What Matters Most

Houry Barsoumian

by Houry Barsoumian
What is essential to survive? What is it that keeps a human being to go on? What is that one thing, that one reason to get out of your bed and start a new day?

These are questions that people ask themselves at different ages and stages of life, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. It does not matter if you are a child, a teenager, an adult or an elderly. What matters is to find the reason and to know the one thing that matters most in order to go on.

We hear a lot about people or encounter them in our daily lives and in our communities who have everything yet they are depressed because they are not able to find that one thing that matters most in their lives.

Children have a lot of toys, games, iPads, Xboxes, Wiis, yet they are not happy and furthermore, they are bored. Teenagers have all the freedom and the independency that they claim matters most, yet they still think that they are unfortunate and are not content. Adults have the money, university degrees, partners, spouses, children, stability, and income but still they are not satisfied because all these are not enough to have a reason to wake up. 

When those people are asked what matters most they do not have an answer. They are not sure because they are not aware neither of their needs nor of their capacities and are still searching to find answers outside of themselves.
What matters most is more than what the person can accumulate; it is more than something depending on the outer world, or something that just happens to the person with a magic wand that brings happiness, or a reason to be satisfied and produce all the motivation to survive.

Having the privilege of working with human beings in an up-close and personal way, it has been clear to me that what matters most in life is to Love and be Loved.

What Matters Most

That is the only reason that keeps a human being fight all the obstacles, find a reason to survive and be satisfied with what they have, which can be very little and sometimes it can be practically nothing. People who have nothing yet because they do have a loving and supporting family they are able to face life and its daily challenges with a smile and positive attitude. I have met cancer patients who were in very serious health conditions yet they were able to see what matters most since they have a friend who was ready to accompany them to every session of chemotherapy showing them the Love that is needed to fight the battle.

When I write about love and being loved, I do not mean about romantic love, a love between husband and wife, between lovers, between man and woman only, even though having that kind of a love in life with the right person, gives even a stronger sense of stability. 

Yet to Love and to be loved means having Loving relationship in all aspects of your life: to love your surroundings, to love what you do, to do what you love, to love yourself with all the mistakes and the shortcomings that you have and most importantly to love your God and to look at your life and what’s in it with a sense of gratitude.

If couples learn to love themselves and each other then they will love their children in the best way possible and thus the child will grow up with a wonderful sense of self-confidence and will learn to love himself/herself and thus love their surrounding. There will be something for the child that matters more than what the world can offer or money can buy.
The teenagers who are loved will love the freedom and the independence that they have and will look at it as a prospect for growth.  
The adults will love the opportunities that they have and will make the best out of it with a sense of gratitude for what life offers.

All these can be theoretically very good; however, but what do they mean practically?  
What can a person do to have what matters most: To love and to be loved?

A Few practical steps:

  • Have an honest look inside your heart, ask yourself what you need, what you want and evaluate if having those things would make you feel satisfied. This would help you know yourself and have an honest relationship with yourself.
     
  • The world is a lonely place, so make sure you have a strong support system. Surround yourself and work on your relationships in honesty and transparency to have that family or group of friends where you can share everything, where you can be yourself and that there would be no judgment and unhealthy criticism. This support system would keep you real and would help you have the assurance that you matter.
     
  • It is not enough to have this support system, you should also be the support system for others. Since in giving and in being, the support system becomes stronger. It is not enough to only receive, but in giving it is purified and serves its purpose.
     
  • Love what you do. Not everyone has the opportunity to do what they love yet you can always find something positive in what you do. You can find a reason to love what you do.
     
  • Last but most important, have that strong relationship with your creator because God who is the source of love, genuinely manifested in Jesus Christ, has created you and loved you even before you were aware. The assurance of that Love will always hold your hand, will guide you to be a better person and to have a clear understanding of what matters most in life.  

The world is a lonely place; people are desperate to find a reason in this life, to fight the battles. You can be that one thing for your surrounding that matters most by Loving and being Loved.

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8

Battling against the Forces of Evil

ManoChil

by Manochil

Reposted

Negative energy, karma and positive thinking – these are the 21st century’s buzz words used by famous psychology gurus all over the world.

