Saturday, March 31, 2012

In Search of "Holy Ground"

"Take the sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground."
- Exodus 3:5, NKJV

   With all that I have experienced over the last two weeks, along with their accompanying realizations have brought me to a point where I think I can understand what has been happening inside me. Given all that has transpired in my spiritual history since childhood, I think my mind and heart are longing and searching for a true, safe and personal "holy ground" on which to meet with God.

   Over the last couple of years, I have come to realize that I am essentially the product of the influence of five different Christian groups and their church environments - the Mar Thoma, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal/Charismatic and currently, a rather unconventional Mennonite church. I must honestly admit that sometimes I really don't know what that makes me - a hybrid, an accident, a freak, an anomaly? I will admit that it sometimes causes me consternation and confusion in my communion with other sincere Christians, and on occasion even my walk with God. With the kind of personality that I have, experiencing disunity and conflict in the Christian community causes me personal distress. Sometimes, looking back on troubling experiences across this spiritual terrain makes me feel frustrated and angry to the point where a lump forms in my throat, a tightness grips my chest and I want to cry.

    Much of this was not necessarily by choice, but simply the result of following the decisions of my family as they shifted congregations over my growing years. With that came an exposure to differences in doctrine, teaching, church structure,  understanding of true infallible authority - the Scripture or the Church, interpretation of Scripture, claims, counter-claims, arguments, divisions within churches that lead to splits, false teaching, and a myriad of other experiences that led to personal angst and turmoil. I should express at this point that I'm not bitter or ungrateful for all that I have journeyed through; I have learned much, gained a perspective that helps me relate to different congregations and been blessed by God through all, but I also know at the same time that I struggle to understanding why it had to be so. And with that question comes a struggle to figure out the right way for me to approach God. But let me start at the beginning.

My paternal grandfather's parish church
Image Copyright: Salem Mar Thoma Church
   My family originates from an apostolic-era church in India that traces its origins to the first century, and the arrival of the Apostle Thomas in India, and now carries his name - the Mar Thoma [1]. I have written in some detail in earlier posts about some of my childhood experiences in that church, where my late paternal grandparents used to attend, and the imprint that it left on me [2-3]. I am hoping to visit my late grandfather's little Mar Thoma parish when I visit India on vacation next month. Although I spent very little time in the Mar Thoma church environment (only visiting it with my grandfather during summer vacations in India), the impression of "sanctity" with which it imprinted me was not too different from that of the next two churches that were quite foundational in their influence - the Anglican and Roman Catholic.

Holy Trinity Church
Image Copyright: Gulf News
   When my family moved abroad when I was about three, we began regularly attending an Anglican church called "Holy Trinity", which was foundational in my spiritual formation as a child. It was there that I first started going to Sunday School, learned my first lessons about God, the stories of the Bible and received my first Bible (a little children's Good News Bible with a yellow hardback cover and beautifully illustrated). I learned to start reading the Bible for the first time on my own as a child, not really understanding what was going on, but finding the stories fascinating. I remember the kindness and dedicated efforts of my Sunday School teachers, many of whose names and faces I still remember. 
Rev. Dennis Gurney
Like my grandfather's Mar Thoma parish, Holy Trinity imprinted me with the sense of "sanctity" in my approach to God, as I witnessed their formal and traditional, yet reverent and meaningful liturgy that was derived from Scripture. It didn't seem that way to me as a child, yet I appreciate and understand the spirit and intention behind it as I look back on it now. With it's soaring triangular roof and silent sanctuary, it awed me as a child, yet the presence of the pastor who ministered there (Reverend Dennis Gurney) gave it a warm and comforting feeling at the same time. Holy Trinity was my first definite encounter with the notion, idea and person of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the message of the Christian faith - creation, sin, judgement, Christ, His Cross, death and ressurection as a child. Though the time had not come for the power of the Gospel to penetrate my heart there, Holy Trinity Church faithfully sowed the seed, placed a Bible in my hands for the first time, taught me to immerse myself in it, and kept the ground of my heart ready. 

Sister Fosca Berardi
   It was while the Anglican church was imprinting me with the foundational lessons of the Christian faith that I was also simultaneously being imprinted through the influence of Roman Catholicism at the school that I spent all my school life in - St. Mary's Catholic High. An international school run by Italian nuns, I have fond memories of them for the kindness and affection that they showed to my mother and I. Sister Fosca Berardi, the headmistress, was an elderly lady crippled by polio as a child. Yet she faithfully served there for 30 years with dedication and sincerity; I remember watching this little nun with a mix of curiosity and admiration as I saw her limp across the school grounds to her various duties and classes that she taught, wondering at her courage and determination. She loved my mother, and always had a smile for me whenever she saw me. Sister Josephina was the nun who I was probably closest to; she ran the school bookstore and always had a smile and present for me when I used to come around to visit her during my kindergarten years. I think it was from her that I sensed the most love and affection, with her bright blue eyes that lit up when she saw me, and warm smile. Of all the nuns that watched me grow up from kindergarten to the end of high school, I think it's her that I probably miss the most.
Sister Josephine
  I believe it was at St. Mary's that I had my first encounter with conflict within the Christian faith. Going through the instruction of the Catholic Cathecism in religion class over many years, I understood the perspective and approach of Roman Catholic theology quite well by the time I left. It also led to a lot of debates and occasional arguments with my Cathecism teachers, some of whom didn't seem to have answers for the questions that I asked. In the process, I realized the fundamental issue of authority that divided both sides - is Scripture the only and infallible authority through which God speaks to all people within the church and to which all believers must absolutely submit, to derive it's doctrine and teaching? Or does the church itself possess infallible authority given to her leadership to interpret the Bible and decide on matters of faith for believers? The implications of both are tremendous; is is from this that all differences across the Protestant-Catholic divide flow - understanding the Gospel, justification, salvation, grace, sacramental theology, holiness, righteousness, the relationship of faith and works, and much more. Although I understood the perspective of Roman Catholic theology, my heart clung firmly to my Bible and remained trusting the Scripture as my only reliable guide.
   But as much as my immersion into Roman Catholicism brought me into my first experience of conflict, it also had much good that it imprinted me with, as I have come to realize [4]. Apart from it's reinforcement of "sanctity" and reverence in my relationship with God, it also challenged me with "the need for a robust moral theology, relationship of faith and reason, historical rootedness, emphasis on catechesis and spiritual formation" [4]. I think God is once again challenging me with those things today.

