Life on an Indian Train; Humour and Pain

In a general compartment on an Indian train…

CHRISTOS EXPRESS

For a short trip of 2.5 hrs (Itarsi-Khandwa), I boarded Karnataka express with my CONFIRMED TICKET only to get breathless inside the bogggg. In a coach that, say, has a capacity of 50 seats, was flooded with a whopping 200 people. After sliding into the couch, which meant doing nothing but standing at the door and rushing through, I slid all the way to seat number 20, only to find it occupied by a lady. And there I stand convincing her that no. 20 seat is mine. Only after a hot talk did I manage to convince her that she was in the right seat, but on the wrong coach. After about 20 minutes of my travel, I finally claimed my seat and sat only to find my mobile out of network and was forced to mind the hilarious conversation around me because everyone on the compartment were just centimetres…

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The Holy Spirit- Third Person of the Holy Trinity (Article)

Published in REVIVE, Nov 2021

The Holy Spirit is God within us given by the promise of the Father through Jesus Christ by faith to regenerate, assist, transform, and guide us in life for His glory. The Holy Spirit is not a force or a sort of energy; He is God, the third person of the Trinity.

He is not a part of God nor a form of God. He is God in fullness. It is certainly impossible to mentally imagine how God can be one and yet be three persons. But it is equally impossible to find an example of Trinity in nature as there is nothing similar to God in this material world. God is Spirit, not matter, but all imagination is spatio-temporal; for example, one can imagine empty space but one cannot imagine anything, say a table, that does not occupy space. But, since God is Spirit, He cannot be imagined in spatio-temporal terms. Therefore, idolatry or representation of the Divine in spatio-temporal terms is forbidden in the Bible. Christ as God is Spirit; Christ as Man is flesh and bones. Through His incarnation and resurrection, Christ made it possible that we receive the Promise of the Spirit, so that those who are born of God by faith in Christ will rise again from the dead in a spiritual body on the Last Day (1Cor.15:44-49).

We receive the natural body, the body of death, from Adam; we receive the spiritual body, the body of life, from the Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Rom.8:11). We are born of the Spirit (John 3:6), receive witness of divine sonship by the Spirit (Rom.8:14-16), are transformed into the divine image of the Son through the Spirit (2Cor.3:18), are led, assisted, prayed with, moved, and empowered by the Spirit (Rom.8:26,27; Eph.1:16-19). If our focus is on Adamic things, we will die as Adam; but, if our focus is on heavenly things, we will reign with Him, because we will mortify the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit, for the sons of God are those who are led by the Spirit of God (Col.3:1-4; Rom.8:13,14).

The phrase “third person of the Holy Trinity” is not from the Bible, but is a theological formulation that took shape as the doctrine of Trinity developed in the third and fourth centuries in response to various heretical and unorthodox teachings. However, the theological formulations themselves are not the authoritative source of our understanding of the Holy Spirit. As the renewal theological J. Rodman Williams rightly says, “Non-canonical writings, such as those of the Apostolic Fathers, are of some help, but we are on sure ground only when we listen to the New Testament witness.”

The Holy Spirit is visible in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. In Genesis 1, He is seen hovering over the waters that covered the primordial earth. In Revelation 22, He is seen along with the Bride calling the thirsty to receive the water of life. In the last verse of the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi (4:5,6) the Jews were promised the return of Elijah and when we open the New Testament, we see John, filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb, coming in the spirit of Elijah and heralding the coming of the One who would baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Holy Spirit leads, guides, speaks, testifies, calls, anoints, empowers, but can also be grieved. The personality of the Spirit can be clearly known from the Scriptures.

But, more importantly, the Holy Spirit must be personally known through communion with Him (2Cor.13:14). The Holy Spirit is not like any other person we know on earth. He is closer to us than any of them. He is the one who formed us, who comes by our side, and knows not only who we are, better than us, but also what we can become through His work in us.

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (1 Cor.2:10-12)

In deep communion of the Spirit, one experiences the passion, power, perspective, and purposefulness of God. Without the divine Spirit, one cannot have the divine mind-set.

“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom.8:6-8).

