Why Do I Do This?


Why do I do this? "The Bible is like a telescope. If you look through it you can see worlds beyond, but if you look at it, you see only the telescope."-- Anon. I am learning to look through it.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The Lonely Apostle

Mark 5:1-20 is the story of Jesus healing a demoniac. This man had withdrawn from the society. He was living in a graveyard. Graveyards are always away from where people live, usually outside the village or the town. Under the demonic oppression he ‘was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.’
The story goes on to say how Jesus healed him. Jesus commanded the multitude of demons that has possessed him to come out. The came out and entered the pigs and perished as the pigs frantically ran to the lake and drowned. According to popular beliefs of the day, the demons would perish if they touch the water. So, Jesus cleansed the land of the multitude of demons.
A legion is a unit of Roman soldiers. We are not sure how many people are there in a legion of Roman soldiers. But according to some scholars, five to six thousand members formed a legion. However, it is not the number that matters here. The demoniac says, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’
The word ‘legion’ is symbolic. The man is occupied by a legion of demons like the land is occupied by the legions of Roman soldiers under various army commanders. The story thus has a message beyond merely healing a sick person. It has another level of meaning. If Jesus can handle a legion of supernatural forces tormenting one man, then he has the power over legions of soldiers who are just men of flesh!
The situation of this man is pitiful. He is occupied by demons the size of a legion that is required to command and control a whole region. They have been oppressing him and was not willing not to leave. However, at the command of Jesus, they finally had to leave.
The story ends with a commission to this man. He wanted to follow Jesus in his forward journey. However, Jesus denied his request. Jesus said, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’
This command of Jesus is a total reversal of the condition of this man. He was living in a place where there are no living. He was in a graveyard. He had shunned people. Jesus thus sends him back to people from whom he has withdrawn. He will go to the people from whom he has withdrawn with a new message. That message is that Jesus has overcome a legion of demons. It is a message of hope for his region under Roman occupation. He is a walking symbol of liberation, once occupied now liberated. Once oppressed by violent forces but now free. The legion had taken over his mental processes, but now he is in control of his mind.
He is an apostle because he is sent by Jesus with a message. That message has to do with the mercy of God on his oppressed people. He will be a lonely apostle among his own people. That was his commission from Jesus.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Discipleship, a Life-long Process

Being a disciple is a life-long Journey through pain and suffering. The New Testament imagines discipleship as a lifelong journey. When Jesus called his first disciples asked them to follow him, but did not tell how long. It is a life-long journey co-terminus with the death of the disciple.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matt 10:25, ESV).
This passage is set in the context of Jesus warning his disciples of the persecution and martyrdom that they may have to go through.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you sin their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matt 10:16-23, ESV).”
First of all, it implies that discipleship is a process where the disciples are treated by the world just as their master was treated by the world. There will be betrayals (v. 21), there will be arrests (v. 19) and even death (v. 21), just as the master experienced. It is death that is reached through a path of pain and suffering for others. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.
However, it seems that in Paul’s understanding it is beyond the death of the disciple but extends to the experience of resurrection. In Phil 3:10, Paul’s discipleship is not limited to a knowledge (learning) the historical Jesus nor a body of knowledge about Jesus that apostles handed down. It is the experience of Christ but an experience that is limited to his physical experiences. Paul wants to “… know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death….” His learning of Christ extends to the life beyond. (Phil 3:10, ESV).
Being the disciples of Jesus is a painful process. Paradoxically, we are ‘wounded healers.’ In the process of our service to God, we get wounded by the people whom we serve, people who oppose our service. It doesn’t matter whether you minister God in a country where Christians are persecuted or protected. However, the calling of the disciple is to continue the healing though wounded.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Discipleship: Learning the Teacher


Discipleship is not just learning from Christ but learning Christ. Paul warns the Ephesian church, ‘But that is not the way you learned Christ!’ (Eph 4:20 ESV). There are two important observations on this passage. First of all, the root of the verb translated as ‘learn’ in almost all English translations, could mean ‘learning by enquiry.’ It is used in this sense in 1 Corinthians 14:35. Enquiry is an integral aspect of the teacher-disciple relationship in eastern cultures. The disciples probe and the teacher dispenses knowledge in response to the intellectual queries of the student. Traditionally what the disciple probes is teachings, a body of knowledge.
However, there is a major difference in Christian discipleship. What the disciple probes is not just a set of principles or teachings. They are probing the teacher himself. The teacher is the object of inquiry. This implies that Christian discipleship has to do with knowing more and more of the person of the Teacher.
This is exemplified in the longings of Saint Paul that expressed in Phil 3:10: “… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death….” Discipleship is knowing Christ, but not merely a saving knowledge of him, but an exploration of his person. This is how Christian discipleship is different from idolatry. Idolatry has to do with a static knowledge of the object of worship. However, God’s plan for the Christian discipleship is growth in knowledge as Saint Peter observes. Peter concludes his second epistle with the exhortation that stresses this aspect of Christian discipleship. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18, ESV).

