Thursday, 10 September 2015

What do you pursue?

God is grand in designing examples for us to follow. His designs of examples sometimes baffle us, challenge us for sure, shock us and at other times engulf us in total shame.
Oh yes! Take a trip through the books of the Bible, the examples that God sets before us are often unscalable epitomes, especially the youth. The valiant young David, the blameless Joseph, the fastidious Daniel et al.

Recently I came across a trenchant story of a young woman by name Vibia Perpetua. Young at 22 years of age she was with a newborn child and was arrested for being a Christian. She was anticipating persecution because of her Christian faith. During his visits, her father implored her to renounce faith in this new and dangerous religion. But her determination was invincible. She never did sway even to her own father's relentless pleading or coaxing. Her father must be thoroughly convinced that just like every other youth she must have been not only deluded but injudiciously adamant as well. Something incongruent has taken over her mind. But did it? Absolutely not! Rather something profound had happened to her. Something ethereal. Perpetua knew that the celestial city Christians called Heaven had taken residence in her heart. The world around her paled in significance when apposed with the little heaven inside her heart. So magnificent was the influence of her new heart that even death cowered at her stance.

Vibia Perpetua lived in a city called Carthage in the country of Tunisia. It grew to be the second largest city in the western half of the Roman Empire. It was the center of the Roman province of Africa. It became a center of early Christianity. Paula Fredriksen, Boston University says that pagan rituals were part of the normal fabric of life in Roman city. Jews were exempted from performing these pagan sacrifices but the Christians were not. It was not a criminal offense to be a Christian but you've got to have a chit that says that you have sacrificed for the well-being of the empire. Christians responded to this mandate in various ways. Some sent their servants to do it for them. Some bribed a friend who was a magistrate to get the chit without performing the act. Some even sacrificed knowing that these gods were nothing after all. But there were some people who really didn't budge to this insanity of the empire, like Perpetua. By being audaciously defiant they got the attention of the Governors.

While enjoying a fellowship breakfast with her fellow Christian prisoners, Perpetua was summoned by Governor Hilarianus for a hearing. Perpetua's father was present there. With tears welling up in his eyes and for the last time he desperately tried to save his daughter by persuading her to recant faith in Christianity. But as always had been the case, Perpetua with a heavy heart denied to heed to her old father.

Hilarianus asked "Are you a Christian?". "Yes, I am". With that chilling confession, Perpetua sealed her own end when the Governor sentenced her to be given over to the beasts. Now all kinds of predators were used to have these Christians killed like lions, tigers, boars, leopards, bears etc. These Christians even discussed what kind of animals they should be mauled by. It was sheer joy for them to die this gruesome death for the sake of their Saviour.

On that day Perpetua and her friends were brought to the arena in the presence of a restless, blood-thirsty mob. Rather than being petrified they warned the mob of the impending judgement of God if they didn't submit to Jesus. Then all kinds of animals were unleashed. Perpetua was knocked down by a mad heifer and then she was mauled by other animals too. In the end, Perpetua took the trembling hand of a gladiator with a sword and assisted him to reach her throat to be cut.

In her youthful age, Perpetua persistently sought to lose her life so that she may gain it. She smiled at death's face trusting her Lord. She was uncompromising and undaunted when threatened about following Jesus. She could have opted for the many ways to make a sacrifice and have her life spared especially from a gory death like this. But she didn't. In fact she was gladly welcoming a death like that. A great life, a great epitome of faith and wisdom. In her youth she pursued suffering for her Lord rather than pleasure. What about you?

