Friday, August 22, 2008

During a train journey... (2)

August 21. Somewhere in Maharashtra. A wide expanse of greenery as stretched as far as the eye could see. Crops waving in the silky breeze that soothed the soul. Even the sun which seems oppressive in the city is mild here. In the distance stood a brick house with a tiled slanting roof. Near the house, a farmer hard at work, ploughing his fields with his pair of bullocks. Unmindful of the train thundering by, he merely gives it a passing glance. Not for him the hustle and bustle of city life. He dictates his pace and is perhaps the only person in the world to get work satisfaction. And if the government decides to give him a good price for his grain, no one could be happier or contented.

When I have earned enough money I plan to retire to a remote village, buy some land and become a farmer. There is no life that is equivalent to that of a farmer in a quiet village.

Critics may vary about the success or the rating Rambo IV received. But the last scene where Rambo walks to his home, his land, the place where he belongs is the most heartwarming scene of all. And they did not pick New York, Los Angeles or Miami for that scene. They chose a farmhouse, set in the midst of a veritable sea of corn for the scene (Arizona?).

A man at peace with himself, going back to his roots.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

During a train journey... (1)

August 19. Somewhere in Madhya Pradesh. We are yet to reach Itarsi Junction. Our train has stopped for one of those inevitable "crossings" that occur on all train journeys in India. There are thick forests on both sides of the track.

A small platoon of monkeys, obviously used to getting food treats at this spot, came down from their tree shelter. Almost as if by reflex, the passengers on the train began throwing fruits(bananas mostly), biscuits, slices of bread and other eatables toward the monkeys. And the monkeys did not disappoint the waiting audience. With loud shrieks, they pounced on the food and feasted like no tomorrow to the immense delight of the children on the train who goaded on their parents to hurl out more eatables.

One passenger threw a half empty soft drink bottle. Confronted with this strange object, a few monkeys shied away. It reminded one of the The Gods must be Crazy movies where bushmen come across a softdrink bottle accidentally dropped by the pilot of a small plane. That bottle was made of glass and empty. This was made of plastic and was still half full.

A bold male approached the bottle and gave it a feeble poke. And when the bottle spun round, he jumped back in alarm. A few such attempts later, determining that the bottle held malice toward none, he grabbed it and gave it a bite. Great was his surprise when the pressurized gas inside began to escape with a hissing sound from the hole he had created. He scurried back to the safety of his mates. The whole platoon watched as the dark brown liquid spurted out like a fountain.

A few seconds later, a bigger male, perhaps imagining the bottle to be a wounded animal spouting blood ventured forward and tried to drink the 'blood'. The fact that he did not like the taste of the 'blood' was quite obvious. He began grimacing and wiping his mouth with his front paws trying to take the taste off. Two other members of his clan decided to try out the taste as well and they too joined the pathfinder in wiping their mouths. After that the monkeys avoided the soft drink altogether. They didnot even go near it. Perhaps they had no sports or movie icon to advice them that the softdrink was good for them. Or perhaps we need to rethink the statement about Man being the most intelligent of all creatures.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Fig tree in the Vineyard

The following is an abridged translation of a sermon delivered by Pastor Daniel Thomas. (This presentation lacks the power of his presence and his magnetic voice, yet his message is universal)

The Fig tree in the Vineyard

Key Text: Luke 13: 6 – 9 (All references are in KJV)

6: He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
7: Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
8: And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
9: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

Fig trees are usually found by the wayside. They are not cultivated. And yet, here we see what seems to be an anomaly. The owner of the vineyard has knowingly planted a fig tree IN his vineyard.

And when he saw a fig tree in the way ... (Matthew 21:19)

This is unusual. Why would somebody do so? It has been estimated that one could plant 70 grape saplings in the place occupied by a fig tree. So it is obvious that the fig tree has no place in the vineyard. That brings us to the first “tree” on our list

(i) The Undeserving Tree

The tree had no right of place in the vineyard, yet the owner had planted it there. Likewise, God has planted us in His vineyard, undeserving as we are of His grace.

He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. (Deuteronomy 32:10)

We are to have been cast out into the wilderness; yet, He has taken us and transplanted us in His vineyard.

And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.
- Ezekiel 16:4
He knew us even before we were born. And He chose to plant us in His vineyard. That brings us to the next tree.

(ii) The Deserving Tree

We are undeserving of our place in the vineyard, and yet because He has planted us there, we have become deserving. We have been given a fence to guard us, a Gardener to tend us and speak on our behalf, and an Owner.

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
- I John 2:1

Just think of the blessing we have been given. We are His chosen people, His peculiar treasure. We are in the vineyard by Choice, not by Chance. We ought to have been cut down and cast into fire, yet Jesus has interceded on our behalf.

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
- I Peter 2: 9, 10

There is another Person who speaks for us to the Father.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
- Romans 8: 26

Yet, why are they interceding? It’s because we have failed to bear fruit. A tree’s fundamental duty is to bear fruit. But we have not. So we are

(iii) The Failed Tree

A man who plants a tree certainly expects it to bear fruit. That is natural.

He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. – Luke 13: 6

And yet we have either been barren or given “strange fruits” i.e. fruits contrary to God’s expectations.

Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?
- Jeremiah 2: 21

What fruits does our Owner expect from us?

(a) Fruit of repentance
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: - Matthew 3: 8

(b) Fruit of righteousness
Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the
glory and praise of God. - Philippians 1: 11

(c) Fruit of good deeds
That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every
good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; - Colossians 1: 10

(d) Fruit of Thankfulness
By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the
fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. - Hebrews 13: 15

And of course, (e) the Fruits of the Holy Spirit
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness,
Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law
- Galatians 5: 22, 23

And we have been given time to bear fruits. Like the gardener in the parable, Jesus has interceded for us before God the Father. He has bought us time, making us

(iv) The Tree that received a new lease of life.

