Friday, December 16, 2011

To Follow Jesus All The Way

     Have you ever had one of those moments when you experience a partial flashback of an event, person or memory from long ago, that suddenly hits you without warning? It's amazing how the sudden recollection of two lines from a long-forgotten song from the teenage years can suddenly emerge at an unexpected moment to give strength, encouragement and fill the heart with renewed happiness and determination.

    That's what happened last night at the end of a draining day's work, while in the shower. I have recently been wrestling with some difficult issues that have been close to my heart, related to examining my experiences in churches over the last several years, and discerning right doctrine. It has not been easy, scrutinizing and questioning my own assumptions of teachings that I have absorbed over the years, and in some cases having to face the reality that they might be wrong. It has also been difficult as I have had to think about the possible consequences of what my conclusions might have on my relationships with people in my life who hold views that are differing, or even diametrically opposed to the convictions that I feel moved towards.

    And then last night, two lines came to mind from a little song that I had learned in a Christian youth group during my high-school years in Dubai. "Youth In Action" was founded by an elderly couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. M. C. Ambrose, who were also directly responsible for bringing my own parents (and many other families that we would come to know), to saving faith in Christ. While meeting in weekly small groups in different cities in the UAE, we would all meet once a month for a youth rally. It was during one of those rallies during my first years in YIA that I heard the words of the song "I've Got My Mind Made Up". Some of the people singing that song that day - Ronnie Thomas, Nibin and Nisha Oomen, Anjali Vase - would go on to become very dear friends of mine.

     It was their voices and two lines from the chorus that I suddenly heard in my head in the shower yesterday. I am very grateful to the Internet for being the archive of even the most obscure things, and for Google in helping us find them. Here is a verse and the chorus of that song, written by Norman Hutchins:

I've Got My Mind Made Up
    I've got my mind made up,
    my heart is fixed to follow Jesus all the way.
    I've got my mind made up,
    my heart is fixed to follow Jesus all the way.

    On this journey, there'll be many ups and downs,
    but I know the Lord will see you through.
    There has never been a time when He has let me down,
    that's why I'll follow Jesus all the way.

     I've been thinking about these words since last night and all of today, and asking myself the question - What does it mean to follow Jesus "all the way"? There are several thoughts that have come to mind as I've contemplated the implications of these words.

    Implicit in the phrase "to follow Jesus all the way" is the assumption that He is going somewhere, and that I know Him well enough to have confidence that the "somewhere" good and worthwhile for me to follow Him to. This raises the question of His character and trustworthiness. What do I know of Jesus? Is what I know about Him accurate? Is He trustworthy and truthful? Do His words make sense to me, in what He has to say about my origin, search for meaning, the condition in which I find myself, the deepest questions of my heart, my destiny? How has He proven Himself? Jesus had a lot to say about these things:

    “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, 'Lord, kwe do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.' Philip said to him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.' Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves."
- John 14: 1-3, ESV

    Following Jesus all the way also implies that it involves a choice, not a compulsion. I must make up my mind and set my heart on going with Him, and count the cost of this journey. And this cost might be great; He might ask of me everything that I have and hold dear and valuable. Jesus talked about this as well:

    "Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 'If anyone comes to me and odoes not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not sfirst sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." 
- Luke 14:25-33, ESV

    "As they were going ralong the road, someone said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' To another he said, 'Follow me.' But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' And Jesus said to him, 'Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' Yet another said, 'I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.' Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'" 
- Luke 9:57-62, ESV

     These are not easy words for any of us to hear, including myself. What will I give up for Jesus, to follow Him all the way? I might not like what I am asked to let go of. For some of us, it might be a relationship that is dear to us - parent, lover, husband, wife, children, relative, friend. It might be a dream that we have longed earnestly and worked hard for. It might be things that we have built our identity on - our ethnicity, culture, religion, organization. Those of us who are parents might have to surrender their wishes or preconceptions of what they perceive to be ideal futures for their children, so that Jesus can do something greater with them. And there is the ultimate surrender of one's own life, trusting that Jesus has a purpose even in the midst of terrible personal suffering and death, and that the glory of His cause and name is greater than any personal glory that I can gain for myself.

