Monday, April 15, 2019

Counselor's Corner: HELP TO COUNSEL AN ESTRANGED COUPLE

Counselor’s Corner

Help to Counsel an Estranged Couple

Dear Sir:

Will you please help me to counsel an estranged couple who came to me for counseling? I have been trying to help Brother Tom and his wife Sister Tessy who are faced with a serious family problem. My efforts have so far not found positive results. So I prayerfully decided to seek your help.

Both Tom and Tessy are believers from our assembly and are married for over 2 years. They both come from local assemblies in our neighboring districts. Tom got a job in our city and so he has been living here for over 4 years. After he married Tessy, she resigned her job in another city and moved over to our city where Tom and Tessy started their family life. Later Tessy also got a job in our city and so they were having a fairly comfortable life. They have been regular in the assembly meetings and seemed to be a happy couple.

After a few months, we found both Tom and Tessy looking very gloomy while in the meetings. Tom stopped actively participating in the Sunday gatherings and they started missing the midweek meetings. They always gave the excuse of stress at work when enquired about missing meetings and nonparticipation. Then we found them missing even on Sunday gatherings frequently. Eventually, we found that Tessy was in the family way. Soon she moved back to her home in the native place with the explanation that she needed the care of her mother.

One day, I met with Tom and enquired about the changes in their expressions, quietness in meetings, missing gatherings of the assembly and why she decided to go back to her home. It was then that Tom opened up and told me the story of their miserable family life. Soon after joining her husband in our city, Tessy started expressing dissatisfaction about almost everything with her husband. Apparently, he lost his job (or he resigned) and started studying for a better job. She found out that he didn’t have the educational qualification he claimed to have at the time of their marriage. His job was also found to be below what he claimed to have because of poor qualification. Tessy was upset that they didn’t have a house or flat of their own as against the impression created by Tom’s family during the time of the marriage proposal. So for several months, they were surviving on the salary of Tessy which Tom spent according to his desires and priorities. All of these made Tessy upset, disappointed and she felt cheated by Tom and his family. They had many arguments and angry outbursts at each other. They even had quite a bit of physical fights and verbally abused each other. Apparently, the parents got involved and justified their side. Tom’s people said that they never cheated Tessy and her people and that Tom is studying for a better job. They also said that Tom would soon buy a flat. They were upset with Tessy because she was always quarreling with her husband and not ready to accept him and his situation and not at all patient. According to them, Tessy is very argumentative, quarrelsome and use disrespectful words at the husband which is unbecoming of a believer. Tessy’s family counter-argued that Tom is very abusive and seemed like a fraud because everything about him is questionable.  It was at the peak of their quarrel and infighting that Tessy wanted to go to her parents for confinement. But this happened about 15 months back and she never came back with her baby because she hated Tom and didn’t want to come back to live with a “liar and cheat”.

Now their baby is almost one year old and Tom has not seen the child yet. Tom is upset with Tessy for making a false allegation about him and not willing to come back to live with him. In the meanwhile, there have been some discussions among the families which have widened the gap between Tom and Tessy.

I tried to speak to both Tom and Tessy and asked them to forgive each other of all their failures in the past. But they are not willing. Each feels deeply hurt in the hands of the other. There is a stalemate and I am unable to resolve it for them. Please read the above account and give a reply to help me reunite this estranged couple soonest possible.

With prayers
Joshua Paul

Dear Brother Joshua

Thank you for your mail. I praise God for your concern and care for this couple and for all the efforts you have taken to help reunite them. You mentioned about meeting Tom, but I wonder if you had a chance to meet with Tessy, and parents of both Tom and Tessy. This is also important. It is unfortunate that Tessy had to experience such frustrations in her married life. It is also unfortunate that Tom failed to give spiritual leadership to his wife (and also their child) because of allegations about the cover-up in his life. These have sadly affected their family life which has led to serious spiritual failures in their personal and family life. All of these have unfortunately affected both their parents and their assemblies. I hope that it will be possible for you to touch this couple and the two families and to bring them to reconciliation!

From your description, it seems to me that Tom and his family have not told the whole truth about his education, job and living facility before the marriage. If so, they need to be led to confess these, repent and ask Tessy and her parents for forgiveness for this great lapse. They may have some explanations as to why they told things which were not factually correct, but these explanations will not exonerate them of their sin of a cover-up before Tessy and her parents and the believers at large. Once there is a heartfelt confession accompanied by the humility that is to be evident in their behavior, and then it is for Tessy and her parents to forgive them wholeheartedly and accept them. It is our responsibility as believers to grant forgiveness and apply it without hesitation. As Jesus said, we are bound to forgive the offenses of others seven times seventy unconditionally. If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive our offenses (Matthew 18:22; 6:14-15; Colossians 3:12-15; Ephesians 4:32). We are commanded to forgive unconditionally.

Secondly, Tessy and Tom are both guilty of their behavior and actions against each other verbally, emotionally and physically. Such behavior from a believer can never be justified even though there were provocations. Every such expression, including words, body language, physical violence, etc. needs to be confessed by both of them and ask for forgiveness. You will have to try and bring them to such a point of confession through counseling. Once a genuine confession is expressed, both should have the grace to accept confession in good faith and extend forgiveness. This may best be done in your presence.

Thus it should be possible for them to be reconciled and reunited. Genuine confession, repentance and forgiveness will be possible for those who are genuinely born again and those who repent of their failures and sins in their hearts and towards their life-partners. I suggest that you may please meet with Tom first and then Tessy separately and convince them of their failures in this matter and bring them individually to a level of confession and repentance.  If Tom is not willing to come to a point of confession and repentance, then a spiritual solution to this situation will be difficult to arrive at. (I am sure you know that biblical counseling is not bringing about a truce, patchwork or agreement of some sort). The goal of biblical counseling is to bring the erring persons to the confession of their sins and failures. Along with counseling Tom and Tessy and bringing them to confession, you may bring them together for a joint session where each can respond to the other and clarify issues and ask for forgiveness. Along with that, please counsel the parents of both Tom and Tessy to accept the situation and to encourage them to do whatever possible to somehow help their children to confession, repentance and to the reunion. It is important that the parents also come to repentance of all their sins of omission and commission in all that they had said or done. It is important for them all to realize that all of us believers are called upon to unilaterally forgive each other.

