A boy grows up

Just yesterday, two events marked a transition in my son from a ‘boy’ to a ‘man’: He drove his car to school by himself, and in the evening, went to his first day at work. Discussing both events later in the night, he described these as giving him a great sense of freedom: the first as one that gave him the freedom of movement and the second as one that will give him at least some degree of freedom in finances (he mentioned taking care of fueling up the car). Both events occur commonly at this time of the year in many families across this country as the academic year starts and teenagers reach the legal age when they can drive and work. Although common, these are important milestones in the life of a teenager that can serve as markers in time to record the transition of a child into an adult, and we need to recognize that as such. So my son: welcome to adulthood!

(Before I launch into the main point, I do have an older daughter in college who has already started working. I am remiss in not blogging on this subject earlier, so even as I use my son as an example, these principles apply equally to both my children)

Through this event, I felt a sense of achievement that was probably at a higher level than he did. And as always, I wanted to map these feelings to how God feels when we “grow up” in His eyes. There are many parallels that I can draw between these events and our own spiritual growth. I remember the time when I saw my son for the first time in the delivery room at the Khoula Hospital in faraway Muscat (capital city of the Sultanate of Oman), and I well remember the indescribable feeling of joy when I held my daughter in my arms for the first time. (I wanted to be seated before the nurse gave her to me because I was so afraid I would drop this little bundle!) Little did I know of the exciting journey that my wife and I would take through life with these little babies! At that time, we were unable to make this leap across time and understand that these little ones will grow up and achieve all that they have (and will in the future).

Such a leap across Time is not a problem for God though. Even before we were born, nay even before we were even formed, God knew His plans for us, and what He would help us do with our lives. The Psalmist said this best in Psalm 139:131-16 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Although He knew what we will do with our lives, He still gave us the choice. I blogged on this earlier in my post titled “Recipe for Life: 3 parts God, 1 part you”.

Now about the car: Since he is a minor, the title deed for my son’s car is still in my name (although he has his name in the insurance papers as a listed driver, and I cover his insurance). For all practical purposes though, the car is his and in principle, I need to let him know when I need to borrow his car. He is supposed to drive it, take care of it, and make sure he uses it for “good purpose”. In the very same manner, God has given us resources that we need to take care of, and ultimately use for his “good purpose”. In fact, Rom 8:28 assures that He will ensure all things will work for us when we work for His purpose “… in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” These resources include time (24 hours a day for everyone in this world, both rich and poor), family (to raise and nurture for His glory), work (a place not just to help make ends meet, but an opportunity to witness for Him) and so on. God’s name is on my title deed and I am covered by His insurance – how about you?

As well, I need to draw a parallel to the job he has: Before he took up this job, it was made clear to my son (and daughter) that the job always comes second to school (or college as the case may be). Although the prospect of making money is attractive (minimum wage is still a lot of money in a teenager’s eyes!), they need to understand that the job is always secondary to studies which is their main occupation right now. In much the same way, we need to understand that we have a larger purpose in Life and work is just one part of that (as I briefly noted in the paragraph above). In fact, St. Paul sets the right attitude we need towards work. Col 3:23-24 is a favorite verse of mine: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.“.

Finally, we need to recognize that growth and change is part of every day life. Just as my children grew up and took on the responsibilities appropriate to their age and position in their life and in the family, we need to grow and continue to exhibit positive change in our spiritual life and in the family of God. In I Cor 13:11 Paul states thus: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me”. Much as my wife and I would like to think of our children as “our little babies”, we need to acknowledge that indeed, they have grown up. We are confident that our two teenagers are on the right path and on their way to becoming full adults. We will never fully be able to let go of the children, but we have taken some major steps and this entry is in some ways a public announcement of this “letting go”. Similarly, in our own spiritual lives, I hope we have grown and will continue to grow, for that is what God wants for you and me – His children…

In Him,

John Kanagaraj

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August 21, 2008 at 8:25 am 2 comments

The heart of a leader

If you read this blog, y’all will know that I admire St. Paul greatly. You will find much evidence of this as I use a lot of quotes from letters written by this great man of God. Paul was a leader and this is probably most evident in the letter that he wrote to the Philippians. Just as I was moving into this letter as part of my daily reading, it seems that my pastor started a series on this very same letter at church, and asked us to read this letter fully. The train ride to work provides a regular opportunity to get this done, so I was able to read the whole letter during one of my morning rides. Philippians is a relatively short letter, easily read, but full of nuggets worth knowing and understanding. This blog entry expounds on a number of such nuggets, all from just Chapter 1 – a set of verses that helped me understand the heart of a leader.

