Archive for July, 2019

YouVerse of the Day:
Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20)

Is the use of the word “power” good? Power is a word which is eschewed by modern Christians. It is normally associated with violence and destruction. But, I ask, must it?

The very last words which Jesus spoke to his disciples, when he was ascending into heaven are, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8). The very first sermon that Peter gave after the Holy Spirit came upon them was regarding “the works of power” which Jesus of Nazareth did (Acts 2:22). When the powers- that-be arrested the disciples of Jesus, the question they asked them is, by what “power” do you do all this stuff? (Acts 4:7). Throughout the Book of Acts, the central theme is to show how the Gospel gave power to the powerless.

The Gospels reiterate over and over again that Jesus always gave power to the powerless. In the vision that a powerless girl called Mary saw, the Messenger of the LORD said to her, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). In his ministry, Jesus released people who were overpowered by demonic spirit powers (Luke 4:36; 11:24). Jesus always healed people who were powerless because of the diseases and handicaps (Luke 5:12, 17; and so on). Jesus especially gave power to women who were rendered powerless in society due to gynecological diseases and the such (Luke 8:46). The Gospels are full of these kinds of scenarios.

This is the power which Jesus promised his disciples. Each of them came from powerless families and regions. Knowing this, Jesus said to them, “You will receive power” (Acts 1:8). Saul, who was reared in a Roman city, as a refugee knew much powerlessness. However, when he encountered Jesus, he received power. So, he is able to say, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). His powerlessness was transformed into power. Saul aka Paul stresses this throughout the epistles. He constantly reminds the new disciples of Jesus to remember that they were powerless people, who were treated as “the weak” by society. He reminds them that the core of the Gospel is not in human power of words and ideas, but rather in the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18, 24; 2:4, and so on).

Throughout history the Gospel has transformed the powerless, and supernaturally bestowed on them power.

I have seen the Gospel transform the powerless in different parts of the world. It has given them power.

May we continue in this mission of Jesus- power to the powerless!

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YouVerse of the Day:

“Surely God is my salvation (Yeshua, Jesus)
I will trust and not be afraid.
The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation (Yeshua, Jesus).”
(Isaiah 12:2)

Throughout the history of the Old Testament, the people, in songs, have always cried for God, the Yeshua, Jesus, or Salvation.

The cries of the people are heard, e.g. right at the end of Book of Genesis. The children of Israel are refugees in a foreign land, Egypt, because of economic and social woes. They envisage slavery at the hands of the divine kings of Egypt. So they express the hope, “Await the coming of the LORD Yeshua, Jesus!” (Genesis 49:18).

Later, when the people are pinned against the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s mighty army breathing in on them, they expected a massacre and complete annihilation of their children, women, and men. At this point Moses exclaimed. “Do not be afraid! Stand firm, and see the LORD Yeshua, Jesus!” (Exodus 14:13). It is in this context that the children of Israel, who had just experienced release from 400 years of slavery, and seen a great miracle at the Red Sea, sang, “My strength and my song. He has become my LORD Yeshua, Jesus!” (Exodus 15:2).

The children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness. Sometimes they trusted in this LORD. But many times they did not trust in this LORD Yeshua. Therefore, as the end of his life Moses, at age 120, sings a final song for them. In the song he reminds them, “Blessed are you O Israel! Who is like you, a people of the LORD Yeshua, Jesus! He is your shield and helper” (Deuteronomy 33:29).

This quest for the LORD’s Yeshua, Jesus, is seen throughout the writings of the prophets. In this context, the prophet Isaiah urges the people to continue to sing the song of Exodus- “Behold, God is my Yeshua, Jesus!” (Isaiah 12:2). In his prophetic diagnosis of the people, he mourns, “You have forgotten your God Yeshua, Jesus!” (Isaiah 17:10). He continues to stress, “I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Yeshua, Jesus.” (Isaiah 43:3, 11). In Isaiah 52:13 and onwards, Jesus is prophesied as the Suffering Servant, who would suffer for salvation of the people. In Isaiah 52, this suffering servant is introduced with the words, “All the ends of the earth will see Yeshua, Jesus, our God! (Isaiah 52:10)

Hundreds of years go by. The children of Israel see waves upon waves of armies destroy them. First come the Assyrians. Then come the Babylonians. Then come the Persians. The list goes on and on. Each time invading armies plunder, rape, and carry people into captivity. Yet, the faithful keep singing the songs of Moses, and prophets like Isaiah. The quest for the LORD Yeshua, Jesus, continues into the Roman occupation.

