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Archive for the ‘Missio Dei Thought’ Category

The very first experience that is recorded, before he enters into his public ministry, is the testings or temptations of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11; Mark 1:12-13; and Luke 4:1-13).  All three Synoptic Gospels- Matthew, Mark, and Luke record that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Jesus fasted for 40 days and forty nights. The number 40 is reminiscent of Noah’s flood (Genesis 7, 8); the wilderness experience of freed slaves (Exodus 16:35; Deut. 2:7; 8:2, 4); Moses’ fasting on Mount Sinai before he received the Torah (Exodus 24:18; Deut. 9:9, 18, 25; 10:10); Elijah, the prophet’s journey back to Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:8); and so on. So, the early readers would have known that in recording this, the Gospels are underlining that Jesus’s life is a replica of the history of the people of God. It also underlines that they succumbed to the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. Jesus, in contrast, overcame the temptations of the devil, the adversary.

The testings of Satan takes on three forms: one, physical, food, “command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3); two, mental and emotional, “throw yourself down,” (Matthews 4:6); three, spiritual, “fall down and worship me,” (Matthew 4:9). In all three kinds of temptations Jesus, overcame Satan, the adversary. Sadly, the people of God, succumbed, time and time again, to the testings of the Adversary.

It is worth mentioning that a Gentile nation, Nineveh also was “tested.” This time it was by the Prophet Jonah. He had a one-line ‘Gospel sermon,’ “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed!” (Jonah 3:4). Interestingly, the Gentile people, just like Jesus, overcame the testing. “They believed God” (Jonah 4:5), instead of the Prophet Jonah. This is an intentional contrast to the history of the children of Israel.

Just like the testings/temptations of Satan in the wilderness, Jesus was constantly tested by the religious, political, and social leaders of his time. In Matthew 16, they tested him by coaxing him to show a miraculous sign to attest to his divinity. Interestingly, Jesus stressed that the only sign they will see is the “sign of the Prophet Jonah.” In Matthew 19, they tested him regarding his views on social issues like divorce. In Matthew 22, they tested him regarding political and economic issues of his time. “What about political allegiance and taxes?” In John 8, they tested him regarding his views on legal issues like adultery and the death sentence. Each time Jesus is tested, he was victorious over the temptation. He had already overcome the great Tempter, Satan, in the wilderness.

The apostles constantly remind the young followers of Jesus the Messiah, to overcome testings/temptations. Throughout the epistle of Hebrews, e.g., they are reminded, that God became human, so that human beings, who trust in Jesus the Messiah, may be given the supernatural ability to overcome testings and temptations in life. They are reminded, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18 NIV). In the conclusion, the Epistle of Hebrews portrays life like a marathon race. It ends with words like, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV).

Each generation, in the history of humanity, brings before the disciples of Jesus the Messiah fresh sets of testings/temptations. These are spiritual, economic, political, social, etc. testings.

In the context of these testings/temptations, the Bible urges his followers to “Look to Jesus”- the great overcomer of all testings/temptations. This is the only way to avoid succumbing to testings/temptations.

I teach at a Christian university- North Park University. Liberal arts universities are all about learning in the fields of politics, sociology, economics, biology, chemistry, philosophy, religions, and the such. It seems to me that the perspectives of a Christian university, also, must be guided by the phrase, “Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Sadly, these fields of learning, in the history of humanity, have often resulted in injustices towards the weak and the vulnerable. The Nazi era serves as an example, and is not too far distant in history.

It seems like the Jesus model of learning, would keep Christian higher education from succumbing to the “testings and temptations” of the recent past.

May we look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of Christian institutions of higher education!

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How one speaks to another says a lot about how one sees the other person, and how one sees oneself.  This is especially true when one speaks in suddenly disastrous or unexpected times.

The Bible says a lot about speaking. It is all about the Word. For this reason, the Apostle Paul says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16); and then, “Let your word (Greek, logos) always be with grace.” (Colossians 4:6)

In the beginning God spoke, and brought the world into creation.  In the creation narrative of Genesis 1, God speaks 10 times: “God said and there was . . .” (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29).

Here is how the Gospel of John introduces the life of Jesus the Messiah, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God  . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14).

The Book of Hebrews begins this way, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Jesus’ whole life was a speech. When Jesus spoke words, it was a part of that speech. So, he taught much about speech. In the Sermon of the Mount, he said, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’.” (Mat 5:37). Another time, he said, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:35-37)

In this age of social media, and twitter, the teachings of the Bible are doubly relevant. What one says can have huge ramifications.

Jesus’ teachings on speech are especially crucial to those of us who are pastors and teachers. It is all about speaking and writing.

