Archive for August, 2019

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1)

Modern life is full of restlessness. One seldom finds people who are who exude restfulness.

I run marathons. One of the lessons I have learnt is to listen to my body and to listen to my heart during the runs. Usually, the first few miles of a training run or the marathon are the hardest. However, there comes a point in the run, when one reaches a state of restful running. The heart rate reaches a restful running rate. The body says to the runner, ”You can keep up this pace for a long time.” I call this the forever-run, running pace. This is the pace which enables a runner to accomplish the marathon or the ultramarathon.

This is the case with the marathon of life- the vocation of life.

The Hebrew word translated as “dwell” or “rest” is beautiful a word. It describes a state of restfulness. It describes life’s journey as taking a vacation in a restful resort. It is a restful resort because God is with you.

The Gospels portray Jesus’ life as a life of restfulness. John the Baptist proclaimed, “I saw the Holy Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it ‘rested’ on him” (John 1:32). When the disciples first encountered Jesus, they were drawn to a restful person. They ask him, “Rabbi, where do you rest? He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ So they came and saw where he rested, and they rested with him.” (John 1:38, 39). Throughout his lifetime on earth, the Messiah took his disciples to places and times of restfulness.

In his farewell message to his disciples, Jesus kept telling them, “Rest in me!” (John 15:4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10). This is the secret of a restful vocation in life.

A Prayer:
O Lord, in this life’s marathon run, please help me rest in you, so that it would indeed be a restful run.

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“And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for
“God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.”
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.”
(1 Peter 5:5, 6, NIV)

Humility is not something sought after in modern life and work. In every walk of life, a person is asked to proudly stand up for oneself, and one’s abilities.

I teach at a university. At a university a professor has to prove that she/he comes with spectacular qualifications- a PhD xyz. During the course of one’s carrier, a professor goes through a tenure revue. At each stage, one has to prove one’s abilities. If one does not do this, the person may be disqualified, at each stage. The motto that is generally used is, “Publish or perish!” At the end of the tenure review, a professor has to present a very thick portfolio, in which one must proudly display one’s abilities, achievements, qualifications, and the such. One should be able to proudly to, “Look at me! You cannot really do without me!”

Sadly, this is true of every job, vocation, and life in general. Everywhere one turns, there is competition to prove how much better one is than the other.

It seems like a humble person has no chance.

Quite contrary to this, Jesus teaches a counterculture life. He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

Sure, it may not result in a successful life, by human standards. However, it surely leads to a restful life. One can live at peace with God, with oneself, and with one’s neighbor and coworker. And, what is more? It surely makes for a good night’s sleep.

The rat-race of competition, and the quest to proudly prove one’s abilities, all the time, only leads to a restless life, and sleepless nights.

Why not try being humble!

A Prayer
Oh Lord help me to be gentle and humble, just like my Lord Jesus the Messiah!

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“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1, 2)

I have run 10 marathons- 7 Chicago, 2 Boston, and 1 New York City. Each of these have been very distinct and amazing experiences. One does not just decide one day to go and run a marathon. It is 26.2 miles of running! One has to train every day of the year. One has to run 5 milers, 10 milers, 15 milers, and 20 milers according to a training plan.

I live in Chicago. In training, one must choose the kind of terrain which would resemble the marathon one is training to run. Chicago is flat. So, when I trained for Boston and New York, I had to find hills. In the Boston marathon one runs through many beautiful hills. They call is God’s country. In the New York marathon, one runs through all the Boroughs of New York City. One has to go up and down all these bridges which connect the Burroughs. So, I found a hill to train, which I call it Mount Trashmore. It is near Techny Towers, in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It is an artificial hill constructed from the tons and tons of Chicago trash. I just ran up and down this hill for hundreds of miles.

When one runs a marathon, or trains for marathon, it is wise to have a pace setter- an experienced runner, who is an expert. Each marathon has several pace setters. Even the elite runners- amazing marathoners from Kenya and Ethiopia, have pace-setters. During my marathon runs, I knew that as long as I could see the pace setter, for all the 26.2 miles, I was OK. I would usually try to run alongside a pace setter, who was running at a pace better than my goal. This way I knew I would be fine. Usually, I was fine.

This is essentially what our Youversion text for today is asking us to do in our life. Life is a marathon. Our vocation in life is a marathon. Keep your eyes fixed on your pacesetter.

