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Alone or Alone with Jesus?

I prefer few quality friendships than a large network of connections. The concept of facebook or email networking is not lost on me – I use an account and read updates from people, although infrequently. I value the medium of easy communication enabled by technology, but I’m wary of how it will affect the quality of my network and communication. I still enjoy once-in-six-month calls with my childhood buddies and that is much more refreshing than superficial electronic communication. There is a sense of connection through hearing the other person’s voice, and even better, face to face communication. This generation of social networking is actually making us more and more anti-social – we prefer electronic broadcasting, using our cute little devices that are always connected, versus infrequent quality meetings with friends. In fact, if we meet face to face, we might find ourselves discussing the electronic life and talking about what we said and saw on the social networks!

I am also worried about how much the connected world is distracting me from spending my time on what matters. My alone time is often occupied with consuming some form of “information” and “entertainment” and not a quiet time of pondering, reading, and spending it on what matters. I feel like I deserve this alone-time just feeding me – especially after I’ve had long days or week of work. I must relax.

Isn’t that a command from God – to rest? (Oh, how convenient!)

Sadly, this is true about most of us. We’re staying connected (or at least feel like we’re connected) to people longer through devices and always consuming (or waiting to consume) bits of digital stuff coming to us via our devices.

When I’m alone and not spending time with Christ, I’m likely to connect to the Internet and here’s what will happen (in no particular order):

  • Watch movies and shows online
  • Check handful of sites that have become favorites over the years (social, political, religious, news etc.)
  • Will review my financial portfolio, retirement planning, general finance stuff
  • Read articles on wikipedia
  • Read blogs and articles from authors I enjoy and respect
  • Research options on how I can become and remain healthy
  • Catch-up on what’s happening in people’s lives on Facebook

What will your list look like?

When we are alone, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have a choice. We can devour on feeding self or spend time with Christ. There’s a risk though.

If I choose to spend time with Jesus Christ when I’m alone, here’s what’s likely to happen:

  • Jesus will ask if my mind is fully focused on spending time with him
  • Jesus will check whether my burdens are the ones I’m supposed to carry
  • Jesus will probe my conscience and see if there’s any sin I’ve not repented of
  • Jesus will ask how my prayer life is and who can I pray for right now
  • Jesus will finally ask – are you carrying the cross I had for you?

See how uncomfortable this becomes? That’s why my flesh does not want this alone time with Jesus. I don’t want him judging me like this. It was enough that he rescued me from sin and granted me freedom and has solved my problem of eternal life. I believed on him, got baptized, and now I’m heaven bound. And I go to church every sunday.

I don’t want to have any boundaries – especially on how to spend my personal alone-time. I have the right to myself.

And that’s exactly what Jesus took away from me the day I trusted him. I’m not mine anymore – I belong to Jesus Christ. He is my master and I’m his slave. I have no right to self. Look at this passage in John 21:15-17 (ESV):

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him,“Feed my sheep.”

In this one passage, Jesus re-defined Peter. He called Peter by name, and then gave him a new responsibility. Jesus did not change his identity (son of John), but gave him a new purpose. Jesus also clarified his calling – to Shepherd the church that was going to be built (not the church as a building with spiritual leaders like priests and fathers, but a universal body of believers). He called Peter to nourish the flock of believers in Christ. Peter was being set aside for the Lord – he no more had any right to self. No wonder Peter later spent the rest of his life taking the gospel into the world and serving the church that Jesus called him to serve.

I wonder how Peter’s alone-time changed after this.

If you know this Jesus Christ as your Lord and God, then come to terms with your new creation. Accept that you have no right to self. That does not mean it is sin to indulge in activities (like the one I listed above) that may not be used for his purpose. God wants us to rest and enjoy his blessings – but not unto selfishness that causes guilt – but unto building up of our spiritual and physical strength that causes gratefulness.

If you have not trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord, then let this be a warning to you. It is not trivial to follow Christ – the calling is important and not for those who refuse to give up their right to self. He wants it all. If you cannot do that, then wait. It is better to jump into this knowing the cost, instead of jumping without knowing what it means to carry your cross.

And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23 (ESV) 

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Heading North.

In Genesis 3:19, we read “..for you are dust and to dust you shall return”. Since the day that God pronounced “death” on mankind through Adam, God has been dealing with people destined for the “dust”. Some argue this was a physical death that followed the spiritual death after Adam ate the fruit. Scriptures are clear that God pronounced physical death on Adam. He was not supposed to “return” to dust, if he would have obeyed God. Adam was to share in God’s plan of eternal life – that is why the tree of life was there in Eden. God had given a taste of what it meant to “walk with him” since Adam and God walked together in the garden. Everything was not revealed to Adam, but God wanted him to be patient.

The Bible does not talk about spiritual death – but it refers to being dead in spirit. Being dead in spirit means choosing to ignore what the Bible is saying, because of pride, and twisting the scriptures to suit one’s view of the truth (especially when it conflicts with what one believes or wants to believe).

Can you imagine keeping a dead person in your household, part of your daily routine and in your family? We bury or cremate the dead (or leave them to the vultures in some cultures) – ensuring they are physically “gone”. We expect no physical remains from the dead that resemble a whole human being. We do not keep dead bodies around (except in medical schools or for relevant legal reasons – Ah, and the Egyptian Mummies!). They will begin decaying and will stink. They will not respond to your questions sitting at the dinner table. They will not talk when having a conversation in the living room. This idea of having a dead body around as part of the daily routine, is just absurd.

(Pardon my direct insensitive treatment of dead bodies. It is not to sound disrespectful towards a loss of a loved one and the grief that comes with it – I’m merely reflecting on the physical side of it)

However, God has no choice. His earth is full of dead people who conduct their daily business not knowing they are dead. God cannot have a conversation with them, they do not respond, and they stink. I was one of them. In what sense are we “dead”? In the same sense that Adam “died” the day he was destined for the “dust”. In God’s eyes, he was not going to inherit eternal life, and that meant he was already dead. God continued working with him, and everyone that followed – but all of them were destined to die some day. There were few exceptions like Elijah and Enoch, who did not die as other people had died, but they did physically vanish.

But our existence is not supposed to end at the dust. Remember, God said “return” to dust. That is where Adam started his life (physical dust was the raw material God used to make Adam, like Sculptors do). And that is where it ended. My destiny is the same “dust” that Adam went to. Yours is too. We shall all return to the dust after we die physically. We do not vanish into thin air.

But when God talks about eternal life, he separates the physical from the eternal. The truth of eternal life was hidden inside God, which he wanted to share with Adam. The only thing Adam needed to do was wait for the right time. Adam failed to wait. But God did not fail to wait for the right time.

The Bible tells us in Romans 5:6 “..at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly”. By ungodly, it means not having any business with God or not concerned about matters of God – in short, being unresponsive to God. Like a dead person who is unresponsive to anything once he dies. Like a ignorant person who is unresponsive to any counsel.

God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, at the right time into the world. All those who trust in him are given the inheritance of eternal life, which will be given to them once they pass from this world. And it is God who works in us, the dead people, to help us hear his call at the right time to call us to this new life and hand over the deed of inheritance. This deed will be exercised after our physical death. Here’s a story that illustrates that. There was this man, Lazarus, who died and was buried in a tomb. Then Jesus arrives on the scene in John 11:38-44.

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Prior to raising Lazarus from being dead, Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Now, lets ponder for a second on how exactly did Lazarus “hear” Jesus when he shouted “come out”, when he was already dead! He had no physical ability to “hear” since his ears had stopped functioning. Martha even made it clear that he has been dead for past four days. His tomb was stinking. Which means, the words of Jesus that reached his body inside the tomb actually did not go through the ears, but they had the power to get his heart ticking again. The only natural step for Lazarus to take after he was brought back to life was to step out (going in opposite direction or sideways would give him a nice bump on the head!). Funny observations aside, it was the “power” of Jesus’s words that brought Lazarus back to life. Kind of how God breathed life into Adam after he had sculpted Adam from the dust. Eventually, Lazarus did die and returned to the “dust”. But the point is – Jesus has power over death. Which means, he has the power to give eternal life also. That is what Jesus calls people to believe.

