FREE WILL AND TRUE LASTING HAPPINESS

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Many years ago, I heard a song that had these lines: “It’s my life take it or leave it… I got my own life you got your own life…Mind your business and leave my business… stop bothering me… It’s my life…”. As a young adult, I found the song attractive and the journalist RS Murthi described it as “a righteous declaration of independence”. We all are attracted to a life without rules, without consequence, without judgement.

What sort of a person would I be, if I “lived life to do as I please, no rules, no limits, absolute independence”? On my good days, probably loving and kind; on my bad days, probably difficult if not impossible to live with. Imagine a place with just a 100 people with no rules and no consequences even for murder; imagine that everyday only 10 people are in a bad mood; just these 10 could make life a horror for the other 90.

Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (New Living Translation): ‘You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.’ Absolute freedom will not bring world happiness. Exercising our free will without any form of self-control will not bring paradise.

Worldwide lasting happiness comes when Revelation 22:1-3 (New Living Translation) becomes real: “Then the angel showed me a river… On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him.” It is not the absolutely independent person that finds true happiness, it is the worshipper who trust in the Lord God.

Lord, show us how to achieve true lasting happiness, Amen!

HUMILITY – ANOTHER REMINDER…

In the past 3 weeks the US has experienced extreme cold weather; colder than anything experienced in the past 20-30 years. Texas, the second richest state (California is 1st), with an economy of similar size like Canada, Russia, Italy, Brazil, and five times the economy of South Africa, has been declared a disaster zone. This past week, millions of Texans have lacked electricity, water, and food.

Texas, which calls itself “the lone star state”, is so wealthy, it is able to meet its needs without depending on the national government; but the extreme cold has caused so much damage, Texas has reached out to the national government for help. This situation reminds us that no matter how wealthy, gifted, educated, or good looking we are, misfortune could happen, leaving us in need of help.

Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 9:11 (contemporary English Version): “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.”

James 4:5-6 (Contemporary English Version) adds: Do you doubt the Scriptures that say, “God truly cares about the Spirit he has put in us”? In fact, God treats us with even greater kindness, just as the Scriptures say, “God opposes everyone who is proud, but he blesses all who are humble with undeserved grace.”

I sincerely believe that the need for humility, in all persons around the world, has never been greater than it is now. The risks to life and property from natural, social, and economic forces in the world today are so high, that no one can face these risks alone – we need each other, and we need God on our side more than ever.

Dear God, we pray for undeserved grace and healing for Texas, and for other places in the USA and around the world, experiencing natural, social, and economic disasters, in Jesus name, Amen!

READING GENESIS WITH GOD IN FOCUS

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When reading a good book, you will observe that there is central story from the start to the end of the book. At the same time, the book will go into the stories of the different characters in it; you might even find yourself developing a deep interest in a character even when he or she is not the main focus of the book.

This also happens when we come to the Bible; we read the different stories, we fall in love with some of the people we encounter, we disapprove of others. However, we often struggle to see the connections between the many different stories, and struggle even more to see the main character that is the main focus of the Bible.

Let’s start with Genesis – the people we encounter from Genesis Chapters 1 to 50 are just many to list here. We could reduce the list by focusing on people with major roles and impact – starting with Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and onwards to Joseph and the death of Jacob in Chapter 50.

We can also understand Genesis by asking – who is the ever present character from Chapters 1 to 50? We see that God is the ever present character – speaking, blessing, sharing, protecting, judging, holding things together! God is not just the ever present character in Genesis but also the ever present character in all the Bible.

As we read Genesis, lets not end at knowing the people and stories, lets also learn about and know the God who says “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool: What Temple can you build for me as good as that?” (Isaiah 66:1 The Living Bible translation). As you read Genesis, consider listening to the free online and short chapter by chapter teaching of Genesis by Mike Mazzalongo (on bibletalk.tv/genesis).

Reveal yourself Lord, as we seek you in Genesis and all the Bible, Amen!

GENESIS AND THE CHARACTER OF GOD

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Genesis Chapters 1 to 11 have plenty of big stories. A speed summary shows that Chapter 1 is the creation story; Chapter 2 introduces Eve; Chapter 3 introduces the serpent, the big lie, death, and the promise of the messiah; Chapter 4 introduces Cain and Abel, and the generational transfer of evil from Adam to his descendants.

The big stories continue in Genesis Chapter 5, showing the growth of human population after 1500 years, with Noah as the tenth generation from Adam; Chapter 6 shows the spread of evil and wickedness, and God’s judgement to cleanse the earth; Chapters 7-9 shows how God cleansed the earth but redeemed the family of Noah; Chapter 10 shows how human population recovered after the flood.

