Monday, December 26, 2016

Consecration for new beginnings

The command to consecrate is found throughout the Old Testament and the Bible in general. The priests are to be consecrated, the place of worship and all its artefacts are to be consecrated. However, the command ‘consecrate yourself’ found in Joshua 3:5 carries a special significance. ‘Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”’
It is a consecration for a special purpose. The reason for this consecration is that tomorrow they are going to see great miracle that God is going to do for them. They are going to cross over to the land that was promised to their ancestors centuries ago. Moreover, they are going to cross over the turbulant waters of Jordan that is overflowing over its banks.
The people whom Joshua addresses are the new generation of Exodus group who are born in the desert, except for Joshua and Caleb. Their parents who left with the hope of reaching the promised land perished in the wilderness unable to see the fulfillment of the promise. That promise was made by God to Abraham almost 500 years ago. God had promised Abraham that he will give his descendants the land of Canaan.
However, about five centuries have elapsed. Now they are at the verge of the fulfilment of that promise. It was 500 years away from Abraham, forty years away for Moses and the original group left Egypt, but for this new group it is less than 24 hours away.
But life has taught all of us that many things could be missed at the last point. In the finals of the sprint event, though we were in the lead all throughout, it was the feet of the person just behind us that touched the line first. We were pushed to second place at that crucial last split second. 
However old be the promise, it can be missed even in the last few hours. These less than 24 hours are crucial. They are going to cross over. Joshua instructs the people, ‘consecrate yourself.’ That is how we prepare ourselves for new beginnings. Another year is almost over, a few more hours remain. These are the hours to consecrate ourselves in order to see the miracles that the Lord is going to showcase before us in the New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2016

'Command me!'

And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ (Matt 14:28-33, ESV).

I have heard preachers say that there is only one person who ever walked over water and that is Jesus. That is an oversimplification and a misreading of the scripture. However, I read Matthew 14:22-33 again to find out that there are two people who really walked on water—Jesus and Peter!

Most of us focus on Peter beginning to drown. However, the scripture passage clearly says that Peter walked over water and reached Jesus. He began to drown only after reaching arms-length from Jesus.

The first step in Peter accomplishing world record as the first human being to walk on water is to be commanded by Jesus. Jesus assured the disciples that it is not a ghost but he himself who is walking on the water. Peter’s immediate response was, ‘Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ Jesus commanded him by saying, ‘come!’ Then Peter steps out to the stormy sea and walks just as Jesus was walking.

For Peter, it was not just a thrill, but it was a test. The test is if it is Jesus and not a ghost who is walking over the water, then his command will make it possible for Peter to walk. The ghost cannot command and make it happen.
Peter has illustrated another aspect of Christian faith. This truth is that we cannot do things unless God has commanded us.

But why did he begin to drown? That is because he was afraid of the wind. He was with Jesus, he is on a firm glassy ground with Jesus. There is nothing to worry but he was afraid of the wind. If we step out on faith in response to his command we do the impossible. Jesus commands and things happen. However, our fear makes us drown.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Salvation: The Great Divine Feast

Every human heart longs for Moksha or salvation. Religions advise us the various means to achieve Moksha. However, the Bible teaches that Moksha is not something to be achieved but to be experienced.
It is all centered on the life of Jesus Christ. The statement that ‘Christ died’ is based on historical facts. No one seems to disagree that there lived a person called Jesus Christ and he was crucified by the Romans at the behest of some Jewish leaders. Biblical revelation goes on to say that his death was in my place for the atonement of my sins. Or in other words, the Bible claims that ‘Jesus died for me.’
The Bible goes on to say that I don’t have to do anything for my own salvation except just believe this truth. Thus, the Bible nullifies every human effort to get salvation by their own effort be it praying at shrines, making pilgrimages, etc.
It is a wonderful truth that God has saved the sinful humanity at the time of the death of Christ and to be born centuries after that event. However, it doesn’t become their experience unless they believe that divine action was for them. So, each individual has to appropriate their salvation by faith. Bible very categorically proclaims this truth: ‘If you believe and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved.’
Salvation or moksha can be compared to a great dish that God has prepared for humanity. It is like a potion that would make us righteous in the eyes of God. This potion will restore a relationship with God that we lost. However, each individual has to drink it. That act of drinking is what is called faith in Jesus or believing that Jesus did what I should have done to achieve my salvation.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Just as I am

In one of his sermons CH Spurgeon talks about a person who wanted to paint a mural in the town-centre. He wanted to portray the typical scene in the life of his city. A must-be character in the mural was certainly the muncipal sweeper. At the request of the painter, the sweeper turned up in the studio ready to pose for the picture. However, he was sent back. He had turned up with a hair-cut, clean-shaven and in his best dress. That is not how the painter wanted him to be in the picture that depicts the life in the town. That is not the way he turns up every day for work in the street.
Our life in the presence of God should be ‘just we are.’ If we do all the tidying up and hide our real self God cannot help us. Obeying the command ‘be holy as I am holy’ begins with an admission of our worthlessness and guilt. That admission is the first step in seeking divine intervention in our lives.
Putting on a pretention is the most dangerous thing to do. When we catch up with friends, we always inquire of their health. However, many of my friends tell me they are fine though they do not appear to be well to me. Then out of love and sometimes out of curiosity, I ask them have they been to doctor recently. In most of the cases, the answer ‘No.’ They had been pretending to be well though they are not. They don’t want anyone to tell them that they are not well. So, they avoid doctor and friends who will tell them they are not well.
Unless sick persons admit that they are sick, they cannot be healed. So is also with God. We need to admit that we need God’s help in our lives. Our life is something that we cannot manage on our own. God call us to come to him and to be clean. ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.’ (Isaiah 1:8).

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Miracle Crusade--Jesus' Style

Have you been to healing or miracle crusades? Or the mega church events when healing is the centrepiece? They claim lots of miracles happening. Most of what I have witnessed have been very silly to be called miracles. In one case, a woman who wears glasses came to the meeting leaving them at home by accident. However, she realised that during the meeting as the preacher was praying that she was able to see without glasses. However, she travelled to the meeting without glasses and found her place in the auditorium without glasses before she received the healing prayer. Though these may sound silly, I will still not discredit miracles and divine healing. A few counterfeits cannot disprove the genuine.
However, there is another kind of miraculous power that these miracle workers exhibit. That is calling out the names of people and their problems. These come in various forms. In some cases, only the problem will be announced. Consider this example:
"There is a person who has severe stomach problem! Come forward? God wants to heal you." Sometimes one person just walks to the front. Others who have the same problem remain in their seats seeing this guy walking up. Usually, they call out most of the sicknesses in the medical dictionary. Once, a preacher called all the people suffering from "fibroids" to stand up to receive healing. Among those who stood up were three or four men. The preacher asked the men to sit down clarifying that it is a disease found only in women.
Calling out names is another tool to impress people. Here is a sampler. "Thomas! You are worried about your future! God want to tell you that all that you need is to put your trust in Him." The crowd cheers, shouting hallelujahs for the great discerning the preacher has! Once, a preacher came to the city where I presently live. There was a mixed crowd of Christians and non-Christians. In the state where I live people of other faiths who become Christian usually do not change their names. So, it is difficult to tell if a person is Christian from their names! The preacher started calling out names during the service! All the names he called out were Christian names. So, that evening, God bypassed believers who carry non-Christian names.
The way of Jesus is different. When the woman with bleeding touched him, he asked who touched him (Mark 5:24-34). Was Jesus ignorant of this woman touching him? Certainly, not. Why didn't Jesus announce her sickness, her name and ask her to come forward so that the crowd may believe?  The answer is simple, he had no need to impress others by his miraculous powers. He had passed that test in the very beginning of his ministry when the Devil tempted him. Spiritual gifts are not for impressing people, it is to glorify God. Next time when you go for a miracle crusade or watching a Christian TV channel don't get discouraged that the preacher did not address you or your problem. Don't get excited as well if that happens. For two reasons: God knows you and your problems well. Second, if the preacher does that, it is not he but the Holy Spirit who enables him to do that. So, return the glory to God.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Walking past the poor and needy.

