When Jesus missed owning a private jet!

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The four gospels teach us about Jesus from different angles. They share some similar stories and events, but they have their own unique message about Jesus. When you find an event that is commonly shared, it is a major event. One of the shared event is the encounter between Jesus and a man referred to as ‘the rich, young, ruler’ (see Matthew 19:16-23, Mark 10:17-22, and Luke 18:18-23).

We read in Mark 10:17-22 (New Living Translation) (shortened): ‘As Jesus was starting out… to Jerusalem, a man came running… and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”… to answer your question, you know the commandments… “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,”… “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.’

This man was influential and important; probably came from a prominent family for him to have been so rich and part of the rulers at a young age. This is the Church member who can buy Jesus a private jet plane. Ok, they did not have planes, he could buy Jesus comfortable gold chariots and wagons pulled by the best horses, to make his long travels from Galilee to Jerusalem smooth and easy.

So, why did Jesus not accept this very important person (VIP) immediately? Why tell him to first give away all he owned to the poor, and come back and follow him? Think about this: if this man grew up in wealth, with servants, neighbours and friends, praising him for his good looks, intelligence, and good behaviour, then he would expect Jesus to fall in line, to confirm, and praise, and bless him.

Instead, Jesus challenged this man, perhaps for the first time in his life, to do something selfless, humbling, and sacrificial. Was Jesus intending to embarass this man or to make him a poor beggar? No, Jesus was saying to him, ‘if you wish to follow me, whoever you think you are, whatever you think you own, don’t matter to me, I am not interested, none of it wins you any credit with me’.

It is common for wealthy people, or the highly educated, or the highly skilled (musicians, actors, sport stars), to want to be at the front of the line wherever they go. The rich young ruler was used to being in front of the line and assumed that will be the case with Jesus. When Jesus pointed out he needed to empty himself, bend low, and start with the basics of bein g a servant to the people, the man fell apart.

I have often been like this rich young ruler; I come to God with my sense of pride and achievement as a scholar, an academic, a loving husband, a father of three lovely kids, a respected teacher; I come to God with the mindset that says ‘look at me and my beauty and my good grades and my wonderful kingdom’, and God says to me and to you ‘put it all away, just be a simple child in my presence’.

Lord, help us stay simple, as we walk with you, and serve the world, Amen!

The joy report from book of Mark!

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Life has always been tough for many in our world; COVID-19 has made it even tougher and depressing. It is as if everyone in the world is living in a slow moving horror movie. Humans always find a way though, to make the best out of a bad situation, while hoping for a better day. That better day arrived for this leper in the book of Mark, when he met Jesus, and his troubles melted away.

We read in Mark 1:38-45 (The Message Bible) (shortened): ‘Jesus said, “Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come… A leper came to him, begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me… Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him… Then and there the leprosy was gone… Jesus dismissed him with strict orders: “Say nothing to anyone… But as soon as the man was out of earshot, he told everyone… spreading the news all over town. So Jesus kept to out-of-the-way places, no longer able to move freely in and out of the city. But people found him, and came from all over.’

Wow, what a joy report from Mark! A person with leprosy at that time was a condemned person. Leprosy was feared as a disease that could easily spread but hard to cure. If untreated, it could lead to crippling and deformation of hands and legs, and blindness. So, people with leprosy were kept in their own quarantine community. When they moved about, people kept a social distance from them.

Living with leprosy, was to live in a personal horror movie. So for this leper in the book of Mark, the better day he had hoped for, dream about, came when he heard Jesus was around the corner. He came to Jesus begging on his knees, I imagine him crying too, this is a desperate man. Jesus delivered big time for this man; deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand and touched him, a taboo for nobody touched lepers; Jesus touched him and healed him. Glory, glory, glory, to God in the highest!

Jesus healed this man and asked him to keep this quiet, but this was explosive news. The man burst with joy and went about telling everybody, telling the whole town. Jesus became a mega-star, he could not move about freely preaching the gospel, but that did not matter, for people found him, and came to him from all over. I don’t know about you, but I am thrilled by this joy report. It makes me smile, makes me glad, makes me yearn for an equally life changing, heart bursting joy report, in my life too.

Jesus, we too have been in the shadow of a COVID-19 horror show, heal us, heal the world, give us relief, give us a joy report like this, we pray in your precious name, Amen!

Israel the line stander, Jesus the real deal

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Do you know that you can earn $25 per hour in the USA for being a line stander, also referred to as queue stander, line sitter or queue professional. This is real job for some people and it is especially in demand when a new product is coming out and there are long lines of people queuing up for, sometimes for days to be the first to get the new product. The job is to stand in the queue till you get to the front then the person you are standing for comes in at the front, and do their business.

