Thursday, December 25, 2008

Grace that overrides genes

To a large extent our behaviour is genetically conditioned. People who
belong to certain ethnic groups have common physical and even
emotional characteristics because of the genes that control biological
and emotional aspects of their life. Certain groups of people are
prone to certain diseases while other groups totally immune to these
because of their particular genetic structure. This also means that
human behaviour is predictable and to a large extent unchangeable
unless there is genetic modification.

Paul talks about another factor that overrides genetic conditioning
that decides human behaviour. That is grace. Paul was intolerant,
violent and possibly a psychopath too. He could not tolerate a group
of Jews who considered themselves as followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
He considered this new faith called Christianity something that should
be destroyed. He resorted to violent means of arresting them and
killing them. To achieve this aim of annihilating the all the
Christians he went on a tour to the neighbouring lands too.

However, we find an entirely different Paul after his dramatic
transforming experience of risen Jesus on the Damascus road. It was
natural that his stand toward Christians was softened because he
became one of them. However, this man has become someone who willingly
suffered and even rejoiced in suffering (Romans 5:3). His attitude
towards his opponents was very accommodative (Philippians 1:15-18).

Paul attributes his transformation to "grace". He said, "But by the
grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). It was grace that
transformed him, or says that overrode the genetic conditioning of
him. The genes may control our physical look, biological factors and
our behaviour but grace that is available to us overrides "genes".
Grace is that divine element in our life, which is solely available
with God and is given to us as he wills.

So many people with inherited diseases were healed by the miraculous
intervention of God without any genetic modification. The Gospel of
grace has transformed people with criminal inclinations and who have
served prison terms to people who serve humanity sacrificially. Here
also grace has overtaken genes. The greatest of these is that change
in character that grace can bring about. Jesus Christ has ushered in
this new possibility that makes new persons out of the old; that is
called of the grace of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

True Spirituality and the Vision of Peace

Terrorists who have some religious associations give religions a bad name. Recent events like the attack on Mumbai (26/11) make us think if religions promote violence only. However, the picture is far from truth.

There are narratives of conflicts, violence and bloody battle accounts in the Bible. This makes some think that Bible promotes violence. However, they miss out the many visions of peace that the bible have. One such vision is found in the prophecy of Isaiah in the second chapter. Part of this vision is inscribed on the walls of the UN building in New York: "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).

This probably was a very popular vision about the future in those days since another prophet by the name Micah also has this in his book (Micah 4:3). Thus it should rather be called a shared vision of the prophets of the Bible in the eighth century BC.

This is a vision of peace but not just a vision of peace. Here is a vision of people of every nation dropping their weapons and bringing to an end war between them. This is not just temporary cease-fire but a permanent cessation of hostilities, as they will not be training their future generations for war. We would expect them to pile up all their weapons and set fire. The uniqueness of this vision is that it takes us beyond cessation of violence to peace and prosperity. The weapons of war will be transformed into tools of production as swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into hooks to prune fig and olive trees.

It was in a very difficult time in world history this vision of peace and development was given. It was eight century BC when the Assyrian empire was ravaging the world conquering nations after nations through bloody battles and displacing people. To add to the misery of the common man, smaller nations were instigated by superpowers like ancient Egypt and Assyria to fight among them. Violence had reduced the population in many of these countries considerably. The audacity of the vision is that it could see peace in the context of conflict and violence giving way to prosperity.

We live in a violent world, a world of uncertainties and a world of hatred that breed irrational violence. Recent experiences in India and the world over have made us to associate violence with religion. The reason for this association is that perpetrators of violence take on themselves label of some religion. The opening lines of this vision speaks about people from all over the world seeking after God and their spiritual search leads them to a longing for peace. True religion is thus a stimulus for peace and prosperity and not the other way round.

