The Good Shepherd Leads

Jesus Christ our Lord God leads us like a shepherd with gentleness and care. Though, sadly speaking, in great ignorance and an almost equal measure of arrogance we tend to live out our life thinking that the favors and blessings of God in our way are of our own merit.

But where would we be without Jesus?

Not only do we need Him in times of distress and trouble. We need Him every hour.

What does it mean to be led by God?

  1. There are so many things prepared and provided by God for our life. That too, whatever He does for us, He does it with so much care and affection. Alas! When all is well, how many of us ever pause to realize the greatness of God’s providence in every little detail of our life. Our God provides for us.
  2. There are so many times when we need to be helped out by God. Those are the moments when we desperately need the Shepherd. It can be either the troubles of our life or the temptations that we face. Any problem that afflicts us and makes us desolate – we need only realize that our good Shepherd is very near to us and readily able to help.
  3. There are those crossroads of life when we are required to make decisions. Some may be easy, while a few may not be easy at all. In every cross-road of our life, when we do not know what would happen in the future, we need to listen and the Shepherd would lovingly speak out His heart to us as He gently leads us on.
  4. There are also some stretches in our life journey where nothing seems to happen, and the change we desire never comes. Our desire for progress is frustrated and God may seem to be strangely silent. Those are the days that require us to wait patiently for our God. Trusting God, even when we are not sure of His presence. He is there with us – always – watching over us with eyes full of love and care.

Isaiah 40:11 – “He will lead his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

True Obedience

A rich young ruler who was by all appearance a truly religious and prosperous person – the kind that we tend to call blessed – came to Jesus. Maybe, he came to make a good impression.

However, talking to Jesus rocked his life the way an earthquake does – cracks showing up in everything he had carefully built and everything threatening to collapse in a moment and become a heap of ruins.

If we look at it, the offer of Jesus was not a bad bargain at all. He was asked to give up the fragile and the very temporary things that are of course visible and tangible for that which will last forever but cannot be seen in the present.

That man may have been successful in his own right but he did not have the guts to let go of all and seize the hand of Jesus Christ. He cuts a lone sorry figure in the Gospels, who came to Jesus with great expectation but went away disappointed. Nevertheless, he is not alone. Many of us give him company. We are so much like him in valuing the worthless and our inability to let go of things that are already doomed and decaying.

Maybe the difference between him and us is that, while he might have said to himself – “I don’t want this commandment of Jesus;” and we are saying – “This commandment of Jesus is not for me.”

It is one of the most dangerous attitudes when we read or hear God’s Word and take what we like even as we carelessly ascribe what we do not like to somebody else.

We fabricate our excuse by interpreting any given text according to our convenience and thus we undo God’s Word and the power of His message. Young Anthony who was made rich by his parents’ estate, went to church one day. The text for that day was the one about the rich young ruler. The emphasis was on: “go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Unlike us, he was new to church and did not know anything about allegorical interpretation. So, he obeyed, literally, selling all that he had and giving them to the poor and then he went to live all his life in the desert before being martyred for his faith at a very old age.

We have not become what God wants us to be because of our sick practice of responding to God’s Word according to our convenience. What Jesus specifically told that young man is actually something that He taught very generally and is meant for one and all – “For whosoever would save his life will lose it, but whosoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The rich young ruler only did something that we are guilty of doing so often – we try to save our life.

Do we trust Jesus Christ to such an extent that we are not only willing to lose our life for His sake, but actually putting into practice that holy and spiritual discipline of losing our life for His sake?

Amen.

Forgiveness is For – Giving

The parable of the Unforgiving Servant has some more Mathematics to it.

We saw that the debt forgiven the man by the king was so very huge that ‘forever’ would not have been enough for him to pay back, and yet the king had pity on his servant and forgave him his debt. He was totally forgiven. Now this man had a fellow servant who owed him a Hundred dinarii. In the footnote of my Bible (ESV), one Dinarius is described as one day’s wage for a laborer. So Hundred dinarii would mean an amount made by Hundred days of labor.

