Forty years after leaving Egypt, Israel finally arrived at the border of the Promised Land and were poised to take possession of the land to fulfill a promise given to their progenitors centuries earlier. God had made this promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Israel’s patriarchs now long deceased. It was a historic moment, the climax of all the events that had marked their unique journey, which had left a king and his entire nation devastated at its inception. Pharaoh had made the fatal mistake of daring to obstruct the fulfillment of this age-old promise by refusing to free the people of Israel held in slavery by his nation for centuries. Striving and railing against God’s plans ultimately leads to dire and calamitous consequences. God freed His people by the hand of Moses and Aaron using stunning miracles. It took Israel forty years to walk to the Promised Land. That was not an easy journey. The individuals who had rebelled against God’s leadership along the way, and had threatened to undermine the progress of the journey had died. As a matter of fact, only two of the adults who left Egypt made it into the Promised Land. God always performs His word.
When the time came for Israel to cross the Jordan to enter the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad made a puzzling request to the leadership. They saw the goodly Jordanian valley, the land of Jazer and Gilead as a perfect grazing pasture for their abundant livestock. These tribes approached Moses, Eleazar the priest and their community leaders and said to them, “…the country which the LORD defeated before the congregation of Israel, is a land of livestock, and your servants have livestock. If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession. Do not take us over the Jordan,” (Numbers 32: 4-5). What??? You call voluntary forfeiture to seize God’s prize for you favor when it is within your reach? Moses was appalled!!! He understandably interpreted this request as emanating from a selfish, self-serving, and rebellious spirit. It sounded unjust and insensitive. It was outrageous to him since he himself had been forbidden from leading the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land as punishment for his failure to glorify God in the presence of the congregation when he had struck a rock which he had been instructed to speak to when the people strove with him for water (Numbers 20: 7-12). How could these people trivialize what he earnestly yearned for and begged the Lord for? But Moses was not crossing over!! End of discussion. And now these people dared spurn the climax of four decades of walking! In the mind of this aged leader lurked another sad memory: the tragic events that had ensued from Israel’s refusal to enter the Promised Land earlier in the journey (Numbers 13 and 14). Moses had sent 12 men to go and spy out the land so that a workable and proper strategy could be designed for its conquest. When they came back ten of the twelve men gave a bad report that emphasized the formidable stature of the people of the land and how inconceivable it would be for Israel to conquer and dispossess them. Rebellion had ensured, and many people had died as a consequence. Furthermore, God had ordered the people to turn back and wander for 38 years in “a great and terrible wilderness.” And now, at the end of the journey, an eerily familiar scene was threatening to unfold right before Moses, and to undermine the people’s resolve to cross over and possess the land. The reason given by these two tribes for not wanting to cross into the Promised Land was their large numbers of livestock. Using their own reasoning, they concluded that the land before them would be better for their livestock than the land of Canaan. They were willing to risk being separated from the rest of the nation, and to deviate from God’s original directive and plan for them because of their riches. They did not stop to consider the impending perils their brothers would encounter in the forthcoming wars for possession of the land.
In their initial request when the tribes of Reuben and Dan asked Moses not to take them into the land, they had no intention of going beyond the Jordan River whatsoever. It was after Moses remonstrated and chided with them about the injustice they were exhibiting in thinking to let their brothers cross over to fight on their own while they stayed behind that they modified their request. This time they said they would function as the vanguard of their brethren and would fight with them to help them possess the land: “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we ourselves will be armed, ready to go before the children of Israel until we have brought them to their place…we will not return to our homes until everyone of the children of Israel has received his inheritance (Numbers 32: 16-18). According these tribes, the separation and the settlement on the east of the Jordan was a done deal. This apparently selfless revision of the petition addressed the issue of a discouragement, which mollified Moses’ resistance and resentment. An agreement was reached, and Moses allowed them together with the half tribe of Manasseh who were also apparently pleased, to settle in the land east of the Jordan. To be separated from the main body is to slide into slow alienation and irreversible estrangement no matter how noble and innocent the intention might be. What is incomprehensible is the relentless proclivity of the human heart to stubbornly pursue its own inclination even when it means rebellion against God’s directives no matter the cost. This voluntary spatial severance from the main body was a formula for weakening the cohesiveness of the nation of Israel. The ties between the eastern and western tribes would inevitably wane with the passage of time. The 2 ½ tribes that settled on the eastern side would not be able to participate in the daily religious events at the national worship center at Shiloh and ultimately in Jerusalem, which were critical for the very survival and sustenance of the Israelite nation. We do not read from Scripture that God did as many astonishing miracles among the eastern tribes as He did in the Promised Land. It was in Canaan that the heavily fortified city of Jericho miraculously collapsed before Israel. It was in Canaan that the sun stool still and the moon stayed in its place for almost and entire day until Israel had vanquished the enemy. It was also in Canaan that an elaborate and majestic structure was erected as the temple that housed the name and glory of God and in which the most sophisticated and meticulous form of worship was practiced. It was in Canaan that God chose a shepherd boy to bring down a daunting giant who had intimidated God’s people for forty days with a single stone from a sling. This lad became one of Israel’s greatest kings who ushered the nation into a Golden Age due to his unwavering faith in God. The climax of all the miracles in the Promised Land was the advent of the Messiah, God in the flesh, as Savior of the world who redefined the state and status of humanity and the history of the entire universe.
