Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Conversations with a Very Religious Companion

I had an aisle seat; so I was waiting for the other two passengers in my row before I buckle up and have a nap. I haven’t slept the whole night thanks for this red-eye flight. A young man and his wife walks towards my row; it seems they are going to be my co-passengers for the three hour flight in economy class. He was about 27 with a thin but medium long moustache and a cap that betrayed his religious identity. His religious identity was clear from the way he and his wife dressed. His wife wore a long black robe. Only her eyes were visible through a slit on that black gown. 
I looked away as I made way for them to get to their seats. The young man let his wife go to her window seat and then turned to me. "Uncle, how are you!” the young man asked me in a very friendly tone. That woke me up and I made an eye contact with him; his friendly smile conquered me.
I wanted to sleep, but he won’t let me. He kept talking always punctuating it with this respectful "uncle.” I managed to have a nap but when I woke up he started massaging my right arm though I politely protested. He claimed that he was trained by his uncle to massage. However, I enjoyed the soothing effects of the massage and I let him; I badly needed it though. He then massaged my arms, my head, shoulders as I listened to him.

He is an engineer, studied in the UK. When he realized that I too am a UK alumnus he was excited. His wife had all her education in the Madrassa and never been to college. She has done eight years studying the Holy Quran, the Hadit, Shariya and so on. She is in fact qualified to be a teacher in a Madrassa.

Our conversation meandered through various subjects into the topic of a good moral life. It all started as I quizzed him on Islamic banking, a subject that I am keen to learn. That conversation made me realize that in all religions there are people who would like to live upright lives. Its true that religions create in their followers a quest for ethical lives.

He told me how one can avoid lying. "When someone bargain with you” he said, "if you are a merchant, you don’t have to lie.” For example, you don’t have to say that you got it for a certain price, and can’t sell it less than that. It could be a lie to convince the buyer. Instead, an ethical merchant just need to say that it is the lowest price that he can sell. No explanations needed.Further explanations may require lies!

He had some useful tips on overcoming jealousy too. We often are jealous of people’s achievements, that’s human. However, if we can bless the person who has made an achievement, we can overcome jealousy. For example, if your neighbour buys a new car or had a salary hike just bless him and you can overcome jealousy. That too was a very useful tip!

Positive mind-set is very important. So my friend says "masha allah” ("God has willed it”) whenever he see someone doing some good work. When we see someone sweeping the street, washing the car or helping a blind person cross the road, whisper "masha allah” in order that such good works will prosper and then obviously the whole world will be filled with such good works. I liked it also. It is a very creative way of having a positive outlook on life around us.

I was a keen listener so far. It was my turn to talk. I have learned a lot from him and I also praise God that there are many in the world who like to live upright lives pleasing God. I told him I strive to produce the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit as a believing Christian. I struggle to love, to be patient, to be kind and so on. I told him I struggle to rejoice in the success of others and long to see a world full of happiness, good works, zero corruption, etc. "I do it” I told him, "slightly differently.” I may not use the expression "masha allah” because it is foreign to me. He was so pleased to find another person with a mind-set similar to his.

"However, AB,” I said (AB being the initials of his name), "I am trying to do my best and I know that I am not perfect.” Sometimes, the success of my friend is of such magnitude that it takes me a few days to overcome my jealousy and tame myself to bless him. I bypass so many people who do good works and forget to bless them. When I stand before my Creator one day (as all of us will) what guarantee is there that I will be admitted to Paradise? How do I know that while on earth I had met His criteria of righteousness? "Dear AB, this question has been bothering me!” I told him sincerely. "I realized that I cannot live a life pleasing God by my own strength. I needed help.”

"However, I found help,” I told him, "in whom you call Prophet Jesus.” "He was willing to help me because I consider him more than a prophet.” He is my saviour as he has condoned all my sins so far. He is my righteousness because I have put my trust in him. He is my model for ethical life. However, whenever I stumble and fail, I am sure he will come to help me. I am not living on my own strength but by his grace. I am sure, when I stand before my Creator one day, he will say to me "well done my son!” "You have tried to live according to my example and what I have revealed in the Word of God.” Jesus will tell me that day, "You have some failings but since you have put your trust in me and depended on my grace than your strength I ignore your failings.”

AB was very keen and attentive, he was all ears. He has found another person like him, trying to live a life that pleases God. But I hope he understood that my way of pleasing God is different from his. I struggle to please God because of the weakness of my flesh. But I live with the confidence that my saviour will make up what I lack since I trust in him. The trust in Jesus that is the difference between us.

