Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4-8‬

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To Love is a Privilege

Sometimes, when I read a familiar verse or passage in the Bible, I tend to assume that I do know what that verse says, even when in reality, I haven’t understood what it means. Every so often, I skim past a popular verse, and I feel lead to think about what I just read. When I do, the message that was a haze becomes all too clear. Does that happen to you too..? I wonder how many times I’ve read Matthew 22:37-39, until I could truly grasp the meaning behind the verse.

The words of Christ Jesus goes like this,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:37-39

This verse to me, used to represent the liberalism of the Bible, as my focus was always on the latter part of the verse: ‘the Law and the Prophets, are contained in these’. All I could think when I read this verse, was of how Jesus replaced the old commandments and made things easy for me. “No longer do I need to remember multitudes of restrictions. No more, ‘do this’ or ‘do that.’ What a relief, right..?” But.. what about that little thing called ‘love’..?

I mean, it’s not like I could not read what was plainly before me. I knew that the command was about love, but.. I hadn’t thought of what that actually meant. Love is something that comes from within, right..? An emotion that drives you to deeds that are most beautiful..? The command to love, couldn’t actually be about THAT love, could it..? I mean, how is that even possible..? Could I change how my heart feels toward another..?

All along, the vague understanding I had of this verse, focussed on those most beautiful of deeds, but never too much on the emotion behind them. When you can’t change how you feel, perhaps those deeds might just be enough..? ‘Loving’ actions, you know..? In the end, it is the actions that matter, right..? Like when you absolutely hate a person, yet hold all that hatred within and still manage to be good to them..? Like when you don’t really feel a thing about someone who is poor or in need, yet do charitable deeds because that is what you are commanded to do..? That I can do, and should be enough, I guess. How could it be otherwise..? How can I love, when all I feel toward someone, is hatred..? Or how can I feel compassionate toward someone.. when I don’t..?

But.. could it be otherwise..? Does the Bible have anything more to say about this..? Going by Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, it does. And it couldn’t be any clearer….

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:1-3

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing..? If I do all the good in the world that I could do, yet my actions aren’t motivated by love, I gain nothing..? Absolutely. I will gain nothing from living such a life, if there is no love in me. But.. I do know the man that I am, and that at most times, there is no love in me. Am I destined to live a life in Christ, with no gain..?

God hasn’t called us into His fold to live life in such hopelessness. In Him, there is always hope. All I needed was to further my understanding of this verse, and God in His grace, was leading me there….

I knew that through the cross, every trespass I had made against the commands of the Old Testament were forgiven, as Jesus had fulfilled every single one of them for me, even unto death. What I failed to see though, was that these two commands were actually contained within the Law of Moses, in the Old Testament. In fact, this verse was Jesus’ response to a Jew who questioned Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? Most of you might know this already, but if you are unaware as I were, do read Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

The life that Christ Jesus lived, fulfilled not just the outward working of the law, but also the inward requirement, even amidst the excruciating torture He endured. He loved the soldiers when they beat Him and humiliated Him. He loved them when they spat on Him and tore His beard. He loved them when they pierced His head with a crown of thorns and crucified Him. And when He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do,” He wasn’t just expressing His goodness, but He was fulfilling a commandment – a commandment to love – that you and I could never ever fulfil by ourselves.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

‭‭Romans‬ ‭3:21-22‬

And what does He do after fulfilling such an arduous commandment..? The gain – the righteousness that comes from living such a pure and perfect life – He freely gives, to all who believe.

Doesn’t that Robe of Righteousness with which He has covered us, seem all the more brighter when you think about this..? The Lord sees me – a man who cannot even love perfectly those who love me – as a man who loves the whole of mankind; even those from whom he endures unjustified hatred. The words of the Apostle Paul echoes in my head: ‘Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Christ went through all that He did, fulfilling the most demanding of commandments, to win us the Robe of Righteousness. But why..? So that we could live with Him in His Kingdom for eternity..? Absolutely. But also, that He could live with us in our hearts, even today. Through His sacrifice, our Lord tore apart the veil of separation that stood between God and man. Through Christ, God has sanctified for His dwelling, His most favoured temple: You and me….

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23

All that I longed for, is now mine to possess, through the power of the Spirit of God, who now dwells in me. For all the emphasis the Bible lays on love, is it any wonder that when the fruit of the Spirit is mentioned, ahead of all else, there is love..?

