Aug 30, 2015

One God, Much Love | Manna for your Soul

Do you have a lot of things that you are guilty about?
What is your biggest regret so far?
How would you define freedom?
What would make you absolutely happy?

Personally, I haven't exactly been a Christian Jesus would be proud of because there are a lot of things that I am guilty of and I regret. 
Sure, I was born to a Christian family and we did go to Sunday School and followed all the rituals and traditions of Christianity. 
But I never prayed! Infact the only time I remember praying any kind of prayer was 2 days before the final exams. 

Fast forward 20 odd years, I went through my first major relationship crisis. My ex decided to leave me for another man. A much more wealthier man. Our 2 year old relationship and my entire life lay in ruins. That was when I met a Saint and my Pastor. That day, when I walked out of the church, I told myself - 'I am going to let Christ drive from here onwards' and I instantly felt a relief like none other. 
What followed was many painful months of waiting and curing. 
I started praying. On my knees. At first it was difficult. When I would kneel down to pray, and random thoughts would distract my conversation with God. 
Gradually, I realized that it became easier. 

My dad used to pray for pregnant women and expectant mothers, refugees and prisoners and I'd always wondered why we need to pray for everyone else but yourself. It is only when I started praying, that I realized how wonderful it is to pray for a stranger first. He knows what I need, even before and in a much better way I can articulate in. 

Today, I have a fuller understanding of every good and bad thing that has happened to me. Everything that wasn't good was His way of disciplining a child He loved dearly. Everything good - His grace. 
I've been through much more since then, but I know I've been immensely blessed.

Which got me thinking - Why does He love me so much?
Why has He forgiven me for all my sins?
I would read about the events leading up to His crucifixion and I still couldn't understand why he was so upset and 'burdened'. At one point, he cried 'tears of blood'.... How? Why? 
As you go through all the pain and guilt, you begin to realize how much more He went through. We can barely tolerate the pain of one broken relationship, the guilt of disobedience, the burden of sin, the agony of rejection and the shame of our actions. We are quick to ask ourselves 'Why me?' and 'What did I do to deserve this?' fulling knowing the answer in the back of our minds. 

When He asked the same while on the cross, I instantly identified with Him.
Why did Jesus have to die for me? 
Why did He die for you? 
All He had to do was ask His Father to rescue Him and the Heavens would have sent legions of angels to fight for The Son. Wow! That would've have been an epic one-sided victory. 
But Jesus was obedient and allowed this to happen so that you and I can go through crushing pain and still come out smelling like daisies. 

Why did God have to send His only Son to soak up the sins of trillions of lifetimes? 
Because if we as earthly creatures can love our children so much to be ready to live and die for them, how much more our heavenly Father? 
Because Jesus was the only acceptable ransom that could pay for all our sins. 
Because if it wasn't for His sacrifice, no matter what we could do to numb the guilt within, the pain would have lingered. 

How would you define freedom? Today, people around the world are living an increasingly oppressed life. In the US, residents sacrifice their liberties for a life more privileged. And this is not too different from any other country around the world. 
In the Middle East, kings and sheikhs won't encourage dissent. 
In Asian countries like India, Pakistan or China, citizens are only as free as their politicians want them to be. In the southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu, citizens live in the shadow of their elected representatives. When Jayalalitha comes into power, buses are painted in the color of her political party's choice. Giant life-sized cutouts will adorn every conceivable street corner, cable TV companies will switch set-top boxes to one that patronizes her party and her government will reverse or undo every scheme of her predecessor. Any citizen suspected of badmouthing the chieftain-in-power will be disposed off swiftly and discreetly.
In 5 years when her government is toppled by the rival DMK, the entire exercise is repeated.

Christians around the world know who their real King is. But there aren't life-size cutouts. He won't give you freebies to follow Him. He won't force you to forget who or how you have been. He won't compel you to redecorate your house or your town. He won't tell you what you can do or cannot. He lets you make your choices and plan your actions. The consequences are yours to own. And no matter what, He will always love you. You don't need an appointment to meet your King.

What would make you happiest?
For some, more money makes them happy, others material luxuries. 
I started my career earning a paltry 80,000 per annum. While I wasn't discontent, I remember thinking how happy I could be if I earned Rs 2,00,000 per annum. But it didn't bring me any more joy than what 80k a year did. I earn several times that now, but I have learned to be content with more and less. 
Happiness is transient. Joy is permanent. 

