Loving God and People

“He Was There”: Remembering Pastor Easaw Philip (my father-in-law)

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My father-in-law, Pastor Easaw Philip/Dad (1945-2017), passed away after a long battle with cancer earlier this month. He was 72 years old. During his funeral, I had a chance to share a few thoughts on my father-in-law, which I would like to share here, with a few additions.

My father-in-law was my senior pastor growing up. I went to the church he pastored as a young person, a Pentecostal church called Zion Gospel Assembly. It consisted primarily of people from India, particularly from the state of Kerala. He pastored there for about 22 years.

Growing up, for some reason—which I didn’t realise then—but now have come to understand, I often called him “Pastor Easaw Philip Uncle.” That’s a pretty long name, I know. “Pastor” make sense, since he was the pastor of the church. But “Uncle”? He wasn’t related to me growing up (until now of course, because I am married to his daughter Joyce).

In the Indian community I belong to, calling someone “Uncle” doesn’t mean that they have to be related to you in any way. Calling someone “Uncle” or “Aunty” is typically a sign of respect, indicating that they are someone close to your family. Including the title “Uncle” for my father-in-law growing up, I think was an implicit acknowledgement that he wasn’t just some pastor who came and went into our lives. Yes, he was our pastor, but he was also someone who was genuinely “there” in our lives for a long time. That long name of “Pastor Easaw Philip Uncle” was a testimony to him genuinely being there in our lives here in Toronto.

A key trait I noticed about him over the years, is his desire to be there for others. He would make himself available to others. He wanted to be physically present for others. He was there.

When I made a public commitment to follow Jesus Christ by being water baptised, he was there. He was the one who baptised me.

When I was sick in the hospital with bronchitis, I admit that at times I was lonely and scared. My family was there. But my senior pastor was also there visiting me with his wonderful wife, who is now my mother-in-law.

When I made a commitment to full time ministry, he was there. Zion Gospel Assembly had a convention around that time, and he quickly allowed me to share my testimony. He was there for me, encouraging me in my call.

My father-in-law and mother-in-law at my graduation from Master’s College (then EPBC)

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Theology from Master’s College (where I now teach), he was there with my now-mother-in-law.

When I got married to Joyce, he was there. Well, of course he was there because I married his daughter! I’m obviously especially grateful that he was there for Joyce and I, supporting us in that new season for us.

My father-in-law and mother-in-law at our wedding

Throughout the years, I’ve seen my father-in-law passionately desire to be there for so many people. When invitations came for weddings, special church conventions, Christian conferences, or if someone was in the hospital, or if a funeral sadly came up, he really, really, really wanted to be there for others. If he could attend every event in his blue hatchback or white mini van whether in Texas, California, Boston, or Montreal, he would want to be there for you. I know many people who knew him well could attest to that. When he got more sick recently, I know it bothered him that he couldn’t be physically present in others’ lives the way he did for so many years.

For all of us, whether you are in ministry or not, his desire to be there for others, in person, is something we can all learn from. The Apostle Paul showcased this approach in ministry in Romans 1:11, when he wrote the church in Rome: “For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord.” (NLT). Though Paul could correspond with people via letters, letters weren’t enough. Emails, facebook posts/messages, and tweets aren’t enough. There is something special about being physically present to bless others. My father-in-law was someone who truly longed to be physically present with others, to visit with others, to pray, show honor, respect, and bless others.

But Dad is no longer with us. And now, he cannot come rushing in his blue hatchback or white mini van to visit us at the birth of a child, a wedding, a graduation, a hospitalization, or funeral. It’s both sad and strange to not have him around any longer. But one day, when we too pass on, we can go to him. You see, dad is now with His Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ – forever. And I know Dad well enough to know, that he would like you to seriously consider what he did too—committing to one of the greatest things you can experience in this world. When our time comes, and we too pass on, Dad will want to see you. And he would want me to tell you to come to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour – just as he did. Dad wasn’t “there” for others merely because he was a “nice guy”—he had experienced the life-changing transformation that comes through relationship with Jesus Christ. You see, Dad treasured his relationship with Jesus, and made relationship with God a priority in his own life and family. For instance, getting to know the family since being married, I witnessed how every evening, the family would come together for songs of worship and prayers to God.

