Numbers 22 tells us the fascinating story of Balaam and his now-famous donkey. Balaam was on his way to help King Balak curse the Israelites, even though this displeased God. So God sent an angel to stand in Balaam's way. Balaam didn't see the angel, but the donkey did, and so did the smart thing: Refused to move. Balaam proceeded to beat the donkey thinking that she was just being stubborn, when finally, "the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, 'What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?'" (Numbers 22:28)
If only there were cameras back then, so that the expression on Balaam's face could have been recorded for us to see! This is the only time recorded in the Bible after the Garden of Eden (when the serpent spoke to Eve) where an animal spoke in a human language.
But I think animals continue to speak silently! I find animals often speaking to us through their behaviour and actions - sometimes pointing us to our common Creator, and sometimes showing us characteristics that they share with us as fellow created beings!
Many times I catch myself thinking that only humans were affected by the fall in the Garden of Eden. But that's not true - so was the rest of creation. Paul says in Romans 8:20-22 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
All of creation is eagerly "groaning" for freedom from lives of futility. But sadly in the world today, it seems like all the "groanings" of humans have been conveniently anesthetized - by pop psychology and fanciful concepts of relativism and New Age spirituality. In such a world, maybe it will take the "groanings" of the rest of creation to remind us of our basic yearning to be free.
And no matter what the proponents of evolution might say about our advanced brains, our naïve blindness to God reveals a severely backward state of mind in the things that count. We, as humans, are often blind to things that the animals seem to see so easily.Isaiah 1:2-3 says this so well
2 Heaven and earth, you're the jury. Listen to God's case:
I had children and raised them well, and they turned on me.
3 The ox knows who's boss, the mule knows the hand that feeds him,
But not Israel. My people don't know up from down.
I think Isaiah would be as shocked at the blindness of God's people today as he was 3000 years ago. We truly need God to open our eyes again, so that we can see what the animals see - Who our "boss" really is, Whose Hand it is "that feeds" us, and the only One Who can help us make sense of "up (heavenly priorities) from down (earthly priorities)."
So I thought we could take a look at various animals and their behaviour. I think it is amazing what we could discover about our God and about ourselves from them. I also hope this series will inspire you to look for the Creator in the world around you - in the way an insect moves, in the way a tree grows, in the way the crows look for food, etc.
This was the basis of Jesus' teaching through the parables. The multitudes saw the birds, the fish, the sheep, the trees, and the figs every day. All they saw were things to eat and things to make money with. Jesus saw these same things, but saw God revealing facets about Himself and about our rightful place with Him - because He was caught up and absorbed in God. So I think WE ALL have the opportunity to discover and personalize God's Word to us - as we look and interact with His creation as a means to know our Creator.
In Balaam's case, we read a few verses later, in Numbers 22:31 - "Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground."
God used the donkey to help Balaam see a heavenly reality, which he had been previously blind to. So also, I hope that we too might learn to rediscover heavenly values from the animals and their behaviours. I hope that these stories can build up our own faith as we learn about God's faithfulness and our own broken tendencies. Our eyes could be opened to see sides of God that we had never previously seen.
May these studies be a blessing and an inspiration to all of you.
In the late 1800s, researchers conducted experiments on frogs to determine the nervous systems of frogs in response to various stimuli. In a particular experiment at Johns Hopkins University, one of the top universities in the U.S., researchers found that "a live frog can actually be boiled without a movement if the water is heated slowly enough; in one experiment the temperature was raised at a rate of 0.002°C. per second, and the frog was found dead at the end of 2½ hours without having moved."
Of course, this is something that I have NO interest in verifying myself through experiment! I have heard that some researchers now dispute some of these findings, but I'll leave that to the experts!
Nonetheless, I find this fascinating story about frogs a source of education. When placed directly in hot water, frogs would immediately jump out, because they realized that the temperature of the water was harmful to them. But when the water temperature was initially comfortable for them, these same frogs would not jump out because they failed to sense the slow increase in water temperature.
The frog died because it was very comfortable by the initial temperature of the water, and was unable to recognize the small gradual increases in water temperature, that finally got to a boiling point.
Now we as humans wouldn't do that - we are able to physically sense increases in water temperature, and we would jump out once the water got too hot - even if it was slowly heated. But I find that this behaviour in frogs does have an interesting parallel in human behaviour, which in turn is reflected in our spiritual walk with God.
To me, the water in this story represents the world and the attractions of this world. When we become Christians, I think we all quickly recognize that there are some attractions of this world that we must simply stay away from. For example, if I used to steal from other people before I became a Christian, I quickly learn that this is not how I must act, now that I am a Christian. If I used to fight and be physically violent with others, I quickly learn that this is not the way of Jesus. And if I used to think that it was okay to commit adultery, I quickly realize that this is a great sin before God.
So the devil knows that he cannot destroy me spiritually by telling me that it's okay to beat others up or steal or commit adultery. And even if I do fall in those areas as a Christian, I will be quick to recognize that I have not lived up to what God is asking me to do. Committing these gross sins is similar to a frog falling into boiling water. Even if it does fall in, it will quickly jump out.
So the devil doesn't begin this way. He begins by tempting me with the seed of these sins. To take the example of adultery, the seed of this sin is lust. This is the sin of sexual desire for a woman that God has not given to me. So he doesn't tell me to commit adultery with a woman at work, he simply tries to get me to enjoy looking at her again and again for sexual enjoyment. So every time I walk by her, I enjoy taking in her beauty and my mind is fixated by her beauty.
Now at first, when I do this, there is a little prick in my conscience, telling me that I shouldn't look at women that way, because none of them are my wife. My conscience would tell me that I would not want anybody to treat my daughter or sister that way. So sometimes I realize the sin of what I am doing and repent of it. But I can slowly convince myself that it isn't that big a deal to sexually enjoy her beauty.
Then slowly over time, those repeated looks at her (without her knowing of course) get more and more normal to me that I am not even bothered by my staring at her. And as time goes on, it gets more and more normal to look at many other women the same way, and with more and more shamelessness.
The original 1882 experiment was cited as: Sedgwick, On the Variation of Reflex Excitability in the Frog induced by changes of Temperature, Stud. Biol. Lab. Johns Hopkins University (1882): 385.
Then, maybe even a couple of years later of doing this, there is a woman to whom I am attracted to, who also seems to find me interesting. So we begin to talk, and before you know it, we are spending more time together. It starts by just innocent conversations, but then she tells me some painful part of her life, or I tell her some deep pain of mine, and we begin to connect emotionally. Here once again, I feel the prick in my conscience - something telling me that what I am doing is wrong. But I ignore those warnings because I really enjoy my conversations with this woman. I am also too afraid to suddenly now break the friendship off completely - because it would make things weird and awkward. Mostly though, I still convince myself that this is just a harmless friendship and nothing more. But through the mistakes of countless others before us, we know that these are all the small steps that will one day result in committing adultery. In this way, bit by bit, many are slowly seduced into being comfortable with greater and greater sins.
Now I don't think that what I have written above is some great revelation. We probably all can think of some big sin that we committed (or are committing), and we wonder how things have gotten that bad. But if we are honest and examine our lives, we can trace our big sins to a lot of smaller and lesser choices that have led us there.
Similarly, we have probably all known or heard stories of a Christian minister or leader whom we thought of as so close to God, but is suddenly exposed for having an affair or for stealing a whole lot of money. We are shocked and wonder how this could ever happen to a man with great healing or preaching gifts. We then think that if such gifted Christians didn't stand a chance, then the rest of us are without hope.
But that's the lie of the devil. We must not be surprised by the fall of anybody else, because we do not know their hidden inner life. We can be sure, however, about one thing that is true about all humans - no matter what their spiritual gifts are. If we allow the small sins to persist, we will slowly get comfortable with continuing to commit the small sins, and this will slowly lead to us committing greater sins one day.
The devil's master plan is to slowly lull us into a state of lukewarm-ness by being okay with the little sins. The devil knows that if he succeeds in that, he can (over time) bring the entire spirit of this world into us, and get us to commit the grossest of sins. He knows that he can then slowly turn up the attraction for the things of this world, and ever-so-slowly turn up our interest for such things. Then he just sits back and waits - knowing that it is just a matter of time before we go from committing sins in our minds to committing sins externally as well, and one day do things we cannot even imagine now.
Thus, it is not hard to see the truth of Jesus' words in Matthew 5:27-28 - . 27 You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; 28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Jesus is clearly telling us that we must guard against the sin of lust just as much as we guard against the sin of adultery, because the unaddressed sin of lust leads invariably to the sin of adultery.
C.S. Lewis said something to this effect in his book The Screwtape Letters - "The safest road to Hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." Indeed, I find that it's not the steep road to hell that is most seductive. Rather, the road of hell most appealing to me is the gradually sloped road - without sudden turnings.
So let us learn our lesson from the tragic story of the frog. I hope God protects us from this trap in our spiritual walks. Let us be ever diligent to maintain our red-hot love for God and to always be righteously disgusted by the "small sins" in our thought life. Then we can also have confidence that God will keep us safe from the bigger and more obvious outward sins.
Prayer is such a mysterious thing. I've often wondered about many aspects to prayer - how to pray, what to pray about, how often to pray, and so on. I've also spent a fair amount of time pondering the mystery of prayer (in retrospect, I'd have probably been better off spending that time actually praying!). Yet prayer remains mysterious. But I'm actually at peace with the mystery of prayer. I like the fact that spirituality is not completely reduced to a neat collection of formulas, methods, or spiritual laws.
I think I better understood the mystery of prayer when I came to see my Christianity as a relationship with God rather than a religion for God. Indeed, there is a certain mystery with every special relationship that we humans enjoy. So in my relationship with God, my prayer life comes closest to embodying that mystery. It is the activity that should deepen most my bond of friendship and intimacy with Christ.
Now we all know that it is crucial to pray. We read of Jesus spending time in prayer - even all night on a few occasions. Some of us have even read about or known saints of God who had strong prayer lives.
Yet, taking the time to pray can be so hard. Furthermore, when we do try to pray, we find ourselves at a loss of what to say, or we find it boring and very sleep-inducing! Yes, we sincerely want to pray, and we'd love to pray more often - but we find that it just doesn't seem to stick as a habit.
Even now, after years of practice (off and on), prayer continues to be a labour of love for me. My prayer life often seems driven by a little bit of inspiration and a whole lot of perspiration! So I keep seeking God for fresh inspirations to pray - that it might come more naturally. And I got a bit of this boost in inspiration when I read Psalm 34:7 in The Message - God's angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray.
Reading this verse, I got a beautiful picture of what GOD DOES to foster the act of prayer. And the imagery of a circle of protection stuck out to me - because it reminded me of the story about musk oxen that I had read about in the National Geographic.
I never knew about Musk Oxen before this, and maybe you haven't either. I learnt that although they look like oxen, musk oxen are more closely related to sheep and goats. They are only found in the frozen Arctic regions, and an adult musk ox can stand about 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall and can weigh up to 450 kilograms! But what stood out to me about them was how they defended themselves against their enemies.
When wolves or wild dogs attack them, the older musk oxen form a protective outer circle, while the young musk oxen huddle together inside. The older ones form this intimidating circle, facing outward and staring straight ahead at their predators. And if a dog or wolf gets too near to the circle, they use their bulk and their horns to ward off the predators from getting to the vulnerable young ones.
I cannot forget the image of these huge mammoth animals, standing shoulder to shoulder, staring dead ahead at their ferocious enemy, but without fear (http://www.sciencenmore.com/muskox.jpg).
And so, when I read that the angel of God sets up a circle of protection around us when we pray, I had this picture of the adult musk oxen standing guard over their young ones.
I pictured the angels of God doing exactly that - setting up this imposing ring or protection around me when I got down on my knees to pray. Like the young musk oxen against the wolves, I am no match for the devil and his forces. The enemy was around way before humans existed, and he has easily toyed with every human attempt at spirituality right from the time of Adam and Eve.
The devil is especially afraid of my sincere urges to pray. Genuine prayer is my fundamental desire to maintain my relationship with God. The devil knows the deep bonds of intimacy that are formed by prayer and my honest interactions with God. He knows that genuine and sincere prayer can deepen my friendship with Jesus more than anything else. So the devil is especially eager to attack me then.
So it is very encouraging to realize that when I seek to talk to my God, He seals such times by sending His protection. God sends His angel to stand guard over my time with Him.
You know, I never realized that when I got on my knees to pray, that GOD was stirred to action. God just doesn't listen to me, even though that would be enough. I also never realized that I had strong protection when I prayed to God. Even before I said my first word to God, God first sent His angels to set up camp around me and form a protective circle around me.
Much like the adult musk oxen who protect their young from their predators, the angel of the Lord stands guard against the devil and his forces head-on, making sure that they don't ruin my time with God. Now I might be distracted by the worries of this world, and other temptations. But at such times, I can claim the strong promise of God.
It's almost overwhelming to realize how much GOD covets and values my time with Him! I don't know if I have properly described the picture that I see in my mind - but this is a deeply moving and motivating picture for me.
So I hope we never forget this. I hope that we can pray, knowing that the angels of the Lord stand guard over us like the herd of adult musk oxen protects its young. May this motivate and inspire us to pray more, as we realize how much God desires and values our times of honest/sincere conversation with Him!
Dear child of God, have you seen the God who got all excited to talk to you when you got down to pray? What an amazing God we have! The God of the musk oxen is the One that we get to talk to!
Some time ago, I visited my wife Laura's family. I had a wonderful time spending the week with her family; but I learned something about God from the remarkable behaviour of their dog.
They have had this beagle for over 8 years and she is a well-trained and obedient dog. She had been taught to do various things on command.