The constant advice that psychologists impart on us today is to possess good karma, impede negative energy, and propagate positive thinking. Words like evil or sin have all but vanished from the books and lectures of our academicians and scientists to the extent that people now mock and belittle anyone who speaks of the presence of evil. The world claims that there is no such thing called evil – only the proliferation and retraction of negative energy. No sane person would believe in evil spirits insisting that these are fairytales that the media sells through children’s books.

I understand that one cannot have tangible proof about the reality of evil because evil has no physical form. So how can we be sure that we are not alone on this planet? I personally believe in the presence of evil – it is real and it lurks among us. However, I cannot fully explain evil because it is part of the unseen spiritual realm, while we humans belong to the physical realm.

So what exactly is evil? Socrates describes evil as mere ignorance, while Plato illustrates it as the absence of good. During the Bible study at the Emmanuel church youth gathering, a friend described evil as anything that hinders the work of God; another described it to be the source of laziness; and yet another friend considered any disagreement among believers as stemming from evil.

Now the Bible mentions that one of the gifts of the spirit is the gift of discernment which means that those who possess it have the ability to identify evil in a person or in a gathering or place. However, everyone is prone to advocating – consciously or unconsciously – the diabolical schemes of the forces of darkness. I believe that evil breathes hatred, murder, disagreements, wickedness and malice among people. But it works behind the scene; it never plays up from front. It’s because of its subtle maneuvers that people underestimate its role among us.

Paul announces in Ephesians 6:12 that we do not fight against flesh and blood but against the evil spirits against which we have been embarking on a spiritual warfare. Hence, we as believers in Christ should always be aware that our fight is not against flesh and blood but against the higher powers of this world, against the forces of evil. Therefore, we should all be on guard to not let evil gain a foothold among us.

From a personal point of view, I have felt the works of evil within the church itself. Unfortunately, we never realize that the evil works heavily among the community of believers to tear it apart. There is countless number of believers who have retreated from the church community and cut themselves off because somewhere we weren’t aware that many times we were perpetuating and advocating the works of the dark forces. I only ask God that He may give us the wisdom to accept our wrongdoings and the humility and power to rekindle the long lost fellowship with our forgotten brothers and sisters in Christ.

As a conclusion, I want to say this: Whenever we face fierce disagreements, hatred or divisions in our households, among friends, colleagues or within the church, we must be aware that evil is working among us trying to create havoc through and among us. Our duty as believers in Christ is to stand still, hold our ground and resist the forces of darkness at all cost.

Equipping the Youth to Run Meetings

RaffiChil

by RaffiChil
Can we train the youth to become good stewards of their time, communication, youth groups, and churches? Is it possible to teach our youth how to run their youth groups, and help them become the next leaders in their teams, organizations, schools, and churches?

I was present at one of the sessions of Toasmaster, an international organization that teaches leadership and public speaking. What caught my attention during the meeting was the intervening role of one of the board members, who was making sure that the meeting session was running according to the correct procedure. Later, I learned that this task is circulated among the board members, and everyone gets a turn to become the arbiter.

The Armenian Evangelical Church, during its history, has created by-laws and constitutions, as well as adopted the Robert’s Rules of Order as the go-to-source, whenever more reference is needed during official meetings and conventions.

Today, for a church to function properly, board members with various gifts and talents are elected to offices of chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, treasurer, public relation, etc.
But, what are the responsibilites of each of these offices and why do we need them in the first place? Can’t we have a flat platform instead? Which one is better: a structured platform or a loosely-defined one? What is a quorum? How can I learn to abide by the decision of the majority, even if I voted against a move? Does this process make the church very formal and bureaucratic?

My understanding is that the constitution is not an end in itself, but is a means to have a proper process in taking decisions and to maintain smooth functions within the body.

The first church held its first meeting in Jerusalem. They prayed and they held their meetings in order.

"When Paul and Barnabas came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them…
The apostles and elders met to consider the question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them…
The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up…
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas…
With them they sent the following letter…"
(Act 15:4-29)

Here's what Christian Endeavor mid-Atlantic website says about youth running meetings:

We encourage youth to be equipped to Run a Meeting. Christian Endeavor allows youth to plan and carry out the meetings with guidance. In order to do this well, youth must be trained to run a meeting.

