GENESIS – THE BIG QUESTIONS ANSWERED

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Genesis 1:31 (The Living Bible): “Then God looked over all that he had made, and it was excellent in every way. This ended the sixth day.” How did we go from an excellent creation to this present day reality of living in the shadow of a COVID-19 nightmare? The book of Genesis have some big answers for us.

In the next 4 weeks we are going to be in Genesis, the book of beginnings. The focus is not to exhaust the beautiful and important lessons in all 50 Chapters in Genesis, but to share critical lessons from the first part of Genesis. These lessons inform how we understand the second part of Genesis and the rest of the Bible.

What are the two parts of Genesis? The first part starts from Chapter 1 to 11, and the second part starts from Chapter 12 to 50. Chapter 1 to 11 is a big, big, story of the creation of the world to the establishment of different societies and nations in the world. Chapter 12 to 50 focuses on the choice of Abraham as the human ancestor of Jesus; and how God proceeded to build the house of Abraham.

Genesis ends with the house of Abraham planted in Egypt, with Joseph as the leader. Egypt was the most developed and wealthy country at that time. Thus the house of Abraham was placed in a country where they could multiply and flourish, and become a nation that will eventually produce Jesus the Messiah.

Why did God go through this huge investment that eventually produced Jesus? The answer is found in the big, big, story of Genesis 1 to 11. How well we understand this first part of Genesis, determines how well we understand everything else in the Bible. Genesis answers the big questions, so please stay with me through the next 4 weeks in probing Genesis Chapters 1 to 11.

Lord, give us understanding as we study the book of Genesis, Amen!

INTENTIONAL GROWTH IN 2021

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I was not the athletic type of kid growing up, books were the source of my greatest pleasure. However, somewhere between 14 to 16 years of age, I decided to be more athletic, so during the holiday I began weight training and other exercises to achieve this target.

My normal growth process left me overweight, but I took matters into my own hands, and got on an intentional growth path to be more athletic. I did not become a champion athlete, but my participation in sporting activities did improve considerably, and I was happy.

We were bruised in many ways in 2020, and it seems this has continued into 2021. It is tempting to say ‘we prayed, nothing changed, so I give up on God’. When my heart thinks this way, I remember Proverbs 24:10 (KJV) – ‘If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.’

Apostle Paul says in 1Timothy 4:8 (New Living Translation): “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” In the present troubling times, we must be intentional in training for godliness.

Paul says training for godliness has benefits now and in the life to come. So, in spite of COVID-19, in spite of rioters attacking the US Congress, in spite of daily negative news – be intentional in praying often everyday, in Bible study, in making time for fasting and spiritual retreat when you can.

God bless you as you train for godliness in 2021, Amen!

RESPONDING TO COVID-19 IN NEW YEAR 2021!

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Happy New Year 2021 to all readers of this blog. I am happy and thankful to see this day, the first Sunday in 2021, and to be able to continue sharing my reflections on the Bible with you. We all have sad stories of loss (family, friends, jobs, wealth, opportunities) from 2020 due to COVID-19, stories we will tell for years and generations to come, yet here we are still standing in 2021!

Pandemics like COVID-19 make us think about death all the time, and this makes us uncomfortable and restless, as it reminds us of the fragility of our lives. Apostle Peter comments on this fragility of life in 1 Peter 1:24 (New Living Translation [NLT]): “As the Scriptures say, ‘People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades.”

Solomon teaches this lesson powerfully when he states in Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 (NLT)(shortened): “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator… Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes… before your legs – the guards of your house – start to tremble… before the door to life’s opportunities is closed… before you become fearful of falling… and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire… Yes, remember your Creator… before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken… For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”

Life on planet earth has always been fragile; in happy times, it is easy to forget this; COVID-19 rings a loud ugly sounding alarm about this fragility; and you know how annoying alarms can be when they refuse to stop ringing. In 2021, may the unpleasant vicissitude of COVID-19 cause us to remember our creator, and give Him first place, “before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken”.

Happy New Year 2021, to family and friends all over the world!

THOUGHTS ON RUNNING TO WIN IN 2021!

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No matter how beautiful or how tragic we think 2020 has been for us, most would look at 2021 with expectations to do better. What would make 2021 better for you? Is it greater success at the individual level with outcomes like more money, more fame, more shoes? Or a better world with less poverty, hunger, and injustice?

If we all decided in 2021 to stop changing the planet; to close down all industries, all schools, all shops, hospitals and government; and live only on what we can find in our grasslands, forests, rivers, lakes and the ocean – would we have a better happier world? I doubt it – I don’t think inaction will give us a better world. I think there are two things we can do to have a better 2021.

First is to listen to Genesis 3:17-19 (NLT)(shortened): And to the man he [God] said… “By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground… For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

It says by the sweat of our brow will we have food to eat – commending hard work; and that after all is said and done, after the sweaty days and sleepless nights of hard work, we all will return to dust – commending humility irrespective of our failures and successes. Everyone has a timer, focus on what is truly important.