First of all, Paul starts this letter with the following introduction: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus…” So let us get this straight first of all: A leader is first and foremost a servant. Paul echoes this often in his letters – Romans and Titus for example. Paul is not alone in this teaching, nor is this a new idea. Remember that Jesus himself expressed this sentiment: Addressing the question of who was to be the leader among his apostles, in Matt 20:26-28 Jesus said “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We even have a term for this: “Servant Leader”!!

The second one is this: That a leader constantly prays for those he (or she!) leads and serves. A leader has to be concerned for his group. Paul establishes this right away when he says (Phil 1:3-5) “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,…” This leader prays with joy and thankfulness; he keeps them close to his heart (v 1:7 and 1:8), fondly remembers them often, and uses every remembrance to pray for them. I found another nugget in this: You will find great satisfaction from praying for someone who is brought to your remembrance right away. Rather than wait for “prayer time” to pray for this person or persons, why not keep them in prayer whenever you remember them!? Rather than fill your mind with concern and worry for a loved one, why not use that time to thank God for that loved one, and pray for that person? Exercise is a great time to pray – see this earlier post for my thoughts on the act of praying.

This leader’s prayer for his recipients is that “… your (their) love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you (they) may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God…”. While it is good to pray for the recipient to be blessed, it is also important to pray that the recipient comes to be filled with Christ and His Love. The theme of Love abounds in Paul’s letters – Chapter 13 from I Corinthians is full of this theme. Love binds everything and should direct our actions. Love triumphs over everything; it covers all faults and forgives when it is impossible to do so otherwise. God’s love broke through our chains with His Love – shouldn’t we break the chains of others with the same kind of love? This was the kind of love that this leader was seeking for his flock…

Thirdly, a leader is sacrificial. When Paul wrote this letter, he was in chains, in prison. Old and fragile, hurting from the various beatings, Paul longed to be gone from this world to be with God. But in Phil 1:21-26 he states “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” Paul was willing to endure suffering for his followers’ sake. Jesus exemplified this sacrificial aspect when He took on the cross for you and me….

Fourth: A leader envisions the big picture, breaks it down for his flock, brings them on board and inspires them to follow. In Phil 1:12-14 he says “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” The Philippians were probably looking at Paul’s imprisonment and his physical suffering, but Paul rose above the issue to look at the “big picture” and how his suffering and his circumstances actually served to inspire others and serve the larger purpose of God. A leader should find this larger picture and make it available and understandable for his flock.

Jesus also gave his disciples the big picture in the form of the Great Commission (Mk 16:15-20) and that He did not come into this world to conquer physically, but spiritually. It is clear that this statement worked for in V 20 we see that “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.”

Fifth: A leader takes negative criticism and opposition gracefully and does not allow this to affect or deter him. Many others were also preaching at that time – some “preached Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.” (V15). Paul, however, was gracious and just shrugs this off stating “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (V18). Paul took the “big picture” that he aptly described before, and applied it to this part of the situation as well. A leader will always face negativity and negative criticism – he (or she!) will have to take that in stride, objectively determine if there is any truth in the criticism and allow that to change him/her if true but not let that deter or discourage in any way.

There are many more nuggets in this chapter, but in order to keep this already long post as short as possible, let me state just one more: A leader never works alone. Throughout this chapter, starting in V1, where Paul co-opts Timothy as his co-servant, and right through to V27 (“…whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit [with me], contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…”). Paul encourages them to stand together with him in this work, always working with and through others, inspiring, leading and showing by example.

