, throughout the Gospels we can see Jesus as the ultimate example of what a posture of obedience looks like. We can trust in the perfect obedience of Jesus, and trust that we ultimately do not need to prove our obedience before God as we have faith in Jesus’ obedience on our behalf (Romans 5:19). 

This upcoming retreat isn’t designed to be just a fun trip away from family and school (though it will be fun and filled with games and times to chill). We hope that this will be an intentional time for you to seek God’s presence and to remember the joys of obedience and reliance on him. As you think about and prepare for retreat, consider your posture of obedience before God. How have you submitted yourself to the commands God gives in his words? How does your obedience toward God reflect in the ways you listen to your parents and teachers? Take time right now to reflect on what obedience to God looks like in your life, and to pray for God to give you a posture of obedience and submission for him.

Thirst

I am thankful that God brought these verses to my mouth when I was praying earlier this morning. For a long while, I have been lacking a yearning and thirst for him. Lord, make my heart desperate for you again.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.

Psalm 51:1-4

Youth Retreat 2021 Devotionals (Part 2 of 6)

We recently had our youth retreat – not during January as per usual but rather in June, due to COVID – and if you know me, you might also know that I enjoy writing the devotionals each year for retreat. The devos for this year have been particularly challenging to write (different deadlines and circumstances than past years), but once they were complete, I thought it might be nice to document them here.

For our youth retreats, we typically prepare pre-retreat devotionals (to be read before the retreat), devotionals during the retreat, and post-retreat devotionals (to be read after the retreat). I plan to post each devotional that I have written in the order they are meant to be read: three pre-retreat devos and three during-retreat devos, exactly as I have written them. I hope they are an encouragement and exhortation to those of you who choose to read them!

~~~

Our Posture of Waiting

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.”
– Psalm 130:5-6

We live in a unique age of smartphones, smart TVs, smart lights, and Samsung smart fridges. The information of the world is at our fingertips, we have Siri, Alexa, and Google to literally respond at our bidding, and Amazon is the king of same-day and next-day shipping. Of all the different ages of this world, our age is probably the most challenging – and even most countercultural – to develop a posture and heart of patience and waiting. Even now, as the world is forced to patiently wait for the ending of this pandemic, we long to go on to the next thing and for the world to go back to the way it was. In all the things you are waiting for right now (school to be over, going to college or high school, getting your driver’s license, being in a relationship, etc.), what has your posture been?

During this upcoming youth retreat, you will be putting away your phones, leaving behind your computers, and going to a retreat site surrounded by nature. During the weekend, there will be many moments of quiet and stillness with nothing to do. In those moments of waiting, what will you do and how will you react? How will you try to fill that void of emptiness and silence? God has designed those moments of waiting and longing to draw you near to him. In the long periods of waiting in the Bible, God has called his people to a posture of waiting: to wait for him, to wait for his salvation, and to wait for his return (Isaiah 8:17; Lamentations 3:25-27; Acts 1:4-8; James 5:7-8) and he calls his followers today to that same posture, even in the great moments of pain and despair, and in the times when God seems so silent. 

In the Lord of the Rings, during the Battle of Helm’s Deep, Aragorn and his allies faced legions and legions of orcs – an army bred for a single purpose: to destroy the world of men. This battle lasted deep into the night, and as hope withered, Aragorn waited for the new dawn to bring about a change:

“Aragorn looked at the pale stars, and at the moon, now sloping behind the western hills that enclosed the valley. ‘This is a night as long as years,’ he said. ‘How long will the day tarry?’

‘Dawn is not far off,’ said Gamling, who had now climbed up beside him. ‘But dawn will not help us, I fear.’

‘Yet dawn is ever the hope of men,’ said Aragorn.”

Little did they know, the dawn would come bringing salvation and a new hope for them with the rising of the sun, and their victory assured. 

In the same way, as we develop our posture of waiting before God, he promises his help and presence for us so that we can receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. As you prepare for this retreat, we hope that you will take time to develop that posture: 

  • Plan a time where you can put away your phones, step away from the computer, and take away any distractions around you (including your homework!). Find a quiet spot in your house or outside, and take 15 minutes to pray and be with God. In that stillness, read Psalm 130 and wait for God. Think about what you are waiting for right now in your life, and entrust to him those things in your prayers.
  • During that time, how did it feel to wait? Were you able to find yourself resting in God’s presence, or were you anxiously thinking about the next thing you want to do? What can you do to nurture a habit of waiting in God’s presence?

Youth Retreat 2021 Devotionals (Part 1 of 6)

It’s been a long while since I’ve written anything here. It’s been a long while since I felt inspiration or motivation to write about a specific topic. How do you summarize almost one-and-a-half years of a pandemic? How do you describe what’s going on in your life and your mind, when someone asks you how you’ve been doing for the past month or year? How do you respond when both so little, and yet at the same time so much, has happened? When every day feels the same, yet so many things have changed?

We recently had our youth retreat – not during January as per usual but rather in June, due to COVID – and if you know me, you might also know that I enjoy writing the devotionals each year for retreat. The devos for this year have been particularly challenging to write (different deadlines and circumstances than past years), but once they were complete, I thought it might be nice to document them here. I’ve had a growing craving to write a blog post over the past few months, but I couldn’t seem to land on a topic or idea to write about. Well, why not share these devotionals? Might as well start somewhere.

For our youth retreats, we typically prepare pre-retreat devotionals (to be read before the retreat), devotionals during the retreat, and post-retreat devotionals (to be read after the retreat). I plan to post each devotional that I have written in the order they are meant to be read: three pre-retreat devos and three during-retreat devos, exactly as I have written them. I hope they are an encouragement and exhortation to those of you who choose to read them!