Now growing up, I used to be afraid of most dogs, because most of the dogs we see in India were stray dogs. Obedience and friendliness were not virtues I expected from stray dogs! But after I came to the U.S., I came to really enjoy dogs because I saw how obedient and friendly they really can be.
And I noticed a great example of this first-hand when I was with Laura's family.
It was about lunchtime, and my wife Laura had put some food out for the dog. Usually once the food was in the bowl, the dog would go to it and start eating. But this time, when the dog approached her bowl, Laura said, "Stay!" The dog immediately stopped in front of her bowl and looked up at Laura - and did not touch the dog food!
Now you've got to understand that the dog wasn't doing anything wrong. The food put in the bowl was dog food. There was no other dog in the house, so it was specifically put out and meant for her. Also, this was the appropriate time for her lunch, so she was expecting it. She was probably salivating at the thought of eating her food. So from every angle, the command to stay didn't even make dog sense!
But she heard Laura say, "stay," and so she stopped right away.
Now here's where it gets even more interesting. Laura looked at the dog, said "stay "one more time, and then walked out of the room. Meanwhile, I was quietly watching all of this through a back window where the dog had no idea that I was watching. I was really curious to see what happened when Laura left the room.
I know how it would have been for me. When I was a child, if my mum had told me not to do something and had then left the room, I would only wait long enough to make sure that she had left the room and then do whatever I wanted to do!
But this dog stayed exactly where she was. She didn't even look down at her food. She probably didn't want to be tempted by her food. So she looked straight ahead. Several seconds went by with Laura gone, but remarkably the dog stayed looking straight ahead.
After maybe a couple of minutes, Laura came back to the kitchen. Looking at the dog, she finally said, "OK! Eat!" Immediately, the dog then bent down and started attacking her food!
I found all of this quite fascinating. I was very impressed by the dog's behaviour, because:
1) She remained obedient even though Laura was not in the room, and
2) She obeyed even though she was being asked not to eat her own dog food. Laura's command to "stay" didn't make any sense, because it was lunchtime and it was dog food that had been put out!
I think we all can marvel at this, because we know how difficult this kind of obedience is. Temptation is so much harder to resist when nobody's watching, and when it is logical for us to do something.
But I learnt something about the relationship between disciple and leader through this. For the dog, Laura was the leader. And so, the commands of her leader were ALL that mattered. She didn't use her logic about how dog food was for dogs, or that she needed her food to survive, etc. For the dog, the command of her leader to "STAY" trumped everything else - it made everything else irrelevant.
Now we know how different it is with us however. We know how different this is when it comes to our lives with God, whom we look at as our Leader. From the very start, we read that Eve decided to trust her logic. Genesis 3:6 says this - When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate.
Eve had several good reasons to eat the fruit. But there was one problem - all her reasons stood in direct contradiction with the clear command of her Leader not to eat that fruit.
I find that I have the same problem as Eve. The things that distract me from the commands of my Master Jesus are not always evil things. Rather, they are logical, well-crafted, and even good ideas - e.g. how I should do things in this world, how I should spend my time, or even what I should do for God.
Yet I oftentimes find that these ideas are bad for me spiritually, because I prioritise these ideas OVER my devotion to Jesus. I spend more time evaluating my success in DOING things for God than in evaluating my success in maintaining my DEVOTION to God.
2 Corinthians 11:3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
Watching the dog stay focused on the command of her leader taught me something about devotion. I realised that my most valuable spiritual asset is my devotion to Jesus. From God's viewpoint, a heart of devotion to Him trumped everything I say and everything I do - even if it's done in His Name and for Him!
So as I try to evaluate the state of my spirituality by my devotion to Jesus, I get a better understanding of Paul's fear. I see how crafty the devil can be in attacking my most prized asset with Jesus - because I see how easy it is for my devotion to Jesus to falter.
I hope that we will all learn to adjust our posture as Christians from this story. I hope that we will embrace the importance of paying attention to what God is saying to us (through His Word)! I also hope that we will put supreme importance to staying devoted to God and His Words - rather than using our minds to rationalise our own definitions of right and wrong, and doing whatever we feel is best for us.
Horses are unique animals - so beautiful to look at, and absolutely majestic even in the way they walk. They somehow have the ability to combine grace, power, and speed when they run, all without appearing to ever break a sweat. But even though they are so powerful, they have still been able to be tamed to work with us humans. They could easily overpower us, but yet they allow us to ride and control them.
I have been fascinated by horses from a young age. I got to see them occasionally on the streets of Bangalore growing up. But they were also everywhere in my history lessons. Kings across all ages and cultures chose horses to ride on. Horses are symbols of majesty, power, grace, speed, and beauty. And whenever I come across something on horses, I am always interested. That's how I heard about John Solomon Rarey.
This guy Rarey lived in the 1800s and taught horse-trainers how to quickly tame even the most violent of horses. He would calm horses that had turned vicious due to abuse or traumatic events.
He lived in the United States, but he rose to fame when he was invited to England by Queen Victoria and successfully tamed one of her horses. After that, he was world-famous, and travelled around the world calming horses and making them useful to humans. Since horses were the main mode of transportation at that time, he was very popular!
As I read more about him, this is the gist of what I learned Rarey did to rehabilitate horses: When Rarey initially approached the horse, it was initially afraid of him, even though there was no harm that Rarey posed. Rarey only wanted the horse to be able to receive love and instruction from their human master. But the horse was afraid of humans, usually because of a past traumatic incident or bad experience with humans. This fear provoked a violent reaction. So whenever Rarey came near, the horse would stomp its feet aggressively, and even attempt to attack him as a way to defend itself against an attack it feared.
The first thing Rorey did was to secure the horse and tie it up. When the horse was tied up, it wasn't a danger to Rarey. But that wasn't the solution because it was also of no use to society. But Rarey tied the horse up to somehow change the horse's thinking that humans were out to hurt it.
Then Rarey would hobble the horse by strapping one of the horse's legs and then let it loose in a fenced-up area. So of course, the horse would run away from Rarey, but would soon tire because it had only 3 good legs now. When the horse finally tired, Rarey would then make the tired horse lie down and use his weight at strategic points on the horse's body, thus forcing the horse to be still. Now he could finally get close to the horse. He would gently stroke it all over its body, assure it and show it love with his gentle strokes - showing the horse that he actually meant no harm.
By doing this repeatedly, Rarey proved to the horse that he was a completely safe person, and that the horse didn't need to try and protect itself from him.
Rarey was incredibly successful with this method. Horses were sometimes rehabilitated in hours, and could be useful once again to their masters. He was so effective that English dictionaries of that time included the word "rareyfy" - which meant "to win by love" or "to tame a horse by kindness."
This approach to tame a wild animal spoke to me about how God also seeks to tame us in the wild (unrestrained) areas of our lives. Many of us are afraid of God because we think that He is out to hurt us or play spoilsport to the fun life we want to live. We can sometimes think that His plans are to restrict and dominate us. So when He comes near, we either push away from Him or we resist Him - we either fight Him or take flight from Him.
But God doesn't want to hurt us. Jesus came to reveal God as a loving Father Who wants our very best.
So even though we run away from him out of fear, God still seeks us out, because He knows that our lives are best lived with Him! But He must get past our selfishness. Our fears, pride, and anger prevent us from allowing God to come near. So God has to do the same "strapping" that Rarey did to the horse, to simply get us to a point where we stop fighting Him and rest, and see His good intentions for us.
So He does this "strapping" by sometimes closing doors that we are sure should be open for us. So He sometimes allows sickness (He never causes sickness) to slow us down from our self-obsessed lives. He sometimes even allows troubles in our relationships or at work - all to help us understand one simple truth: This life is meant to be lived WITH HIM, and not by ourselves. And at the end of the day, our lives are best lived when we live in relationship with the One who created us .
Paul, one of the godliest men who ever lived, also needed a "strapping" to get him to stay close to Christ. This great saint even pleaded with God to remove the strapping, but God wouldn't do it. Instead God said this to him… "My [God's] grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness "(2 Corinthians 12:9)
Paul had to learn the critical lesson that his life was best lived when God's power was on display in his life. If Paul was weak, he was more open to God. So when Paul was open to God, he could receive God's strength - which in turn made Paul stronger than he'd ever be in his own strength. So though the "strapping" made Paul feel and look weak in this world, it allowed him to constantly seek and access God's grace - which in turn exalted God and His power for all eternity.
In the same way, God allows various "strappings" in our lives because He wants us to seek for HIS grace and seek for HIS power. So when He limits our opportunities, frustrates our ambitions, or permits disappointments - it is all because He wants us to reach out to God for His grace and His power. He wants us to stop being self-reliant and self-made - thinking that we can grit our teeth, clench our fists, and simply will our way through life. He knows how tiring and unfulfilling such a life is. The One who created us wants us to know how He made us: To rest in Him and access the power that He has made available to us.
So I hope that we will look at the various strappings in our lives through different eyes. Let us see them as opportunities to go to God for more of His grace and His power. Let us be sure of God's hand in everything - ever seeking to draw us closer to Him and to bring us to a life of deeper friendship with Him.
We talked about Musk Oxen earlier. But let us learn something from the regular ox. I think we're all familiar with regular oxen. Oxen are just particular kinds of cow that are characterized by their larger and more heavyset build. This is why we see oxen being used to plough the fields and to carry heavy loads.
Growing up in India, cows and oxen were literally everywhere. I read recently that India accounts for 30% of all the world's cows. That's a whole lot of cows in just one country!
I myself come from a family of farmers (as probably do all of us I guess, if each of us traced our ancestors far enough back in time!). I recently got to visit my grandfather's home in Kerala, and saw the school that my grandfather went to, and the Orthodox Church that my family attended for several centuries.
But what was most special was to see the home that my grandfather grew up in - situated among lush fields and large coconut trees. As I took in the moment, my mind wandered back to life in his day. I could almost picture my grandfather as a young boy - running through the fields with his books in his hands, playing cricket outside his home with his friends, helping his parents with their harvesting, etc.
I continued to reminisce about my heritage even as we were driving away. But my thoughts were interrupted when we had to suddenly stop as a few oxen had blocked traffic. These oxen seemed to have wandered off and were on their own, without their master. We were forced to wait as they took their time to cross the street before we could continue on our way.
My mind then wondered what these oxen were doing wandering the roads without an owner. Maybe because my ancestors were farmers, the farmer in me wondered why these oxen were not ploughing the fields. I imagined that if I was a farmer, my oxen would be my prized possession. They would be crucial for me to be a successful farmer. There would simply be no harvest if the oxen didn't obey me.
This reminded me of when Jesus likened us to oxen in Matthew 11:28-30 28 "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Here Jesus asks us to take up His yoke and learn from Him. Now when I saw those big, powerful oxen, I knew that submitting to a yoke didn't sound fun at all. I could see how this huge ox would much rather be wandering the streets without a yoke, rather than be restricted by a yoke!
But that was me thinking as an ox, rather than as the farmer with an understanding of a world much bigger than the ox's. When I tried to look at things from the viewpoint of the farmer's bigger world, I saw more clearly what Jesus meant. Jesus was telling me that His Heavenly Father was the farmer and that the world was the field. God wants me to be a fellow ox with Jesus that would plough the fields, and not simply do my own thing. God wants all of us to get under the yoke WITH JESUS because He knows how best to plough it! If I am not paired with Jesus under His yoke, I would roam this earth and never live life as I should. But if I submit to His yoke, I could live the most restful, joyous, and productive life!
Now I know how hard a concept this is to embrace. That a life of submission could actually be the most serene life seems so strange. In fact, the idea that living under any kind of yoke could result in the most liberating life, sounds absolutely counter-intuitive. Sure, it's fine to seek to do God's will, but being completely under his yoke seems a bit extreme, doesn't it?
John Piper, a contemporary pastor and preacher, described a life under God's yoke that has helped me. He said it this way: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
It was one thing to choose to be under His yoke, because I knew God wanted it to be that way. But Piper's phrase helped me understand what being under His yoke looked like. It was more than just submitting to God out of compulsion; it was a life of happy submission where I was fully satisfied (not simply tolerant) with God because of the company of Jesus.
We Christians believe that, at the end of the day, it is all about God. He must be exalted and He must get the glory. But we can get so easily distracted by the seductions of this world - fame, money, sex, etc. At the same time, we can hide behind grand yet vague catchphrases such as "God's perfect will" and "glory of God" - that we never latch on to what that practically means every day. So we keep up saying the right things, but live lives that point to a very different reality. We live lives that are not satisfied with God.
If we don't know God as One who is truly satisfying, let us come to Jesus and ask that He reveal this God to us (Matthew 11:27-28). Many of us might only know a God as a tough disciplinarian or a self-serving master. But Jesus came to reveal a radically new and different God - a truly loving Father who cares deeply for those who will come to Him as little children (Matthew 11:25-26) , and who promises to completely satisfy all those who were burdened and weary of their sub-standard lives.
Dear friend, the message of God remains strikingly simple: Come to Jesus and live in submission to God like He did, and He will satisfy you and help you live of life of rest. Study His life and learn how He lived a life of submission under the yoke of God ! This is the simple daily assignment offered to all of us that can allow our lives to bring glory to God.
A good friend of mine once bought a little kitten as a pet. When it first arrived, it was this small ball of fur that was irresistible and adorable.
One day, we were sitting in the living room talking, when we noticed the kitten suddenly dart out and pounce on something on the floor. We looked to see what it was, only to discover that the reflection of my watch onto the floor was creating a gleaming light, and the kitten had pounced on it. Fascinated by this basic animal instinct, I angled my watch a few more times, and each time the kitten would relentlessly attack the gleaming light of the watch's shadow.
A few days later, we bought a laser pointer - a pen-shaped object that shines a small red laser light and is usually used for corporate presenters to point something out on a screen. We shone the red laser on the wall, and sure enough, the kitten couldn't help itself and attacked it furiously.
