Monday, November 17, 2014

Grace and......weakness?

This is the text of a message I gave recently at the OPTSA thanksgiving service in CMC, Vellore. The text for this message was from 2 Cor 12:9. 

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

OPTSA Thanksgiving service

Thank you, OPTSA, for inviting me to speak at this celebration and thanksgiving service. Thank you for the very moving and meaningful time of singing and praise and worship.

The beautiful theme that you have chosen and asked me to speak on today is from the well known and loved passage in 2 Cor 12:9, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. I am sure this verse is a favourite verse for many of us seated here. This verse has encouraged and comforted and blessed me many times, in different circumstances over the years. I pray that as we reflect together on this passage this evening, God may use His word to minister to each of us according to our varied needs, accomplishing His purposes in our lives. Let's pray:

Father, thank you for the opportunity to gather together like this around Your Word. We thank You that You are here, as You have promised, to meet with each of us. You know our hearts better than anyone else. Speak to each of us according to our own needs. May Your power be made perfect in my weakness today. Let Your word to us come with clarity and authority, accomplishing Your purposes, and glorifying Your Name. In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Grace and....... Weakness?

Let me begin with a little background to this passage. There was a little rebellion in the Corinthian church. A group of people were questioning Paul's authority. They said he had no right to speak the way he did. “His letters are weighty and forceful, but his physical presence is weak and his speech is of no account." they said. They felt Paul was projecting himself to be a much greater person than he really was.

And so, Paul finds himself, unexpectedly, having to defend himself to a church he himself founded. He defends his apostleship, pointing out the various 'signs of the apostle' that had taken place while he was with them. He is forced to boast of the various difficulties and hardships he has gone through for the sake of the Gospel. He defends the fact that he never took money from them, but rather preached the gospel to them faithfully without depending on them to meet his needs.

And finally, in the passage we have heard today, Paul, uncomfortably, talks, in the third person,  about one of the most extra-ordinary supernatural experiences he had, when he had been 'caught up into the third heaven, into Paradise', where he heard 'inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak'. Paul was an ordinary human being, like you and me, and just as we are tempted to think we are special and super-spiritual because of experiences we go through, or insights we get from God's word, or our reputation before others as a religious person, or people appreciating us for being a blessing to them, perhaps Paul too was tempted to think he was something special.

He writes that God, to protect him from spiritual pride, instead, allowed him to have a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment him daily, and keep him from getting puffed up, but help him instead to live in daily, continuous, uncomfortable dependence on God.

What this thorn in the flesh really was was probably clear to the original readers of Paul's letter (which is why some of them despised Paul, and looked down on him), but to us, looking back almost 21 centuries later, it is hard to imagine what this might have been.

Perhaps this was some physical disability or chronic illness. Tradition tells us that Paul was probably quite blind, which is why he dictated most of his epistles to others who wrote them down. In the book of Galatians, Paul writes that there were people in the church at Galatia who would have gladly plucked out their own eyes and given them to Paul. When brought one day before the court for trial before his imprisonment, we read that Paul accidentally cursed the High Priest, not recognising who he was, and apologised when he realised what he had done.

Perhaps the 'thorn in the flesh' was a difficult, unsolvable situation, like a troublesome co-worker, or family member, or some other similar situation for which Paul did not have any solution in sight.

Whatever it was, Paul prayed fervently three times that it should be removed from his life. Instead, God allowed this unhappy situation to remain unchanged, saying, instead, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In other words, it is good for you to remain weak in this way. It is good for you to experience this persistent, unresolved, uncomfortable situation. It is good for you to be humbled by what you are going through. In this way, you will be able to experience My Grace. In exchange, you can experience My Power made perfect, in spite of your own weakness and difficulty. This way of painful, daily weakness that results in dependence on Me, is far better than being able to manage everything well on your own.

Now, what type of crazy logic is this? 

What is this Grace? And why does Paul rejoice in this, saying that he would now 'boast in his weakness'!?

In today's world, we are taught to value Strength, Confidence, Independence, Self-esteem. We honour “self-made” people. We appreciate those who are able to cope with life, those who do not need any help, who can manage by themselves.

And so we all try to sort out our own problems, become increasingly independent of others and of God, and live life on our own terms. We'd like to get what we deserve. We don't need any favours.

And so the concept of Grace is foreign to us. “Grace”: Getting what we do not deserve, making up for our short-comings and weaknesses.

We think that Grace is for the weaklings, who need extra help.

We'd love to know we passed our exams because of our own hard work and intelligence.  It's not fair that somebody could goof off the whole year, fail the exam, and then be passed with Grace-marks.