Lord I thank You, for You have loved me, even for the loveless man that I am. I am grateful that through the righteousness that You have gained for me and through the power of Your Holy Spirit, I am now equipped to love with a love that is pure and true. By Your grace, help me exert this privilege in my life. Help me to bear fruit in You. I ask this in the most precious name, of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

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God.. through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:18-20‬

Pleasant Again

She fled home with her family to escape a severe famine in the land. She became widowed as she lived among a strange people. She watched her sons die, leaving behind their widows, without a child to call their own. She was named Pleasantness – in her Hebrew tongue, the name was Naomi. After all that she had seen, who could have had the heart to contended with her when she cried, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [Bitterness], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me”..?

Look at life through Naomi’s eyes for a minute. What do you see..? Do you see any sign of hope..? Till where the eye could see, even till the horizon.. I could see nothing that could possibly have given Naomi an incentive to take another step forward. There could have been times in that phase of her life when living seemed a pointless exercise. But even when life seemed vain, Naomi was in truth fulfilling an extraordinary purpose….

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:28‬

Naomi though was oblivious to that extraordinary purpose. Could she have ever known that her widowed daughter-in-law – Ruth the Moabite – whom she was leading toward Judah, was a chosen vessel in the eyes of the Lord..? The woman whom God found worthy of honour above every woman in Judah in her time..? Through whom, over a millennium later, at the time appointed, the Messiah whom the people of Israel awaited, would be born..?

Or could Naomi have known that the restoration and the future that she so dearly did seek was never far from her..? When Naomi returned to Bethlehem from her tragic sojourn in Moab, she lamented, ‘I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty’. She must have considered Ruth’s presence in her life insignificant [though Naomi’s love for her could never be questioned] in light of all that she had lost. But we do know – through the Book of Ruth – how the script turned out, don’t we..? God didn’t bring Ruth to Bethlehem to remain a destitute. He exalted her in stature. And Ruth – who was once considered insignificant by Naomi – cared for her mother-in-law with such a love, that the Bible notes that she was ‘more to her than seven sons’.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

Though all these events were soon to take place, from where Naomi stood, the future was masked by the veil of time. Yet.. in the face of utter devastation and amidst the hopelessness, what did Naomi do..? In the simplest of terms, she did two things: kept living and kept loving….

Kept living..? Is that even worth mentioning..? Perhaps not for some of us. But for some, that may be a be a real challenge that we wake up with each day. The adversities may pull us down from time to time, but the worst is the ever present burden of a vacuum in our hearts where there should have been hope. To those of you I would say, JUST KEEP LIVING. The Lord who turned the bitter waters in the life of Naomi, pleasant again, and brought her out of the pit of hopelessness, can do the same with you.

And Naomi did keep the love burning bright, even in the darkest of times. There lies a challenge that is before each of us who are walking the hard road. How often do we allow the bitterness of our situations seep into our being, that we allow it to tarnish our relationships with the people around us. But Naomi could still empathize. She remained full of love and compassion. In her widowed daughter-in-laws, she saw two women who could still have a future, living far from her than with her, and she pleaded with them to leave. Imagine this.. Naomi was willing to face life all alone as an aged woman, if only her daughter in-laws could have a better future….

Our lives can at times seem to be taking us on an endless downward spiral.. sinking from one level of bitterness to the next. The search for a reason to live could seem as futile as can be, but from the life of Naomi, we can see that there is a world beyond the horizon. Our hope can come from places that we yet cannot see….

Until then, we need to ask ourselves, even as life seems like an aimless walk in a maze.. what beautiful plans are we unknowingly living out..? Who/what are the Ruth’s that God our Father has placed in our lives that we are oblivious to..? I pray to Him, that through quiet whispers He will remind you at your time of need: ‘Keep living. Keep loving.’ Trust Him – the God who makes bitter waters, pleasant again….

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

Do you see the Church as an abode of the righteous.. or as the refuge of sinners..?

Poverty and Prosperity

The Book of Revelation begins with the message of Jesus Christ our Lord, to the seven churches of Asia Minor [modern day Turkey]. The messages – which can be applied to churches and individuals, even in our times – reflect the spiritual state of each church, which are quite distinct from each other. One church in particular though, sets itself apart from the rest.. and it isn’t for the best of reasons – the Church of Laodicea.