Friday, January 06, 2017

New Year Toast


I hope 2016 has been a great year for us all. It was indeed a year of blessing in every way, particularly on the spiritual side. We look back and wonder on the way that God lead us. What can we do for God for leading us. The psalmist in Psalmist 116:13 also is in bewilderment mode.
‘I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord….’
He enumerates all that God has done for him. He begins it with his prayers and how God answered his prayers.
‘I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.’ (Psa 116:1-2, ESV).
Then he goes on to list the specific answers to prayer that he received.
He had been to the extremes in his life. He had come to a point his whole life was threatened. He was at the point of death.
‘For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.’ (Psa 116:8-9, ESV).
His predicament what can he do render to God in return for what God has done for him. The cup of salvation is the experience of deliverance in his life.
Cup of salvation is that experience of thanking God. Enumerating what he means to us this year. Doing it in the presence of other people is the only thing that we can do to God.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Consecration for new beginnings

The command to consecrate is found throughout the Old Testament and the Bible in general. The priests are to be consecrated, the place of worship and all its artefacts are to be consecrated. However, the command ‘consecrate yourself’ found in Joshua 3:5 carries a special significance. ‘Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”’
It is a consecration for a special purpose. The reason for this consecration is that tomorrow they are going to see great miracle that God is going to do for them. They are going to cross over to the land that was promised to their ancestors centuries ago. Moreover, they are going to cross over the turbulant waters of Jordan that is overflowing over its banks.
The people whom Joshua addresses are the new generation of Exodus group who are born in the desert, except for Joshua and Caleb. Their parents who left with the hope of reaching the promised land perished in the wilderness unable to see the fulfillment of the promise. That promise was made by God to Abraham almost 500 years ago. God had promised Abraham that he will give his descendants the land of Canaan.
However, about five centuries have elapsed. Now they are at the verge of the fulfilment of that promise. It was 500 years away from Abraham, forty years away for Moses and the original group left Egypt, but for this new group it is less than 24 hours away.
But life has taught all of us that many things could be missed at the last point. In the finals of the sprint event, though we were in the lead all throughout, it was the feet of the person just behind us that touched the line first. We were pushed to second place at that crucial last split second. 
However old be the promise, it can be missed even in the last few hours. These less than 24 hours are crucial. They are going to cross over. Joshua instructs the people, ‘consecrate yourself.’ That is how we prepare ourselves for new beginnings. Another year is almost over, a few more hours remain. These are the hours to consecrate ourselves in order to see the miracles that the Lord is going to showcase before us in the New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2016

'Command me!'

And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ (Matt 14:28-33, ESV).

I have heard preachers say that there is only one person who ever walked over water and that is Jesus. That is an oversimplification and a misreading of the scripture. However, I read Matthew 14:22-33 again to find out that there are two people who really walked on water—Jesus and Peter!

Most of us focus on Peter beginning to drown. However, the scripture passage clearly says that Peter walked over water and reached Jesus. He began to drown only after reaching arms-length from Jesus.

The first step in Peter accomplishing world record as the first human being to walk on water is to be commanded by Jesus. Jesus assured the disciples that it is not a ghost but he himself who is walking on the water. Peter’s immediate response was, ‘Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ Jesus commanded him by saying, ‘come!’ Then Peter steps out to the stormy sea and walks just as Jesus was walking.

For Peter, it was not just a thrill, but it was a test. The test is if it is Jesus and not a ghost who is walking over the water, then his command will make it possible for Peter to walk. The ghost cannot command and make it happen.
 
Peter has illustrated another aspect of Christian faith. This truth is that we cannot do things unless God has commanded us.

But why did he begin to drown? That is because he was afraid of the wind. He was with Jesus, he is on a firm glassy ground with Jesus. There is nothing to worry but he was afraid of the wind. If we step out on faith in response to his command we do the impossible. Jesus commands and things happen. However, our fear makes us drown.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Salvation: The Great Divine Feast


Every human heart longs for Moksha or salvation. Religions advise us the various means to achieve Moksha. However, the Bible teaches that Moksha is not something to be achieved but to be experienced.
It is all centered on the life of Jesus Christ. The statement that ‘Christ died’ is based on historical facts. No one seems to disagree that there lived a person called Jesus Christ and he was crucified by the Romans at the behest of some Jewish leaders. Biblical revelation goes on to say that his death was in my place for the atonement of my sins. Or in other words, the Bible claims that ‘Jesus died for me.’
The Bible goes on to say that I don’t have to do anything for my own salvation except just believe this truth. Thus, the Bible nullifies every human effort to get salvation by their own effort be it praying at shrines, making pilgrimages, etc.
It is a wonderful truth that God has saved the sinful humanity at the time of the death of Christ and to be born centuries after that event. However, it doesn’t become their experience unless they believe that divine action was for them. So, each individual has to appropriate their salvation by faith. Bible very categorically proclaims this truth: ‘If you believe and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved.’
Salvation or moksha can be compared to a great dish that God has prepared for humanity. It is like a potion that would make us righteous in the eyes of God. This potion will restore a relationship with God that we lost. However, each individual has to drink it. That act of drinking is what is called faith in Jesus or believing that Jesus did what I should have done to achieve my salvation.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Just as I am