Secondly, listen to Matthew 22:36-40 (NLT)(shortened): “Teacher, which is the most important commandment… Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind… A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

While you are running to win in 2021, what effect will you have on those around you – the elderly, your mates and younger ones, the poor, widows, orphans, the disabled and the sick, the abused and the oppressed. How will you impact all others that you come across in 2021? Hope you will give a helping hand with love to the needy.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the empowering fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you in 2021, Amen!

MERRY CHRISTMAS – MAY THE SEASON BRING YOU JOY!

My kids, my wife, and I, put up our Christmas tree a little more than a week ago. The kids were really excited to light it up and decorate it with bells, stars, and angels. My wife and I were happy to see our kids so excited and full of joy, given the many difficult days they have endured indoors due to COVID-19.

While we celebrate the season, we are aware that it is a human invention – Bible scholars note that Jesus was likely born in October and not in December. We are also conscious that December 25 honors the birth of Jesus, but many eat, drink, and party on the day, without given a thought about Jesus. Thus, we purposefully reflect on the person of Jesus in line with the reason for the season.

My favorite passage on the birth of Jesus is Luke 2:25-32 (The Message Bible)(shortened): “In Jerusalem… there was a man, Simeon… The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah… [Simeon] entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to [the temple]… Simeon took him… and blessed God: God, you can now release your servant… as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.”

Simeon states that Jesus is: “a God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations”. It is left to everyone to examine this God-revealing light in the teachings of Jesus, easily accessible in the Bible; compare this with the other lights and wisdom in our world; and decide about the light that shines brightest for you.

While I am impressed by the philosophy of great thinkers, from Plato, to Karl Marx, Ayn Rand, John Rawls, Edward Said, and V.Y. Mudimbe, the clarity Jesus provides on the origins of human suffering, and the structures of the afterlife, has no equal. Thus I celebrate Christmas with joy in Jesus.

Merry Christmas – may you find joy this season, in Jesus name, Amen!

COPING WITH TROUBLES – THE JESUS EXAMPLE

 

In the past 12 weeks, the focus has mainly been on Jesus, and anchored primarily in the gospel of Mark; starting from when Jesus was baptized and experienced the opened heavens; to last week’s consideration of Jesus response when he was arrested by a mob of up to a 100 persons or more sent by the Jewish leaders.  

Jesus arrest by Jewish leaders, trial, beatings, and crucifixion, for doing nothing wrong, was beyond tragic. Yet, Jesus endured it all with grace and calmness. How could he do this? Sure, three years of preaching all over Galilee, and travelling south to Jerusalem on different occasions, on foot, will make you quite fit, but physical endurance was not the key to coping with troubles at this time.

Let’s peek into Jesus mindset in John 18:36 (The Living Bible): Then Jesus answered, “I am not an earthly king. If I were, my followers would have fought when I was arrested by the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of the world.”   

This verse is from a conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, the Roman administrator of Judah. The leaders who arrested Jesus, reported to Pilate that Jesus claims to be king of Judah; thus he was a rebel against Rome and should be put to death. However, Pilate found out that Jesus was not interested in Roman politics. 

Jesus made clear that his kingdom is not of this world. Christians struggle with this aspect of the faith. How do we live productive and meaningful lives in this world, while placing our hope in another world to come? Well, this was a primary motivation behind Jesus calm approach to the wicked persecution he endured. 

The Bible teaches that a better world will replace this present world, and that problems we face here are due to evil motivations and intentions; the world to come will be better because evil will no longer be there. These are important issues in our Bible; understanding these issues will keep us stable in these very troubling times.   

Lord, open our eyes to understand the big issues in our Bible, Amen! 

JESUS, AN EXTRAORDINARY PERSON

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As a kid, I would go to Church with my parents, and hear these amazing stories about Jesus. I would forget most of it until the next Sunday; but early in my teens I started thinking about these stories and wondering if they were true. A few weeks before I turned 14, I was at Church, and I prayed “God of the Bible, if you are real, I want to know for myself…”.   

Since then, I have seen that studying the teachings and life of Jesus, as recorded in the Bible, has had a powerfully transformative impact on me. As I compare the teachings and life of Jesus with that of famous kings, politicians, entertainers, and philosophers (I have read a lot of them), I find Jesus more powerful. Take the story of his death and resurrection, its out of this world!

Consider mark 14:43-50 (The Message Bible)(shortened): No sooner were the words out of his mouth when Judas… showed up, and with him a gang of ruffians, sent by the high priests, religion scholars, and leaders, brandishing swords and clubs…  He went straight to Jesus and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The others then grabbed him and roughed him up… Jesus said to them, “What is this, coming after me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I’ve been sitting in the Temple teaching, and you never so much as lifted a hand against me. What you in fact have done is confirm the prophetic writings.” All the disciples cut and ran.