Source: http://www.cemidatlantic.org/resources/Youth-Worker-Downloads/

The by-laws are already written and adopted. What's missing is educating the youth.

Roberts Rules of Order

Has Science Made Us Socially Irrelevant?

by Vahé Jebejian
You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is not longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. Matthew 5:13


Saint Augustine of Hippo warns Christians to be careful when debating with non-believers issues which have been demonstrated by reason and experience. In De Genisi ad litteram (The Literal Meaning of Genesis) he writes: “The shame is not so much that an ignorant person is laughed at, but rather that people outside the faith believe that we hold such opinions, and thus our teachings are rejected as ignorant and unlearned.” St Augustine makes a relevant point: How will people believe in things such as the resurrection of the dead and eternal life if they think that Christians hold beliefs and opinions that go against modern experience and reason?

Christophobia is a real thing in today’s culture. People have certain assumptions about Christians and often avoid getting into discussions with them. The challenge then is for Christians not to become socially irrelevant. Indeed, Jesus warns believers not to lose their saltiness, not to become bland (Matthew 5:13). God puts it even more bluntly in Revelation 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Socially Irrelevant


Science and Christians
As Christians, it is my belief that we should be the first to get excited about any new scientific discovery. On December 24, 1968, as Apollo 8 was in space, the crew announced the following: “We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.” The message was none other than Genesis 1:1-10.

As believers we know “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all
the earth, their words to the ends of the world,” Psalm 19:1-4. Thanks to science we are unveiling the “knowledge” and “speech” that the psalmist talks about. In Einstein’s words, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”. Similarly, Thomas Aquinas insisted, “Scripture and science are not contradictory, as human reason and divine revelation are gifts of God”.

From the 15th to late 19th century, major scientists were Christians, such as Newton, Kepler, Faraday, and Maxwell. Faraday, who discovered the magnetic field, says, “The book of nature which we have to read is written by the finger of God”. They saw no conflict between these two disciplines. For them, science pointed to God.

Science is a self-correcting discipline, everything undergoes scrutiny before it can be claimed as truth. Darwin waited for 20 years before he published On the Origin of Species. He was so overwhelmed by his findings that he was sure that it would shock the public. Darwin took time to assemble enough proof and evidence to support his thesis. At the end of his book, he states,

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Darwin does not deny the existence of God. He does not claim that evolution through natural selection is possible without God. In fact, he felt that evolution was working towards an increased complexity and possibly a divine purpose. Was this what the psalmist had in mind when he said, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” Psalm 8:3-4

This is how Paul describes the Word of God: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” Romans 11:33. Francis Bacon, author of The Advancement of Learning (1605), which later inspired Diderot’s and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, writes,

To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or in the book of God's works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both.

Yes, Christians are not of this world, but Jesus sent them into this world. Jesus explains this very clearly in the gospel of John, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world,” John 17:15-18. We are not of this world, but Jesus prays so that his disciples would stay in this world and keep their saltiness.

Next time we give a reason for our faith, as instructed by Peter in 1 Peter 3:15, let us be relevant to our today’s issues. The Christian worldview is the only one which makes sense of this world. Let us learn how to share it in a way where we will not lose our saltiness and be trampled on by others.

My Personal Experience At Chanits Camp 2016

George-Megerditchian

by George Megerditchian
This year was my first Chanits camp, and the experience was different and more amazing than I could have ever hoped for. Youth from many different backgrounds, majors and careers, from the nurse to the banker to the farmer, all gathered to worship the Lord from August 24th to August 28th at Camp Kchag.

In total, 65 youth came to Kchag to hear God’s word. Fifteen youth came all the way from Kessab, which was extremely inspirational for me. Seeing youth travel from Syria in these terrible times to share their testimonies and stories was just incredible. The theme was ‘SERVANTS OF RIGHTOUSNESS', and was based on Romans 6:18. The passage says “And being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness”. What a meaningful verse to base the camp around, as 65 servants of righteousness gathered together to worship God and have fellowship.

Every morning, we started our day with devotional time and worship, both of which were very inspirational to me. Each devotion was a clear message from God that we should trust in him completely and cast all of our burdens onto him, all the while giving thanks for everything that we have. 

