Saturday, June 02, 2018

Heat is not That Bad!

Summer temperature reached 43.3-degree Celsius (109.9 degrees Fahrenheit) in Pune this summer. Though the average summer temperature doesn't go above 38 degree Celsius, I heard a lot of people complaining about the summer heat. They say the cold weather is better! All that you have to do is to wear many layers of clothes to keep you warm. My friends who have to spend almost six months of the year in below freezing temperature have a different opinion.

Heat is a metaphor in the Bible. It is a metaphor of extreme suffering. The psalmist who underwent extreme suffering describes it as being wax melted by the heat. He complains, 'I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast' (Psalm 22:14 ESV).

Another psalmist uses a similar metaphor to describe his self-inflicted pain. 'For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away throughmy groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer' (Ps 32:3,4 ESV).

Everyone seems to agree that heat is not good. The heat of suffering particularly. It brings anguish and pain. It drains the strength, it drains the sap. However, it has a positive side.

Heat purifies. The goldsmith heats up the precious metals in a crucible until they melt. In the molten stage, the gold separates itself from the impurities. It gains a new shine! Sometimes God raises the heat in our lives so that we may be pure! The gold has no right to know why the impurities are removed by this painful process. Enduring the process is difficult, but the hope of purity and the new shine it is going to have helps with patient enduring.

Though it may look paradoxical, heat reshapes. As a child, I have watched the village blacksmith heating up a piece of iron until it is red-hot and beat it up to a new shape. Then he dips it in water to temper it. Again to the furnace again to make it red-hot. The iron goes through the process repeatedly: heated up, beaten, and tempered in the cold water. Then after a few hours, the blacksmith holds the iron to admire his creation. It is a piece of art now, though the process was painful.

The iron has no right to know what it is going to be. It simply has to trust the creator. It just has to believe that it is going to change the shape, and then there is going to have a new use. Heat brings with it new hope and purpose.

Friday, June 01, 2018

The Massawa Miracle

PC was an ambitious young man brimming with so  much godly enthusiasm when he travelled to Ethiopia in the early 1970s. He was accompanied by his wife. Though they had got married only a week ago, the purpose of their travel was not a honeymoon.
Their purpose was to meet Emperor Haile Selassie. They were to meet the Emperor and get permission to bring the OM ship logos to Ethiopia. His Christian friends who knew the political situation in Ethiopia laughed at his idea. He had a  no political contacts, he knew no one in Ethiopia.
However, to cut the story short, he did get an appointment with the emperor! The emperor allowed the ship to be docked at port Massawa which is now a thriving port of Eritrea. Not only that, the emperor opened the book exhibition cutting a ribbon!
That was more than what PC and his wife had imagined. Thousands of pastors and lay leaders came to visit the ship, the bookstore on board and for the seminars that were held on the ship.
As years went by, Ethiopia went through drastic political upheavals. Emperor Haile Selassie lost power. Eritrea was carved out of Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians and Eritreans migrated to all parts of the world, including the UK.
Now fast forward.... Years later, PC now much older, walked into a Starbucks coffee house in the UK. It was packed, but there was a vacant chair in the corner where a young man was keenly reading a book. PC settled into that only vacant seat available to him in the packed coffee shop. Then he noticed that the book the young African man reading was a Christian devotional book.
So, they started a conversation. The young man is a pastor to a small Eritrean congregation in the UK. I call him JB for short now. As PC implored, he shared his story of how he became a Christian. He found a book in his father's collection. He knew that book has changed his father's life radically. It was a copy of the Living Bible. His father told him that he bought it in a bookstore in a ship that was docked in the port of Massawa in the early 1970s.
Then the Eritrean pastor asked PC to tell his personal story. With tears of joy welling up in his eyes, punctuated with sobbing PC told his story. His story of travelling to Adis Ababa. Meeting Emperor Selasi to bring the Logos ship to Ethiopia. Docking the ship in Massawa. The memory of long lines of Ethiopians who queued up to enter the ship. Those who spent their hard-earned money to buy books and bibles. Yes, it was one of those bibles that JB's father bought. That is what changed his life and his son's. That is what is changing the lives of Eritreans living in the UK. Who can ignore the beginnings of small things?
(Special thanks to PC who told me this story and encouraged me to keep telling stories!)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Horror Houses Without Exit

I don't like horror films, fiction.... for that sake anything that horrifies me. However, one day I had to enter a show in a fair. That was a horror house. My friends forced me to go with them. I weighed the pros and cons. It is better to go with them than be labelled a coward.

