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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Conversion and Gharwapsi – A Closer Look

The recent hue and cry over conversion has managed to garner national attention. Conversion has become a contentious issue with re-conversions and a sudden suspicious call being given by some parties for a national debate on it and passing an anti-conversion bill all across India. Why is it such an emotive and contentious issue? Why is there so much insecurity and fear when the word conversion is mentioned?

Freedom of religion is enshrined as a fundamental right in our constitution, the right to practice, profess and propagate any religion of our choice is a fundamental right of every citizen in this country. There are specific laws in the Indian penal code against any misuse or fraudulent means or forceful conversion. Over and above this to bring a blanket ban on conversion is infringing on the individuals fundamental rights and it goes against the secular and democratic credentials of this nation. To paint all conversions happening in this country as induced and fraudulent is doing injustice to the sensibilities of the common man and dehumanizing them as without any ethics or sense to make a simple choice. Freedom of choice to eat what they want, to dress as they like and to believe in what they want to, is very basic to every civil society.

Conversion is not just limited to the externals as many think and view it, conversion is primarily an inward transformation which no human being on the earth can stop, if a person wants to believe in something and follow that truth then it is impossible for someone else to evaluate it and stop it simply because it is an inward invisible change. There might be some external elements accompanying a person’s conversion, like some rituals or practices or even a simple thing like change in their attitude or habits etc. Most of the time it is these external elements that people see and then say that a person is converted. Another fact about conversion is that no human being can make another person to convert in the actual sense of the term; if conversion is a result of human action alone then it as a false conversion. God alone can bring a genuine transformation of the heart. If a person has so called converted for benefits or for upward mobility or through force or inducement then it is not a genuine conversion.

Another important aspect is the objectivity of truth and its exclusive nature. I think you would agree with me that there cannot be differing statements on the same topic that can be true at the same time. For example; the law of gravity is true everywhere on earth and in any place at any time. It is an absolute truth. No one can say that we have the law of gravity different in Delhi than in Mumbai, we will call that ridiculous or foolish. But when it come to matters of faith many tend to become subjective and inclusive, they would start defining truth in any way they want and even claim that there are no absolute truth with regard to God, well interestingly for that statement to hold water  it has to be an absolute truth by itself otherwise it is self contradictory. When people are confronted with the truth and when they are convinced of it, they believe it and voluntarily choose to follow it, this actually is an inward change or transformation which many call as conversion.

Jesus is the only one who claimed to be God – He said, “I am the way truth and life, no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6) He is the only one who rose from the dead- the empty grave is the proof and He appeared to many after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-6) He claimed to have the power to forgive sins and He is the only one who died for the sins of the world- no one else has ever done so, “God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) and He is offering eternal and abundant life to anyone who believes in Him (John 3:16 & 10:10). If the claims that Jesus made were false and He knew it then that would make Him a blatant Liar; and if His claims were false and He didn't know it, he was sincerely deluded then that would make Him a Lunatic or a mad man. Well all of us would agree that Jesus was neither a Liar nor a Lunatic; that leaves us with only one option, what He said was true, in which case He is God Himself and one can either accept Him or reject Him as their Lord and savior. Jesus never said that He came to establish a religion or a sect. He called people to come to Him and Know Him and follow Him. His call is for an “everlasting relationship” not to a “religious conversion”. 

If someone chooses to believe this truth and is willing to follow Jesus what do you call that?  Forced conversion! Induced conversion!  Whatever you call that the truth is that thousands are coming to Him and knowing Him and finding purpose and meaning for their lives, not just in the illiterate, rural and poor tribal belts as some claim but right in the hearts of our metros- educated, high profile, elite are also making this choice to follow Him. Well as some people claim, if people have converted from other faiths through inducements, or for benefits through fraudulent means then it is good that those people as well return to the original fold ( home coming) through the same means that is now being publicized and offered by those groups. But for those who have had this genuine encounter with Jesus and have come to know Him and have experienced His unconditional love and the life transforming power, nothing can make them go back, even mighty force leave alone petty inducements, they would rather gladly lay down their lives for their master, millions of people have done so in the past and even now thousands are doing it every day in different parts of the world; history is a witness to this.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas – The Joy of Giving