He used to smile at me and I was prompt in returning that smile. Our relationship ended there. However, one day, I just watched him closely as he walked towards me. The trouser and shirt that he wore did not appear to be made for him. It seemed obvious that it was old clothes altered to fit his body. I noticed that sign of poverty and pondered over it. I never bothered to ask his name.
I wanted to buy him some new clothes that fit him. But had my own apprehensions: will he accept it, will he consider it as too much patronising? What if my judgment of his financial situation was wrong? Will it be taken as an insult? I didn't bother to find out more about him and thus put it all these questions to rest. A few months later he just moved away and I never saw him again.
A few months later I heard the story of a young man dying of cancer. I was told that his family is poor and they cannot afford the treatment. Some people started raising funds to help him. I also made my contribution to the fund. The community that he and me were part of were diligently praying for his healing.
Still a few months later, I was told that the sick young man passed away. They had a memorial for him. As they projected his recent photograph on to the screen I was shocked! That is the same person who used to smile at me wearing old clothes.
He was really poor, could not afford proper clothes and medical treatment. When he walked past me, I ignored him. I feel guilty. There are poor among us, but we just look through them. Never, try to find out anything more about them. It is not just the desire to do good but doing it is important.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Drooping Limbs

Here is this person that I have to deal with every time I visit my bank. He is always at the front desk. The reason for his position could be that he is disabled. He cannot do tasks other than greeting the visitors and helping them to fill out forms. As the result of a stroke, his left hand is paralysed and his speech is impaired. His left hand dangles from the edge of his shoulder. It is practically useless. When he wants to place it on the table he has to use his healthy right hand to lift it. It is so sad.
I used to wonder what is the use of carrying that hand around when it cannot do anything. However, he will not amputate that hand for the simple reason that it is very much part of him. It defines who he is. Without that hand, he will be a single-handed person. Without that hand, his body will lose it symmetry and also beauty. Though useless, he doesn’t ignore it when wearing a shirt. He treats it as a good hand, at least good for a shirt on. It is limited but the right hand is always there for it.
The sight of this man and his hands helps me to understand the biblical metaphor of the body for the Church and each congregation. 1 Corinthians 12 elaborates on the nature, diversity and function of the members of the body of Christ. One of the main foci of this chapter is on the mutual care of the members.
"… there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together." (1 Cor 12:24-25, ESV).
Every congregation has people of diverse character and abilities. This diversity is the advantage. This makes the weak feel secure because they are surrounded by the strong ones. The strong ones feel complete because they have their weaker ones to create a complete picture. They altogether feel happy and looks so beautiful because in spite of weakness and strength, together they are one unified picture and wonderful harmony.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Making the choice between shame and guilt

The massive development that is happening all over my city results in snakes and other wild animals losing their natural habitats and food sources. So, they stray into private properties and gardens to survive.
If you spot a snake in your garden, dial the number of the animal rescue department. They will come with their animal ambulance to take it to the snake sanatorium.
If your neighbourhood has stray dogs all that you have to do is punch the number of this department. If your stars are favourable, they may turn up.
But by the time the dog ambulance is at the gate of the 25 acre campus where I live, all stray dogs disappear! The van comes with the dogs already caught. It is a noisy scene. The captive dogs bark and howl without stop. Maybe they are warning their fellow-creatures to run for their lives. They are concerned that their misfortune should not fall on them too. The stray dogs pick up the signals new prisoners send out.
But the scene in the snake ambulance is different. The captive snakes just huddle together in a corner of the cage. The snake catchers can catch more snakes easily because the captive ones are not sending out any signals to the free ones. The captive snakes don't even realise that they are in danger.
This leads me to a lesson that a wise old man taught me when I was much younger. On my maiden visit to Mumbai a mugger fooled me. With some hand-tricks, he just walked away with my money and gave me an empty wallet. I was so ashamed of myself that I was so easily fooled. So, I kept it as my little secret. But I had to disclose this to a close friend to borrow some money. The friend lent me the money but my little secret became the talk of the town within hours.
The news reached my friend’s father who was my mentor. One day, when I paid him a visit he asked me how did my visit to Mumbai go. I told him that everything was perfect and I really enjoyed it! He prodded further until he got the cat out. I had to tell him how that mugger walked away with my money. Then came the question: ‘Why do you hide this from your friends?’ Obviously, I didn’t have an answer. The old man continued after a contemplative pause. ‘Son!’ He continued. ‘Unless you share what happened to you, your friends will not be watchful. By telling them what happened to you, you help them to watch out and avoid what happened to you in their life.’
He dropped an apple on my head. I wanted to shout, "eureka!" Honest admission of our failures can help others as the captive dogs in the dog van do. They are probably ashamed that they were not smart enough not to be caught. They howl at the top of their voice to warn others to avoid what happened to them. What happened to them is shameful, but they don’t want to be guilty of not warning others. So, it is a narrow choice between shame and guilt. I think in such situations it is better not be guilty.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Why Revival Tarries?

I had been praying for a revival in the Seminary where I teach and the church I minister for a long time. It hasn’t come yet. I got this burden for revival from my teacher. She was a Canadian missionary who taught English at the Seminary where I did my first degree in theology. She stood up in a social gathering to make an announcement. The college was about to be shifted to a new campus about 600-kilometres away in a few months. She said that she is praying for a revival and praying that we will have it before we move to the new campus. It is almost 33 years since we moved to the new campus. Revival is yet to come!
Is God ignoring prayers for revivals? For that to be true we need to conclude that God is against revivals. Certainly not! God always want his people to be spiritually alive and constantly revive themselves. Holy Spirit, the spirit of newness is always with us.
This is simple logic. I won't' buy my son a car until he gets the driving licence. That is when he is ready to drive though he has been asking for it for a long time. I think that is the reason why revival tarries. Revival is certainly God’s plan for his people. God never denies prayer for revivals, but it gets delayed because the potential recipients are not yet ready. I want to emphasise it again—it is not denial but delay and we are responsible for the delay. Revival will come only when we are ready.
A review of the history of revivals tells us that that is how it always happened. Revivals always happened only through people who were waiting for it. Take, for example, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the 120 gathered in Jerusalem. Jesus had directed them ‘to wait for the promise of the Father’ (Acts 1:4). Waiting, they did! They went to the upper-room, they were in one accord and devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). Finally, when they were ‘altogether in one place’ in the same upper-room the Spirit was poured out on them on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
This pattern of waiting and preparation in prayer along with a longing for revival is behind all revivals. Sometimes God prepares them in strange ways. For example, the Ao Naga revivals in India was possible because a tribal chief dead and gone had prophesied that a man with white skin will come and preach about a new god and they have to follow that God. The people were waiting for the man with white skin to come and preach for years. The tribal memory of this prophecy was like a piece of charcoal soaked in fuel, ready to catch fire. It caught fire and covered the entire Ao Naga tribe. Now 90% of Nagas are Christians. There are similar stories of God preparing people from Malaysia and other countries.
In any revival, there is a group of people earnestly waiting and praying for it. Prayer and the longing had prepared them to receive it. Then in the process, the revival encompasses in its embrace everyone even its critics. The first flame always fell upon an individual or group who were ready for it. It is like a forest-fire starting beginning with an ember from the bonfire the careless campers didn’t put out. It started really small with a group of people longing for it.
It never happened when people are not ready for it. All that we need to do is to be ready.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Praying is Doing

