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  1. How can I love my enemies?
  2. Can I drink a little in parties?
  3. Can Christians eat what's offered to idols?
  4. Can believers watch movies?
  5. Are sports and games a waste of time?
  6. Is saluting the National Flag unscriptural?
  7. Vote for whom?
  8. Can Christians buy lottery tickets?
  9. What about Capitation Fee?
  10. Is it wrong to visit graves?
  11. Should we Indianize Christmas celebration?

1. How can I love my enemies?

Enemies for a Christian are essentially those who are the enemies of the Cross and so those who oppose the Christian witness and the preaching of the Gospel (Mt 5:44). Occasionally there could also be some who, because of their differing tastes and temperaments, would hate you for what you do and how you do it. Sometimes it become really impossible to get along with such folks. That's why the Bible admonishes, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Rom 12:18).

I have found the following guidelines helpful to improve my relationship with those who oppose, contradict or hate me—

First, meditate on God's love on them too! "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt 5:45). Each person is precious to God. Christ died for every man and woman, good or bad, so called.

Secondly, remind yourself of how patient God has been towards you! He has not given up on us though we have failed or disappointed Him so often. Because He is abundant in mercies He expects us to forgive others—not less than seven times seventy! (Mt 18:22).

Thirdly, pray for your enemies (Mt 5:44). Love grows in the soil of prayer. It always becomes easy to love or forgive someone who hates us when we start praying for that individual. Confess to God your inability to love and He will pour out His love into your heart through His Spirit and enable you to do what otherwise you cannot.

God does not allow us to curse even the devil (Jude 9). Guard your tongue lest you abuse someone. Let not bitterness ever take roots in your heart. If defiles you and others as well (Heb 12:14,15). Vengeance is the Lord's. Don't take that weapon in your hand. You will perish in that process (Mt 26:52). Look for opportunities to do some good to the one who has hurt you. You will be an overcomer (Rom 12:19-21).

"When a man's ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov 16:7).

2. Can I drink a little in parties?

Obviously you have in mind Ephesians 5:18 wherefrom one can perhaps infer that only excessive drinking is prohibited!

Let me begin with a few Bible verses about liquor. "Wine is a mocker, intoxicating drink arouses brawling and whoever is led astray by it is not wise" (Prov 20:1). "Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a snake, and stings like a viper" (Prov 23:31,32).

It's true wine is served alongwith regular meals in certain countries. But we also know where it has led to. In most of the cases it is occasional drinking that has led to addiction. Here is Paul's doctrine: "I am allowed to anything but not everything is good for me. Even though I am allowed to do anything, I must not become a slave to anything" (1 Cor 6:12; 10:23).

We are to avoid even the very form or any appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22). Beware of dangerous beginnings! First it will be just "walking" there, then it will be "standing" there a while, and finally you will be "sitting" there! (Psa 1:1).

We must be like Timothy. He abstained from wine totally, so much so Paul had to ask him add a little wine for his illness (1 Tim 5:23).

Another question can be, "Can I smoke occasionally?" The answer is the same. Don't! Every cigarette pack contains the statutory warning: Smoking is injurious to health. Smoking and drinking injure us and others as well. These are both social and spiritual evils. Steer clear of them!

3. Can Christians eat what's offered to idols?

Over 80% of Indians worship idols. Christians are hardly 3% in this country. We are constantly challenged to befriend the non-Christians, especially the Hindus who are the largest segment of our society, in order to share the message of the love of God with them. When invited they gladly join us for our birthday parties and Christmas dinners. They have no problem in eating the food we serve after offering thanksgiving prayer. But when they invite us to their festival dinners or send us pongal or sweets, we hesitate and they are offended. Relationships get strained. Some believers eat anything freely, whereas others are apprehensive. What does the Bible say about this?