Please remind all the parties concerned that it is important for all of them to be governed by the principles of the Word of God and the working of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. It is also important to help them understand that for the wellbeing and proper upbringing of the child given to Tom and Tessy and for the testimony of the families and their respective assemblies, there is a dire need for a proper scriptural settlement of this matter as soon as possible. They all need the grace of God to accept the confession of each other and to forgive and forget the past events and start rebuilding the family life of both Tom and Tessy.

May God grant you the wisdom, grace and patience to counsel the couple and their parents and lead them all to a new chapter in their lives! I am praying for you and for Tom, Tessy, and their families.

Yours sincerely in Christ
Oommen Philip  


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Series: THE REVIVAL OF A GREAT PROPHET -2

The revival of a Great Prophet- 2

Meditations from Isaiah Chapter Six


Problem-solving or renewal and revival?

When the people of God forgot their Creator and Redeemer and lived erratically and in passivity, God visited them in a special way by sending His salvation in the form of great men of God (like Isaiah whose name means the Salvation of our Lord) to revive and renew them. Isaiah started his ministry by declaring woe unto the people unless they repent which is seen throughout the first five chapters of the book of Isaiah. God has warned repeatedly, but the people were nonchalant and cold-hearted. They seemed to have left their first love for their Lord.  It was at the time of the pinnacle of their backsliding that God touched the nation by removing their powerful and efficient king. The usurping of the king to perform priestly duties is clearly an indication that the people and their king have become hot-headed.  When the king was removed from the scene in a dramatic way, it seemed to have touched the prophet himself to rethink and so he goes to the presence of the Lord. Here we see the prophet stops to preach and goes in for a shock treatment in the presence of the Almighty.

Of course, the prophet goes to God with a backpack full of complaints, fears and apprehensions about the fate of the nation. He had a craving for God and a realization that God’s presence is the only solace for him to depend upon for answers to his concerns and fears. He had no other place to go and he was driven to the wall with no space to manoeuvre.

It seems the prophet expected to have a usual encounter with God and lodge his petitions and then to come back. But God overwhelmed him with His mighty presence. God filled Isaiah’s eyes with a vision of Himself to comfort the prophet and to give him renewed courses of action. There he experienced strength and encouragement which he and the people so badly needed. He was filled with the power and protection that only the presence of God could provide in his most difficult circumstance. He was exposed to the glory of the Lord and seemed to be lost in its wonder and awe. He became a true worshipper rather than a usual complainer and petitioner. He found his Lord a far greater source of power for him to continue with his ministry than ever before.

The forgetfulness of the prophet

As Isaiah entered the temple of the Lord, he saw the Lord in His glory and seated on the Throne and highly lifted up, perhaps to the extent to which he could envisage with his human eyes. The Lord in His lifted up position shocked Isaiah as he realized that He was far above all the problems he and his people were faced with. Here is the Lord showing Himself to be in total control of all of Isaiah’s situations. From the Throne, a powerful message comes to Isaiah that He was in control of all that seemed to be in disarray. He declares His power to rule and overrule from that Throne. He makes known to Isaiah His sovereignty and that He has all the authority to do whatever He wanted to accomplish. His Throne is shown to be above all the thrones on earth and seen as capable of resolving all instabilities and failures of His people. The vision of the Lord sent the most powerful message to Isaiah to declare that when Uzziah’s powerful throne is gone, the Lord is still on the Throne to rule over everything and everyone. By being seated above everything, the Lord declares to Isaiah that he needed no anxiety or phobia about his situation because the Lord is on the throne and that He is capable to clear every doubt and to comfort every anxious soul. He tells us today that He is still on the Throne and that He has a message to everyone everywhere to be calm and that His people confide in His power in all situations.
  
It is interesting to realize that Isaiah is in the Throne Room of his Lord. Isaiah now seems to have forgotten all his problems, fears and apprehension and is lost in the glory of the Lord and focusing on the person of the Lord. He experiences the all-pervading power of the Lord to make all his concerns vanish and vaporize in the glory of the Lord. He finds that the Lord’s glory overshadows everything in and around His servant and makes him like a sheep being calm in the presence of its shepherd.

No room for the baggage

As Isaiah enters the Throne Room of the Lord and saw His glittering glory filled the temple, he realizes that there is no room for him to place his baggage of complaints, problems, apprehensions, and fears (6:1). The train of the Lord filled the temple. He could no longer claim that he came after preaching his heart out to the people because there was no room in the Throne Room of the Lord for his achievements, experience, expertise, prestige, prominence, ordination, oratory, eloquence and scriptural knowledge which he brought in with him. He realizes that all of what he was as a prophet has drained out and that he has become so empty when he saw and experienced the glory of the Lord. In essence, the prophet could only say, “Just as I am, without one plea”. He realizes that no matter how great a prophet he might be, he is absolutely nothing and totally empty of himself and all that he has when he saw the glory of the Lord.

The unfolding drama

In the presence of the Lord, Isaiah was overwhelmed to see a number of awesome events which were all focusing on the glory of the Lord. The Lord’s all-encompassing robe of glory, the relentlessly worshipping seraphs with perfect concentration, the thunderous sound of the outcry of the glory of the Lord from the throats of the seraphs, the superlative speed of the flights of the seraphs, the smoke that fills the temple, the shaking of the doorposts of the temple, the burning coal at the altar, a tong, an angel ready to cleanse the servant of God and a sound of the Lord speaking were all experienced by Isaiah in great power. All of these unfolding movements were the ways by which the Lord was speaking to the prophet to shake and wake him up to the reality of responding to the glory of the Lord.

