Paul’s experience of identity

Paul’s experience of true identity: Resurrection vs. Rubbish

J.N. Manokaran

“Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”  (Philippians 3: 4-11)

Paul was dragged into a cultural debate of that day.  Is Paul a true Jew?  Does he regard circumcision the sign of covenant of the People of God, as important, significant and as top priority?  Paul defends and provides his worldview.

Though he could be proud of the things, which are considered as privilege and honour among the Jews, he did not consider them as important, rather considered them as ‘rubbish’.  His perspective was completely contradictory to the popular worldview and culture.

  1. Religious pride:

Paul drew his identity, sense of belonging and security from his religious life.  Circumcision was the sign of Covenant relationship of Jewish people with Jehovah.  Paul was a religious person as he was born and brought up by religious and godly parents. Paul was convinced that Judaism was the only true religion and Jehovah was the true living God.  This religious pride was in the mind of Paul always until he had an encounter with Lord Jesus Christ in the Damascus road.  It is not the religion and signs of religion are important, but personal relationship with Son of God.

  1. Political pride

Paul’s next matter of pride was his tribal identity.  Which is similar to caste identity.  The tribe of Benjamin gave the first king for the nation of Israel.  Ehud was one of the Judges of Israel.  Esther and Mordecai were from the tribe of Benjamin.  Though, the tribe of Benjamin was small or insignificant their contribution to the nation is highly regarded.  The tribe of Benjamin was always proud of their contribution to the Nation of Israel.

  1. Ethnic and Linguistic pride: Hebrew of Hebrews

Paul was aware of his ethnic identity and linguistic sense of belonging.  Israelites considered themselves as superior race and all others as Gentiles who were portrayed as sub-human beings.  The Old Testament, the Scripture of Judaism was written in Hebrew language.  Hence, Hebrew was considered as sacred language.  Paul was always conscious about his ethnic identity and linguistic heritage.  However, when he comes to Lord Jesus Christ he could declare:  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

  1. Moral pride: a Pharisee

Pharisees were the strict followers of all religious requirements of Jewish religion according to Mosaic Law and other traditional practices.  They were regarded well by the common people.  They were meticulous in following the Law.  Generally, they were pious, religious and held morally high ground,  Paul was proud of his morality and had holier-than-thou attitude.

  1. Passionate pride and zeal:

Paul was alert and agile to find any heretic or deviant person or a group of people who moved away from the fundamental Jewish faith.  The disciples of Lord Jesus Christ were considered heretics and dangerous cult group.  The established Jewish religion wanted to destroy this new emerging faith.  Paul was zealous for Jewish faith and received approval for his intolerant, violent persecution of Christians from the Jewish religious leaders. He used violence as a handy tool to torture and kill Christians.  His zeal was expressed in his ruthless, violent behavior which was seen as true religious fervor.

  1. Spiritual pride:  blameless.

Paul understanding of spirituality was to fulfill all the ritualistic, ceremonial observation of the Law of Moses.  According to his conscience, he was ‘blameless’ and hence righteous person. He was spiritually better and greater than other people who followed Judaism.

Rubbish

All these six aspects of his pride, identity, sense of belonging and boosted ego were rejected by Paul terming them as ‘rubbish’.  The very essence from which he drew meaning and purpose of life suddenly became useless rubbish to be thrown away.  Rubbish could be translated as dirt or dung or refuse.  In modern terminology it could be termed as ‘crap’ or  ‘shit’.

All privileges, inheritance, talents, gifts, education and accomplishments are nothing when compared with the experience of knowing Lord Jesus Christ and resurrection to be with the Lord forever.  Paul knew that all his glamorous popularity in the world will perish one day.

Stinking

Paul asserts all these glorious things in world’s perspective just stinks.  It has no attraction whatsoever.  People who admire these qualities in themselves are envious about others who have more such fantasies.  In other words, who depend and boast of these are like white washed tombs (Matthew 23:27)  that looks beautiful from outside but stinks inside.  In other words, stinking rubbish could be added to other rubbish and not with clean and hygienic materials.

Unhygienic

Rubbish or garbage dumps become breeding places for mosquitoes, rats, centipede, scorpions and other bacteria and insects.  These cause physical health hazards that could be fatal.  When a person boasts of these human values, then s/he becomes a chronically sick person and continuously spreads contagious spiritual diseases.  Even the smell of rubbish could cause allergic reactions to some people.

Not pleasant

Whoever confronts rubbish would turn nose away and try to run away from that.  It is not a pleasing atmosphere for anyone to be at peace.  It is almost impossible to sit, relax or eat near such heaps of rubbish.  God is not pleased with such persons who blow their own trumpets of human status and accomplishments.

Filthy rags

Isaiah also had similar view like that of Paul.  He writes that the so called righteous deeds of humans are like the menstrual cloth or polluted garments or filthy rags. (Isaiah 64: 6)  The goodness and righteousness cannot be measured by human standards or scales.  Our lives are weighed or measured according to God’s divine standards and measurements.

Sweet smelling fragrance

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)  The calling of Christians is to be aroma of Lord Jesus Christ.  This is possible only when we present our bodies as a living sacrifice instead of being overwhelmed by self-pride or other carnal boastings.  “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (II Corinthians 2:15)  When we are pursuing what the world pursues, then we are stinking rubbish and not sweet smelling sacrifice.