Baptized in India
   When my family decided to move to a Pentecostal/Charismatic congregation in the midst of my school years, I followed them. It's here that my experience gets muddled, and my greatest confusion begins. When the seed of the Gospel sown by Holy Trinity finally bore fruit and I came to saving faith in Christ as my personal Saviour during a summer vacation in India, it through a cousin of mine who gave his life to Christ in a Pentecostal church and led me to salvation too. It was my cousin's Pentecostal pastor who baptized me in a river in India, some years later. But after that, I don't really know how to describe the next 17 years of my journey through the Pentecostal/Charismatic congregations that I was part of, and it's probably this that causes me the greatest turmoil. I find it extremely difficult to concisely summarize what I heard or learned; I seemed to be spiritually "afloat" for a lot of the years  spent in various churches. There was very little theological instruction, but lots of emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, faith, healing, miracles, overcoming obstacles, experiential demonstration of the power of God through signs and wonders, prophecies, speaking in tongues, dynamic speakers, and everything else that accompanied them. There is no doubt that I saw awesome evidence of the miraculous power of God, in both my own life and the life of other believers. However, conflicting teaching, woolly theology, and lack of clear biblical exposition and preaching meant that my heart and mind were still not solidly grounded in a clear understanding of how to read and interpret Scripture, understand and walk with God, address the "tangible dimensions of our world", and wisdom for understanding the issues of life. And thus it was when crisis and shock hit my life, that I had no firm foundation to understand how to understand and deal with them. The last straw came five years ago, after which I backed out, and went looking for something theologically robust and concrete in my walk with God. I doubt if I would be comfortable going back.

   And thus it has become that I have spent the last five years at a rather unconventional Mennonite church. The gracious and merciful hand of God brought me here, knowing that I needed to be grounded in systematic and methodical teaching through the Scripture. He has helped me sort out some of my questions, clear misconceptions and grow in maturity. I still have a lot of questions, angst and issues to struggle through and find answers for. I know that what I need most is to know Scripture well, and am striving with all my effort to gain the necessary tools that I need, to build a strong and immovable foundation from which I can navigate through life. Though some clarity has come, there is still much that remains unanswered. I know that Willingdon is not the "perfect church" or "true church"; there is no such thing as a "perfect" church anywhere on this planet. I also don't know if it is God's will for me to stay here for the rest of my life; I am becoming more willing to surrender to Him and consider that He might have something different in mind. Like any other church, Willingdon contains a body of broken and sinful people who need the grace of God and the good news of the Gospel, just like everyone else. And among them, I'm the one who probably needs it the most.

   I used the term "holy ground" in this post to describe what I am searching for - a place of spiritual truth and certainty in my mind and heart, where I can meet God without being plagued by theological confusion and doubt, and worship Him in Spirit and in truth. With the history and influence of these five different congregations within Christianity converging in my life, I am trying to sort through the good and significant lessons that each has taught me, and figure out how I can integrate them - Scripture as my only reliable guide, yet preserving reverence, sanctity, deep and meaningful liturgical worship, piety, devotion, faith and reason, catechesis, spiritual formation, the charismatic power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, robust moral theology, and other important aspects of each. Is this even possible? I don't know at the moment, but I want to find out. And I think I know where to start - Holy Scripture. 
- The Wisdom Seeker

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Recovering "Sanctity"

"And He said, 'Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.' And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper." 
- 1 Kings 19:11-12, ESV

"But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him." 
- Habbakuk 2:20, ESV

sanc.ti.ty (noun): 
holiness; sacred or hallowed character; anything regarded as sanctified or holy

   It has been one week since the flashback of my late grandfather's life, his parish church and the liturgical hymns that I heard him sing [1], and the impact of that experience has not faded. Since then, I have begun to experience a stirring in my heart, an inner ache that I cannot quite find a word for. It was partly this that drove me to acquire a 442-year old copy of "The Book of Common Prayer" of the Church of England from an antique bookstore in downtown Vancouver last weekend [2]. I've occasionally wondered if this is just an unconscious attempt to just relive those memories, follow his example or seek comfort in childhood familiarity. That's what it initially seemed to be. But I don't think so anymore. Below the surface, I think God is moving my heart towards the a recovering of a sense of "sanctity" in my prayer and worship.

   In the process, I have developed an interesting hypothesis about how a child's  encounter with God in a church environment imprints them with how they see and approach Him later in life. I think it is beginning to help me make sense of how my own heart has been formed to experience God in congregational and private worship.

   I believe my first encounter with God was probably in my paternal grandfather's Mar Thoma parish in India as a child, before my parents and I moved to abroad. As in later memories when visiting India during summer vacations, it was the atmosphere within the church during those Sunday services that I remember as the defining impression - solemn, liturgical, filled with symbolism, yet deeply reverential and meaningful as I look back on it now. There was a sense of hushed respect that made me shut my mouth and watch, with an instinctive sense that I was not in the midst of an ordinary social gathering.

Holy Trinity Church, 1970
Image Copyright: Gulf News
   This imprint was only reinforced when my family moved abroad, and began attending an Anglican Church called "Holy Trinity", and I began going to a Roman Catholic international school, where I would spend all my school life. Of the two, it is Holy Trinity that I remember better, since that is where I spent my Saturdays, Sundays and other church occasions. The silent, empty sanctuary of Holy Trinity Church was an awe-inspiring place for me to walk into as a child - three massive triangles meeting together to form a soaring roof that seemed to disappear into the distance, and a massive Cross fixed to each triangle that I gazed at in awe during services, wondering what would happen if they were to fall on me. With a massive rock altar at the front and two marble pulpits on each side, it is still a place that I remember as having imprinted foundational lessons in my spiritual formation.

   But whether my Grandfather's little Mar Thoma parish, childhood Anglican church or Roman Catholic school, all three taught the same message of "sanctity" that I believe has left a deep and lasting imprint on my mind and heart - that I am in the presence of One who is Holy, and that His holiness is not a small matter to be taken lightly. The message that I  was thus taught as a child was simple, yet profound:

God is God. You are not. Take Him seriously. Meet Him in the manner that is appropriate: 
with reverence and sanctity.

