Tuesday, January 05, 2021

The Conquering Grace


Grace of God is hard to define. When I was making baby steps in Christian faith, mentors told me that ‘grace is unmerited favor.’ I found that helpful. But as I continued to experience God’s grace as I grew, I found that this definition is inadequate to express all that God does in my life. Now, I have come to realize that grace of God is such a thing that eludes any definition. Grace, as I understand now is what God alone and no human can do in our lives.

It comes in various colors, shapes and sizes! John, the gospel writer seems to have understood the multifarious nature of grace that he talks about the ‘fullness of grace’ and ‘grace upon grace’ (John 1:17). Or the New Living Translation puts it: ‘From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.’ These expressions mean that grace is not just one-sided reality but a multi-faceted reality. Its fullness is beyond our comprehension just as God evades our understanding.

One of the rare but important aspect of God’s grace is its power to conquer even those who reject it. I call it the ‘conquering grace.’

The story of Apostle Paul illustrates the point. He experienced the grace of God in such a measure that towards the end of his life he would proclaim that ‘But by the grace of God I am what I am’ (1 Cor 15:10). What he is and what he has achieved is the work of God’s grace in his life.

However, the work of grace in his life marks the beginning of his service to God. That however, was the work of the conquering grace of God. He was a rebel who rejected the grace of God in his life. He was full of hatred for God’s own people. Not only that, but he persecuted them, killed them and was bent on eradicating the whole movement of the disciples of Christ. He was actually persecuting the risen Christ.

But what happened on the Damascus road was an act of the conquering grace. God captivated Saul (who later became Paul) by blinding him with a bright light and speaking to him. As Paul fell off the animal he was riding and turned blind, God conquered him by his grace. He became a disciple, filled with the Holy Spirit and became the most important apostle of all time. Thus, the grace of God conquered the vilest of offenders.

As I think of people, some in my close circles also, I hope in God’s conquering grace. They don’t heed God’s Word, they reject godly counsel, some are a law unto themselves. But I hope and pray for them that one day they will have the Damascus road experience where grace will conquer them. When grace conquered him, Paul changed his address. In most of the letters that he wrote to the churches, he described himself as ‘a slave of Jesus Christ’ because the conquering grace had enslaved him.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Why do giants fall?

 I wrote a blog years ago with a similar title. However, I can't track it down now. It is lost in the Cyberspace.

Now, I write these lines because another giant is fallen and there is a lot of wisdom that can be gathered from that fall. A great apologist is proved guilty of improper sexual behavior with his own employees. Since he is dead and gone no one can verify the truthfulness of the allegations with him. However, an independent agency appointed by his own organization that bears his name to inquire into the matter has confirmed that the allegations are true. The report was released by the organization that he founded and led till his death. 

Though this particular allegation by three women were raised after his recent death and proven a few months later, he was not immune to allegations while alive. There were allegations about false claims he made about his educational qualifications. He stopped using the titles that he did not earn. There was an allegation about his moral misbehavior, but he was able to hush it up. Now, allegations continue to pursue him beyond the grave. That is very alarming.

I was never a fan of him, though he was an orator and has written many books. One or two of those titles are worth reading as well. I didn't care about what he had to say. The reason is simple, most of his talk pointed to him, his greatness and his (false) claims. Once an older friend of mine, who was also editor of a popular Christian magazine, told me: 'If you heard him once, you heard him all!' For my humble analytical mind he said the same thing over and over again but in newer and newer ways, spicing up with his claims of new achievements. For me these were disgusting.

I was mentored by people whom I considered great. However, these are people who never considered that they were great. They were humble, down to earth people. Their greatness, if any, was ascribed but not self-claimed.

These people were shaped by the gospel. These are people who realized that in the Kingdom of God whoever tries to exalt himself/herself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:12). Anyone who tries to make himself a household brand will be trampled under the feet and will become the scorn of the world in life and death. The giant who has become the scorn of the world for his own misdeeds proves that, 'God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble' (James 4:6).

So, the lesson is simple, the wisdom of God in this matter is: 'Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you' (1 Pet 5:6).

Do not rejoice that another giant is fallen, but let us take care that we don't fall prey to the same temptation to exalt ourselves; allow God to exalt us, if he pleases, in his own time, in his own way.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Why did Abraham Cut the Wood only after Saddling the Donkey?

Cutting the wood to sacrifice Isaac was the last thing that Abraham did when he set out for Moriah. He had prepared the servants, he had saddled the donkey and then went to cut the firewood! See the sequence of events:

 'So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him' (Gen 22:3, ESV).

