Sunday, March 28, 2010


In 1984 the then Polish Prime Minister Jaruzelski had ordered crucifixes removed from classroom walls, just as they had been banned in factories, hospitals, and other public institutions. Catholic bishops attacked the ban that had stirred waves of anger and resentment all across Poland. Ultimately the government relented, insisting that the law remain on the books, but agreeing not to press for removal of the crucifixes, particularly in the schoolrooms.
But one zealous Communist school administrator decided that the law was the law. So one evening he had seven large crucifixes removed from lecture halls where they had hung since the school's founding in the twenties. Days later, a group of parents entered the school and hung more crosses. The administrator promptly had these taken down as well. The next day two-thirds of the school's 600 students staged a sit-in. When heavily armed riot police arrived, the students were forced into the streets. Then they marched, crucifixes held high, to a nearby church where they were joined by 2,500 other students from nearby schools for a morning of prayer in support of the protest. Soldiers surrounded the church. But, the pictures from inside of students holding crosses high above their heads flashed around the world. So did the words of the priest who delivered the message to the weeping congregation that morning. "There is no Poland without a cross."

What gave the Polish such incredible power to hold on to the cross in the midst of severe opposition? Could you imagine a world without the cross? Not only Poland, without the cross of Christ there would be no Christianity hence there would be no hope for humanity.

Every religion and ideology has its visual symbol, which illustrates a significant feature of its history or beliefs. The lotus flower is used by ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and Indians and is now particularly associated with Buddhism and represents either the cycle of birth and death or the emergence of beauty and harmony out of the muddy waters of chaos. For modern Judaism the Star of David speaks of God’s covenant with David. For Muslims a crescent is a symbol of sovereignty. Even the secular ideologies of this century have their symbols
What one symbol for Christians around the world depicts the core message, beliefs, and history of Christianity? “It seems certain that at least from the second century onwards, Christians not only drew, painted and engraved the cross as a pictorial symbol of their faith.” In countries like India the symbol of the cross clearly distinguishes Christians from among millions of Hindus and Muslims. However I have noticed in America it doesn’t always carry quite the same significance or symbolism for people who wear a cross. Unfortunately for many the cross remains a mere cosmetic symbol and has lost its meaning and power.

How can we claim ourselves to be Christians and not tenaciously hold on to the claims of Christ and fearlessly proclaim the message of the Cross in our work place, schools, government and market place? It is not the cross as a mere symbol that is powerful to change any lives but it is the Christ of the cross who is powerful to transform lives. Paul recognized that power of God, I Cor 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness for those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The message of the cross may be foolish for those who are perishing but it is the power of God to those who are being saved.

What made the early Christians so radical in their faith so that they did not withhold any thing including their own lives when it came to propagate and preserve the message of the Cross and persevere under intense persecution? Was it their simple resolve or their witnessing and identifying in the suffering of Christ? We have no clue of what Jesus must have suffered in order to purchase salvation for us. Let me paint the picture of the suffering Christ before and during Crucifixion. Both Matthew and Mark gave a detailed description on what actually went on once Christ was handed over to be crucified.

Matthew 27:26-31 “Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.” What was taking place here is already foretold by the Prophet Isaiah long ago we read it in Isaiah 53rd chapter. Let me draw your attention to a few things from this passage:

A bandit! An outlaw!! A criminal was released and an innocent man was punished!!! How outrageous? If something like that happens today don’t we all shout INJUSTICE? But that was what exactly happened when Pilate released Barabbas and had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. By choosing Barabbas over Jesus people indicated that they loved darkness more than light. They preferred wickedness more than choosing to do the right thing. John 3:19-20 “The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.” Even today there are certain people who delight in the darkness; they would rather choose the pleasures of sin than to live a life that is pleasing to God. What would you choose today, the darkness or the light?

By choosing Barabbas over Jesus people condemned Jesus to be the worst criminal of all. Is that a fitting tribute to the one who healed their deceases, set their demon possessed free, raised their dead and fed their thousands? Even today many followers of Christ and missionaries around the world are being treated that way, they are considered as anti social elements and criminals because they try to love people and walk in the footsteps of their Lord and master.