Beyond, the ticket counter there was this dark tunnel, walls painted black, then the eery noises of witches and demons. Somewhere from the dark a skeleton stretched its hand towards me and almost reached my throat. Then there was a vampire waiting at a dark turn of the tunnel staring at me with its long teeth. However, I moved past it in the company of my friends.

To be frank, it was not the company of the friends that gave me the courage to move past each eery and horrifying shows. It was the red sign at every corner of the wall. 'EXIT' in red. That is the legal requirement. Anyone who is about to pass out, or can't take anymore can slip through that narrow door behind that sign. However, I moved on.

But in real life, there are horror houses without exit. Daniel had been in of those. That was the lions' den. The Bible says that he was thrown into a den packed with hungry lions. The story is found in the Book of Daniel 6. It was a conspiracy that landed Daniel in the den of hungry lions. Daniel and the hungry lions spent one whole night staring at each other. The lions had no appetite that night. But the morning following the king found out that Daniel is unharmed by the lions. So, he ordered to throw Daniel's enemies to the lions and the lions had a royal feast.

The den had no exit, so God took control of the lions. However, it was horrifying.
Sometimes, God will lead his people to fight it out as Paul had too many times. He had to be a gladiator in Ephesus. He had to fight wild animals in the arena in Ephesus. When the doors of the arena were slammed shut, and the cage of the hungry lion (possibly) screeched open, Paul might have looked around for an exit sign. But there was none.

He was not a gladiator. He eked out a living by making and repairing tents. As a scholar, he spent most of his time his head buried in the scrolls and parchments. He did not have time for body-building. His muscles were not strong. He had a hump on his back, or he had poor eyesight (or both). However, he had to take on the advancing lion. He won! That is why he could write about it in 1 Corinthians 15:32. Sometimes where there are no exits, we have to fight it out.

With God on our side, we really don't need exits from our situations. Exits are for the cowards and the weak. God puts us in dens and closed arenas without exit so that he can train our fingers for the battle (Psalm 144:1).

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thy will be done!

Prayer is not asking God to accord our will. Most of the time our will may be in conflict with that of God. Prayer is surrender to God's will. Somewhere I read this definition of prayer: 'Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will ....”
It is not just asking for things that we want in our lives but surrendering our desires to God that he may grant whatever is agreeable to his will. His will supercedes everything.
The Lord's prayer goes on to qualifying God's will as, '... as it is in heaven.' God's rule in heaven is unchallenged. However, it is challenged and resisted here on earth. Our desires are not always in line with God's. The devil has mastery over this world at least for  now until Christ subdues him. His will is also at work. Moreover, he tries to bring our hearts in line with his. So, we struggle not knowing which is God's will and which is not.
The best way out of this is to pray that God's will be done in our lives as it is done in heaven where it is unchallenged. Thus it is a total surrender to God's will.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Rehash, Rehearse or Celebrate

We spend most of our time either rehashing or rehearsing. Rehashing is to relive the past, going over and over again of what we did, or what has happened to us. This is a way of us tethering ourselves to the past, unable to move forward in our thinking. By default, it is the pain, shame and guilt or in other words the negative memories and experiences that the mind chooses to rehash.
Rehearsing is a way of living in the imaginary future. Perceptions of threats that are real or imagined engages our minds in emotional battles. The mind imagines situations, strategizes or even rehearses the sentences to speak in that imaginary situations.
There is a big problem in both these. It drains our energy for the present. Jesus knew this when he told his disciples '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' (Matt 10:19, ESV). The disciples in the first century were cross-bearers. The command, 'take up your cross and follow me' meant living with the prospect of arrest, imprisonment or even death daily. However, they should not spend their time rehearsing for that moment.
Nor should they rehash the evil that is done to them after the event. Their time is  not to be spent licking the wounds of the past. They have a great task in the present. That is to do the 'work the work of the one who sent them, while it is still day.' The energy for the tasks of the that present moment should not be dissipiated in any way.
The old song said: 'There's race that I  must run, there are victories to be won, give me power every hour to be true.' Power and grace for the moment is what we need. We need to conserve it too.
(Slightly revised.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Mystery of Manna

