A NEW HUMANITY

Adam and Eve used their freewill to walk away from God. In doing so, they gained the freedom to live according to their own rules, by their own brain power and physical strength. However, they were living in a very, very, big house they did not build – that is the earth. A house with many rooms and many good things, and with an enemy older and wiser than them both – the devil.

Adam and Eve had the brains and strength to build a life in this physical world, but they were no match for the devil. Imagine living in a big house you did not build and having to face an enemy who knows the house thoroughly, because the enemy was there when it was being built. The devil knows the earth better than we do, and knows humanity better than we know ourselves. The devil was there when we created and knows our capacity, our appetites, our strengths, our weaknesses.

Thus, the devil is a master at deceiving humans through lies about spiritual reality, and through selling us ideas and products that satisfy our appetites and keep us addicted – coming back for more. Adam and Eve and us their children, enjoy using our freewill, but we have a wise old enemy that is an expert at encouraging us to use our freewill to walk away from God. How can we use our freewill to make a choice to walk with God and not away from God?

In john 5:1-19 (Amplified Bible) (shortened) we read: “Later on there was a Jewish feast (festival), and Jesus went up to Jerusalem… There was a certain man there who had been ill for thirty-eight years… Jesus said to him, “Get up; pick up your pallet and walk.”… that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews kept saying to the man… “It is the Sabbath, and you are not permitted to pick up your pallet… [the man] told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews began to persecute Jesus… So Jesus answered them by saying, “…the Son can do nothing of Himself [of His own accord], unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever things the Father does, the Son [in His turn] also does in the same way.”

Jesus presents a new humanity, a humanity that do nothing independent of God, but in harmony with God. The life of Jesus shows that this new humanity is able to draw on divine resources to heal the sick, feed the multitude, rise from the dead. This new humanity sounds too good be true, sounds like a fairy tale, maybe! However, until you personally and sincerely give it a try, by calling on Jesus, the firstborn of this new humanity, to show it to you, it does not seem wise to just dismiss it.

Great God, teach us more about this new humanity, Amen!

PHYSICAL GIANTS AND SPIRITUAL BABIES

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Caring for our body is a never ending task; we eat daily yet our hunger never stops; so too our eyes are never tired of seeing; our noses never tire of smelling sweet frangrances we encounter daily; our ears never get tired of hearing; and our skins never get tired of the warm embrace of loved ones.

Our body is an amazing machine of consumption of food, observations, smells, sounds, and touch. When we deny the body what it wants, it rebels, fight back, and rob us of peace. We can be so focused on feeding the unending never tired appetites of our bodies, that we lose all concern for our spirit.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 (English Standard Version) (shortened) says: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come… before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened… before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust [body] returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

What is the purpose of our spirit? Job 32:8-9 (English Standard Version) says: “But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right.”

1 Corinthians 2:14 (English Standard Version) also adds: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly [foolish] to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

Understanding is used in the Bible passages to mean knowledge about God. We experience the physical world through our body; smilarly we experience the spiritual world with our spirits. Thus, Proverbs 20:27 (English Standard Version) says: “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts.”

However, we have built a world that is more concerned about our bodies. We also choose lifestyles focused on satisfying to the fullest the needs of our bodies, but we don’t make an equal investment in feeding and growing our spirit. Thus, we end up as giants in the physical material world but spiritual babies.

Lord, show us how to grow our spirit and not just our body, Amen!

GOOD, EVIL, AND FREEWILL

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If God is good, why is there evil in the world? The answer is simple – freewill – that amazing gift that God has blessed the angelic and the human creation with, allows us to choose the path of life we wish to follow. Freewill allows for choice to live according to the creator’s counsel or to follow our own preferences including evil preferences. Adam was given a choice and he exercised it.

Genesis 1:15-17 (The Message Bible) says: ‘God took the Man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order. God commanded the Man, “You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don’t eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you’re dead.”’