  1. There are various things we need to keep in mind in training for this marathon, and in running the marathon. We must always remember that we are not the first ones to run this marathon. There are many others, throughout the history of humanity who have run the marathon of life.

Hebrews chapter 11 underlines the names of the great marathon runners of life. These are amazing runners like Abel, Enoch, Noah, and the such.

I would have loved to run alongside these runners!

This is quite humbling thought. Isn’t it?

2. When one is running, one must not carry stuff.

In my first Chicago Marathon, I thought I would need everything. It was 26.2 miles. I carried my jacket, because it was cold when I began the race early in the morning. I carried my water bottle, because I wanted to be well hydrated. I carried a Sony Cassette Walkman, because I knew it was a long run, and I wanted to listen to some nice music, while I ran. By mile 6.2, I realized this was a foolish decision, so I just dumped everything into the hands of a spectator outside Moody Church. Who kindly took it from me!

In the marathon called life, one must learn to shed all the baggage- all that we have collected and hoarded. We must especially shed the bad baggage, which will grossly impede our progress- our sins and bad inclinations.

3. Running takes perseverance. It takes patience. One must build endurance.

The Greek word in this text means all of those things and more.

Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, has never run a mile or a marathon. Sprinters do not have, or do not aspire to acquire the patience or endurance to run a marathon. They want to do things which would be quickly finished. But, life is not a sprint. Life is a marathon. One needs to build endurance, with patience and perseverance.

4. The marathon race is “marked out.” One must run the course marked out for the marathon.

Sadly, there have been a few cheaters who were caught jumping the course. The most famous one is a runner by the name of Rosie Ruiz. In 1979 she ran the New York City Marathon. Her finish time was clocked at 2:56:29, the 11th woman overall. In 1980, she ran the Boston Marathon. Her time was clocked at 2:31:56, the fastest in the women’s category. Sadly, it was discovered that she cheated in both marathons. She did not run the whole course marked out for the two marathons, and so she was disqualified.

Today, since then, all marathon runners have to wear a computer chip, so that each one tracked during the whole course.

In the marathon journey called life, it is of paramount importance to be accountable to God, and to fellow runners- the community of faith. It is good to meditate on the Word of God, so that one stays in course.

5. The marathon course in life is marked out for “us.”

This is what I like about running a marathon. All the runners run together. All the runners encourage each other and buoy each other. During my marathon runs, I have heard so many amazing stories of runners. I ran for example, the Boston Marathon, the year after the Boston bombing. That awful killing happened in 2013. I ran my second Boston Marathon in 2014. I ran alongside runners who were not able to finish the Boston Marathon in 2013 because of the bombing. I ran alongside people who had lost loved ones, or were injured during the Boston bombing. I ran alongside runners who had recovered from brain cancer, and the such. I heard so many stories, while I ran. I learnt so much from them.

This what we do in the marathon run of life. We encourage one another. We tell stories to each other, to help each other run the marathon of life.

6. Running the marathon can be a painful experience.

At the start of a marathon, I would see several of my students. Many of them finish and run well. Others do not finish. When I see a student whiz by me at mile 3 or 4, I would usually ask, “Is this your planned pace? Do not overdo it at this stage. You will regret it.” Some listen, Others do not. Surely, the students who do not listen are done at mile 16, 17, or 21- especially mile 21. In the Chicago Marathon, that is when there are no spectators to encourage you. All you see is the highways and cars whizzing by. In the Boston Marathon, at this stage, one has to climb five hills, popularly called the Heart-break hill. Many give up!

Miles 16-21 is when one can get dehydrated, and cramps-sometimes sever cramps can hamper one’s run. Many give up!

Marathons can be hot-very hot. I remember running the 2007 Chicago Marathon, when I looked up at building, and saw the temperature reading 95 degrees Fahrenheit. They had to shut down that Marathon. They ran out of water. The fire trucks were hosing down runners. Sadly, one marathoner died. Many were taken to emergency rooms in hospitals.

Not everyone encourages you, when you are training for a marathon. There are several naysayers who would discourage you. Several who would look at you cross-eyed and say, “Are you crazy or something?”
The marathon of life, similarly, can be difficult. Sometimes very, very difficult.

Training runs can be opposed by people. I remember cars trying to mow me down. People shouting racial epithets. Sadly, women athletes go through the worst. They endure so much- cat calls, and the such. Most sadly, some have been sexually abused, during their training runs.

