Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sipping from God's Cup

What are the privileges of those who serve God? Psalm 16, most scholars agree is about a person who has become a priest of Yahweh. The psalm describes his resolve not to serve any other gods and declares his exclusive loyalty to the God of Israel (Psalm 16:1-2).
One of the privileges of the priests in Israel was to eat part of what was offered to God. It could be portions of the sacrificial meat, or could be the Show Bread presented before Yahweh everyday (Lev. 22:7). The psalmist refers to this in verse 5: “The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot” (KJV).
Sometimes husbands and wives or lovers express their love by sipping the drink from the other partner’s cup. That’s one way of saying “I love you”. In some religious communities, during their feasts, they eat from the same plate to show their solidarity.
In verse 5, Psalmist considers God as his partner, from whose cup he has the right to drink. That is the privilege of serving God. God is not aloof; He is not just close to us. But for someone who serves God, God is a buddy who allows us to sip from his cup. One of the forces that drive a servant of God is this awareness that his partner is God and they share such close intimacy.
Christian believers express this at the Lord’s Table when we drink from the cup in remembrance of our Lord. So also we share from the same cup to express our solidarity with each other.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Christian Humility

Humility is to live our lives in such a way that our self-image does not stand in our way of serving others and God. Our motto should be “strong and quality inside, humble outside”. Christians need to be people with a soft-crust: approachable, loving and lovable.
In Ephesians 4:2, the Bible exhorts those who believe in Christ to live a life worthy their calling. Those who believe in Christ are not just mere believers, but they are children of God and thus belong to the household of God. The call is thus to live lives in a manner fitting the values and ethos of the family of God.
One of the shared values in the family of God where every believer in Christ is a member is “humility”. In Ephesians 4:2, Apostle Paul wrote: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
The word translated as “being humble” means, “having a humble opinion of one's self”. It is not having self-pity or having a low self-estimate. Rather it is having a proper self-estimate but not using it to impress or manipulate others. In other words, it is the ability not to use our strengths for our own advantage, and not to stand in the way of others. Not to appear too great before others in order to intimidate him.
William Temple puts it this way: "Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself one way or the other at all."
There is this story of a college student who got down at a small railway station and was looking for a railway porter to carry his small briefcase to the hostel where he lived. He could not find anyone. However, an elderly fellow passenger offers to carry his luggage for him. This modestly dressed older man carried his luggage to the college hostel. The same evening the student discovered to his surprise that the man who carried his luggage to the college hostel is the famous scholar invited for the special lecture.
Humility is to live our lives in such a way that our self-image does not stand in our way of serving others and God. Our motto should be “strong and quality inside, humble outside”. Christians need to be people with a soft-crust: approachable, loving and lovable.

Friday, August 24, 2007

On the Health and Wealth Gospel

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more that all that we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us...." (Eph 3:26)
The new “health and wealth” gospel that is being preached to us actually making us put a cap on what God can do for us. We should leave it to God, to his will. The ultimate purpose of Christian life is to glorify God and not to limit God.

The new gospel of prosperity that is being preached is one of “name it, claim it”. The argument is that human words have power to make things to happen. It follows from this reasoning that God will grant anything that we ask specifically. Promoters of this “gospel” say that we need to clear in our imagination and be specific about our prayer requests. For example, if you are praying for a car, don’t just pray for a car, they say. Pray for the specific model, specific color, etc.
However, I find this teaching and all its reasoning contrary to the Word of God!
The Bible teaches that we don’t know how to pray and the Holy Spirit comes to our help in our weakness to pray. The Bible also teaches us that God is a good God. He will not give us what harms us, though sometimes we may even ask for harmful things, being limited in our knowledge (James 4:3). God’s wisdom certainly overrules human’s faulty wisdom. Our imagination is limited. God’s blessings cannot be limited by my faulty imagination!
God’s gifts are the best, though I may not be able to appreciate the greatness of them. My inability to appreciate God’s gifts is due to my fallen nature (James 1:17). Ephesians 3:20 make it very clear that God’s blessings for us are not limited by what I ask for. He always grants more than that I ask. Then why should I limit God by the specifics that I can think of? God grants not only more than we ask for, but more than what we can imagine! That means we should not limit God by our imagination.
The new “health and wealth” gospel that is being preached to us actually making us put a cap on what God can do for us. We should leave it to God, to his will. The ultimate purpose of Christian life is to glorify God and not to limit God.
 
