Wound of a Friend

I stand amazed, apart from its unparalleled spiritual values, how much the King James Version of the Holy Bible transformed the English Language.  Many beautiful phrases or one-liners and parables became popular means of explanation of events, or characteristics in our times.  One can read its influence in the writings of Jefferson or the speeches of Lincoln, Gandhi or Nehru, even Churchill.  Here is an example: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).  How can a friend wound anyone and how can it be faithful?

In a way, this is not new at all.  In its primitive form, we have experienced it from our childhood days.  Can any guess?  Once our parental red lines were crossed, there were consequences.  I believe, it was Dr. Robert A. Cook, the famous Evangelistic Pastor, later President of King’s College who wrote: “Apply the board of education to the seat of knowledge.”  During my school days, a small Malacca cane was standard equipment in all teachers’ desks.  Occasionally, when I got home, there was a repeat application from my loving mother.  For some reason, my Dad did not administer, leaving the chore to my Mom.  I agree it was no wound, but plenty painful!  Please do not misunderstand, I am not advocating angry and unwise “spare the rod and spoil the child” philosophy.  Everything should be balanced with love and long suffering!

nathan rebukes david
Nathan rebukes King David

Have we not found the Bible, particularly the Old Testament very interesting in this regard?  Let me hone in on one example of a father and son; actually a king and his son. One received the wound of a friend and the other did not.  Let’s start with David.  The wound was by Nathan the prophet, by way of a very strong rebuke.   After giving an analogical story of a rich man unjustly snatching away the little lamb from a poor man, Nathan pointed to the king and said “You are the man.”   It took much courage and was a terrible wound of a friend, but absolutely necessary.   David listened and took it on the chin.  God forgave the penitent King, though the consequences were disastrous.

David was at it again after defeating an uprising of the Philistines.  He wanted to take a census to determine the strength of Israel’s army.  Mind you, this is the same David who wrote and sang “some nations boast on their chariots and horses but we boast in the name of our God.”   This time, the wound came not from a prophet, but from David’s military commander, Joab.  He spoke forthrightly to the king, again a dangerous proposition in those days.  He warned David “Why do you want to do this?  Why must you cause Israel to sin?”  Notice those powerful words – “cause Israel to sin” – another faithful wound from a friend.   David at first did not listen and consequently paid a heavy price, causing unnecessary death to thousands of his people with a plague.  Fortunately David repented – again.  The Lord mercifully averted a further disaster, this time close to Jerusalem.

This was, however, not the case with David’s son, King Solomon.  Unfortunately there was no such friend for Solomon, as far as I know.  He either did not have a faithful friend to cause a wound or Solomon simply did not want to hear anyway. He neither had a Nathan nor a Joab.  Consequently, Solomon who started his reign with great promise, ended up tragically as an immoral idol worshipper.  Many Bible scholars wonder what was the use of building a great temple for God (which was later destroyed by the enemies), and killing thousands of animals for sacrifice, only to fall into a lifestyle of idol-worship and debauchery?  God would have destroyed him but for his father’s sake.

Donald G. Barnhouse
Donald G. Barnhouse

This may lead to a difference of opinion.   It was one of those lingering questions from my youth.  Was Solomon’s request for wisdom the right choice? I was timid and kept this thought to myself.   Perhaps there are others who feel the same way.   Recently I read a book on Romans by Donald G. Barnhouse, lent to me by my friends Ed & Ann Hopkins from Coral Ridge.  I found that Barnhouse had the same feeling.  He wrote: “On Solomon’s wise choice, I pondered, and decided that it was not wise; that if I had been in his place, I would not have asked God for wisdom, but rather to be like Him in holiness.”   In other words, he should have wisely followed his father’s footsteps, going after God’s own heart.

How do we deal with a faithful wound from a friend?  The normal human reaction will be a sense of disappointment, disbelief, or perhaps rage.  The disciples had to deal with this challenge on many occasions.  They disagreed and had arguments between themselves.  A case in point is Paul and Barnabas.  They were close friends.  When the Apostles were suspicious and afraid of Paul, Barnanas introduced him to the Apostles.  They ministered together for years.   The Scriptures say there was bitter contention between them over John Mark who, at one time, let them down.  The disagreement was so sharp “that they separated asunder.”  Quite a wound from a faithful friend.  The beauty of it was Paul realized the pain and later wrote those beautiful words: “Only Luke is with me.  Bring Mark with you when you come for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.”

Another type of wound can come as criticism from friends.  What will be our reaction? Pick up the phone and give him an ear full?  Will we be like David or Paul?  Think it through; what is the long term consequence?  Does our response glorify God?  Or is there an unexpected benefit?

Just remember how one king found restoration and another did not.

God bless,  Danny Paul

Start Something Good – Anything!

