What’s In It For Me?

It was interesting to observe a transaction between a train passenger and a vendor  Such interactions are quite intriguing in a multilingual and multicultural setting like India. The passengers may know a language the vendor doesn’t and may use that to their advantage. The customers make a quick and thorough analysis of the product while speaking to one another in a language the vendor may not understand. But one must be careful since there are plenty of people with a working knowledge of four or more languages.

train vendor
So the item was passed around among the customers while they evaluated its quality, the price, the cost back in their own state. They may also consider the possible cost of manufacture, especially for a home made product. Then the bargaining begins with the customer suggesting a much lower price than the vendor’s original price. Normally a discussion follows with the possibility of an “argument” regarding the price and the actual value of the product. If the vocal exchange doesn’t turn into an explosion, several counter offers will finally bring both parties to an agreement in price.
The writer of Proverbs lived in a similar bargaining society. He describes a similar situation: “’Its no good, its no good!’ says the buyer – then goes off and boasts about the purchase.” (Proverbs 20:14 NIV) I suppose most eastern societies are similar. The whole bargaining process is developed into a well formulated art. The words spoken may have a variety of nuances. The buyer does everything possible to point out the negatives and to bring the price down. At the same time, the seller attempts to highlight its value and bring up the price.
It seems Job mentions a similar question, but regarding our faith in God: “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?” (Job 21:15 ESV) This question was asked by those described by Job as “wicked.” For them, serving God was for the purpose of getting something from him, like some kind of financial transaction. But for Job, this was not the case. In the midst of his deepest struggle he said: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15 ESV) Such a firm statement of trust clarifies to us that his faith in God goes deeper than material gain.
So, what benefit was there for Job? All of Job’s sufferings were intended to test and prove this particular issue: Did Job serve God to gain material blessings? God was inviting Satan to test Job and see for himself. God was convinced that Job’s love for him went deeper than material things in life.
So, what’s in it for me? What if I, like Job, was stripped of everything I value? Will my faith endure? I’m afraid to even think such thoughts. But what if?
Have you had thoughts about the depth of your love for God? What were your greatest doubts?
Share it in the comments section of the blog.
Photo by { pranav } Creative Commons License

It Began Like a Flash of Lightening

Like a flash of lightening the pain shot through my lower back up my spine and down into both my legs.  It was so severe that I could barely move my legs.  This happened in 1995, as I was driving a delivery truck from Ft. Lauderdale to south Miami down Interstate 75 at about 4:30am.   Since I could barely move my legs, I waited for the vehicle to gradually come to a stop on the side of the road.  It took several minutes for the pain to ease a little and I was able to stand up and move around a bit.

In that one moment of pain, many thoughts went through my mind.  Along with church planting, I was working two jobs since I wanted my wife to be home with our son who was one year old at that time.  I really thought that this was the end of my working and earning years.  But so early, I thought.  Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I began quick calculations in my mind about the future.  I had just reviewed my disability benefits during the previous week, and now I viewed that as a bad omen leading to this tragic event.  Within a few seconds, plans were made to sell our home and move back into an apartment and scale down on many things including the new car we had just purchased.

About doing the ministry?  I had no Idea about that.  At that moment, my only thought was survival.  Will I be able to somehow take care of my family?  Will there be any hope?

The pain was so intense that within seconds, my dreams of achieving my goals and aspirations were shattered.  I resigned myself to simply surviving and waiting for the end.

That experience in Florida was seventeen years ago.  Physical pain has been my constant companion during the waking hours of almost every day.  Now I am discovering that along with the physical, there was lots of internal pain that I never knew about.  It was in 2011 that I began reading a book by Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.  That book opened my mind to the pain that was within me for so many years.  In May 2012, as I read a book by Dr. Joseph Bowles, I learned how this emotional pain within me had a direct impact on my back pain.  I thank God for the healing of my back, but the internal healing continues.

Would you share your experiences of pain and healing? You can share that in the comments below.

Please read the accompanying article. Click here.


What No One Would Believe

I keep on saying it, I keep on repeating it, but it seems like not one believes me.  No, they don’t take me for a liar, but maybe they think I’m just being hopeful with a keen positive outlook.  Several people asked me “are you sure its gone?”

The reality is that my chronic lower back pain is now gone.  The pain stopped in June 2012.  I’ve had this pain periodically since 1995, and five years ago, it became consistent all day and all night long.  In fact its hard for me to remember a time without pain in the last five years.  I think that as I suffered through all those years of pain, it was my wife Annie who took the brunt of the load at home and in every way as my condition worsened consistently.