It's not fair that somebody could miss all the deadlines that we have been so careful to observe, and then still be able to submit his application during a grace-period.

Grace: Undeserved, unfair favours.

And yet, this idea of Grace is so Central to the Bible. Grace is the way God works. Grace is the only way we can survive. The Bible is called the “Word of His Grace” (Acts 20:32), the Gospel is called the “Good news of God's Grace” (Acts 20:24) and God Himself is called 'The God of All Grace” (1 Pet 5:10) and the “Spirit of Grace” (Heb 10:29).

The God of the Bible seems to enjoy being known as a gracious God, lavishing goodness on us, treating us far better than we deserve.

For example, think of God's response to the problem of our sin. On the one hand, He is a Holy God who hates the sin we commit everyday. On the other hand, He loves us so much. We are His precious, beloved creation, and He longs to be related to us. However, we are hopeless sinners, who have sinned so much from the time we were born. We deserve to be destroyed for all that we have done, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to save ourselves. God's solution?


Who stepped into our world, lived a perfect, blameless, sinless life, and then took our punishment, dying as a sacrifice in our place. Now we can be saved, and restored to a wonderful relationship with a Holy God who loves us passionately. Not because of anything we have done, but as a free gift because of what God does for us. He has done for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Grace. Unmerited Favour. But bought at a great price by the death of Jesus on the cross.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:10).

The Thief dying beside Jesus. Saved by Amazing Grace (via)
And, as an example, we read of the criminal being crucified next to Jesus. A rebellious murderer, he was getting what he deserved. He had not done a single thing that could qualify him for paradise. And then, a few minutes before he dies, he has the audacious temerity to ask, “Lord, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.” And Poof, he is forgiven! Just like that! Without having done a single good deed. “Today, you shall be with me in Paradise”. The first man to enter paradise with the crucified Saviour? A convicted murderer!

What Amazing Grace!

But it is very humbling to accept such an offer of undeserved grace! We would like to think that we can do and should do something to deserve this. How can a criminal on the cross be forgiven like this? That's unfair.

Worse still, do you mean that all the good things I have done count for nothing? That God does not save me because of my past record. That He puts me on the same level as the murderers and prostitutes. Of course, I done a few wrong things from time to time, but, on the whole, my life has been reasonably good. Surely I deserve to be saved. I don't need any free gifts.

No wonder the elder son (in the parable of the Prodigal), and the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus' day and the religious people of our own times find this upsetting, while the tax collectors and prostitutes and drunkards flock towards this God who offers them the Good news of Grace. Undeserved Favour. This sounds scandalous (as Philip Yancey writes) but it's true!

My friends, if you have been trying hard to please God, to sort out the mess in your lives, to tidy up and make yourself a little more presentable to Him, let me tell you the good news. You don't need to. He loves you as you are. He has already paid the terrible price, and longs to lavish His grace on you.

He taught “Those who are well don't need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32). In other words, just as it is crazy to expect our patients to sort out their medical problems before they come to our hospital, it is equally crazy to think God wants you to come to Him after cleaning up a little.

Come as you are, with all your unsorted-out mess. The Good news of Grace is that it is always sufficient. 

Philip Yancey, in his classic “What's so Amazing about Grace” tells the story of (I quote) a “British conference on comparative religions, where experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.

