THE BAKER OF
a new novel,
plays out in the time of Jesus. How does the baker
of the village perceive the young rabbi?
New studies are put on
top. Scroll down for previous ones.
Weekly column in local newspaper
1. He redeems
my life from the pit
Solitary confinement is severe punishment. It is not
related to solitude but to loneliness. These prisoners yearn for contact
with their friends. They sleep, read, pace, think and plan, but time passes
slowly when you have too much of it.
Any unpleasant situation that
keeps one captive can feel like incarceration. Missing people, who work as
sex slaves, experience this feeling of hopelessness. Others feel imprisoned
by their marriage, work or social-economic situation, but they can’t break
free because the status quo provides food, clothes and shelter.
The Bible paints a few
situations of loneliness. Joseph knew his brothers did not like him because
he was his dad’s favorite. However, when they put him into a pit, he really
felt the pain of rejection. Twenty three years later they still remembered
Joseph’s anguished cries to which they shut their ears (Gen. 42:21).
His dry-well experience was
nothing in comparison with the holes he would face in Egypt. As slave, he
did his best and was promoted. Then his master’s wife accused him falsely of
sexual harassment. It was a hard blow to the self-respect of this
God-fearing young man. He was imprisoned with condemned people; it made him
feel lonely even among this crowd. On the right time, God exonerated him.
Samson misused his God-given
power. He landed in jail without eyes, every day pushing in darkness the
heavy millstone in endless circles. His imagination must have replayed his
life often, thinking about the incidents where he made wrong choices. He was
blind, imprisoned, enslaved and hopeless by his own wrongdoing. In his
regret, he projected his anger on his enemies, and waited for the day of
The prophet Jeremiah was
thrown into a pit for proclaiming God’s word to the king and nation. He was
an old man already, and standing up to his chest in mud in a dark pit would
not have improved his health. Imagine the darkness, silence, loneliness,
hopelessness and despair as he prayed for relief of this undeserved misery.
An Ethiopian pleaded Jeremiah’s case with the king, and got permission to
hoist him out. David used the pit-experience figuratively (Ps. 40:1-3,
Jesus was condemned to death at 6 am (Roman
time, John 19:14), and crucified on the third hour (9 am, Jewish time, Mark
15:25). He had to wait more than two hours with his bruised and lacerated
body. He had blessed those who visit prisoners and give a cup of cold water
– did anyone honor him in this way in his loneliest hours? On the Via
Dolorosa and on Calvary he was surrounded by friend and foe, and still felt
lonely and deserted, carrying the sins of humanity, an act nobody could
3. God shifted
Except for Christ, Solomon was
probably the wisest person who ever lived. In the book of Ecclesiastes, he
tells us about his search for meaning in life and the source of true
He started his search on the
intellectual level. He asked God for wisdom soon after he became king. It
was a wise request which God granted with some additional benefits. Part of
his wisdom was to search for more knowledge. It did not satisfy him – the
more he knew, the more he realized how little he knew. His studies exhausted
instead of satisfy him. He poured his insights into proverbs consisting of
thesis and antitheses: this is good, and that is bad. I sorted Proverbs into
categories and put it on my website: messiahstudy.net.
Disappointed by his
intellectual efforts, Solomon sought pleasure on the physical level. He
tried the mirth of wine and food, only to realize how empty it left his
Then he indulged on the
material level, having projects of all sorts: houses, dams, vineyards,
orchards, pools, channels, herds and flocks. Property and money did not
satisfy him either, because the more he acquired, the more his worries
So, he moved to the social
level. He got himself male and female servants, singers and musicians. He
had 700 wives and 300 concubines. But all the people around him did not
bring him happiness either. All had a hidden agenda, and his wives led him
Solomon became skeptical about
life. Chapters 2-10 tells of his cynical views of life. We should be
cautious when quoting from these chapters, because it resulted from his
In Chapter 11, there is
suddenly a change of tone: “Cast you bread upon the waters, for you will
find it after many days.” Instead of selfishly trying to grab happiness for
himself, he discovered that he derived happiness from giving to others.