As it is with milestones in our lives, several important events led to this freedom from pain.  The first of these was a reading of the book by Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.  My friend Kevin Baker gave me that book as we visited a monastery in Buffalo NY.  That book took me on a journey of deep searching within that I have never experienced before.  Numerous times as I read that book, I could not continue as I had to allow my emotions to settle down.  Of course, God’s spirit was doing an awesome work within me.

The second event was in November 2011, as my wife and I were attending a Vineyard Church gathering in Cebu, Philippines.  During one evening, Brian Doerksen was leading worship, and the Spirit of God was all over me.  I sat on the chair since there was no way I could stand.  Lots of emotions and memories surfaced and I began writing (on my phone) in between sobs.  Several people came by and laid their hands on me and prayed for me.  Phil Strout spoke one of those days and touched on the idea that God’s ultimate purpose was to transform us into the image of His Son.  As my back pain began to increase during that conference I missed several sessions while I rested in the room.  Then Sukit Wangtechawat and the team from the Bangkok Vineyard came to our room and prayed for me extensively.  They were helping me to look deeper within, and nothing seemed to make sense.  But their visit to my room was also a significant aspect in opening those things that were closed for so long.

In April and May of 2012, my third event was the reading of a book on back pain by Dr. Joseph Bowles that had a great impact on my thinking regarding the whole issue.  The focus of his book is that chronic lower back pain is caused by stress and unresolved issues of the past.  Wow, what a thought.  And what about all those MRI reports, X-rays, and all the other tests?  Man, I am clueless on all that, but the pain is gone!  Now I continue to read his daily reminders for stress free pain relief.

The fourth and major event that capped it all was while I was taking communion.  I was speaking at a service at the New Life Fellowship in Bangalore in June.  During the communion, I saw a vision of the cross (something like that picture above) and heard an inner voice telling me that on the cross, Jesus not only carried my sins, but every offense against me as well.  This was an answer that I really needed all along.  The issues are so deep and personal that it would be impractical to mention such things on this blog, that that thought really had a powerful impact on me.

Of course I cannot forget the many who have prayed for me and encouraged me on this path toward healing as I had spent weeks and months bed ridden. There were many non-judgmental ones who were an inspiration for me to continue. A special thanks to them as well.

Now I am on a journey.  I keep exploring more “stuff” hidden within me from the past.  As these issues of brokenness resurface, I experience more pain, but as I deal with each one, that pain goes away.  Daily, along with my devotions I take some time out to write in a journal about my previous day, specifically about how I am handling my emotions and stress.  And as i mentioned earlier, Dr. Joseph Bowles’ daily reminders are stored on my phone and my Kindle and I read them several time a day.

Thank you Lord for a new life.

In the comments below, feel free to share your experiences of healing while you are on this journey as well.

Please read the accompanying article as well: Click here.


The Exchange

As I stood there looking at the cross, I could not walk any closer. The sight was too repulsive and it made me sick to my stomach. Blood was flowing down his face from his head, from his torn beard, and so many parts of his body, even from his feet that were nailed to the cross with a spike. Oh, that reminds me of the spikes in his hands from which more blood flowed.
jesus and cross

As he hung on that cross, he would periodically push himself up to somehow get air flowing into his lungs. As he pushed himself up, excruciating pain shot through his entire body, but the instinct for air and survival was greater than the pain that it cost him.

Although this sight was too much for me to watch, I knew that he did it for me. He promised to give me life as a result of his death. But why should it have been such a cruel death? Is this what I deserved? But what could I give him? My life? But is my life really mine? Mine to give? What do I have that was not given to me? Nothing.

Even the life that was given to me has been wrecked due to my sin and rebellion. So, what do I have to give him? Just the brokenness and shame of my life. That’s all. But He took it from me and exchanged it for a new life. What he promised was abundant and eternal life. Wow, what an exchange!

If you are a person who has not experienced this love of Jesus in your life, please go to the page need a change?


Going “hi-tech”

This “hi-tech” device pictured here is intended for my back pain. That bag contains four kilos of sand to provide a consistent traction to my back, by way of a belt strapped around my waist. The MRI report shows that I have three disks that are bulging.

Problems with my back began in 1996 on the highway from Fort Lauderdale to Miami, FL. I was half-way to my destination on I-75 when a sudden excruciating pain flashed through my back to the rest of my body. Within seconds, the pain was taken over by feelings of fear since I had no idea what was happening to me. I could barely move my legs, and somehow, I got the vehicle pulled over to the side of the road. I finished that day of work just suffering through the day with the severe pain. Since then, these bouts of pain would return periodically. But in the last two years, it has been more frequent. Of course, our challenging road conditions here in India would add to the problem, especially for a back that is not used to such roads.

