Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Buddy god"?

You are promoting an "Easy believism", a "buddy god" or a "teddy bear god". This is the perversion of our ancient Christian doctrines, teachings and traditions. This is blasphemy! Are you saying that we just simply need to 'believe' and everything is hunky-dory?

Have you ever heard this before? If not, you will most likely face this question at least once in your lifetime.

My quick answer to this question would be something like this: well, it's better than promoting an angry, wrathful, sadistic, ready-to-whack, fire-spitting, terrorizing God and scare people away from Him!

I am not sure why people think that believing is so easy. It has never been easy for me. I tried to find the counterfeit for belief through religion for many many years. It took so many years for me to come to a place where I realized that I need to give up all my self-efforts to please God through any other means other than believing in His provision of free righteousness.

Adam & Eve failed to believe. Abraham failed to believe. Moses failed to believe. Israelites failed to believe. So why do we think believing is so easy? It's the hardest thing on the face of the earth, but at the same time it's the simplest thing on the face of the earth! Don't ask me why. It's just the way it is. Humans always find it easy to do and earn than to believe and trust. But that doesn't mean that there is an alternative to believing or should we add some of our works to it.

Do we need BIG faith to believe?

Jesus said, 'faith in the size of a mustard seed' would do wonders. What matters is the sincerity of the heart. Jesus said, 'unless you become like these little children...' It's a ruthless trust (as Brennan Manning calls it). Trusting God without apology. Sometimes, I even get scared of seeing the kind of trust my children put on me. It's a sincere, honest, merciless trust - indicating "no matter what as long as it's my Dad, I am going to jump into his hands."

Do they trust me because I am their 'buddy Dad'? Or do they trust me because they know that I am trustworthy and faithful?

Isn't that knowing what gives us the unbelievable, supernatural ability to trust God for who He is? It comes from an understanding of His love for us. We can't muster up faith. It's the love what produces faith, not the other way around.

Yes, we love Him because He is trustworthy and His love displayed on the cross has proved it. We don't love him because he is a 'buddy god' or 'puppet god' or a provider of 'cheap greasy grace'.

He is the God of the universe, who created everything seen and unseen, including the things which we can't even comprehend with our finite mind, by the word of His mouth. But while being such a powerful God, He sent His one and only son Jesus to die on our behalf so that our true humanity can be restored; and displayed the utmost act of love ever been revealed in the history of the planet earth. So, BELIEVE HIM, He is trustworthy, faithful and His love NEVER fails!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The ABC’s of salvation

Next to the main entrance of the church we attended few years ago, there was a table and a stack of fliers on it. It was a one page printout titled ‘ABC’s of salvation’, and below the title, the subsequent lines explained what it means.

A – Accept
B – Believe
C – Confess

To elaborate,

A – Accept you are a sinner.
B – Believe in Jesus.
C – Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.

Do these three steps – You are saved!


There were references to bible verses with each step. When I first saw it, I was fascinated by the simplicity of the salvation formula derived from a big book like Bible. I took one copy for myself thinking that I might use this formula to get others saved. I had never seen it simplified like this before. The reason I was fascinated, that my finite brain is always inclined to the ideologies listed as bullet points. It’s easy to read, grasp, teach and share. Also I like the exact ‘science’ of anything.

Now, here is the question I want to pose:

What are the things you need to believe or do in order to fall in love with a girl?

Here is my answer,

1. Get to know her
2. ---------
3. ---------

Hmm… There is no exact science! I don’t know how to put it into bullet points! Love is not a set of statements defined on a piece of paper. There are things which cannot be explained, there are things which cannot be put into words. There are no step 1, 2, 3…There are no schools on the face of the earth who can teach me the science of falling in love.

Isn’t it amazing that we shortened the 66 books of the Bible into few bullet points hoping that we are summarizing it exactly? Has Jesus ever given us a formula? Has the Apostles?

Isn’t salvation nothing but falling in love with Jesus? And isn’t it true that the way I fall in love is NOT the way you fall in love?

How come we reduced this amazing love of God into a step by step process?

1. Listen to a sermon
2. Respond to the altar call
3. Repent of your sins
4. Invite Jesus into heart
5. Pray Sinner's prayer
6. Fill out the decision card
7. Join a church
8. Get baptized in their water by their pastor
9. Seek the gift of tongues (if you are a Charismatic)
10. Submit to the authority of your pastor and believe and do everything he says until your last breath.

What if the salvation is none of these? What if salvation is simply accepting a gift of love from the creator of the universe? What if Bible is not a book of ideologies, but a love letter?