In my understanding, that amount, seems to be manageable and may be settled, given some time. However, the man who himself had such a great debt that was impossible to settle did not have it in him to forgive another person who owed a debt that was manageable.

Now, let me put it this way: Let alone someone who damages Hundred days of our life, we find it so difficult to let go of the person who damages few moments or minutes. In the previous blog I was trying to say that even eternal damnation in hell does not settle the damage done by us in sinning against the infinitely holy God. And yet, God forgives our ‘Impossible Debt’ because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, just because we believe and repent.

Therefore, since we have gotten this relief from God who had pity on us, we simply don’t have any right to seize or choke or punish anyone who has wronged us. We have no right to hold on to the minute debts that others may owe us.

Let us not forget that it is only the Amazing Grace of God that frees us from our debt. And if we do not forgive others we are only disqualifying ourselves from being forgiven by God.

I admit that people do have the potential to damage our life for days, months, years or even generations. It is not easy. And they may or may not be able to set right the damage done to us. However, let us, even when we hurt greatly, choose to look away from the damaged part of our life and choose to look at the cross of Jesus Christ.

If not for the cross of Jesus Christ, where would we be? Where would we have ended? How hopelessly doomed we were, without our Savior?

Looking at the cross and then when we look back at our debtors, let us choose to forgive and love.

For heaven is the place for great sinners who are forgiven by God and also enabled by Him to forgive others.

I was on my way to hell for sure. It was Jesus who came and saved me. And now that I am set on my way to heaven for sure, for sure, I must not allow my unforgiveness to disqualify me.

Amazing Grace

Jesus taught us the parable of ‘the Unforgiving Servant.’ In that Jesus talks of the man who owed the king Ten Thousand talents. In the footnote of my Bible (ESV) – Talent is described as a monetary unit worth about 20 years’ wages for a labourer.

So, Ten Thousand talents would mean, approximately, Two Hundred Thousand years of labour. If we consider a person’s ability to work for 30 years in one lifetime, then it would take Six Thousand Six Hundred Sixty Six lifetimes to just settle the principal amount. Now such a predicament is like a ‘forever’ situation.

The servant’s inability to pay back was punished by the king who ordered the man along with his wife and children to be sold – and payments be made.

The question that arises here is how can a few lives compensate for the debt that requires Six Thousand Six Hundred and Sixty Six lives working for 30 years. I think, all the king was doing was trying to cut his loss a very tiny bit and also punish this fellow. There was no way of recovering the debt.

The damage done by sin is very great. No length of time or number of births or attempts can in any way set right the damage done by sin. For in sinning we are going against the infinitely holy God.

Apart from the salvation of God through Jesus Christ, the consequence of sin is eternal damnation in hell. The point I want to make in relation to the parable is that – just like few lives sold into slavery could not in any way settle the debt – eternal damnation in hell, as horrible as it is, can in no way undo the damage done by sin.

In other words – eternal damnation in hell is the most horrible thing that can happen – but even that is not sufficient punishment for sinning against the infinitely holy God.

Now, it is such damned and hopeless cases that the Son of God seeks to redeem and save.

Amazing Grace!

Yes, amazing grace it is, because even when eternal damnation in hell settles nothing, the cross of our beloved Saviour, Jesus Christ, settles everything. Settles it all for those who believe in Him.

“Amazing Grace / How sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me.”

Meaningful Sixty Days

The Bible never gives the name of the only child of Jephtah who was offered unto God as per the vow that he had taken before leading God’s people in the war with the Ammonites.

This tragic story shows a prominent principle from God’s Word – that the totality of things should have preference over individual or personal concerns. Now this principle is not merely dictated by God, it was painfully demonstrated by the God the Father in the offering of His only begotten Son for the salvation of the world.

Coming back to Jephtah’s daughter, her willingness to honour God by the fulfilment of the vow that her father had unwittingly made was accompanied by a request. “To tread upon the mountains, with her companions, weeping for her virginity, for two months.”

  • She is not named – but she chose to honour God, even when it meant death to her young life.
  • She is not named – but she chose to celebrate the deliverance of God’s people even though it was her lot to be delivered to death.
  • She is not named – but she chose to live the life of a pilgrim on this earth.
  • She is not named – but she chose to spend her days in lamentation and not in worldly indulgence.

