Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Culture of Death

The skull and cross–bones of the pirate flag flies over this world. Beneath its flapping exists populations devoted to death. For some reason, that which the heart fears is made into a badge of bravado. In a religious context it is celebrated as the ultimate aim of devotion by Jihadists of Islam infamy, to kill and or be killed in the attempt. To them and their passive supporters the god they follow breeds the culture of death. On a less dramatic religious note, those who bow before the god of Evolution follow a similar path.

Survival of the fittest comes through struggle, conquest and ultimately death. There isn’t any meaning, only the final destination of dying. This religious explanation of existence called life elevates death above life and dismisses and idea of accountability to a Holy and Eternal Creator God. The sway this view holds is seen in the growing support for abortions, euthanasia, prescriptive suicide and so called ‘mercy–killings.

Add to the above the insane attitude of people towards living. Death comes in horrible ways to those who smoke, abuse alcohol, drugs and engage in sexual immorality is merely shrugged off. They gamble their being for some physical stimulus and become addicted to dying by degrees.

“Why will you die?” was the question the Creator God asked within the Bible. He offered life by breaking the power of Death’s culture but so few responded. The verdict of the Bible is that Jesus came into this world to bring an alternative to death. He came to bring life, abundant and vibrant. His flag over His community is an empty tomb and a beautiful Dove in flight. It is the banner of victory and hope. In Christ Jesus, death’s culture has been nullified by Christ’s resurrection. Hopelessness is replaced by the presence of God’s Spirit within and symbolised by the Dove.

The outworking of Jesus’ abundant, indwelling life is seen in many and varied ways. Reaching out to the orphaned and caring for the sick, infirm, unwanted and deformed are expressions of this life. Rejecting ‘Karma’ and enduring the unendurable by trusting in the goodness of Jesus Christ is the power of Life. Why is it that followers of Christ will pray for those persecuting them, will feed those who seek to destroy them and forgive their oppressors? Because of the indwelling life of Christ who lived out what He taught and empowers His people to follow His teachings! Does this mean those in the culture of death are grateful or converted? Not always. But what is shown is that death can be swallowed up in Life.
There are many facets to the coming of Jesus Christ into this world. (I’ve tried to explain some in my books ‘Bethlehem’s Warrior Baby’ and ‘Captured by Calvary’) One of them is to offer you a new outlook on life, a new culture in the heart and a new destiny. It is called ‘Life Abundant’. It is eternal. It is a gift, for Jesus Christ paid its price. It is waiting for you to receive it through a commitment of your life to Christ by faithful obedience to Him. Why? Because He is Life abundant and without Him there is only the hopelessness of a culture of death in time and eternity.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

When Angels Sang

Luke 2:8-14.

Angels play an important role within the bible. They are warriors, messengers and ministers on behalf of God’s people. Within the Christmas story they have a most pleasant role to play. They are the first Christmas choir. They have the pleasure of declaring the intent of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem.

An angel in a modern church play.

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’ is their refrain. We love to read it. We become sentimental over it. However do we have any idea as to what it means?

In what way can we understand ‘Glory to God’ in the birth of Jesus in a peasant’s house? This baby was worshipped at birth, declared king and recognised as Emmanuel (God with us). He also grew up and claimed that His Father and He were one, therefore inferring He is God. This really did cause a lot of commotion with the people. All that being true in what way could the song of the angel’s be about bringing glory to God.

Think about it. Surely this is a most humbling event for the Creator of the Universe. The holy One coming to mix with the fallen and unholy ones. Eternity put on humanity’s dust. The judge of the whole world coming to take upon Himself the condemnation of Heaven against earth’s wickedness. This Jesus was coming to be despised, rejected, spat upon and crucified. Where is the glory in that?

Devotional about the Christmas Baby.

Stranger still is the climatic words of Jesus thirty three years later. ‘Now is my Father glorified.’(John 13:31). How could this be for Jesus was about to face His crucifixion. The glory of Christmas was wrapped up in the horror of Calvary. How? Because through all of this Jesus became the Redeemer of believers, the conqueror of death, the dethroner of the Devil and the destroyer of his kingdom and power. Through Jesus being willing to be made the lowest of the low He has received a Name above every name. How? Through his resurrection! Before Him every knee will bow and every tongue confess He is Lord. This is part of how it was possible for glory to be proclaimed over the birth of the warrior Baby of Bethlehem.

What would be the result of this glory? ‘Peace on earth to those whom He favours.’ If Christmas was to simply bring ‘peace’ then it has failed and failed miserably. Bethlehem could not be the foundation for peace. It was a stepping stone! There were other stones also on the way to creating the presence of peace for people to know in time and eternity. But peace required the destruction of that which prevented or polluted peace. That is why the cross of Christ Jesus is so important. It was there that the penalty of breaking God’s laws was paid. It was there that the corruption of the human heart could be purged and controlled. It was there that the Christmas promise of peace was made possible.