He exercised the same power over death and life by raising himself from the dead. He said it very clearly in John 10:18, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Jesus has the authority to hand over this deed (promise) of eternal life to anyone who believes in him. After death, we see God sitting on his judgment throne, and if we have the deed from Jesus, then we are given the eternal life. Our destiny changes based on whether we believe Jesus or not – specifically, whether we believe that Jesus has the power to give us eternal life.

That is why studying the Bible and understanding Jesus’s words are important. That is why it is also important to teach the Bible. It is not to force or pester people to “convert” to Christianity, but to make available the knowledge of how to gain eternal life, as explained in the Bible. Finally, God does give everyone a choice. Whether we study the Bible or not, our conscience is constantly guiding us on right and wrong, and readily condemning us of being dead to God. By believing in man-made principles and religions, we know somewhere deep inside the futility of everything we believe and do. We know that none of that is anything close to being as powerful and authoritative as guaranteeing us the eternal life, like Jesus Christ does.

Finally, one may say that all I want to focus on is having good morals, doing good, being a good human being, and live this life as a happy person. Why get into the mess of God, truth, religion, who’s right and who’s wrong, and such. World history is filled with bad stuff that happened because of that. It is just enough to have good morals, and a good life, and enjoy life with peace. We all know that this thought is cowardice and escapism – not willing to accept the reality of sin and death. Wait until you lose a loved one or one of your loved one is harmed (naturally or intentionally). This “be good, do good” philosophy will fall apart. Because someone else did not follow the same. Then the question comes, what and who is right and who is wrong? Why would someone do that evil thing to you or someone you love? What is justice and why was it not delivered? How is this fair?

No matter how hard we try to do good works, do right things, be a good citizen, and be perfect people in the eyes of the world – it is all filthy rags as far as God views it. None of that has the power to bring us back to life eternal, and give us a seat of honor in the heaven with God. Nobody is righteous (in other words, right with God). Let’s stop avoiding the question of our destiny and the question of sin. Where are you headed, knowing that you will be faced with the consequences of someone else’s actions and not just your’s?

God waits. And that too without forcing people into his plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. True North is in Jesus Christ – but it is for you to explore. Are you ready with your compass of conscience?

On Preaching – A View from the Pew.

This post is about preaching God’s word and how we respond to it. It is not a criticism of preaching at my current church or the ones I’ve been at in past. It is more of a lamentation on the state of preaching, as I have been exposed to over past 10 years of listening and discerning God glorifying messages from people-pleasing entertainment. Lastly, I’ve also sat in chairs and within four walls of small and large buildings and homes even. So, it is not just the pew in a building that is in the view. Let’s begin.

I want to look at preaching of the Living Word of God. That word which was given by the Holy Spirit to men who were moved and then called, who wrote, and who died just to see the joy of seeing the word in writing. Yes, those who wrote the word, died writing it. It came at a cost. They were mocked for speaking it, led captive, hid in caves, ran from their enemies, but preserved by the Holy Spirit, so they could transfer it in writing. Then the living word was preserved for thousands of years, and then again, men of calling were used to bring it to where it is today. What we hold in printed format as The Bible.

I spend hours every week listening to various people preach the Living Word of God, which the Bible also calls Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus is the word and the Bible is all about that. The written word is the living word and the living word is Jesus Christ.

And that’s what we ought to preach. John preached Christ as the life that gives life. Paul preached Christ crucified, so that Christ will be glorified. Peter preached Christ resurrected, so that Christ will be restored to where he belongs. And I choose to devote time during the week to hear the word of God preached – on Sundays, when driving, when taking a walk, and when quickened by the Holy Sprit late at night and on weekends. As you can see, I love to be the audience and hear God’s word preached by men who are called to it today and by men who died preaching it.

God’s word, as in The Bible, must be preached. It is also important to evaluate how we preach it. It is the only way we will exalt God and exalt Jesus Christ, who is the only living God. When I sit in the pew on Sunday, I’m choosing to devote my time to a worthy cause, which allows the speaker to use his calling and gift of preaching to exalt Jesus Christ as he speaks to the audience. And we together are bringing glory to Jesus Christ the Son and the Heavenly Father, as the Holy Spirit uses us both to show to the power of darkness and the devil, and the angels in heaven – how his redeemed people love God by loving his word. By listening to his word we show our love for Him. Showing that by choice we prefer to be preached to and be preached by a person called for preaching. It is not a passive act but an outpouring of our love for the Son, because he is the living word!

Now, with that in context – what are we preaching these days and how are we listening these days?

We preach to tickle people’s ears. We preach using the language and illustrations of the culture that water down the power of the living word. We preach to entertain. We preach to see people nod heads or even clap (yes, it happens!), and are even satisfied to get those responses.

Yes, it is important to present the Word of God in simplicity and in a manner that the audience will understand, but not sacrifice the value of the words that are spoken. The sermon might be downloaded 50,000 times as being popular or effective but if the sermon contained even one casual sentence that marred the weight of the scripture, the whole message becomes useless. One thoughtless line can cause the preached message to fall from its calling of exalting Jesus Christ. It is this enormous burden that speakers of the living word must carry, if they believe that preaching is their calling and vocation.

I’ve heard countless sermons from many speakers on radio, podcast, video, and in churches. Out of all those I’ve listened to, one speaker stands out: Charles Spurgeon. There is something about his words, written and spoken, that help me see how Spurgeon saw his calling and how seriously he took it. His words are weighty, powerful, and exposit the scriptures effectively to elevate Jesus Christ as he should be and listeners are appealed to draw near to Christ. Spurgeon ends his sermons, almost always, drawing you to the gospel if you are new to Christ or urging you to grow in knowing him better if you already know Christ.

In these times, knowledge gathering is not a “pull” exercise but a “push” machine. Everything is pushed to us. We do not labor to get knowledge. As a result, we are constantly being fed. And a big part of that is the three-some channel – radio, television, and internet. We do not take a text and read it with commitment and wrestle with the ideas and its content. Same goes for God’s word. We like bite-size intakes. Preaching has given into this also. We want to stick to the familiar and what people know most about – movies, sports, wars. Preaching will include illustrations from movies, sport events or personalities, and war and military related stories. We often talk about modern day heroes, and use their life stories to supplement the message being preached. Nothing wrong with that – but often our stories and personalities are chosen just because of the likely chance that our audience knows about them. It is not the knowledge of the Bible that we count on, but on movies, sports and wars for sure.

Here’s an example of how we might preach today from the movies, with an illustration (I take full credit/blame for this illustration): God had a message for us and he sent it through his Son Jesus.  You may have seen the movie “A message in a bottle” – where Kevin Costner writes messages to his deceased wife, expressing his love and how much he misses her and seeking forgiveness, and locks them in a bottle and throws it in the ocean. A reporter, by chance, finds one such bottle and searches him out. Because of the message, she falls in love with Kevin Costner, and then they are united in the end. In the same manner, God sent the message to us through his word, about his Son and our salvation. That message in a bottle comes to us, and we see his love for his Son and his love for us. And…you get the point. The movie has nothing to do with the weight of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, there are some immoral scenes in the movie. But, it is being used to draw parallels on how the message was delivered to us like in the movie, and since the audience most likely has seen the movie, they will see the connection. That is the objective in sharing such an illustration.

Now, this seems like a relevant and even a nice heartwarming illustration. But, does it exalt Jesus Christ? Does it present the seriousness of sin and explain the gospel of Christ with seriousness? Why do we need illustrations that fit within our cultural context or our capacity to relate to what we know, to help us see the Heavenly Father’s love through his Son Jesus Christ? Also, we seem to steal models and frameworks from the world, and apply them to expound scripture, even when the models and frameworks are secular and not spiritual.