    This sense of "sanctity" with which I was imprinted was to approach God in a reverent manner of quietness of mind and heart, that carried with it a contemplative silence in the spirit. It carried an internal sense that it was deeply improper and offensive to approach and treat my encounter with the great Jehovah in a light manner; that He must be given the dignity and respect that is due His majesty. It taught me that one does not adopt a casual posture and attitude of the heart and mind in front of Him. It impressed upon me a sense that one does not address God anyway one chooses, with any tone that one feels like, because He is not my "buddy".  He is God, and He is holy.

   I have come to believe that the manner and church environment in which a child encounters God shapes their impression of who He is and how they approach Him, sometimes for the rest of their lives. It imprints their character, approach and outlook on life, personality, even the kind of person that they are attracted to.

  After my family moved to a different congregation when I was  young, I have traversed different churches over the years. Some services that I have witnessed and participated in have had more resemblance to feel-good rock concerts that delivered a "high", than a reverential acknowledgement of the "separateness" of the Almighty that leaves a deep impression on the silent soul. Thus, over the years, I think the imprint and sense of "sanctity" with which I was taught to approach God as a child was buried in the process. But not erased, praise God. 

   I'm growing tired of jingoistic, feel-good but ultimately dissatisfying worship. I want to recover that sense of "sanctity" that I was imprinted with once more. I want to encounter God in reverence and awe, in the silence of mind and spirit. Like Elijah, I want to hear that still small voice of the Holy God whispering to me in the sacred silence, as my head is bowed, my eyes are closed and fervent lips silently recite the prayers which I have begun to learn from the Book of Common Prayer that I bought recently. Some of them, such as the Litany, are beautifully worded and expressed, with tremendous depth, touching on some of the deep cries and prayers of the heart. There is a silence not of this world, the divine silence of God that steals into the heart in sanctity of worship that calms, fills, comforts and satisfies in a manner as nothing else can.

  I am deeply thankful to the sense of sanctity that I was taught by the influence of my grandfather's little parish, my childhood Anglican church and Roman Catholic school. I believe God is resurrecting the buried imprint of those lessons in my life, and I don't want to lose them ever again.
- The Wisdom Seeker


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Visit To El Shaddai's...And Ancient Treasure!

   A few days ago, I had driven into Vancouver to visit a Christian bookstore operated by a friend of mine, Mica. El-Shaddai's Bookstore has been operating West Broadway for the last several years, and has decided to close down and liquidate their business. I have known Mica for a couple of years now, and she has been a faithful and encouraging friend, blessing the lives of everyone who walks into her store. I decided to see if I could help her liquidate, wondering if there might be any interesting books that I might be interested in.  I did not expect to come away with what I did.

   As I was browsing through the store, I noticed the items displayed behind the store window, and decided to take a closer look. As I walked out on to the sidewalk to get a closer look, my heart suddenly skipped a beat as I recognized something familiar on the upper display shelves. Propped against a display stand was a replica of "The Resolution" document from the movie "Courageous" that I had seen earlier this year! I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and I knew I had to have it. So I hurried back in and took it off the display shelf.

The Resolution
Designed to be a replica for personal use, this is an 8" x 10" frameable print, inked on premium acid-free paper, with foil detailing and beautiful lettering. It even has blank spaces on the bottom for the man's signature and date, and two witness's signatures and dates.  I can't believe I found something like this, and that too on sale! I feel so blessed!

I have decided that I will keep this as carefully as I can till the day I get married. One day, if the Lord wills, I will have the tremendous privilege of signing this document in front of the woman that I desire to marry and serve, and we will mount this on the wall of our home. I will do this, because I really want to live a courageous life. Until then, I will simply surrender my life and character to God, to be molded into the kind of man that will be able to live the principles of The Resolution with all my might by the grace of God.

   In addition to this, I also found Billy Graham's newest book, "Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well". I bought this for my only surviving grandfather whom I hope to see in India next month after many years. Looking at the words on the back of the book, I thought this would be a wonderful and  fitting present to give him: 

Nearing Home, by Billy Graham
"Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life," says Billy Graham, known by many as God's Ambassador. "I would have never guessed what God had in store for me, and I know that as I am nearing home, He will not forsake me the last mile of the way."

In Nearing Home this man of faith-now in his nineties-explores the challenges of aging while gleaning foundational truths from Scripture. Billy Graham invites us to journey with him as the considers the golden years while anticipating the hope of being reunited with his wife, Ruth, in his heavenly home that eclipses this world.

"When granted many years of life, growing old in age is natural, but growing old with grace is a choice," says the author. "Growing older with grace is possible for all who will set their hearts and minds on the Giver of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ."

   Like Billy Graham, my grandfather is now in his nineties, and I felt that the message of someone else his age would be very meaningful for him. Through the fervent, prayers of my mother and witness of many people over more than two decades, he finally gave his life to Christ at the age of 88. Since then, I have heard that he has read the Bible cover to cover - not once, but twice. This will be the first time in my life that I will be meeting my grandfather as a believer. I'm really looking forward to it.

   From El-Shaddai's it was off to another bookstore in downtown Vancouver specialising in antique books, where I was looking for something very specific, and very special. Like El-Shaddai's, I found more than I hoped for.

Ancient treasure!
 The red book on the far right is what I was actually looking for - an old service and prayer book. This one is an old edition of "The Book of Common Prayer," used in the services and liturgy of the Church of England. It was authorized by Queen Elizabeth I and printed in 1571, which makes it 442 years old! I have gradually started using it in my daily devotions and prayers, and will soon start looking out for other such books.

The little black book is a translation of "The Imitation of Christ", by Thomas A' Kempis. One of the great classics of Christian writing, my parents had a copy of it in our home when I was growing up. Having never read it, I wanted a copy of my own, so I was overjoyed when I saw it! This one is dated from 1909.

   I stumbled across the other two quite by accident. The orange book is titled "The Footsteps of Saint Paul" and is a carefully researched volume on the life and times of the Apostle Paul! I thought it would be invaluable to my endeavour to study the book of Romans. This copy was printed in 1856. The slightly green book on the far left is a history of the city of Jerusalem, titled "Jerusalem: A Historical Sketch", and was published in 1924.

