Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Master's Voice

Sometime back, I took a team to the elephant park in my town. There are about 40 elephants belonging to a temple. Each elephant is assigned to one or two care-givers (called mahouts) who feed them, bathes them and trains them.) One of these mahouts joined my team to show us around. As we approached one elephant the mahout called out its name. To our amusement, the elephant raised its trunk and waved at the man. Then it made a low hissing sound and started swinging gently. With his eyes beaming with pride, the mahout told us that he was in charge of this elephant for some months when its mahout was on leave. The relationship started then, though it was a long time back, the animal still recognizes his voice and greets him.
The ability to distinguish the voice of the Lord from the other voices and to follow him is the essential characteristic of Christian discipleship. While elaborating the relationship between him and his disciples Jesus used the metaphors of sheep and shepherd in John 10:1-21. He said, 'The sheep hear his (the shepherd's) voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out' (John 10:3). He also said: 'A stranger they (the sheep) will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers' (John 10:5).
This is what happens when a person turns to Jesus Christ, a relationship begins. This relationship is maintained by constantly being in tune with the voice of the master, and only to the voice of the master. When my neighbour was walking the dog, I approached them and commanded the dog to sit! I had taught my dog (when I had one) to sit when ordered. However, when told my neighbours to sit, it stared at me, shook his head and then turned his eyes to something else. It defied me. Then the master said, 'sit' and the dog sat! It recognizes the master's order only and disregards all other voices.
Christian life is often far from this ideal. We are surrounded by voices that come with lots of worldly wisdom. Young girls are told that every birthday means that they are 'getting late for the marriage market' (as a friend of mine puts it). So they hurry and get unequally yoked to unbelievers! They didn't wait for the voice of God to guide them to the right person in their life.
Sometimes we yield to the voice of authority figures without question. One of the leading IT companies in India was caught in fraud, its CEO ended up in jail and investors suffered a huge loss. The root of the problem was that the CEO was syphoning company funds to invest in real estate as his mother insisted. He could not resist his mother though she was an ignorant housewife who hasn't seen the world outside her house. She raised her son in such a way that he couldn't question her foolishness.
Voices could be that of the dominant culture and values. To have more money, to climb the career ladder as fast as possible, to amass wealth are the most popular voices we hear now. These voices make us ignore the duty to nourish the lives of our children by being available to them, to strengthen our marriages by being together, developing intimacy, etc. So many Christians go by the dictates of the dominant voices and fall away from the master.
Psalm 32:8-9 talks about two ways of being guided by God. One is the painful way of the animals who lack discernment. They have to be guided by the bit and the bridle. They have to be heavily whipped to guide them in the right path. That is the way of the ungodly. However, there another way too. That is being guided by the voice of God, the God who will watch us and guide us. The closest comparison to this is the GPS that we use while driving.
Hearing the voice of Christ and be guided by him is possible only if there is an intimacy in the relationship. That is what he means by 'knowing.' He knows them and they know him.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Faith of Isaac

We have heard a lot about the faith of Abraham. He is also known as the father of the faithful. His faith to leave his country and venture into unknown lands trusting God is well-known. Even more is his faith in God when he was asked to offer his only son Isaac (Genesis 22). He trusted that God will provide a lamb at the right time. And it happened! When he was swinging the knife at his only son tied to the altar, he heard the voice that God has provided a ram in the place of his son.
In narrating the story of Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son we often leave out Isaac. Does this story tell us something about the faith of Isaac as well?
Isaac was not an infant when the incident happened. He was an adult. He could travel with his father, then he could climb up the mount where he was to be sacrificed. According to some Jewish traditions, Isaac was 37 years old when this happened. He could ask rational questions. Noting what is missing in their planning, he could ask his father where is the lamb?
Though he was capable of rational thinking and strong enough to resist his old father's actions, he didn't. He believed what his father told him that God will provide a lamb. He believed it even when he was tied and placed on the altar, he believed it even when he saw the knife was about to slit his throat. He had faith that God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice and it is not him who will go up in the smoke of the altar.
Isaac's faith was that 'God will provide.' Probably, this faith was formed in him in the early days of his childhood. His mother might have told him of her barrenness. But even though he crossed the age of child-bearing God provided him to them. Now, that faith is reinforced as his father dropped the knife, ran to the thicket, and came back with a ram. He was untied and he watched the lamb going up in the flames. The flames that would have licked his life out of him is devouring the body of the ram. His faith was confirmed--God will provide.
Isaac carried that faith to the most part of his life. For example, when the shepherds of Gerar disputed with him over the wells he dug, he chose to suffer loss and moved to another place to dig wells believing that God will provide (Genesis 26:18-22). And God did provide. Wherever he dug he hit the water.
He had to exercise the same faith as his father's servant hit the long, dusty road to find a wife for him. He did not go with the servant to make sure that the person he would choose will be the right choice. He just trusted that God will provide the right person to be his wife. And he spent his time devoid of anxiety, meditating in the open fields (Genesis 24:63). Through a miraculous turn of events, God did provide for him the right person.
However, we are not sure if Isaac, like us sometimes, was able to maintain that faith throughout his life. His appetite for wild games that his son Esau fed him made him love him more than the other son. Though he trusted God for his wife, it seems that they could not maintain that intimacy to the end of their marriage. They took sides, wife duped him by dressing up her beloved son as Esau and feeding her a lamb stew. Faith waxes and wanes. However, it is important to have faith, faith that Isaac had--God will provide.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Anglicanism and Alcoholism