In one of his sermons CH Spurgeon talks about a person who wanted to paint a mural in the town-centre. He wanted to portray the typical scene in the life of his city. A must-be character in the mural was certainly the muncipal sweeper. At the request of the painter, the sweeper turned up in the studio ready to pose for the picture. However, he was sent back. He had turned up with a hair-cut, clean-shaven and in his best dress. That is not how the painter wanted him to be in the picture that depicts the life in the town. That is not the way he turns up every day for work in the street.
Our life in the presence of God should be ‘just we are.’ If we do all the tidying up and hide our real self God cannot help us. Obeying the command ‘be holy as I am holy’ begins with an admission of our worthlessness and guilt. That admission is the first step in seeking divine intervention in our lives.
Putting on a pretention is the most dangerous thing to do. When we catch up with friends, we always inquire of their health. However, many of my friends tell me they are fine though they do not appear to be well to me. Then out of love and sometimes out of curiosity, I ask them have they been to doctor recently. In most of the cases, the answer ‘No.’ They had been pretending to be well though they are not. They don’t want anyone to tell them that they are not well. So, they avoid doctor and friends who will tell them they are not well.
Unless sick persons admit that they are sick, they cannot be healed. So is also with God. We need to admit that we need God’s help in our lives. Our life is something that we cannot manage on our own. God call us to come to him and to be clean. ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.’ (Isaiah 1:8).

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Miracle Crusade--Jesus' Style

Have you been to healing or miracle crusades? Or the mega church events when healing is the centrepiece? They claim lots of miracles happening. Most of what I have witnessed have been very silly to be called miracles. In one case, a woman who wears glasses came to the meeting leaving them at home by accident. However, she realised that during the meeting as the preacher was praying that she was able to see without glasses. However, she travelled to the meeting without glasses and found her place in the auditorium without glasses before she received the healing prayer. Though these may sound silly, I will still not discredit miracles and divine healing. A few counterfeits cannot disprove the genuine.
However, there is another kind of miraculous power that these miracle workers exhibit. That is calling out the names of people and their problems. These come in various forms. In some cases, only the problem will be announced. Consider this example:
"There is a person who has severe stomach problem! Come forward? God wants to heal you." Sometimes one person just walks to the front. Others who have the same problem remain in their seats seeing this guy walking up. Usually, they call out most of the sicknesses in the medical dictionary. Once, a preacher called all the people suffering from "fibroids" to stand up to receive healing. Among those who stood up were three or four men. The preacher asked the men to sit down clarifying that it is a disease found only in women.
Calling out names is another tool to impress people. Here is a sampler. "Thomas! You are worried about your future! God want to tell you that all that you need is to put your trust in Him." The crowd cheers, shouting hallelujahs for the great discerning the preacher has! Once, a preacher came to the city where I presently live. There was a mixed crowd of Christians and non-Christians. In the state where I live people of other faiths who become Christian usually do not change their names. So, it is difficult to tell if a person is Christian from their names! The preacher started calling out names during the service! All the names he called out were Christian names. So, that evening, God bypassed believers who carry non-Christian names.
The way of Jesus is different. When the woman with bleeding touched him, he asked who touched him (Mark 5:24-34). Was Jesus ignorant of this woman touching him? Certainly, not. Why didn't Jesus announce her sickness, her name and ask her to come forward so that the crowd may believe?  The answer is simple, he had no need to impress others by his miraculous powers. He had passed that test in the very beginning of his ministry when the Devil tempted him. Spiritual gifts are not for impressing people, it is to glorify God. Next time when you go for a miracle crusade or watching a Christian TV channel don't get discouraged that the preacher did not address you or your problem. Don't get excited as well if that happens. For two reasons: God knows you and your problems well. Second, if the preacher does that, it is not he but the Holy Spirit who enables him to do that. So, return the glory to God.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Walking past the poor and needy.