It was an unexpected gift from an unexpected person in an unexpected way. I desperately needed it. It came really as an answer to prayer. However, I was a bit reluctant to spend it on the need that I had; just being cautious. Gifts may not come regularly, it is wise to keep some for the rainy day. While rolling the conflicting thoughts in my head, I was led to the passage in Exodus 16:13-21, the story about the manna. Manna was a new experience for the Israelites. They had never seen it. So, they asked each other 'what is it?' The name Manna is directly derived from their question. In Hebrew 'Ma-nna' means 'what.'
Moses made it clear that it is God's provision for them. Something that God dropped from heaven, it is heavenly food. It thus illustrates a few important aspects of God's provisions for our life as well.
First of all, it is the free gift of God. It doesn't depend on the human effort. It freely falls to the ground and is covered by the dew. Then the flaky thing is ready to be picked up when the dew slowly melts away. The human effort is only to pick it up.
However, the act of picking up also doesn't all depend on human ability. If a person who is more capable than the others collected more than what God has allowed (one Omer), then it did not measure more. It measured only one Omer. If there is someone who could not gather the daily ration of one Omer, he was not a loser as well. In that case, whatever he actually collected, multiplied to measure one Omer. So, it did not really matter how smart you are in gathering. Free gifts of God doesn't really depend on human smartness.
Not only that smartness doesn't matter but God outwitted the smarter guys. There were those who were planning for eventualities in life. Eventualities like the manna missing a day. What if the manna didn't fall from heaven for a few days due to adverse weather conditions? Even if it is for just one day, it is is good to have a plan; so thought some careful guys. They had a plan. They kept some manna they gathered for the following day. But they could not eat it, it bred worms. They went to bed with growling tummies since they did not eat their full. However, allying all their fears, there was still a fresh supply of manna from heaven that day as well. Hoarding God's daily gifts is sin. God's provision is guaranteed.
God expects us to be prompt in receiving his gifts. It has to be gathered everyday morning. If you got up late then it is gone as the day gets hot. Procrastinators had to go without food for that day.

Friday, March 02, 2018

God answers prayers.

It is now 24 years since I came to know that Lucy (not real name) has colon cancer. Since her mother died of it, it is considered genetic; it was clear that Lucy's chances of survival were thin. That was confirmed by a panel of doctors many times.
Lucy was not yet 40 years. Had a loving husband who was devastated by the diagnosis and the treatment that followed. She also had two teenage boys.
Our prayer group prayed for her many weeks besides our earnest individual prayers daily.
After a few weeks, I left the church and the prayer group to return to my own country. I continued to pray for her for a few more years. Then, the connections snapped. I was not sending news to the group and no news came from the group. I didn't know what happened to Lucy. Over the years I concluded that the inevitable happened to her. She is no more.
However, now almost 23 years since I left that country, I returned for a short visit. I casually asked a mutual friend of Lucy and mine about her. I wanted to know when she died, what her husband and sons are doing. I was shocked when the friend told me that Lucy is alive, healed of cancer, living a rich and wonderful life.
Though every doctor she turned to told her that she doesn't have much time left, Lucy and her team of prayer warriors didn't believe what the doctors said. They still trusted the God who heals. Cancer moved from the colon to the liver. Then, the doctors surgically removed cancer in the liver! I still don't understand the details of this strange phenomenon, but one thing I understand. That is, God answers prayers.