As I was walking towards the Reception, that poster caught my eyes. It said: "Workshop on Alcoholism." So, I walked closer to find out more, the venue, date and time which are printed in smaller letters. I was shocked as I walked closer! The poster didn't say Alcoholism, it is Anglicanism. It is a workshop sponsored by the Anglican Chaplaincy in the University.
I noticed that I have been making many such mistakes recently. Sometimes, when people waved at me from far off, I just stared at them not being sure if they meant me or someone behind me. If I recognized them as I my friends, I would have waved back. It took me a visit to the eye-specialist to realize that I am suffering from short-sight and needed glasses for the rest of my life. The problem is not with Anglicanism nor with Alcoholism; the problem is with my eyes.
It is true that the real beauty is not in the holder but the beholder. A lot of our behaviour depends on our perception. We take things the way they appear to us without realizing that the problem could lay in our own perceptions.
Many of the problems that we are worried about may not be problems at all. That is why we need to pray for God to help us change our perspectives than deal with the problems that we perceive. When God deals without perspectives, the problem that we perceive may turn out to be a possibility. So,  before praying for breakthrough in life, it may be helpful to find out if there is a real roadblock that need to be broken through.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Sabarimala, Women and Jesus

The Supreme Court of India has ordered that women of all age may enter the Sabarimala temple. Since 1991 women were not legally allowed to enter the temple following an order by the Kerala High Court. After 37 years the apex court has overruled this ban.
Justice Indu Malhotra has observed that the Supreme Court should not rule over matters of faith. I agree with that. The judiciary has to guarantee the constitutional rights of the individuals. Every faith has its own rules that protect the rights of its adherents. The judiciary should not interfere with faith.
However, this case is different. The judiciary had already (in 1991) involved in this matter of faith to deny the rights of female worshippers. So it is binding on the higher court to correct what a lower court had already ruled.
There is also the issue of segregation of worshippers on the basis of gender. Is this justifiable? Though there seems to be a legal issue of human rights, gender equality etc, it is more a matter of faith. It is not much a matter of law. The simple question to be answered is this. Are men and women equal before God? Put it another way, is a God who makes a distinction on the basis of gender is a god at all? We must question not the validity of the law but the validity of our own concept of God.
Even from another point of view, the god-concept related to this issue must be questioned. The religious argument is that the deity can be polluted by the presence of menstruating women. First of all, does menstruation pollute anyone including the women who menstruate? This is wrong scientifically.
Even if we allow against all scientific evidence that menstruation is something that pollutes how can a deity be polluted by human impurity? So, faith has to bring under its scrutiny the validity of our concept of god than the validity of the worshipper.
I like Jesus for many reasons; particularly the way he stood up to wrong traditions. He touched what the traditions forbade a person to touch. The Jews of his day believed that touching a leper would make a person unclean. Touching a dead body was also an act that makes you unclean. Touch by a bleeding woman would make you unclean as well. However, Jesus chose to touch and heal the lepers. He held the hands of the Jairus' daughter who was already dead and raised her. On the way to Jairus' house, a woman who was considered impure because of her bleeding touched him and she was healed. Jesus affirmed her faith.
Jesus was not made impure, nor lose his divine power by the presence or physical contact by those who were unclean. But the reverse is true. His presence and touch made clean those who were unclean. That is the God I want--the one who is immune to my impurity but who has the power to cleanse me. That is the God that I found in Jesus.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Modelling Calm in Storms

The gospel narratives of the evangelist Mark are more vivid than that of others. He mentions that when the boat with Jesus and the disciples faced a severe storm, Jesus was at the stern and was asleep on a cushion at the stern (Mark 4:38). Stern is where it would be shakier and the wind hits more strongly. However, Jesus was fast asleep, not disturbed by the sound of the wind, the spray of water or the tossing of the boat!
No wonder, the disciples shouted at Jesus when they finally succeeded in waking him: 'Do you not care that we are perishing?' The truth is that if they perish, he would also perish with them. But he was still sleeping.
Was he tired so much to sleep through a storm like that? Maybe but I don't think that it is the right answer. Jesus wakes up and very calmly orders the sea and the wind to calm down. 'And there was a great calm.' I am led to believe that Jesus was in control even when he was fast asleep on the stern. Or I think Jesus slept because he was perfectly calm inside though there was a raging storm around.
Why then did Jesus sleep when it was raging outside? Why didn't he wake up to help his friends to scoop out the water that was entering the boat? Mark has made it clear that 'the boat was already filling.'
I am led to believe that Jesus was not uninterested in their misery, nor unwilling to help, but he was modelling calm. He was showing them how to be calm in the midst of storms in our lives.
I wonder, when there are storms rage in my life where is God in all these! At times, I ask God why are you far off. Why God seems not to be interested? However, I am beginning to learn now that his apparent absence is a way of teaching me to trust. He is not unconcerned or uninterested. But his apparent distancing from my struggle is a way of teaching me that storms are times when we have to learn to be calm. He can calm the storms but can also model for us how to be calm in our storms.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Processing pain and suffering.