We also preach today using the language of the prevailing culture that describes sin, to convict people of their sin, so they can repent. The goal is worthy, but the manner may not glorify God. We use the language of the culture to talk about the sins, and then along with that we drag the gospel of Jesus Christ (and even Him!) through the gutters of the language used to describe sin. We will call by names the acts of violating a woman (rape), the acts of committing adultery (sex before marriage or affairs), the deadly acts of violating children (sex trafficking), and while doing so, we will also talk about Jesus and those words connected with the Gospel, so as to make the listener relate sin with redemption. We will even call Jesus by names, that I wonder if the speakers of old (Spurgeon, Wesley, Luther and such) would have used. We take the risk of using Jesus in an irreverent manner, even making him like a buddy, and forgetting that he deserves the respect of a King. It was he who humbled himself, not gave us the right to humble him!

We do this believing that our use of the language of the culture will help people connect with reality of sin and salvation. If we did not use the words of the culture, we fear the poison of sin will not be evident, and the application of the gospel will not be effective. We are afraid that the gospel language will not stand on its own, and needs the culture’s language and framework to make it effective. We will even draw upon our personal experiences (sin and struggles) and share them as a matter of fact using words like what were described earlier, hoping the audience will connect with the experience, and then we try to present the gospel or a principle of living a Christian life. Our hope hinges on helping people “connect” with the speaker and the message and make it effective, within the experiences of the culture and life that the audience is experiencing. In fact, sometimes we are afraid to preach the “foolishness” of the gospel message of Jesus Christ, thinking it will be rejected, and work hard to make it “intelligent” and “reasonable” for the audience.  We want to make the message interesting – and not let it stand the test of its foolishness to the world – the world that measures it by its own standards and not that of God’s. We hesitate to call people to humble themselves, before they roll up the sleeves to evaluate God and his work through Jesus Christ, because we are afraid that we will not “win” them to the message that way. And so, we resort to making the message “friendly” to what people can evaluate.

Seems like we’ve lost the confidence in the simple words of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as presented in the Bible, and want to elucidate with illustrations and examples so the audience will “connect” with the message. Also, we want to keep preaching “fresh” messages that are going over the same scripture but make it interesting and exciting to the audience. So the same point gets driven home in different ways – just so the audience can conveniently relate with what they know and can experience the joy of having “got it”. The result is – the audience feeds on milk or worst yet, on fake meat. And people leave with a heavy heart or a warm heart or just with a feeling of having heard a “good” message – and lives remain unchanged. The job of drawing closer or causing repentance or being challenged to come closer to Jesus Christ is left to “personal bible study”, “quiet times” or “small groups”. The preaching is aimed to reach the “unsaved” and sometimes to exhort the congregation on good living or rebuking the congregation on some issue (“giving/tithing” is always a good candidate for that). At times, it seems Christ gets exalted and presented – but the illustrations and the language may not elevate Christ to his rightful position and cause introspection of one’s walk with Christ – taking the risk of walking the line of irreverence while hoping to exalt Christ.

Lastly, we worry much about how people will apply the preached word. We tend to forget that it is not the application of the teaching that is the goal. The application will come as people go through serious introspection of their lives, repent, and draw near to Jesus. We focus much on the application and making sure it is clearly understood, and then we expect people to work on the application. We take away the reliance on the Holy Spirit and put the burden of producing fruits on the shoulders of the audience and the understanding of the application that was preached.

Is that how we see Jesus Christ preached in the Bible and what people were called to do after they heard what was preached?

Jesus was preached with words that did not resemble illustrations of the culture at that time but plain simple truths. He was preached with invitations to get to know him better by drawing close to him and studying about him from others (fellowship) and whatever word was available (written or spoken). His love for us, which resulted in his sacrifice, was described over and over again to help us see the plan of redemption and how it unfolded in history and how it impacts even in present times. The preaching exalts Jesus Christ as the King and presents him in all grandeur, seated at the right hand of God, waiting to be given the reigns of the new creation (heaven and earth) for eternity. To the Jews, Jesus was preached by drawing from the depths of their history starting with Abraham (or even earlier) and through prophets and coming to the cross and ending on resurrection (read Peter’s and Stephens’s sermons in the book of Acts). To the Gentiles, he was preached as light of the world, the only true and living God who saves them from sin and makes them righteous through his son, and draws them into the plan of God and be given a place in heaven to worship him – even if they were not the chosen people. To Jews and Gentiles alike, presentation of Jesus Christ levels the field on God’s predestination of mankind unto salvation and that plan of redemption revealed through Jesus Christ. And then, people were called to repent of their sins (deliberate and subtle) and draw closer to Christ. Then there was one-on-one discipleship and training for speakers called into that same vocation by God, like how Paul trained Silas, Timothy and others.

Yes, Jesus used parables and illustrations when he taught (or preached). If you study them, you’ll see that they did not dilute the weight of what he was teaching. Often, the illustrations and examples (or parables) convicted his audience to their hearts and revealed truths that became easy to understand. His illustrations separated sin and redemption clearly. His examples glorified the Father. His parables concealed the mystery to be revealed at a future time. He was not preaching to itchy ears but hearts that will repent and humble.

Where is all this in our preaching and teaching today?

I have not preached much, just handful of times. I sit in the pew (or on chairs) most of the times. I have grown to love Jesus through my desire to be at the church, sit in the pew, and listen to God’s word preached to me. Yes, I can do something else in those 60/90 minutes that I’m at our church building – I can do wonderful works in my life that will glorify Jesus or meet with other brothers and sisters and enjoy a time of fellowship. But no, I decide not to do that. I choose to be available so that my brother, who believes his calling to preaching and wants to present Gods word, has the opportunity to help me see the truths of the Bible and grow me in the knowledge of the scripture. And this knowledge gathering is essential, even if it is only via a 30/45 minute sermon, to edify me. I may already have good knowledge of the scripture that is being presented or even have good understanding of the essential elements of salvation, but my commitment to listen shows my willingness to let the Holy Spirit humble me and help me listen to the same principles again so I can savor the word of God as sweet honey. I listen and want to pay attention to the doctrines of Jesus Christ, even if repeated many times over the years, to help strengthen my understanding of Jesus Christ. My commitment to God, of my love towards his Son, compels me to sit in the pew and listen. It is not an act of righteousness or good works, but an outpouring of my desire to glorify him by being a listener. And if I get bored or distracted, shame on me. Not on the speaker. And I want to trust that the Holy Spirit is helping the speaker, giving him the words being spoken.

It is my prayer that preachers will speak to exalt Jesus Christ above the world and above our culture. I pray they will not lose the confidence of the power in the words given to us in the Bible and rely more on expositing the scriptures. I pray they will avoid the temptation of preaching to itchy ears and entertaining the audience. I pray they will clearly separate sin and the gospel of Christ that redeems and help people see the grace of God poured out on mankind. I pray that preachers will teach doctrines of Christ and equip their congregation to fight every false accusation and discern the right view of Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible. I pray that Jesus will be exalted and not humbled through our preaching.

And this is my request to you: consider how you listen. Talk to Jesus Christ tonight, and daily, on how you want to listen when you are being preached to. And pray that the Holy Spirit will help you. And pray for me too – I need to be reminded often of what was written in this post.

For the King, Jesus Christ.

Father and Fellowship.

I have been living in the US for almost 10 years now. Been away from my Father, aside from our india trips, for that long. It is a long time to be away from my Father, even if I have my independent family.
My mind went to the cross. How long was Jesus away from his Father? Almost 33 years.

Fellowship is an important thing – especially between the Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus. They were together even before the foundations of our world were conceived. They had a relationship that was not bound by time. It was eternal. And they talked and mingled with each other. They loved each other.

And that fellowship was broken, on purpose, when Jesus chose to leave his heavenly abode and come down to earth. Now, I’m not going to write a “gospel” message here. I’m only going to focus on what Jesus gave up, when he chose to come down. He gave up the time with his Father. He let go of that presence of his Father around him. For him, that was a big sacrifice. He was never alone in heaven. Why do I think that? because of what Jesus told his disciples. He said that his Father is one with him. Yet, he forsook his Son, while he hung up on the cross. For those moments while on the cross, he not only was living in physical absence, but he was disowned by his Father. Jesus was disowned by his Heavenly Father.