Our language of prayer has changed dramatically over the years. When people come to us with their problems we used to assure them that we will pray for them. Sometimes, we say ‘I will pray for you’ or sometimes we say, ‘you will be in my prayers.’ In reality, we often fail to keep the promise and forget to pray for them. Still, we keep saying that; it has become part of our formal language, like ‘thank you!’ We say that even when we really don’t mean it. It is like saying ‘good morning’ to our neighbour as we step out of the house in pouring rain on a clouded, bleak morning. So meaningless.
However, many people have polished this language now to be more honest and be real. It is rather popular now to say that ‘you will be in my thoughts’ than ‘in my prayers.’ That helps us to bail ourselves out of the guilt of not praying.

A promise of prayer is sometimes the best way to dismiss responsibility. Many times when we approach authorities and they say that they will pray about it, you can go home pretty sure that you are not going to get it! The language is so corrupt, it is something to hide behind and to dismiss the action.

However, Jesus seems to have given it a new meaning in Matthew 9:38. On his return from preaching the Kingdom of God in the various villages and towns in Galilee, he told his disciples what he saw over there. He had compassion on them since they were helpless like sheep without the shepherd. He also said that the people are ready for the goodnews of the Kingdom. Then he asked them to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ (Matt 9:38).
However, they did not have a prayer meeting after that! In the following verses (which is continuous with the previous, though in a new chapter) Jesus called them and sent them out to the fields that are ‘ready for the harvest.’

What do we make out of this? When Jesus said ‘pray’ to send, he really meant be ready to go! For Jesus, praying is preparation for going and nothing less. It is not praying that people other than the one who pray will go. It is a prayer where the one who prays gets ready to go.

This leads us to conclude that when we pray for something we take up the responsibility for that. For example, when we pray for the poor, we also take up the responsibility to do something about their poverty. Then we may pray for what is beyond our capacity having done what we can. Jesus, when he asks us to pray intends that we get involved first.

Friday, August 05, 2016

The Ready Harvest

Jesus looked at the world around him in a way that is quite different from that of contemporary Christians. In India, Christians are constantly intimidated by the news of persecution of Christians in various parts of the country. Laws that hinder preaching the gospel are passed in many states, pastors are attacked, churches are destroyed, etc. These pieces of news do make us view our world that is hostile to the gospel and the kingdom of God.
However, there is another way of looking at the same world. That is the view of Jesus. Don’t imagine that Jesus’ world was not hostile to him. He was ridiculed, physically attacked, finally killed. Though he had his share of enemies who from the very beginning was plotting to kill him, he looked at the same world as the world ready for the rule of God.
Jesus told his disciples that the world is ready for a big harvest. ‘Do you not say, There are yet four months, then comes the harvest? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.’ (John 4:35, ESV).
It is true that a cereal crop like rice, wheat or barley takes three to four months to grow and ready for harvesting. But when Jesus says that the harvest is ready right then, before four months are over he implied the readiness of human hearts for God. Disciples waiting for the process of growth and fruiting, but Jesus says don’t wait for the process is already over and it is ready.
This is a real challenge. We have to have to have a positive outlook on the world we live. Christians should overcome the negative thinking that everyone out there is looking to kill us. No, they are looking for life. They have questions of life for which they are seeking answers. They have crises in life and are looking for solutions. The bible has the answer to all these but someone should go to them and tell them.
Here is the ready harvest. You will find them in your office floors, in the person sitting in the cabin next to you. Maybe the person sitting near you in the metro every day on the way to office is another heart that is ready for the harvest. If we don’t reap the standing corns of grain will be lost forever. It is time to get to the harvest.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Productive While Waiting

The Second coming of Jesus Christ is not a popular topic these days. Even preachers in premillennial or dispensational etc, also do not seem to talk about it these days.There could be various reasons for this trend. First of all, it seems the satisfaction many Christians feel now in the present world situation. The topic of second coming had served to a large extent to cope with the pain and suffering of the present day. People could live with their sufferings now since better days are coming. Secondly, it has to do with the aversion to the details that the preaching always came with. It seems that people are fed up with the lack of consensus in the identification of the Anti-Christ, number 666, the number 144,000 and such fringe elements. The irrationality and subjectivity of such interpretations are increasingly questioned. Preaching on the second coming in the days gone by focussed on details  for which there are no strong biblical warrants. So, over the years it has become the very unpopular topic.
However, Jesus' own teaching on his second coming was largely ignored. Jesus' second coming is an important part of Christian gospel. As long as we stick to the core teaching on this topic and avoid straying into unwarranted details. Preachers should not preach more than what Jesus preached. They should stick to the core teaching on this topic and avoid straying into unwarranted details.
There are certain things that are central to Jesus' teaching on his second coming. The first is the certainty. He will come. The second is unpredictability. He will come at a time that no one knows.
While teaching about the future of Jerusalem and his second coming Jesus told his disciples three parables in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapters 24-25). These three parables emphasise three aspects of Christian behaviour while waiting for the Lord to come. The first is the parable of the Wicked Servant (), the second being the parable of the ten virgins (), the third being the parable of the talents (). These three emphasise three important things. The parable of the wicked servant warns misbehaviour that results from ignoring the master's coming. The second (story of ten virgins) talks about the possibility of missing the joy of his coming not being ready for it. The third emphasises that the time of waiting is a time of productivity.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Preachers of Vanity