~~~

Our Posture of Listening

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.”
– Ecclesiastes 5:1

Before you read any further, put away any distractions and turn off any devices that are making noise or music around you. As you sit in the quiet of your room, click the Youtube link below and listen to the entire song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrlKxV5KWJo

How was that experience? What was it like listening to the sounds around you? What did it make you feel, and what were you thinking? 

Nowadays it is getting more and more challenging to listen well – and by “listen”, I mean more than just hearing what is around you or what someone is saying. It is difficult to give God or another person our undivided attention. It is awkward to look someone in the eye and ask deeper follow-up questions as they are chatting with you. It is tough to be genuinely interested in what the other is saying, without feeling the need to interject with your own opinions or personal anecdotes. There are so many factors contributing to this phenomenon: our obsession with technology, the influx of information from social media, and the increasingly fast-paced nature of the world. However, while these factors may contribute to our lack of listening skills, they also point to a greater foundational issue – we lack love for God and others around us. 

When we lack love for God, we only choose to listen to what we think is best for us, and forget or ignore his words and priorities for us. We fill our minds, ears, and hearts with noise and leave no room for his voice in our busy days. We become blind to how God is working in us through others and through our circumstances.

When we lack love for others, we do not first consider their needs and desires, and so our conversations are filled with only what we want to talk about. We wait for someone to finish speaking only so we can give our opinions and stories in the conversation. We assume that our view and judgment is correct and leave no room to consider another’s view, or we dismiss their thoughts and say, “They just don’t understand”. 

This is challenging to read (or at least, it should be challenging) because we all fail in these ways every day, to one degree or another. Yet while this conviction is good, may it not simply lead you to despair or to try fixing this lack of love by your own willpower or strength! This God who desires our full attention and love has shown himself to be the greatest listener to us in our needs and wants. He is near to those who are brokenhearted and hears our cries (Psalm 34:18, 116:1). He promises to always be with us, and nothing can separate us from his love (Matthew 28:20; Romans 8:35-39). An article by Alasdair Groves says it well: “Indeed, our God, the best listener in the universe, goes to the opposite extreme in giving aid…. Think of it: the only being in the cosmos who has no need to listen to anyone, for he already knows all things, makes it his special delight to hear our confused and emotionally wobbly chatter.” Our God who listens so attentively to us is also calling us to listen well to him and to others around us. 