Yes, I admit I am tempted to make everything into an exact science. But that's because I am dumb! Let ever my dumbness negate the essence and beauty of the love of Jesus!

When I itemize the steps for getting saved and staying saved, I am missing the whole point – the whole point of love. It might make my evangelism easier. It might help me to succeed in my Systematic Theology class. But what is the point if I am missing the love? What ideology can truly transform a heart other than genuine love?

I find it increasingly difficult to explain love, grace, faith, hope etc. People look for formulaic answers, but I just don't have it. I mean, I might just say - "I know Jesus loves you; and I hope you will come to know this truth." Is it over-simplified? I don't know!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Believing IS obeying.

"What about obedience?" A question I hear frequently from those who (at least) partially opposing the message of grace. They usually pick a list of sins or a list of commandments from either OT or NT, and pose the question: shouldn't we abstain from these sins? shouldn't we do these things God has commanded us?

All throughout the Bible, starting from the garden of Eden, the consequences people suffered due to sin or disobedience was a direct result of unbelief. In other words, in all cases, the punishment is always directed towards unbelief.

Hebrews chapter 3 makes this abundantly clear. Talking about the Israelites,

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. - Hebrews 3:15-19

It's clear that those who disobeyed were those who disbelieved.

God's anger was toward those who sinned (the verse says). What kind of sin is He talking about? Is it the making of idols? Is it the rebellion against Moses? Is it the grudging toward God? Is it their demand that they want to go back to Egypt?

Why was He angry for forty years?

'Because of their unbelief'. They failed to believe His promise. If there was any disobedience, it was a direct result of their unbelief in God's promise. And God's judgment is always toward unbelief, because unbelief is the root of any sin.

When I stop believing God to supply all my needs, I might be tempted to steal. I might even steal.

For any disease, it's highly critical that we diagnose and treat the root cause. Treating the symptoms is not enough. So in case of stealing, should we treat the disease of stealing? Or should we treat the disease of unbelief?

All throughout the years, decades and centuries, the church is trying to treat the symptoms, not the disease. So they have all these temporary pain relievers and fever reducers in the form of self discipline, accountability, principles, values, traditions etc. They know it is temporary, but they still keep on prescribing the same thing again and again. None of these 'Tylenols' and 'Mortins' can never ever go deeper beneath the skin to the heart and fix the heart of unbelief.

Believing is a choice and when we are believing, we are indeed obeying.

Depression, worry and fear are some natural consequences resulting from an unbelieving heart. We can either believe God, in a moment by moment basis, which is nothing but walking by the Spirit or we can choose to walk by the flesh.

Major Ian Thomas, in his book titled, 'The indwelling life of Christ', says about this,

"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25), and this is what it means to walk in the Holy Spirit: to take one step at a time, and for every new situation into which every new step takes you, no matter what it may be, to hear Christ saying to your heart, "I AM", then to look up into His face by faith and say, "You are! That is all I need to know, Lord, and thank You, for You are never less than adequate."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Friends, Gods, and Devils

I am currently reading the story of C.S Lewis in a book titled 'The man behind Narnia', which I took from the youth section of our city library. I like books from the youth section, especially biographies, since it has large prints and it's much readable. It's not that I have eye sight issues, it's just the ease in reading large prints.

I have admired C.S Lewis in a great respect as a scholarly writer and Christian apologist. His genius and intellect is highly commendable. But what surprised me in this book was the other side of the story - his struggles as a young child, early death of his father and mother, the fear, confusion and loneliness he endured as a young adult, the eccentricity he showed while being a Professor in Oxford and Cambridge, his late marriage with an American woman who held anti-american views, her suffering with cancer etc. Many of his early writings were rejected by publishers. It also surprised me the little things such a wardrobe and the ordinary people such as a gardener who have influenced him to write many of his books later in his life.

In this book, there is a chapter called 'Friends, Gods, and Devils' where the author discusses about the friend circle and the community Lewis was part of, while living and teaching in Oxford. He says,

They [Lewis and his friends] met on Thursday evenings, with no formal agenda or minutes of officers, but a common determination to share their writing and thoughts.

"Is there any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?" wrote Lewis. "The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are".

They usually met in Lewis's rooms, with food such as ham and cheese on the table and always a pot of very strong tea brewed by Warnie (Lewis's brother).

The chapter later says, they also met before lunch at the beginning of the week in an Oxford Pub called The Eagle and Child. It says, there was outpouring of wit, nonsense, whimsy, dialectical swordplay.

