Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Life and Light

'For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light' Psalm 36:9.
When David sang to God, 'For with you is the fountain of life', he was not thinking of life in the ordinary sense of that word. Similarly when he said, 'in your light do we see light', he had a different idea about light also.
Life is not just a mere existence. Generally speaking, we associate life with the state of creatures to have an existence. When an animal dies it's life is taken from it. However, the word life means more than mere existence.
Life also means that vitality and vigour with which we lead our lives. Two people join us at the party. We say one is lifeless because she is not enjoying our company or contributing anything to enhance the enjoyment that we are all looking forward to. Maybe she is a party pooper by her presence. The other person is altogether different. We may also even say that she is the 'life of the party.' She not only keep the party going, but makes it enjoyable by her active presence, and by the way she contributes to the spirit of the party.
Our earthly existence has ups and downs. There are times when the vitality and vigour are drained out of our lives. We can say that we live because we walk, talk, work and earn a living, etc. However, most of the time, we do it without real life in us. Our relationships, our talk and even our work are 'lifeless.'
However, it is possible to lead our lives without unrealistic ups and depressive downs. It is possible to live on a higher plane but still on level ground. We can maintain a healthy, steady level of vitality and vigour of life even in the most trying circumstances.
The secret of how much life we have in our lives depends on where we draw our life from. There are two sources of life. One like all nature we draw our sustenance from the surroundings and ourselves. That is how trees and animals live. They draw their food and nutrients from their surroundings. When they have nothing to draw, they use what they have stored up for the difficult days. They survive in arid places in dry summer until the refreshing rain arrives. Human beings too keep going using their built-in coping mechanisms.
The other source as the psalmist has discovered is to draw our life from God who is the source of life. When there is nothing that the surroundings can offer and there is no inner strength left, godly people look up to God. Then God who is the source of life provides new vigour in abundance like a fountain refreshing those who parched with the heat of the day.
Jesus told made it more clear to the Samaritan woman. He told her that the water that Jacob's well offers makes a person come back to it every time they thirst. And the heat of the day makes them thirst again and again. The trying circumstances of our earthly existence are like the heat of the day. However, he offers living waters that never causes thirst. The water that Jesus offered the Samaritan woman is qualified as 'living' in two senses. First of all, it is not stagnant as the water in Jacob's well. It is like a stream that flows with water because it originates from a spring that keeps gushing out fresh water. It is also living waters because it gives life.
On the last day of the festival, Jesus said something that elaborates this truth. He said, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink' (John 6:37). He was calling all those who lead lives like the beasts of burden, heavy-laden and lifeless. He promises all those who drink from him a life that doesn't thirst but also becoming streams of life for themselves and others. That is the message hidden in the words that Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman:' ... but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life' (John 4:14).
The concept of light also is similar. David uses it in this verse metaphorically to illustrate its spiritual aspects. Bible associates light with the truth. This is clear in some passages where light is lumped with truth, wisdom, knowledge etc. Having light means having the ability to avoid what is false and to know what is true. The psalmist would say, 'The unfolding of your words gives light;it imparts understanding to the simple' (Psalm 119:130). In a similar vein, the Book of Daniel lumps it with 'light and understanding and excellent wisdom'  (Dan 5:14).
However, this is not just an inner illumination that we possess. The source of this life is God because God is light. It is one of the powerful statements in the Bible: 'God is light; in him, there is no darkness' (1 John 1:5).
This leads us to this truth: Without God being the source of light, we will not every discern truth from falsehood. Without God the light guiding us we will never be able to find the pathways to everlasting life.
David thus in a poetic manner expounds this truth that life and light or vitality of life and wisdom for living comes from the living God, the God of the Bible.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Joy, the hallmark of Christian life.

Joy is the hallmark of Christian life. Jesus mentions a long list of adverse human circumstances and concludes, ‘rejoice and be glad.’ Each of these adverse circumstances he introduces with the word, blessed.’ Matthew 5:2-12.
The word used for ‘blessed’ can also be translated as ‘happy.’ Some translation have it so. It is the ‘transcendent happiness or religious joy.’ So blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who are persecuted, and so on ....
We get a sharper picture of the adversities in the parallel passage in Luke 6:20-23.  Luke's version includes poverty, hunger, weeping, being hated, etc... There too Jesus sums it up saying, 'rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for your reward is great in heaven.'
Followers of Jesus are destined to be happy in all circumstances that their earthly existence throws at them.
The reason for this transcendent joy is that they have a larger vision of life. They can see life that stretches to eternity, beyond this transient earthly existence. The success and failure, joy and sadness, and all the sort of experiences are not final, but there is more to human life. There is eternity or our life that extends beyond the grave to heaven.
Those who have that vision can literally 'leap for joy' now because they can see their reward in heaven. They are not losers at all.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

