How to Study the Bible for Life Change? With lessons on Forgiveness & Reconciliation from Paul’s letter to Philemon.

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Out of the Box, Over the Top Leadership

Effective leaders will make it not because they have all the answers pertaining to the virus but because they address existential issues gripping their people as never before.

About 2000 years ago John Mark narrates a story of a few people who were wanting to help a paralysed man. They had heard about Jesus and knew he is someone who can heal people of their problems. Based on this conviction they made arrangements for their paralysed friend to be carried by four strong men. However, when they actually reached Capernaum they faced a problem they weren’t anticipating. The house in which Jesus was preaching was jam packed (Most probably Jesus’ home (Mark 2:1) There was absolutely no way anyone else could come in. Jesus’s preaching was so profound that no one wanted to come out either.

These men who had brought the paralysed man did not expect this obstacle. It is interesting to note that these Men persevered in their conviction. It took some brainstorming, mobilising, boldness and planning to find a solution for this new context. There final solution was rather out of the box and literally over the top. They decided to take the paralysed man up on the roof, they break the structure carefully, large enough to lower down this man right in front of Jesus. Imagine that!

What follows is interesting. Mark 2:5 says , ‘…Jesus saw their faith…’ What makes God see their faith? Consider the following:

Their Leadership was fuelled with Compassion filled Action : Love is the best leadership currency. True Love leads to action. The Men who brought their paralysed friend were Men of action moved by Compassion. This is so much like Jesus. He was moved to action because of His love to point of laying down his reputation, life even to the point of death on the cross. In today’s world, there is a need for much love. There are so many poor and needy people all around us today deeply affected by the crisis the coronavirus created. Our stories of compassion at a time of Pandemic builds a wall of protection, often times more deeper than what medicines can do. Compassion kills the virus of fear. Most employees today need trust and compassion as per a Gallup survey. Ask yourself what does compassionate leadership look like?

Their Leadership was built on Perseverance based on Conviction: When Compassion is based on sure conviction obstacles cannot hinder the intention. Obstacles are overcome by a perseverant spirit. That’s exactly what these Men did. They must have looked at all other possibilities of getting the paralysed man to Jesus. The need of the hour today is to persevere in doing good. Read Galatians 6:9, Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Their leadership was Bold & Out of the Box & Over the Top: Thinking differently is hard enough but doing things different is harder. These Men did not mind climbing up the roof with the paralysed man – pretty unconventional way of getting someone into the house. Sometimes, rules needs to be broken to get the job to be done – Great leaders do things out of the box. God does things out of the box and He gets excited when He sees someone do things in accordance of his nature. These Men in Mark 2nd chapter were not only out of the box carrying a paralysed man over the top, but they were bold in even following through their plan of action. It takes a lot of guts to be able to break someone’s roof. But in the end their courage did not go in vain. Now, boldness doesn’t meant arrogance nor does it mean confidence in our own faith or abilities. What it means, is the confidence that oozes out of desperation – the kind of boldness that made the Women touch the hem of Jesus. Or consider, Apostle Peter – God had to break Peter many times in order to restore and mold him into a radically bold, useful vessel for the Kingdom. Paul’s boldness was a result of his brokeness too. In fact, Paul says how he would rather boast about his weaknesses. Brokenness is God’s requirement for maximum usefulness. Through adversity, failure, disappointment and even our sin (preceding repentance) the Father will mold, restore and transform us into bold servants He can use for His purposes. For these Men in Mark 2, we do not know their background – what we see is their desperation to see their friend healed.

There are many Churches doing a great job in doing church out of the box – from creative online zoom services to Drive in Worship experience. However, I wonder if we are missing the point. Instead of spending too much energy in trying to get people to ourselves , we should we asking how can we think out of the box to get people to Christ. There is a huge need to think out of the box in reaching those outside the church. Maybe its time to break some rules (those Men in Mark broke a part of the roof). One of the things that needs a breaking is in our own attitudes towards leadership? Do we approach it from a position of power or is the call to leadership in scriptures to serve out of brokenness and dependance on God? At best, the Church is a bunch of broken people. We are called to be wounded servants in His kingdom brining other wounded people to Christ.

Conclusion

Jesus was impressed with their faith and the result was amazing. The guy was not only healed but also forgiven. (One of my friends jokingly says, Jesus also forgave them also for the sin of breaking his roof 😂)

Jokes apart, when we go beyond our limits to making things work why will not God go beyond what we are asking of Him? These folks came for healing they walked away with healing of the body and the heart. We will never go wrong when we pursue, persevere and go crazy in our faith in Christ.

The present global suspense caused by coronavirus is causing various levels of stress for leaders across the industry. No one would have imagined 2020 to be like this. In fact, one of my friends posted on her Instagram an interesting question, ‘ Can we agree that in 2015 not a single person got the answer correct to the question, where do you see yourself in five years?’ I did not and I know of no one who was prepared for such a global suspense. This pandemic has challenged virtually every contingency plan and risk mitigation strategy that leaders have ever envisioned. Even now, with over 6 months in the pandemic, it seems like leaders are under tremendous stress and perhaps clueless. It is not easy to lead amidst Covid-19. However, don’t let Covid 19 limit your reach and desire to pursue your call. Continue in your leadership with passion filled with love, perseverance, out of the box thinking and the courage to do all it takes to make a difference in & to our paralysed world.

