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.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

Paul's final exhortations to the church in Thessalonica poses yet another difficulty. He said, '... Give thanks in all circumstances....' (1 Thess 5:18). However, all circumstances are not really good to be thankful. So, how can we be thankful irrespective of what befalls us?
Ratna and her husband were thrilled when she came to know that she is going to have a baby. It was a long wait since they got married. They are indeed thankful to God and to their little prayer-group who upheld them in their prayers.
However, the scenario changed in a few weeks time. She had visited her doctor to discuss the recent scan report. To her shock, the doctor told her that the baby to be born may have Down's Syndrome. He added that it is better to abort now before it is too late. However, they decided to keep the baby. Joy now turned into weeping. They both roll in their bed sleepless and imagining the challenges of caring for a baby with Down's Syndrome for the rest of their life.
Ratna and her husband are not alone nor their circumstance unique. You may know many such circumstances where adversities hit without warning. It might have happened to you as well.
Can they be still be thankful to God. However, the Word of God says, 'be thankful in all circumstances.' It is a command, not a suggestion. It also says it is God's will that we remain thankful to him in spite of all that bad happens to us.
To be thankful, we need to trust God's wisdom. He knows everything, he knows everything better than us. His wisdom is faultless. He decides what is good and bad. Whatever adversity that befalls us has happened with his knowledge and purpose. All that we need to do is to accept now what he has given with thankfulness and wait for the good he has planned to unfold in its own time, in his own way.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Praying without Ceasing


‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ (1 Thess 5:16-18).
During my last medical check-up, the cardiologist put me through a treadmill test. He asked me to keep moving until he stopped the machine. For some reason, I pressed the stop button after a while since I felt uncomfortable. Probably, I was wearing the wrong shoe on that day.
The exhortation to pray without ceasing is to keep praying for something until we receive the signal to stop. This is important because most of us give up before our prayers reach their proper end.
Why do people give up prayers? There could be various reasons. Discouragement is the main reason. We keep praying and there seems to be no result for a long time so we drop praying. This is tied to a person's level of patience because discouragement sets in for different people at different periods. Some, with longer patience may go on for longer periods because they surrender to discouragement slower than others. 
Praying for the wrong thing also bring discouragement. God will answer our prayers according to his will. Prayers for wrong things are not going to be answered. Since such lives are dotted with unanswered prayers, they lose the steam to advance in their prayer-life further. Thus ceasing such prayers are not bad but will do immense good to our spiritual life.
When is the right time to stop? The simple answer is to stop when the prayer is answered. But what about prayers that will never have an immediate answer or could be open-ended. For example, praying for the welfare and peace in my country is an ongoing prayer. It doesn't seem to happen in the near future though I would like to see it happen in my life-time.
Prayers without end in sight are prayers that shape us spiritually. Such prayers draw us regularly to the bossom of the father. Such prayers keep us prayerful. Finding such things to pray helps us to pray without ceasing.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Rejoicing always

At least some part of Paul's final exhortations to the church in Thessalonica is quite challenging; especially the one in 1 Thess 5:16-18. 'Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.' Though challenging, we cannot run away from it, because we are bound by it. It is the will of God for us, or what God demands from us.
Is it possible to 'rejoice always'? There are circumstances in life, actually most of the time, which drives us to sadness and sorrow. Everyone goes through disappointments, sorrow, and sadness even though for brief periods. Though the good Lord may spare us for long and deep valleys of depression, rejoicing always includes those brief periods as well. 
Rejoicing always, in spite of long and short spells of sadness is possible only if we take it as the command of God. It is not a suggestion but imperative on us. We are under order to rejoice! We have no choice other than being joyful in spite of all the adverse circumstances. 
Rejoicing always is a major theme of Paul's life. His life was full of tragic and challenging experiences: hardships of life, imprisonments, ailments, opposition. However, he kept his life in Christ upbeat.
Paul penned the advice 'rejoice, rejoice and again I say rejoice' (Phil 4:4). This often-quoted Bible verse was written in prison as most scholars agree. However, we have much more concrete evidence in the Book of Acts (Acts 16:25-33). When Paul and Silas were shut behind the bars in the city of Philippi they did not spend the night planning a jail-break. But they were praying and singing. What kind of songs were they singing? Luke, the writer of Acts is clear that they were not singing a song for deliverance but they were singing hymns to God. Hymns are songs that adore God. In the midst of their suffering, physical and emotional hurt, humiliation and imprisonment they were not thinking of freedom and justice but of the glory of God. 
For a godly man like Paul, rejoicing always came very naturally. Thus he has the right to write that it is the will of God for us to do the same. But from my experience, I can only say that that is still an art that I am yet to master.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Final Victory

'I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.' John 16:33 (ESV).

