If your Christmas is not merry and bright, if it’s blue instead of red, or if it’s lonely instead of a joyful family; just know that it’s absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong with you or with your Christmas.
The birth of Jesus Christ had nothing to do with such things in the world that He was born and lived in. Instead, the Scriptures show us it was stark and bleak, though not without a ray of hope. Even after the birth, Jesus and his folks had to deal with constant dangers and foreboding, as a refugee family on the run, crossing risky borders while authorities demanded papers and they had none to show.
The Bible talks about a Jesus who comes into the world of violence, fear, misery, poverty, colonization, and injustice. It is in this world that He came naked, homeless, and as one for whom there was no room in anyone’s house or heart. Jesus’ early life was lived as a vulnerable refugee in Egypt at the mercy of strangers who took his family in and provided for them during their sojourn there. Therefore, Jesus Christ can come to you today in your own vulnerabilities and needs and in your lonely space of a godforsaken mess. It was made possible not because of the manger or the cradle but through His cross. May we run to the Cross and find forgiveness, love, mercy, and comfort in whatever situation you find yourself in this Christmas in 2022 on in the new year.
Rev. Dr. Vinod John @johnvinod | February 18, 2021
I would invite you today to read again the tiny book of Joel in one sitting as it has only three chapters. The message of the book of Joel is never passé. In fact, Joel’s message has relevance for the whole world today more than ever no matter where you live. It is expressly because Joel’s context and ours are quite similar today. In Joel’s time, Israel went through a devastating plague—an invasion of devouring locusts. They had eaten and destroyed everything in their way and turned the green pastures of Israel to desolate. The food supply was almost destroyed, and people were crying out for help.
“The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.
How do the beasts groan!
the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate” (Joel 1: 18 KJV).
Moreover, the liturgical worship of God in the Temple was also adversely affected to the extent that its daily offerings had almost diminished:
“The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord” …
“Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar.
Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God!
Grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God” (Joel 1: 9; 13 NRSV)
We are in the second year of an unprecedented and deadly pandemic since 2020 and there seems to be no end in site, despite the new vaccines that might help prevent Covid-19 infections. The world economies are faltering and will remain unstable in the aftermath of this pandemic. Therefore, I think we need to heed prophet Joel’s timely call to repentance. While prophesying in the context of a dreadful plague of locusts that affected all aspects of their life, including the religious worship, Joel pleads with Israel to return to the Lord. He preaches a message of hope. He reveals the nature and intent of God, that is not to destroy the people of Israel but to save them. If they repented of their disobedience and returned from their evil ways to the living God, Joel promises that God would pity them and restore them. Joel also reveals that in a post repentance and restoration era, God would bring about a new reality, that is, the Spirit of God abiding with them (see, Joel 2: 28-29). We shall ponder on this aspect in the coming days along with Joel’s apocalyptic predictions.
However, today, let us shift our focus from the death, loss, and destruction brought about by the pandemic that we find ourselves in and instead let us focus upon the areas in our lives that need amending. What specific areas in our personal and church life do we need to do penitence? What are the specific areas in which we need to turn back from disobedience to obedience? May the Lord help us locate these areas and let us return to the Lord seeking His grace and forgiveness for our Creator God is merciful and will restore us.
In our churches, what we loved the most—our in-person corporate worship and fellowship—have been curtailed by this evil pandemic. However, let us use this time to reflect upon our church life and its sins, disobedience, and complicity. How has our church been doing in the midst of racism, sexism, bigotry, sectarianism, favoritism, ethnocentricity, preferentialism, xenophobia, discrimination, immorality, dogmatism, celebrity worship, false saviors, and several other areas that this Lent season may reveal to us? Perhaps, you do not see this visibly in your church, but has your church been apathetic to these issues and their presence in and around the church? If so, may we heed the call of Joel who called the Temple priests, too, to repentance:
"Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar.
Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God!" (Joel 1:13 NRSV).
“Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, …” (Joel 2: 17 KJV).
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Even if a little late, I wish you all a very happy New Year!