When one has the mind of the Spirit, one also has the might of the Spirit. For when one’s spiritual eyes are opened, the weakness of death is driven away by the power of the law of the Spirit (Rom.8:1-4; Eph.1:17-23; 2Cor.4:1-7). When one is in tune with the Spirit, then every heartbeat is an inner melody of thanksgiving and praise. To be filled with the Spirit also means to be fully and perfectly in tune with the Spirit. And, only when one is in tune with Him can one move in step with Him.

“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph.5:18-20)

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Gal.5:25)

The Spirit can be grieved by bitterness in the Church (Eph.4:30). The Triune God knows no grief and pain in Himself eternally. It is only in relation to humans that God experiences grief and pain. Of course, this pain was experienced in its extremity on the Cross, but it will be false to think that God stopped suffering pain after the Cross. While the pain on the Cross was afflicted by Christ-haters, sadly, the pain in the Church is afflicted by those who call themselves Christ-lovers. The suffering of Christ on the Cross was for our sins; the suffering of the Spirit in the Church is because of our sins. The lukewarm church (that is neither Spirit-hot nor Spiritless-cold) claims to be rich and independent, but is full of sin from which she needs to repent (Rev.3:15-19). She does not reject Christ nor the Spirit, but at the same time goes about independently, out of tune, out of step. She is blind and is not able to realize that she is blind and naked. Like Adam and Eve, her natural eyes may have been open and her body covered with fig leaves, but her spiritual eyes are blind and she is naked and will be spit out if she does not repent of her sins. Now, while it is Christ who tells John to write the letter to the churches in Revelation 2-3, the warning is clear: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev.3:22).

Christ prayed for the Church that we may be one as He and the Father are one, as He in the Father and the Father in Him (John 17:11,21,22). This is not the oneness of flesh but the oneness of the Spirit. When one comes to Christ, that person becomes one with the Triune God in spirit (1Cor.6:17), indwelt by the Father, Son, and the Spirit (John 14:17,23) and being rooted in the Father, Son, and the Spirit – “I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 17:20). This is the communion of the Spirit which brings the fullness of spiritual joy and not grief (John 15:11). Communion of the Spirit results in spiritual fruitfulness: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…,” (Gal.5:22,23).

The third century church father Tertullian, who first talked at great length about the Trinity, believed that the Father-Son relationship within the Trinity was temporal and not eternal. Certainly, the very terms “Father” and “Son” are to be understood in a metaphorical sense, though the relationship in orthodox theology is not anymore considered as temporal but eternal, also in relation to the doctrine of generation or procession (Filioque). The Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church were for centuries divided over the doctrine of the procession of divine persons in the Trinity – the Catholic church maintaining (in the Nicene creed) that the Son proceeded from the Father and the Spirit from both the Father and the Son. The Eastern church regarded the Catholic view of the Spirit’s procession from both the Father and the Son as a heresy of double procession. It maintained that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. Rodman Williams attempts to find a middle path when he writes that though it is true that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, it is also true that the Father sends the Spirit through the Son; thus, reinterpreting “procession” as the gift-act to the Church. Of course, this differs from the Catholic view that sees the eternal generation of persons as unrelated to creation, thus eternal:

“The second divine person proceeds from the intellect of the first divine person by generation, and therefore is related to him as Son to a Father. The third divine person proceeds from the will or mutual love of the Father and the Son as from a single principle through spiration.” (catholicculture.org)

But does all this matter? Well, it did become a bone of contention that split the church in AD 1054. Just imagine that! The very Holy Spirit by whom we are baptized into the one body for oneness with the Trinity becomes the issue for division of the body. But, while one may exercise one’s mind in rationally dissecting the doctrine of Trinity, the main issue that stands is whether one is having communion with the three persons of the Trinity; in fact, this communion is impossible except by the Spirit.

Can We Hope for a Better World? – Article

Published in REVIVE, January 2021

Syrian refugee girl – Picture from Wikipedia

The world today is caught in several social and political turmoils. For many today government is not the answer to the problem; government is the problem. The Carnegie Global Protest Tracker reports about 100 significant anti-government protests that have erupted worldwide in the past 3 years leading to the fall of about 30 such governments or leaders as a result. The Corruption Perception Index 2019 indicated that about 120 countries in the world face very high corruption issues in the public sector. The frustrating prevalence of corruption “from fraud that occurs at the highest levels of government to petty bribery that blocks access to basic public services like health care and education” has led to increasing distrust in the government and eroded public confidence in political leaders and governmental institutions. This frustration and disappointment has erupted into protests across the globe both on the streets and on the internet. Added to the issue of corruption is the year-long battle that people and governments have had to wage with the more threatening COVID-19, which in itself is also embroiled in political and ideological controversies of its own. Even as I type this article, Thailand is caught up in anti-government protests, France is trying to salvage its anti-terrorism commitment against the widespread “boycott France” movement, there is high tension in the Middle-East, and the United States is facing a nation-wide concern of voter-fraud and attempts to restore trust in democracy. The per second volume of bitterness and hatred that is spewed in tweets, comments, and media reporting worldwide is so dishearteningly very large that one inevitably asks, “Is there hope for the world?”