“What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”
Isn't that amazing?
No wonder Jesus taught that very few would find the narrow gate that leads to life. The Gate is not narrow because it is too difficult. The gate is narrow because it is so easy to be saved that it seems almost too good to be true. Therefore this message of grace is rejected. We would like to be saved, instead, because of something good we have done! We would like to earn salvation, instead of receiving this as a gift! May God help us to find the humility to accept this free gift of grace and forgiveness that He wants to lavish on us.
And then, as Jesus taught, this narrow gate leads to a narrow way, that leads to Life. How often we think we can come to God when we are 'good' and everything is under control. When we have been able to have a regular quiet time with Him in the morning, or been able to go to church. However, when things are not going well, and when we have fallen into sin, we are afraid to return to God, who really is the only person who can help us. Why not, rather, walk on the narrow way of accepting grace as a gift everyday? This is the counter-cultural way of embracing our weakness, as Paul learnt, and living in dependence on God who continues to freely give us Grace that is sufficient, and power in the midst of our weakness. It is when we humbly accept our inability to meet God's high standards, and to live lives that are pleasing to Him, that He  enables us to find the strength and resources to live and work for Him.
It really is no coincidence that the words Grace and Humility, Power and weakness, are often found together, just as in our text. “My Power is perfected in weakness”.
For example, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble 1 Pet 5:5
Jesus began His sermon on the Mount by teaching, Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5.3). In her song, the Magnificat, Mary the mother of Jesus sang, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.” (Luke 1:53).
In other words, God is looking to shower grace on us, and give us all the resources and power we need to live for Him. Unfortunately, so many of us are so rich, and full, and so confident of our own abilities, that we are unable to receive the many good things God has in store for us.
How sad! Why not rather, like Paul, glory in our weakness and inability, and receive in exchange the wonderful free gift of God's grace and power and enabling?
Even Jesus, the only One who ever lived a perfect life, seemed to continuously embrace His humanity, talking always of His refusal to be strong and independent and to do things in His own strength, and choosing instead to live in dependence on God. Just listen to what He spoke of Himself in the sermons which are recorded in John chapters 5 – 8.
Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19
I can do nothing on my own.John 5:30
I live because of the Father John 6:57
My teaching is not mine, but His who sent Me. John 7:16
You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me John 8:15-16
I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. John 8:28
I always do the things that are pleasing to him. John 8:29
I do not seek my own glory John 8:50
and so on.
Just think. If even Jesus lived in such a humble everyday dependence on the Father while on earth, should we not also choose to go this way? Perhaps this is the daily dying of Jesus that is referred to in 2 Cor 4:10 “Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” When we also live in similar weak dependence on the Father, we may also be able to display Jesus' character and life in our everyday situations. We too will be able to experience His Grace which is sufficient for us, and His power which is made perfect in our weakness.
The narrow way that leads to life is not the way of increasing expertise, and strength, and ability, but rather the way of increasing awareness of our need, and increasing dependence on the Father for grace and strength and enabling.
May God open our eyes to realise that we are actually incapable of living lives that please Him and bring Him glory! May our lives be characterised by deep poverty of spirit, a hunger for God to work His purposes in and through us, and a real daily dependence on Him. Rather than glorying in our own spiritual experiences, our past record, and even our reputation before people, may we, like Paul, embrace our weakness, and boast in God's power that has been able to do something with our lives in spite of who we are.
And as recipients of God's amazing grace, may we extend this same grace to the other imperfect people who live around us! May God's Grace and God's power characterise our lives.

Possibly related posts from the past:
2. The Power of the Gospel
3. Everything you are in the world is of no value.....

Friday, October 31, 2014

"Post-birth Abortion"

(via Cranach)

"To many college students–many of whom have been required to read the pro-infanticide arguments of Princeton ethicist Peter Singer–children are not “self-aware” until they are 4 or 5 (have they never talked to a 4 or 5 year old?), and so it should be legal to kill them up to that point."

Welcome to the era of 'Post-Birth Abortion" :(

But then, isn't this just a logical extension of the idea that a living baby in the womb is not a person yet....

Possibly related posts from the past:

1. Open reply to M: Why abortion cannot be a matter of personal choice
2. Questions for Our Pro-Abortion Friends, Church Leaders, and Politicians
3. Accurate language for abortion

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"May we rise to the challenges of our times...."

(Via Trevin Wax)

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
and of all who have gone before us on this earth,
we give thanks for Your faithfulness
from generation to generation,
and we ask Your forgiveness
that we live as if we were Your only concern
and our time were the only time there is.

Grant that as we seek to serve You,
we may understand our times,
we may see our time in the light of all times and of eternity,
and we may understand Your purposes in our generation.

May no challenge or crisis daunt us,
no enemy or attack unnerve us,
and no failure or setback cause us
to take our hands off the plough
or let the sword slip from our hand.

Grant then that we may rise to the challenges of our times
as the great heroes of the faith did to theirs,
so that together with them
we may be the servant agents of Your kingdom
and worthy of Your high calling.
In the name of Jesus, Amen

– Os Guinness, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Healing Ministry Sunday" Message at St Andrew's Kirk, Chennai, 12/10/2014

St Andrew's Kirk, Egmore, Chennai (via Wikimedia)

Last Sunday, (12th October), I was honored to be invited to speak at the Sunday service at St Andrew's Church, Chennai. The occasion was 'Healing Ministry Sunday'.

We drove down as a family on Saturday night, and stayed at the church guest house.

I spoke on the topic, "Working together with the King". The Bible reading was from the creation account, Gen 1:26-31.

I do not usually read out my sermons, but did so on this special occasion. I have decided to put it out on my blog with the prayer that God may be pleased to use this sermon to accomplish His great purposes in the lives of many who read it.