That was the moment Jesus wished did not come. That is why he prayed, “let this cup pass, yet not my will but yours be done” – there is so much pain in that prayer of being disowned by the Father because of what he will become, when he will stay hung up on the cross, that Jesus was pleading through the night with the Father to let the cup pass. The Father did not respond. And Jesus submitted to the Father’s will. They both submitted to the promise they had made to each other – that the Son will willingly suffer through the moments of having no fellowship with the Father and even being disowned by the Father. Jesus, who knew no sin became sin by taking what belonged to the world, upon himself, and for that the Father had to forsake him. His Son, who had no sin “in” him was heaped with the sin of the world, and all that the Father could see was sin, on the cross. And it was painful for the Father too. Extremely painful. What do you think the Father did after he heard Jesus’s cry on the cross asking him why he was forsaken? I believe the Father wept bitterly.

I miss the fellowship with my earthly Father. I have seen him toil for our family and work harder and harder each day, to make ends meet. Years later,  he gave the burdens of his life to Jesus, and I was thankful to witness his baptism. After that day, our relationship changed. Our communication took whole another meaning. We had a common Savior – Jesus Christ. And I wish I was near him more in the years to come.

But, I trust God for his plans for me and our life. Through this separation, the heavenly Father has helped me understand what his heavenly Son went through. My pain is nowhere comparable to that of Jesus. Yet, I can understand Jesus better. I can understand what he gave up, to be my Savior. I long to be with my Father for much longer than what I get to, when I visit him once in two years or so.

The heavenly Father restored their fellowship by bringing Jesus back to life. They are back together – not bound by time anymore! The cross happened only once, and will not happen ever again. And that gives me hope.

I know for sure, that if not in this world, I will have infinite fellowship with my earthly Father, in heaven one day. We will be face to face, alongside the heavenly Father and Son. And we will be worshipping!

Till then, I consider it a blessing whenever I get to see my Father. And I rejoice, for whatever the heavenly Father will give to me in terms of my earthly Father’s company until he lives or I live. Death will separate us for a short while – but there is no fear of death in my heart. Just like Jesus, when he knew that the cross will be painful, but his Father is going to be faithful and will restore his glory – I have trusted the heavenly Father. Jesus said – glorify me, as I have glorified you, Father. Oh what confidence Jesus had in his Father!

So, till you are joined with your earthly Father, in heaven, rejoice for the time you have or have had, and continue to go deeper in knowing the fellowship of the heavenly Father and Son. Through that sweet fellowship flows the Holy Spirit that keeps us in this world. Until we see all of them face to face!

Happy Father’s Day!

Come unto Me, says Jesus

I am going to dwell on what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and abide in him.

How do we come into a relationship with Jesus?
Ephesians 1:4 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love.He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will – to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight. He did this when he revealed to us the secret of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ – the things in heaven and the things on earth. In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ,would be to the praise of his glory. And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation) – when you believed in Christ– you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

What role does “Election” or “Predestination” play in our coming to Jesus?

Many people want to know their election before they look to Christ. But they cannot learn it thus; it is only to be discovered by ‘looking unto Jesus.’ Look to Jesus, believe on Him, and you shall make proof of your election directly, for as surely as you believe, you are elect. If you will give yourself wholly up to Christ and trust Him, then you are one of God’s chosen ones. Go to Jesus just as you are. Go straight to Christ, hide in His wounds, and you shall know your election.

Christ was at the everlasting council. He can tell you whether you were chosen or not, but you cannot find out in any other way. Go and put your trust in Him. There will be no doubt about His having chosen you, when you have chosen Him. – Charles Spurgeon

“Elect” is always used of those who have already become believers, never of those who have not yet received the call. – J. Huther, Ed., (Reference: Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy and Titus, Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.)

Do you want to know if you are the Elect one? Answer this question and you will know: Am I willing to keep aside my bondage to my culture, my gods, my sins, my relationships and my pride and leave everything and come to Jesus Christ – surrender my control of my own life – and let him dictate the terms of my life and accept that only through Jesus Christ can I enjoy the right relationship with God – and accept him as the Lord of my life?

If your answer is “No”, you are not the chosen one. If you have answered yes, he will prove to you, through rest of your life, by purpose (Rom. 9:11), grace (Rom. 11:5), love (1 Thess. 1:4), and foreknowledge (1 Pet. 1:2), that you are the “chosen” one. Our election will be clear in retrospection as we look to the past when walking with the Lord. Don’t sit there and wonder if I am the elected one. Believe in Jesus, and you will receive ample proof until the day you die.

But Why has God adopted me as his child?

God created us to identify us with him. But we sinned and refused to be identified with him. So then, God gave the Law to reveal his nature and his standard. He expected his creation to be able to abide by it – but the Law in turn proved to reveal the sin in man’s life and not help him gain the right understanding of God. The Law exposed the sin – since man tried to abide by it only through the flesh and not via the spirit because the spirit of man was incapable of any righteous acts (even obeying God is a righteous act) – instead of making man righteous.

We see this in Romans 8:1: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

In order to re-establish my identity with God, he adopted me as his child by cleansing me with the blood of Christ. He thoroughly washed me clean – and gave me the Spirit of his Son, so that I now am able to obey God and abide in Him. It is not without his Spirit that I can do so, because I am still in my flesh and my own spirit does not like the Spirit of Jesus in me.

As part of re-establishing my identity, God is working on conforming me to the image of His son Jesus.

We see this in Romans 8:28 – And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Sonwould be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.

He has adopted us as his children so that he can make us One with Christ. And that is why understanding what the “personal” relationship with Christ means, is important.

What is the Personal Relationship with Christ?

Like any other relationship – it is a process. It was demonstrated by God in creation, defined by the law, was established in Christ on the cross, providing us a way to enter that relationship – be born into it via faith in Christ – and it is nurtured by God, by our cooperation, until we die. He wants our help in developing this relationship. But before we start cooperating with God, we need to understand what this relationship will bring to us. Making this relationship possible was very expensive – crucifixion of Jesus – so it must bring something of great value to us.

For that, lets turn to Matthew 5:1 – Whenhe saw the crowds, he went up the mountain.After he sat down his disciples came to him. Thenhe began to teachthem by saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hungerand thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

“Blessed are you when peopleinsult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falselyon account of me.

Some think these are the qualities we must posses if we wish to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Some believe that these are the commandments given by Jesus that we must practice – be poor in spirit, mourn, be meek etc.

I believe it is not so. Read carefully – this is what Jesus promises you to be transformed into once you are willing to follow Him. This is what you will get when you enter into a relationship with Christ. Let me give you an example. Imagine you are walking in a town, going past various restaurants. You see their menus on the glass doors. You glance through the menu, and if you like it, you walk in. If you do not like the menu, you do not enter in. But once you like the menu and you enter in, then you order from the menu and you get what you ordered.

In you spiritual journey, if you are truly seeking God, you come across this menu that we see in Matthew 5. The menu offers you the picture of what you will become if you follow Jesus – You will be made poor in spirit, You will mourn, You will be made meek, You will hunger and thirst for righteousness, You will be able to show mercy, You will be made pure in heart, You will become peace makers, You will be persecuted and insulted.

The question is, do you like the menu?

If you do, enter in! And remember, the restaurant offers all of this for free – because it is all paid for by the owner of the restaurant (or rightly put, the Owner of the Kingdom, Jesus Christ!). All you do is walk in and enjoy.

But there is one caveat in all of this. In order to help you become what Jesus will make you, you need to give him full control. That is an important aspect of this agreement with Jesus.

So those of you who are not experiencing any of these qualities in their lives, that the Lord wants to impart to you, be 100% sure that you are not yet giving full control of your life to Him.

It is true about me.