“There is one who scatters, yet increases ever more; and there is one who
withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. The generous soul
will be made rich, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Prov.
His sharing attitude did not
originate in his own heart – it came from God: “Remember your Creator in the
days of your youth.” Solomon’s final philosophy of life did not rid him of
all problems and sin, but it shifted his focus enough to make him realize
the difference between adrenaline craving and soul-satisfying endeavors.
He closes his search for
happiness by a beautiful poem about old age and death. The body and its
adrenaline return to dust, while the spirit returns to God who gave it.
2. Pleasure no
substitute for joy of the soul
pleasures for the joys of the soul seems rather impossible until one
experiences the difference. Playing their first concert before an
appreciative audience gives composers an exciting adrenaline rush; however,
composing wonderful music in solitude gives them soul satisfaction that is
deeper and more long-lasting than temporary applause.
For commercial fisherman at
the Sea of Galilee, the daily haunting question was about the next catch. A
good catch made Simon Peter’s day. When Jesus gave him full nets, Simon was
extremely excited. A fisherman’s dream came true. Then Jesus called him away
from his material and physical high to a joy of another kind: “From now on
you will catch men.”
It did not happen at once. As
Simon grew into his new identity as Peter, he had to learn a lot about Jesus
and his kingdom. When Peter eventually stood before the crowd in Jerusalem
on Pentecost, delivering his first sermon, and witnessing how three thousand
people accepted Christ as Saviour, Peter knew the difference between body
pleasure and soul joy.
David’s popularity as
victorious military officer must have thrilled him. “Saul has slain his
thousands, and David his ten thousands,” the dancing maidens sang. Saul’s
envy began persecution that probably lasted for ten years or more. As a
fugitive, David had his adrenaline trips when he narrowly escaped Saul’s
army. However, David had to depend increasingly on his relationship with God
who empowered him in his solitude. David wrote some of his most gripping
psalms in this time.
When David became king and
captured Jerusalem, he brought the ark to this city. The ark had been
separated from the Tabernacle since the time of the priest Eli. The
Philistines captured the ark but sent it back when plagues haunted them.
Israelites who handled the ark without due respect paid with their lives.
Eventually, the Levites got it right and carried the ark on their shoulders
into Jerusalem. David danced before the ark for pure joy. He tried to
combine body pleasure and soul joy. The Bible neither condemn nor condone
his action. One of his wives criticized David; he punished her with
childlessness – a sad addition to an important event.
David could not proceed from
body-centered pleasure to soul-centered joy. He committed adultery with the
wife of a loyal officer in his army. He paid dearly for this mistake,
watching his maturing children committing rape, murder, and rebellion.
David was succeeded by his son
Solomon, who surpassed his dad by indulging in the pleasures of the flesh.
After Solomon, the kingdom split in two and eventually both sections went
into exile because of idolatry. Choices have consequences.
Hopping, limited pleasure
We like to be thrilled. It may
come unexpectedly: a smile from a person you like, a compliment from someone
you respect, or a gift from a person you adore. Often, we create thrills
deliberately – a special vacation, new clothing, a new car, a fabulous party
or Christmas gifts.
Fun parks compete in going
faster, higher, and out-of-this-world. When activities fail giving enough
thrill, some use chemicals to create artificial highs in the nervous system.
Exposing oneself to danger may
give a thrill to some: climbing mountains or skyscrapers without a rope;
walking tightropes without tether or net; jumping from planes, cliffs,
bridges or towers in the hope the parachute will work; or playing deadly
games like Russian roulette.
War makes adrenaline flow with
its danger, fear, anger, hate, and shock. Some soldiers and war
correspondents find it hard to adapt to normal civilian life after the war.
