Tuesday, June 02, 2020

God is still good when things are bad


"For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations." Psalms 100:5

When I write this cyclone Nisarga is about to hit our coastlines. The weather department has issued a red-alert. It is likely to cause immense casualties. The  Coronavirus is lurking everywhere we go. Swarming locusts have reached deep south in Tamil Nadu in their flight from the North western deserts. They have already stomached most of our food supplies for the year.
Surrounded by all these, we need a lot of faith to say that God's love still triumphs. It is an act of faith. These are times when our faith in a good and loving God is tested. We need the grace to say, in the midst of all these bad things, that God is good.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Christian lifestyle matters

Many Christ-followers think that what they believe matters more than how they appear to others: colleagues, friends, and others with whom they have to rub shoulders on a daily basis. However, Paul corrects that mistake in the eighth chapter of 1 Corinthians while discussing the issue of food offered to idols in the pagan temples in the city of Corinth.
Pagan temples where animal sacrifices were offered had also meat stalls attached to them. There the meat offered to idols was on sale. When sacrifices were offered not all the meat is burnt on the altar. Only choices pieces were offered; the priests got a share of the meat before it was burnt on the altar. The worshipers were also given a portion to be shared among the family. All this meat showed up in the meat markets attached to the pagan temples. Probably it was much cheaper than the butcher shops in the regular markets.
What is wrong with eating meat sold in the temple-precincts? For believers in Christ, it doesn't matter. They have come to know that there is no God other than the one true God who is Jesus. Idols are nothing, they have no power and their claim of any significance is wrong (1 Cor 8:4-6).
However, all Christ-believers don't know that idols are powerless, worthless and the fear of them is unfounded. They haven't come to fully realize that Christ is supreme and there is no power to match his. Paul calls them 'weaker brothers.' I counted four times that the word 'weak' is used in this chapter.
Not all of us are on the same level of Christian knowledge and maturity. Some of us have a better knowledge of Christ and some are making baby-steps in faith and trying to make their legs steady.
Paul's concern here is that the strong, mature faith of some believers should not cause those who are weak in their knowledge of Christian faith to lose their faith. They may stumble, or may not make any progress in their faith in Christ. They may think that a believer in Christ eating meat in the pagan temples are endorsing pagan beliefs. That may cause their faith to weaken.
So, Paul concludes in verse 13: 'Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.'
There are many reasons for Paul's conclusion. First, what matters is not what we know! What we love is more important than our knowledge. Knowledge without love is like popcorn. It is puffed up: 'Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.' (1 Cor 8:1). We get the same calories and nutrition from corn and when the same is puffed up to make popcorn; the only difference is that you have to eat a lot of popcorn to get the calories you get from corn. Because it is puffed up.
Secondly, the behavior founded on most of our superior knowledge can have destructive effects on those who don't measure up to our level of knowledge. In this chapter we see Paul using very strong words. In verses 11-13, he uses words like 'destroying', 'sinning' and 'wounding' to explain the destructive effect of our careless lives could have on those who are weak in their faith in Christ.
Whether we are weak or strong in our Christian knowledge, there is one thing that is common to all those who are in Christ. That they are precious irrespective of their levels of knowledge. Because Christ died for all; since he offered his precious life for us our lives have become precious to God. 'And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died' (1 Cor 8:11).
This principle applies not only among members of a congregation but has a wider application. When we are among other people whether it is in the workplace or while traveling we are being watched. People constantly make judgments about us based on our behavior. Our food choices, our habits, etc. While traveling, I make sure that my food choices should not make my fellow travelers make a low estimate of my faith. I prefer to eat vegetarian while traveling because the person (who may be a vegetarian) in the next seat may make a judgment about my faith (if I am going to share it with him, or if he already knows it) from what I eat.
This applies to what I read, or what I wear. A disciple of Christ is ruled by the principle of love; it may be safe for us but it may not help others to come to Christ and grow in Christ. My call is to build bridges and not put up roadblocks for those who seek Christ. So, lifestyle speaks volumes than what we preach.

Monday, April 27, 2020

If COVID dampens your spirit....

