Lenten Devotions 2015: Is commitment an option?

8661316458_0d00155ed0_zIn several surveys, most “Christian” people readily confess their belief in God. However, the ground reality in our churches shows that the same people do not necessarily have a commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ or to his church. For many, a Christian faith sans commitment of any sort appears to be a viable option today. However, one needs to ask if such an option is even available to a follower of Christ. Could one claim to believe in Jesus’ Lordship and to be his follower without a firm commitment to the demands of the gospel?

Once, when Jesus healed a deaf person, his adversaries accused him of doing such ‘magical tricks’ through Satan’s help. Jesus, realizing this to be a spiritual battle, responded:

“Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul…..
20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. 22 But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11: 17-23).

Thus, Jesus declares that he and his Kingdom are in a spiritual battle. Obviously, in such a battle, there is no room for neutrality. Whoever enlists with Jesus in fighting the spiritual battle cannot sit on the fence, because the demands Jesus makes are total and exclusive. For instance, Jesus says:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16: 24).
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14: 26).

Obviously, Jesus does not wish that we literally hate our parents or cease to care for them. Nevertheless, he demands that our commitment to him and to the Kingdom be so strong that all our other attachments appear as hatred in comparison. Furthermore, the exclusive “I am” claims of Christ throughout the Gospels and the apostolic teachings of the church also reflect such demands on us. These claims of complete commitment may sound too demanding in today’s context of “broadmindedness;” however, without them our faith does not make any sense. Without such commitment, the Apostles would not have suffered cruel martyrdom, I would not have come to faith in Christ, and you would not be reading it today. Let us pause and think were we stand today. Could you remain indifferent or neutral after Jesus confronts you with his claims and demands upon you? Jesus says:

“Whoever is not with me is against me…” (Luke 11: 23)

“Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9: 40).

May we be wise enough to make an unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ and to apply the first saying to ourselves and the second one to others! Amen.

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Lenten Devotions 2015: St. Patrick’s relevance for missions today.

5637776309_47f2a485e9_zSt. Patrick’s Day has just been celebrated in the western world in many different ways including parades, sporting greens, shamrocks, and Irish beer. There is nothing wrong with celebrating Patrick’s Day with such things. However, one must go beyond the popular traditions to ask: Why is Patrick significant as a Christian missionary?

Patrick was not Irish, rather he was born and raised in fifth-century Scotland where he grew up in a Roman Catholic household. Even though his grandfather was a Catholic priest, Patrick ignored his religion in his teen years. He was captured in a raid and taken to Ireland as a slave. While in captivity, he was appalled at the pagan religious practices of his captors and determined to cling to the religious teachings and practices he grew up ignoring as a teenager. Even though he did not know the true God whom he grew up learning about, he decided to engage in prayer to this God. Following a dream he once had, Patrick escaped from his captors and returned home to Scotland. However, his faith and an indubitable calling compelled Patrick, in his 40s, to go back to Ireland as a missionary. His faithfulness to the Lord coupled with his firsthand knowledge of the culture and customs of the Irish people made him quite successful in his missionary work. Celts of Ireland had a reputation for their brutal military and “barbarian” ways; therefore, it was a vital historical accomplishment that they could be evangelized without violence unlike other people in Europe. Therefore, the following are some of the lessons we can learn from Patrick:

1. To remember our God, the Creator, even in the midst of trying circumstances (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

2. To be faithful to the teachings of faith we have received in our childhood even though we may not fully understand them at the time (2 Timothy 1: 1-6).

3. To remain faithful to the calling we have received from the Lord even in the midst of challenging circumstances (Isaiah 8:11-22).

4. To be faithful in sharing our faith boldly and wisely even though the culture around us may be completely strange and hostile (Acts 4: 27-31).

5. Having a heart for the lost, answering the call to missions, and going where God sends us is just the beginning of participating in God’s mission. Knowing the culture and customs of the people we serve and identifying with them is a major step in evangelism. Even though Patrick was enslaved in Ireland, when he came back as a missionary he loved them and adopted their customs so much so that he almost became an Irish and was proud to be identified such.