 
 

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Living as the Chosen People of God

Thus, those who follow Christ have two awesome responsibilities as the Chosen People of God: to live their lives as acceptable to God and also to bring glory to God. God does not take delight in mediocrity and those who are watching our lives also does not appreciate mediocre lives.
I live among believers. In my city of five million people (Pune, India) every one considers himself or herself to belong to one or other religion. Majority of them belong to one of the Hindu denominations, there are Muslims, a couple of thousand are Jews and we have Christians and Zoroastrians too. All have their own ways of explaining their relationship with their deities or spiritual leaders. Most of them may describe themselves as believers of their respective faiths; some may call themselves devotees or followers.
This makes me take a look at what the Bible says about the believers in Jesus Christ. There are a number of images the Book of Ephesians use to describe those who are believers in Christ Jesus. The first one is the image of adoption. Ephesians Chapter 4:1-5 uses two such images: one is of chosen people, and the other being adopted.
"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will..."
In the Bible, the word "chosen" means selecting something after carefully considering the alternatives. When David went for a combat against the giant Goliath, he "chose" five stones. Certainly there were many stones he could have picked up randomly. But the stones he picked up were "chosen" ones. It indicates the special privilege that the chosen ones have. In the New Testament, the Greek word used for "choosing" is always used with God as subject and believers in Christ as objects. Moreover, it also is used in a particular grammatical form that indicates doing something for the benefit of the doer. Translated, it means, God chose who believe in Christ Jesus from the human race for himself. Thus for me to be a Christian it is more than being a believer or a devotee of Christ, though belief and devotion plays a major part in my spiritual life. The fact that I am carefully chosen by God adds to my own self-image: it is a privilege, it means God considers me precious and valuable.
However, as all special privileges comes with responsibilities, so this one also. The chief purpose is that we will be blameless before God. The word, "blameless" in the Bible means something that is without defect and thus acceptable to God.
The verse quoted above concludes with a reminder of the responsibility or purpose of this election. The purpose of election is that everyone who is thus chosen may be " ...to the praise of his glorious grace." Living lives that glorify God is the main purpose why God has chosen those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Thus, those who follow Christ have two awesome responsibilities as the Chosen People of God: to live their lives as acceptable to God and also to bring glory to God. God does not take delight in mediocrity and those who are watching our lives also does not appreciate mediocre lives.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Helpless Righteousness

The corruption in our churches and in our communities deserves punishment severe than that of the ancient Israelites of Eli's time received. However, let us pray that God will be compassionate to us and hear our intercessions for our people.

We may be people who fear God and honor God. However, there may be stages in our lives when we may be so helpless but just watch the judgment that falls on his people, unable to do something in the matter. Noah was a righteous man. God allowed him to do something in the situation of gross sinfulness. He could at least save his family and few animals. Abraham could save his nephew Lot and his daughters. However, Eli did not have that favor from God.
Eli was not bad. He was a priest who served more than 40 years in the sanctuary of God in Shiloh. Though he did not have any revelations from God (at least in the near past) he knew how to respond when God speaks to his people. Young priest Samuel did not know how God speaks and did not know the formal words of responding to God (1 Sam 3:7). Eli advised him, "... if he calls you, say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'" (1 Sam 3:9).
It is wrong to assume that Eli did not do anything about the sins of his sons. He did counsel them and even warned them (1 Sam 2:22-25). He tried to stop them but he could not. They went ahead on the road to destruction and he had to watch helplessly they drive past him.
Worship of God was central to Eli's life. The Bible makes it very clear that the cause of his sudden death was neither the news of the defeat nor the death of his sons. It was the news that the Philistines captured the ark that broke his heart and lead him to his death. "When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man and heavy" (1 Sam 4:18).
He was thus a man who had a passion for God and his people (see how he deals with Hannah). He did not approve sinful ways even of his sons. However, he lived in a particular juncture in the history of Israel that God dealt with them severely and he could not do anything about it.
There is only one wish that we can make. That is to ask God that he will hear the prayers of his people and do not judge our nations, and our communities according to our sins. The corruption in our churches and in our communities deserves punishment severe than that of the ancient Israelites of Eli's time received. However, let us pray that God will be compassionate to us and hear our intercessions for our people.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Don't Let Hatred Overtake Love