Put another way, God is saying to us, ‘I give you freewill, but when you use it against me, you have stepped into dangerous lethal grounds’. Dangerous lethal grounds because the life of all creation, without the sustaining power of the creator, has only one sure outcome – death. If you don’t refuel your car when it runs out of fuel, there is only one outcome, the car will stop moving – it dies.

The Bible teaches that the fuel or power that keeps us alive comes from God; there is an initial deposit at birth – a gift from the creator. The cost of choosing to live independently from the creator is loss of the opportunity to refuel, so when this initial deposit of life-fuel ends, we must refuel to go on living. Those who have chosen to live according to the counsel of the creator (good), will be refueled, those who have chosen to be enemies of the creator (evil), will not be refueled.

I hear you ask ‘how can we live according to the counsel of the creator?’ Our first guide is our conscience, though imperfect, it is the first place where we hear the counsel of the creator. A more advanced guide are the teachings of Jesus, and a more perfect guide is when God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit helps us to clearly understand the teachings of Jesus. These paths of light are available to all.

Apostle Paul speaks about our conscience in Romas 2:13-15 (NIV): For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law… (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law… They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

Good and evil are due to the gift of freewill; our conscience is the first voice that speaks to us to choose good over evil; the Bible calls good the choices we make that follow the counsel of God, and evil the choices that do not follow the counsel of God. Thankfully this era where evil is tolerated by God, will end, and a new era is coming when all who choose good will live again in a world without evil.

Good God, speak clearly to us always, as we use our gift of freewill, to choose good over evil, Amen!

IS GOD GOOD?

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The statement ‘God is good’ produces an Amen from the believer, and scorn from the skeptical non-believer. The believer says ‘can’t you see all the good that God does from Genesis to Revelation?’ The skeptic says ‘the Bible is full of judgement from Genesis to Revelation’ – both observations are true!

My parents showed me a lot of love as a child, but they also monitored my behavior, examined my motives, judged me and disciplined me appropriately. While romantic love might be blind, parental love is not – parental love is watchful, corrective, judgemental but also caring and protective. The God of the Bible is a parent – Adam is referred to as the son of God not the romantic partner of God.

Good parents provide for all their children, so Psalms 136:1 (Contemporary English Version) says – ‘Praise the Lord! He is good. God’s love never fails.’ and follows it up in verse 25 ‘He gives food to all who live. God’s love never fails.’

Good parents are watchful and corrective, because ‘All children are foolish, but firm correction will make them change’ (Proverbs 22:15 Contemporary English Version). Proverbs 19:15 (Contemporary English Version) continues – ‘Correct your children, and they will be wise; children out of control disgrace their mothers.’

When the scorner and skeptic says – ‘a good God should not judge’ – they are not seeing the nature of God’s relationship with his creation. God loves me and you because we are his children, not his romantic partners.

Good God, our Father who is in heaven, our Father who gives food to all, Give us today our daily bread, despite all of life’s challenges, Amen!

MAY THE LORD GIVE YOU PEACE!

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“Better a bite of dry bread eaten in peace, than a family feast filled with strife” (Proverbs 17:1 God’s Word Translation). There is so much happening in the world today to rob us of our peace of mind. The solution sometimes is to ignore everything, to block out all the bad news and sad news. However, when the strife and troubles is within one’s own family or close circle of friends, how do you keep it out?

King Solomon who wrote Proverbs lived about 3000 years ago, but he recognized peace as more valuable than wealth. Modern medicine backs this up, and many times when we visit the doctors, we are told to “rest”, “take it easy”, “seek out peace and quiet”. It is amazing how we have built a world where we have invented technologies that rob us of peace. The person who seeks after peace is often considered the fool compared to the one who breaks hearts and heads to get to the top.

In Numbers 6:22-27 (God’s Word Translation) we read: ‘The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you will bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord will bless you and watch over you. The Lord will smile on you and be kind to you. The Lord will look on you with favor and give you peace.’ “So whenever they use my name to bless the Israelites, I will bless them.”

Israel’s national prayer from Aaron the High Priest, emphasised favor and peace unto the people, alongside blessings and kindness. Do you pray for peace – for peace of mind, for peace of society? As I have grown older and hopefully wiser, I find myself praying for peace for me, for you, for society, a lot more.