A few Sundays back I visited a large church in a major city of India. I have heard about this church and has been eagerly waiting to be there. As usual, there was ‘praise and worship’, then announcements in video format about the seminars, workshops and a whole lot of activities that the church organises. Then the senior pastor stood up to preach. Before preaching he gave another run-down of the announcements orally.
The preaching was quite long. It was about the place of Israel in the Bible. He started with Abraham, through Egyptian bondage, Exodus all the way to Babylonian captivity and return. It continued further on to the Maccabean revolt, and all the events between the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 68 and then the end of British Mandate and the formation of Israel in 1948. I though he will end there but he went on Camp David agreement, the present situation including the murder of a Jewish girl by a Palestinian which took place a week before. Then the sermon ended with a call to pray for Israel.
I noticed that at least some people in the pews were restless, some were sleeping tight, some were on WhatsApp pretending as if they were looking up bible verses (all that were on the two screens!) While we were walking out my wife asked me will this crowd return next Sunday too, to hear such a sermon? I said ‘yes.’ I will explain why if you would hang on.
Before that, I should narrate another incident. This happened in my church. I invited a guest speaker. I have never heard him before in my life, but he had invited me many times to his church. So, it was a time to reciprocate I thought; moreover, I need a change as well as my congregation too.
To my surprise, the guest preacher stood up and gave us a lecture about how the Bible came to us starting from the manuscripts, editions and translations. The congregation was thoroughly disappointed. My congregation returned the following Sunday because they knew the guest preacher is not going to be there.
In many urban congregations in India, the pulpit tends to lean away from the Bible. There is a conspiracy in the pulpits. That conspiracy is to avoid the Spirit speaking to us. It is a conspiracy to avoid Bible addressing the real issues of life. It is a conspiracy to mute the Word of God so that we don’t want to be rebuked and corrected by God. It is a conspiracy to keep God out of our life.
This conspiracy is carried out by speaking about issues that belong to another realm. To talk about things that do not really matter to our walk with God. In some pulpits, they talk about how to be successful and the like—biblical versions of Shiv Kera, Robin Sharma and others. Five days of the week, committed believers have heard such voices and they have lived it in order to eke out a living in this world. There is an eternity waiting for them. The preacher's responsibility is to guide them to lead their lives in this world with eternity in view.
Week after week the same crowd returns. To learn what they already know. They return to their homes and their offices believing that what they learn and practice in their corporate offices is what the Bible also teaches. They fail to understand that the Bible is not a volume of footnotes to what we know, it is the Word of God that challenges us, to raise us to new levels of understanding of our world and its realities. They fail to know that we are on a journey, a pilgrimage. We are sojourners whose eyes are fixed on a city that has foundations.

Why do they return Sunday after Sunday? Because this higher view is hidden from them. So, they come to satisfy themselves with water that makes them thirst again and bread that only causes more hunger.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Not so powerless!

After sermon last Sunday, we had a brief time of worship and I faced the congregation again. This time, to show a video circulating in my WhatsApp group. The video is about a homeless man who survives on stolen dog food somewhere in the US. I then showed the picture of a 17-year-old and his 80-year-old great-grandmother who lives on the pavement outside our church. The picture was sent by one of our own young members. The boy works in a nearby coffee shop for food for himself and this old lady and lives under a blue plastic sheet on pavement. Much awaited monsoon rain has arrived in the city. Though it brings joy and relief to our hearts, it makes the life of many with leaking roofs and especially who live on the pavement miserable. After speaking about their miserable condition, my moistened eyes scanned the congregation. Mine was not the only pair of eyes that are wet, I was moved to find that many are wiping their eyes. Then, after a brief pause, I continued, 'Brothers and sisters, when it comes to the suffering of this magnitude, being a small church, we are helpless and powerless. All that we can do for them is to have a heart of compassion and pray.' Then we brought the service to a conclusion with prayer and benediction.
As I walked down the aisles after meeting a few people who had come to the front to greet and appreciate the sermon, I noticed a commotion at the entrance of the church. Someone has brought this boy from the street and his old relative to the church. People are all around them. I ordered a coffee and some biscuits and thought my job was over.
The boy said that it is pouring rain outside. One of our church members came forward and offered to take her home. I could not advise her against the decision, or to make her think twice about it. Someone quickly made a rota to feed them.
My wife had a call at night. The new host for this destitute is calling. She lives in an apartment complex. Her neighbours are not happy with her quests. She wants her to find them a place as soon as possible? The following day was busy. My wife called up a Christian Old Age home. They said it is not for people on the street. It is for people who can pay, about Rs 15000 per month. She called up two or three such places--Catholic, Adventist, etc. This time, we were more ecumenical than ever before! Sisters of Charity is full. Some Christian old age homes said that they don't take any who are above sixty.
Helpless, we sat down. Frowning the enthusiasm of the 'immature' members of the church who dragged this old woman, who can hardly walk to the church. Both of us agreed that our youth need more discernment, they jump the gun. That doesn't solve the problem. We need to get this woman and the boy out of our church member's house. We can't take them back to the pavement.
That was the night we thought of an acquaintance who died a month ago. He had lot of dreams for God. But before he could achieve much he died in his sixties. I heard that his son has taken over and continuing the ministry. Someone had told me that they run a home for children and old people. I rang up, but only to be told that they don't take old people who need assistance. However, I was able to convince them.
So, we made the four-hour drive to the home for the destitutes yesterday. On the way, we heard their stories. When the boy was six months old his mother left him with his grandmother never to be traced again. Someone later gave him a black and white picture of his mother which he still keeps in his pocket. After staying with some relatives, he finally came to stay with his great-grandmother. When she was old, her own children evicted her from her house. She could work and earn a living then, so they moved to a small rented hut. The grandson contributed doing small jobs quitting school. Finally, they ended up in the street when they could not pay the rent.
The boy would like to study. He has done up to seventh grade. He loves drawing. He has learned horse-riding. He even came up in the seventh position in a horse race when he was working for a holiday resort on the hills. Though he was in the streets, he has never touched tobacco or drugs. They lived just outside the McDonalds and people gave them the left-overs they had packed to take home. Sometimes, the staff in the Mac also fed them.
The journey was long, but I enjoyed it. The shine in the eyes of the old woman was so brilliant it lighted up the cabin. It was foggy and raining outside with poor visibility. She has never travelled in a car. She looked at her grandson curiously as we overtook a container truck. He explained to her that the 'big-box' has come from a distant country by ship. Then there was oil-tanker, he pointed to a waterfall as we went past it. It seems that she enjoyed the trip.
Finally, we reached our destination and handed over our guests to their new caretakers. While we were filling and signing the documents, the young boy took a walk around the campus that is going to be his home. The old woman sat in a chair with walking club with her eyes still beaming. She will have a roof over her head and meals every day. She will not be hungry anymore and the boy is planning to go to school. In two years time, he will qualify to earn a decent living and lead his own life with dignity.
I came back with one of the kind church members who had accompanied me on the long trip. Before going to bed, I reflected on the last two days. From projecting their images in the church. My concluding words that day kept haunting me. I had told the church, 'When it comes to suffering of this magnitude, all that we can do is pray!' It seems that there was some in my congregation who did not believe what I said. They thought something more can be done. They dragged me into a situation where I had to rethink, there was something more we could do. As Paul said, 'We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.'
We are not alone in doing good things. When my wife took the old woman to a doctor for a certificate, the doctor refused to charge her the fees. He humbly said that it is his contribution to the kindness we show. An old man whom I never met called up to appreciate what we have done for them. He wanted to meet me. It seems that he lived nearby and used to see them on the street every day. On my way back one of the church members called me on the phone to say that he will pay all the expenses involved in this. When I finally reached home there was another surprise. Another church member who missed the church last Sunday and totally unaware of what is going on has contributed Rs 5000 towards the church's charity fund.
I had my lesson. When it comes to the suffering of great magnitude we are not that helpless and powerless as we think. Moreover, we are not alone. We are surrounded by kind people and above all God who makes all things possible is with us. All that we need is a heart of compassion and of faith.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Jesus and Beggers

I am conditioned not to give alms to beggers in the streets or in the trains. The reasons are many. Most of these people are able-bodied and they can work and earn their living. So, instead of giving alms to such beggers I try to support physically challenged people who earn a living through their efforts. I may buy things from them though I may not really need them. I believe everyone should work and make their living. There is another reason too. Giving to a begger is a way of encouraging the wrong system of begging in the streets. I don't want to promote this practice, so I don't give. I also know that there is a lot of cheating in the whole system. Friends who work among street children have told me that most of them have working parents but children just like to beg. It is fun for them! Sometimes, parents encourage this as it brings in some extra income. I am also told that many young woman give birth for the purpose of having a baby to draw more compassion from benefactors. They drug them to look pitiful. They also hire children from parents to carry around in their beegging rounds. Moreover, I give to charity work who identify those who are in real need, so why waste my money on beggers?