Why then do so many who will sing about peace around this season not enjoy it? Mainly due to their failure to be favoured. How can you be favoured and enjoy the promised peace? Not by singing about a babe in the manger or the man of Nazareth. It is by knowing about the reason for the cross, the wonder of the resurrection and claiming Jesus as Lord and Saviour. He is the Prince of Peace and without Him no person will ever know the truth of the angel’s song.

One day, long promised, this earth will experience the culmination of Christmas and Calvary. This will be when Jesus Christ will reign as the King of the World from Jerusalem. Then the Kingdom of God will bring peace on earth. That is a day we long for!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Inn of Christmas - in or out?

Is the Christmas Inn – out?

We have grown up with the image of Mary and Joseph arriving at Bethlehem only to miss out on a bed. The picture of them in a cattle stall and the baby in a manger remains vivid in the mind. Just recently I was stirred to check out the word for ‘Inn’ as recorded by Luke. It is a Greek word and used three times and only in the gospels.

children in a Christmas play.

‘Kataluma’ means ‘a loosing down’ and was used to describe a place where travellers untied the packages, unburdened their animals and untied their sandals. It came to mean ‘Guest Room’ as mentioned in connection with the Upper room where the Lord’s Supper was held. (Luke 22:11. Mark 14:14.). This is the same word used and for some reason translated as an 'Inn' in Luke 2:7. There is one other mention of an Inn by Luke. It is in the story of the ‘Good Samaritan. The word used there is ‘pandocheion.’ It means ‘a place where all are received.’ It was the equivalent to our hotel and motel arrangements.

How easy it is for any of us to fall into the trap of accepting tradition and superstition without checking out the biblical sources. It would appear Mary and Joseph arrived at possibly family or at least a friend’s house. However the guest room was full. These were situated on the upper level of the two tiered houses. The bottom area was for storage and their cattle etc. The owners of the house made room for Joseph and Mary in that area. When Jesus was born the rock hewn cattle feed manger became the cradle.

This all points to the fact that at the birth Mary had family present or at the very least, friends. How long after she had settled in ‘downstairs’ before the birth will never be known. To this section of the house the shepherds would have come. And when Matthew records the visit of the Magi he mentions the house. More than likely the holy family stayed on after the census had been completed. From that house they would have packed up and fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.

I have another reason to lean towards the ‘Inn’ being the guestroom of a house. In the Middle East there was, possibly still is, a custom of accepting even strangers into your house. This comes out in many stories, biblical and secular. An example is Job’s concern for the ‘men’ who visited him in Sodom. Genesis 18 has the account. It would have been virtually impossible for the owner of the house to turn Joseph and Mary away if space could be made for them.

The beautiful and evocative nativity scenes of the manger will never be replaced by the biblical reality, unfortunately. This highlights the difficulty Truth has when dealing with personal assumptions, prejudices and accepted but unjustified traditions. Still, when we come to grips with some new information and insight that is in harmony with the biblical text we must readjust our thinking. The scriptures cannot be broken. When they are believed and obeyed they will however bless.

For me the Inn is out. The appeal of the bible gives me a deeper appreciation of the people who surrounded Joseph, Mary and Jesus at this time. It highlights the strong family bonds and sense of community from that time and place. It contrasts so graphically the breakdown taking place in the Middle East right now. Luke’s account of the host’s generosity and willingness to be at some inconvenience for another’s welfare humbles me. We can be all nostalgic at Christmas time as we ponder the accepted version of the nativity scene. Maybe we should be more pragmatic and apply the bible’s implied and explicit teachings this event to ourselves.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Christmas Question

A Question from the Magi

There are many mysteries surrounding Christmas. Maybe none more so than the visit by the Magi from the East. The star has intrigued people for centuries with many a speculation. To me the issue most interesting is ‘how did the Magi know about a promised Messiah in Israel?’ Who were they and how did they know about the birth of Jesus, a name they would not have known. They did know the one born would be King of the Jews. It would have come about approximately five hundred previously. That was when the Southern Kingdom called Judah was carried off to Babylon. The Lord’s promise of judgement on disobedient Judah became the means for the Gentiles to know about the Messiah. Men of the calibre of Daniel and Ezekiel and their stories are in the bible. How they influenced such men as the Magi can only be speculated but it would have happened. The Babylonian interest in astronomy would be a real lever for Daniel to tell them about the coming King.

We call the Magi the ‘wise men’ and rightly so. However they needed someone to tell them “where is He who is born King of the Jews”. Notice, they didn’t say the baby was the heir to the throne. No! He was born King. Where was the answer found? In the Bible! For them the answer came from Micah 5:2. Christmas was not unexpected. It had been long planned. In fact from Genesis 3 in the promise to Eve and the warning to the Devil.

