DEUTERONOMY – setbacks are not the end of the road

Image source: BethelHeightsChurch

Moses is about to leave after 40 years of leading the people; this is going to be an extremely heavy loss to the people. Think about this – the generation that were adults when they left Egypt, who felt the full weight of suffering in Egypt, who saw all the mighty works of God to deliver them from slavery, who danced with Miriam when she sang that song of deliverance after they crossed the Red Sea – that generation have all died except for Joshua, Caleb, and Moses.

The task of taking the promised land is now on their children. It is at this point that Moses is going to depart. Yes, Joshua, the new leader, saw it all, served Moses for 40 years, still there would have been anxiety among this new generation. Thus, Moses had to choose his words carefully in his last message to Israel. Deuteronomy is packed full of what Moses considered as the most important things to pass across to this new generation and all other generations of Israel to come after them.

The basic out line of Deuteronomy is as follows: (1) Chapters 1-3 the mission to take the promised land is transferred to the new generation (2) Chapters 4-10 remember God’s covenant and laws (3) Chapters 11-26 love God and let it show in how you live (4) Chapters 27-30 cosequences for living according to the covenant with God and for disobeying (5) Chapters 31-34 obituary of Moses likely added on by Joshua.

In Deuteronomy Chapters 1-3, Moses starts by reminding the new generation that God spoke to Israel at Mount Horeb and told them it was time to enter the promised land. Mount Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai. Recall from the book of Exodus that when God delivered Israel from Egypt, he brought them to Mount Sinai where they camped and received the Ten Commandments and other laws.

Moses reminds them that 40 years had passed since God gave the mission; the first generation rebelled against the mission, so God passed it to the children. So, instead of going north and into the promised land of Canaan, that generation went east of the promised land and Israel took over the land of Moab. On the way they had to fight and defeat Sihon King of Heshbon and Og the King of Bashan. Click on the map to see the routes of their 40 year wanderings that Moses talks about in Chapters 1-3.

The task for this new generation is to go west across the River Jordan into the promised land of Canaan. In Deuteronomy 3:21-22 (NIV) Moses assures them of victory: ‘At that time I commanded Joshua: “You have seen with your own eyes all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings [Sihon and Og]. The Lord will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.”’

Patient and persistent God, with you, setbacks are not the end of the road, thank you for insight into the first part of Deuteronomy, Amen!

DEUTERONOMY – Moses last words to Israel

Image source: BiblicalFoundationsForFreedom

Its almost 20 years since my mum passed away. I was with her in her last days, and her last words to me about family have continued to guide my relationship with my extended family. We all tend to give a lot of importance to the last words of our loved ones who have passed away. We believe there is deep wisdom in those last words.

The book of Deuteronomy is Moses last words, to Israel before his death. He had led them out of Egypt and for 40 years in their stay in the wilderness. As they were finally preparing to enter the promised land, God informed Moses that it was time for him to leave this world, and transition to heaven. So, in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people of the most important issues in their relationship with God.

Deuteros – Nomos meaning “Second Law” is the title of the book in Greek. The Bible scholars who translated the book from Hebrew to Greek called it “Second Law” because Moses repeated the Ten Commandments and other laws in this book. These were laws that he had first presented to the people in the book of Exodus.

However the Exodus adult generation had all died, and it is their children who are now preparing to enter the promised land. Before Moses hands over leadership to Joshua, and departs from them, he reminds them of their history, their covenant with God, the laws and regulations to guide them in the promised land, the blessings that will follow them for obeying the laws, and the negative consequences for disobedience.

When Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, he quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NIV): “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

In the coming weeks, we will study Deuteronomy together. This continues our study of the books of the Bible. In 2021 we started with Genesis and went through Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. These past book studies are available on the blog website; revisit them to remind yourself of where we are coming from.

To new readers, I started this weekly blog 4 years ago to share my reflections on the Bible with family and friends; with the passing of time that circle has grown larger and larger. I hope this inspires you to learn more about your faith.

Thank you for being a part of this journey, God bless you richly, Amen!

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2022…

Happy New Year 2022 to family and friends around the world!

Its been 2 years since COVID-19 hit the world, and brought worry, uncertainty, and stress. I remember how troubled I felt at the end of 2019 and start of 2020 as news of the virus spreading through Wuhan China and very quickly through Europe and then New York was coming over our TV screen. I feared for my family and the world.

In March 2020 schooling in USA went online, and my kids stayed home till March 2021, before they returned to in-person classes. That was a painful period caring for our kids mental health and our own. Lectures at the University where I teach went online and has remained online; it has been impossible shielding oneself from the difficulties and pains of the young students.