To have a mind of Jesus is to see the needs of the people and meet them, but not to ponder on their weaknesses and looking for ways to correct them.
Last week in Pune a six-year-old girl over run by a car bled to death on the busy street of the city. She lay there for two hours bleeding while the mob gathered at the accident site was engaged in assaulting the driver. Nobody cared about taking the girl to the hospital because they were busy punishing the "sinner" driver. By the time the girls parents arrived at the scene, she was lying there dead in a pool of blood.
The mob typifies the behavior of the contemporary world. Love and compassion are over taken by hatred and a false sense of justice. The crowd is more interested meting out justice by punishing the offender while the great need for that helpless girl was not justice but compassion. She needed a Good Samaritan who will rush her to the hospital and save her life. The crowd was keen on taking one more life than saving another. The careless driver has to be arrested and handed over to the police; probably he should not be allowed to drive again if he cannot drive safely. However, that should not be at the cost of a young life.
We raise our voice against unjust economic and social systems and are doing all that we can to change them. However, while we wait for the systems to improve there are thousands of lives that will continue to live in those conditions. What they need is practical involvement, something to be done to change their life before they die their untimely death.
Jesus' focus was on the need of the people and not on eliminating the sinner. He came to eliminate sin and not the sinners. When the woman caught in adultery was brought before him, he let her go. The Jews wanted to kill her. They eliminate sin by eliminating the sinner. Jesus eliminates the sinner by eliminating sin. That's the difference! The Jews and the disciples ignored the needs of the people. However, Jesus would feed them when they were hungry, heal them when they were sick, calm the storm for them.... He was never overtaken by hatred but he was steeped in love.
To have a mind of Jesus is to see the needs of the people and meet them, but not to ponder on their weaknesses and looking for ways to correct them.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Do not Fret, but Focus on God

Trusting in God, and delighting in God's work we overcome the possible fretting over the enemy. We need to commit our ways to god and just be still; leave it to God to do the rest. In sum, turn our attention from the enemy to God! Do not fret but focus on God!
There are hundreds of reasons that make us fret. People whom we are dependent for our own performance and effectiveness fail us causing frustration and discouragement. There are people who are keen on frustrating us every turn of the road. These are people who are carriers of disappointments, anxiety, worries, discouragement, etc. They themselves may not be anxious, worried or discouraged. They carry it to others or cause others to be tormented. They are like mosquitoes that carry parasites that cause Malaria, but the mosquitoes themselves do not catch Malaria! A child of God may waste a lot of time unnecessarily fretting over things that these people do.
The advise of the psalmist is not to fret! "Do not fret because of the evil men or be envious of those who do wrong" (Psa 37:1). The simple reason is that they are not there for ever. "For like grass they will soon wither. Like green plants they will soon die away" (Ps 37:2). No one can cause a child of God worry permanently. All that they can cause are temporary distractions. So we should not get distracted!
So what are the children of God do instead of fretting? They are advised not to even glance at the enemy but to turn their attention to God. Put in another way, instead of fretting over what the enemy does or can do, focus on God. There are certain verbs that occur in this advice: "trust" (37:3); "delight" (37:4); "commit" (37:5); "Be still" (37:7), all in relation with God. Trusting in God, and delighting in God's work we overcome the possible fretting over the enemy. We need to commit our ways to god and just be still; leave it to God to do the rest. In sum, turn our attention from the enemy to God! Do not fret but focus on God!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Singing among the lions

Can anyone sing when surrounded by hungry lions? We may have situations like this when we are surrounded by enemies and there is no time to sing or to think of singing. However, the psalmists will sing in such situations.

In Psalm 57:7-8, the psalmist says,
"My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn."
Here we see the psalmist excited to sing for the Lord. He resolves that he will make music for God. Then he goes on to invite his own soul to get up from the slumber it has fallen into so that a new song can issue forth from his inner being. His instruments that have been put aside for a while is also exhorted to wake up from their sleep and join him in the singing. Most amazing is the resolve to awaken the dawn! Usually dawn comes in its own time. People and animals awake at the dawn. It is the dawn that awakens world not the other way round. However, the psalmist who would like to sing a song for God cannot wait for the dawn to come in its own time. He would rather like to ask the dawn to come a bit earlier than usual so that he can start singing for the Lord. He just can't wait!
The psalmist's enthusiasm to sing for God is unparalleled; it is rather unexpected. The situation that he has described in the previous verses is not one that helps one to sing. In verse 4 he describes the severity of the situation that he faces as, "I am in the midst of lions, I lie among ravenous beasts-men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp arrows." It is not an easy situation and not one to sing to the accompaniment of stringed instruments like harp and lyre. The reality of the situation that he goes through has nothing really to contribute to such joyful singing. It calls for lamenting.
However, though the situation is worrying and one that burdens his heart, there is another aspect of his life that makes him sing. It is his faith in God who will rescue him from the all the troubles that he goes through.  It is the faith in a God who "sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me; God sends his love and his faithfulness" (v. 3). It is the faith in God who rescues us from all malice and wicked plans of the enemy that makes a song reside in our lips. The psalmist's focus is on God who rescues him and not on the enemy's who vainly try to destroy him.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Being Loved by Jesus

Jesus showed the "full extent of his love" by becoming a servant for his disciples. Sometimes out of false humility we refuse to be loved by Jesus. Life could be full of small and big things where Jesus shows his love for us. To love Jesus is one thing, but it is equally important to accept Jesus' love showed on the cross and also the love he shows everyday in our life. It is wonderful to have a loving relationship with Jesus.