One’s speech can either build/create the other person, or it can destroy/de-create the other person. This is a question one must always ask oneself, whenever one opens one’s mouth to speak, or to write.

Am I creating/building the other in what I say and write, or am I de-creating/destroying the other in what I say or write?

So, help us all LORD!

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Today is the 4th of July.

It is appropriate that we reflect on another freedom event in the Bible. It is called the Passover.

Jewish people commemorate the Exodus event every year in a meal called the Passover meal. They commemorate the meal while reclining- reclining to the left.

Why so?

In ancient times only the kings and rulers reclined. They were after all gods, and the regular people were forced to worship and serve these gods. This was true in Ancient Egypt; Ancient Sumeria; Ancient Rome; Ancient India; Ancient China; and so on.  Low class people, who were treated as slaves, served these divine beings, who reclined.

Reclining is a special way of eating. It is the kingly-divine way of eating. The low classes of society could never dream of this way of eating. It usually involved a nice sized cushion, or lots of cushions. The divine-kings reclined to the left, so that they would receive the food offerings with their right hands. It was becoming of divine-kings.

The Passover meal, for this reason, thumbs its nose at those divine-kings.  When Jewish people commemorate the Passover, they always recline to the left. This is what the divine beings of the ancient world always did. Now, that the children of Israel were freed from slavery, they reclined to the left, so that they can receive the bounty of God, with their right hand. They are kings, queens, princes, and princesses now. It is like entering into the Garden of Eden, and reclining, to enjoy the joys of the Garden of Eden.

In Hebrew, there is play on words between the salvation that the Hebrew slaves experienced and reclining. They were led (yeseb) out of the enslavement in Egypt (Exodus 13:18), so that they may recline (yesub). The freed slaves are called mesubim, or recliners.

Freedom and reclining go together.

I have recently returned from visits to different parts of the world: the largest refugee camp in the world, Kakuma Refugee Camp, in Kenya; and the war-torn areas in Congo; the outcaste/low caste peoples groups of India, etc. Each of these people are yearning for a salvation experience, yeseb, so that they also may recline, yesub, and be finally called recliners, mesubim.

This is what Jesus did throughout his ministry. He enabled the enslaved people of his time, called the ‘am ha-aretz, to experience freedom and to recline. The most famous is the incident where Jesus saw a huge crowd of people- 5,000 men. The total number, including women and children could well have been 20,000. This event is recorded in all four Gospels- John 6:1-4; Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; and Luke 6:1-14. Obviously, all four Gospels wanted to highlight this event in the life of Jesus.

The following things happened when Jesus saw the crowds of low class people:

One, he was filled with compassion (Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34). The Greek word for compassion, is splangchna, which is quite descriptive. It is passion that arises from a person’s womb or deep inner being. It then completely overpowers the person. This was what Jesus experienced often, when he saw the injustices encountered by common people. Sometimes this was at the hands of the elite- the Sadducees and the Pharisees; at other times at the hands of the Roman kings and soldiers; at yet other times at the hands of militants, called the Zealots.

Two, he asked Phillip, the pragmatic disciple to feed the 20,000 or so people. Phillip of course, scoffed at Jesus, “Are you crazy or something? This will take thousands of dollars- a whole year’s salary!”

Three, he turned to the simple disciple, Andrew, who responded, “Well there is slave boy! (That is what the Greek word means). He has five simple barley unleavened flatbread, and two fish!” (This was the Passover meal of the poor). But, then he saw the looks of astonishment on the faces of the others, and he said, “But, these are thousands of people!”

Four, Jesus calmly said, “Make the people ‘recline.’ We are going to have a Passover party, with the food of this poor slave boy! These people are not poor people. They are kings, queens, princes, and princesses. It is Passover!”

That is what happened.  The poor, enslaved people had an existential experience of knowing that they were the children of the King. They were royalty.

Jesus did these kinds of things several times in his incarnational ministry. (Matthew 9; 22; 26; John 12:2; and so on)

This is what freedom means. It is to take people who have been pushed into poverty and slavery by society, and give them the freedom to “recline,” and become royalty.

The very last act that Jesus did with his disciples was to celebrate the Passover. In John 13 he helped his disciples experience royalty. They ‘reclined’ like royalty (John 13:23, 28). But, before he did this, he showed them another crucial lesson. He showed them that the only way to enable people to experience royalty, is to become slaves yourselves. He washed the feet of this disciples, with the bucket of water, used only by slave boys; and wiped their feet with the towel, used only by slave boys. He said to them, “So if I, your LORD and your Rabbi, have washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another’s feet.”