The man Jesus, fed the hungry, healed the sick, raised the dead, now being arrested and roughed up, yet calm and purposeful in his response to it all. How do you do that without being extraordinary in self-control and temper. They took him to the high priest, then to the Roman leaders; they beat him, then nailed him to a cross, yet he did no harm. There is more to learn about this extraordinary man; get a Bible and read his story for yourself this Christmas season!   

Lord, give us insight into Jesus, this Christmas season, Amen!!!  

 

THANKSGIVING for simple pleasures…

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This past week has been hard – like every other week of the year. During the week, we in the USA celebrated ‘thanksgiving’ on Thursday 26 November. This is a national holiday in the USA, with a history going back 400 years, to the first Christian group, who were running away from persecution in Europe and settled here.

These first settlers called themselves Pilgrims; life was really hard for them, but after their harvests, they set a day to give thanks to God as a community. A lot has happened in the USA in the 400 years since that first thanksgiving – good and bad, pleasure and pain – like everywhere else in the world.

The Pilgrims could have focused only on their many hardships, and not give thanks; we can also choose to focus only on the ‘sins and evil’ of the USA and not give thanks; or focus on the hardships in our lives and celebrate nothing.

In this present world, we will always have hard times and good times, pleasure and pain, tears and joy – not just in the USA, but everywhere. The story of Adam and Eve and the Serpent in Genesis Chapter 3 partly explains why this is so.

Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 (NLT)(shortened): “What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time… And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.”

What do we get from all our hard work? If nothing else, we get food and drink, as fruits of our labor – an assurance that goes way back to Genesis 3, and it is a gift from God. In hard times, with pain and tears not far away, we will give thanks for the simple daily pleasures we derive from food and drink, for these are gifts from God.

Happy thanksgiving, and may the Lord keep us to celebrate even more thanksgivings in the years to come, Amen!

JESUS AND CAESAR

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Jesus lived at a time when Judah was a Roman colony. Everyone in the colony had to pay different types of tax; the one that angered them the most was the yearly head tax (or poll tax) of 1 silver coin (a denarius). It was not an expensive tax but every adult, men and women, working or not working, had to pay it.

The head tax was one way Rome showed that it had absolute authority over Judah; and the people hated it. History records that Judas of Galilee (see Acts 5:37) led a violent revolt against the Romans and their supporters when this tax was announced; this revolt happened about 20 years before Jesus started his mission.

When Jesus came down from Galilee, and was welcomed by a huge crowd into Jerusalem, and went to the Temple to drive out money changers (see Mark 11), the religious and political leaders thought he would start another revolt.

Mark 12:13-17 (NIV) (shortened) says: Later they [the leaders] sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity… Is it right to pay the imperial tax [head tax] to Caesar or not?… But Jesus knew their hypocrisy… Bring me a denarius… They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this?… “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

Pharisees were religious and political leaders, and were against Roman colonialism; Herodians were political leaders supporting colonialism. They did not like each other, but they teamed up to trap Jesus and failed.

What do we learn from Jesus? Politics and faith will make demands on us; we have to differentiate (discern) what belongs to Caesar and to God – this is where we all struggle. Caesar provides a service and demands tax to do so; God saves our souls and demands our worship. Caesar should not demand worship. Sadly, some leaders, past and present, demand unquestioned loyalty (worship).

Great God, help us understand when our leaders demand worship; give us the wisdom to walk away and worship you alone, Amen!

HEALING AND HOPE IN TIMES OF FEAR AND LOSS!

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The last three weeks have been overwhelmingly stressful in the USA. Before the presidential elections, regular TV and radio programs were all about it, while Christian TV and radio programs were about support for President Trump, especially from the many ‘prophets’ telling us he will win.

Americans have voted, and Joe Biden won more votes than the President, and is projected to be the next president of the USA. This outcome has moved many Christians in the USA and around the world, who believe the President is ‘God’s choice’, into despair. Many are in shock that their ‘God’s choice’ can lose, some refuse to believe the result, and are waiting for a miracle to overturn it.

How do we react to a condition of despondency like this? Despondency is when we are in low spirits, discouraged, and have lost hope. How do we recover from this state of despondency? I don’t have all the answers but I am confident that the right place to start is to return to the source of our hope, our joy, and our faith.

Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30 (KJV): “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The shock, worry, anxiety, and fear, in our hearts, is not healthy. We should not pretend it is not there; however, we should not carry it like a trophy, to show how much we love the President. The words of Jesus, in our Bible counsels to bring such burdens to him, through prayer, to find rest [the peace of God] for our souls.

As you pour out your heart to God in prayer for the heavy burdens in your heart, may the Lord bless you, and keep you: may the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: may the Lord lift up his favor upon you, and give you peace – Amen and Amen!