Friday, February 02, 2018

The Gladiator Emperor

Lucius Aurelius Commodus was unique among all Roman emperors in many ways. He was the first Roman emperor to succeed his father. He was emperor of Rome with his father for three years from 177-180 AD and then on his own for another twelve years till 192 AD.
His period is considered to be a period of peace for Rome after many years. His father spent most of his reign fighting the Germanic tribes on the north-eastern borders of the Roman empire. However, after the death of his father, Commodus ended the war and returned to Rome.
He never wanted to be an emperor. As a young man, he was indulged in wine and whores. However, his mother Faustina was so determined that he succeed his father to the throne of Rome. She pushed him to the war front to be trained by his father and then to the throne in Rome. It was all against his will. Moreover, he never believed in his ability to rule the empire. For a while he withdrew from the daily affairs of running Rome delegating most of his powers to his trusted friends.
There was so much blood on his hands. He exiled and later killed his eldest sister. She was envious of him and even had plotted to kill him--a murder plot he survived. He exiled his wife who failed to bear him a son after so many years of married life. He then lived with his concubine who also became his trusted advisor. His concubine was already married to his slave!
Though there was no war on the borders, his reign was inernal turmoil for Rome. There was a grain shortage created by his advisor Cleandor who plotted to discredit the emperor. That led to a widespread famine, and as the result of famine, a plague that claimed the lives of thousands of ordinary citizens of Rome followed. When Cleandor's plot was revealed, Commodus stabbed him to death right in the Senate, as the members watched.
Bad luck followed Commodus everywhere. After the famine and plague, fire broke out and consumed most of Rome. The fire, caused by lightning, reduced to ashes temples, administrative buildings and homes of ordinary people. People interpreted it as the wrath of gods against the reign of Commodus.
The popularity of Commodus plunged into lower levels. Riots broke out in the streets of Rome. The Senate turned out to be hostile to the emperor. Commodus had to do something to stay in power. So, devised a clever plan to regain his popularity.
He announced 14 days of games in the arena. Gladiator games were common in Rome. It was one way of turning the attention of people from their problems. But this one was more exciting. The gladiators are slaves or prisoners who were forced to risk their lives to entertain the free citizens of Rome. However, in this 14 days game, for the first time in Roman history, a free man is going to enter the arena. That is emperor Commodus himself. Though the Senate disapproved the decision of their emperor to put his life at risk, Commodus was determined. It was his last-ditch attempt to regain his popularity among the people and authority over the Senate.
So, he started training to become a gladiator under the top-most gladiator of the time. After many days of intense training, as the games were only a few days away Commodus realized one thing: He was not fit for the fight! But he is now at a point of no return. He can't back off as a coward, that will do more damage than good.
The first day of the games arrived. As his wife and the members of the Senate watched holding their breath, Commodus entered the arena. Within a few minutes, he struck his sword into the chest of the first gladiator who confronted him. The arena reverberated with the cheers of the people, 'Commodus, Commodus!' On day two too Commodus won; another famous gladiator succumbed to Commodus. Commodus' popularity soared to new heights! The Senate who underestimated his abilities hanged their heads in shame.
Then before the 14 days game was over, came the shocking revelation. Commodus was fixing the matches. He had given secret orders that every gladiator appointed to challenge him to be given a blunt sword! However, skilled a gladiator be, he cannot do anything with a sword that is just a piece of iron and nothing more.
His own trainer came to know it. So, one night before the games were over, he entered Commodus' chamber and stuck his sword into his emperor's chest. He thus took revenge for the death of his comrades who died at the hands of an emperor who tried to gain cheap popularity through deception.
Emperors worthless to rule but who love to cling on to power, surround us. In politics, in religion and all spheres of our existence they abound. They put the very lives that they are supposed to protect at risk. When emperors turn gladiators, stay cautioned. They may appear to do miracles! Their miracles ar deceitful. They will keep their swords sharp and make sure your swords are blunt. These emperors do not know how to fight against sharp swords.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Grammar of Love

'Love is a verb, not a noun.' That was on a T-Shirt. What it stressed probably is to really love than talking about love.
However, in the Bible, just two verses apart from each other the word 'love' is used both as noun and verb. That is in 1 John 3:16-18. In the first case (in 1 John 3:16) it is a noun. 'By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.' The second occurrence is in 3:18, 'Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.'
Love cannot be just a verb. At the same time, unless love is quantified and displayed it cannot be a verb or an action. In fact, the act of loving comes from love. The reason for the exhortation in verse 18 is the direct result of the experience of love that verse 16 talks about.
Love is quantified as 'laying down our lives for others.' That is the breadth and depth of love. It can reach a point where a person loves another person to such an extent that his life is not more important than the life of the other. The life of the loved is more important than that of the lover.
That, however, seems to be humanly impossible.
Though it seems to be impossible, it was proved to be possible by Christ Jesus. He defined love by laying down his life for us. That is love as the noun.
Now, the verb is possible only if the noun is known through our experience. That is to say, Christ's love for us must be experienced in order to love others. Experience of any other form of love is certainly inadequate.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Dalit Upliftment. Unanswered Questions.

