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”?

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Mission in the Midst of Madness (Part 4)

Peace

Jesus Christ’s mission on this earth is the foundation of our mission today. One of the neglected aspects of Jesus’ mission is that of peacemaking and peacekeeping.  This aspect of his mission clearly shows us Jesus’ approach to violence and evil which was prevalent in his world as it is in our time. Social evils, bigotry, zealotry of all kinds including “terrorism” and “holy war,” banditry, class conflicts, foreign occupation, colonization, hostility between Jews and Romans, and Jews and Samaritans, fanaticism, and so on, were all present in the time of Jesus. He had to deal with them in the same way that we encounter these issues in our lives today. Jesus’ command to love and to work for the peacemaking was his response to the current events of violence and hatred in his day. He wanted to show both Jews and Romans that the peace that he has come to establish comes through love, acceptance of enemies, and unlimited forgiveness than revengeful violence or military might.

We have taken the Great Commission seriously and have crossed difficult geo-political and cultural boundaries in carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth. However, the church has often neglected the command of Jesus Christ to love our enemies and have failed to preach the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, which is an intrinsic aspect of Christian mission. If we fail in following Christ in this aspect, then we are guilty of neglecting his mission.

In the passion narrative of the gospels, Jesus refused to retaliate even in his self-defense. Jesus healed the servant of the high priest who was struck by one of his disciples fully knowing that the high priest had sent them to arrest and condemn him to death (Luke 22:50-51). At the cross, Jesus prays for his executioners (Luke 23:34). Stephen literally follows the example of his Master by praying for those who stoned him to death (Acts 7:60). Even after his resurrection and gaining a glorified body, Jesus does not go after the Jews who conspired to crucify him or the Romans who carried out his execution. If the history of the church narrated in the book of Acts of the Apostles shows us anything, it’s that although the fledgling church lived in the midst of hatred and violence, it made sure that peacemaking was an integral part of their missional existence in a world full of hatred. This struggling church was always on the move and outward looking in its mission. Their inner spiritual life of the followers of Jesus was always connected to and manifested in the outer world of sin and violence.

What was true of the Master must also be true of his followers today. We have no option but to make peacemaking and peacekeeping an integral part of our missional existence as a church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus showed it and the world needs it!

Mission in the Midst of Madness (Part 3)

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Christian mission, which took birth in the violence inflicted upon Jesus Christ and his subsequent resurrection, has always had violence hover over it as Christians tried to obey the Great Commission of their Lord Jesus Christ. That is why I have often said that Christians should not be surprised by the violence we see around us. Mission cannot remain unscathed from the prevalent violence in the context of which mission is practiced. Nevertheless, violence also should not deter us from carrying out the mission God has called us to. As the gospel and well-established human assumptions and reflexes interact with each other it is bound to produce some sort of violence. That is why Jesus has given his Kingdom ethics to deal with the context of violence in which mission is practiced. Nothing summarized it more than the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Particularly in the current context of violence and counter-violence, hate, domination, terrorism, and counter-terrorism, it has become imperative for the church on God’s mission to return to the ethics taught in the Sermon on the Mount. And to reflect upon it afresh and to confess that our failure to live according to the superlative demands of this ethics does not really absolve us from living the kingdom life here and now. The church does not have the liberty to exclude either violence or kingdom ethics from its missiological agenda even though it has tried to do so in the past. God’s mission has never been concerned with just the personal, spiritual, inner conversion of people’s lives; therefore, the church’s mission cannot be confined to only the spiritual conversion of human being and making their relationship right with God. So, the mission cannot stay apolitical because Jesus Christ and his sermon on the mount were certainly not apolitical because they challenged traditional structures and assumptions of every society. Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount challenge us to practice Christian mission beyond just “saving souls.” Our mission in today’s context must be political in the sense of peacekeeping, peace-making, working toward reconciliation and justice, dissuading people from seeking vengeance, and above all loving our enemy as Jesus exemplified in his life, deeds, and ultimately in his death upon the cross. Without this last act, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would have remained just a hollow sermon without any practical meaning for us. But we know that the Sermon on the Mount, in the words of Lapide P., “gets its true binding force only through the exemplary life, sufferings, and death of the Nazarene who sealed its validity with his own blood” (Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action?, 1986: 141). May the Lord give us the grace and strength to take part in the mission that he began in his earthly life. Amen.

Mission in the Midst of Madness (Part 2)

Mission in the Midst of Madness (Part 2)

In my last post I pointed out that violence should not surprise us, as it does not surprise God who is familiar with it from the beginning. Today, I would like to share that Christian missions, too, was born in dreadful violence and calls us to diligently engage in God’s mission.