It is possible to imagine a world without violence. It is still possible to long for a world where violence will end and peace and prosperity will enter. However, this new world is not a world without God or spirituality but one of true spirituality. Perpetrators of violence have given religion a bad name, but true religion that promotes peace and prosperity is still the hope of our world.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Singing under the Wings

As a little boy I have seen mother hens protecting their little chicks. The chicks are small balls of flesh and feather that so tender that looks like fur on them. They will be around the mother exploring their world and gobbling worms mother has found for them and chirping happily. It is a noisy scene. As soon as the mother hen detects the presence of a predator bird it makes a particular sound. It is a warning and the little chicks run to find shelter under the wings of their mother. The mother sits firmly on the ground protecting her little chicks who has sought shelter inside her wings. There is absolute silence; not a single chick dares to make a sound. Singing under the wings is dangerous! Moreover, it takes a lot of courage to do that when the predator bird is still hovering over.

One of the powerful imageries of the Bible is that of God as the mother hen who protects his children under his wings in times of trouble. Boaz uses this imagery when he talks about Ruth joining the people of Israel. He said, "Yahweh recompense your work, and a full reward be given you of Yahweh, the God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to take refuge" (Ruth 2:12). Psalmists used this imagery when they prayed to God for protection: "Keep me as the apple of your eye; Hide me under the shadow of your wings..." (Psalms 17:8; See also Psalm 36:7; Psalm 57:1; Psalm 61:4).

However, the Psalmist in 63:7 is different. He says, "Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings" (Psalms 63:7). (Some translations may have "rejoice" but the word here means "singing for joy".) He is rather a very bold chick. He sings while hiding himself under the wings of God, his mother and protector. Any chick should know that singing while under the wings is dangerous. Silence is number one safety rule.

The psalmist stretches the imagery a little beyond the real situation to make a statement of faith. The chicks find shelter under the wings of the mother out of fear. They remain under the wings of the mother out of fear. However, they are safe, there is nothing to fear. They are silent out of fear though no predator can snatch them out of the security of the mother's wings. Then why not sing? It requires some trust in their mother's power to protect them. That is what exactly the psalmist feels knowing God as his "helper".

A joyful Christian life proceeds from a trust in God's power to protect us. Disciples of Christ can be joyful at all times, even at the most dangerous moments of life if they know under whose wings they have found shelter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Perching on Scarecrows

Faith loves to perch on scarecrows. Scarecrows are placed in farms to scare the birds away. Birds avoid the farms where they find a scarecrow, even though the scarecrows only have a very remote resemblance to human beings and are unable to do any harm. The wise birds are wise enough to know that they are just hay for the body, a broken pot for the head and stay where the farmer placed them. They also know that wherever there is a scarecrow there is something to be eaten; nobody places a scarecrow where nothing is grown. Instead of being scared away they love to land on the scarecrows and enjoy the feast. That's the difference between faith and fear.
The psalmist declares that when she is afraid she will trust in God (Psalm 56:3-4). "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. In God, I praise his word. In God, I put my trust." However, this faith makes her to challenge the frightening situations, "What can mortals do to me?" (Psalm 56:11 and also Psalm 56:4). Faith in God and fear of human beings are mutually exclusive. Faith does not run away, but would stay and challenge the situation.

Nehemiah had to face difficult situations that his adversaries created to stop the work he was doing. Nothing would deter him from his work. In Nehemiah 6:9-14 we read of an attempt to frighten Nehemiah the man of faith. However, Nehemiah discerned that these are only scarecrows! It was an attempt to humiliate the man of God. He was advised to flee for his life and find shelter in the temple. He refused to act according to their advice. He said, "Should such a man as I flee? and who is there that, being such as I, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in" (Nehemiah 6:11). Nehemiah landed on the scarecrow instead of flying away at the sight of it.

Landing on scarecrows is not that easy. First of all one has to be able to tell a scarecrow from a real human, armed watchman! Otherwise landing could be fatal. It requires discernment that comes from faith in God. Nehemiah's courage did not come from his guts but from his faith in God. "I discerned, and, behold, God had not sent him; but he pronounced this prophecy against me: and Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him" (Nehemiah 6:11). This is true in the case of the Psalmist also who said, " When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. In God, I praise his word. In God, I put my trust" (Psalm 56:3-4).