The Laodicean church is better remembered as the lukewarm church; the one that is, as Jesus says, neither cold nor hot – in a spiritual sense. And among the seven, this is the only church that does not receive even a single line of commendation from our Lord; our Lord who is quick to applaud the good He found in the other six churches. So.. what kept the church in Laodicea in such a state of spiritual bankruptcy..?

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭3:17

Historical sources agree with the Bible on the fact that Laodicea was noted for its abundance of wealth. And it was this state of prosperity that acted as a stumbling block to the church at Laodicea. Don’t get me wrong.. I do not intend to make wealth appear an evil in itself nor do I wish to say that wealthy people are spiritually bankrupt. But to point out from our Lord’s message to the churches that a healthy financial state can lead to a false sense of sufficiency in riches, from which it is vital that we guard ourselves.

When I read the words that reflect the state of the Laodicean believers, “I need nothing”, I am reminded of words spoken by a famous man in the Bible – the psalmist David. In Psalm 23:1 he says, “I shall not want”. The meaning of the words are similar, but the trust of David wasn’t upon the riches he possessed [which must have been much, considering he was the king of Israel], but in the Lord who is his Shepherd. Let us pause a little to consider our lives.. where have we placed our trust..?

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭3:19‬

While the Lord finds nothing worthy of commendation in the Laodicean believers, He doesn’t leave them feeling despised by Him. As a loving Father, He directs them on a more desirable path. He also makes it a point to affirm His love for them, lest the enemy make them believe otherwise. Can you imagine this..? Even to those of us in the most wretched of spiritual states, our Holy God desires to say, “I love you”. While we are convicted in our hearts over the ways in which we have gone astray, what a comfort it is to know, that despite our lack of good works we are still loved by Him, who has done far more for us than we ever could deserve….

Hear Me, Please

“Is the God of the Bible really a loving person..? Christians keep parroting the words ‘Jesus Loves You’, yet all I see when I look into their message is a pistol pointing right between my eyes saying, ‘Believe in Jesus or Die’. How is that love..?”

That is a question I am pleased to hear as it means one thing – the one posing the question has considered the message of the Bible. At the same time, there is a sense of failure when I realise how lousy us Christians are – me included – at sharing the Good News.

In this post, I’ll explain why as a Christian I feel this falls short of the truth. In the end I know that it’ll all come down to faith – believing if the Bible is true or not is a matter of one’s own choice. But my purpose for writing this is to explain what the Bible has to say as an answer to this question – which I believe it does with absolute clarity.

Firstly, what is my stand on that statement mentioned above. According to the Word of God is it true that ‘unless you believe in Jesus you will die’..? Frankly, yes. Plain speak – the way Christians are commanded to share the Truth in 2 Corinthians 4:2. But still, I do not agree with the quoted text above. And I hope you’ll bear with me a little as I tell you why.

I’ll start off with a little story….

There once broke out in a city a fever that affected all – both young and old, rich and poor, the strong and the weak, men and women. At least one person was affected in each household. Leading doctors in the city concurred that the fever was caused by a virus known to exist elsewhere in the world. They began to administer medication as per their diagnosis. All was going well – or so they thought.

In the same city lived an old man – a scientist. Through his own private research he noted that the virus was not the same as the doctors had observed it to be. This in fact was a previously unknown, lethal cousin. Having understood the nature of the virus, the scientist developed a cure in quick time – spending a fortune. He took the cure to the leading hospitals in the city, but to his astonishment he faced rejection everywhere.

Disturbed at the thought of the fate of the people, he decided to reach them directly. With the little money he had left, he set out to spread the message of the nature of the disease and how it wasn’t as benign as the people thought it to be. He spoke about how his cure tackled the disease and offered the life saving medicine for free. He stood on the streets and cried, “Hear me, please. Unless you believe me you will die”.

The people he so loved, shunned him. He was mocked and humiliated – despised of all. In the end only a handful of people gave ear to him – people who had hit the depths of poverty that they could not afford the medication sold at the hospitals. To all who came to him, the scientist with a glad heart gave the medicine for free. And the poor lived.