It would crouch down waiting to pounce, sit very still for a few seconds and then jump on the red laser dot, convinced that it had secured its prey. But when it slowly lifted its paw, there was nothing underneath it! The cat's prey had somehow escaped!!!
The kitten would go on and on maniacally chasing the elusive red laser dot - before WE finally tired. The kitten never seemed to grow tired of chasing this dot, even though it never captured the laser dot!
I read somewhere that cats are hard-wired in their nature to hunt down small, bright objects, such as birds. Since this laser was even brighter than almost any bird, it ignited the cat's animal instinct to attack its prey and simply could not resist the urge to attack it - sometimes even breaking bones in their attempt to capture this ultimate prey. But sadly, since this laser light could not be felt or caught, this urge within the was cat never satisfied. So while we had fun playing with the cat and the laser light, we did feel bad after a while that we were unfairly teasing the cat, as it never had the satisfaction of actually catching any prey.
Since then, I've seen this behaviour in many other cats and even some dogs. I once saw a dog attack the sunlight that suddenly came through a door that swung open, thinking that it was prey.
While we find this behaviour funny and entertaining in cats, I wondered if we too might be exhibiting the same tendencies when it comes to the illusions that seem so real to us. I was reminded of something that Paul wrote about our being deceived: 2 Corinthians 11:14 - Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
This verse is really intimidating, because when you think about it, which one of us wouldn't be impressed by an angel of light? I think that for most Christians, a visitation by an angel of light would be headline news - we'd tell all our friends about it, we'll probably be asked to testify about our experience at church, and we'd be looked upon with awe by the people in the church!!
Meanwhile, while everyone around us (including ourselves) would think that we had a divine encounter, we might have been thoroughly deceived by the devil! Quite like the children's story of the wolf that dresses up in sheep's clothing and attacks the sheep, the devil could have dressed up as an angel of light, used a fancy "light show" to fool the unsuspecting, and ultimately spiritually devour many.
So what is this"light" that can fool us and take us down a wrong path? Like the shiny red laser light that fooled my friend's kitten because it appeared like prey to the cat's nature, what is this light that the devil can use to fool and deceive us because of our human nature?
There are many, many lights that the devil uses, but I'll speak to one that I am currently burdened by. One trick of the devil that I have noticed is to play on our insatiable desire for knowledge and information. Especially for us young people who live in the age of the Internet, we have access to limitless amounts of information and knowledge at our fingertips very literally. Since this knowledge can be a powerful weapon to impress people and gain status and positions of power, our lives can become consumed with this constant satiation of intellectual knowledge in whatever field we're interested in. So for us as Christians, this thirst for knowledge and information can carry over into our spiritual lives as well. If we are spiritually ambitious and zealous, we can desire to learn everything possible about Jesus and Christianity. We'll read a ton of books, listen to and watch sermons for new theologies, always looking for those brand new insights into passages of Scripture.
Now I want to be clear: The study of Scripture and seeking to learn more about God is a most precious and valuable desire. The cat's instinct to attack shiny objects is invaluable for its survival; it's what drives the cat to attack its prey and thereby find foot to eat. The tragedy however, is when cats end up chasing laser lights all day, confusing it as their prey. Such cats would starve and die.
In the same way, we should never confuse our insatiable hunger for increasing our Christian knowledge, with what is our real spiritual food. The only thing that can help us grow spiritually is to know Jesus more and more as a personal friend and constantly seek to live our lives as a GROWING RELATIONSHIP with Him.
So we must learn to distinguish between knowing things about Jesus (seeking to attack red laser lights) and knowing Jesus (finding real food to eat). There's a big difference between "knowing about" someone, and "knowing" someone. We can know a lot of things about famous athletes like Michael Jordan or Sachin Tendulkar, but we will never really know them like their family knows them.
All of us Christians therefore, must keep this question in the forefront of our lives: Are we growing in our personal relationship with Jesus, or are we merely growing in our intellectual knowledge about Jesus? I am convinced that as it was 2000 years ago, God uses the same test to separate the disciples of Jesus from the multitude who follow Jesus today. The disciple "knows" Jesus while the multitude "knows about" Jesus.
So let us walk this Christian journey carefully, recognizing that the devil seeks to shine many red laser lights to deceive us - lights that look like the Light of Life, but are dangerous deceptions. May we constantly keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and our actual relationship with Jesus - seeking to KNOW Him more, and guarding ourselves from becoming people who just know more and more things ABOUT Him!
When I was attending school, all the students in my school were placed into different teams. In elementary school, each team was represented by a different animal. I was part of the Lions team.
I'm not sure if that's when my enchantment with lions began, but lions and other big cats have fascinated me from as long as I can remember. Over the
years, I have watched numerous documentaries and films about lions in the wild. They are so naturally majestic, and one thing that earns them instant
respect is their roar. If I were to say the word
roar, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a lion.
Anybody who has heard the roar of a lion will never forget it. I distinctly remember hearing the roar of a lion when I was at a zoo. I was still far from the lion's area, but it got me to pause. The roar had a presence and a command that made me take notice, even though I wasn't close to it!
The devil is described as a roaring lion in 1 Peter 5:8-9 - 8Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. It is interesting that Peter uses the imagery of a roaring lion to describe how the devil seeks to devour us. But when I thought about how a lion attacks its prey in the wild, I saw something revealing about the devil and the true nature of his fight against us.
When a lion wants to attack a deer, it carefully and very quietly stalks its prey. It crawls low below the tall grass and brush, making sure that it remains completely hidden and out of sight from its prey. If there was even the slightest sound of the crackle of a twig, the deer would be immediately alerted that its enemy is nearby and would dart away to safety. So it is crucial that the lion keep very quiet and carefully approach its prey. Then, when it is within striking distance, the lion can charge at the deer with a sudden burst of speed and use the advantage of its head-start and the element of surprise to overtake the deer.
Stealth and quietness are crucial to a successful hunting trip for the lion. The lion CANNOT give itself away by making any noise, let alone roaring.
Lions simply do not roar when attacking their prey. So when do they roar? They roar when they want to mark their territory. When they smell an intruder entering their space, they roar to tell them to back off. And the roar is so commanding and intimidating that it often works - it causes the intruders to back off.
When I realized this, I saw this as consistent with the methods of the devil in his attempts to oppress Christians. Now I must make clear that I am not talking about those who just claim to be Christians. I am thinking about those who have an active trusting faith in Jesus - who see Jesus as their Lord and Example who defeated the devil, and who look to Jesus as One sent to save them utterly from all their sins.
Sincere Christians must know one thing for sure: The devil has been defeated, so he has no power to overpower the Christian with any of his supernatural powers. Colossians 2:13-15 tells me very clearly that Jesus DISARMED the devil and his evil forces and has made a public display of their defeat.
Since every one of us is a sinner, this victory of Christ is our armour that disarms the devil. God has given us the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, shoes of peace, and the sword of the Spirit - all gifts because of Jesus' great sacrifice. So this armour is not meant for Christians to hide behind as an excuse to continue in their sins. But it is our sure confidence against the devil AS we seek to live this life cleansing ourselves from all the things that defile us (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Now for such serious Christians, dressed in the full armour of God, the devil is like a lion that has been chained. So the only choice left for the devil is to intimidate Christians by roaring at them. He can't penetrate the armour of God, so he will seek to paralyze them with fear and intimidation, and thereby lead them into a life of inaction/laziness.
The devil intimidates us in various ways:
easy and fun lifecan be ours if we would only give up being so passionate and sold-out for God (remember, he tried to trap Jesus with this too).
cursedby God (only a devil could place such a preposterous attribute upon a loving Father!!!).
just the way things are, and on and on.
So the devil will puff up his chest and roar when we approach those areas of our lives that he has owned for years. Even though we are suited up with the armour of God, and can overcome every sin with Jesus on our side, he knows that he can still succeed if we freeze in fear and often back off when we hear the devil's roar! If we refuse to engage in battle because we are intimidated and afraid, the devil wins even before there is any battle he can wage and win!
So Peter is crystal clear as to how to win - simply resist the devil and stand firm. Do not back down when you hear the sound of the roar. Resist the temptation to shrink back in fear when you hear the devil roar within, seeking to hold on to his territory. Simply resist him and stand firm knowing that Jesus is with me!
There is NO humility in hanging our heads and backing away from experiencing every one of God's promises. We need not be afraid of the devil's roars, as there is no authority behind that roar! We will even expose the devil's lack of power when we resist him and stand firm in the promises of God for us!
God wants us to always remember who God has made us in Christ. God needs a band of young people who will resist the devil and stand firm. Let us hold fast to the promise that God made us to be conquerors in Jesus (Romans 8:37) - and that He will complete the work that He has started in us (Philippians 1:6)!
I can't even count the number of times I've seen an elephant on the streets in Bangalore. Now that I stop and think about it, this fact is rather bizarre. In a bustling and hectic city like Bangalore, it should be surprising to see an elephant on the street. Almost all tourists to India are shocked by this sight. But growing up in India, we just didn't know any different!
When I was nine or ten years old, I went on an elephant ride with my brothers. I still have a picture from that ride. It's amazing how small we were compared to the elephant. Even though there were four of us, the elephant still dominates 90% of the picture! We look like four little flies sitting on top of a large table!
But even for those who have seen an elephant only once and in a zoo, we know the elephant is an unforgettably massive creature that simply should be untamed and roaming wherever it wants. Yet, we know that this animal HAS been tamed. We have taught it to carry logs for humans. In fact, we have so tamed this animal that we can even see elephants in circuses balancing on a stool or banging a drum!!!
How did this happen? How did we get to control this animal that is so much bigger and stronger than us?
I'm sure there are different methods that people have used to tame the elephant. I want to describe one such way that I heard about. You'll see that it's because of our superior brain that we have been able to tame the elephant - an animal ten times bigger and stronger than us!
When elephants grow up, they learn that they can move around with their powerful feet, use their trunks to grab food and put it in their mouths, etc. They also quickly learn the immense strength that they have. So when elephants grow up in the wild, they quickly learn that there is very little that can stand in their way. They can literally stomp past just about anything.
When elephants are born into captivity, however, the elephant's owners know that they must break this normal mind-set of freedom and power within the elephant. So when elephants are still very young, a thick metal bracelet is placed around its legs and thick chains are used to tie it to a strong post or tree.
As this baby elephant is growing up, it keeps tugging at the chain and trying to break free. Something inside the baby elephant keeps telling it that it should be free and not restricted by anything. But tug as much as it wants, it cannot break free from the chains.
Months go by and then even years - and the elephant's leg is chafed raw from rubbing against the bracelet and tugging at what holds it down. As much as it was sure it should be free, the elephant learns a new reality - it just cannot be free. The bracelet around its leg is the undeniable reminder that it cannot be free. Every single time it tries to break free, the bracelet is there as a reminder that it is powerless.
So after a few years of hopeless straining, the elephant finally gives up on trying to break free. It wakes up each morning, feels the bracelet around its leg and knows what that means: Despite the instincts that it was born with (to be free and powerful and strong), it is meant to be in bondage.
So finally after several years of this, there is no more need even for the chain. The chains that secure the bracelet to the post are replaced by ropes, and eventually all that's left is the bracelet. The bracelet still wrapped around the leg is all that's required to keep the elephant in captivity.
So we can look at these massive elephants and wonder why they don't recognize this. We would want to tell the elephant, "Don't you see that you are free? Don't you see that the rope that's tied around your leg is not tied to the tree anymore? Just walk out - the rope that you're feeling around your leg is just a trick of the brain, telling you that you're still in bondage!"
If I could communicate with an elephant with a silly rope around its leg, that's probably what I'd tell it. And when I see the elephants standing on one leg or mindlessly beating a drum, I'd be saying the same thing: "Don't you know you were created to be out wandering in the jungle - roaming the fields and in the company of your herd? You were meant to be out in the jungle, not stuck in a circus entertaining us!"
But I also learnt something about our own human nature and the way we too respond to the things that enslave us as well - from the seemingly clueless elephant.
Much like the elephant, we too can get more and more enslaved to destructive habits and selfish ways of thinking. Eventually, maybe even when we're just teens, we are so completely selfish that we are convinced that a life enslaved to our selfish desires is the only reality; this was simply how we were made.
But the message of Jesus stands in contradiction to that way of thinking. But this is not a message of principles and methods and pie-charts and methodologies. Jesus through His thirty-three years of life here on earth actually charted out the right way to live - by constantly living by the grace of the Holy Spirit. But because we had already ruined our own lives by sin, He offered up His perfect and spotless life to help save us from our sins and addictions. Jesus sacrificed His life to break the thick chains that the devil had us tied up in. Then, when Jesus rose again after being crucified for our sins, He once and for all defeated the powers of evil, and now offers freedom to all who choose to come to Him for help.
See what Paul says in his letter to the church in Galatia: Galatians 5:1 - It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Jesus is the only person in history who conquered the devil and the forces of evil, and He alone has the power to help us live in freedom from the evil forces that seek to oppress us. Also, let us notice from the Holy Spirit's words that Jesus HAS set us free. It is not that Jesus "will" set us free, or will set us free "someday" down the road. Jesus has (past tense) already set us free. His life in us is a life of freedom from sin and every selfish motive. There is NO part of His life in us that is enslaved to sin.
But there's a part we too have to play in our freedom. You see, the elephant still lives a life of slavery even when the ropes aren't tied to a post or a tree. So even though it is free to get out, it remains in captivity unless it chooses to walk free. I'm sure the elephant would love to be free, but because it is convinced (from years of slavery and the feeling of the rope around its leg) that it is stuck, it remains freed from the chains that bind it, but still under bondage to its captors. The feeling of the rope around its leg is what the elephant solely goes by - and it judges its freedom solely by that feeling. How different it would be if it knew that the rope wasn't tied to a post or a tree anymore!
