Friday, 30 November 2012

The Unknown Followers of Christ

At one time it was impossible for people to assume that there was a world beyond what they knew. But for more than a century now, the world is a global village. 

Even then, many Christians have the Us vs. Them mentality when it comes to dealing with non-believers (though we are not the only ones who have this problem). There are certain areas in Pakistan where virtually all Christians in the city live in close proximity to each other, and this reinforces this mentality. 

What should be our relation to people outside the Church, and even with those Christians who belong to different denominations?

I recently came across a text in the New Testament that speaks directly to this situation:

38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9)

Here we have the disciples coming to Jesus complaining about a certain man that was reported to be driving out demons in His name. If we go back to chapter 6, we find out that Jesus gave this power only to His disciples.

So naturally, this group thought that how can someone who is not one of us do what only we are supposed to do? Let's try to walk in their shoes. Would we not have responded in the same way? How many times someone from outside our congregation or prayer group has a fulfilling ministry, yet we dismiss them by the very same words that the disciples used for this unnamed exorcist? 

As the tension builds up, Jesus shocks everyone by saying, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me”

In other words, if someone’s words or deeds are bringing glory to the name of Christ, we cannot stop that person, even if they are 'outsiders'. That man was bringing glory to Christ’s name by driving out demons, whereas the Pharisees accused Jesus of being satan’s agent for doing the very same thing!

Jesus knows His sheep. He knows the difference between a believer who not yet matured and a blasphemer. Recall what Moses said to Joshua when he complained about some men from outside the tent prophesying:

“I wish that the entire Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29)

And Paul says:
 “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race!” (Romans 9:3)
How many of us have this heart? Who wants to share the spiritual blessings in the Christ with people outside the tent who are not one of us?

Remember, there is an invisible Church outside the vicinity of the physical one, and it is as active and real as the “official” one. Jesus knows it and He lets them “do it”. What about you?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

What Does the Bible Say About Modern Day Violence?

The situation in the country, especially my city, was on edge in the past couple of days. Severe energy crises, coupled with criminal activities and ever-rising terrorism only painted a picture of gloom and despair in the eyes of each citizen.

At such times, one wonders how the word of God applies to everyday life? We are all taught from childhood that God’s Word gives us comfort and solace in perilous times. But is it really true? Do we in reality find any “Good News” in these times of hardship and violence in the pages of the Bible? Let’s see:

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” Mark 13

Not only Jesus talks about the destruction of Jerusalem, but he also speaks about the signs of the ends of times, something that intrigues a lot of people these days.

All we see is deception, hatred, and violence. But Jesus says these things must happen. To add insult to injury, he says that this is all just the beginning! The horrors of the world wars, the natural disasters in Haiti, the famines in Africa, all according to the Bible are just the beginning.

This is not good news. This is bad news. 

How do you go outside in this wild world, and ask people to keep the faith, when your own Bible unabashedly states that all this is happening in accordance with God’s will and that they will continue to happen, increasing in intensity with each passing moment? Where is the hope? 

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God  (Hebrews 10)

Why did the Levite priests keep standing at the altar? Because sin was always there, even after the sacrifice. People kept on sinning and sacrifices kept on happening. There was no stop. But Jesus Christ offered the sacrifice that was whole, complete, for all times. That is why He sat down!

But how does all this link with what was discussed at the opening? The passage continues: 

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.(Hebrews 10)

So, the Day is approaching with all its impending horror and doom. But what is the believer to do? Meet with each other and encourage each other. Why? Because the sacrifice of Christ makes you whole.

Sometimes you are just awestruck by the uniqueness of the Bible which at one place warns you, yet another place comforts you, and the two portions fit together perfectly. 

So, believers, this is our hope in the present times. All is not well and will never be, but we need to find solace from the ultimate sacrifice and help each other.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Prominent Christians, Past & Present

While preparing for Sunday school lessons on the Bible, I gave the children a few examples of noted Christians who did not only believe in the Bible, but excelled in the secular sphere as well.

I later published it online, and to my surprise, someone it shared it on another website as well.

