Monday, December 31, 2012

Jesus, Be...

   Christmas and Advent have come and gone, New Year's Eve is suddenly upon us. I just got back home from a beautiful candle-lit New Year's Eve service at Willingdon Church. It was a fitting and memorable way to end my year, surrounded by the gathering of faithful men and women to remember God's faithfulness in our lives over the last year, hear His Word, and place our trust in Him in the new year to come.

   As the candles flickered and steadily burned through the evening, we progressed through the readings of Scripture, the singing of songs and testimonies of men and women who came forward to share with us about God's amazing work in their lives over the past year. I sat in quiet contemplation throughout it all, silently reflecting on the events of my own life over the last 12 months - tests of faith and conviction; a point of difficult decision-making and the accompanying feelings of loss; processing the difficult terrain of my spiritual history and its theological implications; a wonderful year's journey with my church small group as close bonds of fellowship were formed; finding the happiness, comfort, support and companionship of a helper sent from God, even as I was let go from my job four months ago and thrashed about in a hole of internal conflict and uncertainty for two months, before finally climbing out and finding my feet again. It has indeed been a tumultuous year.

     It was in this context that I was deeply stirred in mind and heart by one of the responsive reading of towards the middle of the service:

"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace."
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NKJV     

    "It has indeed been a time of many things this year," I thought, as I read those verses in response. And as I looked for words that would similarly guide my thoughts to the year to come, I took note of a song as the service came to an end, "Jesus Be The Center." I have noted part of it here:

"Jesus, be the centre
Be my source, be my light

Be the fire in my heart
Be the wind in these sails
Be the reason that I live
Jesus, Jesus"

     This indeed is my prayer for the coming year - "Jesus, Be..." I have made it through this last year only because Christ was with me. I know that I cannot make it through the coming year (which is just over an hour away) without Him. As I head to bed, I pray that the coming year will be a blessed one for you, and that Jesus will be to you all that you need, and more.
- The Wisdom Seeker

Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent 2012, Day 3: God Arrives On Time

"'Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,' says the Lord of hosts." - Malachi 3:1, NKJV

   400 years of silence followed that proclamation from the mouth of the prophet Malachi. I wonder how many generations passed during that time, as Israel clung on to the word of their God who had repeatedly issued this promise, but seemed to take endlessly long to deliver. I also wonder what it would have been like if I had lived during those centuries of silence. Would I have held on in expectant faith till my last breath, or would I have given up, doubting as the years went by without any sign of fulfilment?

   But God operates in history at His own time and purpose, pulling the threads of lives, places and events together; weaving a tapestry of an intricate and complex pattern, beyond the comprehension of His creation that is but "a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales" (Isaiah 40:15, NKJV). And when He decides that the time has come to implement His promise, it begins at a most unlikely source - an old priest, rendered impotent by his age and his barren, childless wife. When God delivers the news to him, Zechariah's matter-of-fact response seeps with the faithlessness that plagues even the best of us: "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years." (Luke 1:18, NKJV). Contemplating God's methodology, the natural tendency is to wonder if He could have perhaps chosen more "capable" candidates. But then I am reminded that even in this there is purpose, for "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence." (1 Corinthians 1:27-29, NKJV).

   Reading the Advent passage of the day (Luke 1:68-71) from John Piper's devotional, "Good News of Great Joy",  I was struck by what he had to say regarding Zechariah after the birth of his son: "Now, filled with the Holy Spirit, he is so confident of God’s redeeming work in the coming Messiah that he puts it in the past tense. For the mind of faith, a promised act of God is as good as done."

    Bringing my devotional time to a close, I was reminded of a short but interesting text message I had received on my cellphone many years ago, regarding God's timing:

"Don't run ahead of God,
Don't lag behind.
God's clock is neither early nor late,
It always strikes on time."

   "Now the long-awaited visitation of God was about to happen", wrote John Piper. "...indeed, he was about to come in a way no one expected." May we look forward expectantly to His coming this Christmas.
- The Wisdom Seeker

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent 2012, Day 2: With Us, For Our Sake

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive
and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."
- Isaiah 7:14, NKJV

   "We needed not only God for us, but God with us." That insightful observation came from Kelly Boyce, writing for the second instalment of Gordon-Conwell's Advent devotional. Contemplating the passage of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, the emphasis fell on the latter half of verse 5:

" you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake." - 1 Thess. 1:5, NKJV

   Noting the incarnational principle referenced by the Apostle Paul, Boyce reminded me that "...Christ joined our world, felt the full range of human emotion and experienced for himself our struggles and joys." Those words of comfort mean much to me this Advent, looking back on the sometimes winding and bumpy road that I have travelled this year. 