I am grateful to the Lord for ushering me and you into this brand near 2015 and I wish and pray that this year turns out to be a great, joyous, and blessed year for you. Like most people, I am pretty sure you too made a few resolutions for this New Year. And, like most people, you too may fail at those resolutions in the very first month of the year. But don’t worry as you are in good company. In fact, a study in the United Kingdom reveals that only about 12% people meet their New Year goals and that means 88% people fail. Interestingly, 52% participants in a sample size of 3000 people said that they were confident of their success (http://www.quirkology.com/UK/Experiment_resolution.shtml)!
Consequently, I do not make any resolutions because, I believe, even if we are in the New Year, we are the same old you and I. We know that there is a lot of pressure on us to make New Year resolutions. The media is constantly bombarding us with the messages that challenge and motivate us to pull ourselves up by the shoulders and muster all the strengths we have to become the person that you and I are not: skinny, ever-loving, never smelly, rich, powerful, amicable, lovable, attractive, and so on and so forth. That is, everything the world wants us to become and in reality we cannot. Still, many of us jump on the bandwagon of yearly resolutions expecting this New Year to be different from the last years. However, a few weeks into the New Year and a whopping 88% people give up as they realize that they are the same old people. The years go by and we are stuck with the same old person who is getting older and older by every New Year!
Therefore, I think, instead of making resolutions, we need to work on getting a new us—a new you and a new me! This is possible only through looking within instead of eyeing only on the outside. The problem is not with the world. Rather, it lies within you and me. Unless there something changes within us, i.e., our attitude to be precise, the New Year resolutions would not help us much. Attitude is the key word that makes a huge difference in how the New Year will turn out for us. In fact, our attitude is more important than our circumstances, our successes, and our failures. It is more important than what others think of us and want us to be like or do. It is more important that what the media tells us that we should be like. We need to, then, pause and do a self-inventory of our attitude in this New Year. Attitude is how you react to your circumstances and people around you. Attitude is not revealed in how we normally live and react when everything goes the way we have planned it; rather, attitude manifests itself when we are faced with very trying circumstances and difficult people. Our response then reveals to us and to the world our true attitude. If somehow we could let the Holy Spirit to make changes within us than outside us, we may gain a better attitude and live more victoriously in the New Year. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans:
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NASB).
I close here with a short story that I read a while ago as it beautifully illustrates what attitude is and what it can do to us and to the world around us. Thanks for reading and God bless your journey!
“Once upon a time, there was an old and very wise man. Every day he would sit outside a gas station in his rocking chair and wait to greet motorists as they passed through his small town. On one particular day, his grandson knelt down at the foot of his chair and slowly passed the time with him. As they sat and watched the people come and go, a man who surely had to be a tourist began looking around as if he were checking out the area for a place to live.The stranger walked up to the old man and asked, “So what kind of town is this that I’m in?” The man replied, “Well, what kind of town are you from?”The tourist said, “Well, in the town where I’m from everyone is very critical of each other. The neighbors all gossip about everyone, and it’s a really negative place to live. I’m sure glad to be leaving. It is not a very cheerful place.”The old man in the chair looked at the stranger and said, “You know, that’s just how this town is.”An hour or so later, a family that was also passing through stopped for gas. The mother jumped out with two small children and went into the restroom. The father also got out of the car and, he too, struck up a conversation with the old man. “So,” he asked, “Is this town a pretty good place to live?” The old man in the chair replied, “Tell me about the town you’re from. How is it?”The father looked at him and said, “Well, in the town we’re from everyone is very close and always willing to lend their neighbor a helping hand. There’s always a hello and thank you everywhere you go. I really hate to leave. It’s almost like we are leaving family.” The older man gave him a warm smile. “You know, that’s a lot like this town.” Then the family returned to the car, waved goodbye and drove away.After the car disappeared in the distance, the boy looked up at his grandfather and asked, “Grandpa, how come when the first man came into our town you told him it was a terrible place to live, but when the family came into town you told them it was a wonderful place to live?” The grandfather looked down at his grandson and said, “Because, sonny, no matter where you move, you take your attitude with you – that’s what makes it terrible or wonderful.”
Today is the 40th and last Day of Lent and I’m so happy for this journey into the wilderness with Jesus that we have been through. It’s for the first time that I did a Lent devotional and I liked it. If I have the time, I would love to do it again next year. For those of you who have been with me on this journey in the past forty days (and I know there aren’t many) either on our church’s Facebook page or on my blog, I really appreciate your time. I hope you have been blessed in some way. If so, I would love to get your feedback.