Paul's final exhortations to the church in Thessalonica poses yet another difficulty. He said, '... Give thanks in all circumstances....' (1 Thess 5:18). However, all circumstances are not really good to be thankful. So, how can we be thankful irrespective of what befalls us?
Ratna and her husband were thrilled when she came to know that she is going to have a baby. It was a long wait since they got married. They are indeed thankful to God and to their little prayer-group who upheld them in their prayers.
However, the scenario changed in a few weeks time. She had visited her doctor to discuss the recent scan report. To her shock, the doctor told her that the baby to be born may have Down's Syndrome. He added that it is better to abort now before it is too late. However, they decided to keep the baby. Joy now turned into weeping. They both roll in their bed sleepless and imagining the challenges of caring for a baby with Down's Syndrome for the rest of their life.
Ratna and her husband are not alone nor their circumstance unique. You may know many such circumstances where adversities hit without warning. It might have happened to you as well.
Can they be still be thankful to God. However, the Word of God says, 'be thankful in all circumstances.' It is a command, not a suggestion. It also says it is God's will that we remain thankful to him in spite of all that bad happens to us.
To be thankful, we need to trust God's wisdom. He knows everything, he knows everything better than us. His wisdom is faultless. He decides what is good and bad. Whatever adversity that befalls us has happened with his knowledge and purpose. All that we need to do is to accept now what he has given with thankfulness and wait for the good he has planned to unfold in its own time, in his own way.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Praying without Ceasing

‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ (1 Thess 5:16-18).
During my last medical check-up, the cardiologist put me through a treadmill test. He asked me to keep moving until he stopped the machine. For some reason, I pressed the stop button after a while since I felt uncomfortable. Probably, I was wearing the wrong shoe on that day.
The exhortation to pray without ceasing is to keep praying for something until we receive the signal to stop. This is important because most of us give up before our prayers reach their proper end.
Why do people give up prayers? There could be various reasons. Discouragement is the main reason. We keep praying and there seems to be no result for a long time so we drop praying. This is tied to a person's level of patience because discouragement sets in for different people at different periods. Some, with longer patience may go on for longer periods because they surrender to discouragement slower than others. 
Praying for the wrong thing also bring discouragement. God will answer our prayers according to his will. Prayers for wrong things are not going to be answered. Since such lives are dotted with unanswered prayers, they lose the steam to advance in their prayer-life further. Thus ceasing such prayers are not bad but will do immense good to our spiritual life.
When is the right time to stop? The simple answer is to stop when the prayer is answered. But what about prayers that will never have an immediate answer or could be open-ended. For example, praying for the welfare and peace in my country is an ongoing prayer. It doesn't seem to happen in the near future though I would like to see it happen in my life-time.
Prayers without end in sight are prayers that shape us spiritually. Such prayers draw us regularly to the bossom of the father. Such prayers keep us prayerful. Finding such things to pray helps us to pray without ceasing.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Rejoicing always

At least some part of Paul's final exhortations to the church in Thessalonica is quite challenging; especially the one in 1 Thess 5:16-18. 'Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.' Though challenging, we cannot run away from it, because we are bound by it. It is the will of God for us, or what God demands from us.
Is it possible to 'rejoice always'? There are circumstances in life, actually most of the time, which drives us to sadness and sorrow. Everyone goes through disappointments, sorrow, and sadness even though for brief periods. Though the good Lord may spare us for long and deep valleys of depression, rejoicing always includes those brief periods as well. 
Rejoicing always, in spite of long and short spells of sadness is possible only if we take it as the command of God. It is not a suggestion but imperative on us. We are under order to rejoice! We have no choice other than being joyful in spite of all the adverse circumstances. 
Rejoicing always is a major theme of Paul's life. His life was full of tragic and challenging experiences: hardships of life, imprisonments, ailments, opposition. However, he kept his life in Christ upbeat.
Paul penned the advice 'rejoice, rejoice and again I say rejoice' (Phil 4:4). This often-quoted Bible verse was written in prison as most scholars agree. However, we have much more concrete evidence in the Book of Acts (Acts 16:25-33). When Paul and Silas were shut behind the bars in the city of Philippi they did not spend the night planning a jail-break. But they were praying and singing. What kind of songs were they singing? Luke, the writer of Acts is clear that they were not singing a song for deliverance but they were singing hymns to God. Hymns are songs that adore God. In the midst of their suffering, physical and emotional hurt, humiliation and imprisonment they were not thinking of freedom and justice but of the glory of God. 
For a godly man like Paul, rejoicing always came very naturally. Thus he has the right to write that it is the will of God for us to do the same. But from my experience, I can only say that that is still an art that I am yet to master.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Final Victory

'I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.' John 16:33 (ESV).

