Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Theme: He Must Increase, I Must Decrease

Volume 5 No. 260 January 23, 2015

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John the Baptist
Matthias Grunewald, Detail of the John the Baptist panel in the Isenheim Altarpiece (1512--1516)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Foreword

"He must increase, but I must decrease" is the theme for this week's Journal. It brings out the great character of John the Baptist, his perfect submission to God and sticking to the role he was assigned to do in spite of many temptations. In addition, this is what God wants each of us to do in our lives. We are here to reflect the light of God through our lives. We are here so God can use us to do His work through us. ...

I. This Sunday in Church

2. Bible Readings for This Sunday (January 25)

Bible Readings For The Third Sunday after Denho

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_3rd_sunday_after_Denho.htm

3. Sermons for This Sunday (January 25)

Sermons For The Third Sunday after Denho

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_3rd-sunday-after-denaha.htm

4. Lectionary Feature: Seeing, Believing and The New Birth From Above

Jesus says to Nicodemus, "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom." In other words, this isn't a birth you create, just as you didn't create your original birth either. It's something God does, being born from above. It's like the wind. You can't create it. You can't control it. Sometimes it comes like a gentle breeze caressing your fevered brow. Or it may come as ...

II. This Week's Features

5. Inspiration for Today: He Must Increase, I Must Decrease - John 3:30

6. 'He Must Increase; I Must Decrease.'

In a sense, John in his person,
summarizes and represents the entire Old Testament -
and in another sense, he simply points. ...

7. He Must Become Greater - A Discourse on John 3:30

In the kingdom of God, no person can decide what role he or she will play and no person can pick what position he or she will hold. It is God Who determines in what way and for how long we may serve Him. Jesus got His task, His position, from above. But so did John; and, it was John's task to prepare the way for Jesus. It was God's will, in other words, that people leave John for Jesus. John here recognizes the freedom of God to call whomever He wills. And, it is precisely because he recognizes this that John cannot start some movement to stop Jesus. For if he did that he would be interfering with God's plan. He would be putting his own ego first. No, John cannot do that. "He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less" (Jn 3:30). ...

8. He Must Increase

The words found in John 3:30 contain the entire mystery of God's dealings with man from ages past to eternity future. "He [Christ] must increase." All of God's works are towards this end of increasing Christ. In other words, everything God has done, is doing, and will do is related towards revealing His Son and bringing us into the full-knowledge (epignosis) of Him. The goal is for Christ to have the preeminence in all things, beginning with us individually as disciples, then with the Church, and finally with all creation, "that He may be All in All." ...

9. He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease

Take a minute to memorize that verse and tuck it away.

Then the next time you feel stressed, unloved, incapable, unequipped or downright fussy, repeat it to yourself. God will increase as you surrender yourself to Him. ...

10. Two Easy Ways You Can Fit Daily Bible Time into Your Busy Life

If you struggle to fit in a daily quiet time, the open spaces in your schedule can be great places to squeeze in the Bible. Even if you have a robust devotional life, you can still cram the Bible in wherever and however you can. Wedge it into the gaps in your schedule. Stuff it into the in-between places, the nooks and crannies of unclaimed time throughout your day. In other words, fit the Bible into the margins of your life. ...

11. Family Special: When God Hides - Where Are You God, When I Need You?

The ups and downs of pastoral ministry are echoed in Psalm 13. Among the delights of praise, we hear a litany of despair. Where is God when one of us gets a bad report from the doctor? Where is God when a marriage breaks under the stress of unemployment? Where is God when a spouse dies?

One of the hardest challenges I've faced is finding God in loss. I remember sitting with a mother in a hospital, praying for the recovery of her daughter. ...

12. About Malankara World

Foreword
We had been talking about John the Baptist in the past issues of Malankara World Journal. In our church calendar, John the Baptist, appears and disappears fast like a hurricane; and his role is in the shadow of other things like the Christmas. I hope that we could highlight the important role played by John the Baptist as the forerunner of Messiah, a role he played perfectly.

In this week's Gospel reading we read John 3:1-12, the meeting of Nicodemus with Jesus at night. Nicodemus was an important person in the Jewish hierarchy at that time. He was one of the 70 Jewish rulers who served on Jerusalem's Great Sanhedrin, the body that made decisions for the country -- under Roman rule. The Great Sanhedrin was like our Holy Synod who made all the important theological decisions.

Nicodemus was also a Pharisee, a strict observer of the law ( John 7:50-51). He was an expert in Jewish law, a scribe, since Jesus calls him "Israel's teacher" (John 3:10). He was probably wealthy; he assisted Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus' burial, both physically and financially (John 19:39).

Nicodemus is only mentioned in the bible three times. But that does not diminish the important role he played. St. Joseph was not mentioned much in the bible; but we know he played a key role in the God's plan. Nicodemus was there when he was truly needed. In the passage today, he helps us understand the concept of "born again" as a prerequisite to enter the Kingdom of God.

Today's featured article by Kenneth L. Carder examines Nicodemus' discourse with Jesus in depth. (It was excerpted from a lecture to theology students in Duke Divinity School.) You can also read more about this topic in the featured sermons in this week.

What I really want to do this week is to examine John 3:22-4:3, the alternate Lectionary reading for this Sunday. The reason is that this passage talks about the final years of the ministry of John the Baptist. It also has the last words that we have from John the Baptist till the despondent message from the dungeon in Machaerus whether Jesus is after all the Messiah (Mt 11:2 = Lk 7:19). John the Baptist went on to imprisonment, suspense, and martyrdom, while Jesus grew in popular favor till he had His via dolorosa.

"He must increase, I must decrease" (John 3:30), a favorite verse of mine, "are the fulness of religious sacrifice and fitly close the work of John the Baptist" according to A T Robertson.