Today is called holy or silent Saturday, a day of preparation for celebrating the resurrection. Our Lord has been laid in the grave after He cried out with a loud voice on the cross, as He breathed His last: “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). We need not mourn for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ because that was not the end of His life. In fact, it was the beginning of a new era that would inaugurated with His resurrections—an era of victory over sin, death and Satan. Jesus is victorious. The cross could not end His mission. In fact, the death on the cross was His earthly mission on which He was sent by His God the Father. In all the days of His wilderness experience and during His last week of passion in Jerusalem, Jesus was slowly moving to the cross. He knew the cross will be so painful, but He also trusted God who would raise Him up. The irrefutable fact of His resurrection made His timid disciples so bold that they could not hide themselves in the upper rooms. They went out into the streets, bazaars, and even to the Jerusalem Temple in a dangerous city. The disciples proclaimed this fact of God raising Jesus from the dead with all boldness even to the Jewish authorities,
“If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:9-12 NIV).
Friends, we need to pray and ask for the same kind of passion and boldness now to proclaim the good news of Jesus, His resurrection, and His coming again. The world needs it badly today more than ever and we are privileged to have the good news. Let’s keep sharing it with others until He comes again.
Have a blessed Easter. The Lord is risen! He’s risen indeed!
Finally the day and hour has arrived for the Son of Man to be lifted up on high, to be handed over to the Jews, and to be crucified on the cross. The Gospel of John writes about this horrifying crucifixion in just two sobering sentences, as he struggled to find words to describe what he had witnessed at the site of crucifixion: “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle” (John 19: 17-18). Jesus Christ knew about this hour and He was well prepared, although for a moment, He struggled over this, as He agonized in Gethsemane. Jesus, the Son of God, was fully human and had all the pains and emotions that you and I go through in everyday life. He agonized just like any one of us would do if we knew what kind of death we’ll die tomorrow. But He agonized mainly because of the heavy burden of sins that was laid on Him who knew no sin. That’s why when He could not bear it anymore and when He had already prayed for the Jews for rejecting Him, for accusing Him of blasphemy, when He had forgiven the Roman soldiers for torturing Him, when He had taken care of His mother’s welfare, when He had promised His presence to the repentant thief hanging next to Him, Jesus finally “cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”(Matthew 27:46)?
It was not a cry of dereliction, but a cry of one who knows His intimate relationship to the Father and yet He could not bear it even for a second that God would turn His face away because of the sins laid upon His Son— Jesus Christ. It was also a cry of victory fully knowing that He had accomplished the task of carrying all our sins to the cross and nullifying their power over us. It was a cry of triumph over Satan and all his powers that were rallied against Jesus since he was born as a baby in a manger. Jesus fully knew that He had overcome Satan and defeated his plans by hanging on the cross. Therefore, after a few moments, when He had assessed all His accomplishments since His birth and until now, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30) before giving up His Spirit. Thank God that the cry of being forsaken earlier was not the last word from the cross! For if it was the last one then we would have no hope. He would have been forsaken by God as he hanged between heaven and earth. But no! God knew it was according to His perfect plan, so He gave Jesus the strength to suffer yet for a few more moments before He could gain His composure and say, “It is finished!” The work of salvation for the humanity is done and finished forever on the cross. Do you know that you don’t have to do anything but repent and believe in this work that Jesus has finished for you? Just accept it and live in the victory that Jesus has won for us. Amen.
Jesus was in Jerusalem in His last days during the festival of Passover for which Jews had gathered from around the world. The city was bustling with activities related to the Passover feast. Jesus, too, wanted to celebrate the Passover with His disciples. Therefore, He didn’t leave anything to chance, but planned in advance where He wanted to celebrate the Passover—an upper Room in Jerusalem, because it was difficult to find a suitable place in the city at this time (please read John 13:1-11). As Jesus gathered with His disciples in that upper room, John states, “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus’ love for His disciples did not diminish over the years. His love was not dependent on circumstances or what these men would do to Him or after Him. In fact, He knew that one of them, Judas, is going to betray Him with thirty silver coins in just a couple of hours. He knew that one by one, they will all leave Him alone to be persecuted by the Jewish authorities. He knew that Peter was going to deny Him that very night. He knew about each one of them and their motives for following Him in the past years. And yet, the Bible says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1) It was not a love to the end of the day or years, it was not even a love that lasted until “death do us apart.” Rather, it was Jesus’ genuine, divine, self-giving love, which He continued to shower upon them. He loved them so much that He expressed it by taking his garments off, picking up a basin and a towel, and stooping down like a slave to wash their smelly feet! Thus, He loved the Twelve to the point of being hurt and wounded by them.
