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Friday, January 6, 2017

THE SCARS THAT HAVE SHAPED ME - How God Meets Us In Suffering - by Vaneetha Rendall Risner



“Vaneetha Rendall Risner writes with unique authenticity in a creative, compelling style that inspires readers to want to know more about her time-tested faith, selfless integrity and her deep and passionate love of a gracious God who never fails to satisfy her with His unfailing goodness. This inspiring book gives fresh new hope to those battling grief, loss and pain.

Vaneetha’s credible writing is firmly rooted in deep pain and suffering, in which her indefatigable determination to hold on to Christ played the greatest role in her life. She patiently endures suffering with amazing joy, grace, and perseverance. This transparent, truth-filled book gives a rare glimpse into her world and her loving God.

Vaneetha knows and understands. She has been in the valley of pain and despair and survived to tell the tale. There is no better voice than hers to convince us of the truth of Christ's words. In either a sudden, unprecipitated crisis of daily life or a long, relentless, seemingly-endless struggle for perpetual survival, Vaneetha’s time-tested insights are purified and refined in the fire of adversity.

In the unfathomable designs of God’s plans, Vaneetha securely latches onto God’s reliable faithfulness, with a love that will not let go, whatever the consequences. Her faith helps us to weather the storms in our own lives with courage and strength as Vaneetha herself has walked difficult terrains and swam in deep spiritual waters. This vulnerable yet deeply hopeful book is firmly rooted in God’s faithfulness in suffering. You will glimpse a little of God’s light through Vaneetha’s eyes and hear His music through her ears.

Through this anointed, Spirit-filled book, Vaneetha gently guides us through the dark, lonesome, trouble-filled valley of tragedy, triumphantly laced with victory in God’s love. With rare grace and truth, she reveals the redemptive power of God in a dark world, inviting us to glimpse God’s glory in bitter times of struggle and strife. Instead of drawing us into her pain, with rare grace and wisdom, Vaneetha gently guides us through our own sufferings into the heart of God. She captivates us with the goodness of God in the midst of pain and suffering, inspiring us to dare to trust Jesus. This book is a loving gift to those who silently suffer, and to those who selflessly care for them.

Miriam Jacob

PROF. P. P. THOMAS


PROF. P. P. THOMAS

Born with the gift for one-to-one relationships, Prof. P P Thomas loves to be with people. The various disciplines in which he underwent training viz. Philosophy, Psychology, English Literature and Theology show his interest in human nature.

His career in North India as teacher in Nepali Bible School, Gorakhpur and as lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Psychology, St. John’s College, Agra, and English Language and Literature at three colleges in Kerala (St. Thomas College, Kozhencherry, B. A. M. College, Thuruthicad and Mar Thoma College, Tiruvalla – all in Kerala State).

This gave him an opportunity to live in close association with students. He knew the problems of young people first hand – he became a friend to them as he listened to them and talked to them. He enjoys helping people acquire skills in Inductive Bible Study Method; also in facilitating two local weekly Bible Study Groups in book by book study.

In 1979 during an assignment to teach counseling to church workers Thomas found the scarcity of books on the subject in India. A friend coming from Canada brought him four books and one of them was ‘Counseling with the mind of Christ’ by Charles R Solomon, of Grace Fellowship International.

As has been his habit, he wrote an appreciation to Dr. Solomon. On Solomon’s invitation Thomas underwent Counselor Training with GFI in Denver USA in 1982.

He became convinced of the need for an organization in India to concentrate on healing the emotional problems and needs of people.

Added impetus for the need of an organization was felt in a counseling seminar that he conducted in South India. The participants in the seminar had experience in Christian work among students and they encouraged him to start an organization. The Grace Counseling India was formed in 1982.

Courtesy:

Information: Grace Counseling India

Photo © Prof. P. P. Thomas

Frame: Google Images

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Triumphant Hope (Asha)



Triumphant Hope (Asha)

In Sept of 1997, CUSAT University had a fresh intake of students for their engineering school. We were only their third batch. Among the many who floated into the campus from various places was me. 

