How Can the Church Become What Jesus Intended?

The church is at the same time a spiritual organism and a human organization. We become members of the organism by new birth and baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13) and of the organization by covenant. Most of the controversy about the church failing to become what Jesus intended is focused on its organizational form. The real issue, however, is not with organization, but with people who run it (pulpit and pew).

We Christians still live with our own version of the flesh. We see the sin of others so clearly. We carry with us our own set of expectations as to what the church should be. We go from church to church in search of this ideal. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book “Life Together,” writes, “He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.”

We all have our own dream of what the church should be like and when we cannot find it, we grow disillusioned. However, true fellowship is based upon faith and not dreams; upon truth and not emotions. Bonhoeffer boldly suggests that the sooner disillusionment comes, the better. “Therefore the very hour of disillusionment is instructive because it teaches me that neither I nor my brother can live to ourselves, but only through the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.”

The church (organizational) will become what Jesus intended it to be when we receive one another with grace and forgiveness and not measure one another by our own faulty expectations.

Thus for me to make a statement that the church has no relevance in my life, speaks more to my own unconnectedness and selfishness than to the nature of the church.

And by staying in the church, I place myself in the position of receiving from others the very grace and mercy needed most to help me work through the issues of my heart.

Marriage then and now…

Marriage then… June 26, 1971, a date that will live in infamy -wait, that was Pearl Harbor. Let me start over: a date that will live forever in memory. A day when a 22-yr old woman (a beauty) and a 24-yr old guy (add any adjective or noun that is appropriate) said their vows to each other. Those vows did not announce how much they were in love on that day, but the vows were commitments made that they would, by God’s unmeasureable Grace, love each other “until they laid each other in the arms of God.”

Marriage now…June 26, 2019           

48 Things I Love About My Wife, GLORIA   

G   od-lover, great (wonderful) grandma, giver, glad to help others, grateful when people help her, good cook, genuine servant, gold and diamonds are not important, glued to her marriage until death do us part

L   oves her husband and kids and is loved by them, longs for meaningful conversation, loves to explore and take back roads, loses things but they usually turn up (just found car keys in coat pocket after 3 yrs), likes to stay up late but not get up early, lavish prayers said daily on behalf of her kids and grandkids, loyal to her marriage vows especially the in sickness and in health part

O  pines often,  outdoor girl, ovulates no more, overlooks her husband’s faults, opens her home to the stranger and refugee, open-handed to those in need, oppressed by the computer, observes carefully whatsapp messages from kids about the grandkids, overwhelmed by the thought of selling our house and moving 

R ank means nothing, raspberry lover (especially black raspberry pie), reads good books (especially about missions), redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, regularly reflects on God’s Word, rather not do housework, really rather be hiking or kayaking, regrets living so far away from her new grandson in Switzerland, reads idiots guide to understand financial stuff

I   nterested in just about everything having to do with her kids and grandkids, intelligent, incurious about sports (except baseball), inflexible in her convictions, initiates conversations with strangers

A   lways faithful, always supportive of her husband, asks a few questions once in awhile, an accomplished pianist and marimbist, appreciates working together on anything, always likes apple butter, an amazing ESL teacher, age has enhanced her beauty, a woman who fears the Lord

Hypocrites!

I already posted this quote on my FB page and it drew so many comments I decided to put it on my blog. It comes from J.C. Ryle in his book “Practical Religion.” Ryle (1816-1900) was the first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, England, and his book strikes a cord for the reality of Christ in the life of the believer.

“A bad coin is no proof that there is no good money; nay, rather it is a sign that there is some current money which is valuable, and is worth imitation. Hypocrites and sham Christians are indirect evidence that there is real grace among men. Let us search our hearts then, and see how it is with ourselves.”

On another note: my cancer has returned and I start chemo treatments tomorrow. I would appreciate your prayers and I will be posting some thoughts and meditations regarding this new phase of my discipleship. Blessings

All for the Sake of Another!

Within 2 Samuel 9:1-8 lies a metaphor of God’s love for us in Christ; the fact that we are loved for the sake of another. King David considers who he might shower grace upon; not from among his friends, but from the very household of his old enemy Saul. The man who had rebelled against God, terrorized him while in his service, and ultimately tried to hunt him down and kill him. It was upon this household he was seeking to show mercy.