Monday, 3 August 2015

Trampled Again and Again and Again…

The call to be a Christian is extremely challenging whether one realizes it or not.
One of the chief purposes of the Christian's call is to have the ego gradually diminished. Diminished to the extent of being cast into oblivion. The call is to have the ego vanquished by the Spirit of God.
This call buffets one's ego. It vehemently denounces the ego's superior attitude. This call is sworn at causing your inner person the pain through constant shaping. Of course God uses pain to shape us but pain is also inevitably collaterally results from it. The word buffet  is an old English word which actually means to strike again forcefully or to beat repeatedly. The purpose of the Christian call is exactly to do just that to your ego. One of the ways God achieves this is by commanding us to forgive. How exactly do you feel when forgiving others especially those that have schemed against you or subtly backstabbed you? There is a ridiculously lingering pain, is there not? The pain that is caused by a heinous hurt or affront. This feeling of pain coerces you to cry for vindication, justice or even a ruthless payback! Even after your magnanimous feat of forgiving the perpetrator, the scar remains. When the false teachers instigated the church to question the credential and the credibility of Paul's apostleship, he was hurt beyond measure. We read about his immense suffering just for the sake of the church and here they are questioning his motives. When his heart was so tender and caring to the church, witnessing them doubt and question his integrity bruised his heart. We read in 2 Corinthians 12:14 where he likens him to a parent and the congregation to his children. But did not Paul forgive them? Yes he did! We know that from the very next verse where he says that he was willing to most gladly be spent for their souls. Yet one can sense that pain of hurt in his lines. Most of the time this pain remains with us and we ought to live with it. We struggle to forget the hurt. But it stays on vividly. It is always there inside daunting us. 
And that is part of the Christian's call. 
Through such painful situation God causes you to know His purposes which is to conform you to greater glory. When we heed to this, a profound change happens which offers a shift in our perspective on the pain that results. 
For instance, imagine that you have been caused pain which was not warranted. As a Christian you are not just expected but commanded to forgive the one who caused you this pain. Christian forgiveness is to treat the hurter more than a comrade. Christian forgiveness is to treat as though nothing of that sort of hurt ever transpired. Christian forgiveness is to treat as though there never has been any fracture in the relationship. A Christian musters all his energy to mend the broken relationship.
This is a difficult step to take. When one part of you wants to vindicate yourself and also see the hurter pay justly for the hurt caused, the other part persuades you to forgive like Christ. This means that you do not embark on vindication but simply allow yourself to be trampled. The more you forgive others, the more you feel trampled, the more you feel the pain. You may even be taken for granted by others because they know that you will end up forgiving. But that is what we are called to keep doing as Christians. Keep incurring hurt and keep forgiving!
In one of my morning devotions I encountered a word that exuded the quintessential nature of Christ's humanity. MEEKNESS!
Colossians 3:12
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
The word simply means 'to be willing to suffer offence, affront, or an insult'. One can instantly imagine Christ standing before a mob of ferocious revilers. Yet there was not a trace of retaliation from His side. Not even an attempt of vindication. But the verse (1 Peter 2:23) goes on to say 'but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly'. And precisely that, my friends, is what we are called to follow. The heart of God shines in inescapably evident ways when we forgive seventy times seven.

God has etched that adorable word MEEKNESS in my mind ever since I encountered it in a fresh new way. 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Random Thoughts on Suffering

Of late I've been experiencing some form of a challenging situation. Well I'm convinced that it can very well be grouped under the label suffering though I am certainly not suffering like the Apostle Paul did let alone to the point of shedding blood!!. Now let me list out what suffering does to us?

First of all it ousts us out of our (complacent or) comfortable zone.
Second it brings us pain
Third it ushers in restlessness, anxiety
Fourthly it casts doubts about our future
and you can name a few more.

But the greatest ramification, as far as I am concerned, that suffering may wreak is to distrust God Himself and to delude us to play God in our lives. We audaciously begin to wrest the prerogatives of God in our lives and we rule instead. We feverishly run about everywhere to everybody other than God to receive help to salvage us and the situation as well. If God is ever cited in such situations or  we miraculously conjure up by ourselves the thought of God in that situation, sadly, our initial response is to question His motives on these situations.

