There it goes again… another one bites the dust….
Reports on corruption by politicians or stories of unscrupulous capitalists no longer surprise us Filipinos. We do not need to hear from the media to know these actually happen in our midst, and in societies around the world. In fact, the whole world is witness to how people can easily be blinded by the glitters of gold and succumb to the allure of power. Albeit this, stories on “greed” are simply so amusing to ignore. Though people like me will probably never understand why there are those who think they still do not have enough – when they have more than enough for this lifetime and beyond- it would be worth the time to try to settle some curiosities on the matter. Then and now I believe the same word describes this insatiable appetite for wealth and control…. greed. Greed cuts across race, culture, color and gender. History has a long list of people who had lived lives driven by greed for money and power.
What is greed?
The English dictionary Collins defines this word as “excessive desire, as for wealth or power.” The word greed translated to Filipino is “imbot” which also refers to a strong desire for wealth (kayamanan) or power (kapangyarihan).
What is it with wealth and power that enslave many and keep people under their spell? If we refer to the Bible, the first greedy person seems to be Cain. He wanted more than what he should have, so he cheated in his offering. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells of a parable of a rich man who has had good harvests from his field, he kept building bigger barns where he could put his growing harvests not knowing that he will die that very night when he thought everything was going well for him. Jesus several times warned his disciples against all kinds of greed. He tells them it is foolishness to obsess on things that can rot, be destroyed or stolen. Jesus instead encourages them to “store up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves do not break in or steal” adding that, “….for where [ones] treasure is, there [ones] heart will be also.”
Greed is a curse. It is a curse because it never leads to contentment, much less, to happiness. Stories of the rich and the famous show many of them are paranoid and insecure. A greedy person does not know when and how to stop accumulating. Many have traded their souls for wealth, power and fame. A number of famous artists have openly admitted to abandoning their belief in God to run after fame. Business people are drawn to the occult to make their enterprises grow. Similarly, politicians tread on dangerous compromises for influence in society unmindful of its cost.
Poverty, violence and injustices are just few of the obvious by-products of greed. When a person is consumed by the desire for wealth and power, his/her ability to discern between what is good and evil is blurred. The sense of morality is put aside, leading to a calloused conscience which makes it easier to ignore the nagging call for fairness and justice. Data on the distribution of wealth around the world show that the same people/ families have been occupying the upper echelon of the economic pyramid. If one would do the math, one would arrive at the conclusion that if the vast wealth of these people are to be distributed to the world’s populace, the issue of poverty and powerlessness will become moot and academic.
Greed has been around. It had caused the downfall of empires, of kings and intellectuals. Wealth and power may have brought many to great heights, but what is there at the top waiting? Surely it was never happiness, nor satisfaction. Let us turn to Solomon who was said to be the wealthiest, wisest and most powerful man to ever walk on earth but despite all these he uttered…
“He who loves money will never be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity. ….. As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return naked as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand.”
The summation of one’s existence is not how much one has accumulated throughout one’s lifetime, but the attainment of meaning and purpose for which one was called to live. This line from the gospels, “…what profits a man if he gains the world, but loses his soul” is worth remembering whenever “greed” tries its trick on us. It will keep us from “biting the dust.”
My husband and I chose to build our dream house in a place distant from the hassles of the city. Number one on our list of requirements was privacy. The village where we live offers just that, the greenery and fresh air are extras that we are equally grateful to enjoy. Once you go past the main entrance of the village, the buzz and hullabaloos from the thoroughfares and even from work are drowned by the hushed ambiance that seems to hover over the place. It is as if a huge, invisible machine is placed at the village’s entrance that automatically senses and filters any disquiet that may have been hanging over one’s shoulders all day. Quite obviously, the one thing that residents in our village have in common is our penchant for privacy. The height of the fences, gates and walls that each one of us built around our houses, though fancifully designed, say it all.
Walls are structures that assert ownership and privacy. They are made of sturdy materials to withstand weather and discourage unwanted creatures, including humans, from entering the premises. Walls define territories. They mark boundaries. In the olden days, walls were built to deter invasions, to keep outsiders outside and to protect the people inside the territory. The world has seen a number of them built across the globe over the centuries. Some of them, famous or infamous, are the Great Wall of China that was built in the early 200 B.C., the Wall of Jerusalem that has now become a pilgrimage site, the Wall of Babylon in Iraq, and the list goes on. These walls had served their purpose. Today however, they are nothing but relics, a historical marker and silent witnesses to how humanity had sought to divide themselves and the earth beneath them.
