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

Turn dire circumstances for the glory of God

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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Some Thoughts on Christian Identity

Our identity in Christ matters most. We need to know and affirm it. That is what Saint Paul does in Romans 1:7.
The letter was written to the Romans, 'to those in Rome.' We have come to know it as the letter to the Romans. However, it is not meant for all the citizens of Rome.
Paul further qualifies the word ‘Romans’ by the phrase, ‘who are loved by God and called to be saints.’ That is the followers of Christ in Rome.
It is notable that Paul describes the followers of Christ not in terms of what they have done but what God has done in their lives. God has loved them and has called them.
To be loved by God is a privilege. All that we need to do is to accept that love. However, being called elevates us to a new level of existence, 'saints.'
All the citizens of Rome haven’t risen to that level, only a few among them. They are the community of Christ-followers by accepting God's love through Christ and being called to live as saints of God.
You and me also belong to that group if we follow Christ, by accepting God's offer of love through his son manifested on the Cross.

How would like you to be known?

‘Could you introduce yourself briefly, please?” This question was part of the opening ritual of almost every meetings that I have been to. Likewise, an inevitable question in any job interview was, ‘tell us something about yourself?’ Though every member of the interviewing panel had a copy of the candidate's resume, this question was also part of the ritual. The answer to the question was indicative of the candidate’s confidence and self-image besides the communication skills.
Following the pattern of letter writing in the Greco-Roman world that he lived, Paul greets the churches in Rome to whom he wrote the letter with a self-introduction. However, his introduction was unique in many ways. First of all, it was rather unusually long (1:1-6), six verses!
Unique it was in another sense too. He just mentioned his name, ‘Paul’ and his job, ‘Apostle.’ He said that he is an apostle for the Gospel of God. Then the rest is all about Jesus! The part about him was unusually short. He begins with Jesus’ status in his incarnation and his exaltation in resurrection. Then he talks about our relationship to Jesus—he is our Lord. Then he becomes eloquent about what Jesus has done for all of us—he gave grace and apostleship. The purpose of all these being to bring the nations including the church in Rome to obedience.
Paul has a lot to say about himself. He talks about himself in other places as a thorough-bred Jew, well educated, respected in society and the list goes on (Phil 3:5). But he was not boastful but to say that how he considered all these as trash in comparison to Christ. For Paul all that matters is Christ. He has come to a stage in his spiritual maturity where he has nothing to say about himself than who he is in Christ.
Now, could you introduce yourself?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

God's Love is a Present Reality

Apostle John assures the persecuted churches that in the midst of all that they are facing, they are still being loved by God. That is one of the salient truths that we find in the Book of Revelation.
God’s love for us is different from all the love that we have experienced so far. Human love is conditional. We find difficult to love a person who is physically unattractive. The lady at the post office counter greeted me with a very friendly smile. I was stunned by her manners because I was rather a stranger there since I left that town decades ago. It is after many years that I stepped into that post office. She was smiling at me as he met a long-term friend. But I was scared by her friendly smile so that I did not greet her or smile back. She looked scary to me. The left side of her face is burnt and he did not have one eye, and the left side of her mouth—gums, teeth and are visible—since that part of her lips are also gone. She was friendly but her appearance was scary. 
Later I found out that when she was young, she was involved in a triangular love. A young man who loved her but knew that she was in love with another person already, threw a bottle of Sulfuric acid at her face out of jealousy. She was disfigured the way she is now. Then the person who really loved her and she thought will be her life-partner for ever also left her after the accident since she was no more attractive. I later found out that she was my friend in school, so I could walk down the memory lane and pick up her image that was hers before the accident, a very attractive teenager at that time.
Physical attractiveness is one condition that we lay down for people to deserve our love. Similarly, we also moral behaviour also as a condition for our love. Who is going to love a criminal, a mugger, a woman who makes a living by selling her body? Even her own customers don’t love her though they may hire her body for a night for their own pleasure.
Though physically attractive, and morally upright, it is difficult for us to love a person who is not useful. He wanted to talk to someone to vent himself out. He is an engineer who migrated with his family to a foreign country looking for a better life. However, he could not find a job as an engineer. He was not willing to do anything other than what he is trained for because being an engineer was his life's dream. So he was jobless and was dependent on his wife and daughter who were the only earning members of the family. The life was not easy for them too with a jobless man to be provided for. So, the wife turned hostile, the daughter joined suit, they plotted together to send him back to the country of his origin. Once he landed, they cancelled his visa so that he cannot get back. This man is now wandering around lamenting his fate. For his wife, the marital vow to love despite all circumstances was valid only if he was useful.
However, the manner of God’s love is very different. God loves who are not lovable by human standards and even his own standards. Quite interestingly, God loves who doesn’t love themselves!
The greatest display of God’s love is on the cross. Apostle John writes that, ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him’ (1 John 4:9).
Since God doesn’t lay conditions for his love, he loves every one who is unattractive, useless and even those who are objects of his wrath—sinners. Saint Paul reflects on this in Romans 5:8. ‘… But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ He says the same thing in another profound way in Ephesians also. ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….’ (Eph 2:4)
This love of God is unprecedented, unparalleled and all surpassing. That means it can not fully understood or explained. That is what Paul meant when he said Christ’s love is ‘the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge’ (Eph 3:19). The most important aspect of God’s love for humanity is that it was initiated by him without any conditions as John say in 1 John 4:10. ‘In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’
However, the most important thing about it is that it is not a thing of the past but a present reality as Apostle John puts it in Revelation 1:5. The King James Version to align all verbs in the past translates ‘loved us’ to bring it line with the other past tenses in the same sentence—'freed us’, ‘made us.’ However, the Greek uses the present tense—loves us.
This present tense is relevant to the communities to whom this book is addressed. They were feeling the heat of persecution. The reason for their persecution is their faith in Jesus Christ. It is thus important for them to know that Christ still loves them. The pain in Christian life doesn’t meant that God has abandoned us. The suffering doesn’t not mean that God love has ran out. But despite all that happens, God still loves them. The truth is that God’s love is a present reality. It is an assurance from God even at times when we find it difficult to love ourselves.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Life and Light