Jesus loves us all the same way, today. Whether we’re faithful to Him or not, whether our service to Him depends on our circumstances or not, Jesus still loves us and will continue to do so until the end. His love is eternal and will take us into eternity. Jesus loves us today even when we hurt him and bring His name into shame every day through our actions. There’s no true love than Jesus’ love for us to the point that He becomes vulnerable to be betrayed by the object of His love.No one ever said it better than C. S. Lewis:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell” (The Four Loves, p. 169). Amen!
During the Passion Week, one incident that prominently stands out among others is Mary anointing Jesus’ feet at Bethany (please read John 12:1-11). Mary, one of the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, expressed her gratitude to Jesus by pouring a bottle of quite expensive perfume at his feet. This family didn’t appear to be a rich family in Bethany, but over the years, it became the center of Jesus’ ministry in and around Jerusalem. However, Jesus’ disciples, especially Judas, reacted indignantly at Mary’s action and service of Jesus, the Messiah. Matthew 26:8 reads, “But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?” Judas was particularly vocal and asked why the ointment was not sold and money given to the poor, as though he was the only one concerned about the poor! But, as John rightly records, Judas said this “not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it” (John 12:6).
We have today, in many churches, similar people whose purpose of being around Jesus or inside the church is to somehow keep an eye on the money and to steal from it whenever the opportunity arises. They don’t have a clue about the poor or their needs. They do not bother about the needs of world missions or anything like that. They do not know how to serve, and they lack a sense of calling, but you’ll find them in all important positions of the church. They steal, rob, and destroy churches and ministries by their insatiable greed. However, Jesus came to the rescue of Mary and rebuked Judas and others: “Let her alone” (John 12:7). Unfortunately, there aren’t many people today in the church that oppose such thieves and scoundrels. Many a cases of financial embezzlement and irregularities in the churches and Christian organizations go unchecked or are swept under the carpet. People don’t like to confront or expose such people. It’s high time the churches stopped tolerating such greediness and gross misuse of people’s money. What would you do if you knew about your leaders’ engagement in any such activity? Would you tolerate it, expose it, or close your eyes and mouths shut when you see such things at your church/organization? God bless.
According to Mark 11:27, on the second day of the Passion Week, Jesus and His disciples “arrived in Jerusalem again.” Remember, Jesus had withdrawn from all the commotion in the city and went down to Bethany. On the second day, as they went back to Jerusalem, on the way Jesus saw a fig tree and looked for fruit in it, but finding none, He did a seemingly strange thing—He “cursed” the tree! (see Mark 11: 12). And on the next day, Jesus’ disciples noticed that the fig tree had withered to its roots (Mark 11:20; Matthew 21:18-19; 20-22). Many people take offence at this and ask several difficult questions about this act and its consequences.
Well, it is not an easy task to explain everything about this act as we neither have the space nor all details; however, it was not an impulsive incidence that took place because of intemperance. In fact, Jesus used this act as a visible parable to teach His disciples, and many others, a lesson for life. Jesus found this as an odd tree which had leaves but no fruit. In reality, on such trees the fruit came before the leaves in Israel. A tree full of leaves gave the impression that there would be fruit on it, but Jesus found it fruitless. Jesus used this as a living analogy to teach us that such a fruitless tree represented Israel, the chosen people of God. God did everything that He could for them, and yet, when His Son Jesus came to Israel, He found it fruitless. Therefore, according to the Scriptures, such a fruitless tree deserved nothing but withering to the roots (see Psalm 90:6; Hosea 9:16). Jesus showed through this act that the nation of God’s people has become a worthless entity which had the appearance of being righteous, but in reality, it was a fruitless tree that was worthy of nothing but destruction. In fact, it was a prophetic act of Jesus, as the destruction of Jerusalem happened just a few years later in AD 70 through the hand of Romans. It is a lesson for the followers of Christ, too. God has done in and through Christ everything for our salvation. He expects real fruit of righteousness from our lives and not just an appearance of being a disciple. Any believer found fruitless will have to suffer the same fate of the fig tree. Therefore, let’s examine our lives and mend our ways in such a way that we become fruit-bearing branches of the Vine (see John 15:1-17). Amen.