Life is short and death is certain. It was two months for her. It may be two years or two decades or may be two score years for us.

But, how do we choose to live?

Do we choose to walk on the higher ground, based on God’s Word, denying the self, and carrying the cross?

Or will we go the broad way of destruction, based on bodily desires, soulish ambitions, and worldly principles.

Can we follow the path of the Jephtah’s daughter, whose name we do not know? However, in treading upon the mountains, she did show us the way to live on Higher Ground.

Can we:

  • Forsake our very right to live for the higher plane of honouring God.
  • Forsake our need to be delivered for the higher ground of God delivering many others.
  • Forsake our desire to be secure and settled for the higher plane of the pilgrim walk.
  • Forsake our bodily desires and soulish ambitions for the higher ground of communion with God, which is characterized by life of prayer, fasting, lamentation, repentance, solitude, and silence.

For no one, nobody is exempted; all have to exit from this world. A Christian pilgrim walks consciously to his/her exit, making every moment count.

Jephtah’s daughter died young and died as a virgin. In the contemporary culture of indulgence and gratification, her life may be seen as a sad case, a tragedy. But we need to look at it in another perspective –

How many of us in the present generation will have at least 60 days of our entire life dedicated to abstinence and spiritual formation in an environment of mourning and lamentation.

60 days.

If all that we live for is this world then what do we gain for eternity? On the other hand, if a small life matters much for God’s kingdom and eternity, does it matter that no one actually knows us by our name?

Can we seek to live by that old hymn, praying as we go –

“A higher plane than I have found, Lord lead me on to higher ground….”

Imitating God

The role-model for all who are serving God is our master Jesus Christ Himself. It is particularly Isaiah who portrays the Messiah as the Servant. He is described as the Servant – whom God upholds, the chosen one in whom is God’s delight.

His life is portrayed as a life in the Holy Spirit and His mission as bringing forth justice to the nations.

About His life and work we read that:

  • He did not cry aloud
  • He did not lift up His voice
  • He did not make His voice heard in the street
  • He did not break a bruised reed
  • He did not quench the faintly burning wick

Yet, He faithfully brought forth justice.

He did not grow faint or discouraged – at the face of people’s misplaced expectations, disciples who were slow to understand, the betrayer, the denier, the deserters, the burden of all the sins of humanity, the cross, the wrath of God, etc.

Yes, and He will not stop – till He has established justice on the earth. For the coastlands and hinterlands wait for His Word, which is the New Covenant.

When we model ourselves like our Master who became the Servant for our sake, we need to remind ourselves that:

  • More than crying aloud
  • More than lifting up our voice
  • More than making ourselves heard in the street
  • And, definitely, there is no need to break any bruised reed
  • Nor do we need to quench the faintly burning wick

Serving God is not about how we perform. It is all about faithfulness to the cause of justice as demonstrated by God Himself in Christ Jesus.

It is about not fainting or becoming discouraged at the face of all the challenges, troubles, and set-backs that may come against us.

It is about not stopping till justice is established on the earth by God’s reign.

It is all about taking the Word, the message of the New Covenant to the coastlands and hinterlands of the planet.

It is about seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

And in that pursuit, may our Master who does sympathise with us and our struggles, help us and continue to use us for His kingdom, His glory.

Christian faith is the only movement in all of human history that grew by its virtue of soft-power. So much was the dynamic of its tenderness that it grew and continues to grow on the blood, shed by the faithful martyrs, who loved Jesus more than their own lives.

On the other hand, in situations where political and financial might were employed, the inner strength has been found declining.

So it is not about our outward strength, it is about our inner strength. It is not about what we say, how long we speak, or how loud we are. It is about how well we live. It is not about the gifts we can flaunt. It is about the fruits we need to bear.

So, let us cast down, willingly, the ambitions we have in ministry and in the using of our talents; and confess the Lordship and reign of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

And like Jesus did, let us also bear fruit in abundance without making any fuss, without making a show.