He used to smile at me and I was prompt in returning that smile. Our relationship ended there. However, one day, I just watched him closely as he walked towards me. The trouser and shirt that he wore did not appear to be made for him. It seemed obvious that it was old clothes altered to fit his body. I noticed that sign of poverty and pondered over it. I never bothered to ask his name.
I wanted to buy him some new clothes that fit him. But had my own apprehensions: will he accept it, will he consider it as too much patronising? What if my judgment of his financial situation was wrong? Will it be taken as an insult? I didn't bother to find out more about him and thus put it all these questions to rest. A few months later he just moved away and I never saw him again.
A few months later I heard the story of a young man dying of cancer. I was told that his family is poor and they cannot afford the treatment. Some people started raising funds to help him. I also made my contribution to the fund. The community that he and me were part of were diligently praying for his healing.
Still a few months later, I was told that the sick young man passed away. They had a memorial for him. As they projected his recent photograph on to the screen I was shocked! That is the same person who used to smile at me wearing old clothes.
He was really poor, could not afford proper clothes and medical treatment. When he walked past me, I ignored him. I feel guilty. There are poor among us, but we just look through them. Never, try to find out anything more about them. It is not just the desire to do good but doing it is important.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Drooping Limbs

Here is this person that I have to deal with every time I visit my bank. He is always at the front desk. The reason for his position could be that he is disabled. He cannot do tasks other than greeting the visitors and helping them to fill out forms. As the result of a stroke, his left hand is paralysed and his speech is impaired. His left hand dangles from the edge of his shoulder. It is practically useless. When he wants to place it on the table he has to use his healthy right hand to lift it. It is so sad.
I used to wonder what is the use of carrying that hand around when it cannot do anything. However, he will not amputate that hand for the simple reason that it is very much part of him. It defines who he is. Without that hand, he will be a single-handed person. Without that hand, his body will lose it symmetry and also beauty. Though useless, he doesn’t ignore it when wearing a shirt. He treats it as a good hand, at least good for a shirt on. It is limited but the right hand is always there for it.
The sight of this man and his hands helps me to understand the biblical metaphor of the body for the Church and each congregation. 1 Corinthians 12 elaborates on the nature, diversity and function of the members of the body of Christ. One of the main foci of this chapter is on the mutual care of the members.
"… there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together." (1 Cor 12:24-25, ESV).
Every congregation has people of diverse character and abilities. This diversity is the advantage. This makes the weak feel secure because they are surrounded by the strong ones. The strong ones feel complete because they have their weaker ones to create a complete picture. They altogether feel happy and looks so beautiful because in spite of weakness and strength, together they are one unified picture and wonderful harmony.

Friday, September 02, 2016

The Dog Van and the Snake Van


The city of Pune where I presently live is a haven of activists. You can’t cut a tree in your garden—the environmental activists are watching. Don’t stare at a stray dog—animal rights people are all over. However, you can call the animal welfare department when you spot a stray dog or a snake.
If you spot a snake in your garden, then dial a specified number and they will come with their snake van, catch it. They will take it to the snake sanatorium. Every Tuesday, they release them back to the wild. A lot of development is happening all over the city. It results in snakes and other wild animals losing their habitats and food. So, they have to stray into private properties and gardens.
So, one day my moment to be a proud animal lover came. I spotted a snake, hurried home to to call the Snake Van people. Nobody picked up my call, by the time I returned to make sure the snake is still there, someone had killed it. If you are lucky to get through to the snake welfare department, and if the snake you spotted is lucky too, then they may come in their van to catch it. These lucky snakes get another lease of life.
Now, the Dog Van also works the same way. If your neighbourhood has stray dogs all that you have to do is punch the number of this department. And sit back! They may or may not come. If your stars are favourable, they may turn up.
You will know if they are coming or not. By the time they are at the gate of the 25 acre campus where we live, every single dog disappears! They come in their van with dogs that they have already caught in cages. Some may be barking and some howling, unhappy with their bondage. The strays pick up the scent of the new prisoners. Their fears are confirmed by the howling and barking of the agitated captives. Maybe they are warning their fellow-creatures to run for their lives. They are concerned that this misfortune should not fall on them too.
The snakes in the snake van just crawl in a corner of the cage when caught. Each time the snake catchers come (if they ever come), they catch more snakes. There is no one to warn them. Their own kin who were caught don’t realise there is danger.
When I was much younger, I was fooled by a mugger on my very first visit to Mumbai. With some hand-tricks, he just walked away with my money and gave me an empty wallet. I was ashamed to tell this to anyone. In order to get some help, I had to disclose this to a few friends anyway.
The news reached my friend’s father who was a sort of mentor to me. One day, when I paid him a visit he asked me how did my visit to Mumbai go. I said, everything was perfect and really enjoyed it! He prodded and I had to tell him how that mugger walked away with my money. Then came the question: ‘Why do you keep away this from your friends?’ Obviously, I didn’t have an answer. The wise man, he continued after a contemplative pause. ‘See son!’ He continued. ‘Only if you share what happened to you with your friends, they will be watchful. By telling them what happened to you, you will help them to watch out and avoid what happened to you.’
That was like an apple falling on my head. Honest admission of our failures can help others. Like the dogs in the Dog Van, they are probably ashamed that they were not smart enough not to be caught. They howl at the top of their voice to warn others to avoid what happened to them. What happened to them is shameful, but they don’t want to add to this guilt as well—guilt of not warning others. So, it is a narrow choice of shame and guilt; I think in such situations it is better not be guilty.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Why Revival Tarries?