This is what it means to celebrate Freedom!

This is what it means to celebrate the 4th of July!

Happy 4th!!!

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There are many images of God in the Bible. One of them is that of God as Redeemer. This is the central image of God to which Job clings. He has gone through so much suffering. His kids die. Everything he possessed is destroyed. He is beset with a horrible disease. Now, his closest friends, who initially come to mourn with him, also turn against him accusing him of being a secret sinner. “You just pretend to be a holy,” they say, “Come out of this delusion and confess your sins.” Job just throws his hands up and exclaims,

My acquaintances are wholly estranged from me.

My relatives and my close friends have failed me;

The guests in my house have forgotten me;

my serving girls count me as a stranger; I have become an alien in their eyes.

I call to my servant, but he gives me no answer; I must myself plead with him.

My breath is repulsive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family.

Even young children despise me; when I rise, they talk against me.

All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me.

My bones cling to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.

Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, (Job 19:13-21 NRSV)

 

When a person is in this kind of pit in life, all other images of God are hard to comprehend: God is righteous; God is just; God is awesome; the list can go on and on. All are right and true images of God. But, when people are suffering, like Job, those are not the images of God that make sense.

In the context of his suffering, Job gathers up all his fading energy and strength, and exclaims,

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God,

(Job 19:25-26 NRSV)

This is the central fulcrum of the Book of Job.

God is my Redeemer. He lives. He has always lived. He will always live. Things may be dying all around me. But, my Redeemer Lives!

The image of Redeemer is a powerful image in the Bible. The Torah prescribes that human beings should perform the role of being redeemers. They are vice-redeemers, if you will. Whenever, someone develops mental sickness, physical disease, emotional disease, economic calamity . . . whatever, others in the family or society ought to take on God’s role as being redeemers (Leviticus 25).  They are told not take advantage of them, or make them slaves. Instead, redeem them. This is because, this is the central image of God. He always looks out for the people who are suffering and says to them, “I will redeem you. Don’t worry!” (Exodus 6:6). Society was implored by God to be known as a Redemption society. They must have Redemption cities, where people would go and find physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing, before they are able to enter back into society (Numbers 35). These were not jails, but rather cities of Redemption.

Keeping this in mind, in the Psalms, God’s Redeemer image is often implored. Here are a few examples: Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies. (Psalm 69:18 NRSV); From oppression and violence he redeems their life (Psalm 72:14 NRSV); They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their Redeemer. (Psalm 78:35 NRSV); and so on.

The prophets always encourage the people with God’s image as Redeemer. Here are a few examples: Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you insect Israel! I will help you, says the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 41:14 NRSV); But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1 NRSV); Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth (Jeremiah 50:34 NRS); and so on.

Sadly, in the history of Israel, as seen in the Bible, we do not see people following God’s lead to be a Redemption community. The obvious exception is Boaz, in the Book of Ruth. Ruth’s narrative is amazing. I have written about it in my most recent book manuscript, The Marys of the Bible: The Original #MeToo Movement. Ruth is an immigrant woman from Moab, and place where women were constantly abused. Boaz first instructs the young men of Bethlehem, to not even think about taking advantage of her. Then he goes on to show what it means to be a Redeemer. He gets personally involved. He redeems Ruth economically, and then in an ultimate example of redemption, he transforms her image, so that everyone in society recognizes her to be the Eshet Chayil, Woman of Valor, of Proverbs 31.

The most poignant moment is found in Ruth chapter 4: 4, 5. Most English translations read thus in the conversation between Boaz and the other supposed redeemer person:

So I thought I would tell you of it, and say: Buy it in the presence of those sitting here, and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not, tell me, so that I may know; for there is no one prior to you to redeem it, and I come after you.” So he said, “I will redeem it.” Then Boaz said, “The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance.” At this, the next-of-kin said, “I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” (Ruth 4:4-6 NRSV).

The crucial meaning of redemption is seen in the word which is translated in the NRSV and NIV as “acquire;’ and in the ESV as “buy.” These English translations give a poor picture of what is happening here. Boaz, the Redeemer, in not buying or acquiring a woman, Ruth, here. The Hebrew word, qanah, literally means “to create.” This is how God is described in a crucial text, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator (Hebrew, qanah) of heaven and earth.” (Gen 14:19 NIV).

This is what God expects his Redemption community to be and do.

What is Redemption? It is recreating a new person- in this case Ruth.

It is recreating a new society.

It is recreating a new economy.

It is recreating a new world.

This is the Kingdom of God.