In quite the same way, so many of us continue to live in slavery to sin even though Jesus has set us free. Jesus set us free with the intention that we walk in this world with a life of freedom.
Since we never lose our free will and our ability to choose the path of sin instead of the path of Jesus, we have to make the choice to walk in freedom. We don't lose our free will even after we choose to have Jesus in our lives, and not even if we have a spiritual encounter with Him. Jesus does not set us free in the sense that He gives us a magic pill that makes us invincible once and for all. Like all good parents that want their children to eventually choose good habits and honourable lives for themselves, so also God wants children that choose Him. He offers a life of freedom to those who choose it. But it is not forced upon us!
So the problem is that we think/feel that we are still bound. We walk through life and cry out to God and say, God, free us from this sinful habit and God says, "Jesus has set you free!" But we don't believe His Words - maybe because we still enjoy the temporary pleasures of sin. Since we are bound by the temporary pleasures of sin and the fear of life without those sins, we remain in bondage. Jesus keeps trying to get our attention and get us to trust His Words and not our feelings. But we so often don't, because our feelings seem more real than His Words.
So we remain in bondage. But the most tragic part is that we can live the rest of our lives enslaved to our selfish habits. But when we die and face God, He will show us what we missed. When we put our trust in Jesus, every chain that bound us was blown away - just as His Word said. We however chose to walk a life of virtual slavery - a slavery that only existed in our minds and feelings!
The Bible is clear. Jesus has set us free. He asks us to reject the lies that our feelings often tell us, and to stand firm in His Word. He asks us to live a life of freedom - a life where this freedom spreads to more and more areas of our lives. He wants us to experience freedom from anger, freedom from degrading people, freedom from treating people without dignity and respect, freedom from anxiety, freedom from sexual lust, freedom from un-forgiveness, envy, and bitterness, and so on. All these addictions (and every other sin as well) can slowly lose their hold over us as we embrace the mind-set of one who has already been set free by the finished work of Jesus. Let us walk in the freedom that Christ has already set for us.
All of us have probably seen pigeons - they are abundantly common in the skies, although probably not as common in India as crows. In fact, as I was reading more about pigeons, I didn't realize how useful pigeons have been in India - and specifically, the homing pigeon.
The homing pigeon is a variety of the common pigeon that has the ability to find its way back home across long distances. In the wild, this means that they would be able to return to their nests and their families. When we humans discovered this trait, we used these homing pigeons to carry messages. Back in the day before text messages and e-mail (do you remember such a time?), homing pigeons would carry messages written on thin paper (like cigarette paper) in a small tube attached to one leg. They called it pigeon post!
Tipu Sultan, the famous Tiger of Mysore and freedom fighter, used pigeons to send messages. In fact, if you visit his headquarters at the Jama Masjid mosque in Srirangapatna, you can see the pigeon holes used. I also read that up until recently (2002), homing pigeons were used in Orissa to provide emergency communication services following natural disasters!
But have you ever wondered how homing pigeons have this ability to find their way back home from distant places they have never visited before? I did! What I found out as a result was fascinating as well as spiritually instructive.
I discovered that most researchers now believe pigeons find their way home using a "map and compass "system. Their internal "map "helped determine which direction would get them home. And their internal "compass" helped them fly in that direction.
While there are still discussions on how pigeons "map "their way home, researchers are unanimous that a pigeon's compass is the sun and the earth's magnetic field (either one or both if necessary).
Through fascinating experiments, researchers found that pigeons were able to find their bearings in bright conditions using the sun as their compass. But even in overcast conditions, pigeons were still able to find their way home if they had a good sense of the earth's magnetic field. So when researchers went further and tied strong magnetic bars to pigeons on an overcast day, then the pigeons compass system became disoriented from sensing even the earth's magnetic field. Just to prove that it was the magnetism of the bars, when non-magnetic brass bars were used, the pigeons reached their destination without a problem!
The way magnets were able to disorient pigeons was a reminder of the way we Christians are often disoriented and distracted in our spiritual walks by the magnet-like attractions of this world.
Sometimes, things are great, life is easy, and we find it easy to resist temptation and be faithful to Christ. So like the homing pigeons on sunny days, we too are able to live as followers of the Son of God when things are nice and bright. We are able to see the Son in our lives as He walks with us, and we find ourselves motivated to follow Him.
But then things can get cloudy. The Son of God isn't as clear in the tough times in our lives. Maybe it's a broken friendship. Or a failed job attempt, a tough co-worker, or a denied promotion. Whatever it is, we can't see Jesus, the Son of God, as clearly when things get cloudy. We can feel alone and lost.
This then becomes a breeding ground for the memories of our past addictions and bad habits to resurface and become enormously enticing again. The attractions of this world suddenly seem a whole lot more gratifying and satisfying, while the words of God seem heavy and burdensome. So we choose to walk in the path of self-gratification and go back to our old destructive ways of thinking. And no matter how sincere we are in our desire and attempts to repent and turn back to follow Jesus, we keep straying far away from God - rarely thinking about what pleases Him, and choosing our ways instead of His ways.
I thought of these as the magnets that the devil uses to confuse and disorient us - especially on the "cloudy "days in our lives. The devil comes when he knows we're feeling down and discouraged and when it's dark around us. He'll come with his array of attractive magnets, trying to disorient us in our walk with God. He'll come offering us various things in this world that we find attractive and seductive. Or he'll seek to re-introduce those destructive habits that we vowed to leave far behind in order to follow Jesus.
If we're not careful and alert, we'll find ourselves being oriented to the strong magnetic pull of this world. We'll calibrate our relationships and our priorities by the standard of this world, and we'll begin to conform to the values of this world.
Paul warns us of this conforming as a result of the devil's magnets in Romans 12:2a
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Paul starkly tells us not to be conformed to the world. Instead, we ought to be transformed.
Our sinful lifestyles have to be transformed.
Our sinful habits have to be transformed.
Our sinful attitudes have to be transformed.
And Paul tells us to be transformed - by renewing our minds.
As we renew our mind, we re-establish our compass. We reject the disorienting attractions of the devil, and choose God's Word as our moral compass.
So on the bright days, we know we will easily see Jesus in our lives. And we rejoice for such days. But even on the cloudy days, we will resolve to renew our minds and calibrate our moral compass to the truth about God.
Then, just like the dark clouds invariably give way to the sun in the natural world, the dark clouds in our lives will pass and we'll once again see the Son of God shining in our lives. The dark clouds may last longer than we want them to, but we know for sure that they do not last forever. Even if they last the rest of our earthly days, we know that when He returns, every last cloud will be lifted, and we will see Him face to face for all eternity - shining like the noonday sun!
Lizards are my least favourite animal. Now I know they serve a purpose - for example, they feed on mosquitoes and so help reduce the number of annoying mosquitoes that I also don't care for. But yet, somehow, the sight of the common house lizard in a house revolts me like no other.
So I've had numerous "battles" with the house lizard - which usually ended up being my running away and wanting no contact whatsoever! But I have also noticed something interesting about them. I've noticed that if their tail happened to be caught or struck, something remarkable would happen. The tail would separate from the rest of the body of the lizard, and the lizard would dart away without its tail! There was no blood loss, and there were no broken bones. The tail, however, would keep wiggling even though it was completely detached from the lizard's body. It would keep doing this for a few minutes, and then finally come to a stop. The lizard meanwhile would run away and didn't come back looking for its tail! The lizard didn't seem to suffer any pain in all of this, and its tail re-grew over time!
This intrigued me so I researched this, and discovered that this was common among lizards. Their tails had been designed to "separate" from their bodies when attacked. Lizards used this as an effective escape strategy against predators - the predator was left holding the tail, while the lizard escaped to safety. Even the twitching tail had a purpose - it served to temporarily distract its attacker, while the lizard got a head start in running away. For those who care, this is called autotomy (or self-amputation). I also learned that lizards do indeed re-grow the tails they lose. It takes a few months, but an adult lizard can re-grow its tail in a process called regeneration.
Absolutely fascinating! But I think there is something we can learn about our fight against sin from this.
Please first understand that when I use various animals to illustrate a point, I am not attributing either goodness or evil to them. I use the animals and their behaviour just as a visual image to see my spiritual walk in a new light. So whether I talk about a dog's obedience or a lion's roar, it's not at all about the dog's goodness or the lion's evilness. So in the same way, I want to look at the lizard and its tail.
As children of God, we are asked to also participate in the defeat of Satan in our own lives. In this revealing verse in Romans 16:20, Paul says: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
I hope you noticed the word "your" here. God wants to crush Satan under our feet. So how does He want us to do that? The same way that Jesus, our Example, defeated Satan!
How did Jesus defeat Satan?
We find the answer to that all the way back in Genesis, after humans first sinned. After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God says this in reference to Jesus and the devil in Genesis 3:15 He [Jesus] shall bruise you [the serpent - but a reference to the devil] on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.
All of us know that a strike to the head will kill just about any animal. So God uses this imagery to describe how Jesus would crush the devil. His first-born Son, Jesus, attacked the "head" of sin in His life for 33 years. Now, God wants the rest of His sons and daughters to do the same.
How does this apply to us? Those of us who are Christians know that we must fight against sin. It is NOT God's desire that we keep fighting sin but never overcoming. He is not a cruel God who tortures us by allowing these sins to linger and fester. He gives His Holy Spirit freely so that we can overcome sin and live in increasing freedom from sin! So why is it then that we never seem to experience victory in some areas?
I believe that the reason is that we often beat at the devil's tail. We fight against sin in our lives, but we keep hitting the tail of sin instead of the head of the sin. So we have a sense of temporary victory from time to time, and we think we have overcome, only to find that the sin is still alive and strong - and the tail has in fact re-grown!
Now some sins are easy to address, but others are much more troublesome. For some this is a propensity to anger. For others it may be a compulsive propensity to lust sexually, or an inability to control one's tongue, or to speak insensitive and hurtful words. For us young people, we often struggle with the doubts that accompany some deep and searching questions about life and its meaning. So questions about one's identity (who am I, what am I doing here, what is my goal, etc), and questions about one's image (I'm too fat, I'm too thin, I'm not as muscular as those others, etc.) are examples of such struggles. These are deep struggles that many of us can find difficult to shake off easily.
Let me use the sin of sexual lust to illustrate how we often battle the tail and not the head.
Most young men struggle in the area of sexual lust. It is so pervasive and overwhelming that the battle quickly balloons from simply in one's thought-life, into an addiction to pornography and even an insatiable appetite for inappropriate sex. Since we are taught to fight this as Christians, we do just that. We do our best to avoid staring at images that trip us up, and staying away from Internet sites that will cause us to fall.
But I find that while these are important steps to take to overcome sin, at the end of the day, these are often attempts that beat at the tail rather than to attack the head.
Please understand me here - I am not saying that it is wrong to attack sin this way. We must do these things. The whole body of sin is worth attacking. All I am saying is that we must recognize that such acts are a secondary part of our overall attack against sin. The PRIMARY attack must be death-blows to the head of the sin in our lives. If we concentrate on just the tail, we'll find that like a lizard's tail, the sin reappears and continues to live on.
When I say we must attack the head of sin, this is what I mean: We must settle the issue of who is in charge and who is in control (who is the head).
Look, we can call Jesus our Saviour and we can come to church every Sunday and we can continue to pray to Jesus and do many other spiritual activities - but Jesus may not be head over our lives. In other words, He may not be the LORD and Master of our lives, where He has access over everything that I do. Instead we can have another head - namely, ourselves and our self-interests. We can know that we are the head of our lives if we want to run our own lives, or if we want to satisfy our own selfish desires, or if in any particular area of our lives, we are not willing to give it up totally to God.
It is this head of my own self-will that must be attacked most furiously most of all. We must vigorously and ruthlessly attack the attitude within all of us that desires to keep control over our lives.
Our eyes need to be opened to how critical this battle for control is to our spiritual health. I don't know if we have seen that the issue that made an exalted angel into the evil devil was the fundamental question of control. An angel who was in God's holy and majestic presence still became the devil because he thought that he should control things and be equal to God. He did not want God to be absolute Lord and Master.
So in our battle against sin, let us keep the battle for "headship" in the forefront of our minds. As we SURRENDER and SUBMIT to the authority of God always, we are assuming a posture of HUMIILITY. This posture of humility is vital, because it is the ONLY posture by which we can receive the grace of God needed to overcome any sin.
Let me end with the testimony of George Müller. George Müller was an Englishman who lived in the 1800s. He was an extraordinary man who cared for over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime. Most people today would love to imitate his ministry, especially in this social-justice-conscious age. But few realize the secret to his ministry. When asked in his nineties what the secret of his service was, Müller said this:
"There was a day when I died, utterly died", and, as he spoke, he bent lower and lower until he almost touched the floor… "died to George Müller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will - died to the world, its approval or censure, died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends - and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God."
George Müller died when he was 93 years old. But back when he was in his twenties (the time that is referred to in his statement above), he decided to deal death-blows to the head of sin in his life - i.e., his own selfish desire to be in control and to live his life based on his interests, preferences, tastes and will.
May this be true of our lives as well.
I once stayed with a friend who had a sheep dog. This dog looked just like most other dogs that I had seen, but its personality and behaviour was quite remarkable. It didn't bark a lot, but it was also very determined. It was extremely loyal and brave, and so was very good at protecting the house, and so good for a family with small children in it.
So I decided that I wanted to learn more about this beautiful animal. I read more about this dog and learned that it is very affectionate with people it knows. It has adapted into a marvellous companion to humans, but is still extremely industrious and dutiful. It gets along with most other dogs and pets. It is slightly reserved with strangers, and people who are not welcome will be stopped in their tracks.