It’s all for the prophet

The interlude of Isaiah Chapter 6 in the book of Isaiah is not for God to focus on the death of Uzziah. It is not to show how seraphs worship and travel fast to declare the glory of the Lord. But it is to focus on the spiritual and emotional needs of the great prophet. But the scene centered on Isaiah’s unworthiness, his detestable environment, the sinful hearts of the prophet and the people of God, the sheer emptiness in his heart and then move on to true repentance. It then moved on to the revival and renewal of the prophet so that a changed Isaiah could go back and preach a thunderous message on the need for a revival among God’s people. We are reminded of the fact that if the prophet is not right with God, the people will not be right with God.  If the prophet is not truly repentant, the people will not be able to listen to the Word of God which comes out of his mouth.  The iniquity in their hearts would otherwise shut their ears so as not to hear the voice of the Lord.

It is likely that the prophet who was fully immersed in preaching didn’t have time to see the Lord in His glory on a regular basis and listen to Him. But God was not going to make him a repetitive preacher, but one with new experiences in His presence to become a passionate preacher. This was possible by giving him newer visions of His glory to revive and renew him. So in Isaiah Chapter Six, God speaks to him through the elegance of His presence, His being the lifted up Lord above all situations and circumstances and through His servants (Seraphs) who were totally and absolutely sold out on Him and His glory in their commitment to serving the Lord. The vision was thus a great reprimand to the prophet to renew and revive him for the mighty work that lies ahead for him to declare the ‘Salvation of our Lord’ to the people of God. 


The vision which Isaiah received is a great challenge for us to re-examine our commitment and loyalty to our Lord so that we would be useful instruments in His mighty hands in the days to come. The vision of our Lord through the pages of His Word demands our adherence, repentance, commitment and loyalty as we are renewed by His Spirit to shape us for His use.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

COUNSELOR'S CORNER: WEATHERING STORMS IN MARRIAGE

Weathering storms in Marriage
Dear Uncle:

I hope you will patiently read the story of my marriage and offer me help to keep going. I am going through a difficult time in my marriage and family life and do not know what to do.

Professionally I am a nurse. I got married 9 years ago to James who is a business executive in our city. We have two children, aged 7 and 4, both girls. As we both earn well, we have a good life. I am a born again and baptized believer. James is a believer and he hails from a good family and his parents are involved in the assembly. My parents are also believers and active in the church. 

 We started our married life quite happily. We communicated well with each other and attended church regularly. We also have a number of professional and family friends and we visit many of them on a regular basis.

Of late, I found James not showing any interest in spending time with me. He comes from work late. Sometimes he comes after his dinner from some restaurant or a party. As soon as he comes home, he spends his time on the mobile phone, checking WhatsApp and calling some friends. Then he goes to bed without family prayer. I called him initially for family prayer on several evenings, but he then gets irritated and excuses himself by saying that he is tired and sleepy. He doesn’t spend time with the children and they miss him much. When they go to him, he gets angry and responds with outbursts, and so children become scared and run away from him with tears. One night I woke up in the middle of the night and found him watching some strange things on the mobile phone (possibly movies or wrestling) and he quickly hid it from me. I am sorry to see that James has changed totally. He always looks depressed and is in a bad mood. Nowadays he is not showing any interest in going for meetings. Added to that, our spiritual friends who used to visit us stopped coming because James doesn’t show any interest in visiting them or welcome them to our house.

I told his parents about him, but they seem to be helpless and ask me to pray. I am praying for him for quite some time. But there is no visible change in him. Our spiritual happiness and peace at home seem to be lost. Of late, he doesn’t seem to bother to buy food materials for the house. I do not know what is happening to my husband and my family because of these visible changes in him. I am helpless and am deeply frustrated.

Uncle, please help me to find out what is wrong with our family and how we can regain the joy that we lost. I am a broken-hearted woman and I am desperate for your help.

Yours sincerely in Christ
Josephine



Dear Josephine

Thank you for frankly sharing your burden about your husband and family with me. I am glad that you are a praying woman. Rest assured that the Lord will answer your prayers and that He will give your husband and family back to you as it has been before.

Going through your narratives about your husband and your family life, I feel that there is serious spiritual backwardness in his life. This seems to be the reason why he has lost interest in family prayer and in going for assembly meetings. It seems he is not even reading Bible daily, but much interested in WhatsApp and watching ‘strange things’ on the phone and the Internet.

From your email, it is not clear as to what has led him to such spiritual backwardness. But it is likely that his spiritual backwardness is linked with his cold relationship with you. But we do not know which started first. I also wonder if he has some job-related issues which made him frustrated and subsequently depressed. Perhaps he is into bad friendship circles.

No matter what his problems are, the key to bringing him back to normal behavior and attitude to the Lord and to you rests with you as you commit him in earnest prayer. Your patient, loving, concerned and considerate approach and sympathetic attitude to him should slowly change him and draw him back to you and the children. You may take maximum effort to try to spend more time with him. Instead of complaining or nagging, be kind to him and try to understand his spiritual difficulties. If overuse of mobile phone and watching movies and other strange things on it persists, see how you can occupy his mind with spiritual things and loving conversation. Try to see if you can call him up a few times a day and inquire about him and work. Tell him how much you miss spending time with him. But your conversation with him may be, as much as possible, non-irritating, soft, friendly, warm and courteous. Your facial expression, body language, the tone of voice and gestures are important. Ask him how you can together plan family time for you and the children. Tell him that you are praying for him for his work situation. Lovingly persuade him to sit for family prayer, but never rebuke or find fault with him or fall for verbal abuse of any sort. Tell him how much you value him in life and how you and the children miss him. Ask him to speak to you openly about any of his problems, but never put pressure on him. Your patience, maturity, and prayerfulness will be the tools through which the Lord will bring him back to Him and to yourself and your children.

Please be much in prayer and ask the Lord to give James back to you. Prayerfully claim him for Jesus and for you. When he sleeps, try to touch and pray for him. All day, as you work, let short prayers rise up from your heart for James and your family. Ask your parents and his parents to pray for him, but please tell them not to make any complaints about him. It is a good idea if both the parents make occasional visits to your home and stay for a few days at a time. When the parents visit, it will possibly be good for them to show love and concern and to encourage him to sit for family prayers. On such occasions, they may softly try to make him read the Bible and sing songs with you all. You could all go for some of the meetings of the assembly also when the parents are around. But please remind the parents about the need to carefully deal in all these matters and not to pick up any arguments with him.