While the war overwhelmed them with too much adrenaline, ordinary life
provides too little, leaving them bored. Many return to war zones
voluntarily to have some more of the thrill-stuff. While some suffer from
war trauma physically and/or psychologically, others have adrenaline
craving. The latter may become mercenaries or guerrilla fighters to maintain
the adrenaline rush.
After David triumphed over
Goliath, he became commander over thousand. He excelled as warrior, and the
war-thrill got into his blood. In Psalm 18 he cherished his fighting
abilities as gifts from God: his speed and surefootedness made him like a
deer on the mountains; his arm and shoulder muscles enabled him to bend a
bronze bow. He obliterated his enemies to dust, and threw them out like dirt
into the street. He boldly stormed any troop, and scaled any city wall.
As his youthful resilience
faded, David got into trouble. He was not as fit as before. A Philistine
almost killed him, had one of his men not come to his rescue. His mighty men
asked him not to go into battle again, “lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”
Somewhere the adrenaline
craving has to stop. For most people, the aging process help them to slow
down, but some try to catch their second breath in their fifties or sixties.
Love affairs, lavish tours, sport scars or motor-homes may come into the
picture in an effort to squeeze the last drops of adventure from life.
There are joys that satisfy
the human soul on deeper levels: a good book, restful music, and right
company at a fire-place, or a barbeque with wise cracks about current events
or the good old days, or times of solitude, meditation and prayer. Restful
enjoyments do not pump adrenaline, but they feed the soul with lasting
3. Adapting in
order to blend in
While the devil tries to make
some people atheists or agnostics, he himself is not of these persuasions.
James depicts Satan and his demons as intellectual believers: “You believe
that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble.”
Long before his disciples recognized Jesus as the Son of God the demons
shouted this truth in fear (Mark 5:7).
Being in continuous battle
with holy angels, the fallen angels know the facts of the supernatural
reality very well. They know God is – the great I am. However, this
knowledge does not lead to salvation but to damnation, because they
stubbornly keep on fighting against the benevolent Creator.
The devil and demons know the
majority of humanity is incurably religious. So, instead of swimming against
the stream, they go along with beliefs, trying to corrupt them as they go.
They try to degrade devotion to fanaticism, loyalty to empty habit,
helpfulness to nosiness, gratitude to pride, testimony to bragging, waiting
on the Lord to passivity, quality time with God to repetitive requests, and
determination to hard-headedness. If they can’t pull us off on this side,
they try to push us over on the other side.
In this era of secular
governments, politicians have to walk the tight-rope cautiously in order to
maintain political correctness. In his eulogy for victims of a church
massacre, president Obama said positive things about church, Bible, and
grace – without referring to Christ. He wowed the audience but remained
politically correct by avoiding the divisive name.
What he said about church,
Bible and grace resonated with Christians. No other religion calls its place
of worship a church. The Bible (both Testaments) is the holy book of
Christianity. Salvation through grace is a profound Christian concept.
Church, Bible and grace are inextricably linked to Christ. Sadly, public
servants may know it, but they may not say it.
Christians have to stay on
guard against faith compromises. During the 400-year period of Israel’s
kings, compromises with idolatry were made. Yahweh was not only worshiped at
the temple, but also at the “high places” where other gods were honoured as
well. King Ahaz even replaced the temple worship of God with idolatry. He
closed the Holy and Most Holy.
Christ warned against
deception in the end-time. The False Prophet will persuade people to serve
the Antichrist, and take his number on their hand and brow to gain the right
of buying and selling.
Christians should not be
gullible to the games devil, demons, and unbelievers play to lure them
off-track. False belief-systems are like weeds: wherever they find a crack
they will gain a foothold. We have to eradicate them continuously.
2. Evading duty with
It is amusing how a big-mouth
can be humbled by a great challenge. Moses and Gideon tried in vain to
convince God about their inadequacy. In their own estimation, they were the
last people God should consider for his high purpose.
In his zeal for his people,
Moses had killed an Egyptian, and fled to Midian, east of Sinai. For forty
years he had suppressed his feelings about his people, enslaved in Egypt.
