people

Parting the Red Seas of Life

When Israel left Egypt, they walked away from a past of servitude, brutality, dehumanization, and pain into a future of redefined moral values, total freedom, and adventure with God.  They were carved out to become a community that would serve as the historical framework within which the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would be revealed. They became recipients and custodians of strict dietary, social, spiritual, health, and legislative laws for that same reason. Their entire culture was drastically changed. But at the Red Sea their past began to close in on them with all its horrendous and cruel bondage. Their unfolding freedom and promising future was suddenly threatened by the churning and menacing waters of the sea. The Red Sea was literally an open grave. Precipitous mountains and rocks stood on either side, and a massive army wielding formidable military weapons was closing in on them from behind. There seemed to be no way of escape for them. It seemed as if their short-lived freedom would soon be snuffed out. The way things appeared, it was more reasonable to surrender and be led back into slavery than to pursue Moses’ ill-conceived and abortive attempt to free them. Unarmed former slaves were no match for a renowned world Empire’s seasoned army. But God had other plans. He never leads us backwards. His plans are to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Call onto Me, He says to us, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know, (Jeremiah 33:3). Moses called out to God on behalf of the people of Israel and God responded by commanded nature to intervene with a night wind that parted the water and paved a path for the people to cross safely to the other side on dry ground, leaving clouds of dust behind them in the middle of the sea!! Water was standing on either side like a solid wall. Sadly, Egypt mistakenly thought God’s plans for Israel were theirs, too.  Their cup of iniquity, arrogance, and irreverence was so full they assumed a sense of entitlement even toward God to their utter destruction. They believed they were entitled to be masters over other people forever. It was a fatal mistake that devastated the entire Empire.

Our painful experiences can be daunting.  Each one of us has our share of Egypt experiences, as it were. They are often characterized by painful and harrowing suffering. Sometimes, severe trials akin to a fiery furnace beset us and plunge us into seasons of darkness devoid of even the promising glimmer of distant stars against the night of anguish. Our faith in God wavers; becoming almost fickle and hollow under the burden of intense pain. Chronic unhappiness and sadness endlessly stalk us, threatening to envelop us in a seemingly inescapable blanket of gloom. I do not know what type of sorrow the reader is facing right now, but I take heart in knowing that God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, is shining in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, our Lord (2 Cor. 4: 6). God has given us Jesus Christ as our Eternal Light to guide us and carry us through our earthly pilgrimage. He is our victory. In God, the past has no power over us. He makes all things new by making a new creation of us, in His Son. Jesus has parted our Red Sea and the Enemy has lost his grip on us.

I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)-Two Sides of the Same Self-Portraiture

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…

A God No One Can Capture

“They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh,” (1 Samuel 6:10-13).
Priests served as theocratic mediators between God and man in ancient Israel. They also performed sacerdotal functions according to divine laws and statutes. Any decadence in the priestly office portended individual and corporate retribution and punishment. An apostate and weak priesthood disrupted the relationship between God and the people, and caused the people to turn to idolatry and superstition. This was the case during the Priest Eli’s priestly tenure. Eli’s sons desecrated the people’s offering and their sacrifices, and Eli did practically nothing to stop them. They abused their authority in the sanctuary and committed abominations before the Lord with impunity, and they caused the people to transgress.
When war broke out between Philistia and Israel, God allowed Israel to be defeated by their enemies who also captured the Ark of the Covenant, which represented the immediate presence and glory of God. Eli died that same day and so did his two sons and daughter-in-law. Israel had attempted to confine God to a wooden box and treated the Ark superstitiously as an object to be used to their advantage during crises. It was a fatal mistake. The Philistines thought they could capture the God of Israel and exalt their idols over Him. Another fatal mistake. This God abounds in cosmic freedom: heaven is His throne and the earth His footstool. Nothing and nobody can harness His omnipotence. When placed face to face with the Ark, the Philistine idol fell face down before the Ark. They tried to re-set it in its place and the next morning the idol was flat on its face. This time with its head and hands severed from its torso on the threshold. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” (Exodus 20:3) is the eternal commandment. The Lord God is incomparable. He has no competition.
In the 7 months the Ark was in Philistia, the men suffered inexplicable deaths and an epidemic of what the Bible terms ‘tumors’ broke out. The Philistines suspected that the capture of the Ark of the Covenant was a causative factor for all the deaths and illnesses. They decided to conduct what they thought was an impossible experiment to validate their suspicions and to test the power of God. They would return the Ark, unmanned. They yoked two milk cows. That is, cows with calves. They chose two milk cows, shup up the calves, yoked them, and hitched them to the cart to take the Ark and some gold offerings to Beth Shemesh in Israel. Cows, like any other animal are fiercely protective of their calves, particularly if one attempts to separate them from them. Cows are not as placid or docile as they are usually depicted in fairy tales. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that 20 people are killed each year by cows in the United States alone. Meddling with their calves can be a disastrous endeavor. If not properly handled, milk cows can disrupt the entire milking process.
Milk cows were never yoked in antiquity, only oxen were yoked. These animals could not be yoked to perform a task unless they were first tamed otherwise they could react violently to being confined to a yoke, even to the extent of goring the person attempting to yoke them. They naturally resent such forced confinement. It takes months of hard work and patience to tame animals for the yoke, under normal circumstances. In this case, however, the cows willingly submitted to the yoke. These animals had never been to Beth Shemesh before. They were Philistine cows. None of the lords of the Philistines volunteered to guide them or to lead them toward Beth Shemesh. This was part of the test. However, the cows directed themselves into the road that led to Beth Shemesh. The Philistine lords followed them to the border. They did not go before them to lead them. The animals led the way. Even tame oxen plowing as a span in familiar fields need someone to go before them to guide them. But not these milk cows. They made their way to Israel. No one dared ambush them on the way, no predator attacked them for prey. They never veered off the road to graze or to look for water. They set out for Beth Shemesh, lowing as they went.
When the people of Beth Shemesh lifted up their eyes, a spectacular sight met their gaze. Two cows steadily drew toward them, unguided, pulling their sacred cargo, the Emblem of God’s presence. The cows headed straight for the field of someone called Joshua and stopped there, and waited for the Levites to take down the Ark of the Lord. They had completed their task. Our sovereign God does not need to be defended by human beings nor can He be captured by them. He defends Himself and His own. Natural laws bow down in obeisance before Him. A God who can direct animals through old, bumpy roads, meandering through dense forests of antiquity, can easily find the way for you and I through the detours and maze of 21st century life on earth. How great is our God!