It is also good to check and see if James has any addiction in behavior or actions and if he has any element of depression or stress due to the work situation. If so, he might need serious counseling.

Let me remind you of the fact that James needs help now and you should not wait till it becomes very serious. It is better to attempt to help him resolve his difficulties before his heart is hardened. It is also important to guard your children against getting affected by the behavior of James. Please continuously, but softly counsel them and sit and pray with them.

I am praying for you, James and your children. Please don’t be discouraged, but trust the Lord to change your situation and make it as happy as it used to be. Please read Psalms 42:5 and meditate on it and find comfort in the promises of God.

Yours sincerely

Oommen Philip

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Series: THE REVIVAL OF A GREAT PROPHET - 1


The revival of a Great Prophet-1

Meditations from Isaiah Chapter Six

Let’s meet Isaiah in the valley of life

Many servants of God had their share of the valley experience of their life and ministry. More often than not, we are given very little details of those experiences and inroads into their brokenness. So we are unable to dive into those valleys to learn what they have learned and how these can be applied in our own lives. Brokenness is rarely shared with anyone and so the pain, shame, misery, tears, groaning and griping accompanied with it are left in oblivion.

Prophet Isaiah is an exception to this. He received the grace to articulate every detail of his experience of brokenness for God’s people to learn great lessons from it and apply in scores of lives. He was willing to expose himself and the lowest point in his life for others to see as a testimony to God’s grace and mercy towards him. Isaiah has already been a preacher and prophet for years as we come to Chapter Six of his prophetic book. His ministry has powerful and penetrating all the while. His words were bold and expressions were focused in order that the people of God would experience a revival in their souls. Like Paul, Isaiah did not hide from God’s people anything that the Lord had laid on his heart. He was not at all concerned about the consequences of the message he was entrusted with to preach because it was not his message, but the Lord’s. He recognized that his life was first and foremost the Lord’s message to the people among whom he dwelt. Of course, his utterances were equally his life in a message, but he felt that his life and words must complement each other to make it credible and powerful. He knew that the message of the Lord will not come back without result and so he preached his heart out and lived his life out. He used words like that of John the Baptizer. But as he continued to preach, he became more and more aware of his own needs for a revival, dynamism and greater spiritual revolution.

One would normally not expect the preacher to experience revival and feel that the people need it badly. But the experience of Isaiah brings home to our hearts the truth that the preacher needs revival in his soul more than the people who listen to his message. The Prophet’s message has to be his life itself and unless it is broken, rebuilt, revitalized and exposed to the people, the message he preaches will be conceptual and not practical. So it was the divine plan that early in his ministry, prophet Isaiah had to be exposed in the height of his brokenness. So God uses contemporary situations to grant the experience of brokenness in the life of His choice servant Isaiah.

Preliminary considerations

Isaiah Six teaches us that even as we continue to preach and minister unto the spiritual needs of God’s people, we need to feel a craving for continuous brokenness and revival in our souls so that our messages will be sharper than ever before. Isaiah’s experience asks us as to whether we desire a fresh visitation from the Lord to do something in our souls that has never happened before? Do we have pant for a fresh experience with the risen Lord in all His glory? Are we ready to be exposed openly when our only cover will be the Lord and His glory and not our eloquence, expertise, experience, and exuberance? 

It is at this juncture that Prophet Isaiah comes alive in front of our eyes as we open the book of Isaiah and go to the vision he received which is elucidated in Chapter Six. His experience was primarily for him to be cleansed and revitalized. But it is a model for every Christian believer, to take a hard look at the brokenness of this great preacher and prophet, and profit from it for him to start with and for the Lord’s people. If Isaiah needed such an experience, modern day preachers and servants of God need it all the more.  

Let’s understand the context of Isaiah’s Prophecy

Isaiah was permitted to minister unto the people of God to show them that even when kings come and go one after the other (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah: Isaiah 1:1), the Word of the Lord remains unchanged in its power, glory and sharpness as it is eternally secured in heaven (Psalms 119:89). The message comes through the seraphs, the servants of God, who are made instruments for a ministry unto the prophets of the old and the new. Their responsibility it is to have action-oriented preaching in its seriousness. Through it all, God shows Isaiah that He is the preeminent God who rules over all other forces and speaks through them all.

Isaiah acknowledges at the beginning of his book that God speaks to the wind and the sky (Isaiah 1:2). This is because nature and all of the creation listen to and obey God unquestionably. It is also a reminder to the people that God still speaks even when the man doesn’t listen, obey or take God’s commands seriously. There is an alluding question as to whether the prophet himself listened to God. The answer to this question is seen in Chapter Six.

Through the life of King Uzziah, God wanted Isaiah to understand that no matter how powerful man is and how sustainable he thinks he is, God will remove him from power if he is not willing to abide by God’s commands and His Word.

The events leading to the death of King Uzziah is a situation of the end of an era of national stability, growth in technology, industrial and agricultural development, enhancement of commerce and military power which make Uzziah’s kingdom invincible by the enemies. His success in multifarious sectors made Uzziah proud and arrogant. He took God’s law of worship for granted and acted like a priest which was against God’s law. Uzziah had to be dealt with by God for this violation. Through the removal of Uzziah from power, God taught Isaiah and the people of God that if they break God’s commandment, they will be handled by God in His own way. 

The overall situation of the division of the kingdom because of the quarrel and fight among the brothers was another pitfall among God’s people. There was also no separation from the sinful life of the Gentiles around them. There was competition, rebellion, jealousy, and idolatry among God’s people. God dealt with all of these offenses of His people sternly which remains as a warning for us today. 
  
