Cult membership is actually a cop out from life. The proselyte who enters a cult thinks he is boldly stepping forward to commit himself wholly for the Lord’s cause. In actual fact, he has unconsciously chosen a way to flee from having to make decisions, to have to stand to the consequences of free choices. He has in effect said to Moses, “Take me back to slavery. I can’t stand freedom out here in the deserts of life. At least I knew how to behave there because everyone told us what to do. I didn’t have to think, I only had to behave.”
– John & Paula Sandford, Transforming the Inner Man
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).
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6. These extraordinary words are often repeated at Christmas season especially in cards and sermons. The prophet Isaiah and the numerous people who were waiting for this promised child would have expected Him to have a peaceful childhood. But amazingly there was quite a lot of trouble surrounding the birth of this promised child.
Mary a God fearing virgin girl who is betrothed to Joseph a God fearing man, gets pregnant before marriage! She and Joseph must have had a difficult time as gossip spread. Around the time of the delivery, Caesar Augustus declares a registration and they were forced to travel (without modern comfort) to Bethlehem and there was no suitable place (and hospital) for the delivery. Seeing a special star, some wise men or magi make a trip to worship this baby. It appears that the star was not always visible during the journey and so they go to Jerusalem to get directions. Unfortunately Herod the Great who reigned in Jerusalem at that time was a ruthless and paranoid tyrant who even killed his father-in-law, some wives and two sons. Hearing their mission, Herod decides to secretly kill Jesus. When that plan was foiled, he kills all male children below 2 years in that area. To avoid it, the newly wedded couple had to escape to Egypt with an infant!
When we experience trouble we would be glad if somebody more powerful than the problem is with us but often it seems as if we need to face problems alone. Recently one morning after encountering a severe difficulty, I badly needed support. Instead of my regular Bible routine, I was lead to read Psalm 91:15 “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.” It felt that God Himself was speaking to me and assuring me that whatever the trouble was, He will be with me through the trouble, deliver me and also honour me in the eyes of those who had troubled and slandered me. I was also reminded of how when Daniels’ friends were thrown in the fiery furnace, God Himself came and kept them company and did not allow them to be affected in any way. Daniel 3: 24-25 “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” This is an excellent fulfillment of the promise given through Isaiah less than a century earlier. Isaiah 43:2 “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed–nego should have memorised this promise (maybe the entire book of Isaiah) and were trusting God to fulfill it! This promise is valid for us also today!!
Somehow in my Christian life I got the idea that there will be no problems and if problems do come, God will remove them quickly. So when the problems came, I prayed and expected God to magically take them away. Sure, God can stop problems striking us and if they do come, He can remove them. The Psalmist says in Psalm 34:6 “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” Does this not imply that I will no longer have troubles? Unfortunately this idea created a lot of frustration, anger towards God and even drove me to the point of wanting to reject God. But if we go down a few verses to verse 19, we read “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” This clearly reveals that the righteous will certainly have afflictions (maybe even more that the natural man). Psalm 90:4 says “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”. So Christians will have problems but God will help them at the right time. God’s time frame may not meet our self imposed time frame for the solution. So I am learning to trust in God for solutions but not to expect magic. He may answer immediately or He may take many years to answer. Surely He is not a genie!
While reading Isaiah 43:2 a few weeks ago, I was reminded of this valuable lesson. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” This shows us clearly that we will have problems and God will be with us but He may not remove the problems. Therefore we have to walk though neck deep waters and burning hot fires and still trust that God is fully aware of our circumstances and that He will always be with us just as He was willing to die on the cross for us. So let us never forget Hebrews 13:5 “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”