Jesus was in the hands of merciless Roman guards. Matthew gives us a picture saying the whole cohort was around him. A Roman Cohort (Battalion) consisted of anywhere between 300-1000 men. Mark describes, “They blind folded him, struck him with their fists and said prophesy, some even spat on him. What a humiliation of the one who healed the blind men, touched the lepers and blessed their children by laying his hands on them. That was not the end. After stripping him naked they scourged him. Here the Gospel writers do not give us any description of how the Roman whipping or scourging was like. The Roman scourge, also called the "flagrum" or "flagellum" was a short whip made of two or three leather (ox-hide) thongs or ropes connected to a handle. The leather thongs were knotted with a number of small pieces of metal, usually zinc and iron and bones. Scourging would quickly remove the skin.

According to history the punishment of a slave was particularly dreadful. In ancient Rome crucifixion was almost always preceded by the "flagrum or scourging" The Jewish scourging contained 39 lashes but there is no set number for Roman scourging. They continue scourging until the victim is nearly dead.

After scourging Jesus the Roman soldiers made a mockery of Him. But even in their mockery they did not realize that they were fulfilling the scriptures. They placed a Scarlet robe (military cloak) on him. In ancient Rome the Scarlet Robe was worn by royalty, priests, and the Roman army. In the Roman army a dull read cloak was given to the soldiers, a bright scarlet cloak was given to the officers and a purple cloak was given to the generals. In any case it was a thick round woolen cloak. Can you imagine the pain Jesus endured when the heavy thick cloak was put on his body? By putting the scarlet robe they unknowingly affirmed the royalty and the priesthood of Jesus. In Isaiah1:18 “Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.”

The scarlet robe represents the sin of the whole world. God put all our sins on Jesus. Isaiah 53:4-5 4 “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” Unlike the high priests who offered blood sacrifice for the sins of Israel once a year, Jesus the Great High priest offered his blood as a sacrifice for the sins of not only Israel but the sins of the whole world once for all.

Paul writes in Romans 3:25 “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.” I John 2:2, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” After placing the robe they twisted together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, Hail King of the Jews.

In the Bible thorns and thistles represent the curse of God. In the Garden of Eden God cursed the land saying “it will produce thorns and thistles for you” In Hebrews 6:8 “But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” The crown of thorns on Jesus’ head signifies that He took the curse of the land upon himself. Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”

The soldiers knelt before Jesus and said mockingly “Hail King of the Jews.” Even today there are people who mock Jesus, Christians and the Church, but little do they know that one day including the soldiers who mocked Jesus would bend their knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” Philippians 2:10-11. With a crown of thorns on his head and a reed in his right hand and a royal scarlet robe draped around, Jesus looked like a King but a suffering King indeed.

There was no vivid description of the actual crucifixion in the Scriptures. All the four gospel writers simply stated that “they crucified him” that doesn’t give us a whole lot of in depth insight on of how much our Lord suffered. However based on other documents we get the gruesome picture of what happens at a typical crucifixion, “The prisoner would first be publicly humiliated by being stripped naked. He was then laid on his back on the ground, while his hands were either nailed or roped to the horizontal wooden beam and his feet to the vertical pole. The cross was then hoisted to an upright position and dropped into a socket which had been dug for it in the ground. Usually a peg or rudimentary seat was provided to take some of the weight of the victim’s body and prevent it from being torn loose. But there he would hang, helplessly exposed to intense physical pain, public ridicule, daytime heat and night time cold. The torture would last several days.” The rest of it I will leave to your imagination.

All I tried so far is just to give us a glimpse of the sufferings of our Lord, there is much more to be explored. What then is the relationship of Christ’s suffering and mine? Suffering is the pathway to maturity. The Son of God needed to be matured through suffering, “Hebrews 5:8-9 “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,” If suffering was the means by which the sinless Christ became mature, how much more do we need it in our sinfulness.

Now you may be reading and thinking ‘Yeah right!! Christ knows nothing of what I am going through! Does he know what it is to be lonely? Rejected? Homeless? Exhausted? Does he know what it is to be in pain, to be pressured to perform, to be bad mouthed? Does he know what it is to be misunderstood, laughed and backstabbed? Does he know what it is to be human, to maintain a busy schedule and meet deadlines? Does he understand anger and frustration? Does he understand the agony of loosing a friend? Does he understand my sexuality; did he ever struggle with temptation?