At His perfect timing, God withdrew Uzziah from the scene and sent bewilderment and apprehension to the hearts of people about their future. They didn’t know what to expect from the upcoming kings. Israel was ultimately captured by the enemies in 721 BC. Judea was captured by Sennacherib. God’s people as a nation experienced national confusion. There were fear, hopelessness, and uncertainty everywhere.  Little did they realize that not too far from there the foundation for the upcoming Roman Empire was being laid as a great power which will be another threat to Israel in the future? This is the setting of Isaiah Chapter Six. 

It was a time like that of our present world and the state of the church of Jesus Christ today. Abrahams are in the tents, but Lots live in bungalows! (Genesis 13:18 & 19:2). Many of our families are taken captive by the world, flesh and the enemy and there is no one to go and fight to release them from its clutches! (Genesis 14:12-15).  Our Youth have fallen in this desert of the world, with no one to lift them up and give them water of life! (Genesis 21:18). Our Gahazys, Demases and Baalams have all gone back to the world and its riches! The enemy is hiding and living in the secret chambers of the assemblies, as in the times of Nehemiah! (Nehemiah 13:7). Our Jeremiahs, Peters and Pauls are in the pits and in shackles in prison cells! Our Jonahs have gone their way to Tarshis rather than obey the call to go to Nineveh to preach revival and repentance! (Jonah 1:3).


Just as in the case of Isaiah, it’s time our preachers and elders renew their visions and get a new vision of the Lord and His true and majestic glory. They need fiery tongues and eyes to preach a more powerful and sharper message. They need a change of attitude and heart to receive and preach a timely message through their renewed tongues. Then and then alone will the people catch the fire of repentance and experience revival and renewal in their souls. This is why God made Isaiah go through the experience of the altar and the fiery cleansing of his tongue. If Isaiah needed brokenness and cleansing, we need it many more times. If he needed a new tongue, we need it all the more. We need to be convicted of sins in our lives and must move forward with true confession and repentance so that God can renew our messages and revisit our people in a fresh manner. If Isaiah needed to cry aloud for renewal, we need it in a greater manner. Then we will get a new zeal. Yes, prophets, preachers and pastors need revival and preach with a broken heart and eyes overflowing with tears. Then we will all see the vision of our Lord and experience His power. It will follow on to change us to passionate preaching and obedient living.   

Saturday, January 19, 2019

COUNSELOR'S CORNER: REBUILDING A SHATTERED MARRIAGE

Rebuilding a shattered Marriage
Dear Sir:

I am a 35-year-old born again and baptized believer, living in a large metro in India. I am a business executive. In 2008, I was married to Sobha (31), an IT executive, who is also a believer. We started our family life happily and God blessed us with two lovely children who are 8 and 5 years old. We have a live-in cook cum babysitter to look after our children and the house.  Sobha and I are very busy at work and so we hardly get time to spend with each other or with the children. Job and travel take away all our time. On Sundays, we sometimes miss church as there are many things to do at home and also because we wake up late.

After our first child was born, I noticed that Sobha seemed to keep a distance from me. But she finds enough time to speak to her parents regularly and she reports everything in our family life to them. She also speaks regularly with her friends and is heavy on the WhatsApp chat. After the second child was born, she is almost totally withdrawn from me. She hardly talks to me. She doesn’t find time to eat dinner with me and the children claiming that she is too busy with household chores. If I ask her anything about life, work, children or her parents, she gives very curt and sometimes harsh and angry replies. If I forget to do something for her and the children, she gets into angry outbursts and curses me and her married life. Our family life is full of bitter arguments about all petty things. The other day, I overheard her telling her mom over the phone that our marriage was not according to God’s will. I am shocked to hear this and much worried about my marriage and my children. I wonder why we cannot live happily. I do not know what has happened to the love that we had during the initial years of our marriage! Will you please help me to settle my family life?

Yours sincerely
Solomon

Dear Solomon

I am truly sad to hear about your battered married life. Thank you for writing to me about it which shows your sincere desire to rebuild your family life.

From your description of your family life scenario, it seems your difficulties started some years back and grew worse slowly which is what I observe in many Christian marriages. Even though it is not clear from your letter about the real reason for the souring of your marriage, there seem to be a few contributory factors. First and foremost, I feel that the very busy work life for you both made both of you unable to find time for each other. This seemed to have seriously affected your communication with each other. Thus even though you both lived under the same roof, you were like strangers and did not have time to build up and nourish your relationship with each other. Secondly, whatever time that she got, Sobha used it to look after some things about the children and home. Thirdly, you seemed not to have enough time to sleep and compensated it by sleeping late on Sundays, and thus missing meetings and fellowship frequently. Fourthly, it seems no one from the church bothered to visit you and made inquiries about your absence from meetings. Fifthly, it seems you have not found time for family prayer which would have seriously affected your spiritual life. Or rather, your poor spiritual life would have kept you away from finding time for family prayer. All of these seem to have kept your spiritual life at a very low ebb. Added to all of these, Sobha seemed to have complained about your family life to her parents and reported all the ups and downs to them and would have found support from her parents which would have a negative impact on her attitude and actions. Probably a mobile phone would have facilitated a lot of chat between Sobha and her parents and her friends which would have given her more boldness in reacting to you. Your busy work life would have also taken a toll on your ability to spend time together and given you both a lot of stress, thus further affecting your relationship. Sobha would have missed love and affection from her husband which would have seriously frustrated her and made her easily irritable and angry. Apart from all of these, your innocent children would have sensed the lack of communication between their parents for each other and towards them as well.  

Please understand that family life is like a plant which needs to be watered and nourished with love, positive communication, togetherness, intimacy, and mutual care. If these are not poured into family life, such a life will dry down and slowly wither away. Both of you have a responsibility for your family plant to be sustained, watered, nourished, protected and strengthened so as to enable it to grow and bring forth flowers with fragrance. You as the husband ought to help your wife to help you build up because God has appointed you are the spiritual leader of your family.    

It is likely that the atmosphere of intimidation, hatred and hopelessness in your family life would have affected Sobha’s spiritual life and behavior and crept in frustration in her heart which is exhibited through her irritability, anger and outbursts. It is also likely that her friends with whom she conversed would have supported her in her attitude of withdrawal and isolation from you.  I wonder why Sobha’s parents didn’t bother to softly speak to you about her feelings about you.  