   Remembering the Child that was born, the Son that was given, the fire of God's word that would light the darkness [3], I am reminded that God did not treat His undertaking as a project to a nameless and faceless population. The coming of the Son, the "..glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14, NKJV) was not purposed and defined by much that marks our human endeavours - constraints of time and resources; efficiency; paperwork; numerical projections; bean counting; statistical and simulation models; profit-loss margins; return on investment. Rather, the sending of His Son is demonstrated as the loving act of a personal God who shows Himself as "Father", of whom it is said "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16, NKJV). And like His Father, it is written that the Son looked upon the hapless humanity that He had come to, and when "...He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd." (Matthew 9:36, NKJV).

"..among you for your sake."
The presence, compassion and comfort of Jesus, who comes among us this Christmas.

   I am reminded of the words of A. W. Tozer, writing on the character of God in his book "The Knowledge of The Holy": "The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing, too. God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end. In Chistian experience there is a highly satisfying love content that distinguishes it from all other religions and elevates it to heights far beyond even the purest and noblest philosophy. This love content is more than a thing; it is God Himself in the midst of His Church singing over His people."
"..among you for your sake."
The love of God, personally present in the midst of His Church.

     John Piper, reflecting on "Mary's Magnificat" in Luke 1:46-55, reminded me of Mary's reflection of the personal occupation of God in the midst of directing history: "...for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant" (Luke 1:48, NKJV). "The most important three decades in all of time are about to begin", says John Piper, "And where is God? Occupying himself with two obscure, humble women—one old and barren (Elizabeth), one young and virginal (Mary)." [2]

"..among you for your sake."
The Almighty God of history, who condescends to occupy Himself with the lowly and obscure.

   I was reminded of the following verse from the book of Hebrews, as I brought my second day of Advent devotions to a close: 

"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,
but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."
- Hebrews 4:15, NKJV
- The Wisdom Seeker


Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent 2012, Day 1: A Fire Lights The Darkness

"'Is not my word like a fire?', says the Lord..." - Jeremiah 23:29, NKJV

"Gather ‘round that fire this Advent season. It is warm. It is sparkling with colours of grace. It is healing for a thousand hurts. It is light for dark nights." - John Piper

   This is the first post of December, and the beginning of Advent as Christmas approaches. As a tumultuous year of challenges, ups and downs, achievements and setbacks draws to a close, I wanted to try something different this year that would make Christmas relevant and meaningful. Realizing that I had never engaged in serious devotion during the season of Advent, I have decided to attempt a daily following of readings and meditation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary [1], as well as John Piper's Advent devotional readings "Good News of Great Joy" from Desiring God [2]. I hope to do so everyday, and post my own thoughts in the light and comfort that they shed on my own life and journey as I look both backward on the road to here, and forward to the road ahead.

   "Jesus is not lonely....We, not He, are starving for something. And what Jesus wants for Christmas is for us to experience what we were really made for—seeing and savouring his glory." So began John Piper in introduction, referencing the words of Christ in John 17:24. Those words brought me up short, startled by their directness. Besieged, embattled, tired, weary, struggling, worn down - those would be some of the embellishments I would add to that choice descriptor, "starving." To see and savour His glory, to know the name that He has made known; aye, I want that. I really need that. I would gladly run to take shelter in the warmth of that comfort that Christ offers to the weary soul.

But where must I start? What must I do?

   Both Gordon-Conwell and John Piper pointed me to historical reminders of the human condition, plainly stated truths of the word of God in Isaiah 11:1-9 and Luke 1:16-17 respectively - that my problem is first vertical and internal before it is external and horizontal. I suffer in body, mind, heart and spirit because of the disobedience and rebellion against a holy God that I have been part of because of my very human lineage. The "...turpitude of mankind that resides in the sinews of our sinful hearts,...the base desire to claim the rights and privileges that belong exclusively to the Father" has indeed taken its heavy, heavy toll. "Christmas is an indictment", said John Piper, "before it becomes a delight." As I contemplate my own, largely public failings with the prayer of Ps. 139:23-24, the "pound of flesh" that must be paid for our rebellion with a clenched fist against Heaven is heavy indeed.

   What hope, then, does someone like me have? "By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan," said Isaiah, "in Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined...For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgement and justice from that time forward even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." - Isaiah 9:1b-2 6-7, NKJV

   There. That's what I need. The Child that is born, the Son that is given. He is the promised fire of the word of God that I'm waiting for, the fire that lights the deep darkness. I'm looking forward to His arrival this Christmas.

- The Wisdom Seeker



Sunday, November 11, 2012

Of Whom The World Was Not Worthy

Standing with the persecuted church
"Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented - of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth." 
- Hebrews 11:35-38, NKJV
   Over the last week beginning November 4th with the International Day of Prayer [1], Willingdon Church participated in a week of prayer for persecuted Christians worldwide. At the culmination of this last week, we had the privilege of hearing Reverend Paul Johnson, Executive Director of Open Doors Canada [2] preach at Willingdon's sunday service today. I was fortunate to have the chance to have a long personal conversation with him after everyone had gone home.