Lewis once said:

Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, "sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends." I know I am fortunate in that respect. - The letters of C.S Lewis to Arthur Greeves

I get excited by reading about this kind of communities where people meet with no formal agenda or minutes of officers. Wow! What a great way of having fellowship with like minded believers? I agree with Lewis, "Is there any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?"

Somewhere along the line we lost it. We introduced agendas, minutes and officers and focused on it/them rather than focusing on the people and what what God is doing in their lives. We lost the sweetness of friendships, the casual encounters with people, the warmth of hospitality, the exchange of real issues with real people. We reduced such great fellowships to the unauthentic pulpit-pew system where there is no room for any exchange. We isolated ourselves from others in order to earn and achieve our selfish dreams and we said goodbye to the biblical model of casual but authentic assembling of believers and embraced the element of anonymity in mega churches.

I am wondering if there are still those endangered breeds of Christians who are willing to meet with others without the pressure of agendas, minutes and officers? And probably come together as they are and exchange their hearts in love?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Health and Fitness.

I workout in the gym near to my office. There you see some people running in the treadmill as if they are angry at their own body. Then there are some ladies who walk in the treadmill in 1 mile/hour speed, even slower than their normal walk, all the time reading Cosmopolitan, People and other similar magazines. The other day the lady next to my treadmill was reading “10 crazy things you can do to improve your sex life” and commenting about it to the lady other side, who is also walking in ‘negative’ speed. In the locker room, men walk around naked. I am afraid some of them are gays! But overall, I like the gym, it gives me a sense of fitness after each workout. I started out in August with a high intensity workout thinking that I could lose 5 pounds in one day. Eventually (in few days!), I learned to agree with the reality that the pounds I have gained in past many years is not that easy to shed off. But more than the weight lose, it gives me a healthy feeling which is worth the pain.

The other day I told my wife that the reason I work out is to sweat, which is a ‘commandment’ of God. God told Adam: "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food". My job is working on the computer and no matter how aggressive I type on the keyboard or move my mouse I wouldn’t sweat. So I take a break and go to gym, do some workout to sweat. She thought I was crazy.

I remember reading a book called Maker’s Diet, written by Jordan Rubin. This book was highly promoted by TBN and during those days my wife and I were huge TBN addicts. We watched TBN as if it was a ‘holy’ thing to do. We ended up buying this book and read it eagerly. In the book, the author tries to extract eating principles from Bible and provide a diet plan for everybody to follow. For example, in the Book of Leviticus God gives the dietary laws and said not to eat shell fish. So as per Jordan, it’s better not to eat shell fish such as Shrimp etc. He is not promoting it as a legalistic thing, but as a good thing for health.

We both stopped eating shell fish, pork and inorganic meat and poultry; and started buying organic milk, yogurt, fruits etc. Our grocery bill went through the roof. Since John the Baptist ate wild honey, we too bought raw, unprocessed honey from health store. Bread without yeast, and everything organic etc are few other suggestions by the author.

Later on, we have come to a realization that unless we grow everything in our own farm, we can't afford these. We eventually gave up and returned to 'normalcy' (Well, I don't know what is normalcy). By the way, I felt so good while following this diet but it was very expensive. I am left with no other option than eating all the processed, chemically modified junk food, because that's cheap.

My ideal place to live is a farm. And grow everything we need there including vegetables, fruits, birds and animals. Running in the open air would be a great, refreshing workout. Riding a horse through the unpaved farm trails would be adventurous. I love the sound of crickets in the night. I am naturally drawn to earth, it's smell and it's beauty and wildness. I am looking forward for that day to come...

Happy B'day, Matthew!!!

Happy B'day to my dear brother Matthew!!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Community, love and other things

Well, again I am going back and forth on the issue of community here. I do not believe God intended people to live a disconnected life. God Himself is an interconnected Being – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He gave Adam a companion – Eve. He invented and established the concepts of marriage, family, community, and ecclesia.

Jesus came, gathered 12 people, taught them and lived with them. He could gather more than 10,000 people at one time without fliers, banners, television commercials, internet and email. It was easy in a close-knit community to publicize through the word of mouth.

In Acts, people gathered regularly in homes, prayed, sang, encouraged and ate together. They shared everything they had with everyone.

The local churches in NT - Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians etc represents a symbol of the global (universal) church of Jesus, shows us how we (members of the body of Christ) ought to serve one another. Again, you see community here.

People had a higher degree of dependability on God. When there wasn't rain for their crops, they cried out to God. When there was sickness or emergency, they prayed. Today we call 911. And who cares about rain today? I have city supplied water coming in my kitchen when I turn the knob. I get grocery in Walmart super center.

There was confessing of sins to each other. There was 'speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.'

