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!

Think before you make a promise…

Jephthah's Vow I am reading through the book of Judges and once again ran across the account of Jephthah (ch. 10, 11), which has often been misunderstood. I am reposting an updated version of something I wrote several years ago to help clarify this fascinating story.

Jephthah lived in the area of Israel called Gilead. Though he grew up in a large and important family, Jephthah was never accepted. This wasn’t something he imagined; his rejection was very real. You see, he was born as the result of his father’s sin. His mother was a prostitute and Jephthah was such an embarrassment to his family that they disowned him. In fact, he was considered such a misfit that the entire town rejected him.

He ran away to a barren land and started hanging around with other rejects. They actually became a gang and made Jephthah their leader, and they probably made their living by robbing traders and fighting as mercenaries.

In those days Israel was made up of a loose confederation of tribes with no central government or army. When attacked or abused by a more powerful nation-state, God would raise up a leader (Judge) who would be the means of rescue and protection. Gilead’s nemesis was the Ammonite nation just across its boarder to the east, which had just declared war on Israel.

The Elders of Gilead were desperate and so they sent a request that Jephthah and his little army come and help them. “Why do you come running to me after you didn’t lift a finger to help when I got kicked out of my family?” Jephthah said. “OK, we screwed up. We are sorry that we didn’t do the right thing. Hey, we’re eating humble pie here by asking you to come and help us,” the Elders replied. Jephthah agreed on condition that they take him back into the community and allow him to lead the entire army against the Ammonites. They agreed.

This was Jephthah’s chance to start over and he grabbed it. He moved his family back to his home town and was thankful to God for the opportunity to regain his honor and establish a heritage for himself when his beloved daughter (his only child) was old enough to marry and bear him sons.

Like a wise leader, he negotiated with the Ammonites trying to clear up some historical baggage between them and Israel. However, the Ammonite king was hell-bent on revenge and nixed the peace negotiations. He basically said what we hear from a lot of politicians, “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Jephthah had no other recourse except the sword. He gathered his troops and prepared to march toward the enemy. Before he left, he made a vow to the Lord that “if you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph will be the Lord’s or/and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:31).

This was not a bargain, but a vow of gratitude and devotion. Leviticus 27 describes this kind of vow in detail. There was a redemption factor built into most vows so that one could buy back a vowed item by paying a certain value set by the priest. However, if someone dedicated another person in the family (1 Sam. 1:11), animal or family property, these could not be redeemed because they became holy (set apart) to the Lord.

So, when Jephthah returned and saw that it was his beloved daughter who first came out of his house to meet him, he was horrified. Was it because he had to kill her as a burnt offering to the Lord? Here we need to interpret Scripture by Scripture; human sacrifice was an abomination to the Lord and was forbidden because Israel was not to be like the surrounding nations (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10).

Instead, Jephthah was horrified because he had to sacrifice his only hope for a lineage that would come through the marriage of his daughter. Instead she would now live perpetually as a virgin, as one of the women who ministered to the Lord at the Tabernacle (Ex. 38:8; 1 Sam. 2:22). This is why she mourned her virginity; not because she was going to die, but because she would never have children.

The rashness of Jephthah’s vow was not because it condemned his daughter to death, but because it sacrificed her future. It also dashed his hopes; of a family he never had and a dignity that he had never experienced. “Do not be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before the Lord…It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay” (Eccles. 5:2-5).

So, think before you make a vow to the Lord! Just a thought…

What God cannot do (2)

While we believe that God is All-Powerful, we also believe that there are some things that God cannot do. That statement may come as a surprise, but skeptics and atheists alike love to propose such things, so let’s beat them to the punch.

We have already mentioned in a previous post that God is limited by things that are illogical. The questions whether God could make a rock so big that he could not lift it or make a snowball so big he could not roll it are illogical – not even logical contradictions. Why in the world would anyone (let alone God) want to do these things in the first place? Such questions remind me of the character Herod in the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He wanted to meet Jesus so he could ask him to walk across his swimming pool. And just as Herod’s interview was met with silence by Jesus, so questions like these do not merit serious consideration.

There is another more serious consideration, however, that is often used to question the All Powerfulness of God. Since most of the evil in this world comes from other humans, and if God created humanity as free moral beings, why could he not have created them free but without the ability to abuse that freedom? Another form of the question might be to ask why God allows people do such terrible things without stepping in to prevent those things from happening?

These questions are not merely exercises in intellectual gymnastics. They often come from an honest response to tragedy and pain that has been inflicted by wrong-headed or wrong-hearted people. Why did God allow this holocaust, this abuse, this injustice to take place? We are not struggling with why God created us free moral beings and not robots, but with why God allows the evil to exist that flows from the exercise of that freedom.

I think we already know the answer. If we are free in our choices, then implicit in that freedom is the ability to choose evil. CS Lewis said “…God is good; that He made all things good and for the sake of of their goodness; … one of the good things He made, namely, the free will of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil; and that creatures , availing themselves of that possibility, have become evil” (The Problem of Pain, 69).

We like the idea of being free to live and choose as we please, but then we hold God responsible when he doesn’t stop people from doing terrible things that are consequent of that freedom. What do we then expect God to do when people freely act in an evil way? Do we expect a club to turn into spaghetti, a knife into a cucumber, a bullet into a paintball before they strike and do harm? If he did these things would we really be free, and how evil would the deed have to be before he intervened? After all, shouldn’t we be allowed to live as we please just as long as we don’t hurt others?

To sum up: God cannot grant us freedom and withhold freedom at the same time; create human beings free without giving them the ability to abuse that freedom. It is a logical impossibility, much like making a surface that is both smooth and rough at the same time. (JonTal Murphy)

Someday, in God’s heavenly kingdom, we will be recreated to always freely choose to do good – just like Jesus. However, he did not create us that way originally. We were created as free moral beings with sinless natures, with the potential of using that freedom to choose good or evil. We chose evil, and our natures have become corrupted.

We can continue to argue with how God made the world, but we cannot blame him for the evil we freely do to one another. We can also marvel at how his Sovereign power can restrain evil (Job 1:12; 2:6; Rom 8:20-23); how, in his Providence, he can make good come out of evil (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28, 29); and how he dealt a fatal blow to evil through Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Cor 15:50-57; Col 2:15, 16).

But there is one more thing that God cannot do…next blog.