However, it was to be mercy displayed to a certain member of that household, … “that I may show him kindness for the sake of Jonathan.” It was Saul’s deceased son Jonathan, whom David loved. And so, Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth (lit. from the mouth of shame) was located by the FBI and brought to David.

We are told several things about Mephibosheth: he was Jonathan’s youngest, about 5 yrs. old when Saul and Jonathan had been killed by the Philistines (2 Samuel 4:4); he had been dropped by his nurse as she was fleeing with him out of fear of a possible assassination attempt, and he was crippled by the fall; he was living far away from Jerusalem in relative anonymity, in a place with the interesting name of Lo-debar (lit. land of nothing) on the other side of the Jordan River; he could not provide for himself and was being cared for by a generous man who was a descendent of the half-tribe of Manasseh, which had claimed the land on the east side of the Jordan; he was most likely terror-stricken to have been “found” and called to appear before the King, the one who had been his grandfather’s rival.

It must have been quite a scene: they meet and David calls him by name and Mephibosheth falls on his face, like someone who has had his crutches kicked out from under him! David then tells him not to be afraid, and goes on to say that he wants to show him kindness for the sake of his father Jonathan. This kindness would consist of having his land returned and eating from the rich resources of the kings table. He would also be allotted servants who would care for him and farm the land given to him.

And what was Mephibosheth’s response?  “What is your servant, that you show kindness to a dead dog like me?”

What a picture of God’s grace and mercy shown to us who were in the household of that rebel Adam and were nothing but enemies of God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead [dogs] in our sins, made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… [so that] he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:4-7)

Charles Blanchard, the second president of Wheaton College, tells this story in his book on prayer, Getting Things from God(p. 101-2): 

It was during the Civil War and a gentleman from Indianapolis had an only son who had listed in the Union Army. The father was a banker and though he consented to his son going off to war, it seemed as if it would take his very life to have him go. He was ceaselessly interested in soldiers. Whenever he saw a uniform his heart went out to it. He thought of his boy. He spent his time, he neglected his business, he gave his money to help supplying regiments and companies, and of caring for the wounded at home. At last he was convinced by his friends to moderate his activity because he was neglecting his own life and business. So he resolved to tend to his own business and let the government take care of the boys in blue.

One day, there stepped into his bank a soldier in a faded and tattered blue uniform who was recovering from wounds he had received in battle. The soldier came up to his desk and fumbled for something in the pocket of his uniform. The man immediately told him that he was extremely busy and could be of no assistance, and that he would have to go to HQ to get the help he needed.  The soldier produced a note which he gave to the banker. It read: “Dear Father, this is one of my dear comrades. He was wounded in our last fight and has been in the hospital. Please receive him as myself. Charlie.”

In a moment all the resolutions of indifference which this man had made flew away. He took the boy to his palatial home, put him in Charlie’s room, gave him Charlie’s place at the table, kept him till food and rest and love brought him back to life, and sent him back to peril his life for his flag. 

… all for the sake of his beloved son, Charlie.

David bestowed kindness and mercy on Mephibosheth … all for the sake of his beloved Jonathan.

God has showered mercy and grace upon us and has taken us into his very own family … all for the sake of his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

Let us never forget, that we are loved (and should love) all for the sake of ANOTHER! And let us never fail to fall down and worship the One who has shown so much grace and mercy!

“Chosen not for good in me, wakened up from wrath to flee. Hidden in my Savior’s side, by Thy Spirit sanctified. Help me Lord on earth to show, by my love how much I owe.” Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

Aftermath in Sri Lanka

This letter was written today by the Principal of the Colombo Theological Seminary in Sri Lanka to our Graduate School at Wheaton College . One of our students (my student chaplain) is Sri Lankan and lost a relative in the bombings. We have been in prayer for our sisters and brothers in the face of this great tragedy.

Early Days after the Easter Sunday Bombings

Thursday April 25, 2019

Dear friends,

Today is the fourth day following the Easter Sunday attacks, which have been comprehensively reported on around the world. The suddenness, magnitude, and the horrific nature of these coordinated bombings generated a profound sense of shock and disbelief, followed by outrage and fear. The disorientation is compounded by many important factors.