Growing up on the country-side in a farm, accidents were regular events in my life. Sometimes, it was a thorn that got stuck on my feet when I explored the farm barefoot, or a broken arm when I fell off the branches of a tree that I tried to climb up. The most difficult part of life is the process of healing. Sometimes, my older cousins acted as surgeons who removed the thorn with a needle. Sometimes I had to be rushed to the hospital to put the bones back together and a cast which lasted for weeks. Enduring the pain was part of the healing process. Without endurance, there is no healing and recovery.
Suffering comes with two choices. Either get out of it through the shortest route or endure it until healing. One of my relatives chose the first. She hurt her finger when cutting vegetables. Everyone advised her to go to the doctor but she refused. She knew that the doctor will give her an anti-septic shot, tabs and probably stitch it up. Moreover, the injury did not appear to be big, the pain had stopped as the bleeding stopped as well. However, it got complicated. She had cut a nerve on her finger. For the rest of her life, she was not able to move that finger. If she was willing to endure, life would have been better for her.
The issue in the Book of Hebrews is more than hurting a thorn that stuck on the feet or a finger-nerve that was hurt. But it was life and death issues. It was persecution of the politically weak and socially insignificant minority of Christians somewhere in the Roman empire. Their property was confiscated, many of them were arrested and imprisoned and some were even physically tortured.
The writer of this epistle encourages them to hang on! To endure it and endure it more. The writer said, you are suffering but you are still alive, so go ahead suffering until death! That is what Hebrews 12:4 says: 'In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.'
What is the secret of enduring pain and suffering? The secret of enduring pain and suffering is to process it as the discipline and not as punishment. Though discipline and punishment may sound synonymous in the English language they are not strictly so. Punishment may make us remorseful, guilty and even ashamed of our actions. We can go through the pain of punishment if we accept our part in it. However, there are times when we suffer for reasons that are not of our own. You can call it innocent suffering, or at least the pain for which we have no explanation. How do we process such situations?
This is why imagining pain as the discipline is important. The difference between discipline and punishment is evident. Punishment assumes that a wrong is committed. The goal of punishment could be correction but need not always be so. It is most of the time the natural consequence of the mistake; every wrong act has to be punished either to stop it repeating, or to warn others not to do the same. However, discipline is not punishment.
Discipline has to be understood more as a pedagogical method. It is more close to training a person than punishing a person. Discipline equips a person, sometimes ironically to face worse situations. We learn through discipline. Thus when suffering is considered as preparation for enduring harder realities of life, it becomes easier.
I once met a young man carrying a heavy backpack. He told me that he is carrying some heavy rocks in that backpack! Every day, he adds more stones to make it heavier than the previous day and walks longer carrying it. He was doing some strength training. To develop his own strength he endures more and  more pain.
Discipline becomes a lighter and enjoyable when we know the reason for it. Discipline becomes more enjoyable not only when we know the reason for it but also when we realize who is behind it. The Bible uses an earthly model or us to understanding it. Our earthly parents do disciple us. Though the discipline is painful we still 'respected them' since we knew that the purpose of their action was our good. So, the Bible asks, 'Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits land live?'(Heb 10:9).
God does lead us through pain and suffering out of his fatherly concern for us. What is his fatherly concern for us? Discipline is lighter when we discover the motivation behind it. It is motivated by love. That is what the figure of the father suggests. The father disciplines the children he loves. 'For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb 12:6).
Love is not the only reason, but it also has another long-term goal, that is our holiness. God's act of disciplining us, passing us through pain and suffering is to make to purify us, or holiness. Achieving new levels of holiness is almost irreversible act. Through the process of pain of being disciplined we learn new ways of knowing God and his moral standards. Knowing God and him becoming more and more real to us is the greatest achievement in life. Though it is difficult, suffering has greater benefit when we know that God is behind it and we are in God's plan. That realization makes pain and suffering lighter and enjoyable.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The Prodigal and the Party Pooper!