All of us are leaders, whether we have a title or not. If you are a parent, you have a responsibility to lead your child(ren). As a worker bee, you are to reflect God wherever you are, leading others towards this light and away from the darkness. As a student, you are a future leader in training. All of us need to be equipped for leadership in any of the circumstances we are in. I hope that God’s word as spoken through Paul in these verses informs and equips us for leadership as we lead others!

In Him,

John Kanagaraj

August 1, 2008 at 11:02 am Leave a comment

Soldiers without swords

As Soldiers in the Spiritual Battle, we need to use the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Sadly, the use of this (one and only) offensive weapon is sorely lacking among Christians.

This is just an excerpt – click on the link below or go to the home page to read the entire post!

Continue Reading June 5, 2008 at 8:17 am 1 comment

New Year, New You!

This post is part of an email I wrote to my friends, and I felt it applied to this whole world. So here goes!

First of all, a Happy New Year to all of you. May our Gracious God continue to shower you and your families with His Love, Grace, Mercy and all riches in Christ.

New Year: New You! This is a year of Hope both for me and for you, one filled with possibilities that will come true when you and I work with Him, and He works through us. This will also be a year of challenges, and trails and tests and temptations. But be of good cheer, for He has overcome the World, and has made His power available to us via His Spirit (John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”)

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. The advent of Today also brings us one day closer to the Day when we will meet Him face to face (either when we pass from this world to the next or when He returns!). Make every day count: For Him and for yourself.

As always, you and your families are in my prayers. I remember the good times that I shared with you all, and the encouragement and support you offered to me. I remember the times when we all held each other up and derived strength from each other through Him, and want to thank you all for that.

Continue to hold on to Him, and use your spiritual weapons every day. Look up – we are victors, not victims, regardless of what the circumstances or the world says!

In Him,

John Kanagaraj

January 13, 2008 at 7:02 pm 1 comment

What is on your radio dial? (or your iPod or Walkman or whatever!)

Living in the crowded Silicon Valley equates to an hour’s stop-start traffic either way while driving to or from work for me. This can result in both frustration as well as heartburn for all, and this topic is frequently vented around the office water-cooler. Strange as it may seem however, I really enjoy my commute. That is because of what I do when I drive: Listen to Christian music from K-Love FM on the car radio.

The music that I listen to includes great songs including award winning ones from bands such as MercyMe, Third Day, Casting Crown and Newsboys (to name a few) as well as individual artists such as Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman and Nicole C Mullen (again, to name a few). Not only do I get to listen to music, I also get to hear positive newscasts covering topics that are usually ignored and sound bites from well known Christian speakers and organizations that uplift me. The DJs are ever so funny and open and cheerful and so I cannot but help smiling and laughing and empathizing with whatever’s going on. A major difference between K-Love and other stations (both secular and many Christian ones) is the way they are funded: K-Love is almost fully listener-supported. As a result, there are no commercials, ever! (Now, isn’t that nice on a radio station?!!)

Because I take the same route almost everyday (except when I bypass the pileup on the highway using back roads), I can pretty much stay in the middle lane, “just let it go” and allow my mind to wander while driving – stopping/starting as required and automatically making sure I don’t hit the car that suddenly switched into my lane. My car radio’s dials are tuned into the four different K-Love FM frequencies that provide the best reception in this area and I hop across these signals wherever I drive, sometimes moving three stations during a single trip. My commute time hence becomes, literally, a period of worship, praise and Christ-directed thoughts. I am able to better align myself with God’s plan for me.

A little bit of history before I get to the point: We stumbled onto K-Love radio in the rental car a few days after we arrived States-side, and almost immediately became financial partners in this listener supported radio network during one of their bi-annual Pledge drives. Growing up listening to secular radio and having never listened to fully Christian radio before, it was a little strange at first to have Christian music on my radio dial. Soon, however, I started to even look forward to this commute time which was also my “communication” time with the Creator. It was and is very easy to be engaged with this music – your eyes are on the road, but your mind can be on whatever is being input to it. I have variously been comforted, encouraged, energized, uplifted, awed and even radicalized by the music and the lyrics as well as the overall message in those words.