True Identity

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12, 13) The eternal, core, fundamental and foundational identity of a disciple of Lord Jesus Christ is being a child of God.  All other identities will perish by the passage of time others in death.  The identity by position will perish when the position is lost like that of Presidents who become ex-presidents.  The identity by education will perish when old age and memory loss catches up with humans.  The identity of caste or race or language is also lost when a person is dead.  If a person dies in an aero plane accident where his body is burnt along with many people of different nationalities and race, how good are human defined identities? The only eternal identity is given by God through His Son Lord Jesus Christ that we are children of the Living Eternal God.

 

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Motivation for ministry of reconciliation

Motivation for ministry of reconciliation

J.N. Manokaran

“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5: 11-21)

All are motivated

People are motivated to do certain things in life that is beyond themselves.  Some do things that are really good and some are really crazy or funny.  In Television channels we can see how some adventurers go into jungles, mountains, glaciers and rocks and survive great ordeals.  These ordeals are considered by many as odd and crazy.  There are volunteers who like to die for their political leaders.  In India, some film stars and sports stars have such dedicated fans who would even kill themselves when they fail.  Some are so worried about the protection and welfare of animals while they do not bother about human beings and their misery.  What motivates them?  What sustains them?  In fact, all people are motivated to accomplish something which is beyond their reach.  They have their icons or ideals or idols to cherish.  In this context, the disciples of Lord Jesus Christ evaluate their purpose and motivation.

Motivated to be a martyr

While we were in North India, we heard from a young soldier.  He said, “My  purpose is to protect the nation from enemies. I want to die as a martyr.  When my body is buried with gun salute, I want my boss (Commander) to come and place wreathe.  When he does he should shed tears that would wet my legs.” It was heart moving dedication.  “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” (II Timothy 2:4)

Five motivations

When Paul writes to Corinthians he give five motivation factors for a disciple.

  1. Motivation by the Fear of the Lord

Paul in his previous para writes about pleasing God and the Judgment of God. (II Corinthians 9,10) “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” (Psalms 33:8.   Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.  (Psalms 111:10)  When a person wisdom from God, will strive to be a wise son who gladdens his father. (Proverbs 10:1) We are children of God, and we always wish and desire to please God.  It is not enough to be an obedient child or dutiful child but a pleasing child.  The Elder son in the Prodigal Son parable was obedient and dutiful son but not pleasing son.  When we please God, we have the confidence to stand before the judgment seat of God.

God said to Ezekiel that his ministry role is to be a watchman.  That means to be alert, warn people of danger and turn them to the right path.  The sacred responsibility is a joy to see the fruit of our labour.  It will also be a burden and pain to see people disregarding our message.  However, God rewards our faithfulness.   “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. (Ezekiel 3:17-19)

  1. Motivation by the Love of Lord

Paul writes that we are involved in ministry because of the love of the Lord.  (II Corinthians 5:14)  Lord Jesus Christ Love compels us to take risks, do daring things which with our own strength can accomplish.  God’s love provides an Inner pressure and inner strength that cannot be contained or restrained.  God loves humanity and gave His Son.  (John 3:16)  God’s love is manifested to ungodly, disobedient, rebels and sinners.  (Romans 5: 1-11)  God’s love controls and commissions us into the world to bring transformation.

Lord Jesus Christ love runs over our cups that flows and fills other empty cups.

  1. Motivation by being a New Creation

The third motivation dimension given by Paul is that we have become a New Creature.  We are not prisoners of past sin, habits of sin, traditions, rituals, culture, and history.  God has made us a new creature in Lord Jesus Christ.  New creation means having renewed mind.  (Romans 12:2)  The thoughts, memories, reasons are renewed.  The old paradigms, attitude, worldview and mindset are deleted and trashed.  New creation also means new heart and new spirit.  The desires, purpose, aspirations and ambitions are dictated by the  new heart.  “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”(Ezekiel 36:26)  New Creation means new senses and limbs.  We learn to see the world with different perspective.  We listen to voices with different interpretation.  Our hands are restless to do what is good.  Our legs run to do what is righteous and just.  Our words console and comfort people and warn evildoers.  As new creature in the Lord, we long for eternal Home as Paul longed for.  (II Corinthians 5:8)

  1. Motivation by Call of Lord Jesus Christ

God has called his children to be Ambassadors. (II Corinthians 5:20) Ambassador is a term used for envoys who represent a nation in another country.  An ambassador has to hold his nation’s flag high, keep its reputation untarnished and exemplify the highest ideals, dignity, character, philosophy and identity of his country of citizenship. An ambassador does not convey his own thoughts but represents his nation.  We are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20) and sent as an Ambassador on this earth.  The call for the disciples of Lord Jesus Christ is to live the values, priorities, righteousness, love, grace, holiness, forgiveness and truth on this planet earth at par with heavenly standards.  This is an awesome call for each person.  God has strategically placed each disciple in a specific place where s/he could only be the sole witness.  A disciple in a college may be the only witness for a period of three to five years to a batch of about 50 students. A family living in a flat may be the sole witness for dozen families living as neighbours.  Our calling in our context is sacred, and cannot be compromised.