During the Roman occupation, girls were called Mary, because the parents knew what the Roman soldiers did to their girls- they enslaved them, and raped them. The word Mary means “one who suffers bitterly.” Right in the midst of this horrible tragedy, the Messenger of the LORD appeared to one Mary and said to this terrified teenager, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have been bestowed with the grace of God. You will conceive, and give birth to a son. You will name him Yeshua!” (Luke 1:30, 31).

Of course the very perplexed teenage girl would say, “WHAT? All these years of the quest for the LORD Yeshua, Jesus, and I am chosen to be the bearer of the LORD Yeshua!!!”

Indeed, the quest for the LORD Yeshua is finally fulfilled for the enslaved and suffering children of Israel, and for all those who suffer throughout the world- then and now!

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YouVerse verse of the day: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9, NIV)

The Greek word which is translated as “to confess,” may also be translated as “to praise, or to give thanks.” In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, this is the word which is used often to give thanks to God, to acknowledge the greatness and glory of God. This is what King David does at conclusion of his life. He realizes that he has done good things, as well as bad things in his life. So at the conclusion of his life he proclaims, “For this I will confess you, O LORD, among the Gentiles.” (1 Samuel 22:50).

Isaiah the prophet, similarly, confesses and gives praise to God, right in the midst of the anger of God (Isaiah 12:1). Indeed, the Prophet Isaiah goes on to posit that it is only the living who can praise and confess God, not the dead (Isaiah 38:18, 19).

Throughout the Psalms this word is used to confess, thank, and praise God (Psalm 18:49, 30:9, 12, and so on). Indeed, the Psalms suggest that confession, thanksgiving and praise should be the autopilot mode of human life (Psalm 28:7). Confession, thanksgiving, and praise must happen in the presence of all kinds of people- Gentiles (Psalm 18:49); congregations of people gathered for worship (Psalm 35:18), and so on. The Psalms urge the worshippers to listen to the voice of God’s creation and to the wonder of the human body, because these also confess and praise God (Psalm 139:14; 145:10).

Confession and praise is an antidote to psychological depression, and the such (Psalm 42:5, 11). Even the bad things that happen to people at the hands of evil people may become the context of praise and confession (Psalm 76:10). Funerals may become the context of confession and praise (Psalm 88:10). The Psalms claim that even the kings of the earth who conquer and do horrible things will eventually confess and praise the LORD (Psalm 138:1, 4).

No wonder, the Apostle John says, “Confess, and praise God, even in the midst of your sinfulness, and the sins which have been done to you. When you do this, you acknowledge and praise God. When you do this, there something powerful which happens in you, which transforms your sinfulness and wrongness into right-ness. When you confess and praise God, the sins and wrongness which have been done against you, also get transformed!”

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For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)

Throughout the history of humanity, religions and societies have always proclaimed two goals: knowledge and glory.

The goal of Buddhism is buddha, knowledge. The goal of Hinduism is jnana, knowledge. The goal of Jainism is kevala jnana, perfect knowledge. Islam spread through conquests, and the proclamation of the Glory of Islam. A leader of a religion that emerged from Islam declared himself to be the Baha’u’llah, the messianic Glory of Allah.

The Bible shows that these two aspirations: knowledge and glory have dogged humanity from the beginning of time. The core issue in the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 was the quest of human beings seeking to become gods through the “tree of knowledge.” Later in the Book of Exodus, the core issue in Egypt was Pharaoh’s insistence that “he is the glorious one,” as is claimed in ancient Egyptian religion. This word is usually translated as “Pharaoh hardened his heart.” (Exodus 7:14; 8:15, and so on). The Hebrew word, kavod, literally means to “glorify himself.” Later in the Bible, succeeding kings like the Persians, Alexander the Great, Antiochus IV Epiphanes do the same (Daniel 11:36,16, 3; 8:4). During the time of Jesus, the Roman emperors all claimed to be the divine Glory of Rome.

Whenever human kings declared themselves to be more glorious than God, they massacred other human beings, enslaved them, and did awful things to them.

Whenever Priest-Kings of religions claimed to be the carriers of special “knowledge,” they used this knowledge to do unjust things to other human beings.

