Wednesday
Feb182015

Persecution of Christians: how should we understand and respond?

Salvation as Transformation

The Apostle Paul instructed the Christians in Rome to avoid conformity at all cost and to choose to be transformed by the power of the gospel (Romans 12:1.2).

This gives a new meaning to salvation in Christ Jesus.

  1. Salvation is being delivered from the world to live in the world. (Mark 3:13,14; Acts 1:7,8; Matthew 28:19; 1 Peter 2:9,10.) It is being delivered from the influences of the world to influence the world. It has a double function of opposing and permeating the world.

 

  • Called out – of the pervasive evil influences of this world.
  • Set apart – Indicates the purpose of salvation. We are set apart first, to learn from God and secondly, to glorify God though our godly influence in this world. Not to live in isolation but to be relevant in the community around us.
  • Sent out. The relevance of the community of God is in their going out and the manner in which they go out. Their life-style is their greatest witness. There is no reference here to conquests and “conversions” but healing, serving and caring. 

 

2.     Salvation is being delivered from messianic triumphalism.

 

  • Salvation means healing and restoration of the community not the crushing defeat of the enemies.
  • Jesus’ saying, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3), applies to the individual who refuses to repent and also to all those who suffer because of the lack of that person’s repentance. It also applies to those who have repented but do not live a penitent life.
  • The Son of Man, “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31). Entry into the Kingdom of God begins with death.
  • Like crucifixion, discipleship is a slow, shameful and painful death of the self. It is voluntary submission to a new value system. 

3.  Salvation is transforming the tool of terror into a means of grace.

 

Oppression does not kill hope but it raises the price of hope

The Roman cross was the ultimate symbol of violence, subjugation and humiliation. Besides being a vicious form of capital punishment reserved by imperial Rome for political dissidents, it was also used for the purpose of deterrence. Crucifixion was used to discourage others from rebelling against the might of Rome- lethal violence to gain compliance and submission.

Jesus accepted the cruel symbol of oppression as the means of definitive liberation. Through the cross Jesus challenged the paradigm that self-preservation is the ultimate goal of life.

The Roman cross was the sign of “human beings rejecting human beings.” The cross of Christ is God accepting human beings as they are and entering into a relationship with them where they are (1Corinthians 1:18). It is the meeting point of God and his creation. 4.     Salvation is also the transformation of human expectations. Transformed expectations are the foundation and source of strength for realizing our hopes.

4.  Salvation is not just the cancelling or the conversion of the past; it is also the transformation of our expectations of life itself.

  • We cannot understand salvation unless we understand compassion.  Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus with his family and friends because Lazarus was his close friend. Before he would perform the greatest miracle – giving life to a dead man- he wept with his bereaving friends. He could have turned their wailing to laughter but he preferred first to weep with them. This is the way of the cross.
  • Miracles of Jesus were acts of compassion. He was moved with compassion.
  • His refusal to use power was also acts of compassion.

   Conclusion

The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that we too can overcome. We overcome, not by running away from our problems, or by surrendering to the overwhelming forces that oppose the way of the cross, or even by constantly aiming to conquer and destroy those who try to destroy us, but by transforming those who seek to do evil by doing good. This is the message of Easter. This is the meaning of resurrection. This is the essence of life in Christ.

We must encounter the world the same way the resurrected Christ encounters us.

 

 

Wednesday
Oct222014

The Lunch Box

The Lunch Box

The other day I watched the movie, “The Lunch Box,” on a flight to Dubai. I liked the simplicity of the settings and profundity of the plot. It captures the reality of life as it confronts millions in India and possibly elsewhere in the world. It is stark and delicate - at the same time. It is confronting and comforting, disarming and empowering - all in one straight line of thought. In the classic postmodern genre, we are all now familiar, it gives the viewer the power to conclude and make certain value judgments, if any.

The movie depicts a certain kind of intimacy between a man and a woman who have never met. The trust that develops between these two practically strange human beings you don’t usually witness with people who claim to be intimate with each other. They feel so well connected, all because of a mistake - a mix up of the lunch box –the Dabba. Each day they leave a note for each other in the misdirected Dabba.

“I think we forget things if we have no one to tell them to,” says Saajan, whose wife died not so long ago, to Illa in one of their Dabba communiqué. In response Illa tells him that her husband is having an affair – obviously with another woman.

It made me think sideways. What if Illa’s husband had found out that she was confiding in a man, even though she had never seen him? I suspect he would never tolerate that. He would hound her until she gives up her friendship with this unknown beneficiary of her culinary skills.

 We demand that others obey the very rules that we break without the slightest guilt. We judge others with the same standard that we disregard each day with out the slightest feeling of guilt. We extract from others the severest of loyalties while we secretly relish our disloyalty. We call it double standards. But it is actually selfishness.

One day Illa discovered from her little daughter’s schoolbook that Bhutan has something different to offer. So, what is the difference between Bombay and Bhutan? In Bombay success is measured on an economic index and in Bhutan it is by the Gross National Happiness Index. Naturally, she shared this curious fact with Saajan in one of her Dabba mail.