In 1989, another infamous wall saw its downfall. Seventeen years after it was built in 1961, the Berlin Wall was torn to the ground. The structure that had separated Germany – the East from the West or vice versa – was no more. I was working as a news editor when the whole world gaped as it witnessed the destruction of what could be the last reminder of Nazi occupation of Europe. The euphoria that swept around the globe was unbelievable! Who would have thought the reunification of the two Germanys would take place that very year. The atrocities of World War II are but painful memories for those who are still alive to tell the story.
Not so with bridges. Bridges, in general, are made of even tougher materials, but unlike walls their purpose is to connect. They keep people closer to one another, blurring the distance that would otherwise make ties impossible or difficult. That is why we have the idiomatic expression “to bridge the gap” which the Oxford dictionary defines as “to reduce or get rid of the differences that exists between two things or groups of people.” Again, like walls, the world has also seen so many bridges built across time and generations. Some of these famous bridges are: The iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in the U.S. which was completed in 1937; the Rialto Bridge of Venice built in 1591; the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia that was constructed in 1932; and of course, I should mention our very own San Juanico Bridge that connects the islands of Samar and Tacloban in the Visayas, without which many of the aids, donations and good Samaritans would not have reached the people in Tacloban immediately after the storm Yolanda heavily hit the Visayas.
Sadly though, walls seem to be easier to build than bridges. Today the walls that we see dividing properties and territories are not the only ones we build. We also build them around us individually. These are walls invisible to the naked eye but their impact on our lives and those of the people around us can be disastrous . Individualism and apathy are no different from the fences and the gates that we put around our houses. We always carry this invisible wall with us wherever we go. We mark our own personal territories, and we are quite defensive of them, lashing against those who pose a threat to it. In this generation, the value that we put on individualism is so glaring that we almost believe we can be an “island to ourselves,” so to speak.
But this should not be for us who have known the love and goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ. We no longer live for ourselves, as our Lord has shown. When we entered into a relationship with Christ, we entered into a relationship with the rest of our fellow believers, our brothers and sisters, His Body, the Church. Individual walls dissipate into thin air as we learn to offer ourselves to the service of our sisters and brothers, no matter what their color, economic status in society or their educational background. We embrace each one equally because of the love that God is giving to us, allowing us to experience what it means to truly care for others. Our conversion demolishes the walls that we once built around ourselves.
Being in Christ gives us the desire and the wisdom to build “spiritual bridges” so each one of us gets connected to the other members of the Body, continue to grow in unity, and learn to love unconditionally. May God allow us the wisdom and courage to deconstruct our doctrines, denominations and traditions and see if these are, in reality, but walls that perpetuate the mindset that we had before we came to Christ which leads to division in the Church.
Being in Christ means building bridges and tearing down walls.
“Woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing- if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.” (1 Timothy 2:11-15/ NIV)
1st Timothy 2:11-15 is one of the more controversial passages where gender relation is concerned. It is one of those passages in the Scripture that is being used by many in the Christendom to justify women’s subordinated position in the Church, society and even in the home. For many generations, women have unnecessarily lived with the consequences of these erroneous rendering of the Pauline passages. Patriarchy within the Body of Christ is perpetuated and facilitated by this uninformed interpretation of the Scripture. Hence, a deconstruction of these passages, such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15, is necessary for women to be liberated from the traditional view of leadership in the Church so that they may be able to participate more meaningfully and effectively in the advancement of God’s Kingdom.
God has made His design and purpose for man and woman very clear from the outset. Yes, sin tarnished and perverted God’s original design and purpose for humankind, but the Lord Jesus Christ did not ascend without settling this issue. In fact, the Lord Jesus’ entire ministry focused on restoration that is, restoring humans’ relationship with God and restoring them to one another. When asked about the two most important commandments, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This answer by the Lord Jesus amplified His intention of restoring human relations to how it was from the beginning before sin came into the picture. It is noteworthy that Jesus, at the early part of his ministry, went back to Nazareth and read the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the hearing of all those present in the synagogue during Sabbath:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”(Luke 4:16-19)
In reading that, Jesus was signaling the beginning of the Lord’s favor, meaning his arrival was the much awaited Jubilee for those who were oppressed and in bondage. Patriarchy is an oppressive system not only for the women, but also for the children and men themselves. The Scripture clearly shows that equality and mutuality between men and women was the divine plan. When God first made known the blue print of human creation in Genesis 1:27 hierarchy, domination and inequality were never part of His plan. One of the consequences of sin was the reversal of equality and mutuality between the man and woman. Gill and Cavaness wrote, “Sin damaged relationships between people and God, between people and nature, and between people and people – Adam and Eve… Jesus Christ- the virgin’s seed – would one day come to restore God’s plan and reverse the effects of the Fall into sin.” The Fall gave rise to patriarchy, a system where men dominates over the women and children in the home and in the society. Groothuis also believes that inequality between men and women is the consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Groothuis, comparing the Old and New covenants, wrote:
“In the Old Testament, women had membership in the covenant community through their male family members because of male circumcision was the sign of the covenant. While women were members of that community, their status was derived from and secondary to that of the men… a woman not only was barred from priestly service, but also had less spiritual authority than her father or husband.”