"He must increase, but I must decrease" is the theme for this week's Journal. It brings out the great character of John the Baptist, his perfect submission to God and sticking to the role he was assigned to do in spite of many temptations. In addition, this is what God wants each of us to do in our lives. We are here to reflect the light of God through our lives. We are here so God can use us to do His work through us. Dr. Ralph Wilson, a person I admire quite a lot, explains:

John the Baptist models for us here humility and obedience. John recognizes that he has already reached the zenith of his arc and is on the way down, while Jesus' arc is just beginning and will greatly surpass his. John was alright with this. In fact, he sees it as a necessity; the Greek verb is dei, "to be under necessity of happening, it is necessary, one must, one has to," denoting compulsion of any kind.

This is also an important concept for you and me to grasp in our relationship to Jesus. "He must increase, but I must decrease." Your goal, my goal is not self-actualization, self-fulfillment, but letting Christ make us all he has made us to be. When he is greater in your life, you live in God's full power, but when you try to do it yourself, you are limited by your own weaknesses. In the last six months or year, has Christ increased in your life? Has your control decreased? It is "necessary" that this happen in your life and in mine!

Spurgeon noted:

As fades the morning star when the sun himself arises, so was it the joy of the herald of Christ to lose himself in the supreme radiance of his Lord's appearing.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Finally,

When Jesus in our lives increases, our joy increases.

John Piper explains it this way:

When Jesus becomes greater in the world and I become lesser in the world (Jn 3:30), my joy increases (see Jn 3:29). And when this is the purpose and plan of Jesus Himself, it is not egomania. It's love. So my answer to the question of why John the Baptist is brought in right here (in John 3:22ff) is to illustrate a joyful response to the radical things Jesus had been saying to Nicodemus about Himself and about the sovereign work of God in salvation. You could call it a joyful response to God's sovereign self-exaltation....

God sent him (John the Baptist) for this. This was God's plan. Gather a people and then give them up. Rise like a star in the wilderness, and then burn out like a meteorite. That's the plan. John knows it. And as it happens, his joy increases.

See how this passage ties up to the earlier meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus.

It all ties up to the concept of discipleship as Rodney Whitacre explains:

John's joy is in fulfilling God's will for his life -- a model of Christian discipleship. He raises the question for all who would be disciples of Jesus,Where do we find our joy? It is easy to get distracted by the pleasurable blessings of this life. We should be thankful and receive gratefully God's blessings, but our joy's deepest foundation is found in God Himself. That He is as Jesus revealed Him to be is our joy, as is the fulfilling of his purposes for our own lives (cf. Jn 15:10,11), and we see this joy here in the Baptist.

This is a very rich verse in John's Gospel. I really hope that you will contemplate this key verse "He must increase, but I must decrease" and examine what it means in your Christian life.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (January 25)
Sermons for This Sunday (January 25)
Featured: Seeing, Believing and The New Birth From Above

by Kenneth L. Carder

Gospel: John 3:1-17

The questioners who went to Jesus always got more than they bargained for. That's especially true in John's Gospel. If you're looking for simple "yes" and "no" unambiguous answers, don't go to John. The answers are always ambiguous. There is always a subtext. There is always another way of viewing it. And if you get locked in too quickly, you'll miss it. There's always more going on than meets the eye.

But such is the nature of faith; such is the encounter with this one we call Jesus. You always get more than you bargain for when you encounter him. Just ask Nicodemus, who went with a simple inquiry. Out of what motive? Who knows for sure, but he had at least an intellectual curiosity about the signs Jesus performed, which raised questions about Jesus' identity.

We come here this morning with all kinds of questions rumbling around in our minds, some intellectual curiosity I hope, and perhaps a secret or even a public longing to meet and know more deeply this one we call Jesus.

Let's join the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. We might get more than we bargained for when we came to chapel this morning. We just might encounter Jesus on a deeper level, because we can be sure that he will always push us or woo us or challenge us to go deeper, broader.

So Nicodemus approaches Jesus with an underlying question. Or not really a question. He's observed the signs, and apparently he wants to know a little more about this one who is performing the signs. So he approaches Jesus. Maybe he's silently longing for an encounter with God. We don't get the motive particularly. But put yourself in his situation and see.

Who is this Nicodemus? Well, he's educated, like we are. He's prominent. He's successful. He's experienced, maybe my age. He's a person of more than adequate financial means. He's well-known. He's an interpreter and judicator of the Torah and the tradition. He's one who has a significant level of control, both over his own life and the lives of other people. He has put life together in a way that has worked for him. Life is good for Nicodemus, apparently. He's secure, and he's old, or at least he identifies himself as such: "How can a man who is old be born again?"

I'm asking that question myself. You're not there yet, most of you. But that means he has more memories than dreams. He's got more reflections on ministry than anticipations of ministry. He can draw on his broad and deep experience and rely on it entirely if he so chooses.

Do you identify at all with him? Probably not, at your age. But most of you are privileged. You've got life under control, pretty much, at least before exams. And so life is good. Nicodemus is part of the privileged class. He is recognized in public. He has a public position, and he comes by night. Why does he come by night? Some would suggest it's because he's afraid. I doubt that. At least he was around when the disciples weren't, at the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps he wants a private conversation with Jesus. He doesn't want to be distracted by somebody coming and interrupting the conversation. After all, they might say, "Let's listen in on this conversation between this famous teacher and Jesus." But, as you know, in John there's always a double meaning, and there's always this play on images of light and darkness.

John is giving us a hint of the subtext when he says that Nicodemus came by night. This teacher, this leader, this prominent one in control is still in the dark. He's still got a lot of the shadows in his own life. He doesn't have it all together as much as he thinks he has it together.

He begins the conversation with a compliment -- a good pastoral move, a good pedagogical move: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." He's been attentive. He's listened. He's watched. But Jesus responds without being distracted by his praise or his compliments. (The prayer that I have prayed almost every day of my ministry has been, "Oh God, do not let me be unduly distracted today by praise or criticism.")