  1. Motivation as stewards of the gospel

God has entrusted us with the ‘message of reconciliation’. (II Corinthians 5:19) God trusted us to entrust us with the Gospel.  Without trust there is no entrustment or stewardship. “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.” (I Timothy 1:12)  Paul states that the Lord judged or counted or reckoned or considered him as faithful and gave him this appointment or commission  to serve him.  Indeed an amazing privilege. In the world, parents, children, siblings, kith and kin, friends, neighbours and colleagues do not trust us for simple and silly things, but God has entrusted us with the ‘ministry of reconciliation’.

Ministry of Reconciliation

The word reconciliation means change or exchange.   God has reconciled the world through Lord Jesus Christ.  God takes the initiative.  God is not at fault, it is only man who is sinner.  Even then, Lord takes the initiative.  Lord Jesus accomplished salvation, justification, sanctification, redemption, forgiveness and new creation by His death and resurrection.  It cannot be earned or borrowed or stolen but gratefully received as gift of God.  We are called to persuade, beg, request, call, inform, urge and speak so that they reconcile people to living God.  “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”” (Romans 5:10)

Challenge

God has chosen us to be his children as well as his ambassadors.  It is privilege, honour and awesome responsibility.  It is not an option, but a trust entrusted to us. A.T. Robertson, many years ago, said, “The pulpit is the Golgotha on which the preacher gives his life for the reconciliation of the world.” This is our calling.

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Cleft of the rock

Cleft of the rock

J.N. Manokaran

“And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.””  (Exodus 33:17-23)

The desire to see and experience the glory of God is a heartfelt desire of all people of God.  Moses though he experienced God’s presence, power and grace; wanted to see His glory too.  That was a difficult but marvelous thing to ask for.  Yet, Moses had the courage to put forth this strange request.  God was gracious to answer his prayers and grant his petition.  However, there was one condition; Moses had to go and stand in a particular place, the cleft of the rock.  Then he could see the glory of God by witnessing the back of God, while God shadowed Moses with his mighty hand.

There are times, when God asks his children to go the cleft of the rock.  In my life too I have experienced such situations.  God orders us to be present in the cleft of the rock so that he could work and grant us our heart’s desires.  The stay in the cleft could be very short or could stretch for days and weeks.  The time in the cleft could seem to be perplexing, puzzling and purposeless hours.

Place of obedience

The cleft is the place of obedience.  Moses had to come to that particular, or specific place in absolute obedience.  Moses cannot choose a comfortable place for himself and expect God to come and show His Glory.  The choice is always God’s as he knows the best, safe and strategic place for us.  There are no second or third options provided by God.  Moses was willing to be in the cleft to behold the Glory of God.  In the place of God’s choice there is protection as God said to Moses: “I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.”   Only in the place of obedience is the coverage of his hand as our protection.

Place of surrender

A cleft is a narrow place, where a person cannot move around or even lay down and relax.  Hence, it is a place of total surrender.  When Moses obeyed, he was willing to surrender his choices, ambitions and priorities.  There only one ambition to see the glory of God.  Apart from being in His presence to behold him, there is no other item on Moses  priority list.

Place of worship

Moses was left in the cleft all alone. Even Joshua who used to hang around is not permitted to come.  Only possible thing he could do was to connect and communicate with God.  That is to pray, praise, ponder and worship.  There were no human contacts to get in touch with.  Cleft is beyond the reach of Whatsapp, Facebook and emails.  It is a lonely place, but a place for sweet fellowship with God alone.  In the awe of his glory and majesty, only human response is worship.  One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord     and to inquire in his temple. (Psalms 27:4)

Place of darkness

Cleft of the rock is often dark, beyond the reach of sunshine.  In the midst of darkness, light shines forth with a greater intensity.  There may be physical darkness but there is spiritual perception and enlightenment. Light of Lord Jesus Christ shines in our hearts and minds even in the darkest hours.  Spiritual darkness could be overwhelming as it was for Lord Jesus Christ when he suffered on the cross or when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Nevertheless, there is no darkness that the light of God and His gospel cannot penetrate.

Place of danger

Cleft of a rock could be precarious with lurching danger.  Insects like scorpions, centipedes and spiders occupy such places.  Going into a cleft is dangerous, disastrous and sometimes inviting death.  Snakes also live in such clefts and do not take it kindly for any intrusion from human species.  These insects and reptiles guard their turf with ferocious vengeance.  Psalmist David calls such place as the Valley of Death.  However, there is God’s protecting hand that keeps us from any harm touching us.

Place of Alertness

While staying in the cleft of the rock a person has to be on high alert.  Hold on to the edges of rocks, so that the person does not slip and fall.  In the cleft of the rock, we have to be awake always.  Not a comfortable  place for slumber or sleep.  We are there for a purpose, not for picnic.  Hence, it is wise to be awake and behold His Glory alone.  Agility is another requirement there.  Quick response is needed when God speaks or commands or calls.

Challenge

Moses could only see the back after God had revealed his Glory. Until that time his hand was upon him.  In life, we go through times of crisis, chaos, confusion, darkness, destruction and even death.  We may fail to see and sense God’s awesome loving presence.  But, on retrospection we understand God’s glory and see only his back, as he completes His glorious purpose in our life.   When he is at work, we are unable to see or perceive.  Later we realize how gracious, loving, kind, caring, generous is our Lord.