Under the New Covenant she pointed out the following:
“… all members are equal members, with full privileges of membership in the Spiritual body of Christ. Men and women are not just “equally saved”…. Rather, men and women have equal status in the community into which their salvation has secured their membership. All are not simply equally in the community of believers, but all enjoy equal opportunity to participate in the spiritual and religious life of the community.”
The patriarchal culture during the Old Testament time was apparently carried over into the New Testament era that made it difficult
for the first century church to embrace God’s original purpose and design for gender relation. During Jesus’ ministry, He challenged patriarchy and taught His disciples that this should not be the way for His followers. Katherine Haubert describes Jesus as “God’s revolutionary agent sent to restore the dignity of all humans.” Jesus wrought havoc in the minds of the religious leaders when he opened his ministry to the women as well. He challenged the patriarchal culture during his time and showed his followers how men and women should to treat one another. When Jesus “left,” the old Jewish social system slowly found its way back into the newly formed community of believers. Little by little patriarchal traditions crept in until it was back to its old place and women’s voices were muted once again. After the Apostolic age, the marginalization of women in the Church became worse. Hence, women had to struggle their way through discrimination after discrimination, to be able heed the call of the Holy Spirit and use their spiritual gifts.
The Apostle Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 reverberates Jesus’ ministry. A deconstruction of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 does not support the view that women are unfit to occupy key positions in the Church. A scrutiny of the so called “difficult passages” such as 1st Timothy 2:11-15 unveils an androcentric rendering of the verse that fed patriarchy and bred a tradition and a culture that have relegated women to the margins of the Great Commission. The Scripture always pointed to the fact that gender is never an issue in the Great Commission. To reiterate once more what Paul said in Galatians 3:26-28, “You are all sons [children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Paul seems to be the most misunderstood among the Apostles. Later church fathers were able to conveniently weave through their prejudices into the Pauline epistles. A closer look at the entire process of translating, interpreting and rewriting of the Scripture may just lead us to a “eureka” moment.
Fiorenza pins the blame on what she calls the “androcentric framework” that biblical scholars used in the interpretation and translation of the Scripture. The whole process of translating, interpreting, selecting, transmitting and even in canonizing had all been done under the male gaze and from men’s perspective.  Women’s leadership in the Great Commission had met criticism and cynicism from the men. The situation was worse at the turn of the second century when church fathers begun the process of canonizing. Fiorenza wrote of a bitter struggle that ensued between those who recognized women’s leadership in the church and those that she called the “patriarchal patristic” who opposed such moves.
Many societies around the world continue to marginalize and violate women simply because they are women. One of the greatest challenges facing Christendom is how to confront and dismantle the oppressive structures deeply embedded in societies and in the Church. The best place to start is here, in the Body of Christ and the best time is now. By now, it is already a cliché among Bible scholars, but for this purpose, it is worth mentioning once more – let us go back to what the Scripture is saying sans all our presuppositions, sans all our traditions, sans all the hypocrisies of our cultures and just yield to the Holy Spirit. As Gerald Bray wrote of the Scripture, “It also serves as a reminder to each generation of interpreters that after their theories have come and gone, the text itself will remain inviolate, ready to speak to the next generation with the same freshness it has always spoken with in the past.” If we refuse to listen now and ignore the cries of the women, their call for justice and freedom, as did the generations of Christians before us, then we will be missing this great privilege to be a part of a beautiful transformation that can take place if we heed the call of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible was written by and for a people whose time, experience and culture were shaped by their own context that is quite distant from our own. Notwithstanding this the Holy Scripture remains relevant to our time as it was to them. The modern reader needs to distinguish between what was then from what is now, be able to say with certitude which principle was specific for the early faith community and which are the ones that continue to speak to us today. There are texts that speak to a specific time and to a specific reader or community of believers which when taken from their original context may lead the modern reader to an erroneous rendering of these passages such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The Old Testament served as a beacon that guided God’s people then. In it was written how they were released from bondage and slavery, within its pages are the assurance of God’s favor and protection. In our time, the Holy Scripture plays the same role it played for thousands of years. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of Truth, and He will not rest until His truth is made known to His children. As Gordon Fee entitled one of his book, Listening to the Spirit in the Text, it will be for our own good if we to listen to the Spirit in the text and not preempt Him.