6. For example, fully knowing the clan system of the Irish and how it practically worked in Ireland, Patrick adopted the strategy of first leading the chiefs of the clans to the Lord who would, in turn, bring their clan members to faith. Patrick understood the significant role the societal and familial ties play in accepting or rejecting a new faith in any culture. This principle holds true even to this day in almost all cultures and our evangelism must reckon with this fact.

7. The churches that Patrick planted in Ireland were rooted not only in a fervent faith and devotion to the Lord, but they were also relevant to their culture and ultimatly became self-evangelizing. That is why their faith could survive for so long. May we learn to establish the faith deep in our people and equip them to share it with others (Colossians 1: 1-8). Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: You, too, can “fly a horse”!

2204626835_07f1a7bb9e_oOn my drive this morning I listened to a very interesting discussion on CBC radio’s program, “The Current.” It was an interview with Kevin Ashton, the co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Auto-ID Lab, and the man who first coined the term “The Internet of Things.” His book, with a clever title and cover page, “How to Fly a Horse” is just out of the press. You can watch a brilliant promotional trailer of his book here.

Ashton brilliantly argues that creative genius is a myth, which perpetuates the idea that a few people are born genius and that creativity just comes naturally to them in a flash of inspiration. We have unthinkingly bought the idea that only a certain geniuses and whizzes are blessed with a rare ability to see and imagine the wonderful things in their minds and bring awesome stuff into being. He “showcases the seemingly unremarkable individuals, gradual steps, multiple failures, and countless ordinary and usually uncredited acts that lead to our most astounding breakthroughs. Creators, he shows, apply in particular ways the everyday, ordinary thinking of which we are all capable, taking thousands of small steps and working in an endless loop of problem and solution. He examines why innovators meet resistance and how they overcome it, why most organizations stifle creative people, and how the most creative organizations work. Drawing on examples from art, science, business, and invention, from Mozart to the Muppets, Archimedes to Apple, Kandinsky to a can of Coke, How to Fly a Horse is a passionate and immensely rewarding exploration of how ‘new’ comes to be” (source: http://www.howtoflyahorse.com/about-the-book/).

But why am I saying all this in a Lent devotional? Well, it is because many of us also unthinkably believe the myth of saints, holy men/women, and high-flying celebrity pastors.

Most of us believe some people are born with certain magical powers and spiritual gifts that we, as ordinary believers, cannot possess.

Most believe that only a few gifted preachers and pastors should pray for healing our diseases and solving our problems. Many of us, therefore, do not even pray for ourselves as we believe that God only answers the prayers of certain holy people.

Most believe that only a specific group of us are called to be missionaries and evangelists and unless they do their job, the mission will not be done. That is why many of us have outsourced our responsibilities to these “gifted” holy men and women instead of participating in the mission of God ourselves. We readily write a cheque for mission agencies when our own church should be participating in the mission that God has called us to.

Most believe that only a certain few are chosen by God to have the gift of the Holy Spirit; therefore, many of us do not even try to ask and pray to receive the Holy Spirit for our walk with God.

Most believe that only a few people are called to live holy lives and to be declared saints by a church or some ecclesiastical authority.

We conveniently ignore what the scriptures declare for ALL followers of Jesus Christ. For example,

We are ALL “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” and should clothe ourselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12 NRSV).

We are ALL “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” ( I Corinthians 1: 2NRSV).

The Apostle Paul and Peter always refer to us as “saints” and the chosen ones whenever they address the followers of Christ. Check out the first few opening verses of all their epistles to different churches.

The Apostle Peter states,

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2: 9 NRSV).

And then Peter goes on to urge us:

“Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (I Peter 1: 13-16 NRSV).