In the initial week of school, a simple looking big mustached lecturer sauntered into the classroom unannounced with a face that could burn the room down. He introduced himself as a lecturer in the same department that I was studying in. And he warned all the students from treating their studies lightly and how everything would end looking like ‘end-times’ should that happen. He definitely caught the curiosity of all the students with that one and he walked away with the same abruptness. We were 18-19-year-olds who were exploring how to 'make the best' of the college years. He definitely doused our excitement in a matter of those two minutes. In a few days, we found out that Roy Paul was going to be the lecturer for one of our subjects and we braced for the storm.

A few weeks later, I was invited to a Christian meeting that took place in an elementary school near the campus. There I spotted him again but this time  around he was smiling and enjoying a vibrant informal relationship with the students who had gathered. That's where I saw a beaming Asha and their 3-year-old smart talking boy, Joshua, for the first time. As one confused about Christianity and dabbling with atheism, this community strangely attracted me. Even stranger was how I was drawn to this family. Within that year, the Lord saved me through Roy. 

The last line was typed in seven seconds. But I could write a book on that period. The best apologetic to the message of the gospel I received was the life of this family. This visible expression of the gospel shone brightly into my life and the foolishness of the cross at one point suddenly became sweet and glorious. 

Central to the family was the role Asha played. They were the most hospitable people I'd known. There were people in their home all the time. What beat me about this family was how, though there were many at their home, still everyone went away with a lot of individual attention. This was remarkable because I have spent considerable time wondering how they managed that. 

That kind of hospitality requires a lot of wisdom. And I knew it wasn't Roy who maneuvered through it. As much as he would be the main conversationalist, I realized that Asha was the one who steered the conversations, at the right time, onto the right topic and around a new person. This played out very beautifully in them being a dynamic duo. I'm certain that many people in a good sense may appreciate the role Roy played among students and the larger evangelical students union. But I can vouch as a close observer and Roy's disciple that Asha was instrumental in weaving that wonderfully together. 

Asha was a keen observer of others, their interests, their struggles and their joys. She also had a sharp memory of all these details. In the nascent days of my relationship with the family, she realized that I didn't drink tea or coffee. Ever since, she always made sure there was lemon at home so that she could make a refreshing glass of lemon juice whenever I hopped into their home (which was every day!). She did the same even a few months ago when I had the opportunity to drop in. I know I'm not the only one who could narrate this kind of a story. She knew everyone at a personal level so that she could be a blessing to everyone.

Being in a 'through the week' open-home church ministry myself, I can easily imagine the drain on finances their lifestyle caused. It was not unusual that many a discussion intruded into their meal time and she would only be eager to serve all. They even had others live in their home for an extended period because the situation demanded so. In one instance, it was a parent of a student who requested this for their son who was going through a harsh time. The line between late night and early morning blurred at their home. But the time she sacrificed also for unbelieving students who would show up at their door to seek clarity from a range of academic topics (much even unrelated to Roy's core discipline) was most astounding. The man spent several hours teaching such students from their home for no extra benefit. Asha created a welcoming space for this. 

Such a lifestyle is usually harder on the woman of the home than the man. Asha could have easily said to Roy, "Let's have open-home two days a week. That way we will still be a blessing to others as well as have enough resources that we can enjoy a good meal for ourselves and go shopping with the kids and buy me a new sari once in a while". Should Roy have taken that direction, the family would still have been a huge blessing. But the only thing on Asha's mind was how she could maximize their service of others and in the process establish God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven and have their children grown up in that missional context. 

Asha additionally worked hard at starting a women's bible study along with the regular discipling of women who were part of the evangelical community. Many girls who were not part of the regular Evangelical Union attendance would turn up for that time with Asha at their home and be blessed! She also made regular time to be in prayer with some of the girls. How she would navigate that along with a young Joshua and baby Joel those years still stumps me.