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New Year 2017: God in the strength of the Lord

New Year 2017

Go in the strength of the Lord

J.N. Manokaran

“And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?””   (Judges 6:14)

I           Dangerous situation

The Israelites were living in a dangerous situation.  Midianites were lording over them.  Their agricultural harvest was looted.  Fearing for their lives they hid in the caves.  Gideon was an ordinary peasant living in such times.  May be he was terrified and frustrated that he tried to hide and survive.  That was the time Lord spoke to him, giving him a commission that was for Gideon an enormous task   The year 2016 could not have been a favorable year as we expected.  The losses, sickness, sufferings, setbacks, defeats, and pain are afresh in our memories.

II         Why?

“Why all these happened to us?”  (Judges 6:13)  Gideon mind and spirit was wrestling with this question.  God has promised to be with us; in the past He has done great things like delivering the Israelites from the oppression of Egyptians.  Now, why God was silent or ignoring the children of Israel?  God did not answer his question.  Because it was obvious, at least to the Israelites, so only they started calling unto God for help.

  1. Sin of Idolatry

They did evil in the sight of God.  (Judges 6:1)  Neglecting the Living God, who brought them out of Egypt performing great signs and wonders, they chose gods worshipped by their neighbours.  Priority and proximity are indicators of our commitment to God.  When God is taken out of our priority list and some other person or thing or task occupies that spot, we become idol worshippers.  Proximity is closeness or having intimate fellowship without the Lord.  When this is neglected, something else has cropped in.

  1. Neglecting the Word

The Law was given through Moses.  It was there, but nobody bothered to read or explain or preach or teach.  The Law was considered sacred, to be revered and honoured.  However, the Israelites did not take efforts to study, understand, meditate and apply in their lives.  Today also, the bible is available in various formats including electronic, editions and custom-designed, but not read or pondered or applied.  Do we consider the Word of God as Foundation, Food and Feast, True wealth, Spiritual armor, Guide, Light and Life?

  1. Excellence was missing

They did not take complete victory over the enemies when Israelites possessed the land.  God was gracious to provide them the Promised Land.  However, taking possession was the responsibility of the Israelites, which they neglected. It is smilar to this.  God has promised food for all birds of the sky, however, each morning they have to fly and search.  (Luke 12:24)  God will not put food in their nests every day.  Israelites did not care to occupy the whole land and left bits and pieces where other people lived.  These people later led the Israelites into worshipping pseudo gods and following customs and rituals that were abomination to God..

Paul taught the Christians to do all things unto the Lord. (Colossians 3:23)  That means diligence, hard work and excellence should be the mark of a Christian. Unfortunately, this is not true today as in the days of Gideon.  Do we love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength?

  1. Did not retain victory

They did not obey the Word of God that was with them as Law and also the prophets Lord sent to them.  (Judges 6:10)  Victory has to be maintained and retained by being awake and agile.  The Israelites became lazy and negligent.  Hence, they could not retain the land they had possessed.  Laziness, Lukewarm and Lethargic Christians cannot be living in victory.

  1. Tribalism Vs. Nationalism

After Joshua, there was a leadership gap.  They did not ask God for a leader.  Probably, there was no unity among the tribes.  The twelve tribes pulled in different directions.  They did not understand that Israel was a nation.  They could not grow beyond tribal mentality to have national identity.  Even today in the Church there are not many who can state that they boast only about the cross like Paul.  There are numerous who boast about their education, caste, colour, economic status, social status…etc.  (Galatians 6:14)

III        Go

In this context, God speaks to Gideon.  He was not ready, in fact reluctant to take up the mandate for the mammoth task.  Being aware of history, he knew how rebellious the Israelites were.  Gideon felt he was incompetent and too small to lead the Israelites.  However, the Lord said:  “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”  (Judges 6:14)  While Gideon was feeling that he was not the right person with right capabilities or resources to lead Israel, Lord asked him to go with whatever strength he had.

  1. Limited wisdom

Gideon had limited wisdom and understanding.  His training was not that of Moses who got it from Egypt or that of Joshua who was an apprentice with Moses.  Gideon had to depend on God’s wisdom and not his own wisdom.  God will provide wisdom to all those who ask for.  (James 1:5)

  1. Limited faith

Gideon did not have great faith at that moment.  His faith was small, insignificant and small.  The Lord does not break the weak reed or snuff out flickering lamp.  (Isaiah 42:3)  Lord trimmed the lamp, put more oil and let Gideon shine. When we are available, Lord can make us shine for His Glory.

  1. Limited strength

Gideon was having inferiority complex.  He understood is strength could not match the military might of Midianites.  Being born in a family that was not well known or prominent made Gideon thought he was unworthy to lead Israelites.  However, Gideon was chosen to accomplish God’s task in his generation.

IV        Deliver Israel

Gideon was commissioned to deliver Israelites from the tyranny of Midianites.  They made the life of Israelites miserable and unjustly looted what they toiled for.  The victory was assured as God sent Gideon to deliver Israel.  The victory was not determined by strength and capacity of Gideon but by God Himself.  All preparations could be done for warfare but victory comes from the Lord. (Proverbs 21:31)

V         I send you

  1. God’s commission

God commissions Gideon to deliver Israelites from Midianite oppression.  It is God’s work delegated to Gideon.  In the same way, God has commissioned his disciples today to deliver people from the oppressive rule and slavery of Satan.  Cunningly, Satan has bound people in spiritual darkness and ignorance.  God has called the Church to work for the deliverance of people as Gideon was called.