Working Together with the King

Thank you very much for the warm welcome into your community this Sunday. I am indeed honored to be invited to speak to you today on the occasion of ‘Healing Ministry Sunday’. Last night, as I drove in with my family, and my children saw this beautiful church for the first time, (“Wow, look at this beautiful campus! Wow, look at the beautiful windows! Boy, did you see that steeple?!”) I began, again, to be overwhelmed by the thought of speaking in this beautiful building, and from this pulpit, which has seen so many great men of God over almost two centuries. This sense of inadequacy has only grown as I have sat here listening to our voices fill this place, together with the sound of the famous pipe organ. Last night, I sat wondering if I should change my message, or re-write it into something spectacular and eloquent, and was reminded of the story of David going to meet Goliath. Probably aware, like I am, of his smallness in the face of the significant occasion, he tried on Saul’s armor, and found he was unable to move. Finally, as you know, he went back to his simple stones and sling. Like him, I stand here today, feeling terribly humbled and inadequate, and yet, I pray that God will use my simple thoughts and phrases to glorify His Name, and accomplish His purposes in our lives, and in His church.

Let’s pray:

Father, as we look together into Your Word, I want to thank You that You are here, as You have promised, in the midst of us. I pray that You may speak to each of us today, according to our need, with clarity and authority, drawing us to Yourself, glorifying Your Name, and accomplishing Your purposes. Your Kingdom Come In and Through us, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us eyes to see what You are doing in this land, and hearts that are soft and receptive to You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Working together with the King

If there is any one theme that unifies the entire Bible, it is the theme of “The Kingdom of God”. This theme runs through the Bible from cover to cover. I was surprised to find that the phrases, “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of heaven” are mentioned more than 50 times in the book of Matthew alone.

The story of this Kingdom starts on the first page of the Bible with the Creation account. We read of how God stepped into a world that was formless and void, creating beauty, life, and all that we see. He spoke, and things came into being….sun and moon and stars, land and sea, plants, animals….all created by the power of His words.

And then, there is a change in the pace of the story. We read of the small conference that took place within the Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Talking among themselves. “Let us make man  in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone (via)
When I read this passage, I am often reminded of the iconic video of Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone. Up until this point, the phone was bulky, with a clunky keyboard. The touch screen, accessing the internet on a phone, the elegant interface, the ability to take photos, and store all your photos and music and books on one device: what Steve Jobs was introducing was going to change forever the mobile phone industry. And as he held up his iPhone, and talked about it, we got a feel for all that this incredible new phone could offer.

As God unveils His masterpiece, the culmination of creation, we see, in this account, a description of all we were created to be. We see that we were created for three purposes.

Firstly, We were created out of a relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Perfectly relating to each other, working together to create this relational being, Man. “Let Us create man in Our Own Image”. God tells us that we were created for relationship. Created to be related to God, and to each other.

Secondly, We were created In His Image. Created to reflect His Glory, His infinite beauty, His divine nature. Created to display Him on the earth.

Finally, We were created to fulfill a task, to act as His representatives, and care for all of creation on His behalf. To care for, and steward the world we live in, and to care for each other.

The Garden Of Eden in the Vatican Museum (via)
Think for a moment about these two human beings in the Garden. We often have this romanticized, Westernised mental picture, based on the images we have seen, of two blonde, fair people in the garden. I wonder how likely that was. These two were the peak of the un-corrupted, human race. All the races of the world were going to develop from them. Between the two of them, they contained the entire richness of the human genome. I think it is entirely possible that Adam and Eve were actually quite dissimilar. Perhaps one was black, and other was white. Perhaps one looked Mongoloid. I don’t know. I think, however, that it is quite likely the first marriage was actually inter-racial.

Original Glory

Think of how it might have been in the Garden of Eden if Adam and Eve had not sinned. Human beings in perfect harmony with God and each other, with no differences on the basis of gender, or race, or caste, or community, displaying the beauty of God’s divine nature, and caring for each other, and for all of creation as God’s representatives. 

This was our Original purpose, our Original Glory. This was what God intended for us. John Eldredge, the American author and speaker, says that we move too quickly from Genesis 2 to Genesis 3, from Original Glory to Original Sin. May we think often and long about God’s purpose in creating us, the beauty of how it might have been!

Goldsworthy describes the Kingdom of God as “God’s people in God’s place, under God’s rule and blessing”, and certainly, the Garden of Eden is the best picture we have of the Kingdom of God.

