Teach me to number my days so that… (part 2)

In my previous blog, I referred to the Psalm 90, the magnificent song of Moses:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Moses here acknowledges that there is something terribly wrong in the world because we who were the crown of God’s creation are fallen and finite creatures. Our lives are short and filled with trouble, and our death is inevitable. In the face of this inevitability, Moses prays, Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. We must learn to number our days properly so that we can live our lives wisely.

Let me give you a few things to ponder which will go a long way in living wisely. I am only going to name a few things; they are pastoral and very simple, and yet incredibly important. I would invite you to add to the list and teach them to your children.

1. Make sure that those closest to you know that you love them. In fact- today is the day to learn to say “I love you” and to say it regularly. These are the most profound words you could leave as a legacy to your loved ones. Many a child has grown to adulthood and been left with words such as, “you’ll never amount to anything,” “you’re a mistake, we never really wanted you.” Many a wife or husband has been left wondering if she/he was really loved. And so, one of the ways to create a wise and lasting positive legacy is to make sure your loved ones know you love them. Today is the day to begin…say it, don’t assume it.

2. Make sure that you keep short accounts. Today is the day to learn to say “I’m sorry” and to say it often. Grudges are built up over time; unforgiveness turns to bitterness and to resentment; unreconciled relationships separate us and can be passed on to future generations. How many of the world conflicts today find their root in generational grudges and tribal revenge? And how many issues in our families are rooted in the hearts of people who refuse to forgive and seek reconciliation – until it’s too late, and all they have left is regret. You don’t always have to be right, but you should always be sorry. It is hard to die in peace when you are overcome with regret. It is not too late to begin to wisely learn to say, “I’m sorry.”

3. Make sure that you have thought deeply about where you will be 10 seconds after you die. Today is the day to get right with God. Since death is inevitable and we will all someday face our Maker, are you prepared? “I’ll deal with that when it comes”- you don’t know when it will come. I was talking to an old guy (older than me, so he was really old) two summers ago who wasn’t sure he believed in God, but he said “If there is a God, then he’ll know that I’ve done the best I could – He’ll understand.” I told him that the problem is our best isn’t good enough and God doesn’t grade on the curve. He demands perfection, which eliminates all of us from contention. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That is why we need a Savior. The old gentleman looked at me with a little smile on his face and said, “Hmm, well I’ll take my chances.” He’s right; he is taking a big chance… not wise!

Remember the 2004 Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ”? The trailer was simply a dark screen with these words, “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities…” This is a verse from Isa 53 and it continues…”the punishment of our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray…” Our Messiah took our sins upon himself so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. Therefore, it is the one who believes in Jesus Christ and what he has done on the cross who is ready face life and death and to stand before God without fear… very wise.

“No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.” (In Christ Alone by Alison Krauss and Keith Getty)

The following words were found on a note by the bedside of a man who had died after a brief illness: “What shall I think when I am called to die? Shall I not find too soon my life has ended? The years, too quickly, have hastened by with so little done of all that I’d intended. There were so many things I’d meant to try, so many contests I’d hoped to win, and now the end approaches just as I was thinking of preparing to begin.”

Lord, teach me to number my days

My feet had almost slipped…

Have you ever felt such deep disappointment that led you to believe that God was no longer there or had forgotten you?  Perhaps it was a situation where you didn’t particlarly like the way He was running the universe?   Maybe it hadn’t yet come to head, but you were simmering inside even though carrying on as if everything was fine. Maybe you are feeling like that now. You’ve noticed that your passion for God has started to ebb, you are beginning to lose your desire to be in the Word and pray; you’ve started to fall asleep in church; you’ve become critical and hard to live with, and you just don’t care much about the things of God.

If you feel this way, or think that you ever might, Psalm 73 is very important.  It is a tale of how a true believer became isolated from God through a crisis of faith.  It also shows the process that person (the psalmist) used to restore himself to fellowship.

The psalmist began by confessing that God is good.  This is important.  While he didn’t understand the ways of God, neither did he stop believing in God.  He began with what he knew to be true about God before he proceeded to address the things he didn’t understand. Many people are not successful with faith-crisis issues because they do not have a firm footing from which to deal with them.  Do yourself a favor and don’t reinvent the wheel every time you struggle with God.  Start your struggle by confessing those things which you know to be true and then proceed from there.

 The psalmist then proceeded with his compliant.  The psalmist (Asaph- writer of 12 Psalms) was a singer and chief musician in King David’s court. Asaph wasn’t engaged in a scientific study.  He merely looked around and saw the lives of those who did not have a heart for God and it seemed to him that they were getting along just fine, maybe even better than he was.  He wondered if it was even worth it to be righteous. He began to get the sense that things just weren’t fair and this began to distance him from God.