So much to read!
   I will be keeping and using these very carefully. Hopefully, the material in them will be helpful to me personally and worth quoting from on this blog. Maybe it's time to buy some gloves to handle them with :)

   That's all for now. I have some thinking and praying to do. See you in the next post!
- The Wisdom Seeker

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Following Jesus Into The Downtown Eastside

"Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered."  
- Proverbs 21:13, ESV

"By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers...Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." 
- 1 John 3:16, 18, ESV

    Since the experience of my last post, I have found myself spending a lot of time over the last two days in prayer and meditation, trying to understand what is happening to me. I feel as if several significant things are slowly but surely stirring in my heart, accompanied by a great contemplative silence in the presence of God with a longing for sanctification and holiness. In the midst of this time of prayer that I'm still pursuing, I felt the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit to go into the one area of Vancouver that I have heard much about since first arriving here, but never dared to traverse thus far - the Downtown Eastside.

   Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES), titled "Canada's poorest postal code" by The Dominion Newspaper [1] is an area spanning a few blocks, and one of it's oldest neighbourhoods. In addition to being a victim of urban decay, it is also one of its most destitute, inflicted with a high incidence of poverty, alcoholism, drug usage, the sex trade, violent crime, and the highest HIV infection rate in North America. Till today, my encounters with it had only been from an insulated, sanitized distance - newspaper reports, and the secure, air conditioned interior of the #135 transit bus that I'd taken numerous times from SFU to downtown, passing along Hastings street in the middle of the neighbourhood. 

   And so it happened following God's prompting through His Spirit, that today afternoon I drove downtown after running some errands, parked some distance away from the DTES and walked the several city blocks that led straight into it. I felt nervous, never having been into a neighbourhood like this in all the time that I've been in Canada so far. But trusting God's call, I followed Him all the way to the heart of the DTES -  East Hastings and Main streets, which has acquired a reputation for being an "open-air market" for drugs.

   It was early afternoon and although the sunshine and warmth of spring has begun to move into the Lower Mainland over the last few days, the air was still cool when I got there. Nonetheless, there was no mistaking or avoiding the stale smell that hung in the air - unwashed bodies and clothing, alchohol, cigarette smoke and the telltale occasional whiff of smoked marajuana that I have learned to identify after moving to BC. But it wasn't so much the smell that caught my attention as I walked along the blocks towards Hastings and Main streets - it was the people - multitudes of them, lining the sidewalks.

     I was struck by how many of them were using walking aids - wheelchairs, crutches and braces, both the reasonably young as well as the old. A number of others limped by with difficulty, including one native Indian man with a vacant expression expression in his eyes, clutching an almost empty Cocoa-Cola bottle. Many others stood aimlessly against the walls or in front of entrances to buildings, with their only possessions in suitcases, garbage bags or shopping carts. I passed a rather skimpily clad lady who seemed to be trying to pour some liquid into what looked like a whiskey bottle. There were several small groups of people along the sidewalk, huddled together trying to buy, sell, trade or exchange random things - appliances, clothes, odds and ends. Others slept in makeshift shelters or on the sidewalk in sleeping bags or blankets. Most of the storefronts had a look of dank decrepitude, and almost all of them without exception had barred windows and doors. I passed by elderly chinese man, bent over and holding on to a walking stick, receiving in his open palm what looked like white pills being shaken out of  an unlabelled prescription bottle by another man. I didn't stop to take a closer look, just kept walking along at as steady a pace as I could.

   After arriving at the intersection of Hastings and Main streets, I was surveying the sight of the neighbourhood when a short middle-aged woman passed, carrying her possessions in two black garbage bags and trying to cross at the traffic lights. "Careful what you're looking at or doing around here, baby", she said. "Somebody gets upset, and they might kill you. Heck, I've felt like doing it myself to other people a few times." I nodded silently. She kept going and crossed the pedestrian crossing, talking to herself. Crossing the adjacent sidewalk to the opposite side of the street, I started heading back in the opposite direction. 

   The scene didn't look too different on that side of the road. I hadn't gone to far when I happened to pass by a young boy and girl heading in the opposite direction along the sidewalk. Seeing me, the boy stepped in my direction, waved his palm towards my face and said "hey, good-looking Chindian!", and then carried on walking up the street. "Chindian" is a slang expression for someone of mixed Indian and Chinese descent. I was startled for a bit, wondering what made him think that I possessed Chinese heritage, but kept walking. Looking across the street, I saw a building with "Potter's Place Mission" written on the board at its front. I remembered two friends of mine during my time at SFU - Steve and Kitty (who are now engaged) serving at a soup kitchen and homeless shelter on Hastings by that name, run by Korean missionaries. I concluded that it must have been the same place, and made a mental note of it for later.

     Having roamed around the DTES and on my way headed back out, Ifelt my heart beginning to break for the broken lives, mental, physical, emotional and spiritual lostness that I was seeing around me. I suddenly remembered the words of a passage from the Old Testament book of Isaiah that had been the topic of a bible study session in a small group that I used to attend last year. In His indictment and proclamation of judgement against the hypocrisy, injustice and indifference that was rampant in ancient Israel, God had this to say:

"Is not this the fast that I choose:
  to loose the bonds of wickedness,
  to undo the straps of the yoke,
  to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke?

  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
   and to bring the homeless poor into your house;
   when you see the naked, to cover him,
   and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
  and your healing shall spring up speedily;
   your righteousness shall go before you;
  the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

   Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'
   If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
   If you pour yourself out for the hungry
   and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
   Then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday."
- Isaiah 58:6-10, ESV

   In the opening chapters of Isaiah, the prophet sees a vision of the glory of God, and after seeing his own wretchedness in the light of the majesty of God and being cleansed of it, hears God ask:

   "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.'" 
- Isaiah 6:8-9, ESV

   Isaiah encountered the vision of the holiness and the person of God, and was ready to take the word of God to the people of his nation. Having followed Jesus into the Downtown Eastside today, I have to ask myself - what am I doing to declare and demonstrate the healing message of the Gospel to the destitute of this city? Guide my mind, mouth and hands to think, speak and work for you, Lord Jesus.
- The Wisdom Seeker


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Haunted By My Grandfather's Voice

My paternal grandparents,
P. M. Thomas and Susan Thomas
   Something happened to me yesterday that has left me rather shaken and unnerved. While driving to work yesterday morning, I heard in my mind the voice of my long dead paternal grandfather (the man in the photo on the right), singing to me. 