The Fall, and God's plan for Redemption

But then, we read Genesis 3, and the story of the Fall, and how all these three purposes of God for man were affected. Man’s relationship with God was destroyed. Where previously they had enjoyed fellowship face to face, they now ran to hide. They immediately began blaming each other, and pointing fingers at each other. No longer were they displaying the beauty of God’s divine nature and character. And no longer were they stewarding the world as God’s representatives. One of the first things they did after the fall was to cut a tree down, and use its leaves to cover their nakedness.

But, right there in Genesis 3, just as we read of the way human beings were going to be punished, we read of God’s plan for Redemption, of the Seed of the woman who was coming to set things right.

Through the remainder of the Old Testament, we read about the nation of Israel. Jesus referred to them as the ‘sons of the Kingdom’. Israel was meant to be a picture of how the earth would look like if nations submitted to the God’s Lordship, and followed His commands. As we know, Israel never really lived up to its purpose.

We keep hearing, though, of the coming Messiah, the King who would reign forever, who would restore the Kingdom.

"There is a Redeemer!"

And then He came. The promised King. In Him, we find redemption of all that God had intended for mankind.

Our relationship with God can be restored. “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12). “Behold what kind of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1). We are now related to God as our Father. We are also, therefore, related to each other. If I am a child of God, and you are a child of God, that makes me your brother. You are now my family.

Our image can be restored. Through Jesus, we experience transformation, little by little and day by day, from glory to glory, into His likeness. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” Romans 8:29.

Our vocation can be redeemed. Once again we can do good, as God’s representatives, acting on behalf of the King to steward the earth. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” Eph 2:10

What is Success?

May I suggest to you that our lives are not going to be evaluated on the basis of all that this world counts as success. Ultimately, we will be truly successful if we achieve the purpose for which we have been created. Are you related to God as your Father? How is your relationship with the rest of God’s family, your brothers and sisters? Does your life display the beauty of divine nature? Are you being transformed into His likeness? Are you performing the specific good task God has prepared for you?

The Gospel According to Jesus

When He began His public ministry, Jesus announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. Later, when He sent His disciples out, He taught them to preach the same message. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”

"The Proclamation of the Kingdom" (via)
Jesus called for a change in loyalty and allegiance.

God is ushering in His Kingdom. The King is at work! Come and be a part of this Kingdom. Come and be a part of this fantastic thing that God is doing. Come under His Lordship. Stop being so preoccupied with your own small agenda and interests. Come, live and work for the King!

Unfortunately, these days, we have made the gospel all about ourselves and our personal benefit. Repent, we hear, so that your sins can be forgiven, you can enjoy God’s blessings, and go to heaven when you die. And yes, all this is true. These are some of the spectacular personal benefits we enjoy when we become a part of this Kingdom

Ultimately, however, the gospel is not all about ourselves. Jesus’ gospel was an invitation to come and become part of something awesome and big, the great canvas that God is painting, His Kingdom coming all over the world. This Kingdom is advancing. It cannot be stopped. Come join this mighty movement of God. Come and find your part in the Kingdom of God!

What does all this have to do with Doctors on 'Healing Ministry Sunday'?!

We live in the gap between the already and the not-yet. 

The King has come! The King is coming again. The Kingdom is here and now. The Kingdom will be seen in all its fullness when Jesus returns again, with a new heaven and new earth, which will be like the Garden of Eden again

In this gap between the already and the not-yet, we are called to live as salt and light, ambassadors and regents of the King, acting as powerful agents of transformation, bringing the Kingdom into every area of human existence. As Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian and journalist who became Prime Minister of the Netherlands said, “There is not one centimeter of human existence to which Christ who is Lord of all does not say, “That’s Mine!””

The 7 Mountains of Culture

In the early 1970s, three prominent Christian leaders (Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth with a Mission YWAM, Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and Francis Schaeffer, one of the greatest Christian thinkers who has ever lived) began, almost independent of each other, to talk about 7 mountains of human culture. They taught that if the Kingdom of God is to come in a culture, and if any culture is to experience transformation, it is necessary for the Kingdom to impact 7 mountains of media, arts and entertainment, education, family, religion, business and government. Now, Seven is just a number. The idea is that the Kingdom of God must engage with, and influence every mountain and sub-mountain of human culture.

7 Mountains of Culture (via)
My friends, as we pray, Thy Kingdom Come, let us remember that if the Kingdom of God is to come in India, transforming not just individual lives, but also ‘every centimeter’ of our culture and society, each of these mountains must be impacted for the Kingdom.