The Fig Tree (revdavidsbiblestudybiblebootcamp.wordpress.com)
We’re in the last week of Lent and we should be excited about celebrating soon Easter—Jesus’ victory over sin and death. However, there’s a series of things that Jesus did during His last week on earth that should teach us several spiritual lessons. Today, I’m reminded of a 1500 year old Celtic missionary song—Be Thou My Vision:
“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise: be thou mine inheritance now and always;
be thou and thou only the first in my heart; O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.”
Perhaps this prayer was inspired by Jesus’ attitude to the reaction of Jewish people particularly during His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (see Matthew 21:1-17, Luke 19: 28-44 ). People were ecstatic and shouted with joy their hosannas and halleluiahs. They spread their clothes and palm branches on Jesus’ way and appeared to hail Him as the king of Israel. However, there’s a little but meaningful verse in Matthew 21: 17 (NIV): “And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.” Jesus was unmoved by the praises and popularity and quickly withdrew from it all, as He fixed His eyes upon the cross. He would not let empty human praises, and hollow popularity among them come in the way of His clear vision and His mission. He would not trust people’s praises, as He knew that in just a few days these very people would also be joining the chorus, “crucify him, crucify him!” Therefore, He kept His eyes fixed on the sovereign God and the calling He had received from His Father. No worldly gain or calling could divert His attention from fulfilling what God had called Him to do for the salvation of humanity.
When we hear people praising us how do we feel? When we get a little popularity among our folks, do we allow it to go to our heads and sit there? Where are our eyes fixed today? What is our vision? If God is not the center of our lives, may be, it’s time to pray the Celtic prayer and mean it:
“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise: be thou mine inheritance now and always;
be thou and thou only the first in my heart; O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.” Amen.
After His wilderness experience Jesus returned to Galilee, his home. He did so glowing from being in the presence of God, and full of the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit. You would expect that people must have been in awe of Him, accepted His teachings, repented from their sins, and soon He was a great leader with a huge following. Well, the first reaction at home was great, as Luke says, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him” (Luke 4:14-15 NIV). However, as soon as Jesus began to apply the Word of God to Himself and preached about God’s grace in choosing Israel, out of many nations, to be His people, the folks got mad at Jesus. In the same chapter 4, where we just saw people praising Him, Luke further says, “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:28-30 NIV). They were His own people, as they knew Him and His family well. They did recognize God’s presence with Him and the anointing and authority with which Jesus spoke to them: “And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth…” (Luke 4: 22 RSV). But as I just said, they became indignant the moment Jesus proclaimed that God’s Word is about Him and for Him. He applied the words of prophecy to Himself. He also proclaimed the gospel of grace by citing the history of Israel that deals with God’s act of choosing people for His purpose and glory through His grace alone and not because of their merit. People were not ready to accept it and immediately wanted to end His life.
The world is no different today. We often expect that our life will be easy and received well once we spend time with God and are anointed by the Holy Spirit for His work. All people will just praise us and glorify our life and ministry. In fact, this is exactly the impression that many televangelists and prosperity preachers give today as they show images of “miracles” amidst huge crowds in mega cities of the majority world. They claim to be popular because God is supposedly with them and working through them. But we need to test if they’re living according to the Word and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. This Lent, we need to pause and reflect on the life of Jesus and assess our lives today in light of Jesus’ life and the Word of God. Are we applying daily the Word of God that we received in our wilderness experience in our lives or are we just listening/reading it? Satan is very happy if we only read or listen, but we will make him really mad the moment we begin to apply it in our lives personally. The world is not going to love it; in fact, they are going to hate us and shun us completely when we walk in the light of His Word and the grace brought to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, miracles or no miracles, God’s Spirit and His power are always with us and He will help us lead a holy life according to His Word. The world is not going to accept us or receive us favorably if we proclaim the gospel of grace, as Jesus Himself has already warned us in John 15: 18-27. May God’s Spirit be with you this weekend. Amen.