   I have no explanation for why he suddenly came to mind; it's been more than a year since I last thought of him. On the occasions that I have thought of him, I have done so with admiration and affection for his strong, uncompromising Christian character and life that he led by example, which I wish I could emulate. My memories of him have become somewhat hazy of late. But there was no mistaking that voice. And there was no mistaking that song; it was a liturgical hymn that I had often heard him and my grandmother sing during church and family prayer times when he was alive. I don't know the words of that hymn, just it's melody. But there was no mistaking that either.

   I remember pulling over to the side of the road in shock and sitting in a daze for a few minutes while his voice in my head went on, singing that hymn. And then something in me began to swell up and emerge that I have not experienced before. A powerful flood of my memories of him, and more importantly the little Mar Thoma parish [1] in India that he used to go to began to return, clear and sharp like a camera lens focusing on an object. With them came a deep, intense longing that I still cannot put words to. Without understanding why, I began to sing that hymn the best I could, put my head against the steering wheel and started to cry. It took a few minutes before I could pull myself together and finish the drive to the two project sites where I worked by myself for the rest of the day.

   But his memories, voice and hymn in my head did not go away, even while I was at work and all the way to small group later. If anything, they have become stronger and followed me over the last two days. And with them, the strange stirring in my heart that I still cannot put words to.

   P. M. Thomas was the grandfather ("appachen" in our native tongue, Malayalam) that I saw and personally connected with the least, but probably the man who has left the biggest impression on my father's family in terms of his life and legacy. I remember Appachen to be a devout and pious man of few words, but uncompromising in his character and conduct. Though living a modest life with a meager salary, he raised a strong, God-fearing family through whom his legacy lives today. A man of prayer, he had a rule in his house for family prayer to be held at 6 AM and 6 PM, which were kept without fail. He was also a man who spent time immersed in his Bible everyday; one of my best and most powerful memories of him is in his 70's, old and greyed with a pacemaker in his heart and cataract in his eyes, yet attempting to read his Bible with a magnifying glass. I think that image made an impression that remains to this day, and spurs me on too to immerse myself in the Word of God.

Sharon Mar Thoma Parish
   But those weren't the specific memories of Appachen that have been following me since yesterday. It was trotting behind him as a little child, trying to keep up with his quick pace, to his little parish church every Sunday, when my family and I vacationed in India every other summer. It was memories of standing and kneeling beside him in the wooden pews, listening to him sing the songs of the liturgical service, sung by the priests with the congregation responding with singing at the appropriate points. It was the solemn, yet deeply meaningful and reverential atmosphere in that old church as the hymn and prayer books were opened, men in their Sunday white, women with their heads covered and the priests in their vestments, like those in the photo on the right at my niece's baptism. It was my grandfather ushering me to the front when it happened to be my birthday, to kneel at the steps in front of the altar with other children as the priest laid his hands on our heads and pronounced the blessing on us. It was watching Appachen go up to the front to receive the communion bread and wine from the priest, as the priest put the bread in his mouth and let him sip from the chalice that contained the communion wine. And most of all, it was the sound of Appachen's voice, singing the hymns and prayers during the service and again at family prayer times, with that particular tone and pitch that made his voice immediately recognizable to my childhood ears, the same voice that I heard singing to me yesterday.

   My heart has suddenly been filled with a longing to see my grandfather again;  to hear him sing those old hymns again; to visit his little parish; to once again hear and participate in that traditional liturgy which I watched him partake of; to hear those deeply moving, yet solemn and reverential hymns and traditional worship that I watched standing by his side as a child; to re-visit and explore my spiritual history, heritage and that ancient church from which my family has come; to visit his grave at the cemetery where he is buried with my grandmother, but more so to live his example and legacy. I want to live a strong and upright Christian life like he did, to one day lead a family like he did, to one day leave a legacy like he did.

   My grandfather's voice is still singing that hymn in my head. My heart is still stirring with memories, and I'm still crying. Something is happening to me, Jesus. But what is it?

- The Wisdom Seeker

[1] Salem Mar Thoma Church, Ernakulam

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"I Will Show Him How Much He Must Suffer..."

  I've been trying to meditate today on a verse that I came across in my tracing the origins of the Apostle Paul in my last post [1]. It struck me when I first read it some months ago, and it seems so apt for me to think about it now.

  It appears in the context of Christ's instructions to Ananias, one of his early disciples, regarding Saul of Tarsus after Saul had been struck blind while meeting Christ enroute to Damascus to persecute Christians there:

"But the Lord said to him, 'Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." - Acts 26:9-11, ESV

   I have read the book of Acts a number of times over the years, but that tiny verse has escaped my attention till now. It's strange how these little things in the Bible just jump out at me in the middle of my personal circumstances, when my own heart is wrestling with God and asking the question: "Why, Lord?"

   I feel a certain twitch in my heart as I read this verse. Maybe it's because verses in the Bible on pain, suffering and hardship seem alright to read from a distance and nod the head in agreement with, until they're actually being applied to us. As a colleague at work thinking about his own experiences remarked yesterday, "It's alright as long as it's happening to someone else and not to you". Suddenly, I know what he's talking about.

   Looking back at the verse suddenly makes me feel sorry for the Apostle Paul, having found out something about the rest of his life. It's not fun when God allows pain and suffering for a purpose in someone's life, especially those who want to follow and obey Him. I suppose it must have been even less appealing for the persecutor of the church who thought he was doing God a favour, only to discover that he was in the wrong and now being recruited by Christ into the ranks of His persecuted.

   But those verses aren't really about Paul, or the disciple named Ananaias. I want to ask myself the question which is probably more important for me to think about at the moment - what do they say about God, and what can I learn from it?

   I was struck by God's mentioning of Paul as His "chosen instrument". It meant that God deliberately and purposefully picked and chose Saul of Tarsus, the terrorist, the religious zealot and Pharisee. Saul didn't chose God. God chose him, even when he was persecuting Christ and His church. God chose to meet someone who was an enemy of His gospel, and Saul had no say in the matter. He couldn't even raise a single line of protest. It says something about the overwhelming, unstoppable power and authority of God to do as He wishes in mine and everyone else's life. God has His say, and His way, all the time. He has the power and authority to pick and choose who He wants, to do what He wants, when He wants. As much as we like to think and talk about ourselves as being "captains of our ship", "masters of our fate", "in control", "self-actualization", "self-made man/woman", "confident", "assertive", "secure", "achiever",  the reality is that we delude ourselves in subscribing to that kind of thinking. It is an illusion, because it does not describe the reality of God, and the reality of the world that we live in.