In 1 Chronicles 5:26, we read that, eventually, “…the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river of Gozan, unto this day.” They never came back to the land they had valued so much.
It is always dangerous for God’s people to be partially obedient, to choose what appeals to their flesh than to obey God all the way. Believers cannot have the best of the natural world and then claim the best of the spiritual realm. No human being can serve two masters, Jesus taught. Any such attempts will result in straddling the fence, as it were, which constitutes lukewarmness, something that is repugnant to the Lord (Revelation 3: 16).
Christians face their own Jordanian experience in their lives. They can choose to have a lukewarm relationship with Jesus or they can say with the apostle Paul, I “count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…” (Philippians 3:8). Straddling the fence is an uncomfortable position that leads nowhere and has no reward, literally and otherwise.
Most of us are familiar with the words orphan and adoption. Moreover, some of us are either orphans ourselves or we know someone who is an orphan. Orphanhood is often characterized by trauma, vulnerability, emotional distress, and material lack. The loss of a parent is a terrible blow at every stage in life. However, the blow is more severe when its victim is a minor and has to rely on other people for sustenance and other essentials of life. Orphanhood disrupts the very foundation of the child’s existence and wellbeing so severely that it can completely alter the entire course of its life. Inexplicable cords of affection and love unconsciously and deeply entwine parents’ and children’s hearts to each other. Parents provide a most intimate context for nurturing their offspring with unconditional love, psychological security, and material sustenance. Orphanhood robs the child of all this. Abigail Eaton- Master, a psychotherapist, claims that a parent’s bond with a child is so deep that it can help them sense when the offspring is in danger. When this bond is severed by the death of the parent, the effects can be catastrophic for the child. According to UNICEF, there are about 140 million orphans worldwide. Orphanhood leaves in its wake children beleaguered with anxiety, uncertainty, and despair. This why many people, both believers and non-believers, have committed themselves to care for orphans often through adoption. They endeavor to mitigate the intensity of the plight of orphanhood by assuming the role of surrogate parenthood.
However, as grim and heart-rending as the loss of biological parents maybe, nothing compares to spiritual orphanhood, which can shatter all prospects of the life to come. In The Fall of Man, humanity was severed and alienated from God, its source of life. Whatever is severed from its source of life dies. A collective death sentence was pronounced on all humanity that day in Adam and Eve. The curse of death spread to all succeeding generations because we were all in Adam’s loins in Eden. We became estranged from God. The God-shaped place in us turned away to pursue the enemy so that sin became strangely appealing. We self-orphaned ourselves by listening to the Enemy who claimed (and still does) to know more about what was best for the human race than God who created us in His image, and subsequently became one of us Himself in Christ, literally.
After humanity’s isolation from God, anarchy reigned supreme. Murder, theft, envy, moral decadence, and all sorts of despicable vices gripped the human heart, making it desperately vile and wicked. People flagrantly defied God and followed the inclinations of their hearts to glamorize and lust after the profane and to ridicule and scorn the sacred. Evil became unrestrained and gained momentum with each succeeding generation. Senseless killings that started with domestic homicide (Cain vs Able), hatred, rage, and many other forms of wickedness have increased to stunning proportions. Futile human laws have been enacted to harness the appalling depravity of human nature to no avail. A self-orphaned humanity has been strangely contented to bask in its self-inflicted spiritual squalor.