Let me begin by unconditionally asserting a ‘Yes’. Yes, there is hope. Doesn’t the Bible say that “anyone who is among the living has hope”? (Eccl.9:4). In fact, it is only a world without God that is a world without hope (Eph. 2:12). But, for those who believe, the God of hope fills us with all joy and peace as we trust in him, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom.15:13). True believers do not lose their joy and peace when things around go wrong. It is because the source of the joy and peace is not the world but the God of hope. This fountain of overflowing joy and peace is empowered by the Holy Spirit making them bold, unshaken, and active in the world that God has sent them into to fulfill His work. There is hope also because as the hope-bearers of God, we are the salt and light of the world.

Source of Hope

The source of hope is God and is grounded in His covenant promise. He proclaimed to His people in socio-political exile: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). The New Testament assures us that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom.8:28). The reason why this is so is because God Himself is the guarantor and the source of our future through Jesus Christ; and, therefore, any expectation that is grounded in His promises and confidently pursued will never be disappointed; for “hope does not put us to shame” (Rom.5:5). Now, while it is true that God is the source of the hope of resurrection and final salvation (Col.1:5,27; Tit.1:2;2:13), it is also true that, therefore, this hope has a practical outworking of purity and lovingkindness in our daily lives today bringing peace and joy not only in our lives but also in the lives of people we get in touch with (1Jn.3: 3-24). And, this is so because the “love of the Father” (1Jn.3:1) “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”; so, “hope does not put us to shame” (Rom.5:5) and we overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom.15:13).

Social and Political Hope

Biblical social hope must not be confused with socialist hope. Socialist hope revolves around activism that looks forward to a stateless, classless, and egalitarian society that realizes a utopia of economic, social, and ecological justice. Socialist hope today looks for a world where homosexuals can be proud of their homosexuality, abortion is legal for every woman anytime, men can be more feminine in nature, religious values would be diminished, there would be equal pay for all, and there would be higher taxes on the well to do. The focus is on an egalitarian society where all differences are equalized. Biblical social hope, on the other hand focuses on freedom of conscience and a compassionate community. It anticipates a society where people can freely serve God and a community that cares for its weaker members. The Bible recommends prayer in order to achieve the former and spiritual liberality in order to fulfill the other.

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. (I Timothy 2:1-2)

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

Biblical social hope has a dialectical expectation: we expect of God that there will be a free society in which we can freely serve God and in which there will be love rather than indifference and hatred (Isn’t there so much hatred in the world today, especially social and political?); on the other hand, God expects us to continuously and passionately pray for such a social condition to be realised and to love our neighbours as ourselves and care for the weak, thus making a difference around. It, of course, also means that we have to pray for godly, uncorrupt, and wise administrators. Consequently, there is a political hope tied into the social hope so that the latter can only be realised when the former is realised.

So to the question, is there social and political hope for the world, the answer is yes, but are you willing to pray for that hope to come true, and are you doing something about it now?

Doing Wise – Poem

You just do what people do
But people aren’t always wise
And if you think what’s right to do
Then people’re thinking otherwise

You try to be a simple guy
Free of all pretence and pride
That’s fine, you need not shy
Coz’ pompous shows never abide.

So just do that which is right
Watch ‘gainst the popular lies
Stay calm, keep destiny in sight
You’ll always be good doing wise.