Conditions similar to ours existed when the New Testament epistles were written. Eating food offered to idols was one of the hot issues apostle Paul addressed while writing to the young Churches. In his first Corinthian Epistle he discussed this issue at length in two chapters, 8 and 10. Read them carefully. Here is what we learn—

  • Strictly speaking, idols are "nothing" (8:4; Isa 37:19; Jer 16:20; Gal 4:8). As such any food offered to them cannot be desecrated. However, for the idol-worshipper it symbolizes something supernatural. Commenting on their point of view Paul calls idols as "demons" (10:20). This figure is in their mind. According to the idol-worshipper the food becomes sacred when offered to idols. No Christian can accept food from an idol-worshipper if it is given in this sense or with this understanding (10:20,21,27). We can politely refuse it with a smile. If they still insist, we can receive it but later quietly give it away to a foodless platform-dweller or a beggar.
  • The apostle mentions three places where food offered to idols will be served—(a) temples (b) houses (c) marketplaces. A Christian under no circumstance can join a dinner inside "an idol's temple" (8:10). This public act will dishonour Christ and discourage new Christians who have denounced idols to serve the living God. But when invited to a family dinner of an idol-worshipper we can go and eat "asking no question" (10: 27). No true friend will try to trap us like Balaam or Jezebel (Rev 2:14,20). Next comes what is sold in shops. Muslims chant a prayer before butchering animals. Hindus place sweets and savouries in front of pictures of gods and goddesses immediately after making them in restaurants or stalls. We need not bother about these things but can freely buy and "eat whatever is sold... asking no questions" because the earth and all its fullness belong to our Lord! (10:25,26). All animals and birds and plants and trees belong originally to the Lord and they are for us to enjoy because we belong to Him! Everything is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer of thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:4,5).
  • The underlying principle that Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 as well as Romans 14 is that no knowledge of the truth or liberty in Christ should be used to "wound the weak conscience" of our brothers and sisters or to "become a stumbling block" to them (1 Cor 8:9,12). While there is nothing wrong, in the absolute sense, in eating whatever is served to us, it is sin if our eating makes a brother "stumble" or "perish" (1 Cor 8:13,11). Nothing we do must offend others (1 Cor 10:24,32,33; Rom 14:14,15,21).

To summarise: Don't compromise on the truth; Don't antagonize idol-worshipping friends; Don't despise weak believers. 1 Corinthians 10:32 can be paraphrased as, "Give no offense, either to the nominal Christians or to the non-Christians or to the born-again Christians!"

4. Can believers watch movies?

A decade ago the question was, "Can Christians go to cine theatres?" The answer from adult Christians and preachers was a stern "no" and the most powerful Biblical quote was Psalm 1:1. The argument was how could God's people be seated in "the seat of the scornful?" The situation has totally changed today. You don't need to "go" to theatres to watch movies. The theatre has "come" to our living rooms. The television explosion has changed the entire scenario.

I was brought up in a home where going to cine theatres was considered an awful sin. Cinema was called "sin-ma," the mother of all sins, by our Church leaders. However, my younger brother and I used to bother mummy to let us watch atleast one film per year. She would reluctantly concede to it and give us just four annas (25 paise) for a floor ticket. When we returned home, she would narrate how she had been on her knees during those three or four hours praying with tears that our minds should not be corrupted by obscenity. As I look back I don't regret such strictness in our upbringing.

If born-again youngsters would positively decide that they would never watch any commercial and secular movie, it is still good. They will not lose anything in life. At the same time, outrightly condemning all movies as bad is not right. There are films which convey forceful messages on moral, ethical, social, political and cultural issues. Such films educate our minds and challenge our thinking. Meaningless traditions and empty rituals are shattered in these stories. A few film directors are committed to restore age-old family values and uphold time-honoured principles. The Christian movie "Joni" and secular movies like "Mayuri" inspire the invalid and the disabled not to give up. It is welcome that teachers take their students to watch such films.

In the developed nations there are organisations which publish film guides in which each new film is reviewed objectively. Depending upon the doses of violence, crime, sex, etc, these reviewers give their recommendations or otherwise for various age groups. Parents go through these notes and discuss and decide with their children whether they can watch a particular movie or not. This practice is not much in vogue in India. Therefore youngsters must be extremely cautious in their choice. If they do want this sort of entertainment, they must wait for sometime after the release of a film to gather informations to find out if the film would do them any good. Don't go by the wall-posters and TV advertisements alone. These are your formative years. Anything will grow in the virgin soil of your heart. Weeding is not easy. Go slow. Your thoughts and judgments are now emotionally charged. Discernment comes by growth and maturity (Heb 5:14).

