Show me a sign!

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This article was published on fervr.net on 7/10/15

Would an amazing, powerful, miraculous event grow your trust in God? Let’s take a look…

If you haven’t read Exodus in a while, take a glance at chapter 16:

  • The Israelites marched out of Egypt free from slavery just about six weeks prior.
  • They had witnessed the spectacular ten plagues of Egypt in close proximity not that long ago.
  • And on top of that, they were lucky enough to walk through the Red sea on dry ground while the water stood as wall on both sides, which is way beyond any human imagination.

After these miracles, if there is a measuring unit for faith, their faith in God must have been at 100% right? The answer unfortunately is wrong!

How quickly we forget

The Israelites grumbled against Moses and God twice already in their first few weeks of exodus – once for bitter water at Marah and now for the lack of food in the desert.

They must have thought that if God had defeated the most powerful kingdom on earth at that time and freed them from slavery, split a sea in two so they could walk through it, he could have thought about some of the other minor details like food and water. Surely!

What about us? Would we be any different? We are tempted to say that if we were one of the Israelites during exodus, we would not have forgotten what God had done for me so quickly. But is that true?

How’s your faith-o-meter?

Perhaps, we are better followers of God than the Israelites, but chances are we are not that different.

Our faith-o-meter runs quite low on a day-to-day basis as well. Our daily routine may not involve seeing rivers turning into blood or frogs crawling all over our cities but that does not mean our lives have any shortage of God’s care and protection.

We have all heard those cheesy lines in our churches and youth groups about how life itself is a miracle—the fact that our hearts are beating and that millions of neurons in our bodies are firing which enables us to walk, talk and think. There is a million-fold truth to that.  But at times, we find ourselves like Gideon asking God for a special sign to clarify our doubts and help our unbelief.

Miracles don’t always lead to belief

Miracles, by definition are unusual occurrences. God uses miracles occasionally to display his glory and thereby strengthen people’s faith in him, but faith cannot be survived just by miracles. In fact, one needs faith to see a miracle from God for what it is.

A miraculous cure from cancer or a supernatural phenomenon can easily be dismissed as just a random event if someone does not see God’s divine intervention in that event. That’s why Jesus in Matthew 12 refused to give the Pharisees a sign. After all, they accused him of healing a demon-possessed man by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons just few verses earlier.

Remember God’s power

We do have couple of valuable lessons to learn from ancient Israelites about faith and miracles.

  1. Faith in God is strengthened by walking through the Red sea, but it is also strengthened while trusting the same God to provide us with our basic necessities in life whether it is food, opportunities or other longings in life. You don’t need a miracle to strengthen your faith—you just need to trust God at all times.
  2. We all are capable of amnesia when it comes to what God has done in our lives. Even the most spectacular miracle is forgotten. Recording what God has done for us in a journal and periodically looking through how God has lead us in the past helps us get through times when our faith dwindles.  After all, we are reading stories from Moses’s journal today and it still strengthens our faith some 3500 years later.

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May be I was the Martha in the story…

Unhappy woman standing in kitchen“…Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary”
Luke 10:41,42

 

Every time we read this story, we instinctively think of Martha as being silly or superficial. “Yea Martha, why would you be worried about what to serve your celebrity guest? And why does it bother you that you are slaving away in the kitchen on your own while your sister is chilling with the guest?” If it hasn’t become obvious yet, the irony is, we would have done what Martha did almost hundred percent of the time. Martha is often portrayed in a negative light as someone absorbed in trivial matters while Mary shines as the wise one who made the right choice.  But lets be practical here.  Mary is not a good team player in this incident and someone has to worry about making dinner.  Soon as the hungry stomachs started growling, I am sure they appreciated what Martha was up to that evening in Bethany.

 

Now that we have validated Martha’s behavior, lets take a step back.  There seems to be a certain depth to the story that we haven’t quite captured yet.  Martha’s behavior was not bad.  It was in fact very good.  She stands as an epitome of productivity and hospitality.  After all, we very much value those qualities in our society.  And we are more than eager to teach them to our kids.  Notice, Jesus is neither asking Martha to calm down and take a chill pill nor is he condemning her desire to serve her guests.  He is rather questioning her priorities.  He is not making a distinction between good and bad behavior but between good and better.  In all of Jesus’s teachings, he has never narrowed down any concept to “one thing that is necessary” except in this passage.  We better pay careful attention here.

 

Jesus continues to explain that Mary’s choice to sit at his feet was the “good portion” because that experience and what she gained from it “will not be taken away from her”.  In other words, spending time at Jesus’s feet is an investment for eternity.  It is that one thing that is necessary in this life.  As it follows, it is that one thing that has to be at the top of our priority list. Because everything else in life including our money, health, relationships, social status and life itself will be taken away from us.  However, spending time with Jesus is not the easiest thing in the world.  The tangible things in life seem more urgent than the intangible.  At times, God seems elusive and distant.  Prayers seem to dissolve in thin air.  Silent meditation is rather unexciting and  sometimes reading a four thousand year old manuscript is  laborious.  We are tempted to point fingers at Mary in envy and say that she had it easy.  He was right there.  She could see him, hear him, touch him and quite literally sit at his feet and listen to his teachings.  Again, Martha in this story gives us no room for excuse.  As a matter of fact, Martha was also physically present in that house and still chose the urgencies of the tangible.

 

The story has no ending in the bible.  Luke does not record Martha’s response to Jesus’s words.  We don’t know if Martha joined Mary at Jesus’s feet. I hope she did.  I hope we do too.  Sitting at his feet is a habit to be cultivated.  It does get sweeter every time.  After all, we will always have the “many things” to be anxious about but only one thing is necessary.