I had been praying for a revival in the Seminary where I teach and the church I minister for a long time. It hasn’t come yet. I got this burden for revival from my teacher. She was a Canadian missionary who taught English at the Seminary where I did my first degree in theology. She stood up in a social gathering to make an announcement. The college was about to be shifted to a new campus about 600-kilometres away in a few months. She said that she is praying for a revival and praying that we will have it before we move to the new campus. It is almost 33 years since we moved to the new campus. Revival is yet to come!
Is God ignoring prayers for revivals? For that to be true we need to conclude that God is against revivals. Certainly not! God always want his people to be spiritually alive and constantly revive themselves. Holy Spirit, the spirit of newness is always with us.
This is simple logic. I won't' buy my son a car until he gets the driving licence. That is when he is ready to drive though he has been asking for it for a long time. I think that is the reason why revival tarries. Revival is certainly God’s plan for his people. God never denies prayer for revivals, but it gets delayed because the potential recipients are not yet ready. I want to emphasise it again—it is not denial but delay and we are responsible for the delay. Revival will come only when we are ready.
A review of the history of revivals tells us that that is how it always happened. Revivals always happened only through people who were waiting for it. Take, for example, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the 120 gathered in Jerusalem. Jesus had directed them ‘to wait for the promise of the Father’ (Acts 1:4). Waiting, they did! They went to the upper-room, they were in one accord and devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). Finally, when they were ‘altogether in one place’ in the same upper-room the Spirit was poured out on them on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
This pattern of waiting and preparation in prayer along with a longing for revival is behind all revivals. Sometimes God prepares them in strange ways. For example, the Ao Naga revivals in India was possible because a tribal chief dead and gone had prophesied that a man with white skin will come and preach about a new god and they have to follow that God. The people were waiting for the man with white skin to come and preach for years. The tribal memory of this prophecy was like a piece of charcoal soaked in fuel, ready to catch fire. It caught fire and covered the entire Ao Naga tribe. Now 90% of Nagas are Christians. There are similar stories of God preparing people from Malaysia and other countries.
In any revival, there is a group of people earnestly waiting and praying for it. Prayer and the longing had prepared them to receive it. Then in the process, the revival encompasses in its embrace everyone even its critics. The first flame always fell upon an individual or group who were ready for it. It is like a forest-fire starting beginning with an ember from the bonfire the careless campers didn’t put out. It started really small with a group of people longing for it.
It never happened when people are not ready for it. All that we need to do is to be ready.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Praying is Doing

Our language of prayer has changed dramatically over the years. When people come to us with their problems we used to assure them that we will pray for them. Sometimes, we say ‘I will pray for you’ or sometimes we say, ‘you will be in my prayers.’ In reality, we often fail to keep the promise and forget to pray for them. Still, we keep saying that; it has become part of our formal language, like ‘thank you!’ We say that even when we really don’t mean it. It is like saying ‘good morning’ to our neighbour as we step out of the house in pouring rain on a clouded, bleak morning. So meaningless.
However, many people have polished this language now to be more honest and be real. It is rather popular now to say that ‘you will be in my thoughts’ than ‘in my prayers.’ That helps us to bail ourselves out of the guilt of not praying.

A promise of prayer is sometimes the best way to dismiss responsibility. Many times when we approach authorities and they say that they will pray about it, you can go home pretty sure that you are not going to get it! The language is so corrupt, it is something to hide behind and to dismiss the action.

However, Jesus seems to have given it a new meaning in Matthew 9:38. On his return from preaching the Kingdom of God in the various villages and towns in Galilee, he told his disciples what he saw over there. He had compassion on them since they were helpless like sheep without the shepherd. He also said that the people are ready for the goodnews of the Kingdom. Then he asked them to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ (Matt 9:38).
However, they did not have a prayer meeting after that! In the following verses (which is continuous with the previous, though in a new chapter) Jesus called them and sent them out to the fields that are ‘ready for the harvest.’

What do we make out of this? When Jesus said ‘pray’ to send, he really meant be ready to go! For Jesus, praying is preparation for going and nothing less. It is not praying that people other than the one who pray will go. It is a prayer where the one who prays gets ready to go.

This leads us to conclude that when we pray for something we take up the responsibility for that. For example, when we pray for the poor, we also take up the responsibility to do something about their poverty. Then we may pray for what is beyond our capacity having done what we can. Jesus, when he asks us to pray intends that we get involved first.