At the start of December 2021, I was terribly exhausted and looking forward to the end of year holiday. In thinking through the extraordinary burden of COVID-19 on our lives, I have drawn strength from an aspect of the life experience of Jacob.

In Genesis 31:36-42 (God’s Word Translation) (shortened): Then Jacob became angry and confronted Laban… “What is my offense that you have come chasing after me… “I’ve been with you for 20 years… The scorching heat during the day and the cold at night wore me down, and I lost a lot of sleep… I worked for you 14 years for your two daughters and 6 years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed by now. God has seen my misery and hard work, and last night he made it right.”

This is Jacob recounting 20 years of hard times; he was worn down by heat during the day, cold at night, and lost a lot of sleep. It seemed like he was forgotten, but with his own lips he said “God has seen my misery and hardwork… and… made it right” – God saw his pain and hardwork and opened a new page for him, glory!

Oh God, like you did for Jacob, open a new page for me, for us, for the world in 2022; we have lost a lot of sleep because of the extra-ordinary burden of COVID-19, change our story in Jesus name, Amen!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Image source: Pinterest

Merry Christmas to family, friends, and other readers around the world! This is the day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. There are so many reasons why we celebrate him, but let’s feast on just one of them.

In Luke 2:28-32 (NIV) we read: Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Baby Jesus was presented at the Temple when he was 40 days, following the Jewish custom of the redemption of the first born. At the Temple they met an old prophet Simeon, who then offered the thanksgiving prayer above. In that prayer, Simeon refers to Jesus as “a light for revelation”.

What is the revelation Jesus has given the world? Is it how to bake bread or how to build rockets to fly us to space? What was it that the first followers of Jesus saw in him that they did not see anywhere else or in any other leader? Its simple really – they saw selfless abundant love for people! They saw ‘God is love’ and they were first shocked, and then transformed.

Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery, and how Jesus said let the one who has no sin throw the first stone (John 8:1-11). We read that and we often miss the power of the moment; please read it again, go back to that time, place yourself in that crowd, feel the tension, the danger, violent trouble was about to happen, breaking news; Jesus first wrote in the sand, I bet it was advanced mathematics, then he gave his answer, and the super storm died down; a woman was saved that day, and countless numbers of women have been saved by this passage, by the light Jesus revealed to the world – glory be to God in the highest, Alleluya!

May the light of Jesus shine on you and turn your life around; may his light in you grow and grow and make you a super spreader of his love; may his light make your day merry and bright, not just for today, but for everyday in the new year, Amen!

This Christmas – celebrate Jesus the great light!

Image source: RestoreCommunityChurch

In ancient Rome and across Europe, the people celebrated the return of sunlight at the end of December, by a week long festival honouring their gods Saturn and Yule. Part of the celebrations involved burning a large log of wood (the Yule log), and large public fires (bonfires) where people would gather and party through the night.

It is understandable that people would go crazy, celebrating the return of sunlight. It was freedom from staying indoors and from depression; where there is no sunlight, plants die, hunger grows, so it was a celebration that another farming season is coming. Burning the Yule log and bonfires in the long cold dark nights of Europe got people drunk with excitement, just like Christmas lights do to us today. The Christian Church made the people to see that there is an even greater light to celebrate.

Isaiah 9:1-2 (New Living Translation) says: “Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darknesswill see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”

Matthew 4:12-16 (New Living Translation) adds: “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea and returned to Galilee… first to Nazareth, then… Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This fulfilled what God said through the prophet Isaiah: “In the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali,beside the sea, beyond the Jordan River, in Galilee where so many Gentiles live, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”

Wow, wow, wow – Isaiah prophesied that Israel, will see a great light coming from Galilee, 700 years before Jesus was born, and it happened. Sunlight nourishes us physically, the power and teachings of Jesus nourishes our body, soul, and spirit. If humanity got so drunk celebrating sunlight, how much more should we rejoice celebrating Jesus the great light. The teachings of Jesus, applied in the Spirit of Jesus, have made the world a much better place.

This Christmas, celebrate Jesus the great light; God bless you richly, Amen!

Christmas – should we be celebrating Jesus day?

Image source: IsraelAndYou

All special days we celebrate are human traditions. Except the sabbath and the three feast of Israel given by God in the book of Exodus – Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. All other special days whether it is the jewish Hanukkah, or the French Bastille Day, or Thanksgiving Day in America, or the International Women’s Day were invented by us. Celebrating birthdays was not even a common tradition until the Romans started it; and decided to celebrate a birthday for Jesus.

Why celebrate the birthday of Jesus at all? Don’t we have more serious and important things to do? Well, why celebrate your birthday or your parents birthday, or a wedding, or a company’s founders day, or a national independence day? We celebrate for different reasons – to have fun, to remember a meaningful event, to honour a person we greatly admire. In Christianity, we obviously greatly admire Jesus!