So far, the best solution is rest and traction for my back. After the pain is gone, I would need to resume my lower back exercises and walking. God’s work shouldn’t be limited with back problems. I’ve got to do whatever it takes!


First Class

It was an early morning flight out of Dallas on my way to San Jose. Expecting the flight to be lengthy, and knowing that breakfast would not be served, I purchased breakfast from one of the terminal shops. The cashier gave me my breakfast in a brown paper bag with my choice of Orange Juice.

fiest class

As I entered the aircraft and walked to my seat, I was a bit confused about my seat number. Before boarding, I had looked at my boarding pass and noticed that my seat number was 6C, which I presumed to be a bulk-head seat on the front row of the economy class. To my surprise, I realized that I was bumped up to a first class seat, which occasionally happens because of my mileage accrued with constant flights. That’s when I remembered that the first class section serves meals to the passengers unlike the economy seats where only beverages are served.
So I settled down in my first class seat with my brown paper bag of breakfast. Soon after take-off, I proceeded to eat my breakfast sandwich as the flight attendant proceeded to prepare the meals for the first class passengers. It was after I finished my sandwich that I was offered the “first class” breakfast. It was certainly not like mine. They served it on a tray draped with a nice cloth that gave it a classy look. As the breakfast was offered to me, I pointed to my brown bag and said “no thanks.” Thus I sat there watching the others eat a nice breakfast while I sat there with my brown bag.

I took out my boarding pass and noticed the words “FIRST” written in bold capital letters. Although the printing was clear and obvious, I somehow failed to recognize its value. I didn’t expect to be in first class. Instead, I went through the trouble of purchasing my own breakfast when a better one was already provided for me.

Our life often transpires in a similar fashion. We all have sinned and carry the burden of the guilt for many years; even those who have accepted Christ. As we go on in life, the weight of the guilt gets heavier. Its impact on our life becomes more obvious as it affects our attitudes and thought patterns, which in turn affects our behavior. We do many things to deal with the symptoms, but we don’t recognize that it is a burden of guilt.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He goes on to specify that it is rest for our souls. He said these words in the context of repentance from sins. When we are burdened with the guilt of sin, it is our soul that carries the weight. This is why we often don’t recognize what’s really happening to us. We may claim that it is bad luck, bad circumstances, bad relationships, or a host of other possibilities.

Jesus is the only one who can take away the burden of guilt from our souls. If we go to him and confess our sins, he promised that he would take away that burden of guilt. So what is that you’re carrying in your brown paper bag? Your own solution to your burdens? Now is the time to give that up and accept the forgiveness and rest that Jesus offers for your soul.


Hunger and Temptation


I was on my way back from Delhi by train. The compartment was crowded, and I was sick! “Only one cup of coffee.” What surprising temptations can be brought about by a cup of coffee! The man sitting next to me has turned the other way and is shoving me further with his back so he can stuff his face with Dosa and Iddly. I’ve had it! I can’t take it any more. I climbed up to the top berth so that I can be free from the temptations of food, which my body has decided to reject, and punish me if I eat or drink.
The sunlight has finally come through the windows. This is my second day on the train with nothing to eat or drink. Only one more day before I reach my destination. The train comes to a halt, and this seems to be the “breakfast stop.” It seems that everyone is eating great delicious food and drinking tea or coffee. My stomach is churning within me, and seeing all this food just stimulates it further. Since I am sick, I cannot keep any food or drink inside of me. Any amount of food or drink warrants a trip to the bathroom. The combination of the hunger pain and the sight and smell of all this food nudges me on to compromise. “Just one bite” I say to myself.
The Bible says “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). Many things seem to be appropriate to us in our own situations. Everything in us may cry out for that one thing. We may see no wrong in what we do or desire to do. “After all, God knows that I need this” we say. Our friends, relatives, and co-workers all may encourage us in certain directions. Even all of the society may accept and acknowledge those matters. Yet, we must stand up for what we know is right. We only see the temporary and immediate situation. Our perception is vague an limited in scope. Since we cannot see the “full picture,” we do not realize the final outcome of our actions. Often, the final outcome is a destructive force in our lives.
The Bible says “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…. and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6). The only way we can be free from leaning on our own understanding and falling into temptation is to trust in the Lord with all our hearts. Even when our mind and body disagree.I look forward to your comments!