Friday, August 05, 2016

The Ready Harvest

Jesus looked at the world around him in a way that is quite different from that of contemporary Christians. In India, Christians are constantly intimidated by the news of persecution of Christians in various parts of the country. Laws that hinder preaching the gospel are passed in many states, pastors are attacked, churches are destroyed, etc. These pieces of news do make us view our world that is hostile to the gospel and the kingdom of God.
However, there is another way of looking at the same world. That is the view of Jesus. Don’t imagine that Jesus’ world was not hostile to him. He was ridiculed, physically attacked, finally killed. Though he had his share of enemies who from the very beginning was plotting to kill him, he looked at the same world as the world ready for the rule of God.
Jesus told his disciples that the world is ready for a big harvest. ‘Do you not say, There are yet four months, then comes the harvest? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.’ (John 4:35, ESV).
It is true that a cereal crop like rice, wheat or barley takes three to four months to grow and ready for harvesting. But when Jesus says that the harvest is ready right then, before four months are over he implied the readiness of human hearts for God. Disciples waiting for the process of growth and fruiting, but Jesus says don’t wait for the process is already over and it is ready.
This is a real challenge. We have to have to have a positive outlook on the world we live. Christians should overcome the negative thinking that everyone out there is looking to kill us. No, they are looking for life. They have questions of life for which they are seeking answers. They have crises in life and are looking for solutions. The bible has the answer to all these but someone should go to them and tell them.
Here is the ready harvest. You will find them in your office floors, in the person sitting in the cabin next to you. Maybe the person sitting near you in the metro every day on the way to office is another heart that is ready for the harvest. If we don’t reap the standing corns of grain will be lost forever. It is time to get to the harvest.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Productive While Waiting

The Second coming of Jesus Christ is not a popular topic these days. Even preachers in premillennial or dispensational etc, also do not seem to talk about it these days.There could be various reasons for this trend. First of all, it seems the satisfaction many Christians feel now in the present world situation. The topic of second coming had served to a large extent to cope with the pain and suffering of the present day. People could live with their sufferings now since better days are coming. Secondly, it has to do with the aversion to the details that the preaching always came with. It seems that people are fed up with the lack of consensus in the identification of the Anti-Christ, number 666, the number 144,000 and such fringe elements. The irrationality and subjectivity of such interpretations are increasingly questioned. Preaching on the second coming in the days gone by focussed on details  for which there are no strong biblical warrants. So, over the years it has become the very unpopular topic.
However, Jesus' own teaching on his second coming was largely ignored. Jesus' second coming is an important part of Christian gospel. As long as we stick to the core teaching on this topic and avoid straying into unwarranted details. Preachers should not preach more than what Jesus preached. They should stick to the core teaching on this topic and avoid straying into unwarranted details.
There are certain things that are central to Jesus' teaching on his second coming. The first is the certainty. He will come. The second is unpredictability. He will come at a time that no one knows.
While teaching about the future of Jerusalem and his second coming Jesus told his disciples three parables in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapters 24-25). These three parables emphasise three aspects of Christian behaviour while waiting for the Lord to come. The first is the parable of the Wicked Servant (), the second being the parable of the ten virgins (), the third being the parable of the talents (). These three emphasise three important things. The parable of the wicked servant warns misbehaviour that results from ignoring the master's coming. The second (story of ten virgins) talks about the possibility of missing the joy of his coming not being ready for it. The third emphasises that the time of waiting is a time of productivity.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Preachers of Vanity

A few Sundays back I visited a large church in a major city of India. I have heard about this church and has been eagerly waiting to be there. As usual, there was ‘praise and worship’, then announcements in video format about the seminars, workshops and a whole lot of activities that the church organises. Then the senior pastor stood up to preach. Before preaching he gave another run-down of the announcements orally.
The preaching was quite long. It was about the place of Israel in the Bible. He started with Abraham, through Egyptian bondage, Exodus all the way to Babylonian captivity and return. It continued further on to the Maccabean revolt, and all the events between the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 68 and then the end of British Mandate and the formation of Israel in 1948. I though he will end there but he went on Camp David agreement, the present situation including the murder of a Jewish girl by a Palestinian which took place a week before. Then the sermon ended with a call to pray for Israel.
I noticed that at least some people in the pews were restless, some were sleeping tight, some were on WhatsApp pretending as if they were looking up bible verses (all that were on the two screens!) While we were walking out my wife asked me will this crowd return next Sunday too, to hear such a sermon? I said ‘yes.’ I will explain why if you would hang on.
Before that, I should narrate another incident. This happened in my church. I invited a guest speaker. I have never heard him before in my life, but he had invited me many times to his church. So, it was a time to reciprocate I thought; moreover, I need a change as well as my congregation too.
To my surprise, the guest preacher stood up and gave us a lecture about how the Bible came to us starting from the manuscripts, editions and translations. The congregation was thoroughly disappointed. My congregation returned the following Sunday because they knew the guest preacher is not going to be there.
In many urban congregations in India, the pulpit tends to lean away from the Bible. There is a conspiracy in the pulpits. That conspiracy is to avoid the Spirit speaking to us. It is a conspiracy to avoid Bible addressing the real issues of life. It is a conspiracy to mute the Word of God so that we don’t want to be rebuked and corrected by God. It is a conspiracy to keep God out of our life.
This conspiracy is carried out by speaking about issues that belong to another realm. To talk about things that do not really matter to our walk with God. In some pulpits, they talk about how to be successful and the like—biblical versions of Shiv Kera, Robin Sharma and others. Five days of the week, committed believers have heard such voices and they have lived it in order to eke out a living in this world. There is an eternity waiting for them. The preacher's responsibility is to guide them to lead their lives in this world with eternity in view.
Week after week the same crowd returns. To learn what they already know. They return to their homes and their offices believing that what they learn and practice in their corporate offices is what the Bible also teaches. They fail to understand that the Bible is not a volume of footnotes to what we know, it is the Word of God that challenges us, to raise us to new levels of understanding of our world and its realities. They fail to know that we are on a journey, a pilgrimage. We are sojourners whose eyes are fixed on a city that has foundations.

