Idea Became the Movement

Today I am wearing an imaginary philosopher’s hat.  Prof. Albert D’Souza was my Philosophy Professor at the University of Toronto.  He taught us about Bishop George Berkley, an Anglo-Irish Bishop/philosopher (1685-1753), famous along with John Locke and David Hume.  He is well known for his writing “The Idea is an Object”.  Though strange at the beginning I soon learned its significance.  I am borrowing his theme to name this post with a slight change – Idea became the movement.   Building the Church is the will of God through Jesus Christ.  Jesus had the greatest idea, which became the greatest movement of all times!

A scene that frequents my mind is that of Jesus in front of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate.  Pilate interrogated Jesus, bound as a common prisoner.  “Are you a king?” he asked.  Jesus answered, “it is as you say”.  Pilate could not help but exclaim “Behold The Man,” followed by a confession that “I find no fault in him.”  And nobody ever since has!  Jesus, humanly speaking, had the idea that became a mighty kingdom.   Jesus never wavered from his idea.  That was His Father’s business.

In that movement, Jesus was not content with the hitherto failed old system.  He knew it would not cut it.  He taught “no one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment, it will tear; and no one puts new wine into old wine skins, it will burst” (St. Luke 5:36-37).  In this post we will see how Jesus broke some age old stereotypes and obstacles.

Jesus broke the cultural and theological barrier (St. John 4:9).   Jesus left northern Judea and was heading towards Galilee.  Very likely, he left on foot early in the morning, taking advantage of the cool weather.  He was aware of the fanaticism of the Jews, in addition to their horrible Pharisaism, not to mention their cumulative hatred of the Samaritans.  Gerizim (modern day Nablus) was Samaritan ‘s holy place as against Jerusalem of the Jews. They claimed it was Mt. Moriah, (Genesis 22:2), where Abraham took Isaac for the sacrifice .  Samaritans built their temple there in rivalry.  Jesus deliberately decided to pass through Samaria, refusing to condone the prejudice.

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The woman at the well

Jesus broke the gender-based hang-ups.  He not only passed through Samaria, but stopped and relaxed near a well, dug by patriarch Jacob and given to his favourite son Joseph.  He started a conversation with a woman who came to draw water at the unusual noon hour time.  Note how deftly and respectfully Jesus communicated with her.  This may sound strange to some; but take note of John 4:27.  Even the disciples were surprised that Jesus was talking with a woman.  Open dialogue between an unrelated man and woman is not allowed according to custom and tradition (remember the Fiddler on the Roof-Tradition)!  I recall my high school days.  Meeting a girl classmate on the road, the maximum allowance is a glance and a nod.  Silly?  Not only did Jesus initiate, but He pushed beyond the conversation and asked for a drink.  That in turn became a real conversation piece!

What surprises me most is the content of his dialogue.  The Great Teacher was having a discourse on real theology with a woman, teaching her the consequences of sin, the omnipresence of God, and eternal life using the analogy of water.   As far As I know, this is the only reference where Jesus concisely defined God.  He bypassed the Rabbis and priests and communicated this to a woman: “God is a spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  On a personal note, in my old All Saints Church in Trichur, Kerala, this verse is painted in bold letters to this day.   Compare this with the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus.   The ruler of the Jews could only grasp it laboriously, but the woman grasped it instantly!  In the glorious Church, there is no place for theological punditry.  It is always simple, yet profound.  “It is not complicated” as the guy advertises on TV for Everest College (for my local friends in Toronto).

This did not mean that Jesus was abridging or diluting his teaching.   She believed Jesus was a great prophet.   Although admirable, it was not good enough for Jesus.  He made sure she recognized him as the Messiah of both Jews and Samaritans – indeed the whole world!  He told her “I am He!”