Jesus has interceded on our behalf and has said that He “shall dig about it, and dung it:” so that we bear fruit. Many of us wish for love or greater faith so on. Yet does God give us faith or love, or does He give us the opportunity to love or be faithful? Obviously the latter. So we all have received new leases of life. Everyday we should thank God that He has so graciously given us another day to bear fruit.
But we should not take it to mean that the lease is permanent. It can be revoked any time, any day. But we should not bring “false fruit.”

Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images.
- Hosea 10: 1
(v) The Tree that received Grace.

We have received grace in the eyes of the Lord, and He has interceded for us.

And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.
- Exodus 33: 17

Yes, He knows us individually by our names and we have received His grace.

But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
- Genesis 39: 21
Like Joseph in Egypt, we too have received grace in His eyes and have been given a new lease of life.

Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.

- Job 10: 12

For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
- Psalms 30: 5

The command had gone forth, that the tree be felled. But God in His great mercy has stayed the felling just a little. Remember the time of Noah. God gave them 120 years to repent. They did not. Only Noah and his family escaped.

(vi) The Tree that escaped.

For my name's sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.
- Isaiah 48:9

For His (Jesus’) Name’s sake, God has deferred His anger and refrained from cutting us down.

Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.
Psalms 124: 7

Through the Saviour’s intercession we have escaped felling. We have received grace and a new lease. We have been given time to bear fruit.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
- Matthew 3: 7 - 10

Therefore remember that the axe has been laid next to every tree that does not yield fruit.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper

- Psalms 1: 1 – 3

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
- John 15: 16

And we (the church as a whole) should welcome our Lord like a bride bids her groom to come forth and enjoy the fruits of her labour.

Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.
- Song of Solomon 4: 16

And if we follow His commandments,

And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee.
- Deuteronomy 7: 13

Therefore let us all go forth and bear fruits to the glory of God. God bless you, Amen.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

On Death

Good-by to the life I used to live,
And the world I used to know;
And kiss the hills for me, just once;
Now I am ready to go!
- Emily Dickinson

If tolling bell I ask the cause.
'A soul has gone to God,'
I'm answered in a lonesome tone;
Is heaven then so sad?

That bells should joyful ring to tell
A soul had gone to heaven,
Would seem to me the proper way
A good news should be given.
- Emily Dickinson

Most of us fear death, the absence of life. Many a time have I heard the statement, 'I love life.' Many party animals enjoy 'life' or so they claim. Why does no one enjoy death? It is inevitable. And if one believes in God, we have to meet the Maker. We are all here for a short sojourn on the planet and then we depart again. Yet in those sixty odd years we accomplish a lot of nonsense. We all know that we are not going to take anything with us when we depart. Everyone from an emperor to a slovenly beggar has to meet Mr. Death and depart from earth. Yet many do not go willingly. They kick and scream and Death has to literally drag them by their heels.

We amass wealth, fight 'enemies', think the world of ourselves, indulge in back biting, generally create a ruckus for something temporary. We do not care that we will have to stand before the Judge one day. We completely miss the picture. Life is a gift. True. It is like a roller coaster ride. True again. And yet when the ride is over, we do not want to leave.

All religions talk about death. Christianity says that death is a short sleep before you meet your Maker. Hinduism says that when you die, you go on a trial, literally, and thence to heaven or hell depending on your conduct on earth. We all place emphasis on the wrong things during our time on earth. Material things gain value at the cost of spiritual well being. Yet in that divine court, all your earthly power, your wealth account for nothing. There are many who have welcomed death. Socrates was one. As Dumbledore says in Harry Potter, "To the well ordered mind, death is but the next great adventure."

Personally, I would welcome Death. Provided the process happens quickly. This world and its mad rush has lost its appeal. I just smile at the things that go on under the name of survival. Can all this equal the love that the Divine can give us? Think about it. We are going to meet the Creator. What can equal the joy that that can give us?

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
- II Timothy 4 : 7

The 'lost' 8 years

I was talking to a friend of mine recently. He had a love affair that went on for eight years. Then circumstances separated the two. The girl married a software engineer and is now shuttling between countries wherever her husband is posted on duty. While reminiscing, he pointed out that the girl would right now be thinking that she had made the right decision and may even be regretting the eight years she "wasted." I agreed with him on the first count, but not on the second. We cannot be sure of that, though that does seem likely, I said then. Thinking about it now, I am positive that the girl in question would definitely be thinking so. If she is, I would like to take this opportunity to prove that she is wrong in thinking so.

It is true that the affair did not end on a positive note. But he conducted himself a true gentleman throughout. He could have taken advantage of her naivete, but he did not. For eight years he remained loyal and in fact shielded her from possible other misadventures that could have happened to her. They had had fights, misunderstandings, tantrums; the entire gamut of feelings that run in a relationship.

But they had a good rapport with each other. Each understood the other well. Now even though he is out of the picture, that does not mean that the experience she gained is of no use. Those eight years would definitely have left her more matured, composed, able to understand a relationship better. What if she had had an affair with a cunning confidence trickster. She may have paid a huge price for that misadventure. Or if she had had an affair with a young hot head, they may have eloped hurriedly only to repent at leisure. But all that did not happen.

Now that she is flying from continent to continent, she might consider it her good fortune that she was not able to wed him. While that is open to further debate, I would definitely have an issue to her or anyone saying that the affair itself was a waste of time. To outside eyes, it would seem so. But to those in the know, it is priceless. It laid the foundation of her present life.