     Ultimately, what I am willing to let go of and the extent to which I am willing to go says a lot about the value that I place on Jesus among everything else in my life. I am reminded of the words of the missionary Jim Elliott, who wrote: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." As I bring tonight's post to a close and head to bed, I feel my conviction solidified by the following words composed by the martyred missionary William McChesney:

    If He be God, and died for me,
    No sacrifice too great can be
    For me; a mortal man, to make;
    I'll do it all for Jesus' sake.

    Yes, I will tread the path He trod,
    No other way will please my God,
    So, henceforth, this my choice shall be,
    My choice for all eternity.
- William McChesney, from the poem "My Choice"

     My mind is made up. My heart is fixed. I'm following Jesus all the way home.

- The Wisdom Seeker

     This post is dedicated to Uncle and Aunty Ambrose, my brothers and sisters at Youth In Action whom God used to sow the seeds of the Gospel in my heart many years ago, and to Nibin Oomen and Nisha Susan Philip who have followed Jesus all the way these many years at great personal cost and suffering for the sake of His name and glory.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gear Up: Licensed To Drive!

After a long, hard Canadian driving license arrives :)
      It's finally here.

     I found this slipped under my door a few minutes ago; it was probably my while I was typing out my last blog post on the finished set for Willingdon Church's Christmas musical production. I had been expecting it over the last week, but didn't check our post box today after I got home from work. I'm guessing my roommate Alex found it, since I asked Paulman and he said it wasn't him.

     It's difficult to describe the relief and satisfaction I feel looking at the little plastic card that certifies me as a full Class 5 driver. It's been a hard struggle to get to this point, with massive investment of time, money and effort. Although I had gotten my first ever driving license during my undergraduate years in India, and it was indeed a significant milestone, this is different. 

     Getting my Canadian license was not only much harder, but significantly more meaningful for many different reasons. It followed on the heels of some very important milestones in life: stepping out of university into the real world, after seven-and-a-half years in academia; getting established in my profession with a job that I deeply love and am committed to; my first ever steady income of my own that wasn't from part-time odd jobs; and, the driving factor (pun unintended) that made it so significant and memorable - my very first car.

     I had often read and heard that for a young man, his first car is a very important and significant experience in his life. I had never really believed it until now. Of course, since childhood I had always had more than a passing interest in cars and their evolving design and technology. But I had never experienced the real thrill of driving a car on my own. The only extensive driving experiences I had had prior to this were during driving lessons with a driving school, both in India and here. There were the occasional short chances to drive my father's or cousin's car, but the feeling is not the same when one does not have a proper license to drive alone, the car is someone else's, and the drive is just for learning purposes. In addition, I had either taken transit everywhere for the last twelve years, or hitched a ride with a friend or my father. I believe it would not be inaccurate to say that I languished in apathy and indifference for the last twelve years, after living in cities with extensive and frequent transit systems.

    But then I came into my own, stepped into the real world, and everything changed in a matter of months. My job necessitated me to own a vehicle and drive; without it, transit was taking too long to get to the office or to project sites. I was getting involved in other activities outside work and feeling a desire to expand the boundaries my new-found freedom and explore the world. So I bought my very first car in April, and was itching to drive it.

    But the frustration grew after spending several months and lots of money on driving lessons with a driving school that hindered more than they helped, and failing my road test. Despair began to grow; it seemed that I was looking at a road of drudgery and suffering to licensed automotive happiness, filled with insurmountable obstacles of grumpy and bellicose driving instructors, right hand turns, left-hand turns, speed control, shoulder checks, confounding road signage, parallel parking, reverse parking and the short tempers of other motorists. I think the despondency was only compounded by the sight of glossy automotive magazines at shops and bookstores, covered with handsome drivers with their 30mm Kodak smiles, proudly standing next to some insanely priced and desirable supercar that was guaranteed to incite envy and covetousness in the aspiring but unlicensed male motorist. Ah, the sorrow of not being able to join the company of the automotive faithful in motoring heaven...

    Things finally came to the do-or-die point of internal frustration. I tried again, this time with Excel Academy [1], a much better driving school, taught by a wonderful British gentleman who used to be a professional instructor in the UK. Skip was calm, gentle, patient, reassuring, explained things clearly and logically, and best of all, spoke excellent British English :) I tried for my license again...and failed. But this time was different. I felt good; I had done much better than before. So I waited two weeks, practiced hard, tried a third time last Monday...and passed.