One of the earliest memories of Christmas deeply etched in my memory is the Christmas celebration at my ancestral home. My grandfather would organize a big celebration on the Christmas day, starting off the day with an early church service followed by the festivities culminating in a big meal. Many of my relatives would be invited, the house would be filled with uncles, aunts and cousins running around. But the most memorable aspect of the day was that he would not forget to invite all the workers and helpers who had been involved with him in some way or the other over the years. Most of them were from the lower strata of the society, they would come as whole families, they were given gifts and new dress and were treated to a sumptuous meal. He would oversee all this with a large heart and at the end of the day he would slump into his reclining chair with a look of satisfaction and fulfillment written all over his face

Very early in my life this was ingrained in my psyche that Christmas is all about giving - God giving his only son Jesus as a gift to the whole world and the Son giving His life as a ransom for mankind’s sins. God is the greatest giver of all no one can beat that but this is the time of the year that we as mortal humans can emulate this to a certain extent and  give and be generous to people in need around us. In a world caught up in the throes of ‘getting’ and ‘receiving’, with the catch word being ‘give me more’ or ‘Yeh dil mange more’ (my heart needs more) it is difficult to be cheerful givers. Probably the first thought that comes to our mind will be, what about “my” Christmas celebration, what about my family, the new dress, the cakes and gifts for the kids etc that we are planning. No doubt, that is important and we need to enjoy the time with our families and dear ones but if the celebration is limited to only them that’s when Christmas loses its real meaning.

We are living in an “i” generation with everything coming out designed for the individual, be it iPad or iPhone or a i20 car. It is when we can elevate and liberate our thoughts from the self-centric individualistic level to being other-centric, to those who are suffering, downtrodden and underprivileged around us and be willing to reach out and meet their needs then the Joy of Christmas becomes real, it is a shared joy, the Joy of giving. Remember the good news of the birth of Jesus, the King of Kings was not first proclaimed to the rulers or in a palace to the rich but to the lowly downtrodden shepherds sleeping out in the field.  Jesus himself said in Luke 4:18, The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”.

What are your plans for this Christmas? Would you take a moment to think of someone who is in need or marginalized in the society around you?  Would you share this joy of Christmas with them? Try it out! There is no greater joy or fulfillment than the one found in generously giving and sharing what God has bountifully blessed us with, however little that might be. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Father Job

Being a good Dad- a legacy worth leaving

A shocking statement that rocked me out of my routine life was not from my boss or from a colleague or friend, but it was from my 9 yr old boy when he came up to me and said, “Papa you are always in meetings or travel or with your computer and even at home you are checking mails and you don’t have time for us”. It was a rude awakening call for me and I decided, “That is it!  I need to do something about it or I will be messing up my kid’s life forever and end-up a horrible father, I never desired to be one”.      
Recently I was playing badminton with my two boys; they were super excited that I was playing with them and spending time with them. In fact I could see the enthusiasm and spring in the younger ones stride when he came and asked me if I could play with them and I said yes and he ran home to get the rackets. I had been telling them that I will join them to play and had not been able to make it up for some time. Well, as most of the times the game ended in dispute and rising tempers due to someone loosing which was as usual patched up almost immediately. But the memorable thing for them was that I was playing with them and they were enjoying the time with their dad. Someone recently told me to make the most of it  while they are still small because once they come to their teens they would not be as excited  to “play” with their dad, they would rather prefer their friends instead. Well I don’t totally buy into that view, I am of the belief that ultimately it will depend on how close you are with your kids when they were young. 