Fortunately, the grace of God transcends human rebellion and sinfulness. In His self-expending love, God became one with us to lead us to a place where could once again experience unmitigated familial love and care and protection. In the cross of Christ, you and I have the privilege of being adopted into the family of God. We are no longer aliens or strangers, but members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). We can come back home. This time forever. We arrive at the cross broken, homeless, sick, and mutilated by sin’s vicious blows, and cuts to the soul. Although outwardly, the world might view us as decent human beings who “have it together,” that is just a façade. Here is how the Bible describes our orphan status: As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born (Ezekiel 16 4-6, NKJV.
Rejected and cast out and exposed to the elements, we wallowed in our own filth in a deplorable condition. But moved with compassion, God in Christ, adopted us. He deliberately chose you and I to become His eternal children. The cross of Christ is the place where adoption takes place as we are crucified together with Him to this natural world and are raised with Him as God’s children with all the privileges that come with being His children including knowing Him as Abba! Father,” (Romans 8:15). The cross swings open the doors to a new and eternal familial existence. We become brothers and sisters with the rest of the human family with Jesus Christ as our Older Brother (Hebrews 2:11). God loves you and I the way He loves Jesus. As God’s children we receive corporate sonship and become a corporate bride for Christ. Jesus wrote our adoption papers and signed them with His own blood. Satan has no longer any legal claim to them who are in Christ; to you and I. As adopted children, we are chosen children, desired by the adoptive parent. Being adopted is to enter into a new existence, another world. It is to be close to our God.
Adoption is not an easy task for the adoptive parents. Much soul-searching and reflection goes into the decision to adopt a human being into a family. This is an undertaking for compassionate and courageous people. Often times, the child is adopted because of their problematic situation, and the adoptive parent’s desire is to alleviate the suffering associated with that situation. Similarly, God saw the abject degradation of humanity and unfolded His age-old plan to adopt us in Christ. Adoption is not cheap. The adoptive parents bear the cost of ensuring that the adopted child’s comfort and general well-being are met. They give the child their name and are responsible for it until they die. It cost Jesus His own life to seal our adoption. He emptied Himself for your sake and mine. Next time you doubt your self-worth, take time to reflect on the cost of adopting you into the family of God. That’s how special you and I are to Him whose opinion of us is the only one that matters, ultimately.
Without Jesus nothing was made that was made (John 1:3) and without Him, there is no resurrection. He is both the life and the resurrection. Life inheres in Him.
The intriguing story of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, illustrates and authenticates the claims above. The Bible tells us that Jesus loved the family of Lazarus, Martha and Mary (John 11:5). They were hospitable and kind to Him and received Him in their home from time to time. Therefore, when Lazarus became terminally ill, his sisters sent word to Jesus to inform him about Lazarus’ illness. Ordinarily, when a good friend falls ill with a life-threatening disease, we make it a point to rush to their side to give them the support and comfort they need. But in this case, the Bible says that when Jesus heard about Lazarus’ grave illness, He said “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it,” (John 11:4), and He remained where He was for an additional two days during which Lazarus died. Strangely enough, upon hearing about the death of Lazarus’ death, Jesus told His disciples that Lazarus was merely sleeping. He seemed completely unfazed by Lazarus’ death. He did not even rush to attend the funeral. This must have really puzzled the sisters who must have expected Him to come and heal Lazarus the way He had healed other people, and even raised some from the dead.
Jesus finally went to be with the sisters. When He came near their town, Martha hurried to meet Him while Mary remained at home with the mourners. Martha told Jesus what she thought He would have done if He had been present: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died, (John 11:21). When Mary finally came to the burial site, she reiterated her sister’s sentiments. They both had faith in Jesus, but they did not understand why He had not risen to their expectations during a difficult time in their lives. May be right now the reader feels that Jesus has abandoned them while they are going through a difficult time. When my daughter died, I knew that Jesus could have healed her if He had willed. But He did not. I still believe in Him even when I do not understand what is going on in the spiritual world; behind the physical veil of this life. When Rick Warren was asked this question during a CNN interview after the death of his son by suicide: “Looking back, is it possible to begin to see purpose in your pain?” He said he had struggled with the “why” questions: “Why didn’t you [God] answer the prayer I prayed every day for 27 years?” The prayer I prayed more than any other prayer went unanswered. But… What you need in tragedy is not an explanation, you need the presence of God.” Truer words have never been spoken. God’s presence in our lives is what has kept my family going, too.