    Much of what we talked about that was close to our own hearts - missions, evangelism, theology, truth, suffering, life, faith, practice, sacrifice, purpose - reminded me of my own convictions in post I had written a week or two ago, "To The Last Drop of Blood." In the process, I was also reminded of the verses of Hebrews 11:35-38 that I've quoted above.

   All of these challenge me once more as I examine my own life and conscience. I am reminded of my priorities and "first things", as one life among many others that have been called, more than an organization - a family. I am reminded that as much as my life and purpose are precious to God, so are those of others that form His church, of whom it is said, "a great multitude which no one could number, of all all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues." Where then, are my thoughts and concern for them, in the midst of all that crowds into my life clamouring for my attention? I was convicted by Rev. Johnson's observation during his sermon, that he found his own prayer life in want of fervor and discipline in comparison to those fellow believers whom he has encountered of the persecuted church around the globe. Is too much comfort and too little devotion slowly asphyxiating me? 

   I was also reminded by my Bible that while I am often found living my life in silent contemplation of my own "bubble world", a great cry has been heard in heaven. Blood cries out from the ground and voices have not been silent in heaven, of those whose blood has been spilt on account of the Christ they have followed, because they " did not love their lives, even unto death" :

"...I saw under the altar, the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" - Revelation 6:9-10, NKJV

While the blood and voices of the slain cry out on their own behalf,
why is mine not heard on behalf of the church that is being dragged to the slaughter?
And when asked of me, am I willing to join them?

     "Watch and pray," Jesus said, "lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Just as I am in desperate need of the good news of the Gospel preached to me everyday while struggling along the path of sanctification, so too do I need a daily reminder of what that entails in my life as part of the larger family in which I find myself:

"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnared us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." - Hebrews 12:1-2, NKJV

- The Wisdom Seeker


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Searing Ruination of Stolen Water

 “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s hard to get it back in.”- H. R. Haldeman

   "CIA Chief Resigns Over Extra-Marital Affair" [1] were the startling, yet matter-of-fact words that populated one news site as it displayed. But I doubt if any sentence summarizes the gravity and tragedy of this episode, and every other like it, as the opening words of a similar article on another news site [2]:

"Only two people know how the affair started, 
but the world knows now about its inglorious end."

Image: AP Reuters
   I cannot help but feel sad as the words of Proverbs 5:14 come to mind and I look at the photograph of the man at the centre of this unfolding story, the latest in a long line of such tragedies. He wears his neatly starched and pressed uniform so well, the olive of his uniform complementing the green of his piercing eyes, his hair parted neatly to match. Smart, capable, handsome, distinguished, accomplished, decorated, recognized, respected, powerful, admired, saluted. The stars of rank on his shoulders and the decorations on his chest speak for themselves of his excellence in his profession, a man of discipline and action in war and peacetime. Credited with saving the military campaign on the frontlines and potential presidential material, yet it seems he has tragically failed at home.

   The director of the nation's foremost intelligence agency discovered in his marital unfaithfulness by the nation's foremost investigative agency. I don't know whether to interpret it as irony or comedy. What happened to you?, I find myself wondering. How did you get here? Perhaps he too is wondering the same right now.

   It seems only to add to the sorriness of the whole affair that this is no lackey, but a man brilliant in his capability and accomplishments, and acknowledged by his peers:

"...renowned for taking charge of the military campaigns..."

"...the best-known general of the post 9/11 wars..."

"...considered the nation's most well-known and popular military leader since Colin Powell"

" ordinary government official. He was the top man in the intelligence agency."

" of the outstanding general officers of his generation."

"...a shrewd thinker and hard-charging competitor."

" of our nation's most respected public servants....redefined what it means to serve and sacrifice for one's country."

It is sobering to be reminded of the emptiness of brilliant victories abroad, 
if we lose the battle to "forsake all others, to have and hold" at home

    This perhaps is the most important reminder for us as Christian men and women to take sober and careful heed of, for we fool ourselves if we imagine that we are mightier and stronger than those who have fallen and now regret. Lest we believe in our naivete that this plague afflicts only the apostate and unbeliever, we need only lift our eyes and take a cursory look at the landscape of Christendom. The carnage is open for all to see, inflicted upon marriages across churches and ministries, leadership and laity, by husbands and wives who forgot the severe warning of Scripture and let their guard down against the merciless onslaught upon themselves and their marriages:

"You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin." - Hebrews 12:4, NKJV

    Lest we also delude ourselves that this is a solitary episode of the few and far between variety, one need only look at the sad parade of public figures who have been engulfed and brought to personal and public ruination within the last few years alone. The Governors of South Carolina and New York [4-5], one of the most recognized faces of professional golf [7], a political candidate for the Republican presidential nomination [8-9] are but a few of those whose personal lives have been ransacked and their professional standing brought low.