Jesus is not distracted by Nicodemus' praise or taken off course. Rather, Jesus refuses to be seduced by it and says what seems to be out of the blue; Nicodemus doesn't ask anything about the kingdom of God directly ("I've been watching the signs. I want to know about the signs. Tell me about miracles").

And Jesus says, "No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again anew from above." The Greek word is anothen. And there is the ambiguity again. Read the footnote in your Bibles. Some translations say "born again." Others will read "anew" or "from above." Should I dare venture a translation with Dr. Marcus, Dr. Hays and Dr. Campbell present? Would it be okay to include both of the translation possibilities? "No one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew from above."

These signs that you've been seeing -- you may be missing them, because there's something that has to happen before you can actually see the true signs. You get all confused by your analysis of the signs if you don't have something else. Unless you are born anew from above, what you see will be misinterpreted.

Suddenly the theological discussion moves into deep waters. It moves from the head to the heart, if you will, beyond talking about miracles and signs to a whole new order of things. And here the phrase or image of the kingdom of God comes up in John. In John? Such language dominates the Synoptics, but it is not the usual language of John. It is, however, the language of Jesus.

"I'm introducing you, Nicodemus, to something that transcends your curiosity. You've come asking for a sign to help you control your life more, perhaps, or to validate what you already know. I want to put you in touch with a whole new world. I want to turn your world upside down to where you will see reality as it really -- I mean really -- is. It is a world totally out of your control. You've got to be born again, anew from above, if you are to enter that new world."

Jesus confronts him then with a whole new possibility. And it requires more than intellectual curiosity, even an M.Div. degree and a Ph.D. It requires a radical reorientation of life without which we will misinterpret the signs and we will miss the real signs. You can't see it unless you are born anothen, from above, again, anew.

So immediately Nicodemus has his darkness exposed. He hears only the literal, one-dimensional interpretation of anothen, born again. And how can a man be born when he is old? A preacher of another generation said that Jesus turned water into wine, opened the eyes of the blind, even raised the dead, made the lame to walk; but there is no miracle in which he made an old man young. (I'm waiting for that miracle.)

Or is there? Ask Abraham and Sarah. Abraham, 75 years old, in retirement, becomes a father. Now that's a miracle I'm not waiting for. Grandfather is fine. Been there, done that. In old age, set out in search of a new land? Not even knowing where it is? Being a father of a whole people? Being held up by Paul as a model of faith? What do you mean, there is no miracle of God making an old man young? Just look at Sarah. An old, barren woman made fertile. Now, that's anothen, being born anew from above.

You think God can't take one locked in a system of control, where life has become predictable and manageable, and turn everything upside down, inside out? Do you believe that God can't transform a person so confident in his own system of belief that he expects everyone else to conform to his expectations and is even willing to coerce and persecute those who don't fit into that system? You think God can't transform the criminal mindset, even a Middle Eastern terrorist? Just ask Saul of Tarsus. That's anothen, being born anew from above.

Jesus says to Nicodemus, "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom." In other words, this isn't a birth you create, just as you didn't create your original birth either. It's something God does, being born from above. It's like the wind. You can't create it. You can't control it. Sometimes it comes like a gentle breeze caressing your fevered brow. Or it may come as a sirocco blowing across the desert, picking up moisture as it crosses the waters. It may come as a whirlwind or it may come as a tornado, shaking the very foundations of life and leaving life in shambles and rubble.

Nicodemus understandably asks, "How can these things be? I don't understand. It doesn't fit into my system and experience." Jesus responds, "Are you a teacher of Israel? Yet you do not understand these things?" Could it be that Nicodemus' scholarship, his privilege, his success, his prominence, his control, his security had become blinders to God's mysterious transforming presence in the world?

Maybe Jesus would say to us, "You mean you've had CT 32, you got an A on your Christology paper -- and you don't get it? You even took the Greek exegesis of John, and you don't get it? You mean you've studied Barth and read all the volumes of "Church Dogmatics" and are so tied to orthodox theology that you can't see God acting outside of that system? You mean you've been in ministry for 50 years, even a bishop of the church and now a professor, and you don't get it?"

From my own experience across the years, it is much easier for those languishing in prison or those who are addicted or those prodigals who find themselves waking up in a pigpen in a far country to understand what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus than it is for those of us who have reduced life to what we can control. It's easier for them to believe in being born anew from above than we who think we have it all together. And here we get to the point of the signs.

Jesus says, in effect, "You've been given the sign. It's there in the Torah." It's there. You know it. You're a teacher. You know it. You've just missed it.

Remember that time when our forebears in the desert were threatened by those poisonous serpents? Do you remember the sign? What was it? It wasn't running all the snakes out. It was taking a snake on a pole. Moses lifted up a pole with a serpent -- a pole, a sign -- and the people were saved. God took the very sign of threat and death -- a serpent -- and made it a means of liberation and healing.

And here's the good news: God's doing it again. God is about to do it again. You remember that image of the Son of Man? Now, Nicodemus, you've studied the Torah. You know it's there. This God/Man that we anticipate, this Son of Man, has moved into the world filled with all kinds of serpents and creatures of death and will be lifted up on a pole -- and the world will be saved. God has moved into the suffering, the death, the out-of-control principalities and powers of this world. This Son of Man will be lifted up on a pole as a sign, a means, to new life, anothen.

Then it is as though John can't contain himself any longer, and the preacher breaks out in a crescendo. The conversation ends and the sermon begins. John just can't hold it back any longer. So he reveals the whole secret of the gospel, the meaning of all the signs and wonders: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world (even Nicodemus) but that the world through him might be saved."

Believe that, and you'll see. Believe that -- I mean really believe it -- bet your life on it, and you will see the signs in the midst of your own and the world's suffering, loss of control, and even death. And you will be born anothen, anew from above.