People who are wise still ask a similar question “where is He who was born King?” If they linger over the manger and imagine He is still a baby they’ll never meet Him. The quest for Him may begin at the manger but there is a trail leading from there to follow. We track Him down along the road marked out in the Gospels. As you read that map you find special places marked out where this Jesus met and fulfilled certain prophetic criteria. But He didn’t stay there. He had moved on to the tragedy of rejection, false accusations and finally a criminal’s death on a cross. The search of the Magi must seem to end there at Calvary. Over the head of this Jesus was a sign ‘Jesus King of the Jews’.

Now people search for His tomb. They would like to make it a sacred place, a pilgrimage centre. But He isn’t there. He has risen! It’s an empty space. Now this could create a problem for those who ask the Magi’s question, “Now where is He who was born King of the Jews”? Their answer came from scripture. So will the answer come to the wise from the scriptures who still seek to find Him. As you follow the trail set out in the bible you don’t end at a tomb. You climb the Mt. of Olives and read about His ascension to the Father’s realm. From there Jesus has promised to return to earth to complete the promises yet outstanding.

Does that mean you or I cannot find Him and know Him now? Of course not! The biblical information which motivated the Magi has been filled out in greater detail for us. Their knowledge and faith gave them motivation to find this Jesus. The same goes for us. Knowledge from the bible about the promised one and faith to believe what it says prepares a meeting ground. It has now become a heart and mind matter more than a seeing one. Romans 10:9-11 ‘If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”’

When that act of faith takes place you discover more to the answer the Magi were after. You find that Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings who one day will rule over the Kingdom of God. Also you will find this Jesus to be your Saviour and companion along life’s way. How to you keep in touch with Him? Through the scriptures, learning to talk with Him and meeting with those of like heart and mind.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Bullies against Christmas

Christmas Bullies

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. It use to be mostly boys but now girls have joined the ranks. Such creatures usually cannot hold their own in debate and discussion so seek to win by muscle power or verbal humiliation. Their effect on some has been devastating.

History has thrown up untold numbers of national bullies in the form of dictators. Such men are usually in Government, tribal or religious areas. Dominating women of history are much more subtle and seductive. Both have their power for a while but death always takes them from the scene. Whether they believe in God or not, they will have to stand in judgment before Him.

Onto the 21st century a new and more corrosive form of bullying has developed. It is religious in nature but seductive in its approach. Through the abuse of anti-discrimination laws and political correctness these bullies seek to destroy Christmas. They want the holiday but they want to remove the Christian reason undergirding it. What is it? Christ’s birth at Bethlehem. In its Christless place they want innocuous terms such as vacation or recreation day.

Who are at the head of the ‘Bully Boys Brigade’? Islam and Atheists. Who are their compliant assistants? Government and local councils. Such countries with a previously Christian history and majority, such as Norway, are buckling under the fear of offending non Christians. It doesn’t seem to matter that Christians and their faith and holy days are violated and other faiths are left untouched.

Why is there such hostility to Christmas and Easter and of course, the Bible? Could it be due to what they declare? That is the promised one of the Tanak (Jewish scriptures) is declared to have come in the Gospels. In them we read that the promised one is the Messiah who came as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. That pointed to the Jewish Passover being fulfilled in the Messiah’s crucifixion. If this promised one we know as Jesus was still dead no one would celebrate Christmas or Easter. The section of the Bible called the New Testament declares Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to His Father’s realm. Jesus in now Lord and Saviour! He waits the right moment when the rest of Scripture is fulfilled to return as ruler and judge.

That is what the bully boys don’t want to happen (not that they can stop it). As they don’t like to be reminded of their fate and as they don’t want to change their mind, they endeavour to remove that which offends their belief system. No tolerance there. No sound argument can destroy the Christmas event, so be a bully and crush your opponent. ‘Hide incompetence and lack of argument behind well meaning laws that can be twisted to one’s own advantage’ is their mantra.

The bullies can not prevail. Caesar tried it with the lions in the arena. He failed. Christmas will be celebrated and its message will shine out more brightly than ever. The meek may pay a price but they are on the winning side, just read what Jesus said in Matthew 5:5.
Whether you like or dislike Christmas, whether you believe December 25 is the right date, ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is its testimony. That is ‘He who was long promised came in the fullness of time.’ You can follow His story in the Gospels. How do we know Jesus came? Because of the

cross and resurrection! Without that event we wouldn’t be having this celebration. Then we wouldn’t have bullies trying to prove Christmas didn’t happen.
But it did.
Its meaning prevails.
Its promise endures.
So put your trust in Jesus the Messiah and have a happy Christmas.