Again, the truth is simple: God created both male and female in his own image. He blessed them and gave them the command to be fruitful, increase in number, subdue the earth and rule over all the other living creatures He had made. This was the blue print, the divine design and purpose for the creation of humans. The life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ should end all quarrels pertaining gender relations and roles in the Great Commission and in the Church. God’s Word, the Holy Scripture, is also for women as this world was meant to be shared by the men and women of God.
 Mark 12:30-31 (New International Version).
 Luke 4:16-19 (NIV).
 Deborah M. Gill and. Barbara Cavaness, God’ Women: Then and Now (Springfield, USA: Grace and Truth, 2004) p. 40.
 Rebecca Merrill Groothius, Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality (Michigan: Baker Books, 1997) p. 33.
 Katherine, M. Haubert, Women as Leaders: Accepting the Challenge of Scripture (California: MARC, 1993) p. 23.
 Italicized mine.
 New International Version Study Bible (NISV).
 Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Construction of Christian Origins. 10th ed. (New York: Crossroad, 1993) p. 42.
 Gerald Bray, Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present (Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1996) p. 18.
EL ROI is one of the Hebrew names attributed to God. If one will take the time to read the Scripture, one will see how God uses different circumstances to reveal himself and his character to us. The story behind EL ROI is no exception. How He revealed this side of Him and to whom is truly beyond most of our expectations.
Who was Hagar? Those familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah have “met” Hagar in the book of Genesis. She was Sarah’s slave. It is not certain how Hagar joined the household of Abraham, but some Bible scholars believe that she was probably one of the slaves given to Abraham during their sojourn in Egypt. Pharaoh, as the Scripture says, was smitten by Sarah. In his attempt to win her over and gain the approval of Abraham – who pretended to be Sarah’s brother- Pharaoh gave them “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.” When Pharaoh discovered the truth about Abraham and Sarah, the couple was asked to leave Egypt. Abraham and Sarah proceeded to Negev bringing with them everything they owned including those that Pharaoh gave them. It was not until three chapters later that Hagar was mentioned in the book. In Genesis chapter 16, we see Sarah desperate to have a child gave Hagar to Abraham to bear for him an heir. When Hagar became pregnant, she unwittingly provoked Sarah’s ire. Hagar knew that though she was carrying Abraham’s child, she remains Sarah’s slave. The spat between Sarah and Hagar made a turn for the worse that forced Hagar to flee to the desert. It was there that she encountered God for the first time.
Hagar was at the lowest point of her existence in Genesis 16 when the “Great I am” spoke to her, and called her by her name. She had nowhere to go and did not know what to do. As far as Abraham and Sarah were concerned, Hagar was merely a property to be disposed of at their convenience. Hagar’s name was never even mentioned by either Sarah or Abraham. Hagar, like the many other women during her time, lived in the margins of society. But unlike the others, she had it worse. She was not only born female, she was a slave and an Egyptian, a foreigner in Abraham’s community. All throughout chapters 12 to 15 of Genesis, this slave woman never once had a voice. She was powerless even over her life. Her masters can do with her whatever pleased them. But to the God of Abraham and Sarah, it was different. That Yaweh should reveal himself to a slave woman, who was not even an Israelite, says so much about this Great and Mighty God. Through Hagar we learn that God knew everyone in the household of Abraham, including the slaves they had “acquired” during their journeys. Hagar’s encounter with God in chapter 16 changed her for the rest of her life. El Roi gave Hagar a new identity. But this was not the only time Hagar would encounter God, He was yet to reveal to her another side of Him.
ISHMAEL, the name that God gave to Hagar’s son was another revelation of God’s other attribute. Five chapters later, chapter 21, we find Hagar leaving the community of the Israelites for good. She was sent away by Abraham to live on her own with Ishmael. Hagar was more desperate this time. Seeing Ishmael dehydrated, tired and famished, she decided to leave him beside the road than witness her son slowly die before her eyes. She never thought they would survive the desert until God met her again. God HEARD their cries. Ishmael means God hears.
