Iron Pillar – Internal Strength

Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land.” Jeremiah 1: 18

What exactly do we expect God to do when we are faced with challenges? As faithful Christians, we would normally desire a miraculous rescue from all the troubles with the help of God. Though we cannot deny God’s ability to perform miracles, God’s promise to Jeremiah to make him an iron pillar, points to another way of God helping his people, to deal with life’s problems.

Jeremiah is called to do a difficult and thankless job. He was asked to proclaim about the oncoming destruction of Jerusalem because of the sins of the people. Jeremiah’s situation becomes more complicated and embarrassing later, because other prophets were busy prophesying a message completely opposite to his by saying, “You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place” (14:13). This makes him appear like a traitor who is neither interested in the welfare of the nation nor his contemporaries. This also puts him at odds with the officials, who begin to think that Jeremiah is trying to create confusion among the people by stirring them up against the king!

But God had foretold Jeremiah at the time of his calling that he would be standing “against the whole land–against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land” (1:18). Jeremiah was not called to minister with a false hope of success or getting an easy path to traverse, but with the reality of standing up to the opposition to fulfil God’s will in his life. In this mission, apart from the familiar promise that “I am with you and will rescue you” (1:8, 19), God also promises to make Jeremiah “an iron pillar” (v.18).

The iron pillar represents internal strength. God helps Jeremiah in developing this inner strength when he was fulfilling his mission, which was both emotionally draining and physically threatening. Jeremiah needed to be emotionally strong and physically fit. In his mission he had very few friends and he had to face physical threats as well. Jeremiah needed to be like an iron pillar – strong and unaffected by the external threats – in the midst of his tumultuous career as a Prophet of Doom.

There is a fourth century Iron pillar in Delhi, India, which is around 7-meter-high and 6000 kg heavy. An 18thcentury ruler had ordered its destruction. A canon was fired at close range but it failed to do any damage to the pillar, except for causing a mere dent. Unfortunately, its ricochet destroyed the walls of a nearby mosque. So further attempts to destroy it were called off. This is one real life example of how an iron pillar represented internal strength in times of external threat.

In Jeremiah’s career, he stood strong in midst of severe opposition when his own life was under threat. But eventually he fulfilled the will of God in his ministry. This was mainly because of the inner strength God had granted him. When we are faced with challenges in our lives, God strengthens us. We might look for a miraculous rescue, but God is wanting to strengthen each of us like an iron pillar to wither the storm. Sometimes the challenges we face helps us to understand the God-given strength in us, which we would have never known before. So in times of struggle, apart from praying for a miracle, look deep inside for God’s strength, so that you too can overcome life’s challenges through it. Ask God to make you into an iron pillar so that you will be equipped to face the challenges in your path.

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Word is a Lamp

“Your word is a lamp to my feet…” Psalm 119: 105

There are always so many questions about the nature of God’s guidance and how the Word of God should be used in the context of providence. Some imagine that Bible could be used as a guidance by finding random verses to seek encouragement or assuming it to be a word of promise.  While some expect God to direct them towards some verses for clear direction, some even use it like a spell book, which could be recited to get the preferred outcome.

But, in this verse by describing the Word of God as a lamp, the Psalmist is talking about the nature of God’s guidance to his people in different way than we normally imagine. Lamp is the source of light to guide the steps. Lamp, with its oil, thread and container, which holds the oil, does not directly represent the light it brings, but represents the entire mechanism which ultimately produces‘Light’. The power of the Word and its guidance begins by first working within us. It transforms our inner being so that we develop an inner compass, which would lead our way.

When a person starts meditating “his law day and night” (Ps. 1: 2), the scripture gives them‘wisdom,’ ‘insight’ and ‘understanding’ (Ps. 119: 98-100). This is the process of transforming the character of the person. The transformation doesn’t happen overnight, but rather in a slow fashion, even as the person meditates on the word daily. It develops a moral compass which reveals what God expects from our lives. Together, wisdom and insight, will surely guide a person in the right path when he most needs instruction.

This is rather an unpopular method among Christians because we usually look for a quick fix to sort our problems. But, the guidance which is promised in the Bible is a ‘long term fix’. Meditating on the Word of God transforms us and makes us wise and able to make decisions. As the Psalmist says, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119: 130).