It is in this context that the Bible prophecies a time when, “The earth will be filled with the “knowledge” of “the glory” of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).

At the beginning of his ministry, the devil seeks to persuade Jesus the Messiah to gain this glory through wrong means. In the wilderness, “the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

Jesus died and then rose from the dead. He did not succumb to the human quest for “knowledge and glory.” Therefore, after his death and resurrection, early church proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah. It proclaimed, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of ‘the knowledge’ of God’s ‘glory’ displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6).

This is the hope and the Gospel message of the Bible!

May we proclaim this Gospel!

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What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (James 4:1)

I teach classes in World Religions. I have observed that philosophers and thinkers throughout the centuries have pointed out that the root cause of much evil and injustice in society is “desire.” The Buddha, e.g. taught in his Four Noble Truths, which he preached in the banks of the River Ganges the following: One, Life is Dukkha, or suffering; two, the root cause of suffering is desire or tanha; three, there is a way to squelch desire; and four, that way is the Buddhist path, or magga. In its essence the Buddhist magga is to snuff out any traces of soul, life, or humanity. These lead to desire, which then lead to suffering.

In contrast to this Buddhist thought, the Bible is life affirming. Human beings are created in the image of God. This means that human beings have the ability to choose between right and wrong; light and darkness; good and evil. Desire itself is a part of being human, and how God created human beings. Desire is life and humanity affirming.

At the climax of giving the Torah to human beings, Moses said, “See, I have set before you today, the life and the good; the death and the evil. I have commanded you to love the LORD your God . . . choose Life, so that you and your children may live” Deuteronomy 30:15, 18).

In Buddhism, when one loves, one is going into the realm of desire, and this eventually leads to suffering. So one must squelch all propensity to love, and all individuality. That, according to Buddhism, is the only solution to the problem of suffering.

The Bible, in contrast, affirms desires which lead to the good, and justice, and life. One is led to this state of being by affirming life and loving God. Jesus says the core teaching of the Torah is, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).

Can there be bad desires?

The biblical answer is “yes.”

There is a very poignant moment which is described in Genesis 4. Two brothers, Cain and Abel, bring their offerings before God. Cain brings an offering that he just picks up on the way. God does not gaze at him. He simple looks away. Abel brings the best of best, the firstfruits. God gazes at him with love. Cain, of course is upset. God seeks to correct this. He says to Cain, “Why are you alternatively angry and depressed. Meditate on doing good. If you do not meditate on the good, then the human propensity to sin will “desire” you and control you. You must overcome it” (Genesis 4:6, 7). Cain, sadly, does not listen to God. He lets his evil desire control his actions, and as a result of that, he kills his kid brother.

In the Gospels, Jesus warns against desires which take people into paths of evil, injustice, and death (Mark 4:19; John 8:44).

Desire is human. It is a part of the image of God in humanity. For this reason human beings are urged to desire God, and yearn for God (e.g. Psalms 42:2; 63:1, and so on). A couple in love are urged to desire each other (Song of Songs 7:10). Human beings are urged to desire to be with their neighbor and love them. Good desire is good.

The desire to eat is a good desire. But, in history, this desire has been used to do evil against fellow human beings. Therefore Jesus says to the devil, in the wilderness, “Human beings shall live by bread alone, but by every Word with proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Desire, which springs from love towards God and neighbor is good.

Desire, which is selfish, and against God and neighbor is bad.

May we aspire good desire.

May we stay away from selfish and bad desire!

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Save us, we pray, O LORD! O Lord, we pray, give us success!
(Psalm 118:25)

This is a prayer which is sung as people prepare for the Passover. The context is the remembrance of the brutal dictatorship and the enslavement under the rulership of Pharaoh. In succeeding generations, whenever the people were subjected to similar situations, whether at the hand of the Babylonians, the Assyrians, or the Romans, they would always cry out, “Ana’ YHWH Hoshia’ na; ana’ YHWH Hatslikha na.” This cry became louder during the time of Passover.

This was the cry of the people in the final journey of Jesus, as he entered into Jerusalem. They cried out,
“Save us, we pray, O LORD,
Give us success, we pray, O LORD.” (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9, 10)

Two questions arise from this song.
Is this a shout of jubilation, as is seen in the Hosanna songs sung today? The context suggests otherwise. It seems clear that this is more a cry for help. The people were crying out for salvation, in Hebrew Yeshua, or Jesus, in the midst the brutal rule of the Romans.