So like Aaron praying for Israel, I pray that the Lord bless you, watch over you, be kind to you, look on you with favor, and give you peace, Amen!







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THE HUMILITY OF PRAYER

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It is impossible to pray when I think I have all the answers; it is impossible to pray when I think I have all I need to solve a problem; it is impossible to pray to an unseen God when I think I have the knowledge to solve a challenge before me; it is impossible to pray when I view myself as lord and master over everyone and everything. Who needs God when I have beauty, money, power, science, and technology?

Solomon says in Ecclesistates 10:11 (King James Version): “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

Lets read Ecclesisates 10:11 again in the Contemporary English Version (CEV): “Here is something else I have learned: The fastest runners and the greatest heroes don’t always win races and battles. Wisdom, intelligence, and skill don’t always make you healthy, rich, or popular. We each have our own share of misfortune.”

Time and chance happen to all; according to the CEV translation – “we each have our own share of misfortune”; and this includes even those who believe they are the lords and masters over the rest of us. No surprises then that when Jesus taught his followers how to pray, he included that deep last line.

Luke 11:2-4 (The Message Bible) reads: ‘So he [Jesus] said, “When you pray, say, – Father, Reveal who you are. Set the world right. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”’

Keep us safe not from our neighbors but first from ourselves, lest our ego, our pride, our big-headedness, our boastfulness, arrogance, hubris, convince us that we have life all sorted, no room for God in our hearts. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil who goes around when we sleep, digging up potholes and placing obstacles on our path. When we pray we accept with humility that there are influences out there that can impact our lives and for which we need divine protection.

Lord, continue to teach us how to pray in these challenging times, Amen!

THE ULTIMATE SELFLESS PRAYER

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No one is born willing to lay down their life for the next person. When food is abundant, I will give you my plate, but once there is any kind of scarcity, I will think about me first. This is a tough choice we all make – the choice to seek for “my good” when there is scarcity, to think “me first” when there is danger. Consequently, my choice to preserve me, on the other hand would let others die!

This is why the response of Jesus while on the cross, is just so incredible. In the gospels, we see Jesus teaching, healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread, walking on water – displaying divine power in abundance. Yet, when the Pharisees tortured him, sent him to Pontius Pilate to be condemned to painful death, on false charges, he did not think “me first”. On the cross, on his last breath, he offered the ultimate selfless prayer for his tormentors!

Luke 23:32-34 (NIV) says: ‘Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.’

Furthermore, in Hebrews 7:23-25 (NIV) we read thus: “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede [pray] for them.”

Hebrews 7 compares Jesus with the priests of the Old Testament; those priests offered prayers for the people, but their service ended at death. In comparison, Jesus rose from the dead, and he lives to pray for us; to pray for ‘those who come to God through him’. If he could pray ‘Father forgive them’ for his tormentors, he is surely praying selflessly for me and you – share your troubles with him!

Jesus, thank you for your selfless prayer for them, for me, for us, Amen!

PSALM 61- A PRAYER IN OVERWHELMING TIMES

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‘I am the captain of my soul’ – writes William Henley in his famous poem ‘Invictus’. Henley is right in that I have the power to choose to follow the wind or to go against the winds of life. I find though that my power to choose could sometimes be meaningless when the winds of life are so overwhelming, when the winds of life are so strong that they lift me off my feet and dump me where they wish.

King David in the Bible experienced what it means to be overwhelmed by the winds of life. We read his story in the book of 1 Samuel Chapter 17 how he killed Goliath and all of a sudden he became a national hero more popular than King Saul. A short while later we read about David fleeing from King Saul who had become jealous and wanted to kill him. David flees to Gath, the hometown of Goliath.

We read in 1 Samuel Chapter 21 that David pretended to be mad, so that the king of Gath would not kill him. Life had become so overwhelming for David, what is he going to do? It is this and other difficult circumstances in David’s life that produced Psalm 61, a prayer in overwhelming times.

