Monday, December 11, 2017

Burning Bushes

'And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.  And Moses said, I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned. (Exodus 3:2-3, ESV)

One thing that Moses learned towards the end of his 40 years of shepherding in the wilderness was that all bushes may not be consumed by fire. He had seen a lot of bushes, most are eaten by his sheep as they pass by. Some cath fire and reduce themselves to ashes.
He probably might have watched this bush on fire but he paid no attention; he dismissed it as another bush on fire. It is a usual scene in that part of the wilderness.
However, after a while, the usual time for a bush to reduce to ashes was over, he just walked towards it. He noticed that the bush is still burning but it is not being reduced to ashes. All its leaves and branches are intact. As he walked closer to it a voice stopped him. It asked him to remove his sandals.
He had to remove the sandals because the place he was standing was holy ground. The voice said. He had passed through that patch of land many times but hasn't noticed anything special about it. But today, the angel of the Lord is in the midst of the burning bush so that ground becomes holy. The expression 'angel of the Lord' is another way of saying God. So, it is the presence of God, or more specifically, that of Yahweh the God of Israel is what makes the ground holy.
The bush is burning, but what it emits is not the heat but light only. It is the glory of the Lord that is being shone through.
The burning bush is, first of all, a miracle. The miracle that fire cannot do what it naturally do--burn the bushes to ashes. It is also a symbolism of how God has preserved Israel though they have been through the immense heat of persecution in Egypt.
It is the presence of God in their midst that preserves them though they go through immense oppression. Early chapters of Exodus tell us how Israel multiplied and was preserved through the Pharoah tried to check their growth.
Another aspect of it is that their burning is for the glory of God. The following chapters of Exodus tell us how God glorified his name through their suffering.
This incident is pivotal to their story. Israel turns to be the people who through their suffering shine forth the glory of their God.
Sometimes God treats us bushes and puts us through the pain of burning so that his glory may shine through. However, God guarantees that no bush on the holy ground will be consumed.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Creativity Tip: Kick the Devil out

This is an honest confession. I am not the smartest person on planet earth. I never been. My IQ is average and it hasn't made any significant progress in the last few decades. However, my work involves a lot of thinking. It requires that I should focus on a subject for a considerable time without distraction.
For the sake of those who do not know me, I should say that I am an academic first. My job involves reading, preparing lectures, notes and books on topics in my field of expertise. I am also a pastor. That means I have to prepare sermons, bible studies, etc. All these means serious cerebral work.
However, most of the time my cerebral space is under siege. There are interpersonal issues, difficulties with the administration and a whole lot of things that keep invading this space. I try to fight out, but most of the time, I lose.
The consequences are disastrous. This disastrously affects my productivity. I find myself busy scheming, imagining my enemies, sometimes silently addressing my adversaries, preparing answers to questions that they haven't raised yet, etc. Then when I come out of it finally, I find myself tired. Exhausted to such an extent that even when I able to return to my work I am not able to move from where I left it.
One big shocking observation that I made is that the enemy took over this cerebral territory at my invitation. I allowed him to do that. Once I allow him in then he refuses to go back on his own. There ensues a battle to evict him.
After one such battle, when I was cooling my heels in prayer and meditating on the Bible, Ephesians 4:27 jumped out of the page. 'Give no opportunity to the devil.' That is what it said in the English Standard Version. I looked up the word used for 'opportunity' in Greek. It could mean 'opportunity' but the primary meaning is not that. The primary meaning of this word (TOPOS) is 'space' or 'place.' This verse then could be translated as 'do not give the devil any space!'
The Devil is the enemy of creativity and productivity. Devil is the opposite of what God is in every way. God is the creator but Devil is the destroyer. God gives life but Devil steals and kills. God makes us productive and creative but the Devil does just the opposite.
Devil cannot be a partner with a mind that is dedicated to God. Spending a single minute with thoughts that Devil plants in our mind amount to the loss of hours of creativity. Resolve conflicts as early as possible so that the Devil is kept out. Pray for troubling issues so that all that can be entrusted to God and sorted out by his help. This helps us to be creative for the creator God.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Kiss of Peace!