  1. God’s resources

Gideon did not have resources.  He did not have army or weapons or strategy to deliver people.  Gideon had to depend on God for the needed resources.  If ministry could be done with human resources then it is human work and cannot be termed as God’s work.  When God’s plan was evident thousands of volunteers came to fight alongside Gideon.  God will certainly provide needed resources, when he calls a person.

3,         God’s plan

Gideon did not have a plan of his own.  Hence he was dependent on God as he took each step.  With plans, targets and flow chart we could easily lose God’s plan and land in desert or wilderness alone.  We have to make sure that each step we take is according to His Great plan and not our pipe dream plan.

VI        Challenge

It is easy to look inward and grumble against God as Gideon did.  We may wonder as Gideon, where is God?  Why is he silent?  Why he is inactive?  Where are the signs and wonders?  Lord wants to look beyond our context into future, with an attitude of hope and perception of faith.  Then God can use us in the year 2017 as he used Gideon for His Glory bringing transformation in our nation and in the world.

 

 

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Magnificent Love, Marvelous Light and Majestic Life

Magnificent Love, Marvelous Light and Majestic Life.

J.N. Manokaran

“What is Christmas?” Is it all about Santa Claus, Cakes, Stars, Trees, Balloons, Nativity scene, Greeting Cards…?  The celebration of Christmas around the world has become tradition in the popular culture and ritual in most churches.  The significance of Christmas is lost in maze of fun, feast  and entertainment.

Incarnation

Christmas is the celebration of the historical fact that God intervened in history of humanity to bring salvation and redemption.  For that purpose Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, a small town in the nation of Israel.  Christmas celebration could be meaningful only when the reason for His coming is understood, appreciated and appropriated.

Three words that grasps the essence of Christmas helps us to really gain spiritual insight into that glorious event and its impact on each one of us. They are love, light and life.

  1. Magnificent Love

The Christmas is the manifestation of God’s magnificent love to humanity.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”(John 3:16) God’s love was enormous and beyond human comprehension that he could send His Son Lord Jesus Christ to be born in the world in an ordinary environment.  Lord Jesus Christ identified with the poorest of the poor that there was no place in the inn (hotel or hospital) that he was born in a stable.  Of course, the world needs a ‘Stable” influence, impact and empowerment.  The Christmas narrative is that God demonstrated, revealed, unveliled  and disclosed his unconditional love by sending His Son to die for the sins of humanity and rise from the death.  It is impossible for any parent to let his/her child die.  Knowing about the danger outside, no father would send his son out of his sight.  Lord Jesus Christ came into the world of danger, misery and injustice, where he would be killed by the sinful men, who are his creation.

God so loved the world populated with sinful people who could be described as ‘godless’, ‘sinners’, ‘rebels’, ‘disobedient’ and ‘children of wrath’. (Romans 5)  Lord Jesus Christ loved the sinful humanity, and volunteered to take the punishment, curse and destiny of sinner i.e. death.   “Wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

God did not send an angel to atone for death.  An alien person or robot was not parachuted into the earth for the atonement of sin.  God sent his Son Lord Jesus Christ to completely identify with humanity and so he was born as a child.  He grew up in an ordinary town of Nazareth, died on the cross in Jerusalem and rose again to demonstrate God’s love, and power to humanity. Lord Jesus Christ was born to die, rise again and ascend to heaven so that he could bring salvation to humanity.

  1. Marvelous Light

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)  The first Christmas brought Light to humanity.  Apostle John states that Lord Jesus Christ is the true light.  It is obvious that the world has plunged into spiritual darkness because of the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The first couple’s  disobedience, rebellion and belief in a lie brought misery to humanity.  Light is necessary to enlighten each and every person in the world.  God by sending his Son Lord Jesus Christ sent light to the world.  Lord Jesus Christ said:  Ï am the light of the world.  (John 8:12)  Simeon looking at the new born child Lord Jesus Christ said: “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel”.”(Luke 2:32)

This light dispels darkness of sin, curse, and injustice in the world.  If a torch light is beamed under rocks, the insects like scorpion would scurry away.  In the same way, when Light of the world shines in our hearts, minds and soul, the sinful desires would be exposed and expelled.  Whoever welcomes this light will be wise, enlightened and walk in the light.  If not, they will continue to grope in the dark and even fall and hurt themselves.

The condition of humans is so pathetic that they are unable to recognize the great light.  In darkness, if a candle light is lighted, all could recognize the light.  However, in the world plunged in spiritual darkness could not recognize the Great light.  Hence, God in his mercy sent John the Baptist to bear witness for the light or to state: “This is the Light” (John 1:7)  Today, the disciples of Lord Jesus Christ are called to be witness, by letting know the world that Lord Jesus is the Light of the World.  Therefore, the believers of Lord Jesus Christ are called the Children of Light  (Ephesians 5:8 and I Thessalonians 5:5)and given mandate to be light of the world.  (Matthew 5:14-16)

  1. Majestic Life

Light naturally brings Life.  Lord Jesus Christ said:  “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  Of course, all living humans have physical life.  However, Lord Jesus came to give eternal life of holiness, quality and that to live in His presence forever.  Humans are not just destined to live in this material world, die and perish.  They are designed to live forever.  However, each person has right and authority to decide the kind of life, s/he would like to have after death.  The Eternal life is a free gift to those who come to Lord Jesus Christ.  After death, a disciple of Lord Jesus Christ will step into the dwelling place of God, the Heaven, where a place is prepared (John 14:1-3) for him/her to live forever.  Others who refuse to come to light or embrace the light would be eternally separated from God which is called as second death or spiritual death.