One of the most touching stories that I have come across is of a father who had become old and was staying alone, he was constantly asking his only son who was working in the corporate field to come and visit him and spent time with him. But the son for some reason or the other was always coming up with excuses of being busy and could not make it. One day the father happened to walk into his son’s room where he stayed as a boy and was looking through his belongings and he came across a diary that his son had maintained as a teenager. He casually flipped through the pages and in many of the pages he found that the son had scribbled out on many days, “dad very busy today, no time to talk to me”, “always in meetings and travel, today also he had no time to spend with me,” but as he came to one page which was colored and marked with stars and flowers he paused. He read through what was written and tears streamed down his eyes as he read through. His son had written the date “25 of March Saturday, the greatest day of my life. I and my dad went out for fishing, I got to spend time with my dad for the whole day and we talked and joked and caught a lot of fish, unforgettable!” As he sat down there on his sons bed he only had a vague memory of that day and thoughts came flooding back of those times when he was a big successful manager with not much time for the family, always in meetings or travelling and many a time his son as a small kid had walked into his room to talk or to play with him but he had turned him away or just ignored him fully busy with work. His heart sank down at the realization that his son was doing the same thing that he had done years ago as a dad. 

As the old proverb goes, “time and opportunity lost is lost forever”. As dads how we wish if we could ever rewind and go back in time to rectify the wrongs that we had committed or the neglect that we have done with our kids.  The greatest investment in our kid’s life is “time” well spent with them in their growing up years. It is a small window of time but a crucial window that can break or make our future relationship with them and affect their personality forever. 

Another more important truth is the kind of spiritual impact you can have on your kid, the way they are going to approach and relate with their heavenly father is very much dependent on their view and relationship with their earthly father and this makes it all the more important for us as dads to take this matter seriously and give it all our attention. `                                                                            

Tips to be a good Dad - What I have seen, read, heard and trying my best to do:

1.      Intentionally set apart time in your daily schedule to spend quality time with your kids. This can be playing with them or simply listening to them or telling a story to them. I will never forget that it was my dad who taught me how to cycle, play football and badminton and those moments are etched in my memory forever.

2.      “Listen” to your kids; “actually listen” to them when they are talking to you. Make sure that you are giving them your undivided attention not looking at TV or your computer screen or doing something else and trying to listen to them, how would you like it if someone else does that to you while you are talking to them?  Make sure that while you are listening to them you are looking at them, make eye contact and if your kids are very young sometimes it is good to kneel down to their height so that they don’t have to always speak up to you. 

3.      “Express” your love to them in tangible ways, you know that you love them but how will they know unless they see it. Many of us as the “man in the house” are stingy with our emotions and feelings, we hold it back and regret later. Don’t hesitate to lavish your love on your kids, tell it to them, hug them and buy occasional gifts for them. 

4.      Be open and approachable. Some of us have grown up with dads who are strict and were not easily approachable; we would hesitate to go to him directly but would often go through our moms who will act as a liaison for us. Well we all know that this is not something healthy to perpetuate and as dads we need to be their best friends, this can happen only if we are open and transparent before them. Allow them to watch your life but be sure that you are a good model. 

5.      Once in a while take them out for adventure or fun activities like trekking, fishing, traveling to new places or making things together which create a lot of bonding. They will never forget those times. 

6.      Discipline them not in anger but out of your love for them and don’t forget to explain to them later the reason for the disciplining.                                   

7.      Appreciate them for who they are and also for their strengths and talents. Treat them as individuals with much value; never speak ill of them or put them down before others. Think twice before you compare them with your neighbor’s kids or their class mates. This doesn’t mean that you pamper them and give in to all their whims and fancies and spoil them. 

8.      Pray for them, pray with them and show them how they can communicate to their heavenly father and listen to Him from the word. It is a legacy worth leaving. 