But it was its behaviour in the wild while attending to sheep which fascinated me.
The sheep dog often helps a shepherd take care of his sheep. In mountainous areas, these dogs can be left for long periods alone with a flock. Sheep dogs are so trustworthy and will not roam off and leave the sheep. They are always on the alert for predators (e.g. wolves) and will aggressively drive off all predators.
I also learned that the sheep are not generally fond of the sheep dog. First of all, the sheep dog has sharp canines, quite like the wolf that attacks the sheep. Yet the sheep dog will never attack or harm the sheep. But the sheep dog is not primarily interested in the sheep's comfort. The sheep dog is always keeping the sheep in line and not letting them wander off. It is always on the alert, sniffing the ground and air, looking in every direction - always watchful for the wolf. And at the first smell (let alone sign) of a wolf, the sheep dog springs to action - rallying the sheep and mobilizing them to a place of safety.
So sheep don't really care for this watchdog… that is, until the wolf shows up!!! Then the entire flock all look to the sheep dog for protection. When the wolf shows up, they'll do just about anything that the sheep dog wants them to do! The entire flock can't run soon enough and hide behind the lone sheep dog. When facing the wolf, the sheep dog is their only hope of protection.
This is what I learned is a fundamental difference between a sheep and a sheep dog:
Sheep live their lives as if the wolf doesn't exist and as if the wolf will never attack them. Sheep dogs, however, live their lives as if the wolf could come at any moment. Their entire existence is wrapped up around protecting the sheep that they have been entrusted with .
What a beautiful picture of a selfless protector. What a beautiful example of sacrifice for the survival of the weaker ones.
Now we know that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and that we are His sheep. He tells us as much in the Gospel of John. Jesus doesn't talk about sheep dogs, but I think I see its place. I am inspired to seek to be a sheep dog that could assist my Good Shepherd with the sheep that God has put me in contact with.
There is a great need for good sheep dogs to help the Good Shepherd. Jesus says this in Matthew 9:36-38 - 36Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."
The task of the sheep dog is often a thankless job, and so is this same role in the church. Those who put their time and effort to help protect the church body are often overlooked, taken for granted, or even considered an obstacle and a pain. Truly spiritual and godly leaders preach words of truth from the Word of God, exposing sin and deception. They bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit that can pierce the heart. So, just like the sheep dog shares the same sharp canine teeth as a wolf, a godly leader can be uncomfortable for a wandering flock as he wields the sharp sword of the Spirit (the Word of God) - seeking to keep the people under his watch in line.
But godly leaders should never be mistaken with the evil one. Godly leaders will never harm the sheep or do anything to their detriment. Godly leaders are NOT interested in controlling the flock at all. They live only to protect the sheep from the cunningness and the surprise attacks of the wolf.
So what does it mean to be a sheep dog?
And when the wolf attacks, this is the day to represent the Good Shepherd. Since I have been practising in private to use the Sword of the Spirit, I use that to purposefully and aggressively attack the wolf, while being as intentional not to hurt the sheep. So this means that I will willingly lay down my life, my reputation, my pride - if it means the preservation of His sheep - and keeping them in the path of life.
Read slowly this paraphrase of what Paul says to the leaders of the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:28-30 - The Message): 28 Now it's up to you. Be on your toes-both for yourselves and your congregation of sheep. The Holy Spirit has put you in charge of these people-God's people they are-to guard and protect them. God himself thought they were worth dying for. 29-31 I know that as soon as I'm gone, vicious wolves are going to show up and rip into this flock, men from your very own ranks twisting words so as to seduce disciples into following them instead of Jesus. So stay awake and keep up your guard.
May God raise up many faithful and sacrificial sheep dogs for the Good Shepherd!
In this next section, I want to write about two animals in contrast.
First, I want to talk about the lark and the rooster. Those who live in India have seen their share of roosters (male-hens). And those who studied Shakespeare at school (like I did) have read about the lark.
The lark is a small, furry bird that flies effortlessly through the air. Early in the morning, this lark chirps making sounds like it is singing. I first learned about this bird when I read Shakespeare in school, and he spoke of the lark as the bird that almost woke up the sun! He describes the lark as the "herald of the morn" (in Romeo and Juliet) and the one that wakes "the busy day" (in Troilus and Cressida).
The only other bird that could battle for the "waking the sun" title is the rooster (or cock). Growing up in India, my mother raised a few of them in our backyard, and so I got to know this animal quite well! I remember them being terrible at flying because their body shape is not really aerodynamic! They were also always getting in the way of our cricket games in our backyard. But its crowing was most memorable in my morning memories. Even though its crowing was not melodious like the lark's, it reminds me of my childhood and so brings back many fond memories.
The rooster's crow to indicate the next morning is referenced in the Bible as well. At the Last Supper before Jesus' death, Jesus predicts that Peter would deny Him three times before the cock crows (i.e., before the next sunrise) - and of course, it happened just as Jesus said it would!
So what we have here are two birds that are quite the contrast physically. One is a cute, furry bird that sings melodiously and was a favourite of the greatest poet of all time. The other is an ill-proportioned bird that crows rather than sings, and that was always a sad reminder to Peter's most tragic failure! Yet they both have one important function in common - they both herald the sun and wake us up to a new day!
And this made me realize the application to my life as well:
We have spiritual larks and roosters in our lives. Both herald the Son of God and wake us up to a new life with Jesus. So I must be open to both and realize that they use different means but have the same end.
The spiritual larks are those that herald the love of Jesus to me and wake me up again to the beauty of a life in Him. Just as the sounds of a lark are pleasant to my ear, the sweet promises of God to me in His Word are indeed pleasant and give me a restful confidence. I listen to them through sermons at church or elsewhere, and they assure me that God has a purpose for my life. It can be like water to parched lips. It is to the soul what the lark's singing is to the ear - soothing and laden with joy!
But the spiritual roosters are also important. The spiritual roosters are those that proclaim the commands of the King I serve, and point out the areas where I trivialise His commands. Just as the sound of the rooster crowing was the tell-tale message to Peter of his sin, so also are these Words from God. So such messages convict me of my hypocrisy. They can come from loved ones and friends, who graciously (or sometimes not-so-graciously) point out the selfishness inside of me. And God Himself shows them to me as I invite Him to search the deepest recesses of my heart. Once again, those who have experienced this know what I mean! It can cause us to weep bitterly, and cry in anguish. So while it doesn't feel good at all, it can cause us to humble ourselves before a Holy God!
So we need both the larks and the roosters in our walk with God. A lot of us have a natural tendency to gravitate towards the larks because it sounds so uplifting and so comforting. It is, after all, music to our ears. But we must allow the roosters into our lives as well. They will keep us humble. They will keep us on our knees. And they will help us see our flaws and make us seek God's help for deliverance.
While the average person probably gravitates toward the spiritual larks, there are still some who will gravitate towards the spiritual rooters. These are the people who go "against the grain" even in their spirituality. They are disgusted by the feel-good and superficial spirituality in the Christian world around them. So they gravitate towards strong preaching on holiness and repentance. They love listening to fiery sermons that speak about impending judgment. But because they rarely listen to the lark, they struggle to have a deep joy in their lives. Their spiritual life is defined more by what's wrong with them and with other people, than by what's beautiful in Jesus and what is so wonderful about walking with Him.
Listening to the lark alone will make us spiritually soft, vulnerable to a life of false ease. And listening to the rooster alone will make us spiritually hard, vulnerable to the deceptive life of gloom and legalism.
Jesus often used this phrase to conclude his thoughts - "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" I'd like to use this phrase with a fresh meaning. Let us have our ears open and attuned to the songs of both the spiritual larks and the roosters. Both herald the Son of God and can wake us up to a better life with Him!
Donkeys and horses are two animal species that are part of the same biological family (equidae). That's probably not too difficult to believe, because they do look similar. But then again, I don't think many people will look at a donkey and mistake it for a horse. They might be part of the same biological family, but they are still distinctively different in appearance and purpose.
I recently showed a group of people a picture of a donkey and a picture of a horse, and I asked them to tell me what came to mind. The responses for the two animals couldn't have been more different…
Some words used for the horse were: Majestic, swift, graceful, beautiful, expensive, and very desirable.
Some words used for the donkey were: Dumb, stubborn, ugly, big ears, cheap, and a beast of burden.
I'm pretty sure nobody's surprised by this. Over the centuries, kings and world leaders all rode horses, and none of them would have ever been caught dead on a donkey! Most of us have probably seen statues or paintings of famous kings and leaders. And if they're seated on an animal, it's invariably a horse.
In Biblical times too, kings rode on horses or on chariots drawn by horses. When they had won a battle, the king and his commanders entered into town, triumphantly riding horses and horse-driven chariots. Kings simply did not ride on donkeys. This was true in Jesus' day as well. The culture then knew that kings and aristocracy rode on horses! Donkeys were for the working class and the poor.
This perspective helps us as we read how Jesus planned His "triumphant "entry into Jerusalem. Jesus was intentional with His choice of the animal to be used to introduce the Kingdom He was bringing. Mark 11:2-3 - 2[Jesus] said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt [young donkey] tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. 3If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' you say, 'The Lord has need of it'; and immediately he will send it back here."
It was a colt (a young donkey) that Jesus picked out. It was this young, untested donkey that the Lord had need of for His triumphal entry. Jesus intentionally chose a donkey to carry Him into Jerusalem. In His world, He didn't need the pomp and splendour of the horse. He wanted the ordinary and simple donkey.
We also read in this passage that as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people waved palm branches and heralded Him and praised God. I'm sure some noticed that Jesus was riding a donkey and not a horse, but probably just assumed that Jesus just couldn't find a horse. Even now, I wonder if most of us who read this story realize that Jesus specifically instructed His disciples to find a donkey that He had need of.
As it applies to our own lives, we can look at our brokenness and messiness and think that God has no use for us. We could think that we'll be useful once we've worked through our present ugly state (with our lack of skills and personality). Maybe one day, when we have sorted out our low self-esteem and other insecurities, then we'd look less like a sorry donkey and more like a majestic and beautiful horse, and then maybe the Lord could use us. Then, we think, the Lord will have a fitting vehicle to showcase His love.
We can even fool ourselves that we are only being humble. We can feel that we would honour Jesus best if we don't volunteer to be of use to our Lord.
So we tell Him, "Jesus, my spiritual life looks quite like a donkey. It's hard to find even one thing beautiful about my spirituality. You meanwhile are a King, the greatest of all kings. So You deserve a beautiful horse. You deserve a majestic animal that will best honour You. So let me work on my junk a bit. Give me some time to clean up my act and then I will be ready for You. It will be shameful to be presented as King with me nearby. Besides, I'm untested and untried - I'm still a young donkey. Why don't You wait till I fix myself and get more confidence and get a bit older - then I'll look more like a horse. Then I'll be fit to carry You and present You to others!"
But the message of the story in Mark 11 is clear. Jesus does not need or want a horse - He has "need of" donkeys! He is not on the lookout for the exquisite and the well-polished horses of this world. He wants to use plain and simple-looking donkeys.
So, even though you might look at yourself and see your spirituality and your gifts as ordinary or unsightly with its pointed sharp edges, and you always have your head down because you don't feel you are of much use, God has different ideas - God has need of you, starting just as you are.
God doesn't need the donkey for some complicated task. God has a very simple task: He wants you to showcase Jesus as you carry Him in! If Jesus used a splendid and magnificent horse, maybe people would have admired Jesus and the horse! But when Jesus rode in on a donkey, the focus and praise was completely for Jesus. So also, in our lives too, as we begin to carry Jesus amidst our broken lives, Jesus will have a chance to shine - and people will have a chance to praise Him!
So let's come to Jesus just as we are - with our broken, ugly, and messy spirituality and tell Him, "Jesus, I believe You called for me. You say You have need for me, even though You know full well that I so often feel like and act like a donkey. But nonetheless, because of Your call, I come to You. Here I am, available for Your service. No matter what others think of me and what I often think of myself, I choose to trust Your voice. I know You will use me - for Your purposes and to bring You the honour You richly deserve!"
I want to write about a story from a day several years ago that I will never forget.
That morning, I was scheduled to visit a top-ranking, powerful government official. My three brothers were with me and one of them had set up this meeting for us. Security was very tight. There were armed personnel everywhere, so I knew that every move was being watched. When it was time for our meeting, we walked up to this man, and he greeted us all warmly. We talked about different things - I remember that we talked about India, and he mentioned how impressed he was with its growth as a nation.
Knowing that he was a Christian, we asked him about his faith and the spiritual disciplines that kept him going in such a tough work environment. Almost immediately, he replied, "Prayer". At first I thought that this was a typical answer, and that he would move on to another topic. But he seemed genuinely interested in answering that question, and elaborated about the need to be consistent in spending time every day in quietness and prayer, and for help to make the right decisions to very important matters. He also mentioned that a daily commitment to reading the Word helped him staying grounded. He didn't seem in a hurry to answer our questions, especially those questions about his faith - it seemed clear to me that his thoughts on this subject were personally important to him. As I drove back from the meeting with him, there was little doubt in mind that he had a sincere faith in God.
Later that same evening, I went with a Christian friend of mine to volunteer at a local AIDS home. One night every week, he and I had committed to spending the night with the patients there. This AIDS home was started by Mother Teresa and is run by the Sisters of her Missionaries of Charity organization.
The patients there were in different stages of their illness. One had become blind, another had lost a lot of the skin colour on his face, and two others were slowly losing feeling in their legs, and probably need amputation. We were there to simply help patients through the night with any help that they needed. And before we left in the morning, we gave them their morning medicines.
This particular night was uneventful, and I went to the different rooms to leave the medicines on their bedside. Most of them were asleep, but one patient, Sam, was awake. Sam walked with a noticeable limp because of his weakened leg muscles, but he was one of the most cheerful and thankful people there.