The Word of God is challenging us today to meditate on it daily, so that we will be instructed by God and be guided through the Word in all our steps. Let us not seek the Word only in times of crisis and for quick solutions. But, let us strive to listen to the Word’s admonitions, instructions and consolations every day, so that we will be changed and transformed to lead a life of light.

A mature Christian who has the Word of God in his heart will be guided by it from the inside. He is changed by the meditation of the Scripture. He knows exactly what is expected of him in every situation as the Word of God will continually lead and direct his paths. Let the Word of God which is the lamp, guide our feet in all the ways of our lives.

Easter Challenge – Does your ‘Hope of the Resurrection’ touch others?

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the lord!” But he [Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see…I will not believe.” (John 21: 25)

Easter poses a challenge to all Christians who believe in it. How do we intelligibly talk about Jesus’ resurrection to our friends and colleagues? Will the postmodern mind ever accept this fact, or will they dismiss it just as a fiction or myth? Clearly, Thomas did not believe when he was told by other disciples, that they had seen Jesus. If Jesus’ ten disciples could not convince one of their own, how can we convince anyone at all?

It is definitely something that we should all consider looking into. But how do we go about it?

One can find the answer to this in the event narrated a couple of passages after the transpiring of the above incident. Here, Peter was preaching to a crowd of Jews who were at Jerusalem for a festival. In his preaching he said that “God raised him [Jesus] from the dead…because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2: 24). Most of the people must have not seen Jesus or hear him preach as they are from far away country. It is certainly possible that they have heard about his fame or at least heard about the events of the cross, which had happened few days back. When they heard Peter preach, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2: 37).

If we were to talk about the resurrection of Jesus, surely a debate will follow on whether the phenomenon of resurrection is possible at all, or how religion is deceiving people with myths, and so on. But here we see that they simply accept the message. Note that this is the same message which Thomas refused to believe.

Did these Jews have something different that Thomas did not have?

No! But there was a change in the personality of the preacher.

Peter and the other apostles are the same lot of people in both the events. In the first event, they saw a resurrected Christ but did not have the HOPE OF RESURRECTION in their hearts. That is why when Jesus revisited them seven days later, they were still locked up in their rooms – scared and afraid of the authorities. This could surely have been the reason for Thomas’ preference to see Jesus in person and verify this piece of information by himself.

But on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down and indwelled with the disciples, the hope of resurrection was revived and was evident in their personalities. They became bold and they exhibited the life of resurrection. This incident made the people present, to see the truth in their message and accept it.

Today, winning a debate about resurrection would not make others Jesus’ disciples; but a life filled with hope in midst of trials and suffering, will speak the gospel more purposefully and loudly. So the question that remains for all of us is, do people see the living HOPE in you through your life?

The early church grew more in hope and faith during times of persecution. The early Christians displayed their hope in the resurrection in their sufferings even till the point of death. Many accepted Christ because of this steadfast witnessing.

Will our daily life remain consistent with this belief? We are called to live a life of hope and trust in the providence of our heavenly father as we work through the challenges in our lives. When we do that, we will be the “Light of the world” (Matt. 5: 14); and by seeing our joy in midst of suffering, many will ask for ‘the reason for the hope” we have (1 Peter 3: 15).

Palm Sunday procession- Proclamation of Jesus’ kingship

See, your king comes to you… riding on a donkey.” Zechariah 9: 9

In ancient days after winning a war, the victorious king would often take a procession in the capital city of the defeated nation. This is to proclaim the defeat of the incumbent king and to establish and install the new king over the kingdom. Looking at the jubilant procession, people would know that this is their new king.

This custom is practiced when a prince succeeds his father as the next king. King David while making his son, Solomon, king over Israel, tells the priest, “have Solomon my son, mount my own mule, and take him down to Gihon… [and] anoint him king over Israel” (1 Kings 1: 33 & 34). A procession on the royal mule surrounded by the priest, prophet and other trusted aides of the king, was a sign to the people that it was king David who made his heir, Solomon, the new king.

We see the same phenomenon when Joseph was installed as the second-in-command of Egypt. “Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger… He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command” (Gen 41: 42 & 43). When Mordecai was honoured by the king, he was taken in a similar procession in the king’s horse around the city (Esther 6: 8).

A royal procession is a sign of authority and is done with the intent to establish authority.

Jesus seems to be doing the same thing on his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He had been to Jerusalem before, but this time He had a decisive plan – a plan to fulfil the purpose for which He came to earth. He purposively travels to Jerusalem and asks His disciples to find a donkey (Matt 21: 2). He rides on the donkey surrounded by the disciples. Then the crowd which accepted His proclamation as King, joined Him in the chorus to sing – “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matt 21: 9).