Today, we have been divided by humans because someone figured out it is easier to rule over people who have been cut down to size than over humanity united. 
What religions have spared, politicians have destroyed. If revolutions like the Arab Spring is any indication, our world is ripe for redemption.

The Bible says 'Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you will find it. Knock and it will be opened'.
Your turn.

Aug 23, 2015

I have a dream | Manna for your Soul

'I have a dream..' is probably one of the most famous phrases in World history.
Closer back home, more than 70 years ago, Gandhi had a dream too - He dreamed of an India that was free from colonial rule. An India that deserved to be independent then more than ever before.
And then on the midnight of 15th of August, 1947, we won the right to walk out with our heads held high. 
All this because of one man's dream for his nation.

Do you have a dream?
Have you got a goal that you are struggling to reach?
Philippians 3:12-14 gives us the 4 ingredients of a godly dream and I'll sum them up for you here.

Look beyond your present circumstances.
Years ago, when I lost my job in the middle of recession, I couldn't seem to get any calls for interviews. I did have my rainy-day savings that paid my rent and monthly expenses, but the fact that I wasn't getting any offers would bother me. It was then that I had the unique opportunity to raise charity for a lesser fortunate lady that I knew. She was critically ill and needed a lot of money for her hospital stay and treatment. I had the time and the church connections that helped me raise nearly Rs 50,000 for her in one month. 
Think of all the Gods purpose and things you can do despite of what your present circumstances are. I wonder if I would've been able to raise this money had I not been unemployed. 

Need to forget your past mistakes.
Paul, one of the greatest disciples outside of the 12, was once upon a time Christianity's most gruesome oppressor. After the Damascus road experience, he moved from his past mistakes. I can't imagine how guilty he would have felt. But once he accepted God, he quickly discovered how Jesus can forgive you truly and wholly.
Would you stay in a prison when you are guilty and when the President pardons you?
Would you want to stay guilty with your sins when Jesus died for you, because the pardon that our father gives us is good for all eternity.

Forget our past successes.
Don't rest of your past glories. Sure, you have done great and wonderful things in your past, but none of that matters for God. Christianity is a humbling experience. The Bible encourages you to stop living in your laurels and to reach out to those who need the encouragement to take a step higher.
Forgetting what lies behind and reaching for the goal that lies ahead.
Look ahead to the finish lines. Don't look sideways lest you lose sight of your goal. 
Stay focused on the finish line.
Live life expectantly.

The bottomline is - As long as our eyes are fixed on Him, God wants to do the impossible in our lives.

Aug 9, 2015

Hypocrites Central | Manna for your Soul

Today, as I walk out of a popular church at Hebbal (Bangalore), I see hordes of fervent and holy Christians pile onto the highway. Each of them desperately trying to get the hell out of there, most of them cutting into lanes of oncoming traffic neither wanting nor waiting for a turn to converge. A short distance away, many of the cars are caught by the cops for speeding. Chances are - they will all bribe their way out of this minor inconvenience. 

Christians have a holier-than-thou attitude about people around them. We have the loveliest churches, the most heavenly choir voices, the most delicious cakes, the most delirious wines and the most bigoted notions about spirituality. In theory, we hate all sins, but we will still break the law without a second thought. We are not programmed to practice anything we believe in. 

Christianity has become fashionable. Celebrities and common folk love to wear the crucifix without knowing the enormous sacrifice it signifies. 

See, this is what bothers me - Hypocrisy. 
Attending the Sunday mass will not magically pull the dirt out of your heart. 
Reciting and repeating the prayer that your pastor tells you will not absolve you of your sins. 
Taking the holy communion will not make you sin-proof, if you are going to repeat the same sins tomorrow.
Singing praises and clapping hands in rhythm will not lull God into a sleep so that your life is charmed. 
He does not need any part of your worldly money. He has riches you and I cannot even begin to wrap our heads around, so if you think you are getting a 'get out of jail free' card by dropping a Rs 1000 note into the offertory bag, you might as well quit now.

Popular fiction and movies have made the phrase - 'Show the other cheek' - very famous. While most Christians take this literally, what God wants us to do is - when someone has wronged you, don't harbor hatred and become vengeful. Be kind. Forgive. Because He forgave us first. Fully.