"How clearly the sky reveals God's glory! How plainly it shows what he has done!" Psalm 19:1 (GNT)

Is the locked-down due to COVID 19 dampening your spirit? To be frank, that is what I am going through at times. Work from home (WFH) is a good idea: travel time saved is great; more time for Netflix or Amazon Prime, to read and enjoy music. But I do miss friends, even the walk to the coffee machine and sipping hot coffee while planning the next things to do.
As the sun sets and the night falls, I call it a day. Put away the work I had been drowning in. But still, that cold spirit lingers on. I am tempted to have another dose of caffeine to rev up my spirit.
COVID has also ordered the vehicles off the road. They are no more spitting Carbon Monoxide to the skies. The cheerful sky displays its wonders once hidden behind the thick layers of pollutant gases.
As I gaze into the wonders that the sky now puts on display, my dampened spirit warms up to the creator of these wonders. They twinkle and shine reminding me of the splendour of their creator.
The thought that I am in a world the most intelligent Designer created thaws up my sullen spirit. It makes me breaks forth into praise: "How great thou art!" When I am immersed in the praise of the creator, all feeling of loneliness, dispirit beat retreat and joy and gladness marches in.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Coronavirus Wisdom: Lessons from the virus!

The Coronavirus has shut down the world. It has caused the death of thousands in China, hundreds in Italy and Iran. It continues to threaten life all over the world. However, there is a lot of wisdom church-goers can gather from the epidemic.

Scientists say that Coronavirus spreads by physical contact only. It is not airborne. So, the best way to stay safe is to avoid physical contact.

Shaking hands is an import from the West. Before colonialists and missionaries came to our shores (Indian subcontinent) we used to greet each other with folded hands--the Namaste! It is a grand, gracious posture! Why can't we go back to it? Stop passing the kiss of peace which some Christian traditions practice or the holy embrace in other traditions. None of this has any biblical foundations. Yes, Paul wrote to Corinthians 'Greet one another with a holy kiss' (2 Corinthians 13:12), but if he addressed the letter to Bangaloreans, he would have said, 'Greet one another with a holy Namaste!' It is a cultural matter!

Now, coming to the practice of holy communion in some traditions. These traditions interpret the biblical phrase 'partakers of one cup and one loaf' literally. They make the participants drink from the same cup (with lip-contact) and pinch the same loaf. There is nothing more unhygienic than this! We don't know how the early Church practiced the holy communion. It seems that each community had its own way of sharing a meal and eating together. This phrase doesn't have to be taken literally, it is a metaphor of our oneness in Christ.

Many congregations have already moved to separate communion cups and wafers. But some are very literal still. The virus seems to tell us that it is time to get some wisdom in this matter also.

I heard a preacher in Singapore say that when the church is gathered there will be no virus activity! He argues that there is powerful angelic activity where believers are gathered. That is sufficient protection, he says. He also quoted Psalm 91:10 that, 'No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent' to support his position. I can see his concern about losing Sunday offerings and its impact on his annual budget.

Don't be fooled by such preachers. Their eyes are on your wallet and not on your health nor the health of their country-men. Avoid them to avoid the virus! And detest them as much as you detest the virus!

This a time not to panic but to pray. When the plague spread through the camp, Aaron charged his incense and stood among the people to protect them from its spread. This is a time that the Church do the same, intercede for the world--the health of those who are affected and the protection of others. Let's cry, 'Kyrie Eleison', Lord have mercy!'

Monday, March 09, 2020

Something more serious than Coronovirus!

Coronavirus is dreaded. The dread has affected all aspects of our lives. Hundreds have died, thousands are infected, the economy is on a downturn, international tourism has taken a hit, the list goes on.
Why is this virus so dreaded to make the world look for cover? There are many other virus infections known to humans and show their heads again and again. But none of them frightens people so much as this one!

There are two main reasons why Coronavirus frightens modern man than any other disease. First, this infection is sure to cause death. Secondly, scientists haven't come up with a cure or vaccine for this virus yet. The fear of this deadly virus is genuine. It comes out of the realization that modern man with all technological advances is still helpless before this puny little virus--puny in size only.