Are you a party pooper? Hold on! In order to clear the air, let me first talk about a party pooper that I found in the Bible.
The story of 'the prodigal son' is popular among Christian preachers and Sunday School students (Luke 15). However, the focus usually is on the younger son who is labelled as the 'prodigal.'
The two sons had two different approaches to life. The younger one preferred indulgence and instant gratification. He wanted to enjoy all that life has to offer in one sip! So, he couldn't wait for his father's death to get his share of wealth to spend it on the type of life that he has been longing to live. So, he forced his father to give him his share of the property. He lived the way he wanted until he found himself penniless. His poverty drove him to the extent of snatching fodder from the pigs to beat his hunger. However, he repented and returned to the father.
The other one tagged along with his father's business never finding time to enjoy life. In the story, Jesus portrays him as a hardworking, loyal son. He was on the farm when his younger brother returned home. The party to celebrate the homecoming of the 'prodigal' had already started by the time he reached home.
It is very important to note that the father reached out to both with equal warmth. When the father saw the younger son walking towards the house, he ran to embrace him. He did not bother to find out if the son is coming to ask for more money! The servants told the father that older son is standing outside the house in protest. However, he did not waste a minute to go out to him and entreat him. The father tried to convince him the reason for the celebration.
The elder son's worries were two-fold. First of all, he was told that the younger brother who has taken his share of the property has come back. Has he come back to claim more of what remains? Since they are the only two sons of the father, once the younger got his share then all that remains belongs to him.
Secondly, he learned that the 'fattened calf' is slaughtered. In middle eastern cultures, rich families always keep an animal aside to be slaughtered on special occasions. They tie the animal so that it doesn't lose weight by straying around. They feed the animal rich food so that it gains more weight. Unlike modern days, ancients preferred meat with fat than lean meat. Probably, every day as he noted the calf growing fat he had the day of celebration in mind. This calf is going to end up on his plate his day of celebration whatever it could be. However, that is gone! That is why he shouted at the father, 'you killed the fattened the calf!'
His father cajoled him to come in. He assured him that all the property that remains is rightfully his. The father promised, 'all that is mine is yours!' Now, the calf that he was waiting to eat is slaughtered; why don't just join the party and get your teeth into your burger? The worry about wealth is also taken care of. Why spoil the party?
Many times we are party poopers in the Kingdom of God just as the Pharisees and the Jewish establishment of Jesus' day were. Our reasons may vary. They were not able to join  God's celebration that is going on in heaven when a sinner returns to Him. Before telling this story Jesus had already declared: 'Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.'
We can be like the party pooper son when sinners repent and return to God by reminding ourselves of the damages they have done in their past life. That can kill our joy. Ananias did that when Paul (aka Saul) repented and turned to God. When God told him to go and meet the converted Saul, Ananias reminded God of Saul's wicked track record (Acts 9:11). However, as long as we are in the complain and blame mode we will not be able to join the party of God.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

When Plans Go Wrong

An air crash on June 23, 1980, stunned India. That day when doing aircraft acrobatics Sanjay Gandhi nosedived to his death. Sanjay Gandhi was the son of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Historians say that Indira was mentoring him to be her successor as the President of Indian National Congress and the Prime Minister of India. That accident grounded her plans. It redirected the course of India's politics and history. Even, Indira's families of two sons ended up in two rival political camps.
The truth is all that we plan around people have a 'use before' date. Bible affirms this truth that we have observed in history and personal lives many times. Psalm 146:3,4 says: 'Put not your trust in princes,in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth;on that very day his plans perish.'
The mortal human being can fulfil his plans only while he is alive and is able. It is true that a visionary can pass on his dreams to his successors. The successors may fulfil it or fail it. King Solomon, the wisest man who lived on earth knew that all that he achieved so far is futile. The reason for his frustration is that he has to hand over all of them to his successor whose abilities he was not sure of. So he lamented: 'I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity' (Eccl. 2:18-19, ESV).
This revelation that plans that we make have no guarantee of success is disturbing, to say the least. Then where is stability? This may make us depressed. However, a person like the Psalmist who trust in God and entrusts his plans to God has no reason for despair.
Psalmist congratulates those who have their plans built around God (146:5). He argues that you can trust God with your plans for many reasons. First of all, God is the creator of all that we see and experience. Secondly, he can be trusted since faithful is his character. God's faithfulness lasts as long as he is alive and God is eternal (146:6).
A child of God realizes that they have absolutely no control over their plans. However, they also realize that God is in absolute control of their lives. The psalmist then goes on illustrating this truth.
The farmer may go hungry when the weather fails him. Or it could be a pestilence that plunges that whole land into famine. That happens even in the most developed countries. If no famine, a price hike is expected. However, God is faithful to feed the hungry when human plans don't work the way they ought to. God is the one who 'gives food to the hungry' (146:7).
One of my colleagues had a very happy marriage and a wonderful family. Everything was going fine with them. They had plans for their only son, plans for great days of retired life. A phone call on that fateful afternoon changed all that. She was waiting for her husband to come home any time that afternoon. The police rang up to ask her to come to the hospital to identify the body of her husband who died in an accident. You might have heard many such stories where a wife turns a widow in a matter of minutes and children turn orphans as well. However, the children of God find comfort in the assurance that 'he upholds the widow and the fatherless' (146:9).
When Jehoiachin was imprisoned in Babylon, he never imagined that he will be free one day. He spent a long 37 years in prison. However, the emperor of Babylon released him at the end of that long prison term. He was not only free but he was treated royally. He got his royal robes back, he dined at the emperor's table daily (Jer 52:31-34). This is not just an old story. God has repeated this in the life of my friend's son recently. He was taken hostage while serving as a doctor with a relief agency in Afghanistan. He spent many months in a Taliban camp as a hostage. However, at a time no one ever imagined the US Navy Seals rescued him. It was a freedom that he never imagined. The psalmist puts that truth rather concisely as 'The Lord sets the prisoners free' (146:7).
We live in a world of uncertainties. Nothing is stable and nothing is permanent. All that we build around human beings are tend to fail. However, it is not all that uncertain and unstable for those who trust God. God is in charge, human plans may fail, but his plans never. Sometimes God even frustrates human plans so that his plan for us may prevail.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Ready to be Served?