I am still not able to be wanting the spirit badly – a sign of being “poor”, meaning in “want”, in spirit. Time and again, I rely on my flesh and my inactive spirit and not on that of Jesus. At times I desire worldly things – job satisfaction, fruitful and comforting relationships, my investments and such.

I am not able to mourn for the right reasons and with the right attitude always – sometimes I mourn out of self-pity. I mourn to gain sympathy or maybe to show others how contrite in heart I am.

I am not able to humble myself, a sign of meekness. At times, I show pride at work, I even argue with Uma in pride. I do not like taking help, even though I know it will benefit me.

I do not hunger or thirst for righteousness, but for recognition from others. I am seeking worldly praise. Even from believers, I am seeking approval of my work and my service to others. I am looking for praise or a pat on my back or recognition in some way – instead of seeking what God wants me to go after.

I am not able to show mercy – root of it is my desire not to forgive. I cannot forgive some of the loved ones. At times, I cannot forgive Uma, even though it is not her mistake. This stems from my pride and arrogance that make me unforgiving. I doubt the intentions of those who are trying to help me. I even have prayed or demonstrated my faith in words, when the desire underneath was no where close to what Jesus had for lost souls. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and I am sure he wept bitterly.

I struggle against purity of heart. I desire “purity” the most – but often find myself thinking impure thoughts. Some of the thoughts are in the area of my possessions, some are in the area of treating my parents, some dealing with lust.

I am often the one causing a big argument, and not the one making peace. Because of self-pity, I cause more harm and create an environment of hostility. In fact, I have made some people’s live miserable by my arguing attitude at times.

I am not being persecuted or insulted. In fact, I am respected within my friend and work circles. It is because I am not yet bold in sharing Christ. There are a few who hate me for my faith, but that is no where near persecution or insult.

After hearing all this, you must be wondering how is this person qualified to even teach or write or preach? In fact, you may want to stone me too.

But I have one hope – the promise of Jesus that he will not give up on me. Ask any Doctor – knowing the problem is a good news, because then it can be treated. If it is not known, it cannot be treated.

So what do I do? I take all this to Jesus, daily – each moment. And I remind myself that I will have this struggle in me, because I am still in flesh. Giving control will be hard, but I have to persist in doing so.

If you are a believer reading this, but still continue to struggle with giving control over to Christ, this is the day for you to repent of your sin. Remember, we sin even after we come to the Lord. In fact, it may become worse because we may boast in the grace of God. We may fool ourselves by “speaking” the language of the word of God and “talking the walk, but not walking the talk”, but not having any closeness with our Lord. We may always be concerned about the salvation of others, be fervent in service, but not understand the true value of our relationship with Him. All this is possible, because we are still being challenged in every area of our faith by the powers of this world.

If you are an unbeliever, see if you like the menu that Jesus is offering. Let me tell you, it will not be easy. It is a painful process because Jesus will expose every area of your sin. He will literally be doing a surgery of your heart – and exposing every ugly thought that comes from it. And then he will ask you a question after holding the sin in front of you – do you want me to treat this or leave it as it is? If you say yes, he will start the healing. In fact, he will give you a new heart!

If you are someone who is sitting on the fence – may or may not believe in God – then note that this is one of the many chances God will give you. He desires you to come to Him, not in pride, but humility. And he will wait until you are ready to bend your knees and come to him. He will not mind if you put him “on-hold” for years – he will keep the line open. Then he will embrace you in His arms and rejoice for you have come to Him. And then, he will begin his work.

“Come unto me” says Jesus. His call is to come to a person not a religion.

Jesus, Teach Me to be a Husband!

Note: This post will challenge me for the rest of my life, and it is my prayer that it may be used in your life if you are a man who is “seeking” to be a Husband after Jesus’s own heart. I’ve shed tears reviewing this post and when reading it out to my wife. Please pray before you begin to read, and if God grants you the courage, read this with your wife (or to-be-wife).

The most commonly referred passage in the Bible that talks about the husband-wife relationship and the model that God provides for them to obey, is Ephesians 5. I have read it many times, first as an unbeliever and in later years as a believer in Jesus. I struggled with it before and even after my journey with Jesus began. The passage goes like this, starting in verse 21:

Honor Christ and put others first. A wife should put her husband first, as she does the Lord. A husband is the head of his wife, as Christ is the head and the Savior of the church, which is his own body. Wives should always put their husbands first, as the church puts Christ first. A husband should love his wife as much as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. He made the church holy by the power of his word, and he made it pure by washing it with water. Christ did this, so that he would have a glorious and holy church, without faults or spots or wrinkles or any other flaws. In the same way, a husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself. A husband who loves his wife shows that he loves himself. None of us hate our own bodies. We provide for them and take good care of them, just as Christ does for the church, because we are each part of his body. As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother to get married, and he becomes like one person with his wife.” This is a great mystery, but I understand it to mean Christ and his church. So each husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself, and each wife should respect her husband.

This passage, when taken as an independent life principle, can be and has been used to justify a model of subjection-leadership for a wife-husband. I studied it for years, but could not grasp the truth in it until after the sixth year in our marriage. This post is about what Jesus taught me after and through the first five years of our marriage.

To begin with, we need to go to the first husband and wife and what happened to them and why – let’s go check out Adam and Eve.

The precious relationship that God reveals to Adam and Eve is their marriage. Eve has been created and “given” to Adam as a helper, by God. He was the first Father who gave his daughter as a bride to the groom he created from dust. He gave someone that was not created from dust, to someone who was created from dust, as a helper! And Adam was to take care of her, nurture her, protect her, nourish her, and most importantly love her more than himself. Instead, he lets her fall prey to satan’s scheming and allows her to be fooled by the serpent in disobeying God by eating from the tree that was forbidden. An obvious question to ask is, where was Adam when Eve ate the fruit? He was probably standing next to her or may be on a walk in the garden of Eden, leaving her alone. Wherever he was, the point is that he did not prevent her failure. And so, later when God discovers what they did, the “sin” of disobedience was attributed to Adam, not to Eve. The marriage that was to have a foundation of God (Jesus Christ) had the foundation of “shamefulness” instead. Because both of them hid from God after disobeying, after discovering that they were naked and were “ashamed” of their nakedness. Adam did not understand what was at stake, when God gave him Eve in the first place.

The nakedness of Adam and Eve was pure to God. And because they did not have the knowledge of right and wrong prior to eating the fruit from the forbidden tree, their own nakedness did not mean anything wrong to them. But since they chose the knowledge of good and evil versus the knowledge that God would have given them, their nakedness became something bad, something that made them ashamed of seeing each other as naked. What God had created as pure was defiled by the knowledge that they now had. Something that was meant to be pure, was defiled by the act of disobedience (their sin). Their marriage relatonship was marred because they decided to have the foundation of the knowledge of the world versus that of God (Jesus Christ).

In our marriage, we both are followers of Jesus and dearly love each other. I know that Jesus Christ is the foundation of my life. And of Uma’s life. But I had not grasped the depth of Him being the foundation of our marriage! As a result, I was not in the right place in our marriage to see it as God “wanted” to see it. He wanted me to “lead” in our marriage, just as Jesus Christ “leads” his church. However, I did not understand this concept of “leadership” well. And here’s why.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God pronounces death on them, telling them that they will not live forever and will die. And along with that God also says to Eve that “your husband will rule over you”. I struggled with this verse. Was I suppose to rule Uma as the leader in our marriage? I did not think so. In all honesty, I did not want to accept it that way. That is not my nature. However, it is God’s word and it must have some good intentions, since God pronounced this.

I was attending couple’s Bible studies, reading scripture, seeking an understanding of leadership that God expected, and avoiding to “rule” in our marriage. I desired to understand what “rule” meant, from the bottom of my heart. There was absolutely nothing in our marriage that made Uma feel like I am constraining her. She had (has even now) freedom in our marriage. And in my heart I knew that she had the right to that freedom. She was an equal heir to the Grace available to her in Jesus Christ. There’s this verse in 1 Peter 3:7, which goes like this:

Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life.