We are all equipped and empowered by the grace of God to reach the highest level of excellence in everything God calls us to do. He has already sent the Holy Spirit to guide and help us to be His witnesses on earth. Therefore, let us get back to the Bible, learn who we are and from it and how we are supposed to be living today. And what better time to begin this, than with the Lenten season we are in! Stay blessed.

Lenten Devotions 2015: Repentance is the key.

Psalm 51There are more people found in the church for Ash Wednesday Service than for any other weekday services during the whole Lenten Season except for Good Friday and/or Maundy Thursday. However, we have a tendency to quickly forget the words and prayers we have said about ourselves during the Ash Wednesday service. For example, King David’s Psalm 51 is often part of that service and we readily say his words in our prayers. This Psalm highlights our acknowledgement of guilt and sinfulness:

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;

So you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51: 3-5).

However, by the end of that week we forget what we said about ourselves. We forget what we had repented about and asked God’s forgiveness for. We get busy with the Lenten activities of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and so on, without realizing that the key element of the Lenten season—repentance—has been dropped somewhere along the way.

Soon after coming out of his forty days fast in the wilderness, Jesus Christ, began his ministry by calling people to repent:

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1: 14-15; cf. Matthew 3: 2).

After his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ sent his disciples out to evangelize the whole world and their commission was to preach repentance (Luke 24: 47).

At the inauguration of the Church and its mission, on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter concluded his message by exhorting people to repent:

“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2: 38-39).

In the parable of the so-called “Prodigal Son” (it’s actually about the “prodigal” Father!), when the younger son came to himself, he says,

“I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands’” (Luke 15: 18-19).

Most stories of heroes of faith in the Bible are largely the stories of those who learned to repent, who were able to say, “I will get up and go to my father!”

Thus, repentance is one of the key elements of a renewed life with God. The Lenten season gives us an opportunity to repent. It is at the point of our repentance that God finds a lost person and reaches out to him or her in love and grace. It is here that God embraces us as the father who patiently waited for his “lost son,” to forgive us, and to shower us with his extravagances. Repentance, therefore, is a demand laid upon a follower of Christ which goes beyond just one solemn service at the beginning of Lent. Let us admit, repentance is also one of the hardest things to do for anyone. It is very difficult to say sorry, to truly turn from our sins, and to truly change. However, if you and I are willing to pause, introspect and repent, we will enjoy God’s close fellowship better than anyone else who refuses to repent. Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: Twenty-one ways the grace of God works for us.

GraceWe live in a very challenging world today characterized by violence, bigotry, and an unashamed apathy to the Truth. Every day, it’s becoming impossible to live without the grace of God in my life. If you are honest, you would agree that we need a fresh and abundant dose of the grace of God to carry us through each day in today’s world. And the good news is that the grace at our disposable is boundless, overflowing and ever flowing. As I reflected on what grace is and what it does for us, I came across twenty-one points which I would like to share with you as well. I hope and pray that you too are blessed as I am by learning more about something which we need daily. This is not an exhaustive list and I am sure you could add a few more points from out of your personal study of the Word. Please feel free to add them with references in the comments below.

According to the Bible, the infinite grace of God is:

1. The gift of God (Romans 3: 24; Ephesians 2: 8).

2. Available to us in time of our need (Hebrew 4: 16).

3. Sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12: 9).

4. Able to justify and redeem us ( Romans 3:24; Titus 3:7).

5. Able to save us from sin (Ephesians 2: 5; Acts 15: 11).

6. Made available to us freely through Jesus Christ, not based on our works (karma) whether past of present (Romans 5: 2; 11: 6; 2 Timothy 1: 9).

7. Rich or boundless toward us just like God’s love (Ephesians 1: 7).

8. Able to strengthen us in our faith and daily walk with the Lord (2 Timothy 2: 1).

9. Able to lead us to eternal life (Romans 5: 21).

10. Worthy of sharing with one and all (Hebrews 12: 15).

11. Able to deliver us from the power of sin (Romans 6: 14).

12. Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2: 11-12).