We must also look into the aspect of priority. In these days of unprecedented academic competition, when students don't even have time for evening games, how can they waste precious hours before the TV? Working people complain of not having sufficient time for waiting before God, reading His Word and going out to witness for Him. Then where is the time for movies? Stewardship of time is a decisive factor in Christian discipleship.

The question concerning movies is one of those which cannot be given simple yes or no answers. However the overarching Biblical principle is: "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God Himself... sanctify you through and through" (1 Thess 5:21-23).

5. Are sports and games a waste of time?

This question is repeatedly asked when we work among students. Some youngsters when they get saved start spending their evenings and all leisure time in prayers, Bible study groups and such spiritual activities. A few others find it difficult to leave sports and games. In course of time the second groupists develop a guilt because they begin to wonder whether the time they spend for sports instead of the soul is a waste. Is there a Biblical answer to this question?

Though the Bible does not directly encourage sports and games, it nowhere condemns it. The knowledge of the public games of Greece and Rome provided the New Testament writers with rich source material from which to illustrate spiritual truths. Paul alluded to wrestling, boxing, running, etc. (Eph 6:12; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7; 1 Cor 9:24-27). The other apostles have also employed sports language (1 Pet 1:4; Heb 12:1,2; Js 1:12). Moses must have been a good boxer (Ex 2:11,12). He was also an expert in mountaineering. David was skilled in shooting. As a shepherd boy he must have practised catapulting (1 Sam 17:20,40,48-50).

Sports and games have many positive effects on the participants. A good sportsman is known for the discipline of his body, that is so vital to Christian life (1 Cor 9:24-27). Then there's obeying of the rules. In Christian ministry also, it is not "what" but "how" that matters (2 Tim 2:5; cf 1 Cor 3:10). Nowhere else do we learn the importance of team spirit than in games. How sadly we lack this in Christian circles! Perseverance is another character developed in the field of sports (Heb 12:1,2; Acts 20:24). Sportspersons aim for the medal. They won't settle for anything less. Because this spirit is missing in the Church, very few Christians do their "utmost for the Highest!"

Churches and ministries must motivate their young people to participate in sports and games. I always believe that a Spirit-filled doctor will be a better doctor; a Spirit-filled architect will be a better architect; so also a Spirit-filled player will be a better player. Did not Prophet Elijah run faster than the chariot of King Ahab when the hand of the Lord came on him? (1 Ki 18:44-46). Did not Evangelist Philip overtake the fast Ethiopian chariot when the Spirit propelled him? (Acts 8:29,30). It was like a cross-country race! With the favour of the Almighty God on them, Christian athletes can be "ten times better" than their non-Christian counterparts (Dan 1:20). Why not? (Rom 9:16). David boasted, "By my God I can leap over a wall" (Psa 18:29). High-jumpers and pole-vaulters, please note!

For the last many years India has not been bringing much from the Olympics. Just a bronze medal or a silver medal for our big nation has not removed the shame. Will the Indian Christian young people accept the challenge to turn away this reproach? Who else can? When Christian players testify to their faith, it has a convincing appeal to the younger generation.

How shamefully some of our top cricket players behave! Only those who are dead to covetousness and corruption can restore dignity to this game in India. Will Christians take up this challenge?

In these days of stiff academic competition, parents tend to discourage their children from all extra-curricular activities. This is bound to affect their wholesome growth. Jesus grew not only in "wisdom" but also in "stature" (Lk 2:52). If youthful energy is not channelled into profitable activities, it will flow into sinful avenues. As a student I took active part in Literature & Debate Society, National Cadet Corps, Scouts, Drama, etc. None of these things went useless in my ministerial and leadership respon-sibilities. But I was too concerned about my academic excellence to spend enough time in the playground. Until this day I have not even learnt swimming!

I advise young people to maintain a balance. There's a time to study and a time to relax; a time to pray and a time to play. Don't neglect or overdo any one thing. All the best!