You should know that regardless of your past, your sins—and even what you or others think of you—Christ will forgive you of all your sin. Confess your sins to Him and He will forgive you. Turn to God with all of you. Jesus Christ loves you. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. But Jesus didn’t remain dead in the grave. He defeated death, resurrecting from death. And as we live for Christ, that same power that resurrected Jesus from the grave will also be manifest in us so that we too will experience a resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15). If you make that commitment to live for God, I know that one day you too will enjoy relationship with God eternally. And of course, I know you’ll meet my father-in-law there. Feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss that type of decision further.

For those who may have known my father-in-law, you are welcome to share your own tributes of when he “was there” for you as well below in the comments. And of course, maybe you didn’t know my father-in-law, and you too had or have someone who “was there” for you-feel free to share your experience below.

Why Bother With The Old Testament, Since It’s “Old”?

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dsc02537I heard about a preacher who came to my city a while ago, and preached that we didn’t really need to read or apply the Psalms to our lives since it’s from the Old Testament and not necessary for us Christians. I also read an article, written by a Christian author, which stated that we as Christians need to move away from the Old Testament, and on to the New Testament because of the cross; for him, it seems that the Old Testament is about laws, while the New Testament is about grace.

A negative approach to the Old Testament is nothing new. Many years ago, a man by the name of Marcion didn’t like the Old Testament either—he felt it represented an evil, inferior god, while the New Testament god found in Jesus was a loving and good god.

There is much to say about this subject, and I’m limited here since this is just a short blog post—there are some books out there you can read on this. But let’s consider two major ideas on this to spur us even further to a deeper reflection on this issue.

1) The God of the Old Testament is the Same God of the New Testament. This has a number of implications that are relevant for our discussion:

a) Believers depended on God’s grace in the Old Testament. Relying on God’s grace didn’t just begin in the New Testament. Think about the ‘10 Commandments.’ If you read them in Exodus 20, and get right to the “laws” in verses 3 onwards, you’ll miss something that comes immediately prior to the relaying of those 10 commandments—grace!

Here is God’s message in the verse that comes immediately prior to the 10 commandments: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” God in His grace delivered believers prior to their reception of the law! They were brought into this context not by hearing the laws, nor by living up to the laws, but by God’s gracious act of deliverance. We can often miss this point when discussing God’s laws for believers—these same believers were dependent on God’s grace.

b) God’s character, which we often think of as “loving” because of the revelation of Jesus, has always been characterised by love. In Psalm 86:15, found in the Old Testament, the writer reminds us of God’s character: “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

c) The God we find in the Old Testament, who reveals His judgment against sin and unrighteousness, is the same God we find in the New Testament who does the same.
Some people often think of Jesus as soft, meek, and mild—but see the God of the Old Testament as a tough and aggressive entity. But during a time when Jesus was entering the temple courts, He felt some were making that place into a “den of robbers,” instead of a “house of prayer.” What did He do? He overturned tables, made a whip, and drove everyone out! (See Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-17). Jesus is not exactly meek and mild!

And of course, Scripture makes clear that Jesus will judge every person in a time to come (Matthew 25).

2) Jesus Affirmed the Need for and Importance of the Old Testament.

a) Jesus was not trying to eliminate the Old Testament, but was about living in fulfillment of all that it said about Him. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus explains, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” That’s a pretty self-explanatory passage.

b) Jesus explained that the greatest commandments of loving God and people as yourself was based on the Old Testament. When someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, Jesus’ response is revealing: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 5:37-40). These commandments are based on the Old Testament, and are explicitly found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

I recognize that this subject brings up so many other issues that are worthy of consideration, which I’m unable to address in a short post here. I know there is so much more to say. My attempt here was just to recognize the importance of the Old Testament for Christians, particularly noting its continuation with the New Testament. I’m open to further discussion if you like!

All the best to you, always a pleasure to hear from you!
Josh Samuel.