   Thought I'm a firm and committed Christian believer, part of me feels uneasy thinking about that reality of God. I suppose it's because at the bottom of our sinful hearts, we want a "safe" God - a God who will leave us alone except when we need Him, not intrude into our lives, answer when we call Him, deliver what we ask of Him, when we ask Him and in the way that we tell Him to get things done. We want a God who will not protest, object, rebuke, get angry, discipline, judge what we do, and why we do it. We want a God who can only see into the areas of our lives that we want to show and share with Him, and doesn't know what we don't want Him to know or ask about. What we want, then is a "tame" God, a God in shackles, so that we can order and structure our world in the way that we want.

What we want, then, is not God, but "god". A servant.
We don't really want God, we want to be the God of god.
And that is called sin, and why we are called sinners.

   But God won't have any of that; He cannot be tamed. And so He picks Saul of Tarsus, to the shock of everyone else. He doesn't pick a pious, mild saint; He picks a terrorist. And then He goes on to pronounce what He intends to do with him: "I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." (Acts 26:9-11, ESV).

    Chills run down my spine when I read this verse, for a number of reasons. The New Testament is replete with the story, suffering, sorrow and magnificent writings of Paul the Apostle. His is a great story to read about. But then the thought suddenly occurs - "What if God does that with me?" 

   As much as we admire and praise those who have suffered and experienced loss for Christ and lived lives of obedience and surrender, it doesn't feel that appealing when God brings it to our door, and demands obedience, promising us true joy in the process. Life isn't as rosy when God asks us to give up something we cherish and trust Him with our precious hopes and dreams for the future, when a spouse or child dies, when we experience financial loss, crippling health problems, and all the other myriad trials of life. 

   But yet there is hope, because Paul's suffering was not without purpose. It was for the sake of God's name, for the sake of God's glory. Paul's life, suffering and witness for Christ as an apostle took the Gospel into the heart of the Gentile world, and because of that we who are gentiles have heard the good news and been saved. Because God places the utmost worth on the glory and splendor of His name and His Gospel. In them I and everyone else who calls on His name has hope, for God's name and reputation are worth putting our trust in, and His Gospel is only good news. God has proven Himself to be good, true and faithful time and again in the lives of those who trust and hope in Him.

And I trust and hope in Him too.

- The Wisdom Seeker

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Letter To Rome: Once Upon A Time, There Was A Terrorist...

   I've just made it part way through a one-day fast which I had undertaken to study the Word and seek the mind of God regarding my life. With that done, this is my first post that actually starts my journey through the book of Romans, after my introductory post of more than a week ago, "A Letter To Rome: Thinking Through The Gospel". In that, I had recollected my initial motivations behind wanting to do this. I've never done a study like this before, so this is going to be scary and exciting at the same time. So here I go...

   It was approximately the winter of 57 AD, almost twenty-five years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In the city of Corinth, a middle-aged man picked up his pen and began to write the introductory words of a letter. Addressed to the congregation of a tiny church, in what was acclaimed as the greatest city of the mightiest empire and epitome of civilization of the known world at that time, he began with a simple introduction, describing himself for who he really was:  

"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God" - Romans 1:1, ESV

   I believe it is worthwhile examining some of the background of the Apostle Paul, before wading any further into his letter. Who was he? What made him the man who wrote this letter? How did he suddenly get thrust into the unfolding events and narrative of Biblical history? Given that Paul finally contributed almost half of the books that comprise the New Testament, I think it makes sense to find out what I can about him.

   Paul first appears in the Acts of the Apostles, under a different name - Saul of Tarsus. The circumstances of his entrance don't seem terribly inspiring:

"Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Now Saul was consenting to his death."
- Acts 7:57-61, ESV

   I remember my reaction as a child reading my Good News Bible, when I first figured out what was going on in this passage and encountered Saul of Tarsus - I disliked him instantly. In fact, I'll be honest: I still feel ambivalent about my feelings toward Paul the Apostle. I'll try to figure out why as I go further along Romans. Hopefully, my feelings towards him will change. In any case, the case for "St. Paul" isn't going very well at this point. He essentially functioned as the approving overseer and witness of the execution of the first known martyr of the early church. In fact he admits to this himself:

"And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him."  - Acts 22:20, ESV

   Apparently, it doesn't stop there. Over the next few verses and one chapter later, I encounter the following:

"As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison...Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letter from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." 
- Acts 8:3, 9:1-2, ESV

   And as before, Paul plainly admits to doing this in a public statement later on:

"Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities." - Acts 26:9-11, ESV

   Having grown up in the Middle East, I find myself thinking at this point in the story: If this man were alive in our day and time, he would instantly be labeled a "religious terrorist" by the rest of the watching world who didn't support his cause. That probably isn't too far from the truth. I find it interesting that Paul makes honest and open admissions to all these facts about his history in a number of his letters [1]. "Well," I think to myself, "at least the man admits his past." That's not too bad, is it? But then something happens to Saul of Tarsus:

He meets the person and power of the risen Christ Jesus.

   And what a meeting it is! While taking his persecution to Damascus, Saul is struck down by a blinding light that is described as "brighter than the midday sun", and voice that identifies itself as "Jesus, whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:5). I took note of the instructions that Christ issues to this persecutor of His church: "...rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." (Acts 9:6). Blinded after the encounter, Saul cannot do anything else but obey.