6. Is saluting the National Flag unscriptural?

A controversy arose some years ago when a group of Indian Christians refused to salute the national flag. It was then cleared by the Church that the group in question was a cult and it did not represent the mainstream Christianity. However, there are some sincere Christians who keep wondering whether saluting the national flag is not amounting to idol worship.

The word "salute" simply means "to greet with respect." In India we greet one another with bowed heads or folded hands. These postures vary according to cultures. This is not worship. Apostle Peter rebuked Cornelius because the latter exceeded the level of greeting and literally "worshipped" Peter (Acts 10:25,26). What the three Hebrew young men sternly refused was the "worship" of the gold "image" set by the King (Dan 3).

Christians may not be nationalistic but they must be patriotic. The Bible has nothing to say against patriotism, which means love and dedication to one's country. Apostle Paul was proud of his Roman citizenship even though the Roman empire was pagan (Acts 22: 25-29). The Jews became homesick when they were scattered all over the world. Read Psalm 137 to understand how much a Jew loved his homeland. Jerusalem was his "chief joy" and as dear as his "right hand" (vv 5,6). Our ultimate citizenship in Heaven does not negate our present citizenship on earth. Otherwise we would need to go "out of the world!" (1 Cor 5:10). The flag represents the nation. When we salute the flag, we publicly declare our love and respect for the country.

In the Western world there's a custom of keeping the national flag inside the Church buildings. This is perfectly in order. Are not all governing authorities from God? (Rom 13:1). Why should we not hoist our national flag atop our Church steeples or inside Church compounds, atleast on the Independence Day and the Republic Day? We can have special programmes and prayers for the nation right inside the Church. This will serve as an occasion to renew our commitment to obey the laws of the nation and be faithful citizens. If we have spiritual retreats or camps during these two important days, which are public holidays, we may begin the programme with flag-hoisting, praying for the nation and singing of the national anthem.

Praise God for the organizations which organize fasting prayers on Independence Days and Republic Days in strategic cities of India to pray for a nationwide revival and evangelism. According to Paul, this must be our supreme prayer concern (1 Tim 2:1,2).

On the 15th day of August 2012 we have entered the 65th year of Indian Independence. Hallelujah! India is the most religious country in the world. This country is unique in many ways. No other nation is so diversified in its languages and cultures. Let's look at the huge population of our country as masses of potential candidates to be reached for the Kingdom of God. Mr. Emil Jebasingh of Transworld Radio rightly composed a stanza in one of his Tamil songs that Indians would fill Heaven! True our nation is full of corruption and confusion. But is there a nation free from these? Let's develop a positive attitude towards India.

Look forward to the next flag-hoisting ceremony with enthusiasm. Our national flag is simple yet attractive. To guard ourselves from the disrespect that comes from ignorance, an understanding of the symbolism would be helpful. The deep saffron colour at the top speaks of valour and sacrifice. White stands for truth, purity and simplicity. The green represents our fertile land with vast natural resources. The chakra (wheel) with 24 spokes signifies motion, progress and dynamism. As you salute the flag, rededicate yourself to these lofty values so the nation may be blessed and God glorified!

7. Vote for whom?

Every Christian must be patriotic. We can't afford to be indifferent to what's happening in the political front. Shed the "let-anyone-rule" attitude. Catch the Esther spirit—"How can I endure to see the evil that will come on my people?" (Esth 8:6).

Our first responsibility is PRAYER. There are unseen powers behind political leadership. The present crises in the country are a spiritual warfare. Apostle Paul urges us, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1 Tim 2:1,2).

Pray for all the candidates in the fray. Ask God to touch the nation's millions of voters. Make your prayers specific by focussing on the following—

Righteousness: We must have leaders who are free from corruption and selfish interests. They must be men of sincerity and integrity. This may look too ideal to expect in politics. But God's Word emphatically declares, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a shame to any people" (Prov 14:34). There's no other way.

Secularism: Our constitution provides freedom of religion, to practise and propagate one's faith. But there is a steady erosion of secular values in the Nation. It's impossible to be a Christian without obeying the Great Commission of Christ: "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them... teaching them" (Mt 28:19,20).

