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.

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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)

James_Tissot_The_First_Nail_525

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.