During His conversation with Martha, Jesus made a staggering claim that has forever changed mankind’s view of death: “I am the resurrection and life…,” He said. Martha believed in an eschatological resurrection as she confessed to Jesus. She understood the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. But Jesus was trying to help her understand that the resurrection was not an event, as such. It was the Person standing right beside her. He is the life. Where there is resurrection, death is impotent and where life thrives, death is absent. In a nutshell, in Jesus, there is no death. In Him the dead do not pass into oblivion. They live on although they are separated from the physical life. Lazarus was not late Lazarus to Jesus. He was just Lazarus. Indeed Lazarus’ body had ceased to function and his flesh was decomposing, going back into the dust. But although its chemical properties had begun to disintegrate and the blood was no longer circulating, Lazarus was still within earshot of the voice of Jesus. There is never a point at which we are beyond Jesus’ voice or reach. Before the multitude in Bethany stood One who substituted the present for a future event of hope. What had ceased to exist was merely the tent housing Lazarus (2 Cor. 5:1). But to Jesus, Lazarus was more than his physical body. Human beings are spiritual beings and that is what connects us to our Creator God since the flesh has no interest in divine things (Gal 8:8).
Barclay aptly observed, in “Jesus Christ, we know that we are journeying not to the sunset, but to the sunrise” of eternal life with Him. Jesus’ voice pierced the heart of darkness that had engulfed Lazarus in his death, and shone the light of His life. Jesus completely altered the character of death so that although it remains, it is a powerless leviathan to the believer because of the continuity of life inherent in the Person of Christ, our Lord.
Human understanding is always restricted and crippled by our experiences on this earth. The present so pre-occupies us that it has obscured the future, particularly in spiritual issues. Judging from what obtained in the present, Martha implicitly told the Lord that He was too late to do anything for Lazarus. Her view was confined to time and space: “If you had been here…” She thought that Jesus had to be physically present in their geographic location to heal her brother. Capitulation to the prison of time and space limits our focus to what we believe to be present reality, and makes us lose sight of that which is possible. Consequently, our straggling modicum of faith becomes frayed by our fixation to the present; to that which is temporary at the expense of the eternal.
Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead reveals to us that He has permanently defeated death. This means that we have hope even when our loved ones succumb to physical death…
The development of the behavior of a human being is shaped by the interplay among parental practices, dietary habits, cultural practices as well as congenital characteristics. A novel contributor to behavioral development has been identified by scientists in the form of epigenetic inheritance, which is a process of transmitting parental phenotypic responses caused by the challenges of their environment to subsequent generations, according to Lawrence V. Harper in his article, Epigenetic Inheritance and the Intergenerational Transfer of Experience. This transfer can happen even when the offspring themselves may not be directly exposed to the same environmental challenges their parents faced because although the genetic inheritance may not have been altered the expression of the genes has. For example, environmental challenges such as maternal exposure to stressful events during the late stage of a daughter’s gestation is likely to have an adverse effect on the physical development of the daughter as well as that of the daughter’s offspring. Genes and the environment tend to co-act in the behavioral development of an individual so that phenotypic adjustments to environmental events in one generation can result in alterations in the phenotype of the subsequent generation.
Alcohol abuse is an environmental factor which scientists claim is capable of altering epigenetic signatures and gene expression. According to research by Wong and associates even a short-term abuse of a substance such as alcohol has been found to produce long-term epigenetic alterations via DNA methylation as well as histone modification. Epigenetics alterations of gene expression, in such cases, further increase the craving for more alcohol abuse in future, which in turn, increases epigenetic changes. Sadly, exposures to substance abuse by one generation can influence and impact the following generation as well. A research report by Walden and associates in their article, Trajectories of Change in Adolescent Substance Use and Symptomatology: Impact of Paternal and Maternal Use Disorders, suggests that both “paternal and maternal drug use had an addictive effect on the offspring’s drug use trajectory…” What this means is that exposure to substance abuse fosters transmissible epigenetic changes which are passed on to the offspring’s behavioral and physiological development. Because of these findings many are calling for policy enactment and educational campaigns by public health professionals and allied health professionals to spread the awareness among the general public about the inter-generational impact of drug abuse during their adolescent and childbearing phases of life. In epigenetics we inherit more than genes from our parents.
Scripture teaches us that we have a responsibility to keep our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. The Bible also shows us that our personal choices do not only affect us, but that they have a ripple effect that can affect our offspring either positively or negatively. Our sinful indulgences have a tendency to visit our subsequent generations with adverse consequences unless until they are mitigated by the Blood of the Lamb (Romans 5:19).