We find a profound answer to all these questions in Hebrew 4:15-16 “Christ has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help is in our time of need.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


As a teenager, Joni Eareckson Tada loved life. She enjoyed riding horses, loved to swim. One summer in 1967, however, that all changed. While swimming with some friends, Joni dove into a lake not knowing how shallow it really was. She broke her neck, paralyzing her body from the neck down. For the next two years during her rehabilitation Joni struggled. She struggled with life, she struggled with God, and she struggled with her paralysis and wanted to die. One question disturbed Joni more than anything else. If God is supposed to be all loving and all powerful, then how can, what has happened to me, be a demonstration of His love and power?

There are no easy answers to why some people suffer much and others seem to breeze through life. You may be going through a painful situation where life doesn’t seem to make any sense. You can’t seem to reconcile how a loving God could allow this terrible thing to happen to you, let alone see any good coming out of your situation. Paula Rinehart notes in her book “Strong women Soft Hearts, “Pain –emotional pain is a curious thing. It takes place on an invisible level, yet it has the potential to actually shape the real stuff of a person’s future. It can numb and destroy our passion in life, but it can refine and bless as well.”

Pain and suffering are inevitable. Almost everyone experiences at some point in life. Our response to them can either make us a bitter person or a better person. Understanding suffering from a Biblical point of view can actually make us stronger, wiser and more grounded in the Lord and experience healing, freedom and wholeness in our lives.

Life is not one straight easy road. It takes different twists and unexpected turns. Truly as the song goes we were “never promised a rose garden, along with the sunshine there’s gotta be a little rain some time.” I admit that I am not an expert in explaining suffering; I am grappling to understand the meaning of pain and suffering. Who can understand the grief of first time parents whose baby was still born? How could we explain the freak automobile accidental death of a young man who was full of dreams of future and ministry among the Muslims? What words can possibly comfort godly parents whose teenage daughter is literally dying in front of their eyes? What would you say to a missionary widow whose husband and two children were killed by radicals because of the gospel? Seeing those things happen to people in my context left me with more questions than answers.

While there are no easy answers to human suffering the scriptures does give us some comforting pointers that seem to put all the pain, agony and human suffering in right perspective. In Romans 8:28 we read “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” This scripture is often quoted or rather misquoted and misinterpreted by people who try to help themselves or others when they are suffering. What is it actually saying?

BIBLICAL CONEXT: The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome. In the early chapters Paul dealt with man’s ruined condition and his standing before God as a guilty sinner. No matter whether Jews or gentiles all have sinned against God and therefore became enemies of God. The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. The only way man can be saved is through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul explained that if anyone is in Christ he becomes a new creation. The old is gone behold everything has become new. Paul used the analogy of child birth to explain how the creation is groaning and suffering and we too groan within ourselves and are eagerly waiting to put on a new and incorruptible body.

On this side of heaven there is no such thing as “perfect smile, health, wealth, and families as media ads often seem to present. There is no completely pain free existence. While Paul was challenging the believers to look forward for better things to come he also consoled those who were physically suffering, and facing challenging situations with these words, reading from NASB, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” Let me unpack this scripture

Vs 28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good..” Knowledge can come from two sources one is through acquiring information and another one is through experience. For example it is one thing for a young woman who has never given birth to children to say “I know child bearing is painful” but it is quite another thing for a woman who has given birth to children to say “I know that child bearing is painful”. One intellectually knows but the other experienced it.

In Greek language two words were used to describe knowing. One describes “experientially or intuitively knowing” and the other “intellectually knowing.” Here Paul employed the former word to stress the fact that he did not know God merely intellectually by going to a Jewish seminary but he experienced God personally.

When we understand what Paul went through then we will have better appreciation for this verse. Just to give you a glimpse into Paul’s suffering: “he was beaten with rods in public and imprisoned without trial (injustice), (Acts 16:22), five times he received what was called the 39 lashes, three times was beaten with rods, once stoned, three times shipwrecked, constantly on the move (no permanent place to live), faced dangers from rivers, robbers, from fellow Jews, Gentiles, in the wilderness, and from the false prophets. He went without water, food and sleep many days. He was exposed to cold on the sea. These were all the external hardships. If that was not enough he was burdened with a daily pressure of concern for all the churches that he planted.