'These things' that Jesus told the disciples were horrid. He told them that he is parting company with them. He said the world that they have to live will persecute them. 
However, what is the purpose of telling them all these things that will happen to them? Jesus' reason is clear--that they may find peace in him. In a world that is friendly to them, they will have peace. But that will be the peace like the one we will have when there is no conflict. However, when there are conflicts, then the source of peace must be something different. In the midst of their conflict with a hostile world, the disciples have to seek Jesus for peace.
The reason for peace in Jesus while living in conflict with the world is that Jesus has overcome the world. The ultimate victory doesn't belong to the world, but to Jesus the victor. When the world deprives us peace, we can always find solace in the fact that the world is already defeated by Jesus. It is the defeated enemy that is shouting at us and fighting with us. We have peace because we already know that the enemy is not going to win because it has already lost!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Losers, Gainers

Jesus made yet another paradoxical statement in Mark 10:29-31. The substance of what he said here was this: losers will be gainers.
His statement was in response to Peter’s question. Peter asked Jesus what would people who left all that they had get. Peter and other disciples of Jesus had left their jobs, belongings, families and even their community to follow Jesus. Jesus assured him that they will get everything back hundred-fold.
Peter’s question was in the context of the rich man who was not willing to leave what he had to gain eternal life (Mark 10:17-22). This young rich man was a gainer while Peter and his friends were losers at that moment. The rich young man retained what he had.
The word ‘left’ is important here. It is not merely losing what one have, though that also might have happened. Some followers of Christ had their property confiscated (Heb 10:34). In some places this word is used for giving up something voluntarily just as Jesus ‘yielded up’ his spirit on the cross (Matt 27:50). Many early disciples and some contemporary Christians had to let their belongings go for the sake of Christ. In some contexts it could mean ‘neglecting’ something, like the Pharisees neglected the commandment of God (Mark 7:8). Peter had to neglect his boat and nets because his eyes were solely on Jesus. In summary, ‘Leaving’ is to consider our earthly relationships and possessions of low priority for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel.
What did Jesus really mean? Did this really happen or was it a vain promise? Did Peter get 100 houses, mothers, brothers and sisters before he was martyred? One thing is sure, he or the other followers did not receive 100 houses like the one they left nor the siblings like the ones they had before following Jesus. In passing I also want to note that they are not promised fathers hundred fold.
By leaving one father, one mother and a few siblings (three or four) Peter received a greater father. It was God himself who is better than 100 earthly fathers, who he could call ‘heavenly father’ every time he prayed.
The word ‘receive’ also do not mean ‘owning’ or ‘possession.’ It is having or enjoying something even without owning. It is experiencing something without really owning it or having a claim on it. Such things are not owned by anyone but all of them had access to it. That is the nature of Christian blessings.
The early church was a community. There were younger followers of Jesus as well as older ones. They called each other brothers and sisters (Acts 1:16). The younger ones might have considered the older ones their mothers and fathers because they might have left their own parents (1 Tim 5:2). Back at home, before following Jesus they had only one pair of parents, but now there are hundreds. In return, the older ones considered the younger ones their sons and daughters.
In Jerusalem they were altogether. They shared their possessions in such a manner that there was none who was in need. The rich sold their possessions and shared it with the poor. It was a new family of God.
This new family of God had no geographical boundaries. People in Corinth were willing to share their wealth with their siblings in Jerusalem who were miles away. The siblings in the province of Macedonia shared their resources with other siblings like Paul and companions when they were in need. So, Jesus' promise was fulfilled in their own life. It was a larger family, greater bonding and superior caring.
But Jesus had also promised along with all these ‘persecutions’ as a reward for forsaking what they had to follow him. Though we may consider persecutions undesirable, the early Christians did not consider it so. They took pride in persecutions. Typical response to persecution in seen in what Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:10). He wrote, ‘For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
With persecutions promised, their reward is complete. They gained much more than they lost. Losers are gainers in God’s economy.

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...