Sacrificial love is the hallmark of Christ’s character. Love is giving, and then giving more, and then giving still more. Unless we are broken of our self-centered, self-serving, prideful nature, we cannot give this kind of love.
Charles Stanley, The Blessings of Brokenness
I wish the readers of this blog a blessed Christmas. At the Christmas season, there is a lot of focus on Jesus as a baby and the incidents surrounding the birth. As God has put in us an instinct to love babies and children, it is very good to remember Jesus’ birth and show love to one another. But we should not stop at baby Jesus. Jesus grew up, studied the scripture, preached the gospel, did great miracles, drove out demons, was crucified, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of God. Within 40 years of the birth of Jesus, Stephen no longer saw Jesus as a baby but saw Him at the right hand of God: “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Acts 7:56 (ISV).
The Bible teaches us that we need to wait patiently for the rewards of faith. “Moses preferred being mistreated with God’s people to enjoying the pleasures of sin for a short time. He thought that being insulted for the sake of the Messiah was of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” Heb 11:25, 26 (ISV). David said “I waited patiently for the LORD. He turned to me and heard my cry for help. He pulled me out of a horrible pit, out of the mud and clay. He set my feet on a rock and made my steps secure. He placed a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” Psalm 40:1-3 (GW) “We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God.” Heb 12:2 (GW).
If life is filled with seemingly insurmountable challenges, don’t lose heart! Keep praying and praising, waiting patiently for the Lord to act. Just as the baby was made the King of kings and Lord of lords we can overcome our challenges and the evil one. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (ISV).
God consistently shows His concern for the poor in the Bible and ask us to be considerate to them. Jesus showed his concern for the poor in his message in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Thousands of years ago, the Bible set strict rules for lending and stricter rules if the borrower is poor. “When you loan something to your neighbor, don’t enter his house to seize what he offered as collateral … If he is a poor man, don’t go to sleep with his collateral in your possession. Be sure to return his garment to him at sunset so that he may sleep with it, and he will bless you. It will be a righteous deed in the presence of the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 24:10, 12, 13 (ISV) .
Still the poor are often abused and exploited. There is a crisis in India for a few weeks. Overnight, the majority of the currency notes have been made obsolete and people are facing difficulty in converting their own money into valid but difficult to find currency notes. People have died in the crisis and the poor who have limited access to banks have been put into a great predicament. The government claims that it has to restrict their citizens from withdrawing their own money for their own good and most people seem to be infatuated that this move will somehow stop “black money”. Very few seem to bother about the hardship that many are facing. Farmers are unable to sell the produce or buy seed, poor people especially those who live in remote areas cannot repeatedly leave their work and families in search of a working ATM or bank, those who need medical help do not have the “right” notes to pay. The list is endless.
Among the people that I have personally communicated about this difficult situation, those voicing concern for the genuinely disadvantaged are generally Christians. It is encouraging to see that the message of the Bible has touched these people. Some of the verses protecting the poor and oppressed are “don’t take advantage of a hired person who is poor and needy” Deuteronomy 24:14 (ISV), “defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy” Psalm 82:3 (KJV) and “oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor” Zechariah 7:10a (KJV). I hope the Bible will transform you and give you concern for the poor, the needy and the afflicted.
God is all powerful and can fix our problems. A genie is a fictional magical being that carries out the orders of a person. God wants us to pray at all times but His response seems unpredictable while a genie grants three wishes. Many people, Christians and non-Christians, want God to behave as a genie. We pray fervently with faith, expecting Him to miraculously solve our problems. If He fails to respond, we may wait longer in faith. But sometimes God never seems to reply, especially in the way we asked or wanted. If we expect God to respond like a genie, our faith can easily be shipwrecked.
Unfortunately the image that I have been having of God was closer to a genie than the Biblical picture of God. I have been going through difficult circumstances in my life. It feels like family, church and society are unable or unwilling to help. God seems to be silent. I waited patiently for the Lord for years but He doesn’t seem to take me out of the miry clay and set my feet on the rock. My soul is cast down within me. I am unable to blog anymore. Life itself is a challenge. I have been frustrated with God. But I am learning that He is not a genie but a parent who disciplines His child.
If a parent always shields a child from problems, it will struggle to become a mature adult. God our eternal Father is interested in our development and maturity. So He allows storms to hit us. In fact the Bible says “the Lord corrects and disciplines everyone whom He loves, and He punishes, even scourges” (Heb 12:6 AMP) and also “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Heb 12:11 ISV). This is no genie! If God answered our prayers just the way we wanted, we will pray away all His discipline and remain immature. This is one of the many reasons why God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers however fervent or critical they may seem to be.