So what does He want?
  • He wants that we (whether you are a Christian or not) to live a life that is as blameless as can be. 
  • Be humble. Don't swear and plot to teach a lesson against that driver that cuts into your lane. 
  • He wants you to respect your earthly masters - at work and elsewhere. 
  • He wants you to obey the law of the land. Don't speed. Don't cut lanes. Don't bribe/sweet-talk your way out of a traffic ticket. 
  • Say sorry even when it isn't your mistake because Christ loved you first. Unconditionally. 
  • Be faithful and honest to that surly boss at work, because the Bible says so, several times. 
  • Give generously. Not to wealthy churches and millionaire preachers. Give of your money, time and talents to those who can't give anything back to you.
  • Do good, not because you expect good to happen to you, but because you sincerely want to. I see fellow Christians who sit through the sermon and then come out and talk badly about someone else, and with frowns on their faces. 40 seconds before the offertory bag reaches them, they've already calculated how much they want to give. 
Every Sunday morning, we sit/stand through 30 minutes of joyous singing and 45 minutes of sermons almost dying to get out. We may be physically present at the church, but our minds are wandering like little children left alone in a park of swings. We are taking a mental poll of who's there, and what they are wearing. We are making the grocery list in our minds, calculating and recalculating the expenses for the week ahead and thinking about our careers, love-life (if you are single), our cars (hoping no one scratches/dents it), our fuel mileage and expenses, our mortgages, our loans, our salaries, our wardrobes, our makeup, our wish-lists, our travel plans, our holidays, our bosses, our colleagues and the list of things is endless. Our mind meanders through everything else occasionally 'checking-in' to the sermon to nod our heads so that we appear to be holy, and then stepping back out to everything else that is more important. A quick glance at the clock and you realize your mind has been on cruise control for the last 40 minutes. 'Just 5 more minutes', we think. 'Oh, after this I want to go to that biriyani place..' (mentally drooling). 
'All rise for Closing prayer and Benediction' and we are relieved we finished yet another drab ritual and can't wait to get along with our lives.

Christianity needs an overhaul. We need to step back and take a long and deep look at how we've lost the plot. 
Fortunately, the Bible has all the answers for this. 
The only question is - Are we ready yet?!

Aug 2, 2015

FaultFinders Anonymous | Manna for your Soul

I am a writer. 
Yes, that's what defines me. I find writing therapeutic. People who aren't passionate about writing won't understand this
Some people don't share my views and that's fine. I get readers from around the world, and if they don't enjoy my posts they just move on. Or they used to. 
See, I have a real problem with trolls. Complete strangers write utterly mean and disrespectful things about me, or my posts and views. Now, these are the same people who wouldn't dare cross your paths in real-life. The internet is gradually being over-run by faultfinders who seem eager to fight you. Virtually

Proverbs 26: 1-12 gives me the perfect solution to combat these pests - 'Do not answer a fool according to his (her) folly, lest you also be like him (her)...' 
And unless you don't have an online presence, I'm sure you would've faced trolls too. Most people engage them, and this escalates into a full-blown war of words online. Mind you, this wasn't how it was until a few years ago. 

And its not because there is a generation gap. These are the same people who were brought up by respectful parents and were tolerant and respectful online and off when they started using the internet.
And then they discovered the rush they get when they leave a scathing remark designed to provoke. 
Suddenly, I find people more ready and willing to fire and engage. 

Recently a friend and an accomplished writer himself found himself in the midst of being pulled into a war of words. The lady (an American writer herself) was pointing out a typo in an article he wrote and she could have stopped at pointing out the errata. He apologized. But no. She wasn't done yet and said - '.. and you may want to get all your articles proof-read by a native English speaker. Because it is not easy to trust a writer with typos.' Bang! And the ball was back in his court. And this lady had 5 typos/grammatical/factual errors in the Summary of her LinkedIn page.
He could've have fought back but I advised him to thank her for the suggestion and move on, since there is so much at stake here when we engage people who are pressured to find fault in us. Both online and offline. 

When we fight a person online, he/she has the time and luxury of buying time to plan, design and build a comeback. In the meanwhile, trolls bask in the glory of playing to a gallery of (sometimes mute) spectators. But this is not a 2 player game anymore. People may take sides or introduce their fresh perspective into the game. Applause!
Now, this is not what will happen in real-life. 99% of the trolls you find online won't be ready to indulge in lengthy venomous ideological/philosophical debate in person. Not if you are Donald Trump.