However, sin is even more serious. It also causes death. Death not in the sense of the end of life, but even more seriously being cut off from God, the source of life. God gives life to all that is living. Separation from him is real death. A sinner who is alienated from God is dead though he may be breathing. Jesus said, 'I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins' (John 8:24).

Many people don't dread sin because they don't realize that it leads to death. They are already dead. People don't take sin seriously since they don't even know that all that they need to do is to believe in Jesus as their saviour.
Sin is more serious than Coronavirus. However, it has a cure--faith in Jesus Christ as the saviour, the one who has defeated sin and death.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Some thoughts on suffering

Suffering happens when we lose control over the people and circumstances that cause our suffering. If we had control it would not have happened at all. In many cases of sickness, the medical systems could take control of the sickness to the extent of eradicating it permanently. But however healthy a person is, and however careful that person was in keeping good health, still, sickness does happen. This simply means that no one has absolute control over one's health conditions or any other conditions.
Suffering should not be limited to sickness. We suffer due to problems in our relationships with each other. People may walk away from us, may turn hostile, may hurt us, etc all leading to immense suffering. There are no absolute means of living in healthy relationships; even if you try to the other parties may not. We have no control over their behavior.
Given this scenario, the first thing that we realize when we go through suffering is the limit of our powers that we sometimes were not aware of. This awareness that we are limited in our powers is the first lesson we learn from suffering. Suffering thus helps us to have proper self-understanding.
A believer in God has some advantages in this situation of helplessness. Though the persons who suffer realizes the limit of their powers they also realize that there is God who is higher than them who can take charge of the situation. That is why many who may not take God seriously in good times, suddenly turn to God in times of suffering. Sometimes, suffering is God's beckoning call, to himself.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Tragic stories could end with songs of praise!

The way we face the dire circumstances in our life could lead to the wider glory of God. The story of Daniel illustrates that point well.
As in the case of most successful people, Daniel's colleagues envied him. They schemed to trap and destroy him. The Book of Daniel chapter 6 tells us that they forced the king to order that those who pray to anyone other than the king will be destroyed. Daniel’s enemies knew that being a devout Jew, he will not comply and that will lead to his death.
Daniel was a person of integrity. He ignored the royal edict and continued with his routine of prayer to his God, Yahweh. His enemies caught him in action. They reported the matter duly to the king.
Though the king was reluctant to act against Daniel, they forced the king to act on his own order. Though reluctant, the king ordered that Daniel be thrown into the den of hungry lions. We know the rest of the story well. The lions did not attack Daniel. God had shut their mouths.
The king spent the night sleepless. At the wee hours of the morning, he rushed to the den of the lions to find out what has happened to Daniel. He finds that Daniel is safe and the lions haven’t even scratched him. At the king’s orders they soldiers pulled Daniel out and his opponents and their entire families were thrown into the same den. The hungry lions tore them apart.
What is important in this story is the song that king Darius sang when Daniel was pulled out of the den of lions (Daniel 6:26-28). The king reverses the earlier order that the people should fear and tremble before the God of Daniel instead of the king.
The story ends not with the rescue of Daniel from the pit, but king Darius proclaiming the glory of Daniel’s God and ordering his nation to fear that God. The book of Daniel tells us that the king sang a song of praise to the God of Daniel.
Things would have been very different if Daniel had given in to the order of the king in order to save his skin. His integrity not only saved his life but led to the greater glory of God before a pagan king and his empire. His prayer to God was private. But he did it ignoring the dire consequence of his action of defying a power lesser than the power of his God. God protected him from the consequence that his opponents had designed for him. He also used that to bring glory to his name in all the empire of Persia.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Chew the scroll up to preach it!