The point though is this: what I listened to and allowed myself to constantly and consistently think about during those “wandering moments” slowly but surely changed both my outlook about and the position that God held in my life. St. Paul, in closing his letter to the Philippians (Php 4:8) had this to say about what we ought to think about: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” The writer of Proverbs emphasizes this many times over as in Prov 14:8 “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception” and in Prov 14:15 “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.” Psalms 1 exhorts the reader to delight and mediate day and night on God’s law.

Something about music resonates with the human spirit. Paul also mentions this in Eph 5:19-20 “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sometimes, a particular song that I listened to during my drive home would get stuck in my mind, and my heart and mind would be singing that song over and over again. I have woken up in the middle of the night or early in the morning, and the first thought would be that comforting, inspiring or worship song. It was as if I continued to praise and worship through the night, allowing my mind to meditate on that God given thought. What I was listening to was good stuff, and after all these years of constantly feeding myself on Christian music that directed my thought life towards God and all His attributes, I am now able to appreciate what that simple act of tuning into K-Love radio did for me. I am thankful to K-Love for providing that opportunity to connect with God through their music, all the time, every time.

So the question is this: What is on your radio dial? Or your iPod, or Walkman, or whatever you listen to during those quiet moments? What do you allow yourself to hear (or not hear) constantly, daily, during those times when the mind is able to wander? Be aware that such constant and consistent inputs will take you down the path of your choice in music…. Paul urges us, in Eph 5:15-16 “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Now don’t get me wrong: I am not against listening to secular music in any way. All I want to point out is that you do have a choice, and time will show the effects of your choice. It did for me. I like what I am hearing and where it is leading me toward. What about you?

In Him,

John Kanagaraj

PS: You can listen to K-Love and its sister network Air1 on the Internet. Check out their websites for FM radio frequencies in your area by clicking on the links above.

November 15, 2007 at 9:38 pm 1 comment

The act of praying: Making God’s power available where needed!

Jesus was found constantly praying – we see the Gospels replete with instances of prayer. However, there is one particular situation which shows the nature of prayer. Found in John 17 and specifically in Luke 22:31-32 , Jesus turns to Simon Peter in the Upper Room during the Last Supper and says: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (This was actually followed by Simon Peter confidently saying that he will never deny Christ – and miserably failing thrice a few hours later)

Let’s break this down: Jesus knew that the epic battle was at hand. The submission at the Garden of Gethsamane, the cross-examination, the cruel lashing, the agony of the Cross and the impending betrayal by those He held dear was surely weighing on Jesus’ mind. Jesus knew that Satan was going into full attack mode, and that He had to allow that to happen. The situation is very much similar to what happens to us in our lives: challenges to face, decisions to take, needing to live for Him instead of looking after “Numero Uno”. But knowing that Simon Peter was going to need some major help, Jesus stepped in to pray for Peter’s faith. And by that prayer, (I believe) He equipped Peter with power. It is interesting that Jesus did not pray for Peter’s deliverance from temptation – He simply prayed that Peter’s faith holds up. When Peter failed (thrice!), I believe this prayer helped Him.

Later, it was Peter who held the rag-tag group together in Acts 1 and got Matthias elected to replace Judas’ place in the twelve. It was Peter in Acts 2, who on Pentecost stood up and filled by the Holy Spirit, spoke the first message of repentance: This expression of faith resulted in three thousand believers added to the fledgling group in just the one sermon! (See the connection to the ‘faith’ that Jesus prayed for?) Peter went on to become the one of the primary leaders of the Church. However, Jesus’ prayer that Peter would “strengthen his brothers” when he “turned back” was, I believe, that crucial element that made God’s power via the Holy Spirit available to Peter at the right time, and enabled him to start down this path.

That is not all: In John 17, John records another, longer prayer that Jesus prayed at this time for all who would believe. To wit, in John 17:20-21 Jesus, concluding a prayer for His disciples, also prayed for YOU and ME! “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you

So, what does it mean for us? It is clear that Jesus thought it was important enough to pray specifically for His disciples, and by extension, for us too. Via that prayer, He made God’s power available not only to Peter and the disciples, but to us as well. This prayer was specifically, an all encompassing prayer for strength, faith and unity. Jesus knew that we needed God’s Power, and He made it available for us through His prayer. Does that not mean that when we pray, we are making that same Power available to others? And this, my friend, is the point of this post.