We do the same thing on a human level.  I know some people, for example, who go to church and make the observation that they are the only ones who aren’t happy or have it all together. Therefore, they feel out of place and stop attending.  It is not abnormal to make unsubstantiated assessments about people or situations which cause us to feel a certain way about ourselves. The psalmist did this as he looked around at the health and prosperity of those who did not love God, and it destabilized him.  He could not make any forward progress in his relationship to God.  Notice how he put it in v. 2, “my feet had almost slipped”. 

A number of years ago, when we lived in New England, I went up on my roof after a snow storm to shovel off two or three feet of snow along the edge to prevent an ice build up.  It was melting, so as soon as I shoveled a section it became very slippery.  I had to be extremely careful and deliberate with each step because I felt I was about to slip.  Finally, it got so bad I could no longer move in any direction, I was completely immobilized.  So it is when the feet of faith feel like they are almost slipping- we cannot move in our relationship to God.

And so Asaph poured out his complaint before God; he did not broadcast it to others.  He realized the effect that such spiritual turmoil could have upon the believing community, especially upon those who were less mature in the faith.  Instead, he kept pondering the issue and struggling with it before God until something happened. In v.17 we read, “till I entered the sanctuary of God and then I understood…” We’re not told what happened when he went to church that day. We know that he was on the church staff, being the chief musician in the Temple.  Maybe he was leading a worship song that he had sung a million times before, when all of a sudden he gained a new perspective of the Lord.  He ceased dealing with God as an object of speculation and began to see Him as the subject of worship.  He bowed himself before the majestic greatness of God and his whole perspective changed.  He bowed and then understood — that God was just and that the wicked and their wealth would be destroyed. 

 The psalmist also confessed his own humiliation and brokenness, v. 21, “when my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant, I was a brute beast before you.” This is a biblical response when we recognize the presence of God – like Isaiah, “Woe is me for I am undone!  For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the KING, the Lord Almighty” (Isa.6:5).  Or Peter, in Luke 5, after he had questioned Jesus’ authority and then witnessed his power in the great catch of fish; he fell down before Jesus and said,  “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man.” Also, Job’s experience, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3, 4). 

Similarly, the psalmist confessed his humiliation and something else (v. 23-24); He also confessed the realization that God had always been with him, even though he felt far away.  God was present with him and would be even in death (“and afterward you will take me to glory”). You can sense the psalmist’s growing passion for God in v. 25, 26, Asaph turned from the wealth of the wicked that he once envied to his true wealth.  “And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. God not only satisfies completely, but He remains the true treasure that even death cannot take away.

Do you remember that I told you about being stuck on my roof, feeling that my feet were about to slip?  The only way I got out of that predicament was by falling back into the unshoveled snow on my roof. The very thing I tried to get rid of became the very thing I turned to in the end.  The psalmist did the same thing with God.  He pushed God away and his feet almost slipped.  He fell back into God and he found his refuge.

Stay at worship, my friend. Keep in the Word and maintain your prayers, regardless of how you feel because this is real faith. Hang onto what you know to be true: God is good, He will always be with you, He will never fail you, He is your refuge, He is enough!

[Note to my readers: I am going through chemotherapy. Therefore, if I have made any glaring grammatical or spelling errors, please be gracious and attribute it to my chemo brain and not to my ignorance, which is far more likely.]

              

How Can the Church Become What Jesus Intended?

The church is at the same time a spiritual organism and a human organization. We become members of the organism by new birth and baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13) and of the organization by covenant. Most of the controversy about the church failing to become what Jesus intended is focused on its organizational form. The real issue, however, is not with organization, but with people who run it (pulpit and pew).

We Christians still live with our own version of the flesh. We see the sin of others so clearly. We carry with us our own set of expectations as to what the church should be. We go from church to church in search of this ideal. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book “Life Together,” writes, “He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.”

We all have our own dream of what the church should be like and when we cannot find it, we grow disillusioned. However, true fellowship is based upon faith and not dreams; upon truth and not emotions. Bonhoeffer boldly suggests that the sooner disillusionment comes, the better. “Therefore the very hour of disillusionment is instructive because it teaches me that neither I nor my brother can live to ourselves, but only through the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.”

The church (organizational) will become what Jesus intended it to be when we receive one another with grace and forgiveness and not measure one another by our own faulty expectations.

Thus for me to make a statement that the church has no relevance in my life, speaks more to my own unconnectedness and selfishness than to the nature of the church.