Hagar’s story may be ancient, but it echoes the story of many women up to the present time. Many women across societies continue to suffer abuses, discrimination and oppression because of their gender. Very recently, a pregnant Chinese woman was shown in the news. The woman was drugged and hogtied on a bed as her seven month old baby was forcibly removed from her womb. Despite claims of many countries to development and modernization many societies have not left the Dark ages. Many continue to condone inhumane practices against women such as “honor killing,” female circumcision, the killing or abandonment of female babies, etc. Slavery continues under a new name, “human trafficking.” One may wonder how God can allow all these things to happen to women. For women, children, and even men who find themselves in an oppressive situation, Hagar’s story can mean strength and hope. God sees and hears the cries of the oppressed. He does not only hear and see, He also acts on their behalf. For His people, He goes to even greater lengths.
YWH has never kept Himself hidden. He was never a mystery to be fathomed, on the contrary, He chooses to make Himself known to humanity from age to age. God has always been there for us and for the rest of His creation. From the beginning of time up to the end He was and will be there for He is also IMMANUEL. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, we can find Him there.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.”
After he was stripped, beaten, struck in the head and mocked, the Roman soldiers led Jesus towards Golgotha (the place of the Skull) to be crucified. Though faint from physical torture, Jesus gathered every ounce of strength left in his body and carried the heavy wood-beam on his shoulders as he made his way through the narrow and rugged paths to the place of execution. Crucifixion was the worst form of punishment that could be meted out to a person during his time. It is described as the “most cruel and barbarous form of death known to man…” Paul S. Taylor of Films for Christ described the ordeal:
“Jesus was physically exhausted and in danger of going into shock unless he received fluids (which he apparently did not). This is the man that the Roman soldiers tortured. Having previously been beaten by the Jews, it was now the Romans’ turn. The beatings administered by Roman soldiers are well known to be very bloody, leaving lacerations all over the body. Romans designed their whips to cut the flesh from their victim’s bodies. These beatings were designed to be painful to the extreme. It would also cause a fluid build-up around his lungs. In addition, a crown of thorns was forced into his scalp which was capable of severely irritating major nerves in his head, causing increasing and excruciating pain, as the hours wore on.”
Jesus was sentenced to die by crucifixion. The charge: blasphemy. The Jewish leaders – the Sadducees and Pharisees- connived and charged him with blasphemy for claiming to be “the Son of God.” For long hours Jesus hung on the cross, with only the nails on his hands and feet to support his weight. His blood gushed out of his body until only water was left. Jesus literally poured out his blood and life for his friends and even for his executioners. He was led out to dry, so to speak. Exhausted and weakened by the extreme physical pain and loss of blood, Jesus cried out the second time, “It is finished!” then bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
The birth and death of Jesus was never hidden from humanity. His birth was first told in Genesis 3:15, after Adam and Eve succumbed to the serpent’s deceit. The prophets in the Old Testament likewise repeatedly told the Israelites of the coming Messiah in Isaiah 7, 9 & 11, Daniel 2, Micah 5, Zechariah 9 & 13. What was obviously unexpected was how the promised savior would come. He neither chose to be born in a palace nor to have a queen for a mother. Instead Jesus opted to be raised by a simple Jewish girl married to a poor carpenter from Bethlehem and grew up in the infamous town of Nazareth in Galilee. But just as he said he would, Jesus rose from the dead three days later. He appeared to His disciples, to the women then to the men, and commissioned them to go to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel, the good news of salvation. The death of Jesus was not the end of his work, much less so, of God’s salvation plan. Jesus’ resurrection emboldened his disciples. They began to preach the message of salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. Their fervor later led to the birth of Christianity, and those who believed and lived the teachings of Christ later came to be known as Christians.