Danny Paul with two great grandchildren
Danny Paul with two great grandchildren

This month I did something new.  At ease everyone – nothing bizarre or exemplary.  It was an ordinary event which thousands have done.  I ran, well, really a brisk walk for a fund raising event, called the Annual Terry Fox Run in Canada.  For my readers who do not know about Terry Fox, here is a short explanation.

Terry Fox, born in Winnipeg, Canada, on 28 July 1958, had a flair for sports and marathons.  At 18 years old, he was diagnosed with malignant Osteogenic Sarcoma in his right leg and it was amputated above the knee.  At the hospital, he was moved with compassion for children. He decided to run across the nation, East to West, the Marathon of Hope to raise funds for a cure. On April 12, 1980, he dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean and started the Run, covering nearly 40 km a day, through sunshine, rain, or snow. There was very little media attention then, with just a van following him.  After 143 days, at Thunder Bay, Ontario, his body gave up, but not his spirit, with bouts of coughing and pain in his chest. They found a large cancerous tumour in his lungs. He passed away on 28 June 1981, just short of his 28th birthday.  His hope was to raise $1-million, but the Nation was united in his vision, and donated $24-million! That’s right!  $24 MILLION!!!

A Canadian Hero - Terry Fox
A Canadian Hero – Terry Fox

I asked myself who and what prompted me to do this run?  There was no voice from heaven, no speech convicting me, nothing except an article in the local newspaper.  It wrote about Rev. Gary James and his wife Pam.  Gary is the Senior Pastor of Valley View Alliance Church and Pam, a cancer survivor. Their congregation decided to postpone their Sunday morning service for one hour to participate in the local Terry Fox Run.  I thought about it, talked it over with my wife Grace, who was concerned about my heart condition. I talked to some fellow condo dwellers and they gave a donation of $100.00 for cancer research. Two of my grandkids joined me.  It was truly a great experience. I might not get a second chance!

On the way back home I was musing: “How do we make ordinary, sometimes even extraordinary decisions; not deep, theological and psychological discourse?”   Here are some off-the-cuff simple thoughts.  Something catches our eye, our ears or our heart, not necessarily very compelling.  The thoughts come back and, we mull it over.  Perhaps we discuss with the family, check the calendar, weigh the pros and cons, decide and start.  Simple as that – most of the time.

Of course, there will be exceptional issues which require fasting, prayer and counsel, but not on a day to day basis.  It seems God may have a standard response: “I gave you common sense, use it and get on with it.”  Do we complicate things, sometimes to give an impression that we are some kind of prayer warrior?  Could it be that we are afraid of making mistakes?  What is wrong with admitting a mistake?  I did.  Had I planned a week before, instead of a day before the run, I could have motivated more friends to run or to contribute.

This does not mean to act like a jack-in-the-box. The point is to start something good, not necessarily big and great, but small things that tug your heart.   While it is good to have a general idea, do not wait till all the t’s are crossed and i’s dotted.  Few like it that way, but it rarely happens.  God does his part in giving further instructions as we progress. Often he gives sufficient light for one step.  Let me offer two quotes, one from an old hymn, the other from a modern popular song.  “Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see;  the distant scene, one step enough for me,” Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890).  You may wish to read the entire hymn, “Lead kindly light.”  Then, of course, the popular one: “One day at time, sweet Jesus” by Christy Lane.  See my blog based on a popular hit song, “Carry on.”

Are you a senior like me?  It is never too late. Moses was eighty when he really got started. Abraham was not young when he continued his journey from Haran to Canaan. Caleb was 80 when he wanted to conquer the high land. The challenge is to start something.  Anything.   A good start is a job half done already.

Are you young?  Terry Fox was very young when he wrote: “I am not doing my run to become rich or famous.  To me, being famous is not the idea of the run.  The only important part is finding a cure for cancer.  Don’t forget that I am no different from any of you – I’m no better, no worse.  You are cheering and clapping for me, but if you have given $1, then you are part of the Marathon of Hope.  Even if I do not finish, we need others to continue.  It’s got to keep going without me.”  (Terry Fox, 11 July 1980)

When Terry Fox started his run, the survival rate for Osteogenic Sarcoma was 5% and non-survival 95%. Now it is is the other way round – 95% to 5%.  The challenge is to motivate others and not the financials; that follows later. This young man united the nation of Canada and motivated millions to run for a cause.

There is a malediction far more dangerous than cancer.  The old traditional Black American Spiritual, made famous by Mahalia Jackson, explains it better than I can.  “There is a Balm in Gilead, To make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead. To heal the sin sick world.”

Start something good, anything, first within us and leave the rest with God. Listen to Mahalia Jackson.  How about that for a start?  That is what I am doing right now while writing this post!  It brought tears to my eyes. Life is a process learning to lean on God; a spiritual fine art “leaning on the everlasting arms.”  If we fail, which we do often, the Lord will lift us up and say “Carry On.”