The fact is that, for over a thousand years, Sri Lankan Muslims have lived at peace with their neighbours and have never been known to initiate violence against other ethnic or religious communities. This is so unlike the ancient histories of world Islam where often its very introduction was marked by violence and holy war. In Sri Lanka the four world religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity) have co-existed for over a millennia. The earliest Christian communities were the Nestorian Christians of the sixth century AD but these had ended well before the Roman Catholic Portuguese arrived in the fifteen hundreds.

Religious violence is relatively new, beginning in the late eighties (1987) with the martyrdom of Pastor Lionel Jayasinghe of the Assemblies of God. From this point on extremist Buddhist groups have continually targeted Christian workers, congregations, and church property; most being evangelicals committed to evangelism and church planting. Even during periods of reduced intensity, acts of discrimination simmer in the rural areas of the country where Christians form a very small minority, are poor, and have little access to power and influence. In the Eastern Province, where Batticaloa is the main town, extremist Hindu groups have occasionally been aggressive against the church, and more recently we had incidents by such a group in Nuwara Eliya in the central hill country. The Easter attack is the first by Islamic extremists, and this aggression against Roman Catholic churches is unprecedented.

It has now become clear that intelligence-agencies had warned the government and public officials specifically about the nature of the threat and the targets, but there was not even a hint of danger released to the church leaders or the hotel industry. This monumental failure has cost so many lives and unleashed a wave of palpable fear.

Today there was growing anxiety with rumours of an even bigger explosion somewhere in the city. Heavy vehicles were ordered off the streets, some offices went into lockdown, and gradually the city became eerily calm as security forces and police searched desperately for suspects and explosives. A bomb was found near a bank in Batticaloa, and over the past few days several detections have been made including a factory used to make bombs, and caches of weapons and explosives all over the country.

Another unexpected consequence has been the sad experience of families of refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan, many of whom were living in Negombo until their immigration to other countries was processed by the UN. Neighbours have reacted and driven them from their homes, and they have sought refuge at the police stations. We will need to figure out how we can help them.

Right now our home church, Kollupitiya Methodist, is closed off by the security forces, and no one is allowed to bring a vehicle in. Most churches are uncertain about conducting worship next Sunday. Muslim leaders have today appealed to the churches to not cancel worship services; that Muslim men will come to stand around the churches to offer protection. There is genuine mutual goodwill between the leaders of the two faiths which we must certainly seize upon if this violence and brutalization is to be stemmed.

In this light it was truly inspirational to listen to the speech made by Abraham Sumanthiran yesterday in Parliament. Sumanthiran is one of my dear friends; a strong Christian and former Vice President of the Methodist Church. I will attach the text of his speech to this correspondence. His speech was followed by that of Rauf Hakeem, the leader of the Muslim Congress (the main Muslim political party). You can find it here (I trust it’s the right link. YouTube is barred, so I am unable to open it myself!):  https://www.facebook.com/RauffHakeemOfficial/videos/275590726728820?sfns=mo  

The death toll has now gone past 350, and many are fighting to survive. The suffering and grief is immense and felt intensely, even though this generation has seen massive loss of life through two Marxist insurrections, a 34-year civil war, and the Boxing Day Tsunami (where 40,000 died within just two hours). We are also deeply saddened by the deaths of 37 foreign nationals, many who had come to Sri Lanka to enjoy a vacation away from the cold. How sad that sunny Sri Lanka should have become for them too, an island of tears.