May I say that Biblically speaking, you are the head of the family! So I hope you will be able to see that you have the responsibility to give spiritual leadership to your wife and children. Your lapse in not going for meetings, Bible studies or fellowship, and not having regular family prayer would have affected your and Sobha’s relationship with God and subsequently developed coldness in heart for each other. Please think as to how to correct this situation as soon as possible. To start with, confess your failures to God and ask Him to help you to rebuild your family life.

 It’s been well said that “A Family that prays together stays together”. This is a good way to look at your prayer life. One of the most important things you need to do is to restart family prayer and to attend meetings in the assembly regularly. You are the right person to take initiative for these. Please take time to softly speak to Sobha about the need to rebuild your family life and seek her support.

You may also need to find time to spend with your wife and open up positive communication with her. Please try to prayerfully and softly respond to Sobha when she gets upset and angry. Be careful not to react angrily at her. Please pray for self-control in all your responses to her which is a fruit of the Spirit. Pray much for Sabha, that the Lord would build her up spiritually and change her attitude towards you. Try to do everything possible to make her understand that you love her deeply and that she is a precious gift God has given you. Please help her to understand that your marriage has been in the will of God, through your positive and loving attitude to her and to the children. Sobha may be helped to understand that the devil is trying to destroy your marriage (John 10:10) and that you have to live to love each other and bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of Jesus Christ.  Whatever you lack in your relationship may be claimed from the Lord as an answer to intensive and agonizing prayer (Psalms 9:10; Matthew 7:7-11).

You may also think about how to reach out to Sobha’s parents lovingly and make them understand that spiritual lapse is the core of your problems and that you are now committed to rebuild it. Please seek their prayer support also and ask them to strengthen Sobha in faith. It is also a good idea to take a vacation, if possible, and be away to some quiet place to spend time together as a family. That’s where you will not have any pressure of work and daily routine. It is also a good idea to find time to visit parents or some relatives or family friends occasionally. These will certainly help you both to relax and build up your relationship with each other. But please make sure to discuss these suggestions with Sobha before taking decisions so that she will participate in it. Make sure to slowly and softly work these out rather than put pressure on her.

If Shoba is not able to cope with work and home pressure, it may be a good idea to help her think about the possibility of ‘work from home’ or switching to a part-time job or even consider taking some long leave, whichever is feasible until the children grow up a bit more. As you consider these options with her, please do it in the context of your financial needs and stability. Remember that money and work are to be considered not at the expense of losing your joy in the family life. But these ideas need open and frank discussion and prayer between the two of you so that you both will know God’s will in these matters. Please also pray for patience and be open in making these decisions, without arguments, conflicts and agitation. Let Sobha know that she is the most important person in your life and that you cherish time with her.

Dear Solomon, may I remind you that you are responsible and accountable before God for your Sobha and your children. God gave them to you to care for, love and cherish. Sobha is the instrument God chose to give your children and so she is to be valued much in this life. You need to help Sobha to help you to rebuild your family life.

Please do not lose any more time but start to rebuild your family life, but start immediately (Proverbs 9:1; 14:1). Please pray much as you prepare to take all the initiative to rebuild the broken walls of your family. You may take initiative to regain all the precious family fellowship that you seemed to have lost for some time. May God help you to do so and bring back the joy that has been absent in your family life! May God give you the grace to handle your situation amicably and peacefully rather than escalate it! Instead of getting frustrated and give up, trust God to help you rebuild (Psalms 37:5; 42:5; 55:22; 80:3) your family.  I assure you of my prayer support for you, Sobha and your children.

Yours sincerely in Christ

Oommen Philip

Monday, November 19, 2018

GENDER EQUALITY: THE BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE

Gender Equality: The Biblical Perspective



Gender: Issues or Burdens?

Gender issues and burdens govern human thoughts and actions all over the world. Gender considerations are prime in the policies and practices of Governments, businesses, politics, religious and voluntary organizations and in all places where man and woman meet, mingle and socialize, and in all human activities. In some spheres, they enjoy equal rights and status, and in some others, they have separate territories to dwell on. In many countries, a woman has special privileges whereas in some they are treated at par with men. However, it is ironical that those who crusade for gender equality enjoy special privileges and treatments in certain spheres to have an advantage over others. The conflicts in this sphere are largely because we do not look at it from the divine perspective but from the finite human angle.

Even though the Bible is crystal clear on gender issues, Christianity had its share of controversies on issues related to gender over the years. These issues are seriously discussed, debated and disputed on many a forum, but sadly these have not converged much. All those who are involved in these deliberations remain dissatisfied about the policies on gender in the Church and in the society.

One may look at the issue of gender equality from God’s perspective rather than from human, to understand, accept and follow on so that there can be a satisfactory disposition on it. At the same time, we must also look at these issues from a human point of view to make it relevant, pragmatic and situational to apply these in our daily lives and in our immediate context.

It is pertinent here to note that Christianity has played a major role in bringing about gender equality in the various cultures of the world. The Church and the modern missionary movement have fought to bring about the dignity, status, employment, education, health and development of the so-called weaker gender. Thus Christianity, the Bible and the power of Gospel have been major catalysts in liberating the weaker gender and help them come to the forefront of modern life even in religiously conservative cultures and countries.

Despite the general impression of the woman being the weaker vessel, she has been, more than once, emperor, Prime Minister and political leader of several countries of the world including the empire where the sun never set at least for some time. In many other cultures, she has been the queen like in many African tribal groups. Women have been powerful in many kingdoms in Asia and they were great fighters like the Queen of Jhansi. In some cultures, in India, women held the wealth and property of the families and thus controlled families and communities.