He was profuse in his thanks for my help, and was very happy to see me. We talked for a while, and then he got up from his bed and slowly shuffled to the make-shift chapel down the hall. He sat there, and silently prayed to God. Over several weeks, I had seen him do this consistently every morning and night - taking the time to talk to God and worship Him in spite of his past mistakes and amidst the pain that now flooded his body. As I returned from the AIDS home, I marvelled at his sincere and simple faith in God.
All in all, it was remarkable that within the same 24-hour period, I met two people both followers of Jesus Christ but who lived in completely different spheres. One was an extremely powerful man in this society - and I believe that I will see him in heaven one day. Less than 24 hours later, I saw a man who was diametrically opposite in terms of social significance - mostly forgotten, discarded, and unloved by society. But I believe just as much that I will see him in heaven as well.
It was a most singular incident for me because God revealed Himself to me that day as the Great Equalizer! The one of great esteem shares the same common access to his Creator as the one that is given up for dead. In God's master plan, the most despised in this world commune together with the most powerful. There is no special seat of honour for the esteemed of this world, and neither is a back corner for the broken of this world. Both take their seats next to each other at their Heavenly Father's dinner table.
In God's Kingdom, the powerful and esteemed leopard most certainly lies down with the simple-minded and fragile kid goat .
Isaiah 11:6 (The Message):
The wolf will romp with the lamb,
The leopard sleeps with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
And a little child will tend them.
In the next few comparisons on animals, I want to write on animal lessons that I learned from my Dad, Zac Poonen. He was the one who first taught these to me.
I just talked about the powerful leopard and the fragile kid goat. But the analogy that is most applicable to contrast power against fragility is probably the lion and the lamb. If the lion is the king of the jungle, then the lamb is at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to defending itself!
Yet we see these two contrasting animals combine into One Person in this fascinating passage:
Revelation 5:4-6 - 4Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; 5and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." 6And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.
Let me put this passage in context. The writer is the Apostle John, and he is relating what he saw in heaven. He saw a scroll that had been sealed. To me, this book is a symbol for the story of the lives of all humans, and which was intended to express and extol the glory of God. However, ever since Adam had sinned and submitted to the devil's way of thinking, the book had been sealed. Ever since then as well, the book of a life giving glory to God remained sealed because no human had been able to fully live like that. All had sinned, and hence fallen short of that most holy and perfect glory of God.
This was a great tragedy. Not one human being could do what was intended - to fully bring glory to God. This caused the apostle John to weep greatly, and that's understandable. In the 4,000 years from Adam to John, there had not been ONE instance of a human who could break the seal.
But John's weeping was premature. Someone in heaven tells John to stop weeping, because there was indeed One who was worthy. The great Lion of Judah was worthy to open the book and all of its seals, because He had overcome every sin and even death. This mighty Lion was of the same family root as the most victorious king of Israel - King David.
John turned, expecting to see a powerful and majestic lion, but saw just the opposite. He saw a Lamb standing, as if slain! John saw a most humble image - a docile, innocent lamb, bleeding as if slain!
So was Jesus, the Lamb of God, not the Lion of Judah? No! He was both fully Lion and fully Lamb.
Jesus was a Lion towards sin and the devil . He always overcame sin and did not give up any ground to the devil. Every single temptation that came into Jesus' life faced the most powerful Lion. This Lion was perfectly ruthless against sin. His record in his battles against sin and the devil was perfect - He simply never lost - not even once!
But Jesus was a Lamb towards us humans . He took the insults from us and kept quiet. He did not receive glory from us. He did not have a stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him. He did not have an appearance that we'd be attracted to Him. And when we turned against Him and took Him to be killed like a lamb led to slaughter, He remained silent. His "fight" was not with us humans. He had no desire to be a Lion to us. He came as the quietest of animals in order to win us back to Him. But all along, He never defiled Himself with sin and steadfastly remained a Lion against sin and every form of evil.
It is this Lion-Lamb Jesus who is the embodiment of hating sin and loving us.
So, let us reject the world system that has it backwards. The world system teaches us that sin is nothing to be worried about, and so we can be passive and docile like lambs towards sin. It also teaches us that we must fight against other humans, tearing them apart with our words and using them for our own greed.
This corrupt world system is not to be our example. Jesus is our Example. So let us look to Him as our Model of being a Lion and a Lamb - ferociously ruthless against sin while pursuing peace with all people.
I want to write now on another lesson from animals that I learned from my Dad.
Pigs and cats have many differences. I'm pretty sure nobody who has seen both animals are ever going to mistake one for the other! But I want to highlight one specific characteristic, or should I say virtue, in cats that very easily contrasts them from pigs. And that is the virtue of cleanliness!
When I hear the expression: "wallowing in the mud, " I instinctively think of a pig. Pigs seem to get great pleasure out of wallowing in the mud. I wondered why this was, and found a couple of reasons. Pigs don't have sweat glands, so they cool themselves in the mud. Also, mud serves as an effective sun-block lotion, protecting their skin from sunburn! So pigs are in no hurry to clean off the filthy grime on their skin!
But cats are completely different. Cats don't like to be dirty at all, and enjoy being well-groomed. They are constantly licking themselves, detangling and cleaning their fur, using their tongue as a natural hairbrush, and their saliva as shampoo and conditioner!
Now this does not make cats virtuous and pigs evil! But this does serve as a wonderful illustration of the contrast that should be evident in our lives before and after we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ. The difference should be the growing instincts of a different animal, and not just a rehabilitated animal!
You see, a majority of people (even Christians) think of Christianity as a way of life that makes bad people into good people. But that's not the essence of Christianity. The essence of Christianity is that when a human being completely surrenders to Jesus, God promises a transformation of one's very nature. The Bible speaks of a stark death and a resurrection, and not the admission of guilt followed by rehabilitation.
I know it sounds hard to believe, and I will admit that there is not as much evidence of this kind of drastic transformation in Christians as there should be. But before we try to figure out why this transformation is not evident in most Christians, we must first find out if this holistic transformation is the kind of change that the Bible proclaims. To me, it's clearly described by Peter in 2 Peter 1:4- …He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the Divine Nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
The mud that the pig wallows in is a vivid picture of the corruption that is in the world by lust, that we wallow in. This is the filth that corrupts our spirits and alienates us from God. But the good news is that God has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises all over His Word, with one magnificent purpose in mind: that we would become partakers of the Divine Nature!
Some of us may not know the word "partaker". So I looked it up in the Amplified Bible and it was translated as sharer. The promises of God have been given in order that we can share God's very nature with Him!
Do we get the immensity of this? Maybe we have to read and re-read this verse and spend time thinking about it until it really sinks in, so that we marvel more at the magnitude of this promise!
God wants to share His Divine Nature with us! God doesn't want to just share His virtues with us. God doesn't want to just share His blessings with us. God doesn't want to just share His heart with us. God wants to share the deepest part of Him with us. He wants to share His very nature with us.
This also sheds new light on the fact that God wants us to be part of His family. God doesn't simply adopt us! He wants us to have His nature in addition to His name attached to ours! So He's not satisfied for people to say that they belong to Him; He wants them to show off His nature working through them!
This Divine Nature, which can be seen in our hatred towards all sin, must saturate our lives . Just like cats love to be clean and hate the mud and filth, we must now have a deep love for the truth and a righteous hatred for the filth of sin. We used to be like pigs that used to enjoy the mud and grime. We must now embrace the new nature that God seeks to share with us - one that (like cats) despises the mud and filth.
Jesus is our Example here as well. The reason why Jesus was able to be a perfect sacrifice for our sins is that He resisted sin absolutely, for every day of his life. Jesus was fully God and fully man on earth. He was able to face temptations because He was fully man (God cannot be tempted), but He resisted sin completely and never gave in to it because He ALWAYS depended on the Holy Spirit in Him.
But the good news of Jesus is not just His sacrifice - even though that would be enough. The rest of the good news is that we too are called to be sharers of that same Divine Nature! We too have been given the same Holy Spirit Who was in Jesus (Romans 8:11-13). We too are part of God's family, and are younger brothers and sisters of Jesus (Romans 8:14-17, 29).
So let us not hide under the pretence of a humility (a false humility) that tells us that we cannot walk as Jesus did. 1 John 2:6 tells us that we must walk as Jesus walked. There is NO excuse for us to remain stuck with a life that wallows in sin endlessly. Let us instead approach God boldly, armed with the magnificent promises of His Word. Let us realise that the Divine Nature of God abhors sin, and that God wants to share that same Divine Nature with us!
May God help us with this.
The camel is a very distinctive animal. It has disproportionately longer legs compared to its body, and any desire to look good is further hurt by the awkward hump at the top of its back. Then it has an awkward gait as well - moving both feet on one side of its body, then both feet on the other side. So if you ride a camel, you'll notice that it moves in a rocking motion like a ship out at sea. Now you know one more reason that it is called the ship of the desert! But in spite of all of these awkward things about it, the camel stands out mostly because it is, simply put, VERY BIG! In Israel during Jesus' day, it was probably one of the biggest animals around. You didn't see animals much bigger than the camel in that part of the world.
So with this in mind, it is interesting to read Jesus' words to the rich young ruler: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).
Even if you didn't previously know what the word hyperbole meant, you now know what it is because this is exactly what Jesus used here! He was using a clear exaggeration to prove a point. The eye of the needle is that barely noticeable, oval-shaped hole through which you carefully pass a piece of string through. So Jesus didn't have to use the huge camel to prove his point. Many other animals (pigs, donkeys, etc.) would have still proved his point. But Jesus was using the largest animal around to underline His point.
Now, in case you didn't know, Jesus was not talking about the amount of money that defined somebody as rich. By the standards of the lepers in His day and blind Bartimaeus, even Jesus was relatively rich. So it wasn't the amount of money in one's purse or one's bank account that constituted rich or poor.
Rather, the one who was rich was the one who had an attitude of richness. In this case, the rich young ruler was definitely rich monetarily, but was also rich in his thoughts about his obedience to the commandments. So the attitude of richness could be due to pride in one's wealth, one's intelligence, one's education, or even one's spirituality.
These are all some of the areas where we all might have the despicable spirit of richness.
So in a nutshell, Jesus was saying: "It is impossible for the person who is rich in his/her own attitudes to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, if you want to know HOW impossible it is for such rich people to enter the kingdom of God, let me think of something really, really big. SO imagine one of the biggest animals around - say, a camel. Now imagine one of the smallest things around - say, the eye of a needle. Now imagine this huge camel trying to squeeze his way through the eye of a camel. Can you imagine how crazy such a thing would be? Well, even crazier than even that, is the idea that you can have an attitude of richness about anything in yourself, and still enter the kingdom of God."
This was what Jesus was saying, and this is consistent with what Jesus said elsewhere as well. For example, in His most famous sermon (documented in Matthew 5-7 and known as the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 5:3).
How can any animal get through the needle's eye? It's not like a cat will have any easier a time. Well, there are some animals that can get through the eye of a needle. One of them is the amoeba, the smallest of all animals. We can't see it with our naked eyes. But there's one thing for sure about this very little animal - it will effortlessly zip in and out and back and forth through the narrow space of a needle's eye!
Remember what Jesus has taught: Both the entrance and the way for the Kingdom of God are both very narrow. So it makes sense that we should always seek to be as "small" as possible spiritually. Camels cannot enter the narrow gate, and camels cannot walk on the narrow way of a life with Jesus.
So wherever we are rich in our own eyes, we are as large camels that cannot access the Kingdom of God.
We can't enter, maybe because we are pretty big and inflated on account of our riches.
We can't enter, maybe because we are pretty big and inflated on account of our smartness.
We can't enter, maybe because we are pretty big and inflated on account of our religion.
We can't enter, maybe because we are pretty big and inflated on account of our righteousness.
So how then do we enter? Very simply, we must become very small - like tiny little amoebae.
What does that mean spiritually?
People who are "poor" in their own eyes will find enormous help and grace from God. This is the true humility that is a requirement to receive God's grace!
Let me finish with a very important word of caution about this humility and smallness that I write about:
By becoming small like amoebae, I do not mean that we must have low self-esteem. There is a colossal difference between admitting our own inadequacies and having low self-esteem.
As Christians, we must be assured with supreme confidence that we are loved! And even better, we are loved by a Heavenly Father who draws us close to Him, not merely by a far-away God who extends mercy from a distance.
So holding our Father's hand as we walk through life should give us great confidence. We become foolish as camels trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle, only when we ever think of letting go of Him.
As Jesus Himself said to wrap up the analogy of the camel (two verses later):
"With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible "(Matthew 19:26).
In this verse, I see a clear contrast: an absolutely hopeless proposition in the first part of that sentence (relying on my own strength or on other people is hopeless), or an incredibly empowering proposition in the second half of that sentence (relying wholly on God makes the impossible possible).
So may God help us to become small and weak like amoebae (humble) because we know that it is impossible to live this life without God; yet filled with supreme confidence because we know Who we are holding on to for help - a very big God who has the whole world in His palm.
In this chapter, I want to write about a lesson I learned from two very different animals who yet share a unique bond - snakes and lambs. Yes, I know - it doesn't seem obvious at first, but I will explain.
Snakes and lambs are seen as foes in the Bible: One consistently representing evil, while the other consistently representing good. It was the deceitful tongue of the snake that deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was the blood of innocent lambs that repeatedly saved the Israelites from the wrath of God.
But there is one time where the imagery of the snake and the lamb converged in the same person. It's not immediately obvious but that person was Jesus!
In John 3:14-15, Jesus says this to Nicodemus: 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.
Jesus was referring to an incident mentioned in Numbers 21. The Israelites were (yet again) complaining about life in the wilderness and about the "miserable food" that they were eating (i.e., the manna sent by God Himself!). As a result, fiery snakes attacked the Israelite camp and many people in Israel died.
