THE CHANGED FACE OF THE MINISTER OF GOD!

Gone are the days when a man of God would be identified by a trademark cloth bag, white veshti jiba (sarong and kurtha) and Hawaii chappals. Today’s man of God is a tech- savvy, ipod-toting, laptop-wielding and smartly dressed post-modern phenomenon!

In the past, the man of God used to be, at best, a high school graduate and articulate just in his own mother tongue. Today, he is atleast a college undergrad or even a post-grad, fluent in probably two or even three languages not his mother tongue. Most often, this suave creature would be more expressive in English than in his own mother tongue!

Men of God in the past would at the most, be able to play a tambourine or thump a drum with dexterity more than skill and would sing in either a guttural voice or a flat monotone! Today’s urbane individual is able to play atleast a guitar, (many are experts in more than one instrument), sing extremely well and would even be able to harmonize in different parts!

The disparity between these two, the golden oldie and the erudite youth of the day, is so obviously glaring that many Christians are in a dilemma as to whom they should model should accept, follow, and emulate! A whole generation is struggling to understand and come to terms with this change and correlate it with the known past. The fact that the Indian representation of godliness and holiness is the saffron-clad sadhu, who lives apart and in isolation from worldly pursuits, only complicates the issue. So the question uppermost in people’s mind is: With what is true holiness and godliness associated?

To answer this question, one needs to reach back to the scriptures to understand and come to terms with this paradigm change, in the light of another epoch-changing personality – the Lord Jesus Christ. It is significant to note that Jesus was incarnated in the form of sinful flesh, in the form of the very man He created. Why? Simply because that was His target group! 

He first came to His own, the Jews and so “was made like unto His brethren in all things”. He could not have come as an angel, for then He would be apart from and different from them and so would be unable to tell them “take up your cross and follow me”! He was so like those He came to save that a king had to kill all the babies born around that time and a kiss had to be given to identify Him as the one to be tried!

Computing and extending this analogy to the present, it is obvious that to be contextual, the man of God needs to be incarnated or made like to his brethren of the day! The target group of the day is the smart techie, who commutes between countries as easily as if he is commuting between cities! The target audience of the day is so cosmopolitan that bumping across different nationalities has become a commonplace occurrence the result of globalization. In such a scenario, it is not a choice, but a necessity for the man of God to evolve to the present form.

This, however, does not imply that his value system should evolve or even change, for Jesus Christ, our example, showed us the balance between human incarnation and divine absoluteness – to be wholly human and yet satisfy the divine standards of morality, holiness and godliness. Thus, the core or the internal frame of reference of the man of God is still this: Be ye holy even as I am holy. 

However, the peripheral issues can and should change – issues that do not bear on the aspects of his life that must conform to the divine model. This is the continuity versus discontinuity principle – Codes or standards must be a continuum but non-essentials can be, must be and should be discontinued. It is in this whole sphere of paradoxical understanding, viz. what must be continued and what should be discontinued, that  generation gaps occur and divide the old and the new, each stuck in their own time frame.

How does one bridge this gap and draw an understanding between the old and the new? The one bridge that would span these two time lines would be the growth of knowledge and understanding of the times. For example, in the Indian panorama, in the past when a man/ family accepted Christ, they were ostracized by their near and dear, besides being ostracized by the community. As such, they were forced to adopt a very minimal and simplistic way of life, often being denied even the basic amenities of life. 

Take for instance their clothes. For men it would be the ubiquitous jiba made out of a cheap, rough, white material. The local tailor denying them patronage, they were forced to use a garment with just a straight cut and holes for arms and head, ideal indeed for hand stitch! Thus, a practical, pragmatic, down-to-earth simplicity, born of necessity and convenience rather than holiness!

The modern day scenario speaks of shopping centers and malls overflowing with tailored–to-fit clothes, with anything available to anyone and customer service depending only on availability of cash. As such, it is ludicrous to even think of adopting white clothes on the behest of holiness, given the pollution levels and the cost of cleansing white clothes! It is ridiculous to invest in floor-sweeping, pristine white clothes that will need meticulous washing in a city where even daily water is rationed!

The core values in any time frame should relate to simplicity that suits the situation and therefore, investing in a pair of jeans that wears well with time, mixed and matched with a number of shirts would be a better option for someone subjected to the plagues of modern world! Unless called to live like John the Baptist, i.e. to make a statement with his lifestyle, the man of God would have to become a cultural chameleon, changing color with the times, in every way! 

Leaving the core values of simplicity for a sophistication that costs more to sustain is at best both ridiculous and unholy for its waste! What sense does it make to boast of not wearing jewels while wearing a watch with a gold bracelet! How can it be simplicity to wear a pure white silk outfit as against a cheaper colored one! How can it be wrong when one who shepherds literally thousands, uses an air-conditioned, fuel-efficient car that helps him conserve his strength, energy and time? That’s not luxury; its not even common sense; its just smart sense! When what is feasible in one context, becomes a tradition in another that blinds to the truths of simplicity, contextuality and convenience, it is foreign fire on the altar!

