Both Challenge and Rejoicing Came through the Manger

Is this a hate crime?

Is this a hate crime?

I am old enough to remember the early broadcasts by CBS of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS’ which began in 1965.  It has been a beloved part of our culture for the past 50 years.  In the special’s climatic scene Linus relieves Charlie Brown of his anxiety over the over-commercialization of Christmas by reciting a passage from the Gospel of Luke, reminding him of the true meaning of Christmas: Luke 2:10–15   But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;  (11)  for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  (12)  “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  (13)  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  (14)  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  (15)  When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened.”

This past week students from W.R. Castle Elementary School in Johnson County, Kentucky were forbidden from using Linus’ speech in their production of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS.  School Principal Jeff Cochran censored Linus’s lines from the production even though there was protest by parents and students in favor of it.  To get around the censure, the characters paused during the scene while the audience went ahead a recited the passage themselves.  Did it do any good or was it just an archaic battle in the perceived “war on Christmas?” Is it really worth the effort in stirring up controversy? Christians vary in their opinion.

Maybe those trying to remove the traditional Christian perspective of Christmas understand the provocative danger of the message of Christ more than some Christians. Herod did and had all the babies killed two years old and under trying to stop what God was bringing in the earth through Jesus (Mt 2:16).

Danger in the Manger

When Jesus was born the shepherds and wise men came to see Him.  The thing that compelled them to come wasn’t just to see a cute baby.  When they came they brought gifts and fell down and worshiped.  This awesome thing had been announced to them by angels.

Peace to those receiving Him

Peace to those receiving Him

The part of the passage, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” makes most Christmas cards because who would have a problem with that?  The second part “with whom He is pleased” usually doesn’t,  yet it defines something that is part of the issue.  Other translations render it in a similar way:  NEB “on earth His peace for men on whom His favor rest.”  Living “and peace on earth for all those pleasing Him.

The pleasing of God and the favor/peace that rest on people has to do with their posture towards Jesus.

Luke goes on to mention the account of Simeon seeing Jesus and blessing Him and His parents.   He makes statements that reveals the dividing line reguarding the peace He brings in Jesus.

Luke 2:25-35  And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon…. (33)  And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.  (34)  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed–  (35)  and a sword will pierce even your own soul–to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

This definitely doesn’t make the Christmas Cards.  Simeon prophesied that there is something about Jesus coming that illicit s opposition and a sword that pierces souls.    I remember hearing a message years ago titled, “Danger in the Manger.”  We don’t often think about the coming of Jesus in that way.  We don’t see the manger as a dangerous place, only a harmless place.

Jesus coming wasn’t just about God sending a cute baby into the world.  God was sending His only solution to the problem of sin and His judgment that is upon all mankind.  His coming into the earth will bring reconciliation, peace, and favor to those who receive His only solution, Jesus.  For those who don’t it will ensure separation and opposition.

Jesus understood His radical nature and spoke about it clearly. Luke 12:51-53, Matthew 10:34-37  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  (35)  “For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW;  (36)  and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.  (37) “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  

There is an element of division that comes as Jesus is revealed in the earth.  Not everyone wants to receive God’s only solution in the way He desires.  That is why the angels included the phrase, “peace on earth for all who are pleasing Him.”  Pleasing God is in the posture of receiving eagerly His only solution to the problem of sin and judgment that separates people from God.  For others who trust themselves, their own logic, or who don’t want “any god” to get in their way, Jesus is a “sign to be opposed.”  Instead of peace they will receive a sword that separates.  To them He is the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense, but for those who believe in and receive Him there is not disappointment only peace and rejoicing at His wonder birth!

Rom 9:33  just as it is written, “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

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The Art of Spinning God

Lion of the Tribe of Judah or a house cat

Lion of the Tribe of Judah or a house cat

I recently read some interesting research about cats led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh Scotland and the Bronx Zoo.  It was published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology

It seems like that cute cuddly little cat that loves to crawl on your lap and comfort you has more of the traits of the African Lion, the Scottish Wildcat, and the Clouded and Snow Leopard.  In other words that adorable domesticated cat is more like a miniature lion.  If it was bigger things might be a lot different.

www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/files/17472323/Personality_Structure_in_the_Do mestic_Cat.

I couldn’t help but think that this is the same issue when Christians and churches try to make Jesus into the image they prefer Him to be rather than seeing Him as He truly is.  In other words Christians take the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” (Rev 4:7, 5:5) and try to reduce Him to a domesticated house cat.  It is an attempt to reduce Jesus to an adorable version that climbs on our lap to give us companionship and therapeutic comfort.