I guess you see where I am getting. ‘Unless you believe me you will die’, the line used by the scientist in the story is similar to the condensed message the Bible shares with us today. As much as people must have hurt the scientist by rejecting his message, they did not die because of him but because of the disease that spread. So too, people will not die a spiritual death because Jesus has judged them for rejecting Him. Jesus Himself says in John 12:47 – “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” Spiritual death however will come because of the disease of sin.

But is there really such a disease..? Can I prove to you that humanity is dying in sin..? Perhaps not. But the fact that I want to state is that that is what is said in the Bible. In Romans 3:23 the Bible says that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. Then we head on to see in Romans 6:23 that the ‘wages of sin is death’. 

And where in the Bible do we find the cure to our deadly illness..? The Scripture from beginning to end – from the prophecy in Eden’s Garden to the apocalyptic vision of John in the Book of Revelation where he looks upon the slain Lamb standing in the center of the throne – points us to that. Jesus Himself testifies to that at the Last Supper. In Matthew 26:28, the Lord says that His blood is ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’. His contemporary John the Baptist in John 1:29 proclaimed, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’. The clincher though comes from a text far ahead of the time in which John lived. In the Book of Isaiah Chapter 53, Isaiah prophecied in the 7th century BC of all that Jesus would have to go through in the years of the 1st century AD. In verse 5 he says, ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed’.

Before I conclude, let’s shift our gaze for a moment back to a verse I mentioned earlier, having touched upon the first part – Romans 6:23. The verse that begins as ‘For the wages of sin is death’ – which is the core of the Biblical message – continues, ‘but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’. Like the good scientist in our little story, our good God – having done all that is required to win it – is calling out to offer eternal life as a gift to anyone who would come to Him.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

The message of the Bible – Not a threat with a pointed gun. But rather, an invition dressed with love to receive a gift beyond price.

See You Soon, ‘Ma

Life has been a lot more down than up since Easter this year. Mummy fell severely ill with a lung infection. After a phase of improvement post hospitalisation, her health started detoriating gradually until the Lord took her to be with Him. All the while she was kept in sedation, denying us an opportunity to say any meaningful last words in this life.

She was the sweetest person I have ever known. Truly. I depended on her a lot more than most other sons depend on their mothers – for care and comfort – right through the 26 years of my life and she has never failed me. She had to go through a lot, first with the cancer and its treatment. Then even as she was putting up with it with a smile on her face and lots of cheer in her heart, the infection caught hold of her – refusing to let go – adding pain upon pain.

‘Ma was a woman of strength, but all that strength was concentrated in her inner being. On the outside she was as delicate as a flower. Yet somehow she managed to make full use of her brittle frame to serve as many as she could – denying herself what many would consider as basic needs.

Things of the world didn’t attract her much. There was very little that she wouldn’t let go of, if she knew that in letting go, it would be of better use to another – or even if it could just put a little smile on another’s face. But she cared for people. A lot. I wish she had kept back a fraction – even a small amount – of that care for herself. But then, that was her being her.

Her siblings tell me, that she was so always, even as a child. Not too easy when you’re the middle child. But it’s not as though she wasn’t loved, being neither the youngest or the eldest of the lot. She was a darling to her parents. I mean, why wouldn’t they love this little girl who was quiet, bashful and meek in the truest sense of the word..? Yet at the same time, she was crafty and resourceful and always willing to be of help.

In her passing, I got to hear some stories of her from her younger days that reflect these words in her life. Her elder sister told me of how when they would get a pack of assorted biscuits or any treat rather – in a time when such surprises were rare – her siblings would fight it out for the best piece, while mummy would quietly wait till everyone had what they want in their hand so that she could have what’s left over in the pack. Eating whatever is left over/what’s least desired – a habit which I could testify that she carried on till the day she was diagnosed with that dreaded disease.

The same sister was the one who picked mummy’s wedding saree due to circumstances. ‘Ma didn’t even mind fore going that most cherished choice, aunty said. She told me, “she never complained”. I told aunty that ‘ma loved that saree. The fact that she wore it on many festive days is testament to that. And it was in that saree that she was draped in as we laid her to rest.

Her younger brother told me how to him she was a nurse at one stage in her life after he got gored by a bull under his lip and was afraid to tell their mother. He was afraid that he’ll be scolded. So mum decided to spare him more pain and looked after him with the little nursing skills she had till his wound healed. Amachi – my grandmother – didn’t know this story till much later on in life. To her youngest brother – who was much younger than all her siblings – she was a mother, teaching him to brush and helping him to put on his shoes before school, he told me.