Life after death is not just changing into another species on this planet earth.  Salvation is not getting immersed into ultimate reality and losing one’s identity.  Bible states that salvation is forgiveness of sins through Lord Jesus Christ, and eternal life as citizens of Kingdom of God.  For a disciple of Lord Jesus Christ, death is just transition from the worldly life to heavenly life.

Challenge

Christmas is a time of reflection.  Why did God take all pains and efforts to send His Son Lord Jesus Christ into this world?  What response does he expect from each one of us?  Christmas is Love of God demonstrated, Light of God shines in the world and Life eternal gifted to all those who believe in Him.  Have we experienced that Magnificent Love, Marvelous Light and Majestic life?  This Christmas gives us one more opportunity to experience these.

 

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Revelation in an Era of Information

Revelation in an Era of Information

J.N. Manokaran

If I need information, I can ask Google.  If I need wisdom, I have to ask God of Wisdom.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1: 5,6)

Information in Internet

There is a torrent of information available through the modern technology of Internet.  The World Wide Web provides vital, life-saving information as well as futile, mundane and unwarranted information.

  1. Common information

What is available in the Web is generally common information.  It is common knowledge which is listed there.  For example, the day India got Independence is 15 August 1947.  This is general information which could be verified from other sources also.

  1. Collected information

Web provides information collected from various sources.  For example, home remedy for ailment like cold.  Web can provide several home remedies by different people from a variety of context, culture and nations.

  1. Compiled information

When a student wants to decide about higher education, Web could help.  There are websites that provide compiled information of various options available provided by various colleges and universities around the world.

  1. Correlated information

There is a need to get correlated information at times.  For example, a person wants to buy a house.  He can get information about houses available for sale and also information regarding the banks that could provide loans.

  1. Corroborated information

Corroboration is affirming and confirming what is stated.  Reviews of consumers regarding products or hotel stay can corroborate the advertisement of products.  This is also a helpful information for people.

  1. Concealed information

There could information that is concealed from public.  However, it could be available with some source.  This is brought to open by so called ‘ethical hackers’.

  1. Classified information

Some people in authority or Governments have information that is termed as classified.  They are not available in public domain.  Now-a-days such information is also made available like that of ‘wiki-leaks’.

  1. Crowd sourced information

Social network provides opportunity for crowd sourcing information.  A call through Internet could bring in volunteers who could provide bits and pieces that could make a whole picture.

  1. Criminal information

There are many websites that inspire and teach young people to be involved in crime.  Many youngsters have been lured into anti-national, anti-social and terror activities by such websites.  Pornography is another evil that spoils the minds of people.

  1. Contradicting Information

Google is a place where there could be information that contradicts one another.  Different views are expressed about one subject and all claims to be authentic.  A person is confused by studying such information.  Clarification would be needed to get the right information and the right kind of information.

Knowledge

While information is raw data, knowledge is organized information that brings out patterns or connections or classifications.  Information organized for a purpose could be termed as knowledge.  Information could be observed data from various sources.  Knowledge compiles the information for useful purpose.

Knowledge puffs up?

Paul writes Corinthians stating “This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” The amount of information available in Internet could make a person think as an expert in any subject.  Students have humiliated teachers quoting Internet sources.  Knowledge without morals, ethics and character is dangerous.  Hence, Paul writes, ‘love’ that is Love of God and Fear of God provides resources for edification.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”(Psalms 111:10)

“Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.” (Proverbs 26;6)  A fool cannot be trusted with a message or knowledge.  When so many people have access to message or knowledge, there would be fools among them.  The result would be harmful for that person and others.

Insights

Insight could be termed as a New perspective or identifying underlying layers of information and arriving on a different conclusion.  ‘Reading between lines’ could be understood as insight. Some people are more intelligent in using their thinking capacity, they could derive rare insights.

Intuition

Intuition can be termed as ‘Gut feeling’.  Intuition is more a result of feeling.  Intuition is also termed as knowledge without proof, evidence, and reason.  Many times it is subconscious conclusion or based on instinct.

Human Wisdom

Wisdom is considered as application of knowledge with proper discernment or judgment. In human wisdom, experience and maturity also become essential ingredients.  Human wisdom generally believed to bring progress and benefits

Divine Wisdom

Knowledge in the Information Era is abundant and overwhelming.  The whole body of knowledge is beyond one person’s comprehension.  However, all these knowledge cannot provide information or knowledge about God or his character and purpose.  With only finite knowledge, a human cannot understand or know the infinite God.  Hence, God in His mercy has to reveal or disclose about himself to finite human beings.