Grace and Mercy of God and Full Life (John 10:10-12) – Article

Published in REVIVE, July 2021

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it….”  (John 10:10-12)

Recent studies in sheep psychology have increasingly proven that sheep are not dumb animals as popularly supposed; rather, they are intelligent, individualistic, and social animals that exhibit advanced face recognition abilities, emotional understanding, and individual traits along with group protection herd skills. Studies show that sheep emotion can be ascertained from the position of their ears; for instance, when afraid, the ears of the sheep move from their normal horizontal position towards the back; when angry, their ears would go straight up; when surprised, one ear might go up and another down. Sheep can also distinguish between pictures of calm faced sheep and tensed sheep. Researchers have shown that sheep experience despair when facing uncertain, unpredictable, and unfamiliar situations. On the unusually dark and thunderous night of November 3, 1888 England experienced a bizarre event when tens of thousands of sheep panicked, jumped their hurdles and the next morning were found scattered over miles. Being prey animals, sheep possess not only complex vigilance faculties, but also emotional mechanisms that assist them in determining if a situation is safe or dangerous. The presence of a predator like a wolf, therefore, creates a severely antagonistic environment driving the sheep into a flight of frenzy and seeking band protection, which is usually explained using the selfish-herd theory.

The selfish-herd theory states that prey animals, on perceiving danger, tend to move to the centre of a flock to avoid becoming open targets of a predator. The behavior is termed selfish because the animal uses another co-animal as a shield against the predator, thus minimizing threat to itself. The theory has been corroborated by experiments and is useful in using shepherd dogs to drive sheep. The sheep perceive the dogs as danger and herd together to create protective bands. The dogs can then drive them in a particular direction. Quite contrary to this picture, Christ is not portrayed as one who drives the sheep (as by danger, making use of a probably selfish disposition), but one who leads the sheep. Christ the Shepherd is the familiar person, who feeds the sheep; other sheep see the Shepherd feeding the sheep and happily (not frenziedly) move towards Him. Sheep are smart; if they know that a shepherd is not feeding any grain, they will leave. Sheep are scared by the wolf; but they move towards the Good Shepherd.

A lot of study has been done on wolf’s hunting methods. Contrary to many other predators, wolves do not necessarily hunt down preys by outchasing them, e.g., as a cheetah does. Instead, a wolf pack may calmly trail and stalk its prey or a herd for miles before it ascertains the right moment and the target to attack. Wolves usually single out the weak, injured, and sick ones and attack by ambushing them making any escape almost impossible. Wolves exhibit great patience and perseverance in stalking behavior. They are opportunists. They wait for the right moment and are willing to go hungry for days until they sense the right opportunity to strike. After a successful hunt, a wolf can eat up to 20 pounds of meat per feed. Jesus offered at least two analogies of how wolf-like thieves may attack the flock.

The first is found here in John 10: 12, where He talks about a shepherdless flock that is attacked by the wolf. The hired worker who was assigned to watch after the sheep saw the wolf coming and fled for his life. He was never a real shepherd. He was just a paid worker, who may be fond of some sheep, but not willing to risk his life to save the sheep. He was able to see the wolf for sure, but instead of staying with the sheep and guarding them, he chose to abandon them and leave them exposed to immediate danger. But, why did the hiredworker not flee to the centre of the flock if he wanted to really protect himself? That is what the sheep would do, right? Why did he abandon them and run away?

I suspect if the sheep would ever herd around the hireling. Probably, they would not trust him either. When facing danger, they would rather flock together with their familiar friends, to what their instincts reliably point to, than flock around a hireling that they never bonded to in the first place. He was meant to be at the exterior, exposed to the threat anyway, and not the one at the protective centre. A guardian who uses the ones he is supposed to guard as his guard is a contradiction in terms. He is like the soldier who uses his fellow countrymen as human shields against enemy attack – the very countrymen he was appointed to protect. A true shepherd, on the other hand, stands at the battlefront. One good picture of such is found in Nehemiah 4 and 6, where Nehemiah not only put himself in front of the people in the battlefront, but also exhibited real courage and fearlessness in the face of enemy threat. A true shepherd does not seek his own but the things of Christ, the Chief Shepherd (Phil.2: 21).

The hireling flees because the sheep are not his own. Pastors are not hirelings. They are shepherds (Eph.4:11). They are not paid workers, but bond-slaves of Christ. They recognize that they are primarily themselves the sheep of Christ, who are appointed to feed Christ’s sheep (John 21:17). An interesting characteristic of sheep is that they move towards a sheep that is following a familiar person (friend) who is feeding it. This is an instinct that shepherds utilize to lead a flock of sheep with the help of one sheep that the other sheep move towards. The pastor is someone like that sheep. He can say with Paul “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1Cor.11:1). Jesus never appoints any hireling over His sheep. There are really no hirelings in the Body of Christ. In John 10, Jesus tells His disciples that He is not a hireling, but the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep. Since the Shepherd is always with the sheep, it is not possible for the wolves to attack them in the natural wolf-like pattern. So, wolves attack the believing flock using a different strategy.