Psalm 61:1-4 (Living Bible) states: “O God, listen to me! Hear my prayer! For wherever I am, though far away at the ends of the earth, I will cry to you for help. When my heart is faint and overwhelmed, lead me to the mighty, towering Rock of safety. For you are my refuge, a high tower where my enemies can never reach me. I shall live forever in your tabernacle; oh, to be safe beneath the shelter of your wings!”

In these difficult economic times, in these unstable political times, in this era where strong cultural and spiritual winds want to blow us off our feet, lets not stop praying. Instead like David, when our hearts faint and are overwhelmed by all that is happening around us, lets draw closer to God, the towering Rock of safety, a refuge and a high tower, to be safe beneath the shelter of his wings!

Lord, in dark and difficult times, shine brighter on our path, Amen!

VOTING FOR THE MESSIAH

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Everytime we choose a king or vote a leader, we are looking for a messiah – looking for that man or woman who will make our dreams of paradise come true. We are looking for that person who will make sure there is food on our table, there is peace in our land, and there is good health and prosperity for all.

Many teachers have written books on how to produce this messiah, who will lead us with wisdom and selflessness. More than 2000 years ago the Greek Philosopher Plato wrote a book called ‘The Republic’ to teach us how choose a messiah, and in more recent times the American philosopher John Rawls wrote another book called ‘A Theory of Justice’ also to teach us how to produce a messiah.

The good news for Plato and Rawls is that ‘The Messiah’ has already come; the wise and selfless leader, fair to all, has already come. Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV) talks about him like this: “For to us a child is born… a son is given… the government will be on his shoulders… he will be called Wonderful Counselor… Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne… upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever…”

When we read about Jesus in the Bible, when we think about his love, and his many miracles of healing, feeding the hungry, raising the dead – don’t we just wish that the leaders we choose have these same abilities? Fortunately, the Jesus who walked the earth and turned water to wine is coming again. In the space between his first and second coming, we have seen that no one can be like him!

As the world goes through troubling times, with one crises after another, with one leader after another promising us paradise only to fail to deliver, have you thought about Jesus? Perhaps, the gospel stories about Jesus is still just those silly stories we tell children; think about them again, in light of the fact that the biggest need in the world right now is for a wise, selfless leader, who is fair to everyone!

Jesus, the world needs you, come quickly, Amen!

DANIEL’S LAST VISION AND THE LAST DAYS – Part 4

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Daniel’s visions narrow down from providing a long history of world leadership changes, from the days of Babylon to the coming of Jesus in Israel, and to issues of the end-times or the last days. Why is this the case? It is so because the Bible is ultimately about God’s plans and not about human plans.

Daniel has a vision of all the empires that will exist, from Babylon to the coming of Jesus in Chapters 2 and 7. In Chapter 8 he has vision of how a Greek king will act brutally and viciously towards Israel. History shows that king to be the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, the man who sacrificed a pig in the temple, and almost wiped out Israel if God had not intervened to deliver Israel.

Daniel’s fourth and last vision in Chapter 11, says a lot more about how the Greek rulers of the Seleucid kingdom (northern ruler) and the Ptolemite kingdom (southern ruler) (see the map from last week) will fight lots of wars against one another to determine who is supreme. The road linking these northern and southern kingdoms passed through Israel; so their wars affected Israel negatively.

Why the strong focus on the Greek empire in Daniel Chapter 8 and Chapter 11? In these visions of Daniel, he saw the exact time when Jesus will come – that is during the Roman empire. In addition, just as Prophet Malachi revealed that Elijah will come before the coming of Jesus, Daniel also reveals that someone behaving like Antiochus Epiphanes will come again before the second coming of Jesus

Jesus referred to this in Matthew 24:15-21 ( NIV) (shortened): “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath… there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again.”

Daniel’s visions are not just fanciful Sunday school stories, but are a guide to us all about God’s plans versus human plans, how they clash, and how God has already put in place solutions for any conflict. May we find inspiration and strength knowing that God is prepared and capable of seeing us through whatever is happening in the world today, both what we know and what we don’t know.

Thank you Lord for your goodness from generation to generation, Amen!