Frightening situations in various forms prop up in every day life. It could range from discouraging words and intimidation to serious threats. However, no threat can last longer than the one who threatens. Faith looks at them as coming from "mere mortals" and trusts in God who is "immortal". Courage to face frightening situations comes from faith in God whom we should take more seriously than those who create trouble for us. They are only scarecrows; land on them, there must be something around them that you may enjoy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Making the Right Choice

Jesus' question in Mark 10:51 "What do you want me to do for you?" is baffling. Jesus knows everything, moreover the man who is crying to him is obviously blind and needs healing. Why then this question; Jesus cannot be that dumb!

The blind beggar in Jericho (Mark 10:46-52) was engaged in something demeaning. His name is mentioned in the Bible as Bartimaeus, which means son of honor. Though "a son of honor" he was doing the most dishonorable profession of begging in the city of Jericho. When Jesus met him he was begging. His style of begging (like all beggars do) is to catch people's attention by crying loud "have mercy on me" so that they can throw a coin in to his bowl.

He did the same thing when Jesus passed by in the company of a large crowd. This time he did not just cry "have mercy on me" but was more specific because his plea was aimed at Jesus and not the crowd. He cries, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
However, it is the plea of a beggar. That is how the crowd who rebuked him to keep quiet took it. He should not nag Jesus for a coin! No beggar should bother Jesus, he has greater things to attend to! However, Jesus stopped, knowing that in that plea there is something more than a beggar's longing for a coin.

The crowd (who earlier tried to stop him) now encouraged him to walk towards Jesus saying "cheer up! On your feet! He is calling you." Probably, they might have thought that Jesus is going to give him a considerable amount.
The possibilities were limited: a donation to a beggar and nothing more. That's all that we can think at the moment. Even Bartimaeus cry was ambiguous. That's what makes Jesus ask him specifically: "what do you want me to do for you?" That is to ask, "Do you want a coin, another donation?" or something else. The beggar's answer was specific: "Rabbi, I want to see". Jesus can do both, he can toss a coin into the beggar's bowl. Any one who has coin to give away can do that. However, Jesus can also do something else; that is to deal with his problem at its root.

Jesus demands us always to make that choice. Do we want Jesus to deal with our immediate, felt needs alone, or work at the root of our problems. A coin or two that Jesus could toss in to his bowl may make him happy for a day. However, dealing with his blindness, the reason for being a beggar will change his stigma of a beggar and bring the honor back to him. Bartimaues made the wise choice and challenges us to make a wise choice in our lives too. Jesus poses the question to us because we are the ones who should make that choice.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Understanding Christian Persecution in India

Tolerance is allowing different viewpoints to exist and thrive without
causing them any harm. It comes from respect and love for the
different views. Tolerance is possible even if the opposite point of
view may hurt our views and may threaten the existence of ours. Often
times we mistake accommodation for tolerance ignoring the subtle
difference between the two. Accommodating is an outcome of tolerance
but need not always be. Usually we can accommodate what we can put up
with but it is difficult to accommodate anything that is not congenial.
The other day while watching the National Geographic channel I came
across a leopard and a young gazelle. The gazelle was just born and
has just been able to stand on its feet. The leopard had it between
its front legs; the young gazelle looked fearless, the leopard was
unconcerned and was looking elsewhere as if he was not interested in
the tender prey. It presented the picture of the peace that prophet
Isaiah had prophesied about when the lion and lamb will graze together.
However, the scenario changed as the young gazelle took to its feet
and ran! The leopard caught the gazelle after short chase and killed
it. As long as the gazelle was not challenging it and was submissive
the leopard was willing to accommodate it. The leopard is not willing
to tolerate a gazelle that will challenge it.
Persecution against Christians in India has to be understood within
this framework. Majority Hindus are tolerant, however, there was a few
were willing to accommodate it and still another smaller group who
were not willing to tolerate or even to accommodate it. Thus two
sections have now turned against Christians in India: those who were
willing to accommodate it have realized that Christian faith is
something to be wiped out and persecution is the best means to wipe it
out. The third group has always been against anything other than their
faith and opposed to it and Christians as a vibrant religious group
was always at the receiving end of their wrath.
Christian persecution has reached a new high these days since those
who were just accommodating Christian faith (the world thought they
were tolerant) and those who were eternally opposed to it has joined
forces against Christian faith. This new scenario makes all those
believe in the peaceful existence of different religious faiths worried.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Faithfulness of God and of Us