How desperate are you?

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How to deal with Hurt & Bitterness?

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Labour of Love – Lessons from the Gospel of Mark

 

Today is Labour day in India. Millions of Labours in India are severely impacted due to the current pandemic. The essence of this Gospel can be best applied in the context of COVID 19 world we live in. The question we should be proactively asking at a time like this is, ‘Who is my COVID 19 neighbour?” It could be people that have served you in the past – your carpenter, plumber, barber, dhobi wala, maid, and people who you know are really struggling to survive right now. It’s our turn to serve them well.

My wife and I were so encouraged when our oldest came to us in the early days of lockdown and gave us Rs 2500 and said, ‘Mom, this is all I have right now but can this be given to Laxmi’s family?” Laxmi used to work in our house about a year ago. We decided to add to the amount and purchased enough supply for one whole month for this family. Later that evening, at our family prayer time we made a list of people to systematically help. These were not just ‘poor and needy’ ones. But also the not so poor folks who have genuine difficulties. It has been a sheer joy to serve these precious people without making them feel obligated or less than human beings. We should be careful not to take away people’s dignity in our attempt to helping them. Jesus is extremely sensitive to the needs of people & respectful of human value. We should become like him. 

The Gospel of Mark is the fast-paced, compelling story of Jesus Christ written by John Mark, according to the earliest reliable tradition. The book comprises two main parts, with several surprises woven through the narrative. The opening half of Mark answers the question: Who is Jesus? The second half addresses another important question: What did Jesus come to do? 

While Mark’s portrayal of Jesus is very clear to present-day readers thanks to his opening statements in the book, the people in the actual stories do not know who He is yet. These real-life characters discover the Protagonist as the greatest love story of all time unfolds.

As you read Mark’s account, observe the different sets of people: There are crowds of Jews who follow Jesus and the religious leaders who suspiciously sneak around him. Don’t forget to notice Jesus’ own family, his closest disciples, and even the demons who are caught up in this all-important question: Who is this man? 

As background to the book, it is also important to understand that the Jews, during Jesus’ day, had extremely specific ideas about the Messiah – what He should do and how He should look. For instance, one popular belief about the Messiah was that He would set up His kingdom by overthrowing the enemies of the Jews.

The people’s ideas of the Messiah were based on political ideology rather than a spiritual framework. As the Jews of the time were ruled by Romans, they assumed that the Messiah would overthrow the Roman empire and set up His political kingdom. 

Keep this setting in mind as you read how Jesus breaks onto the stage in first-century Israel with a clear message: It is time for God’s rule to come to earth! 

But people’s ideas of His identity were far more varied. They ranged from, “He is a kind teacher” to “He is a dangerous traitor.” They swung wildly from, “He is a prophet” to “He is the Son of God.” For others, His identity was simply unclear.  

In the book, Mark shares the story of Jesus healing a blind man (Chapter 8). That healing encounter takes place in two stages, where Jesus touches the blind man’s eyes twice. 

The incident is sandwiched between two interesting and meaningful conversations that Jesus shares with His disciples.

The first conversation begins when the disciples forget to pack enough bread for their boat ride with Jesus (Mark 8: 14-21). Jesus asks His disciples several questions during this trip – perhaps He wanted to get them to think a bit deeper. Interestingly, the disciples don’t answer most of the questions. They stick with responding to the basic Math questions about baskets of food, instead! 

The second conversation, starting from verse 27 onward, takes place after their encounter with the blind man. This time Jesus asks the disciples three hard-hitting questions: Who do people say I am? But what about you? Who do you say I am?

Peter gets it right when he answers with unequivocal clarity, “You are the Messiah.”

The disciples were much like the blind man. After Jesus’ first touch the blind man could only see fuzzy images, but when Jesus touches his eyes the second time, “his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

This blind man’s healing encounter is similar to the disciples’ journey toward understanding Jesus’ identity. At first, the picture is unclear, but then their eyes are opened. 

Peter speaks for the whole group when he confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. Yes, Jesus would save Israel and bring God’s reign to earth.

Now that the scales have fallen from the disciples’ eyes, the second part of Mark’s narrative answers the question: What did Jesus come to do? 

Jesus’ purpose on earth was far removed from what His disciples had in mind. He tells them the unexpected and, perhaps, unwelcome news: He has come to suffer, be rejected and then face the sting of death.

The disciples are not ready for this information. Like most first-century Jews, they believed that the Messiah would fight Israel’s battle against their oppressor and overthrow them. But Jesus has an entirely different agenda. He did not come to fight soldiers and armies. He came to fight a more formidable spiritual battle – a battle against the power of sin and death. He would win this battle in a remarkable and unexpected way: by giving up His own life. In fact, in many ways, Jesus was diametrically opposite to what the disciples had expected from a Messiah. Jesus makes that difference clear in Mark 10: 42-45 when He says:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The key truth of Mark’s story lies in the radical statement Jesus makes, “I did not come to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” In God’s economy, expectations are overturned and worldly hopes are dashed. Mark portrays Jesus as the Servant King.