There is a lot of evil in the system. I had all my justifications for turning my head away from a beggar or to ask him to leave me alone. However, I have a new perspective now on it after a recent meeting with my spiritual mentor. He is 87 years old; quite an old age to gather so much of wisdom. While he was reminiscing, he just mentioned a verse from the Gospel of Luke in the Holy Bible. Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back."  He was describing a situation when a begger approached him for alms. The begger was not a genuine one, but he gave him something because he just wants to obey Jesus in this matter. Then he told me his policy is 'to give everyone who begs' just because Jesus commands so. Then he said that he does make a distinction in his giving. He may give a smaller sum to those who appears to be not genuine but a substantial amount to those who appear to be genuine.

It challenged me. Who am I to question the system and practice? When the Lord Jesus has said, 'give' I have to give. At the same time, we need to fight against poverty and hunger. Giving alms won't solve the problems but giving alms is certainly the duty of a follower of Christ Jesus.

Jesus and Beggers

I am conditioned not to give alms to beggers in the streets or in the trains. The reasons are many. Most of these people are able-bodied and they can work and earn their living. So, instead of giving alms to such beggers I try to support physically challenged people who earn a living through their efforts. I may buy things from them though I may not really need them. I believe everyone should work and make their living. There is another reason too. Giving to a begger is a way of encouraging the wrong system of begging in the streets. I don't want to promote this practice, so I don't give. I also know that there is a lot of cheating in the whole system. Friends who work among street children have told me that most of them have working parents but children just like to beg. It is fun for them! Sometimes, parents encourage this as it brings in some extra income. I am also told that many young woman give birth for the purpose of having a baby to draw more compassion from benefactors. They drug them to look pitiful. They also hire children from parents to carry around in their beegging rounds. Moreover, I give to charity work who identify those who are in real need, so why waste my money on beggers?

There is a lot of evil in the system. I had all my justifications for turning my head away from a beggar or to ask him to leave me alone. However, I have a new perspective now on it after a recent meeting with my spiritual mentor. He is 87 years old; quite an old age to gather so much of wisdom. While he was reminiscing, he just mentioned a verse from the Gospel of Luke in the Holy Bible. Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back."  He was describing a situation when a begger approached him for alms. The begger was not a genuine one, but he gave him something because he just wants to obey Jesus in this matter. Then he told me his policy is 'to give everyone who begs' just because Jesus commands so. Then he said that he does make a distinction in his giving. He may give a smaller sum to those who appears to be not genuine but a substantial amount to those who appear to be genuine.

It challenged me. Who am I to question the system and practice? When the Lord Jesus has said, 'give' I have to give. At the same time, we need to fight against poverty and hunger. Giving alms won't solve the problems but giving alms is certainly the duty of a follower of Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Unworthy Servants

In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus told a very short parable of a master and his servant. It was a story that everyone who sat around him could easily connect. That is why he introduced it as, 'Will any one of you ... say?' The listeners might have nodded in agreement.
The story is of a person who might have owned a small farm, some sheep and just one servant in charge of all these and his household. Jesus said that when this servant returns from work--may be it ploughing, or tending the sheep--the master will expect him to cook and serve him before he finds sometimes to eat and rest at night. No master will not allow him to take rest when he returns from work. Serving the master is topmost priority. The master will not thank him for the work he done. The servant doesn't expect him to thank him because he has done only what he is supposed to do.
Jesus concluded this short story with an command: 'So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.' (Luke 17:10 ESV).
Jesus was teaching about the relationship between his disciples and God. They should not expect anything from God in return to what they have done for God. They are only following orders and only doing their duties.
The most important lesson here is contrary to the dominant motive of our Christian culture. People follow Christ for favours--healing, prosperity, deliverance. However, the servant here is not expecting any favours from his master but he serves the master because he has received favours from him. Moreover, he is not expecting any more favours than the privilege of serving the master. Serving God for favours and serving God because of the favours are two different things.
The disciples of Christ considered their role as servants of God and Jesus Christ as the most covetable status in the world. There are many metaphors in the Bible that explains the relationship between God and believers--Children of God, friends of Jesus, etc. However, the apostles preferred to describe themselves as 'servants.'
Paul is the one who elaborated the doctrine of adoption that is behind the metaphor of 'children of God.' However, in his epistles he preferred himself to be called, 'servant of Jesus Christ.' John was the beloved disciple of Jesus whom he trusted most, even to entrust his mother's care. However, John preferred to be known as 'servant John.'
The most important observation in this regard is the case of James and Jude. They are considered to be the sons of Jesus' mother Mary. Thus his brothers in his earthly family (Matthew 13:55). However, though they were his brothers and might have spent their childhood and most of their adulthood together they never claimed that status. James would call himself, 'a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ' (James 1:1). Jude would identify him as the brother of James but not of Jesus! He would call him, 'a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James' (Jude 1:1).
Being the servant of God was such a great privilege. The psalmists longed that they would love to dwell in the presence of God even in the capacity of a humble doorkeeper (Ps 84:10).
Jesus' portrayal of the servant is remarkable. No doubt he is the master storyteller. Not a word is found in the mouth of the servant in the story, though some indirect speech is attributed to the master. We get the picture of a silent, uncomplaining, dutiful servant.
The word translated as 'unworthy' or 'unprofitable' has various shades of meaning. It could carry the sense of a person who sold himself into slavery to pay of a financial debt. He owes the master a lot, no claims. There is no better picture than this to represent all of us who are redeemed by Jesus and set free. We are set free to serve God.
The master image suggests that our service to God is a submission to his sovereignty over our lives. Expecting nothing but the opportunity to serve him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Eccentric Employer