With a brief on our initial response to suffering, let me move on to the real issue. More than the suffering itself the issue at stake is our understanding on suffering. In order to have a wholesome grasp on suffering, the only place that we can go to is the Scripture. We have ample examples from Scripture. We see Joseph unjustly languishing in prison. One Sunday evening when my pastor was casually sharing from his devotion time, he was saying that Joseph might have been confused about what was going on in his life. Yet he did not allow the circumstances dictate his course of action rather he trusted in God and stayed close to Him. One is reminded of 1 Peter 2:23 'When he (Jesus) was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly', when we think about how Joseph behaved especially with his brothers who were the real conspirators. While studying this verse as part of my Sunday School preparation, I spontaneously fell in love with this one phrase 'entrusted himself.' The word entrust literally means to give into the hands of another. It also means to give over into someone's power. I strongly believe each and everyone of us going through such torturous moments should ought to completely entrust ourselves into the hands of the righteous Judge. When this is done, we shall begin to experience an inconceivable peace in the midst of assailing situations. Our clouded minds shall also be cleared enough to see the perfect plans of God for those moments.

Suffering is a portion that God has ordained for each and every one of His called saints. Suffering is inescapable and indispensable in a Christian's life. We may really wish that it ended but we need a bit of caution and wisdom to really understand what we are wishing for. Suffering is God's classroom on spiritual maturity. Asking God to get suffering out of our lives is directly proportional to asking Him to stop transforming us into the image of His Son.  

I'm reading a book called The Portrait of Paul by Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker. The first chapter titled 'The Joy of Paul's Ministry' deals a lot on Paul's dealing with his suffering. Here are some quotes:

'Joy, even in suffering, is a distinguishing mark of his character and ministry.'

'It is grounded in humility, for there can be no rejoicing in the heart of a man who thinks he deserves far better than what he receives.'

'Paul and Silas sit unjustly condemned, their bodies bruised and bleeding. They are unable to move or to discover a position that will lessen the agony. They are locked in a foul prison alongside others who probably deserved to be there. If ever men had reason to resent such unjust treatment, they did. But as we peer through the bars on that night, what do we find? “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” '

'Says G. Campbell Morgan, “Any man can sing when the prison doors are open, and he is set free. The Christian’s soul sings in prison.”[2] The church father Tertullian is even blunter, asserting, “Nothing the limb feels in the stocks when the mind is in heaven.”[3] Paul’s response under these rigors tells us volumes about this man and bids us follow him as he also followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).'

'We find Paul taking pleasure in his infirmities, not in the removing of them. The knowledge that when he is weak he is strong in Christ gives him great joy.'

'Paul’s abiding joy was not contingent upon his circumstances.'

'Are you ready to suffer? We do not ask you to invite or pursue suffering, but to remember that everyone who desires to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). If we are faithful, suffering will come.' 

It will not be an exaggeration to say that Paul was literally enjoying his sufferings! And that is because he knows that Christ works for his good precisely in situations like those. One of the ways Paul recommends to have a deeper communion with God is to share in His sufferings (Phil 3:10)

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A Prayer of Anguish

Dear Father,

My soul is languishing within. I know not what to do about my life. I am struggling to understand Your call for my life. "What is the purpose of my life?" I endlessly ask but not a faint answer! Life is but fleeting. But before my life ends I wish to have lived out the purpose that You have willed in my life. I dread the thought that I may fail to grasp the mission of my life before I pass away from this world. Day in and out my soul wearies in travailing to unravel Your plans for my life. Or am I so blind and benighted to comprehend Your incessant summons saying "Son, stand in the gap for Me!" Reveal it to me O God before I faint, before I become callous. Save this Gideon with resounding assurances of a thousand fleeces! 

son and slave

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Cross

The cross as a symbol has been used and abused. Naive understanding of the cross has led people to consider it as an object infused with divine power or even as a good luck charm. Some strongly maintain that wearing a cross assures them of ultimate protection. Adding to this assortment of superstitious ideas on cross, movies have 'venerated' the seeming power of the cross to obliterate vampires when a priest brandishes one. 