Why is then there a reluctance to change or adopt such a changing lifestyle? Just that change is traumatic for anyone and change is fearsome when compounded with culture, politics and ignorance. Culture because here in context of India, the concept of spirituality is related more to the outward and rituals; politics because Indians are highly conscious of social opinion; and ignorance because Indian mentality just accepts tradition better than the rigors of seeking for the truth for oneself.

A man of God needs to plunge himself into the cauldron of humanity, willing to be spoiled outwardly in the process, yet impacting and changing those around him with his inward purity. He is the salt of the earth that disappears into the culture round him yet bringing the taste of true life to a tired and weary world. The need of the hour then is not asceticism in isolation but inward separation and consecration to the Lord. 

Holiness and godliness are, therefore, to be seen not in not being like the people of the world outwardly but inwardly! It is seen in the maturity that weighs everything in the light of scripture and identifies the core principles of simplicity. It is seen in the man of God who learns to filter out the essentials from the non-essentials, who has enough savoir-faire to identify the continuity-discontinuity principle and who is flexible enough to move with the winds of change.

He is like the rock in his principles yet humble as a reed to bend and bow with the storms of changing life.  He is the man who knows he needs to be “all things to all men that somehow a few may be won to Christ”! In short, he is like his Master, who overturned the tables of and on religiosity, a thorn in the flesh of traditions, but who gave His life even for those He offended!

*Pic courtesy shutterstock

CUCKOO IN MY NEST

The cuckoo bird is a species that is best known for brood parasitism – the female visits the nests of smaller birds, selects eggs that match hers in colour, then replaces the eggs of the host with those of her own, laying four or five eggs at 48 hour intervals everyone in a different  nest. The techniques used for the survival by the young cuckoo are: egg mimicry (where the cuckoo egg resembles that of the host to reduce rejection by the host); removal of one or more host eggs by the adult cuckoo (to reduce both the competition from host nestlings and the danger of recognition by the host that an egg has been added to the nest) and nest-mate ejection (in which young cuckoo heaves from the nest the host’s eggs and nestlings). The young cuckoo, being bigger than its nest mates, displaces them from the nest and becomes the sole recipient of its foster parents care. 

Astounds one, doesn’t it, to realize that a bird could be as intelligent as that; or did God create them as a warning and an example to humans to guard their nest? May be so, for in life also there are many cuckoos that we need to be aware of and beware of! 

My husband works as a HR officer in a well-known firm and is in charge of dealing with employee grievances and benefits. One of his duties is to settle the affairs of an employee who dies in harness i.e. see that the pension & other benefits reach the family members. At the juniormost worker level, most often he would be faced with two women presenting themselves to be the wife of the deceased, each vociferously demanding to be the sole recipient of the benefits! 

Why? Unknown to many, the employee would have had another marriage, and thereby another wife secreted away. Ninety percent of the time, the second wife would have all the legal documents needed to prove her claims. The real wife or the legal wife would be the one who would not have the right files and documents to prove her position. Reason being that she would trust her husband fully and blindly to provide for her, to do everything right by her and believe him as belonging solely to her, never ever dreaming that he has been cheating her on the side. 

The second one would be the smart one, making demands and ensuring that she had the right backups, fully aware that one day she would probably have to fight for her claims to his property and a portion in his inheritance, both for herself and any children she would have borne. The office would have no other go except to consider both parties, mediating and dividing the benefits between the two, since legally, the second one has the right documents to prove and assert her wifehood. A classic example of a cuckoo usurping the host from the nest!

A cuckoo could be person/persons who worm their way into the family or between husband and wife, making themselves of more importance than the husband/wife/family. It could be a job that swallows up your time; it could be money or possessions that become more important than the people in the family; it could even be a position or a reputation that could have more value than a family member or a spouse. Anything can become a cuckoo if that thing becomes of prime importance and takes the place of people especially of the family.

A woman, viz a daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, needs to be always watchful, careful and smart not to allow any cuckoo to usurp the home. This does not mean she needs to be doubtful or doubting her parents, husband, children etc but she needs to be on high alert for signs of danger. The Bible tells us to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves– it never tells us to be naïve or foolish or gullible. 

A clue as to how to be wise to prevent cuckoos in your nest is found in proverbs 31 – one aspect of a wife of noble character is that she “watches over the affairs of her household and doesn’t eat the bread of idleness” (TNIV). Another translation says: “She keeps an eye on everyone in her household, and keeps them all busy and productive”. 

The key to guarding your home, your family and your affairs from being invaded by a cuckoo is to be alert and watch over or keep an eye over everyone in your house. At no time can a woman afford to be selfish, self-centred or self-seeking if she wants to be a wise woman and build her home. At no time can you be idle nor can you allow your family to be so! Woman, you are the backbone of the house, the watchman of the family; you must be alert 24/7, irrespective of how young or how old you are! You may ask, why me; because God made you to be so and that’s His role choice for you!