One of the many paradoxes of the Bible is the role reversals. The king may become a servant or someone in a lowly position may be raised to a new level of authority. Luke 12:35-40 describes one such role reversals.
This passage is undoubtedly about being ready for the masters' arrival. Just like the story of the ten maiden (Mattthew 25:1-13) this passage also talks about being ready with the lamps filled with oil. The servants should be watchful for the arrival of the bridegroom who may come unannounced to the party at an hour he chooses. He may keep the people waiting late into the night. However, the servants must be ready with their lamps, awake so that they can open the door at his first knock on the door.
It is not just opening the door and showing him the way in with the lighted lamp that is involved here. The master should be convinced that they had been awake all night. The master expects them to be awake and ready for action throughout the night ( Luke 12:37).
The master will reward them for their diligence. Here comes the role reversal. The servants are supposed to serve the master. However, God the master is different. If he finds that his servants had been waiting for him the whole night, he will reverse the role. They had been waiting without food and rest. So, God the master then decides that he should serve them first before being served himself. So, Jesus said: 'Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.' (Luke 12:37, ESV).
Discipleship involves readiness for action. Readiness will be rewarded in the Kingdom of God. Five of the ten virgins were not ready. They were cast out. However, the five who were ready joined the bridegroom in the party.
Though God expects us to do is being 'ready for action' (Luke 12:35), the real action belongs to God. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son (Genesis 22). Abraham had never offered a human sacrifice and he was sure that God does not expect a human sacrifice. Still, Abraham was ready for action. God tested his readiness to the point of lifting his hands. God acted just before the knife slitted Isaac's throat. Some point between Abraham began swinging his knife and it touched Isaac's throat, God intervened. God was ready with a lamb in the place of Isaac. The lamb was trapped in a bush so that Abraham did not has to chase it. God had held it in place to be lifted up by Abraham.
This is in line with God's character. The master of the household is always diligent so that he will not let the thief break in (Luke 12:35). Thus God expects us to be like him diligent and watchful. At his coming at a time that no one expects, Christ expects us people waiting for him. He will, then, according to his promise will care for us. The master we wait for is also a servant who loves to serve us. But are we ready to be served?

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Heat is not That Bad!

Summer temperature reached 43.3-degree Celsius (109.9 degrees Fahrenheit) in Pune this summer. Though the average summer temperature doesn't go above 38 degree Celsius, I heard a lot of people complaining about the summer heat. They say the cold weather is better! All that you have to do is to wear many layers of clothes to keep you warm. My friends who have to spend almost six months of the year in below freezing temperature have a different opinion.

Heat is a metaphor in the Bible. It is a metaphor of extreme suffering. The psalmist who underwent extreme suffering describes it as being wax melted by the heat. He complains, 'I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast' (Psalm 22:14 ESV).

Another psalmist uses a similar metaphor to describe his self-inflicted pain. 'For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away throughmy groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer' (Ps 32:3,4 ESV).

Everyone seems to agree that heat is not good. The heat of suffering particularly. It brings anguish and pain. It drains the strength, it drains the sap. However, it has a positive side.

Heat purifies. The goldsmith heats up the precious metals in a crucible until they melt. In the molten stage, the gold separates itself from the impurities. It gains a new shine! Sometimes God raises the heat in our lives so that we may be pure! The gold has no right to know why the impurities are removed by this painful process. Enduring the process is difficult, but the hope of purity and the new shine it is going to have helps with patient enduring.

Though it may look paradoxical, heat reshapes. As a child, I have watched the village blacksmith heating up a piece of iron until it is red-hot and beat it up to a new shape. Then he dips it in water to temper it. Again to the furnace again to make it red-hot. The iron goes through the process repeatedly: heated up, beaten, and tempered in the cold water. Then after a few hours, the blacksmith holds the iron to admire his creation. It is a piece of art now, though the process was painful.

The iron has no right to know what it is going to be. It simply has to trust the creator. It just has to believe that it is going to change the shape, and then there is going to have a new use. Heat brings with it new hope and purpose.

Friday, June 01, 2018

The Massawa Miracle

PC was an ambitious young man brimming with so  much godly enthusiasm when he travelled to Ethiopia in the early 1970s. He was accompanied by his wife. Though they had got married only a week ago, the purpose of their travel was not a honeymoon.
Their purpose was to meet Emperor Haile Selassie. They were to meet the Emperor and get permission to bring the OM ship logos to Ethiopia. His Christian friends who knew the political situation in Ethiopia laughed at his idea. He had a  no political contacts, he knew no one in Ethiopia.
However, to cut the story short, he did get an appointment with the emperor! The emperor allowed the ship to be docked at port Massawa which is now a thriving port of Eritrea. Not only that, the emperor opened the book exhibition cutting a ribbon!
That was more than what PC and his wife had imagined. Thousands of pastors and lay leaders came to visit the ship, the bookstore on board and for the seminars that were held on the ship.
As years went by, Ethiopia went through drastic political upheavals. Emperor Haile Selassie lost power. Eritrea was carved out of Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians and Eritreans migrated to all parts of the world, including the UK.
Now fast forward.... Years later, PC now much older, walked into a Starbucks coffee house in the UK. It was packed, but there was a vacant chair in the corner where a young man was keenly reading a book. PC settled into that only vacant seat available to him in the packed coffee shop. Then he noticed that the book the young African man reading was a Christian devotional book.
So, they started a conversation. The young man is a pastor to a small Eritrean congregation in the UK. I call him JB for short now. As PC implored, he shared his story of how he became a Christian. He found a book in his father's collection. He knew that book has changed his father's life radically. It was a copy of the Living Bible. His father told him that he bought it in a bookstore in a ship that was docked in the port of Massawa in the early 1970s.
Then the Eritrean pastor asked PC to tell his personal story. With tears of joy welling up in his eyes, punctuated with sobbing PC told his story. His story of travelling to Adis Ababa. Meeting Emperor Selasi to bring the Logos ship to Ethiopia. Docking the ship in Massawa. The memory of long lines of Ethiopians who queued up to enter the ship. Those who spent their hard-earned money to buy books and bibles. Yes, it was one of those bibles that JB's father bought. That is what changed his life and his son's. That is what is changing the lives of Eritreans living in the UK. Who can ignore the beginnings of small things?
(Special thanks to PC who told me this story and encouraged me to keep telling stories!)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Horror Houses Without Exit