   But in the end, it was the very last line at the end of one article that captured my attention and thoughts:

"Petraeus and his wife, Holly, live in Virginia. They have two grown children."

   This rather inconspicuous and bland sentence is where the true tragedy lies. In the end, it is the family that bears the brunt and pays the price of marital infidelity. I think of the many that I know who carry those scars, and of one woman in particular. Though married and with a family of her own, to this day is unable to speak about her father's infidelity toward her mother and the pain and heartbreak that it brought upon her during her growing years.

   Without fail, human beings prove over and over again that in attempting to break the law of God, we prove rather than disprove that it is right, and we bring heartbreak and ruination upon ourselves and those whom we have pledged to love. It was Cecil B. DeMille, producer of the movie The Ten Commandments who said: 

  "If man will not be ruled by God, he will certainly be ruled by tyrants - and there is no tyranny more imperious or more devastating than man's own selfishness, without law. We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them..."

    I doubt if I could conclude this sobering post better than the words of a father instructing his children in the book of Proverbs, words that are a grim reminder both to me and all men and women who would be faitful husbands and wives one day:

"Lest you give your honour to others, and your years to the cruel one;
Lest aliens be filled with your wealth, and your labours go to the house of a foreigner;
And you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed,
And say:
"How I have hated instruction,
And my heart despised correction!
I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers,
Nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me!
I was on the verge of total ruin,
In the midst of the assembly and congregation....

Do not lust after her beauty in your heart,
Nor let her allure you with her eyelids.
For by means of a harlot a man is reduced to a crust of bread;
And an adulteress will prey upon his precious life.
Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?
Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?

Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding ;
He who does so destroys his own soul.
Wounds and dishonour he will get, 
And his reproach will not be wiped away....

He did not know it would cost his life.
Now therefore, listen to me, my children;
Pay attention to the words of my mouth:
Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways,
Do not stray into her paths;
For she has cast down many wounded,
And all who were slain by her were strong men.
Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death."

- Proverbs 5:9-14, 6:28, 32-33, 7:24-26, NKJV

[1] CIA Chief Resigns Over Extra-Marital Affair
[2] CIA Chief Petraeus Resigns Over Affair
[3] Profile: General David Petraeus
[4] The Strange Persistence of Moral Sanity
[5] A Governor, A King and The Tragedy of Adultery
[6] The Age of Indiscretions: Moral Credibility and Political Leadership
[7] The Travail of Tiger Woods: Lessons Not To Be Missed
[8] For Christian Men: The Lessons of Herman Cain
[9] The Cain Mutiny: Character Doesn't End At The Bedroom Door
[10] Adultery Incorporated: The Infidelity Industry

Monday, November 5, 2012

To The Last Drop Of Blood

Image Credit: Andrej Anei [1]
   A sermon preached by Pastor John Neufeld at Willingdon Church two weeks ago has given me much to think about since I poured out some of my internal conflict and consternation in my last post. At the time, I was really wanting a new day [2] and a fresh start on a new chapter of life, after what seems to have been a rather trying year that has left me feeling rather drained.

   So it was, while trying to pick myself up off the ground and find the internal drive to get moving again, that the words of "What Real Life Looks Like" [3] spoke to me at a much needed moment, as Pastor John explored the following passage of the book of Philippians:

"..and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you for all your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again."
- Philippians 1:18-26, NKJV

   What do you desire more than anything else? What are the things you passionately look to have? What do you think is the example of a successful human being? What does success look like? And what are the things in your life that you would sacrifice, and what are the things that under no circumstances would you ever sacrifice if you had that chance? These were some of the opening questions of the sermon that gave me cause to pause and reflect. They brought back memories of my own convictions that I have come to over the years on these matters, and words that I have in effect written to myself to this effect on this blog as reminders. I took a good, hard look at a Mission Statement sitting on my desk that I had written out for myself seven years ago, a fresh graduate at the end of my undergraduate program in Engineering. The words and convictions are still the same, yet the man behind them has changed, grown, undergone metamorphosis, chrysalis...

So what answer do I have for those questions, with where I find myself?

    An answer to those questions emerged as Pastor John worked his way through his sermon. 

   Thinking about the situation in which I've found myself over the last two months - out of a job and looking for work, I find that I can intellectually assent to the statement that "hardships are opportunities", but struggling to find out what that looks like in my situation on the ground or how to get to where I'm supposed to go. To tell the truth, sometimes I've just felt dead on the inside in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of this current episode, trying my best to keep things from falling apart, get back up and barely hanging on in the process. Planted between my situation and opportunity stand the determined foes of my own self, with whom I must do battle: my inertia, lethargy, apathy, dejection, despair, resignation.  

The foe is not out there, he is in here - in my mind and heart.