Bruno Mars’s Song, “Grenade,” and Love

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I have been hearing Bruno Mars’s song, “Grenade,” quite often in various public contexts these days; it’s almost difficult to avoid. It has been one of the top songs on the charts, and I think for good reason. Bruno Mars is definitely a talented musician. I would like to focus on some of the things he’s saying in the song and its implications for love. You can listen to one version of the song by clicking play on the above link.

Here’s a sample of some of the lyrics from his song:

Bruno Mars Singing


Gave you all I had and you tossed it in the trash
You tossed it in the trash, you did
To give me all your love is all I ever asked
‘Cause what you don’t understand is

I’d catch a grenade for ya
Throw my hand on a blade for ya
I’d jump in front of a train for ya
You know I’d do anything for ya

I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain
Yes, I would die for you, baby
But you won’t do the same

Bruno is singing about the extent of someone’s love for a girl – so much so that he would “catch a grenade for ya.” That’s quite powerful. He’ll do whatever he can for her. However, the challenge is that this love is not reciprocated. The girl not only refuses to love back, it seems she’s left him for someone else. Quite sad!

This song and theme finds parallels with the theme of love in the Bible. In John 15:12-14, Jesus states, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (NIV). Expanding on the theme of this biblical passage and Bruno Mars’s song, we can find a number of important things to consider when talking about love.

1) The Love of Jesus Christ. The reality is that the One who has truly shown such unconditional, sacrificial love, is Jesus Christ who in love died for our sins. Though He was holy – sinless – He was willing to die for the sins of humanity because of His love for us. While we deserve death and punishment because of our sins, Jesus took this penalty upon Himself for us.

Christ’s love is unconditional. The Bible explains that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8; NIV). Even in the midst of our sin, even though our human nature is to go against God’s purposes for our lives, Christ loves us and died for our sins. Like the character in Bruno’s song, so many of us do not reciprocate the love God expresses to us in Jesus Christ. We like to do our own thing. We’ve all been there. But today, may I suggest that you consider reciprocating Christ’s love for you – call out to Him in prayer and tell Him you want to follow Him. He’s worth it. If you have any questions about something like this, feel free to message me in the “Contact Josh” page.

Christ’s love is sacrificial. When Christ expressed his love for us on the cross where he died for our sin, He was willing to undergo pain and ultimately death. Like the character in Bruno’s song, willing to undergo painful experiences in light of his love, Christ’s love is one that is not dependent on good “feelings.” So often we think that love is dependent on such feelings – however, Christ did not feel good. Christ underwent painful moments out of love for us.

Christ’s love is in line with God’s purposes. When Christ expressed his love for us on the cross, it wasn’t merely based on what other people wanted. Christ did the will of God (Matthew 26:42) rather than merely please others. This fact is especially important in the following points.

2) Our Love for Others. Jesus states in the above passage (John 15:12-14) that our love must be in line with the type of love He showed us (especially highlighted for husbands’ expression of love for their wives in Ephesians 5:25!).

First, our love for others must be unconditional – not merely based on what others do for us or what you think they deserve. In fact, Jesus said we must even love our enemies (Luke 6:27).

Second, our love for others must also be sacrificial; willing to put others’ needs ahead of our own at times. So many of us can often limit our expressions (or understanding) of love to pleasant FEELINGS of love, when the reality is, that expressions of love may not always FEEL good – it may involve an element of pain. It may sometimes be difficult and unpleasant. While some people are easy to love, it’s not always easy with everyone.

And finally, our love for others should also be in line with God’s purposes for our lives. When we talk about unconditional, sacrificial love, there are some who can get the wrong ideas. Let me explain. 1) I would definitely not commend self-destructive behaviour primarily to win someone’s affections; people should love you for who you are. 2) This type of behaviour should not merely be for selfish gain (e.g., merely to look good in front of everyone); love should be genuine. 3) I don’t think this type of love is about being a doormat to someone else’s manipulations or selfish desires; even Jesus Christ had a purpose for His love, in line with the will of God, that was unwilling to bend to what other people felt He should do; He was no people-pleaser.

I recognize that expressing this type of love that the Bible commends is not easy. However, the Bible says in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he [Jesus] first loved us” (NIV). When we first experience God’s love when we follow Him, He provides us with a supernatural power through the Holy Spirit to live in a way that is loving. The Bible says that one of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is love (Galatians 5:22). I’m thankful that unconditional, sacrificial, purposeful love is not something I am expected to develop in my own strength – God provides such resources for us through the power of His Spirit!