Jesus will not submit to this kind of reduction.  Check out the first three chapter’s of the book of Revelation when Jesus walks among and speaks to the 7 churches of Asia Minor.  He wasn’t a tame house cat He is the Lord of the Universe and the head of His body, the church.  Col 1:15-19  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…17  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  18  He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything…

Spiritually Spinning Jesus

I like to read both liberal and conservative news sites because both sides present filteredmaking God in our image perspectives and the truth often lies somewhere in between.  The common buzzword for this is called “spin.”  It seems like everyone reporting now days is spinning.  What is “spin”?  Spin can be characterized as “presenting an issue in a perspective most favorable to a given point of view.  It is created by presenting information favorable to one perspective by omitting or rebutting information from another perspective.”

It would be difficult to be in the public eye in this day and age of 24 hour media spinning.   Media workers take sound bites or partial quotes, remove them from their context, then spin to make a point.   I have seen this many times.  When I go back and read the full transcript or hear the person respond to the articles that were spun, their original communication and intention was not represented at all.   Can we spin the revelation of God to ourselves or others in a way that mischaracterizes who He is?

The Bible contains the revelation God gives about Himself that He wants us to know.  He reveals both His likes, His dislikes, and His traits that make up who He is.  This is what theologians refer to as His “attributes.”  Some of them we understand a little because they are in us in an incomplete form (called “communicable attributes” such as love, hate, patience, justice etc.), while others are way beyond us (called “incommunicable attributes” such as sovereignty, foreknowledge, omnipresence etc.).

God warns us about spinning Him.   Psa 50:21-22  “These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.  (22)  “Now consider this, you who forget God, Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver.

While we bear the image of God He isn’t relegated to the image we want Him to be.  He is who He is.  We can’t pick one side of God’s image and ignore the other.

His Kindness, Hatred, and Severity

We tend to do this with attributes like God’s great love and mercy.  Some view God’s love in a way that nullifies all his other attributes. It is a big mistake to think that God’s love overshadows His holiness.  Over and over He reveals Himself in the Bible as Holy.  He is the Holy God, and the Spirit is Holy Spirit.  Christians can attempt to purge God’s love of anything that we feel uncomfortable with such as holiness, righteousness, or judgment. We can’t redefine His love apart from His other attributes but this is a great problem.

Paul makes this point in Romans in an admonition to have a healthy fear of God.   Rom 11:20-22… but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear;  (21)  for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.  (22)  Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.    

Many people like His kindness but have no clue about His severity.  Therefore they see God as a kind grandfather who is obligated to love them no matter how they live.  They see Him as a lonely grandfather, or a house cat, that will harmlessly put up with anything.

Another attribute of God we can bypass in light of His love is His holy hatred.  The same God who loves also hates.  In a fallen world with an enemy that is opposed to Him, God must hate what is trying to destroy His Kingdom and the object of His love (us).  God’s attributes of holiness, purity, righteousness, and justice prompt Him to hate evil.

Heb 1:9  “YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS

Deu 12:31  “You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods.

Pro 6:16-19  There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him…

Psa 7:11  God judges the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.

Psa 5:4-6  For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You.  (5)  The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.  (6)  You destroy those who speak falsehood; The LORD abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.

 If God’s love was a trump card that nullified all His other attributes, then the horrors of the sufferings of Christ would make no sense.  God could have just pronounced love and forgiveness, and Jesus could have avoided suffering God’s wrath for us, but God’s justice and wrath had to be satisfied.

We must see, serve, and worship God as He is, and how He has revealed Himself in His word.  No spinning or attempting to domesticate Jesus to spiritual house cat.

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A Different Face of Self-Righteousness: But Just as Bad

Jesus told a story in Luke 18 about people who “trusted in themselves” for righteousness.  It is a kind of a no brainer story because it was about a Jewish religious leader and they were famous for having self confidence in their own abilitiy to be righteous.  Jesus constantly challenged this futile form of religious legalism. It is trusting in your own abilities to do, and not do things that constitute being pleasing to God.  Luk 18:9-14  And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:

The second part of this self-righteousness seen in this story was that this Pharisee “viewed  others with contempt.”  In other words he measured his sense of righteousness by what others did or didn’t do.  By doing things the poor sinner didn’t do it was proof that he was pleasing to God.  Lk 18:11  “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector…

Jesus ends the story with “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.”   Exalting self is the centerpiece of self-righteousness.  It is a pedestal that self-righteous people stand on to say I am better than others because I do this or don’t do that.  It is easy to discern when people think their right activity according to God’s word is better than others but there is another form of self-righteousness that I am beginning to see more and more among Christians.  This one is very deceptive.  It is a confidence of righteousness based on things people don’t believe or are not doing.  Because they don’t believe those things or are not doing them they are somehow better than other Christians who do pursue them.