The Book of Revelation is full of strange symbolism and surreal imageries. In Revelation Chapter 10 we have yet another. In this passage Apostle John receives the vision of a huge angel whose one foot is on the sea and another on the land. He can stretch his hand to reach heaven. He lands on the planet with one foot on land and the other on sea with an open scroll in his hands.
A voice commands John to approach the angel to ask for the scroll. The angel gives him the little scroll with the command that he should eat it. John obeys the angel and eats the entire scroll. It was rather easy to eat the small scroll since it was sweet in his mouth, but it was difficult to hold it in his body since it had become bitter in his stomach.
Centuries back, prophet Ezekiel had a similar experience at the beginning of his prophetic career (Ezek 3:1-3). Just as Ezekiel was told, John was also told that, 'you must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings' (Rev 10:11). Eating the scroll was to prepare him to preach to the nations and their rulers.
Now, to unpack the symbolism. What is this scroll and what is the purpose of eating it? We are told that the scroll is open. Anyone who has been following the sequence of events in the Book of Revelation so far might have noticed that the Lamb (risen Lord) has already opened it (Rev 6:1). The image of the angel coming down from heaven with the scroll is the symbolic representation of the truth that we find in (Hebrews 2:2). According to some Jewish interpretation of the event where Moses received the Law, the revelation of God was handed down to him through angels.
John has to eat what God has revealed through the son and given to him now. This eating is thus the preparation for the mission to the nations and their rulers. It is a bittersweet reality. The word of God is sweeter than the honey, however, bringing it out is most of the time a bitter reality. What you like and cherish may not always in line with people out there like to cherish. This brings God's people in conflict with others. However, it has to be done! But before that is done, we need to really grasp the word thoroughly like we eat something so that it becomes part of our body system.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Why do we pray 'Give us today our daily bread'?

What does the prayer “give us our daily bread” mean when we have the bread for the day? Not only for today but for tomorrow and many days more.
This may look as a meaningless prayer to people who don’t know hunger and starvation. It doesn't make sense to people who always had more than what they need. This prayer may look meaningless for those who have the power to control their lives.
Still, the Lord taught us to pray “give us our daily bread.”
Don’t dismiss this as a prayer for the first century Christians who were poorer than us in many ways. Among them were really rich people. There were people who had food and drinks to host huge parties. For example, the sisters of Lazarus, Simon the leper and the list goes on. All these who were rich enough to throw lavish parties in honour of Jesus were also expected to pray this prayer.
Rich and poor pray this prayer. Those who are full pray this as though they are hungry, because this prayer is a prayer of humble admission. It’s the humble admission that God is the provider of the food that I had, the food that I have and the food that am going to have. By praying these words we admit that we don’t have any control on our lives, but we depend totally on him.
So rich or poor despite the holding capacity of our store rooms and our refrigerators, we ought to pray in humble admission, “our Heavenly Father, give us today our daily bread.”

Thursday, August 22, 2019

For some it is shame but for others it is fame!

The world is after fame. The greatest goals are to be famous and rich.
There is a way of being known though it may not make you rich. Let me explain.
Paul begins his letter to the Romans with thanksgiving and prayer. He does so in most of his letters. The reason for thanksgiving is that their ‘faith is proclaimed in all the world’ (1:8). Here, 'faith' is not the dogma or the act of believing. Faith here means how one struggles to keep what one has come to believe as true.
We don’t know how the believers in Rome were famous for their faith. It is clear from the latter part of this epistle that Paul knew many of them by name (Rom 16:1-16). We may guess that many of the believers or even the church collectively had to struggle to keep their faith alive in hostile circumstances. Their battles to keep their faith might have become known in all the churches all around the world. Note that Paul later commends them also for their obedience that had become famous all over the world (16:9). In similar ways, the church in Thessalonica was also known around the world among the believers for their faith (1 Thess 1:8).
Being known for the steadfastness of faith is highly commendable. We are familiar with the inspiring stories of the courage of the Christians in persecuted countries. Many of them who followed Jesus to the point of their death or imprisonment are famous—not for their contribution to art, literature or sports like many famous people. But they are known for their integrity and steadfastness of faith. They held on to Jesus and hated their own life. The churches in Rome and Thessalonica and many other places rose to fame through ways that for the world were shameful. Imprisonment, suffering and public execution are shameful by the world's standards. But their faith that made them uphold Christ turns out to be something to be remembered for ever.

God is still good when things are bad

"For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations." Psalms 100:5 When I write thi...