He wore a confused look. His eyes were constantly scanning around. He was looking for something but appeared as if he was not sure what he was looking for.
I met him on a medical college campus in Pune. Among the students lounging around the cafeteria, he was the only one without a white apron. However, he had a clean pair of clothes and a small backpack.
Watching him for a while, I walked towards him to find out what he is looking for. He told me that he is looking used textbooks. He is a first-year medical student at a different college. However, he doesn't have money to buy new books; so he is asking around among the second year students if they would like to part with their old books. But he hasn't yet met anyone willing to do that.
He told me his story. He is a Dalit from Nanded district in Maharashtra. He got 280 points out of 720 for the national medical entrance exam. Though that is only 38 percent he still managed to get a seat, being a Dalit. According to him those who got 28% also have secured admission in the Scheduled Caste quota. This is the reality here in India but those who got much higher score are left out since they are born in higher castes!
I wanted to help him. However, I wanted to verify the facts. I found many holes in his story. He told me that he has no place to stay. So, he has kept his clothes and little belongings in his friends room in the hostel. He sleeps in the hospital veranda at night. I verified his ID card, it says he was a first-year student in 2016.
So, I tried to put the pieces together to make a coherant account. He got admission in 2016, that means he should be in the second year now. He might have failed in the first year and duly thrown out of college. Being a Dalit he had a free accommodation in the hostel. He probably lost that privilege also. Now, he has no access to the library and no money to buy books. That may be why he is looking for used books.
I asked him questions in English, but he chose to answer in Hindi. Sometimes, I had to resort to my broken Hindi to clarify myself.
This is where our education system has gone wrong. Here is a student who is not eligible for admission on merit. But the government gives him admission just because of his birth in an underprivileged class. Though medical education is in English, no one cared to equip him for that. Lecture after lecture, he stared at the teacher who was speaking in a foreign language! The books in English did not make any sense to him. He has to write exams in English, but he can't. He doesn't seem to make it.
Here are a few questions that demand answers. Is this the way to uplift the less privileged classes? Does anyone know the drop out rate of Dalits in schools and colleges? Uplifting the Dalits has to begin much early in the life of every Dalit boy and girl. Giving them opportunities without capacity building is of no use.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Burning Bushes

'And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.  And Moses said, I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned. (Exodus 3:2-3, ESV)

One thing that Moses learned towards the end of his 40 years of shepherding in the wilderness was that all bushes may not be consumed by fire. He had seen a lot of bushes, most are eaten by his sheep as they pass by. Some cath fire and reduce themselves to ashes.
He probably might have watched this bush on fire but he paid no attention; he dismissed it as another bush on fire. It is a usual scene in that part of the wilderness.
However, after a while, the usual time for a bush to reduce to ashes was over, he just walked towards it. He noticed that the bush is still burning but it is not being reduced to ashes. All its leaves and branches are intact. As he walked closer to it a voice stopped him. It asked him to remove his sandals.
He had to remove the sandals because the place he was standing was holy ground. The voice said. He had passed through that patch of land many times but hasn't noticed anything special about it. But today, the angel of the Lord is in the midst of the burning bush so that ground becomes holy. The expression 'angel of the Lord' is another way of saying God. So, it is the presence of God, or more specifically, that of Yahweh the God of Israel is what makes the ground holy.
The bush is burning, but what it emits is not the heat but light only. It is the glory of the Lord that is being shone through.
The burning bush is, first of all, a miracle. The miracle that fire cannot do what it naturally do--burn the bushes to ashes. It is also a symbolism of how God has preserved Israel though they have been through the immense heat of persecution in Egypt.
It is the presence of God in their midst that preserves them though they go through immense oppression. Early chapters of Exodus tell us how Israel multiplied and was preserved through the Pharoah tried to check their growth.
Another aspect of it is that their burning is for the glory of God. The following chapters of Exodus tell us how God glorified his name through their suffering.
This incident is pivotal to their story. Israel turns to be the people who through their suffering shine forth the glory of their God.
Sometimes God treats us bushes and puts us through the pain of burning so that his glory may shine through. However, God guarantees that no bush on the holy ground will be consumed.

Heat is not That Bad!

Summer temperature reached 43.3-degree Celsius (109.9 degrees Fahrenheit) in Pune this summer. Though the average summer temperature doesn...