“Burn of being”

“There is an enormous contingent of thoughtful people in this country who, though they are frustrated with the language and forms of contemporary American religion, nevertheless feel that burn of being that drives us out of ourselves, that insistent, persistent gravity of the ghost called God.

– Christian Wiman in My Bright Abyss

If you want to be instantly unpopular in a crowd, startA nice fire in a fire place talking about God. After all, why would anyone who is educated and thoughtful even believe in such a being? Why subscribe to a four thousand year old myth when the flashy, new science textbook can theorize our origin and the meaninglessness of our lives? Morality is not a code inherently imparted into our being. It’s merely a societal agreement of an acceptable set of behaviors. We profess to live for the moment and withhold no pleasures of life.

And yet, there comes a brief moment when the deepest yearning of the soul surfaces the consciousness of our minds. Meaninglessness becomes a heavy burden. Common sense rings deafeningly loud. We begin to feel the “burn of being” and “that insistent, persistent gravity of the ghost called God”. To some, this is a foreign emotion. Others come up with an alternate psychological theory to explain it away. Perhaps, I too am entitled to a theory of my own. I propose that it is neither a primitive mental instinct that evolution failed to eradicate nor is it an ecstatic thought of the unintelligible. It is one of many things the mind is designed to do spontaneously – connect with its designer.

Love your neighbor – A Lesson from Mockingjay Part 1

This review was published on Christian Media Magazine on 12/23/14

The-Hunger-Games-Mockingjay-Part-1-Final-PosterSuzanne Collins’s ‘Hunger Games’ series is more than a teen sensation. A story set in a place called Panem, which used to be called North America, captures a reality that is not just reserved for a society in the future. It actually hits too close to home in present-day North America and for that matter, the world at large.

The concept of a capitol district exploiting the resources of 13 districts and living in luxury at the expense of the blood and sweat of laborers sets the stage for the story. It’s hard not to notice a parallelism between the present day West and The Capitol of Panem in its thirst for wealth and power. In Panem, children get entangled in this complex political mess in the form of hunger games, an annual game conducted by The Capitol to demonstrate its power over the other districts.

Children, selected at random from the 13 districts are thrown into an arena and are asked to kill each other with the last one alive rewarded as a ‘victor’ with a promise of prosperity for his/her lifetime. The heroine of the story, Katniss Everdeen not only emerges as a victor of the game but also as a political symbol of defiance ‘the mocking Jay’, which brings us to the recent movie.

Although the first two books in the series were captured in two movies, only the first half of the last book is depicted in Mockingjay Part 1. Some view this as a Hollywood tactic to drag out the story to make as much money out of a franchise as possible. But splitting the last book in half afforded this movie a more detailed storyline and I am not complaining.

Ideology from a Christian Perspective:

In this movie, Katniss unwillingly transforms from being a selfish teenager who only cared for her safety and that of her loved ones into a political figure whose humanitarian concerns far exceed her family bubble. The movie is not meant to be romantic nor action packed but it is ideologically loaded. Couple of which are worth highlighting from a Christian perspective:

1. Social injustice has been an ever-present reality since sin entered this world. Closing our eyes and our minds to such injustice is not an option for a practicing Christian whether we find ourselves on the privileged side or the oppressed.

2. All the days of our lives could be spent nourishing and benefiting ourselves. But life gets much richer when we look beyond ourselves to benefit others. The world calls such attitude ‘charity’, an optional phenomenon. The Bible calls it ‘loving our neighbors as ourselves’, a mandatory phenomenon.

‘Interstellar’ made me think of love!

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This article was published on Christian Media Magazine on 12/6/14

http://christianmediamagazine.com/entertainment-2/interstellar-made-think-love-review/

 

If ‘Inception’ left you scratching your head, ‘Interstellar’ [Christopher Nolan] has enough to bend your mind.  The spectacular journey across the galaxies, a flesh-and-blood display of the theory of relativity and lots of experiments with time and space warp, which for the most part still falls under sci-fi category, had my head spinning for close to three hours.  This movie has already sparked many blog posts and analyses from a wide range of audience from movie critics and scientists to religious leaders and amateurs.  I have to admit that I have no expertise in cinematography or science and this article definitely falls under the amateur criteria.  Among the many things that left me saying “wow” repeatedly as I walked away from the movie theater, I would like to highlight one concept that affected me deeply from a religious and philosophical perspective.

Although the movie repeatedly makes references to Biblical stories especially that of Lazarus’s resurrection and one can certainly milk out numerous religious parallelisms, the movie is not meant to be a religious one by any stretch.  But I couldn’t help but reflect on the concept of love as a transcendent phenomenon.  A dimension of sort that transcends time and space.  One of the characters in the movie equates love to gravitational pull and dismisses the notion that love is a man-made construct for societal utility.  They quote the examples of our time-trancending love for our dead ancestors and unborn children, who aren’t necessarily part of our society.  I have to agree that even though we are stuck in the unidirectional flow of time and are limited to our dimension of space, our only mode of transcendence during our brief journey through life is love. Love could never have been a product of evolution.  In fact, it fundamentally stands in contrast to the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’.  It is as if we are fitted with antennas for love. We know when we are near it and we cannot stop craving for it. Most obvious good and horrendous evil in this world are attempts to arrive at love.

The origin of love is extraterrestrial and I have a hunch as to where its from. Although I practice science for a living, I think science has horribly failed to explain certain realities of life and one of them is love.  I am going to stick to the story of a God who loved first and created beings in his likeness who are capable of giving and receiving love.  And if that ancient manuscript is right, which I believe it is, it was love that made that same God transcend time and space to live among us and die for us.