13. Something that one may fall away from (Galatians 5: 4).

14. An attribute of God, that is why “the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you” (Isaiah 30: 18).

15. To be preserved and we are to be good stewards of God’s grace (I Peter 4: 10).

16. Something that the prophets foretold about in the ages past (I Peter 1: 10).

17. Given more to the humble (James 4: 6).

18. Not to be received in vain but those who receive the grace of God should live by it (2 Corinthians 6: 1).

19. Something that we can be thankful about even when it is given to others (I Corinthians 1: 4).

20. Something that God may give us plenteously (2 Corinthians 9:8).

21. “Was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4: 7).

Lenten Devotions 2015: God’s mission and Affliction.

6329981527_5b097aab4b_oMy challenge to the prosperity Gospel preachers who promise “Your Best Life Now” is simple. They should go and live in the Middle East or in Asia for a year or so. As well, they should try convincing the local believers, through a series of messages from the Bible, that affliction and persecution could not be a part of the life of a follower of Christ. How do you talk to a mother whose young sons have been brutally beheaded by terrorists? How and what do you say to the parents of young girls who have been abducted to serve as sex slaves of Jihadists? How do you share your power of positive thinking to a group of Christians whose ancestral villages have been looted and burnt? How do you console young orphans whose parents were brutally massacred in front of their eyes?

I am confident that the worldview and theology of the preachers of prosperity gospel will be altered in just a few days. Instead of preaching what they have been over the years, the suffering believers would teach them at least the following two things:

1. Persecution is a given; it is expected and even anticipated in the life of a follower of Christ.

For example, the local believers would point out to these preachers a few forgotten verses of the Bible, such as the following:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15: 18-20).

“…In fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” (John 16: 2).

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (I Peter 2: 21).

2. God makes persecution serve His kingdom.

These believers outside the western world continue to experience persecution in everyday life. They would show the preachers of prosperity gospel that in the past God did make persecution serve the Great Commission and he continues to do so today:

“That day [of the Stephen’s martyrdom) a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word” (Acts 8: 1-4.)

Michael Green puts it succinctly when he describes this phenomenon of believers’ evangelism saying, they went about “gossiping the gospel.” God used the persecution to move his people into the mission he gave them for the world:

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews” (Acts 11: 19).

In Acts 8: 1, Luke mentions that in Antioch many of these scattered believers also shared the gospel with Greeks also. Thus, persecution led to fulfilling the Great Commission by sending the people of God to not just to Jerusalem and Judea, but also to Samaria and beyond to the Gentiles.

Are you personally involved in sharing the gospel with others? Is your church readily engaged in evangelism and witnessing? Or is the mission only confined to writing a check for an unknown missionary somewhere in the “third world”?

Lenten Devotions 2015: Can You Have Your Best Life Now?

myIUFimI often come across people citing a famous best seller, “Your Best Life Now,” penned by a very popular preacher in the United States. This is not the only book of this kind available to those who are looking for “positive thinking” or “prosperity gospel” literature. However, it amazes me to see how easily Christians could be led astray from the biblical truth. We often neglect the fact that anything that is positive, uplifting, and encouraging does not necessarily have to be true and biblical. Here are a few samples from “Your Best Life Now”:

“Don’t just accept whatever comes your way in life. You were born to win; you were born for greatness; you were created to be a champion in life.”

“It’s our faith that activates the power of God.”

“God wants you to have a good life, a life filled with love, joy, peace, and fulfillment. That doesn’t mean it will always be easy, but it does mean that it will always be good.”

Now, I submit that all of this looks good from the outside until you start comparing it with what the Bible teaches. Jesus Christ never promised that if you followed Him everything will be well with you. Neither did He promise that He will make everything lovely and painless and that you will have the best of your life here on earth. If you finish reading the book mentioned above, you will be certain to come out convinced that suffering, pain, sickness, financial difficulties, and persecution are not at all part of the life of a follower of Christ. However, this is not what the Bible teaches. To find the truth, one only needs to look closely in the Scriptures instead of blindly following false teachers.