Source: Faith and Leadership, 2012. This sermon was adapted from a sermon preached on March 24, 2011, in Goodson Chapel at Duke Divinity School.

© 2015 Leadership Education at Duke Divinity

This Week's Features

Inspiration for Today: He Must Increase, I Must Decrease - John 3:30
He Must Increase, I Must Decrease - John 3:30

Barnes' Notes on John 3:30

He must increase - his authority and influence among the people must grow. his doctrine shall continue to spread until it extends through all the earth.

I must decrease - "The purpose of my ministry is to point men to him. When that is done my work is done. I came not to form a party of my own, nor to set up a religion of my own; and my teaching must cease when he is fully established, as the light of the morning star fades away and is lost in the beams of the rising sun. This evinced John's humility and willingness to be esteemed as nothing if he could honor Christ. It shows us, also, that it is sufficient honor for man if he may be permitted to point sinners to the Lord Jesus Christ. No work is so honorable and joyful as the ministry of the gospel; none are so highly honored as those who are permitted to stand near the Son of God, lead perishing men to his cross. Compare Daniel 12:3.

Wesley's Notes on John 3:30

He must increase, but I must decrease - So they who are now, like John, burning and shining lights, must (if not suddenly eclipsed) like him gradually decrease, while others are increasing about them; as they in their turns grew up, amidst the decays of the former generation. Let us know how to set, as well as how to rise; and let it comfort our declining days to trace, in those who are likely to succeed us in our work, the openings of yet greater usefulness.

'He Must Increase; I Must Decrease.'

by Fr. Martin Fox

Of all the saints we honor, other than the Mother of God,
no other saint is honored as much as St. John the Baptist.

John is the last prophet of the Old Testament -
yet notice, while there's a book of Jeremiah, a book of Isaiah,
there is no book of John the Baptist.
As Saint Augustine said, John is the voice -
but he only speaks one Word: Jesus Christ!

In a sense, John in his person,
summarizes and represents the entire Old Testament -
and in another sense, he simply points.

This literally happened.
All the other prophets said the Messiah would come.
But John alone had the privilege of saying, "here he is!"

In fact, we use his words at every Mass.
Right before communion, the priest says,
"Behold the Lamb of God -
behold him who takes away the sins of the world."

Those are John's words.

John said something else worth remembering:
He must increase, I must decrease."

An ancient homily took note of the fact
that John is born when the sun is high in sky -
and for the next six months, the days get shorter and shorter - they decrease.
Then, our Lord is born in December - when the days are short -
and then the days get longer and longer. They increase.

Many people will say, I don't know how to be a good Christian.
I don't know what God asks of me.

How about this: if all you do this week is imitate John the Baptist,
you would do very well! How?

John's every word was about the Lord.
Prepare the way of the Lord. Get ready!

If, when your life comes to an end,
would it be all right if folks said of you,
"All he ever did was point to Jesus Christ?"

John was not wealthy or important - in a worldly way.
He did not build anything.
He did not have a family.
Sometimes people will shy away
from the religious life or the priesthood because of that.

But if the Son of God said of you,
"no one born of women is greater than he" -
would that be a good enough legacy?

A lot of us want to be witnesses to our Faith,
but we may be afraid to speak up.
People around us would rather we not say anything.
Remember this: when John was arrested - and then martyred -
King Herod did not demand John deny anything he believed.
He simply demanded John keep silent.

When - after the Resurrection of the Lord -
the high priests arrested the Apostles, they asked the same thing:
the Apostles simply keep silent about Jesus.
Today, not just at home, but throughout the world,
Christians are being told by governments,
by the media, by the culture, "keep silent!"

Right now, we're marking 14 days for Religious Freedom.
When our government seeks to interfere
with how we serve the poor and run hospitals and schools,
it would like us to go along, quietly.

In the spirit of John the Baptist, we must not be silent!
But, like John, we have only one Word to say:
the Word of God, Jesus Christ!

Like John, we are focusing these days on prayer and sacrifice.
John spent a lot of his time deep in fasting and prayer.
There is a place for us, as citizens, to speak out, to write letters,
to be engaged in public affairs as is our right and duty…
But for this Fortnight, we focus on prayer and fasting - like John.

He Must Become Greater - A Discourse on John 3:30

By Adrian Dieleman

Gospel: John 3:22-36

I The Friend of the Bridegroom

At the time of Jesus the friend of the bridegroom was a very important person. He was responsible for many of the details of the wedding. He makes sure everything runs smoothly for the wedding. But he does more. It is he, rather than the father of the bride, who presents the bride to the bridegroom.

Now, the friend of the bridegroom is a very important man. But he is not the most important man, is he? The most important man is the bridegroom. So, the friend of the bridegroom has to step aside when the bridegroom shows up. The friend of the bridegroom cannot take the bridegroom's place in the wedding ceremony or at the wedding supper. The bride belongs not to him but to the bridegroom.

In our Scripture reading, John the Baptist is the friend of the bridegroom and Jesus is the bridegroom. Meaning what? Meaning John the Baptist is important but Jesus is more important. Meaning John the Baptist needs to step aside because Jesus has come. Meaning the focus needs to be on Jesus and not on John. Or, as John puts it, "He must become greater; I must become less."

If John the Baptist is the friend of the bridegroom and Jesus is the bridegroom, then who is the bride? The bride is the church. Meaning what? Meaning she belongs NOT to John but to Jesus. As far as the church is concerned, Jesus must become greater and John must become less.

II John Must Become Less

A If John the Baptist were alive today we would consider him as strange as some of the people who live on the street. His clothes were made of camel's hair. He had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey (Mt 3:4).

Yet, John the Baptist was one of the greatest servants of our Lord. He was the first prophet of God in four hundred years. He was filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth (Lk 1:15). It was his job, as the friend of the bridegroom, "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Lk 1:17). As the friend of the bridegroom, it was John who baptized Jesus and started Jesus in His ministry (Mt 3:13-17). It was John who testified to Jesus, and called Jesus the "Lamb of God," and said Jesus surpassed him (Jn 1:27, 29, 32).