God knew exactly where he was, and engaged him when the time was ripe. God
convinced the fugitive prince to return to Egypt and face the new Pharaoh.
Jacob tried to cheat his way
to prosperity. He fled from his raging brother and his disappointed father.
After twenty years he had to return to face both of them. David sought
refuge with the Philistines, the arch enemies of Israel, to escape the
persecution of King Saul. At the right time, God brought David back to
become king of Israel.
After Elijah’s dramatic
victory over Baal priests on Mount Carmel, his life was threatened by Queen
Jezebel. He fled to the Negev desert between Israel and Sinai. Elijah was so
despondent about the religious situation in Israel that he asked God to take
his life. God sent him back to finish a few tasks, before he was taken up in
a chariot of fire.
When God called Jonah to
preach to Israel’s enemies in Nineveh, the prophet reasoned that these
people may repent and be spared, the last thing Jonah wanted. So he boarded
a ship to Tarshish in the opposite direction. He tried to flee from God and
from his responsibility. He escaped to the lower deck, into sleep, and
eventually into suicide. He advised the crew to throw him overboard. He was
scooped up by a special fish, and came to his senses. Vomited out by a fish
– look at him now! Besmirched from head to toe, now he was willing to
fulfill his duty. However, inside his heart he was not cured of his racism.
His book ends with the prophet still mad at God for saving Nineveh.
When persecuted in Damascus
and Jerusalem for accepting the Christian faith, Saul of Tarsus returned to
his hometown, disappearing for about ten years from the scene. God sent
Barnabas to pull Saul out of obscurity. He became the greatest Christian
missionary and theologian of the first century.
Dodging duties does not
fulfill. Accepting God’s calling to tackle challenges will demand
sacrifices, but in the end there is a sense of purpose, satisfaction and
meaning in one’s life. Paul rejoiced: “I have fought the good fight, I have
finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
1. Trading faith for
It is always sad when
something genuine is replaced with a fake – when true love is replaced by
lust or boredom, when national pride is replaced by racism, and when true
faith is traded for formalism.
Christ echoed the message of
Old Testament prophets when he accused Israel of obeying the letter of the
law without understanding or practicing the spirit of it. “These people
honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” was a sad
refrain for centuries.
Jesus gave examples of a faith
that is only an empty shell without substance. The Pharisees gave one tenth
of everything, even from small herbs in the garden, but they neglected to
help the widows and the poor. Instead of helping their aged parents, they
gave that money as offering to the temple.
Doesn’t it sound like the
red-tape of our time? Bureaucrats are often so focused on the tiniest detail
of the rules that they are not sensitive enough to the needs of the people
they are supposed to serve. People in dire straits have to wait for months
and years while their application travels from desk to desk without
Jesus used Moses’ summary of
the law to show people the essence and heart of the law: love God with all
your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself (Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18).
Obeying the law without the right attitude in the heart degrades the law to
a set of external rules.
Christians can fall into this
trap, too. New believers are usually full of zest for their Lord and his
kingdom. They want to move mountains. Gradually, this enthusiasm may wear
thin. They still go through the same moves (attending church, reading the
Bible, praying regularly, giving offerings, and singing hymns), but the
original fire is lacking. Then the living gospel has become a dead religion.
All religions battle against
formalism. For those religions which are stuffed with rituals, the fight
against formalism is harder. Faiths that are heavy on doctrine may
deteriorate to mere intellectualism. Those who depend on emotions may try to
recover lost feelings by more music, louder sound-systems, more dramatic
speakers, and more tear-stimulating stories.
We cannot cajole the Spirit
to fill us by working ourselves up into frenzy. The Spirit cannot be
manipulated. We have to ask and trust the Spirit to bring our hearts
regularly back to that humble, dependent, yearning attitude where we are
ready to receive what he wants to give us. The gifts of the Spirit differ
from person to person. Forget about your preconceived ideas about filling
with the Spirit, and allow him to use you and your gifts in a unique way.