Spring is around the corner. I took an hour walk at Jones Beach a few days ago. Having stayed indoors for so long, walking on the sand made me short of breath but being out in the chilly ocean breeze was a freeing experience. With windows kept wide open and fresh spring air coming in, whole body feels more alive back in the office too. I swept floors and dusted off all the corners. Spring cleaning brings much joy, mixed with anticipation of the new season ahead.

We’ve been doing sermon series on Twelve Steps and spiritual healing. Preparing sermons on this topic has been a blessing for my own process of healing and recovery. The other day someone asked how I manage to stay calm and carry on in the midst of life problems I’m currently facing. I replied I don’t ground myself on the opinions of others. Whatever the situation I’m in, God lives and God is present. And God loves me. If anyone points fingers, I won’t deny: Yes, I am a sinner before God. But there’s no reason to fret about what people say or don’t say because I’m a sinner before God alone. Whatever my shortcoming and weakness, I lay before God and that’s all I can do. It was always grace that has reigned and accompanied me thus far. Grace has led in the past, and it is leading today. I won’t start thinking otherwise now. The master of my life has always been Jesus Christ, and I believe he will take care as he always has.

Simplification has been one of the blessings that the church received after the coronavirus outbreak. Shift to online meetings has helped us to reprioritize ministry goals and narrow down our focus. Restrictions on physical gathering naturally cut back meaningless busyness and time wasted on vain words. It is good that there’s no pressure to do things for the sake of doing it. But the best of all is the accumulating anticipation for the ordinary things we used to take for granted before the covid, like lifting our voices to praise God and pray out loud in worship. Stripped off many unnecessary layers and attachments, our hearts will feel lighter and our purpose clearer as a church. Above all, there will be tremendous joy when we physically meet again.

In Isaiah 48, we read that God has refined and tested the people of Israel in the furnace of affliction rather than condemning their sins (v. 10). An affliction is a paradoxical blessing in the lives of God’s people, and such has been my personal experience over the years. Grace turned pain and hardships into a gift that refined me, and it’s also by the power of grace that I come to recognize these unexpected gifts on the present path. One pastor – a friend and a wiser senior – happened to hear my current ‘furnace of affliction’ and called to say, “I know how you turned situations around in the past. I don’t worry about you.” I shared the laugh with him. Looking back, the path that I’ve walked in ministry had rough terrains and deep, stormy waters. While the journey wasn’t easy, every gusty wind, every stone and storm has been a beneficial contribution to my life and ministry.

God comforts the people of Israel: “Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry where you were dug.” What a precious reminder of where we were, and who we are becoming in the hands of God. We were like an unhewn rock but God is cutting a masterpiece fit for a divine purpose. We were buried and suffocating in a deep pit, but God dug us out. In God’s hands, we are saved.

We are people on the move – through Lent toward Passion Week and Good Friday where Jesus died. Then we will celebrate the resurrection because Jesus rose after three days, overcoming the power of death. What can we say to this gift of hope for new life and new beginnings, but “Thank you, God, for your grace.”