I don't like horror films, fiction.... for that sake anything that horrifies me. However, one day I had to enter a show in a fair. That was a horror house. My friends forced me to go with them. I weighed the pros and cons. It is better to go with them than be labelled a coward.

Beyond, the ticket counter there was this dark tunnel, walls painted black, then the eery noises of witches and demons. Somewhere from the dark a skeleton stretched its hand towards me and almost reached my throat. Then there was a vampire waiting at a dark turn of the tunnel staring at me with its long teeth. However, I moved past it in the company of my friends.

To be frank, it was not the company of the friends that gave me the courage to move past each eery and horrifying shows. It was the red sign at every corner of the wall. 'EXIT' in red. That is the legal requirement. Anyone who is about to pass out, or can't take anymore can slip through that narrow door behind that sign. However, I moved on.

But in real life, there are horror houses without exit. Daniel had been in of those. That was the lions' den. The Bible says that he was thrown into a den packed with hungry lions. The story is found in the Book of Daniel 6. It was a conspiracy that landed Daniel in the den of hungry lions. Daniel and the hungry lions spent one whole night staring at each other. The lions had no appetite that night. But the morning following the king found out that Daniel is unharmed by the lions. So, he ordered to throw Daniel's enemies to the lions and the lions had a royal feast.

The den had no exit, so God took control of the lions. However, it was horrifying.
Sometimes, God will lead his people to fight it out as Paul had too many times. He had to be a gladiator in Ephesus. He had to fight wild animals in the arena in Ephesus. When the doors of the arena were slammed shut, and the cage of the hungry lion (possibly) screeched open, Paul might have looked around for an exit sign. But there was none.

He was not a gladiator. He eked out a living by making and repairing tents. As a scholar, he spent most of his time his head buried in the scrolls and parchments. He did not have time for body-building. His muscles were not strong. He had a hump on his back, or he had poor eyesight (or both). However, he had to take on the advancing lion. He won! That is why he could write about it in 1 Corinthians 15:32. Sometimes where there are no exits, we have to fight it out.

With God on our side, we really don't need exits from our situations. Exits are for the cowards and the weak. God puts us in dens and closed arenas without exit so that he can train our fingers for the battle (Psalm 144:1).

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thy will be done!

Prayer is not asking God to accord our will. Most of the time our will may be in conflict with that of God. Prayer is surrender to God's will. Somewhere I read this definition of prayer: 'Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will ....”
It is not just asking for things that we want in our lives but surrendering our desires to God that he may grant whatever is agreeable to his will. His will supercedes everything.
The Lord's prayer goes on to qualifying God's will as, '... as it is in heaven.' God's rule in heaven is unchallenged. However, it is challenged and resisted here on earth. Our desires are not always in line with God's. The devil has mastery over this world at least for  now until Christ subdues him. His will is also at work. Moreover, he tries to bring our hearts in line with his. So, we struggle not knowing which is God's will and which is not.
The best way out of this is to pray that God's will be done in our lives as it is done in heaven where it is unchallenged. Thus it is a total surrender to God's will.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Rehash, Rehearse or Celebrate

We spend most of our time either rehashing or rehearsing. Rehashing is to relive the past, going over and over again of what we did, or what has happened to us. This is a way of us tethering ourselves to the past, unable to move forward in our thinking. By default, it is the pain, shame and guilt or in other words the negative memories and experiences that the mind chooses to rehash.
Rehearsing is a way of living in the imaginary future. Perceptions of threats that are real or imagined engages our minds in emotional battles. The mind imagines situations, strategizes or even rehearses the sentences to speak in that imaginary situations.
There is a big problem in both these. It drains our energy for the present. Jesus knew this when he told his disciples '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' (Matt 10:19, ESV). The disciples in the first century were cross-bearers. The command, 'take up your cross and follow me' meant living with the prospect of arrest, imprisonment or even death daily. However, they should not spend their time rehearsing for that moment.
Nor should they rehash the evil that is done to them after the event. Their time is  not to be spent licking the wounds of the past. They have a great task in the present. That is to do the 'work the work of the one who sent them, while it is still day.' The energy for the tasks of the that present moment should not be dissipiated in any way.
The old song said: 'There's race that I  must run, there are victories to be won, give me power every hour to be true.' Power and grace for the moment is what we need. We need to conserve it too.
(Slightly revised.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Mystery of Manna