“What if I come to Bhutan with you.” Asks Saajan in a one-line note to Illa. Neither Saajan nor Illa make it to Bhutan.

The film seems to give the impression that in Bombay, there is a third way to “succeed” in life - death. Since Bhutan is too far away, and Saajan has decided to retire in Nasik, Illa decides to opt for this third option. Step out into thin air from the top of her high-rise apartment block, like hundreds of women before her and many more after her.  While she is preparing to take her walk into “eternal happiness,” Saajan abandons the train to Nasik where he was going to spend his retired life and joins the Dabba trail in search of the origin of his delicious lunch and its mysterious creator.

“Sometimes the wrong train can get you to the right place,” Illa says in her last note to Saajan.

 Did she take the wrong train? The scriptwriter lets the viewer make his or her own conclusions.  

Friday
May022014

Forgive Us

 

Sunny Philip

To be angry and remain hurtful is my choice

Nobody can make me angry. It is my decision to be angry.I choose to be angry aggrived, resentful and vindictive.

Anger and the subsequent behaviour are my choices.

We can either be thermostats that set the temperature or thermometers that just measure the temperature. The difference between these two is what decides whether you are a peacemaker or peace wrecker- whther you live in peace or in bitterness.

To forgive is my need

The other person may not even know that he/she has hurt me. So how can that person ask forgiveness for something he/she is unaware of?

What, if that person is not in a position to ask forgiveness?

Do you hold grudge against people who are already dead and gone?

I come across people who are angry with their dead parents, husbands, and neighbours.  If the Jews are still waiting for Hitler to apologise, it is not going to happen. 

We must always forgive but we cannot always forget

When the bible says that God will not remember our sins, it does not mean that God selectively removes from his memory all the offences for which we have asked for his forgiveness and remembers the rest. What it really means is that God does not hold us accountable for those things. They are “written off” but not forgotten.

Forgive and remember. We may not always be able to forgive the hurts but we have a choice as to how we want to remember it.

What is the difference between memorials and tombstones?

Is it possible for some stumbling blocks to become stepping-stones?

We must always forgive but we may not always restore relationships

Forgiveness is not the same as the restoration of relationship. It is a step towards the restoration of relationship. It is not always within our power or our choice to restore broken relationships- a relationship involves more than one person unless one happens to be Narcissus who was in love with himself.

 

Sometimes it may be inappropriate or impossible to restore relationships. We need to make every effort towards the restoration of relationship but we also need to be wise and cautious in doing so. In our earnestness to restore relationship we can re-create the same situation that caused the first offense. Then, the restoration of relationship is nothing more than facilitating wrongdoing. 

The wound will heal but the scars will remain

Scars usually do not hurt but they can continue to remind us of the pain we endured and the pain we caused. We may not be able to remove the scars, but we can choose how we want these scars to affect us and our attitude towards those who have caused the wound or others who remind us of the pain we endured.

Forgiveness does not deny responsibility for behaviour.  You have simply committed to not hold the other person in debt.

God can and may choose to remove these scars.

We do not glory in the scars but praise God for the healing, which the scars represent.

 

To forgive is to let go

“Untie me as I untie others and let them go.”

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

The degree to which we let others “go” is the degree to which we experience freedom.

This does not mean that God will only forgive in proportion to our forgiving others. God has already forgiven us in Christ. But, do we experience that forgiveness. Is it real for us today?

When Jesus died on the cross he died not only for my sins but also for all the sins, which are and even would be committed against me.

Who are we to forgive or not to forgive?

Well, Why did Jesus leave “forgiving” to His Father? He said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” Something to think about at another time…

 

© Sunny Philip

Monday
Apr282014

Serving Leader and the exercise of power

The dynamic of daily living involves the exercising of power.  For the effective operation of social power, some form of hierarchy is essential. Is it possible to make a distinction between power and authority? While power can be positional[1], true authority is relational.[2] Power is “related to the present” and primarily manifested in the ability and opportunity to accomplish things now, while “Authority brings the past into relationship with the present and helps to assure the future …”

While it is possible to endlessly debate the semantics of words such as power and authority, Jesus, through his life, demonstrated that power need not dominate and corrupt. He refused to take a grim negative view of power or authority.[3] He distinguished between two kinds of power- the power to control and the power to empower. He condemned the religious leaders for using their God-given power to control and manipulate their followers.

The degree of influence a person is able to exercise in a particular community depends profoundly on the ‘amount’ of power that particular person or the group he/she belongs to has.[4]  The idea of serving leadership Jesus talked about concentrates on the type of power and the exercising of power rather than the amount of power. If so, how did Jesus expect his followers to exercise power?

Serving is the key to incorruptible power.[5] It is the opposite of domination and exploitation. Serving is the proper explanation of the correct use of power.[6] It is easier to manipulate and control people than to love them. Love is best expressed in the context of healthy, meaningful relationships while manipulative power is exercised in the absence of such relationship.