God and the Enigma of Evil

One of the reasons non-believers give for their unbelief in God is the presence and proliferation of evil in the world. They view evil as a blight against the claims of the Christians about the goodness of their God. Very often the question advanced is: “How can there be a good God when there is so much evil in the world?” This question is veiled with a multitude of assumptions and presumptions within itself. But it becomes mind-boggling when it is asked by people who believe that human beings are a product of a mindless, unguided natural process living in a universe that has “no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good…” and that they merely “dance to the music” of their DNA. [1] In such a closed system of mindlessness with an existence that is devoid of cognitive functions, who can qualify to recognize evil, let alone to ask questions about it?
But even theists and Christians struggle with the question of evil. It is an enigma that is hard to deal with because we do not have all the answers about it yet. But we can know something about it by studying and drawing inferences from what Scriptures say.
What indeed is evil? Evil is good gone bad. It is the corruption of that which was originally good. Evil cannot exist alone. Thomas Aquinas argues that God created everything, but evil is not a tangible thing that can exist on its own as a stand-alone entity. This is not say that evil is unreal. Rather, it is to say that evil has the potential to exist in a parasitic nature in some substance that is good: “evil signifies nothing else than ‘privation of perfect being.’” [2]. When we speak of moral evil, we are talking about a relationship between human beings that has been corrupted.
God created perfect human beings. But he created them with a freewill. They were created with the capacity to love and obey God or to reject and disobey him. God did not create robots who mechanically obey him. C.S. Lewis aptly observed that God took the risk of endowing the creatures he created with a freewill because coerced love and obedience are meaningless to him. God put his image in the creatures in whom he also deposited the power to choose either to do good or to do evil. No single human being can appreciate a robot manufactured and programed to say “I love you” every 2 hours! If someone did that, they would merely be telling themselves they love themselves which smacks of narcissism. Nothing is so gratifying and heartwarming than to be the object of free, warm and uncoerced love.
But why can’t God just stop evil in the world? The only way God can stop evil in this world is to take away from mankind the freewill he gave us; to take away the capacity to choose to love him and all he stands for or to choose to reject him and all he stands for. He would have to go back on his word of creating people with freewill and make them into some form of puppets.
For those who argue that God could have done a better job at creating this world, here is what Lewis says (and I agree with him, totally): “Of course God knew what would happen if [human beings] used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. Perhaps we feel inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty in disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will-that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings-then we may take it that it is worth paying.”[3]

Resources
[1] Richard Dawkins, Out of Eden, pp. 133.
[2] Compendium theologiae 114, 125-126; In Bill Kin (2002). Thomas Aquinas on the Metaphysical Problem of Evil. Quodlibet Journal, 4, (2-3). ISSN: 1526-6575
[3] Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 52-53

A Moldy Threat to Health

Statistics from 2007 studies conducted at Berkeley reveal that about 21.8 million individuals have asthma in the United States. The pathogenesis of 4.6 million of these cases has been attributed to exposure to indoor dampness and mold. Overall, approximately 30 to 50% of asthma-related health problems are linked to building dampness and mold. The cost for treatment of indoor mold-related asthmatic problems was estimated to be $3.5 billion. The World Health Organization claims that about 1.5 million deaths worldwide each year are linked to indoor air pollution of some sort.

The main element of indoor air pollution is microbial pollution caused by a myriad species of both bacteria and filamentous fungi also known as mold which grows in moist and damp places. Mold was discovered by William Yobe in 1827. The Institute of Medicine has linked exposure to mold to upper respiratory tract problems. Certain types of toxic mold such as aspergillus, fumigatus and histoplasma can cause severe infections in vulnerable individuals with compromised immune systems. A product of mold is mycotoxins. People are often exposed to mycotoxins by ingesting contaminated food, by skin contact or by inhaling these toxins. If exposure to mycotoxins is protracted and unmitigated, the results can be serious adverse health outcomes. Clinical effects resulting from exposure to mycotoxin fumonisins include pulmonary edema, esophageal cancer and many others. Mycotoxin ochratoxins can cause kidney and liver damage over a long period of time. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, an immune-mediated health condition can also be exacerbated by exposure to mold.

What is astonishing is that millennia before Yobe’s time the Bible already had cautionary counsel against exposure to mold and fungi. Although the process for remediation of mold infestation has improved in modern times due to technological advancement the approach remains largely the same as the biblical one. Buildings with serious mold infestation often need to be vacated. Recently, in 2002, a South Atlanta apartment complex showed “a serious mold problem” in at least 37 of its 119 units. This necessitated evacuation of dozens of families from the apartments and the property manager and complex owners ended up with numerous compensatory claims from residents exposed to the mold. In Leviticus 14:34-39 the Bible says “When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and [there is] a spreading mildew in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like mildew in my house.’ The priest is to order the house to be emptied before he goes in to examine the mildew, so that nothing in the house will be pronounced unclean.” The Bible is an amazing repository of health guidelines. Learn More at: http://youtu.be/9TOcHIb8N5k