While this Servant King was preparing to perform the greatest sacrifice in human history, His disciples could only think of themselves, their position and their safety. But we would be amiss if we pointed fingers at them. 

Much like the early disciples, we too find it challenging to orient ourselves toward sacrificial service. The easier, more convenient, option, is self-absorption, to the point of ignoring certain people around us. In the world today, it’s easy to dismiss those considered by many to be less ‘significant.’ As we read the Gospel of Mark, let’s take note of how Jesus turns the spotlight on the marginalised, the unwanted, the forgotten, the insignificant and the social outcast. Let’s ask ourselves this question: Do we notice the people in the shadows? They are on the margins of our everyday lives in the form of maids, courier boys, dhobi-walas, chowkidars, auto-rickshaw or cab drivers and others doing menial jobs. Can we see these individuals as those made in the image of God and precious in His sight?

The Gospel of Mark challenges us to serve as Jesus did. It dares us to notice the people Jesus noticed. It asks us to break free of self-absorption and pour ourselves in the service of those we encounter daily. It causes us to wrestle with the question: What does it mean to follow in the footsteps of the Servant King?

 

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Christ, COVID-19 and the Church

I’ve been involved in ministry for slightly over three decades now. I remember sitting in a strategy meeting in the year 1990. Our leaders were passionately sharing about what they wanted to accomplish by 2020. Most Christian organisations or churches have used a phrase like Vision 2020 sometime or the other. Back then, 30 years looked like a long time, but here I am thirty years older.

What an opportunity to look back and see what God has done and is still doing. I’d like to do a high-level reflection on the last 100 years in light of what Jesus said in Matthew 16: 17 & 18,

“Jesus replied, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it...”

I see a pattern and progression around the way God is building the local church, which is his primary partner in his grand mission. Before we embark on that reflection it is essential to know that all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ are under his reign. In fact, Jesus spoke a lot about God’s kingdom. His gospel wasn’t just about the Gospel of the Santa Claus (Prosperity gospel) or the Gospel of the Frankenstein (Turn our burn approach) but he proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom of God. It has implications for the here and now and enables us to live our faith in the real world. While the Christian faith is personal, it is not private. In fact, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, 

‘Your kingdom come, your will be done as on earth as it is in heaven …’ (Matthew 6:10) 

Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom, and we know, that the full consummation of God’s kingdom is yet to happen in the future. Therefore, we live in the ‘now and not yet’ season. That’s one reason why we still see things like COVID 19 and all other mess happening in this world. Despite this, God is advancing his kingdom through ordinary people. Although the church is not equal to the kingdom of God, it is his primary vehicle. 

The Church is primarily about the following four things, 

1. The kerygma – the preaching 

2. The didache – the teaching 

3. The koinonia – the fellowship 

4. The diakonia – the service 

It bears witness to the kingdom of God in doing the above. What this means is that the community of God is called to reflect his character – to be a sacred community in a secular world. After all, we are not just signposts but called to a prophetic sign of his kingdom – a visible expression of his invisible kingdom. The kingdom of God is marked by agape love, shalom blessedness, righteousness and justice. It represents the liberation of humankind from all kinds of alienation, freedom for creativity, a community of love and reconciliation of people with nature, with others, with God and with oneself. The kingdom values affirm human dignity and the worth of human persons. These values and marks of the kingdom should be seen in the local church, as a part of the body of Christ. We all know we aren’t there yet and it is certainly comforting to know Christ is ultimately building his church. 

The rise of the Para-Church centred around Ministry leaders. 

In the early decades of the 20th century, for the most part, the ‘established’ church was far removed from reflecting the nature of God’s kingdom. Church itself became a mini-kingdom. In the process, the church became spiritually unhealthy, couldn’t withstand the attacks of secular ideologies, and it suffered poor leadership. It will be interesting to study the impact of those two ugly world wars on the established church and how it helped its members to deal with the great depression. 

But thankfully, God isn’t interested in growing or using what he has not approved. On the contrary, God is committed to advance his kingdom. While he still used human beings, he by-passed the church for a little while. God needed to call several individuals outside the organised human-made church structures for evangelism, discipleship and missional engagement. He also used many of these new movements to equip God’s people for God’s kingdom, which the so-called church wasn’t doing then. It is important to note that these individuals were a part of their church but their ministries were too radical for the church structures back then. 

From early 1940s till about 1960s, there was a surge of young missional entrepreneurs who were reaching children, youth, university students and the hippies. I’ve had the privilege of spending three solid months with the founder of once such radical movement. When I was growing up as a new believer, I got more out of “para-church” organisations than out of my local church. I would highly encourage you to read about the people God was using to start these organisations.

God was doing something through these para-church agencies. They were focussed, passionate and nothing short of being trailblazers. Their efforts impacted the lives of hundreds and thousands of people. Many gave their lives to serving on a full-time basis. Many others went to study in seminaries, plant churches, start new organisations,  and become pastors. In the grand story of God’s mission, we see the role of the para-church agency as a force that awakened and, in some cases, assisted the local church, pointing her back to God’s kingdom. 