Note that all entries in this article may not be considered “orthodox” Christians. Nevertheless, here is an overview of the influence of the Bible, and ode to people who rightfully were the “salt of the earth:

·         The Bible was the first major book to be printed in the world, launching the Gutenberg Revolution.

·         The Bible is still the highest selling book in the world.

·      Till 1998, the Bible was translated in more than 2000 languages. Almost 93% of the world's population read the Bible in their mother tongue .

·         The King James Version, being just one of the many translations has played a major part in the development of the English language. Almost 60% of all English language idioms come from the KJV.

·         Despite the widespread notion that science is at loggerheads with religion, scientists considered the pioneers of modern science (such as Isaac Newton, Galileo, Robert Hoyle, Johannes Kepler, Blaise Pascal, and Copernicus) all were Bible believers.

·         Famous sportspersons and athletes like Shawn Michaels and Eric Liddell not only believe in Christ, but took part in Christian evangelism as well.

·         Johann Sebastian Bach and Mozart have a timeless influence on both secular and Church music.

·         Florence Nightingale, a Christian, was the founder of modern nursing.

·         William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian, led the movement which ended African slavery.

·         Top universities like Oxford, Harvard and Yale were started as religious institutions.

·         Christian missionaries have helped local communities in poor countries immensely. Indeed, it is not a coincidence that education and health care came with arrival of missionaries in the third world   
·         Many astronauts on both Apollo 8 and 11 were believing Christians. They read the Bible in space, and even performed Eucharist while orbiting the Moon! Infact, an athiest onboard on Apollo 8 actually filed a lawsuit against Christians reading Genesis in the Spacecraft.

This does not go without saying that adherents of other religions have not contributed in anyway to the development of humanity. Nor do I argue that Christians have never acted in way that has harmed mankind.

But history has shown us one thing: Christianity is a religion of revival. There have been dark periods in Church history, but today the nations influenced by Christianity stand on the forefront of modern civilization.

Most importantly, all major atrocities committed by the Church were stopped by the members of the same faith. Whether it was the slaughter of Jews, war with the Turks, or the burning of innocent women, every time it was the Christians themselves who rose against the evils done in the name of God by their own brethren. 

This is one, but not the only one, reason that Christianity still holds some relevance today. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Second Christmas

It was the first birthday of Jesus, i.e. the second Christmas. Mary was planning to celebrate as her modest means allowed. However, since morning, she noticed that there was an unusual commotion in the neighborhood. 

People were busy doing something or the other, as if a big event was coming up. Some were decorating the walls of the street, while others were busy shopping. Women especially were cleaning their houses. "What is the occasion?", Mary wondered. "Why are people making these preparations?"

And then, it suddenly occurred to her. They were actually going to celebrate the first birthday of Jesus! She lept with joy; words could not describe her happiness. Who wouldn't be happy, especially when the whole town celebrates their child's birthday?

Hurriedly, she cleaned up the house in the anticipation of guests and took out the best clothes for herself and the birthday boy. As evening approached, she dressed up with her son and sat near the door, confident in the fact that pretty soon the guests would come rushing in.

Then she heard the commotion once again. But as time passed by, no one came to her house to wish her son. She looked outside, and, what she saw greatly disturbed her.

People were meeting and greeting each other. And the gifts she thought belonged to her son were being exchanged between families. People entertained each other in their homes, and the celebrations lasted till midnight. But no one came to Mary's house to wish her son.

Holding the baby in her arms, she thought to herself, "If it is my son's birthday, why are people giving gifts to each other?"

Thursday, 15 November 2012

What is the True Religion?

A religion is an ideology on which individuals base their views regarding the universe and the deeper questions of human life, and such views result in religious practices. 

Now all of us know there are many religions in the world, and each one is further divided into various factions. Christianity has its denominations, Islam has its sectarian differences, and even Buddhism is divided into different schools of thought.

Moreover, there are tons of ways to classify these religions. So you have, for example, the 'Abrahamic Faiths'. But I suggest that there are only 2 kinds of religions in this world.

One is the God-centered religion and the other is the man-centered religion. We also have to name these two religions, so let’s call the God-centered religions the “religion of Abel” and the man-centered religion the “religion of Cain”.