And by staying in the church, I place myself in the position of receiving from others the very grace and mercy needed most to help me work through the issues of my heart.

Marriage then and now…

Marriage then… June 26, 1971, a date that will live in infamy -wait, that was Pearl Harbor. Let me start over: a date that will live forever in memory. A day when a 22-yr old woman (a beauty) and a 24-yr old guy (add any adjective or noun that is appropriate) said their vows to each other. Those vows did not announce how much they were in love on that day, but the vows were commitments made that they would, by God’s unmeasureable Grace, love each other “until they laid each other in the arms of God.”

Marriage now…June 26, 2019           

48 Things I Love About My Wife, GLORIA   

G   od-lover, great (wonderful) grandma, giver, glad to help others, grateful when people help her, good cook, genuine servant, gold and diamonds are not important, glued to her marriage until death do us part

L   oves her husband and kids and is loved by them, longs for meaningful conversation, loves to explore and take back roads, loses things but they usually turn up (just found car keys in coat pocket after 3 yrs), likes to stay up late but not get up early, lavish prayers said daily on behalf of her kids and grandkids, loyal to her marriage vows especially the in sickness and in health part

O  pines often,  outdoor girl, ovulates no more, overlooks her husband’s faults, opens her home to the stranger and refugee, open-handed to those in need, oppressed by the computer, observes carefully whatsapp messages from kids about the grandkids, overwhelmed by the thought of selling our house and moving 

R ank means nothing, raspberry lover (especially black raspberry pie), reads good books (especially about missions), redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, regularly reflects on God’s Word, rather not do housework, really rather be hiking or kayaking, regrets living so far away from her new grandson in Switzerland, reads idiots guide to understand financial stuff

I   nterested in just about everything having to do with her kids and grandkids, intelligent, incurious about sports (except baseball), inflexible in her convictions, initiates conversations with strangers

A   lways faithful, always supportive of her husband, asks a few questions once in awhile, an accomplished pianist and marimbist, appreciates working together on anything, always likes apple butter, an amazing ESL teacher, age has enhanced her beauty, a woman who fears the Lord

Hypocrites!

I already posted this quote on my FB page and it drew so many comments I decided to put it on my blog. It comes from J.C. Ryle in his book “Practical Religion.” Ryle (1816-1900) was the first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, England, and his book strikes a cord for the reality of Christ in the life of the believer.

“A bad coin is no proof that there is no good money; nay, rather it is a sign that there is some current money which is valuable, and is worth imitation. Hypocrites and sham Christians are indirect evidence that there is real grace among men. Let us search our hearts then, and see how it is with ourselves.”

On another note: my cancer has returned and I start chemo treatments tomorrow. I would appreciate your prayers and I will be posting some thoughts and meditations regarding this new phase of my discipleship. Blessings

All for the Sake of Another!

Within 2 Samuel 9:1-8 lies a metaphor of God’s love for us in Christ; the fact that we are loved for the sake of another. King David considers who he might shower grace upon; not from among his friends, but from the very household of his old enemy Saul. The man who had rebelled against God, terrorized him while in his service, and ultimately tried to hunt him down and kill him. It was upon this household he was seeking to show mercy.

However, it was to be mercy displayed to a certain member of that household, … “that I may show him kindness for the sake of Jonathan.” It was Saul’s deceased son Jonathan, whom David loved. And so, Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth (lit. from the mouth of shame) was located by the FBI and brought to David.

We are told several things about Mephibosheth: he was Jonathan’s youngest, about 5 yrs. old when Saul and Jonathan had been killed by the Philistines (2 Samuel 4:4); he had been dropped by his nurse as she was fleeing with him out of fear of a possible assassination attempt, and he was crippled by the fall; he was living far away from Jerusalem in relative anonymity, in a place with the interesting name of Lo-debar (lit. land of nothing) on the other side of the Jordan River; he could not provide for himself and was being cared for by a generous man who was a descendent of the half-tribe of Manasseh, which had claimed the land on the east side of the Jordan; he was most likely terror-stricken to have been “found” and called to appear before the King, the one who had been his grandfather’s rival.

It must have been quite a scene: they meet and David calls him by name and Mephibosheth falls on his face, like someone who has had his crutches kicked out from under him! David then tells him not to be afraid, and goes on to say that he wants to show him kindness for the sake of his father Jonathan. This kindness would consist of having his land returned and eating from the rich resources of the kings table. He would also be allotted servants who would care for him and farm the land given to him.

And what was Mephibosheth’s response?  “What is your servant, that you show kindness to a dead dog like me?”