She was young, beautiful, and healthy and she had a loving husband.
The car accident changed all that. She was in hospital for many months
fighting for her life. She survived finally but as an invalid,
paralysed waste down and limited to her wheelchair. That was the end
of her marriage too as her husband walked away from her life. The
marriage covenant that they made to stick to each other "until death
part us" was broken. It was a test of her husband's faithfulness to
the marriage promise. Marriage is most evidently the area where
faithfulness is tested. Relationship outside marriage where
faithfulness is divided is common these days. However, faithfulness is
indivisible, it is exclusive, whether it is faithfulness in marriage
or in any other areas.

If we search for a perfect example of faithfulness we will arrive at
the biblical image of God as the faithful God. In the Bible, God is
given as the model of faithfulness. God's faithfulness is what we are
expected to follow.
First of all God's faithfulness is not time bound. The Book of
Deuteronomy calls God "the faithful God" and describes him as faithful
to a thousand generations (Deut 7:9). The writer who knew Israel's
history well has already either witnessed or heard about God's
faithfulness for generations beginning with Abraham and all
patriarchs. For that person the history of his people for centuries
has been a history of God's faithfulness that they experienced. He was
sure that this faithfulness would continue.

Secondly, God's faithfulness is not reciprocal; God does not make any
demand from the other party to be faithful. Human faithful is
reciprocal, it operates around the principle, "If you scratch my back,
then I will scratch my back". We cease to be faithful to those who are
unfaithful to us. However, God is different "If we are faithless, He
remains faithful. He can't deny himself" (2 Tim 2:13).

Finally, (though the list is not exhaustive) God is most reliable
(faithful) in the most unreliable circumstances. Saint Peter writing
to the persecuted churches wrote that those who suffer should entrust
their souls to God who is the "faithful creator". God is the only one
a person can trust in the most trying circumstances. The reason for
this trust is that God will never allow us to suffer more than what we
can endure and in every trying circumstances God always made
provisions for exit. Saint Paul says: "No temptation has taken you
except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you
to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation
also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor
10:13). Those who suffer according to the will of God is protected by
a faithful creator.

It may not be possible to follow God's example in all its perfection;
however, it is still the model and inspiration. Faithfulness to
marriage partners need to be undivided and should last until both
partners are alive, not just when they are healthy and prosperous.
Faithfulness to each other (spouses, friends, colleagues, etc) should
survive beyond the difficult times in the life of one person. All of
us need to strive to be faithful, even when faithfulness is not
reciprocated. God will do that, God expects us to do that.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Props-Free Spirituality

One of the remarkable features of the Judeo-Christian religions
including Islam is the ban on idols. The Jewish scriptures prohibit
the making of idols and the worship of any objects representing God.
Biblical Christianity has continued the same tradition. Islam standing
in the same religious traditions has the same emphasis. However, this
never banned art from these religions. Christian church has a great
tradition of promoting sculpture and painting. Islamic art is also rich.

Nevertheless, some Christian churches have gone quite far from its
original ethos of an iconoclastic religion to the veneration of the
cross and praying before the images of saints. Those who use idols or
images in worship argue that these help in focussing their thoughts on
God. The argument is that the worship is not offered to the idols but
to the deity represented by the idols.
Biblical Christianity, however, advocate a spirituality that does not
require crutches. Their object of worship is Jesus Christ. None of the
images of Jesus Christ whether sculpted or painted represent the real
Jesus who walked on the face of this earth 2000 years ago. No one made
a portrait of him while he was alive. We do have a description of
Jesus by an eyewitness historian Josephus, but he does not describe
the features of Jesus in details enough to make a sketch of him.