Christianity was never intended to be another religion. In fact, Jesus was born a Jew, raised as a Jew and observed Jewish religion. Never, during the time of his ministry, did he make any attempt to establish another one. However, Jesus often openly rebuked the Jewish religious leaders and the teachers of the Jewish laws for their hypocrisy. In Matthew 16:6 Jesus even warned his disciples to “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Several times he called the Pharisees and the teachers of the law hypocrites and pronounced “seven woes” on them in the gospel of Matthew. Such was the spiritual condition of the Jewish people during that time, made worse by their subjection to Rome. Hence, before Jesus ascended to heaven, he ordered his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. He knew before hand that what would ensue required more than human courage and wisdom. As Jesus’ followers spread out to the different cities and countries to preach the gospel, the Romans became less and less tolerant of the Christians. Soon the Romans were at their heels persecuting and killing believers. One of the main reasons first century Christians earned the wrath of Rome was their refusal to worship the Roman emperor.  Believers were either fed to the beasts, crucified or burned and made into human torches. It was not until Constantine the Great won over his rival Maxentius that persecutions were abolished and Christianity was accepted into Roman society. Constantine considered his victory providential and attributed it to the God of the Christians. History shows that he later converted to Christianity and made it Rome’s official religion. Thus, Christianity did not only gain wide acceptance but gradually became a formidable power and held influence over the affairs of the Roman Empire. Its increasing influence and popularity enticed many unbelievers (pagans) to jump on the bandwagon, their pagan practices subtly made their way into the Christian faith.
H. Wayne House, in his survey of world religions, was able to list down 14 major religions including Christianity. The earliest of which is Judaism dating back to 2100 BC when Abraham, by faith, obeyed God and moved from Haran to Canaan. Religion has been defined in so many ways by both the religious and even by self-confessed atheists like Karl Marx. For the purpose of this work, allow me to use Roland Robertson’s definition of religion as “… a distinction between an empirical and a super empirical, transcendent reality: the affairs of the empirical being subordinated in existence to the non-empirical.” This definition brings to the fore basic elements of a religion, that is, 1) the empirical or the natural beings – humans, 2) the existence of the divine- a being purported to be more superior than us 3) the existence of a “transcendent reality” or a world other than that which we now experience, or what we call spiritual world and, 4) that this divine being and spiritual realm is not only in existence but is also far greater than us and the world that is perceived by our senses. Put simply, religion is our attempt to understand the connection of the physical to the spiritual. Different religions have shown different ways of attaining spirituality and of knowing the divine being. But God is a sovereign God and unless this immortal God chooses to reveal Himself to us mortals we will never fully comprehend how the natural relates to the supernatural and vice versa. Religion that is centered on human traditions and hinges on human capacity can muddle and blur our vision of the truth. Likewise, religion that causes oppression and instills fear in people’s minds, other than the fear of God, is a counterfeit. Many religions and ideologies have been promoting complex systems of ideas, beliefs and practices depicting God in a variety of ways other than that which He has made Himself known.
Christianity has gone a long way since the time Jesus walked the earth and lived among us. Many times Christians have deviated from the path that Jesus Christ had drawn. But the Lord, in His mercy and love for humanity, has not allowed us to stray so far off the course. True to the words He said in John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd” Every now and then God raises people, men and women, who would bring His flock back to their original course, to where they are supposed to be. Christianity is more than a religion or a system of belief. It is about having a relationship with the living God through faith in His son, Jesus Christ. A person’s religious affiliation does not matter to God. Jesus made this clear during His ministry. He did not care whether a person was a Jew or a gentile. Moreover, He looked beyond people’s ages, genders, economic statuses, professions, political affiliations, etc. Jesus came for a more important and far better reason, that is, to set us free from the bondage of sin and to reconcile us to His Father. No religion, ritual or tradition is able to do this to any man or woman, young or old. God said every single one of us sinned (Romans 3:23). And it is only by grace that we can be saved “through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so no one can boast.”Christianity is about hope for humankind. It is about drawing every man and woman, old or young, poor or rich, to an intimate relationship with the living God. The Bible says God wants us to seek Him, know Him and call upon Him and He will be found as He promised in Matthew 7:7. All we need to present before God is a contrite heart, our sincere repentance and acceptance of what His son Jesus Christ did for us on Calvary. For what will ultimately matter is whether or not we are in the right position with God, whether or not we are in a right relationship with Him. Religiosity does not lead to a relation with God. It is through the Lord Jesus Christ alone can we gain the RIGHT to call the Sovereign, Almighty God our “Abba” and to have Him call us “My Children.”
 J.D.Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney. NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible. (Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 1989), 137.
 Paul S. Taylor. How did Jesus Christ Die? Films for Christ (2003), http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/jesusdeath.html.
 Matthew 26:64, NIV.
 John 19:30, NIV.
 Acts 1:4-5/NIV.
 Bruce L. Shelley. Church History in Plain Language, 2nd Ed.( Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, ____), p.43.
 Ibid, 94.