Israel was a line stander for Jesus. Adam and Eve were promised a son who would reconcile humanity and God (Genesis 3:15); that promise passed on to Abraham and to Israel his descendants (Genesis 22). Israel was delivered from Egypt and made into a nation to witness about God, and ultimately be the vehicle that brings the promised son, the promised messiah, Jesus the Christ, to the world.

So, when Jesus began his work, he stated in Mark 1:15 (Good News Bible): “The right time has come,” he [Jesus] said, “and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!”

Jesus said “the right time has come”. The right time to do his business has come; the line stander Israel acting and speaking for him for hundreds of years is now done. This is the good news; no more indirect relationship between God and humanity with Israel as the go-between; God has come down to reach out directly to everyone. So, we see Jesus in the gospel reaching out to Jews and Gentiles, preaching, teaching, healing, and feeding the multitudes among both peoples.

As you study the gospels, hopefully starting out with the book of Mark, using an online Bible translation you can easily understand, watch out for the urgency with which Jesus went about preaching this message, and watch out for how Jesus intentionally moves between Jews and Gentiles. In God’s mercy, “the right time has come” to reach out to everyone, and this “right time” has so far lasted 2000 years. Hopefully, we in this generation hearing this good news, will respond positively!

Thank you Jesus for reconciling all humanity and the Almighty God; open our eyes to see this good news, Amen!

Jesus in the gospel of Mark

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If you were to ask 10 of your friends, to write about you, what would they say? It is likely they will say many similar things about you, but also likely that each of them will have uniquely different things to say about you. My wife and my daughter will have similar things to say about me but also uniquely different things to say. The same applies to the four gospels about Jesus in the Bible. They all say some similar things about Jesus and at the same time they have their unique message about Jesus.

A unique message from the gospel of Mark, is about the speed and urgency that Jesus brought to the preaching and teaching work he did. Mark would often say “immediately Jesus did…” or “immediately Jesus went…”. Mark uses the Greek word “eutheos” translated as “immediately” in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible 41 times. This way of writing about Jesus is unique to Mark.

Take Mark 1:9-12 (KJV): “And it came to pass… Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness.”

It is not surprising then that Mark is the shortest gospel. Mark writes about the teachings of Jesus but unlike the book of Matthew, he does not go into details. Mark is more about action – Jesus did this, and then this other thing happened, and immediately that other thing happened. It is fast and captivating, so if you want a quick overview of the life and acts of Jesus, start reading the gospel of Mark!

Dear God, in your wisdom you have given us four similar and unique gospels about Jesus; teach us how the four books support each other to teach us more completely about Jesus, Amen!

When Jesus fed the world!

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The first time we read the acts of Jesus in the Bible, we may be tempted to think that Jesus just went around doing things randomly, without a plan. However, as we study more and get to know the books of the gospel better, we see the plan and purposes behind the acts of Jesus more clearly. Take the gospel accounts of the feeding of the 5000 jews and the feeding of the 4000 gentiles.

Both events are shared in the gospel of Matthew and of Mark. In Mark Chapter 6, Jesus preached late into the evening around the jewish district of Bethsaida, on the western side of the sea of Galilee, and ended feeding a jewish crowd with 5000 men. Jesus fed them all with just 5 loaves and two fish; and after they had eaten, there was 12 baskets of left over bread (Mark 6:30-44).

In Mark Chapter 8, Jesus and the disciples had crossed the sea of Galilee, to the eastern side gentile district of the Decapolis (see Mark 7:31-37). Jesus preached for three days, and observed that the people were hungry. The disciples had just 7 loaves of bread; Jesus fed a gentile crowd that included 4000 men with this; after they had eaten, there was 7 sacks of left over bread (Mark 8: 1-10).

While the jews avoided non-jews like the people in the Decapolis, Jesus engaged with them, healed them, and miraculously fed a gentile crowd like he did for the jewish crowd. Jesus was making it clear that he had come to serve both jews and gentiles; he is messiah to all, not just the jews. Jesus publicly and purposefully fed both jews and gentiles to show he cares for us all.

Jesus announced this boldly to the jews in John 10:16 (New Living Translation): “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”

Dear God, thank you for redeeming us all from every nation, Amen!

LEVITICUS – Jesus is the destination!

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I recall when I first saw building plans as a kid. It looked fascinating and puzzling and confusing all at once. I could not work out how that thing I saw on paper would turn into the real building on the ground. Thankfully the engineers, builders, and all the other adults involved in the house project knew how to go from building plans on paper to achieving the real thing on the ground.

The real thing, the main thing, that makes the Bible message valuable is Jesus. The Bible story is that God created humanity with free will; humanity then chose a life independent of God, to live in the world through our ability alone. Since that decision was made, God seeks for humans who will walk with him, and Jesus is the perfect example of walking fully with God and the reward for doing so.