Sure enough, the Israelites suddenly realized the folly of their actions (no surprise!), and pleaded with Moses to intercede on their behalf, which this exceedingly compassionate Moses did (what a man!). God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and raise it up as a standard. Then, anyone who was bitten had only to look at this bronze snake to be healed.
This is the bronze snake that Jesus refers to in John 3. It is this bronze snake that Jesus compares Himself to. Just like the Israelites looked at the bronze snake and were healed, we too can be healed from the sickness of sin and have eternal life when we look up at Jesus on the cross.
Now when I think about a snake, I think of a devious, crafty, and poisonous animal. I'm sure this has something to do with my Christian background, but also to what we have all seen in India. There are a lot of wild and dangerous animals in India - lions, tigers, leopards, etc. But these animals have rarely troubled us or entered our lives. They stay in the jungles, and I've never seen these animals outside a zoo/safari.
However, we had to always watch out for snakes. They could be lying in a bush nearby, or inside a mound of sand that looked like an anthill, or simply crawling around in our backyards. So we didn't have to worry about running into a lion or a tiger on our way to school, but we did have to watch out for snakes.
So the very thought of Jesus being at all connected with a snake is disturbing at first. Besides, Jesus could have referenced several other stories to talk about being lifted up. For example, He could have likened Himself to the staff of Moses that was lifted up and parted the Red Sea. Or He could have likened Himself to the Passover Lamb in talking to Nicodemus. We know the Bible refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God. And He was - innocent from sin and hence without blemish.
Yet, I believe that the Lamb of God likened to a bronze snake is a critical imagery, because the weight of what happened on the cross increases when we realize that this Lamb of God became like a snake for us.
Now I write this very carefully, lest somebody think that I am demeaning the most precious Son of God in any way. May it never be! The Holy Spirit within us only seeks to glorify Jesus more and more to us. So I write this about Jesus only because He became more precious to me through this, and because it compelled me to heighten my adoration for Him.
This is how I see the cross and the punishment meted out on Jesus:
The physical suffering that Jesus endured had only a little to do with the judgment of God. Certainly, Jesus suffered immense physical pain when He died on the cross. Yet, the physical brutality He experienced was for less than 24 hours. But there have been countless disciples of Jesus through the ages who have suffered much greater physical torture and for far longer than Jesus ever did. So we must know that the physical pain endured by Jesus was not even the tip of the iceberg of the judgment of God for our sin.
The judgment of God on our sins was in this: Jesus took upon Himself all the sins of the world, and thereby became a curse (Galatians 3:13). Then, when God looked at our sins that were upon Jesus while on the cross, He forsook Jesus because of the repulsive, repugnant, and evil nature of our sin that was upon Him as He hung there.
So when God the Father looked down at Jesus on the cross with our sins put upon Him, He saw more than an innocent Lamb there. Because of our sin, God saw something evil in Jesus on the cross. God could not stand the sight of it ( Habakkuk 1:13 - Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favour). God saw something so evil that it made Him act in holy justice. In holy justice, the Father forsook the Son who bore every last ugly sin of ours. The all-holy God, in whose presence sin cannot exist, therefore crushed Him who bore our sins, even though it was His precious Son.
How could it possibly please the Father to crush His Son Jesus (Isaiah 53:10)? God is totally just and desires justice against all evil and injustice. So it makes sense that sin would be crushed. But He also loved us so much that He didn't want to crush us. So He put our sins on the only Person who could possibly carry our sins - namely, His Son. His innocent Son was crushed for you and for me. But it was all because God wanted us to be forgiven and to be a part of His family. He didn't want us to be simply pardoned of our iniquities and saved, but also to be fully part of His family - and fellow heirs with Jesus.
So the next time you look at a cross, pause, before you think of its beauty. Think instead of the most repulsive object your mind can imagine - the most foul-looking thing that could possibly exist. That is what the cross looked like to God the Father, when Jesus His Son hung on it bearing your sins and mine.
2 Corinthians 5:21 - He Who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
I want to now write a bit differently from these past few chapters. I learned something from what I recently saw, and I hope that this lesson comes at just the right time for some who are reading this now.
My workplace at the time was near a bay. So I would sometimes take my lunch and sit near the water and watch the boats and the water and the various birds flying around.
One beautiful, sunny afternoon, there were a lot of people outside. I was eating my lunch, and my attention was drawn to the birds flying around and settling on the bits of food lying around.
There were seagulls flying around - big white birds that flew around. They aren't huge birds like falcons, but they were the biggest ones around that day. There were also grey-coloured pigeons and small little sparrows. All these birds were flying and hopping around all over the place. They were used to people giving them food and leftovers, so they knew that they would get fed as they simply hung around!
I soon noticed a group of sparrows picking at a piece of hard bread that had been left behind by someone. It was clear that the bread was dry and hard, but the sparrows huddled around this big piece of bread, trying to peck at it and get something out of it. This piece of bread was probably bigger than any one of them, so this could feed them for many days!
But then I saw a seagull that was at least ten times bigger than any of the sparrows, come hopping over. He had clearly seen this enviable piece of food. And this seagull just forced its way through this group of sparrows and picked up the bread. The seagull didn't ask for permission; he just walked in and grabbed the piece of bread.
The sparrows didn't put up a fight either, although I'm pretty sure I know why. The sparrows probably quickly sized up the seagull and knew that they were no match. I don't think the sparrows have quite worked out a pack strategy to defend their food, so they didn't all try to fight the seagull as a group.
As I watched this, I felt real bad for the sparrows. Realizing that the seagull would be easily scared by me, I wanted to go over and grab that piece of bread and give it back to the sparrows. Maybe it was some innate desire for justice that cried out for something to be done to these wronged sparrows.
But I didn't. I chose to continue to watch.
The seagull picked up this piece of bread, and kept biting at it with its beak - slowly getting it a bit softer so that it could eat it. And it kept going at it. I was sure that it wouldn't be able to soften the bread. In fact, I was hoping it would NOT succeed, because I wanted the sparrows to have what was originally theirs! But believe it or not, the seagull was finally able to work at it and swallow it.
And then it flew away, clearly satisfied with his lunch.
But then I saw the sparrows return to the spot where the seagull had eaten the food that was theirs (!), and with no bitterness in their bodies (the best I could judge bitterness in sparrows!!!), they ate the crumbs that were left over from the seagull trying to get at the dry bread.
In this, I saw the wonderful working of God. Even though the seagull took the sparrow's bread, the sparrows were left with enough to eat - from the crumbs that the seagull left behind.
Watching these sparrows and the seagull, I remembered what Jesus said in Luke 12:6-7: 6 " Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. 7Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."
This was especially instructive to me, because I had just learned that the job that I had been working with was now uncertain. There was a strong possibility that my job might end soon.
This is what I felt God tell me: Even though the seagull is a bigger bird and steals the sparrow's food, the sparrow is not forgotten before Me. I will feed the sparrow as well. The sparrow doesn't need a big chunk of bread, that's too much food anyways for a sparrow. The leftovers from a seagull's meal are sufficient for the sparrows. So the sparrows are not forgotten before Me. I know what they need and I will provide it to them.
In the same way, too much money and too much food and too nice a house is too much for you. You don't need all of that. Even if others come in and grab what might seem like your job, do not be afraid or anxious by their imposing size (seagulls compared to sparrows), or by how impossible the situation looks to you.
You are not forgotten before Me. I know what you need and I will faithfully provide that to you. Surely you are more valuable than many sparrows. You might get crumbs compared to some others, but it will be sufficient for you. I will give you your daily bread and will provide all your needs!
I hope this is a word of comfort to those who read this. We live in troubling times, both financially and physically. The devil will do his best to leverage this kind of environment to build fear within us and rob us of our faith and trust in God. Let us remember that faith is not being tough enough or strong enough. Faith is a simple but rock-solid dependence on God. This faith is all we need to please God(Hebrews 11:6).
May God find this dependence in us, His people, especially at times like this. May we have a confident dependence on Him Who cares for us more than for all the sparrows in the world!
Sheep are mentioned often in the Bible. David was a shepherd and wrote the famous Psalm 23, where he looked at God as his Shepherd and saw himself as a sheep under His care.
Then Jesus came as the Messiah, and proclaimed that He was the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. We are the sheep. All of us like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6), and the Good Shepherd (Jesus) came and rescued us from sin, so that we might live lives free of sin.
So as we read the Bible, we repeatedly see the picture of sheep and Shepherd to describe us and Jesus.
But we also know that there are two kinds of sheep. There are white sheep and there are black sheep. The spotless, white sheep are attractive to look at, while the speckled, black sheep are not so attractive. The white sheep get a lot of attention as a result, while the black sheep are not as pleasing to the eye, and so are often times ignored and unattended to.
This is how it is in the natural world in many areas. The "white sheep" get the attention. The physically pretty ones get noticed. The
intellectually pretty (the smart) ones are listened to. Those pretty in personality (charismatic and outgoing) are the fun and exciting ones. Meanwhile,
the physically unattractive, the not-so-intelligent, and the quiet and shy ones are often marginalized or ignored.
A lot of studies have shown that many children who are excessively naughty or act up all the time are simply trying to be noticed by their parents or teachers. They have tried to be themselves but they don't get noticed. So they do anything they can (be the class clown, always get in trouble, etc.) just so that they'll get some attention, even though it's negative attention!
Some of us might see ourselves as black sheep by our human characteristics (looks, personality, etc.). But it could be even worse for a lot of us as we look at our insides and our spirituality.
We can feel that we have a "black sheep" status in our relationship with God. We sit in church and we see all the "holy ones" that have their Christian lives all put together. We see the music leaders singing with tears streaming down their faces. We see those who pray in every meeting having such passion in their prayers, and others who seem to know so much of God's Word.
They are the white sheep to us spiritually, while we, by comparison, are the black sheep. We suspect that some of these people are faking their spirituality (we're probably quite right), but we can't even act like they do, even though we know this might bring us acceptance. Sometimes maybe we try to fake it, and it seems to work for a while, but we can't do it for too long. We can't be white sheep for too long. We're black sheep after all, and it's really hard work to always pretend to be a white sheep when we're just not.
We know that we're struggling against sin, and we just can't seem to be faithful like we should. So we keep struggling to read our Bibles faithfully or pray regularly. We really try hard to stay close to God, but after a few weeks, we get lazy, or get distracted by something in this world or by our own interests.
All of this convinces us that God simply cannot love us as much as the spotless white sheep that seem to always be so nice and pleasant. Yes, we're sure that God loves us. But surely not as much as those who seem to excel in this life, and those who always seem so nice and so neat and so normal! This is how the world operates and evaluates things, so surely this is how God operates as well.
So the end result is that we stay away from God, because we are convinced that God simply cannot love us. We have no one else to blame for not being as faithful as we should be. We know we should be better, but it just seems so hard. We really want to follow Jesus, and we don't understand why we give in to our sins so often. It seems so foolish in retrospect, but at that time, it seems impossible to resist.
By staying away from our Father's house, we are like the younger son (prodigal son) at the pig farm that Jesus talked about in Luke 15. He's eating the pig's food because of his own wrong-doings. Because of the shame of his own failures, he just can't get the courage to return to his father's house. After all, he wasted his inheritance already. To the son, it seems completely unjust to go to the father's house and ask to be taken back. After all, he deserves everything that's happened to him.
We're just the same. We surely think that the kindness of God does not extend to us who have wandered in the wilderness of sin for so long. I am also sure that other "black sheep" easily relate to this. Even now, I sometimes feel yet again like the Lost Son in Luke 15 who has squandered the Father's inheritance.
I used to feel that way for many years. But I have learned to keep coming back to God, because I am seeing the TRUE Nature of the Father that Jesus came to reveal. God is a Loving Father whose sternest rebuke and discipline is still so much better than the fanciest desserts offered by the enemy. So I'd rather bear the consequences of sin in His presence, than stay apart from Him and enjoy the temporary pleasures of life.
The Heavenly Father is the best Person I can be with. So when I fall in my pursuit of Him, I get back and fall at His feet, and tell Him how sorry I am - even though I've already said the same things a million times.
Now this is exactly why God is the best Person I can ever be with. Even when I fall into sin and disappoint God, but then return to Him in repentance and humility, God YET AGAIN slips His ring of authority onto my finger, and tells me to use that authority to rebuke all guilt and shame for my past. And He does this even though I've bartered away the last million rings He previously gave me.
And as if that was not enough, God throws His Son's robe on me once again, even though I've soiled the past million ones! And He once again has a feast.
It never gets old for Him!
Remember my affliction and my wandering,
The wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me.
This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope:
The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
This is how the Message Bible puts it:
I'll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
The taste of ashes, the poison I've swallowed.
I remember it all-oh, how well I remember-
The feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there's one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up.
They're created new every morning. How great is your faithfulness!
Dear young man, dear young woman, I'll say it as simply as I can: Won't you join me on this journey through life, and experience the REALITY (TRUTH) of this God with me?
Most of us who have studied high school biology know the story of the butterfly. First there is the egg, then the caterpillar (larva), then on to pupa, and finally the beautiful butterfly. I think I first learned about this transformation, or rather metamorphosis, when I was about ten or eleven years old.
Now some of us have probably also heard this transformation used as an analogy for our spiritual walk as well. A common spiritual application is that God wants to transform us humans from spiritual caterpillars (slow and ugly) into spiritual butterflies (flying effortlessly and beautiful) for Him. This is definitely a beautiful illustration of what God has planned for us.
I definitely relate with the spiritual analogy of being a caterpillar. Knowing the depravity of the desires of my flesh, the image of a caterpillar easily fits for my corruption. So as I desire to follow Jesus, I know that the beauty of Jesus compared to my life is akin to the beauty of a butterfly compared to the caterpillar.