While I used to engage trolls online, I no longer do. They are entitled to their views and I mine. I respect the fact that they take the time to read (even though it becomes evident that they didn't read all the way through to the end) and comment. I don't have the time or the vicious fang to pass the venom back. In the beginning it used to bother me that I am not engaging them 'in a befitting manner'. It no longer does. Over time, I've realized this is the best way to deal with trolls and faultfinders  - Leave the game. 

The Bible says 'Nothing you eat can defile your soul. But what comes out of you is what defiles you.'. I've realized the wisdom of these words. 
We take a lot of care to make sure what we eat is right, but not a lot of us are careful of what we say or write online. We have become walking talking fire-breathing dragons, willing to scorch the next person we don't agree with. We need a whole host of rights, but don't think anyone else does. We have evolved into living creatures with an over-sized sense of entitlement - of money, of respect, of opportunities, of space, of individuality, of everything the world has to offer.

Have you trolled someone online today? Stop! 
Have you been trolled by someone today? Resist the temptation and move on. 
Because when we fight back, we expose the chink in our armor. And you wouldn't want the world to see that, would you?

Aug 1, 2015

Pixels | The corny movie review by Navin

Chris Columbus (director of movies like Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire and Night at the Museum 2) returns with a movie that he should've taken more time to conceptualize and create.

Playing at a theatre near you - 

Pixels 



Produced by Hollywood A-lister Adam Sandler's home production - Happy Madison Productions, Pixels is like popcorn and candyfloss. You are sure of the calories you will pile on, but it has absolutely no nutritional value at all. 

Spoiler alert!
So aliens got a time capsule which has images of arcade video games and believe they are being attacked. So what do they do? They launch a world-wide counter-offensive and the Americans launch a counter-counter offensive and (predictably and fortunately for the rest of us) win.
That is the entire premise of the movie. 

Adam Sandler shows flashes of comedic brilliance. The key word here being 'flashes'.
Kevin James (and may know him from movies like Paul Blart and Hitch) is POTUS. Yes, that's right! We have a tea-seller Prime Minister and they have an illiterate President. 
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) is sparkling but under-used, considering how capable he could have been.

Pixels has all the CGI brilliance $80 million can buy, but won't make sense to you if you haven't played arcade-style games (which is possible if you grew up in some of the poorer parts of the world). 
The movie is visually-crowded with both CGI and guest appearances. Martha Stewart (!)

Would I recommend it?

Sure, after your lobotomy by the street quack. 
Avoid it like the Plague. But sure, if you just wanted an evening with mindless gags and one-liners, walk into the nearest multiplex. 
Maybe Adam Sandler thought this was a fun script and went on a vacation after that, or he just did this for the money. 

My Rating: 3

What does the ratings mean? 
0-4  : Not worth your presence in the same zip code as the TV/Theater.
5-7  : Err... the movie is pretty, but it's definitely missing something. A storyline, that is.
8-10: 'Drop-the-dishes, stop-the-sex, jaw-dropping, that-is-incredible' 2 hours of movie experience

Jul 26, 2015

The 'woman-at-the-well' moment | Manna for your Soul

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the list of things you need to do everyday?
Have you been blind-sided by misplaced priorities?

Well, the truth is we all have been at the 'caught like a deer in the headlights' spot in our lives. 

In the Bible, the book of John talks about an incident that changes the lives of not just one person but an entire town. 
John 4:1-42 starts with how Jesus stops at a public well outside of Samaria for a drink of water, meets a lady and the transformation within is as marvelous as it is profound. 

Dissecting the scripture, we need to understand that Jesus was on His way to Galilee.

Tired and exhausted in the mid-day heat, he decided to stop to rest. 
There He meets a woman who has come to draw some water for herself. Remember, this is when the sun is beating down and the well is a public well that was out of the town. People would not travel so far at this time of the day to get water. Atleast not the ones that were respectable. This woman probably didn't want to be seen among people and that's why she came to draw water at this well that was far out of town.
When Jesus asks her for a drink of water, she is startled. Because she is used to being ignored and reviled and was surprised any man would want to speak to a lady like her. 
Also because, Jews practiced racism and discriminated against Samarians who they regarded as a lower class of people. Sounds familiar?

His response perplexes her. 
She is almost mocking Him when she reminds Jesus that He doesn't have anything to draw water from the well. She thinks she has an advantage over Him because she has a can and He doesn't. 