God bless,  Danny Paul

The Holy Land Connection

jews of cochinHoly Land is normally referred to as the land of Israel depending on who you ask.  For this post, I am changing the emphasis slightly from Moderation to what I would call the connection between two ancient countries and its culture: Cochin and Israel.  Perhaps some of my readers may not know about this part of history. Cochin, now called by its original name Kochi, was an independent country then ruled by the Maharajah till India became a Republic in 1947-48.

This is nostalgic to me as many of you know my roots; Calcutta.  There is a slight deviation to it.  I was born, brought up and educated in Kochi, in the southwestern part of India, called Cochin State (now called Kerala State) and moved to Calcutta when I was 18.  Kerala is truly beautiful, nestled between the Eastern Ghat mountains and the Arabian Sea.  It is also called the Malabar Coast with a large, natural seaport.

The connection is traced back to the times of King Solomon.  There was sea trade for spices, animals, ivory, etc.  Even before the first century, there was established sea traffic between Kochi and the Mediterranean.  This accounts for the Apostolic mission of St.Thomas to the Kerala coast.  His landing place is barely 20 miles from my ancestral home.  I have been there often.  By the way, there are orthodox Christians from the first century called Syrian Christians still in India, mostly in Kerala.

There were Jews in Kochi centuries ago.  The Israel Museum in Jerusalem documents that Jews lived in Kochi for 2 millennia. They came first as merchants and later after the Diaspora as emigrants and refugees.  One of the oldest synagogues is in Kochi -called Paradesi Synagogue – with its chandeliers and blue and white tiled floors.  Their Ark is closed with the Thorah Scrolls inside.   I have visited this synagogue located on the Synagogue lane, also called the Jewish Street.

During the shameful European Inquisition, roughly three to four thousand Jews arrived from Portugal and Spain, taking refuge in Kochi.  More came later from Turkey and Syria.  A larger crowd came under the leadership of one Joseph Rabban in A.D 1600.  The Maharajah of Kochi, King Ravi Varma, welcomed these refugees and granted them land for their homes and places to worship granting prominent “status.”  All these are historically recorded in copper plates “as the moon and the earth endure.”   There were eleven synagogues in Kochi then.

It was not rosy all the time as they had problems within themselves.  The sea-faring Portuguese (not Jews) under Explorer Vasco D’Gama to Kochi, later changed to become the Conspirators, then Colonizers, and finally conquerors of a portion of Malabar.  They were not the only ones; they were followed by the Dutch, French, and finally the British. On a side note, this has contributed to a natural suspicion of the Christian missions.  The joke was Christians first came to India as merchants, then as rulers.  Portuguese also brought in what we call today “colour prejudice.”  The Jews in Kochi had to deal with the Black Jews from Yemen, Ethiopia and surrounding areas and the White Jews of Europe.  It was ugly and took years to resolve.  Alas, this booming community of Jews is now drastically reduced, coinciding with the creation of the state of Israel.  Journalist Bala Menon wrote in The Toronto Star that Abraham Barak Salem, one of the old Kochi Jews emigrated lately to Canada remarked: “Jewish life in Kochi is gone; but the tree is growing and flourishing in Israel.”   Write about connection, these Kochi Jews speak my mother tongue, Malayalam (you can spell this word from both ends).  We are both “Malayalees.”  With a name like Daniel Paul, I should go to Ancestry.com one of these days! jewtown road in cochin

Now allow me to shift from the historical connection and indulge into my spiritual analogy.  I want to imagine a crowd of merchants, refugees and immigrants with their families leaving their homes and familiar surroundings.  They embark crowded vessels travelling to a far country of different language, culture and religion.  Now picture their ecstatic joy when they finally reached the beautiful Kerala Coast, not necessarily a land of milk and honey, but pretty close.  Their fears are laid to rest.  King, Ravi Varma decrees on copper plates, giving them land, almost like Pharoah giving the land of Goshen to Jacob and his tribe in Egypt, promising the land “till the moon and earth endure.”  On top of it all, the king granted them equal status as the Warrior Class!

I just could not help but draw an analogy far more meaningful than the Jews landing in Kochi. The Believers remember their spiritual status in the world, subject to sin in all its consequences and bondage.  I cannot fully express it but exhort to read the classic book by John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, to realize their pitiful plight.  Who shall deliver us from this bondage?  Here is the good news, one greater than the Maharajah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords welcomed us with open arms and forgave our sins. That is for now.  For the future he will tell us “enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”  Jesus said in very clear terms, before his cross and resurrection: “I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go I will come back to receive you.”  This, in simple terms, is the essence of Christian Faith.  This decree is signed, sealed and delivered and our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, not just on copper plate.  It is forever and ever, not till the moon and earth endures.  As to status, we are more than warrior class, we are called the Children of God!