People were impressed when John the Baptist started preaching and baptizing. They were impressed enough to tell their friends and neighbors about this new preacher. John's appearance created considerable excitement. News of John the Baptist spread like wildfire throughout Judea and moved throngs of people to flock to the Jordan River where he was preaching. They listened to his message, they confessed their sins, and they were baptized by him in the river (Mt 3:5,6).

John the Baptist was a success. If he was a rock star today, his concerts would be sold out. He was a first century Billy Graham - he presented the Gospel and thousands responded to his message.

B This kind of response to John is amazing when we consider his message. If John had to preach in 20th century America his message certainly would not be universally accepted. "Repent," said John. "Break with your sins," said John. John warned the people that God was about to visit them, that His kingdom was coming, and they had better get ready. It will be a time of terror for those who are not prepared to meet their God. Said John,

(Mt 3:10) The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Yet the people responded to such a message as this. They responded because he spoke the Word of the Lord.

C John's success and popularity, however, did not last very long. People still came to hear him but it became evident the crowds were steadily becoming smaller and smaller.

John's disciples noticed this. Perhaps they talked about this among themselves: "What could be the reason? Why are the crowds getting smaller? What has happened to all those people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region of the Jordan who used to come and listen to John?" (Mt 3:5).

John's disciples got their answer one day when they got into an argument with a "certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing" (Jn 3:25). Now, you need to realize John and his disciples practiced a very strict lifestyle. They insisted on such things as fasting and ceremonial washing. But a certain Jew argued with them that this was not necessary at all. And when John's disciples asked the Jew where he got this idea from, he told them, "Jesus of Nazareth." And he told them something else as well: "This Jesus is preaching and baptizing, not too far from here, and you should see all the people who are coming to hear Him."

This explains why John was not as popular as he used to be. This explains why his crowds have dwindled in size. The people were leaving John for Jesus.

John's disciples do not like this. They thought John should not tolerate this. So they came to John and said to him,

(Jn 3:26) Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan--the one you testified about--well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.

John's disciples want John to do something about this. They want John to somehow stop the ministry of Jesus.

What was John's response? John says to his disciples and followers that he is the friend of the bridegroom. That he needs to step aside for the bridegroom. That the bride belongs to the bridegroom. That he must become greater. That I must become less.

D "I must become less." Can you say this? "I must become less." I must step aside for the bridegroom.

Every once in a while Ruth and I go to hear the Tulare County Symphony. Before the music starts all the musicians are on the stage warming up their instruments.

The audience applauds when the person playing the first violin comes on stage. He or she takes a bow and plays the reference pitch for tuning the orchestra and welcomes the conductor to the stage by shaking his hand on behalf of the orchestra. That's the first violin.

Did you know there is also a second violin. They get no applause, no recognition, no notice. Yet, without them the music cannot go on.

Do you get the picture? John the Baptist was being asked to play second violin.

What about you, my brothers and sisters? Are you willing to be second fiddle to Jesus? In other words, does He come first in your life? Are you, like John, willing to become less? Are you willing to be like the friend of the bridegroom?

"I must become less." You need to do something before this can happen. You need to take yourself off the throne. You need to stop thinking you are the center of the universe. You need to stop thinking "Me, Me, Me." You need to think humility and self-denial.

Don't think of yourself as a bride. Instead, think of yourself as the friend of the bridegroom. Think of yourself as John the Baptist. Think, "I must become less."

III Jesus Must Become Greater

(Jn 3:27) To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven."

What does this mean? It means that in the kingdom of God no person can decide what role he or she will play and no person can pick what position he or she will hold. It is God Who determines in what way and for how long we may serve Him. Jesus got His task, His position, from above. But so did John; and, it was John's task to prepare the way for Jesus. It was God's will, in other words, that people leave John for Jesus. John here recognizes the freedom of God to call whomever He wills. And, it is precisely because he recognizes this that John cannot start some movement to stop Jesus. For if he did that he would be interfering with God's plan. He would be putting his own ego first. No, John cannot do that. "He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less" (Jn 3:30). And John is happy with this. He rejoices, like the friend of the bridegroom, that the bridegroom has finally come and taken his bride (Jn 3:29).

B "He must become greater." You need to do something before this can happen. Instead of thinking about yourself you need to think about God. His will. His commands. His glory. His name. His praise. His attributes. God needs to come first in your life. He needs to come first in your thoughts. Your first question in any and every situation should be, "What about God? What does God want?"

IV A Divine Must

A "He must become greater; I must become less." Notice John's use of the word "must." It must happen. We know this in the Gospels as a divine imperative. It is something that must happen. Just like the cross must happen. Just like the grace must happen. Just like Jesus must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men. It is part of the plan. It is God's will. Fighting this is like fighting gravity. Fighting this is like fighting a hurricane. It just is not going to happen. According to God's eternal plan, Jesus must become greater and John must become less.

So, how does this come to expression? Let me ask a series of questions:

-Is the Gospel about John? No, it is about Jesus.
-Do we tell the lost the story of John? No, we tell them the story of Jesus who died and arose.
-Is our doctrine and faith centered on John? No, it is centered on Jesus.
-Do we sing about John? No, we sing about Jesus.
-Do we pray to John? No, we pray to Jesus.
-Do we offer gifts to John? No, we offer our gifts to Jesus.

It is all about Jesus and His death and His resurrection and not about John. It is all about Jesus and not about you and me. "He must become greater; I must become less."

B So, when does it end? Where does end? Until God, in Christ, is all in all. Until God, in Christ, is everything. Until God, in Christ, is the absolute greatest.