The second question is, “What is the meaning of success?” In today’s context, success means economic, social, etc. success. At least that is what is proclaimed by modern evangelists, who proclaim a prosperity gospel. This is portrayed in the recent production of the documentary, American Gospel.

The biblical concept of success is not the “American Gospel” concept of success. The Hebrew word always frowns on those people who “succeed” in the economic, social, etc. senses. Psalm 37:7, e.g. urges people not to worry about, or fret over people who seemingly succeed. Instead “Be still before the LORD, wait patiently for him.” The Hebrew word is always used to describe people whose journey has the calm presence and guidance of God, as in the case of Abraham’s compatriot (Genesis 24:21, 40). Similarly, it describes the presence of the LORD with Joseph (Genesis 39:2, 3).

The crowds of people who followed Jesus, in his final journey to Jerusalem, were not looking for economic and social success. They were looking for Salvation, Yeshua, Jesus.

This has always been the cry of God’s people.
Not success at the expense of others, but rather, Hoshia-na!!!
This must always be the cry of God’s people.

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Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

In Hebrew the word ga’on, translated here as pride, is always associated with God’s majesty, e.g. Moses, Miriam, and the Israelites exclaimed in a song to the LORD who freed them from slavery,
“In the greatness of your majesty (Hebrew, ga’on)
you threw down those who opposed you. “
(Exodus 15:7).
This expression is found throughout the Bible. The Prophet Isaiah urges people to meditate on the “splendor of his majesty.” (Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21). This majesty of God is seen in the Messiah, who was to come later in history, e.g., “In that day the Branch of the LORD, the Messiah, shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.” (Isaiah 4:2).

Sadly, in history human kings and kingdoms have sought to usurp this glory and majesty of God. This has always led to their downfall. The Prophet Isaiah says to the Babylonian kings and kingdom, e.g.
Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms,
the pride and glory of the Babylonians,
will be overthrown by God
like Sodom and Gomorrah.
(Isaiah 13:19; also 14:11, 16:6, and so on)

A synonymous Hebrew word is Kavod. It is used to describe the glory of God. A good example of this is in the Book of Exodus, where God says to the enslaved community of people that he will reveal his glory, and the Egyptians will see his glory, e.g., “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 14:4, also 14:18, 16:7, 10, and so on). The context of these ascriptions to God is the constant reiteration that Pharaoh sought to show that he was more “glorious” that God. This word is usually translated as “Pharaoh hardened his heart.” However, the Hebrew word is Kavod. In Exodus 7:14, e.g. the NIV translates it as, “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.” It is perhaps better translated as, “Pharaoh glorified his heart; he refuses to let the people go.”
Human beings, throughout history, have always tried to usurp the “majesty” and the “glory” of God. When human kings sought to become gods themselves, they used this illegitimate power to do unjust things to other human beings, usually through enslavement and injustice.

The YouVerse verse of today, reminds us that, when human beings usurp the “glory” and the “majesty” of God, it never has good results.

In the New Testament, the devil is the Pharaoh, and the Babylonian king, and whoever becomes “god” in the history of humanity. Whenever human beings seek to become god, they always do bad things to other human beings, and it always results in their destruction.

May we always be mindful of this!

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Ephesians 5:1, 2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

All of us need role models. All of us, whether we like it or not, are role models. Unfortunately, in modern history, people do not want to carry the burden of being role models. We say, “I am good musician, or a good athlete, or a good politician, or a good professor . . . do not expect me to be a role model.”

The Apostle Paul underlines this over and over again. On several occasions he asks the young disciples of Jesus to imitate him in their lives (I Corinthians 4:16; 11:1). In other epistles, he asks them to imitate those churches which are further along in maturity and relationship with the Messiah Jesus (1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14). In yet other places he asks them to imitate the great heroes of faith in the Hebrew Bible (Hebrews 6:12).

Several of the above, are doable imitations. However, the Apostle Paul goes further. He urges the new Christians to be “imitators of God.” He urges this because they are now children of God. Children reflect the logos, pathos, and ethos of the Father.

The highest attribute of God, which he underlines is LOVE. He urges them to walk in love, as the Messiah loved us, and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice. (Ephesians 5:1, 2).