'These things' that Jesus told the disciples were horrid. He told them that he is parting company with them. He said the world that they have to live will persecute them. 
However, what is the purpose of telling them all these things that will happen to them? Jesus' reason is clear--that they may find peace in him. In a world that is friendly to them, they will have peace. But that will be the peace like the one we will have when there is no conflict. However, when there are conflicts, then the source of peace must be something different. In the midst of their conflict with a hostile world, the disciples have to seek Jesus for peace.
The reason for peace in Jesus while living in conflict with the world is that Jesus has overcome the world. The ultimate victory doesn't belong to the world, but to Jesus the victor. When the world deprives us peace, we can always find solace in the fact that the world is already defeated by Jesus. It is the defeated enemy that is shouting at us and fighting with us. We have peace because we already know that the enemy is not going to win because it has already lost!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Losers, Gainers

Jesus made yet another paradoxical statement in Mark 10:29-31. The substance of what he said here was this: losers will be gainers.
His statement was in response to Peter’s question. Peter asked Jesus what would people who left all that they had get. Peter and other disciples of Jesus had left their jobs, belongings, families and even their community to follow Jesus. Jesus assured him that they will get everything back hundred-fold.
Peter’s question was in the context of the rich man who was not willing to leave what he had to gain eternal life (Mark 10:17-22). This young rich man was a gainer while Peter and his friends were losers at that moment. The rich young man retained what he had.
The word ‘left’ is important here. It is not merely losing what one have, though that also might have happened. Some followers of Christ had their property confiscated (Heb 10:34). In some places this word is used for giving up something voluntarily just as Jesus ‘yielded up’ his spirit on the cross (Matt 27:50). Many early disciples and some contemporary Christians had to let their belongings go for the sake of Christ. In some contexts it could mean ‘neglecting’ something, like the Pharisees neglected the commandment of God (Mark 7:8). Peter had to neglect his boat and nets because his eyes were solely on Jesus. In summary, ‘Leaving’ is to consider our earthly relationships and possessions of low priority for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel.
What did Jesus really mean? Did this really happen or was it a vain promise? Did Peter get 100 houses, mothers, brothers and sisters before he was martyred? One thing is sure, he or the other followers did not receive 100 houses like the one they left nor the siblings like the ones they had before following Jesus. In passing I also want to note that they are not promised fathers hundred fold.
By leaving one father, one mother and a few siblings (three or four) Peter received a greater father. It was God himself who is better than 100 earthly fathers, who he could call ‘heavenly father’ every time he prayed.
The word ‘receive’ also do not mean ‘owning’ or ‘possession.’ It is having or enjoying something even without owning. It is experiencing something without really owning it or having a claim on it. Such things are not owned by anyone but all of them had access to it. That is the nature of Christian blessings.
The early church was a community. There were younger followers of Jesus as well as older ones. They called each other brothers and sisters (Acts 1:16). The younger ones might have considered the older ones their mothers and fathers because they might have left their own parents (1 Tim 5:2). Back at home, before following Jesus they had only one pair of parents, but now there are hundreds. In return, the older ones considered the younger ones their sons and daughters.
In Jerusalem they were altogether. They shared their possessions in such a manner that there was none who was in need. The rich sold their possessions and shared it with the poor. It was a new family of God.
This new family of God had no geographical boundaries. People in Corinth were willing to share their wealth with their siblings in Jerusalem who were miles away. The siblings in the province of Macedonia shared their resources with other siblings like Paul and companions when they were in need. So, Jesus' promise was fulfilled in their own life. It was a larger family, greater bonding and superior caring.
But Jesus had also promised along with all these ‘persecutions’ as a reward for forsaking what they had to follow him. Though we may consider persecutions undesirable, the early Christians did not consider it so. They took pride in persecutions. Typical response to persecution in seen in what Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:10). He wrote, ‘For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
With persecutions promised, their reward is complete. They gained much more than they lost. Losers are gainers in God’s economy.

Life and Light

'For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light' Psalm 36:9.   When David sang to God, 'For with you ...