Over time, some of these movements lost the plot along the way and soon became power structures themselves. Gradually, we began to see gaps between the para-church organisations and the local church. Para-church agencies were operating out of silos, and that is never the right thing to do. Meanwhile, many people who were getting saved by the programmes of these para-church organisations were inclined to join their local church. Slowly but steadily the church became much healthier. 

The rise of the Local Church centred around the Pastor. 

God was bringing back the emphasis to his original vehicle – the local church. (Now, this doesn’t mean that there is no place for ‘para-church’ organisations. Probably many out there need to close down, but there is a valid reason why many of them exist. The effort should always be to work in and through the local church. However, at the end of the day, all such organisations are a part of the universal church of God). 

I saw the rise of the local church in India in my 30 years ministry. Back in the late 80s or early 90s, it was rare to see an active, mission-minded, focussed local church. Today, there are so many. I recently preached at a small church in Bangalore. It was only a delight to listen to the Pastor’s heart and see evidence of some amazing things they are doing among children, youth and in church planting. I came away thinking this church doesn’t need an organisation to come alongside. The truth is there are many churches like that today. 

However, a lot of churches today centre around their pastors or their leadership team. Most members come with a passive posture merely to fulfil their religious obligations. When we first moved to Bangalore, one leading Pastor told me that he struggles to mobilise his members to play an active part in the life of the church. In most churches, few do the work of many. This is the heart cry of many Pastors today. While their church is healthy on a macro level, the load is heavy on a few people. 

The rise of laity centred local church?

More recently, a lot more people are speaking about the call to the laity in the church. In his book, ‘Called to awaken the laity,’ Dr John Oak rightly says, “…lay people are the best and the greatest potential the church has. Negatively speaking, laypeople are a serious challenge for the church if not mobilised…” 

The problem is two-folded. Firstly, how do we mobilise a busy bunch of people to find their fit in God’s service meaningfully? Secondly, is the church today willing to radically remodel their framework of ministry to make a place for their laypeople?” Many churches haven’t utilised their natural talents, spiritual gifts and acquired knowledge, within the context of their church ministry. 

I wonder if the present pandemic is creating an opportunity to see a sharp rise in the involvement of individuals & families in the life and mission of the church. One Pastor recently told me that he saw a rise in member engagement by nearly 50%. For most churches, the lockdown has unlocked new avenues. Some of them have confessed that they are busier planning for the church now and they need other talents and skills to go online. I’m sure there are some negatives as well but for the most part, it seems like churches are seeing people join them (from other parts of the world) they would otherwise not have. It may seem to us that the church services are no longer able to gather as they did prior to this pandemic. This may seem that the church is closed – but is it? On the contrary, God is restoring the role of every family in the church even more so.

I’ve been thinking of what God did during reformation through Martin Luther. A core element of the reformation was the priesthood of all believers. Timothy George (General Editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture), talks about Luther’s Address to the Nobility of the German Nation in 1520.

Luther criticised the traditional distinction between the “temporal” and “spiritual” orders—the laity and the clergy—arguing that all who belong to Christ through faith, baptism, and the Gospel shared in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and belonged “truly to the spiritual estate”: “For whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he is already a consecrated priest, bishop, and pope, although of course, it is not seemly that just anybody shall exercise such office.” 

This was a radical thing for Martin Luther to say. Eventually the Pope excommunicated him on January 3, 1521.

All believers are called to be priests, but not all are led to become pastors in a local church. However, it seems to me that the church today needs yet another reformation. Even though the idea of the priesthood of all believers came afresh during the time of Luther, it seems to me that it merely went from the Roman Catholic church to the Protestant church. 

We are back to square one – and the attitude is, let the pastor do all the job.

Today, we have the opportunity to see the rise of every Christian family to be the salt (being in the cooking pot gently doing its work) and the light (to be a bright witness in every sphere of society as a sign of God’s kingdom, and not forgetting to use their flame within their local church). The family was God’s design way before the church became so. It is the first church, first school, and the first hospital etc. Imagine what it would look like if every family in every local church found their fit in God’s kingdom. 

I think from the 1940s all the way to the 1990s was the era of the para-churches assisting the local churches. We then saw the rise of Pastors and bringing the focus back on the local church. Today, we possibly are looking at every individual, continuing to fulfil God’s mission in and through their local church. We have to realise it’s a call to all. 

Jesus told us that he would build the church. Read Matthew 16: 1-18 to understand the context in which he made this statement. Let me explain, 

On this particular day, The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him to show them a sign from heaven. Jesus wasn’t interested in proving his divine authority to these religious idiots. He simply said the sign of Jonah is enough. Soon after, they (Jesus and the disciples) left these religious leaders. Jesus and his disciples took a boat and headed towards the region of Caesarea Philippi. While on the boat, Jesus was aware of his disciple’s big concern – they had forgotten to pack bread. Now, this problem was similar to the one the religious leaders just had. Those so-called religious leaders had memorised all the Messianic prophecies but couldn’t see the Messiah standing right in front of them. Now, the disciples were behaving exactly like the Pharisees; they were worried about having no bread when the bread of life was right with them. That’s the reason Jesus tells them to be careful of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. 