After that, we would hear the main sermon of the day. Each day during this time, we discussed different aspects of life and its relation to us as Christians.

We discussed what a Christian's role is when it comes to topics such as human rights, the environment, politics and forgiveness. As Christians, what is our role in each of these fields and how should we contribute in each of them? Should we join a political party? Can we help less privileged people? Should we protect the environment? We discussed these questions and many more in our Bible study groups. 

Besides the sermons, we also listened to many lectures and had little workshops based on the main sermon of the day. They offered us all fantastic opportunities to learn not only about spiritual issues and growth but also about social issues and what we could do about them. 

This year at Kchag, there were two particularly special things we did outside of our normal routine. The first was hosting the Trad social work team. They came and spoke about their challenges in their work field, their mission, and the projects they do to help children to learn more about Jesus. It was wonderful to see an organization that is so focused on helping our youth grow into warriors for Christ.

The second special event we held, and my personal favorite, was planting five trees in Kchag with the help (and supervision) of our Kessabtsi friends. For me, it was so amazing to be able to plant trees while being around all of God’s beautiful creation in nature. I was helping in the cleaning of all the old dead grass, and I looked around me and saw the hard work that each and every person was doing in order to plant these trees; all at once, I just felt the wonder and might of nature and was so proud to see everyone so passionate about planting these trees and growing something fresh from the ground. There was something touching and symbolic about the fact that we were planting these trees to help them grow and to nurture them and care for them. It reminded me of our walk with Christ and how, just like the trees we were planting, to grow we need to be properly cared for and nurtured. 

At the end of each day, we would separate into groups for prayer time. Each of us used to share his or her doubts, concerns and challenges in our Christian life and comfort and encourage one another. We would spend time praying for each other and giving thanks to the Lord for the blessings that He has given us.

I thank God for the wonderful experience that I had throughout this camp. The memories I made, the fellowship I had and the communion I shared with my brothers and sisters in Christ was unforgettable.

This was my first Chanits camp, but I certainly hope it won’t be my last.

 Worship time

Worship time

 Farmers of Kchag!

Farmers of Kchag!

Chanits-Camp-2016-5
 Worship band

Worship band

Chanits-Camp-2016-4
 (L to R row1): Houry Hadjenlian, Garine Cholakian, Kayane Messerlian (L to R row2): Badveli Sevag Trashian, Badveli Datev Basmajian, Rev. Hrayr Cholakian, Rev. RAffi Messerlian (L to R row3): Shant Agishian, Assadour Mncherian, Badveli Hagop Akbasharian

(L to R row1): Houry Hadjenlian, Garine Cholakian, Kayane Messerlian
(L to R row2): Badveli Sevag Trashian, Badveli Datev Basmajian, Rev. Hrayr Cholakian, Rev. RAffi Messerlian
(L to R row3): Shant Agishian, Assadour Mncherian, Badveli Hagop Akbasharian

 Nareg, the guy on the far left is taking this group photo

Nareg, the guy on the far left is taking this group photo

A Drop of Hope

This is the 1st part of the continuous story written by Hagop

Hagop Barouyr Gojigian

by Hagop Barouyr Gojigian

A famous German novelist recently got hold of a voice recorder. Now the value of this tool was not in its price but in its content. The novelist had a strong passion in writing a novel about the war in Syria, or about the living conditions of a family living during the war. This device carried the voice of a young Syrian, who had narrated about his life, his pains, his adventures, his happy moments…

The novelist had listened to the recording several times, but he had difficulty in presenting the story, so he decides to spend his Summer vacation listening to the voice recorder again and try to come up with a way to turn this unknown young man’s story into a novel. His vacation time arrives, and he goes to his father’s mountain house that was located just below the mountain. There was no one at the house, since only he used it, due to the difficulty of reaching the house and the locals had left the area for some time now. However, this was the best condition for the novelist to relax and concentrate on his work. He doesn’t want to waste time, he places his bag on the floor, pours rose wine and goes behind his desk. He had nearly learnt by heart the story of the young man, but decides to listen to the voice recorder again and the baritone voice of the young man is heard through the speaker…

"… am I Syrian or Lebanese? I’ve been living in Lebanon for several years, I’ve grown up here, but I’m Syrian. Every six months I have to renew my residency permit at the Lebanese Security office, and every year I have to go out of the Lebanese border. Now, I speak the Lebanese dialect and not the Syrian dialect, that’s why whenever I go to Syria and meet my Arab friends they tell me, “you’ve become Lebanese”, but my Lebanese Arab friends consider me as a Syrian citizen.
There are many who are in this dilemma, one of whom was Vartan. Many are living in the same conditions because there are no legal means to acquire the Lebanese citizenship."

