JESUS AND GENEROSITY TO THE POOR

Image source: WisdomHuntersBlog

“The poor you will always have with you” – is a saying from Jesus in Mark 14:7 and John 12:8. It is part of the story where Mary poured nard oil on Jesus, and in response Judas said this expensive perfume should have been sold to help the poor; John 12:6 says Judas the team treasurer, did not really care about the poor, he wanted the money because he was stealing some of it for his own personal use.

What did Jesus mean, when he said the poor you will always have with you? Should this make us less concerned about the poor? Jesus was compassionate to harassed and helpless people, and was on a mission to represent the love of God to all humanity. Why then did he say ‘the poor you will always have with you’?

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 (NIV)(shortened) says: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites… do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them… do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing… Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart… There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

Israel already had clear divine principles on how to care for the poor – those who have should give generously to the poor. While it looks like Jesus just made a simple response to Judas, in reality he was quoting from Deuteronomy, to remind Judas of the divine solution to the poverty problem.

God’s solution to never ending poverty, is never ending generosity! The poor will always be with us, so too those who have a little more than enough will also always be with us – and they have been called upon to be openhanded, not to be hardhearted or tightfisted, to be openhanded and generous to the poor.

Lord, convict us to be generous to the poor in our community, Amen!

JESUS AND HARASSED HELPLESS PEOPLE

Matthew 9:36 (Image: HisGraceMinistriesDubai)

How do we live out our faith in the world today? A Christian political activist might say it is to join a protest against a cultural practice that makes you angry, because every citizen has a right to express their political opinion; but is this where our practical living for the faith ends? Is there more we could do?

How did Jesus live out his faith when he preached in Galilee in the flesh? He lived at a time when the Roman empire had conquered Judah; when angry Tiberius was emperor of Rome; and when poor people of Judah were harassed by both Jewish and Roman leaders, especially to pay the Roman tax.

Matthew 9:35-36 (NIV) states: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Poor people expected leaders to be wicked, they were sincerely surprised to see Jesus showing compassion. In the Roman empire at a that time, kindness and gentleness were considered weak and wrong, while anger and cruelty were considered strong and right, but Jesus lived a life of compassion.

In our world today, there is rising anger and cruelty, from the powerful to the poor, and from the poor to the powerful in retaliation; compassion seems like a very bad thing to do. Christians have to see the compassion of Jesus, and live as a people showing compassion to the harassed, widows, orphans, and strangers.

Lord, open our minds to see the compassion of Jesus, so we too can be healers and good shepherds to the harassed and helpless, Amen!

DAVID PAWSON DEPARTS THE STAGE

David Pawson (1930 – 2020)

David Pawson, the British Bible teacher passed away on 21 May 2020, at the age of 90. Pawson wrote about 80 books, produced about 300 Bible teaching videos, and 1500 audio Bible teaching recordings. These can be found in the David Pawson’s Online Teaching Library, and of course on YouTube.

I started following David Pawson about 12 years ago. His calm and easy to follow Bible teaching won me over, as it did millions of people in 120 countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. David Pawson’s Unlocking the Bible Series is a masterpiece in serious but humorous, deep but easy to follow Bible teaching.

Raised in the Methodist Church, he served the Church as a Pastor, before moving to Pastor the Guildford Baptist Church, Millmead, England. Under his teaching, Millmead became the largest Baptist congregation in England. He left Millmead in 1979, and began hosting Bible teaching seminars around the world till his death.

David Pawson “fought a good fight, [he] finished [his] course, [he] kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for [him] a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give [him] at that day…” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 KJV).

Thank you David Pawson, for your simplicity, humility, brilliance, and tremendous legacy of good works; your books, videos, and audio teaching will continue to bless generations upon generations of Bible students – goodbye sir!

Lord, inspire us to be diligent Bible students like David Pawson, Amen!