   If this, as Pastor John explained, is "what real life looks like", I don't stand a chance of making it through on my own. If anything, that should be the lesson that I should learn from this episode, if not from those of the last several years - that the resources are not in me to make it through. I really need help.
   It was the reminder of Jesus that brought things into focus for me. After all, who else has been the core subject of all that I have written and thought about? Who else has been the companion of this fool in search of Wisdom? It is really He that has been the cause of every post that I have written, and Him that I have thought about as I conclude every one of them. All of this has been written for and about Him. All that has motivated and driven me to do anything worthwhile has been my love for Christ, and Christ alone.

"But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."
- Acts 20:24, NKJV

   That sentence, from the mouth of the Apostle Paul, is the answer of the Word of God that I latched on to. It brings into perspective everything that has happened to me - everything I have written to myself; every conviction that I have held; every resolution and promise that I have made; every up and down; every setback; every hardship; every heartbreak; every loss and gain; every abandonment and rejection; every failure and disappointment; every sorrow and anguish. None of these things must move me, because they are not the end goal. They do not matter if the sole purpose of my life is not to preserve it, but to lose it.

   This, I think, is the reminder that will help me get back up and keep moving forward - "nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy." My life is not precious to me, to be held on to tightly and kept comfortable. I will pour it out for the sake of Christ and others, till the last drop of blood is gone, and there is nothing left to give anymore. This is my purpose. And when that has been done, I will have reached my finish line and I will go to the home that awaits me [4] in the Land of the Living [5].

   The greatest obstacle of my life is my self; the greatest purpose - to pour everything out for Christ, till the last drop of my life and blood is gone; the greatest gain - to go home to Him.

    It's been a struggle to find the right words to write this, but I feel better now. I think a words of a hymn that is also my prayer are appropriate to conclude this post:

O Thou, who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart!

There let it for Thy glory burn,
With inextinguishable blaze
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayer, and fervent praise

Jesus, confirm my heart's desire,
To work and speak, and think for Thee
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up Thy gift in me

Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith, and love repeat
Till death Thy endless mercy seal,
And make my sacrifice complete
- Charles Wesley

    These were the words with which I began last year. I'm glad I was reminded of them as this year begins to draw to a close. Everything, till the last drop of blood is gone.
- The Wisdom Seeker

[1]  Blood Drop
[3] "What Real Life Looks Like", John Neufeld, October 21st at Willingdon Church
[4] Where Is Home?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Can I Have A New Day?

"I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted
And gave him a new one, all unspotted..."
   It's approaching almost 2 months since my last post. As the weeks went by, things seemed to have almost ground to a halt on this blog, and people have been asking why - over e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and of course, in person. The curious thing was that I myself didn't really have an answer for them. 

     So I'm sitting down this evening, after what seems like years, to put my thoughts to the keys and sort through out what has been happening to me. And hopefully, to pick up writing again for those who have expressed how much the sharing of my life has meant to them.

     A number of things have happened since I penned my thoughts on the road and choice of suffering those two months ago. Perhaps it was the greatest irony  that the week after, I was blindsided by news that was difficult to swallow and changed the course of the year. After the initial shock wore off, that more than anything else has taken the last month to get back up from. "What a year this is turning out to be," I remember thinking to myself at the time.

     In the course of things, I was reminded of the following poem that I had heard quoted in a talk a long time ago. It quite aptly expresses my thoughts and feelings over the last two months or so.

Do Better Now, My Child

He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done.
“Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher? I’ve spoiled this one.”
I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted,
And gave him a new one all unspotted
And into his tired heart I cried,
“Do better now, my child.”

I went to the throne with a trembling heart, the day was done.
“Have you a new day for me, dear Master? I’ve spoiled this one.”
He took my day, all soiled and blotted,
And gave me a new one all unspotted
And into my tired heart he cried,
“Do better now, my child.”
- Kathleen Wheeler

     I guess that's how I often feel as I look back on some days and weeks - that I'm looking at soiled and blotted sheets of paper, and wishing I could "get things right." I sometimes feel very much like the little boy in the poem about to burst into tears, having made an effort to do what was asked of me with a clean sheet of paper, but more often than not feeling like I've made a complete mess of things. I tell myself that I need more discipline, more order, more effort, to be more proactive, more efficient, more organized, more attitude, more...No. Please, God. No more. I can't do any "more." 

Grace. That's what I need. I really, really need grace.

    Trying harder isn't helping much. And like the poem, my body, mind, heart and soul are tired. Tired from trying, failing, falling down and getting back up again, only to go through it again the next day. In the effort to get my life back on track and in the middle of an uncertain time, I find myself like that boy and his teacher, coming to my Heavenly Father at the end of this day with that one question - "Can I have a new day, God?"

