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.

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...