He should have cut the wood the previous evening, before going to bed. Preparing the servants, and saddling the donkey could be in the morning. Taking time to cut the wood in the morning would certainly delay the journey.

We can't explain Abraham's peculiar behavior; only some guesses. Maybe he was expecting God to intervene before they set out. Did Abraham think that getting up in the morning, saddling the donkey and getting the servants ready will send enough clues to God that he is willing to obey and expect him to intervene? So, cutting wood will not be needed. Probably, that is what he might have thought.

But for God the commitment he expected from him was more than just cutting the wood, setting out for the journey, even stacking the wood and making Isaac lie on the wood. But the commitment that God expected from Abraham required him more than these gestures to actually swinging the knife at him to slaughter him. That is the level of obedience that God expected from him.

No surprise!

This is what he expected from his son on the cross as well. God sent his son to the earth, made him to have a humble birth in a rather poor family, to hunger and thirst.... God still waited until he was beaten and ridiculed. That was not enough. He allowed him to be crucified and was buried. Then only the obedience was complete. Till, as Paul puts it he 'became obedient till the death on a cross.' 

However, Abraham got his son back; so also Jesus Christ. Isaac was not killed, but the Son of God was martyred to be brought back to life to live for ever. God proved through the life of Isaac and that of his Son Jesus Christ that obedience is always rewarded.

Every test of faith involves obedience. The level of obedience could vary. However, God expects us to go the deeper levels of obedience that he expects from us. However, he is watching. He intervenes on the right time. Just before the knife splits the throat of Isaac and just before the fourth night falls on the cave where his precious son is buried.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Why prayers are not answered?

When things happen not the way we prayed for, it could mean that what we prayed was not in God's will. This is one of the many possibilities. Other possibilities are that we did not have enough faith in God when we prayed. As James says, we should ask in faith with no doubt. He said further that the person who doubts 'is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord' (James 1:7-8, ESV).

Lack of faith, or prayer with doubt that arises out of a double-mind could be one reason why prayers are not answered. However, the possibility remains for prayers in full faith to be unanswered. It could be that what we prayed for is not in the will of God.

I can think of the case of Paul where he says that he prayed three times for the 'thorn in the flesh' to be removed. It could be ailment that he prayed for healing. However, God did not answer his prayer for healing but just assured him of His constant sustaining grace: 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness' (2 Cor 12:9, ESV).

What went wrong with Paul's prayers? It seems that he was praying for something that was not in God's will.

So, what should we do when things happen against our expectations even after earnest prayers? We should surrender to his supreme will and move in the direction he shows hoping that God has chosen us the best. Again we exercise our faith in God. The faith that all gifts that God, 'the father of lights' sends are good (James 1:17).

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Do good and keep doing it

Doing good could be very tiring in many ways. I know it from my experience.

I have helped people who pretended to be helpless. Moved with compassion, I shared my resources with them. Once I took the money that I kept for my children's school fees and pooled it with donations from other people to get a poor girl college education. She went to college but the first thing she bought was an expensive phone which most of her benefactors could not afford. She had the resources, it seems, for the college fees and also for the phone. We felt cheated.

It had happened to me many times in one form or other. Every time, when I discover that I was cheated, or I realize that my money ended up in something that was not genuine, the will to do another good ebbs away. It requires so much will power and optimism to believe that this time it will be okay.

But patience has its limits. Our moral stamina also reaches its boundaries. That is when Paul's advice to the churches in Galatia comes to strengthen us. Paul said, 'And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up' (Gal 6:9, ESV).

First, we should keep doing good things in spite of frauds. Counterfeits should not make us believe that the genuine doesn't exist. Secondly, there will be some results anyway. Who expects all seeds to germinate and sprout? Will all eggs hatch into chicks? In spite of the potential failures, the peasant still sows and the farmer still hopes eggs to hatch.

Charity should be an untiring effort.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Conquering the Villains of our Love for God

Nowadays, we don't talk about  'conquerors' nor 'conquering'. Those words belong to the by-gone days when military victory was the by-word of human success. Roman military heroes were nominated to the Senate, were promoted or even became emperors on the basis of their conquest of foreign lands. The language has changed with the times. In our days, we talk about achievers, nothing much is left to conquer.

However, the language of conquest still should prevail in some aspects of our life, particularly in the area of our spiritual relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. I prefer the language of 'conquering' over 'achieving' since it has the nuance of defeating something that opposes. However, though achieve also involve some effort from the part of the achiever, there may not be resistance from the other side.

Spiritual relationship with Christ is one of love. He lavished his love upon us on the cross, and we respond to that love. We love because he first loved us.

