Thursday, December 31, 2009

Road Map Approved by God

Sometimes we enter streets ignoring signs to realize later that it is a dead end and back track in embarrassment. Sometimes we enter one way roads and may not realize it until we spot the first vehicle in the opposite direction. In sum, we realize that we are in the wrong direction only when faced with the consequences. However, it is important if we knew where the road leads before took the turn to that road and before bumping into something that is disastrous.

Making wrong choices about the direction our life takes is much serious than the analogy used so far. It is okay in driving to enter the wrong roads and to realize that we are wrong direction. We can always take a U-turn or reverse. But life may involve choices of huge consequences as one of my friend recently found out. His family did not realize that the road they have taken will lead them to a financial ruin when they were close to their retirement. Each step in the path was comfortable, there was no warning signs until calamity struck them unaware.

The prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 139:23-24 is helpful here. Most of the translations agree more or less with that of TNIV: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." The word translated "offensive" could also mean "hurtful". These are ways that may lead us to situations that may hurt us.

However, we are limited in our knowledge to know what awaits us at the end of the road. Will it end in situations that may bring deep loss and sorrow? The choice is between ways that leads to sorrow and the one that is ever for good and pleasing to God. However, being lost as to what choice to be made the psalmist will leave it to God. For God is all knowing and all searching God. He has been there before us. That is how the psalmist has portrayed God in this Psalm: a God who knows us from the moment we were formed in the mother's womb. He has been in the world long before us. Just as trekkers would seek the advice of guide who has been there before, we surrender to the eternal God because he has been there much before us. He knows the territory well! Moreover, he can tell us what is going on inside us, in our thoughts!

Searching is a constant activity, each step and every turn in life we need to surrender to God's scrutiny and approval. That is the secret of life that has outcome which is eternal.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Making Our Faith Stainless

Faith of a believer need not always maintain the same level. As the days go by people grow weaker in their faith. This is true of faith as trust, our ability to trust God but also of faith that controls our moral behavior. Faith in Christ has made us new persons, people with a new value system, a new world-view etc. However, this may deteriorate as the days go by. Loss of sensitivity to sin, casual approach spiritual disciplines, general coldness to spiritual matters, lack of love for God and other believers are some of the symptoms of this. This is caused by the overwhelming influence of the world that we live in from which we have made a departure. The kingdom of darkness (the old way of life, values and world-view) hasn't given up the fight and always has been trying to take back the grounds it lost. It is possible that believers of Christ succumb to this. Peter calls this " the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires" (2 Peter 1:4).

Analogy with iron probably may help us to understand this concept. Iron exposed to the elements rusts. When exposed to moist air, a piece of iron forms an oxide which degrades the metal slowly and finally makes it useless as iron. Christians are in the world, susceptible to its temptations, which corrupt the moral dimensions of their faith. Finally, they become one with the world. However, stainless steel never rusts! When 11% Chromium by weight is added to steel to make stainless steel it resists the formation of the oxide and thus rusting. It can withstand corruption.

Peter continues by suggesting how to fight corruption. The same metaphor from metallurgy helps us to understand this. He encourages his readers to "add to" their "faith" (2 Peter 1:5) seven virtues that will fortify their faith just as steel is fortified by Chromium. These virtues are: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love.

Faith as a tool to get things done by God or faith as an identity tag that connects us with a community rusts and turns useless unless it is fortified by Christian virtues. For example, a Christian without self-control would turn to a carnal being very fast. Or a Christians without love for each other puts up a bad show before the world.

Rusting can be prevented by giving the iron a coat of paint! However, the paint also peels off when the elements are harsh on it. Some make futile attempts to protect their faith by a thin coating of outward spirituality. It doesn't help. Iron can also be protected by keeping it away from air and moisture, but such a piece of iron is useless! People have tried to keep their faith uncorrupt through asceticism, by keeping themselves away from the corrupting world. However, taking life taken out off active engagement with the world is useless too. The only option seems to turn our faith to stainless faith, the faith that can stand the world by fortifying it with Christian virtues.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Story of Two Seeds

A life pleasing God has to draw its spiritual nourishment from the Word of God on a daily basis. This is what Peter tries to explain using the metaphor of the seed and sapling. He wrote, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23).