In the last days of his earthly ministry, Jesus was pursued by men who wanted to see him dead. At Passover, in his last journey to the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus was so enraged by what he saw there that he got violent as he cleansed the temple. The spiritual and physical degradation of the people of God was at display in all its brazenness in the temple—“a house of prayer for all the nations”—turned into “a den of robbers” (Mark 11: 17). While Jesus’ startling behavior infuriated the religious leaders of the day, the common people responded by flocking to him. In Jesus, they saw a prophet who would restore the temple as “a house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11: 17-18). Jesus’ aggressive actions, however, also forced the Jewish leaders to act on their violent intentions against him that finally led to his execution at Calvary.

Jesus Christ suffered one of the most gruesome last hours on his journey to the cross at Calvary. Mel Gibson’s famous Hollywood film, The Passion of the Christ (2004), helps us understand some of that torture inflicted on Jesus and yet we will never fully fathom what a vicious death Jesus died for us.

It is in this violence, suffering, and his death on the cross, that Christian mission was born. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do not have any good news to share and no reason to call humanity to be restored and reconciled to God and to fellow human beings. Without the death of Jesus on the cross, there is no hope for the chaotic world. And this, I submit, is the greatest paradox of Christian mission: that God, in his sovereignty, would let Calvary become the fountain of our salvation, restoration, reconciliation, and eternal peace! Yes, I know, it is incomprehensible. Nevertheless, it is the Lord’s doing and it’s marvelous in our eyes.

Therefore, in the context of violence today, the followers of Jesus Christ who are also called to be witnesses of his death and resurrection, must take courage and strength from this paradox. We, who are his witnesses, should not be surprised by the violence and also should not shy away from sharing the good news. Let the violence around us not deter or overwhelm us from sharing and persuading people into restoration, salvation, and reconciliation. Let us persistently look unto God, the author and finisher of our salvation, and trust him to turn the violence and suffering into something beautiful for his Kingdom, because only God alone can do it. So, while it is easy to sing “I’ll cling to the old rugged cross” sitting in our comfortable pews of cathedrals, but very difficult to take the message of the cross to a violent and hurting world outside. However, the Great Commission of the One who died on the cross is not to sit and sing alone but to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16: 15).

Mission in the Midst of Madness

madness

Mission in the Midst of Madness

Just a few days into the New Year and we have already witnessed the brutal killing of writers and cartoonists inside their office by Islamic terrorists. Another more gruesome killing, which the western media did not cover as much, happened almost at the same time in Nigeria. A terrorist organization, Boko Haram, which had captured at least 300 girls, is now reported to have slayed over 100 innocent people and torched about 16 villages in Nigeria. These are just two major incidents in the first week of this New Year. Many more around the world are now going through some of the most gruesome violence either for their faith or for no apparent fault of their own. It’s in this context that we as Christians are called to take part in, and carry out the Missio Dei— mission of God.

Mission is always done in context; otherwise, mission has neither relevance nor any meaning. Our context of livid violence by human beings against each other challenges us to reflect on how we are to participate in God’s mission. First and foremost, let us not despair by what we see around us. This should not surprise us as we live in a fallen world marred by sin and violence. However, in this mad world, God, the one who calls us to missions, remains the same—the Unchanging One. Remember, when God began his act of creation the world was in a chaos (Genesis 1: 1-3). The earth was formless, in disorder, in darkness, and void. Over this chaos, God declared: “Let there be light” and there was light! From this day on, God’s Word has been creating order, meaning, light, and life in our world. And God is still alive. He is still on His throne. God is still on this mission of restoring wayward humanity to Himself. And what’s more important is that God calls us puny mortals to come with nothing but faith to participate in this mission of restoration and reconciliation. We need to call people to trust in this creator God by persuading them through both our words and deeds. Nothing else but the love of Christ should constrain us to be engaged in this calling. In the words of Apostle Paul,

“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; ….For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them” ( II Corinthians 5: 11-15).

It is our privilege to participate in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation, as this is the need of the hour today more than ever. The context in which we are living in makes this mission even more meaningful and relevant than anything else in the world. It is more important than the numbers we seek, more important than church growth, and more important than our own little kingdoms, name and fame. In these words of Apostle Paul, our mission today as ambassadors of God, is calling people not to ourselves but to God alone:

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5: 18-20).

I hope to reflect on mission and violence further… stay tuned! 🙂