The act of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is considered as part of his teaching on serving each other. I would not contend on that. however, there is still another side that we ignore in that incident. The Gospel of John chapter 13 verse 1 says, "having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love" (NIV). This sentence is the introduction to the feetwashing that follows.

The act of washing the feet of his disciples was act of his love. If we go by the NIV translation "the full extent of his love" (other translations: "he loved them to the last") it means that this act is the climax of his acts of love. Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus was involved in acts that showed his love for God's people. Though cross is where God showed "so loved the world" (John 3:16) Jesus earthly ministry was acts of his love. Cross is God's expression of his love for the world which includes the disciples, however, washing the feet is the expression of his full love to his friends the apostles who were gathered in that room for the Passover meal.

However, Peter was not willing to let Jesus to wash his feet because he misunderstood the purpose of what Jesus was doing. For Peter, Jesus should not do what a servant or an inferior person usually do. Jesus' reply is remarkable: "Unless I wash you, you have no part in me" (John 13:8b). Jesus was using the tactic of mild threatening which friends usually use. That sentence is the words of a friend begging another friend to let him show his love.

Jesus showed the "full extent of his love" by becoming a servant for his disciples. Sometimes out of false humility we ignore and sometimes refuse to be loved by Jesus. Life could be full of small and big things where Jesus shows his love for us. To love Jesus is one thing, but it is equally important to accept Jesus' love showed on the cross and also what he shows everyday in our loves. It is wonderful to have a loving relationship with Jesus.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

God's Deadly Silence!

For a believer in Christ the relationship with God is a living relationship because it is a relationship with a living God. This living relationship is possible because God and the worshipper are always in talking terms. The worshipper talks to God in worship, prayer and meditation. And God responds in various ways: sometimes by giving them great joy in his presence, sometimes by answering prayers and sometimes by endowing them with the "peace that transcends all understanding" (Phil 4:4) in order to pass through difficult patches in their life.

NOW READ ON...

God's word creates! That's what we learn from the first chapter of Genesis. Peter summarized the whole thing in just one verse: "But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water" (2 Peter 3:5).

God speaks because he is the living God. He speaks to guide his people, to tell that what is going to happen, etc. False God's cannot speak or reveal themselves to their followers because they are dead. Psalm 115 describes what is dead gods like:

"But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them" (Psalm 115:4-8).

For a believer in Christ the relationship with God is a living relationship because it is a relationship with a living God. This living relationship is possible because God and the worshipper are always in talking terms. The worshipper talks to God in worship, prayer and meditation. And God responds in various ways: sometimes by giving them great joy in his presence, sometimes by answering prayers and sometimes by endowing them with the "peace that transcends all understanding" (Phil 4:4) in order to pass through difficult patches in their life.

However, there are times when this relationship turns to a monologue. At times we don't hear God speaking to us. The psalmist in Psalm 28 is going through that experience and he expresses his fear in verse 1: "If you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit (meaning: grave)." Many times we don't care when we haven't heard from God! However, a person like this psalmist cannot afford to live without hearing God's voice daily. I wish I had this longing for the voice of God and dependence on a living and speaking God.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Waiting for God's Mercy

"For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer" (Isa 54:7-8)

God is a holy God. The earlier chapters of the Book of Isaiah present the awesome holiness of God (chapter 6). Since God is a God of wrath and justice he punishes sin and wickedness. God sometimes may use ungodly people to punish his own people who are disobedient. That was the role of Assyria, Israel's political enemy who brought the Northern Kingdom of Israel to destruction. God described Assyria as the rod of His anger (Isa 10:5).
That's only one side of God. The other side is that of a merciful God. Years later, after he inflicted punishment upon his people at the hands of the pagans, he raised up another pagan emperor to show kindness to them. That is Cyrus the Persian Emperor whom God describes as His anointed (Isa 45:1). Hitherto only specially chosen leaders of Israel were called "anointed". But now here is a pagan king who does not know God is called his anointed, because he is going to be instrumental in showing God's mercy to his people.
Isaiah 54:7-8 portrays this picture of God's punishment and kindness in a graphic way. His mercy has overtaken his wrath. He has abandoned them but only for a while.
Though this verses are the story of a nation's abandonment and their reinstating, it has a personal dimension as well as the story of this young man tells. Probably many of us may be able to relate to this story as well.
He had come to the seminary from a not so well-to-do family. In the seminary he goes through a nervous breakdown. All his plans to complete studies, get married and then get ordained into ministry are foiled. To add to the misery the seminary advises him to take a break. An year goes by and then he joins the seminary again to find that he had to get regular help of a psychiatrist and go on his studies on a slower pace. He had to see his class graduate without him. His juniors also passed before him. Finally, his day came and he graduated. However, he was told that, knowing that he has a history of psychological illness, his church is not really willing to trust him with a church. Long internship begins; finding a marriage partner for a person who carries the stigma of mental illness was difficult in his culture.
However, he gets married much later in life than his friends. It was a long wait. The church finally is convinced that he is fully healed. Now, in a few weeks time he will be ordained into the ministry of his denomination. He decided to print Isaiah 54:7-8 on the top of the invitation card: " For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back." He has crossed the lines over to the compassion field. What God has done in his life is certainly an encouragement for all those who are waiting on the other side of our existence under God's wrath or negligence (whatever you would like to call it) to cross over. The waiting may be long, but it will certainly not be futile.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Let God Lead!