This made me all the more confident that “rule” did not mean treat her of lesser value or any less capable. How can she be weaker and be an equal heir at the same time? That means, being weaker means something else than what I would naturally like to think what it means.

She has the same life of Jesus Christ that I had, because we both love the Lord dearly and considered him as the Lord of our lives. In fact, her love for Him was at times more intense and stronger than mine! So how could I “rule” her? There must be something that God wants me to understand, than what I would like to understand. And most likely I had not seen enough in our marriage, to make me see it clearly. And so I waited for God to help me understand it, instead of looking for some instant understanding by reading a book or counseling with someone about it. Looking back, I wish some believer husband who is walking closely with the Lord and has aged in their marriage would have probed me on how I am leading in our marriage and showed me how he was doing it, so I could have avoided many foolish mistakes! Why have the followers of Jesus Christ forgotten to actively disciple others who are just beginning to walk with Him, with real life interactions and how Jesus’s teachings are being lived out in humility? (that’ a separate post, won’t digress much here)

The Ephesians 5 passage quoted above, confused me from time to time. However, I was learning to be patient with God’s word and let it reveal the truth to me in due time. And so we mutually made many decisions and I made some of them unilaterally, and Uma either followed because of her own understanding of what submission to me meant or because she did not want to fight over it. The good thing was that decisions were getting made – and that is what mattered. Or so I thought. God was after something else.

If we look at the early interaction between Jesus and his disciples, we get some clues about this. Disciples asked, “Where are you staying?” and Jesus said, “Come and see”. Then they stayed with him for some days. Why did Jesus do that? He wanted them to see and experience him intimately, like he knew his Father intimately. He did not want to hide anything from them. It was this intimacy that kept them going – and helped them trust the Lord of their life. They did not understand everything that Jesus taught over next 3 years, but they understood how deeply the Lord was interested in them, and cared about them. He invested in them. And did not hide anything, at least what they could understand was not hidden.

It was the year 2005. Through unusual circumstances God brought the book, “Every Man’s Marriage” in my life. The book began the work of challenging me as a husband in Christ! God was not going to be satisfied with just few A grades on my marriage report. He wanted to see lots of A’s. While I was reading it, I shared a lot with Uma. After I had finished reading it, even she read it. God had begun his cleansing and had given me the gift of true repentance. However, what he was calling me to do next was harder than my repentance to him.

God called me to become accountable to Uma for my actions and my thoughts – all of them. But that did not happen overnight. God continued to work in my heart for over a year. By then the Lord had prepared me to not be afraid of the questions like what will she think of me if she sees in my heart what I do not want her to see? Will she love me still? How will she react?

God wanted me to open my heart to Uma, a man’s heart. A self operated Open Heart Surgery, with God’s help and no anesthesia. And I did. After taking it all in, Uma’s words were – “You are a Godly Man!” And in doing so, Jesus taught me the value of “oneness” through her!

When we draw closer to Jesus Christ, and make our lives accountable to Him, he draws even more closer to us. Our sin does not push us away from Him, but he uses it to draw closer. A leper is touched by the Lord so he can worship Him. In the same way, we as husbands need to have the confidence in the Lord that if we make ourselves more and more accountable to the Lord, and in turn seek courage so that we become more accountable to our wives, through that we will be drawn closer to each other. Most importantly, because through those acts of forgiving and accepting each other as sinners, we together as husband and wife will grow in the knowledge of the grace of God available in Jesus Christ. That is the purpose of Jesus calling us to oneness, in Him, to help us see his Grace!

Soon after that phase of becoming transparent to Uma, a new era of love, honesty and transparency entered my life. I made her my “accountability” partner. Finally, Ephesians 5 was becoming clear in a very different way. God was using Uma in my life to cleanse me thoroughly and teach me how to be a leader. Within a year I understood myself better than I did until that time. It was the year 2007 when God was delivering me in a fresh way. Here’s what God started to do:

– helping me not judge Uma

– do not be afraid to ask what she expects from me – and be humble

– helping me control my anger

– improving my skills as a listener

– communicate all the matters, simple or complex, without pre-conceived reactions from her

– even simple things like looking at Uma and paying attention when she’s talking to me

– just simply adoring her as the most valuable person in my life

– take time to think about our special dinner “dates” and help me look forward to them as a sweet time of fellowship

– trusting that she has the spirit of Jesus Christ that guides and guards her heart

– respecting her because she is an equal heir to the Grace of God in Jesus Christ

– understanding that I cannot sacrifice her on the altars of my “job”, “watching tv”, “sports”, “pride”, and even my “mother”

– helping me to understand what is at stake, when God gave her to me in Christ!

– drilling into my head that it does not matter what others think of me, but what my wife sees me as, when I am exposed in the light of Jesus Christ

– realizing that Uma is the most important person in my life, forever! (of course, after Jesus Christ!)

I started “seeing” my place as a husband in our marriage. Uma had also been patient with me (and continues to this day!), as I was discovering what kind of leader she and God wants me to be in our marriage. How she expects me to lead and enrich her spiritual walk, while we both walk with Jesus. And as it became clear over next couple of years, I rediscovered the ultimate leader – Jesus Christ – in a fresh way. He is the blueprint of the kind of leader God wants me to be – A Servant Leader. He first took up the cross, shed his blood, and then said “Follow Me!”. He never said, “You must”, instead he gave the choice after sacrificing himself, and if you decide to follow him, he “becomes” your leader. Not otherwise.

Let me repeat – God wants me to be A Servant Leader – in our marriage. A leader who serves, before he leads. And so I read Ephesians 5 again, but started with the verse for Husband and not for Wife. Let’s see what it says, again:

A husband should love his wife as much as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. He made the church holy by the power of his word, and he made it pure by washing it with water. Christ did this, so that he would have a glorious and holy church, without faults or spots or wrinkles or any other flaws. In the same way, a husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself. A husband who loves his wife shows that he loves himself. None of us hate our own bodies. We provide for them and take good care of them, just as Christ does for the church, because we are each part of his body. As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother to get married, and he becomes like one person with his wife.” This is a great mystery, but I understand it to mean Christ and his church. So each husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself, and each wife should respect her husband.

God has given me Uma so I can keep her “pure”. I have to treat her body as mine. I have to have the right understanding of “intimacy” and treat her like a most prized and delicate vessel that God has given me as a helper. I have to maintain her “spotless”. My love for her needs to be more than how much I love “myself”. And most importantly, God has called me to become “one” with her. If I needed to do all this – I must die to myself, daily. I need to put her first, before my interests and my selfish desires.

And when I do all that, why would she not be willing to be in subjection, as the scripture describes? And this subjection is not of an inferior kind – in fact, it is to help me be pure. By her subjection, I’m convicted more and more to serve her and to lead her. If I am entrusted with “preserving” and “nurturing” her in Jesus Christ, what an amazing purpose we both are subjecting to!

Just before verse 22, verse 21 says this – “Honor Christ and put others first.” Another translation says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

This means, we are called into mutual submission that culminates from our submission to Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives. If I am in submission to Jesus, and Uma is submitting to Jesus, and she understands that I am called to preserve her in Christ, and I understand that she has been given to keep me pure – Why will any of what Ephesians 5 says, be difficult for us to obey and practice as husband and wife?

Lastly, God started revealing to me what it means to have “fellowship” with your wife. Jesus Christ was in continuous fellowship with his Father while he was on earth. In heaven he was in the bosom of the Father. On earth he was not in the Father’s bosom. And so he prayed to maintain that closeness. In John 17, Jesus talks about his oneness and the fellowship that comes out of it, with the Father. God was challenging me on the same front. My time with Uma after we retire from the day was an important time of fellowship. Our prayer life was not merely a time of running through our “list” and putting people in front of God. Our conversations about the Bible and Jesus were not limited to our individual personal walks with the Lord. We were being continuously called to fellowship with one another – feed each other the love of Christ and the word of Christ. And I was not doing that enough (and still need lot of work in that area!). In fact, I was not doing that at all, if you asked me. And it was because I clearly did not understand and did not have the conviction that I was called to do that! I was to “wash” Uma pure with the “word”, like Jesus did to the Church. That was some profound truth that did not penetrate my so called smart brain for years!