Why do they return Sunday after Sunday? Because this higher view is hidden from them. So, they come to satisfy themselves with water that makes them thirst again and bread that only causes more hunger.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Not so powerless!

After sermon last Sunday, we had a brief time of worship and I faced the congregation again. This time, to show a video circulating in my WhatsApp group. The video is about a homeless man who survives on stolen dog food somewhere in the US. I then showed the picture of a 17-year-old and his 80-year-old great-grandmother who lives on the pavement outside our church. The picture was sent by one of our own young members. The boy works in a nearby coffee shop for food for himself and this old lady and lives under a blue plastic sheet on pavement. Much awaited monsoon rain has arrived in the city. Though it brings joy and relief to our hearts, it makes the life of many with leaking roofs and especially who live on the pavement miserable. After speaking about their miserable condition, my moistened eyes scanned the congregation. Mine was not the only pair of eyes that are wet, I was moved to find that many are wiping their eyes. Then, after a brief pause, I continued, 'Brothers and sisters, when it comes to the suffering of this magnitude, being a small church, we are helpless and powerless. All that we can do for them is to have a heart of compassion and pray.' Then we brought the service to a conclusion with prayer and benediction.
As I walked down the aisles after meeting a few people who had come to the front to greet and appreciate the sermon, I noticed a commotion at the entrance of the church. Someone has brought this boy from the street and his old relative to the church. People are all around them. I ordered a coffee and some biscuits and thought my job was over.
The boy said that it is pouring rain outside. One of our church members came forward and offered to take her home. I could not advise her against the decision, or to make her think twice about it. Someone quickly made a rota to feed them.
My wife had a call at night. The new host for this destitute is calling. She lives in an apartment complex. Her neighbours are not happy with her quests. She wants her to find them a place as soon as possible? The following day was busy. My wife called up a Christian Old Age home. They said it is not for people on the street. It is for people who can pay, about Rs 15000 per month. She called up two or three such places--Catholic, Adventist, etc. This time, we were more ecumenical than ever before! Sisters of Charity is full. Some Christian old age homes said that they don't take any who are above sixty.
Helpless, we sat down. Frowning the enthusiasm of the 'immature' members of the church who dragged this old woman, who can hardly walk to the church. Both of us agreed that our youth need more discernment, they jump the gun. That doesn't solve the problem. We need to get this woman and the boy out of our church member's house. We can't take them back to the pavement.
That was the night we thought of an acquaintance who died a month ago. He had lot of dreams for God. But before he could achieve much he died in his sixties. I heard that his son has taken over and continuing the ministry. Someone had told me that they run a home for children and old people. I rang up, but only to be told that they don't take old people who need assistance. However, I was able to convince them.
So, we made the four-hour drive to the home for the destitutes yesterday. On the way, we heard their stories. When the boy was six months old his mother left him with his grandmother never to be traced again. Someone later gave him a black and white picture of his mother which he still keeps in his pocket. After staying with some relatives, he finally came to stay with his great-grandmother. When she was old, her own children evicted her from her house. She could work and earn a living then, so they moved to a small rented hut. The grandson contributed doing small jobs quitting school. Finally, they ended up in the street when they could not pay the rent.
The boy would like to study. He has done up to seventh grade. He loves drawing. He has learned horse-riding. He even came up in the seventh position in a horse race when he was working for a holiday resort on the hills. Though he was in the streets, he has never touched tobacco or drugs. They lived just outside the McDonalds and people gave them the left-overs they had packed to take home. Sometimes, the staff in the Mac also fed them.
The journey was long, but I enjoyed it. The shine in the eyes of the old woman was so brilliant it lighted up the cabin. It was foggy and raining outside with poor visibility. She has never travelled in a car. She looked at her grandson curiously as we overtook a container truck. He explained to her that the 'big-box' has come from a distant country by ship. Then there was oil-tanker, he pointed to a waterfall as we went past it. It seems that she enjoyed the trip.
Finally, we reached our destination and handed over our guests to their new caretakers. While we were filling and signing the documents, the young boy took a walk around the campus that is going to be his home. The old woman sat in a chair with walking club with her eyes still beaming. She will have a roof over her head and meals every day. She will not be hungry anymore and the boy is planning to go to school. In two years time, he will qualify to earn a decent living and lead his own life with dignity.
I came back with one of the kind church members who had accompanied me on the long trip. Before going to bed, I reflected on the last two days. From projecting their images in the church. My concluding words that day kept haunting me. I had told the church, 'When it comes to suffering of this magnitude, all that we can do is pray!' It seems that there was some in my congregation who did not believe what I said. They thought something more can be done. They dragged me into a situation where I had to rethink, there was something more we could do. As Paul said, 'We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.'
We are not alone in doing good things. When my wife took the old woman to a doctor for a certificate, the doctor refused to charge her the fees. He humbly said that it is his contribution to the kindness we show. An old man whom I never met called up to appreciate what we have done for them. He wanted to meet me. It seems that he lived nearby and used to see them on the street every day. On my way back one of the church members called me on the phone to say that he will pay all the expenses involved in this. When I finally reached home there was another surprise. Another church member who missed the church last Sunday and totally unaware of what is going on has contributed Rs 5000 towards the church's charity fund.
I had my lesson. When it comes to the suffering of great magnitude we are not that helpless and powerless as we think. Moreover, we are not alone. We are surrounded by kind people and above all God who makes all things possible is with us. All that we need is a heart of compassion and of faith.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Jesus and Beggers