To be led by God, first of all we must be willing to follow, or let God take the lead in our lives. Christian life is trekking on the wildest side, the thickest wood and scorching desert. God is willing to take the risk of being the leader in all such situations and making the way for us through the most difficult conditions and we just need to follow him. It is our hurry and impatience that gets us into trouble. Let 's wait for God and his time.
The two accounts of David's victory over the Philistines found in 2 Samuel 5:22-25 and 1 Chron. 14:13-17 describe a decisive event in his life. This was his first victory over the Philistine as the King of Israel. The Philistines had come to battle determined to overthrow the newly elected king of Israel. Thus it was a battle that was decisive not only for David as an individual but for Israel as a nation. A defeat in this battle would mean a different course of history for the people of God. However, the day was David's and he reigned in Israel as King for some decades and kept the Philistines under check.
The secret of David's success was not in superior military maneuvers but a very simple one: He just waited for the Lord to go ahead of him. The battle had to be fought by him, and he may have even suffered some casualties but the victory was certain because David allowed the army of the Lord to march ahead of him.
Letting God take the lead is an important Christian principle.
The story of the man who asked for God's protection as he drove along the motor way illustrates the point. As he started the long journey on the motor way he asked God to send his angel ahead of him to protect him. He felt God had heard his prayer and expperienced the angels protection. However, once he entered the motor way he could hardly resist the temptation to cross the speed limit. He met with a serious accident. Recovering in the hospital he shouted at God: "You promised to send your guardian angels ahead of me to protect me. Where was your angel when I crashed into that truck?" He heard the gentle voice of God: "Son, I did send my guardian angel, and he was ahead of you clearing the way for you. But, once you entered the motor way, soon you were driving at a speed that the angel could not keep pace with you. Before he could get ahead of you and clear the truck from your way you had already rammed into it."
Our God is willing to go ahead of us if we let him. The Book of Isaiah chapter 40 tells that the people of God who were in Exile are to return and that their God will lead them out of bondage to freedom. Yahweh forgives and gives them a new beginning by leading his people. Years ago, in their history, God had led them throughout their wilderness journey— a journey from slavery to freedom. Exodus 40:34-38 mentions God leading by the pillar of fire at night and the cloud by day 'throughout their journey.' Many centuries later, God was willing to do that again by bringing his people out from Babylon. He will do that again for us now if we only allow.
To be led by God, first of all we must be willing to follow, or let God take the lead in our lives. Christian life is trekking on the wildest side, the thickest wood and scorching desert. God is willing to take the risk of being the leader in all such situations and making the way for us through the most difficult conditions and we just need to follow him. It is our hurry and impatience that gets us into trouble. Let 's wait for God and his time.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Righteous Anger and Fretting

Let the wicked prosper but instead of getting frustrated at their prosperity let us leave it to God to deal with them. Let the righteous conserve their energies to do what is right and not expend it on dealing with the wickedness of the wicked!
The presence of the wicked person in the society is destructive. The psalmist in Psalm 37 knows well that these are people who borrow but never pay back (Verse 21). The wicked are those who oppress the weak and the innocent (Verse 14). For reasons that we may never know it is true that the wicked has outnumbered the righteous in every generation. To expect to create a world where there is no wickedness could be a mere Utopia. The wickedness is there to stay. One wicked man goes but two will come in his place and the wickedness will always continue.
By nature the righteous person cannot tolerate wrong. They burn with righteous anger. Especially when we see the wicked persons succeed in their wicked ways we become frustrated and sometimes may question the justice of God (See verse 7). The psalmist has some advise for those people who in their relationship with God and in their involvement in the society are righteous. His advice is for those who would like to see righteousness established and prevail.
"Do not fret" is the advice. Put it another way: let not the wicked make you angry by their wickedness. The foremost reason is that there is no need to fret. The wicked are not here for ever (Verses 1-2). They do exist but only for a short while. They are the most transient of all: like grass that withers. Why should we waste our energy being angry while they are already under God's wrath and will be consumed in due course? Verse 10 reaffirms the thought of verse 2 that the wicked will not last forever. Thus our fretting is unnecessary.
Secondly, fretting could lead to sin; meaning it could turn a righteous to wicked. In other words, it is counterproductive. This is what we find in verse 8. By being angry at the wicked, and in their zeal to deal with wickedness, the righteous may be tempted to do things are not pleasing to God.
Thirdly, it is better to be content with what one has than being unhappy with what the wicked has gathered with his wickedness. This will take away any reason to be unhappy with the prosperity of the wicked people. At the same time, the righteous is cared for by the Lord. This thought is scattered throughout the psalm in verse 16, 18, 19 etc.
Let the wicked prosper but instead of getting frustrated at their prosperity let us leave it to God to deal with them. Let the righteous conserve their energies to do what is right and not expend it on dealing with the wickedness of the wicked!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Mystery of the Open Tomb