In the Christendom chiefly, the cross is offered the utmost attention during the passion week as the object of one's relentless meditation. At the end of season, sadly though, the prominence of the Cross quickly fades out.

Contrary all these fanciful purporting, the cross can be understood as a metonymy for the atonement accomplished by Christ through His death.

Different verses or passages in the Bible testify to this. For instance, Jesus Himself reveals the purpose of His incarnation which is to give His life as a 'ransom for many'. In another place He says "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

Psalm 85:10 says,
"Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other."

This verse succinctly talks about what happened on the cross. The Bible unflinchingly informs us that the entire humanity not only plunged into sin but also incurred the wrath of God due to that one act of disobedience by Adam, the representative of the whole human race. Man with his own ability is ever irredeemable. He can never begin to think about appeasing the wrath of God. God demanded an unblemished sacrifice that alone can propitiate His wrath. Now that the whole humanity comprising of people across all times are blemished with sin, not a single soul was, is or ever will be able to mend the severed relationship between God and men. God the Father in His loving will planned out before creation to send His only begotten Son to do what no man can. And that is precisely why there is a cross.  Upon the cross is where God the Son was bruised by God the Father as the prophet Isaiah declares.

Now the blemishless nature of Christ warrants our brief attention. As mentioned He came down to earth to do what no man can but He did not just take the place of  a mere blemishless man per se. Jesus on earth was not just a man who did not sin. He was much more than that. For instance hypothetically, a sinless human being (if any now!) would be the pre-fall Adam and yet he was peccable (able to sin), which simply means he was able to sin. That is precisely why he sinned and fell short of God's glory. At the same time he was 'able not to sin'. In Adam, as fallen beings, we all do not keep sinning every minute of our lives. In other words, we are simply not the devil personified. But Christ Jesus was both sinless and impeccable. Jesus in His humanity was 'able not to sin' (sinless) as well as 'not able to sin' (impeccable). Contrarily we humans are always peccable and never impeccable. We will never have the ability to not sin at all. Christ was never found with a single sin. He could never ever commit a sin simply because He is not able to sin. So this sinless and impeccable incarnation of the second Person of the Trinity was gruesomely crushed for my sins and yours. And that is the crux of the CROSS. (By the way, did you know that the origin of the word crux is cross?!)

The cross is where the righteousness of God (justice of God established through His wrath) and peace of God (made viable through the atoning death of Christ because He loved us) meet.

The cross is a symbol of Christ's perfect atoning death
The cross is a symbol of Christ's inscrutable impeccability and sinlessness
The cross is a symbol of God's terrifying wrath/justice/righteousness
The cross is a symbol of God's ineffable love
The cross is a symbol of incomprehensible peace between God and His children
The cross is a symbol of God's wisdom
The cross is a symbol of an eternal Kingdom

More than being flippantly treated as a a mere symbol, the Cross should be understood to possess an intrinsic profundity intended by God. The importance of the Cross should surpass the attention given just during the passion week.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Yelling Thoughts?

How often have you felt that your mind is cluttered with a myriad thoughts. There are times when you desire to have a pristine thought pattern but suddenly experience a deluge of thoughts invading your mind.

Our lives are crammed with activities. Especially in a digital age like ours noise is ubiquitous. Noise has become such an intimate part of this generation that silence to many seems eerie. Gregariousness has become the motto and the plethora of social networks will testify to this fact. Besides the noise that is tangible to our senses, the real challenge is dealing with the noise that lurks in our minds. Thanks once again to our busy lives. We smother our minds with endless lists and information just about one day. Imagine the information for a week, a month and so on. All these information come back to haunt us with restlessness and anxiety.