What a picture of God’s grace and mercy shown to us who were in the household of that rebel Adam and were nothing but enemies of God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead [dogs] in our sins, made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… [so that] he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:4-7)

Charles Blanchard, the second president of Wheaton College, tells this story in his book on prayer, Getting Things from God(p. 101-2): 

It was during the Civil War and a gentleman from Indianapolis had an only son who had listed in the Union Army. The father was a banker and though he consented to his son going off to war, it seemed as if it would take his very life to have him go. He was ceaselessly interested in soldiers. Whenever he saw a uniform his heart went out to it. He thought of his boy. He spent his time, he neglected his business, he gave his money to help supplying regiments and companies, and of caring for the wounded at home. At last he was convinced by his friends to moderate his activity because he was neglecting his own life and business. So he resolved to tend to his own business and let the government take care of the boys in blue.

One day, there stepped into his bank a soldier in a faded and tattered blue uniform who was recovering from wounds he had received in battle. The soldier came up to his desk and fumbled for something in the pocket of his uniform. The man immediately told him that he was extremely busy and could be of no assistance, and that he would have to go to HQ to get the help he needed.  The soldier produced a note which he gave to the banker. It read: “Dear Father, this is one of my dear comrades. He was wounded in our last fight and has been in the hospital. Please receive him as myself. Charlie.”

In a moment all the resolutions of indifference which this man had made flew away. He took the boy to his palatial home, put him in Charlie’s room, gave him Charlie’s place at the table, kept him till food and rest and love brought him back to life, and sent him back to peril his life for his flag. 

… all for the sake of his beloved son, Charlie.

David bestowed kindness and mercy on Mephibosheth … all for the sake of his beloved Jonathan.

God has showered mercy and grace upon us and has taken us into his very own family … all for the sake of his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

Let us never forget, that we are loved (and should love) all for the sake of ANOTHER! And let us never fail to fall down and worship the One who has shown so much grace and mercy!

“Chosen not for good in me, wakened up from wrath to flee. Hidden in my Savior’s side, by Thy Spirit sanctified. Help me Lord on earth to show, by my love how much I owe.” Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

Aftermath in Sri Lanka

This letter was written today by the Principal of the Colombo Theological Seminary in Sri Lanka to our Graduate School at Wheaton College . One of our students (my student chaplain) is Sri Lankan and lost a relative in the bombings. We have been in prayer for our sisters and brothers in the face of this great tragedy.

Early Days after the Easter Sunday Bombings

Thursday April 25, 2019

Dear friends,

Today is the fourth day following the Easter Sunday attacks, which have been comprehensively reported on around the world. The suddenness, magnitude, and the horrific nature of these coordinated bombings generated a profound sense of shock and disbelief, followed by outrage and fear. The disorientation is compounded by many important factors.

The fact is that, for over a thousand years, Sri Lankan Muslims have lived at peace with their neighbours and have never been known to initiate violence against other ethnic or religious communities. This is so unlike the ancient histories of world Islam where often its very introduction was marked by violence and holy war. In Sri Lanka the four world religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity) have co-existed for over a millennia. The earliest Christian communities were the Nestorian Christians of the sixth century AD but these had ended well before the Roman Catholic Portuguese arrived in the fifteen hundreds.

Religious violence is relatively new, beginning in the late eighties (1987) with the martyrdom of Pastor Lionel Jayasinghe of the Assemblies of God. From this point on extremist Buddhist groups have continually targeted Christian workers, congregations, and church property; most being evangelicals committed to evangelism and church planting. Even during periods of reduced intensity, acts of discrimination simmer in the rural areas of the country where Christians form a very small minority, are poor, and have little access to power and influence. In the Eastern Province, where Batticaloa is the main town, extremist Hindu groups have occasionally been aggressive against the church, and more recently we had incidents by such a group in Nuwara Eliya in the central hill country. The Easter attack is the first by Islamic extremists, and this aggression against Roman Catholic churches is unprecedented.

It has now become clear that intelligence-agencies had warned the government and public officials specifically about the nature of the threat and the targets, but there was not even a hint of danger released to the church leaders or the hotel industry. This monumental failure has cost so many lives and unleashed a wave of palpable fear.

Today there was growing anxiety with rumours of an even bigger explosion somewhere in the city. Heavy vehicles were ordered off the streets, some offices went into lockdown, and gradually the city became eerily calm as security forces and police searched desperately for suspects and explosives. A bomb was found near a bank in Batticaloa, and over the past few days several detections have been made including a factory used to make bombs, and caches of weapons and explosives all over the country.

Another unexpected consequence has been the sad experience of families of refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan, many of whom were living in Negombo until their immigration to other countries was processed by the UN. Neighbours have reacted and driven them from their homes, and they have sought refuge at the police stations. We will need to figure out how we can help them.