As they continued their journey, Jesus wanted to open their eyes and asked them an important question, 

‘Who do you say I am?’ 

Peter had a moment of revelation and got it right. 

He answers Jesus by saying, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 

We can ridicule these early disciples, but many times we could be blind like them, unable to see what God might be doing. During this pandemic, are we worried and only looking to the obvious or are we able to see that Jesus is with us and is doing something far more amazing? Do we see that he is restoring the priesthood of all believers and we could take this to a much deeper level than what took place in the 16th century. 

Will you take a look at your life and ask yourself this important question: “What role do I play in God’s kingdom?” Perhaps, it’s time for you to increase your engagement in God’s kingdom. But, first, you need to see Jesus as the true Messiah. Like Peter, we need the revelation from God to say, “Jesus, you are the Messiah, the son of the living God

And if you do say that, Christ tells even you what he told Peter. “I will build my church through you and the gates of Hades cannot overcome it.”

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Hope that is not afraid.

It was not too long ago that we were all making our New Years resolution. Who would have thought life would change so much in the last 3 months. This tiny microscopic virus called SARS-CoV-2 has caused havoc in the Nations. Social distancing, National lockdowns, and many changing scenarios each day is an indicator of how bad the situation is. Apart from death threats COVID 19 (sickness caused by this virus) brings upon us there are other challenges we have to wrestle with. One big one is in the area of markets falling and millions losing their jobs. About 10 million people in the United States have already applied for Unemployment benefits. IATA research calculates that 25 million jobs in aviation and related sectors are endangered across the world. In the same report, there will be a drop in revenues by $252 billion in the Airlines industry around the globe in 2020 alone.

It is one thing to hear bad things happen to people and totally another thing to experience it. You may be gripped with fear and anxiety – not just about your health but all other difficult questions.

What if I have a salary cut? What if I lose my job? Will my business come out of this mess? How will I pay my loans? Will I be able to bounce back? What about millions of poor and needy ones?

Anxiety might be the first thing that hits you in the morning and last thing that is on your mind as you struggle to sleep late into the night. These are undoubtedly uncertain times.

Is your hope afraid today?

The best thing to do when you find yourself doubting your own success, wealth, position & knowledge is to turn to God who designed you and made you for a significant purpose. It is important for us to understand that life without God is hollow & not worth living. A hollow life is what Henry Thoreau described as “lives of quiet desperation”; for others, the emptiness and aimlessness deepen into stronger despair as pointed to us by Os Guinness.

Fear & anxiety is reasonable at times like this. If you are experiencing it, you are not alone. Ed Welch says this well, ‘The issue isn’t so much whether or not we are afraid and worried. Scripture assumes that we will be afraid and anxious at times. What is important is where we turn, or to whom we turn when we are afraid,’

Consider the following statements made by Jesus:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Who is this Jesus who asks us to come to him?

John was an eyewitness at Jesus’ crucifixion, and he wrote an account of Jesus’ life, which is known as John’s Gospel. Ancient fragments of that Gospel can be seen in Manchester’s John Rylands Library. John wrote down many of the things Jesus said including these words:

‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (The Gospel of John chapter 3 verse 16).

John, the Gospel writer, knew that Jesus’ death makes it possible for each of us to experience the love of God and to have eternal life. He also recorded Jesus saying:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John’s Gospel chapter 15 verses 12-13).

It is Jesus’ own sacrificial love that banished the fear of death and motivated third century Christians to care for plague victims. As well as knowing they are loved by God, Christians also know that death is not the end. They can be confident of this because Jesus’ death on the cross was followed by his resurrection. He came back from the dead!

John’s eyewitness account explains how Jesus died on a Friday and was buried in a tomb with a huge stone rolled over the entrance. On Sunday, a group of women went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed. The tomb was empty. Jesus then appeared to his followers, proving that he was alive. The wounds from his crucifixion could be touched. He could eat. He was not a ghost. A short time after his resurrection, Jesus returned to his Father in heaven, but before he went he promised his followers that he would always be with them and that he would prepare a heavenly home for them. Jesus told his followers:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me… 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’ (John’s Gospel chapter 14 verses 1-2).

Hope for the future.

During his life on earth Jesus often gave his followers hope for the future as he talked about the kingdom of heaven. He often used stories or parables to describe what life beyond the grave is like and who goes there. He described himself as ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John’s Gospel chapter 14 verse 6) indicating that knowing Jesus and following him is the way to heaven.One man who met Jesus face to face wanted to believe and said, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark’s Gospel chapter 9 verse 24).

You might want to make that a prayer today.

If yes, all you need to do is to acknowledge your deepest need to him in a simple non-religious prayer. It can be as simple as given below:

“Dear Jesus, I’m at a loss for words today. I feel so lost inside and filled with hopelessness. I’ve been living my own life without having you as my leader. Today, please come into my heart and help me out. Cleanse me from my sin, confusion and despair. Help me to see your light in this dark valley that scares me. I put my trust in you. Help me to know more about you. Amen.”

