Archive for August, 2019

“When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words, Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)

I teach a course in World Religions. One of the lectures in the course has to do with the meaning of prayer in different religions. Of course, this question is also related to a whole complex of other questions- questions like “Who am I?” and “Who is God?” etc. In several world’s religions the idea of prayer focuses on the constant repetition of a mantra or a name/several names of deities in these religions. Greek and Roman religions also had this practice of a constant repetition of a mantra or a name of a Greek/Roman deity. This practice could be silent, like in present day Buddhist or Hindu practices of meditations, or it could be very loud, accompanied by drums and other instruments. This latter practice is also seen in modern world religions. The Lord Jesus the Messiah is referring to this practice of prayer in these religions.

What is prayer?
The LORD Jesus the Messiah says “Prayer is developing a deep relationship with God the Father. It is a process of deep and growing interpersonal knowledge between the Father and the child.”

Why do I pray?
I pray because I want to know God in my present day situation, whatever it may be.

Why do I pray?
I pray because God wants to know me in my present day situation, whatever it may be.

In the Fall narrative of Genesis 3, this crucial relationship was severely disrupted. The primeval human beings wanted the “knowledge” that they were divine. God, poignantly, sought to come to them, in the Garden of Eden, “in the Spirit of day.” (Genesis 3:8). This word is usually translated as “the cool of the day.” But, in this translation one misses a very central teaching of the Bible. Prayer happens in the “Spirit of the Day.” The same Holy Spirit that created the universe in Genesis 1, now seeks to build the relationship with God the Father, in Genesis 3.

The text goes to say, “The LORD God, with deep yearning called out to the human being. “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). This is the deep quest for knowledge that God himself has for human beings.

The human disposition in this “prayer hour” is also poignant. “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid” (Genesis 3:10)

There was no need to be afraid. God is God. God knows human beings through and through. It is ok to come before God in state of “nakedness.” In all situations human beings may come before God, “in prayer,” because God is our Father, and he knows us.

In prayer, we want to know God, in all situations. These may be times when we mess up, as the primeval human beings messed up. Or it may be times when others mess up against us. In all situations, we may go before God the Father in prayer, so that we may “know” him in our time of need.

Sadly, in World Religions, human beings have come up with strategies of prayer, which put the focus on us, rather than on God the Father. In doing so human beings seek to usurp the place of God, as in Genesis 3.

The Lord Jesus the Messiah teaches that in prayer, God the Father knows us, and we know him. That deep and intrinsic relationship becomes deeper and goes further. This is prayer.

A Prayer:
O Lord, my Abba, I pray that I may know you today in this my existential situation. I pray that you would know me, in this my hour of need.

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“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrew 13:8)

The ethics of the Bible is based on the fact that the God revealed in the Bible does not change. “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Human society is inhospitable to foreigners because it is insecure about the future.

The Bible says, “Be hospitable. Remember Abraham. He welcomed God himself because of his hospitality to strangers.” (Hebrews 13:1; Genesis 18).

Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35)

Human society looks at prisoners with disdain and wants to keep them behind bars, because it is insecure about the future.

The Bible says, “Come alongside prisoners. Spend time with them. (Hebrew 13:3)

Jesus said, “I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:36)

Human society says, “Treat sex as free for the asking, especially for those who are in power, because you are able to do it.”

The Bible says, “ Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure.” (Hebrews 13:4)

Human society says, “The quest for money and power should be your central goal in life, for you do know the future.”

The Bible says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” (Hebrews 13:5). Be generous to those who do not have money.

Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink . . . I was naked and you clothed me.” (Matthew 25:35, 36)

The news today, and social media every day, gives increasingly sad and horrible situations in which global human society does mean and horrible things to fellow human beings.

I saw many glaring examples of this, when I visited the Kakuma Refugee Camp, in Kenya, where there are more than 185,000 refugees. These people were forced to flee their homelands because of violence, sexual slavery, and the such. The refugee camp is really a prison for more than 185,000 people- “lost girls and boys,” who have no hope for the future.

Why do people do these things?

The Bible says, “Because human beings are insecure. They want to use what they have and are able to control, to placate their insecurities. They do this by doing horrible things to the weak and the vulnerable.”