Talk about hardship! When Paul says we know that God causes all things to work together for good it is not a mere intellectual concoction but an experiential conviction. Paul out of his own painful experiences knew very well that God causes all things to work together for good (the benefit or advantage). How well do you know God? Do you know him only intellectually? Or do you know Him experientially too?

Throughout the Bible and in Church history great men and women of God who have gone through hardships and suffering can say without a blink of an eye that indeed God causes all things work together for good. In James 1:17 “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” The scripture here implies that all good and perfect gifts we receive are coming from our heavenly father. But how about the heart ache, pain, suffering, sickness, death, broken relationships, do they also come from God? Who is responsible for the evil in the world?

The Bible doesn’t give us any clear indication that God causes bad things to happen to people, but in his sovereign way he can certainly allow them to happen. For example Job lost all his property, children, and health all at once, inspite of all that Job did not curse God instead he worshiped Him. Job’s wife advised him to curse God and die, but Job refused to listen to her instead he said “shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity? While Job was still going through excruciating suffering this was what he said: in Job 19:25- 27, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes I and not another. How my heart yearns within me.”

Job is a clear example for us to know how to respond to adversity. When I received the news of my mother’s death many years ago, I said to the Lord, God I am not upset with you. I often heard similar responses from Christians when they lost their loved ones.

My wife and I vividly remember the horrifying news of the gruesome killing of Graham Stains an Australian missionary in Eastern India who was burned to death together with his two young sons in 1999 by Hindu extremists. This is what his widowed wife Gladys Stain said in her recent visit to India, “It has been ten years since the gruesome incident during these ten years, there have been times of sadness, I feel sad that I do not have my husband to support me, to guard me, and I would never see my sons graduating but these are just momentary emotions of sadness which also fill me with great hope, the hope of heaven and of being reunited with my husband and children in paradise and seeing the Father face to face. This guarantee fills me with consolation. I will always continue working to fulfill my husband's dream to live in peace and harmony, and work together for the good of all. "I forgive the other, because I have first received forgiveness from Jesus Christ When we forgive, there is no bitterness and we live our lives and continue the task entrusted to us - with His grace and peace. Her appeal to "To the believers in rest of the world I say, do not give up hope, pray for India."

Wow! what a story of commitment. Here is another example of a woman who not only accepted good from God but also adversity. Inspite of a great personal tragedy and loss she never deterred from the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ which is to bring peace and hope to lepers living in the villages of Eastern India. It is not the adversity that makes us bitter but it is how we respond to it.

When we go through difficulties we need something more than knowing that God is with us in difficulties. We also need hope that our suffering is not in vain.” Have you noticed that some families of lost loved ones, while dealing with their grief also work to reform laws or change social conditions that lead to the death of their loved one? Why? Because they need to know that through the death of their loved one, something good will come out which will benefit a lot of people? For example, the brutal murder of a 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson in a Nevada casino in 1997 has led to a new law called Sherrice law in California that makes it a crime to witness the assault of a minor without notifying the police.”

There are ample evidences in the Bible where God has turned adverse situations not only for the advantage of those who were suffering but also for the advancement of his Kingdom. In the case of Joseph God has turned the evil intended by his brothers into something good where by not only his family but the whole nation was saved from starvation.

How do we respond to adversity? Not many of us are good at handling adversity in a right way. When some thing doesn’t go according to our way we tend to become sullen, depressed, stop reading the bible, stop talking to God, get angry at God, and blame every body else. Some even go to an extent and curse God and yet if we only care to crawl on to our heavenly father’s lap to receive comfort and healing. Instead of being estranged from God we will draw near to Him. As the Bible says when we draw near to him He will draw near to us.

It is one thing to know and say that God causes all things work together for the good, but do you realize that these promised and blessings are only reserved for those who love Him and to those who are called according to his purpose? In other words only those who have accepted the Lord as their personal savior receive blessings.