By praying the above you have responded to Jesus’s invitation. He will continue to guide you through His Words (the Bible). If you are unable to find a Bible let me know and I will send it to you. Find a group of other followers of Jesus Christ and learn more about what it means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

The hope Jesus gives us is not afraid of the future!

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Serve like Jesus

I’m not sure what prompted Uday G Mohite when he sketched this compelling piece of illustration. But it does represent the darker side of human beings well. It reminds me of a question my good friend asked me some time ago, ‘why do people call selfies, selfies?’ And then he went on to answer it, ‘because its hard to pronounce the word narcissistic.’ A little too harsh but you get the point, right?

Uday’s picture captures this syndrome very well. For me, this particular picture is about what it represents -Fake Service and the inability to see the Person well. It is my desire to contrast what this picture represents with what Jesus Christ taught and modelled.

In no way, I’m trying to suggest that people who serve & take pictures are self-centred. I don’t think we should judge anyone for taking pictures or videos. There are many out there who are genuinely helping the poor and needy, and for a good reason take pictures or videos. Many times their video stories inspire people to take action and serve. In fact, Jesus himself said,

‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’

(Mathew 5: 14-16)

However, we all need to know there are bad examples of helping the poor. And it stems out of an increased desire for fame in today’s world. We live in an age of image. Access to smartphones with high-resolution cameras combined with the ability to quickly post/upload our activities online makes it that much easier to slip into self-absorption. In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks says it well, “Social media encourages a broadcasting personality. Our natural bent is to seek social approval and fear exclusion…technology creates a culture in which people turn into little brand managers, using Facebook, Twitter, text messages and Instagram to create a falsely upbeat, slightly overexuberant…spending his or her time creating a self-caricature, a much happier and more photogenic version of real life.

How do we recognise this danger and save us from ourselves?

Ask the WHY question to yourself:

Why do we want to help people – especially the poor and needy?

The Why kind of question is powerful.

Did you know the Bible has quite a few questions that begin with the WHY? Jesus used it regularly in challenging people around him. For example, Jesus asked, 

‘Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?’ (Luke 6:46)

A question he asked towards the end of his famous Sermon we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. In this message, taking into account from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus made the following clear,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mathew 7:21)

So, what is the will of the Father in heaven? Reading the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5 through 7 it is clear that the will of the Father is not 

Saying the right things (Matthew 7:21), 

Doing the ‘right’ things (Matthew 7:22)

Hearing the right things (Mathew 7:26)

The will of God is in being Christlike. The Beatitudes and all that Jesus teaches on the Sermon on the Mount is a pretty good summary of what our Heavenly Father desires from each of His children. Jesus culminates by highlighting the importance of internalising the law of God deep within our hearts. It is not enough to obey the law as an external code but God wants us to internalise the law so that it becomes a lifestyle. It is our heart that God is after. Our deep internal motivations. When our external deeds is an outflow of the internal beatitudes, our Heavenly Father is pleased.

The question, why we do what we do becomes all-important in our discipline of deep self-examination. Chuck Swindoll asks a few questions quite frequently. They are,

  • Why am I planning this?
  • Why was I involved in that?
  • Why did I say yes (or no)?
  • Why did I write that letter?
  • Why am I preaching this message?
  • Why did I respond like that?
  • Why did I mention that person’s name?

One day, Jesus will examine and reveal our motives and the quality of our service. Read what Paul writes to the church at Corinth:

 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.  If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

(1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.

(1 Corinthians 4:5 )

Ask the How question? 

Apart from self-examining ourselves and purging ourselves from any ulterior selfish motives, we could be asking how do I do what I want to do in a way that is a true reflection of Chris-like service? 

Some suggestions I can think about is to read what Richard Foster writes on what is is the difference between self-righteous service versus true service. Consider the following two from his long list:

  • Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal.” It is concerned to make impressive gains on ecclesiastical score-boards. It enjoys serving, especially when the service is titanic. True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service. Where a difference is noted, the true servant is often drawn to the small service, not out of false modesty, but because he genuinely sees it as the more important task. He indiscriminately welcomes all opportunities to serve. 
  • Self-righteous service requires external rewards. It needs to know that people see and appreciate the effort. It seeks human applause— with proper religious modesty, of course. True service rests contented in hiddenness. It does not fear the lights and blare of attention, but it does not seek them either. Since it is living out of a new Center of reference, the divine nod of approval is entirely sufficient. 

The point is how not to serve. Let’s do everything we can to eradicate self-righteous acts of service. 

Finally, ask the Who question.

Who should be our role model in serving people? Of course, it has to be the Lord Jesus Christ if we claim to be his followers. When we read the gospels it becomes clear that Jesus was moved with compassion. Something we need to grasp. Being moved with compassion is what makes our service genuine. It cannot be replaced with civility. It comes out of a genuine lifestyle of worshipping the God of the Bible. The Bible says God is love. God is compassionate. Psalm 115:4 says, “Those who make them [idols] will be like them, and so will all who trust in them”. In other words, who/what we worship has a great influence on who/what we become. Like Warren Wiersbe rightly said, ‘we become like the gods we worship.’