    I'm not sure how long this time of uncertainty and flux will go on. I find myself really longing for light at the end of the tunnel, for things to return to "normal" again. But then again, what is "normal" in the Christian life? In a way, I guess nothing is. I suppose that's what grace really means - a new sheet from God at the  beginning of every day, a new chance as we stumble along the path of sanctification, on the bumpy, twisting road that takes us heavenward.

   Have you a new sheet for me, dear God? I've spoilt this one, but I'll leave today where it is and look forward to tomorrow.
- The Wisdom Seeker

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I Will Suffer. And Suffer Well.

"It's granted to you, it's given to you, it's a gift to you, with a big bow, that you will suffer."
- John Piper

   Today at Willingdon, the sermon happened to be about a topic that I haven't written about on this blog for quite some time - more than a year, in fact. It was about God's role in the reality of pain and suffering, appropriately titled "How Can A Good God Allow Suffering?" [1]

   The sermon itself was powerfully delivered and convicting in what Pastor John had to say. But it wasn't what he said that I ended up thinking about over the course of the afternoon and evening, as much as I thought about my own heart and convictions. I remembered the little that I had reflected and written about pain and heartbreak in this tiny online journal of my own story, especially the personal decisions that I had come to as a result of those experiences.  It seems that things have been brought back to that today.

   Among the forefront of those memories was the death of my friend Yeswanth, who was tragically killed in an accident at the age of 28 early last year. I had written about him in the post "Death Came Calling And Took My Friend" and the posts that followed [3 - 5]. I still think about him on occasion, and the impact that it had on my perspective on life. Today was one such occasion.

    Some hours ago, I listened to John Piper's "Christ and Cancer", delivered at Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980. The words of that sermon in turn reminded me of this video excerpt delivered at a conference, titled "You Will Suffer":

    So where does all of this leave me today, looking back at all that I have heard, experienced, written and thought about over the years? What am I going to do with what I know in my heart to be true? And in the midst of my contemplation, two words were spoken in my heart in that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit that I have come to know and recognize so well:

"Suffer well."

   He did not have to say any more. I understood. Many years ago, as my life was crumbling around me, I had made Him a promise, a commitment - that whatever happened to me, I would stay with Him, if only He would give me the grace to do so. I have learned since then that that is a dangerous thing to say; it is not for the faint of heart, for God takes those kinds of prayers seriously and acts on them.

   God responded by systematically and painfully stripping me of all that I had built my identity on. The emotional crutches that held me up; the affinity for the comfortable life of indulgence; my security; my agenda; my little plans within the little bubble that I had constructed; my "self" - self-esteem, self-worth, self-help, self-sufficiency, self-ishness, self-centredness, self-exaltation, self-indulgence, self-interest and all the illusions with which I pampered myself. In fact, it has never ended; it still goes on today, everyday as layer by layer is exposed and torn off without mercy.

   The hammering on God's anvil has been painful, and it will not stop until the day I die. But it has been what He wants and that I needed - to be changed, conformed to the image of His dear Son. And that is not just worth living for; it is worth dying for.

   My Master calls me to suffer. Yes, suffer. Suffer with Him, suffer for Him. For His pleasure, for His glory, that those who see it will be compelled to fall to their knees, lift their hands to the heavens and confess that "Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." So with Peter and John in the book of Acts, I count it joy "to be shamed for The Name."

   There is no room for hesitation or indecisiveness as I look down the road. His bloody feet have walked this path for me, doing for me what I could not do for myself; He has gone on ahead of me to show me the way, and I see the blood-stained prints marking the road that I must follow. There are no promises, no guarantees that things will go well on this road. No promises of health, wealth and prosperity in this life. No promises of stability and personal success, but that every need will be met. No promises of social acceptance, attention and approval, but that I will have His respect and approval, which is the only respect that matters. No promises of the "good life". No promises that every prayer will be answered, but that every prayer will be heard. No promises that my heart will not be broken a thousand times over, but that His grace will be sufficient, and that He will be enough.

There is only one simple, clear command: "Come. Follow Me."
 I have only one simple, clear reply: "Yes, Master. I will come with You."
   So I reject it all. I reject this notion of "the good life." I reject this tendency for self-preservation, to keep my life comfortable at all cost. I reject this craving for more stuff, more trinkets to accumulate for myself. I reject the culture of this world and everything it stands for in its abandonment of God and truth. I reject this contempt for the elderly and unborn. I reject the mockery that is made of marriage and family, manhood and womanhood. I reject the notion that I need not suffer, should not suffer, will not suffer.

"Then I said, 'Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God,
And Your law is written in my heart."
- Psalm 40:7-8, NKJV

[1] How Can A Good God Allow Suffering?
[2] Death Came Calling, And Took My Friend
[3] He's Dead. What Does That Mean?
[4] Is He There? Does He Care?
[5] Help, God. It Hurts
[6] When God Wants To Drill A Man...
[7] The Perfume Within The Pain 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Birthday Reflections

"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
shall abide under the shadow of the almighty" -
Ps. 91:1
   Another birthday has come and gone in the three months since I've last posted. So much has happened, so much has changed - especially me. Time on God's clock has ticked away, but it has not been idle or wasted. 