The behaviour of the main character in the parable we find in Matthew 20:1–16 is certainly eccentric to a large extent. Though this parable is known popularly as the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, I came accross at least one commentator who suggested that this is the Parable of the Eccentric Employer! I think he is right.
On a surface level reading of the parable we find eccentric behaviour of the master of the vineyard. Normally owners of the vineyard will have an estimate of the work-force that they require and employ people accordingly. Why did this man employ everyone whom he could find. Normal daily work hours are from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. He had employed some people at 6:00 am but still visits the labour market to employ more people every three hours for more times. To add to the argument of eccentricity he employs another batch of workers when there is only one more hour for the bell to go. Not only that, this people employed in the last hour are those left behind. No one employed them--may be they were physically weak, had no skills for the work, or otherwise unemployable. Why did he employ such 'refuse' of the job market?
That is how it is with God. He may appear a bit 'eccentric' to us, who claim to be 'normal.' If God went by the norms and the rules none of us will be found in the Kingdom of God. It is his sheer mercy in going out of the way to find us that we are no the children of God.
There was surprise when the wages were given. First comes those unemployable people who came last to work. Though they came last--may not have done any work at all because by the time they reached the vineyard the bell must have gone--they were the first in the line at the payment counter. When they were given one days full wage (One Denarius) rest were excited. If this master gives away one Denarius for one hour then they will be paid according to the hours they put in. So, the first batch who had worked 12 hours in the scorching sun expected to get 12 Denarius. So, the other batches too. However, all of them were disappointed as they got only one Denarius the wage they had agreed upon. This master is unjust, they rightly concluded. He pays one days full wage to those who worked only an hour. However, the master's argument was valid too. He said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' (Matthew 20:13-15 ESV).
So, that was the secret motive of the Master. He was not concerned about how much work is done and who does it--skilled, muscular people or useless, sloggy guys. It was his 'generosity' that makes him appear to be 'eccentric.'
That is true! Grace doesn't depend on any merit of those who receive it. It is freely given, generously, lavished on those who doesn't deserve it.
A final observation. After concluding the parable Jesus turned to his disciples and said: 'So the last will be first, and the first last' (Matthew 20:16 ESV). This is the second time that he said this the same day. Earlier in the day the young rich man came to him seeking how to enter eternal life. However, he turned back when he was told that he has to sell all that he has and give to the poor. Then in reply to Peter's question Jesus assured his disciples that those who left their property, famiy and friends for the sake of the Kingdom of God will not be losers but will be gainers. They will receive 'a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life' (Matthew 19:29 ESV). He was saying that those who like to keep their wealth will lose eternal life. However, who would risk what they have in this world for the Kingdom of God/Eternal life will not be losers in any sense of the word. He concluded that conversation also in a sentence identical to the one we find in 20:16 in 19:30. "But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
Was Jesus suggesting that those who entered the rule of God earlier than others has some kind of disadvantage? Or was he suggesting that those who came last to his grace has some undue advantage? A new truth emerges when we compare these two passages. The story of the rich youngman and the parable here. On many counts this man is first--his wealth, his spiritual hunger and his status in the society. However, this world which has accorded him the 'first' position will be superceded by another world to come--the Kingdom of God in its fullness or eternal life. In that world/age he will be last. At the same time, those who are last because they suffered loss for the sake of the world to come will be the foremost in the age to come. Jesus spelt that out clearly in Matthew 19:28. 'Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." There is a certain reversal of the order that is going to happen.
Grace may look a bit 'eccentric' because it doesn't follow our rules. That is why grae is grace, otherwise it would be somthing that we can claim or grab from God.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Managing Conflicts

Last week I read a newspaper report about a man who managed a conflict in his village. The high caste people drove his wife away when she went to draw water from the village well. So this man was determined that he wanted to make sure that this humiliation doesn't happen again. His wife should not be at the mercy of others just because she is from a lower caste. So, he went to the nearby town and bought all the equipment (pick-axe, shovel, etc) for digging a well. The following day on for 41 days he started digging in his  backyard. He had to work as a daily wage labourer to earn his living. So, he put in two hours before going to work and two hours after the work digging his well. Finally on the 41st day, to the amazement of his neighbours who laughed at his project and even his wife he struck water. He has his own well! That is how this guy avoided a conflict and kept his dignity. 
Conflicts happen every day. It may be over houses, water taps, etc. What is important is how we manage the conflicts. An incident from the life of the Bible character Abraham illustrates various important aspects of managing conflicts. In the olden days, shepherds in the dry and arid lands of the Middle East had to depend on rain water stored in small underground tanks or wells with springs. Water was precious. Now as the sheep of Abraham and his nephew Lot grew in numbers, a conflict arose over the rights of wells and pasture lands. Lot's shepherds started fights with the workers of Abraham.
No fight is ever good. So, Abraham called his nephew Lot and put forth a suggestion that they should not stay together, it is time to part. However, the only question was how do they divide the land before them. There is another conflict in the offing, they can argue about it or fight over it. But Abraham left the choice to Lot. He was allowed to make his choice and Abraham decided to move to the place that Lot didn't want to. Evidently, Lot chose the best pasture lands with their abundant supply of water and greenery. Abraham moved away to lands that were not so attractive.
The story goes on to tell us that the place that Lot chose was destroyed by fire and Lot had to leave all his possessions behind. He had to run to the safety of the mountains with his unmarried daughters. He also lost his wife in the run to safety. However, Abraham continued to prosper.
Abraham made that rather disadvantageous choice because he put peace before prosperity. He was willing to be a loser for the sake of peace. He could do that because he believed that he is in the hands of an almighty God. Abraham had moved out of Haran (in the present-day Turkey) to wander about through what is now Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine and Egypt as God led him. No arid place will be arid if God is with him.
He may appear to be a loser, but he was not. Rest of Abraham's journey was not merely looking for pasture for his sheep. He made every step in faith claiming the land for his descendants to come. These descendants are the present Israeli's and Arabs. They came to possess the land as Abraham moved on with a promise of God. We read about it in Genesis 13:17. It happened after Abraham chose to be a loser for the sake of peace and his faith in God. God appeared to him to tell him: ‘Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you’ (Gen 13:17 ESV). Lot made the 'wise' choice of greener pastures but it lasted only for a few years before they all went up in smoke. But Abraham decided to wander about through not so green land but God compensated for the apparent losses he suffered for the sake of peace. The story of Abraham once again assures us that those who stand for peace are not ultimately losers since God is on their side. That is why the Bible says, 'blessed are the peace-makers.'