Jesus is available to be explored. A Christian's life of faith with Jesus involves this constant exploration of Jesus, getting to know him closer, and enriching ourselves with that knowledge of him. The Hymn writer is right is saying THE LONGER I SERVE HIM, THE SWEETER HE GROWS!
We celebrate Easter because two thousand years ago, on the third morning of Jesus' crucifixion the tomb in which he was buried was found open.
It was Mary who first found that the tomb was open (John 20:1). She was not sure if she will find someone to help her to roll the stone away so that she can visit the tomb of her dear Lord. To her relief she finds that the tomb was already open.*
The stone was not rolled away so that the body can escape from the tomb. The resurrected body did not need an open door to pass through. John 20:19 tells us that the resurrected body could enter through closed doors. Jesus appeared to his scared disciples behind the closed doors. John 20.6ff also tells us that the resurrected body can just pass through the mortuary clothes. The grave clothes were found in the same manner as they were wrapped around his body. The head linen is found separately, but the clothes were undisturbed and it appeared as if a living organism has come out through them; the mortuary clothes were like the cocoon of a butterfly. If they were left scattered we can assume that someone got up from a deep sleep (or a comma) and walked out throwing the wrapping away. According to Jewish custom there were many layers of wrapping around a dead body and these wrapping packed incenses and preservatives, some in gum form. If the resurrected body could get out through the thick funeral clothes, then it did not need the stone to be rolled away.
Then why was then stone rolled away? I submit that it was open so that the disciples could enter and be convinced. It was an invitation to explore. The stone that stands rolled away is thus a challenge to our unbelief and our wrong belief. Easter Sunday is a day of challenge for us to change our false ideas and our misdirected hopes. Mary's fear was if she would find someone to help her to roll the stone back. Jesus dispels her fear by keeping the stone rolled away. He invites us to explore: Come and See, He is not there. He is risen.
Jesus is available to be explored. A Christian's life of faith with Jesus involves this constant exploration of Jesus, getting to know him closer, and enriching ourselves with that knowledge of him. The Hymn writer is right is saying THE LONGER I SERVE HIM, THE SWEETER HE GROWS!
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* The Nature of Jesus Tomb: Jesus' body was placed in a tomb with rooms for people to walk in and even be seated and watch the body lying on a shelf on the wall. It was room cut into the walls of a rock face so that people could enter.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

When Life Totters and Leans

In contrast to his own vulnerability and the nothingness of his enemies, stands the tall, strong, stable rock: God himself. That vision of God, the source of our strength should be what keeps us moving forward.
Life can be sometimes very cruel. The psalmists who penned the 150 psalms of the Old Testament expressed their pain and anguish in metaphorical language. How does one express the vulnerability and instability of ones life in times of opposition? The psalmist who composed Psalm 62 compares it with a leaning wall and a tottering fence. His life is like a wall that is about to collapse or a fence that is about to fall (Ps 62:3). He is unable to stand the winds and currents that are against his life. To add to his misery he has enemies who are trying to take advantage of his vulnerability. These are people who are trying to usurp him. Probably, the psalmist could be a ruler who is loosing popular support among his own people. His position is too vulnerable. The people close to him may betray him. Though they say good words (bless), they may not mean it. They may betray him because they find him as a liability. There are instances in the past where people have betrayed their ruler in order to find favor with their political enemies. They may think that it is better to give their ruler in the hands of their enemies and escape destruction instead of fight the enemy under the leadership of a weak ruler who may not be able to protect them from the enemy. The ruler is anyway a leaning fence, may fall and it is not wise to lean on such a leaning wall!