It was an unexpected gift from an unexpected person in an unexpected way. I desperately needed it. It came really as an answer to prayer. However, I was a bit reluctant to spend it on the need that I had; just being cautious. Gifts may not come regularly, it is wise to keep some for the rainy day. While rolling the conflicting thoughts in my head, I was led to the passage in Exodus 16:13-21, the story about the manna. Manna was a new experience for the Israelites. They had never seen it. So, they asked each other 'what is it?' The name Manna is directly derived from their question. In Hebrew 'Ma-nna' means 'what.'
Moses made it clear that it is God's provision for them. Something that God dropped from heaven, it is heavenly food. It thus illustrates a few important aspects of God's provisions for our life as well.
First of all, it is the free gift of God. It doesn't depend on the human effort. It freely falls to the ground and is covered by the dew. Then the flaky thing is ready to be picked up when the dew slowly melts away. The human effort is only to pick it up.
However, the act of picking up also doesn't all depend on human ability. If a person who is more capable than the others collected more than what God has allowed (one Omer), then it did not measure more. It measured only one Omer. If there is someone who could not gather the daily ration of one Omer, he was not a loser as well. In that case, whatever he actually collected, multiplied to measure one Omer. So, it did not really matter how smart you are in gathering. Free gifts of God doesn't really depend on human smartness.
Not only that smartness doesn't matter but God outwitted the smarter guys. There were those who were planning for eventualities in life. Eventualities like the manna missing a day. What if the manna didn't fall from heaven for a few days due to adverse weather conditions? Even if it is for just one day, it is is good to have a plan; so thought some careful guys. They had a plan. They kept some manna they gathered for the following day. But they could not eat it, it bred worms. They went to bed with growling tummies since they did not eat their full. However, allying all their fears, there was still a fresh supply of manna from heaven that day as well. Hoarding God's daily gifts is sin. God's provision is guaranteed.
God expects us to be prompt in receiving his gifts. It has to be gathered everyday morning. If you got up late then it is gone as the day gets hot. Procrastinators had to go without food for that day.

Friday, March 02, 2018

God answers prayers.

It is now 24 years since I came to know that Lucy (not real name) has colon cancer. Since her mother died of it, it is considered genetic; it was clear that Lucy's chances of survival were thin. That was confirmed by a panel of doctors many times.
Lucy was not yet 40 years. Had a loving husband who was devastated by the diagnosis and the treatment that followed. She also had two teenage boys.
Our prayer group prayed for her many weeks besides our earnest individual prayers daily.
After a few weeks, I left the church and the prayer group to return to my own country. I continued to pray for her for a few more years. Then, the connections snapped. I was not sending news to the group and no news came from the group. I didn't know what happened to Lucy. Over the years I concluded that the inevitable happened to her. She is no more.
However, now almost 23 years since I left that country, I returned for a short visit. I casually asked a mutual friend of Lucy and mine about her. I wanted to know when she died, what her husband and sons are doing. I was shocked when the friend told me that Lucy is alive, healed of cancer, living a rich and wonderful life.
Though every doctor she turned to told her that she doesn't have much time left, Lucy and her team of prayer warriors didn't believe what the doctors said. They still trusted the God who heals. Cancer moved from the colon to the liver. Then, the doctors surgically removed cancer in the liver! I still don't understand the details of this strange phenomenon, but one thing I understand. That is, God answers prayers.

Friday, February 02, 2018

The Gladiator Emperor

Lucius Aurelius Commodus was unique among all Roman emperors in many ways. He was the first Roman emperor to succeed his father. He was emperor of Rome with his father for three years from 177-180 AD and then on his own for another twelve years till 192 AD.
His period is considered to be a period of peace for Rome after many years. His father spent most of his reign fighting the Germanic tribes on the north-eastern borders of the Roman empire. However, after the death of his father, Commodus ended the war and returned to Rome.
He never wanted to be an emperor. As a young man, he was indulged in wine and whores. However, his mother Faustina was so determined that he succeed his father to the throne of Rome. She pushed him to the war front to be trained by his father and then to the throne in Rome. It was all against his will. Moreover, he never believed in his ability to rule the empire. For a while he withdrew from the daily affairs of running Rome delegating most of his powers to his trusted friends.
There was so much blood on his hands. He exiled and later killed his eldest sister. She was envious of him and even had plotted to kill him--a murder plot he survived. He exiled his wife who failed to bear him a son after so many years of married life. He then lived with his concubine who also became his trusted advisor. His concubine was already married to his slave!
Though there was no war on the borders, his reign was inernal turmoil for Rome. There was a grain shortage created by his advisor Cleandor who plotted to discredit the emperor. That led to a widespread famine, and as the result of famine, a plague that claimed the lives of thousands of ordinary citizens of Rome followed. When Cleandor's plot was revealed, Commodus stabbed him to death right in the Senate, as the members watched.
Bad luck followed Commodus everywhere. After the famine and plague, fire broke out and consumed most of Rome. The fire, caused by lightning, reduced to ashes temples, administrative buildings and homes of ordinary people. People interpreted it as the wrath of gods against the reign of Commodus.
The popularity of Commodus plunged into lower levels. Riots broke out in the streets of Rome. The Senate turned out to be hostile to the emperor. Commodus had to do something to stay in power. So, devised a clever plan to regain his popularity.
He announced 14 days of games in the arena. Gladiator games were common in Rome. It was one way of turning the attention of people from their problems. But this one was more exciting. The gladiators are slaves or prisoners who were forced to risk their lives to entertain the free citizens of Rome. However, in this 14 days game, for the first time in Roman history, a free man is going to enter the arena. That is emperor Commodus himself. Though the Senate disapproved the decision of their emperor to put his life at risk, Commodus was determined. It was his last-ditch attempt to regain his popularity among the people and authority over the Senate.
So, he started training to become a gladiator under the top-most gladiator of the time. After many days of intense training, as the games were only a few days away Commodus realized one thing: He was not fit for the fight! But he is now at a point of no return. He can't back off as a coward, that will do more damage than good.
The first day of the games arrived. As his wife and the members of the Senate watched holding their breath, Commodus entered the arena. Within a few minutes, he struck his sword into the chest of the first gladiator who confronted him. The arena reverberated with the cheers of the people, 'Commodus, Commodus!' On day two too Commodus won; another famous gladiator succumbed to Commodus. Commodus' popularity soared to new heights! The Senate who underestimated his abilities hanged their heads in shame.
Then before the 14 days game was over, came the shocking revelation. Commodus was fixing the matches. He had given secret orders that every gladiator appointed to challenge him to be given a blunt sword! However, skilled a gladiator be, he cannot do anything with a sword that is just a piece of iron and nothing more.
His own trainer came to know it. So, one night before the games were over, he entered Commodus' chamber and stuck his sword into his emperor's chest. He thus took revenge for the death of his comrades who died at the hands of an emperor who tried to gain cheap popularity through deception.
Emperors worthless to rule but who love to cling on to power, surround us. In politics, in religion and all spheres of our existence they abound. They put the very lives that they are supposed to protect at risk. When emperors turn gladiators, stay cautioned. They may appear to do miracles! Their miracles ar deceitful. They will keep their swords sharp and make sure your swords are blunt. These emperors do not know how to fight against sharp swords.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Grammar of Love