Monday, April 25, 2016

Re-reading the Good Samaritan

The parable of the “Good Samaritan” is a story that is found only in Luke. It is set within a conversation between Jesus and a scholar in Jewish law. That is why the ESV calls that character a “lawyer.” The lawyer’s question “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 ESV). In Judaism attaining “eternal life” is the utmost goal of spiritual life. This question need not be taken as one of the deep spiritual quests because Luke tells us that he was simply trying to “test” Jesus.
However, Jesus did not answer the question directly but shot a question at him so that he had to answer it. The answer is simple, in order to inherit eternal life one has to practice the supreme command to love God and love ones’ neighbour. By the time of Jesus, the Rabbis had agreed that the summary of the Law is the conflation of two commands, one found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and the other one found in Leviticus 19:18. The first one has to do with loving God. The second one has to love one’s neighbour.
That is what the Lawyer recited to Jesus.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself. (Luke 10:27, ESV)
Jesus had affirmed this already in his conversation with another Jewish scholar according to the Gospel of Mark (Mark 12:30). It may look as if the scholar and Jesus have reached a point of agreement but the scholar still insisted knowing who is the neighbour. He was demanding a clear definition of the word “neighbour.” So, he asked Jesus to define who the neighbour is (10:29). There were different interpretations of who the “neighbour” in this command is. However, ancient and modern Rabbis are almost unanimous that the “neighbour” in this command is a fellow Jew.
Jesus told the lawyer the story that we now know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. The story is centred around a man whose identity is not known. All that we are told is that this man took the dangerous road running through the steep wilderness from Jerusalem to Jericho. He was attacked, robbed and wounded and left half-dead by the roadside. A priest and a Levite who came by ignored him. However, a Samaritan whom the Jews consider as an outcast and heretic stopped, gave him the first aid, took him to an inn. He paid an advance to keep this man in the inn and promised to pay the expense in full on his return.
Then Jesus asked the lawyer a question? “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36, ESV)
It is important to notice that Jesus did not answer the lawyer’s question, “who is my neighbour?” By asking him this question after telling the story, Jesus was suggesting that he has to answer a different question. That question is not “who is my neighbour” but “am I a neighbour?” It was a subversive question which demanded a new radical approach to the issue at hand.
Through this parable, Jesus was rewriting the Jewish law and its interpretation in one stroke. Jewish scholars interpreted the “neighbour” differently. But there was a consensus in their approach that the definition of the “neighbour” is crucial to its interpretation. However, Jesus questioned the methodology. It is not the definition of the neighbour that matters but being a neighbour when the situation demands!
Jesus thus demands us to re-imagine ourselves in a world full of need, pain, and injustice. That is the world of the man injured in the attack of robbers. If we limit ourselves to loving our neighbours, we will not be able to reach out to him. In other words, we will not ever enter into the world of those who are oppressed, exploited or otherwise disadvantaged. But being a neighbour opens unending opportunities and challenges in a world of pain for us to serve God’s people. That is what Jesus meant by the story of the Good Samaritan.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My bifocals

I wear bifocals. They are inconvenient in many ways. Being not very patient, I used to run up and down the stairs but I now I don’t. The stairs don’t appear to be the same as they are seen through the bifocals. Experience has taught me to slow down when I approach a step. I learnt that I should not judge reality with my own subjective vision.
Whether it is bifocals or  not, it is important that the glasses are clean. Sometimes, I am so lazy I don’t care to clean my glasses for days at a stretch. Then I wash or wipe it only when the sight is so hazy. A clean pair of glasses is important for clear vision so is clarity in life for judging others. If someone looks not so clean it could be that my view of them is simply hazy.
Whether we wear glasses or not, we don’t have control on our eyes. It is our mind that drives our eyes. Though what we see are accidental, what we gaze upon or doing a double-take is certainly the work of our mind. We can’t blame the glasses for what we chose to delight in seeing.
That is whey Jesus said, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light...” (Matthew 6:22). Jesus was certainly talking about the eye that is driven by our minds, not just the organ. It is true that Jesus used a hyperbole in Matthew 18:9: “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” Though it is a bit of exaggeration to push a point home, the truth remains. It is better to have an eye that causes us to sin than not having.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shameless Prayers

And he said to them, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, “Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything”? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. (Luke 11:5-8 ESV)
The story happens in Palestine of the first century. People set out on their journeys early in the morning before the sun rose and rested at noon till late afternoon. Then they plan their afternoon journey in such a way that they could reach a village where they knew someone before is dark. The traveller in this story might have arrived at midnight because he had to walk past many villages where he knew none to reach this distant village where he had a friend. He must have walked past many villages hoping that at his friend’s place he will find some food and a bed to sleep even at midnight.
Midnight was the awkward time to arrive at anyone’s place in those days. Many of us sleep late, maybe after midnight. The reasons that keep us awake late into midnight are many, besides the lack of discipline. Some of us work when our countrymen sleep because we are taking calls from people on the other side of the globe who are still awake. We have artificial lights which make the night appear as day. Modern amenities keep us awake—we watch TV, we can read late into the night, or engage in activities like having a game of badminton the lighted courts or even go for a swim.
However, the ancient man did not have anything like that. The food is cooked and eaten before sunset. Parents will put your children to bed early; there is no TV that they can watch and no books to read. And even if you have there no light! In the Mediterranean world, people went to work early in the morning to avoid the heat of the sun. So, it is you got to get to bed early at night. If you don’t sleep well after a long day’s work then your life next day is spoiled.
The sleeping friend had valid excuses to deny the request. Not one but four excuses.
  1. Do not bother me. The night is a time of rest after a day of hard work. ‘Let me sleep, man!’
  2. The door is now shut. The doors were heavy and opening them takes effort. The wooden latches that keep the doors closed are also heavy and is not easy to move them. They make a screeching sound.
Children are with him in bed. In ancient Palestine ordinary people lived in one-room houses. Individual bedrooms were a luxury. If he wakes up and open the door then his movements and the screech of the door will wake the children up. He might have taken a lot of effort to put them to sleep if they wake up they may not go back to sleep easily.
People would cook in the morning and go work to their workshops attached to their houses, fields to markets. They would cook for the day since there were no refrigerators to keep the leftovers and no microwaves for to warm up as we do till eternity. However, it is always possible to have leftovers and bread that may last for one or two days after cooking. That fateful night this host had none when the traveller just called in unexpectedly. To bother someone in such a situation is a really bad thing to do. It is immodesty of the highest order.
Hospitality was one of the highest virtues in the ancient world. First of all, if you find a traveller who arrived in the city and has nowhere to go then the person who found him should take him to his house, offer him food and shelter for the night. In bigger and busy towns a traveller may find an inn where they can get these for payment. Travellers who have friends will straight walk to the homes of their friends.
Making some food for the night for the traveller-guest is not the option. Cooking usually took a lot of time in those days. If he began cooking at midnight, it will be almost dawn when he finished. The host and guest cannot sleep and the guest has to set on his journey before the first rays of sunlight to avoid the terror of the heat. The only option then is to go to their neighbours and borrow some food.
Now, let me try to narrate a contemporary parable. You were in a hurry and did not pack your lunch when you sped off to the office. In your hurry, you also left your wallet with all the money and credit cards. On arrival at the office, you realized that the canteen is closed so that you cannot buy food on credit. You had skipped breakfast as well. You are hungry and is at the point of passing out.
In your desperate situation, you see colleagues in the other cabins opening their lunchboxes. Some have gone out to the fast-food shop across the road and got their sandwiches. There is the smell of food all over the place. Your tummy grumbles. What will you do? Will you walk to the person in the next cabin and ask her to share a bit of her sandwich? If you do so will you get a piece of it? Why do you expect that person to give you that? I am pretty sure that if you asked your friend will certainly give you some food out of her lunchbox. The reason is simple—you are so shameless to ask!
Jesus made the same point when he said, ‘I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence’ (Luke 11:8 ESV). The reason for granting is not friendship, that is clear. It was not his persistence since he did not repeat his request. The word translated as ‘impudence’ in ESV is a unique word found here only in the Bible. It means ‘shamelessness’ variously translated as ‘impudence’, ‘importunity’ etc. The word occurs only here in the NT which according to Gringich Lexicon the literal meaning is ‘shamelessness.’ Arland J. Hultgren defines shamelessness as ‘being or acting without sensibility to shame or disgrace.’
It is the shamelessness of the man who approaches a sleeping friend is in focus. This man has no regard for his shame or disgrace. He is not ashamed of bothering a friend. He is not worried about hearing excuses to deny his request. He just approaches him with absolute disregard to all these concerns. What would have happened if the friend did not get up and give him the bread? He will have to return home to face another friend who is hungry and tired. He will lose his face before him. The friend will have to go to bed hungry. That will be the most shameful experience in his life. So, what is better. Tell the visitor there is no bread, have some water and go to bed. Or go and knock at the door of a friend who is likely to have some leftovers? His choices were limited: surrender his dignity before one of them—either the traveller or his friend in the village. He chose the latter, that is the sleeping friend.
Who is the sleeping friend in the parable? The larger context of the parable sheds light on its interpretation. Jesus used the principle of lighter to heavier or simple to complex principle. If earthly friends will budge at the request of a shameless person then how much more will God? God will certainly grant what we ask. The same principle is applied in the saying that follows in 11:13 which reads,
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
The friend in the story is God the father. This story is part of a larger unit which begins in 11:2 and ends 11:13. The Jesus taught them to pray to the Father. Then having told this story he assures them that the heavenly father is much better than all earthly fathers. Luke thus suggests to us that this story (which is unique to him) must be read in the light of father-children relationship that we have with God.
The saying in 11:9-10 also provides an interpretation of the parable. It talks about the certainty of the answer. Those who ask will be given, those who knock will find doors opening, those who seek will find what they are seeking. However, it is not a general principle but works only in the framework of the father-child relationship that we have with God. That is what the context of the parable suggests.
So, the point of the parable is clear. In the context of assurance of being heard (11:9-10) and the confidence that heavenly father is always better than earthly father we don’t have to be ashamed. There is no room for shame because there is no room for fear of consequences. Our dignity is also intact since we are asking our father and not a stranger.
The context of the parable also suggests one more thing. Our requests have to fair and reasonable. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught them to pray for ‘daily bread.’ The man who approached his friend at midnight limited his request to ‘three loaves.’ Scholars point out that three loaves (each loaf the size of a man's palm) are just one serving of food. He was asking just for one meal for one person. Nothing more. It is a fair and reasonable request just as ‘daily bread’ is.
The context of the parable also sheds some light on the nature of the shameless behaviour. Shame is a result of sin, doubt, fear, and lack of intimacy. For example, Adam and Eve never felt shame before their sin, they walked even with God without clothes. They were not hiding they were naked. Shame sets in when we lose confidence in each other. For example, littler children run around the house without any clothes but when the doorbell rings they hide behind the doors. Their shame is relative—not ashamed in the presence of their parents. This means that shamelessness stems from a relationship of intimacy. That is why this parable is sandwiched between two mentions of the father in heaven. The prayer is to the father in heaven—our father and later our heavenly father.
So, our prayer must result from our intimacy with the father, an intimacy that leads to confident shamelessness. Our prayers should be confident—whatever is knocked at will be open and asked for will be given and sought after will be found. Our prayers should be fair and reasonable.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