The story of the Cain and Abel is popular, and is even found the Qur’an (Sura 5:27). Here are two brothers who both worship the same God. We see that even since the inception of humanity, religion has been a divisive issue where people always have differences in beliefs and practice. But the question is, why did God accept one offering and the reject the other?

The Qur’an does not give us the details. So let us move to the Torah and the books of Jewish scholars. What do we find there?

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. (Genesis 4)

So what was it about the meat that God liked it instead of fruits?
I asked the questions in my youth Bible class and received some interesting answers. I was told that “The fruits were old “and that is why God didn't like them!

Some people even suggest that Cain did not bring the tithe, the 10%. That is why God did not like it. But obviously, scriptures do not provide these details.

The fruits perhaps symbolize man’s own efforts, and this is in essence what a man-centered religion is all about. On the other hand, when Abel offered a blood sacrifice, he was admitting the fact there is nothing a man can do that would please the Almighty. In other words, it is not my efforts that make God happy.

Centuries later, Jesus told us a story:

10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God (Luke 18)

Those who show God their “fruits” will leave the alter empty-handed, but those who admit that they can do nothing to please a Holy God stand justified in His presence.

However, that’s not the only difference between the religion of Abel and the religion of Cain. Man-centered religion is the religion of hate, whereas the God-centered religion works in the best interests of humanity.

Have you ever realized that the first murder in the history of the world was done in the name of faith? What Adam did to Cain is what religious people have been doing all the time.

It is also interesting to note what the books of Jews say on the Cain-Abel episode:

It is not said here blood in the singular, but bloods in the plural, that is, his own blood and the blood of his seed. Man was created single in order to show that to him who kills a single individual it shall be reckoned that he has slain the whole race, but to him who preserves the life of a single individual it is counted that he hath preserved the whole race.(Mishnah Sanhedrin, 4.5).

This is the value the God-centered faith places upon human life. Someone asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment?”, and he replied:

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12

So what is the true religion? That we don't boast of our own religiosity, but rather serve humanity in love. It is salvation by faith in God's grace through Christ and living a life that is wholly pleasing to Him.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Brave Gentiles

In 1889, a boy was born in a Sikh family of Rampur, India. His parents named him Sundar. His mother died when he was still young, an event which left him disturbed. It is said that he often took out his frustrations on people, especially Christians.

In these volatile years, Sundar was known to have burnt the Bible as well. But one day something happened which changed his life.  Sundar claimed that he saw Jesus in his room. 

"Why do you persecute me? I died for you..." These were the words he heard.

It could have been a dream, no one knows. But the young sardar was now a believer!   

He boldly confessed the newfound belief to his family, who tried to hurt him and later disowned him. Sundar was taken in by Christian missionaries, the same people he despised before. Although he received formal education in a mission's school, Sundar realized that the Gospel could not come to the subcontinent in a pure western style.  

Therefore, he started wearing a robe and turban and became an itinerant preacher, just like the Lord himself.

""I am not worthy to follow in the steps of my Lord, but, like Him, I want no home, no possessions. Like Him I will belong to the road, sharing the suffering of my people, eating with those who will give me shelter, and telling all men of the love of God."

Because of his appearance and lifestyle, people started calling him a holy man. The young sardar from Rampur now became Sadhu Sundar Singh. He traveled India, and various other countries, often with an empty stomach and bleeding feet. 

Many a time people used physical means to repulse his message. Sadhu is also reported to have visited the mountains of Tibet several times. He was stoned, and was thrown in a well that was the locked from above. Tibet is also the place where the Sadhu was seen for the final time.

How he died, no one knows. But despite all the mysteries surrounding his life, it remains vivid example of the hardship non-believers have to face when they come to know the Lord. 2,000 years ago, some wise men came from the East to visit the baby Jesus.

They were not believers, and had no prior knowledge of the Messiah. Yet they still chose to respond to the call that God gave them through a star in the sky. Leave aside the hardships of travelling; the wise men had to face a threat to their life as king Herod issued an ordered to have them killed.

When we celebrate Christmas this year, let us not simply recite the scriptures like the priests in Herod's courts, but rather remember the hardships non-believers still have to face as they come to the feet of the Lord.