The response to Christ love is not cheap just as his love towards us was not. There are challenges on the way of that relationship of love. Trials of various sorts are the main hindrances in maintaining that love towards him. Especially when we are put to suffer for the sake of that love. These threats to love come in various forms as our own temptations and opposition from others.

However, the Bible declares that nothing on earth or heaven, present or future should not hinder that love. Rom 8:37-38 is not a prediction but a declaration of a resolve. It should be read, as the author probably intended as, 'death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to (should not) separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

Christian love doesn't happen spontaneously, we need to respond to God's love in Christ Jesus. It is not easy to maintain it as well. We should make constant effort to maintain our love towards him by conquering the forces, desires and powers that tend to separate us from that love. We are not merely achieving it, but we remain in God's love by conquering everything that rise against it. Conquer the villains of our love affair with God.

Photo Courtesy: Pexels.

Monday, October 19, 2020

God promises never to leave or forsake us

I have developed a new habit. That is not to roll out of my bed as soon as I wake up, but to lie-in until I hear something from God for that day. God has been gracious. Most of the days when I wait in bed to hear his voice for the day, I do hear him as he puts a thought, a phrase or a prayer in my heart. On one morning last week as I was waiting he put this sentence in to my mind: 'I will never forsake you or leave you.'

I looked up this verse in my Bible App; I was astonished. That sentence comes in slightly different forms in four places in the Bible! So, I decided to study all its occurrences. So, here is what I found.

The first occurrence I found was in Deuteronomy 31:6. Moses encourages the people who are about to enter the promised land that their God 'will not leave you or forsake you.' In verses 1-5 he has narrated the story of God's leading of them and the victory he has given them in the past. Then comes this aphorism: 'He will not leave you or forsake you.'

Moses might have drawn this truth from his own experience of life. As a little baby his mother left him in a small box among the reeds in the Nile river. A hippo might have tipped the box over or a crocodile might have swallowed the baby for lunch. But he was safe until the Pharaoh's daughter found him and adapted him. Though his sister Miriam was watching him from a distance, it was God who took care of him.

In his attempts to combat the Egyptians who beat up his fellow country men who were slaves in Egypt, this was true. God was with him in his battles. During the time when exiled himself to the Sinai desert leaving the comforts of the Egyptian court and became a shepherd, the Lord was still with him and never forsook him. That was true even when he had to lead for 40 years a rebellious bunch of former slaves too.

Moses passes over a truth that he learned from the harsh experience of life to the people ready to take possession of the promised land.

In the second occurrence the speaker is God addressing Joshua. He is going to take the people across the Jordan. He has to lead them in battles to take possession of the promised land. In Joshua 1:5 he repeats the same words with a slight modification with an additional piece of information. God adds, 'Just as I was with Moses.' The complete sentence reads: 'Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you' (Josh 1:5).

Joshua has witnessed Moses's epic life. How he handled difficulties in his life. He knows the secret of Moses's success; God was with him. Now, he has reason to believe in the assurance that God gives him. Just as God was with Moses, he will be with him as well as he takes up the challenge to lead the people to conquer the land.

I also found a third occurrence of this assurance in David's words to his son Solomon (1 Chron 28:20). David is handing over the kingdom to Solomon with the instruction to build the temple. He has consolidated an empire, planned the details of the Temple worship and collected the material for the construction of the temple. 'Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.'

It is remarkable that David relates this truth of God's abiding presence and leading to another truth. That is the God he is talking about is the 'Lord God, even my God.' He has drawn this truth from his personal experience of God who never left him in his times of trouble.

He has been a fugitive king. Saul the king and his father-in-law chased him all around the Judaean hill country. Many times his life was in peril. However, God was with him throughout. He had learned that lesson. He is passing it over to his son, that the same God who guided him will guide his son in the mammoth task of building the temple of the Lord.

Finally, a stumbled upon another occurrence of this statement in the New Testament. That is in Hebrews 13:5. 'Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you."' This is unique.

The Hebrew Christians addressed here have gone through so much of trouble. They had lost their property. They have been through harassments and imprisonments. Their circumstances have driven them to yearn for some comforts that money can buy. It is usual in such austere circumstances to want some financial security.

The writer encourages them in such situations to cling on to this promise so that they can overcome the temptation to love money. God will never leave or forsake us when we don't have enough to go around. Even in such trying circumstances he will be with us.

Faced with challenges that you think are unsurmountable? Lack courage to move on? Thinking that the task ahead is impossible? Feeling disappointed that you don't have enough in your wallet for another day? Rise up and lift your head with the confidence in God's promise that he will never leave or forsake us when circumstances turn hostile.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Touching Jesus in faith

'Who touched my garments?' Jesus asked. The answer of his disciples was rather sarcastic: 'You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, "Who touched me?"' They are right, there is a big crowd; there are so many people who rub against him, and he cannot move around without touching anyone. It is senseless to ask who touched me in such a crowd.