A drop of hope

AMAA Internship Program 2016

Talar Haidostian

by Talar Haidostian
I had heard about the AMAA internship in the past few years, and knew how fun and beneficial it had been to the participants. And I personally witnessed the same this year. Christine Maamarbashi and I joined a group of young people who had come from different parts of the USA, and Canada. The two weeks that we had together were full of daily devotionals, sightseeing, fellowship, and ministry. We were also acquainted with the ministries of the AMAA and the ECA through visitations and seminars, which were very impressive and eye-opening.

One of the highlights of my trip was the 2 days that we spent in the Camp Sheen Shoghig in Hankavan. The setting of the camp was refreshing and the children’s smiles were contagious. They appreciated the simple gifts and were grateful for it. It was surprising and impressive to see how well the leaders had organized and prepared the programs for the kids, and how they were able to pass on the message of the love of Christ in a creative way. My favorite part of the camp was the time of worship, and I was happy to have the chance of leading one of the sessions with another member of our group. During our departure a bitter sweet moment was created, and none of us wanted to leave. The kids kept telling us to come again the next year, and some of the kids gave us small gifts; like sunglasses and crafts.

Another highlight of my trip was the time spent at the pastor’s garden in Armavir. This was a chance to celebrate the Armenian culture, and experience the Armenian hospitality through food, dance, and music.

This internship will leave a long term impact on my life as it came at a time when I was transitioning from high school to university, and I was ready to make the best of my summer time. I would like to thank the AMAA and the ECA for hosting us, and to Badveli Avedis Boynerian and the leaders for leading us in a smooth and caring way. This experience was unforgettable in which I made new friends, and grew one more step in my faith.

 Worship time at camp Sheen Shoghig in Hankavan

Worship time at camp Sheen Shoghig in Hankavan

 At the Musa Ler monument in Yerevan, Armenia

At the Musa Ler monument in Yerevan, Armenia

 At the Armenian Genocide Monument

At the Armenian Genocide Monument

Photos courtesy of Nicholas Manoukian

A VIP Seat

The 84th Commencement Service of Near East School of Theology took place on Saturday, June 18. The speaker was Preacher Najla Kassab, Director of Christian Education and of the Women's Desk for National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.

Najla-Kassab

by Preacher Najla Kassab

Mark 10:35-45
And James and John, the sons of Zeb'edee, came forward to him, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be
slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (RSV)

In the Final exam of the graduating class of Nurses, the students were surprised with a question in the Exam. The question stated, ”What is the full name of the person who cleans your room at the Nursing school". For the first glance the students thought it was a joke and many people thought that the professor is funny, till one of the students called out, “Teacher is the last question graded? Is it part of the Exam?" And the professor replied “Yes sure. Your future will not only rely on the information that you gained at the Nursing school but how you deal with people".

If this is true with the Nursing career what about serving the church. Your success is related to how you deal with people more than information.

Well do not understand me wrong especially after the many hours that you put in reading writing and studying, doing assignments and delving in these deep theological discussions and knowledge. I remember as a student at NEST when we decided as group of students to read the book “ The courage to be” by Paul Tillich . A book that was not assigned by professors but we chose to read it and sat in the coffee shop to discuss it. I remember that I read that book several times . We felt proud we were enhancing our knowledge, terminology and understanding. We were competing on who grasped the book well.

Do not understand me wrong, we come from a background that values knowledge and stresses the value of critical thinking and analyzing. We are proud of the academic level that you encountered at NEST but still your success will be related to how you deal with people. It is about people not information.