   The story of Saul of Tarsus takes a 180-degree turn after that and is never the same again. His sight is restored by the prayer of a believer in Damascus, who is personally instructed by Christ to go and pray for his blinded persecutor. One of the most striking verses that I want to think about in a later post is one sentence in a passage that records Christ's plans for the life of this one-time terrorist:

"But the Lord said to him, 'Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." - Acts 26:9-11, ESV

   Many years later, Paul the Apostle reflected on some of those sufferings in his second letter to the church in Corinth, before writing to Rome:

" labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night ad a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness - besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches."
- 2 Corinthians 6:23-28, ESV

   What a story this is, that emerges behind the first verse of the letter to the Romans! What pearls we find, when we dig through the only infallible, limitless, authoritative, inerrant, treasure that is the Word of God! I am convinced beyond any doubt that there is nothing like it; no tradition, edict, homily or saying from the mouth or pen of rabbi, pope, cardinal, saint, bishop, priest, saint, pastor, preacher, or religious teacher will ever be able to match the depth and brilliance of the power of Scripture, no matter how clever they may be. What a testament to the transforming power of God, who could take this self-righteous, religious zealot and Pharisee who willingly approved of the executions of early believers, and turn him into the spearhead of the early missionary movement that took the Gospel to the gentiles! What an encouragement to put my faith alone in Christ alone, to save and transform me by His grace alone, for His glory alone, because Scripture alone gives me proof through the life of Saul of Tarsus, now Paul the Apostle! What a redirection of ignorant and arrogant thinking to a life of power and purpose, because of whom we have almost half of our New Testament! What a difference in the man who finally describes the contrast of his old, useless life in empty religion with his new life in Christ in the following little autobiography in his letter to the Philippians:

"...circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith."  - Acts 22:20, ESV

   I can't believe that I've only gotten through the first verse of the book of Romans, and found this much to write about! I can't even begin to imagine what might happen as I keep going forward. This is going to be awesome. Thank You, Jesus, for a morning and afternoon well spent. Now to switch gears and carry on with Tim Keller's "The Meaning of Marriage" :)

Grace and peace to you,
- The Wisdom Seeker

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:9, Galatians 1:13 & 23, Philippians 3:6, and 1 Timothy 1:13

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jesus, Religion, Spirituality And The Search For Truth

   It's been a long and busy, yet satisfying day at work. I'll be heading off to cook dinner in a few minutes and then settle down to do some study on the background of the apostle Paul for my next post on the book of Romans. While I was relaxing after getting home after work, I had remembered a YouTube video that had caught worldwide attention on the Internet at the beginning of this year, and wanted to watch it again. Here is Jefferson Bethke's poem titled "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus", delivered in the style known as "Spoken Word". If you decide to watch it, please remember that you can view it in full 1080p HD!

   I didn't get around to seeing this video till almost a month or more after its release. In a television interview with Jefferson Bethke on GBTV's "For The Record" [1] (also available on YouTube), it was reported that this video was second on the list of the top 100 viral videos to be seen around the globe amongst all the video content posted on the Internet to date. "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus" has been viewed in excess of 20 million times to date, spawned several responses in Spoken Word format from Muslims [2], Roman Catholics [3], Atheists, and many other quarters, and generated plenty of debate and conversation on the topic of Jesus, religion, faith, grace and the Gospel. Nonetheless, I was still surprised to see it being discussed by none other than Ravi Zacharias in an interview with Shawn McEvoy, the Managing Director of the Christian website, on Dr. Zacharias' latest book "Why Jesus? Rediscovering His Truth In An Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality". Here is the video of that discussion:

   I watched these videos today because of their connection with some of the topics discussed in Paul's letter to the church in Rome - sin, religion, the law and rules, the cross, salvation, justification, grace, and the saving, transforming power of the gospel. These are some of the most important questions that a human being in search of truth will encounter and wrestle with. I want to think through these in great detail for myself as I study the epistle to the Romans. 

   It is clear that Jefferson Bethke has wrestled with these questions himself in his own life, as he makes clear in this video and others. He recites his history as a 22-year old who was conceived out-of-wedlock, abandoned by his father, brought up in the church and presenting the neat facade of a Christian who attended church on Sunday, while struggling with pornography, drink and sex on the sidelines during the rest of the week. Despite the differences people may have with some of his assertions, it is clear that the power of the true Gospel has met him head on, and he cannot but help talk about it and make much of Jesus.

   And with the head-on collision with the Gospel in my life as well, I can't help it either.

Grace and peace to you,
- The Wisdom Seeker

[1] GBTV's For The Record Inteviews Star of "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus"
[2] Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus (Muslim Response)
[3] Why I Love Religion, And Love Jesus (Roman Catholic Response)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Marriage: Preparing For The Mystery

Image Copyright: The Sage
   While I'm doing research for my next post in the study of Paul's letter to the Romans (which I began with "A Letter To Rome: Thinking Through The Gospel"), I thought I'd fill in the gap of time with something else that is also fast becoming of interest to me. I anticipate that there will occasionally be gaps of time in between posts on my journey through Romans, and it seems worthwhile to use those occasions to write about what I'm learning about marriage from Timothy Keller's "The Meaning of Marriage", which I ordered recently.

   While I'm not married, I do hope to be happily married one day, serving and glorifying God with my future wife. Thus, I want to do what I can now to prepare for that. Curiously enough, it was the movie "Courageous" that inspired me to buy this book, although marriage is not the central theme of the movie. As a quick side note, I highly encourage you to watch Courageous if you haven't seen it. I especially say this to young Christian men who respond better to visual depictions of what it looks like to take up God's call to manhood in various roles, and young Christian women who want to understand what solid men look like, and the challenges that they face in their pursuit to be faithful to God's call.  Courageous made such an impact on me that I expressed some of those impressions in my post titled "Wanted: Courage To Be Courageous". Please read it and then rent/buy the movie, watch it for yourself and think carefully through its message!

   But let me get back to "The Meaning of Marriage". I'm reading this book because I want to be a courageous husband and father one day, when God ordains for those events to happen. I don't want to be a flaccid, spineless husband to my future wife or a deadbeat father to my children, unable to lead either and sinking the small familial ship that I hope God will entrust me with. For that matter, I doubt that any man goes into marriage intending to be a failure, but it seems that few men ever make it through to victory at the finish line. Most seem to fall by the wayside.

I don't want to be one of those men.

   When the call comes, I want to run hard for Christ in married life with everything I have, like Eric Liddell in "Chariots of Fire" (another great movie to watch)! I've heard it said and written that no one is ever ready for marriage. While that might be the case, I do know the following as I take a good hard look at myself right now:
  • Christ must increase, and I must decrease; too often I find Him relegated to second place
  • The foundation for a solid marriage is laid with a solid understanding of the Gospel
  • A solid understanding of the Gospel comes from the Word of God - The Bible
  • I thirst for a better, deeper understanding of the Gospel in my life
  • Thus, I need to immerse myself ever more in His Word
  • I need grace in my life, because I'm often ungracious to those around me
  • Pride rages in my flesh; I need to mortify it and exalt humility
  • I see a need to grow in terms of faithfulness and discipline
  • Fear and anxiety often paralyze me; oh Great Faith, I need thee!

