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!

A PRAYER FOR THE USA on election day 03Nov2020

Proverbs 15:1 (KJV Bible)A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (NLT Bible)A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.

Proverbs 15:1 (ISV Bible)A gentle response diverts anger, but a harsh statement incites fury.

Dear God, as the US elects the next president, I pray for peace in the land irrespective of who wins when all the results are known. While my mind tell me peace would likely come about if there is a decisive uncontestable result at the end of the day, my heart nonetheless prays for calm nerves and cool heads for Republicans and Democrats all across the US even if the outcome is not known at the end of today.

Proverbs 15:1 says, a gentle answer quenches the flames of anger, so I pray that the presidential candidates, President Donald Trump and Mr. Joe Biden, and their advisors, and their sponsors, and their followers, in the US and all over the world, will exercise restraint in their speeches and comments after the voting ends today. I pray that when they get to speak, they will do so under very strong convictions in their hearts to seek peace, and thus be gentle in words, gestures, and actions.

Dear God, I pray for all citizens and residents of the US to listen to your Spirit of love and peace, urging us all to choose peace over rage and divisiveness.

I join my voice, with that of hundreds and hundreds of millions of US citizens from when this land became a nation over 200 years ago, I join my voice with the many hundreds of millions alive today, and the many more hundreds of millions yet to be born, to declare, God bless America today and forever, Amen!

BE COURAGEOUS, SEEK JESUS!

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What’s going on in the world? Parts of Europe are going back into COVID-19 lockdown; political instability and natural disasters seem on the increase; consequently, many are experiencing fear, depression, and nervous breakdown.

This was how the people of Israel felt when Jesus lived with them. They were under Roman colonialism; they were poor yet they had to regularly pay tax; Roman soldiers violently harassed them daily; Jewish freedom fighters (the zealots) violently harassed Romans and Jews that worked with them. In this craziness, the poor and hungry, the orphan, the widow, and the sick suffered greatly.

Under these conditions Mark 1:40-45 (The Message Bible)(shortened) says: “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, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” 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… 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.”

At that time, they had no cure for leprosy; nobody mixed with them, nobody touched them; lepers hid from people. It took courage for this leper to seek out Jesus; his healing was a very big deal and Jesus preferred to keep it quiet. The joyful leper told everyone and thousands then came from all over to seek Jesus.

In times of fear, depression, and nervous breakdowns, seek Jesus – for healing of spirit, soul, mind and body; for healing of homes, families, and societies. Like the leper, take a courageous step in prayer to Jesus, and he will answer!

Jesus, thank you for caring; answer our prayers speedily, Amen!

GOSPEL OF MARK – JESUS SOLUTIONS

If Jesus is the answer – what’s the question? The questions are: how do you solve poverty; how do you solve health problems; how do you solve conflict in society and injustice? In a nutshell, how do you ensure that people live in harmony with one another, with nature, and with God?

Mark 1:29-31 (NIV) says: “As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.  So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.”

Note that in those times 2000 years ago, a fever could easily kill a person, especially an elderly person; but here is Jesus in Capernaum, in Peter’s house, without hesitation, without charge, in an instant, healing Peter’s mother-in-law.

Mark 1:32-34 (NIV) continues: “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.”

Wow, this is amazing! The whole town of Capernaum gathered at the door of Peter’s house – and Jesus healed many with various diseases – at no charge, no expensive medications, no sleeping in the hospital. Healing at the speed of his touch, answers and solutions to pain and suffering.

Jesus is the answer because his solutions are free; his solutions don’t depend on earthly material; he is able to tap into power from the open heavens. When we take medicines to get well, it solves one problem and create another; when Jesus heals, it is perfect! Jesus solution has no negative side; in our problem world today, we need the Jesus answer, we need the Jesus solution.

Father in heaven, the world seems to be on fire; we solve one fire and ten more appear; we need Jesus solutions, help us O Lord, Amen!

GOSPEL OF MARK – JESUS THE ANSWER

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If Jesus is the answer – what is the question? The gospel of Mark starts with a quotation from the book of Isaiah, about God sending John the Baptist before Jesus (Mark 1:1-3). Mark starts his gospel by letting us know that Israel was expecting a savior as prophesied in the Old Testament.

The savior’s mission was stated in Isaiah 61:1-3 (The Message Bible): “The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners. God sent me to announce the year of his grace – a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies – and to comfort all who mourn…”

The Old Testament prophets, preached against corruption, evil, and injustice. They preached that these problems in society come from the hearts of men and women. Thus the answer was to provide relief for people who are suffering, and most importantly transform our hearts from seeking to do evil to seeking to do good.

Thus in Mark 1:14-15 (The Message Bible) we read: “After John [the Baptist] was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.””

Jesus starts his preaching, by announcing “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here” – to Israel; they had heard John the Baptist preach that the savior is coming, now Jesus is saying I am the awaited savior, I am the answer to all your problems. Next week we will see how Jesus went about proving to all that he is the answer!

Lord God, show us how Jesus answers to our deepest needs, Amen!

GOSPEL OF MARK – THE OPENED HEAVENS 2

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In the beginning, God created heaven and earth; and planted a garden in Eden, which was the home of Adam and Eve. The garden was heaven on earth; Adam and Eve had all they needed in there, including times of fellowship with God.

Genesis 3:8-9 (The Message Bible) says: “When they [Adam and Eve] heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God. God called to the Man: “Where are you?””

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve decided to follow their own will, in a direction clearly against God’s will. The implication was that they were not satisfied with God; they lost heaven, and had to live on what they could produce by their own effort. Heaven was closed until Jesus was baptized and started his mission in Israel.

Mark 1:9-13 (The Message Bible) (shortened) says: “…Jesus… was baptized by John… The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit… come down on him… At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan…”

Adam and Eve had an open heaven, Jesus had an open heaven; Adam and Eve were in a pleasant garden with everything; Jesus was led into a wilderness without food; they were all tempted to follow their own will. Adam and Eve with eyes wide open rejected God; Jesus says “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me…” (John 4:34) (The Message Bible).

Today, we live under the opened heavens; God is back ‘strolling’ on earth, calling the children of Adam and Eve – “where are you?”

Our Father in heaven, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven; for thine is the kingdom, all power, and all glory, Amen!

GOSPEL OF MARK – THE OPENED HEAVENS

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In Genesis, Adam and Eve lived in God’s garden, where God would visit them from time to time. There was no barrier between the human and the divine. When Adam and Eve decided they wanted to be like God, they were packed out of God’s garden to go and build a life on their own strength.

Genesis 3:24 says (NLT): “After sending them out [Adam and Eve], the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Adam and Eve initially lived in heaven on earth, a place where all their needs were provided for. When they chose to live independent of God, heaven closed its doors, and put a mighty cherubim, an angelic guard, to keep it closed. Heaven remain closed, till when Jesus came down to open the way again. The gospel of Mark records two unique events that point to an opened heavens today.

In Mark 1:9-10 (NIV) we read: “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”

At the crucifixion in Mark 15:37-38 (NIV) we read: “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”

At Jesus baptism when he started his mission, heaven opened up, but this was witnessed by a few. When Jesus completed his mission, the curtain in the temple that separated the seat of God from the people, was ‘torn in two from top to bottom‘ – the opened heavens was announced to the whole world. Next week we will look at the implication of the opened heavens for you and me.

Lord, open our eyes to see that Eden has opened up again, Amen!

JESUS AND GENEROSITY TO THE POOR

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“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!