The Zion Church in Batticaloa is the one with which CTS has links. On the occasion of our last awards ceremony for students at our Batticaloa Extension, Pastor Roshan Mahesan and the leaders of Zion extended their hospitality and treated the graduating class and the CTS personnel to a sumptuous dinner. It is most likely that the bomber picked Zion because the nearby Catholic Church had finished the Mass. He had come right into the church and been noted by his strange behaviour. Ramesh, a CTS student who was a pastoral assistant, had taken him by the hand and walked him out wanting to find out more about his interest in the church and who might have invited him. After leading him out to the compound Ramesh had asked him to wait while he went to the church office briefly. Several motor bikes were parked nearby. It was then that the bomber detonated the device. Although this meant that many of those seated within the sanctuary were saved, there were several Sunday School children playing in the compound. This is the reason that 16 of the 27 who died instantly were kids. Ramesh also died. Two woman students, Rebecca and Vathani, were badly injured. Rebecca is critical. BBC covered Ramesh’s story. You can see it here:
https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-48033102/sri-lanka-attacks-how-one-churchgoer-saved-lives  

Nitharshan Prabha is a CTS student and a Sunday School teacher at Zion. He has this amazing testimony:

During Sunday School he had talked to the children about the importance of repentance and receiving Jesus as Lord. Because a recent vehicle accident had claimed the lives of six Zion Church members, he had referred to that event and challenged the children asking them if they would be willing to even die for Jesus. All the children had responded by putting their hands up and signalled their fresh dedication to Jesus by lighting a symbolic candle. For so many of those children it would be their final act of worship (2 Timothy 6:6-8). Prabha had a narrow escape. The person next to him, the wife of a CTS alumnus, sustained critical head injuries and is in ICU.

Our social landscape appears to have transformed in an instant. Once we get over the shock, it’ll be time to roll up the proverbial sleeve and get engaged in the work cut out for the Church. We will need effective pastoral care for congregations, psycho-social support for Christian children, and a whole new way of thinking about security for Christian events and gatherings. Then there is the need for biblical teaching: to enhance our understanding of persecution and our theology of suffering; to deepen our commitment to evangelism; and to develop a Christian mind for peace-making and grace-sharing. Many have expressed their readiness to support the families of the bereaved and the injured. The churches are already working on rebuilding their damaged properties. There is an amazing resilience and solidarity that is sweeping through the wider society. Pray that it will grow.

In all things God works for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. I ought to have put Paul’s words within quotation marks and cited Romans 8:28. But having seen national scale violence, destruction and suffering from the time I was seven, I’ve learned to make those words my immediate and natural response, rather than just a scriptural quotation. What a comfort to know and feel the power of the truth of what Paul continues to say in Romans 8:28-39: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”

Thank you for praying. There is nothing more comforting than the feeling that the people of God around the world prayerfully share the pain, the passion, and the purpose of our shared calling, to be faithful to the summons of our Lord in the brief moment of history gifted to each of us wherever we are placed in God’s good earth.

Your brother in Christ,

 Ivor

Ivor Poobalan PhD

Principal

Colombo Theological Seminary

Sri Lanka

Christ is Risen!

There was an interesting article in the most recent issue of the Biblical Archeology Review (March/April 2019) titled Resurrecting Easter by John and Sarah Crossan. The article contained early depictions of the resurrection of Jesus and tried to maintain that the Eastern Church’s (Byzantine) emphasis on the universal impact of the resurrection was more in line with the New Testament understanding than the Western Church (Rome) and its emphasis on the individual resurrection of Jesus.

I’m not sure I agree with the either/or-ness of the authors’ conclusion. I tend to think the New Testament teaches both. But I really appreciated some of the early artistic expressions of the resurrection that were presented in the article and what can be learned from them about the faith of earlier believers.

An ivory panel from a casket dated 420-430 AD depicting 4 disciples surrounding The Risen Jesus, one of which is Thomas who is reaching his finger to touch Jesus. 
Another panel from the same casket detailing female disciples visiting the tomb and finding it empty with the guards like dead men.
A fresco (on left; the drawing on the right clarifies the damaged portions of the painting). The fresco is found in Rome’s Santa Maria Antiqua Church and is dated to 705-707 AD. Notice Jesus rising from the dead, stepping on the head of Hades (death personified), and pulling Adam and Eve from their grave while Hades is trying unsuccessfully to push Adam back down into the grave.

These expressions show that the Christian faith has always been built upon the foundation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and on the hope that because He lives, so shall we! These expressions also demonstrate that we are connected by the same hope to those who have gone before us, who are now asleep in Jesus.