I have no clue of the depth of what you might be going through, but one thing I know in Psalm 34:18-19 “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, And saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; But the LORD delivers him out of them all.” If you have never accepted the Lord as your savior you can do that by asking the Lord to forgive your sin and heal your broken heart. If you are already a believer then according to James 1:2-4 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

No matter who you are today if you are going through adversity call upon the name of Jesus, he understands your suffering “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those are being tempted.” Heb 2:18. Amen

Sunday, March 14, 2010

THE GIFT OF SLOWING DOWN:(Contemplative Christian Living)

Almost every one is busy. Whether a teenager pushing books under a heavy course load or a soccer mom driving kids to sports while managing a demanding job or a stay at home mom with small children, a corporate executive, a cab driver, teacher, a pastor, a self employed, rich or poor, Christian or not, we are over scheduled, preoccupied, fatigued and starved for time. The following poem explains how busyness squeezes the life out of you.”

Time of the Mad Atom

This is the age
Of the half-read page.
And the quick hash
And the mad dash.

The bright night
With the nerves tight
The plane hop
With the brief stop.

The lamp tan
In short span.
The Big Shot
In a good spot

And the brain strain
The heart pain.
And the cat naps
Till the spring snaps --
And the fun's done!

I wonder why such mad rush? Unfortunately, whether we admit or not we believe a notion that being busy is a sign of success. The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is, on the contrary, born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else--we are the busiest people in the world, but at what cost? What is that one thing we ought to do yet we don’t have time for it?

Peter Scazzero the Pastor of one of the most thriving Churches in New York in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality explains what has contributed to the busyness among the Evangelical Christians, “Activism is the key explanation for how evangelicals came to dominate the English- Speaking world from 1850-1900. Working hard for God, “in season and out of season,” was expected for church members.”

Jesus modeled a life of perfect balance between activism and slowing down. During his final phase of journey to Jerusalem before his crucifixion Jesus was involved in a whole range of hectic ministry activities. Let me unpack his ministry schedule (Lk 9-10): In a private meeting with Moses, and Elijah on the mountain top he discussed about his departure and his final mission in Jerusalem. He cast out an evil spirit from a boy. He solved a conflict among his disciples who were trying to grab his seat after he has gone. He sent out two sets of disciples one time 12 and another time 72 on a special mission and evaluated their ministry after they returned. He rebuked his overzealous disciples James and John who wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans because they refused to provide hospitality.Yet; in the midst of a busy schedule Jesus managed to find time to stop by his friend’s house to be refreshed.

The narrative in Luke 10:38-42 unfolds the dangers of over busyness, the necessity of the gift of slowing down and what really matters in life.

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord's word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him, and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Let me share the context of the story. Martha and Mary both are sisters. They had a brother named Lazarus. They lived in a village east of Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples often passed through Bethany and stayed at the house of Martha and Mary. In this story Martha and Mary represents two approaches to the Christian life. Martha represents a Competitive Christian and Mary represents a Contemplative Christian.

Martha has opened her home for Jesus; but then she became so busy in serving the Lord instead of being with the Lord. The story tells us that “Martha was distracted, literally meant burdened or drawn away” In other words her life was filled with do lists, and meeting deadlines. Martha’s life was fragmented, divided and filled with wrong priorities. Here duties have become disconnected from her love for Jesus. In frustration she complained, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then she ordered Jesus what to do She said “then tell her to help me.”

Don’t we all carry a bit of a Martha’s syndrome? We work hard and at times over work in order to gain approval and acceptance from the Lord. When we become the center of our focus instead of the Lord being the center, just like Martha we indulge in self talk, it is all about “I, myself and me.” We can be obsessed with ourselves. We go one step further and even order God to fit into our plans instead of us fitting into His plans. Martha is a proto type of a person who over works in order to gain approval from God.

We struggle with a desire for more time with God, but there is simply too much to do. In a high pressured world there is a lot of demand on our time. Our schedules are constantly getting busier and busier. One study shows that “The Americans work longer and faster than they did 40 years ago, and they take shorter vacations. Families in the 1950s could live on one income; today it often takes two. One out of every two Americans gets too little sleep.” Peter Scazerro beautifully illustrated in his book Emotionally Healthy spirituality a life that is out of order and a life that is well balanced. When we spend more time in activities and only a little (no) time with God, then our lives become out of balance. Doing for God flows from being with God

We often hear people saying I am so tired and exhausted. Which is may be true in this high paced world. But how often do we here people saying I am slowing down, taking time off to contemplate and worship God. Peter Scazzerro notes being contemplative means, “surrendering to God’s love, resting in his presence attentively, practicing silence, communing with God in solitude, and a life of unceasing prayer.”