Uplift of the Poor: Political instability affects the Nation's economic development. The multitudes under the poverty line keep swelling. Their cry goes unheard. God blesses a government which has pity on the poor (Prov 19:17).

National Integration: Jesus said, "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand" (Mk 3:24). Instead of fighting the cranker of communalism, some politicians are actually flaming communal passion. By hook or crook they want to seize and sustain power. Animosity between the South and the North is growing. The message of Christmas is "good will toward men!" (Lk 2:14). May God give us leaders who will hold the country together. We have had enough of murder and mayhem.

Social Reforms: Our Nation is plagued by social evils like untouchability, child marriage, dowry system, sati, devadasi system and scores of others. We need leaders bold like a lion to crusade against such inhuman practices and lead people out of darkness. Leaders must not sacrifice principles for the lure of office and lucre.

These are some of the basic expectations if a nation is to prosper. Besides these, add whatever comes to your mind to the prayer list and intercede regularly before God. Organize fasting prayers. The Lord is on the Throne!

Pray for the Election Commissioner and all the officials in the election machinery. Pray against rigging, booth-capturing and such malpractices. Pray for a fair and free poll.

Prayer alone is not sufficient. Faith without works is dead. Study the election manifesto of each party. Discuss with responsible and mature elders. Avoid arguments. Don't be pressurised by anyone or carried away by the heady, extravagant and high-sounding promises of irresponsible politicians. You are an individual with rights and responsibilities. Think, pray and exercise your franchise.

8. Can Christians buy lottery tickets?

Lottery is nothing but gambling. The State-run raffles are simply official gambling. Our Governments don't have absolutes in their moral standards. One government closes the liquor shops and the next government opens them by its "honourable" ministers!

From an Editorial in Moody Monthly I read, "Gambling violates the Christian concept of providence. It's no coincidence that gamblers are notoriously superstitious. Having lost sight of the sovereignty of God, they grope for any method, no matter how dubious, to manipulate the forces of fate."

Lotteries appeal to greed. The Bible sternly warns us against get-rich-quick philosophy. "An inheritance gained hastily at the beginning will not be blessed at the end" (Prov 20:21). "A faithful man will abound with blessings, but he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished" (Prov 28:20). These statements are proved again and again in the lives of most of the lottery prize winners who have only become more miserable (1 Tim 6:9,10). But when God makes one rich, He adds no sorrow!

Beware of the beginnings! Lottery players usually begin with one or two tickets. Suppose they get a small prize of 100 or 1000 rupees, they are irresistably tempted to buy more tickets. Oh how many families are denied bread because the husbands and fathers are addicted to lottery! Money is like sea water which never quenches one's thirst but only increases it.

Lotteries make a handful of millionaries by stealing from millions. Most of the lottery players belong to the middle and lower income groups. Can we anger the God of the poor? (Prov 22:16). Lotteries are also used by the rich to turn their black money into white.

Some Christians justify lottery by saying that they would give 50% to God if they won! Beloved, God abhors unclean money. Preachers and pastors should politely refuse offerings from lottery prizes.

If you are not able to make both ends meet, seek to do some extra work to supplement your income. Streamline your budget. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Ask God for daily bread and ask Him to bless it. "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content" (1 Tim 6:6-8).

9. What about Capitation Fee?

The Supreme Court of India recently ruled that "it is not permissible in law for any educational institution to charge capitation fee as a consideration for admission to the said institution." The Bench pointed out that "the capitation fee brings to the fore a clear class basis. It enables the rich to take admissions whereas the poor has to withdraw due to financial inability. A poor student with better merit cannot get admission because he has no money whereas the rich can purchase the admission. Such a treatment is patently unreasonable, unfair and unfit." The Bench calls this "an evil practice" whatever name one might give to this type of extraction of money. Even if a few State governments may allow their self-financing colleges to collect capitation fee, Christians must take a bold stand against this "legalised bribery."

Parents who admit their sons and daughters in professional colleges by paying huge sums of money actually destroy the moral values of their children. These youngsters will grow with the worldly philosophy, "Money makes many things." But the Biblical teaching is that promotion comes from God. The anger of the God of the poor is aroused when injustice is done to the poor but meritorious students by the capitation fee system.