"He must become greater; I must become less." This started at the Jordan with John and continues until the creation of the new heaven and new earth. At that time the Jesus Who died and arose has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. At that time Jesus hands over the kingdom to God the Father. At that time God is all in all (1 Cor 15:24-28). At that time there no longer is any thought of ME and our entire focus is Jesus.

Conclusion

"He must become greater; I must become less." Like John, my brothers and sisters, our duty is to be like the friend of the bridegroom. It is our calling and task to point away from ourselves and to Jesus in our words and actions, to be the kind of people in whom Christ lives and in whom His light shines.

So, how does this come to expression in your life and my life? Let me again ask a series of questions:

  • Is worship about you and what you like and what you get out of it, or is worship about Jesus?
  • Is youth group or Bible Study about you and what you like and what you get out of it, or is about Jesus?
  • Does the attention need to be on you or does it need to be on Jesus?
  • Is it your glory and your praise that is important, or is it the glory and praise of Jesus that is important?

"He must become greater; I must become less." This sermon was mostly about John. But we should not stay with him. Like the crowds we too must leave him for Jesus. We too must fix our eyes on Jesus. We too must listen to His Words of life. And when you do, you will find out what John discovered so long ago - that He becomes greater and I become less.

[Editor's Note: This is an excerpted version of the sermon.]

He Must Increase

By Chip Brogden

"He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)

These seven words found in John 3:30 contain the entire mystery of God's dealings with man from ages past to eternity future. "He [Christ] must increase." All of God's works are towards this end of increasing Christ. In other words, everything God has done, is doing, and will do is related towards revealing His Son and bringing us into the full-knowledge (epignosis) of Him. The goal is for Christ to have the preeminence in all things, beginning with us individually as disciples, then with the Church, and finally with all creation, "that He may be All in All."

He MUST increase. Isaiah tells us that there will be no end of the increase of His government and peace. In the beginning was the Word, and we can see how God has worked steadily from the beginning to increase Christ. From types and shadows in the Old Testament we see Christ coming into view. Then the Word is made flesh and dwells among us, and Christ is increased yet again. Next He comes to dwell within us, and this is a major increase. Finally, He begins to conform us to His own image through the indwelling Life. If we are growing up into Him then He is increasing daily. Eventually every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Beyond this, we are told that God will continue to reveal His Son in the ages to come, bringing us into depths and dimensions of Christ that we cannot fathom.

God is not moving backward, but in the Son and through the Son, He moves steadily forward. Christ MUST increase. This is the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. Just as we cannot have gravity without having the law of gravity, so it is impossible to have the Life of the Lord but not have the Law of that Life. And the Law of Life is that Christ must increase.

"But I must decrease." Why doesn't God reveal His Son to us, in all His glory, all at once? What prevents Christ from filling all things and having the preeminence now? Why do we not yet see all things submitted to Him? Because we must be decreased. If He is to become greater then I must become lesser. When Paul says, "Not I, but Christ," he is saying "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Just as all things are working together towards God's purpose of increasing Christ, so all things are working together towards decreasing us. It does not matter if we understand it or comprehend it. It does not matter if you believe in it or agree with it. You are being decreased just the same, and Christ is being increased. It MUST be so, therefore it IS so. Scientists call this decreasing "entropy", and it means, "inevitable and steady deterioration". We can observe this in creation. The present things are groaning and travailing in pain, deteriorating in order to make way for a new heaven and a new earth. We begin to die as soon as we are born. We can look in our own bodies for evidence of "inevitable and steady deterioration" as we move towards a redeemed body. But more importantly, WE, the "I", the "Self", is being decreased that Christ may fill us.

How are we decreased? Let us say right away that it is not your duty to decrease yourself, to become an ascetic, and crawl around in the dirt in abject poverty. It is not an outward decreasing, but an inward decreasing, a coming to the end of ourselves. The Kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit. Earlier, John said, "A man can have nothing except he receive it from heaven." Now we may have quite a bit, but if we obtained it from a source other than Christ, it amounts to nothing. Only those sufficiently decreased, the poor in spirit, can see this. This poverty cannot be achieved through self-effort. In fact, part of the decreasing process is the realization that I can do nothing of myself, including decreasing myself. Just as I cannot commit suicide by crucifixion, so I cannot crucify my flesh. The only way to learn this is to fail hundreds, even thousands of times. Then we will learn to say, "I have no confidence in the flesh."

In the world we will experience temptations, testings, and trials. We will experience persecution, tribulation, and afflictions of soul and body. We will experience mistreatment and misunderstanding. It is not a question of God allowing or not allowing things to happen. It is part of living. Some things we do to ourselves, other things we do to each other. Our Father knows about every bird which falls to the ground, but He does not always prevent it from falling.

What are we to learn from this? That our response to what happens is more important than what happens. Here is a mystery: one man's experience drives him to curse God, while another man's identical experience drives him to bless God. Your response to what happens is more important than what happens.

If we see that offenses are bound to come, that there is no way to live in the world apart from what happens, then we must see that the difference between overcoming and not overcoming lies in our response to what happens.

Paul did not pray to be weak so that he could be strong. Naturally speaking, we despise weakness. We prefer strength. But human strength is an illusion. It is not true strength. The Lord shows us His grace is made perfect (or, is matured) through our weakness. Now, Paul rejoices in his weakness, in his being decreased: for "when I am weak, then I am strong." To the degree that we accept the decrease of ourselves, to that degree will we experience the increasing of Christ.

We cannot walk the narrow path until we have entered the narrow gate. But we cannot assume that because we have entered the narrow gate we are now finished. Most people lay stress on the gate, and their goal is to get people just far enough through the gate that they can claim salvation. That is where most of the Church sits today, just inside the narrow gate, rejoicing in a future salvation, a future heaven, a future return of Christ, and a future reward. But the narrow gate is only the beginning. The narrow gate only opens the door to the narrow way. It is the narrow way which leads to Life, and few find it. Fewer still walk to the end of it.