The wolf is anyone who decerns the sheep and intentionally wishes to steal, kill, and destroy them. The arch-wolf is Satan and his team of emissaries who masquerade as apostles, the devil himself masquerading as an angel of light (2 Cor.11:13,14). Jesus said that these ferocious wolves come to the sheep in sheep’s clothing (Matt.7:15).

Shepherds today use two kinds of dogs to assist in shepherding: herding dogs and guardian dogs. Herding dogs appear like predators to the sheep forcing them into protective group behavior. Guardian dogs, on the other hand, grow up with the sheep and get bonded with them, living with them, and acting as instinctive guardians against predators. Some guardian dogs very much resemble their fellow sheep.

Livestock Guardian Dog (Wikipedia)

Wouldn’t it be very dangerous if these guardian dogs were internally ferocious wolves seeking the right opportunity to devour the sheep? Such is the evil Jesus warned of when He cautioned us about wolves in sheep’s clothing.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing has no straightforward technique. He never comes in by the gate but intrudes through some other way (John 10:1,2). He is a thief and a robber because his goal is to steal, kill, and to destroy (John 10:10). He wants to steal away the sheep from the true Gospel to a false one (Gal.1:6,7). He prowls, stealthy and opportunistic, like a roaring lion seeking to devour, kill, and destroy (1Pet.5:8).

But there is good news. The sheep can resist the adversary by standing firm in faith (1Pet.5:9). This is because the sheep follow their Shepherd and know His voice; they will never follow a stranger but will run away from him – they do not recognize the stranger’s voice (John 10:5). In fact, the Shepherd gives them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of His hand (John 10:28).

But that does not mean that the sheep should stop being vigilant. The New Testament repeatedly cautions us to be alert, watchful, and sober minded (1Pet.5:8; 2Cor.16:13; Col.4:2; Rev.3:2; 1Thess.5:6). Sheep by nature are constantly vigilant animals; so must believers be; especially, because the enemy of our souls does not come like a menacing pride of lions but like an innocuous looking pack of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The Early Church faced such situations and the apostles repeatedly cautioned believers in the epistles. While it is true that no one can snatch the sheep out of His hand, the Bible warns believers to watch out lest they themselves drift away from faith (Heb.2:2). Paul told us that he did not think he had arrived but that he ran towards the goal of the upward calling in Christ to attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil.3:10-14).

Christ came that we may have life and life more abundantly. Obviously, He was not referring to this present life, but to life eternal which He gives to His sheep. He gives it to them by laying down His life for them and by rising again (John 10:17,18). But does it mean that the sheep had no life before the Shepherd gave them life? If so, how would they be His sheep?

Here, we are reminded of a crucial tenet of the Gospel faith – the revelation of divine foreknowledge and of predestination. God not only foreknew His sheep but also predestined them unto salvation, to be conformed to the image of His Son both in sanctification and glorification (Eph.1:11; Rom.8:29,30). Therefore, they are His eternally, even before they are born on this earth. He knows them intimately and eternally. He knows them better than they know themselves.

This realization gives us great hope. We do not need to be like that sheep that are driven by despair and confusion due to extreme darkness, danger, uncertainty, and the unknown. The Shepherd is with us. The Shepherd suffers with us. The Shepherd suffers for us. The Shepherd knows what we are going through, but also guarantees us what will happen in the end. He is the source of life to us. He is also the source of courage in times of suffering. He does not put us under hirelings. His Spirit in us is His presence in us to teach, to guide, to strengthen, to ward against evil, and to transform us into His image. But His sheep are not dumb creatures propelled by mere herd-mentality, going with the crowd. They are intelligent, individualistic, and live as a community – they are one.  The adversary prowls like a roaring lion ready to devour the weak and unstable. The sheep of Christ are not driven by any selfish-instinct; rather, they reach out to protect and save the weak by bringing them into the centre. They bear each other’s burden. They love each other as the Shepherd loved them, not merely as they love themselves (John 15:12).