It was easier for those disciples of Jesus who have seen him to love
and rejoice in him. Love and joy are the two important expressions of
spirituality. However, Christianity continued to spread to nations and
to people who in space and time stand quite far from the historical
Jesus. It is true that there are Christians who would stand before a
crucifix or the icon of Infant Jesus to offer their prayers. At the
same time, there are millions of Christians who relate to Jesus
without any of these props. Icons entered Christianity much late, but
early Christians who lived in the days of Saint Peter, who haven't
seen Jesus nor a picture of him continued their worship of Jesus
without any of these. Peter's commendation of them is remarkable. He
describes Jesus as the one, "… whom not having known you love; in
whom, though now you don't see him, yet believing, you rejoice greatly
with joy unspeakable and full of glory— " (1 Pet 1:8). This is the
essence of Christian spirituality: love, faith and joy in the one whom
we worship, though the object of worship is invisible!

I feel icons though may be of some use to focus my thoughts, limits my
adoration of Jesus. It brings down Jesus to the level of a tangible
object; he is much more than that. Icons eclipse the real Jesus my
Lord from me by standing in between. Moreover, I do not need them as
long as I can relate to Jesus by faith and love him, and rejoice in
him. A props-free spirituality, which senses Jesus' present all around
us, able to immerse in his love made manifest in our lives daily is
what we should be heading for.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How far is my neighbour?

"Love your neighbour as yourself" has been a great teaching that no pious Jew ever questioned. However, the range of its meaning was certainly in doubt. That is why a lawyer once stood up in one of the teaching sessions of Jesus and asked, "Who is my neighbour?" (Luke 10:29).

The story that Jesus told him was to illustrate the meaning of neighbor. He told him the story that we now call the Story of the Good Samaritan. There was a man who was attacked by the robbers who left him on the road that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho to die. All sorts of people passed by this man but no one except a Samaritan helped him and saved his life. The priest and the Levite who passed him by without lending him any help were closer to him in every way. They were from the same race (Jews) and belonged to the same religion (Judaism) and most probably lived somewhere around that area. However, as far as Jews are concerned the Samaritan was an outcast and foreigner. He must have lived in the territory of the Samaritans, which was further north of Jerusalem. After concluding his story, Jesus posed this question: "Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?" This question implies that there is a distinction between two realities. One is to have a neighbour, and another is being a neighbor.

Having a neighbour is decided by the physical proximity; however, being a neighbour is being there for a person when he is in need disregarding all sorts of distance. Living in a Jewish neighbourhood, the lawyer could only extend his love only to another Jewish person (or to a lawyer if he lived in the Lawyers Campus) who lived next door or just across the street. For the priest and the Levite the man on the road was not his neighbour though he was a fellow Jew, because they did not live in the same neighborhood.

Jesus redefined love to neighbours by defining what it means to be a neighbour. By extending our love to all those who are in need we become a neighbour to them. They may be living miles away from me in the poorest countries of the world, or the poorest sections of my own country but I have to be a neighbour to them by extending my love and care to them. For Jesus, a person's need is what brings that person to the neighbourhood of my love. It is a challenge to extend our love beyond our own neighbourhoods of religion, caste, nationalities to all those who suffer.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why Christians are Compelled to Serve