On the 5th of June last month a University in Lebanon announced to its Graduating students that if Your parents have a special position in society as a Mayor; Judge….please let us know to Provide you with VIP cards. (I looked to see if pastors were listed but they were not) My daughter who was part of the graduating class shared with me the reactions that the students expressed on social Media, about who is a VIP parent, is it the parent who worked hard to give their children education or is it only those who have gained status. Is this discrimination between students? Shall the protocol in the country be obeyed, or this is against equality that we talk about in Universities since the parents were attending as parents not as representatives of any institution. The whole country was involved, even the media was divided between those who thought that this was a wise decision and those who were against. In our prayer meeting in the Synod offices we were divided on this matter. Who is the real VIP, who deserves a VIP seat?

In the story in Mark 10 James and John came to Jesus with a request to grant one to sit on the right side and the other on the left side of Jesus in his glory. Despite the fact that their request could be seen differently by different people, some could see it as an organizational matter and others as an ambitious step by them, still no matter what the reasons were, no matter whether they asked for this for themselves or if their mother asked for it as in Mathew 20:21, their request relates to their understanding of who will be on the right and left side of Jesus. It seems that they were interested in having a VIP seat. Jesus tried to correct their perceptions. It seems that they were thinking of a VIP seat. Jesus posed a question to them allowing them to rethink what they were asking for:

You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" (verse 38)

If we reflect closely on the events of this story, we find that:

First: The request of the disciples happened on the road to Jerusalem, where Jesus was heading towards the cross. Jesus was hinting to his disciples what will happen to him,

“The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him and spit upon him, and scourge him and kill him and after three days he will rise.” (33-34 )

The request of James and John was at a time of unrest and those who followed Jesus were afraid. That led the disciples to be confused about what Jesus was saying on the road, because things were mixed up to them. They believed that Jesus will be crowned king and therefore did not understand the meaning of glory that Jesus talked about. Had James and John understood what Jesus was saying they wouldn’t have asked for such a position. Who among us wants to sit on the left and right of a person going to the cross? The disciples were distracted on the way of ministry. Imagine, Jesus' mind was on the pain to come and the disciples' minds were on their personal status. I many times question myself whether we are in the same line of thought as Jesus. WE Many times think that we know…..

Second It is interesting to note Jesus' answer to them. He did not rebuke them but as usual, answered their question by another question. " Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the same baptism? And the answer was we can (38-39). Jesus used here two Metaphors from the Jewish life: the metaphor of the cup and the baptism. When the king gave his guests the cup it was considered as a symbol of passing his experience to them. As if Jesus was asking them if they are ready to receive his experience and hold the cup from him. Or even to be immersed and baptized in pain with him and face hatred and death. So Jesus said to them, you do not know what you are asking for. To sit on the right and left of Jesus is to accept to hold the cup and be immersed in pain. And just at the end of the story we recognize that the journey of holding the cup started when the other disciples became angry with James and John for their personal request for VIP seat.

Jesus clarifies that to have VIP seat is to carry on with the experience that Jesus went through and even to serve and not be served. "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." v.44, 45

This is the model of VIP seat that Jesus was explaining to his disciples. Jesus shook the disciples' concept of power as gaining status; Power that is “Christ-like” has nothing to do with gaining status, but it is even the opposite. According to Jesus paradigm of power, to have power is to lose status. It is not only that you do not control people but even to serve the people and give your life for them. And when people are given a special position and status it is to be used for serving others.

Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous sermon "Drum Major Instinct" claims that in each and every one of us there is the instinct to lead the procession to be the drummer, who leads the group. Martin Luther stresses that we should not move fast to condemn James and John because in each and every one of us is an instinct of a drummer; a drummer who wants to lead and control. It is easy sometimes to point to others and forget our tendency to check our personal interests and intentions as individuals and communities.i

Martin Luther king calms our confusion about VIP seats to defend the fact that the problem is not in the VIP seat but rather when you are given a status a position how do you use it. Do you perceive yourself as a person who will serve or will be served? Do you yourself as gaining power or status, or rather as a person who uses your status, to give power for the powerless; to strengthen all those who are struggling, and to put in the right biblical words to carry the cup and be immersed in pain.