Monday, November 24, 2014

Radical Leadership

A call to Radical leadership- to be a servant of all

I have seen people who are in leadership abusing the power they have been entrusted with for self aggrandizement. Power, position and money are the three things that seem to drive many of the Christian leaders today and then there is the occasional sex scandal that pulls down a well known leader. Leaders are willing to do anything to stay in power and stake their claim for position. I was in a conference recently and I saw how a well known Christian leader was manipulating the organizers to make sure that he gets the maximum mileage and exposure in that conference and to top it all he had the audacity to publicly proclaim and even went to the extent of displaying his vast influence to the audience present. It was a pretty obnoxious sight. 
I have also seen good Christian leaders who in their early days rose through the ranks through sheer hard work and commitment and once at the pinnacle of power totally forget the route they came in and tend to behave like a pampered bully out to get all the perks and privileges. You wonder, “unbelievable is that the same guy, what on earth got into him?” 

Today Christians seem to like everything “Mega”, it is mega church with superstar pastors and their cult following, they relish the status and calls it anointing and anyone who casts a word of aspersion is a blasphemer who has committed an unpardonable sin worthy of damnation. Well nothing wrong with Mega churches and the amazingly gifted pastors who lead it, till that becomes a total personality driven venture. Where is the church leading to? The so called main line churches are struggling to stay afloat and keep the flock together but still frozen frigid unwilling to budge from their traditional mindset and steadily losing sheep to the fast growing churchatainment ones. (Entertainment seems to be the rule of the game today, if the church fails to entertain it is doomed)

Well the irony is that all of them claim to follow the same master who owned nothing except the tunic He wore, a suffering servant, humble to the point of death, common to the common man, identified with the poor, sick and downtrodden and He called His servants to “follow” Him. He spoke to the 'masses' but He didn't bask in its glory, He was followed by multitudes but was not a superstar celebrity who needed a bunch of bouncers to keep the crowd at bay, He performed miracles and healed many but never publicized it for personal glory in fact many times He shied away from the public gaze.  He developed servant leaders and empowered them to take over and succeed from where He left off unlike today’s leaders who build up personal spiritual empires and their only succession plan is their progeny who will inherit these personal kingdoms. 

How far away have we come from the masters teaching and His life? We have conveniently detached Jesus’ teaching from His life. Today we have no qualms in preaching about His teaching to others and call for obedience but hold on to an entirely different model of life for ourselves and shamelessly explain it away or even justify it from some unrelated passages from the scripture.  I recently heard a Christian leader who flaunts wealth proclaim that “I am the son of a King so I will live like a prince” entirely forgetting the fact that the King was providing for this so called “Prince” from His subjects who were giving from their hard earned money to sustain this leaders extravagant lifestyle, well the sad fact was that the subjects were blissfully unaware and had no clue that they were being spiritually leeched.  

Can a Christian be a leader and yet be a servant of all? Can he lead and serve as Christ led, well that might be a tall ask but that is exactly what apostle Paul meant when he said “imitate me as I imitate Christ”.  Can a Christian truly insulate himself from the trappings of power and position and truly serve the Church as many have done and as many unknown servants of the Lord are doing now in the different corners of the world?  Today for a Christian leader the biggest fear is to be ‘unknown’, to serve in obscurity.  I have heard people say if you are not known or popular then you “lack anointing”. For some leaders  I have seen after being in a position or power for long it is hard to even imagine without it, because that has become their identity, the title defines who they are. So they cling on to it, they play dirty politics and put to risk their church and their organizations. 
What the church needs today, what the body of Christ is desperately longing for is radical leaders who are Christ centered and others focused than self focused and self absorbed. Leaders who are willing to serve, willing to give up their rights, who are open and brutally honest with themselves and with others so that the people whom they serve don’t  have to look through a well crafted facade but will clearly see humble cross-broken leaders. This does not happen overnight, this happens through painstaking process of time spent in the crucible of prayer, soaked in the word of God resulting in painful life-change and deeply touched by the Holy Spirit to see our ‘egos’ crumble and our ‘self’ depreciating and Christ increasing in prominence in our lives.  As A.W. Tozer has rightly surmised, It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” 

I close with what our master said to His disciples in Mark 9:35,  Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”