Gender: The Epitome of the secret of creation

The idea of gender and its differences has its origin with God. There are divine wisdom and purpose in humans being of two genders which have a lot of differences and an equal number of similarities that make them complementary rather than contradictory. But we can’t discount the subtle and cunning ploy of the enemy to create a false impression that there is a third gender called ‘transgender’ which is influencing nations, humanity and even the judicial system. Transgender is the impact of abuses of various nature the enemy instilled in humans during childhood and puberty years to create an ungodly way of life.  American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association have conducted a series of studies to ascertain this. Moreover, it has been proved that a clear majority of transgenders have moderate to serious mental aberration like depression, obsession, mania and other mental disorders reflected in their behavior and attitude (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA; American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 14: 13–39, 2011). Others are forced into repeated mind manipulations through the media and social media. The Bible emphasizes these as deviant behavior (Romans 1:26-27). But the enemy of our souls repeats the lie that transgender is for real several times through the media and fake studies like Kinsey Report to make even innocent people think that there is some ‘truth’ in these lies. Lately, the enemy has successfully invaded into the legislative and legal processes in many countries including India.

When God created humans, He made them male and female, in His own image and they both had His breath in them (Genesis 1:26-31). Their duties, responsibilities, rights, and privileges were the same. They were one person made into two and then were blended together (Genesis 5:1-2). They were given the same spiritual and earthly blessings equally. They both were granted unique roles in building up future generations.

When sin entered human life, man and woman lost many of the privileges given to them by God. Their mutual relationship was also ruptured. Thus, they developed the desire to control and rule over each other (Genesis 3:16). Thus, there have been conflicts, competition and consequent problems in human life which resulted in suppression, oppression, and complexes of the various type which affected their relationship the world over. Their roles get reversed in some cases and each fighting for its own rights, recognition, privileges, importance, prominence, and relative satisfaction.

It is then that God provided a new equation between man and woman where the old self is crucified and made to die and a new person to emerge in its place. This is what the Bible calls ‘Rebirth’. In the new life, the two persons, both man and woman, crucify their craving for control, rule, competition, winning over each other and to oppress, suppress and become slaves to various complexes. They subsequently lose these desires as they allow the Spirit of God to control their hearts, thoughts, desires, likes, and dislikes. The Bible speaks about this as ‘newness in Christ’ without any feeling or sense of superiority or inferiority (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17). When man and woman become a new creation, their relationship becomes one of mutual responsibility and complementarity (Galatians 3:26-29). Each tries to understand his or her roles in this relationship and tries to fulfill the role to the best of one’s ability, effort, commitment and submission (Ephesians 5:21) and live in humility. The Bible reassures its readers in general and believers that man and woman cannot be independent of each other as they are in the new creation through rebirth (1 Corinthians 11:11). They are interdependent. This is the gender equality the Bible teaches and helps its followers to practice in families, church and in the society at large. 

Equality through centuries

History reveals that equality and equity are fought and sought after through the centuries by humans. At the same time, biblical influence worked to help woman gain security, safety, equality and dignity in the various cultures of the world. Bible has influenced to change a lot of superstition and taboos of the various cultures in the realm of gender especially in Africa and South Asia. The Bible thus practically demonstrated its power in influencing the world. But we must bear in mind the fact that despite all that the Bible has done for the woman, its impact can be felt only through the right attitude of both man and woman.

Equality in the New Testament

In the New Testament, we read that Jesus dealt with women as much as He dealt with men. Jesus revealed that He was Messiah, first to a Samaritan woman. The resurrected Lord Jesus appeared first to a woman, thus giving so much privilege to womenfolk. We also read that women were actively involved in the church in various ministries (Romans 16)

The New Testament gives specific instructions about the involvement of women in the church. Even though there is no gender difference in salvation (Galatians 3:28), as far as ministries in the church are concerned, women are instructed to remain silent or inaudible, in the sense of instructing men (1 Tim. 2:11-15; 1 Corinthians 14:34). Scriptures also give reasons for such an instruction. It is because the woman was used of the devil to mar the first creation by succumbing to temptation while in the garden of Eden, that God wanted women to be restrained from marring the second creation, the church through taking a leadership role. The Bible reminds its readers that men were given the leadership role in the church whereas women’s role is mostly among sisters (Titus 2:4-5) and in the homes to bring up children. Here we can clearly see the different roles attributed to the woman in the church and at home where man is the head and woman is in a support role. But both these roles are equally important and that they are complementary to each other. They are like the two sides of a coin and together their roles make human life in society and family possible. In the absence of such a converging of roles and responsibilities, there will be anarchy in the world, church and in homes. 

Genders coexist for a divine purpose

It is to be reiterated that there is perfect equality between man and woman in God’s economy of things. They are given equal importance and status in the way God deals with them. But surely there are differences in their roles and responsibilities just as we find a difference in the parts played by different organs in the human body. When each part recognizes this truth, there is no conflict in the functioning of the human body. So, when the Bible commands the woman to submit to the man in a husband-wife relationship (Ephesians 5:22), we are all also admonished to submit to each other in the fear of Christ (verse 21; 1 Peter 5:5). Thus, there is no cause for clamour and battle to gain equality which is already recognized by the Bible in the church, in homes, and in the society. Added to this, submission of the wife to the husband is envisaged as a loving and passionate attitude in response to the unconditional agape’ of the husband towards the wife rather than a compulsive and authoritarian demand placed on the wife. If the Eternal Son of God submits to the Eternal Father voluntarily, the secret of submission needs to be understood in the like manner (1 Corinthians 11:3).  The head covering given to the woman is a practical demonstration of this truth.


We must remind ourselves of the fact that the difference and distinction of gender are functional and not positional, as nature itself teaches humans. Along with this, man and woman are given specific roles and responsibilities with corresponding accountabilities in the creation and in the church, which are complementary, conciliatory and congenial. Both man and woman need each other for God to fulfill His purpose in creation and in the new creation. May the readers receive the grace to meet the attitudinal challenges in these spheres and try to recognize our place and importance in fulfilling the purpose for which we are placed here on earth!!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

COUNSELOR'S CORNER: AFFAIRS

Counselor’s Corner: AFFAIRS 

Dear uncle:

I am going through a difficult situation which I am unable to share with my parents and best friends in the assembly. Please give me a solution through the pages of your magazine. I am a 16-year-old female, Plus Two student, in a mixed school. I am born again and I recently got baptized also. My dad and mom are actively involved in the assembly and my elder brother is active in our youth group.