A few days ago as we had a retreat for the elders and pastors of the Synod, a pastor who serves in Aleppo talked about things that he did not learn at NEST. He said that they did not teach us how to provide cooking fuel to the people, how to know all about digging wells and providing drinking water to the people, how to climb a pick-up and distribute food. Sometimes ministry just opens new doors for using your talents, It is just the love of serving people that changes you; shapes you; and even surprises you.

I remember when I was at NEST I made an issue as a student as to why our work as women at NEST was to clean the tables after lunch when men had to sit on the front desk. Imagine that I was against limiting women to tables and food, and here I am now directing a Conference center that is so much related to feeding people and tables. I say this to explain when you love ministry you are changed, and many times you look at yourself and find you have changed.

Friends today you get your VIP seat. You are a Graduate from a known and Prestigious Seminary and you gain Status, and nothing is wrong with that. It is how you will use your status to serve the people that will decide if you will sit on the right side and the left side of Jesus.

You might get distracted on the way with different paradigms of power and status. Stay focused on Jesus' paradigm. Be a model for the world and do not succumb easily to worldly values . Be a light and trust that God will use you to change the world. The world needs you as serving leaders. Stay balanced between keeping up with your academic knowledge growth and spending time with people. And if you have to choose between the two choose the people.

For the women Graduating today. I say stay patient God has not finished with the church. Focusing on serving people will help you not to be distracted till the kingdom in Heaven be on earth.

Remember your success will be related to serving people.

One more question before you graduate, and it is graded. Do you know the full name of the person who cleaned your room at NEST?

To God be the Glory forever. Congratulations. Mabrouk.

i Martin Luther king JR and the Global freedom struggle “sermon the Drum Major instinct, 1968

Rebuking Your Brother to Regain Your Brother?

RaffiChil.jpeg

by RaffiChil
Can you imagine someone rebuking a very prominent person in society over a sin? It is highly probable that your first reaction would be, "Oh my, that's foolish", or perhaps, "Is he out of his mind chasing down a well known public figure?" Perhaps the more objective part of you would say, "He may be right, but does he really need to be so firm about it?"

The person I'm referring to here is none other than John the Baptist. Now, John has a very peculiar personality, he doesn't live the way normal people live and he doesn't even wear ordinary clothes, but rather unconventional ones, suitable for his life in the wilderness. He already has features that can be picked and easily pointed at. But John seems focused on his prophetic ministry, on something more important, more serious. Rather than succumbing to the norm and going along in society without being noticed, he does something unusual, he calls out Herod's sin.

Rebuking-to-Regain

Is he trying to get attention by stating the sin of the king of Judea?

In that period of time, and perhaps also today, people would question the motives of John the Baptist. However, all these questions about motives do not reflect upon the core of the matter, which is the truth that Herod had taken his brother's wife as his own. He was living in sin, and John the Baptist was admonishing the King. "For John has been saying to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." Mark 6:18. Herod, as King of Judea, was to be an example to his people and respect the religious commandments and live a life of righteousness before God.

With John the Baptist there were no exceptions or special favours given to the upper echelons of society. Interestingly, we don't read anything about the Pharisees or Sadducees saying anything about the moral life of King Herod.

What shall we do then? Are we all called to be like John the Baptist in confronting our brother or sister who is living in sin? But who am I to point out someone's sin? Shouldn't I first be looking at the plank in my own eyes and hence my own sins (Matthew 7:3)?

On one occasion, Jesus says, "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother." Matthew 18:15

On another occasion, Jesus says to the woman, "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin." John 8:11

Even Peter received the rebuke from Paul when he confronted Peter about his hypocrisy; eventually, Peter had to reconcile his daily actions with what he was daily preaching.

We have a loving God, who reproaches us and rebukes us in His awesome tough love, giving us the chance to repent and reconnect with Him.

Encounters with Jehovah’s Witnesses

Vahé Jebejian

by Vahé Jebejian
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:5-6

You’ve certainly encountered them, as well. They are always on the street, standing behind a stand with books, such as What Does the Bible Really Teach, or handing out a brochure called The WatchTower. I’ve made a habit of talking to Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is interesting that whichever country you go to, their arguments are always the same, the same verses are quoted always.

Encouters with Jehovah's Witnesses

In the mornings as I rush to the train station, I often see Valentin. He’s a Jehovah’s Witness (JW), and I’ve come to know him very well. I can even say that we’re friends. He invited me to come to their commemoration of the passion of Christ which was on March 23. I literally had 12 hours to think about it. Finally, I decided to go.

