EMUNAH – FAITH THAT STANDS THE TEST OF TIME

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How can you tell if someone truly loves you? How do you tell if your team mate is committed to a plan? How can you be sure that your boss trust in you? One sure way is to observe how your partner, your team mate, or your boss acts towards you and speaks about you, over a period of time. As time passes, their true intentions towards you will be challenged and tested; blessed are you if they stay true to you.

The test of time, is the truest test of commitments we make. As time passes, our commitments will be challenged by people and events around us, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes accidentally. One of such commitments we make that is severely tested is our faith in God.

Many of us have come across Habakkuk 2:4b (KJV) that says: “…but the just shall live by his faith.” It is requoted in Romans 1:17, and in Galatians 3:11, and again in Hebrews 10:38. What is the origin story in the book of Habakkuk behind this famous passage and what has it got to do with ‘EMUNAH’.

Habakkuk the Prophet lived about 2600 years ago, at a time when corruption and violence were common in Judah. He prayed that God should intervene; God responded that he will use the vicious Babylonians to judge Judah. This scared Habakkuk so much, but God assured him that the “the just [God fearing people] shall live by EMUNAH” – this Hebrew word is what our Bibles translate as faith.

While our Bibles keep the translation of ‘EMUNAH” short, the full meaning of the word refers to ‘tried and tested faith’ of the Christian, and in addition ‘tried and tested faith of God’. The long translation of Habakkuk 2:4b would be: “…but the just shall live by their tried and tested faith in a tried and faithful God.” Stated another way – ‘the just shall live by absolute trust in an absolutely trustworthy God’.

More could be said about ‘EMUNAH’, but that is for another time. One takeaway message today, is that in these COVID-19 pandemic times, when we are all exhausted by fear, lockdowns, and social distancing, our faith in God is being tried and tested like never before; Habakkuk encourages us to keep going because ‘the just shall live by their tried and tested faith in a tried and faithful God’.

Lord, give us new strength to overcome the COVID-19 assault on our minds and spirits, on our familes and loved ones, in Jesus name, Amen!

Read More: The Just Shall Live by Faith, by John J. Parsons, writing in the Hebrew for Christians website.

EASTER, FERTILITY RITES, AND THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST

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Have you ever been part of fertility rites during Easter? I have done so, not knowing what I was participating in. When we do Easter egg hunt or buy a Easter bunny rabbit chocolate, in our small way we are joining Easter fertility rites and rituals during this season. Rabbits are promiscuous and in some cultures are often sacrificed to the goddess of love; eggs symbolize new life into the world.

Why are fertility rites celebrated at this time of year? In cold countries, this is the period where winter season gives way to spring season. In winter, trees often lose all their leaves and look dead; when places start warming up again, the trees spring back to life with new leaves and the birds return. We also witness this change of season from dry to wet or wet to dry in hot tropical countries.

As the season changes at this time, farmers get set to plant, and society carry out fertility rites to gods and goddesses for a good harvest; in some places the rites include rabbit sacrifice, exchange of eggs as gifts of new life, and sex festivals in shrines and temples. Fertility rites are thus partly based on observing nature. However, to fully understand nature, we must go to the creator of nature.

Romans 1:20 (NIV) says: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” Furthermore, Psalm 19:1-2 (NIV) says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”

While many cultures looked at the changing season at this time of the year, and came up with fertility rites and celebrations, God instituted the Passover celebrations at this time of the year to mark the deliverance of Israel from bondage to Pharaoh (a type of death), to freedom to worship God (new life). Exodus 12:17 (NIV) talking about the Passover says: “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread [Passover], because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come…”

So, in God’s calendar, this season symbolizes God’s deliverance from death to new life. There was no way Israel could have been freed from Pharaoh without strong divine intervention. This season in the Bible goes beyond physical life (the egg) to new spiritual life through divine intervention; and this brings us to Jesus and the Cross. The crucifixion happened during the celebration of Passover (see John Chapter 19).

John 20:1-10 (NIV)(shortened) reads: “Early on the first day of the week… Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter… So Peter… went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there… the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)”

Jesus died on Passover week and resurrected at the beginning of a new week; he rose with a new body that can never die. We all will experience the winter of death in our bodies, but Jesus holds for us the promise of new life (divine spring season) with a new resurrection body. Thus many cultures in the world celebrate fertility (eggs and bunnies) during this time, but the Bible celebrates the resurrection.

Happy Resurrection Sunday, with it’s good news of our deliverance, from death to new life with Jesus, Amen!

WHY WE CELEBRATE THE CROSS AT EASTER

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One of the more popular stories, written by William Shakespeare is ‘Romeo and Juliet’. In this widely read story, Romeo and Juliet loved one another, but their families did not approve of their relationship; in their effort to bypass this obstacle and prove the strength of their love for each other, they died tragically.

When I first read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as a child, I thought it was quite frankly a foolish story. I had no idea about how much a person would sacrifice for the other person they truly love. As an adult, the story no longer seems foolish, I now admire how well Shakespeare writes about love. The cruel death of Jesus on the cross during this time of the year, 2000 years ago, was a sacrifice of self for the sake of love.

The Bible teaches that there are three powers in our world – God, humanity, and Satan (God’s adversary). Humanity was created to occupy and govern the earth in partnership with God. When Adam and Eve chose independence over partnership with God, a contest to win over humanity to God’s side or to Satan’s side began. God entered the contest because like a parent, God loves humanity very deeply.

We are shown this contest in the book of Job 1:6-13 (Living Bible) (shortened): One day as the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan, the Accuser, came with them… Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth… who fears God and will have nothing to do with evil.” “Why shouldn’t he when you pay him so well?” Satan scoffed. “You have always protected him and his home and his property…. take away his wealth, and you’ll see him curse you…” And the Lord replied to Satan, “You may do anything you like with his wealth, but don’t harm him physically.”