AMOS – JUDGMENT LEADS TO NEW BEGINNINGS

When things are not going right, we hit pause, we reflect, then re-launch or make a new start. When we pause and take stock, we are in judgment mode; we are examining or comparing what we are passing through with our original plans. In this situation, judgment results in cleaning out the toxic to make room for a new beginning.

In Amos, we see that living conditions in Israel had become toxic; greed, corruption, adultery, cruelty to the poor, had become the way of life. Israel had turned its back on her God, who insist on righteousness and fairness in our relationships with one another. Israel was instead worshiping other gods who did not care how they behaved to one another. God’s plan for them, which they accepted in the book of Deuteronomy, was not working – they had to be judged.

Thus Amos 7:7-8 (Easy-to-Read Version Bible) says: “This is what the Lord showed me: He stood by a wall with a plumb line… “Amos, what do you see?” I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said to me, “See, I will put a plumb line among my people Israel. I will not let their ‘crooked ways’ pass inspection anymore…”

A plumb line measures whether a wall is straight from top to bottom. The plumb line helps the builder judge whether the wall is standing according to the plan, or whether the wall should be broken down and rebuilt. God judged Israel according to the masterplan in Deuteronomy, and decided to pull down and start over.

Amos 9:11-15 (Easy-to-Read Version Bible) (shortened) says: “David’s tent has fallen, but at that time I will set it up again. I will fix its holes and repair its ruined parts… I will bring my people, Israel, back from captivity. They will rebuild the ruined cities, and they will live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink the wine… I will plant my people on their land, and never again will they be pulled up out of the land that I gave them.” This is what the Lord your God said.

God wants a world that is righteous and fair. When the powerful make righteousness and fairness impossible, the poor and the weak need help – judgment follows. Judgment comes in many forms, but the result is to root out toxic systems, and a chance for human society to have new beginnings to live decent peaceful lives.

Lord, bring out the plumb line, and renew our nations, Amen!

AMOS – PROPHET FOR THE OPPRESSED

Amos - roar to restore 2
Image source: CrossPointChurch

 

I hate rules, was a strong feeling in me, every time I faced some form of discipline from my parents. Every child probably felt this way at one point or another growing up. It is not unusual to hate rules and seek a life without rules.

Living without rules might seem a good idea, until a bully or tyrant, seizes your lunch, or shirt, or home, or everyone and everything you love including your life. At that point, you will probably, graciously, welcome law and order. Prophet Amos is accused of preaching bad news; the reality is that he preaches God’s law and order.

Amos 5:10-15 (Easy-to-Read Version Bible) (shortened) says: “You change justice to poison… You hate those prophets, who go to public places and speak against evil, even though they teach good, simple truths. You take unfair taxes from the poor… You hurt people who do right, you accept money to do wrong, and you keep the poor from receiving justice in court. At that time wise teachers will be quiet, because it is a bad time… Hate evil and love goodness. Bring justice back into the courts. Maybe then the Lord God All-Powerful will be kind to the survivors from Joseph’s family.”

When love thy neighbor was lost, law and order broken, and greedy, corrupt, bullies, thugs, oppressors, and tyrants took over, Prophets like Amos were sent to heal Israel. First, by speaking against evil, second by reminding Israel that their God Yahweh will punish evil, third by calling for repentance in order to avoid judgement.

Would you believe that despite Amos clear and passionate preaching, a senior priest in Israel, called Amaziah, reported Amos to the king as an enemy of Israel, told Amos to shut up and go home (see Amos 7:10-17). The evil leadership in Israel preferred to be judged than to repent – life under such leaders is painful!

May the Lord deliver us from bullies, thugs, and tyrants; like Israel of old, may the Lord judge leaders with no love for the people they serve and no respect for justice; save the oppressed O Lord, Amen!   

AMOS – HOT WORDS IN ROTTEN TIMES

Amos and Justice
Image credit: CommonThreadChurchRaleigh

 

In many societies, women in their roles as mothers, wives, sisters, female friends, and health care workers, are deep pools of compassion and love to humanity. Women heal the world everyday through their countless small and great acts delivered with love and tenderness. When women lose this specialness, society rotten.