As Christian doctors and healthcare professionals, may we think of ourselves as Citizens of the Kingdom of God resident on the mountain of health, living and working for the King, and ushering in the Kingdom of God on our mountain.

What would it look like for God’s Kingdom to come on the mountain of health?

I think this is what God’s Kingdom on the mountain of Health would look like.

Christian healthcare professionals, acting as salt and light, would be affecting every part of medicine. There would be a development of the Christian worldview of health (shalom) and sickness. Doctors would treat their patients as whole-persons, and as members of community, and not merely as disordered organ systems. They would work for wholesome healing of the patient, and not merely aim for a short term cure. There would be a Biblical understanding of the beginning and end of life. Research too would be done with the firm foundation of a Biblical worldview. Christians would seek to know more about the body, (which God has created), and use the insights God gives of His Truth to find newer, more efficient, innovative ways of healing. The poorest and most marginalised members of our community (such as the disabled, chronically ill, mentally ill, and terminally ill) would be valued, loved, and cared for. Systems would be set up to ensure a just and fair distribution of resources, so that nobody is neglected and left behind. Healthcare professionals would be advocates for the weakest members of society such as the unborn. There would be a recognition that all new and exciting discoveries come, in reality, from God, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”.  Members of the healthcare system would work together as a team, with greater respect for each individual, servant leadership, larger investment in wholistic leadership development, and more dependence on God.

Kingdom Citizens on the Mountain of Health

Last week, I met a private practitioner from Mumbai. He is a physician, and owns a small hospital. About 10 years ago, he became a Christian, and began to realize that this system of giving kickbacks to doctors who refer patients to you was unethical, and responsible for escalating patient costs, unnecessary referrals, investigations and interventions. What he did was elegant and an example of strategic thinking as a Kingdom Citizen. He wrote an open letter to all the doctors who used to refer patients to him. He titled this letter, “Reclaiming our lost glory”. He wrote something like this, “My friends, all over India we doctors have become the butt of jokes. People look down on us, and make us the subject of numerous exposes on TV. They think of us as unethical scoundrels trying to make profit out of the misfortunes of others. We need to reclaim our lost glory, and become known, once again, as caring people who have the best interests of our patients in mind. For this reason, I have decided to stop giving kickbacks to you if you refer a patient to me, and encourage you also to do the same. However, please do not think that I want to stop being friends with you. Since I cannot help you with these kickbacks anymore, I will help you in many other ways if possible. For example, I would like to organize some sports and recreational activities in which we can all participate. I will organize some leadership development programmes, marriage enrichment seminars, financial planning meetings and so on, for all of us to learn and grow together. Let us continue to be friends and help each other”

Do you see what this doctor did? Without using any spiritual jargon, he was powerfully impacting his area for the Kingdom of God. In addition to forcing his colleagues to think about the unethical practice of kickbacks, he was opening new avenues to build relationships, blessing them and impacting them as a strategic Kingdom citizen.

As Christian doctors, we are a small band in this corrupt system that is now called a Healthcare Industry. As Kingdom citizens, however, we function as salt and light, and like a little leaven which affects the entire lump of dough, our influence is much greater that anything we could explain. We think strategically, making small but crucial decisions within our Circle of Influence, while networking with and supporting Christian healthcare professionals who are doing their bit in the field of health. And as His Kingdom comes on the mountain of health, the other mountains too, of business, politics, education, religion and so on will also experience the impact of transformation.

Let us remember, however, that medicine is not ALL that we are. 

It is so easy for medicine to define us, to become our identity, as we are consumed by our work. May we remember that God wants to work through us to impact many other mountains as well. Martin Luther taught, in his doctrine of vocation, that God works through us in four vocations. He takes care of our families, caring for our children, and teaching them about Himself through our vocation in our home. God enacts just laws, caring for the most under-privileged and marginalized members of our society through our vocation in the state, as we elect good governments, and work with them for a fair, compassionate society. He builds His Church through us, as we fulfill our vocation in the church, finding the specific role and ministry He prepares for us. And He takes care of our neighbors and random strangers we meet, just as the Samaritan cared for the wounded stranger lying by the side of the road, as we fulfill our vocation in what Luther called “the common order of Christian love”. Our ordinary, everyday lives are suffused with significance and meaning.

As Einar Billing said, “In all our religious and ethical life, we are given an incredible overestimation of the extraordinary at the expense of the ordinary. We look for miracles, spectacular events and mountain top experiences. Meanwhile, the spiritual significance of everyday life gets overlooked. Vocation, though, transfigures our ordinary mundane experience, charging it with spiritual significance, and with the very presence of God”.