The Bible says, “Don’t be insecure. Remember Jesus the Messiah is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). When you keep this central biblical teaching in mind, you will be full of love for your neighbor; you will be hospitable to foreigners; you will spend time with prisoners in the prisons; you will honor the holiness of sex; you will not be consumed by the quest for wealth . . .”

A Prayer:
Help me today to be full of love for my neighbor, the one who is completely different from me.
Help me today to be hospitable to foreigners and refugees.
Help me today to spend time with prisoners in the prisons.
Help me today to honor the holiness of sex.
Help me today to not be consumed by human quest for wealth.
Oh LORD help today to always remember that Jesus the Messiah is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

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“And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:2, 3; NIV)

In one’s vocation a human being goes through struggles in life. The Apostle Paul experienced much opposition in his vocation as a missionary, evangelist, teacher, pastor, and the such. He experienced opposition from fellow human beings. Here in this text he calls them “wicked and evil people.”

He was also mindful of the fact that the primary opposition is from what he called “the Evil One.”

In the Gospels., Jesus always reminded his disciples to beware of the “the Evil One.” The evil one is deceptive (Matthew 5:37). The evil one tempts people away from just and right ways, and causes them to do evil (Matthew 6:13; 12:35). In the light of this, in his final prayer for his disciples, the Lord Jesus prays, “I do not ask that you would take them out of the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15).

The Apostle Paul stresses that the main outcome of people who are under the influence of the evil one, is a complete lack of faithfulness.

It must be noted that the Apostle Paul does not stop here. He goes on to stress that the followers of the Lord Jesus should not be discouraged by this. On the contrary, they should rely on God, who will always remain faithful. Indeed, those people who rely on the faithfulness of God, will also themselves remain faithful to God and to others.

The Hebrew Bible, the Bible of the Apostle Paul, is full of these examples. Abraham was a trustworthy and faithful person because he was primarily faithful to God (Genesis 15:6). As long as the people of Israel were faithful to God, they were faithful to each other, and to others (Exodus 14:31). Sadly, later in the wilderness, they “did not believe in God,” so they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and died there (Numbers 14:11; Deut. 1:32; 9:23). Sadly, the great leader, Moses also “did not believe in the LORD” and so was told by the LORD that he will not take the people into the promised land (Numbers 20:12). This seems like a very harsh punishment. After all, he was Moses! But, God knew that lack of faithfulness towards him, leads to further disdain towards him, and a lack of faithfulness to others in the community. That would not have been good.

Paul reminds the people that they should always keep their eyes on the LORD. Human beings may be faithful, or, they may fall away from faithfulness. Nevertheless, God will always remain faithful. This is at the core of the Torah, “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9)

A Prayer:
Oh Lord help me to always remain faithful to you and to people around me.
Oh Lord help me to always be mindful of your faithfulness.

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I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
(Psalm 121:1, NIV)

Psalm 121 is a worship song which was sung by people who came from far and wide to offer sacrifices to the LORD. They would sing, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains!”

Of course the question is, “Which mountain?

During Jesus’ time the answer to this question, in society, had highly charged social, political, and economic ramifications. The Romans controlled the land of Israel. Political and religious parties like the Sadducees and the Pharisees controlled the Temple in Jerusalem. These parties determined that only certain kinds of people- people they considered to be purely Jewish were allowed into the Temple. Others, like the Samaritans were not allowed in the Temple in Jerusalem. So, they had to build their own Temple, in Samaria.

In this context, the woman of Samaria asked Jesus, “Where must I lift up my eyes- this Mountain, in Samaria, or that Mountain, in Jerusalem?” The Messiah’s response to her is amazingly profound. “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:21, 23).

The question “Which Mountain?” is a highly divisive question. This is how religious and political leaders and religions have always controlled people.

This Psalm makes it clear that in “all mountains,” everywhere, may everyone, irrespective of caste, class, race, or anything else, worship the LORD. God yearns for these kinds of worshippers, who worship him in all spaces of their vocation.

A Prayer:
O Lord, as I enter into this new academic year, may I seek your face in all spaces of my vocation.