The whole of the Old Testament sacrificial system can be expressed in one word- LOVE. God is constantly showing his sacrificial love to humanity, and in response, the children of God are required to express their sacrificial love towards him and towards each other.

This is an awesome calling.
This is an awesome vocation.
May we always remember to imitate God!

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“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16, 17)

The first commandment has to do with the LORD. It reminds the people of God that he is the God who brought them out of slavery. The next two commands underline the nature of religions. Polytheism is designed to enslave and unjustly abuse people in the name of religion. Polytheism divides people into conquerors and the conquered. The conquered are supposed to be worshipping the conquerors and their images as gods. This is what happened in the history of civilizations. The people of God, in contrast to this ethos are told that they must never bring in any such practices among them. They must remember that God is always the God who rescues the enslaved.

The rest of the commandments underline that the people of God have to live by the ethos of this God who took them out of slavery, so that there is never any slavery among them. They must always live a life of restfulness. Restlessness results in slavery. They must always honor their father and mother, so that they are not put into positions of being enslaved. They must always honor their neighbors. Do not murder your neighbors. Do not commit adultery with your neighbors. Do not steal from your neighbors. Do not give false testimony against your neighbor. Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The worship of God is intrinsically tied to ethics and care for the neighbor.

Of course, the big question is, “Who is my neighbor?” This was a question which was asked of Jesus by a scribe. He could have belonged to one of the two religio-political parties- the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They had their own very narrowly and sectarianly defined concept of the word neighbor. For a Pharisee, you are a neighbor only if you are a Pharisee, who lived by their laws. For a Sadducee, you are a neighbor only if you are rich or upper middle class person. Others are not neighbors. There were the Samaritans. They could never be neighbors. They were the progeny of mixed blood of low classes of women who were raped by waves of invading armies of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and the such. Of course, they were not a pure race. They could never be neighbors. They were scorned, and were forced to live at a distance from anyone considered to be a neighbor.

Jesus tells the story of a person who was beaten up by militant extremists from among their own. Yet, none of their own neighbors came to his rescue. None of the Pharisees, Sadducees, or experts of the Torah came to his rescue. It was a `Godforsaken and human forsaken” Samaritan who came to his rescue. It was a Samaritan who truly lived out the essence of the Ten Commandments, not the people who were supposed to be the keepers of the Ten Commandments. It was the completely Other person who lived out the Ten Commandments.

Oh LORD enable me to be like that Samaritan! Enable me to love my neighbor, the completely Other person!

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The Book of Proverbs has much to say about friendship and companionship. The Hebrew word ra’ah is used in a lot of contexts.

The Proverbs are poetry which use play on words on several occasions.

The Hebrew words for friendship (Hebrew, ra’ah), and doing evil (Hebrew ra’ah) are very similar. It is a friend (ra’ah) who knows you the best, and so can take advantage of the friendship to plan to do harm or evil (ra’ah) against you.

Similarly, the Hebrew words for friendship (Hebrew, ra’ah), and to see with clarity (Hebrew, ra’ah), are also similar. The Proverbs suggest that friendship should be used as a ground for mutual mentoring and sharpening, so that both may see life and situations with clarity.

Here are 10 commandments on friendship from the Book of Proverbs:

  1. Be generous to your friend: A friend is supposed to be generous in times of need (Proverbs 3:28).
  2. Do no harm to your friend: “Do not plan harm (Hebrew ra’ah) against your friend (Hebrew ra’ah), who lives a life of trust with you.” (Proverbs 3:29)
  3. Marital faithfulness: A friend is never supposed to sleep with his friend’s wife (Proverbs 6:29)
  4. Do not destroy your friend: A friend must never take advantage of the knowledge of one’s friend to destroy the friend (Proverbs 11:9)
  5. Be a friend forever: Be a friend in all circumstances and for all time (Proverbs 17:17)
  6. Do not be a false witness against your friend: A friend never deceives a friend or becomes a false witness against a friend (Proverbs 24:28; 26:18)
  7. Do not use jokes as a pretext to put down your friend or take advantage of your friend (Proverbs 26:19).
  8. Always be faithful to your friend (Proverbs 27:10)
  9. Do not give worthless and false praise to your friend (Proverbs 27:14; 29:5)
  10. Let friendship be the place where you sharpen your friend and yourself, just like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 3:14)

Jesus said, “I call you friends. All that I have heard from the father, I make known to you.” (John 15:15)

May we be like Jesus!

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