As a young girl or daughter, you must be vigilant to see that your heart is guarded from developing inordinate affection for anyone outside your family, especially of the opposite sex. Women have a weakness to trust anyone who shows them a little affection; teenagers especially need to be careful when you feel that someone outside your family understands you better than your own kith and kin. It’s a dangerous age when you feel you first enemies are your household members and thereby become an easy prey to sharks on the prowl for victims. It is at such times that you could become entangled in drugs, sex and prostitution because you have become entangled in a web of deceit. The best way to guard yourself, teenagers, is to love, respect your family and keep them informed of all your things. They are your safety net; if your family also cannot be trusted, find a trustworthy older woman in church to oversee you. A cardinal rule: NEVER CONFIDE IN SOMEONE OF THE OPPOSITE SEX!

As a wife, be alert to the needs, moods and upheavals in your husband’s life. Watch over his health, his dreams and aspirations, his growth and take care to be there for him. Learn to be his best friend, the one he turns to when he is upset; do not push him away with your nagging or your quarrels. I still remember a time when I was very puzzled by my husband’s behaviour every morning, just before he would leave for work. Normally an equable person, (a contrast to me!), he would become visibly agitated and tense and quarrelsome every morning. At a loss to this change in him, I took time, late one night, to slowly draw him out to talk and found the reason for his irritability: One of the secretaries in the office, who was assigned to him to type out all the official documents related to his portion of the work, had talked him and other officers to allow her to leave early, as she was pregnant. Being sympathetic of her condition and being considerate of her, they would also see to it that they would all finish their work so that she would be able to type everything out and go home early!

This put a strain on all of them, especially my husband who would cut short his lunch hour to hurry and finish his work. This lack of rest and the hurry burry of having to finish early made him lose his health and thus his irritation. When I knew this, I was rightly indignant and pointed out that for a woman, pregnancy is part of her life and not a disease. It is to be taken in the stride of life and doesn’t need excessive mollycoddling. Sure if she was sick, it was okay to accommodate her for a day or so; but to do so for all her term was not acceptable. She was sponging off on the goodness of the men of the office and had become a cuckoo in our relationship with one another – he was more concerned of hurting her rather than of hurting me! I put my foot down and insisted that he become reconciled to the fact that it is expected of her to remain until closing time – she is paid for it! Thereafter his irritation vanished and everything was right with us! Just a case of being alert to a cuckoo situation!

Remember prevention is better than cure and that it’s better to be careful than to weep later. Many a wife has lost her husband to unscrupulous women and other relationships because she was not aware of nor noticed the changes in her husband. It need not be a woman who may lead a husband astray – a wrong friendship can entangle him in unnecessary financial deals, debts etc.

It goes without saying that a mother has to have eyes all around to watch over her kids – two will not suffice! At every stage in life a mother must be aware of the needs and the silent or unspoken aches of her children, especially in their teenage years. Mother, beware if your teenager or collegegoer talks secretively on the phone, or walks out of the room to speak on the mobile. Be careful if they chose isolation over being part of the family, if they seem dreamy and in a world of their own – it means there is something in the offing. Do not get excited or excessively emotional and tear them apart but just be on the lookout. Go often to their school, college to look to their growth, attend every parent teacher meeting, get involved with their activities, invite their friends over and be a friend to them. You must be the one to teach your child the intricacies of life; be so open that they share their intimate things with you. They should be able to learn from you and not others – in short be their friend and defender.

As a grandmother give love to grandchildren and do not try to be their mother. Never put down their parents before them, but back their parents up when they discipline their children. Be the one your grandkids love to run to when they feel their parents do not understand them; pet them and teach them, especially godly things. I still remember my grandparents for the stories they used to tell and snacks they would surreptitiously give me which my parents would not! 

Not only does a woman need to be alert and keep an eye on her household, she needs to keep a watchful eye over herself too! In this age where women work outside the home, we must be extra careful not to get emotionally entangled with anyone. Do not allow the thought or feeling that a particular person in your office understands you more than your husband/parents/family. When you compare another person to your husband, you will feel the other person is better for all your husband’s weaknesses are exposed to you. You have seen the other person only in the office and do not know him intimately and so feel he is better. GUARD YOUR HEART and keep everyone at one arm distance from your heart. No other person should know your heart except your husband; you are a closed book to everyone else. Never share your heart’s secrets with other men; with women it’s okay but be judicious to prevent gossip!

Even in ministry, be careful not to be close to other men in the ministry. Your prayer partner should be somebody of the same sex and never move closely with anyone, even a pastor! A pastor is also human and so be careful not to imply anything that you don’t want to. Many a minister’s ministry has been shattered because of close counselling of a woman parishioner that led to stepping beyond limits. For counsel, always seek women leaders, elders and pastors or a pastoral couple. Many a woman minister has compared her husband to another minister or co-worker in the ministry with disastrous results. Not only will you hurt yourself and your family, but you will drag God’s name into the mud.

Woman, do not be a cuckoo nor allow a cuckoo to usurp your nest. Be sober, be watchful and be a blessing!

*Pic courtesy unsplash.com