So horrible!

7. What must I do? This text says, fix your eyes on the chief marathon runner- Jesus.

Training for a marathon, and running a marathon leads me to the core of the Gospel- the Marathon Good News.

God became human, and ran the great marathon race of life, so that we may all run the race of life looking to “Jesus the pioneer and perfecter” of this marathon race called life.

He endured so much!
He suffered so much!

Yet, he ran the good marathon race of life!

A Prayer:
Oh Incarnate marathon runner. Please enable me to run this marathon race called life, always intently and constantly looking to you, the great pace setter, the great marathon runner.

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“Therefore do not worry.”
(Matthew 6:25, 31, 34 NIV)

The threat of a global economic crisis looms large all the time. Global powers like the USA, China, and the EU make decisions which impact the lives of everyone in global society. Businesses close down, jobs are lost, and this leads to much anxiety for everyone- the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. Personal economic crisis leads to individuals going into depression. Many times, this has deep and lasting consequences. Sadly, it is the poor that suffer the most in times of economic crisis. The rich suffer too. But, they use their economic power to do harm to the poor. They do this to reduce their own suffering.

This is the context in which Jesus is teaching. The Romans ruled Israel. They extracted revenue from the Jewish people. They set up a system of Jewish haves- the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who in turn extracted money from the common people. As a result of this, the common people were left with no money. The Sadducees hoarded money and wealth. But, they knew that frequent raids of the Roman garrisons would render them also penniless. This anxiety caused them to exploit the common people, even more rigorously. The Romans, in turn awaited the next major power to overthrow them through violence. This led to a horrible cycle of anxiety and injustices

Jesus says to both the haves and the have-nots, “You cannot serve God and Mammon (literally in Aramaic, the riches you trust).” (Matthew 6:24). He goes on to say, “If you trust in money, it will only lead to anxiety, and a downward spiral of exploitation of people you can exploit and/or depression, which leads to more exploitation.”

Jesus urges human beings to learn from God’s creation the lessons of trust and a life of satisfaction. “Learn from the birds . . . learn from the flowers . . . don’t be anxious.”

The crucial question is “who do we trust, God or Money?” If we trust in Money, it will lead to anxiety and a downward spiral of injustices against self and others. On the other hand, if we trust in God, it will lead to a life of fulfillment and joy- a life worth living.

The choice is ours.

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Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:21, NIV)

In society today, it seems like the sentence “I love you” is used rather flippantly and loosely. One uses it as a form of goodbye on the phone with a friend, or when one is leaving home, and so on.

What does it mean to love?
According to this teaching of Jesus, loving is not merely a nice indescribably feeling. Loving has strong ethical dimensions to it. When God gave the Ten Commandments, “loving” is intrinsically linked to the “ethical keeping” of the commandments (Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10). It is up front and central. Throughout the Bible, it seems clear that possessing the Torah-the teachings of the LORD, and then effecting ethical behavior accordingly, are inherently linked together. This is how love is expressed.

In response, God “keeps” his “Covenant Love-” (Hebrew, Chesed), towards human beings. It is a different Hebrew word, and an exponentially strong form of love. It is as if God is saying, if you reach out to me with the extent of love, according to your ability, I will respond with a love which is beyond your wildest imagination.

The Bible opens up this mutuality of love to all human beings, not just the Jewish people (e.g. Isaiah 56:6).

It seems clear to me that this mutuality is true of any relationship between two beings- between two human beings, and between human beings and God. One must always ask the question, what is dear to the other? Usually, what is dear to the other is found in the ethical statements of the other. In the case of God, these are found in the Torah of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. In the case of relationships between human beings, it is found in the verbal and non-verbal statements of the other.

How do I express my love the other?
It is by holding dearly and practicing my ethical life in accordance to what is dear to the other person, whether this be God, or my neighbor.

A prayer:

O LORD please help me express my love towards you by being what you want me to be, and doing what you want me to do.

O LORD please help me express my love to my neighbor in the same way.

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“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Prosperity is the key word in so much of society today.

When I took my students to Medellin, Colombia, we discovered that the quest for prosperity and power was at the root of so much violence, which had destroyed Colombian society of the 1980s and 90s.

Sadly, this quest for prosperity was and is so rooted in global society.
And, yes, even in the global Church.