In time I realized that Asha was a simple woman who lived a supernatural life through the indwelling of a supernatural being. It was obvious that she had died to herself many years ago. When I met her first in 1997, she was a woman who died several hundred such deaths . It was no longer she who lived but Christ who lived in her. And the life she lived was one that she lived by fluent faith in the Son of God who loved her and gave himself for her. She lived in the reality of that truth. And that truth was glorious to her. Many have complimented her for the following traits- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not surprising! I could write plenty for each of those. The death she finally died to herself is the final one and that she had been prepared for years in waiting for her truly beloved.

As an unbeliever, the message of this gospel made sense because it was made visible to me in real life. As much as it was Roy's message that fell like bricks on my head and heart in 1998, I have no doubt that Asha's 'normal' Christian life (along with Roy's) had an equal role not just in the beginning of that faith but even in the shaping and deepening of my faith. I can say that she fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. May many men and women be more attracted to the same Jesus she served, as I was compelled to in 1998. As much as many grieved rightfully the last few weeks, it will do well to celebrate her life too. Her life was a triumphant one even in the blaze of the furious battle. Let us often visit her life in our memories so that we live as ones triumphant in hope!

© Vivek Jones
First Publication Rights: Our Contact Magazine

Courtesy:
Photo: vsquaretv
Frame: Google Images

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

GODSMILES - OCEANS APART - by Angela Dugi



©  Angela Dugi



Oceans Apart

I have a remarkable story to tell. It has shown me once again that I serve a God who arranges the impossible, surprises with the unexpected, and still performs the miraculous.

In July 2013, I received an odd friend request on Facebook. I really thought nothing of it and accepted the request only because she had two beautiful Bible names. I had no idea God was about to bless me with a precious gift from His gracious hand and blow the socks right off my flat feet.


Photo © Miriam Jacob
Frame - Google Images


Her name is Miriam Jacob, and she lives halfway around the world, which makes this story extraordinary. The Father had a divine and wonderful plan to introduce two of His daughters during a tumultuous time in my life when everything was turned upside down. I desperately needed encouragement. My family was in the middle of a big move to another city. My husband had already transferred, leaving me to pack the house, with three kids and two dogs in the middle of a scorching Texas summer.

Miriam is a proper-speaking, lovely lady who has traveled the world. I am a plain, ordinary Texas girl who says “y'all” far too often. God does have a sense of humor. She is an author, poet, and editor who does ministry work on the internet. Miriam said she had searched for months until she finally found me. She was extremely excited while I, on the other hand, was quite mystified by who this person was.

Bewildered, I asked her at least half a dozen rapid-fire questions. “Who are you?”, “Why do you want to meet me?” and "How on earth did you find me?" In her gentle way she answered each one. Little did I know, Miriam found me while watching a short video on YouTube.

During one of our first online conversations she wrote that the Holy Spirit revealed to her that I needed encouragement. This resonated with me because I love to encourage others as well. Nevertheless, I thought to myself, Really? A stranger from across the seas wants to encourage me? But yes, that was indeed her mission. Miriam was a genuine sister in Christ. Of course I was uncertain at first, but it didn't take long for the Lord to ease my mind.

I'm very grateful that she listened to the voice of God because I needed her and soon found that she needed me. Her words of encouragement were like a glass of cold water to this weary traveler. She also gave me the courage to finish this book.

Our friendship has grown now as we chat online. We laugh, cry, and encourage each other through simple, type-written words. Often it feels like we are not oceans apart at all, because our hearts are bound together through the love of Christ. My friend has suffered incredible pain and loss in her life. Despite her suffering, she has a sweet and gentle spirit that reflects God's love in a powerful way.