I am conditioned not to give alms to beggers in the streets or in the trains. The reasons are many. Most of these people are able-bodied and they can work and earn their living. So, instead of giving alms to such beggers I try to support physically challenged people who earn a living through their efforts. I may buy things from them though I may not really need them. I believe everyone should work and make their living. There is another reason too. Giving to a begger is a way of encouraging the wrong system of begging in the streets. I don't want to promote this practice, so I don't give. I also know that there is a lot of cheating in the whole system. Friends who work among street children have told me that most of them have working parents but children just like to beg. It is fun for them! Sometimes, parents encourage this as it brings in some extra income. I am also told that many young woman give birth for the purpose of having a baby to draw more compassion from benefactors. They drug them to look pitiful. They also hire children from parents to carry around in their beegging rounds. Moreover, I give to charity work who identify those who are in real need, so why waste my money on beggers?

There is a lot of evil in the system. I had all my justifications for turning my head away from a beggar or to ask him to leave me alone. However, I have a new perspective now on it after a recent meeting with my spiritual mentor. He is 87 years old; quite an old age to gather so much of wisdom. While he was reminiscing, he just mentioned a verse from the Gospel of Luke in the Holy Bible. Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back."  He was describing a situation when a begger approached him for alms. The begger was not a genuine one, but he gave him something because he just wants to obey Jesus in this matter. Then he told me his policy is 'to give everyone who begs' just because Jesus commands so. Then he said that he does make a distinction in his giving. He may give a smaller sum to those who appears to be not genuine but a substantial amount to those who appear to be genuine.

It challenged me. Who am I to question the system and practice? When the Lord Jesus has said, 'give' I have to give. At the same time, we need to fight against poverty and hunger. Giving alms won't solve the problems but giving alms is certainly the duty of a follower of Christ Jesus.

Jesus and Beggers

I am conditioned not to give alms to beggers in the streets or in the trains. The reasons are many. Most of these people are able-bodied and they can work and earn their living. So, instead of giving alms to such beggers I try to support physically challenged people who earn a living through their efforts. I may buy things from them though I may not really need them. I believe everyone should work and make their living. There is another reason too. Giving to a begger is a way of encouraging the wrong system of begging in the streets. I don't want to promote this practice, so I don't give. I also know that there is a lot of cheating in the whole system. Friends who work among street children have told me that most of them have working parents but children just like to beg. It is fun for them! Sometimes, parents encourage this as it brings in some extra income. I am also told that many young woman give birth for the purpose of having a baby to draw more compassion from benefactors. They drug them to look pitiful. They also hire children from parents to carry around in their beegging rounds. Moreover, I give to charity work who identify those who are in real need, so why waste my money on beggers?

There is a lot of evil in the system. I had all my justifications for turning my head away from a beggar or to ask him to leave me alone. However, I have a new perspective now on it after a recent meeting with my spiritual mentor. He is 87 years old; quite an old age to gather so much of wisdom. While he was reminiscing, he just mentioned a verse from the Gospel of Luke in the Holy Bible. Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back."  He was describing a situation when a begger approached him for alms. The begger was not a genuine one, but he gave him something because he just wants to obey Jesus in this matter. Then he told me his policy is 'to give everyone who begs' just because Jesus commands so. Then he said that he does make a distinction in his giving. He may give a smaller sum to those who appears to be not genuine but a substantial amount to those who appear to be genuine.

It challenged me. Who am I to question the system and practice? When the Lord Jesus has said, 'give' I have to give. At the same time, we need to fight against poverty and hunger. Giving alms won't solve the problems but giving alms is certainly the duty of a follower of Christ Jesus.