Our Appointment is With God Himself

Great is the steadfast love and faithfulness of the LORD God towards those whom He calls. When God calls us to Him, He is calling us to leave what we have naturally inherited or are naturally inclined to. So faith journey is this process of leaving what we are disposed with or are in pursuit of and receive God Himself as our inheritance and our portion.

Our life is all set to change; about which the New Testament testifies: “Behold, all things are made new.”

As great and wonderful was the role of the land of Canaan in God’s salvific work through Abraham and his descendants – I believe, the personal call of Abraham was to God Himself. For him, the land of Canaan served the purpose of giving him a sense of direction.

When we look at our own life as New Testament believers, it is wonderful to find our attachment to the community of God’s people and also to be led by God to serve Him in some capacity. I affirm that they are greatly profitable both to us and to God’s kingdom. Nonetheless, we should remember they are also signboards that point us to the ultimate call of God to Himself.

The delays and trials in our faith journey, particularly in places that we call ‘spiritual’ and places where we are led by God Himself, can be better understood by us if we take into account this aspect of God’s call. That He has called us to Himself and for Himself. That He is our reward and portion, our great and lasting inheritance. Which none can take away from us.

The land of ‘Canaan’ is God’s idea, albeit a shadow of things eternal. But this ‘Canaan,’ along with the good it has to offer also gives us its share of delays, doubts, and troubles. But there is no dearth of joy – because it is the Lord God who has called us and not the land. We go through the land, we may live in the land, but our call is definitely heavenward – to God Himself.

As New Testament believers, we need to become a part of a fellowship; we need to be involved in serving God. Although all these things are a blessing to us and others too, they do fall short and may actually disappoint us on occasions, giving us serious doubts and also trials. However, let us always remind ourselves that our appointment is with God Himself.

“That our Appointment is with God Himself.”

Eleazar was a sensible man and he had a logical question or doubt regarding finding a bride for Isaac from the kindred of Abraham, his master, with the condition that Isaac will continue in God’s call. That the call of God cannot be compromised. So we find the land of Canaan raising a very serious question regarding the life of Isaac, who was called to live there.

But then, when Eleazar sees the work of God in leading him amazingly, he says –

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master.”

Seeing Abundance Made From Our Little Life

God is so very generous when He blesses us.

The five loaves – taken, blessed, broken, and given did not merely meet the requirements of the very large crowd of people – it is written that all ate and were satisfied and they took 12 baskets of the leftover pieces.

It was only very little to begin with. However, because of Jesus there was an abundance.

Your own life may be only very little before the humongous needs of the people, the church, or your own life situation. But then, because of Jesus Christ you can become an abundance of resource.

To begin with, our spiritual gifting and the call are so very little. When we start, it seems hardly anything is happening, that the impact is so meagre. But, when our spiritual gifting and our call are all offered unconditionally to Jesus Christ, He can create an abundance, using us for the benefit of many.

Homemade bread is uniquely flavoured, unlike the factory produced ones, because of many factors small or big. The grain, the mill, the vessel in which the flour is kept, the hand that kneads it, the vessel/oven in which it is cooked, the kind of fire or heat employed, the packing – all combine to make homemade bread unique.

So also, is our life.

The environment that gives us growth, the people who wound us, the circumstances that crush us, the situations that contain or restrict us, the hands that inflict pain, the trials of life that cook us, the new situations that receive us – all combine to make us uniquely flavoured.

So what do we do now?

We need our very life to be taken by Jesus Christ.

We need to hear Jesus Christ say a word of blessing over our life.

We need to be broken by Him – and that may be asking for more pain.

And we need to be given or used as He alone deems fit.

This is exactly what we need to see happen with our life. And if it all turns out well – there is every chance of becoming an abundance of blessing, but then there is also every chance that we will lose our life as we know it. We are definitely bound to lose control over our life.

So, will we invite Jesus Christ to take us in His hands, to say a blessing on us, to break us (ouch!), and to give us for the benefit of many?

For God can make so much more of our life, than what we can do with our life.

Saved to be Strong in God

Isaiah 30:15 says – “In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

We will try to understand the four words in this verse that describe our spiritual life.