We worship God not our work. Marva Dawn rightly observed why we should make God as the center of our worship, “To be Christian means to believe that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is everything to us- Creator, Provider, and Sustainer; Deliverer, Redeemer, and Lord; Sanctifier, Inspirer, and Empowerer.”

In the story we find that Mary lived like as if all that was mattered to her was Jesus and nothing else. We can tell that by how close she used to stay with Jesus.
Mary was often seen at the feet of Jesus. Do you remember after raising Lazarus from the dead; six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany and came to the home of Martha and Mary. A dinner was given in his honor. Again Martha being who she was assumed the role of serving where as Mary found her way to the feet of Jesus and took a bottle of expensive perfume poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.(John 12:1-3) In our story where do we find Mary? At the feet of Jesus,’ listening to the Lord's word. That is the place and the position of a contemplative Christian. If we want to get to know Christ more, we need to get closer to him and listen to his word.

Henri Nouwen, a theologian and a professor whose life had become a paradox. As much as he felt burdened by the demands of his busy life he lived in fear of the absence of activity. He had become dependent on the “compulsions and illusions” of his world yet he longed for a “quiet stream.” The quiet stream, of course was God himself. In order to find rest for his soul he left his busy and demanding schedule and went to live for six months in a monastery. Nouwen chose to leave the noise and activity of his life behind so that he could get nearer to God in quietness and solitude.” Can we make such sacrifice?

In this highly digital world as Pete Scazerro says, “the global culture like a beast threatens to swallow us these days. The core values of the twenty first century tend to scream at us for attention for example computers, billboards, televisions, DVDs, I pods, music, schools, newspapers, movies, magazines and so on.” We falsely believe the notion that happiness is found in having things, the more things we have the more we will be happy. We work hard, sacrifice relationships in order to acquire things but in the end we are more dissatisfied and are never content. Then where does true happiness and contentment come from? Mary has learned the secret; she knew true happiness could only come when we listen attentively and act upon the word of God.

Jesus had a few strong words to say to overworked Martha. He answered to her complaint saying, Luke 10:41 “But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, other rendering reads, “you are anxious and worried about many things.” “Anxious and troubled about many things; "you are worried and upset about many things, "My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details”

What was Jesus saying? Was he saying that Martha should stop all her work? Was he advocating idleness? Or was he saying stop worrying? No! Because Martha was distracted with so many things in one way Jesus was saying, Martha! Stop being distracted about life because life is more important than food and clothes. Jesus wanted Martha not to loose her Joy by loosing her focus; instead he wanted her to seek him first before anything else. Isn’t that what the Lord wants from all of us that. We would seek his Kingdom and his righteousness first?

Mary seemed to have her priorities right; her heart was in the right place. We can be quite sure that Mary too would have gladly jumped to her feet and served Jesus his favorite food if He had asked her. Her work would have flown from a place of right relationship; she wasn’t seeking to prove anything to any body or striving for acceptance.

Martha on the other hand let her work distract her from her relationship with Jesus and she was getting all irritated and worked up about Mary’s inaction. Mary chose the most important thing that was her love for God which won the affirmation from Jesus, “Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

There are many things in life that can be taken away from us. Like Job we may loose everything in one day but nothing can take away our love for him and his love for us. This is what Paul meant when he said, Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Is life overwhelming you? Are you tired and exhausted? Is your work draining your joy, health, affecting your relationship with God and others? If that is true then it may be time to evaluate your priorities. Sit down and write down at the end of the day what truly matters.

How could we regain balance in our life? Simplify, realize we don’t have to do it all, be it all, and have it all. Nothing you can do to earn God’s love; he loves you anyway. Practice contentment. Know your limitations. Create margins which mean creating space in your schedule to be refreshed, to spend time with your wife; help your children with home work. Disconnect the TV if you need to so that you can spend time in prayer and reading the Bible. Limit your internet. Take a day off to be alone with God. Above all remember your relationship with God other right relationships matters most. Amen

Sunday, March 7, 2010


A football or a basket ball coach understands, if they want their team to win the championship no matter what it takes they must maintain unity at all times. Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers head Coach understood the need of the hour, when he said “Individual commitment to a group effort-that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” The current coach of the Los Angeles Lakers notes, “The strength of the team is each individual member...the strength of each member is the team.”
The civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said "Unity is the great need of the hour"

Have you wondered why Churches close down? Is it because of lack of funds, vision, talented worship team, gifted people or excellent teaching? No! Then what contributes to the death of any Church? I believe it is the lack of unity. As the popular slogan goes “United we stand, divided we fall.” My version is; United we succeed, divided we fail.

