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.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

IS LIFE TOO HARD? Cast your burdens on Jesus by yoking with him

Jesus invited the crowd that followed him: 'Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.' (Matthew 11:29-30).

The modern mind may be puzzled when a religious guru invites people to come under a yoke. First, most of us living in the age of cars, planes and metros, may not have even a yoke. Those of us who might have seen one know that it is something that joins either a pair of burden-carrying animals to each other to pull a cart. So, we usually attach ideas like subjugation and suffering to this symbol.

However, that is not what Jesus meant or his hearers might have understood.
For the pious Jews who were Jesus' audience that day yoke carried meanings more than subjugation. In their religious writings 'coming under the yoke' was a metaphor for being obedient to someone, especially the Law of Moses which guided the life and faith every Jew.

When someone invites us to be yoked with them it is an offer to share the burdens to make our life easier than before.

Jesus's offer is to learn a new way of living that he has to show. That is why he expanded the invitation to 'learn from me.' This is a call to discipleship, following Christ by living the way he lives.

He also assures that he is a teacher who is gentle with us. He is not a teacher who will make the life of the disciples burdened with the demands of the curriculum. But he is more like a father who teaches his baby to walk, by walking gently by the child's side, watching each step and being there ready to pick up the baby if she stumbles.

He will not give his disciples a load that they cannot carry so that they are crushed under its weight. There are no rituals and rules that we have to follow. Just respond to his voice to follow him and respond to it. Then the rest is upon him. He will guide us. We don't have to worry that all the rituals are done in the proper time and the proper way to the satisfaction a religious system or the demands of a deity. Jesus guides us, if we accept his call to be yoked with him in an eternal relationship. That relationship with Jesus will bring comfort and joy into our troubled lives.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Strength in Weakness

'For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy' (Psalms 72:12-13) 

There are times when realize how frail we are; these are times when ll the self-confidence that we have gathered over the years vanish. Coming to the limits of our strength is a scary experience. In such times, faith in God strengthens us. God strengthens those who are weak and needy. He is willing and able to help them. The only thing we need is to realize our helplessness and reach out to God in faith trusting in his mercy and power.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Reminders of God's great love

"Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!" Psalm 66:20 (ESV).

What does answered prayers demand from us?
Most of us seek God when we are out of our depths in adversities. We feel the need of God when we reach the end of the ropes. However, God is a kind God; he answers us when we cry out to him from the depths of our adversities.
Every answered prayer requires from us to learn something more about the character of God. The psalmist shares with us what he has learned from God when he cried unto God, and he graciously answered his prayer. He learned that God still loves him. Answered prayers reminds us that God hasn't 'removed his steadfast love' from us.
This is the response of a grateful heart; to believe that we are objects of God's ardent love.

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.

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...