Thus, whether our bodies are young or old, healthy or diseased, full of life or mouldering in the ground, we believe that death has been swallowed up in victory! And at the last trumpet’s blast, “we will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed” (1 Cor 15:52)

Christ is Risen!

Χριστός ἀνέστη!

Христос воскрес!

المسيح قام! حقا قام! 

그리스도 부활하셨네! 참으로 부활하셨네!

¡Cristo resucitó!

Hard Questions: God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

How can God be completely Sovereign over human events (a predetermined plan, exercising control over people and situations) and yet humans be considered free and responsible moral agents? Are we but pawns in God’s Cosmic Game? On the other hand, might there exist contingencies outside of God’s control—namely, our “free will,” which can trump his sovereignty?

Who of us has not been confused by the arguments and apparent inconsistencies raised by representatives of one side or the other?  Some (Open Theists) try to find a middle ground by saying that God knows some future events and will bring them to pass according to his predestined will, but other events he leaves up to the individuals to whom he has given the ability to choose.

When we examine the Bible, however, we never find an attempt to arrive at a solution that pits human freedom against divine sovereignty or creates a hybrid of the two (as in Islam). Rather, we see that the Scripture treats the issue as mystery raither than a dilemma; holding both elements as true at the same time. Thus God’s sovereignty does not destroy our freedom, but mysteriously works together with it and through it to accomplish his just and righteous purposes in this world.

1 Kings 12 is a very strategic chapter about the division of Solomon’s kingdom due to the unwise actions of his son Rehoboam. The people came to Rehoboam and asked that he lighten to load of taxation and forced labor that Solomon had demanded to run his kingdom. If he agreed to this, they said they would serve him as their king. Thus, as a free moral agent (and not a pawn), Rehoboam sought counsel from two groups of advisors (old and young) and decided to go with the harsher response to the people suggested by the young guys.

Look at verse 14, 15: …he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I wil add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” So the king (Rehoboam) did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which he spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

The Scripture writer states that even though Rehoboam was a free moral agent and made an unforced decision that proceeded from his own character, the Lord had already sovereignly planned to divide the kingdom by giving the 10 Northern tribes to a usurper named Jeroboam. This is just one example of how Scripture deals with God’s sovereignty and human responsibility without making them crash into each other and produce confusion. I do not understand how that happens but that is how it is presented.

Another example is found in the New Testament. During the Last Supper (Luke 22:14-23), Jesus said “But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”

Once again, there is a clear reference to the pre-determined plan of God to send Jesus to the Cross in order to accomplish our salvation, but there is also a clear warning of judgment upon the man who will betray Jesus. There is no indication that Judas was a pawn in a game that God was playing. There is no warrant for having Judas respond, as he does in the 1970 rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, “I’ve been used…You knew it all the time…God…I’ll never know why you used me for your crime.” No, there is nothing in the Scripture that would warrant this perspective or indicate that Judas was anything but a free moral agent held responsible for his own choices. And yet what he did, God used to accomplish his plan of salvation for the world. Again, I do not understand it but that is how it is presented.

Thus, we must hold both of these concepts (God’s sovereignty and human freedom) together without trying to figure out the middle ground between them. It is like the Olympic gymnast on the parallel bars. Once in a while, the gymnast will work on one bar and then he will work on the other, but most of the routine will be worked using both bars at the same time – because there is nothing in the middle. So remember this visual;  hold fast to the bar of God’s sovereignty and just as tightly to the bar of human responsibility at the same time because there is nothing in the middle.

J.I. Packer, in a classic that should be in your library, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, uses the word antinomy to describe a helpful way of thinking about this apparent discrepancy. He defines antinomy as “an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths….which exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable….each rest(ing) on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other.”

Let us, therefore, give up our either/or efforts to reconcile these biblical realities into a rational system in order to escape the tension of holding them together. Let us live our lives freely, responsibly, and humbly before a Sovereign God of mercy and grace, recognizing that He “moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm. Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs and works his sov’reign will. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.  Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for his grace. Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” (William Cowper, 1773)

DO YOU HAVE A DIFFICULT BIBLICAL OR SPIRITUAL QUESTION? SEND IT TO ME IN THE COMMENT SECTION OF MY BLOG AND LET ME INTERACT WITH IT.