This academic year, I have been on sabbatical. It has given me the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world. With Covenant World Relief, I have traveled to refugee camps, and war torn areas. I have heard the loud cries of the Ruths of global society. They are crying out for Redeemer figures, who would carry on the injunctions of the Redeemer God.

I heard the women of South Sudan, in the Kakuma refugee camp sing, with Job, “I know my Redeemer lives.”

Sadly, there is a lack of Boaz-like Redeemers in global society, who would say, “I will be your Redeemer, because my God indeed is the Redeemer-God.”

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The title “sons of God” is used several times in the Bible. The most prominent are the words of Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). The Apostle Paul says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are “sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). Then he looks forward to the eschatological times, and exclaims, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” (Romans 8:19)

Human beings, in the creation narrative, are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27; Genesis 5:1, 2). The genealogy of Jesus in the Book of Luke ends with the words, “son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.” (Luke 3:38). This understanding of human beings in a unique Father-child relationship with God is a powerful image. Based on this image, the Bible’s standard of ethics for humanity is God himself. The preamble to the giving of the 10 Commandments states, “You shall be to me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). It is a constant refrain found in the Torah. “Be holy because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45; Leviticus 19:2; 20:7). For this reason, when God delivers Israel from Egypt, he says to Moses, “Tell Pharaoh that Israel is my Firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22).

Human beings are therefore given a very high status in creation. They are supposed to be vice-regents of the King, God himself. They are given the mission to be the stewards of all creation. This was the good creation that God had created. (Genesis 1:26-28)

Unfortunately, instead of being the “sons of God” that God intended human beings to be, they began doing “evil.” This resulted in much sin and violence. Mostly, this sin and violence was done in the name of religions. In Egyptian and Mesopotamian religions, e.g. the royalty, were considered to be “sons of gods.” These were the Pharaohs and the such. In the name of religion, they enslaved the common populations of their kingdoms. They owned the girls and boys in their kingdoms, and abused them, in whichever way they wished. The Bible discusses these kinds of “sons of the gods.” Genesis 6 begins the narrative of Noah’s Flood. What is often overlooked is the prologue to Noah’s Flood. “The sons of gods saw the daughters of men, that they were good; they ‘forcibly’ took women for themselves of all that they chose” (Genesis 6:2). These “sons of gods” are royal and priestly human beings in ancient religions. They were treated as divine beings, gods, in ancient religions. They raped common women in the name religious practices.

Sadly, I have seen this kind of abuse of women in India, by religious and political leaders, in the name of religious practice. These are people who are called “gurus,” or “sons of gods.”

Noah’s flood was to cleanse humanity from this kind of rampant evil practices, in the name of religion.

What is the solution to this awful problem in human history?

In the New Testament, God himself became human. He is the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah. In Christian theology, this is called incarnation. God the Son became human, so that human beings would become “sons of God.”

In the Book of Matthew, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in the wilderness, three times the Evil One, Satan, seeks to tempt Jesus, with the words. “If you are the Son of God . . .,” do this and that religious practice (Matthew 4). These are all the temptations to which humanity had fallen in the history of humanity, and in the history of religions. Jesus, the Son of God, did not have to prove anything to Satan. He was the Son of God. In his ministry, even the evil spirits recognized him to be the Son of God (Mathew 8:29). In his famous confession, Simon Peter confessed to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16). When Jesus was brought before the religious leaders of the day, their main question was, “tell us, if you really are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63). Finally, at the cross, when Jesus died, all those around him, including the Roman centurion acknowledged, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). This is the main thesis statement of the Gospel of John. The conclusion of the Gospel of John says, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

In this Messiah, the Son of God, all humanity is invited to become “sons of God.” Those that are transformed by his person and sacrifice on the cross are called the “sons of God.” And, so the Apostle Paul exclaims, “for in Jesus the Messiah, you are all ‘sons of God’ through faith.” (Galatians 3:26; also, Romans 8:14; 9:26). Of these transformed people, Jesus the Messiah himself says, “Blessed are the peacemakers. They shall be called the “sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). These are not like the “sons of the gods” of Genesis 6. Those religious leaders practiced sin, abuse, and violence. The “sons of God,” of the New Testament, are transformed children of God, who live the Gospel of Jesus the Son of God, so that the world would return back to the Shalom of Genesis 1.

This is the mission of God for the Church, the “sons of God.”

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Every Christian leader must ask oneself this question, every day, and in every situation. Is it the “I” or is it the “I AM?” One profound disciple of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, came to this decision in his ministry, “I have been crucified with Christ; It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).

It seems to me that a constant question which a Christian leader must ask, in every act or word, “Is this building up my ego, or is this building up Christ?” When one builds up Christ than one lives a life of faith. When one builds oneself up, it is the opposite of faith.