'For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light' Psalm 36:9.
When David sang to God, 'For with you is the fountain of life', he was not thinking of life in the ordinary sense of that word. Similarly when he said, 'in your light do we see light', he had a different idea about light also.
Life is not just a mere existence. Generally speaking, we associate life with the state of creatures to have an existence. When an animal dies it's life is taken from it. However, the word life means more than mere existence.
Life also means that vitality and vigour with which we lead our lives. Two people join us at the party. We say one is lifeless because she is not enjoying our company or contributing anything to enhance the enjoyment that we are all looking forward to. Maybe she is a party pooper by her presence. The other person is altogether different. We may also even say that she is the 'life of the party.' She not only keep the party going, but makes it enjoyable by her active presence, and by the way she contributes to the spirit of the party.
Our earthly existence has ups and downs. There are times when the vitality and vigour are drained out of our lives. We can say that we live because we walk, talk, work and earn a living, etc. However, most of the time, we do it without real life in us. Our relationships, our talk and even our work are 'lifeless.'
However, it is possible to lead our lives without unrealistic ups and depressive downs. It is possible to live on a higher plane but still on level ground. We can maintain a healthy, steady level of vitality and vigour of life even in the most trying circumstances.
The secret of how much life we have in our lives depends on where we draw our life from. There are two sources of life. One like all nature we draw our sustenance from the surroundings and ourselves. That is how trees and animals live. They draw their food and nutrients from their surroundings. When they have nothing to draw, they use what they have stored up for the difficult days. They survive in arid places in dry summer until the refreshing rain arrives. Human beings too keep going using their built-in coping mechanisms.
The other source as the psalmist has discovered is to draw our life from God who is the source of life. When there is nothing that the surroundings can offer and there is no inner strength left, godly people look up to God. Then God who is the source of life provides new vigour in abundance like a fountain refreshing those who parched with the heat of the day.
Jesus told made it more clear to the Samaritan woman. He told her that the water that Jacob's well offers makes a person come back to it every time they thirst. And the heat of the day makes them thirst again and again. The trying circumstances of our earthly existence are like the heat of the day. However, he offers living waters that never causes thirst. The water that Jesus offered the Samaritan woman is qualified as 'living' in two senses. First of all, it is not stagnant as the water in Jacob's well. It is like a stream that flows with water because it originates from a spring that keeps gushing out fresh water. It is also living waters because it gives life.
On the last day of the festival, Jesus said something that elaborates this truth. He said, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink' (John 6:37). He was calling all those who lead lives like the beasts of burden, heavy-laden and lifeless. He promises all those who drink from him a life that doesn't thirst but also becoming streams of life for themselves and others. That is the message hidden in the words that Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman:' ... but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life' (John 4:14).
The concept of light also is similar. David uses it in this verse metaphorically to illustrate its spiritual aspects. Bible associates light with the truth. This is clear in some passages where light is lumped with truth, wisdom, knowledge etc. Having light means having the ability to avoid what is false and to know what is true. The psalmist would say, 'The unfolding of your words gives light;it imparts understanding to the simple' (Psalm 119:130). In a similar vein, the Book of Daniel lumps it with 'light and understanding and excellent wisdom'  (Dan 5:14).
However, this is not just an inner illumination that we possess. The source of this life is God because God is light. It is one of the powerful statements in the Bible: 'God is light; in him, there is no darkness' (1 John 1:5).
This leads us to this truth: Without God being the source of light, we will not every discern truth from falsehood. Without God the light guiding us we will never be able to find the pathways to everlasting life.
David thus in a poetic manner expounds this truth that life and light or vitality of life and wisdom for living comes from the living God, the God of the Bible.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Joy, the hallmark of Christian life.

Joy is the hallmark of Christian life. Jesus mentions a long list of adverse human circumstances and concludes, ‘rejoice and be glad.’ Each of these adverse circumstances he introduces with the word, blessed.’ Matthew 5:2-12.
The word used for ‘blessed’ can also be translated as ‘happy.’ Some translation have it so. It is the ‘transcendent happiness or religious joy.’ So blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who are persecuted, and so on ....
We get a sharper picture of the adversities in the parallel passage in Luke 6:20-23.  Luke's version includes poverty, hunger, weeping, being hated, etc... There too Jesus sums it up saying, 'rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for your reward is great in heaven.'
Followers of Jesus are destined to be happy in all circumstances that their earthly existence throws at them.
The reason for this transcendent joy is that they have a larger vision of life. They can see life that stretches to eternity, beyond this transient earthly existence. The success and failure, joy and sadness, and all the sort of experiences are not final, but there is more to human life. There is eternity or our life that extends beyond the grave to heaven.
Those who have that vision can literally 'leap for joy' now because they can see their reward in heaven. They are not losers at all.

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 happe...