Churches which preach the prosperity oriented gospel are flourishing in far-flung places in Asia, South America, and Africa. “Release your faith,” speak your faith,” “believe it, receive it,” etc. are the phrases which are often heard in these churches. The idea is that one can receive whatever one desires, if only one can believe, really believe, in what one is desiring. One’s spirituality and one’s Christian faith, supposedly is directly proportional to one’s faith to receive whatever one desire’s.

This rampant growth of the prosperity-gospel is quite contrary to Jesus’ teaching.

During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught the am ha-aretz, or the common people of the land about prayer. He warned them not to be like the prosperity people- the Sadducees, and the Pharisees. They pray to boast about their lofty dreams and desires. In their prayer-attire they display their opulence- a symbol of their spirituality. He warned them not to be like the Romans and the Greeks, whose prayers are full of lofty phrases that they display.

Jesus says to them. You do not need to be like them. Simply remember “Your Father knows your needs.” (Matthew 6:8).

When Jesus went around the towns and the villages he always discerned the needs of people, and met those needs. Many times these were “needs” of physical healing among crowds of common people (Luke 9:11). At other times it was emotional, spiritual and mental “needs,” as in the case of women who had been abused by society (Luke 10:42).

In his teaching, Jesus always taught the people to distinguish between “desires or wants” and “needs.” He taught them to learn from the birds in the sky and the animals of the field. They can teach us a thing or two about this. He taught the people to learn from the flowers and the plant kingdom. They can teach us a thing or two about this.

I teach at a liberal arts university- North Park University, so that I can learn from my colleagues in the sciences and arts, these lessons.

Jesus warned the common people not to be like the Romans and the Greeks. They seek after their own glory. It only led to unjust things that they did to others, just to meet their desires!
It only led to a deeply unsatisfying life, which led to more abuse of others under their control, just to attain their desires!
Jesus constantly reminded the people not to get into this deeply unsatisfying downward spiral of desires and wants.

How may one keep from getting into this downward spiral of desires and wants?

Jesus said to them simply remember that “your Father knows your “needs.” (Luke 12:30).

When we remember this, we will not be jealous of those that supposedly prosper.
When we remember this we will not be caught up in the downward spiral of desires and wants.
When we remember this simple teaching of Jesus, we will truly experience a deeply satisfying life.
When we remember this simple teaching of Jesus, the focus is not on us, rather the focus is on the provider of needs, the Lord Jesus our Messiah!

A Prayer:
Oh LORD may I remember this simple teaching, “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

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“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I Am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:10)

I was born in India. I was born among people who are low caste and outcaste. The low castes are the Shudras or the slave caste. The outcaste are the untouchables or the Dalits. These are the despised and detestable people. Yet, history teaches us that these are among the original dwellers of India. The high caste people are the Aryans, who brought Hinduism into India around 1500 BC.

The Shepherd caste is a Shudra or slave caste. These are among the most despised people. They have endured much injustice and harm.

This is true in much of the rest of the world, as well.

In biblical times, shepherds were despised. The Hebrew people were primarily shepherds. They had to live far away from the high class people of Egypt because “all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.” (Genesis 46:34).

The Bible goes against this horrible attitude against supposed low class and low caste peoples groups called shepherds. The message of the Bible goes against this stream of global culture. In the Bible “a shepherd” is the primary model of leadership.

Abel was a shepherd. Sadly he was killed by Cain, his brother. (Genesis 4).

Moses, the great law giver was a shepherd (Exodus 2:19)

The first king of Israel was a despised shepherd boy called David (1 Samuel 16)

The most important worship song in the Bible proclaims, “The LORD is my Shepherd.” (Psalm 23)

Sadly, later in history, this Great Shepherd mourned that the leadership of the people of Israel, the supposed shepherds, brought the people to ruins. They are corrupt and evil shepherds.

He mourns, “prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep . . .So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals.” (Ezekiel 34:2-5)

In the YouVersion text, this is precisely what Jesus the Great Shepherd mourns. He mourns that the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Judeans . . . all the supposed “shepherds” of the people are really “thieves and robbers,” just like those during the time of the Prophet Ezekiel.

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” He further goes to say the true mark of the Good Shepherd, yes the true mark of the LORD of Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34, is one “who lays down his life for the sheep, so that the sheep will have life to the fullest.” (John 10:10, 11)

A Prayer:
Thank you Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Good Shepherd, for being our Good Shepherd.
Thank you for model of shepherd leadership that you have set before us.
Please enable us to live by this model.

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