All the believers were together and had everything in common.

Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
(Acts 2)

They were poor, but still rich. They didn't have much stuff like we do, but still contented. Because it was about equality - Exodus 16:18 (2 Cor 8:15).

All the believers were one in heart and mind.

No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

There were no needy persons among them.

For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales
and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4)

We have 'grown' way too far that the above mentioned are a bunch of 'stupid ideas' with no practicality today. We have made ourselves so much 'sophisticated' that today we do not even know who lives next door to us. We have isolated ourselves into nuclear homes and thereby abandoned the God-given abilities to love, share, listen, support, encourage and console.

"I am too busy I have no time." This is a shitty thing.

While we are busy measuring our success by possessions, money and power, we doom into the 'normalcy' of this world's seducing materialism. Jesus was a radical, but yet an ordinary person people could relate to. He was radical not because we was rich, he was a radical because he was poor.

I will stop here because I am no different than any other ignorants. I can only sit in the comfort of my living room and shed a few drops of tears when I see on the television screen the heart wrenching suffering of people around me who are desperately in need of love, care and affection. How pathetic?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Money talk

I get a minimum of one ‘pre-approved’ credit card offer every day in the mail, varies from 0% interest for 1 year to no interest on balance transfers for 18 months, including free vacation, free sky miles, free hotel etc. There was a time in my life when I wanted to fill my wallet with all the major credit cards. Guess what? When the credit card bill exceeded 10,000 dollars and no matter how much I paid every month everything went to interest only, I started rethinking the whole thing. After consolidating all the debt into one card, I dumped all my credit cards except just one. I think there is certain level of deception involved in these credit card, mortgage and loan offers many lending companies extend to people. The recent suffering in the economic system shows us that many people were in fact fell for it and were deceived. Many of them took loans they couldn’t afford paying, ended up giving it up for bankruptcy or foreclosure.

I read an interesting article today, called God Want You to Get That Mortgage? .

While my heart goes out to those who are trapped in the deception of lending companies, I think, at the same time, there are many who did not use their brain to make intelligent decisions. I was one of them and I am still suffering the consequences, still unsure of when I would be able to pay my debts.

I once heard a pastor telling the congregation - imagine the 4 bedroom home you have been desiring in your mind, dream about it all the time; imagine the Cadillac you always wanted, go for an imaginary ride in it; he made it a bit more funny when he said: practice washing your imaginary Cadillac in your driveway. He said he himself does practice such. And as you practice more of these, all these dreams will eventually come true. I think many people took his word to heart. When that impressive loan offer came in the mail, they thought it was God opening a way to make their dreams come to reality. [I am well aware that there are many genuine cases of losing job etc, but that's not my point here]

I believe in prosperity in the sense that God can and will provide for the needs of His children which includes physical, emotional but most importantly spiritual. Speaking about physical things, I have more than what I need today, except that Cadillac, of course! Now, should I sit here and think that I am some way inferior to the person who owns a Cadillac? Or should I even wonder that I have less faith than him? Absolutely not! In fact, it's ridiculous to think that way. But, unfortunately this is exactly what many people, who are following a line of prosperity think and believe. It's a grieving thing. [I don't even know how we got the name 'prosperity gospel', the only gospel Paul preached was the gospel which revealed the righteousness of God (Rom 1:16-17), which has nothing to do with material prosperity]

Matthew 6:19-21 makes much sense when we read it along with the understanding of our eternal inheritance in Christ and the citizenship we have in heaven. Every single promises in the Bible has some element of eternal value to it unlike the temporal promises of money and earthly treasures many preach today.

I am against today's prosperity preaching because it can only cause people to lose their eternal perspective and compromise it for the temporal pleasures of this soon passing world. I can only feel sorry for a person who thinks God has promised a supreme, glamorous and perfect life in this world. He hasn't, instead he encourages us to 'seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.' (Col 3:1). If we are preoccupied with divine money transfers and 5 bed room homes, how is it possible that we could 'seek those things which are above'?

A friend of mine once shared the story of a family who bought a remarkably big home and how they explained the motive for their purchase. In their own words: "we want to show off the blessings God has given to us, we want to make sure that we live what we preach". I don't know if you can see the problem here, but I am not able to digest this kind of thinking. In Bible, Jesus encourages those who have more, to share with those who have less; he never told us to show off! What if those who live in the streets of Calcutta start comparing their material blessings with some one living in a posh community in the west? Does God has double standard? Would it be fair to think that one of his children living in the street is inferior to another one of his children living in a mansion? What kind of a justice is that? I mean, do we even believe in a just God, today?