For example, in the gospel of Luke (Chapter 21), Jesus’ disciples drew his attention to the magnificent buildings of the Temple in Jerusalem. This gave Jesus an opportunity to teach them the real challenges of life as his follower in this world. The disciples were, of course, interested in knowing when the end will come, instead Jesus directs their attention to what they might have to face in their life before the end comes. Jesus Christ not only plainly stated that disciples will have to face much suffering, pain, and persecution; but he also warned them against false teachers who might deceive them:

“5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life” (Luke 21: 5-19)

In the midst of problems, agony, sickness, and persecution, Jesus’ clear message to his followers is to stand firm in their faith. No, not because it is “our faith that activates the power of God;” rather, it is in the very nature of a loving God. Despite our lack of faith, God uses His unlimited power to protect us and bring us out victorious from our sufferings and to, ultimately, give us our best life that is yet to come in eternity. It is for this reason, Jesus said:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 1: 1- 4).

May we be faithful in heeding the Scriptural teachings and in following what Jesus teaches us in the midst of a life full of suffering, sickness, pain, and death. Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: Do you have an idol?

IdolChristians, or at least evangelical Christians, dislike idol worship. This stems from the clear biblical message of not worshiping any sort of idols. In fact, this was the first of the Ten Commandments inscribed on the tablets that God gave to Moses in antiquity on Mount Sinai. Most prophets, priests, and poets in the Old Testament denounced idols and appealed the people of God to come back to Him and worship Him alone. In articulating a persuasive theology of salvation via justification by faith, the Apostle Paul is at pains to stress that humanity has sinned against God by choosing to worship images and making idols of creatures and not worshiping the living God.

“16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1: 16-25 NIV).

However, in denouncing the sins of others and particularly their idol worship, we may often overreact and conveniently become blind to our own idols and images. Many find it difficult to accept the suggestion that they might be keeping an idol or two. What is an idol? An idol is a created thing by humans or something in the creation that we deify. An idol is also anything that we put before our worship of a living God. It could be anything that occupies more prominent place in our lives than worshiping and obeying God. It does not have to be made of material things. It does not always come in the form of a religious artifact. We don’t have to literally bow before an idol. We don’t even have to offer anything to it. And yet, people today have so many idols in their lives that they are not even aware of.

This Lenten season, let us look closely at our daily lives and activities. What could have gradually become an idol in your life? Is it a sport that you play or a sports team that you idolize? Is it your mansion, work, career, vacation, social group, or some other activity/event that has become a very intimate part of your life? Other than God, what is it that has become a priority and occupies a place of prominence in your daily life? With the help of the Holy Spirit, if you are able to identify something or someone as your idol, confess it before God. And ask Him to help you overcome your idol worship and to refocus your life on God. Let us make God and obedience to Him our first priority as followers of Christ.

Lenten Devotions 2015: Should we be passing the plate around?

2869437040_8d804959e6_zIn the last post, I tried showing the biblical requirement of returning to God a portion of the blessings we have received from Him and that it should be done regularly. But one of the ways we practice giving in the church is not necessarily the only right way. I am talking about passing the collection plate/bag! I have always felt so uncomfortable when I see the offering plate being passed around in the church with deacons/ushers staring down your neck or at the plate. It has been even more awkward in the churches of India where I came to know Christ and grew up in faith. I have often wondered about how embarrassing we make it for our visitors in the church when, out of the blue, an offering plate is passed to them. I am sure you know the feeling of rummaging through your purse or pockets and hurriedly dropping into the plate the first coin/bill that comes in your hands. Giving for the work of the Lord suddenly becomes a haphazard obligation in order to please others and not an act of gratitude.