God finally delivered me in our marriage. After 8 years of marriage, he has given both of us an understanding of what my servant leadership means to Uma through our marriage. Next, God started to introduce sweet “fellowship” in our marriage. I started to look forward to being together with Uma after a hard day’s work. On my way from work I would pray that God help me remove all work related thoughts and as I enter our home, help me to give myself to Uma! It is a journey of progressive growth as a husband in Christ, so I am not claiming to have all this working. I am under construction as a husband, however I am glad to have discovered that knowledge of being “constructed”.

We truly have begun our new journey as a couple and I am so thankful to Jesus Christ for teaching me to be a husband, the kind that he wants me to be – by living his life that lives in me and being a servant leader and being in mutual submission. And even further, to watch so that my Eve remains focused on Jesus Christ, the foundation of our marriage!

Someone recently asked me if there is any purpose in marriage. Why should one get married? Why cannot a life that has not been joined with someone else, be fruitful and enjoyable?

The Bible talks about single people, who never got married. They were called for a special purpose. And if God has called you to be single, and has confirmed that to you in ways that I cannot fully understand or want to even understand, go ahead with that decision. However, God has also placed a greater emphasis on “marriage”. He meant it to be a “fruitful” relationship, beginning with the first marriage between Adam and Eve, and ending it with the last marriage between Jesus Christ and His Church. The institution of marriage is a mystery hidden in Jesus Christ, and if you are willing to have Him as the foundation for your marriage, you will see the grand purpose God has for this relationship.

Marriage is God’s institution and it will serve the purpose of purifying his people for himself, by making them subject to one another in Christ and helping the husband to be a servant leader to his wife. Through marriage God wants to introduce us to the kind of fellowship that he truly wants us to enjoy. If you are a single man, pray that God will give you a bone of your bones. If you are a single woman, pray that God will give you a servant leader. If you are already married and are followers of Jesus, while seeking the joy in a marriage, please be praying that God helps you both to start becoming honest, transparent, and ask each other the hard questions that you may be hesitating to ask out of fear or shame. Most importantly, you husbands, pray to the Lord that he may touch you and start the healing process in you first so you can see what is at stake when God took your wife out of you and gave her to you. The stakes are high, dear husbands, but take courage because Jesus is there to teach you, if you are willing and ready to humble yourself.

And finally, if you are already married but do not have the foundation of Jesus Christ, I plead that you take a hard look at whatever your philosophy or beliefs or convictions are and honestly seek if they provide the kind of marriage that brings glory to God. You may have witnessed your parent’s or your friend’s marriages that are good and healthy. Commons sense, when applied with practice, produces peaceful and enjoyable relationships. However, I will contend that the one built on “dying to self”, “servant leadership” and “sweet fellowship” deserves some serious attention too. Your choice.

We have a long way to go in our marriage still. God is now guiding us on a new journey of “parenting” with the right foundation for our marriage and teaching us a lot that way. We have just begun. And I trust that He (Jesus) who began this good work in us will take it to completion.

All glory to Him, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

What is my culture, now?

I started pondering this question since the day I decided to follow Jesus Christ: What is my culture, now?

In my mind, culture is a combination of relationships, religious beliefs and practices, festivals, lifestyle, morals, social etiquettes and how we expect others to treat us. For me, it was not just restricted to the dictionary definition. I grew up with this understanding of culture. Often, when I refer to my culture, it is all this.

In relationships, the most important aspect that I learnt quickly and that became stronger as I grew was the notion of authority. It started in the house and extended into the social life. There was never any doubt in our house about who has the ultimate authority – it was my father. My mother was next.  I exercised some authority on my younger brother too. My mother also used to put a “bindi” – a red dot – on her forehead to signify that she was still married and that her life is under the authority of my father. Some of our relatives also had authority over us and at times some of my parent’s cousins even got involved in our family decisions. I clearly remember incidents when one of my uncles made some of the decisions for our family, because he was the eldest among the siblings and many relatives respected him. This kind of decision making was not often, but it was practiced when necessary.

I grew up in a Hindu home and celebrated the most common festivals. I also went to couple of temples on a semi-regular basis (once or twice a month), sometimes weekly. Since I was from a slightly backward caste (not too backward though) we were not supposed to perform any rituals (or pooja) on our own or enter the innermost parts of the temple, but had to use the services of a Brahman to do the right things and follow the right processes. And so we did.

We celebrated festivals all year round: Makar Sankrant (January), Maha Shivaratri (March), Holi (March), Gudi Padwa (April), Vat Pournima (June), Raksha Bandhan (August), Ganesh Chaturthi/Utsav (September), Diwali (October), and Bhaubeej (November). Some of them were only for women and some for entire families to enjoy. As you can see there was at least one festival per month – rich festivities! Festivals were also important opportunities for our family and relatives to come together and enjoy together. Ceremonies like marriage and naming a baby were no less than grand festivals!

With respect to lifestyle, I grew up in a financially modest environment, commonly referred to as middle-class. My father earned enough to pay the bills, house rent and save some. We saved some money to eventually buy a house, but not without a mortgage that ended up causing more problems in our family than the happiness we thought it will bring. Coming back to lifestyle, it was with good enough comforts. My parents worked hard to provide us the four necessities really well – food, shelter, clothing and education. We were a closely knit family too, that stuck through thick and thin, even though the relationships were strained at times. The overall lifestyle was that of “adjusting” on every front – not demanding too much and meeting the ends with what we had. My father was not an ambitious person, however my mother was. She always wanted us to have a better lifestyle, and so she saved more, tried to push my father into different businesses in addition to his day job and always tried to create additional sources of income through her own creativity as well. And I did not understand how hard they were working and the kind of compromised lifestyle they were maintaining until I started getting involved in our family matters after I started my first job. But they never complained. So, our lifestyle was that of “adjusting” and “not complaining” but fighting it out.

My mother and my teachers taught me all the morals. I also developed an understanding of what’s good and what’s bad by observation. My father was the primary disciplinarian, followed by my mother and then my teachers. I developed and understanding of right and wrong through life examples, experiences and while making mistakes and learning from them. The social structure of our community and neighborhood also indirectly taught some moral values. Somehow, without any scriptures to follow, I grew in my understanding of good and bad, and right and wrong. I attribute most of the moral teaching to my parents though.

Social etiquettes were a significant aspect of my day to day life. One of the first etiquette I learnt was respecting the elders. There was never any lack of understanding on what that meant. It started with respecting the parents. To be honest, I respected my parents for two reasons: because they were my parents, and I feared their discipline. It was never a good idea to spend the day with this warning from my mother, “You’ll see what will happen in the evening when Dad comes home. Just wait”. The second group of people who deserve respect were my teachers. Apart from “respect” I also learnt to put elderly people ahead of my needs. If I was traveling in a bus and an elderly lady or man was standing, I would often give my seat to them. Lastly, respect for any other person who was older than me was also a given. Whether it was someone’s brother or sister or complete stranger, I always addressed them in a respectful manner. Among the relatives, the thread of respect continued. In fact, in most cases I would bend down and touch my relative’s feet if I was visiting them or they were visiting us and I was seeing them the first time. That was how we showed respect.

The language of communication, inside and outside of the house, was another important area of social etiquettes. Unacceptable words and phrases were strictly prohibited and I was even disciplined at home when other friends and their parents would come home complaining if I used them. I knew them, but never dared to use them.

Out of our social etiquettes emerged how I got treated. As I grew older, I started receiving respect from others and also had some authority. It changed for better after I started working. My social status changed from a consume r to a producer and that brought a whole another level of good recognition inside our family, our relatives, friend and even society in general.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because the day I seriously started thinking about Jesus Christ and following him by abandoning everything, I stated to question all these areas of my life and my culture.