Down through the centuries the followers of Christ have set examples of being kind through their service to humanity all over the world. Numerous hospitals, orphanages, schools and colleges in places where there was no health care and proper education are examples of kindness that is integral to the followers of Christ.
Kindness is love in action. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 Saint Paul wrote, "Love is patient and is kind...." If Christian love is a coin, then patience and kindness are the two sides of that coin. A coin cannot exist unless it has two sides! This also means that the real kindness proceeds from the real love. What type of love would produce kindness?
First of all, there is contemplative love, where love is a feeling. This love, seeks and cherishes all that is lovable. Human beings has the tremendous capacity to love anything even animals of different kinds. Humans are the only creatures who keep pets! It does not move beyond the thoughts or feelings of love to action. Contemplative love is thus impotent. Sudhiir Kakar retells the story of dog-couple in one of his books. One day the bitch was killed and its body was lying on the road. Its partner came along and saw the lifeless body of his partner, sniffed it and then walked away. Later that dog was found in the company of another bitch. Contemplative love is nothing beyond the love this dog showed. The followers of Christ who busied themselves in serving humanity cherished a love that springs in to action.
Secondly, there is the congenial love which is love for the things that a person likes or of the same kind. Congenial love cannot love persons of different likes, looks or class. Though congenial love may be lavished on the persons whom we like, particularly our own people it does not go beyond cross the barrier of race, culture or language. It may also express itself as xenophobia. The disciples of Jesus who travelled across the nations to serve the poor and the needy of people other than their own showed a different type of love.
Thirdly, there is the outgoing love. This love goes beyond feelings to action, is not limited to people of ones like, and looks. God, by loving the entire fallen humanity shows this love. As Jesus puts it, he is a God who "... makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust" (Matt 5:48). God's love is outgoing love, which Jesus exemplifies. Jesus' miracles were not merely displays of his power but acts of kindness, which spring from his outgoing love. Jesus did not just feel sorry for the sick (contemplative love), but he healed the sick (act of kindness). Jesus did not heal only the Jews (his own people) but all sorts of people. It included Samaritans (Luke 17), Syrophoenicians (Mark 7:26), Romans (Matthew 8) and all.
This is the secret of kindness, which is the Fruit of the Spirit; an outgoing love which God's only Son showed by his coming to a people who are not his kind, rendering service which they did not deserve and dying a death which they should have died! This explains acts of kindness followers of Christ showed and should be the model for Christians today.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Masks Modern Christians Wear

The life of and life in modern Christian churches, with all the dissensions, hatred and disunity is certainly shameful. That is not what Christians are called to, they are called to produce the fruit of the Spirit.
Fruit of the Spirit is the natural outcome of a Spirit-led life. It is characterisctic of a Spirit-filled life. The foremost of this is love (Gal 5:22). Though Paul listed love in Galatians 5:22 he best exposits it in his first correspondence to the church in Corinth. Love is the hallmark of Christ-disciples: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Three redherrings of true love are spirituality, charity and self-sacrifice" (John 13:35).
However, Christians tend to wear different masks that look like love which Paul criticizes very caustically in the great poem on love in 1 Corinthians 13. First of these masks is false spirituality. Christians who fail to love each other as Christ loved them tend to wear a mask of spirituality. This comes usually in the form of high spiritual gifts like, speaking in heavenly languages, prophecy, and claims of miracles. Even if these claims are true, they are useless unless they proceed from lives that are saturated with the love of Christ and is able to pour that love out to others. Such lives are lifeless as "sounding brass" or "claning symbols", makes noise but lifeless!
Second mask that they  use to cover their loveless lives is charity. To be at the service of the poor and needy is often considered as acts of love, but may not. I once saw a lady running after a begger to give him an apple from her shopping bag. It is evening, and her religion requires that she should do some good thing each day to earn merits before her gods. It is not really love that drove her but her own selfish spiritual interest. Christians need not be different, most social service need not be out of love, but fund-driven or for a good name in society. I don't intend to look down upon people who sacrifice for the poor out of genuine love.
Third mask is self-sacrifice. Pauls mentions the extreme self-sacrifice of letting oneself to be burnt at the stake (one of the means of persecution in early Christian period). Just because a person denies his body, chastises himself does not mean that s/he is doing it out of love. The Bible insists in this passage (1 Cor 13:3) that giving and even self-molesting for the sake of charity is useless if there is no real love.
Christians are expected to "serve one another in love" (Gal 5:13). For that we need to rip these mask off. Lack of love leads them to behave like animals who "bite and devour" each other (Gal 5:15). These two verses in Galatians which serve as introduction to the discussion on the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Gal 5:22-23 explains why so we face so much of disunity and hatred in modern churches.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Planning and Goal-setting Redefined