When he asks his enemies the question how far will they try to take advantage of his vulnerability and weakness, he is not appealing to them for sympathy. Instead he will turn to God for strength. The metaphor he uses for God is a powerful one. He would describe himself as a leaning wall, but for him God is a rock: stable, dependable and unmovable in times of crisis. "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone: my hope comes from him. // He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. //My Salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my rock, my refuge" (Ps 62:6-7).
He also has a vision about his enemies. He would see human beings (whether commoners or royalty) as mere breath. The whole council of ministers may turn against him. However, he would consider him as a mere breath (Ps 62:9).
Then how does he resolve his worry? There is nothing in himself that gives him strength in times of trouble. At the same time he doesn't have to worry about his opponents since they are nothing to be reckoned with. In contrast to his own vulnerability and the nothingness of his enemies, stands the tall, strong, stable rock: God himself. That vision of God, the source of our strength should be what keeps us moving forward.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

What is Jesus Praying?

None of us can promise those who are requesting prayers for them that we are praying for them constantly. In fact, people may not expect us to pray for them forever. However, the intercessory ministry of Jesus is very different. He is a priest for ever, thus he intercedes for us continually. His intercession is something that I can count on. For this I am grateful to him!

In an earlier blog (What happened to my unanswered prayers?), we were talking about our prayers being carried to the presence of God and offered in golden bowls. God does not consider any of our prayers as spam; he has no spam filter. Even those prayers of us that do not make sense to us, God considers them valuable. In this devotion, I would like to focus another aspect of prayer: the continuing intercessory ministry of Jesus.
The Book of Hebrews presents Jesus as an eternal high priest who continues his work beyond the cross in the heavenly realms. Chapter 7 verse 25 particularly focuses on the intercessory ministry of Jesus where we read: "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." Jesus is constantly interceding for us in the heavenly places. Now the question is, what is Jesus praying? For this we have to a similar posture that Jesus took while he was on earth. John 17 records the lengthiest prayer of Jesus, which is also known as the high priestly prayer of Jesus. In this passage, Jesus prays for himself (verses 1-5), for his disciples whom he is going to leave behind (6-19) and then for those who will believe in Jesus through the ministry of Jesus' disciples (20-26).
If this is a model of the high priestly prayer of Jesus, then there are two important aspects in this prayer. I think we can very confidently conclude that this would be what Jesus is still praying for us.
The first concern that Jesus presents before the God the Father has to do with our security. In his prayer for the disciples (verses 6-19), Jesus used the word "protect" three times (17:11, 12, 15). He is concerned about the safety of his disciples. They are in the world, which is hostile (See, 16:33). They have to face the hostility of those who oppose the gospel. This truth that Jesus is concerned about my security brings a lot of comfort to us; especially to those who are facing opposition in their life and ministry.
Second concern that Jesus expressed in his prayer is that we be sanctified by God (17:17-19). Sanctification is setting apart: separating some ordinary things for special use, particularly for God's use. For example, the vessels of the tabernacle where sanctified because they were ordinary vessels set apart for use in the Lord's house. They are now owned by God and used by God. That is what sanctification in the simplest sense. Jesus prayer is that his disciples be fully set apart for God's use and owned by Him. Each of us needs to realize that we are owned by God. We may be working for various organizations, which may not be explicitly religious/Christian. Jesus expects us to have realize that whatever walks of life we belong we belong to God in order to fulfill the purposes of God. In fact, we are lent to the places of our work by God. We need to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Phil 1:27).
None of us can promise those who are requesting prayers for them that we are praying for them constantly. In fact, people may not expect us to pray for them forever. However, the intercessory ministry of Jesus is very different. He is a priest for ever, thus he intercedes for us continually. His intercession is something that I can count on. For this I am grateful to him!

Monday, January 29, 2007

What Happened to My Unanswered Prayers?

Some time back, I sent an email to my friend’s Gmail account. However, for many weeks there was no response from my friend. Then I wrote another email to him to the other email ID of his that I had. He promptly replied. Later we discovered that the mail I sent was sitting in the Spam folder of his Gmail account. My mail was automatically filtered to the spam folder!
This made me contemplate on the prayers. I have been praying ever since my childhood. From short bed-time prayers to long intercessory prayers, pastoral prayers, prayers for the sick, in desperate need, etc. God answered some prayers but many are yet to be answered. What is happening to those prayers of mine that are not answered? God did not get it, or are they sitting in his spam folder?
I wish I could just visit heaven and see what is happening to those prayers of mine that are not ever attended to. For that, I will have to wait. However, God has specially favored John the Apostle with some special privileges. One such privilege is that he had an opportunity to peep into heaven and the throne room of God.
In Revelation chapter 8, John reports from heaven what is happening to our prayers. I draw a lot of encouragement from those words. In verse 4, we see that the angel who stands in the throne room of God offers the prayers of the saints to God along with incense. Verse 3 clarifies that the prayers are held in a golden censer. A similar picture is found in the fifth chapter also. Here the twenty-four elders are offering the prayers in golden censers before the Lamb who is our risen Savior. In this picture the incense are the prayers of the saints held in golden censers. They have harps in one hand (symbolizing praise) and censers in the other (symbolizing our prayers).
With this assurance, I still pray though all my prayers are not answered. I pray because I am assured that my prayers are not going to the trash bin, nor are they deleted my mistake. They are offered to God. They are valuable to God: the cries of anguish and questions that I presented in my prayers are so valuable to God so that they are offered in a golden bowl before him.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