But I have a slightly different lesson to learn from this biological transformation. It's got to do with the last two stages of the transformation - from pupa and butterfly.
The pupa stage of the butterfly (also known as chrysalis) is formed after the caterpillar has finished gaining the requisite nourishment. Caterpillars spend most of their time doing one thing: Eating! All the food needed for the butterfly is accumulated during the caterpillar stage, where the necessary energy and body-building materials are gathered. After it has gathered all the necessary food, the life of the caterpillar has run its course and it's ready to become a pupa.
The pupa is generally incapable of movement, and so it usually lies in a place undisturbed - like the underside of a leaf. So from the outside, the pupa looks as if it's resting. But inside, there is an immense amount of change, where every last part of the caterpillar is changing. Most of the body parts and organs of the caterpillar dissolve and re-form into the organs, tissues, limbs, and wings of the butterfly. Then finally, when the change is complete, the shell of the pupa breaks and an adult butterfly emerges.
What is the spiritual application that I learn from this?
I learned that it was in the stage of the pupa that I failed in my pursuit to be transformed. I embraced the image of the caterpillar, but I didn't recognize the crucial stage of the pupa.
In the areas of my spiritual walk where I wanted transformation, I used to think that I had to try harder. I tried to listen to more sermons. I tried to pray longer. I tried to read my Bible for longer. I tried to go to different retreats or ask for special prayer.
All of this was good. In fact, it was really, really good. They were invaluable for my spiritual life later on. But I am also sure that all of this was not the solution to my beauty of Jesus deficiency!
In looking at the earlier stages of the butterfly, I realized that all of the things that I was doing were similar to the caterpillar continuing to eat. I was gaining nourishment that would be critical some day, but all that nourishment was not the means of the transformation.
For me to experience transformation, I realize that I have to be like a pupa AFTER all the feeding.
In the pupa stage, it looks to everybody like I'm resting. It looks to everybody like I'm doing less than I used to do, quite like the pupa does a whole lot less than a caterpillar! But something is happening on the inside - every organ and tissue and body part is being transformed under the shroud of the cocoon.
I then realized that the God who made all of nature is not limited in His ability to transform my life. He who raised Jesus from the dead can easily bring His life into my brokenness very easily.
But I must become a pupa - and rest in Him. So I don't have to rest and wait in the cocoon and work on changing myself in my own strength. The pupa isn't changing itself. Nature is doing its work inside the pupa. The pupa just has to rest and wait inside the cocoon. God will do His work in me if I will rest in Him.
So it sounds so easy. But in reality it isn't. After all the feeding, I have found that the cocoon is a really tough place for me. The cocoon is God's restrictive boundary that He puts around me - telling me to stay and lie still and to allow Him to work on me. He asks me to submit to correction, He asks me to accept all the circumstances and hardships in my life, and He asks me to set aside all my pain from the past. He asks me to simply learn to rest in Him.
Sure, the pupa's shell is restrictive and uncomfortable and extremely tight quarters. Also, I'm sure the pupa can start to feel the transformation happening in some parts of its body and be tempted to think too quickly that it's already a butterfly when it's still premature. But just like nature is in control of the pupa, God wants to be in control of my transformation.
He asks me to do less for Him but rather be more with Him .
So I must let go of all of my ambitions to do something big for God. I have to let go of the itch within me to burst out of my cocoon and save this dying world. I must let go of my urge to abort the transformation process mid-stream because I am so needed for some holy task right now. God needs me most to be still.
From my own life and looking around, I see that it is really difficult for God to find young people who are willing to be still under His cocoon (boundary). It is very hard to find young people who are willing to subject every last organ and tissue within them to God, even as He reworks our lives on the inside.
For myself, I can honestly say before God that I HAVE experienced small bits of this transformation. I can see some areas in which God has brought His Divine Life as I have been willing to completely surrender to Him, and stay surrendered. When I tried to fly on my own, based on maybe my own confidence or some track record of recent victories, I ended up falling flat on my face! So I have learned through many failures to stop resisting God's desire that I be still. I am content to wait in restful obedience as He works to transform me by the power of His Holy Spirit.
But there are still many, many other areas that are still broken. God asks the same for these areas: "Remember the pupa stage. Don't think that you are ready to fly with what feels and looks like wings to you. Don't think that you are ready to burst out of the cocoon of My transformation school so that you can be this beautiful creature that shows off My creation. I know what I am doing, and when I am through with you, your beauty will be unspeakable, and you will KNOW with no doubt that it was not your own doing!"
Will you and I be counted among that number - of people who are willing to ignore every last bright idea of this world, and who are willing to resist every brilliant new ministry and mission idea? Will you and I be counted among that number of people who were willing to be still and rest in Him?
Then, one day, ALL FOR HIS OWN GLORY, we will be presented to the world. God will showcase His beauty in us as beautiful creatures resplendent with a myriad of colours, flying effortlessly through various troubles of this world, and bringing an entirely new dimension to the meaning of the word beauty!
There remains a rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9).
For those of you who know the Bible, this is probably a well-known story, but I will share this with you nonetheless, as we all may need to be reminded of its important spiritual meaning.
After God took Noah and his family into the ark, He judged the world for its exceeding wickedness with an unprecedented flood. This flood not only killed all humans, but all the animals as well (except for those who were in the ark). After 40 days and nights, the rains stopped and the waters slowly began to subside.
When Noah looked out and noticed that the mountains were visible, he sent a raven to check on things. The Bible says, "and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth" (Genesis 8:7). The raven never seems to have returned. The raven seemed to have found everything it needed to live on from the dead carcasses floating on the water.
We know this because Noah then sent out a dove to check on things, and she found no place to settle on and so returned to Noah. So it was still not yet ready to be inhabited. A week later, Noah sent the dove out again, and once more the dove came back, but this time with a freshly picked olive leaf. This proved that new plant life was starting to sprout again. Another week later, Noah sent the dove out again a third time, and this time the dove didn't return. The dove had clearly found the earth ready to live on by itself.
The raven didn't need to come back when it was released because it found food among the dead carcasses of humans and animals that were probably floating on the water. It could build a home in the crevices of the mountains and could feed on the dead bodies nearby. And as a result of the great flood, there were plenty of dead carcasses around for quite a while!
The dove, however, didn't feed on dead carcasses. The dove fed on live plants. The rotted human and animal flesh had no appeal to it. So it kept returning to the ark until it could find fresh life for itself.
So how does this now apply to our lives?
Think of the story of Noah coming out of the flood as an imagery of Christian baptism. Peter makes this comparison in his letters (1 and 2 Peter). Just as Noah came through the flood and began life anew, we too begin a new life in Christ when we accept His Lordship. The tradition of baptism is an outward act to represent this inner choice: We are beginning a new life (new = a death then a resurrection) with Jesus.
Now as we begin this new life, the very first question that is asked of us is this: Are we going to feed on the dead things of this world that used to control our lives, or are we going to daily live by the fresh word of God? Will we, like the raven of Noah's time, choose to feed on the rotten and decaying things of this world? Or will we, filled with the Holy Spirit (the dove is a picture of the Holy Spirit in the Bible), choose to live on His word and His promises henceforth?
Noah then, is an example to us in this. Noah didn't just decide when it was time to leave the ark. When the raven he sent out didn't return, Noah did not leave the ark. Noah, as an archetype to the present-day spiritual man, was not interested in consuming the dead, rotten, and decaying things of this world. He was not going to leave the ark until there was fresh life to feed on.
Now we too have an opportunity to make the same kind of choice that Noah made. For those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus, we choose first to be baptized as a public demonstration of our death to the world. But that's just the beginning. That's just the first step.
We come out of the waters of baptism and out of the church meeting and step into our daily lives. This is where we are really tested to live out our new life in the Holy Spirit. Every hour of every day, we then face tests in our new life with Christ, through the daily little choices of what we watch, what we listen to, who we spend our time with, what we find valuable, what our goals our, etc.
Some of us have failed miserably in this area. We look at our lives and have to admit that even though we were baptized years ago and we chose back then to identify with Jesus, there has been no consistent rejection of the world and its dead system that is embodied in our lives. Or maybe it was true for a while (maybe back when we were new to the things of God), but we seem to have now slipped back into a life of secretly enjoying the rotten pleasures of this life.
If this is so, we are like the ravens of this story.
We must then be honest to recognize our true condition, and be truly sorry for this. We must have a deep revulsion for this present state of our lives. But we don't stop with simply being sorry. We must also actively choose to seek to live a new kind of life. This is what the Bible means by the word repentance.
So we must seek God to be like doves. By that, I mean that we ask Him to fill us again with His Holy Spirit and have His desires rule our heart. The Holy Spirit will give us an increasing desire for His dove-like purity, as we surrender to His rule. He will also work to continually join us with Jesus, so that we gladly discard our thoughts and our ambitions, in exchange for the desires and passions of Jesus.
May God help us in this.
Many of us have probably never read the book of Leviticus. Even those of us who have read it have probably seen very little practical and spiritual value from that book.
Now that's quite understandable because there are laws and regulations in there that are not relevant for today's society. For example, there were things written there for health reasons rather than for any spiritual reasons. People wandering in the wilderness needed to be hygienic, so there was a necessity to write some of those things. We know that God wants us to live physically hygienic lives.
But there are some things that can have a spiritual application. This is what I want to draw from…
One of the things written in Leviticus is a definition of clean and unclean animals. And these were a couple of rules that separated clean from unclean animals for the Israelites:
Now those of us who have read the New Testament know that these rules do not apply to us in the physical sense anymore. God spoke clearly to Peter about this in Acts 10. So for example, Christians are permitted to eat pork, even though it is defined as an unclean animal in Leviticus 11.
However, I see this philosophy of separating clean from unclean as having a spiritual application. I am clearly not adamant on the meanings of this, but if it helps you get a better understanding of God and His mind, feel free to also learn from this.
From the separations listed above, I see four principles that can help me stay spiritually clean:
Chewing my cud
This is the act in which animals chew the food that they eat. Chewing of the "cud" seems to refer to those animals who regurgitate (bring back from their stomach to their mouth) the food that they have initially chewed, just to chew on it some more. So you can be sure that this food is really, really well chewed!!!
How does this apply to us spiritually? God's Word is my spiritual food - Jesus makes that clear to the devil in the temptation that He faced (Matthew 4:4). So to chew again and again on God's Word, means that I must often meditate on His Word. Even after I'm done thinking about something in His Word initially, I might need to bring it back up to my mind later on for further consideration. Also, even if I feel that the Lord has fed me through a verse in the past, I am still ready to bring this verse back to the forefront of my mind and ask the Lord to show me even more if needed. This is how I must keep chewing as well as swallow. This is how I will meditate on God's Word and not simply read and understand God's Word.
So this is a way I can remain clean: Often chew on God's Word. Often: As I'm walking to the bus station, as I'm taking a shower, as I'm going to sleep, on my way in to work, etc.
Keeping my hoofs split
It's important to note in the verse from Leviticus that an animal was clean only if it chewed the cud AND split the hoof. So just chewing on the cud was not sufficient. It had to be coupled with a split hoof.
For my spirituality, this means that all chewing of God's Word must be coupled by the practical living out of this chewing, which results in God breaking the hardest areas of my life. The hoofs are the hardest part of the animal's body. So the areas of hardness in my life (the hoofs) that seem too hard to split must be completely surrendered to God. They need to be split open by the Holy Spirit, as I do my part to keep chewing on God's Word (Romans 8:13).This is how I can remain clean.
There is also no cleanliness for animals that have split hoofs but don't chew the cud. Any softening of the rock-hard areas in my life by my own strength (without God's power helping me) is of no benefit either. The Christian life is not mere self-denial. It is a dying to self as I chew on God's Word, and then a resulting resurrected life where every last hardness of heart is split apart by the immense power of the Holy Spirit.
Maintaining my scales
Scales serve as a protective layer for fish. They protect the fish against harmful elements in the water that can kill them. Since I live in a world system that wants to draw me away from God and bring death, I must maintain my scales and guard myself against the influences of the world at all times (Romans 12:2).
We probably know this, but what I want to underline here is that I will only work on maintaining my protective scales IF I recognize that the world system is an enemy to my spiritual life. If I see the world system as a friend or as a beneficial partner, I will be defenceless against its attacks. I must chew often on God's Word that reminds me again and again that the world is indeed a dangerous enemy. The Word tells me that I cannot serve God and the world system (Matthew 6:24), that the god of this world seeks to blind me from the glory of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:4), and that I must crucify the world (Galatians 6:14). As I chew on these truths and renew my mind to these truths, I see ways in which I can enhance my protective armour against the world.
Maintaining my fins
A fish's fins help it swim in water. So, even as I live in this world, I need spiritual fins to move in the direction that I want to go in (closer to Christ), even as the world system I live in doesn't seek or want that.
Fish don't need fins just to move in the water. Since the water it lives in is already moving, fish will move whether they use their fins or not. But fish without fins will only move in the direction that the waters are moving in, and will only end up wherever the waters take it (or get dashed against the rocks), rather than where the fish wants/needs to go to find food. If the fish wants to swim in a different direction than the direction of the water current, then it must have fins that function. In order to swim against a powerful current, fish must have strong, well-developed fins. Atrophied or undeveloped fins will not do either.
In the same way, I must maintain my spiritual fins to swim against the opposing current of this world system. So not only must I keep this world system from getting inside of me (the scales help with that), I must also swim against the flowing current of this world system. I must refuse to go along with the values and priorities of this world. I must actively develop the spiritual fins to move against the tide of this world that seeks to define me by my physical appearance, my wealth, my fame, my status, etc.
May God help us to be more like Him as we live in this world!