Integral Mission by a Missional Church

Let us also remember that God’s Kingdom is not merely a medical one, and our mission is not merely a medical mission. This is, ultimately, the mission of the entire Church. We want to see every tongue, every tribe, every nation, "every centimeter of human existence" come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Let us, as members of Christ’s Body on earth, play our strategic role on the various mountains on which we are situated. Christian teachers, businessmen and women, politicians, artists, journalists, administrators, authors, singers, Bible scholars, housewives and so on: holding hands, supporting each other as we usher in change on our respective mountains, listening to the Holy Spirit who is our Mission Coordinator, and marching on in step with Him, to see His Kingdom come, and His will done on earth as it is in heaven.


Possibly related posts from the past:

1. Why Do I Exist?
2.  Lose Yourself in the Bigger Story

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lose Yourself in the Bigger Story

Those of you who were at Shiloh 2014 will appreciate the lyrics of this song by Steven Curtis Chapman, inviting us to 'lose ourselves in the Bigger Story' of what God is doing on earth

"Big Story"
(Steven Curtis Chapman)
[Psalm 19:1-4, 47:7-9 / Isaiah 40:21-26 / Colossians 1:16-22]

I hear the rumors of another world
Like distant voices in the wind
They say there is a story being told
Bigger than I can comprehend
And in the rumors I can hear an invitation calling

This is the big story
There is a God who's in control
Telling the big story
And He wants us to know
We will find ourselves
When we lose ourselves
In the bigger story
Come and take your place in the story

We all live in this place called the here and now
We see what's right before our eyes
But right here right now heaven's coming down
All around God's story is coming alive
And in this moment if we listen
We can hear Him calling

Captivating, fascinating, all consuming
Never concluding
One and only
Ever unfolding
Story of stories
The big, big story

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When I Die.....

When I die, I would like this to be quoted at my funeral.

Death is not extinguishing the light from the Christian;
it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.

- Anonymous

Along with this other quote from "The Last Battle" by CS Lewis.
" The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."
"Now at last (he is) beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins"

Read this review of Dawkins autobiogaphy, which contains this devastating critique:

"In comparison with Pascal, a man of restless intellectual energy, Dawkins is a monument to unthinking certitude."

As Challies observes, it seems like even atheists are increasingly embarassed by Richard Dawkins!

How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of life?

What are the implications of this for the Christian doctor?

Dorothy Sayers writes in her classic article, "Why Work"

"How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of life?

The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.

What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.

Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly — but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry?

No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could any one believe that they were made by the same hand that made heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.

Yet in her own buildings, in her own ecclesiastical art and music, in her hymns and prayers, in her sermons and in her little books of devotion, the church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse, work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent craftsman.

And why? Simply because she has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as the work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred."

(BTW, this entire article is freely available online)

(HT: What's Best Next)

Possible related posts from the past:
1. Developing a Christian work ethic

Monday, October 13, 2014

Those Impious Galileans

Missionary doctors are, once again, at the frontiers of compassionate medicine. Witness the way they care for patients suffering with Ebola. Going where nobody else will go. Caring for those nobody else is bothered about.

As this grudging science writer says, "Like it or not, though, we are deeply reliant on missionary doctors and nurses. The 2008 ARHAP report found that in some sub-Saharan African countries 30 percent of health care facilities are run by religious entities. That system is crumbling due to declining funding, possibly motivated in part by growing Western suspicion of missionary medicine. We have a choice: Swallow our objections and support these facilities, spend vast sums of money to build up Africa’s secular health care capacity immediately, or watch the continent drown in Ebola, HIV, and countless other disease outbreaks.

As an atheist, I try to make choices based on evidence and reason. So until we’re finally ready to invest heavily in secular medicine for Africa, I suggest we stand aside and let God do His work."

As Douthat points out in his commentary below, this sentiment runs in the long line of opponents of Christianity being forced to grudgingly appreciate what Christians do. "...there is still a parallel, at once amusing and illuminating, between his tone in the Slate piece and the tone of some of the surviving comments on Christianity from Roman authorities, which so often married incomprehension, hostility and (eventually) resentment at being, well, shown up by these strange cultists and their zeal. In particular, there’s a little bit of Pliny the younger in Palmer’s essay — the 2nd-century governor of Pontus writing in bureaucratic bafflement to his emperor (in a tone that W.H. Auden borrowed, I suspect, for his King Herod in “For The Time Being”) — and a whole lot of Julian the Apostate, the 4th century emperor who tried and failed to restore paganism, and whose letters include various complaints about how “all men see that our people lack aid” from pagan sources, even as “the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well.”