Uncle, in our class, all my classmates except me have “affairs”, with some from among our classmates or from the other batches and from the junior classes in the school and a few from their neighborhood. They all share these openly with friends. My classmates are ridiculing me for not having an affair and they push me to develop such relationships with boys in our school. They say that it is only natural to have such relationships and that there is nothing wrong in it. They always try to connect me with some boy and persuade and motivate me to develop affairs. I know that I am a child of God and should resist such entanglements in this world. But it is very difficult in our school environment. I do not know what to do and how to handle this situation and am losing my concentration in studies and in spiritual matters. I am afraid I might fall any time soon because of constant pressure from my friends and promptings from the boys around. I am not confident to share this with my mother because I am afraid I might be misunderstood. Please help me through this medium.

Ansu

Dear Ansu:

I am glad you decided to share this burden with me which shows your sincerity in this matter. Thanks for being very frank and open. As you know, our environment in schools and colleges is highly contaminated with sin and worldliness. The enemy of our soul is trying to lure us into a sin of some sort so as to destroy our spiritual life. Many of our dear youth have fallen into such temptations and traps and have destroyed their lives. I am glad you are resisting these temptations. Such temptations always come from the devil to destroy God’s children. But it is not a serious matter for the unsaved people even though these affairs have caused total destruction for many of them also. The enemy will try to tempt you through your eyes when you see some attractive person. Temptations will come through the ears when people prompt you through enticing and motivating words. Some temptations come through ‘casual’ touch also. Your best defense in such circumstances is to submit your eyes, ears and body as a living sacrifice to the Lord Jesus and continue to live a crucified life (Romans 12:1). Resist every temptation of the devil by praying and submitting your untoward thoughts to the Lord Jesus to handle. Keep away from such enticing friends who try to persuade you. Be friendly with them for the sake of the Gospel, but be firm in your convictions. Tell them that God is preparing one of His choicest children for you who will be revealed at the right time, probably after 5-8 years from now and till that time you want to keep your heart, mind, thoughts and emotions pure for God and for that person. If possible, share the story of Isaac and Rebekah with your friends and tell them how God will reveal His perfect will for you at His best time (Genesis 24). Tell them that you are not bothered about this subject now because you are too young to think about such serious matters as relationships. Tell them also that you will pray for them to understand the provision of God in their lives as well.

 In the Bible, we have the illustration of great ruin in the life of Samson who had many affairs. Many of the heartaches of Jacob were because of his affair with Rachel. The prodigal son ruined his life through such a riotous living. In all these cases, God could use them only after they repented of their fleshly desires and resubmitted their lives to God. They all escaped total destruction through true confession and repentance before it was too late. The book of Proverbs gives us a long list of admonitions about how to keep away from such relationships and submit our lives to God to rebuild and remold us according to His perfect will (Proverbs 3:5 & 6; Chapters 5 & 7). James said that we should submit to God, resist the devil, draw near unto God, cleanse our hands of all wrongdoings, sanctify our hearts, repent, cry and submit ourselves to the Lord (James 4:7-10).  Check and see how many of the acts of the flesh fall within the definition of ‘affairs’ given in Galatians 5:16-21.  The Bible says that you should desire and seek to have the fruit of the Spirit in your life that includes ‘’self-control’ which is the key to resisting temptations (Gal. 5:23). Temptation comes first in the form of selfish, unholy and sinful desires. But we are commanded and warned against such desires and not to covet anything that is not ours (Exodus 20: 17). When given a chance to dwell in our hearts, these desires will grow slowly and become deep cravings and will fill our hearts with an insatiable and unquenchable thirst for it. When these unholy desires become solid in our hearts, it becomes very difficult to forsake it (James 1:13-16). Please know that you are not to desire anything that is not yours, which is the sin of covetousness. But God gives us holy desires according to the Word of God and through the Spirit of God. He gives us His best at His time (James 1:17). All other desires are from the devil to distract you from the path of the cross.  We are commanded to think on things which are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), and a desire from the devil will not be one of those. Your walk among unbelieving classmates should be one of good character and behavior (1 Peter 2:11-12).

Dear Ansu, please know that God has a clear plan for your life which will be revealed at the right time. God has already earmarked a person for you as your life partner, out of the 3.75 billion males of this world. That person will best fit your needs when you reach the marital age. Till God reveals it, please resist the devil’s plans to destroy your spiritual life. Many have gone the wrong way and destroyed their lives and live with heartaches and frustrations. Life is like a glass which falls down and breaks and no one can put it together. Your life is a beautiful, but fragile glass jar in which God wants to pour His love to fill it for His glory. Please don’t allow some devilish and evil desire to break it. Keep your heart and mind clean for God to write His plan in it according to His perfect will. Resist the devil through warfare of prayer and meditation of the Word (2 Corinthians 10:4). Remember, the devil has many tactics and he sometimes also uses pseudo-spiritual people to lure you into unholy relationships so that he can destroy you. You are precious to your parents and their hearts will break if your life gets destroyed. So please pray much and dedicate yourself to Jesus on a regular basis. Flee temptations through prayer, meditation of the Word and continuous consecration. God will help you to escape these perils in life. If there is any known desire for someone, please confess it as sin and repent of it and get washed and be clean by the Word of God and be filled with the Spirit. Every time you are tempted, confess and forsake it.

Ansu, Please tell your tempters that your life is already pledged to Jesus Christ and that it is no longer negotiable. Tell them also that you want to keep your life clean. Tell them that it is not right to steal someone’s son and keep hiding him in your heart which is a sin against God and that person and his parents. Tell them that you are not an orphan to look for an affair and that you have a merciful and benevolent Heavenly Father who will care for you all the days of your life and fill you with His goodness. Also, please keep away from the visual media which keep throwing temptations into your heart and try to make you fall into temptations.

I hope you will find continued victory in your life and live a victorious life all the days of your life.

Oommen Philip
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