Death speaks volumes and we tend to listen more carefully to our dear ones at the death than when they were alive. In the recent past, four deaths spoke to me powerfully. One is of my friend who died suddenly before reaching the fiftieth birthday. A man of full of plans, things lined up to do for God was suddenly called to glory. The other was the death of a two little children of my Sunday school aged eleven and nine years in a road accident. Their dad, a cousin and the cousin's granddad also died in the same accident. It was very painful to watch two kids and their dad aged just 38 lowered to the same grave in three coffins to be laid side by side. They had dreams, plans and aspirations for life, but God had different plans and none of us could question his plans nor should stop him doing what he willed for them.
I had to take a serious look at my life. I have plans, most of them are certainly things that I want to do for God. However, every planning requires some assurance of the span of time available. That is where the issue is. I but can't really have any definite plans until I know how much time I have. That is where the hitch is: I am not in charge of my lifespan. That is decided not by me but my creator, God.
Does that mean that I should not make any plans? Certainly not. Without plans my life will be disorganized, I will be without goals in life and eventually no achievements in life. I will be just floating aimlessly and then rust away. I need a plan for the day when I get up, that is what gives me reason to roll out of my bed every morning. I should achieve something before I go to bed, that is what gives me fulfilment in life. Many such days make up my months and many such months of planned, ordered and goal-oriented life should make up my life.
Actually, every one of us should have long-term plans. Goals to reach on a longer span of time: for a year, may be five-year plans, etc. Then these are broken up into smaller achievable goals for the months and days. However, when we make a five-year plan or even set goals for the current month, we should know that the month does not belong to us; even the given day!
We read in the Epistle of James (James 4:13), "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow let’s go into this city, and spend a year there, trade, and make a profit.' Whereas you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For what is your life? For you are a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away."
When Apostle James penned these lines, he was not against planning and goal setting. He was not a pessimist at all. He then goes on to the next verse to tell us an important truth that our planning should also take account of the fact that all plans ought to be within the will of God. He continues in Verse 15, "For you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will both live, and do this or that.”" This type of conditional planning, that is plans surrendered to the supreme will of God is what God expects from those who love him. Such planning and goal setting accepts him as the author and sovereign over our life.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Know where you are going!

But before we take our journey to that side of the grave we need to make sure where we are going. Please make sure where you will end up before that transfer from this life to the other happens.

A few days back, a teenager in Pune killed himself by hanging. He was from a well-to-do family happy family, got a lot of love and care from his elder sisters and brothers. However, he decided to die just to satisfy his curiosity. A lesson in his Marathi textbook about the martyrdom of India's freedom fighters made him curious about death. He used to ask his parents and teachers what happens after death. The answer his parents of this Hindu boy gave seems not to have satisfied him nor of his teacher. Finally, he decided to find out by himself. The police told the press that he committed suicide in order to find out for himself what happens after death. When he killed himself, he was not sure where he was going and what is going to happen to him.

People were always fascinated by what happens after death. Nobody were ever able to return to life and report back to us what is there beyond death. This adds to the curiosity. However the Bible doesn't leave us confused. It is very clear that, "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him" (Hebrews 9:27-28).

Death is inevitable and Bible makes it very clear what happens after death. One thing that is certain about death is a judgment that is waiting for all. Those who put their trust in Christ will pass on to a life of continually enjoying the presence of God and others to eternal condemnation. However, what decides what type of life waits for us there is how we take the life on this side of eternity. This life is our opportunity to grab the great salvation that Christ has offered to us through is death on the cross.

But before we take our journey to that side of the grave we need to make sure where we are going. Please make sure where you will end up before that transfer from this life to the other happens.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Apprentice of the Gospel

"But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel" (Philippians 2:22)

Great leaders are not always born but nurtured by people whom God had blessed with grace, wisdom and experience. However, an attitude of submission, obedience and willingness to learn is what is expected of those who would like to be used by God.

The house where my parents live was built long before I was born. However, I have memories of this house being renovated to add two new rooms: one on the first floor which later became my room. The carpentry team consisted of a father and his two sons; both sons were married and had small children. The father had the drawings and consulted my father occasionally and the sons just took instructions from their father and slogged. The father would take break from hammering the chisel on the wood occasionally, have a smoke and walk around the structure that is coming up. The sons worked silently, until their father allowed them to stop and have a break. At the end of each day, the father collected the wage for the team.