The Torah provides two examples of leaders: One is Abraham, the other is Moses. Both are portrayed as good human beings, and good leaders. Yet, both clearly have their weaknesses.

The following is the synopsis at the end of their lives.

In Genesis 26, the LORD breaks through to Isaac and says to him, “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, ‘because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions’.” In the Hebrew language, five words are used here, Torah, Chiqah, Mitzvah, Mishmeret, and Qoli. The five words are five technical terms that describe ALL the laws of the Torah. The question is, “How did Abraham keep all the laws of the Torah? Obviously, there was no Torah at the time of Abraham.

The answer is found in Genesis 15. It gives the synopsis of the life and demeanor of Abraham. How would you describe Abraham? The LORD says of him, “He “trusted” (Hebrew Amen) the LORD, and so always was a person of justice.” (Genesis 15:6). Paul uses Abraham as his great leader model. He often quotes this central text of the Torah, “Abraham believed God, and so was regarded as a person of justice.” (Galatian 3:6; Romans 4:3, 18). Generally, the last word, which I have translated as “justice” is translated as “righteousness.” The NIV, e.g., reads, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Unfortunately, in modern society, “righteousness” usually means “self-righteousness.” It is building up ones “ego-” spiritual or Christian ego, but ego nevertheless. The Hebrew word, tsdakah, and the Greek word, dikaiosune, are not “self” oriented terms. They are “other” oriented terms. Both are seeking the rightness and justice for the Other. In giving a synopsis of Abraham’s life, the Torah was saying, “Look at Abraham. He is your great model of leadership. He trusted in the LORD. This resulted in his extinguishing his own “ego.” In doing so, he became a justice and right-ness oriented person.”

This is a powerful image. My prayer is that this may be said of all Christian leaders today. Unfortunately, that is not how leadership is conceived in modern society. Leaders are supposed to be self-assured, self-confident, visionary people. Sadly, society today does not want a leader who does not have an “ego.”

Surprisingly, the Torah talks about another leader, also. Moses. He is an amazing leader who saw much horror which his people suffered at the hands of their enslavers. He lived among his people for the first 12-14 years of his life. Then he went to live with the Egyptian Princess, and lived the life of an Egyptian Prince. According to Egyptian religion, he became god. Yet, when he was 40 years old he could keep not keep his pent-up feelings to himself. He decided to give up his place of religious and political authority. He decided to give up his luxury in the royal places of Egypt. He tried to rescue the enslaved people. But, failed and fled to the wilderness. He then lived in the wilderness for 40 years, till God spoke to him and said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land” (Exo 3:7-8). This encounter with the LORD moved him greatly, and he gained a fresh sense of mission about the deliverance of his enslaved people. He saw God do many miracles through his shepherd’s staff. He took the people to the place where he first experienced God- Sinai. Yet, they grumbled and complained all the time.

In the second year, he was on the verge of taking them into the promised land. But, the people revolted. In response, the Lord mourned, “”How long will this people despise me? And how long will they “not believe” (Hebrew LoAmen) in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? (Numbers 14:11). Then he goes on to say that because they “did not believe” in God, none of this generation of people will enter into the promised land. It was very sad point in the life of the community. Moses kept leading them, despite their lack of “trust, Amen” in God. This lack of trust led to many injustices, including racial injustice against Moses and his wife (Numbers 12).

At the end of 40 years, the people are still in Kadesh, the same place where they “did not trust” in the LORD. They kept grumbling and complaining. They complained, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this evil (Hebrew ra’) place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:5)

Moses and Aaron go before God, and the LORD says to him, Moses just do these simple things “take your shepherd’s staff; gather the people, and simply WORD the rock, and it will pour out Water.” Instead of simply doing this, Moses says, ““Listen, you rebels, must WE bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” (Numbers 20:10, 11). Yes, there a miracle. But, the LORD said to Moses and to Aaron, “Because you “did not believe” (Hebrew, LoAmen) in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12).

It is the same place, where 40 years earlier the people “did not believe.” Now Moses and Aaron, the great leaders who led them out of slavery, also “did not believe.” The synopsis of their leadership is much in contrast Abraham, who believed, (Hebrew Amen) in the LORD, and thus became a justice oriented person.”

When a community believes, it totally empties itself of its combined Ego. God alone is to be seen and glorified. When a leader “believes, Hebrew Amen),” that person completely empties herself/himself of the Ego, just like Paul.

I have just attended an amazing moment in the life of the Evangelical Covenant Church, my beloved Mission Friends family, and North Park University, my beloved home, where I teach. At the Annual meeting of the ECC, in Minneapolis, we have elected new leaders for the Evangelical Covenant Church, and for North Park University. I look forward to working with these dear leaders. I am so excited for the future of the ECC and North Park University.