   Through trial, doubt, difficult questions of life and faith, discouragement, disappointment, obedience, submission, chastisement, fervent prayer and supplication, hot days and cool nights, laughter, joy, happiness and contentment - the Grand Weaver of my soul has been quietly and powerfully working in the background as He has pulled yet more threads of the tapestry of my life together. 

   By His grace and mercy, He has allowed me to emerge from His hammering on the anvil tested and refined - kept in faith by the power of God and through His Holy Spirit working mightily in my heart; strong, unmoved, resilient, steadfast, grateful, humbled, repentant, softer, kinder, gentler, and sure -

sure of my faith and in Him who I believe, 
sure of Him who has called and sustains me, 
sure of my salvation, sure of my destiny, 
sure of my future, and what awaits me
sure of His holiness, sure of His justice
sure of  my sin, and His wrath upon it
sure of His mercy, sure of His grace
sure of His kindness and His power to save

sure of my Christ, sure of His Cross,
sure of leaving all that is loss
sure of His word, sure of its power
sure of His name, a strong tower
sure of His gospel, sure of its truth
sure of its message, sure of its proof
sure of His Spirit, sure of His presence
sure of His voice that speaks in the stillness

sure that I'm sure, sure Whom I know
sure where I've come from, and to Him I'll go.

   This birthday gone by was a good time for reflecting, and remembering God's work in my life. I found it fitting that the Psalm reading of the day before was Psalm 90, and that of my birthday was Psalm 91. Together, they reminded me of my fleeting mortality, the constancy and eternity of God, His worthiness of all glory and worship, and His power to sustain and guide me through life. I spent part of the afternoon doing a photoshoot at Deep Cove in North Vancouver, taking photos that I thought were personally significant and connected with my Psalm readings. I thought I'd post them and the verses that they were related to here:

"Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or You had ever formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
- PS. 90:1-2, NKJV

"For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night...
We finish our years like a sigh.
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labour and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off and we fly away
Who knows the power of Your anger?
For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath
So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

-Ps. 90:4, 9b-12, NKJV

"Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.

He shall be like a tree

Planted by the rivers of water
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper

- Ps. 1:1-3, NKJV

    What a great, gracious and merciful God, who has allowed me to see the end of another year in my life, and the start of the next year. Though I have been unfaithful, He has been faithful. Though I have faltered, He has remained the steadfast rock of my refuge. Though I have been undeserving, He has been gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in His steadfast love. I'm looking forward to the days ahead.

     It's good to be back after a long break. See you in the next post!
- The Wisdom Seeker

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Nothing Is Impossible: The Gospel and My Grandfather

"When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying 'Who then can be saved?' But Jesus looked at them and said to them, 'With men this is impossible but with God all things are possible." - Matthew 19:25-26, NKJV

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." - Romans 1:16, NKJV

My mother and "new" grandfather!
   It was 6AM on the 20th of April. Tired, sleepy and worn out with more than a day's journey and almost 24 hours of flying time to India, I stepped forward and pressed the doorbell. My sister was beside me, my aunt and uncle behind us after having driven us home from the airport. Tired as I was, I also felt and expectant thrill. A few minutes later, the door opened and I was looking at the face of a very old, but very happy man. 

   "Hello, son!", said my 90-year old maternal grandfather with a smile, reaching forward to hug me. His voice had aged, grown softer, yet still deep and clear. The thrill I felt was not just seeing him again after more than six years. It was not just the sense of nostalgia or the familiarity of childhood memories. In a very real way, I was looking at what I had thought impossible. I was meeting my grandfather for the first time as a new Christian after he had given his life to Christ two years ago at the age of 88, while I was in Canada.

    From what I understood of my mother's memories of her parents, the spiritual difference between my maternal grandfather and grandmother could not have been more different when they got married. M. J. John was a Christian only by label, who had very little knowledge or interest in his faith, though he had sung in the choir in his childhood church while growing up. His wife Mercy was the complete opposite. My mother described her as someone who "loved going to church and participating in the liturgy, not just as a ritual or out of duty but because she loved God and loved being part of the church." My mother credits her mother for any spiritual input and notion of God that she was given while growing up.

   With his God-given talent, communication ability and hard work, my grandfather ascended in business as the manager for all of India for a Swedish company. Health, wealth, power, prestige, influence, the 'good life' of the elite - he had everything that is coveted and considered the marks of those who have "arrived." But his spiritual life was almost nonexistent. Having made it all, he set out on a business venture to start and run his own company, was cheated by his business partners and lost everything.

