Sunday, 30 December 2012

New Year's Resolution

Every year, most of us have New Year’s resolutions, one or more plans of what we have to do (or not do) in the coming year. I personally have to develop some good habits and a drop a bunch of bad ones. 

Anyway, here is an interesting passage from the Bible that is relevant to the theme:

For I resolve to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2)

If you haven't noticed, I have played around some words. The original verse has resolved, past tense. But I believe that this is a good resolution for times come because of a special reason.

 Verse 16 of the same chapter reads:

Who has known the mind of the Lord    so as to instruct him?”

We do believe that no one knows the mind of God. We also hold fast to the belief that He is running the world. But if He is in charge, why is this world such a mess?

I am sure none of us had a perfect 2015, not to comment on everything bad that happened in the world. But here is one way we can reconcile the rule of God with the evil in this world and all that has gone wrong in our lives:

1 Corinthians 1
23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

By knowing Christ and his cross,  we come to know the wisdom of God. In one way, the cross explains why God is “delaying” His judgment on evil, even while innocents suffer every day. God plans to save people through the death of Jesus Christ, and until that happens, He is not going to execute the final judgement.

There is nothing more evil than men killing God’s beloved, Jesus Christ, but out of that evil comes forth the universal plan of salvation, which gives us hope in the face of adversity.  So until all citizens of the kingdom are not saved, the world is going to stay as it is.

But then, how will those people come to know about the Gospel? By our preaching, and what is exactly that we have to preach? That’s right, Christ, and the cross. See how it all fits together!

The cross maybe a stumbling block for the world, but it reveals the wisdom of God and shows us how all things in the world, good or bad, fit together in the grand scheme of salvation.

So, here is a good new’s year resolution for all of us. Happy New Year!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Dead Children and Christmas

We live in a world where things are going worse by the day. In our country, we seldom receive any good news, But somehow as a nation we manage to go on.

Are we really that resilient, or we simply want to feel good and pretend everything is okay? Let me draw your attention to some events that took place this year:

·       The Rimsha blasphemy case. Imagine how Christians in her area will celebrate Christmas

·       The Malala Yousafzai Shooting

·       The CT school shooting and at the same day, children were stabbed in a Chinese school.

This is the backdrop in which we enter Christmas. How should we see these events in the light of God’s Word?

Matthew 2
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.

This is what happened at the very first Christmas! Innocent children died at the hands of a tyrant. Where was God?

The answer is simply amazing: He was right there! In fact, this was the very same time when He finally chose to reveal Himself to the world.

To derive a lesson from this, we see that God is right there even in the darkest moments of human history. And he is not just sitting there silently, but is actually busy bringing His plan of salvation to fruition. 

The Jews of that time have many commonalities with what most Pakistanis face today. Most Jews had a relationship with Romans that majority of Pakistanis have with America. In fact, King Herod was also perceived as a pithoo, a stooge of theRomans.

So, we have something in the infancy narratives that speaks to use in our circumstances. The bottom line is that we should try to understand that even in troublesome times like these, God actually reveals Himself to the world. Realize the fact that God’s sovereignty is prominent even when things go wrong, even when little children die.

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Sermon Time#3-The Messenger from Satan

In our day and age, everything from TV commercials to music, and from education to movies largely revolves around the belief that this life is all there is. 

The problem, this teaching is creeping in the Church as well. Need I name Christian best-sellers that talk about this life being the 'Best Life', or that Christians should 'Enjoy' their lives,

When does this life become the best life or the life of enjoyment for a believer? And are these teachings Biblical? Let’s look at a few verses that directly challenge this belief:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12)

In the backdrop is the spiritual pride of the Corinthians, and their obsession with 'signs and wonders'.  Things like miraculous healings and speaking in tongues, were in vogue at that time as they are today. But what is the Biblical take on this issue?

Let us move a few verses back:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught upto the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell

Paul says he knew a “man” who in vision or body was able to reach the very dwelling place of the Almighty. What can be more spiritually extravagant than this? Healing miracles and foreign tongues do not even come close to this ecstatic experience.

But who is this man? As far as I have read (and the text reveals), this man is none but Saul of Tarsus himself, as this will give sense to the words or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited”

The question is, why isn't St. Paul taking his own name and instead choosing to speak in 3rd person about an experience that would have made him a greater sensation than today's televangelists?

The answer is simple: he does not want to boast. Paul is not alone in this regard. Look at what Peter has to say:

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.....................................................................
..........19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16-18)

If Peter is an apostle and eyewitness to the glory of Christ, then his word would be enough, right? Then why does he resort to Scriptures?

We have an important principle here, i.e. our personal experiences maybe as amazing and authentic as anything, but they ultimately remain personal experiences. They can grow you, or maybe a few others around you spiritually, but they cannot be the canon of truth. That place is only reserved for the Word of God alone.

Today we have neglected this important truth. Even YouTube is filled with videos of “testimonies”, most of them so stupendous in nature, and yet they are blindly taken for truth.

Look , if God wanted to tell us what he supposedly showed someone in a dream, He would have either revealed in His Word or would have used a more reliable way of transmitting it to the Church at large.  

So be like Peter and Paul (or even Jesus on the road to Emmaus), and keep personal experiences to yourself! And as far as dreams and visions go, the same Epistle tells us that even satan can appear as angel of light.  