As we look forward to the future, may I urge my Covenant Mission Friends family, and the new leaders of the ECC and North Park University, to take the ethos of the Bible to heart, “ ‘I’ have been crucified with Christ and ‘I’ no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith (Amen) in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20).

May I and all Christian leaders always ourselves this question, “It is the “I” or is it the “I AM?” May the glory be always be given to him, and him alone.

 

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I head out to the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church, today. It is the denomination, which has ordained me to serve as a minister. My university, North Park University, belongs to this denomination.

As I leave, I ask myself these questions. What does it mean to be an ordained minister? What does it mean to be a professor?

My meditation from the Daily Light, today, leads me to Jesus’ teaching regarding leadership. Jesus’ teaching regarding leadership is found in all four Gospels.

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mar 9:35 NIV; Matt. 23:11; Luke 9:48)

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mat 20:25-28 NIV; Mark 10:35-45; Luke 22:25-27)

This is radical Christ-like leadership.

I have observed that, sadly, this is not the case in so much of leadership demeanor in the west. Leaders in the west, many times, overpower and seek authority over others. Many times, it is through words. At other times, it is through actions. At other times, it is over people who are of minority status. Sometimes this “lording over, and exercising authority” has racial connotations. It saddens me, when I see this in society in general. It especially saddens me when I see this attitude of leadership among my Christian sisters and brothers.

Sadly, Gandhi observed this in Christian leadership, when he lived in the England, and in South Africa. He is famously quoted to have said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Gandhi was led to Christ by two profound Christian thinkers- one from Russia, Leo Tolstoy; and the other from England, John Ruskin. The two books which influenced him the most were written by these two Christian thinkers. These are Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Within You; and John Ruskin’s Unto this Last.

I am in the process of writing a book on this.

Ruskin’s book, Unto this Last is based on the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, which precedes this teaching of Jesus on the ethos of Christian leadership. In this parable, the leader/owner of the vineyard honors all the workers, from the first to the last, with dignity and salary. He did this because he was a good Christ-like leader.

Jesus’ understanding of leadership is so counter culture, “Anyone who wants to be a leader, must be a slave first.” Only, when one becomes like Jesus, and is a slave first, will one know how to honor “the last”, “the slaves,” and “the Other.”

I am a part of the Covenant Ministerium. I am a professor at North Park University. I pray, as I go to the Covenant Annual Meeting, that the Gandhis of today would say, “I really like your Christ. He is a slave-leader. I also like your Christian leaders. They are also slave-leaders. I want to follow Christ, because I see Christ in your Christian leaders.”

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Jesus constantly taught his disciples lessons in education. The Gospel of John records some of these very profound moments of education. In John chapter 15 Jesus says, “I AM the True Vine, and my Father is the Gardner.” First, Jesus proclaims himself to be the LORD, who revealed himself to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. He says he is the everlasting I AM. Two, he declares that the image of God is that of a Father. Three, this Father is the Great Farmer. Four, this Farmer is one who prunes the branches, so that the vine becomes an immensely good and beautiful vine. Five, this happens when the human beings abide in the Vine.

Jesus stresses these lessons in education from the field of the agricultural sciences, botany, and farming. The theoretical and the professional education blend together. Much in contrast to modern methods of education, Jesus sees no distinction between the two. Theoretical and professional learn from each other. The sciences, humanities, and professions learn from each other. Each of these flow from a relationship between God the Son and God the Father.

God the Father is a Farmer God. This is a mindboggling picture of God. No one among the who-is-who of the society during the time of Jesus ever wanted to be farmer. The Sadducees and the Pharisees disdained farmers. They never wanted to go anywhere near farmers. This was also true of the larger Roman and Greek societies. Farmers were uncouth, uneducated people from far-flung areas like Nazareth. In calling God the Father, a Farmer, Jesus was making a strong counterculture statement. Learn from God the Father, the Farmer God.

In global society, even today, farmers are regarded as low level people. I was reared in India. Every year I go back to India to teach in the PhD program of a university called the Sam Higginbottom University of Agricultural and Technological Sciences. It was a university started by a Christian missionary, Sam Higginbottom, who sought to address the huge injustices against farmers in Indian religion and society. Even today, when I pick up the newspapers in India, I read about these injustices against farmers. The newspapers in India tell me that on an average 12,000 farmers commit suicide, every year. According to the United Nations reports, a farmer commits suicide every 32 minutes in India. These UN reports enumerate the plight of tens of thousands of women who are widowed, and endure much injustice and pain, including sexual trafficking, because of these injustices against low caste and outcaste farmers.