In the book of Amos, we see a nation where women lost their special sauce and the society rotten. First, who was Amos? He was a shepherd in the southern kingdom of Judah sent to deliver God’s last message of warning to the northern kingdom of Israel, around 700 years after they left Egypt and 800 years before Jesus.

At this time, Israel was very wealthy, as God promised in Deuteronomy 8; God also warned of judgement if they used their wealth to act wickedly. Unfortunately, the rich in Israel became wicked and vicious to the poor, in disobedience to God’s laws in Deuteronomy 15 that required the rich to share their wealth with the poor. Sadly, their wives lost their compassion and joined the gang of oppressors.

Amos 4:1-2 (Easy-to-Read Version Bible) says: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!” The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness: “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks…”  

Bashan was a place on Israel’s border with well fed cows, who lived to eat. Amos harshly confronted Israel’s women ‘who oppress the poor and crush the needy’; they had lost a heart of compassion for the poor. Assyria conquered Israel 40 years after Amos and put the women in chains attached to their body with hooks.

Israel was warned over and over for more than 100 years before Amos, to change or be judged. Jonah preached to Nineveh, they repented, and were forgiven; many prophets preached to Israel, they did not repent, they became rotten. Amos was sent as a last appeal before judgement, that is why his preaching was so hot!

The world is passing through painful times at present. The few rich are getting richer, but billions of poor people are miserable. Our mothers, wives, sisters, in poor communities are exhausted by hardship, prostitution has therefore exploded around the world. In rotten times like these, God acts as a judge to push back evil.

Loving God, save the poor today, as you did in Israel in the past, Amen!      

AMOS AND THE WORLD TODAY!

Amos for today
Image credit: FountainintheCityChurchAustralia

 

The book of Amos opens with knockout (KO) punches, in Chapter 1, against five nations that border Israel; and three more KO against Moab, Judah, and Israel in Chapter 2. Many readers are not able to go beyond these KO chapters, and so miss out on the relevant message Amos has for the world we live in today.

Amos preached in the nation of Israel, and not in Judah, What is the difference? When King Solomon died, the United Kingdom of Israel had a civil war. The poorer ten tribes in the north broke away and were called Israel, while the richer two tribes in the south (Judah and Benjamin) were called Judah (see 1 Kings Chapters 11-15).

Amos preached in Israel about 150 years after the civil war; this was 800 years before Jesus was born, and 2800 years from today. At that time Israel was experiencing economic boom; the rich had winter and summer homes (mansions) decorated with ivory (Amos 3:15), and slept in beds made with ivory (Amos 6:4).

Meanwhile Amos 2:6-8 (Easy-to-Read Version Bible) tell us: ‘This is what the Lord says: “I will definitely punish Israel… They sold honest people for a little silver. They sold the poor for the price of a pair of sandals… They stopped listening to suffering people. Fathers and sons had sexual relations with the same woman. They ruined my holy name. They took clothes from the poor, and then they sat on those clothes while worshiping at their altars. They loaned money to the poor, and then they took their clothes as a promise for payment. They made people pay fines and used the money to buy wine for themselves to drink in the temple of their god.’ 

International trade was booming; a small number of people became very rich; they partied heavily, hunted sexual adventures, and were wicked to the many poor people. This was in direct disobedience to Deuteronomy 15:1-18 where God told them to be generous to the poor, to lend to the poor without interest, and to forgive debts. We see a  similar pattern in many countries today – to be continued next week.

Lord, forgive us when we have hurt the poor; help us do better, Amen!

IN BITTER WATERS, CRY TO GOD FOR HELP!

Bitter-Water-at-Marah-Exodus-15-22-27
Image source: ParentandChildBibleReading

 

I recall the day my dad first brought Swedish Bitters home. This herbal drink is more than a hundred years old and some say it cures up to 40 different health problems. As a kid, I hated it because it was bitter. Like kids everywhere, I only wanted that which is sweet. It does not take long though for every person to discover that this journey called life has many joyful hilltops and many bitter waters along the way.