Miriam has deeply enriched my life and I have found her to be sincere and loving. She is a beacon of hope and a beautiful picture of true humility filled with the Holy Spirit. Her spiritual walk challenges me to draw closer to Him. She is also a true intercessor, praying for me and for my family. Through Miriam, God reminds me in a profound way that I am not alone and that our family is not forgotten. I love my Father's ways and how He meets needs and sends His best gifts right on time.

"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14)

© Angela Dugi

WestBow Press, A Division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.


'Oceans Apart' is the first story in Part 1: Stories From The Heart in "GodSmiles" by Angela Dugi, 
published by WestBow Press.

Angie lives in Texas with her husband and their three teenage children. She has suffered for almost two decades with lupus, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain. But she refuses to let disease define her. Besides writing, she loves to cook and grow anything that blooms. Angie is also the author of What I Learned Lying Down—Hope for the Chronically Ill.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dr. Duane Alexander Miller


Dr. Duane Alexander Miller

Researcher and Lecturer in Muslim-Christian relations,
The Christian Institute of Islamic Studies,
San Antonio, Texas, USA.

BA in Philosophy (honors) from University of Texas at San Antonio,
MA in Theology from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio (honors),
Diploma in Arabic from the Kelsey Language Institute in Jordan.

PhD in Divinity (focus on World Christianity), University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Doctoral research on the contextual theologies proposed by Christian converts from Islam –
what do they claim to know about God, and what attracted them to the Christian faith?
Thesis published as: "Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians" (Pickwick, 2016).



After studying Arabic, the Millers moved to Nazareth of Galilee,
a Muslim-majority, Arab city in Israel.

Dr Miller became the founding academic dean of
Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary (NETS).

He also served as lecturer in church history and theology for the seminary.
(In 2015 NETS and a local bible college merged to form Nazareth Evangelical College.)

Dr. Miller has taught at the University of Texas at San Antonio,
the University of Edinburgh,
and from January, 2014 through May, 2016
at St Mary’s University.

Dr. Miller published several articles and chapters on the topics of Christian converts from Islam,
the history of Protestant missions in Ottoman Palestine,
and contemporary evangelicalism in the Middle East.

He is author of "Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity" (Whitchurch Publishing, 2016),
which seeks to understand the two faiths not as alternative religions,
but as accounts of the entirety of history, from Creation to the final judgment.

Dr. Miller travels widely to provide training and carry out research.
He and his wife, Sharon, married in 2003, have three children.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

WHO STOLE THE COOKIES? - AMEENA BEGUM - by Dr. Alex Mathew


Afzalbhai breezes in into the office and rather largely introduces himself; “Dr., I am an MDP; you see. My wife wants me to have a talk with you”. I thought Afzalbhai wanted to me to get an impression that he is an MBA from XLRI. He was almost brimming with pride in introducing himself as an MDP.
Ameena Begum standing coyly behind the man ventures a smile and takes up the indicated seat. Afzalbhai is already comfortable in the armed chair with elaborately crossed legs and an amused smirk on his face. Afzal is a huge man, flabby body with ruddy cheeks and disproportionately small mongoloid eyes. Ameena wants to say something but holds herself back and waits for her husband to start the ball rolling. 
Bhaisaheb is in no mood to kick start a conversation, but is more interested in the lacework of the table cloth. There is no sound for a couple of minutes and suddenly Afzalbhai tilts up his absent neck and offers me an elaborate smile and; “Yes doctor, Ameena has a problem, she thinks she has depression. With me having MDP, her condition is not getting any better for the--- the, better, let us say,,, for,,,, almost,,,, for the last twelve years.” Then he stopped for a snort of tobacco snuff into his huge nostrils, big enough to belong to a bovine hulk..