No Exit from God's Will


God expects us to be fully submitted to his will. Sometimes, we will have to go through difficult times. We cannot get out of this before God's time and by our own means. This is what we learn from the life of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.
Babylonians who defeated Judah in 597 BC had made him king. In fact he was their puppet king. Usually the reign of kings in the Bible mentions their achievements and failures, in the case of Zedekiah, there is no mention of anything that he did. The account in 2 Kings (Chapter 24-25) only mentions only one thing he did. "Now Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon" (2 Kings 24:20). Then there is a long description of how the Babylonians retaliated to this rebellion by their vassal kingdom, how they besieged the city of Jerusalem, Zedekiah's flight, capture, punishment, imprisonment, the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem and the city, second exile.
This king could not anything for his people. Only complete the destruction of a nation by making the Babylonians destroy the temple.
What was Zedekiah's mistake?
His mistake was to rebel against the will of God. Prophets of his day, particularly Jeremiah had made it very clear that God's punishment is upon his people. He has sent the Babylonians to attack them and take them exiles to Babylonians. It happened in 597 BC. Then Zedekiah was made king over the Judah. The Babylonians were happy as long as Zedekiah paid the tribute that they demanded. The prophets also had prophesied that God will certainly bring those who were taken to Babylon after 70 years. Zedekiah was supposed accept God's will and lead his people. However, he was not. He probably was swayed by the loyalist party and rebelled with the help of Egyptians who were the enemies of Babylon. If he had not rebelled Babylonians would have let them live! In fact Zedekiah and his people were rebelling against the will of God.
A Second mistake he did was to trust in human power. Historians say that Pharaoh Apries encouraged Zedekiah to rebel against the Babylonians. He must have offered him military help also to do it. Zedekiah and his people thought by the help and support of the Egyptians they will be able to get out of the punishment that God has brought upon them. They took the sovereignty of God very lightly.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Maintaining a heart of gratitude


Maintaining a heart of gratitude
Though they have to start their lives again from scratches they are happy that God has brought them back. Maintaining a heart of gratitude even in difficult times is important to please God.
Psalm 126 illustrates the importance of maintaining a grateful heart even in difficult times. The psalmist(s) is excited about what God has done and hope that God will continue to be with them. Though what God has done for them actually has landed them in difficulties, they are still thankful; they believe that eventually everything will work out for their good.
The God of Israel had done a great thing by bringing his people back to their land from where they were exiled. However, it took more than sixty-five years for the first exile to return. Leaders like Zerubabbel, Nehemiah, Ezra and others led people back in different waves of return. The man who was captured and sent to exile when he was thirty is now 95 years old at least. The baby who was just born is now 65 and his parents are already dead. Some people have stayed behind in Israel and Judah. They had built houses and cultivated the lands of those who were taken captives. It has been theirs for about two generations now. In fact, those who came back are losers in one sense. They were nostalgic about the return, but they are now aliens in their own land.
Psalm 126, probably reflects such a historical situation. The sorrows and the struggles of the returnees are reflected in this psalm. It is good to be in ones own land. It is a sign that God has forgiven them and is faithful to the promises and covenants that he has made with their ancestors. However, now they are strangers in the land that was their home.
However, they will not complain about it. They look back to their coming back with great enthusiasm. It was so exciting to be real. They thought it was all a dream (Psalm 126:1). They were so joyful and happy (Psalm 126:2). However, they are in a situation now where they are in tears and have to go about weeping. Still they will not complain. They will just make a quick prayer to God to "restore our fortunes" (verse 4) and go to work hoping in him. Their hope is that God will trade their sorrows for joy. The imagery of farmers who in their desperate attempt to produce some food in times of famine, throw their last seeds to their ground and return home singing carrying a good harvest motivates every returnee. They won't waste complaining to God for landing them in such an unsettled situation while they were leading much more settled lives with houses and vineyards, etc in Babylon. Though they have to start their lives again from scratches they are happy that God has brought them back. Maintaining a heart of gratitude even in difficult times is important to please God.

Burning Bushes

'And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning,...