When Adam and Eve made the choice to live independently of God, they were promised a son who will make the opposite choice (Genesis 3:14-15). This was the first promise of Jesus in the Bible. The promise was repeated to Abraham and that the promised son will come from his descendants (Genesis 22:18). Thus, the promised son Jesus, came out of Israel – Abraham’s descendants. This is how and why Israel became and remains an extremely important part of God’s plan.

In Leviticus, we see how much God invested in his intimate relationship with Israel, it is because it had been decided that the promised son Jesus, will be born through that branch of Abraham’s family. A building plan to reconcile God and humanity through Jesus, was revealed in Genesis, and the rest of the Bible is about how that building plan progresses to become reality on the ground in the world.

Take Leviticus 23, where God gave Israel dates for their national celebrations – the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. Jesus died during the Passover (Matthew 26:2), and the Holy Spirit came on the Church during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). This is no coincidence, the Old Testament including Leviticus prepared the way for the promised son Jesus. The book of Hebrews fully explains how Leviticus prepared the way for the work of Jesus.

In John 5:39-40 (The Message Bible), Jesus says to Israel: “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there… These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.”

Dear God, help us to see that Jesus is the destination in the Bible, Amen!

LEVITICUS Lesson 6 – entering God’s intimate zone

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My wife was my friend for eight years, before we drew closer and got married two years later. As casual friends, our conversations were great but was focused more around our professional interests, a little bit about our faith, and almost nothing about our families. As we drew closer together in the next two years, we still talked about our professional interests, but we started talking more about our faith, and a lot lot more about our families. Our relationship progressed into the intimate zone.

The book of Leviticus has many lessons, one of which is God showing Israel how to walk closely, intimately, with him. In Exodus, after God delivered Israel from Egypt, he brought them to Mt. Sinai and came down to meet with them. At that meeting, Israel agreed that they will worship and serve him (Exodus 19); and were given the ten commandments (Exodus 20). This happened three months after they left Egypt, the instructions in Leviticus were given nine months after the ten commandments.

Leviticus shows God bringing Israel into his intimate zone. In Chapters 1 to 7, God calls for their absolute commitment; in Chapters 8 to 10 God shows his absolute commitment to Israel; in Chapters 11 to 15 God teaches Israel about public health; in Chapter 16, the day of atonement, God addresses Israel’s spiritual health; and in Chapters 17 to 20 God calls on Israel to be unique in their lifestyle from what they eat, what they wear, in their relationships and sexual habits.

Leviticus 21 and 22 instructs the priests about their work and life; in Chapter 23 God sets the dates for the yearly feasts of Israel (passover, pentecost, day of atonement, and tabernacles); Chapter 24 has more priestly instructions and penalty for breaking the law; Chapter 25 has economic instructions to protect the land and the poor; Chapter 26 details the blessings and penalty for obedience and disobedience; Chapter 27 concludes Leviticus with instructions about fulfilling our vows.

In Leviticus 22:31-33 (The Message Bible) God says to the priests: “Do what I tell you; live what I tell you. I am God. “Don’t desecrate my holy name. I insist on being treated with holy reverence among the People of Israel. I am GOD who makes you holy and brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am GOD.”

Leviticus reveals the depth, full weight, and seriousness of God’s relationship with Israel. This level of investment in the relationship between God and Israel, with the accompanying responsibilities, expectations, and sanctions, shows that this is a bonded relationship not just a casual thing. Thankfully, Jesus has come and made possible a less burdensome relationship between God and us!

Dear God, Leviticus teaches us the high price on Israel to draw near to you, thank you for Jesus who has made this less burdensome on us today, praise be unto you, Amen!

LEVITICUS Lesson 5 – Be different from Egyptians and Canaanites

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My high school anthem is titled ‘Builders of Bridges’. The first line of the anthem is ‘Builders of bridges across split minds’. Whenever we sang the anthem, the school authorities would remind us that we are builders, and therefore we have to be examplary leaders in society. I left high school three decades ago, but my classmates and I continue to call ourselves ‘Builders’. The school authorities composed an anthem that made us feel unique, defined a mission, and thus gave us a purpose.

When God saved Israel from Egypt, and brought them to camp at Mt. Sinai for a year, it was a period of rest, of organizing them into a new nation, of teaching them how to worship him, teaching them how live with one another, teaching them how to be different from Egypt where they were slaves, and how to be different from the people in the land of Canaan where they were going.

God defined a mission and a purpose for Israel at Mt. Sinai. It is in this light that we understand Leviticus 17 to 20. Chapter 17 warns against killing an animal for sacrifice and not going ahead with the sacrifice; the people are told that life is in the blood, don’t kill just for fun, respect blood. Chapter 18 lays out God’s instructions about sex; Chapter 19 is about how to live with each other and differently from the nations around them; Chapter 20 lays out consequences for disobedience.