Possibly related posts from the past:
1. What is a Mission Hospital?

Red Hot Rage

Deft. Beautiful. Forceful.

From Djibouti Jones

"I once wrote an essay about what I learned from Muslim prayer rituals that enhanced my personal prayer life. I submitted it to a Christian magazine and received the response that, “There is nothing for Christians to learn from Muslims about prayer.”

I was furious. And really, really sad. I couldn’t have cared less about the article being rejected, I can handle rejection just fine. But the sentiment? The exclusivity and loss and inherent disrespect? I was shocked and then realized that this was essentially what I see all around the world. Division. Borders. Fences. Me versus you. Us versus them.

Today Marilyn Gardner of Communicating Across Boundaries and the author of Between Worlds deftly and beautifully and forcefully challenges us to knock down those dividing walls and to enter relationships."

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Tribute to Vathsalya Charitable Trust

The VCT Building in Kalyan Nagar, Bangalore

This is the text of a Three-minute speech I gave at a function to honour Vathsalya Charitable Trust, on their Silver Jubilee (June 7th, 2014).

Thank you very much for the opportunity to say a few words at this happy celebration of Vathsalya's 25th anniversary.

My wife, Arpita, and I have had the privilege of being able to adopt three beautiful children from Vathsalya between Feb 2008 and Dec 2011. In a sense therefore, I am aware, I speak today representing the hundreds of couples who have adopted from Vathsalya over the years. Mrs Mary Paul, Shirley and the team at Vathsalya have been friends to us, walking with us through the process of adoption, and giving us, as families, some of our happiest moments and memories. We often come across couples who have adopted from other agencies, and as we listen to their stories, and the distress and pain they have gone through in order to adopt, we feel almost embarassed to tell them how smoothly everything went for us, and how we look back over our own stories with so much joy and gratitude.

Vathsalya has also come to represent so much more!

Some of our children were relinquished by courageous women who spent the last few months of their pregnancies living with dignity and respect in the privacy of Vathsalya, choosing to deliver their (within quotes) 'unwanted' babies, breast feed them for a while, go through the process of grief and a type of bereavement, and then offer these children up for adoption. Vathsalya represented to these abused and helpless women, and to us who heard their stories, the dignity and value of every human being, and an option by which hopeless tragedies could be redeemed with kind and loving action, courage and respect, and result in so much joy to so many people.

Some of our children were abandoned by courageous families, who dared to hope that their babies could live better lives, if they could be placed through adoption in different families. We live in a culture which places precious little value on human life, and under some of the most liberal pro-abortion laws in the world. In our culture, babies are routinely aborted for the flimsiest reasons. The Lancet, in 2006, talked about 10 million missing girls in India, who had been aborted, paying the ultimate penalty for the extra X chromosome they carried.

Vathsalya, on the other hand, was a powerful reminder of a message which was profoundly counter-cultural. All life is precious, and every baby valuable. Adoption speaks so powerfully about the worth of the child. Each of these babies, placed in loving homes, is a source of so much life, joy and fulfilment.

Vathsalya also represented to us the inherent value and worth of people living with disability. As a paediatric surgeon, I was sometimes called to examine and opine on children with various mental and physical disabilities who had been given up for adoption. I was consistently struck by the love and kindness with which these children were served and cared for by the staff at Vathsalya, and the way in which every one of these children were also placed in loving families, where they found love, dignity and supportive relationships. In our culture only 'perfect' babies are valued, and the disabled are routinely aborted. For example, I recently came across a case where a baby was aborted because she was found to have a cleft eminently treatable condition! Vathsalya,on the other hand, was a powerful, counter-cultural advocate for the disabled.

And so, on this special day, on behalf of the hundreds of couples who have been blessed by your exemplary work, and the many children who have experienced your love and care, and who have been placed in loving families around the world, Thank you!

God bless you and continue to lead and guide you as you reflect on the years past, and think strategically about the future. We know that you will continue to represent all that is good and right at the frontiers where very few others venture. We know that you will continue to challenge us as a conscience keeper in our times, and continue to be an advocate for the weak and marginalised members of our human community. We wish you all the very best for the journey ahead.

Thank you.

(You could read more about Vathsalya at their website

Possibly related posts from the past:

1. The Ridiculous Grace of Adoption
2. Hundreds of couples offer to adopt a child with Down's Syndrome to prevent an abortion
3. Image Bearers