This form of self righteousness is a glorying in imperfections, not in the sense of being thankful for God’s grace,  but that imperfections are a sort of badge of honor that make them more  righteous  than others.  Those who are actually obeying Jesus’ commands are seen as being less righteous than those who disobey.   Paul gloried in his weakness 2 Cor 12:9 but only as a means of exalting Christ strength, not as proof of his own righteousness with God.

Some Examples

I remember one guy who tended to do this quite a bit.  He often lost his temper and cussed.  He frequently harbored resentment, had a hard time honoring authority, and had a very critical spirit.  The amazing thing was that he somehow felt he was better than others who tended to not do those types of sins.  In a strange way he felt he was a better witness for Christ, even though he rarely led anyone to Jesus, because people who were “too perfect” couldn’t identify with sinners like he did because of his frequent immature and sinful behavior.

I often come across online stories or comments from people who claim Christianity, but in the name of “being authentic” glory in things that God doesn’t approve of.  A case in point is a recent  Buzzfeed.com video called “I’m Christian, But I’m Not…”  It highlighted this phenomenon  of self-righteousness seen in Luke 18.  They have other videos along the same lines like “I’m a Trans (meaning transgender) but I am not, I’m a Muslim but I am not…”   While it was trying to make a good point it committed the same error as the Luke 18 story.  In the video five women and one man said they were Christians but they weren’t like other Christians (kind of like the guy in Jesus’ story I thank You that I am not like…).   They gloried in the fact that they weren’t “homophobic, close-minded, uneducated, judgmental, or conservative etc.”  They did glory in what they were, “accepting, queer, gay, feminist, believe in monogamy before sex but will give sexual advice, open minded, go to church, as well as loving  and affirming people from all religions.”  They wanted people to know that Christians are not all crazy (like all other Christians who do have problems with homosexual behavior, are conservative, are not queer or gay, believe that sex outside a heterosexual marriage isn’t God’s will, or believe that Jesus is the only way to God etc.).

While some of what they said may have had a good point we must be careful that in trying to get out of one ditch (self-righteous legalism) we fall in the ditch on the other side of the road.  They mentioned nothing about Jesus. Let’s be clear about this. My rightness before God isn’t based on things I am not doing or getting away with that Christians have believed and practiced for over 2000 years!

I am a Christian first and foremost because of the tremendous mercy and grace shown me through Jesus coming to earth as the perfect sacrifice.  He bore my sins and the punishment for them.  He took His sacrificial blood to heaven and the Father received it as the only means of me being forgiven and accepted as His son.  He now receives me into His presence through Jesus Christ.  This, and this alone, is the means of any righteousness I now have.  Contrary to wanting to see how much I don’t have to believe or how much behavior I can get away with, authentic Christianity has a much different foundation.  I think the writer of Hebrews sums it up well.  Heb 13:20-21  Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord,  (21)  equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.   The obsession of Authentic Christianity is to live to please Him in what we believe and how we live because of His great love and mercy!

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The “Why” Of The Two Great Holidays – Christmas And Easter

BirthWe are in the midst of the two great holidays celebrated by most of western civilization Christmas and Easter.  From God’s perspective the events that spawned these two holidays, Christ virgin birth and His death and resurrection, are the cornerstone of God’s work through Christ.

Not long ago I was at a Christmas celebration at a public park in which they did anresurrection excellent job of narrating through the Christmas story.  It was very moving.  As I stood among the large gathering and the narrative was being read I reflected on how our culture has drifted away from the foundational Christian influence of it’s first 2000 years.  You see it in public education removing all references to Christ in these two events, all the fights over Nativity scenes being removed from public display, changing the phrase “Merry Christmas”  to “Happy Holidays,” and changing “Easter Break” to “Spring Break.”  In this drift away from Christian influence there is a corresponding drift away from understanding the “why” of these two great events.

Even God’s people in the midst of this secularization can miss or minimize the real importance of Christ coming through the virgin birth, and His death and resurrection.    Like the writer of Hebrews said we can drift away from and neglect these things.   Heb 2:1-3  Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip…3  how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…  It is easy to “neglect” (make light of or minimize) Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection when we lost sight of “why” these things are important.

What is more cute than a baby born in a manager?  You average Nativity scene with the adorable baby lying there, animals standing by, and shepherds and wise men bowing creates a warm fuzzy feeling.  Almost everyone has warm feelings upon seeing a baby.  How about the crucifixion?  It is nice thought to think Jesus suffered and died  for people but is there anything beyond that?  There are many people who sacrificially die for others.  There are examples like a soldier who jumps on a hand grenade to save his fellow soldiers or a parent to sacrificially dies to provide an organ for their child.   Why was His sacrifice any different or more important?