SHUATS university seeks to address these complex issues of injustice against low caste and outcaste peoples’ groups. In SHUATS education, theoretical sciences, humanities, and the professions meet in a profound way to address issues of injustices against low caste and outcaste peoples’ groups.

Jesus was addressing similar injustices of his day, when he said, “I AM the Vine, and my father is the Gardner.”

The Gardner prunes the branches.

In the Hebrew Bible, the word for pruning is zamar. It is the verb from which we get the Hebrew word for Psalms, Mizmor, or songs. When society is pruned by the Great Farmer, it becomes a society that is educated to make sweet music. Otherwise, it remains as a society which can only produce a cacophony. That is what injustice does to global society. The injustices against farmers, and other peoples’ groups, produces a sad, mournful cacophony. But, the pruning education of the Great Farmer God produces sweet melodious music.

This is one of the goals of education. Pruning. It is learning the art and science of pruning from the Great Farmer Father God so that society would produce a melodious harmony, as was global society in Genesis 1.

Another lesson that Jesus stresses is the act of Abiding in the True Vine.

In modern education, there is a distance between the subject and the teacher. In Jesus kind of education. The teacher and the subject become one. The teacher is the Farmer. The teacher is the subject- the Vine. The students are only students, when they become a part of the True Vine. Good students are urged to “Abide in the Vine.” This is the goal of Christ like education. It seeks to eradicate the distance between the teacher and the student; between the teacher and the subject; and between the student and the subject.

The goal of good Christian education enables the students to lose themselves and become a part of the Great Vine- Jesus the Messiah. It is to enable the Great Farmer to prune, zamar, the branches, so that they would produce a beautiful harmony of justice and righteousness in global society. This is the goal of Christian education.

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The Bible contains many metaphors of education. One of them is fire.

On the Day of Pentecost, which commemorated the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the first distraught group of disciples were gathered at the Upper Room, right next to the Temple. Suddenly there was distributed upon them “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). These were low class, unschooled Galileans. Yet, they spoke different languages. They did not speak gibberish. Rather it was deep philosophical and educational thought which was heard by a vast array of people who had come from different parts of the then known world. These were people from all over Asia, Europe, and Africa. They addressed the social, economic, political . . . the complex issues of these societies. This complex thought is called the Gospel. In the history of Christian thought, this is considered to be the “baptism by fire.” It construes a mystical form of education. It is form of education which is uniquely Christian.

I have just returned from teaching a PhD seminar at a Christian university in India, called SHUATS university- Sam Higginbottom University of Agricultural and Technological Sciences. It was founded by Presbyterian missionaries from Princeton and Ohio State universities. Today, this university has 12,500 students. It has a full-blown program of the sciences and humanities. It graduates several PhDs every year. The heart of the program is a chapel service called Yeshu Darbar, the Court of Justice of King Jesus. It is patterned after the courts of justice of ancient kings of India. People came to these courts from all over India to seek justice and blessing. I have seen thousands of villagers from hundreds of villages around North India come to this Yeshu Darbar every week, to seek justice, help, and salvation. These are villagers from low caste and outcaste societies of India. Women, girls and boys from these villages have experienced much injustice as the hands of high caste people. They come to Yeshu Darbar, and this Christian university, to seek solutions to their complex issues of pain and injustice.

In 1992, the present Vice Chancellor, Rt. Rev. Dr. R.B. Lal, had a deep and personal experience of the “baptism of fire.” He committed his life to the service of Yeshu Masiha, Jesus the Messiah, and to the low caste/outcaste communities of India, through the university. The university grew from 800 students to 12,500 students. Today, SHUATS offers 28 undergraduate programs, 48 graduates programs; and 11 PhD programs in various disciplines. It is the center piece of a huge transformation of society in India. SHUATS is an amazing example of a Christian university.

I quote the goals of SHUATS:

  1. Responsible stewardship of the environment and its resources.
  2. Sustainable development
  3. Linkage of Learning and Research to the needs and life of the people.
  4. Justice to the minorities, and other weaker sections of the society, especially to women and the rural poor.
  5. Holistic formation of the human person in, with and through the community for leadership instilled by Christian values.
  6. National Unity and communal harmony.
  7. International fellowship and co-operation in the educational and development ministry in the service of the LORD JESUS CHRIST.

