Thursday, March 12, 2015

Religious Violence—Laying down Lives not Taking Lives

Television and newspapers has been very disturbing these days. To add to our woe we have multiple choices of media that update us on the disturbing news happenign all over the world. The slaughter of Egyptian Christians by ISIS in Libya and many reenacted videos telling the real stories of individuals and communities who are masacred by the Islamic fundamentalists belong to this list. The story of a village pastor who was abducted and killed by some Hindu groups in India recently came as a shock. Violence in the name of religion is on the rise.
I realized that many times I don’t pause to ask what is involved until I saw a reenacted video of what a family in Syria went through. If I didn’t have that video narrating what that family went through their story would have been merely a newspaper headline for me. The video portrayed the struggles that the family went through when they realized that the militants were approaching and they will be their targets soon! They realized that the militants will demand that they accept Islam and they will be tempted to deny Jesus to save their lives. They realized that God demands their lives as a sacrifice for the sake of Christ. Finally, the day came and right in front of the wife and the two kids the husband was shot dead.
The video made me realize one thing—there is more than a mere headline to what is going on in the lives of my brothers and sisters who are at the line of fire for Christ. Their story is more than a few pictures that flashes across my TV screen. It also told me that I need to explore the depth of their struggles in order to pray for them.
This also takes my thoughts in another direction. Why should anyone be killed in the name of religion? Why should those who have a different faith than my own be killed?
Jesus’ instructions to his disciples as he sent them out to preach has to be pondered on. Jesus said:
 As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. (Matt 10:12-14 ESV).
Jesus did not anticipate that all those who hear the Gospel is going to accept it. A lot of people are likely to reject what his disciples preach. However, the disciples are not supposed to force it on them. Preach the gospel in a convincing and acceptable way but if it is rejected move on shaking the dust on your feet. Shaking dust on ones feet was a way of saying that I am not responsible for the consequences but you are. That is all.
At times the response will not be just denial of the message but the messenger may face persecution. Not just a feeling of rejection but physical harassment to the point of death. Jesus advised them not to worry about their defense before courts of law when they are arrested and charged. Sometimes they were charged with treason, sometimes for blaspemy, sometimes they were accused of disturbing peace and order and the list may go on. Jesus assured them that they didn’t have to worry about their defense, they will have the help of the Holy Spirit right on time. Jesus said:
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matt 10:16-20 ESV).
Jesus knew that if they were anxious about their defenses they will be tempted to invent lies, find false evidences to get off the noose and in the process of doing these lose God’s favour in their lives. He assured divine help in such times.
Preaching the gospel may lead to physical harassment and even death. Way of Christ is not an easy road to prosperity and success but it is costly. However, God challenges us to embrace it fully. To follow the Master to the cross. Jesus encouraged his disciples not to be worried about death at the hands of their enemies.
 I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5 ESV).
The Book of Hebrews challenged its readers to lay down their lives.
 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:4 ESV).
There could be point in the life of the followers of Christ, which is ‘shedding’ one’s own blood. There is no place in the Bible for shedding other’s blood to protect or to propogate our faith. Bible teaches us to lay down our lives for the sake of our faith but not to take the life of others. That is where the uniqueness of the way of Christ is. It gives life and never takes life.

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,...