When I think of all that I heard from people during these days, she was all that she was to them and more for me. A mother who didn’t just take up the occasional role of a nurse for me as a child but even later on as a grown up, she was a nurse for me for four years before becoming sick – and even for a little while after she knew she had cancer. For a major part of those years I was completely bed ridden, and heavily dependant on her. She worked during the day, and I demanded work from her before she left for work and as soon as she came back. She slept late, and at times at night I have disturbed her short sleep for my needs. There’s not a day or moment when she complained for all that she did – rather that precious smile of hers was what I woils always get in return. Even when I hardly appeared grateful for all that she has done for me – even at moments like that when in my foolishness my tempers flared – she never lost her calm. She never saw herself as a person worth fighting for – even though she was among the rarest of people who was.

She was my financier – as my dad loves to pull her leg over [though he wasn’t any less of a spender for my desires]. Any request I had, was granted – unless of course, she felt it wouldn’t do good to me. The cost was never a constraint. Though we didn’t have any money isssues, we were a family in the middle class bracket, yet I lived the life of affluence as a child. No friend of mine could’ve easily guessed that I came from a middle class family – until they saw my mother perhaps. Not that she lacked style – she could pull off elegance with ease – but she spent so little on herself that her dressing hardly reflected the high positioning she reached in her career. As a child, I was ashamed of that at times. I wanted a mother who was stylish and all that, while my mother seemed so keen to be anything but. I’m glad though, that that part of me changed as I grew up under her influence. That I saw the beauty in that simplicity long before she passed. I admired her more than any man or woman for her beauty and style.

The pain of being separated [even if it is but for a short while] from such a beautiful person is one thing. To have such a huge void in your life. To know that while you write the lines of your life you wouldn’t be able to write it with her by your side, to read and appreciate or to disapprove and correct. That has been something I have dreaded for long. But there is something worse. Even worse than having to watch this woman – the sweetest of them all – endure physical and mental agony. The guilt that weighs in on you when you start to think of the things that you could’ve done – that might well have spared her this suffering, or at least have made it more bearable – but did not do.

And it is in the midst all this guilt and pain that I realise which of all that I have received from my mother is the greatest gift she gave me. Introducing me to my Lord and Saviour – Jesus Christ. The source of all the comfort that I find in these trying times.

She never sat me down and made me study the Bible. At least, not that I could remember. When I was little she would read stories from a Children’s Bible. But even then the tales I loved to listen to were of people like Noah or a David or a Jonah. Jesus and the New Testament tales were not the ones I loved the most. No that wasn’t how she introduced me to Him. She lived a life that held on to His principles. Through her I learnt what is mercy and forgiveness. Through her I learnt what is patience and what it means to never act in anger. Through her I learnt the joys of giving. Through her I learnt impartiality – a trait my sister would testify to. Through her I learnt what is humility. I learnt that all these were good [, though at many times I couldn’t act the way that I knew was good]. And when the time came for when I finally met the Lord and got to know Him as a person, I knew that He was and is and ever will be, all that is good.

He is the Truth that keeps me in the race, to keep me from giving up. His promises take away my anxiety and sorrow. When the Bible says in Romans 8:28, that “All things work together for the good to those who love God”, there is a peace knowing that there is a purpose to all this chaos – and a good one at that – even if I am at a loss to explain how. But I do not just believe that all this will work together to the good for me and those who are alive in this world, but for my dear ‘ma too. For she believed in Him and loved Him. Though our time here on Earth may come to an end, there are still many more days reserved for us, days where we can enjoy His goodness for eternity.

Death is but a sleep to those who have come to the Lamb. And that is the promise that fills my heart with cheer. This separation is only for a moment. For eternity we will be together – mummy and all our loved ones and me and the Lord. I so long for that day, when I will see her smiling face once again. And I will. For,

“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

1 Corinthians 15:52

“You’ve been a sweet daughter, a loving sister, a devoted wife, a cherished friend and a perfect mother. You’ve given it your all. You’ve given it your best. Now take a rest that you well deserve until that blessed reunion in our Lord’s Kingdom. See you soon, ‘ma….”

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