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Since I am writing on Speaking Tree--the spirituality blogs of the Times of India, this may be updated less frequently. Please follow me to Speaking Tree

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Crime and Punisment--A Contemporary Version

His life is a real life commentary of Proverbs 1:10-19. This passage warns young men to keep away from bad company, especially people who plot violence against others. The first two verses rather summarize the whole:
"My son, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
If they say, Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason; (Proverbs 1:10-11, ESV)."
He was a handsome young man. His good looks and talents had taken him to act on TV serials though he didn't have a career as an actor. He had a good job as a sales manager in a reputed firm.
Everything turned around when his friends decided to take revenge on another person. His friend was offended by this man and they all decided to support their friend who was insulted. Though they probably did not plan it that way their opponent died in the attack.
Then there was arrest, imprisonment, trial, appeals.... The legal juggernaut started rolling but it kept rolling for long years. Finally, it stopped as many of the gang including this young man was acquitted by a higher court. But by the time, it had crushed under its wheels their reputation, their jobs and lot of money.
He had already lost his job during the trials. No one was willing to employ a person once implicated in a crime though he was later exonerated by courts.
He ended up as a cab-driver to provide for his family.
After many years, he invested all his meagre savings for an employment visa in a foreign country and air tickets with the hope of rebooting his life. On the third day of his arrival in that country, he died of a massive heart attack at age 32! He was leaving behind a young wife and two small helpless kids.
The ruin began with a wrong decision, taken under peer pressure, the pressure of bad company. Wisdom is to avoid such company and such counsel. The Bible is not all about life after death, but it also helps us to live our lives here on earth in a meaningful way.
You may like to read rest of the Book of Proverbs and the rest of the Bible as well. It is full of wisdom for us today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The "how" and "what" of life.

What we live our lives for rather than how we lived must have supreme importance. Yes, this statement needs explanation.
Many times the natural tendency is to focus on the standard of our lives than the very purpose for which we live. We worry too much about our dress, food and dwellings. That explains why we buy expensive clothes, like to dine in the best restaurants and keep modifying our houses and buy more gadgets. Dressing in a manner suitable for the job is sometimes forced on us by our employers. We don't think about the effect of food on our performance when we eat, we eat for pleasure mostly.
The goal of life is not the standard of life itself. Quality of life should not be confused with the standard of life. They are diffferent. Quality of life is not decided by the standard of life. However, standard of life should serve the pupose and enhance the quality of life.
I heard this story about Mother Teresa years ago. I am not able to verify the historical facts but even if it is a parable someone made up it has a point. Pope presented Mother Teresa with an expensive car on his visit to Kolkotta. Mother Teresa just waited for the Pope to leave India to auction it out. She never entered that car but used the proceeds from the auction to support her seervice to the poor.
Now, what if she used the car for her work? She could have moved around the slums of Kolkotta in her luxury car. She didn't buy it, he did not covet, it was just a present from a well intentioned person who is wiser than her.
However, life with that car would be a great contradiction for Mother Teresa. It would contradict with the message of simplicity and love that she symbolised. That car would create a gap of light years' length between her and the people who she loved. Her life-style and service will be out of sync with each other. In other words, the standard of her life with that car will destroy the very purpose for which she lived.
So, it comes as a challenge to us to prioritize--how we live and what live for. What we live for must not only have top priority but our lifestyle should be subordinate to it.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Taste and See!

As you walk past the aisles of Duty-Free shops in airports, the sales girls plead to try the new perfume that has just arrived in the shop. Sniff and decide they suggest. At the entrance of the grocery shop is a small counter where sales persons offer you a new type of tea free though in tiny cups. Taste and see if it is better than the teas that you have tasted so far.
Most of the time our choices are not based on our primary experience but hearsay and experiences of others. For example, most of the time our decisions are based on what others suggest or what the brand ambassadors promote. Our decisions should not be based on hearsay but on experience. That applies to Christian faith as well.
The psalmist who sang 'Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good' (Psalms 34:8) was recommending his faith in God. However, his invitation is not to follow his faith blindly but to experience God first before committing. There is some place for the logic 'It works for others so it must work for me too.' However, it should not be based on such blind trust but we should experience God on a one-to-one level. First-hand experience of God is important.

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...