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“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, 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.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

In the life of a professor and a student, this time of the year is very special. It is the beginning of a new academic year. I am looking forward to welcoming new and returning students to North Park University, Chicago, IL, USA.

What is the vocation of a professor?
What is the vocation of a student?
During this time of the year, I keep asking myself these and related questions.
Today’s YouVerse is rather crucial to this set of questions.

These verses form the climax of the Gospel of Matthew. These are the last words of Jesus in Matthew. It is usually called the Great Commission, and is normally the preaching text at the commissioning of missionaries.

I would like to call it the Vocation of a Christian Professor text.

The central verb in Jesus’ commission in Greek is matheteuo, which means “make learners.”

This is the central task of a professor. It is not to deliver lectures. Unfortunately that is how it is construed in the educational system today. Students listen to lectures, or perhaps wander away in their minds during lectures. Then, at the end of the semester there is something called the finals. This is where students are expected to faithfully regurgitate what they have heard or not heard in those lectures. This is rather sad!

A Christian professor must take Jesus’ words seriously. We are supposed to be enabling our students to become lifelong “learners.”

My hope and prayer is that I and my colleagues at North Park University would take Jesus’ perspective on the vocation of a Christian educator to heart, as we enter into this new academic year.

I would be good to note the prologue and epilogue of Jesus’ commission to the Christian educator.

The Lord Jesus the Messiah’s prologue forms the foundational statement for a Christian educator. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)

This foundational statement makes it clear that Jesus Christ is Lord of all that forms a Christian Liberal Arts institution- all of the Humanities, the Sciences, the professions . . . “in heaven and on earth.” Every field of studies is under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I teach at a Christian institution, I must keep this in mind. All that is taught at a Christian institution, is taught because Christ is the king. He is the source of all the arts, the sciences, and the professions.

This also means that the authority of the Christian educator and the Christian institution is a seconded authority. I can only be good Christian educator if I teach under the authority of Christ, the Word Incarnate, and his Written Word, the Bible.

The epilogue to Jesus the Messiah’s vocational commission to the Christian educator is also crucial to note. The Messiah says, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

A Prayer:
O Lord Jesus Christ I pray that I would ever be mindful of your authority and commission as I go about the vocation of being a Christian educator, in this new academic year.
May I always be mindful of your guiding presence throughout my vocation as a Christian educator.

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“Then I heard the voice of the Lord.”
(Isaiah 6:6)

The Bible shows us a God who constantly speaks to human beings. He breaks through whenever human beings need to hear his voice.

Sometimes human beings listen to the voice of God. At other times they shun the voice of God, and pretend not to hear the voice of God.

The primeval human beings, Adam and Eve, heard the voice of the LORD in the Garden of Eden. But, “they hid themselves from the face of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8). They wanted to stick with their own opinion and their own decisions. They did not want to hear God’s voice. Perhaps, they were too ashamed to listen to the voice of God. They surmised that perhaps listening to the voice of God would only exacerbate their condition, and make them feel bad about themselves and their decisions.

When human beings do this, they begin to hear other muddled voices and it only leads to more confusion.

When God gave the Torah, the Written Word, it was so that human beings would listen to the voice of God. This is a constant refrain in the Pentateuch. The Torah was given to the people so that they would “listen to the voice of the LORD God.” (Deuteronomy 30:10, 8; 5:25; Exodus 15:26, and so on).

The constant cry of the prophets against the religious leaders of the people was centered around this call. “Do not focus on the minutia of rituals and sacrifices,” they urged, “Listen carefully to the voice of the LORD. Listening carefully is much, much better that any sacrifice.” (1 Samuel 15:22). In most English translations, it is translated as “To obey is better than sacrifice.” (So in NIV). However, the Hebrew word is literally “hear.” It is the same word which is used in the central creedal statement recited in Jewish synagogues even today, “Hear O Israel the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

The prophets make it clear that when human beings make it a habit to listen carefully to the voice of God, every moment of their lives, they will be OK. Sadly, human beings sought to focus on the minutia of laws and sacrifices. This way they could control religion, and in many senses, they thought they could control God.