When Jesus tells her that he can get her water that can quench her thirst forever. Her immediate response is - 'WOW! Give me this water so that I don't have to come to this well anymore'. She is positively excited at the prospect of never having to come out in the heat of the day. Not too unlike us either.

Jesus asks her to get her husband. She tells Him that she doesn't have one. Checkmate
And this is where we come to know that she has been juggling husbands. Bingo! That explains why she was hiding from other people.

But like a bear caught in a trap, she knows she has been exposed and immediately tries to deflect attention from herself. She turns into a theologian and flatters Jesus. Apparently, she is no stranger to sweat-talking people either.
Now ordinarily, calling a random person a saint or something like this would have been enough to shut that person up (it still works today) but no, Jesus saw right through that. 

He tells her to focus on the 'How' and not the 'Where' of worship. He takes her up on her devious question and scores a slam dunk. She is now desperately trying to squirm out of this conversation and tells Him “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”.
Oh yeah, well she walked right into that one, didn't she?!

We are all like this woman.
Like her, we prioritize everything else but God in our lives. 
We place God in the periphery of our lives, within reach, so that we can access Him only when we need Him and put Him back when our needs are met. 
We love to deflect uneasy scrutiny into our spiritual lives. 
We love to debate theology when it gets hot beneath the collar.
We love raving about that restaurant or that movie but how many times have you spoken about the wonderful things God has done in your life? 

The thing is Jesus didn't need water. He is the Man who resisted temptation after 40 days of fasting. He was here for a purpose. It was no accident that she was there at precisely the same time and day He was there too. 

If you have ever felt the divine peace and serenity that a church provides, multiply that by infinity and that is how wonderful 'spiritual water' can make you feel. 

If there is something in your life that doesn't seem to be happening at the speed you wish it happened, don't fret. God is softening the hearts of people, changing the minds of the powerful and basically rearranging lives and circumstances so that it happens. All you need to do is surrender yourself to Him - in spirit and soul. 

Now, we don't know what happened to the woman after that, but we can imagine her life was never the same after that. God chose her because she knew what a wretched person she had become. She was ripe for the change. Jesus didn't chastise her. He didn't ostracize her. He didn't mock her. He didn't avoid her. He didn't victimize her. 
He simply made her realize the folly of her ways. 


Disclaimer: 

The Bible has never promised a life without challenges. Anyone who tells you that being a Christian will make your life like a toll-free 7 - lane expressway is selling you grade A crap. 
The Word of God can give you the tools and the grace that you will need to live a life that can help you overcome any challenge that life throws at you. A Christian's life is something like a nugget of gold. You'll need a furnace to refine it. Are you ready for the furnace?

Jul 24, 2015

Ant Man | The corny movie review by Navin

So being a Marvel fan, I caught the movie on the day it released in India.

Ant Man




Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has discovered that his protege has been trying to steal his technology. Hank gets fired. Just like that.

Cut to present day, Hank has realised that his former protege and his estranged daughter are close to having their own shrinking suit  - the Yellowjacket (how very creative!)

Enter  Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a 'reformed' cat burgler just out from jail and looking for a clean break. 

I won't give away the rest of the movie but I guess you already know where this is headed. 

Paul Rudd is a fabulous comedian and is in a league of his own. 
Michael Douglas has aged fabulously. 
Michael Pena has comedic timing.

The good thing about Marvel movies is the continuity and the way all the other movies are connected with eachother. The bad thing are the intermittent references to Iron Man/Tony Stark. Well, I won't blame them because if something works really well, why not piggy back on it. 

The VFX is good, as usual. 
There is a fair amount of geek-speak so that will appeal to the geek in you. 
Intrigue? Strip this movie for all its tech wizardry and it is just another movie where an over-ambitious co-worker steals your tech (because he wants to take over the world) and fights you in the end and dies. Sounds familiar? 

Would I recommend it? 
Sure, if you are a Marvel fan. Its a nice outing with friends on a lazy evening. While humor will keep you yawn-free, it would have been better if there was a better storyline. 
I do see the potential for a sequel but so are most of the other Marvel superheros. Ant Man is here to stay, atleast for a while.

My Rating: 5

What does the ratings mean? 
0-4  : Not worth your presence in the same zip code as the TV/Theater.
5-7  : Err... the movie is pretty, but it's definitely missing something. A storyline, that is.
8-10: 'Drop-the-dishes, stop-the-sex, jaw-dropping, that-is-incredible' 2 hours of movie experience
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