Now what we are discussing is an event as well as a process. There is a once-and-for-all decision to follow Christ, but we have to keep on following. Entering the gate is a once-and-for-all event, but walking the path is a process. We gain everything when we enter the gate, but we must walk the path in order to now live out of what we have. We are new creations, but we are being changed daily into the image of Christ. We died with Christ once: yet we die daily. We were crucified with Him once: yet we take up the cross daily. We were raised with Him once: yet we experience His Life daily. We were ascended with Him and we were seated with Him in the heavenlies once: but we live out the heavenly position in our daily walk, daily ascending above the earth, above the natural, to sit with Him in His throne as overcomers.

God wills that "all men would be saved (narrow gate) and would come to the full-knowledge [epignosis] of Truth (narrow way)." Those who merely enter the narrow gate have yet to satisfy God's heart. There is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, but as Arthur Katz has said, "Many are saved, but few are converted." It is God's will, His desire, that we come to the end of ourselves so that Christ may have the preeminence in us. Jesus said, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." Hebrews tells us that Christ is the brightness of God's glory, and the express image (or exact representation) of His person. Likewise, God's purpose for us as disciples (and by extension, the Church) is "if you have seen a disciple, you have seen Jesus." The Christian is to be the brightness of Christ's glory, and the exact representation of His person. I lack the vocabulary to express this adequately, but I trust the Lord will show us.

This is beyond "mere salvation", this is conversion, this is conformity to the very image of Christ. He most certainly does not have the preeminence in us now, thus, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

We have emphasized the Church for so long that we have lost sight of the individual disciples of which the Church consists. If one member lacks, the entire Body goes lacking. It is not so much a problem with the Church failing to apprehend its fullness as it is the individual disciples of the Lord failing to count the cost, suffer all as loss, and progress down the narrow way towards Christ as All in All. As the disciples go, so goes the Church. If Christ does not have the preeminence in the Church, it is because He does not have the preeminence in us as disciples.

If we have truly entered the gate and are walking the path, if we have truly yielded our lives to Him and long to know Him, then everything we experience is working to increase Christ and decrease us. On the positive side, the Holy Spirit is working to bring us into a more perfect knowledge of Christ. The Spirit is increasing Him, leading us into "all Truth", towards epignosis. On the negative side, the principle of the Cross is working to decrease us, to bring us to the end of ourselves, to reduce us to nothing. Eastern mysticism has long been aware of this positive and negative at work, it has simply misunderstood what it means and misappropriated it towards an end other than Christ. They have observed a principle but lack the Truth to explain the principle.

We must see that for every decrease of Self, Christ is increased. Even in our discussions we groan inwardly about having to die daily, having to give up our way and our will. We ought instead to be excited about Christ being increased, and how much He stands to gain in us and through us. He MUST increase, but you MUST decrease. It is better to relinquish everything now, on a voluntary basis, and lose our lives in order to gain our real Life. It is more glorious to enter the Kingdom out of a desire to give Christ the preeminence than to enter kicking and screaming and crying because we love ourselves too much. Make no mistake, if it is the Kingdom you seek, the Kingdom you will find, but you must be changed in order to enter therein. If you seek power from God you will have to accept weakness in yourself. If you want to rule with Him you must suffer with Him. If you want His Life you must give up your life. You can have either one you want, but you cannot have both. There is no increase without decrease, and there is no decrease without increase.

May the Son be increased through these words. Amen.

About The Author:

Chip Brogden is an international best-selling author, teacher and founder of TheSchoolOfChrist.Org. His writings reach more than 135 nations with a simple, consistent, Christ-centered message.

© 2015 TheSchoolOfChrist.Org. All Rights Reserved.

He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease

By Erin

"He must increase, but I must decrease."

You know how you get a song stuck in your head and no matter what you do, you can't seem to shake it?

I've been having that happen to me, but instead of a song, I have a Bible verse that keeps going round and round:

"He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30

Now, I'm not trying to stop thinking about it (it's a wonderful thing to have verses stuck in my head), but it will not leave me alone. I had never heard this verse until a few weeks ago, or at least I don't remember ever reading it.

The moment I heard it, I thought, "Well, there you have it. That sums up what I need to be striving for every single day."

As Christians, that should be what we're striving for: More Jesus. Less us.

"For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!"
– 2 Timothy 3:2-5

Those verses don't leave any doubt that we need to have more of Christ and less of ourselves.

We need to crave more of Him.

We need more of His patience and less of our knee-jerk reactions.

We need more of His kindness and less of our bitterness.

We need more of His grace and less of our self-righteousness.

We need more of His peace and less of our busyness.

We need more of His Word and less of this world.

We need more of His love and less of our selfishness.

I want all of those good things. I want to grow more in my relationship with Christ.

But to be honest, sometimes it's hard for me.

It's hard for me to sit and really be in the presence of God when my head is thinking about everything I have to do.

It's hard for me to feel peace when I look up from my scriptures and it looks like we've been robbed. (For the love of Pete, why did I bother cleaning yesterday or the day before or the day before … It appears that I haven't done laundry since 2013, as well.)

My to-do list is overwhelming most days and there are so many things I still need to do — want to do.

But I can't do it all.

You can't do it all.

But He can bring us peace and assurance that He walks with us. We are loved by the Creator of the universe.

"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:9

Did you see that? His strength is made perfect in weakness — weak vessels like me.

"He must increase and I must decrease."

Only Jesus can fill us, and the more that happens, the better off I'll be.

The better off you'll be.

Take a minute to memorize that verse and tuck it away.

Then the next time you feel stressed, unloved, incapable, unequipped or downright fussy, repeat it to yourself. God will increase as you surrender yourself to Him.

Copyright © 2015 itallmattersmom.com

Two Easy Ways You Can Fit Daily Bible Time into Your Busy Life

by Bobby Jamieson

I believe every Christian should strive to carve out time dedicated to Scripture reading and prayer every day. But for many of us, devotions aren't very daily. Some people, like mothers of young children, have excellent reasons for this. Others, like many college students, not so excellent.