Then the captain announced that the plane is going to begin its descend to Kuala Lumpur. Our conversation has to be wound up. But I am so pleased and thankful to God that in his plan he gave AB and me, two like minded people to raise to a new level in our thinking and challenges for life. That was indeed a divine appointment.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

God's people and Good people

Yesterday was a great day in my life! I had a big problem to sort out; but it was great opportunity to learn something directly from God.
The church I pastor had been worshiping in a hotel room for the last three years. After a wonderful service last Sunday, as I walked out of the "church”, the manager of the hotel called me aside to say that we have to move out. That means I will have to find a new place for next Sunday.
So, I started the hunt for places. Called up real-estate agents, sent text-messages to church members to pray and called leaders together to pray.
I started with a Parsi lady who runs a small nursery school from her mother’s cottage. Though she gave me an appointment at 5:00 pm I could not keep it since I was with a property dealer who was showing me places around. She waited for me till 6.00pm and got on with her other evening engagements. However, when I called her up again to reschedule my appointment, she was extremely kind to discuss the matter over the phone. She even called her mom on phone to persuade her to rent the place for us for Sunday mornings but failed. Her aged Mom (about 80 years) cannot have a group of people singing songs on Sunday morning till 1.00 pm; Sunday is her only quiet day. All the other days they have the small kids screaming and running all over the place. I understand. However, this wonderful lady, who is not a Christian but a Parsi was so concerned when I told her I have no place for church next Sunday. She thought for a moment and offered me her cottage! She added that it will be free of cost until I find a new place! She don’t want the church to be without a place to meet even for a Sunday. A Parsi, offering her cottage free of cost for Christian worship? Yes, there are lots of good people who fear the Lord outside the church. That was a new discovery.
My next stop was back to the hotel manager to plead again. I need it for another four-five weeks which will give me some time to find a new place and prepare the flock for a move. So, I walked in to the hotel. The staff who noticed me stood up respectfully, offered me a seat. The managers walked in and offered tea. I was not in a mood for tea. But one of them insisted, "You should have something!” So, I surrendered my lack of appetite before his kind hospitality. I told him why I need it for another four-five weeks. He listened carefully. They have done some Vastu and Reiki investigations on the building and found out that the place badly need renovation. They need to get it done before the IPL season begins in the first week of April, it is already March. The architect is going to pull down the fixtures and start the work next Saturday in order to meet his deadlines. But one of the managers added, "but we need the positive power of your prayers too for our business. We don’t want you to go away, we need your prayers in this building.”
So, he need to make sure the "positive powers" of my church’s prayer every Sunday in his building. So, discussion proceeded along those lines. So, we need to work out how that happens and they came up with a plan. In case the architect pulls down the hall in these four weeks time, they will get the basement ready for our service. If that is the case, then the "positive power" of my church’s prayers will go up and bless the building. Sure, we will have the building for service. I dont’ believe in the "positive power" of prayers, I don’t believe in Reiki and Vastu. All these are non-sense to me! However, I like the people who think that Christian prayers can do them some good and would like to keep some praying Christians around them! So, yesterday God worked for us and sorted out part of our problem. Yes, there are lot of people who are vulnerable to God outside the Church.
This is the lesson that Jonah had to learn in the hard way. For Jonah people of Nineveh are the most wicked ones. They should perish. In fact the whole world, the pagans who don’t know the true God should perish, that’s what Jonah believed. So, he ran away from an assignment to preach in Nineveh. He didn’t want them to repent and be saved.
So, he got in to a ship that was to sail in the opposite direction. But God won’t let him go and followed him in the sea too. The severe storm threatens the ship. The sailors threw their wares out in to the sea to make it light in an attempt to save their ship and their lives. Now, through casting lots, they found out that all these are because of one man—a disobedient prophet on board. Jonah was cool when he suggested that he be thrown overboard to the Mediterranean sea where hungry sharks roam. However, the sailors won’t. The pagan sailors has such a respect for human life, they would like to keep an Israelite though he may be the cause of all their woes. He had already told them that he worships the Lord who made heaven and earth. So, they have such great fear of this God whom they don’t know but who, according to this passenger is in charge of the sea! He had to insist and they had no other choice than get rid of this dangerous cargo which has come to them in the form of the disobedient prophet. Finally, they prayed, asked God’s forgiveness before tossing this man in to the sea! Pagans who fear the Lord and who are integral part of God’s plan, that’s a new lesson.
Now, the big fish with Jonah in his belly is speeding in the opposite direction of the ship towards Nineveh. It has an urgent commission. It has a precious cargo in its belly. It has to throw up this rebel prophet on the shores of the city of Nineveh before the digestive fluids dissolve him in his belly! He has to be in one piece! The fish cannot be as disobedient as the man of God is.
Now, in Nineveh, Noah preached his half-hearted sermon, in a "here it is, take it if you want” attitude. But the response to the one-line sermon was great! The pagans walked up to the altar in large numbers even before he gave the altar call. In fact, he was not planning one. Jonah could not believe his eyes! Even before he started playing "Just as I am without one plea, O lamb of God I come!”, there is a long queue, Usually he had to play it twice and repeat the altar call two or three times, keep telling people that all should have their eyes closed, use all sorts of gimmicks for the first person to get up and walk toward the altar. Then there will be a trickle of three to five people who line up before the pulpit. Now, here comes the entire city of Nineveh in tears beating their chests in repentance; men, women, youth, children, babies in their mothers hands, pets and even cattle following them to fast and ask God’s forgiveness. Jonah is stunned! This sort of things hasn’t happened in his crusades in Joppa or even in Jerusalem, in God’s own land! This pagan city is responding in a way that he never expected.
Oh, yes there are lots of people outside the Church who are vulnerable to God. I am reminded of what Woody Allen said, "more and more people are leaving the Church and getting closer to God!”

Burning Bushes

'And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning,...