It is as a result of this contest that Jesus came to earth; he went about doing good to show that God is good; he went about doing good right up to the point of death; while he was on the cruel cross, he forgave a thief, and asked for forgiveness for those crucifying him in Luke 23:34 (Living Bible): “Father, forgive these people,” Jesus said, “for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross to prove how much God loves humanity. Does Satan love humanity that deeply? Jesus says in John 15:13 (Living Bible): “And here is how to measure it [love] – the greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends”. This is why we celebrate the cross at Easter – it is the indisputable evidence that God deeply loves you and I.

Lord, we thank you for your great love; we choose you over the adversary; protect us, our homes, and our property, in Jesus name, Amen!

HOW TO PRAY IN A RISKY WORLD

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I remember the first time, twenty years ago, when I came across the work of Ulrich Beck, the German scholar who wrote the book ‘Risk Society’. The book has stayed with me because the insight it provides about the increasing dangers of modern life, is proving truer and truer from year to year.

When Ulrich Beck wrote his book in 1986, many in the rich countries of Europe, America, and Asia, understood the dangers that threatened all life on earth; many in the poor countries in Africa and Asia did not. Fast forward to 2021, and thanks to the internet and social media, everyone, rich and poor, are now aware of the many risks humanity faces from the possibility of nuclear war, environmental problems, pandemics (HIV, Ebola, COVID), and new technologies (genetically modified foods, internet crimes, medical biotech like COVID vaccines).

How do we pray in a risky world? Solomon says in Proverbs 3:5-6 (New Living Translation): “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Effective prayer is based on trust and Bible knowledge – we learn of God’s will, which is God’s vision and mission, first and foremost from the Bible.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (New Living Translation): “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” Leaders face pressures to be greedy, selfish, proud, and wicked – ask God to help them.

Jesus teaches in Matthew that when we pray for our needs, we should also pray for protection; thus Matthew 6:13 (New Living Translation) says our prayers should include the request: “And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” There is an enemy of humanity, that want us to experience misfortune, pain, sorrows, and tears – Jesus says pray to God to be rescued from this evil one.

Lord, teach us to pray effectively, and protect us from risks known and unknown in the world today, in Jesus name, Amen!

COVID VACCINE – HUMAN EFFORT AND DIVINE OVERSIGHT

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One of the passages in the Bible that shocked me first time I read it was Deuteronomy 23:13 (KJV) – “And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee”.

If the King James Version is very classy, here is Deuteronomy 23:13 in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) – “and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement”. Don’t leave your ‘caca’ exposed!

Here among the laws God gave Israel, is a law telling them to practice good hygiene – basic but essential. Consider that there were about 2 million of them in camp in the hot desert of Sinai, good hygiene was essential to avoid diseases. Why would a God who could heal them of all diseases, be concerned about good hygiene? At creation, God put Adam in Eden and told him to care for it (see Genesis 2:15).

The Bible teaches the need for human effort plus divine oversight in human affairs; it is not one or the other, it is both. Thus as the COVID virus assaults us, it is good that we take all hygienic precautions while humbly seeking God to safely see us through this testing period. The COVID vaccine is one of such hygienic precaution; it is right that it is voluntary, it is right that many question its safety.

My wife and I studied the science of the vaccine and it looks good; what about bad faith persons wishing to use this vaccine to hurt people; this possibility has always existed with the Yellow Fever, the Smallpox, the Polio, and the Meningitis vaccines. These are vaccines most of us have taken in the past and our children will continue to take in the future. So, if you are going to decline the COVID vaccine because of bad faith persons, you may have to decline all vaccines henceforth.

Nonetheless, my wife and I believe in prayers, and we have prayed that our choice to take the vaccine does not put us in danger known and unknown. We also trust in the words of the Bible in Romans 8:38-39 (NASB) – “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing [including vaccines] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Lord, lead us in the right path in this matter, in Jesus name, Amen!

MANNA – MIRACLE FOOD IN THE DESERT

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There is no Christianity without the miraculous – without the intervention of the divine in unexplainable ways in our lives and human society. There are countless such narratives of the miraculous in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. One such narrative of the miraculous is in Exodus Chapter 16 about the manna.

As you can see from the map accompanying this message, when Israel left Egypt, they traveled East from Goshen and crossed the Red Sea. To get to Canaan, they would have continued East then turn Northwards in the direction of Beersheba and Hebron (where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and all their other ancestors were buried). Instead of going in that northern direction to Canaan, God asked them to turn South and go to the Wilderness (desert) of Sin (Sinai).

God brought them to this desert, to be with them away from other nations; this was a camp for rest, learning, organization, and preparation for the promised land. However, the place had no food and the people complained bitterly in Exodus 16:3 (NLT) saying – ‘“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”’

God heard them and responded with manna in Exodus 16:4-5 (NLT): ‘Then the Lord said… I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.”

Each person was to gather about 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds) of manna everyday, and there were about 2 million of them, giving 3 million kg of manna; where 1000 kg makes 1 ton, they gathered at least 3000 tons of manna daily, 365 days a year for 40 years non-stop (see Exodus 16:35). The most powerful food trains today can carry 125 tons of food in each coach (or car), you will need 24 coaches each day to carry 3000 tons of manna.

Where did this quantity of food come from everyday for 40 years? Psalm 78:24-25 (NLT) says – “He [God] rained down manna for them to eat; he gave them bread from heaven. They ate the food of angels! God gave them all they could hold.” Manna does not fall for us today, but the God who provided that miracle food for Israel in a desert, still answers the prayers of the needy who earnestly seek him day after day.

Lord, we need miracles too, answer us in Jesus name, Amen!

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!