More Than Nostalgia

Christ’s  work in coming to the earth born of a virgin and dying on the cross are more than just acts of kindness creating nostalgic feelings.  When you really understand “why” you value them in a whole different way than sentimental nostalgia.  You begin to understand and appreciate it in a much deeper way like Peter did.  Act 4:12  “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

nostolgiaWhy was He born of a virgin and why was that so important?  God loved the world and didn’t want to see people end up suffering the same fate as the devil and the angles who fell before mankind was created (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6, Rev 12:3-9).  Out of His perfection God had to administer a just penalty for this transgression, both on the enemy and anyone else who sinned in the same manner.  This polluting nature of sin and it’s penalty was passed down through family lineage.  Every human is born with that pollution (the urge to go against God and His ways) and end up sinning and incurring that same penalty.

Jesus came to pay that penalty for us and bring us into a restored relationship with God.  No one on earth could have paid that penalty because all of mankind had their own penalty to pay (Rom 3:21-24).  It would take One without His own penalty and sin in order to take it on behalf of others.  Jesus had to come from His perfect state in heaven and be birthed in a perfect process (the Holy Spirit placing the seed in a virgin) so that none of the pollution and penalty of sin would be passed into Him (Phil 2:5-7 Lk 1:26-39).

As Jesus walked on this earth He faced all the temptations everyone faces but He did not succumb to any of them ( Mat 4, 1 Pet 1:18-20, Heb 4:15, 5:8-10).  He lived a sinless life.  He then offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice on a cross (Isa 53:11-12).  He wasn’t a helpless victim.  He could have called on God to deliver Him from death on the cross (Mt 26:51-52) but there would have been no other way for anyone to escape their own eternal punishment.  Out of love He was obedient to God’s plan in His  death and suffering (Phil 2:8) .

His death on the cross was more than just a physical death.  If physical death was all it took then the two criminals crucified with Him could have done it or anyone else (Lk 23:32).  It was what happened in the spiritual realm as He physically died and suffered that was the main significance.  As He died as a criminal (even though He committed no sin) God was doing something behind the scenes to provide a way of escape for everyone from the penalty for sin incurred upon all mankind (Heb 12:2).

Like the High Priest in the Old Testament (Lev 22:21) God took all of our sins and placed them upon Jesus as He hung on the cross (2 Cor 5:21, Gal 3:13, 1 Peter 2:22-25).  All the pollution, the alienation from God, the sickness, and everything else associated with sin Jesus took upon Himself as He hung on the cross.  Then as He hung there, filled with the mankind’s sin, God released the penalty for sin on Him.  God poured out His wrath/punishment  upon Him (Mt 27:46, Rom 3:25-26, 1 Jn 2:1-2, 1 Jn 4:7-16, Heb 2:2-17) in order to satisfy the demand of  justice.

After three days under the burning punishment God’s justice was satisfied and He raised Jesus up to life right in the midst of His torment (1 Tim 3:16, 1 Pet 3:18-19).  Jesus then utterly defeated Satan and the fallen angels in the midst of His resurrection (Gen 3:15, Col 2:13-15, Rom 4:25, Heb 2:14-15).

When He rose from the dead He did something else very important.  Like the High priest in the Old Testament did year after year in the earthly dwelling place of God, Christ went up to the heavenly dwelling place of God in heaven and offered His blood and His sacrificial work there once and for all (Heb 7:27, 9:12).  As He did He prepared a place for us with God (Jn 14:2-6, Heb 9:11-28, 10:10-13)    God received His blood as the perfect payment for our sins then begin to purchase us and free us from the bondage and penalty of sin (Rom 5:9-10, Eph 1:7, 1 Pet 1:18-19, Rev 1:5-6, 5:9).

Jesus then took His place at the right hand of the Father and They poured out Holy Spirit to birth His life in us adopting us in His family, cleansing us of our sin, bringing a new life inside of us, and bringing us into Christ which guarantees our future (Jn 3:3-8, Rom 8:15, Gal 4:4-6, Eph 1:19-2:6, 1 Jn 3:24, 1 Cor 12:13).

It was more than just a nice baby being born in the earth or a nice man dying on a cross.  When you understand all that God did behind the scenes through Jesus, you can’t “neglect” it. There truly is “salvation in no one else.”  There is only two options.  We can stay in our current condition facing a certain fate suffering the penalty for our sins.  Or we can receive the second option by responding to God’s great love and give our life to Him.  It truly is a great exchange.  Our messed up sin filled life that is under the judgment given to Him and we receive His new eternal life purchased through Jesus Christ in us.  Only one option makes sense.  Respond today to His loving initiative through Jesus.

 

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