Of late I've been stressed with a ruthless invasion of incongruous thoughts, distracting me in every way. I coerced myself to concentrate on God, Scriptures, books and the like. My efforts ditched me. I felt my mind strangled by this unanticipated conquest of this abstract force. What should one do about such a predicament?

I am not expected to express my prowess in subduing my mind to some vague esoteric force. But the superb antidote to this seemingly unrelenting problem is the Discipline of Silence and Solitude. Solitude is the act of secluding oneself so one can remain silent. 

The Bible calls me to gently lay myself at the feet of the dear Lord. 
Zephaniah 1:7 says,
[7] Be silent before the Lord GOD! 

Zechariah 2:13
[13] Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD

David says in Psalm 62:1-2
[1] For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. [2] He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Above everything we have the superior example to emulate, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Mark 1:35
[35] And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

Matthew 14:23 
[23] And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray

In the midst of catering to a mobbish crowd, Jesus departed and constantly kept this Discipline of Silence and Solitude. His sweetest time on earth was whenever He spent time alone with His dear heavenly Father. 

We are compelled by such an example. Unlike Jesus, we are redeemed from sin and we still are mired by the impurities that remain within. So this rendezvous with our Father will awaken our slumbering senses to the purposeful life that God has called us to. Our hearts will be suffused with the heavenly love of God. The invincible peace of the Almighty shall pervade the deep crevices of our hearts and shall dispel anxiety. This discipline helps us to be fixated on God. Also beware that this silence will uninhibitedly remind us of our sins. This discipline will also help us to lean on God even more. Myriads of spiritual benefits shall we reap if practiced regularly. 

Of course we cannot always jaunt over to the marooned outskirts of our bustling cities to be all by ourselves. Donald Whitney suggests that instead of fruitlessly trying to escape a noisy ambiance,

"It's possible to provide that same kind of brief refreshment on occasion throughout your day. A moment at a traffic light, in an elevator, or in line at a drive-through can become a "minute retreat" when you consecrate it as a time of silence and solitude. You can use the time of prayer at a meal for a spiritual pause" (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life - Donald Whitney)

'Minute Retreat' is his counsel. To quickly smuggle those time intervals in our daily lives shall offer us a powerful gander of our eternal rest.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Is God Watching Me All the Time?

Of course it is practically impossible to constantly thrust in our minds the truth that God is watching us all the time! But that laxity cannot relieve us of the obligation to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our holy calling. But is He watching me, and all the time at that?

In order to answer this question we need to know something about God's nature, especially about His attribute of Omnipresence. We've all heard this word every now and then but what does it actually mean? And how will its understanding truly affect the way we live?

To begin with God's attributes can generally be understood in two ways. Communicable and Incommunicable. 

The attribute that God communicates to us, say holiness as part of renewal process in sanctification can be understood as communicable. But there are attributes that are quintessential to Him. These are attributes that are unique to Him by virtue of His very being. And so these attributes can never be communicated to humanity. One such attribute is Immensity, a subset of God's Omnipresence.

Acts 17:28 says "In him we live and move and have our being" which means that God fills everything, everywhere. There is not a place in the whole space that is absent of His presence. This can be referred to as His general presence. By virtue of who He is (ie, ontologically), God is not limited by space. He is present everywhere without loss of His presence anywhere. So I can never escape His presence.

Apart from the universal presence of God, there is this unique presence of God among His children. This can also be understood as His covenantal presence.  Scott Clark says that the difference between general and special presence is in degree.

God is not diffused (spread out) throughout creation but the creation itself is suffused (filled in) with His presence. David says in Psalm 139:7,8

"Where shall I go from your Spirit?

    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!"

What is he talking about but the immense presence of God. So yes, God is watching us all the time!

This truth of Divine Immensity should,
  • Caution us to live obediently 
  • Comfort us in the midst of suffering
  • Assure us in times of doubts
  • Delight us when we worship Him
  • Offer us hope when we pray to Him

May the Omnipresent God constrain us!