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Lenten Reflection: Feb. 18

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Texts: Hab 3:1-18; Phil 3:12-21; John 17:1-8

Christian Perfection, Maturity and Growth (Philippians 3:12-15)

Is there such a thing as Christian Perfection? Paul does not give a direct answer.  As you know, Paul was a high achiever.  He was driven, always on the move.  He thought globally and acted locally. Yet when faced with questions about the meaning of life, he thought of it as a riddle.  In Philippians 3:13, we find him explain how this riddle could be understood by the analogy of a wrestling match.  Wrestlers in the ring eye for opportune moments to pin down their opponents.  This passage is reminiscent of how Jacob wrestled with God and prevailed.  Paul says that he is trying to lay hold of Christ while Christ himself is intent on apprehending (arresting) him. In the process of apprehending Christ while acquiescing to be apprehended by Christ, Paul attains some measure of growth and perfection. Nevertheless, Paul seems to admonish that we ought not to be unduly obsessed by the idea of perfection; rather we should keep striving and pressing forward. Paul gives us a few tips as to how we may grasp the meaning of life by simply pressing forward.

1. Forget those things which are behind

Forgetting our past, especially our failures, is not as easy as one would think.  The Bible teaches us that forgetting our past must always be couched in forgiveness, cleansing and restoration. Yes, we need to forget our shortcomings, but it must always be accompanied by a spirit of contrition.  It is one thing to forget and sweep our failures under the carpet, it is another thing to seek Gods’ forgiveness offered to us in Christ. When God forgives our sins, he also forgets them completely [Jeremiah 31:34] and removes them as far as the East is from the West [Psalm 103:12]. Unless and until we have the assurance of forgiveness and cleansing, memories of our failures keep popping up to spoil the joy of the future.  Unforgiven past has tremendous power over the future.  God’s forgiveness breaks the power of the past over our future.  Future is open, unspoiled. One thing the devil delights in is to spoil our future by reminding us constantly of our past failures. We should never give place to the devil to play mischief in our lives.  Tell him right on his face: “Get thee behind me Satan.”

2. Reach forth unto those things which are before

Having put our past behind, Apostle Paul admonishes that we should reach forth and take hold of the blessings in front of us.  You see, God brings opportunities for our growth and fruitfulness.  Some of these may be trivial, but we should not ignore them. Often we fail to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us and wait for something big to fall on our laps.  It is very rare that God would set big things before us. God does not give us things that we cannot handle.  God knows our capacities and limitations. Remember the parable of the talents!  When God offers us something, we should not drop them, even though they may appear to be trivial. A Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a simple first step.”

Sometimes in our arrogance and pride we fail to take hold of the blessings God places in front of us. Remember the story of Naaman, the Syrian general, the leper!  He sought healing from Prophet Elisha.  He travelled all the way to Israel and stood in front of the prophet’s house with his battalion behind him.  He thought that the prophet would be dazzled by his might, come down, touch the leprosy with his hands and offer a long prayer for healing.  Instead, the prophet told him to go and bathe seven times in the River Jordan.  Naaman was furious. “What? Am I not a VIP?” Naaman fumed, “How dare this man orders me to bathe in the muddy swamps of Jordan?”  Full of rage, Naaman walked away unhealed.  But Naaman had some loyal servants who were genuinely interested in his healing.  They came to him, called him “Father” and begged him to do as the prophet had told him.  You see the way they address him!  Isn’t that true of the folks around us, especially our loved ones who yearn that we would reach forth and take hold of the blessings God places in front of us?  They are genuinely interested in our well-being, healing and growth.  Yet in our arrogance, we drop the balls and wait for a dazzling miracle to happen. Take it from me; that will never happen.  In the meantime, you will drop countless balls throughout your life. How many relationships have you broken, because you failed to take that little step to mend fences?  How many talents have you buried in the ground, because you were arrogant or simply slothful?  To make the story short, we read that Naaman came to his senses.  In utter humility, he went and bathed seven times in the River Jordan.  When he did that, the word of God says, his flesh turned soft like that of a newborn baby.  What a miracle!  What a victory! [Read II Kings 5:1-19].

3. I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus

Finally, Christian maturity demands that we keep the high calling of God always before us. Every Christian must have a high calling stamped on his/her forehead.  Christians are those who have the highest calling of any people, any faith or philosophy on the face of the earth.  For an Islamist, his high calling is to die as a martyr while killing as many infidels as possible.  For a Hindu, it is the release from the endless cycles of karmic rebirth.  For a Buddhist, it is the escape from facing the harsh realities of life, denouncing them as mere illusions.  For us Christians, our high calling is to bring life to others, as did Jesus.  Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” [John 10:10 KJV].

Every Christian must be sure of his/her high calling.  Unless we come to a place of full surrender, we will not be sure of our calling. The Lenten season is an apt time to wait on the Lord and seek the high calling of God for our lives.  Some of us just wade through life aimlessly trying to reach the other shore.  It will be good for us to write down in one sentence what that high calling of God for our lives might be.  It is then that we will be able to join with Paul and say, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 2:13-14].

anand veerarajAnand Veeraraj is an ordained minister in the Church of South India and serves as the Senior Pastor of the New Jersey Indian Church, Kendall Park, New Jersey. As a minister in the Presbyterian Church-USA, he serves as the consultant on Asian Indian Ministries in the Presbytery of New Brunswick, NJ and coordinates the programs of the Princeton Forum on Asian Indian Ministries.  He is the author of the book, Green History of Religion (Center for Contemporary Christianity, 2006) and an editor of Pilgrims at the Crossroads: Asian Indian Christians at the North American Frontier (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity, 2009)

Pilgrims at the Crossroads: Asian Indian Christians at the North American  Frontier (ISAAC, 2009)
edited by Anand Veeraraj and Rachel Fell McDermott
$24.95 Paperback, 220 pages
ISBN 978-0-9819878-2-8 [U.S. edition]

Order at http://asianindianpilgrims.com/

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