As our summer retreat is coming closer, the need for us to practice our posture of listening is so important. As you consider the retreat each day, remember to intentionally listen well to your family and friends that you see. Make time to listen to God through his word. Step outside without your phone and any music, and listen to the world around you. How can you develop and demonstrate a posture of listening toward God and toward your friends and family?

Why is Good Friday good?

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Yesterday was Good Friday. But amidst all the turmoil this world is going through right now – death, disease, fear-mongering, economic upheaval, hatred, isolation, greed, disunity – how could such a time be considered good? We can throw around all the niceties, well-wishes, and cliché sayings we know, but in reality we cannot know with full confidence whether they are true. No one can know with certainty what tomorrow will bring, nor what events, trials, joys, or pains will come in the next day, much less what the world may look like in the next six months. The world leans on hopes that may or may not be fulfilled, on flawed foundations and shifting sands. How could someone have the audacity to say that this is good?

During our virtual Good Friday service as Pastor Gabriel preached, my mind was brought to 2 Corinthians chapter 4 (one of my favorite passages in the Bible) and I was reminded why Friday, and moreover every day, can be considered good:

It is good because Jesus took on our sins and put upon Himself the wrath of God, so that we would never truly be condemned.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed…

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

…perplexed, but not driven to despair…

Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’

Matthew 26:38

…persecuted, but not forsaken…

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Matthew 27:46

…struck down but not destroyed.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’

John 11:49-50

Jesus was crushed, he was driven to despair, he was forsaken, he was destroyed by the Father, so that we would never truly be crushed, we would never truly despair, we would never truly be forsaken, we would never truly be destroyed. Even though we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, we do not lose heart but look to what is unseen (2 Cor. 4:16-18). We see in faith and hope that Jesus’ dying is our dying, yet his life is also our life (2 Cor. 4:10-11). We see that though we will die – whether by old age, neglect, violence, coronavirus, or another disease – we will also be raised and brought into God’s presence (2 Cor. 4:14).

We go around carrying the death of Jesus in our trials, afflictions, and sorrows. But in so doing, we have an unshakable hope that the resurrection of our savior Jesus will also be ours. And this hope is not elusive, ever-changing, founded on flawed foundations and shifting sands. This hope is founded on what Jesus has secured for all time, and on an eternal, righteous, and good God whose word will be fulfilled. May this hope drive us to have a peace beyond understanding, a joy that is perpetual, and a love that is sacrificial.

“My Rope Out Of The Pit”

The following are excerpts from an article (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/my-rope-out-of-the-pit) which were timely reminders for me – timely, because these were thoughts I had been meditating on and talking about recently with a beloved brother; and reminders, because I could relate to them from past formative experiences.

Before my whirlwind, I’d been reading Psalm 119. I appreciated what it said, but thought it was long, boring, and awfully repetitive. My attitude changed in the pit. The words now felt like cardboard on good days, hollow promises on average days, and cruel taunts on bad ones. I had sought the Lord’s testimonies and been faithful to his word, and yet I was being put to shame (Psalm 119:2, 6). I wondered if God’s promises were true, or if they would fail me as everything else in my life had.

With nowhere else to turn, I kept reading and rereading Psalm 119, looking for hope and light. I remember when I found it.

I was sobbing, looking for relief, when I read, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word” (Psalm 119:25). These words suddenly took on new meaning. I prayed them, asking God to give me life through his word, because I felt wrung out beyond my strength. I wondered if anything could revive me.

God heard my cries and assured me that his word would give me wisdom (Psalm 119:66), and then direction as it lit my path (Psalm 119:105). It gave me hope (Psalm 119:49), and it comforted me in my pain (Psalm 119:50). I felt the Lord’s steadfast love (Psalm 119:76), as he strengthened me (Psalm 119:28) and filled me with joy and peace that could withstand my grief (Psalm 119:111, 165).

God’s word became more precious to me in suffering and has given me joy in my darkest days. As Jeremiah can attest, even as he laments his misfortune, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). Even in our affliction, or perhaps especially in our affliction, God’s unchanging word will uphold and guide us so we can take comfort that “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

Vaneetha Rendall Risner