We come to the marvelous Genesis 11; it opens in verses 1-9 with the world having one language, and those living in the city of Shinar (founded by Nimrod, grandson of Ham in Genesis 10) building a single central government – God said, ‘not a good plan’, and scattered the people. There is more to say here, but that is for another day.

Genesis 11:10-26 is the masterfully crafted story of Shem the son of Noah; this second part of Chapter 11 seems unimportant, until you do the calculations of the people’s ages, and realize that Shem was still alive after Abraham had died. Shem lived for 600 years, he died when Jacob (grandson of Abraham) was 50 years old. The ages provided here is a treasure for Bible scholars – through this we know that Noah died just 2 years before Jacob was born; so Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had a first hand account of the flood from Noah and Shem who were there!

What does this speed summary tell us about the character of God? Genesis 1 and 2 says God is good; Chapters 3 and 4 shows the patience and love of God for humanity; Chapters 5 to 10 shows the good judgement and mercy of God; Chapter 11 shows God’s wisdom in ensuring that Shem (and Noah) lived long enough to be a living witness of the flood to Abraham, a tenth generation descendant.

Why has God made this huge investment of himself to humanity? Solomon says “When all has been heard, the end of the matter is: fear God [worship Him with awe-filled reverence, knowing that He is almighty God] and keep His commandments, for this applies to every person” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 Amplified Bible).

Lord, help us to see the story about you, in the book of Genesis, Amen!

CAIN’S WIFE AND THE MYSTERIES IN GENESIS

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The day I got admission to University, was awesome for me, my parents, and grandfather. My parents and grandfather loved learning but did not get a chance to attend University; so I was nurtured to get there. Fast forward 3 years later, University was tough, the awesomeness and excitement were gone, I was depressed and questioned University learning, my parents decision making, and life.

Back to the book of Genesis. We saw in the lesson last week that the Bible was written to advance our relationship with God and not for scientific curiosity or laboratory experiments. In addition, the first part of the book of Genesis from chapters 1 to 11, were written to pass across the power, wisdom, and awesomeness of God. To the Israelites who had been led out of Egypt by Moses, and to the early Christians 2000 years ago, Genesis was exciting and built up their faith.

Fast forward to the world today, the awesomeness and excitement of Genesis has been lost to doubts, questions, and mockery. I was in that place too; for a long time I was troubled by the question who was Cain’s wife (Genesis 4:17).

Then I found Genesis 5:3-4 (NIV): “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters.” Adam had other sons (plural) and other daughters (plural)? How many, we don’t know; but legend has it that 250 years ago, Feodor and Valentina Vassilyev birthed 69 children; more recently Maria Benita Olivera in Argentina birthed her 32nd child in 1989.

Would we be able to answer all mysteries in Genesis? Yes, some will be answered in this life as we search, others in the next life, while mindful of Proverbs 25:2 (Contemporary English Version): “God is praised for being mysterious; rulers are praised for explaining mysteries.” God would not be God if he had no mysteries.

Lord, teach us humility and patience as we search, and wait, for answers to the mysteries you placed in Genesis, Amen!

GENESIS 1:1 – CORE FOUNDATION

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Genesis 1:1 (Amplified Bible): ‘In the beginning God (Elohim) created [by forming from nothing] the heavens and the earth.’ The late extraordinary Bible teacher, David Pawson, said “if Genesis 1:1 is a lie then the whole Bible is a lie”. How should we understand Genesis 1:1? Before offering an answer, I will tell a short story.

As a little child, I often wondered if my parents loved me. The questioning started when I lived with my grandparents for a period before I turned 6 years. This question was constantly on my mind, then when I was about 12-13 years, I woke up one morning with perfect clarity that my parents loved me. It was an intuitive knowledge that came from deep within me. Was it my mum’s cooking or my dad’s approachable personality that convinced me? Yes, it was that plus many, many, more, affectionate acts that I experienced in our parent-child relationship.

While science want to know and prove the existence of God, through material measurements (weight, age, height, energy, temperature, color, etc.), and laboratory experiments, there is knowledge we acquire by inspired intuition not by material measurements; this is more common in our relationships.

Hebrews 11:6 (Amplified Bible) says: ‘But without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him.’

We will not find God through science, we will find him through seeking for a relationship with him. Thus the Bible is not written for the sake of scientific curiosity and experimentation, the Bible is written to advance the relationship between God and humanity. The truth of Genesis 1:1 is not found in a scientific textbook or discovered by a laboratory experiment; the truth of Genesis 1:1 is at your fingertips, you will find it as you earnestly and diligently seek a relationship with God.

May the Lord draw near to us as we seek him to know him, Amen!

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!