  • Will I be leaving such a rich culture of festivals, morals, relationships, and community, and embrace a completely foreign system, which I do not even fully know yet?
  • What is the culture of Jesus Christ?
  • How will my relationship with my parents and relatives be affected by my decision?
  • Should I be celebrating the festivals after I decide to follow Jesus?
  • Should I try to learn the significance and background about the various festivals I celebrated and see if I can preserve their spirit, while not following the religious symbolism?
  • What becomes of my respect for my parents?
  • Should I allow others, not my parents, to have any kind of authority in my life?
  • Should I be touching elderly people’s feet by bowing down?
  • How do my social etiquettes change?
  • If I get married, should I ask my wife to put a “bindi” – red dot – on her forehead?
  • Should I be going to church every Sunday, instead of going to the temples I used to go to?

I did not seek answers for these question by talk to those who called themselves Christians. I wanted to seek the answers myself.

And so I started.

I started with deciding that I am not going to make an issue out of any of these questions while deciding to follow Jesus Christ. I started to just grow in my understanding of this person – Jesus Christ. I poured hours into studying how he lived in his time. What kind of culture was he living in when he was on the earth?

I soon discovered, as I studied the Old Testament, that there were many similarities between my culture and what I was reading about the Jewish culture. There were lots of festivals, respect for elders, laws, and social etiquettes and so on. There were significant religious differences, but there were still many aspects that were common to both. However, as I continued to switch back and forth between the Old and the New Testament, I started to notice some interesting differences. I discovered that the New Testament Jews could not practice the culture exactly as it was practiced in the Old Testament days and they had to either change some of the practices or replace them with additional practices that were relevant for their times. The culture also evolved from Old to New era as lifestyles changed. There were no different types of Jews in the Old Testament, but I started reading about new types (lower and higher) in the New Testament. I also learnt that the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which was rebuilt by the time of Jesus, was the most important part of the Jewish culture. Even Jesus was taken as a child to the temple in Jerusalem. As he grew old, Jesus was also visiting the temple.

But as Jesus started becoming more and more public about his plans, I saw a sudden change in how he approached the Jewish culture. In fact, he replaced all of it with nothing!

Let me explain.

After Jesus started explaining to his disciples about why he has come, why he is doing all the miracles, how he will die, how he will rise and most importantly, how they are to remember him after he is back in heaven after his resurrection – he did not provide any guidance or principles on what they should do with their Jewish culture. In fact, he took one of their significant festivals, the Passover, and changed its meaning from sacrificing a lamb and eating it, to breaking a bread into pieces and drinking wine in remembrance of his death. He transformed the meaning of the Passover meal to a meal of His Remembrance. That was the only cultural change, if we want to call it that way, which Jesus made!

As far as the Jewish culture was concerned, it kind of became irrelevant. Jesus nullified it.

And that gave me my answer. I was to abandon my culture for Jesus – my relationships, my festivals, my social obligations, even the fear-based authority of my parents and relatives. I would still hold the same moral values I had before, of good and bad and right and wrong. I would still respect anyone who is older than me. I would still show kindness to elders and my friends. I would still love and respect my parents. But, I was to not have any culture!

As far as I am concerned, the culture that I grew up with ended with me. Neither my daughter nor her kids will inherit it.

It was very clear in my mind that I have not changed my religion from being a Hindu to being a Christian. In fact, I have abandoned my previous religion and have just followed the Jesus Christ. I have not become a Christian, but I have a relationship with Jesus Christ now! And this distinction was important for me because a Christian religion that was, and still is, present in my time that had a culture of its own.

And so I came to the so called Christian religion with this understanding of abandoning my culture. And what did I find?

The Christian religion I saw had tall church buildings that almost looked like temples and festivals like Christmas, Easter, and Good Friday were celebrated. There were Preachers and Priests that performed special duties in churches. Christians went to church every Sunday and even lighted candles in front of a cross and sometimes in front of a statue of Mary, Jesus’ mother. I had not witnessed, but heard that Christians regularly drink alcohol and eat meat.

But this was not the kind of religion or church I was associated with. To be honest, I did not find any new Christian culture and practices that I needed to adopt because I had joined a home based group of believers in Jesus Christ, that we called a Church. This group did not practice any Jewish or Christian festivals. There were no Preachers or Priests. The only activity that the church practiced regularly was this – meeting every Sunday from 9am-12pm in a house.

After spending almost 2 years in this home based Church (which was a Brethren Assembly), I came to the US. And a lot changed on me.

After spending almost 9 years in the US, I have concluded that there is a western Christian culture that is actively being practiced and is an integral part of the Church life. There’s the aspect of going to church every Sunday. Festivals like Christmas, Easter and Good Friday are celebrated. Social etiquettes are entirely different because of the western lifestyle. I have been in association with Protestant Evangelical churches only – so I have not regularly experienced candle burning, worshipping Mary or a cross, but I have visited churches where these practices were evident.  I even attended a gathering where there was a Priest who dipped a piece of bread in wine and put it in my mouth. We were at a national park and wanted to meet with other fellow believers in Jesus Christ and went to the nearest church and were fed by the Priest!

It is common for our friends from the churches we’ve been part of, to ask these questions – Do we setup a Christmas tree? Do you want to join us for Easter Egg Hunting?

Among other things I also observed that Easter and Good Friday were recognized as special days and although there were no festivities, these were considered special days and we are reminded so via announcements and messages.

For me, nothing of this has any value or special recognition. I remember and appreciate the birth of Jesus Christ every day, I feel the pain of his death every day, I rejoice every day in the fact that he did not stink in the grave and I do not have to wait for any special days of the year to celebrate his life. However, all this is my personal conviction. I have nothing against the western Christian culture.

However, this is what I am pondering next: What becomes of a culture where a church is planted by a missionary?

I am not a missionary, in the traditional Christian sense. In a traditional Christian sense, a missionary is a person or a family that leaves their home town or home country and goes to another land to share the good news of Jesus Christ and plants a church. Sometimes missionaries go and work in existing churches in a distant land. Sometimes, they take up administrative jobs in churches and church related organizations in distant lands and still are called missionaries. Sometimes they are teachers in Christian schools in a distant land and are called missionaries. The mission work is always considered something that is done outside of the church’s geographical area – mostly international.  And I have met many sincere believers who have a heart to see the Kingdom of Jesus Christ expand and labor in hardships, making sacrifices in lifestyles, straining family relationships and even risking lives. I honestly accept that I have not dared to step in their shoes.

However, here are some additional questions I am pondering:

  • Should the missionary work in establishing church buildings?
  • Should special days like Christmas, Easter and Good Friday be introduced to the foreign culture?
  • Is it necessary to introduce these festivals as something that is necessary as part of being a Christian and living a Christina life?
  • What happens to the existing festivals of the foreign land for the people that are responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is now the mission field for the missionary?
  • Should a missionary, especially if he or she is from a western Christian culture, replace the culture of the place where the mission field is, with the western Christian culture?
  • Should the missionary try to re-purpose some of the cultural aspects and bring new meaning to them that point them to Jesus Christ rather than continuing in their old cultural ways?
  • If we imagine that the whole world one day becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, will that result in complete annihilation of all types of cultures that have existed until that time?

Here’s why I am pondering these questions: My fear is that the western Christian culture has become a necessity to live a life as a follower of Jesus Christ. And this has spread all over the world. If we are not willing to abandon whatever culture we have, for Jesus Christ, then we are essentially making the culture more important than Jesus Christ. I might even fool myself by thinking that I am repurposing my older culture (say, some festivals) to give them a new meaning and bring forth the message of Jesus Christ through that. What I am actually doing is still trying to preserve the festival. Or maybe I think I need that bridge to my family, relatives and friends who still follow my old culture and by repurposing the festivals I am maintaining that bridge. Whatever the reasons may be, I am not willing to abandon my culture for Jesus Christ.

I wonder what a culture of Jesus Christ looks like that has only this at its core: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ This is what the Law and the Prophets really mean.

My culture is Jesus Christ. What about yours?