Ameena Begum is a frail young woman, appearing to be closer to sixty, with wrinkles, sunburn and a set expression of hopelessness. Her large eyes are sunken, darkly unfathomable, which have not smiled for decades, it appears. But her eyes tell her story. She had the bearing of a hardy, famished work horse. “Behanji, (honorable Sister) what brings you here from so far away? How can I help you”? They both have traveled something like 150 kilometers, auto-rickshaw, bus, train and auto-rickshaw again. Despite her frail body she did not appear to be tired. She made a start and held herself back. After 20 minutes she suggested she would like to talk to me privately. I escorted Afzalbhai to another room and settled her in a comfortable chair to tell me her pain. Tenderly and hardly audible, she said without any preamble “Doctorsaheb, Afzaljan is not sick, he does not have MDP. He does not want to do any work. I am not in depression. Yes, I am depressed. Anyone would be; in my situation. Tell me how can I cope up with what I get day after day, keep getting hour after hour, 7 X 24?” I didn’t say a thing, didn’t have to say, the story unfolded. Afzal is around forty, has worked in the Arabian gulf for three years. Had to leave the country under some unexplained circumstances about which Ameena has no idea. She has never asked for details. Soon after his return from Gulf they got married. She was given to understand that Afzal would be going back to Gulf to take up a new assignment. That never happened. Instead he started ‘Agriculture - Chemicals’ retail shop. His family had many acres of agricultural land and the trade he liked most was something connected with agriculture. The strong smell of the chemicals started irritating him; to overcome that he started sniffing tobacco snuff, which became an unbearably offensive habit. Without personal attention the business packed up pretty soon and then he began to sell of pieces of land to live in the comfort he was used to. Much of the remaining land, where our house stands, which is about an acre and a half, - a gift from my father- is his next focus. He wants to sell part of it to pay off his debts and I am refusing. I will not compromise on it. The way he is living, he is likely to finish off every saleable article we have. I do not know where all the gold Vappa gave me have gone. He never pledges gold, knowing he can’t redeem it and so conveniently sells off whatever ornaments he gets hold of when I go to school.” “Oh, you are a teacher? Nice to hear that Ameena” “Yes I am a PGT (post-graduate Trained) Physics teacher. I teach 11th and 12th. Apart from teaching and all the associated work, I do all the house-work too as I am not very comfortable with engaging housemaids. I do not trust Afzal wholly in these matters. So I end up doing everything including shopping on my way back from school. I sleep for less than four hours” Ameena talked for over an hour describing their circumstances, the slight she had from his family as they have no children, the fault for which too she is bearing. The truth is not worth mentioning to you. Allow me to keep my dignity. One thing she loathes is her moral problem with suicide, though that is decidedly a better option than the life she leads now. Ameena is rock steady as she describes her plight in harrowing details. She has no tears to spare. “I am brought here for you to convince me to be party to selling off pieces of the Tharavadu (ancestral) land. I didn’t want to create a fuss which I never do. But I am not going to agree to the sale of the only remaining asset we have. If you can please convince him that he is not right in how he is going about this; I will be grateful. I have nothing more to say. Thank you for your valuable time” I escorted Afzalbhai back into the counseling room. He shot out a smart query, “Doctor have you fixed her?” “Yes, we can discuss that soon. But Bhaijan, (dear brother) how do you believe you have MDP? “Ha, that, the doctor we saw in ……….. Hospital told me that I behave like an MDP. “Right, did you take any medication for that?” “Oh, no, the doctor told me there is no need for any medication. My condition will not improve with medication. He asked us to go to a counselor and also told us that Ameena needed help”. “And did you go to any counselor” “Doctor that is the problem, she says there is nothing wrong with her. Yesterday for some reason she said she is ready to see anyone because she has no desire to live. I am worried about her. She might even do something stupid, you see what I mean? That is why I insist on your fixing her, you see? She is so quiet now before you. She can be a tigress at times, you see? I hope you have fixed and corrected her.” “Have I?” Who needs fixing? Is it moral trying to ‘fix’ people in counseling? Where do we make a beginning in their situation? Think. 