Revelation

Revelation is God’s disclosure or revelation about Himself, His character, Purpose and eternity.  God revealed to humanity his attributes, power and plan.  God is invisible (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 11:27) and is a Spirit. (John 4:24)

  1. General Revelation

God reveals Himself through two prominent ways.  The first is called natural revelation.  “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g]in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) “The heavens declare the glory of God,  and the sky above  proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalms 19:1) “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,  the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalms 8:3,4)

  1. Special Revelation

God spoke with Adam and Eve directly (Genesis 3:9-19), to Cain (Genesis 4:6-15), to Noah (Genesis 6:13-9:17), to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3, 7), to Moses (Exodus 33:11, to Samuel (I Samuel 3:2-14) and many others in the Old Testament.  God also revealed Himself in a whirlwind to Job (Job 38:1), from Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-2); spoke through donkey to Balaam (Numbers 2228-35); whispering voice to Elijah (I Kings 19:13).  God also spoke through dreams and visions: to Abimelech (Genesis 20:3), to Pharoah (Genesis 41:25), to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:28), to Jacob (Genesis 46:2), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1) and others.  God revealed Himself through mighty deeds: Judgment by plagues against the Egyptians (Exodus 10:1-2). God  dried up the Red Sea that delivered Israel (Exodus 14:15-30), he fed manna to the Israelites in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:3) and he enabled the Israelites to conquer the land of Canaan (Joshua; Psalm 105).

God also revealed Himself through his servants:  Priests and Prophets.  Urim and Thummin were used by the Priests.  (Numbers 27:21; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65). Moreover, God revealed his message through his servants the prophets (2 Kings 17:23; 21:10; 24:2; Jeremiah 25:4; Daniel 9:10; Amos 3:7; Hosea 12:10). God has revealed Himself through his written Word, Law and Prophets. (Exodus 17:14; 34:27; Deuteronomy 17:18; 27:3, 8; Jeremiah 36:2).

God’s supreme and ultimate revelation is through His Son Lord Jesus Christ.  “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 11:1,2) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. (Colossians 2:9).

Holy Spirit also endowed few people like Zacharias and John the Baptist (Luke 1:67-80; 3:2), to boldly proclaim His Word.  Lord Jesus promised that His disciples would be guided into all truth by the Spirit of God. (John 16:13). When disciples are persecuted the Holy Spirit will teach in that hour what they ought to say. (Luke 12:12). Apostles like Paul did not speak with human wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. (1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).  “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (I Peter 1:21)

Impact of Revelation

God’s wisdom bring multiple benefits.  Apostle James writes: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere”.(James 3:17)

  1. Pure and Holy

God’s revelation teaches us chastity, purity and holiness.  It is not external cleanliness or hygiene but inner purity.  God is Holy, and his desire for humans is holiness.  If a person claims to be spiritual or religious the quality of holiness should be exemplified.  Such holiness is demonstrated in day-to-day life as righteousness.  Holy people are not carnal or sensual or earthly.  They insulate themselves from lusts, envy, covetousness, pride and selfishness.

  1. Peaceable

God’s revelation teaches humans to be at peace with God.  That is to be reconciled with God. God’s Word gives us wisdom to know the true God, be reconciled with Him and that results in peace that is beyond description.  Lord Jesus Christ said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

This peace extends to relationships with others.  It provides excellent relationship within families, work place, neighbourhood and in church.  This is possible because of willingness to repent, forgive, bear each other’s burden, habit of blessing and not cursing.

  1. Gentle

Gentle means to be meek.  Due Consideration for the best intention or benefit of others.  Having an attitude of redemption and not condemnation.  Willing to help, guide and mentor others.

  1. Open to reason

Wise people are open to superior judgments and righteous reasoning and change.  They are willing to acknowledge what is right even when found in others with whom they do not agree.  Willing to accept faults and ask for forgiveness.  They are humble to receive wisdom and ministry from others.

  1. Merciful

Willing to forgive others, bear hurts without being broken in spirit.  Show acts of practical kindness to people in need, even to strangers.  Treating others with dignity, courtesy  and respect.

  1. Good fruits

These people are willing to good works like feeding the hungry, clothing the poor.  Providing opportunities for least privileged, marginalized and oppressed to come up in life.  Connecting resources to the really needy people.

  1. Impartial

Not swayed by selfish interest, monetary profit or fear of man.  There is no discrimination based on caste or gender or class.  Kith and kin are not considered special and others treated with contempt. Wise people of God do not practice nepotism or corruption by doing favour in unrighteous manner by taking bribes.

  1. Sincere

Sincere means not be a hypocrite.  A person of integrity.  Words and action of the person matches.  There is commitment in the person’s approach to life, lifestyle and work.

Revelation beyond bible?

There are many who claim to have new revelation.  The truth is there is no revelation needed for humanity beyond the Holy Bible.  Sometimes, there are few who misunderstand insights with revelation.  They could have got new insights from the Scripture but not new revelation.  It is no wonder that each year there are people who predict the Second Coming of Lord Jesus Christ.  Though the Bible clearly states that no one except the Father knows the exact time of the Second Coming. (Matthew 24:36) Yet, there are many spiritually mature people trying to predict dates based on illusion which they term as revelation.

Challenge

The Bible is the revelation of God about Himself, His character, His power, His love for humanity and His plan.  The Holy Scripture is the spiritual food for every human being.  Staple food is different from junk food.  God’s wisdom is a class apart from human information and knowledge.