If we worship ourselves, every act of kindness will be about us. If we worship our acts of kindness (the service itself) then our Service will define our identity. But on the contrary, if we worship the Lord Jesus Christ we will be influenced by his character. He will change us inside out. We will be led to serve people not because of guilt, or pride or self-gratification but because this ministry flows out of who we really are on the inside.

Our service should be packaged with dignity. It should help people find their worth and value in life. We shouldn’t take away poor people’s dignity when serving them and sometimes it means not taking that photograph without their permission. Instead, we should do all we can to love, respect and restore their dignity always remembering, it’s not about us. It is truly about them for the glory of our God.

Conclusion

Take a deeper look at Uday’s picture above and ask God to help you not to be like that guy with his smartphone & an un-smart motive. Let’s do all we can to unmask ourselves from every bit of selfishness and commit to serving like Jesus.

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Mind your language

images-2The book of Proverbs talks a lot about Words spoken out – they carry power, both to bring fresh life  and  death  (Proverbs 18:21 “Death and Life are in the power of tongue…”)

Proverbs has 99 direct verses out of 915 ( That’s nearly 11 percent) on the topic of “Wisdom concerning Speech.” Proverbs very clearly presents the theory that ‘Speech’ (of a person) sooner or later determines if a person is foolish or wise;  wicked or upright (Example Proverbs – 10:18; 17:27,28; 10:11)

With words, you express your inner being especially if there is hatred and violence within (Proverbs 10:18a; 10:6) which is concealed and not revealed. Therefore, the root of speech problem is not just ‘words’ but the inner life, the attitude, the thought etc.

The ways we can be careful in the usage of speech according to Proverbs is;

  1. Know that God does not like lying speech. Out of the six things that the Lord hates, lying is one.   (5:17)
  2. Know that when words are many – Sin is around the corner.  (10:19)
  3. Know that harsh words can stir up fights, arguments and basically the anger of the other person.  (15:1)

Thus wrong usage of words could result in Spiritual, Personal and Social bondages.

On the other hand good speech or wise speech or speech with good motive can bring healing in all the above three areas – Spiritual, Personal and Social.

  1. The words that are gracious are pure in His sight (15:26) – Getting us the vertical favour. 
  2. The mouth of the Righteous is a fountain of life (10:11a) deeply satisfying us inwardly
  3. A gracious speech will attract even the elite to be your friends (22:11) – Getting us the horizontal favour.

James in the New Testament teaches us that ‘Tongue’ is one thing that is unstable and can very dangerous if not controlled properly. Proverbs presents the simple truth that right standing with God brings wisdom and power that helps in how we choose our words. For some people this may seem to be difficult for various reasons but if we give ourselves to the Lord He can give us the power to talk right

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov 25:11)

The apples here are most probably talking about the fruit from the citron tree which was golden in color and very fragrant with good nutritious values. In ancient days oriental ladies served these fruits which were pleasant, nourishing and bright to look at. They would serve this beautifully placed in elaborately figured silver vessels

This is the description Solomon gives about words aptly spoken. He is comparing words to apples and elaborated silver vessel to the one’s who speak those apt words. Speaking the right word and saying it at the right time requires ‘sensitivity’. Insensitive people will find it difficult to speak right words  and can damage relationships. Words have great power. I know relationships that went sour purely because of inappropriate words. Notice any healthy life affirming relationship and you will find words being used  sensitively & lovingly.

All of us have friends and people around us. Most of our waking hours we are speaking – Whether we speak or not we are communicating…Let’s be sensitive to the needs, feelings and problems of those around so that we will learn to speak right words at the right time and with the right attitude.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6) and in conclusion let us pray like Agur the son of Jakeh prayed, “… Remove far from me falsehood and lying…”  (Proverbs 30:8a)

 

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5 Essential Leadership Tips

In the last few weeks the subject of Leadership has been very close to my heart. I think it’s because, as I travel around the world I am seeing more clearly that everything good & bad in families, societies, Churches, Institutions is almost directly because of leadership or the lack of it.  This can be true of YWAM oplocs, schools and centres too. It is because of this I’ve been realigning my own leadership style in line with what God’s word speaks about this subject. As a result, I started reflecting on life-lessons I’ve learnt from my various experiences. I  am studying God’s word a bit more from the grid of leadership. I began to see other leaders – good ones and ones that could be better. I became even more convinced that this topic needs to be re-visited in a simplified way. Therefore, I started putting my personal reflection in the form original quotes the Lord was giving me on my personal Facebook account. It did not take me long to realise that many were affirming me for those quotes and in fact saying that they are being blessed, inspired and challenged. Soon, I decided to start an official Facebook page on the 15th of May calledwww.facebook.com/LeadershipTips and in just under three months this has almost 3000 likes. I praise God for it. Obviously people are crying out for good leadership in their context. And I believe you can be an answer to their prayers.

I’d like to share my heart on some of my simple leadership tips for you today. I am hoping it will have a profound impact on your leadership role.