© Alex Mathew


WHO STOLE THE COOKIES? - AMEENA BEGUM

Thursday, October 20, 2016

WHO STOLE THE COOKIES? By Dr. Alex Mathew - FOREWORD

WHO STOLE THE COOKIES? 
By Dr. Alex Mathew

FOREWORD

Walt Whitman in his famous poem “Leaves of Grass” talks about “Life immense in pulse, passion and power”. The more you go into life, the mystery deepens.  Dr Alex brings before us eloquent vignettes of Life in all its immensity.

 At first look, this extraordinary book of Dr Alex may appear to be a simple treatise on a psychological question: Who is to be blamed? Is it Afzalbhai or Ameena? Is it Shreeni? Is it Beena? Is it? Who is guilty? Is it Johnny? Is it Annie? And so on.

Oh, it is Johnny who took the cookie. So and so is guilty. So and so committed the murder and should be hanged. He is the rapist and should be given the death penalty. These are simple answers and today mankind is guided by this philosophy. Tooth for tooth and eye for eye! This approach only creates more violence and more crime. Does anyone or any law-giver say - let him who has not sinned cast the first stone? 

  Our laws are the commandments that arise from the psychology that proclaims the other guilty, enable the state created by man and controlled by the corrupt and violent and pleasure-seeking beasts to chain him, if possible kill him or stone him or her. In the name of the State, which is often a thousand-headed Rakshasa, or even in the name of God. 

Kahlil Gibran in his PROPHET has this to say of laws and law givers: “What shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight but with their backs to the sun? They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws...” 

'Friedrich Nietzche, the German philosopher and mystic has this to say of justice and judges and punishment:`` It is nobler to declare oneself wrong than to insist on being right- especially when one is right. Only one must be rich enough for that. I did not like your cold justice; and out of the eyes of the judges they always look the executioner and his coldsteel. Tell me, where is that justice which is love with open eyes? Would that you might invent for me the love that bears not only all punishment but also all guilt! Would that you might invent for me the justice that acquits everyone, except him that judges”. 

As you read on, you find that the canvas of Dr Alex is as vast as life, as deep as the sky, as mysterious as the whirling constellations speeding, expanding, and being born and dying. Laws are laid down and guilt decided and punishment given on the basis of what the lawgiver and punishing authority sees as truth. 

Dr Alex makes us question; What is truth. Pilate asked Jesus: What is truth? Jesus answered it with Silence. The law-givers and the religious authorities act on the basis of their delusionary belief that they have the truth in their possession. 

I wish they read the profound statement of J. Krishnamurti: “I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. Truth cannot be brought down; rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountaintop to the valley.” 

  Nietzsche’s words can help us to stop finding who is guilty and be true to the simplicity and profundity of the earth. Let me quote his words: “Remain faithful to the earth, my brothers, with the power of your virtue. Let your gift-giving love and your knowledge serve the meaning of the earth. Thus I beg and beseech you. Do not let them fly away from earthly things and beat with their wings against eternal walls. Alas, there has always been so much virtue that has flown away. Lead back to the earth the virtue that flew away, as I do – back to the body, back to life, that it may give the earth a meaning, a human meaning.

 In a hundred ways, thus far, have spirit as well as virtue flown away and made mistakes. Alas, all this delusion and all these mistakes still dwell in our body: they have there become body and will. In a hundred ways, thus far, spirit as well as virtue has tried and erred. Indeed, an experiment was man. Alas, much ignorance and error have become body within us. Not only the reason of millennia, but their madness too, breaks out in us. It is dangerous to be an heir. Still we fight step by step with the giant, accident; and over the whole of humanity there has ruled so far only nonsense- no sense.’ Let us discover that finding guilt or cultivating guilt destroy the beauty of life, kills the God in us who is love. This book of Dr. Alex is luminous writing and should lead us to light, to joy, to God.
 

E. X. Joseph

 © Alex Mathew

HARPERCOLLINS - ZONDERVAN