Are Christians miserly in giving a well-deserved commendation, instead looking for classifications or a pecking order?  Let us call her one of the earliest Evangelists!   In her excitement and new-found joy, she forgot her water pot, ran to the city and told the men “come and see….Is this not the Christ?”  These were the exact words of one of the earliest disciples Philip, to Nathaniel.  “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified.”  I would like to believe this woman evangelist was instrumental in bringing a revival later on in Samaria with Philip the evangelist.   She planted the seeds and Philip the evangelist watered it, and God gave the increase (Acts 8:5-8).

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Children at a Dream Centre in India

While writing this post I had Dr.Faiz Rahman, founder, President of Good News India visiting us (www.goodnewsindia.org).  We chatted about Bishop George Berkeley.  The idea came to Faiz to help 25 kids in Orissa, India in October 1998.   Now he has 2,700 kids; soon will be 3000.  His goal is to reach 10,000 .  We also fondly discussed our friends and former pastors, missionaries to Calcutta, India, Dr.Mark and Huldah Buntain;  (www.buntain.org).   We accepted Jesus as our Saviour years ago, under their ministry and worked with them.   They started a small upstairs hall for a Church at 55 Park Street, Calcutta.  It became a mighty movement. In order to save time and space I have provided their web sites for your own browsing.

Get the idea?  Got an idea?  No matter how young or old, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, may God grant you grace to make it a great movement in your own life!

God bless,  Danny Paul

Dynamic Simplicity

Mega ChurchI felt my post on Church Building or Building the Church – Part II – was incomplete and not conclusive enough.  So I am back it, this time the very beginning of the Church starting with just two.  St. John’s gospel chapter 1 and St. Mathew chapter 4 offer details.  The more I read about it, the more I admire the simplicity.  My readers may recall my post on the so-called silent years of Jesus.  I called it the deafening silence.    Here, I would call it the Dynamic Simplicity.  Times were so different then that it is impossible to draw comparisons to today.  However, just for fun, imagine starting a world movement today.  It would involve committees on planning, finance, promotion, fund-raising, parking lot by-law, ladies’ committee on colour schemes.  Of course, how can one begin without TV celebrities, politicians for photo ops, marching bands, famous singers, sports personalities, and strobe lights?

Now let us observe how Jesus did it.

First, observe the timing; it was in the fullness of time.  He did not tell anyone, not even his dear mother.  “Wist ye not that I must be in Father’s business”, the first recorded words of Jesus at age twelve, was kind of a gentle reminder to her.  Have you forgotten the visit of Gabriel, the Magi,  the aged Simeon and Anna at the Temple?  He depended entirely on the Heavenly Father for the right time and waited for thirty years working as a labourer!

Second, look at the location.  Jesus did not bother to start in Jerusalem, the holy city with the holy temple, the religious and cultural centre, which he was obliged to clean up calling it “the den of thieves”.  It was flooded with priests and the hangers-on and law makers.  Instead Jesus started in the wilderness on Jordan, less populated but more concentrated with thieves and wild animals.  Yet, that was the place with all the action.  The crowd came there, even an official deputation from Jerusalem H.Q  to check out the forerunner.

John the Baptist in WildernessLook at the crowd, no mass conversions; just two.   They heard John the Baptist crying out “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of this world”.  It really did not produce any outward results the first day.  The Baptist was obliged to repeat again the next day, bellowing out the same words.  This time two fishermen, John who suppressed his name and Andrew Simon, Peter’s brother, heard and followed  Jesus.  Jesus turned around and asked them “what seek ye?”  While I do not wish to impute anything beyond the simple words, I cannot help but think of that question of three words. Is this not a universal question, everyone seeking something or someone?

Their answer was typical in the form of another three letter question “where dwellest thou?”  By the way, it is still the same in many countries today.  If that was not enough, one more question would suffice; who is your father or what is your house name?  The answer would render all the information needed like a modern day Wikipedia computer print out.