The metaphor is a powerful one. A seed normally has two halves (cotyledon) and a small plant sleeping between them (embryonic leaves and roots). Once it finds favourable conditions like moisture and soil the little sleeping plant begins to grow and peeps out of the cotyledons. The seed divided into two separate pieces by the sprout can be seen on either side of the little sprout. Then it develops small little leaves and runs its roots to the soil. In the entire process, the cotyledon on either side of the sprout provides it with nourishment for this crucial stage of its growth and turning into a sapling. Then once the sprout turns into a sapling the cotyledon (seed for the uninitiated) fall off, with the great sense of self-fulfillment. Their task was to provide nourishment to the sprout until it can develop roots to find food and leaves to process the food. That is the story of the perishable seed.

The sprout grows to a sapling and the sapling to a tree, left to its own fate. It has to find its own nourishment and grow. Finally the tree dies when there is a drought, when the roots cannot find water and nourishment. Or the roots may grow too weak and can't support the tree or find food for it. The tree eventually dies.

The story of the plant growing from the imperishable seed is radically different. The cotyledon provides the nourishment for the sprout to come out of the seed, to grow into a sapling. The sapling develops leaves and has roots but the cotyledon does not fall off. Being imperishable it will remain on the sapling and on the tree for ever. One day the roots may fail or may reach to bad water or dangerous chemicals but the seed (cotyledon) are there still on the tree (unusual in nature) to provide the nourishment.

The Christian life that pleases God is possible because it springs to existence from a different kind of seed which is the Word of God. The Word of God is imperishable and the Christian continues to draw nourishment from it. Many Christian lives shrivel and die in the heat of adversities because they are not drawing nourishment from the Word of God on a daily basis.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Shaky Foundations and Solid Rock

It is in utter dismay that the Psalmist asks, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3) This question has the answer implied in it: there is not much a person can do when the foundations are destroyed!

Foundation is basis of the existence, like a building rests on its firm foundation. A building cannot be hung from thin air! Human life also has many such foundations on which it stands. Good health is a firm foundation. When the health of the breadwinner is affected the family begins to feel the shake and eventual fall. Financial security is certainly an important foundation. I once met a man in his late sixties who lost all his money when the investment company where he invested all his retirement savings collapsed. He did not know what to do for the rest of his life. All that he has saved for the future is gone and he is too old to work.

The factors that shake the foundations are many, but they shake foundations across the board. The foundations of those who love God (the righteous) as well as that of who hate God may also be shaken. The Bible does not teach that there is no suffering for God’s people.

Though the Psalmist presented the question as if it has no answer he does have an answer to his problem. He looks down to see that his foundations are being shaken and in the process of being destroyed. However, he also looks up to heaven to see another firm foundation, which is the throne of God (Psalms 11:4). God’s throne never shaken and will never be destroyed.

Foundations will be shaken and will be destroyed. However, a believer who has made God his foundation and if his security rests on the eternal throne of God never feel the shake when he passes through struggles in life. It is the rule of God in our lives that gives stability to our lives. That is what made the hymn writer sing, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand; All other ground is sinking sand.” (Edward Mote, around 1834).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Betraying our Children

The Psalmist said, “If I had spoken out like that I would have betrayed your children” (Psalms 73:15). This is a confession of a man who reflected on life’s realities and had drawn his own conclusions. He realized that some of his conclusions would have destroyed an entire generation of people.

The psalmist was pondering on the question of why the wicked people prosper while people like him who lead honest life do not fare very well in life. This has led him to conclude that his upright life is a waste of time; he should have tried to be rich and not bothered about being a good person. He said, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments” (Psalms 73:14). However, later on he took his questions to the God and received an entirely new perspective on life. He realized that the prosperity and comforts of the wicked are not permanent. He came to know that paucity with deep devotion to God is more desirable than godless prosperity (Psalms 73:28). This relationship with God is what he would long for than wealth (Psalms 73:25).