 H. Wayne House. Charts of World Religions. (Michigan: Zondervan, 2006),p. 8.
 Ibid, 15.
 Ephesians 2:8-9
More than seventy years ago, a woman found herself pregnant by a man who promised to marry her. But the promise was never fulfilled. The man disappeared, leaving the woman to face the humiliation and persecutions alone. As the days passed her belly grew and also her hatred for the man. Hate consumed her so much that after giving birth, she gave the child away. The child was brought up by a couple who cared for the new arrival as one of their own. When the child became a man, he learned of his past and how he was given away. Desperate for the answers to his questions, he searched for the woman who gave birth to him. He found her several islands away and with a family of her own. He got some answers, but the meeting fell short of his expectations. He pleaded for acceptance, but the woman showed no remorse. Child and mother were never reconciled. The rejection scarred him for the rest of his life.
Rejection is probably the most excruciating experience a person can have. Each one of us may have experienced it one way or the other. We may have been rejected by friends, teachers, classmates, employers, or even, like the man above, by our own parents. However we experienced rejection, its effect can be devastating. It mars our person, our self esteem and can even destroy us. In the Bible, a different kind of rejection is told, the kind that cost the future of future generations. It may seem unthinkable but it happened. The Book of Samuel shows how humans rejected their Creator.
The conversation between God and Samuel concerning the Israelites’ clamor for a human king to rule over them shows us what God was feeling during that time. God said to Samuel in the Book of 1 Samuel chapter 8: 7 “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their King”(NIV). One cannot even begin to imagine how God must have felt when He heard this clamor, much less so, describe the pain that must have pierced His heart. When the Israelites saw that the nations surrounding them had kings, they demanded for a king who would rule over them. Their act broke God’s heart yet again. A survey of the Pentateuch (the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), up to Samuel show how ungrateful we humans can be. The Israelites’ rejection of God also cost them their nation and the future of the generations that were yet to come.
The Book of Samuel was said to have been written sometime between 1025 and 900 B.C. It immediately followed the Book of Judges which revealed the spiritual condition of Israel during those times “ In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). After Joshua, God did not appoint anyone else to lead His chosen people. The reason, Jensen wrote, “It was always God’s purpose to reign as King in the hearts and lives of the Israelites.” The Israelites kept forgetting the great God who had saved them from their enemies and who had provided for all their needs. Those were aeons of years ago. One can hope to say that “that was a thing in the past.” But the glaring truth is that up to now we continue to rebel against and reject God. We challenge His authority and wisdom when we assert our own will, when we rely on our own strength and intelligence. When we relegate Him to the margins of our lives, we are doing what the Israelites had done thousands of years ago without realizing the harm our actions are causing us.
The psalmist said “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10). If we were rejected by the very people who are supposed to love and accept us, we still have God. But if we reject God, the Bible mentions the following: Jeremiah 17:13 “… all who forsake you [God] will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you [God] will be written in the dust..”; 2Chronicl15:2 “… but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.”; and Isaiah 1:28 “… those who forsake the Lord will perish.”
Humanity has accomplished so much through the intelligence that God allows each one to have. But humankind’s giant leaps to industrialization and modernization seem to have caused many of us to be arrogant like the early people who attempted to build the tower of Babel. As they say, “there are always two side of a coin,” and so are our so-called achievements. The one side are everything that we humans often boast of, the technological advances, knowledge gained, discoveries unearthed and so on. Some people have even come to think of themselves as “gods!” But the other side of all these is our alienation from the One who “stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth.” (Isaiah 51:13). We hide behind the shadows of religion to justify our actions, when in truth, like the Israelites then, we are rejecting God by our actions. The increasing criminality, suicides and destructions around us are consequences of our disobedience, of our rejection of God. Yes, some things have not changed. Despite the supreme sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, we continue to break the Heart that first loved us. But again, the Bible answers this “ Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”(Galatians 6:7)
When God allowed the reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem, He prepared everything necessary for its rebuilding. He raised up a king in Persia, Artaxerxes, who would be receptive to the idea and placed an Israelite cupbearer, Nehemiah, right inside the palace where the seat of power was. Nehemiah’s role in the wall’s reconstruction was pivotal. God placed such a heavy burden in his heart that caused him to plead to God for its restoration. God answered, the royal permission to rebuild was given to the cupbearer.