Take note again, just like Master’s three word question “What seek ye?”, the answer is also universal, and profoundly simple “come and see”.  Where was Jesus inviting these two first members of the Universal Church to; a palace, country residence a dascha  with security guards?  No, it was the wilderness!  Imagine a huge crowd gathered to hear the Baptist with no basic facilities.   It is reasonable to conclude that Jesus stayed in a hovel with sides covered with palm leaves and the top with striped sheets or palm leaves again.  The Son of Man had no place to lay his head!

They came and dwelt and possibly slept since it was already four in the afternoon.  In that short time they knew, without a shadow of doubt, one greater than Aaron, greater than Moses, greater than David was here. Thus the Church was founded.  This reminds me of Isaiah v 53:1-2.  The founder, as well as the Church, both “grew up like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground.”  Andrew immediately sought Simon, the third member of the church and exclaimed “we have found the Messiah.”  The next day Jesus went to Galilee, found Philip and told him to follow him; the fourth member of the church.  Now Philip sought Nathaniel, the fifth member, and said to him, typical of Philip, a rather detailed account of Jesus:  “we have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth the son of Joseph”.  Mathew the tax collector fondly recorded his own experience, while sitting at the Customs office  (St. Mathew 9:9).

John chapter 3 gives an account of a somewhat different believer.  I do not know where to place or describe him but call him a Secret Believer, by name Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who came to Jesus by night. The Church grew from 2 to 4, 6 to 12, 70 to 120 ,and so on.  The Builder kept building even after the ascension, with the sending of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.   The Book of Acts gives the details of Peter taking the stand and delivering his first sermon; three thousand were added to the Church.  In a matter of days after the call for repentance another five thousand were added to the Church.  They met at the temple and from house to house, breaking bread and in prayer.  They kept right on preaching and teaching Jesus as Christ and Jesus added daily members to the Church.  It was dynamic!

This is the real audacity of hope!  Jesus himself is the builder.  He is also the stone that many builders rejected but He became the chief cornerstone.  It was a simple but a daunting mission.  There were times when it appeared to be in difficulty; but the Builder broke the barriers and tunnelled through mountains of obstacles .  He will keep on building this Glorious Church and nothing and no one can stop it!  Well, this will be the topic for another post.

God bless,  Danny Paul

 

“Look from Both Sides”

Have you heard of Joni Mitchell?  Doesn’t matter if you haven’t.  I hadn’t either.  But I do remember her song “From Both Sides Now”, which was quite popular in the seventies.  I recall my young (then) daughters singing and humming it.  Now I understand that Joni Mitchell the singer, song writer, was a local girl from the Canadian Prairies.  She started courageously with just a guitar.   Defying stereotype, she turned out to be not only a singer but also a writer, poet and an iconoclast.  Joni Mitchell is now seventy years old, and is often seen on various News and TV Shows, honouring her as a great Country Singer.  Apparently, many other famous artists recorded this song as well, including Judy Collins, who received a Grammy award for it.  Naturally, I was curious and got the lyrics, searching for some additional meaning.   It seemed she was attempting to capture her impressions from childhood days to adulthood; how things have changed as she got older.  She looked at clouds, angel hair, love, people, friends and life.  Looking from both sides, she found a greater perspective of life.

Now, what has this lyric got to do with my blog In Search of Moderation?  In fact, some of my friends are still asking me, what is all this moderation?  If I have not done this already, it is taken from St.Paul’s letter (Philippians 4:5).  “Let your moderation be known to all men”.  The original Greek word is translated into Moderation, gentleness,  forbearance, and reasonableness.  As to my interest in the lyric, it is the emphasis on just four words – “look from both sides”.

I have often caught myself rushing to books or preachers or the Bible for simple questions and answers.  Of course, it is the right thing to do.  However, God has other ways to teach as well, sometimes from a song, the news, or a show.  Perhaps from friends or mentors in life.  As a grandfather I learn also from my grand kids!  Would it surprise if I tell you that Jesus rarely quoted Scriptures unless when confronted by the religious leaders to refute or to silence them?  The greatest Teacher mostly used simple lessons from nature, plants, animals, farm, fishing and daily chores.