It was a very small stone church tucked away in the hill locked village of Paud in Pune. It had only 10 pews with a total capacity of 50 people. Still the church was not full that day. Among the congregation, more than half were kids of all ages.
I had just returned to the altar after passing the peace among the congregation. I passed the peace to all in the congregation adults and small kids as well.
Then, I heard a cry from the congregation. It was feeble in the beginning and then got louder. My mind was so engrossed in the service order than the crying little girl. Then I noticed the adults giggling. So, I turned to my assistant to find out what is going on.
He told me that the little girl is so sad that I missed her in the passing of the peace! I had taken care that I passed the peace to everyone, but some how this four-year old was missed. I don’t know how. So, I immediately walked down to her and extended my hands. However, she turned her head away in protest. I tried again but her cry got louder. The mother then took her out, and she stayed out for the rest of the service. Her mother missed the Communion service as well.
After the service, I joined a family for lunch. Over the lunch, I was told that Sara’s parents live next door. So, made it a point to visit her, say sorry and cheer her up. Her elder brother and sister came out of their little house to greet me. But Sara was not to be seen anywhere. She had spotted me walking towards her house and she had resolved not to meet me. I called her out, she won’t budge. Then I forced myself into her house. There she was, in a chair, refusing to give me the advantage of an eye-contact. She has nothing to do with the pastor who ignored her in the passing of peace.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Let the Children Come to Me

‘And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And she took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.’ (Matt 9:14-16).
When Jesus took the little children in his arms, they might have told him something. What would they tell him? I was thinking about as it as I watched one of our team members ministering to little kids in a slum in Pune. He had just told those poor kids gathered under a tin-roofed hall a story about Jesus. Some children responded in faith and wanted him to pray for them. I was around, and listening to their requests. Some wanted Jesus to stop their father’s drinking. Some kids said that their father had deserted them and they want Jesus to bring him back. He might have eloped with another woman in the slum. Some want Jesus to change their father’s mind. He returns from work in the evening drunk and beats up their mom and threatens them.
The disciples rebuked the people who brought the little children to Jesus. However, Jesus took them in his arms and blessed them. They have stories to tell, stories of pain and rejection and also hope. These children live in utterly poor conditions hoping there is a better tomorrow. Every child has a story to tell Jesus, stories of pain, rejection and lack. That is why Jesus told them, ‘Let the children come to me! Do not hinder them.’

Monday, June 12, 2017

Stay Put and abound!

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain." (1 Cor 15:58 ESV).
There are times when various factors bog us down. Especially in Christian ministry, there are oppositions, discouragements and a whole lot of things that makes feel like giving up.
If anyone had been through such circumstances that push you to the edge of giving up it was Paul. He had opposition from fellow apostles, enemies of the Gospel and even the churches that he planted. However, he kept going, excelling increasingly irrespective of the adverse circumstances.
His advice to anyone who is discouraged and tired of the work for the Lord is first to be steadfast. Steadfastness is that quality of sticking to the one thing irrespective of all that make us think or act contrary. One of the temptations that happen when faced with the opposition is to think if we are doing the right thing, have I gone wrong somewhere. Though this is a useful reflection and we may need to check and recheck if we are on the right path, an unsettled behaviour is not helpful. Once we have received the commission from God and if that is constantly being affirmed by the Lord, we need to stay put in what God has entrusted us with.
The second aspect is also related--being immovable. This in fact reinforces the idea of steadfastness. However, it also carries with it the idea of resisting the pressures on us. It carries with the notion of staying firm in spite of all that try to move us from what we are doing. This may come in various forms. However, we need to withstand the storms that battle against us so that we will be found doing what God has asked us to do when the storms tare away.
A third aspect is abounding or exceeding in what we are doing for the Lord. When there are battles our efficiency goes down considerably. The people whom Nehemiah led had to carry the sword in one hand and build the walls with other because of the threat of the enemy. It surely has a negative effect on their output. However, they completed the walls according to the plans as per schedule. This can happen only if we double efforts in the service of God.
There is yet another aspect to 'abounding.' That is to do more than what is required of us. Not to be satisfied by what the rule book requires but to go beyond our employers' expectations and even our expectations to please the Lord.
The motivation comes from the fact that we are not just made for this world. Paul comes to these words of exhortation after elaborating on life after death, resurrection, nature of the resurrected bodies and the believers' victory over death. The ministry that has this awareness that we are not limited by this world, that looks beyond the experiences of this world will be steadfast, immovable and continue to abound.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Art of Listening to God