    The list could go on, but that's not my end goal. I see only one solution: to throw myself at the foot of the Cross, and cry out to God for the power of His Spirit to transform me through His Word. Without this, I will not be ready to answer His call when it comes.

   So I'm hoping to post my thoughts of what I learn from this book, in between the posts of my study through Romans. I look forward to having you join me on this journey as well, and hearing from those who would be willing to share their thoughts and experiences. I'm going to get a snack and get ready for bed; it's going to be a long day tomorrow. See you soon, in the next post!

Grace and peace to you,
- The Wisdom Seeker

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Hold Your Ground!"

Image Copyright: Unknown
"You are not bound to loss and silence
For you are not bound to the circles of this world
All things must pass away;
All life is doomed to fade
Sorrowing you must go,
And yet you are not without hope"
- Arwen, The Lord of The Rings

   Ruminations of The Sage has reached its 100th post! Looking back on the last year and a half since I started taking this blog seriously, this is an opportunity for me to remind myself about who I've become, what I'm doing here and why I'm doing it. Like the occasion of the 50th post (The Redeeming Marriage Project), I wanted to write about the things that are important to me, with an accompanying metaphor that would neatly express what I feel at this point in my thinking and writing. And I could find fewer things more apt than some thoughts from the Apostle Paul's two letters to Timothy, his son in the faith, and a pivotal moment in the third installment of my favourite movie - The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King.

   This blog was created four years ago because I was searching, and because I like to think. I was desperately searching for true wisdom because I was (and still am) convinced about a singular fact regarding myself that I knew was absolutely true then, and am assured of with even more certainty as the years go by:

I'm a fool. And I really need to change.

   I wanted to live my life skilfully and live it well, with purpose and integrity. One of the things I feared (and perhaps still dread) was looking back with regret at the end of my life, with the thought "I've wasted my life...". And so I started thinking, and searching.

   But more than that, I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences with others, because I was equally convinced about another fact related to the one about my own condition: I can't be the only fool out there. I wanted to help those like myself, who were desperately seeking a means to navigate their way through life, sometimes barely hanging on from one episode to the next. And so I started pouring my thoughts and anecdotes out here.

   The last year, particularly the last few months, have been a time of rapid growth. Much of the recent change in my life has been due to the book I was given as a Christmas present, and which I've been trying to blog about as I contemplated its exposition of the gospel - "Jesus + Nothing = Everything", by Tullian Tchividjian. I'm convinced that I desperately want to live its message with everything that I have.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything

   As I mentioned earlier, I'm partially writing this post as an encouraging reminder to myself of who I have become, and what I want to keep doing through this blog. So I'm turning to the two letters from Paul to his son in the faith, because I need my Heavenly Father to speak to me now. And I pray, dear reader, wherever you are, that He will speak to and encourage you too.

Scripture: Holding On To The Only Source of Wisdom
"teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith...from which some having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm." - 1 Tim. 1:4-7, NKJV

"Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge - by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you." - 1 Tim. 6:20-21, NKJV

"Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us." - 2 Tim. 1:13-14, NKJV

"But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." - 2 Tim. 1:13-14, NKJV

"I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word!." - 2 Tim. 4:1, NKJV

     I am convinced that there is no other teaching or instruction for life that will help my foolishness, other than that which is soundly built upon the written word of God. It is the only infallible source that I wish to put my faith and hope in. If there is anything valuable or useful on this blog that God uses to touch the lives of those who read the thoughts posted here, may it be the transforming power of His word.

Grace: Holding On To The Only Life Support Available
"And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." - 1 Tim. 1:14-15, NKJV

"You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."- 2 Tim. 2:1, NKJV

"...who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ before time began..."- 2 Tim. 1:9-10, NKJV

   Grace. I've been drowned in the overflowing, abundant and limitless grace of God all my life. I'm free because of His grace. I'm alive, breathing, seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling because His grace sustains me. The wretched fool that I am is loved by God, not because of who I am or anything that I've done to earn His affection, but only because of His Son who stands in His presence on my behalf.

Glory: Living For Him Alone
"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" - 1 Tim. 1:17, NKJV

"He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen" - 1 Tim. 6:15-16, NKJV

   He is eternal; my life is a shadow that vanishes like the fog mist that hangs over Vancouver and dispels with the morning sun. He cannot die, cannot be killed; I do not know whether I will survive to the next minute. He alone has proven Himself to be wise; I have seen my reflection in the mirror of His Scripture and come away seeing myself for the fool that I am. He deserves the attention, always. May everything that is written on this blog point to Him, and not to me. I have nothing to say, except to talk about Him in this life and the life to come.

Christus: Holding On To The Only One Who Can Save
"For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, toe be testified in due time." - 1 Tim. 2:5, NKJV

   I have no one else to speak about here, no other person or source of help, hope or love to offer. The reason is simple - there was and is no other source of help or hope for my life and foolishness when I desperately needed it. No one else heard; no one else ran to help; no one else gave hope; no one else had the power to turn my life around; no one else can save. 

Faithful: Standing Firm For The Reward From The Faithful One
"If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished int he words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. But reject old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness."
- 1 Tim. 4:6-7, NKJV

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer." 
- 2 Tim. 2:15-16, NKJV

"Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master." Those are the only words that I want to hear now, the only approval that I live for. No other praise from anyone in this world matters anymore. May I be found writing faithfully for Him.

Unashamed: The Shout Of His "Good News"
"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God..." - 2 Tim. 1:13-14, NKJV

   Here I am, Master. I'm ready.

   It's time to hit the shower and head to bed. This has been an awesome night of prayer and meditation, thinking through some of the questions in my heart and listening to Christ speak as I wrote this 100th post. God has spoken powerfully and convictingly. I can only obey. May He give me the strength to hold my ground. I had referred to a moment from The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King and I thought I'd include this clip of that scene here to wrap up this post.

Grace and peace to you,
- The Wisdom Seeker