In this post, I would like to look at those who either failed or refused to look from both sides, and reaped the consequences.  We will also look at those who did exercise this gift and received the blessings from above.  There are more, but I will limit with just two.

Look at a father and son, a king and a prince; Saul and Jonathan.  Saul started well.  He was a choice specimen; handsome, tall, gifted and humble, also gifted in prophecy.  The Scripture says when Samuel was about to declare him as the first king of Israel, Saul was so modest that he literally hid himself.  The trouble started when he listened to his subjects, singing that Saul killed thousands, but David killed ten thousands of their enemies.  Then everything changed; he could not see from both sides.  He did not want to hear his own dear Son’s plea.  Saul wanted to protect his kingship and ensure that his son would inherit the throne.  Tragically, he lost a brilliant son and died, leaning on his own sword!

Turn from a King to a Prophet ; Jonah, called Yunus in the Quran.  Though a righteous and courageous prophet of God, engaged in a great mission, he simply could not see from both sides.  He was thrown overboard into the sea and stayed,, for three days, in the belly of a great fish. One would have imagined after that experience this prophet finally got the message.  On top of that, God granted him the privilege of bringing the greatest revival the world ever known, a rare experience many other prophets did not experience.  Yet he could not see from God’s side.  He was so consumed with his own view, that at one time he even got upset and angry with God!

Enough on the negatives;  let us now turn to those who did look from both sides.  Job was possibly a contemporary of Abraham, a Sheik or duke.   He went through the wringer!  A pious, strong, rich, influential family man, he lost it all.  Besides he was painfully afflicted.   It is not easy to see through when calamity hits and health is precarious.  Disappointed and sorrowful as he was, yet he refused to blame or curse God and die.  He saw from his as well as from God’s side.

Joseph had every right to be angry with his brothers.  But for Reuben his elder brother, they would have mercilessly killed him.   Yet Joseph was able to see from both sides.  By God’s grace he forgave his brothers and had the magnanimity of heart to console his brothers telling  them “you intended to harm but God intended it for good”.

I do not wish to leave an impression that it comes naturally to some and is laborious for others.  It is not easy to look from both sides.  It is a rare and precious gift.  St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, mentioned a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him.  Whatever it was, he did not like it and prayed three times for deliverance.  He got the answer alright, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness”.  While the interpretations vary among preachers, it is safe to say the answer or the prescribed medicine was just what St. Paul needed.  He looked at it from both sides.

Do we look at life issues from both sides?  It is a beautiful thing to do and worth practising  and perfecting!   Sounds too simple, even corny?  It is not only common sense, but also the spiritual thing to do. Think of all the day to day conflicts, between couples, parents and children, Labour and Management, politicians or races.  There is always hope if only looked at from both sides.  Yes, it is moderation, gentleness, forbearance and reasonableness.  Get the total picture now?

God bless,   Danny Paul

 

Church Building or Building the Church – Part II

Where did the idea of a Church Building originate – Biblically?  The closest to a constructed edifice for a place of worship, rituals and counsel is the Old Testament Tabernacle.  It was a large tent built by the Israelites during their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land; easy to dismantle and cart to the new location and re-assemble.  It was simple, yet holy, and awesome!  Its design, furniture, the Ark of the Covenant were divinely given to Moses.  However the main builder was a master craftsman named Bezalel.  Biblical writers said a lot about him.  This glorious tabernacle, by the time of the first and second King of Israel, was relegated for storage. Hard to believe; this in itself deserves a study (not now).