Always a pleasure to hear from you! Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and observations on this topic.

Josh Samuel

“Born Again” by the Newsboys

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If you have a moment, play this video above. It’s a song I really appreciate by the Newsboys, entitled, “Born Again.” Here are some of the lyrics:

The Newsboys

“I found myself looking into the mirror
Knew I wasn’t who I wanted to be
I was living like the way that I wanted
But my eyes reminded me I’m not free.
Believed that I saw everything that I know
Says I got to go, tired of going solo
But I’m never gonna go there again.

This is what it is
This is who I am
This is where I finally take my stand
I didn’t want to fall
But I don’t have to crawl
I met the One with two scarred hands
Giving him the best of everything that’s left of
The life inside this man
I’ve been Born Again”

So often when we hear the words, “born again,” I think many immediately think of someone who has decided to make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. Maybe they’ve heard a message at church about Jesus dying on the cross for us – that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins – that we can be completely forgiven of our sins when we ask Jesus for forgiveness and trust Him as our Lord and Saviour – and some have made commitments to follow Jesus Christ under these circumstances. To me, this is one of the greatest miracles one can experience – a life changed by God’s grace and mercy extended to us. Salvation is incredible. If someone has genuinely decided to follow and believe in Jesus Christ, they have truly been “born again.”

Jesus explained the need to be “born again” and what it means in John 3. Of course we cannot be physically “born again,” but we can be born again in a spiritual sense when the Spirit of God brings new life into us as we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour – we may then live eternally in the presence of God through this new birth.

The challenge for some of us, I think, is that when we speak of being “born again,” it is limited to that “moment of conversion.” What I like about the song and video by Newsboys entitled, “Born Again,” is that through the visuals of this video they have connected this new life with a new way of living that is consistent with the Kingdom of God – they are seeking the values of the Kingdom of God established here on earth – through helping the poor and disenfranchised. In James 1:27, the writer explains that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (NIV).

I think it’s critical that being a “born again” Christian is not just something that points to a mere “moment of change,” but a change in lifestyle inaugurated by that new life the Spirit brings. A life that reflects the heart of God towards the world – particularly those who are in need. Let us consider how we might bless others who are in need today. I recognize that one does not need to be “born again” to help those in need, but I think that a lifestyle of blessing others should be particularly evident in one who is “born again.”

Most of us have heard about the devastation that has occurred recently in Japan due to the tsunami. You can help them today by donating something to an organization helping with the relief efforts. There are a lot of great organizations out there helping. One I know of that is helping is World Vision; if you like you can give to World Vision from anywhere in the world – check them out at this link – World Vision International. There are links on this page so you can select the country you are from, and subsequently make your donation.

Feel free to contact me or add your own thoughts here, always a pleasure to hear from you.

Reflections from My Trip to India – Communication and Communion with God

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People seeking God at the 2011 Andhra Pradesh IPC Convention

It has been a long time since I’ve written anything here, but I’ve been quite busy with teaching and a trip to India. For this entry, I thought I would include a few (among many) random reflections on my trip to India with my wife Joyce.

1) India is tremendously diverse. As soon as you try to say, “This is what India is like,” you likely get it wrong. We got the chance to visit four different states in two weeks, and each visit brought us to a new culture and language group. Languages like Malayalam in Kerala, Telegu in Andhra Pradesh, Kannad in Bangalore, and Hindi in New Delhi. Of course, you can find people who speak English and Hindi all throughout the country, but the reality is that there are numerous languages and different cultures in India, of which I only very briefly touched upon. This leads to my second reflection.

2) Clear Communication is Key in Relationships. Of course this does not just relate to one’s time in India –clear communication is key in all relationships. However, it is only when you are in a context where you are limited to communicate, that you realize how important communication is. Sadly, my abilities in languages like Malayalam are weak, so I’m thankful for family members (our parents were also visiting India) who were there with us and able to help us communicate. This is something I really want to improve on, and have been praying that God helps me with.