Take Israel when they left Egypt – they experienced a great deliverance from Pharaoh, walking through the Red Sea along the way. In Exodus 15:1-21, we have that beautiful song by Miriam, sister of Moses, rejoicing and praising God for this deliverance. A few days after, the people were in another life and death crises.

Exodus 15:22-25a (New Living Translation) says: “Then Moses led the people…  and they moved out into the desert of Shur… for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink… the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink.”

This is a great lesson right here; one moment we could be on the hilltop of joy, and the very next moment in the oasis of Marah, in the place of bitter water. Like our brothers and sisters in Lebanon right now; one moment life was normal and the next a devastating explosion from out of nowhere, shattering their lives.

At this bitter moment, “Moses cried out to the Lord for help”; the Good News Bible says “Moses prayed earnestly to the LORD”. The solution came, and the bitter water became good to drink, wow! Like everyone else, I have known hilltops of joy and bitter waters. In recent times, the stress of life under Coronavirus and other bad news just seemed too much. I join Moses in trusting in the Lord for help in these times.

Dear God, our shepherd, lead us to sweet waters, we pray, Amen!  

 

IN MOURNING, WE NEED MORE OF GOD, NOT LESS

 

Mourning Absalom 2
David mourning Absalom (source: DwellingintheWord)

 

Absalom was a much loved son of King David; and he was the most handsome man in Israel (2 Samuel 14). The people hoped he would be King after David. However, Absalom was cruel, and ended up seizing David’s throne (2 Samuel 15).

Absalom’s rebellion failed, and he died in battle. In 2 Samuel 18:33, when David heard of his death, he burst into tears and cried “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.” David felt the pain that stabs very deep, because it is caused by someone we love.

As David fled from him, 2 Samuel 15:30-32 (New Living Translation) (shortened) says: “David walked up the road to the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. His head was covered and his feet were bare as a sign of mourning. And the people who were with him… wept… When David reached the summit of the Mount of Olives where people worshiped God, Hushai the Arkite was waiting…” 

David’s first reaction to the revolt, was to climb up ‘Mount Olives where people worshiped God’, and where Jesus was crucified. In times of deep heartfelt pain, we need more of God, not less. As I mourn the passing of a mentor and friend, Paul Omokhua, I need more of God, not less of him. As we face up to life’s punches, let the prayer of David in Psalm 3, during Absalom’s rebellion, be ours too.

Psalm 3 (New Living Translation): Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, Lord, are a shield… the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side. Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people. 

Amen and Amen!

IN MEMORY OF PAUL OMOKHUA – MENTOR AND FRIEND

Candle for Paul Omokhua

 

A week ago, I lost a mentor and friend, Paul Omokhua. I was a teenager just out of high school when we first met, and he was just a few years older. However, his insight, wisdom, and comprehensive understanding of the Bible for such a young person was astonishing. I remember how I and other friends would listen to him teach for hours – his teachings on ‘Jesus the pattern son’ will stay with me forever.

In our many conversations, Paul would emphasize that sincerity and humility of heart before God are essential virtues for the Christian life. This echoes David who says in Psalm 51:16-17 (Easy to Read Version): “You don’t really want sacrifices, or I would give them to you. The sacrifice that God wants is a humble spirit. God, you will not turn away someone who comes with a humble heart and is willing to obey you.

Paul was an optometrist, and lived simply, shunning ostentation, showmanship, personality cult, false pretenses, and high sounding nonsense. His unexpected passing hurts a lot; he will be missed by his wife and kids, by his extended family, by friends and colleagues. I remember him fondly for his patience with me for my endless questions; he was a God sent guide at that point in my life, I say thank you Paul.

Dear God, guide and prosper his family that he leaves behind, Amen!