   It was shortly after this that my mother was married and I was born. Relying on his own ability and stubborn will, my grandfather started a number of businesses over the years, both in India and Dubai. He made and spent what I heard were massive amounts of money. Through it all, he remained a loving and doting grandfather, who lavished love, affection and presents on me and my sister when she joined us 10 years later. But his heart towards God had not changed; he still relied on other sources for guidance, and relied on his will and human effort.

   When my parents came to saving faith and gave their lives to Christ shortly before my sister was born, my mother (who is a strong woman of prayer) began to fervently pray for her father's salvation. Nothing happened. She prayed, shared the gospel with him, lived out her faith, shared her testimony with him. Nothing happened. She humbled herself, prayed and wept, fasted, pleaded with my grandfather in tears, loved and cared for him. Nothing happened. When I accepted Jesus as my personal Saviour, I shared my testimony with him, prayed, loved, pleaded, argued. We began praying for him as a family, along with many others who knew and cared for him. Nothing seemed to happen.

This went on for more than 20 years.

   Time went by. My grandmother passed away. My grandfather went through his sixties, seventies and eighties. It looked like nothing would change.

   And then, two years ago, I got a phone call from my mother telling me what I had given up hope of hearing - that my Grandfather had given his life to Christ. During a visit by a relative who was a pastor, he had broken down and cried over his life and all that had happened to him. The pastor faithfully led him through a prayer of repentance and salvation that committed his life to Christ. When my mother visited him on vacation, she bought him a Bible with large print that he could easily read. He started going to a church close by - the same Mar Thoma parish that my late paternal grandparents used to go to. He still goes there.

   When I visited my grandfather after six long years, I bought him Billy Graham's latest book, written in his nineties, as a present - "Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well." I hoped that it would minister to my grandfather, having been written by someone of his own age group. I had the privilege of giving it to him as an advance present for his 90th birthday.

   In turn, I was stunned when my grandfather told me that he had read the entire Bible twice, cover to cover and was starting on it a third time. During the time that I was there, I realized that I had never in my life heard him use the words 'God' and 'grace' as many times as he did during my nine-day vacation. My eyes filled with tears as I once saw him eagerly turning through the pages of the book that I had brought him. It now sits on the coffee table next to his favourite chair in the living room.

Appachen's present beside his favourite chair
   The story of my grandfather's salvation is a story of the impossible, and the power of faith to triumph over circumstances through persevering, fervent and humble prayer by our family. It is a demonstration of the truth of God's unstoppable will and power and the mighty work of His Holy Spirit to bring people to salvation through the gospel. And in a very real and personally relevant way, it shows me the power of faith, hope and love as described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 to persevere through difficult circumstances, move mountains, overcome impossible odds and demolish obstacles. My mother persevered in prayer for her father for 20 long years, and though it seemed God was deaf and silent, He was working in the background to bring things to pass.

   Dear reader, what is it that you need in your life? No situation or circumstance is impossible for my almighty, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present God. His power defies description. Everything is possible, if only you believe in Him. I pray that my grandfather's story will strengthen and encourage you, and leave you with these two promises from the mouth of Jesus Himself:

"And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." 
- Matthew 21:22, NKJV

"And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it." - John 14:14, NKJV

God bless. May the Lord be with you!
- The Wisdom Seeker

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

To India and Back Again

   This is a quick post before I go to bed (again), after having woken up about an hour ago. I'm still trying to recover from the accompanying jet lag after returning from a vacation trip to India on Sunday. I thought I'd use these few minutes to update the blog. I was too busy to write while on my trip, and didn't have access to an internet connection everyday to do so.

    I was visiting my hometown in India after more than six years. After finishing my undergraduate and spending some months with my grandfather and other relatives, I had left at the end of 2005 to move to Canada to study, work and live here. My main objective on this vacation trip was to spend as much time with my only surviving grandparent (my maternal grandfather) as possible. He is turning 90 in June, and had not seen me since I had left. As he has grown older since I have been away, he has grown increasingly anxious to see me, not knowing when the time will come for God to call him home.

     The  nine days that my mother, sister and I spent together with him were wonderful. As I write this after having gotten off the phone with him, he is still very much healthy and happy and I hope God will grant him many more years to live.

     Aside from the time spent with my grandfather, this trip was a wonderful time spent revisiting childhood places, memories and people. But it was also a time for reflection, as I took in the shifts that have occurred in the land, culture, economy, people, places, and attitude. Although much has changed, much has also remained the same.

    Over the next few days, I hope to process some of those experiences of my nine-day vacation and the accompanying lessons that I feel God has imparted to me through them. I will also be sharing some of the photos and videos that I took on the trip, which I hope readers will enjoy!

     Until then, it's time to go back to bed and hopefully get back to my usual waking and sleeping schedule. Vancouver is telling my body it's time to go to sleep; India is telling my body it's late in the morning and I should have got out of bed a long time ago. Till next time, good night and may the Lord be with you!
- The Wisdom Seeker