When a leader exercises power for controlling he erodes the self-confidence of his team members and diminishes their trust in him. In reality, instead of feeling empowered, they feel powerless. To be involuntarily powerless is to be without hope.

When serving is accepted as a way of life, power becomes evidenced in “self-limitation”[7]

Mark L Branson speaks of three kinds of leadership. Interpretive leadership creates and provides resources for a community of interpreters who pay attention to God, texts, context, and congregation. I would like to call it the source of our leadership. Relational leadership creates and nourishes all of the human connections in various groups, partnerships, friendships, and families. This is the context of our leadership. Implemental leadership develops strategies and structures so that a community embodies the culture of reconciliation and justice in a local context and in the larger world. This is the result of our leadership.

 

 


[1] French philosopher and a great exponent of the virtues and vices of power, Michael Foucault, disagrees with this categorization. For him, power is relational and productive, not just obstructive. Christine Firer Hinze, pp. 111-113; Foucault does not believe that “power is something possessed by those who exercise it.” Power, according to him, is exercised rather than possessed.  David Couzens Hoy, “power Repression, Progress: Foucault, Lukes, and the Frankfurt School” D.C. Hoy (ed.), Foucault: A Critical Reader, Basil Blackwell, New York, 1986, pp. 127,128, 131.

[2] Political philosopher, Hannah Arendt takes the view that genuine authority is neither imposed nor democratically agreed-upon. It is exercised through neither coercion nor persuasion.  Hinze, pp.140-141. Commenting on this distinction made by Arendt between power and authority, Hinze says, “Authority is not in itself power but, we might say, power’s servant or guardian.”, Hinze, p.142. “Power profoundly impacts our interpersonal relationships, our social relationships, and our relationship with God” Richard Foster, Money, Sex and Power, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1985, p. 175.

[3] Christine Firer Hinze categories various theories of power into two groups: power-over and power-to. Hinze claims that “A model of socio-political power that interrelates power-to and power-over is more theologically satisfactory than alternative views.”, p. 270.

[4] “…the type of power and resources that people have can profoundly shape the nature  of social relations.” Murray Milner Jr. , Status and Sacredness: A General Theory of Status Relations and an Analysis of Indian Culture, Oxford University Press, New York, 1994, p. 6.

[5] Richard Foster lists love, humility, self-limitation, joy, vulnerability, and submission as the marks of spiritual power.  Foster, pp. 196-207. These are also true marks of serving leaders.

[6] “Power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love.” H. Nouwen, In the House of the Lord, Darton, Longman and Todd, London.1986, p. 59.

[7] According to Richard Foster one of the major characteristics of  “creative power” is its ability to refrain “from doing things- even good things …” Money, Sex & Power, p. 203.

Friday
Apr112014

Investing in People

 

As soon as we hear the word “investing,” we think of money – stocks and properties. We teach our children how to make money but we seldom teach them how to spend money. Teaching a person how to spend money is character building. It is investing in people. It is leadership.

James MacGregor Burns first used the term transformational leadership in 1978 to describe a process in which “leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation.” This takes the role of leading beyond the traditional realms of managing, supervising, organizing work, and monitoring performance. These days a good computer programme can do all this. The main feature of Transformational Leadership is creating supportive communities.

Leadership is more about direction than destination. It is about journeying rather than arriving at all cost. If we become preoccupied with destination without proper attention to direction, even after reaching the destination we might feel empty, wasted, disappointed, unappreciated, rejected, and even angry. We see this on a daily basis, all around us – politicians, pastors, missionaries, and parents- having sacrificed so much of their life for a cause end up feeling dissatisfied and disenfranchised.  

Leadership is a lifelong commitment to contributing to the betterment of individuals, communities and nations by improving skills, proficiency and influence. What we are is just as important as what we do. Therefore, leadership is also about character. Character provides the basis for leadership.[1] It is the very soul of leadership. (We will look at this in a couple of week’s time.)

The most effective leaders are those who attend to the needs and feelings of their group members and structure the group so that stated goals are achieved without depleting the strength and character of the individuals within the team. In other words in the process of achieving their goal they input into the lives of their team members.

 Christian leadership is not just about leading others. It is also about developing others into leaders. The future strength and shape of the church is based on the type of leaders that are being developed today.1.    

1. How well do you know the people who work with you?

a.     If they have a personal problem will they share it with you?

b.     What sort of support can they expect from you?

2.  Think of one or two people who have invested into your life

a.     How have they contributed to your life?

b.     Are you prepared to invest in the life of other people?

 


[1] “Leadership without character is hell. Powerful humans, unrestrained by conscience, create a hell on earth for other humans, for animals, for the ecological balance of the earth. History is written by the victors, and the victorious are by definition effective leaders. They may also be depraved.” Frederica Mathewes-Green,  “Does Character Matter?” http://www.leaderu.com/menus/socialsciences.html, Cited 12/11/01.