In the Book of Nehemiah, we can plainly see how God does things. Before he executes His plan, He already anticipates every detail that is necessary for it to succeed. God does not only consider the material resources necessary, but also the people who will be involved. Aside from king Artaxerxes and Nehemiah, in chapter 3 of the book, Nehemiah tells us that the Israelites, who returned to Jerusalem from their exile to Babylon, also helped in the restoration of the walls. But not everything went smoothly. Nehemiah and the Israelites soon faced oppositions left and right from the Ammonites, Arabs and Samaritans (Nehemiah chapters 4 and 6). Despite the odds however, the Lord’s will prevailed. The wall of Jerusalem was completed after 52 days. God provided everything Nehemiah and the Israelites needed including the protection and the favor to do what they must do.
The oppositions Nehemiah and the Israelites experienced in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem is not a thing of the past. Present-day believers in Christ experience similar oppositions throughout their walk in the Lord. From the day a person surrenders his/her life to Jesus, satan and his cohorts scamper in fear and intensify their schemes against the newly born-again hoping that they will be able to cause him/her to stumble and go back to hjs/her former life.
Satan is the enemy of God, hence also of the Bride of Christ, the church. The Bible warns us that satan will always do everything in his power to oppose the plans of God which he (satan) has been doing since creation. The devil hates everything that will cause the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth. But the Bible also tells as that Jesus Christ has given us the authority over the enemy and the power to defeat the devil and his cohorts. Jesus in the book of Luke 10:18-19 said, “I saw satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you.” We have this promise. And I believe that just like the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, God has prepared everything for us before He allows us to do the task that He gives to each of us. He knows all that we will need to accomplish our assignments from Him. He has equipped us for all the turns and potholes that we will have to make in order to overcome.
The enemy cannot defeat us, not unless we allow him. The victory that the Lord Jesus Christ won, He won for us so that by trusting Him we can live victoriously. Like Nehemiah, God gives each of us that “heaviness” in our hearts that will make us fall down on our knees and plead to God for its realization. Once we receive the “go signal,” we have to make a go for it. Opposition or no opposition, it will not matter. What should only matter is that we were able to obey and glorify our God. As Nehemiah wrote, “ Do not grieve. For the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10, NIV).
Those were the brave words of Queen Esther in the Book of Esther 4:16 when she mustered up all her courage to foil a plan to annihilate the Jewish people living in Susa during the reign of King Xerxes of Persia. She went into the inner court of the palace where the king was sitting in his throne to invite him and Haman- whose idea it was to kill all the Jews- to a banquet. Chapter 4 tells us that everyone, without exception, was forbidden to approach the King in the inner court without being summoned and violation of this law would mean death unless the King extends his gold scepter. After asking her people to pray and fast for her, Esther ignored this royal edict knowing that her people’s lives could depend on her.
The Book of Esther is very interesting for several reasons: First, it is the only other book in the Bible that is named after a woman( the other one is Ruth); second, the protagonist is female ; and third God worked just as mightily in the life of Esther.
Esther was a simple Jewish girl who allowed herself to be used by God to save His people. She was an orphan and was brought up by her cousin Mordecai. Esther, as the Bible says, grew up to be a beautiful woman and, to cut the story short, was later chosen to replace Queen Vashti. Esther’s arrival at the Persian palace was divinely orchestrated, as much as her being chosen to replace Queen Vashti was never a coincidence nor a handiwork of any human. She came to the picture at a time when God’s people were threatened to be massacred, thus also “the future existence of God’s chosen people, and ultimately the appearance of the Redeemer-Messiah.” Although she hesitated for a moment, in the end Esther did what she was there to do.
Stories how biblical women actively participated in the redemption plan of God is both refreshing and encouraging. Accounts of the other women like Ruth, Deborah, Jael, Hannah, and the others put women on the roster of people to whom God gives the important task of expanding His Kingdom on earth. These stories place women at the forefront alongside men in the over-all salvation plan of God. In the Book of Genesis, after sin came into the picture God cursed the serpent and declared that the offspring of the woman (Jesus Christ) will crush satan’s head.  It is quite apparent that it was never God’s intention to leave women in the background while the men are busy expanding His Kingdom. Any one, woman or man, regardless of color, nationality or profession, who received Jesus Christ into his or her life is given the mandate to “go out to the ends of the earth” and preach the good news of salvation. Each one has been equipped by the Holy Spirit to do what is assigned to him/her. But like Esther, we have to be willing enough to let the old self perish and be clothed with the new one as part of our spiritual rebirth. Or as Mordecai said, “For if you [Esther] remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place…” and one will have missed the privilege of being part of the great harvest.