If you struggle to fit in a daily quiet time, the open spaces in your schedule can be great places to squeeze in the Bible. Even if you have a robust devotional life, you can still cram the Bible in wherever and however you can. Wedge it into the gaps in your schedule. Stuff it into the in-between places, the nooks and crannies of unclaimed time throughout your day. In other words, fit the Bible into the margins of your life.

I don't mean push the Bible out to the margins of your life, as in, "Quit making the Bible so central in everything you do!" But all of us, even the busiest, have open spaces in our lives where God's Word can be given a place.

How many minutes a day do you spend waiting in line, washing the dishes, or driving?

Or, how many minutes do you spend on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram?

Each of those numbers will give you a rough idea of how much Bible you might be able to squeeze into your daily routine. Is it a sin to browse Facebook or carry on a game (or six) of Words with Friends? Not necessarily. But if you regularly find time for those hobbies but only irregularly find time for God's Word, what does that say about your heart? What is it that you're craving more than the nourishment of every word that proceeds from the mouth of God?

Often in the marginal times your attention is partially occupied by something else: commuting, chores, errands, and so on. You might not have your reading chair, slippers, and cup of coffee (or tea) handy. You might not even have your hands free to crack open a physical Bible. But here are at least two ways you can fit Bible intake into times like these.

1) Listen to an audio Bible

A number of Bible apps and online Bible resources come with free, quality audio Bibles. (For example, these are at BibleStudyTools.com.) If you've got twenty minutes while you're riding the bus or picking up your kids' toys after bedtime, you can listen through several chapters of Scripture. If you've tried and failed to make it through a Bible-in-a-year plan, why not supplement your reading with listening? You might find that listening to Scripture while doing something else actually aids your focus on the Word.

2) Memorize Scripture

Listening, of course, is one way to do this. If you've got a fifteen minute commute to work in the car, you can listen to Ephesians 1 five times. Do that every day for a week, and you'll be well on your way to memorizing the entire, magnificent chapter.

Do you have any consistent windows of time when you can fit in Scripture memory? Maybe a treadmill workout, or walk to the store, or washing dishes at night? All you need in order to memorize Scripture is the ability to mutter the verses out loud and occasionally glance at your pocket Bible or phone to check the wording.

Whether it's listening or memorizing or good old-fashioned reading, there are all kinds of ways you can fit the Bible into all kinds of times during your day. Think of those gaps in your day as loose change. You could simply leave them lying around, or you could invest some of them in God's Word and see what they add up to in six months, or a year, or ten years.

You may not be able to fit the Bible into every single spare moment of every single day. I certainly don't do that, and I don't know anyone who does. But too many Christians' daily routines include no Bible, and something is infinitely better than nothing—especially when it comes to taking in the Word of God.

If you're looking for a way to start, pick one window of your day when you can fit Scripture in, and try to do so every day for a week.

Time with the Bible is time well spent. How can you fit more Bible into the margins of your life this week?

About The Author:

Bobby Jamieson is a PhD candidate in New Testament at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of 'Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love' and 'Holiness of God' (Crossway, 2013).

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

Family Special: When God Hides - Where Are You God, When I Need You?

by Wayne Brouwer

Scripture: Psalm 13:1–6

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say,
“I have prevailed against him”;
Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
Psalm 13:1-6 (NKJV)

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
Psalm 13:1

There are benefits to pastoral ministry. Recently a woman wrote about how thrilled her family was to receive their green cards for permanent residency in this country. We had prayed consistently for this family and supported them through their many struggles and setbacks. Now she shared her joy with her church family.

Of course, pastoral ministry also has tough times. Once I stood with a newly married wife as her husband yelled at her, calling her every name possible. He ripped her house keys out of her hands. Later, he replaced the locks on their house and boarded up the windows to prevent her from getting back in.

The ups and downs of pastoral ministry are echoed in Psalm 13. Among the delights of praise, we hear a litany of despair. Where is God when one of us gets a bad report from the doctor? Where is God when a marriage breaks under the stress of unemployment? Where is God when a spouse dies?

One of the hardest challenges I've faced is finding God in loss. I remember sitting with a mother in a hospital, praying for the recovery of her daughter. The daughter had been married only a year. While delivering the woman's baby, the doctor nicked something with his knife. Now the young woman was fighting for her life.

Her mother was inconsolable. When we prayed, she felt no peace. Within hours, her daughter was gone. After that, the mother stopped going to church. The young husband was angry and didn't know how to care for his baby alone. Where was God?

That question is often asked in suffering or loss. And often the only answer appears to be silence. The promises of Scripture fade in the agony of sorrow. The Holy Spirit seems to withdraw from hearts that grow chilly. Where is God when airplanes crash? Where is God when a spouse is unfaithful? Where is God when a baby dies? Where is God?

Psalm 13 echoes those concerns. In verse 1, the psalmist David asks God, "How long will you hide your face from me?" But this isn't the end of the psalm. Rather, the psalmist goes on to assure us that our God, who is enthroned on high, stoops low to see and hear and know us—even when we can't see his face and his words are like a foreign language to us.

"I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation," said David (Psalm 13:5). Likewise we continue to love and trust God, not for what we get out of it right now, but because it is the only way to make sense of this life. We trust in God, not because we always feel the wonder of his divine presence, but because there is truly no one else to turn to but God. And in time we will live to say, "He has been good to me" (Psalm 13:6).

Let's Talk

  • What suffering have we known? How did it affect us? What was our relationship with God like at the time?
  • How do we know that God cares for us today? What would we say as a testimony if asked to share our stories?
  • What do we need from each other during stressful times? How can we best echo back to one another the confident testimonies of Psalm 13?

Source: NIV Devotions for Couples

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