Fire, in the Bible is a symbol of deep and phenomenological cleansing. When the LORD revealed himself to Moses at Mount Sinai, to address the justice needs of the people, it was in “a flame of fire out of the bush” (Exodus 3); when the LORD gave his Torah, to address the complex needs of humanity, at Mount Sinai, it was in the midst of fire (Deuteronomy 4, 5); whenever the prophets sought to address the complex issues of society, it was always in the midst cleansing fire (Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, Zechariah 12, and so on). No wonder, this was the phenomenological cleansing symbol of the early Christian community (Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 3; 1 Peter 1; Revelation 3).

When I visited SHUATS, this is what Vice Chancellor Lal shared with me. The ‘baptism of fire” which began in his life, and in the life of the university continues the cleansing work in society, through complex education, and Yeshu Darbar, the Court of Justice of Jesus the King.

I applaud the vision of this Christian university led by Vice Chancellor R.B. Lal, and pray that the mission of SHUATS would continue to bring about a phenomenological change in India, and across the world.

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One of the biggest reasons for the rejection of Jesus by the religious, social, and political leaders of that time was race and class. These leaders were divided into two primary parties: the Sadducees, and the Pharisees. Both parties had their base in Jerusalem. The Sadducees controlled politics and religion from the Temple. Archeological digs show that they were quite well off. They hobnobbed with the Roman and Greek officials all the time. They also owned slaves- girls, and boys from the low classes of peoples’ groups, generally called the `am ha-aretz, the common people of the land, from regions like Galilee. The Pharisees, had far reaching control, into far-flung areas outside Jerusalem. They came up with laws called halakhot, which defined a religious person. These laws made it virtually impossible for the poor and marginalized, `am ha-aretz, to be ever be accepted by the who-is-who of society. Yet, that was forced on them as a condition to be accepted in society- an impossible goal.

Jesus was not a Pharisee. Jesus was not a Sadducee. Obviously, by the norms of society at that time, he could never be a religious, social or political leader. He came from a far-flung Godforsaken place called Galilee. No one from Galilee could ever become a leader. They did not speak proper language- whether it be Greek, or Hebrew, or Aramaic. They spoke a gibberish mixture of all three languages, and their local dialects. Their language was like the hillbillies of our time. Their vocabulary and grammar was awful. Their diction was worse. One could never be a leader from this area.

These `Am Ha-Aretz, the commoners were considered to be people of mixed breed. Successive armies of invading troops would go into these areas and rape girls and women. It was a method of war. The progeny of the `am ha-aretz were therefore considered to be impure. A leader could never emerge from this “mixed breed” people.

Even the Am Ha-Aretz could never accept a leader from among themselves.  For many generations, they were conditioned to think like this. For this reason, when Philip said to Nathaniel, “Look we have found the Messiah. He is Yeshua of Nazareth. He is the son of Joseph. Moses, in the Torah, and the Prophets, all prophesied about this person,” the first reaction of Nathaniel was, “What! Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1: 46). This was impossible. This was beyond comprehension.

Jesus’ reaction to his disbelief is also telling. Jesus looks at him in the eyes and says, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” The poor, and marginalized low-class peoples’ groups, the `am ha-aretz, were considered to be untrustworthy, uncouth, and deceitful. This thought was drummed into the psyche of every little child- from the rich and famous, as well as, the marginalized and poor. Obviously, if you are intrinsically this kind of a person, you could never be a leader. When this thought is drummed into the mind of a little kid, one can never imagine becoming a leader.  Therefore, the first task of Jesus was to build up the self-esteem of his followers. He says to Nathaniel, “You are a true Son of Israel. Do not let the Sadducees and the Pharisees tell you otherwise. You are authentic, honest, and intelligent people. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Jesus, the Son of God, himself modeled this in his own teaching and preaching ministry. The Sadducees and the Pharisees were not able to place him in their `am Ha-Aretz box. They were forced to acknowledge, “Never did anyone speak like this man. He may originate from the poor and marginalized peoples group, but, you cannot put him in a low-class box. He is more intelligent than all the Pharisees and Sadducees, the who-is-who of society, put together.”

I teach at North Park University- a Christian university. It seems to me the this is a major mission of the Christian university, in the context of Chicago. It is to take young people from the marginalized sections of society, and lift them up, just like Jesus Christ did. Being a Christian university means just this, being Christ-like in our mission and vision. There will always be “Pharisees and Sadducees,” who will reject Christ even today. Yet, the goal of the Christian university is to lift the young Nathaniels of today, and say to them, “You are a true, honest, and authentic person. Let us educate you to become leaders in society.” This is what Christ would do.

This goal is based on another crucial goal of the Christian university. This goal is to lift up Christ, as the nucleus of education, before the who-is-who of global society today, so that they see Christ and say, “Never did anyone speak like this man!”

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