However, for Jesus, it was a special touch. It is not like the touch of the hundreds of people around him. He felt the healing power going out of him at the moment of that touch. That touch is thus different from all other touch.

When Jesus insisted on identifying that person who touched him, a woman came forward from the crowd trembling. She had touched him from behind the crowd so that she will not be identified. She had many reasons for remaining anonymous: shame, being woman in a majority male crowd, more than that with that annoying constant bleeding she is defiled. Whatever she touches and whoever touches her is deemed to be defiled.

But she touched in faith. The people who were thronging around Jesus did not touch him with faith like hers. She believed that a touch of his garments will heal her. Her touch was different because it was a touch of faith.

There are many people who gather around Jesus. They throng into gospel crusades, Christian fellowships and Bible study groups to know more about him. But only a few really touch him to be healed, to receive his power to heal. It is up to us to decide whether we belong to those who throng around him or the one that touches longing to be healed; to receive his special power.

Friday, August 21, 2020

A God-filled lives lead to hearts filled with genuine joy

'By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life' (Psalm 42:8, ESV).

Living fully immersed in the presence of God is the greatest of all experiences. The psalmist says that the whole day he experienced the love of God. Quiet hours of the night is his time to respond to the love that God has showered upon him in songs of prayer.

His songs are prayers to God whom he calls 'the God of his life.' The expression 'God of my life' means, the God to whom I owe my life. God is the master of my life, who directs it every day by his steadfast love.

Most of us who have to slog eight to twelve hours a day doesn't have much time to experience God. We hop from one task to another without any time to think about God who is the owner of our lives. Though each moment is filled with his acts of love towards us, we seldom recognize that.

The Psalmist is different in his attitude. In every task and in every achievement he could see the loving hands of his God. She could see the love of God when every sheet of paper went through the printer without getting stuck. Even when one got stuck, he is so light-hearted that he stops to thank God for the distraction and the challenge of clearing the jam. Your daily routine may not involve getting printouts, but you can extend this illustration to apply to your specific situations. A loving God fills our lives, all that we need to do is to recognize him in the moment of our lives.

Such people, who experience God in their day's work, retire for night with songs of prayer to God--certainly prayers of thanksgiving. They don't return home with bagful of worries and anxieties to be carried to the next day. 

A God-filled lives lead to hearts filled with genuine joy.

Photo courtesy-- Artem Beliaikin

Friday, July 31, 2020

Being the light of the world

'You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.'
Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV).

Jesus said, 'you are the light of the world.' He did not ask his disciples to be the light of the world or to become one. By default, every disciple of Jesus is the light of the world.
The only option is where the lights are placed. It could be covered by a basket so that its light is not visible and useful in any way or it could be mounted on a lampstand. If mounted on the lampstand it will give light to all those who are in the room. In short, the option is to be useful or to be useless. The light ought to shine before others.
Being a lamp and being the light are also different. A lamp can choose not to be lighted and not to give out light. However, disciples are not just lamps, they are lighted lamps. Jesus also added that they shine for the glory of God, the Father in heaven. The good work that the Christian disciples do in the world is the light they shed in the dark world. Every good work they do certainly bring glory to God. It makes the name of God shine!
Isaiah prophesied: 'Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you' (Isa 60:1). It is fulfilled when men and women turn to God through Jesus Christ. They are lighted by Jesus to shine in the world for the glory of God.
Photo courtesy: Ahmed Aqtai

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Thoughts on Anxiety

The literature on anxiety is aplenty. YouTube has a lot of advice from experts and non-experts on how to cope with anxiety. I don't want to add to these. What I offer here is a personal insight into the spiritual aspects of anxiety.

Anxiety is a type of eclipse, like the lunar or solar eclipse. A lunar eclipse happens when the shadow of earth falls on the moon making the moon invisible to those on earth. But the moon is still there. It is still visible to the Martians!

Anxiety works similarly. It casts our own shadow on God so that he becomes invisible to us. God is not in hiding but is hidden to our eyes because our own anxious self is casting the shadow on him.
Then we blame God for hiding from us as the Psalmists often do in their prayers. God is not hiding, but we have made God vanish from our consciousness.

That is why the Bible says 'Do not be anxious about anything!' This is very much in line with what Jesus taught: 'Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?' (Matt 6:25, ESV).
Photo Courtesy: Alexander Dummer.

The Conquering Grace

  Grace of God is hard to define. When I was making baby steps in Christian faith, mentors told me that ‘grace is unmerited favo...