The Church in Corinth was splitting apart at the seams; with different groups each following their favorite leader. Paul promptly chastised them for this immature response to differing styles of ministry. He recognized that divisions could potentially ruin the Church and stressed the need for unity over and over again I Corinthians 1:10 “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” 2 Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. The letter to Corinthians began with unity and ended with unity which gives us an indication that the need of the hour is indeed unity.

The typical problems that occurred in Corinth were not only limited to the Church of that time alone, we could find them in any church today. When we pause and take an honest look at the state of our churches today without any hesitation we could say that we must work towards unity. We all agree that we need more unity and we give a call to be united but how can we achieve unity in the Church? Can it be achieved by all wearing the same uniform? No you may have uniformity but not unity. Leonard Ravenhill knew where to begin, “Church unity comes from corporate humility." The best place to start working towards unity is from the place of humility.

In order to address the unspiritual partisanship and to establish the need for unity Paul used two vivid metaphors. These pictures have life in them. He represents Christian community as a garden and a building.

The Church in Corinth was a divided bunch. One was saying I follow Paul and other “I follow Apollos. Instead of following Christ people were following human leadership. There is a danger to identify too strongly with a particular leader or ministry, no matter how godly or gifted they are. They all are just servants of God, trustees of the Gospel. Paul took a humble position saying that both Apollos and he were merely servants and each was assigned a specific task to do. When we work together God will bless our efforts.

Paul likened the Church to a garden. In many ways the Church is like a garden. The concept of a garden was not a new thing to the Jewish audience. Infact the story of mankind began in the Garden of Eden which is also called the garden of the LORD. In the garden man enjoyed fellowship with God on a daily basis but when sin entered the relationship was marred and the harmony lost. The land was cursed; men were driven out of the garden.

Several Old Testament prophecies describe God’s intentions of turning barrenness into life and fruitfulness again. Long ago Isaiah prophesied, Isaiah 51:3 “Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in her, Thanksgiving and sound of a melody.” This prophecy is alluding to the work of the LORD will do in the life of an individual and the life of a Church.

Another prophecy talks about God restoring joy to the redeemed. Isaiah 35:1-2 “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given it … they will see the glory of the LORD.

We live in a society where moral values are eroding, what used to be right is no longer considered right. Evil is being exalted and righteousness is being trampled upon. Interestingly in, Isaiah 14:17 we see that Satan is having his hand in turning this world into a barren wasteland “the man who made the world a desert, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home? If we carefully look around us we do see captives, wasted lives and people groping for life and joy in all the wrong places.

With all what is Satan is doing in some ways the world has become a wilderness. What hope does the world have then? Jesus stepped into a harassed and distressed world and said, “Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” In the midst of the desert God is cultivating a beautiful multi colored garden, His Church! Isn’t that what the Church is supposed to be any way, a fruitful garden, a refreshing OASIS in the midst of a hard driven, hectic and stressful world?

Hyderabad, India where we used to live was a crowded, dusty city with temperatures often soaring above 100 degrees. Once in a while we visited the cities Public Gardens, though it was in the middle of the bustling city it seemed to be a world away because of the luscious greenery, shady trees and gorgeous flowers. You would find large families enjoying picnics, people ambling around and the poor and the needy finding a refuge from the summer heat. We too found it a place of refreshment and beauty. That is precisely what the function of a Church ought to be, to attract and refresh weary and burdened travelers on the journey of life.

Paul compares Christian community to a garden which one preacher or evangelist may plant and another may water but the true source of its life and vitality is God. In a Garden there is place for a wide variety of vegetable plants, herbs, fruit trees and flower, together they make a beautiful and useful whole while drawing their sustenance from the same source. In the same way there is ample room in God’s great purpose for everyone and every type of personality, gift, and ministry and for many laborers and gardeners.