God bless,  Danny Paul

Ps. Although all historical information is freely available I acknowledge the article from Toronto Star by Journalist Bala Menon, a fellow Cochin immigrant to Canada.

American Idol

American IdolMany of my friends watch this popular TV Reality Show.  Apart from giving great entertainment to millions, it also provides opportunity for “unknown” artists to demonstrate their wares and get a chance to become rich and famous. I watched the other day another Reality Show called “America has Talent” and was surprised at the variety.  There were card tricks, magic, stunts, singing, dancing, gymnastics, stand-up comedies, etc.  It is big business always looking for more devotees!

As usual, my curiosity got the better of me, not so much on the show in itself but in the name of the show, American IDOL.  Now, please do not misunderstand me.  I am not a killjoy or a narrow-minded scrooge. The title, however, does beg an age-old question: Who or what is an idol and who are the idol worshippers?  Maybe it is time to rethink these two words in our own minds.  A good start is to learn the meaning or definition of idols from a dictionary.   My Oxford Dictionary reads “An image of a God, or a person or thing that is the object of intense admiration or devotion.”

We know the Bible has a lot to say on idols.  Think of the people of Israel, after 430 years of slavery, finally got out of Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and began their journey to the Promised Land.  How and why did they think of an idol then?  While Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments from Jehovah, their Priest Aaron was collecting material to make a Golden Calf for the people to worship. This is real but comical.  Read the response of the priest when confronted by Moses: “Don’t get so upset my lord, you yourself know how evil these people are.  They said to me, make us gods who will lead us.  We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.  So I told them, whoever has gold jewelry take it off.  When they brought it to me, I simply threw it on the fire, and out came this calf.”   It seems man has this bent for idol worship.  It is always phony, accompanied by a lie, even from a Priest.

The very first book of the Bible, Genesis, records that Terah and his son Abraham (Abram), who later became the father of the nation of Israel, were both idol (probably moon) worshippers.  Talking about Terah, it seems to me that Christians have not given enough recognition to him, although it was him who co-ordinated and started the epochal move from Ur to Canaan.  He started the ball rolling.  Genesis 11 verse 31: “One day Terah took Abram his son, his daughter-in-law Sarai (Abram’s wife) and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans.  He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there.”

I do realize the call and the promise came clearer to Abraham after the death of Terah, not to stay in Haran, but continue the journey to Canaan.  The patriarchal era was not completely weaned of the habit of idol worship.  Read Genesis 31:19 about Rachael, Jacob’s wife, stealing idols from her father Laban.

Worshipping idols, though seemingly inconsequential, always ends in remorse.  It was so important that it took the first part of the Decalogue.  “You must not have any other god but me.  You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on earth or in the sea.“ (Exodus 20:3-4)

The Bible is full of stories of kings and subjects whose lives were ruined with idol worship.   King Solomon was sadly sidetracked with peculiar idols, not graven images, but what The Bible called “strange women” – 700 wives, including the daughter of Pharoah and 300 concubines.  His idols were also horses and chariots: 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen.   His heart was turned away after other Gods and finally Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord. The wisest man became a fool.

While worshipping idols is worldwide, do Christians have a condescending attitude towards other religions?  Do we take pride, without even researching, proclaiming we are monotheists while “they have millions of Gods and idols.”  One of my missionary friends at a gathering jokingly said:  “We have strong belief in one God.  It is called the Almighty Dollar.  To continue with his joke he took a Dollar note and laughingly said it is printed on every dollar note – In God We Trust.”

We need to understand that many of their religious books are not like The Bible.  Most are in story forms and many have accepted their epic heroes as representations or incarnations of their God.  Their religious leaders communicated these stories interwoven with faith, truth and character, in various localities through live dramas or nightly impromptu Kawalis (songs), or Kathakalis (stories in performance art).   This is how they inculcated their children to obey God, obey parents, respect seniors, care for the poor and widows.  One thing is clear – idols are not only images made out of material but as the dictionary defines, or as Solomon indulged “objects of intense admiration or devotion”.   They are more subtle and precarious.

CS LewisI take it my readers are familiar with the famous Christian author, C.S.Lewis.  My favourite is his small book called Screwtape Letters, written in pungent, humorous, correspondence format, between a Senior Devil and a Junior Devil.  The Senior Devil is less concerned about the graven images.  He exhorts the Junior Devil to work harder on idols that feed and capture the admiration and devotion and imagination of idols.

Next time when we grab a cup of coffee and slump on the couch to watch The American Idol, let us give ourselves a Reality Check.  What and where am I expending my time, energy and resources?  What is eternal and what is temporal?  What is real and what is fake?   What is good and what is good for nothing?  What is truth and what is a lie?

Always remember, Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

God bless,  Danny Paul

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