 

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Three Responses For Christmas

Three responses for Christmas

J.N. Manokaran

In India, many celebrates are considered gods and goddesses.  Even when they are alive, shrines are built for them by their devotees or fans.  It is interesting that fellow human-beings could upgrade their own to a higher status of deity, similar to electing Presidents or Prime Ministers.  However, Christmas is the great intervention of God in human history.  In fact, God downgrades himself to become human to save humanity.

Voluntary

Even without the consent of a celebrity, he or she could be upgraded to and perceived higher status.  But, it is not possible to downgrade someone without his consent, when that person is all powerful, almighty and creator.  God the creator, makes a deliberate, voluntary and joyful to choice to take the form of his own creature, man so that he could redeem humanity from the Sin, Satan, Slavery and death.  There is no force in heaven or earth that could compel or threaten him to become man.  God’s love for us made him to do this magnificent sacrifice.  In the gospels, the birth of Lord Jesus Christ was proclaimed, announced and it also spread from one person to the other.  There were three kinds of responses:  Awe and Worship; Adverse reaction and Apathy.

Wise men from the East

Matthew writes: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.(Matthew 2:1-12)

Three responses

The Wise men saw a Star and followed that to reach Jerusalem searching for the New Born King.  These wise men were not from the Children of Israel, but from the Eastern part of the world.  Mathew says that they were wise too.  That means they were learned and by their search, research and study were seeking for a Saviour and the King.  Their reason suggested that the King should be born in a palace.  Hence they turned towards the palace of the reigning king: Herod.  Herod summoned religious leaders to find out the location of the New Born King.  They found it effortlessly and the wise men went to Bethlehem to worship the Son of God.The wise men responded with awe and worship;  king Herod became an adversary and wanted to kill the child; while the priests and scribes were apathetic, unconcerned and indifferent.

  1. Apathetic religious leaders

The Wise men reached Jerusalem and created a commotion.  Their unannounced and unscheduled arrival made Herod and the citizens of Jerusalem to wonder.  When Herod heard that a special or unique child was born within his jurisdiction, and these wise men took all pains to visit the infant, he was troubled.  That means he was worried, concerned and even paranoid.  He immediately summoned the Chief priests and Scribes who were experts in the spiritual and religious issues.  Apathy means indifference or lack of concern or enthusiasm.  (Mathew 2:4-6)  As a matter or routine or mundane query from King Herod, they gave an answer.  They quoted from Prophet Micah that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  After that we do not read about them in the gospels.  Most probably, they were paid for their duty and they simply returned home.

The Chief Priests and the scribes should have gone ahead of the Wise men to worship the New Born King.  The distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is 6 miles or 7.1 kilometers.  They were well versed in the Law and Prophets.  In fact, they could pick up the right text from the hundreds of scroll collections.  They had knowledge about God, Law, Covenant and Prophecy, but they failed to apply the knowledge by faith in the day-to-day lives.  For them, these religious knowledge and training was just for survival and sustenance.  For them, religion and Word of God was just ritual.

Even the presence of foreigners in Herod’s court failed to provoke their interest or faith.  They were totally indifferent religious elite or professionals of that time.

  1. Adverse Political leader

King Herod was troubled when he heard the message that a King is born in his geographical jurisdiction.  Herod was clever but also selfish.  He was threatened by a New Born King.  It was more so, because the infant could attract a delegation of diplomats from a foreign nation in the East.  More than the Wise men, Herod was very particular to know the exact place of birth.  Herod was clever enough to summon the right people to get the right answer.  Without much toil and efforts he got the answer.

King Herod enquired when exactly the Star appeared from the Wise men so that he could know the time of birth.  He also wanted the Wise men to come back and report to him of their visit.  His intention was not to worship the New Born King but kill him, his rival or competitor or enemy. He was selfish and thought he will be ruler for long.  His political power and ambitions did not give him room to think about spiritual aspects of life. He was unrighteous and wicked, so, later he sent his soldiers to kill all the male infants below two years. (Matthew 2:16) God lead Joseph and Mary to go to Egypt as refugees and thus Lord Jesus Christ was saved from the hostile attack of Herod.

  1. Awe and Worship

The wise men went to Bethlehem and worshipped the New Born King. These wise men travelled in the ancient days, most probably in caravans of camels crossing forests, rivers, nations and deserts to worship the Lord.  Faithful seekers who were willing to sacrifice, suffer and lose to gain the eternal blessings.  They also offered: gold and frankincense and myrrh.  Their gifts were also symbolic their spiritual understanding and discernment.   Gold denoted that Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Frankincense denoted that Lord Jesus Christ is the deity, the Son of God.  The myrrh symbolized the purpose of Lord Jesus Christ Incarnation; i.e. redemption through his death and resurrection.  The Wise men response was awe and worship.  The shepherds also responded with awe and worship when angels announced that the Saviour is born in Bethlehem.  (Luke 2:1-20)

The choice before us

Christmas reminds the love of God for humanity, the love of Lord Jesus Christ who chose to suffer humiliation and death for humanity.  The world is divided into three categories of people.  There would be always adversaries like Herod who desired to destroy Lord Jesus and God’s plan of salvation for humanity.  There are other kind of people who are religious, pious and knowledgeable.  Nevertheless, they do not go further to appropriate the Truth and live accordingly.  Certainly, there are the third kind like shepherds and wise men, who processed the information and arrived to the place of awe and worship.  Which group do I find myself today?

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