By the time we had another renovation of our house the father had died. The two sons are no living in their own houses and had their independent carpentry shops. My father had a tough time to decide to which of the two sons he should give the work. He finally chose the "best son", meaning the son he thought would do a work as efficiently as his father. Thus he became our "resident carpenter" for years. The story continues: he came with his sons, the sons took orders from their father and learnt from him and in the course became the best carpenters in our village.

The relationship of Timothy with Paul was one of "father and son". However, Timothy was not Paul's biological son. Paul had led Timothy to faith in Christ and became his "spiritual" father. However, in this passage there is a new dimension to their relationship. That is the relationship of a father and son as far as their occupation is concerned. In the gospel work that Paul had immersed himself, Timothy had served him as a son means he had been his apprentice. In the ancient world, the sons learnt a trade from their father and continued the family tradition. We call Jesus the carpenter of Nazareth because he must have (like all boys in Nazareth) learnt the trade of carpentry from his foster father, Joseph who was a carpenter.

Later on, Timothy became a bishop of a congregation and a leader on his own right. However, the beginning was as a submissive apprentice of a godly leader.

Here is an often neglected aspect of Christian ministry. Great leaders are not always born but nurtured by people whom God had blessed with grace, wisdom and experience. However, an attitude of submission, obedience and willingness to learn is what is expected of those who would like to be used by God.

Paulson Pulikottil
Union Biblical Seminary, PB No. 1455, Bibvewadi, Pune, 411037

Monday, January 07, 2008

Secret of Being Used by God

Many of the modern Christian leaders were not physically attractive nor did they come from families of high social or economic standing. They were very ordinary people, from very ordinary circumstances but God used them beyond their limitations. I can think of William Carey who was missionary, bible translator, linguist, and educator. He was an English cobbler! Pandita Ramabhai was a young widow, from a poor Brahmin family and just four-feet tall. William Seymour was a black, son of former slaves, a railway porter and blind in one eye. God used him mightily at the Azusa Street Revival.
How can God use us? The answer to this question can be found in 2 Timothy 2:20-21 where Paul uses the metaphor of pots and pans in a big house.
“In a large house there are articles not only of godl and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanse himself form the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”
A master does not use all the vessels and cutlery in his house. There are at least three conditions for the master to use the articles. First, they should belong to him, secondly they must be useful, and thirdly they must be clean!
The sense of belonging to the Master matters a lot. Paul always identified him as a servant of Jesus Christ. Every follower of Jesus should have this sense of a relationship of belonging to Jesus. Bible describes the relationship between Jesus and his followers using various metaphors: Friends, Servants, Children of God, and Citizens of Heaven… It is this sense of belonging to God and the risen Lord that makes us in the first place worthy to be used by God. Let us make sure that God will not have to borrow an article for his use from elsewhere, but we will be found belonging to Him.
Usefulness is certainly important too. I have at least two penholders on my table and they are full with pens and pencils of all types. However, many times I have to try two or three pens before I can find one that I can use to sign or write. Many of them are there but may not have refills, or have ink dried in them. Just being there in the holder does not matter. That is what Paul highlights by the phrase, “useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (v. 21). It is sad that many Christians find themselves not useful to God when God needs them. We must spiritually stay fit for any work of God when God wants us.
Thirdly, we need to remember that the Master is very strict about cleanliness. He wants all furniture to be polished, floor to be clean, shelves to be dusted; he insists that He will use only those articles that are clean. The call to “flee” in v. 22 is directly linked to being “holy” of v. 21. Personal holiness is a pre-condition for being used by God. God does not use as any condition that we are in; we must be in a condition that God insists on and should certainly meet God’s standards.
Great men and women whom God used had a personal relationship with him, they were useful vessels and they met God’s standards of purity. That is the secret of being used by God.

Being the light of the world

'You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that t...