The pastor preached what sounded like a very Christian message. At first, I thought, “Wow, we have a lot in common,” even though I was aware of the differences, especially on the Divinity of Christ. The uneasiness started when the preacher never mentioned anything about Jesus’ resurrection. He also claimed that before descending to Earth, Jesus was some kind of an angel. The uneasiness continued when he claimed that only 144,000 will go on to live with Christ and the rest would stay on Earth, based on Revelation 7:4, “And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000”. The climax was when they had communion (Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate communion once a year) but no one participated in it. Later, I understood that only those who consider themselves to be part of the 144,000 could share in Christ’s body and blood. When the service was over and as I left the meeting place, a feeling of sadness came over me.

I am writing this passage with the same sadness that took over me that night. Jesus couldn’t have been clearer when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” John 6:53.

As every JW one encounters, Valentin, too, invited me to a cup of coffee. I gladly accepted. JWs are very well trained. On top of that, Valentin happens to be one of the elders in his church. But, we must rest assured that “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,” Hebrews 4:12. The Word of God will win the battle, but for that, we must be “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith,” Colossians 2:7. We are not here to defend God. He doesn’t need defending. But we are called to show the right way, to lead the ones who ago astray, to be His hands and feet.

We so often hear from the pulpit that Jesus is the Son of God and God at the same time. But we must be able to prove it with Scriptures so that when we hear verses, such as “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” Colossians 1:15, we won’t be dumbstruck. JWs claim that Jesus was created by God, and they use similar verses to prove it. If one is not rooted in the Word of God, such verses may shock us and make us question our faith.

Another verse they are keen on using is John 14:28: “The Father is greater than I” to prove that Jesus is not God. Another passage is when Jesus prays to God in the garden of Gethsemane. They ask, “How can Jesus pray to God if He is God? Is He praying to Himself?” And this is only the beginning. They’ll ask you such questions, and if the Word is not truly rooted in your heart, it’ll shake your confidence. Most importantly, it will give the JW the feeling that he is right, that Jesus is not God, and that Christians are mistaken. But we know for sure, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” Proverbs 30:5.

The answer to Colossians 1:15 is that firstborn is prototokos in Greek which is used to define leadership and inheritance. Jesus said, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” Matthew 28:18. In ancient Near Eastern culture, firstborn didn’t necessarily imply ‘the oldest child’. The answer to John 14:28 and the prayer in Gethsemane is first, the fact that Jesus as a human longed for a relationship with God, as we all do. Second, being three persons and one being, Jesus had a relationship with God before coming to Earth, and there was no reason for it to stop when He came to Earth. On Earth, Jesus “emptied himself, by

taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man” Philippians 2:7. This explains why Jesus referred to God as being greater than Him in John 14:28.

There are verses that undeniably refer to Jesus as God. Hebrews 1:3 is one such example: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature”. The word in Greek used for ‘exact imprint’ is charaktēr, which means exact reproduction, non-replicable imprint. It was used to refer to the exact imprint of Caesar on a coin.

Another important verse is Philippians 2:6 where Paul talks about Jesus saying, “who, although He existed in the form of God”. The Greek word used here for ‘form’ is morphos, which means ‘the same from the inside’, Jesus had God’s same nature. Furthermore, the word existed in Greek is best translated as ‘continued on existing’ which proves the eternal existence of Jesus Christ, He is not just a creation of God. The list of verses is long.

Finally, the meeting with Valentin ended. It was a great time of scripture reading and analysis. When shown truths such as these, one cannot simply walk away from them. It is their right to refuse to accept them, but as long as they claim that the basis for their faith is in the Bible, it is impossible to hide from the Truth, for “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” Hebrews 4:12.

I want to challenge you that the next time a couple of JWs come to your door, invite them in like a brother or a sister. Be sure to be well rooted in the Word of God and remember that we are not called to be successful but to be faithful. We cannot change people’s hearts, only God can. But, we are called to plant the seed. To end, I would like to quote a prayer by Henry Nouwen, a Dutch catholic priest and theologian, “God, help me to see others not as enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”