But sadly, this proclamation elicited a mute response from those who were in power. They plotted to kill Him and rebelled against His kingship.

His disciples were not very far from misunderstanding Jesus’ kingship. They failed to understand the true nature of His kingship. They were expecting Jesus to overpower the Romans. But Jesus was on a kingly procession only to be crucified, so that He could save mankind from the clutches of sin.

Season of Lent

Season of Lent

Even now… return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning” Joel 2: 12

The Season of Lent is an important period in the Christian calendar. This Lent period was used to prepare the new believers for Baptism on Easter. These forty days (excluding the 6 Sundays), beginning from Ash Wednesday to the Holy Saturday, are days of fasting, prayer and about learning the basic truths of the Christian faith for many catechumens of the early church. This season has been passed on to us by the Church for our own spiritual benefit.

Many question the observance of lent by asking whether it is prescribed in the Bible. In the book of Joel, God summons His people to return to Him with fasting and weeping and mourning. Thus, the takeaway for all of us from this narrative is that this time of intense self-examination is a real boost to our spiritual life. These days could be used exactly for this noble purpose. When we question a useful tradition of the Church, we destroy the strong historical link we enjoy unbroken from the early Church.

Lent is also a time of preparation which leads us to meditate on the events on the Cross and the empty tomb. How else can we learn to appreciate the sacrifice of the Son of God, other than sacrificing on our luxuries and lavishness of this worldly life for a short while? Lent is a time of reflecting on the life of Jesus and understanding the purpose behind His coming. Extended time of prayers would lead to humble submission in His hands and fasting would help us to deny some of our favourites to remind us of how Jesus left his heavenly glory to die for us in this world – making this Season of Lent a spiritually beneficial time.

This is an open invitation to join the believers of Jesus worldwide to spend time with God for our own spiritual benefit. This is an opportunity to participate with the local believers in special prayers to grow as one in the body of Christ. This is a time to grow in the Lord through the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer. Let us follow Joel’s instruction, “Rend your heart, and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God.” (Joel 2: 13).

Ability to submit

Bridled Horse

Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding, but must be controlled by bit and bridle, or they will not come to you.” Psalm 32: 9 (NIV, 2011)

Animals at times act intelligent and behave in surprising ways. But their intelligence also has certain limitations. As the scripture reveals that animals cannot be tamed unless trained to do so. A horse or a mule needs bridling and guiding too. When these animals are trained repeatedly with external inducements, they tend to develop a pattern that we humans find useful. But note that animals cannot be talked into doing things, like human beings for instance.

Human beings are bestowed with a unique ability to understand things and rationally weigh different options presented to them in a given situation. When an instruction or an advice is given, only human beings can heed them or submit to them. It is also us humans who can heed to the promise given by God in the previous verse, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (verse 8).

Psalmist is presenting these two contrasting views in the verses to highlight the fact that only human beings are bestowed with the ability to heed to instruction, learn the ways taught to them and take guidance from the counsel given by God. By mentioning about horses and mules, God is only urging us to exercise our unique ability to submit to God’s leading and guidance.

We are special and unique in so many ways in the whole universe because of the rational powers we’ve been vested with. We do not need external inducements or exertions to obey God. We can voluntarily submit our will to him and heed to his instruction. As Christians, we know that God leads us and instructs us in many ways. Only sensible thing for us to do is to submit our lives to him on our own so that he might lead us.

Press on!

“… Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called me heaven-ward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3: 13 & 14.

As we enter into a new year, let us heed the words of Paul and forget what is behind and move forward to the goal which God has set for us.

Paul is delineating what he is leaving behind in verses 5 & 6 – his pride of being a perfect Jew in birth and also in all the legalistic righteousness. But he is moving in a different direction now and he can reach his goal, only if he leaves behind the heavy baggage of the past.

We might also have baggage of fear, pride, anger, bitterness etc., in us. If we are to enter into the New Year with them, we would be the same sad person. But if we choose to leave them behind and ponder upon the goals God has given to us, we would move forward.

It is not only the negative things,  but we also need to leave behind our successes and achievements of the past year to reach newer levels in the coming year.

We should not be struck with, either the problems or the victories of the past year. But we need to seek God’s grace anew to face new challenges of the New Year and move forward.