God is contantly speaking. He hasn’t stopped when the canon of the Bible is completed as some people wrongly think. God continues to speak through his Word—through its reading and proclamation. Moreover, God is speaking to us through nature, history and all that happens around us.
To hear God we just need to listen to him. Listening to God is an art. A.W. Tozer wrote many years ago: ‘The Voice of God is a friendly Voice. No one need fear to listen to it unless he has already made up his mind to resist it.’
How do we hear that friendly voice speaking to us? There are lessons to be learned in this regard from Samuel’s encounter with God. We read of this in 1 Samuel 3.
The first thing is to tell God that we are willing to hear. God called Samuel by name before he told him what he wanted to tell him. Young Samuel was not used to the voice of God, so he ran to the only other person in the sanctuary where he slept. It happened three times. On the third time, Eli realised that it could be God calling him. So, he instructed Samuel to say when God call him again, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’ The next time God called him, he said exactly the same words that Eli taught him and God spoke to him about his plans for the household of Eli.
It is God’s prerogative to choose the person he wants to speak to. Though he is speaking continuously, he may prefer certain people to receive his message. This may depend on that person’s relationship with God. God did not tell Lot what is going to happen to Sodom and Gomorrah though he was a citizen there. That plan was revealed to Abraham though Abraham was not going to be affected directly by God's action. God did not choose Eli to disclose the plan of judgement on his house, but it was revealed to Samuel. It is a privilege to be the person that God chooses to speak to.
Many people are experts in the technical details of having a conversation with God. Eli is a good example. However, one can use the technical knowledge only if God addresses them. Eli knew what to say when God calls, he probably had many such experiences even. However, he was not chosen to receive God’s message.
It is sin, Eli’s sin and that of his children that snapped the hotline between him and God. The continuous resistance of God’s voice, even through a prophet directly amounted to a break of talking terms with God.
The art of listening to God’s voice thus seems to be simple. Be ready with hearts purified before God. Wait for him to call, and say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The Lonely Apostle

Mark 5:1-20 is the story of Jesus healing a demoniac. This man had withdrawn from the society. He was living in a graveyard. Graveyards are always away from where people live, usually outside the village or the town. Under the demonic oppression he ‘was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.’
The story goes on to say how Jesus healed him. Jesus commanded the multitude of demons that has possessed him to come out. The came out and entered the pigs and perished as the pigs frantically ran to the lake and drowned. According to popular beliefs of the day, the demons would perish if they touch the water. So, Jesus cleansed the land of the multitude of demons.
A legion is a unit of Roman soldiers. We are not sure how many people are there in a legion of Roman soldiers. But according to some scholars, five to six thousand members formed a legion. However, it is not the number that matters here. The demoniac says, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’
The word ‘legion’ is symbolic. The man is occupied by a legion of demons like the land is occupied by the legions of Roman soldiers under various army commanders. The story thus has a message beyond merely healing a sick person. It has another level of meaning. If Jesus can handle a legion of supernatural forces tormenting one man, then he has the power over legions of soldiers who are just men of flesh!
The situation of this man is pitiful. He is occupied by demons the size of a legion that is required to command and control a whole region. They have been oppressing him and was not willing not to leave. However, at the command of Jesus, they finally had to leave.
The story ends with a commission to this man. He wanted to follow Jesus in his forward journey. However, Jesus denied his request. Jesus said, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’
This command of Jesus is a total reversal of the condition of this man. He was living in a place where there are no living. He was in a graveyard. He had shunned people. Jesus thus sends him back to people from whom he has withdrawn. He will go to the people from whom he has withdrawn with a new message. That message is that Jesus has overcome a legion of demons. It is a message of hope for his region under Roman occupation. He is a walking symbol of liberation, once occupied now liberated. Once oppressed by violent forces but now free. The legion had taken over his mental processes, but now he is in control of his mind.
He is an apostle because he is sent by Jesus with a message. That message has to do with the mercy of God on his oppressed people. He will be a lonely apostle among his own people. That was his commission from Jesus.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Discipleship, a Life-long Process