'Love is a verb, not a noun.' That was on a T-Shirt. What it stressed probably is to really love than talking about love.
However, in the Bible, just two verses apart from each other the word 'love' is used both as noun and verb. That is in 1 John 3:16-18. In the first case (in 1 John 3:16) it is a noun. 'By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.' The second occurrence is in 3:18, 'Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.'
Love cannot be just a verb. At the same time, unless love is quantified and displayed it cannot be a verb or an action. In fact, the act of loving comes from love. The reason for the exhortation in verse 18 is the direct result of the experience of love that verse 16 talks about.
Love is quantified as 'laying down our lives for others.' That is the breadth and depth of love. It can reach a point where a person loves another person to such an extent that his life is not more important than the life of the other. The life of the loved is more important than that of the lover.
That, however, seems to be humanly impossible.
Though it seems to be impossible, it was proved to be possible by Christ Jesus. He defined love by laying down his life for us. That is love as the noun.
Now, the verb is possible only if the noun is known through our experience. That is to say, Christ's love for us must be experienced in order to love others. Experience of any other form of love is certainly inadequate.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Dalit Upliftment. Unanswered Questions.

He wore a confused look. His eyes were constantly scanning around. He was looking for something but appeared as if he was not sure what he was looking for.
I met him on a medical college campus in Pune. Among the students lounging around the cafeteria, he was the only one without a white apron. However, he had a clean pair of clothes and a small backpack.
Watching him for a while, I walked towards him to find out what he is looking for. He told me that he is looking used textbooks. He is a first-year medical student at a different college. However, he doesn't have money to buy new books; so he is asking around among the second year students if they would like to part with their old books. But he hasn't yet met anyone willing to do that.
He told me his story. He is a Dalit from Nanded district in Maharashtra. He got 280 points out of 720 for the national medical entrance exam. Though that is only 38 percent he still managed to get a seat, being a Dalit. According to him those who got 28% also have secured admission in the Scheduled Caste quota. This is the reality here in India but those who got much higher score are left out since they are born in higher castes!
I wanted to help him. However, I wanted to verify the facts. I found many holes in his story. He told me that he has no place to stay. So, he has kept his clothes and little belongings in his friends room in the hostel. He sleeps in the hospital veranda at night. I verified his ID card, it says he was a first-year student in 2016.
So, I tried to put the pieces together to make a coherant account. He got admission in 2016, that means he should be in the second year now. He might have failed in the first year and duly thrown out of college. Being a Dalit he had a free accommodation in the hostel. He probably lost that privilege also. Now, he has no access to the library and no money to buy books. That may be why he is looking for used books.
I asked him questions in English, but he chose to answer in Hindi. Sometimes, I had to resort to my broken Hindi to clarify myself.
This is where our education system has gone wrong. Here is a student who is not eligible for admission on merit. But the government gives him admission just because of his birth in an underprivileged class. Though medical education is in English, no one cared to equip him for that. Lecture after lecture, he stared at the teacher who was speaking in a foreign language! The books in English did not make any sense to him. He has to write exams in English, but he can't. He doesn't seem to make it.
Here are a few questions that demand answers. Is this the way to uplift the less privileged classes? Does anyone know the drop out rate of Dalits in schools and colleges? Uplifting the Dalits has to begin much early in the life of every Dalit boy and girl. Giving them opportunities without capacity building is of no use.

Master's Voice

Sometime back, I took a team to the elephant park in my town. There are about 40 elephants belonging to a temple. Each elephant is assigned ...