I have also wondered about the origin of this practice and if it was necessary, because I have not observed this graceless practice in other places of worship in India except the Christian church. It is obvious that like many other practices and rituals, the custom of passing the plate during the worship service has been unquestionably adapted from the western church traditions. In most Indian places of worship, on the contrary, instead of passing the plate, offering boxes have been placed where people voluntarily put their money when they please. If I suggest this to churches, many Christians would object saying it is not biblical. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

In the 2nd book of Kings, during the reign of a godly king named Jehoash, the priest Jehoiada installed offering boxes (chests) in the Temple of Jerusalem:

“Then the priest Jehoiada took a chest, made a hole in its lid, and set it beside the altar on the right side as one entered the house of the Lord; the priests who guarded the threshold put in it all the money that was brought into the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 12: 9 NRSV).

In the New Testament, when Jesus teaches about the virtues of a poor widow giving all that she had, he is depicted as keenly observing how people gave in the Temple. Instead of a collection plate being passed around to worshipers, Jesus saw them putting their offerings in the treasury out of their own volition and not from a forced obligation.

“He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums” (Mark 12: 41 NRSV).

I have also observed in disgust that, in some churches of North America, they make a foreign “missionary” stand with an offering plate at the entrance after his/her presentation. This is not only a casual attitude to the graceful act of giving to the Lord’s work but also humiliating to the person who is standing there with his outstretched collection plate expecting for people to leave a tip for his work. Imagine the local pastor standing after the Sunday service with an offering plate in hand for his weekly pay! The “missionary”, from wherever s/he may be, must be treated with dignity and the giving to missions must be done with thoughtfulness. For example, the Apostle Paul gives us a glimpse on how this should be done with the respect the Christian giving deserves. He instructed:

“On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” ( I Corinthians 16: 2 NIV).

This Lent, may we pause to reconsider our practice of giving and receiving for the Lord’s work in our churches. If necessary, let’s remove the feeling of obligation from our guests and regular donors. Instead, let us help make it a true part of our worship to God by not making it intrusive. Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: Giving up on giving money?

mhAWZO4Most people try giving up something or other during the Lenten season. Giving up, giving, or rather alms-giving has traditionally been part of this holy season. However, in recent years, people are giving up on giving money and material things. Instead, some people are giving up conveniences such as Facebook/Twitter, Internet, chocolate and so on which do not cost them anything at all other than a little inconvenience. So I would like to pose and try answering the basic question: Should we be giving our hard-earned money to the church or charity?

Giving your money during Lent does not have any special merit; however, Lent provides us one of the best opportunities to develop a spiritual discipline of giving away money. The Bible never says that money is evil. No, the often cited saying “money is the root of all evil” is not found in the Bible! Instead the Bible says: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”  (I Timothy 6:10 NRSV).

Therefore, we need a spiritual discipline to resist the love of money controlling us, our decisions, and actions. We need to learn to control money and one of the ways a believer could do this is by inculcating systematically giving away money.

The biblical God, from the earliest days, is seen as requiring people to give back to God from what they have graciously received from Him as a blessing. God wanted the first fruits of their labor from the Israelites as soon as they settled in the promised land of Canaan. Notice that God wanted the first and the best and NOT the last and leftover! Moreover, God also required from them to give away a tenth, a specific amount or percentage, of all they made through their labors. He even declared it “holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27: 30-32). In fact, a tenth was only one of the requirements of giving in the Old Testament. If one calculates all required giving for the people of Israel, it comes to around 33 percent!

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ talks about money more than he talks about the kingdom or salvation. In one of these instances, Jesus says, “When you give to the needy…” (Matthew 6: 2-3). Notice that Jesus didn’t say “if” you give money. He presumed that God’s people should have learned by now to give. That’s why he said “when” you give money. Throughout the New Testament we notice several instances of believers generously giving away money for the work of the Lord. Most apostles of Christ encouraged believers to give for the Lord’s work because the Lord has given himself to us and we need to be giving as the Lord prospers us. How is your giving and giving up this Lent? I hope and pray that you have not given up on giving!