The New Testament imagines discipleship as a lifelong journey. Being a disciple is a life-long journey through pain and suffering.  When Jesus called his first disciples, he asked them to follow him, but did not tell how long because it is a life-long journey.
This is what Jesus told his disciples. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matt 10:25, ESV).
This passage is set in the context of Jesus warning his disciples of the persecution and martyrdom that they may have to go through.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you sin their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matt 10:16-23, ESV).”
Now let us try to understand these two passages a bit closer. First of all, it implies that discipleship is a process where the disciples are treated by the world just as their master was treated. There will be betrayals (v. 21), there will be arrests (v. 19) and even death (v. 21), just as the master had gone through. The path of pain and suffering for others led the teacher to his death. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.
However, it seems that in Paul’s understanding it is beyond the death of the disciple but extends to the experience of resurrection. In Phil 3:10, Paul’s discipleship is not limited to a knowledge (learning) the historical Jesus nor a body of knowledge about Jesus that apostles handed down. It is the experience of Christ but an experience that is limited to his physical experiences. Paul wants to “… know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death….” His learning of Christ extends to the life beyond. (Phil 3:10, ESV).
Being the disciples of Jesus is a painful process. Paradoxically, we are ‘wounded healers.’ In the process of our service to God, we get wounded by the people whom we serve, people who oppose our service. It doesn’t matter whether you minister God in a country where Christians are persecuted or protected. However, the calling of the disciple is to continue the healing though wounded.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Discipleship: Learning the Teacher

Discipleship is not just learning from Christ but learning Christ. Paul warns the Ephesian church, ‘But that is not the way you learned Christ!’ (Eph 4:20 ESV). There are two important observations on this passage. First of all, the root of the verb translated as ‘learn’ in almost all English translations, could mean ‘learning by enquiry.’ It is used in this sense in 1 Corinthians 14:35. Enquiry is an integral aspect of the teacher-disciple relationship in eastern cultures. The disciples probe and the teacher dispenses knowledge in response to the intellectual queries of the student. Traditionally what the disciple probes is teachings, a body of knowledge.
However, there is a major difference in Christian discipleship. What the disciple probes is not just a set of principles or teachings. They are probing the teacher himself. The teacher is the object of inquiry. This implies that Christian discipleship has to do with knowing more and more of the person of the Teacher.
This is exemplified in the longings of Saint Paul that expressed in Phil 3:10: “… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death….” Discipleship is knowing Christ, but not merely a saving knowledge of him, but an exploration of his person. This is how Christian discipleship is different from idolatry. Idolatry has to do with a static knowledge of the object of worship. However, God’s plan for the Christian discipleship is growth in knowledge as Saint Peter observes. Peter concludes his second epistle with the exhortation that stresses this aspect of Christian discipleship. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18, ESV).

Friday, January 06, 2017

New Year Toast

I hope 2016 has been a great year for us all. It was indeed a year of blessing in every way, particularly on the spiritual side. We look back and wonder on the way that God lead us. What can we do for God for leading us. The psalmist in Psalmist 116:13 also is in bewilderment mode.
‘I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord….’
He enumerates all that God has done for him. He begins it with his prayers and how God answered his prayers.
‘I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.’ (Psa 116:1-2, ESV).
Then he goes on to list the specific answers to prayer that he received.
He had been to the extremes in his life. He had come to a point his whole life was threatened. He was at the point of death.
‘For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.’ (Psa 116:8-9, ESV).
His predicament what can he do render to God in return for what God has done for him. The cup of salvation is the experience of deliverance in his life.
Cup of salvation is that experience of thanking God. Enumerating what he means to us this year. Doing it in the presence of other people is the only thing that we can do to God.

Being the light of the world

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