Josh and Joyce Samuel Celebrating the 70th anniversary celebration of the IPC Andhra Pradesh Annual Convention

When you are limited in communication, you see how even non-verbal communication is important. For instance, in India hospitality is a highlighted value, and as soon as you visit with someone you will likely be treated with great hospitality. Since I was limited in my verbal communication with some, I couldn’t help but recognize the positive communication received non-verbally through their hospitality. While visiting family in Kerala, we visited somewhere between 6-10 homes EACH day. And in one day, we literally had 6 meals. Six. And the food of course was great. And to not take part in the food offered would, in my opinion, show your lack of appreciation of their hospitality. So, you gotta eat. Not a bad thing though, since the food was great.

Anyone who is in a relationship, whether courting, engaged, or married knows the importance of clear communication for sure – both verbal and non-verbal. Seeking to be better at communication should be an important endeavour of all – listening, asking questions, clarifying, and generally speaking in a way that makes sense to the hearer.

3) The Passionate Response to the Word of God at the IPC Annual Convention in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh.

Rev. P. Noel Samuel

 

During our time in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, we had the opportunity to celebrate with thousands of others who convened for the Indian Pentecostal Church of God’s annual convention. My cousin Rev. P. Noel Samuel is providing great leadership there, a ministry initially founded upon the ministry of my grandfather, Rev. P. M. Samuel. It was a 70th anniversary celebration.

Anyways, there was so much going on there, but I cannot help but remember the faces of the people who wanted prayer (see the first picture at the beginning of this post). I had the opportunity to share a few times for this convention.

Josh Samuel

The people’s response to the call to God and prayer through the various ministries going on was beyond what I could imagine. This experience reminds me of what the biblical writer states in Psalm 42:1: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” What I appreciated about the people at this convention was their humility and hunger for more of God in their life – and their passionate and sincere belief that God could truly make a difference in their life. They were very much a sharp contrast with some of us in the West, as I feel we can sometimes be a lot more cautious, suspicious, and generally doubtful. However, in Hebrews 11:6, the writer states, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (NIV).

How important it is for us to humbly come before God and seek Him with everything in us. We often wonder why God seems to powerfully move among people in various places of the world, but not so much in the West – may I suggest that one factor relates to this issue of humbly seeking after God. If you’re reading this, I encourage you to take some time today to seek Jesus in prayer with everything within you, He’s definitely worth it!

I could go on and on here, but let me conclude here. Feel free to comment if you like, whether you have been to India or not. However, if you have visited India, live in India – or some other country that may be similar –it would be great to hear your reflections on Christian spirituality in such contexts.

Loving God and People

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Some books from college days

I have been meaning for a while to start up a site for ministry purposes, but have kept putting it off. I decided I just needed to do something. So for one of my first blogs, I thought I should start with the rationale for the name of this site: Loving God and People.

The inspiration for the name of this website is of course from Jesus’ words in the Bible. A few years ago, while attending college, I was wrestling with the various principles, ideas, concepts, commandments, and more that I had read and studied related to God and the Bible through sermons, lessons, and lectures over the years. And I must admit, I was a bit overwhelmed. I came to a point in my time of prayer that I asked God, what do you really want of me. I really felt directed to the passage in the Gospels. Here is a brief look at the story when Jesus was dealing with some teachers in Matthew 22:35-40:

35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Reading this passage many years ago was refreshing for me. When it came down to it, what was most critical in my life was to love God and love people the way I loved myself! Looking at life through that filter, then, was helpful. It’s the “loving God and people” filter. I think we can all say we have fallen short of doing this in our lives, so I’m thankful that God loves us so much that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins. And our response, then, is love. We love God by following Jesus Christ, obeying Him, and loving our world.There’s so much more to say about loving God and people that one mere website could never do justice to this idea. In fact, Jesus said that the entire “Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Thus, probing the Word will help us get a better idea of what this all means.

However flawed our attempts may be, let’s seek to love God and people with everything in us. Through various means, I hope that the discussions on this website will encourage us to do so.

If you are reading this, you are welcome to include your thoughts on how people have or have not sought this out in life. And I do not think we have to be “super-spiritual” here – your thoughts may even relate to something in the news, life, the Church, sports, or whatever.

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