But the story does not end here. There is one more rock left to shatter the facade of the prosperity Gospel:

I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan”

If the messenger is from satan was given to Paul, who sent it? Same person who sent it to Job. 

Any guesses? Yes!

It was God Himself. This means sometimes we are healed, and sometimes we are not. There is no formula for a successful “Christian” healing. And even after fervent prayers if you are not healed, there is nothing wrong with your faith. Anyone who says otherwise is indirectly saying that Paul did not have enough faith.

So dear readers, hold fast to the word of God as personal experiences may or may not be reliable. But more importantly, understand that even when you are tormented, God is in charge.

He knows what is going on, even when He is silent. In fact, our personal afflictions bring Glory to God.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Nothing Changes on Christmas Day

Perhaps it was 5 years ago that I first tried my hand at writing. It was actively involved with a christian student’s organization and they published a magazine at Christmas. I volunteered to contribute a short article with a message related to the Advent.

Back then, even as a toddler in faith, I could look beyond the festivities of the season and think about issues that really bothered me, and I wrote about something about the Christmas story which is actually sad.

Now when I look at reputed speakers talk about the ugliness of Christmas, I find myself among many people whose hearts break at Christmas for more than one reason. Do we, as we skim through the nativity accounts of the New Testament, understand the serious messages inherit in the text?

One such example which I wrote about revolved around this passage:

 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea… 
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under….. (Matthew 2)

The Messiah of the Jews is born.Here are some Jews of both religious and secular standing who know very well what the scriptures say, yet they refuse to even go to His birthplace. On the contrary, they plan to kill the one who came to save them.

On the other hand, some non-believers, or “pagans” traveled from a land far away to come and worship Jesus. Not only did they face the suffering and toil of travel by land, they also put their lives at risk when they came to Jesus.

Jump forward 2000 years, has anything changed? Leave aside the Jewish people. What about us Christians? All we do is recite, nay, chant prophecies during the Advent season year after year, but our hearts are locked in Herod’s palace, far away from the humble abode of Christ.

I don’t know when this page was last updated, but the Wikipedia entry on Christian demographics clearly states:

This masks a major shift in the demographics of Christianity; large increases in the developing world (around 23,000 per day) have been accompanied by substantial declines in the developed world, mainly in Europe and North America (around 7,600 per day)

The so called Christian nations have all turned into Herod’s group of priests, holding Bibles in their hands yet refusing to acknowledge the true King. 

On the other hand the 3rd world has become the stable in Bethlehem, not only marked by immense poverty, but also dangling under the sword of death.

Yes, people in this part of the world risk their lives when they come to visit the baby born on Christmas, and we continue to sit on pews and heartlessly recite Scripture. Hence I say, nothing changes on Christmas day...

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Universal Faith of the Bible

Is YHWH a tribal deity? Even after witnessing the universal impact of the Biblical faith, many critics still question the validity of Christianity for the world. 

Sometimes, these accusations spring up from Biblical texts themselves, and I can think of no better example than the following verse: 

" I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Matthew 15:24

Recently a Muslim friend also raised this issue while commenting on one of my Facebook posts.

So since Jesus came only for the lost sheep of Israel, then His message is only for the Jews and not relevant for today's world (which is ironic since non-Jewish converts to Christianity far outnumber Jewish ones).

But then how do most Christians conclude that the Gospel message is for all mankind? The following are some texts from the Old and New Testaments that offer some clarity.

Seed of the Woman

15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head,and you will strike his heel.(Genesis 3)
God promises that someone will come from the seed of Eve to finally defeat satan. As time moved forward, God started telling us the exact nature of this offspring.

Seed of Abraham

Genesis 49

10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,until he comes to whom it belongsand the obedience of the nations is his

Before this, the LORD had said to Abram:

"I will make you into a great nation 
I will make your name great, 
and you will be a blessing. 
I will bless those who bless you, 
and whoever curses you I will curse; 
and all peoples on earth 
will be blessed through you"

All nations, and not just the Arabs or Jews will partake in Abraham’s blessing.

Thus far 3 points have been established:

·         A savior will come from Eve's seed (denoting universality)

·         He will be born in Israel (in the tribe of Judah)

·         All nations will be blessed through him.

As the Bible progresses, other prophets also spoke about this person. Scholars have listed more than 300 prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament. 

The New Testament

According to the Bible, Jesus came for a specific purpose, namely, to die for the sins of the people and then rise again from the dead (Luke 24:46-47). Note that until all this happened, Jesus didn't command his followers to preach outside Israel.

In addition, let’s see what people in His own time said about Jesus.

Luke 3

28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 

John 1

29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Note the connection, light for Gentiles and the glory of Israel. This was the theme that was picked up by the NT writers. A classic example is the Great Commission: 

Matthew 28
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations

Common language rules stipulate that “therefore” denotes something has happened before it. The command to preach to all nations included some conditions that had to be fulfilled first.

With this clarity, the rest of the NT proclaims: 

Acts 1

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 

Luke 24

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem

Acts 10

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life

Romans 1
5 Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. 
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentiles
So remember the Biblical principle, Jew first and then gentile. This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 15:24. There is a preference factor, not a call for exclusivity. 

This also sheds some light on why many Christians do not follow various precepts of the OT even while believing in them to be Holy Scripture. 

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