From now on, I would like to constantly realize that when I pray for anyone (including myself), it is not simply a matter of rote. When I pray for my child, I am participating in revealing that Power in his or her life (I have two kids). When I pray for FMPB Missionaries or for a loved one to be saved, that Power will go ahead of them and soften the hearts of those who are about to hear the Gospel. When I pray for a sick friend, God’s power will work through the medicine and the Doctor for healing. When I pray for my own self, I remind myself that the Power that raised Lazarus from the dead is available to me too. When I do my part in prayer, God can move on His part.

If my prayer works, so will yours. All you will need is to have Faith: In God, and in His Nature, and in His Power to revive and to transform, to endow and to save, to heal and to sustain, and to do everything that is required where and when it is needed.

Before I end, I want to point out one more aspect: Jesus said “when you have turned back” and NOT “if you turned back“. Jesus prayed this prayer in faith, believing that God will hear and act on this prayer, and we need to have that same faith: That when we ask for something that is in alignment with God’s plan, it will happen. St. Paul, in Philippians 4:6-7 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” So until what we have asked for comes to pass, may the peace of God stay with you and help you through Christ Jesus. May God help change your prayer life through this simple message.

In His Service always,

John Kanagaraj

October 10, 2007 at 9:33 pm 3 comments

The Gap between intention and action

There certainly is a lot of discrepancy between saying what we are going to do and actually doing what we said we would do, just as there is a lot of inconsistency between what we ought to do and what we actually do. In other words, there is always a gap between intention and action. The apostle Paul stated this succinctly in his letter to the Romans (7:15) “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” We all want to do the right thing and avoid the wrong, but inevitably end up doing the opposite. Paul identified the source of this conflict. In verses 18-20 in the same chapter, he says “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

The last sentence was not a “cop-out” for Paul, but I am certainly guilty of having used this as an excuse many a time. It is much too easy to blame the World, the System, the Circumstance and everything else including the Kitchen Sink for our failures to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the cause for such failures rest squarely with us and we have to bear the consequences of these actions. The first consequence is usually self condemnation that hangs heavy after we realize our error. Paul knew this well, and that is why he addressed this right away in the next chapter.

In Rom 8:1-4, Paul clearly shows us the difference between the Law and Grace. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Although we know that we need not face condemnation (from within and without!), and that the Grace of God through Christ’s death washes away our sins if we confess them, we still have to bear the consequences of our actions and make the effort to change.

We can do this only with the help of the Holy Spirit that God has so freely given us. Bearing the consequences and enduring the struggle to change, though, can be life-long affairs, and you and I will certainly need patience, persistence and utter dependence on God in everything in order to get through. The struggle to do the right thing is a daily battle – a battle that will end only when we pass from this world into the next. We will have to stand firm until then and know and use the full armor of God (Eph 6:13-17) in this battle.

Just as I mentioned in the post on “Recipe for Life“, we have to do our part. Making the effort to change involves first determining what needs to be changed. While I should not dwell on my weaknesses, I will certainly have to understand them, determine where the enemy attacks me, take steps to avoid situations where I might be compromised and change old habits that led me down the “wide path”. Personally, whenever someone invokes the green monster of envy in me because of what they have or are, lately I have tried to replace that thought with a prayer of blessing for that person. (I learnt that from Bishop T D Jakes, a man I admire, who admitted this fault – I now know I am not alone in this!). When anger wells up (see my previous post on “Anger Management“), I consciously take a deep breath and try again. I have a long way to go on the “narrow path”, but I have taken some steps in the right direction. I also know that with God’s help, I will continue to advance.

My prayer is that eventually, the sentence “Do as I say, and not as I do” will be a thing of the past for me! How about you?

In Him,

John Kanagaraj

September 13, 2007 at 8:19 pm Leave a comment

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