Jesus said in Luke 4:18 (Aramaic Bible): “The Spirit of THE LORD JEHOVAH is upon me, and because of this he has anointed me to preach The Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal broken hearts and to proclaim liberty to captives, vision to the blind, and to restore the crushed with forgiveness,”

Jesus kept these words as he preached in Israel, right up to his death, when he forgave those crucifying him and the thief beside him (Luke 23). What a mighty man; who changed the world without using a sword. It is a human tradition to honour those we love, to honour the great among us, and it is very much in that human tradition, not a divine command, that we celebrate Jesus at Christmas.

Yes, celebrating Jesus at Christmas is a human tradition, not a Biblical command; therefore Christians who believe they have more serious things, or nothing at all to do on that day, can choose not to celebrate. Jesus will not be offended. At the same time, those who celebrate and invite him into their homes and Churches will find him in their midst. This is our Jesus, wise, good, and great, even on December 25.

God bless you richly, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, Amen!

The Christmas tradition and the Christian mission – Part 3

Image source: ShareFaithMedia

Follow me to ancient Rome; summer was glorious; on the best days the sun shines till 10pm; summer comes with long bright days, and short dark nights. The other day by 5am the sun was up, we had 17hours of sunshine, and just 7hours of darkness. I am not looking forward to the winter months of October to March.

Winter in Rome keeps everyone indoors, burning wood to heat the home. The snow on the road is dirty and smelly with horse poop; nights come early. December is the darkest month, the sun dies completely; by late afternoon it is dark and stays that way till late morning; even when the darkness goes away, we don’t see the sun, its foggy, smoky, grey, dull, sad, and depressing. The good thing is that the sun is born again during the week of December 17-24.

As we approach the week when the sun is reborn, everyone is excited, we are going to celebrate with the big Saturnalia festival, with human sacrifice to Saturn, drink, dance, and flirt. This is why ancient Rome and Europe went wild during their mid-winter celebrations. The sun, the source of life is coming back, and they are grateful to their gods, and thus they celebrated with uncontrolled passion.

I listened to a Bible teacher, who said Constantine and Pope Julius chose December 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus, as a secret way to celebrate Saturnalia in the Church; and as a way to destroy the Church. If that is true, then they failed; Rome and Europe became more Christian, human sacrifices stopped, public sex parties stopped, and the temples of Saturn, Jupiter, Yule, and other European gods closed down!

As the Christ Mass grew, more people celebrated December 25 calmly reflecting on Jesus as the true son of life. Many Christians opposed celebrating the birth of Christ during the mid-winter season and chose not to celebrate. Things stayed this way for 1500 years until Charles Dickens published ‘A Christmas Carol‘ in 1843.

Dickens used the book to condemn Ebenezer Scrooge the rich man, for not helping suffering children during the Christmas season. Ebenezer Scrooge was a caricature of many successful protestant Christian businessmen at that time who refused to celebrate Christmas. Dickens accused them of loving their money more than being compassionate to the needy in a season of need (the winter time). That novel made many protestants to start celebrating Christmas through missions, charity, and other playful (merry) activities for kids.

Jesus did say in Matthew 11:18-19 (New Living Translation): “For John [the Baptist] didn’t spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.”

Wisdom is shown to be right by its results! Has celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25 destroyed, or contributed to advancing the mission of the Church, in our world for the past 1700 years since Constantine picked that date, and had it validated by Pope Julius? This blog has a comments section, feel free to share your thoughts.

Lord, you own December 25, and every other day of the year, show me how to rejoice and be glad in you everyday, and not just on special days, Amen!

The Christmas tradition and the Christian mission – Part 2

Image source: SBCVirginia

I was probably 18 or 19, when I read the essay “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus” written by the great C.S. Lewis. In it, Lewis spoke about Niatirb (Britain spelled backward), how they exhaust themselves in buying and other festive traditions during their Xmas Rush, then exhaust themselves more on Xmas day overeating and drinking. He wondered why these Niatirb “should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in.” This was the first time I read a criticism of Xmas and I was curious to learn more.

It was Roman Emperor Constantine, who converted to Christianity and in 336 AD first celebrated December 25 in honor of the birth of Jesus. Then Pope Julius in 350 AD made this an official celebration of the Church. As Christianity became the official religion of all of Europe, the Christ Mass on December 25, in honor of the birth of Christ, became one of the biggest event on the Church calendar.

Why did Constantine pick December 25? This was the day after the Romans ended their 7 day festival of Saturnalia, their biggest party, with eating, drinking, and exchange of gifts; it was a public holiday where even slaves had time off, human sacrifice was presented at the temple of Saturn, and sex parties were organized every day. Constantine and the Church, felt it was their Christian mission, to convert the people from their worship of Saturn (the god of farming), to the worship of Christ.

In Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV) Jesus did say: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

December 25 has thus been a high point for Christian missions in the Church calendar. However, the ancient Roman Saturnalia, also celebrated as the Yule festival (Yule-tide) all the way from Germany to Norway, did not die and become extinct. People just carried on their feasting, drinking, gift giving, and sex parties during that period, alongside Church missionary activities – leading to what we observe today, the mixed Christmas and Yuletide celebrations.

Christ Mass on December 25 was sober and meditative, in contrast to the merry-mischievious-dark Saturnalia and Yuletide festivals. So how did ‘Merry Christmas’ come about, and what roles did the winter weather and the author Charles Dickens play in all of this? We will look into this next week, don’t go away!

Lord, thank you for the Christ Mass, a light into the world, Amen!

The Christmas tradition and the Christian mission – Part 1

Image source: tenor.com

I was 8 years old when we got our first Christmas tree and decorated it with lights. Did my family do that for the many other Christmas we celebrated when I was a kid? I am sure we did, but I don’t recall the other times as clearly as I recall the first time. The excitement and joy and happiness I felt that first time was never repeated. I would wake up at night when all the lights were off just to look at that Christmas tree with lights – it was glorious!

We say, Jesus is the reason for the season, but my joy and excitement at the Christmas tree and its lights, had nothing to do with Jesus. Think about it this way – say you were walking down the street on a normal day, and you suddenly come upon a party with drinks and food and lights and fun, it is likely that you would get excited and want to join in. We all enjoy colourful lively parties and festivities, and Christmas is one of the biggest party of the year.

We sing the hymn, “The first Noel, the Angels did say, Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay, In fields where they lay keeping their sheep, On a cold winter’s night that was so deep…”, and we paint pictures of baby Jesus born while it was snowing outside. We sing of a white snowy Christmas, its so much fun, and so different from what is in our Bible.

Luke 2:1-11 (NIV) (shortened) says: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken… And everyone went to their own town to register… Joseph also went… to Bethlehem… to register with Mary… and was expecting a child… and she gave birth to… a son… there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared… said to them, “Do not be afraid… Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Jesus was born during a census, when Israel was being counted and everyone had to return to their village. This type of census was not done during the cold winter months; it was done when places were warmer. Secondly, shepherds don’t sleep in the fields watching their sheep in cold winter, they only do this when places are warmer. Bible scholars have shown that Jesus was born around end of September or start of October, during the feast of Tabernacles, when it is warm in Israel, not late December when places are cold.

I could be born in October, but decide to celebrate my 16th or 21st or 50th or 70th birthday in December, because I want to make it a big party on a date when all my guests can make it. What is the reason the Christian Church decided to celebtate the birth of Jesus not during the actual season of his birth, but in a different season? This question will be answered next week. In the meantime, my kids are all excited to put up our Christmas tree.

Lord, help us understand the difference between the traditions and the mission of the Church, Amen!

Moving from Numbers and into Christmas

Image source: MinistryPassInc

When reading a book, any book, the first thing we do is try to know the story, and how it flows from one page to the other, till we get to the end of the book. Later, as we begin to think about the story in the book, we might go back and read certain parts of the book again, to understand a part of the story better, or to understand a person better. The Bible is no different. We have to read the Bible first to know the story.

However, to understand the story deeper, we have to go back often, to learn about the people (characters), and the flow (the plot) of the story. Many know the Bible stories including those who have never read it; to understand the Bible better, we have to understand the characters (including God), and the flow or the plot from Genesis to Revelation. The book study from this blog focuses on understanding one character, God, and the plot of the Bible story. Why the focus on God?

In a book with thousands of characters, with a story that happens over thousands of year, to understand the plot, follow the main character that is constant from the start to finish. In the Bible, the constant character is God. It is important then to follow what God is saying and doing from Genesis to Revelation. When you do that, the Bible stops being a confusing puzzle, instead everything becomes clear and fit nicely together.

In studying Numbers, we see that God wants the people to enter the promised land. There are many characters in the story and many problems, but the mission is to enter the promised land. Why that mission – go back to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and listen to God’s conversation with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses – the answer of course is Jesus as books that come after Numbers make even clearer.

Now that we are done with Numbers, we will turn to the story, meaning, and power of Christmas. We will return to book study of Deuteronomy in the new year. In ancient Europe, December 25 was part of the celebration of the winter solstice, when gifts were offered to their pagan gods. How did this become a Christian festival is a long story. Stay tuned as we dig into that story during this Christmas season.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace’ (Numbers 6:24-26) Amen!