The capitation fee system leads to other evils. One of them is the practice of following up the examiners with "gifts" if a student has not fared well in a subject. Here again there are rates. And having spent lakhs of rupees, parents try to make it good in the marriage market through dowry. Most of the money in these transactions is black.

What is grabbed by money will have to be guarded by money only. Jehovah is a God of justice and He cannot endorse gains made by false and dishonest methods. Your son or daughter may earn a degree and secure a job. But where is "God's" blessing? Do you know God refused to include Ishmael in His redemptive line whom Abraham had brought forth by his own strength?

When the capitation fee candidates become doctors or engineers, I shudder to think of the patients they would treat and the buildings they would construct!

I come from a poor family. Though I passed my Pre-University Class in first class, I wanted to join only a Polytechnic course because my parents could not afford to send me to an Engineering College. But the Principal of the Polytechnic refused to give me an application form but urged me to apply for the Engineering degree course. I applied and the Lord granted me a seat in the Engineering College in Karaikudi. After graduation, daddy wanted me to take up a job immediately to relieve the financial burden of the family. But I had a desire to go for postgraduate studies and so I applied to three institutions of national repute: Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai; Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; and College of Engineering, Guindy, Chennai. Without any human influence, I was selected for all the three! I remembered Matthew 6:33, "All these things shall be ADDED to you." Recalling the past, I can boldly testify that the blessing in my academic career was neither by money nor by influence but by God's grace.

Parents should not think that their children have lost the best in life if they failed to secure a seat in a professional college. God has a unique plan for each of His children and that's best for them. I sincerely recommend to all parents and children to say no to the worldly ways, and give God an opportunity to show His strength on their behalf (2 Chron 16:9).

10. Is it wrong to visit graves?

Some Christians visit the graves of their dear ones on their death anniversaries or on special occasions to pay their homage. Others don't turn that side once the burial is over. To support their viewpoint they quote the words of the angels who were standing at the open tomb of Jesus, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!" (Lk 24:5,6). But I wonder why several people belonging to the second category travel all the way to Palestine to see the Empty Tomb! Atleast Mary Magdalene and others had not known that Jesus had risen. But why oh why more than 2000 years after His resurrection folks still want to visit that Tomb? There is yet another funny thing: There's more than one tomb claimed to be that of Jesus! No one knows for sure which one was really occupied by His body!

The Bible has nothing to say against visiting a tomb in memory of the dead. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter while talking about David said, "His tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29). This obviously meant that they had been maintaining the tomb of David as a memorial. Whitewashing the tombstone was an annual routine (Mt 23:27). It was an accepted Jewish custom to visit tombs with spices for the bodies (Lk 24:1). In India we take flowers or incense sticks. If it is wrong to visit a grave, why should we build a structure at all over the pit?

My daddy is buried in our native town Nazareth in southern Tamilnadu. Mummy is buried in Vellore where we live from 1971. I visit mummy's grave once or twice every year and daddy's whenever I go to Nazareth. No doubt my eyes become full when I stand before these graves, but the tears are mostly an offering of gratitude to God for what my parents had meant to me and my younger brother (Jn 11:31,35,36). I think of the values they had taught us and rededicate myself to practise them. I also pray that God would raise many such parents who would give away their firstborn for the Kingdom sake. Just like the material substance of bread and wine enables us to "remember" the Lord in a special way, visits to graves inspire us. Whenever I visit these cemeteries I also spend a few minutes before the tombs of great missionaries and notable saints who sleep there. Whenever I visit mummy's tomb, I do spend a few minutes before the tomb of that unforgettable missionary Dr. Ida Scudder (1870-1959) who founded the Christian Medical College in Vellore. Of the places I visited in England what remains fresh in my mind is the grave of John Bunyan and that of John Wesley. What an inspiration! My visit to William Carey's grave in Calcutta is always green in my mind.