If you had pictured God as a genie magically changing circumstances, just as I did, it is time to repent. Instead of sulking and feeling sorry for ourselves, we are commanded to “strengthen our tired arms and our weak knees, and straighten the paths of our life, so that our lameness may not become worse, but instead may be healed.” (Heb 12:12,13 ISV). God does not offer a magical way out but we are exhorted to exert ourselves and take courage and the effort will be worthwhile “for those who have been trained by it, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace” (Heb 12:11b ISV).
A Google search for unbelievable stories brings up a list of odd stories, but the story of Jesus Christ is the unbelievable story of all time. The creator of the universe leaves His heavenly abode to become part of His creation. He could have appeared on earth as an alien or a special being but He chose to be born as a (helpless) baby to an insignificant family in an insignificant town. At least when He grew up He could have boasted to the world about His heavenly credentials but he avoided talking about it and generally kept off the limelight. Without any fanfare he performed amazing miracles, made the blind to see, healed the lame and raised the dead. He made no effort to escape a horrible death. After three days, His tomb was astonishingly found empty but still He revealed Himself only to limited friends before returning to His heavenly abode.
This story seems so utterly far-fetched and bizarre but still millions have believed in this story and even given up their lives for this story. I am grateful that I knew this story from childhood. Sometimes I wonder if it was because of early exposure to this story that made me believe it. What would have happened if I grew up in a hostile environment? I can’t say; but even though the story about Jesus Christ seems unbelievable, I know that I am drawn toward it by Jesus Himself so that in spite of problems that arise due to my faith, my faith strangely gets deeper.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) This is the most important verse in the Bible in my opinion. Being sinners we were all destined to perish but God’s grace and love made a way for our salvation. Amazingly God did all the hard work and asked us to believe on His Son! This sounds too good to be true and so unfortunately people add extra rules to receive this gift. The Roman Catholic Church adds baptism, the sacraments and other regulations into a package for salvation. The common “sinner’s prayer” is an unwanted adaptation since the focus is on the prayer and not on believing.
The Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship sadly has its own version of salvation. Since they do not have written doctrines, it is not possible to determine their official position but they have a fairly consistent approach to salvation. In its evangelistic meetings there will be one or more testimonies in which the person usually gives details about their sinful past, how it was confessed and stolen money and goods were returned, how God “spoke” to them through a Bible verse and finally how they were filled with peace and joy. Then the message, especially Mr. Joshua Daniel’s message, will focus on sinful actions and end by asking the gathering to go home and pray and that God would “speak” to them. Not much is preached about how Jesus obtained salvation nor believing on Jesus for salvation. In the oral and printed testimonies of people the pattern recurs. Confession of sin, returning stolen money and goods, getting right with people they earlier had problems and God speaking to them from a verse in the Bible showing them that their sins are forgiven and they are saved and finally being filled with peace and joy. There is nothing wrong with these steps but unfortunately the fundamental step of belief is relegated to the background and rarely mentioned.
Since the simple step of belief has been wrapped around by many “holy” procedures, the general attitude of LEF is that they are superior Christians. This is probably the biggest reason why people do not easily leave the Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship. Nobody wants to leave superior Christianity for inferior Christianity! Confession and restitution are good but it should be spontaneous and not forced. In Luke 19:8, Zacchaeus committed to return four times the amount he cheated people. In Acts 19:18&19 some new believers in Ephesus confessed their deeds and burnt their books of occult. But the Bible does not record such incidents happening for every new believer. It is recorded that in the early revivals of LEF, incidents of public confession spontaneously occurred. In my opinion, what happened spontaneously has been converted into a doctrine without a strong Biblical mandate. They also incorrectly use the term repentance for this process. In the Bible, the word “repent” means “to change one’s mind”. By changing the meaning of the word, there is a false feeling that they are more closely following the Bible than other churches. LEF’s “superior” position has led to some people feeling that they are not saved since they did not get any verse from God or feel saved even though they believe in Jesus, pray and read the Bible regularly. Also when people wait for verses for a proof of salvation, it is no longer by faith but by sight! There is also no guarantee for a nice feeling after believing. “The wind blows where it wants to. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. That’s the way it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 (ISV).
God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.
– C. S. Lewis