Leadership Tip # 1

Spiritual Leadership is more about following Jesus than it is about following leadership techniques.”

Leadership at its best is only a stewarding responsibility of our vocation (Being a Missionary, a Doctor,     a government servant, an Engineer, a Teacher etc). A good leader knows that the higher purpose of life is not to be carried away by the glamour of leadership & its activities but rather he/she is inspired by the intimacy of God’s call to Himself, His Character and His purposes! You may be working as a DTS staff or a leader or working in YWAM with some other role. That’s good thing but that’s not your fundamental calling. Your fundamental calling is to love Jesus, to follow Jesus, to obey His commands. When we truly love Jesus and His word it becomes clear to those around you. While we don’t love Jesus for the sake of those around us it does affect them positively. It’s important that we in YWAM do not allow any other person or thing in life take the place of Jesus Christ.

Leadership Tip # 2

Gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit are to make us better servants not super stars.

Leadership has become a fashionable word today. The world thinks you are a great leader if many people serve you. Jesus tells something totally different. He says, you are great when you serve many people. A lot of people in ministry today have a super star status. They revel in public praise and it seems like they can’t stop talking about their incredible spiritual abilities. Some even go to the extent of saying they have all the nine gifts of the Spirit (as if there are only nine). But even if someone is extremely gifted by the Holy Spirit, it is important to note that those gifts are given to become better servants not super stars. In YWAM we value servant leadership and so it should continue to be. The day YWAMers lose this value we will lose our cutting edge.

Leadership Tip # 3

Great Leaders work on cultivating the art of serving from a place of rest & calmness and not a place of stress & drivenness.

True spiritual leaders are not looking to become great but they can’t help but have a great influence over people. One of the reasons leaders develop this greatness is  because they cultivate the art of serving from a place of rest and not from a place of stress. Our modern life breeds ambitious driven people. There are plenty of people who are madly and blindly running a rat-race of life. According to Dictionary.com our modern term ‘rat-race; refers to any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, especially a pressured urban working life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc. The problem with this rat-race culture that most people don’t seem to realise is that even if they win this race, they stay to be rats. There are a lot of Christian workers and missionaries who are coming under this spirit of running from one activity after the other. Such a life-style locks us in a pattern of thinking that is not biblical. A spiritual leader learns to slow down and make time for calmness and cultivates the discipline of solitude. Today, many people are afraid of silence. But, we need to develop this love for inner quietness and enjoy the inner peace God so beautifully brings in our lives.

If you are running from one thing to another without waiting in the presence of God you need to be still and know that God is missing His time with you.

Leadership Tip # 4

The best leadership currency is love.

Leadership influence doesn’t depend on the size of your wallet it sure depends on the size of your heart. Someone said, ‘people don’t really care about how much you know but about how much you really care’ That’s true most of the time. We live in a global world where we see many cultures inter-facing with one another. Often times, it will become difficult to understand one another simply because we speak another language. But when we master the art of speaking the language of love it cuts through all cultural barriers. That’s why love is the best currency a leader can have. Make a note of the names of people you serve in your leadership. Write them down on your heart. Speak to them the language of love genuinely. As you do this, you will see many things turning around for you.

Leadership Tip # 5

An average leader tolerates diversity, a good leader celebrates diversity and an effective leader knows how to cultivate synergy in & through diversity on his team!

In todays world, no matter where you serve it is more possible to have or be in a multi-cultural team rather than a mono cultural team. That’s why there is so much talk about CQ (Cultural Quotient) in this Global  generation. An average leader manages to live with people who are different but hangs out a lot more with people similar to his/her style. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this but it is not effective. This will not go far in leadership influence. On the other hand, a good leader learns to accommodate and celebrate diversity not just tolerate it. Affirming someone’s culture and knowing how to respect it will take help you farther in leadership. But, if you really want to go long then become a highly effective leader. Don’t just celebrate diversity but master the art of creating synergy between all different kinds of people on your team. Create unity and synergy. A good orchestra does exactly the same. It produces harmony as the music conductor synergizes diverse kinds of instruments. The result – a happy and inspired audience! Your role, as a leader is to create synergy out of the variety you have. It will not be easy but it is possible.

Conclusion

 Take time to allow these thoughts to sink deep into your heart. Meditate on the scriptures given for each of my Leadership Tip. Print out this article and read it several times in the light of your work right now. Make sure you ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with His Spirit so you can live for His glory. Remember, your godly leadership can truly change the world around you & beyond. All the best!

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Peace in the midst of Storm

It would be an understatement to say that we are going through a strange kind of Global suspense with the impact and effect of this new pandemic. What seemed to be happening so far away is now coming nearer to us. We read of all kinds of issues this is causing people around the world to go through. It could be tempting to conclude that God doesn’t care. The very thing the disciples of Jesus assumed when they a storm in the gospel of Mark chapter 4 verses 35 to 41.

Please do take time to listen to this sermon which seeks to unfold God’s Word to have another approach in meaningfully facing our crisis today. We can experience God’s peace and rest in the midst of our storm.

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True Spirituality: My reflection from Jesus’s sermon on the mount.

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