This prophetic utterance of Isaiah describes the salvation experience with the usage of two words: 1. Returning and 2. Rest.

1. In Returning Back to God

To the place where we were made to be, to belong to God.

It talks of a restored relationship and also giving up on going independently of God. It talks of the journeying back through all the wrongs.

It encourages the addressing of issues face to face and does not prescribe a superficial treatment of sin problem. In this returning back to God the saviour – we are justified by God Himself. We neither need to wallow in guilt nor need to make any pitiful attempts of justifying ourselves.

So, let us return back to God.

2. In Rest which describes the kind of life the saved are called to possess.

In a very simple way of seeing history – “Humanity became restless after eating the forbidden fruit. But when we consume Jesus Christ, we are appropriated back to the state of rest.”

It promises harmony and a life without fear. It speaks of the sufficiency of trusting God and living freely under the shadow of His wings.

It encourages us to scoff at the suggestions of the evil one and deny the fleshly longings of the self, while learning to remain content in obedience to God.

So, let us find that rest in God.

The other part of the prophecy describes the strength of life in God, using two words: 1. Quietness, and 2. Trust.

3. In Quietness – which is the result of spiritual strength.

The more we find strength in God the more we find it easy to remain quiet. The more we fellowship quietly with God the more of His strength do we discover within us by His grace.

Of course shouting, proclaiming, celebrating, etc. have their vital roles in the expression of our faith. But we need to balance such expressions with quietness, solitude, contemplation, etc.

This should encourage us to fix times of intense, rich and meaningful fellowship with God – and quietness is the best way to do so.

So, let us be drawn close to God in quietness.

4. In Trust – we remain strong in God.

The more we realize that there is no vital strength without God, the more we are made to trust in Him and we become stronger in His strength.

Unlike the world where strength is charecterized by independence and self-sufficiency, spiritual strength in Christ Jesus is defined by increasing trust in God and in self-denial.

This should encourage us to discover more of our weaknesses and helplessness and the simultaneous joy in also discovering that the strength of God is richly provided for us in all those areas of our vulnerabilities.

So, let us find joy in realizing our weakness and the supply of God’s strength in our life.

For thus said Isaiah the blessed prophet: “In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15, ESV) 

God Delights to Help You

God delights to show us the path of life:

God does not want us to lose our way. Human beings are notoriously prone to lose the way. It is far easier and more probable for us to lose the way than to make it right.

Going to God is the straight and hence the shortest path ever before us. But we mess it up most times and wander away from God rather than go to Him. Moreover, having lost the way – we find it most difficult to acknowledge that we are lost, let alone turn around and go back to God.

Nevertheless, for those who would go back to God, the good news is that – God delights to show us the path of life

God delights to give us His presence:

God does not want us to be alone. Human beings are created for company. Actually, we are specifically designed to be in the presence of God. However, we are so bent on trying out all other options other than God’s fellowship that we may wait for options that are not even there.

The more we try out other options – the lonelier we feel. We keep longing – but nothing ever satisfies. But for any who would seek to experience God’s presence – the good news is that – God is not far away. God delights to give us His presence.

God delights to give us victory:

God does not want us to fail. Human beings are most afraid of failure. We do not want to fail. While failure is a serious problem for most people, the tragedy is that most of the winning is happening in the wrong contests – in ‘events’ that actually do not count.

That is the reason for the empty feeling that sometimes accompanies the winning experience. As good as every victory can be to us – we need to ask ourselves – “Is this the purpose of our life? Do we need to do something more or something different?”

God has a plan for us. And not only the plan, His desire is that we should win. It is when we do it in His purpose and do it by His rules, that we truly feel victorious. And though the world may not have the slightest clue of what we are doing – our Lord God would surely stand and applaud.

For those who seek to win, even though such a person may be under the bitterest of defeats, the good news is that God wants us to be victorious in its true sense.

Let us join the Psalmist in telling God – “Thou wilt show me the path of life, and I shall be filled with the joy of thy countenance, with the pleasure of victory of thy right hand.” (Psalm 16:11, The Lamsa translation of the Peshitta (Aramaic Bible) which is the authorized Bible of the Church of the East.)