How are we making our Church a garden? We need to keep drinking of the fountain of Living Water, which is Christ. When we get too caught up in the short comings of so and so we miss the point. We cultivate the church when we recognize the work of Christ in each others life. We are saved by grace and dearly loved and so is our brother and our sister. We cultivate the garden when we encourage and build each other up and bear with each other. We build when we study God’s word and pray, we build when we look out for the interests of others.
Only when we lay aside our differences and work together in unity by respecting each other then can we make our Church a refreshing garden where people will find Christ, be refreshed, healed, restored, and become fruit bearing Christians.

The other metaphor that Paul cleverly used in describing the Church was; a building. It appears that Paul was particularly fond of this metaphor, that of the church of Jesus Christ as a building in which all have a place. He used a similar illustration in Ephesians 2:19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household. Having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

Greeks understood what Paul was talking about as they were known for their construction and architecture. The Greek have built many temples and monuments though many were destroyed completely some of the ruins still exist. The ancient city of Corinth was a wealthy city and it boasted of its great structures, monuments and temples including the temple of Aphrodite dedicated to the Greek goddess of love.”

Paul used the principles of construction to convey profound truths on how to build the house of God the church. 1 Corinthians 3:10 “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it.” Paul as a skilled master builder laid the right foundation. There could be no other foundation other than Jesus Christ. Why did that need to be stressed to the Corinthian community? Could it be that the leader of Cephas faction was claiming that Peter was the rock on which the Church was built? (Matt 16:18) That is quite possible. Contrary to the scriptures even today many Catholics wrongly hold to the belief that the Church was built upon Peter.

Those who are into building houses can tell that it takes a lot of careful planning and many days of coordinated effort to build a house. When a new house is being built, many different skills are required. Each skilled worker- plumber, electrician, carpenter or painter must make his or her own contribution. If the electrician is not there at the right time, everyone else may very well be delayed. If the carpenter works without considering the plumber’s task the plumber will find it almost impossible to install the piping and the fixtures.

We see the same principles operating in building the Church of Jesus Christ. The right foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ. Many skilled people are required in building a house, similarly it takes many skilled and gifted workers to build God’s house. For a house to be built well, and pass the building code, each worker must be both skillful and cooperative. In the same way Paul wanted those who were building the Church to be careful in how they build so that it will stand the judgment of God.

Now we have looked at the two metaphors of the Church. It is possible that the picture of the Church as a garden may appeal more to women and that the picture of the building makes more sense to men. I hope that you see that every one has a place to contribute and cultivate to make our Church a refreshing garden and a place where God’s glory dwells. What does it take? I believe it takes unity. How can we then achieve biblical unity?

Let’s remember that our goal is not just any unity; we know that people can be united for all causes and purposes often times for some wrong purposes. During the World War II at Hitler’s command many religious groups were united against the Jews what was the result of that unity? The Holocaust. So what determines unity? Charles Spurgeon said, “Truth alone must determine our alignments. Truth comes before unity. Unity without truth is hazardous.”

I. Biblical unity can not be achieved outside of Christ:
Jesus prayed in John 17 that father would sanctify the disciples by the truth before he would make them one. Jesus is the truth; only by taking Christ as our foundation we can achieve unity. Only at the feet of Jesus we can all become one.

II. God is the master builder and we are hired workers:
Paul recognized that he and Apollos were servants of Christ and were assigned specific tasks to perform. We too must humbly recognize that we are hired workers to work in his vineyard. The master will reward all us according to our labor.

III. We value and respect each others gifting.
Unity is far more important to the life of the Church than the individual strengths of its leaders. We have lot of gifted people in our Church. Building of Church does not only depend on a few leaders but depends on all of us. The Lord has called us to be a part of this awesome work of building His Kingdom therefore we need recognize we need others we can’t do it alone.

IV. Coordination, Communication and Cohesion are important to maintain Unity:
Living in a highly individualistic society we are often tempted to do it alone. In God’s Kingdom there is no place for lone rangers. Christ did not do it alone; He had a strong twelve member board and a host of other disciples to carry on various tasks. We must come out of the syndrome of “I do it myself and don’t need the help of others. We can not afford that. We need to communicate, coordinate and work cohesively with others. The lack of it often results in confusion, disorder, lack of productivity and disunity. As we are committed to work together in harmony and in humility, recognizing and appreciating the different gifts within the church May the Lord use all of us to cultivate and maintain unity in order to make our Church a beautiful garden and a dwelling place of God. Amen