imagesKing David, during a peaceful and prosperous time felt it was not right that he was living in luxury while the Ark was neglected.  It sounded like a noble thought.   He consulted with prophet Nathan about building a permanent place.   Nathan gave his concurrence instantly, perhaps hastily.  That very night God spoke through the prophet; first a reminder to David’s humble beginning as a shepherd and secondly God never requested for a house and thirdly David will not build but his son Solomon will.  God gave the reason; on account of his great wars and blood shed.  It is not in the Bible, but I wondered if God was preventing another item of worship, built by a great warrior king,  for example a Tomb for Moses (Jude 1:9) or Nehushtan, the Bronze Serpent which Moses made (2 Kings 18:4) in the wilderness.  This great temple completed by 832 BC, was plundered twice, ransacked and finally burned down around  420 BC. by Nebuchadnezzar from Babylon.  I am compressing years of history in just a few lines!

Allow me to quickly fast forward (leaving aside a second temple built by one Zerubbabel) to another great temple, commonly called the Herod’s temple.  Imagine Herod a non-Israelite building a temple for Jehovah!  National Geographic claims Herod was a great architect.  He had built heathen temples before.  He was also a crafty politician using the temple construction to appease the Jews, curbing continuous unrest and mutiny.   This temple was much larger and more magnificent than Solomon’s.

A few points of interest; this is the Temple which Jesus was obliged to cleanse and get rid of the corruption in the form of religion.  In fact, Jesus reminded them that this house of prayer was turned into a den of thieves!  Jesus drove them out single-handedly.  No one questioned or dared to stop him.  Quite possibly, its steeple was the place where Satan tempted Jesus.  Titus, the Roman General in AD 70, killed thousands of worshippers and destroyed the temple, leading to the great Diaspora!  He burned down this great temple just as Jesus prophesied in Mathew 24:1-3.  How tragic!  Today, in its place stands the Al Aqsa Mosque (Dome of the Rock), the third holiest place for Muslim, after Mecca and Medina, built around 690 AD.

I do not wish to give an impression that I am criticizing buildings of worship.  God forbid.  The word of God was proclaimed loud and clear for centuries from many great edifices.  Please read my last post . The idea is to show the danger of missing the important point –the Church is not a building, but people are!  Worshippers missed the Lord of the Temple living among them, by the grandeur of a building built by Herod.   More than that, the Leaders used Jesus’ statement “destroy this temple and I will build it in three days” as witness against Jesus to the cross and death.

Enough of Church Buildings, let us look at  Building The Church.  Jesus said emphatically “but I say unto you that one greater than the temple is here”  Mathew 12:6. Is it possible that we too can get caught up and miss the main thing?  Over the years, I have noticed during the dedication of a church building we make reference to Solomon’s temple but seldom mention about an Upper Room or a Church in a Home!  E. Stanley Jones correctly pointed out that any object, however holy, great or grand, if allowed to come between man and God, it is an idol!

There is enough reading material by professional clergymen to define the meaning of the Church, from Greek to Hebrew and funnily, even from various translations of the Bible in English.  From a layman’s point of view, it is a gathering of people, who have confessed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, who loved, lived, worked and died and rose again, demonstrating the purpose and love of God for all mankind -simple as that!  May I venture to add one more line?   For this gathering, the church may use a home, a building or a hall, a Basilica  or a Cathedral, where they will enjoy fellowship among saints, learn about Jesus and how to conduct ourselves, help one another in need, and go beyond its borders to help others as well.  It is a given that this gathering  will treat all mankind equal without pride or prejudice, colour, caste or creed, nationality, rich or poor, and all ages.

For the last remaining space, allow me to do something new. Let me use the words of few hymns to inspire the true nature of the building , The Church:

“It’s a glorious church without spot or wrinkle, washed in the blood of the Lamb”

“Built on the rock the church doth stand, even when the steeples are falling.  Surely in temples made with hands , God the most high is not”

“The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord…with his own blood he bought her, And for her life He died”

“I’m so glad I am part of the family of God,  I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by his blood;  Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod, for I’m part of the family, the family of God”

Yes, The Church has many critics but no rival.

God bless,  Danny Paul