Why must human beings “hear the voice of the LORD?”
The Bible makes it clear that this is the nature of the relationship between human beings and God. It is because the God of the Bible always hears the cries of human beings, whenever they are in distress.

Here are a couple of examples:
In Genesis 16, God heard the cries of a black slave woman who was very unjustly treated and driven out by supposedly godly people like Sarah and Abraham. The narrative shows how God breaks through to a woman in deep despair called Hagar and says, “the LORD has heard your affliction.” (Genesis 16:11)

The Book of Exodus begins with a very awful description of 400 years of slavery endured by the children of Israel. They were refugees in Egypt. They endured some of the most brutal treatment at the hands of the Egyptian slave-masters. Therefore, in the wilderness, God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush and said, “I have heard their cries because of their enslavers. I know their sufferings.” (Exodus 3:7)

The prophets make it clear that human beings must be ever longing to “hear the voice of the LORD,” because first he hears our cries. It is in this mutuality of “hearing” that human beings may develop their relationship with God.

We must also note that this is perhaps the first time Moses was also able to really hear the cries of the children of Israel. Before this, he wanted to take matters into his own hands and do acts of bravado. Now, he was truly able to hear the cries of the enslaved people from God’s perspective.

It is in the mutuality of hearing between God and human beings that we are able to hear the cries of suffering fellow human beings. This is the triangle of hearing which is stressed by the prophets over and over again.

This is the voice that Moses heard.
This is the voice the Isaiah heard.
This is the voice that all prophets and apostles heard.
This is the voice that you and I must hear, if we want to do God’s will and work.

A prayer:
O LORD please help me to listen carefully for your voice, so that I may hear the voices of suffering fellow human beings from your perspective.

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“Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” ( Matthew 8:10, NIV)

Near his home town, Capernaum, Jesus encounters a Roman soldier. These are fearsome men, men who pillaged his own people, and raped girls and boys. As a little boy, Jesus and his friends, would have been told to run away from these kinds of men. “They will kidnap you and enslave you, many times as sexual slaves. Run away from them!”

Now Jesus, as a young man, encounters such man. But this man seems to be different. His slave boy is paralyzed, and is in deep suffering. In Roman literature the term pais refers to a slave boy or slave girl, usually a sexual slave.

This situation seems to be different because this Roman soldier is concerned that his pais is in much suffering. He wants Jesus to heal this slave boy. This is the first hint that this man is different.

The Roman soldier, then calls Jesus LORD. Jewish people would use this term only for the God of the Old Testament. This was an unthinkable statement in those days. He was proclaiming belief in a homeless rabbi as God.

He then goes on to say something more profound, “Just say the word and my slave boy will be healed.” (Matthew 5:8). This is something only God himself can do.

The text goes on to say, “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 5:10)

Does the Torah say something about faith?

The Jewish Torah is predominantly a description of two persons- Abraham and Moses, and a community, who were just saved from Egyptian slavery.

Of Abraham, the text says, “Abraham believed God, and as a result of that he lived a just life.” (Genesis 15:6). He becomes the great model of a life of faith in the New Testament. This verse is repeatedly quoted- e.g., Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23.

Sadly, of community the LORD mourns, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?” (Numbers 14:11, NIV). The LORD says this when they refuse to trust in him, and just go into the promised land, in a life of faith. Sadly, that generation of the Children of Israel did not enter the promised land.

Sadly, of Moses, the great lawgiver also, the LORD mourns, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12, NIV). The LORD says this of Moses, when he and Aaron themselves usurp the role of God, and claim, “Must we bring water for you all.” (Numbers 20:10). At this the LORD responds, “Sorry guys, you may be great leaders. But, you are not entering the promised land.”

These are sobering thoughts!

In the light of these scenarios, it is rather poignant that Jesus gives another example, just like Abraham, of a life of faith. He says, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” ( Matthew 8:10, NIV).

This time it is not the great forefather Abraham. It is a scornful and much feared Roman soldier.

May we learn a great lesson of the life of faith from this pagan soldier!

May we learn a lesson or two, on the life of faith, perhaps from the lives of “pagan soldiers” of today!

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