Now, having received a new perspective on life he regrets that he harboured wrong thoughts. He also realizes that his wrong conclusions about life would have misguided a generation. In sum, he realizes the potential danger of our human reflections on life that we often jump to disregarding a divine perspective. Human beings are endowed with the power to reason; however, mere human reasoning may not help. We need to know the limits of reason and admit that there is a higher wisdom available with God, which is infallible. The purpose of human reasoning is to find out that divine perspective on life’s issues. However, if we fail to do so we betray our own generation and the generations to come.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Human Possibilities and Divine Potentials

“Take stock of your talents, skills and experience. What are you good at. That is what you should focus on and that is the direction that you should take.” This is a standard advice given to young people who seek direction in their life and career. The best career is something that is in line with what you are good at. No one can question the wisdom in this and that is true when every person is on his own with no help coming from anywhere else.

However, the stories of God’s dealing with individuals in the Bible tells us that when God takes control of a person he takes them beyond their abilities. Moses is a typical example. God called him to do a job where a lot of talking was involved- reasoning, negotiating, teaching, and the list goes on! But when God called him he was not eloquent and was a man who stammerred. God takes that man with speech impediment and takes him beyond that limitation.

What about the «unschooled» fisherman who followed Jesus? For example, Peter turned out to be a great preacher and gave some crucial sermons. Their wisdom surprised the scholars at the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13). God does not look at what we are but what we could be. Being our creator he knows best what he can turn out to be. He will equip us for that and takes us beyond our own limitations.

Trust God to take us beyond our present capabilities to his possibilities.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Handling Abusive Surprise

All these years my work always involved dealing with youth who have left their old ways and made a commitment to follow Christ. Just as old habits die hard, so also the old friends. They have to keep the old companies for various reasons. They live in the same neighbourhood, they are the same college and there could be various ways they share their spaces. There are times of conflict as their conversion brings in new moral demands different from that of their friends. For example, a new believer in Christ who was a chain smoker finds it difficult to keep the friendship of his fellow smokers. Peter wrote to first generation Christians who were in a similar situation: "They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you" (1 Peter 4:4).
Unable to enjoy the company of the new believer, the friends begin to abuse that person. Many of us who had to part with sinful ways of life when we embraced the new life in Christ may still remember some hurting abusive words that we had to endure. However, the encouraging thing is that this abuse is the result of their surprise. Friends who shared their sinful ways with us are surprised that one of them could break away with those ways and start a new life! If our lives have caused that surprise then the abuse can be ignored.

However, this surprise and the abuse may not last long too. Moreover, it may have positive results as this story about a young soldier that I read long time ago illustrates. A young man who lived a very bad life joined the army and there he accepted Jesus as his personal saviour through the army chaplain. A few months later he had to go home and he was afraid that his old friends waiting for his return might drag him back to his life before Christ. His Chaplain had a very good advise for him. He told him not to keep his conversion a secret and let his friends know about it.

As he landed in the railway station he met one of his friends who offered him a cigar as he always used to do. This young man not only politely refused it but also told him that he is a new creation. The friend laughed at him and hurled insults at him as he walked away. Then he meets another friend who invites him to have a drink in order to celebrate his return. He not only refused it but also told him why as a follower of Christ he should not do that. The news spread in his small town that he is different. The prostitute whom he used to visit spotted him in the market and hurled insults at him. As he walked past the pub people came out and made painful comments about him. But nobody dared to force him to get back to the old ways. They had given up on him; that was a new freedom! However, it had a cost: abusive surprise.

If we can give our sinful companions a surprise, then the abuses are worth it. What is important is to shock (or embarrass) them with the radical change in our lives.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Divine Light and Human Flares

Isaiah 50:10-11 gives two options for those want guidance. One is to
depend on the leading of the Lord even though it is darkness around.
The other is to light up one's own flares and find the way through.
"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant?

Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of
the LORD and rely on his God.
But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming
torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you
have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will
lie down in torment."

Flares don't last long and they light up only the surroundings. Since
it lights up the darkness for a while and then dies out, those who
venture into darkness with them may find themselves deep in darkness
when the fuel of the flare is gone. Such people may end up groping in

The other option for those who are in darkness is to trust in the
Lord. Trying to walk in our own light is another word for self-
reliance, which rejects the role of God in our life. This invites
trouble. However, venturing into the darkness knowing God is out there
is faith which honours God.

Nothing illustrates this aspect better than a poem by Minnie Louise
Harkins (1875-1957), which my friend sent to me recently.
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,

'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.
'And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the
hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'
So I went forth and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And he led me towards the hills
and the breaking of day in the lone East.

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...