Leviticus 18:1-5 (The Message) says: “God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, I am God, your God. Don’t live like the people of Egypt where you used to live, and don’t live like the people of Canaan where I’m bringing you. Don’t do what they do. Obey my laws and live by my decrees. I am your God. Keep my decrees and laws: The person who obeys them lives by them. I am God.”

If the language and penalty for not obeying the law seems like the people were in the army, it is by design. The people had left Egypt, a warrior nation, and were going into Canaan, another warrior nation. God was not just organizing them to live a good life, God was organizing them to be a warrior nation. There is more about this in the book of Numbers that come directly after Leviticus.

Lord, help us to see your mission and purpose in Leviticus, Amen!

LEVITICUS Lesson 4 – God heals our broken relationship

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When the bonds of a relationship is broken between two people, who should take the first step towards healing? If it is the bonds between friends, should it be the friend who is wrong, or the friend who is on the right? If it is bonds between married couples, should the husband take the first step or the wife, no matter who is wrong or right? Leviticus 16 is about healing broken bonds.

Leviticus 16 is titled ‘Day of atonement’ in most Bibles. Atonement simply means repairing a wrong or an injury. If I offend a friend and broke our relationship, I could make atonement by asking their forgiveness and take any other steps required to heal our relationship. Leviticus 16 is God instructing Moses, on what the High Priest needs to do to heal the relationship between us and God.

There are two sets of sacrifices in Leviticus 16. First, the High Priest offers a young bull (male cow) and a ram for himself. The bull is a sin offering for forgiveness and the ram is a burnt offering pledging commitment. The High Priest then offers two goats and a ram; the goats are the sin offering for the people, one is killed and the other is taken to the desert and set free, symbolizing that the people’s sins have been removed from the camp. The ram is a burnt offering symbolizing the people’s commitment.

Leviticus 16:15-16 (Modern English Version) states: “Then he shall kill the goat… and bring its blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it over and in front of the mercy seat. And he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions in all their sins, and so he shall do for the tent of meeting that remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness.”

Leviticus Chapter 16 brings together all we have learnt from Chapters 1 to 15. We learnt about the sacrifices (Chapters 1-5), then the role of the priests (Chapters 6-10), then the instructions about physical health and cleanliness (Chapters 11-15). Leviticus 16 shows the role of the priests and the sacrifices for the spiritual health and cleansing of the people, in order to heal their broken bonds with God.

There is so much more to be explained about Leviticus 16; if you are interested in learning more, watch episode 9 of ‘Leviticus: The Bloodline to Christ‘ series by Pastor Jack Abeelen on YouTube. While the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur in Hebrew) in Leviticus 16 was for the healing of the broken relationship between God and the people, it was temporary; Jesus is the permanent fix.

Dear God, help us to understand Leviticus better, Amen!

LEVITICUS Lesson 3 – God cares about our health

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As parents we pay attention to what our children eat. We control their consumption of sugar and all other food items we believe will make them sick. We do this out of love, out of a concern for our own peace of mind, and out of the wisdom to avoid hospital bills. It is in this light that we view Leviticus Chapters 11 to 15 – these chapters provide health instructions for the new nation of Israel.

Remember that the new nation was about 2-3 million people living in a camp in the desert. Israel was living in conditions where illness and infection in one person could easily spread to thousands within a few days where there are no strict public health rules. If one person has diarrhea or any of the many types of fungal infection, it will spread like wildfire in a camp without strict health rules. These rules will often include quarantine of the sick person – we see this in Leviticus.

Leviticus 11 provide instructions about food, Chapter 12 provide health instructions around childbirth, Chapters 13-14 is on skin diseases and other infections including fungus, Chapter 15 is about good health practices around genital discharges. It is easy for us today to make fun or mock some of these instructions; it is easy for us to judge some of them as too strict. We forget that the new nation Israel, living in camps in the desert, needed these strict rules to protect the people from epidemics.

Consider Leviticus 11:35-38 (The Message Bible): “Anything that one of these carcasses falls on is unclean – an oven or cooking pot must be broken up; they’re unclean and must be treated as unclean. A spring, though, or a cistern for collecting water remains clean, but if you touch one of these carcasses you’re ritually unclean. If a carcass falls on any seeds that are to be planted, they remain clean. But if water has been put on the seed and a carcass falls on it, you must treat it as unclean.”

In the above passage, the people are told that if a dead animal falls into a spring or a water storage system (the flowing type), the water remains clean. This is in a situation where the animal is removed and not allowed to rot. Similarly, if a dead animal falls on a dry seed, the seed is ok; but if dead animal falls on a wet seed, the seed is unclean (could be infected). This passage shows that these instructions are intelligent; they are not foolish and thoughtless as they are sometimes presented and mocked.

Dear God, in your wisdom there is life, thank you for caring, Amen!