There are certain things we must not do while visiting graves:oWe cannot pray for the dead. "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). There's no second chance. Baptism for the dead was a non-apostolic practice, simply quoted by Paul to make his point (1 Cor 15:29). oWe should not pray to the dead also. The Bible strongly condemns any attempt to communicate with the dead. "Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?" (Isa 8:19c). o Having sentimentality is not wrong, but ascribing sanctity to the place of burial will lead to idolatrous practices. A dead man revived when his body touched the bones of Prophet Elisha (2 Ki 13:21). But in the case of Moses the greatest of all prophets, God buried his body in a place known to none. "No one knows his grave to this day" (Dt 34:5,6,10,11). Rare incidents do not teach anything normative.

When the Church of England slammed its door against John Wesley, he preached from his father's tomb. God has used funeral sermons to break the hardest of hearts.

It was only a pagan belief that tombs were haunts for evil spirits. Both Gergesenes and Gadarenes were "Gentile" cities (Mt 8:28; Mk 5:1). One need not be afraid to visit cemeteries anytime, day or night.

11. Should we Indianize Christmas celebration?

Christianity in India is still thought to be the religion of the white man. This idea gets strengthened especially during Christmastime when our non-Christian friends observe how we celebrate the Birth of Christ.

Christ was not born in the East or the West but in the Middle East. Announcing the birth of the Son of God the Angel told the shepherds that it was good tidings of great joy to "ALL people"—not just to the Jewish or any particular community (Lk 2:10).

Britishers were not the first to bring the Gospel to India. It was Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, who came to India in the very first century with the message of Jesus Christ. Christianity is thus over 2000 years old in our country. It's a crime if we the Indian Christians still wrap the message of Christ in the Western jacket. The gospel of Christ is transcultural. Here are some tips to celebrate Christmas the Indian way.

Carol rounds is the longest prelude to Christmas. Why go to Christian homes year after year to tell them what they already know? Why not plan carols in vernaculars to non-Christian homes in the neighbourhood? Carols have degenerated to dignified begging! It has become a collection campaign. To me carol rounds is nothing more than sleepy Christians disturbing sleeping Christians. Practise songs set to Indian music. Let the words be simple and clear. Present each of the non-Christian families you visit with a Christmas-message greeting card or a New Testament.

Send Christmas cards to as many "non-Christian" friends as possible. Avoid sending cards with Western trees, leaves and scenery. For example, what's the meaning of a snow deer picture card in India? I call upon Christian artists to design Christmas cards with Indian cultural settings in mind. Instead of a candle you can draw a lampstand (kuthuvizhakku) which is more Indian. It will be appealing if the greetings can be in vernaculars.

We can bring about a change in Christmas decorations also. Instead of using casuarina or pine leaves, we can go in for mango leaves which are typically Indian. Don't tell me that mango leaves are associated with Hindu festivals. Do you know that several things associated with the Western style of Christmas celebrations have a pagan origin—like the very date of December 25, Santa Claus, Christmas tree, etc.?

Include non-Christian children in Christmas plays. Don't leave them out for Christmas tree functions. The angel need not be fair in complexion. He can be in Asian brown or African black. Why not?

Sit with your pastors and elders to plan a special Christmas service for non-Christians. Get the choir practise bhajan songs on the birth of Christ rather than hymns. Let each Christian bring atleast one non-Christian to this service. Before, during and after the service in the Church premises the Christians must behave as hosts for the non-Christian guests. As far as possible remove your shoes when you enter the Church. Indian non-Christians cannot think of walking into a place of worship with sandals on. (Hanging of stockings overhead with gifts inside is totally unacceptable to the Indian mind!!!) Stay sensitive culturally.

Invite non-Christian neighbours to your Christmas dinner. In certain areas Christians are known as those who eat pork, drink and dance! Let's repent of revels which have brought a reproach on the name of Christ. Feed the poor who cannot repay you.

Apostle Paul liberated the Gospel from Jewish clothing. Martin Luther liberated it from Latin clothing. It's our responsibility to liberate it from Western clothing.

Some of what I've written here may be objectionable to many. But missionary-minded Christians will agree with me that unless such radical changes are effected in our personal and corporate lifestyle, we will not leave an impact on the non-Christian masses even if we are given another two thousand years.

(Read also Question, "Is it right to celebrate Christmas?")




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