Right now our home church, Kollupitiya Methodist, is closed off by the security forces, and no one is allowed to bring a vehicle in. Most churches are uncertain about conducting worship next Sunday. Muslim leaders have today appealed to the churches to not cancel worship services; that Muslim men will come to stand around the churches to offer protection. There is genuine mutual goodwill between the leaders of the two faiths which we must certainly seize upon if this violence and brutalization is to be stemmed.

In this light it was truly inspirational to listen to the speech made by Abraham Sumanthiran yesterday in Parliament. Sumanthiran is one of my dear friends; a strong Christian and former Vice President of the Methodist Church. I will attach the text of his speech to this correspondence. His speech was followed by that of Rauf Hakeem, the leader of the Muslim Congress (the main Muslim political party). You can find it here (I trust it’s the right link. YouTube is barred, so I am unable to open it myself!):  https://www.facebook.com/RauffHakeemOfficial/videos/275590726728820?sfns=mo  

The death toll has now gone past 350, and many are fighting to survive. The suffering and grief is immense and felt intensely, even though this generation has seen massive loss of life through two Marxist insurrections, a 34-year civil war, and the Boxing Day Tsunami (where 40,000 died within just two hours). We are also deeply saddened by the deaths of 37 foreign nationals, many who had come to Sri Lanka to enjoy a vacation away from the cold. How sad that sunny Sri Lanka should have become for them too, an island of tears.

The Zion Church in Batticaloa is the one with which CTS has links. On the occasion of our last awards ceremony for students at our Batticaloa Extension, Pastor Roshan Mahesan and the leaders of Zion extended their hospitality and treated the graduating class and the CTS personnel to a sumptuous dinner. It is most likely that the bomber picked Zion because the nearby Catholic Church had finished the Mass. He had come right into the church and been noted by his strange behaviour. Ramesh, a CTS student who was a pastoral assistant, had taken him by the hand and walked him out wanting to find out more about his interest in the church and who might have invited him. After leading him out to the compound Ramesh had asked him to wait while he went to the church office briefly. Several motor bikes were parked nearby. It was then that the bomber detonated the device. Although this meant that many of those seated within the sanctuary were saved, there were several Sunday School children playing in the compound. This is the reason that 16 of the 27 who died instantly were kids. Ramesh also died. Two woman students, Rebecca and Vathani, were badly injured. Rebecca is critical. BBC covered Ramesh’s story. You can see it here:
https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-48033102/sri-lanka-attacks-how-one-churchgoer-saved-lives  

Nitharshan Prabha is a CTS student and a Sunday School teacher at Zion. He has this amazing testimony:

During Sunday School he had talked to the children about the importance of repentance and receiving Jesus as Lord. Because a recent vehicle accident had claimed the lives of six Zion Church members, he had referred to that event and challenged the children asking them if they would be willing to even die for Jesus. All the children had responded by putting their hands up and signalled their fresh dedication to Jesus by lighting a symbolic candle. For so many of those children it would be their final act of worship (2 Timothy 6:6-8). Prabha had a narrow escape. The person next to him, the wife of a CTS alumnus, sustained critical head injuries and is in ICU.

Our social landscape appears to have transformed in an instant. Once we get over the shock, it’ll be time to roll up the proverbial sleeve and get engaged in the work cut out for the Church. We will need effective pastoral care for congregations, psycho-social support for Christian children, and a whole new way of thinking about security for Christian events and gatherings. Then there is the need for biblical teaching: to enhance our understanding of persecution and our theology of suffering; to deepen our commitment to evangelism; and to develop a Christian mind for peace-making and grace-sharing. Many have expressed their readiness to support the families of the bereaved and the injured. The churches are already working on rebuilding their damaged properties. There is an amazing resilience and solidarity that is sweeping through the wider society. Pray that it will grow.

In all things God works for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. I ought to have put Paul’s words within quotation marks and cited Romans 8:28. But having seen national scale violence, destruction and suffering from the time I was seven, I’ve learned to make those words my immediate and natural response, rather than just a scriptural quotation. What a comfort to know and feel the power of the truth of what Paul continues to say in Romans 8:28-39: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”

Thank you for praying. There is nothing more comforting than the feeling that the people of God around the world prayerfully share the pain, the passion, and the purpose of our shared calling, to be faithful to the summons of our Lord in the brief moment of history gifted to each of us wherever we are placed in God’s good earth.

Your brother in Christ,

 Ivor

Ivor Poobalan PhD

Principal

Colombo Theological Seminary

Sri Lanka