    I've been driving on my own a lot over the last week - to work, church, dinners, birthdays - and loving it. It feels incredible. But more importantly, the wheels in my head have been turning; I am planning and looking forward to what I have heard is a favourite male hobby - working on my car :) But more on that in the next post. Until then, goodnight!
- The Wisdom Seeker


Christmas At Willingdon: Set Construction & Cleanup

     This post is coming 3 days late. Last Friday, I headed to Willingdon Church after work to help with the final day of set construction and cleanup in time for the weekend services on Saturday and Sunday, and the opening night this coming Wednesday. Towards the end of the night, while cleanup was in progress, I took a panoramic photo of the almost production-ready set. My stitching attempt on the photo wasn't too good; my photographic and editing skills are in need of improvement, so my apologies in advance:
Almost-finished set at Willingdon Church for "Christmas At the Starlight Theatre"

The right end of the production set
      My only regret was that I didn't know when construction had actually begun, so I actually showed up halfway into the 2-week construction process. In any case, I will be ushering at the Friday evening 7 PM show, and both shows on Saturday and Sunday. Do say hello if you've been reading this blog and if you're at one of the shows!

     Floor Tickets for "Christmas At The Starlight Theatre" at Willingdon Church can be bought at Ticketmaster or Ticketweb. All proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Make A Wish Foundation. Balcony seating is free, but from my experience over the last two years, you will need to line up well in advance to get good seats. See you there!
- The Wisdom Seeker

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas At Willingdon: Set Construction, Day 2

     I just got home about half an hour ago, and am going for a much-needed shower and then off to bed. Before I do, I thought I'd post two photos I took today of the set construction for the Christmas musical production at Willingdon. First is a panorama shot that I took at the end of the evening and quickly stitched together just now. This should hopefully provide some idea of the scale of the set and the kind of undertaking in which it gets built in just over a week:

Panoramic shot of the set at Willingdon, Day 2
     Below is another shot that I took from the doorway that you can see at the top of the black steps towards the right hand side of the stage:

The mess on stage and in the sanctuary during this week of set construction
     Well, that's it for today. More to come tomorrow. Until then, good night ladies and gentlemen!
- The Wisdom Seeker

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas At Willingdon: Set Construction, Day 1

Willingdon Church gets ready for Christmas!
     It's that time of year at Willingdon, and I've been eagerly waiting for it - again. Last December marked a special time in my life, as a difficult year drew to a close. Fresh out of graduate school with a Master's degree, no savings and dependent on my parents, 5 months into a job hunt with very little to show for it, struggling with matters of the heart and mind, I was looking for something meaningful to pour myself into. With all the pent-up energy of a frustrated young man, I had thrown myself into helping with set construction for my church's annual Christmas production - and had one of the most memorable Christmases of my life.
      It's amazing what God can do with a hammer, saw, nails, paint and drills to teach and mold a man. I grew and learned tremendously through the experience of one intense week of set construction, followed by another week of volunteering during the nights of the actual production. I poured myself into serving with my utmost energy, and came out the happier, content and peaceful for it. And so it was that this Christmas, I returned to help and serve once more, this time after a full day's work. I'm really looking forward to the next two weeks!

     Today was my first day with set-building, although it seems they had started earlier this week. Here are some photos of how things went:

At the end of Day 1: Framing and set layout

Painting and adding set detail during orchestra practice!
     Willingdon is generally a busy place almost every day of the week, as there is always something going on in a church attended by 5,000-odd people. But Christmas seems to ramp this up a notch. There is a hum in the air of excitement  and eager anticipation, as people come together to serve and prepare for this time of the year. I took some photos of other events which were happening in the area outside the main sanctuary, that I had seen or been part of last year:

This foyer will soon be crowded everyday for a week for the 3PM and 7PM shows!
The cafeteria crowded with Christmas dinner hampers for delivery to needy families!