Recently scientists’ interest has been directed toward the neurobiology of sleep and wakefulness, among other things. Although the two phenomena seem to be somewhat inter-related they still exhibit distinct differences in the neurochemical systems that are involved in their functions. Sleep-wake disorder is becoming one of the most commonly reported health disorders in the United States. Currently, the prevalence of sleep-wake disorders is between 50 to 70 million in the United States alone. At global level sleep disorders constitute an epidemic that affects 45% of the world population. It is no wonder that research is increasingly being directed toward the neurophysiology of sleep and wakefulness in order to try and understand the mechanisms that are involved in regulating these behaviors. The potential roles played by pathways, transmitters as well as receptors is being rigorous examined and analyzed by scientists. One of the components of the sleep-wake regulatory process is the influence exerted by the circadian rhythm. Scientists have discovered that the sleep structure of an individual is mediated by the interaction between circadian and the sleep-wake-dependent oscillatory processes. The circadian pacemaker is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus or the SCN which functions as the motor that drives the circadian program. As such it is known as the brain’s master clock. Any damage to the SCN, particularly damage in the form of lesions of the retinohypothalamic tract (RHT) of the SCN can significantly throw off the sleep pattern of the organism involved. A healthy circadian rhythm gives the organism the necessary flexibility to adapt to environmental fluctuations as well as to physiological cycles of environmental cues. This is what establishes the pattern of sleep-wakefulness that is optimum for the organism’s health needs. There have been claims that the disruption of the circadian rhythm may be linked to a myriad of diseases that include DNA damage responses and abnormal cellular metabolism because scientists posit that specific genes that control the circadian rhythm interact significantly with regulators of the cell cycle. Such types of physiological damages may require the affected individual to seek biomedical evaluation and treatment regimens.
Other times though, insomnia can be caused by spiritual problems. Believers should accept sleep as a gift from God. This is not to say one should live to sleep for the Bible itself cautions us against loving too much sleep because it leads to poverty (Proverbs 20:13). However, it also cautions against depriving ourselves of healthy sleep. There are individuals who feel guilty about sleeping because they believe it takes away the time they need to push themselves to achieve their goals. For such people this is what the Word of God says “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:2). A concerted of spiritual leaders and biomedical experts can provide the necessary care and restore a healthy sleep pattern.
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It is not only genes that give us a predisposition to various diseases. But our environment as well. The role played by the environment in the etiology of disease is known as epigenetics. Epigenetics is associated with modifications to genes rather than changes to our DNA sequence. Epigenetics is also reported to have the capacity to switch certain genes on and off, thus significantly impacting health outcomes because if the genes that need to remain healthy and vibrant are switched off then adverse health outcomes can certainly ensue. The environment effects are mediated through gene expression. For example, the effects that gene-environment interaction might have on say, mental health, are not only common but they are consequential as well because all organisms do not respond to their environmental change in the same manner. This trait known as within-species variation in response to environmental change involves differences in the genetic endowment of each individual organism.
One disease that is best understood through the study of epigenetics is cancer. Scientists at Sydney’s Garvan Institute indicated that they had identified an epigenetic process which is linked to breast cancer. A comparison of malignant cells with normal cells revealed that the cancer-fighting gene, P16, had been turned off in the malignant cells via a process known as DNA methylation. Scientists are hopeful that it might be possible, in the future, to reverse epigenetic changes linked to cancer, a process that is not possible in genetics.
This is how epigenetics affects our health: During the early developmental stage it is possible for epigenetic marks to pass from parent to the offspring in a manner that completely bypasses the egg and sperm, and avoids the epigenetic purging that happens during early development. This means that inheritance does not only happen through the DNA from the parents, but that the experiences of the parent in the form of epigenetic tags can also be passed down to succeeding generations, also as a form of inheritance. The implications of such occurrences for public health include the fact that there will be need to act quickly as far as implementing intervention programs where there are environmental threats to health in order to prevent widespread epigenetic changes. This branch of genetics is still being widely researched.
God commanded ancient Israel to keep their environment clean. It was not only good stewardship with spiritual benefits, but good environmental and social responsibility as well as sound sanitary habits for enhancing optimum health (Deuteronomy 23: 12). When the environment is polluted in any manner, our health gets polluted as well.
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