This brings back such wonderful memories of last year :)

The Willingdon Orchestra arrives and sets up for practice amongst the mess!
     I'm too tired to write anymore at the moment, and it's time to hit the bed for another day on site tomorrow. I'll be back at Willingdon tomorrow evening for more set construction, so see you soon for another update and more photos of how things are coming along!
- The Wisdom Seeker

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Haunted By The Gospel

Haunted by the words of Romans1:16-17
     It happened again today morning. I woke up, as I have for the last week, with the words of a poster that I see every day above the foot of my bed resounding in my head:

    "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God, the salvation of everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.'"
- Romans 1:16-17, ESV

    It has come to the point where I must settle once and for all my questions of faith and teachings of church doctrine that I have been wrestling with for quite some time. I don't think I can take much more of the internal turmoil that I've been experiencing over the last three years, which has only increased since I began asking some hard questions after some painful realizations. I traced some of my experiences in different churches over my spiritual journey over my first 25-odd years, and my "patchwork quilt" theology and confusion that developed as a result, in my post on Reformation Day titled "Visiting The Crossroads".

    Thus it came to be over the last week, that I began re-reading Paul's Epistle to the Romans, every morning on my transit to work and while coming back in the evening. I have decided to study the book of Romans this Christmas season and while working my way through it, I will also connect its thoughts with the truths of the Christmas story recounted at the beginning of the four Gospels. I think this will be a very different Christmas from any that I have seen over the last 30 years, because I want to plumb the depths of the Gospel as I have never done before. By the grace of God and the guidance of His Holy Spirit, I hope to systematically work my way through my questions, find conclusive answers and make firm the convictions of my faith.

    Over the last week, I also remembered a series of sermons that was preached on the book of Romans in 2004 by John Neufeld, the senior pastor at my church. I listened to the opening sermon today. I will bring this post to a close with some of Pastor John's words from his opening sermon:

    "The book of Romans...has profoundly changed the lives of individuals, it has directed the life of the Church and it has changed the life of nations...Why study one of the most doctrinal books of the Bible, and I might add, one of the most difficult? The answer is that it has been used by God to effect the greatest revivals and reformations in is the remedy for a world of lies, half-truths and lies about God. We live in a society that has become divorced from the idea of a revelation from God...many in North America have therefore adopted a concept of God which ranges from the what Stuart Driscoll calls 'the outright bizzaire to the downright blasphemous.' Many today think that they must be happy and comfortable, popular, wealthy and famous, and any shortage of this leads to howls of pain. We can't conceive of a God who would'nt give us exactly what we want...We live in a society divorced from divine revelation. We live in a society that doesn't understand the human problem. We live in a society that has all sort of convoluted means to solve human problems. And finally, we live in a society that does not understand the power of faith, that does not understand the power of the Cross to lead us to grace."
- John Neufeld, "The Heart of The Gospel", 2004

    There is a popular saying that one learns more and is transformed more through life's valley's than one ever does on it's mountaintops. Christian history will testify through the stories of faithful men and women that is the difficult times, the times of wrestling and struggle that God uses to hammer and mold us into the people that He wants us to be.
  • September, AD 386: In the city of Milan, two verses from the book of Romans (Romans 13:13-14) brought a despondent pagan professor and philosopher by the name of Aurelius Augustine to his knees in submission to Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord, and transformed the course of the Christian Church. Also known as St. Augustine, he became the greatest Christian thinker for the next 1,000 years and still influences many today.
  • AD 1517: Just over another 1,000 years later, the book of Romans transformed the tortured soul of a young Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther, teaching in a seminary in the city of Wittenberg in Germany and ignited the Protestant Reformation. 
  • May 24th, 1738: 200 years after Martin Luther, a dejected young Anglican priest and a missionary was struggling with his faith, and about to leave the ministry. While unwillingly attending a bible study that was studying the book of Romans, the life of John Wesley was transformed. In the process, the history of England was transformed, as has been recorded by both secular and Christian historians; in the words of a secular historian, "the same revolution that destroyed France would also have been the revolution that destroyed England, except there was a man by the name of John Wesley." England did not turn to revolution, but turned to Christ, because of the preaching of John Wesley and his friend George Whitfield.

     I am hoping that God will use the Epistle to the Romans to work the same change in my life as He did in the lives of Augustine, Luther, Wesley, Chrysostom, John Neufeld, John MacArthur, Ravi Zacharias, and countless others who have made a mark for His Gospel. I might lose people, possessions and relationships in the process of what I am about to do, but I WILL find the most important thing - the truth of God and about God. And life will never be the same. Amen.
- The Wisdom Seeker