When even Paul hit the wall…

Following on from the last blog about keeping calm and carrying on, there were other times in Paul’s life when God did not say to Paul what he said in Acts 18:9, and Paul went through excruciating suffering of mind – and body. 

Paul gave us a list of his “troubles, hardships and distresses” too, in 2 Corinthian 6:5-10, which included “beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, and being regarded as an impostor (a fake).” It seemed the whole world was against him, which he expressed two chapters earlier, about him and those with him being “hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down,” and it never seemed to end. 

He was also “given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me” in 2 Corinthians 12:7, which clearly bothered him terribly, but God did not stop it or remove it (verse 8). Put all that lot together and it’s not surprising there came a point when Paul hit the wall, and he came to the end of his rope. 

Mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually he was shot, and no way could he “Keep calm and carry on.” Or, as he expressed it in 2 Corinthians 1:8, the hardships he and his companions suffered were so stressful they were “far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” Today we’d likely call that suicidal, or at best a “major depressive disorder.” Either way, deep down Paul had had it. He was done: “In our hearts we felt the sentence of death,” verse 9.

We know God had his reasons for allowing all these things to happen to Paul, like teaching him and his companions “not to rely on themselves but on God” (verse 9), and that the “all-surpassing power is from God and not from us,” 2 Corinthians 4:7, and in 2 Corinthians 12:7 it was to “keep me (personally) from becoming conceited” because of the “great revelations” God had been giving him. But that doesn’t sugar coat a clear fact we face as Christians, that life now can be tough to the point we can hit a wall too. We can’t just stay calm and carry on. We’ve had it, and we can’t take any more. 

I remember saying exactly that to my Doctor when I’d hit the wall too. His advice was to “walk through it,” which has proved helpful, but I’d rather hear it from my spiritual Doc, the Holy Spirit. And true to him being our Comforter he tells us, “for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials,” 1 Peter 1:6, so at least we have someone “up there” who truly understands what we go through, and he also gives us the reason for it. It’s “so that your faith – of greater worth than gold” is being “refined by fire,” so that what we’re left with is “proved genuine and results in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed,” verse 7.  

Genuine means it’s real. We’ve reached the point of God being so real that we really do trust him no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. But how do we reach that point? According to Paul, who must’ve known this from his considerable experience in suffering, it comes from “in everything  by prayer and petitions, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” Philippians 4:6. We can do that legitimately, which is where the “thanksgiving” part comes in, that we really can take “everything” we’re anxious and worried about to God, because how else will he become real? 

That’s our bit in the process, but God then responds too, because in verse 7, “the peace of God, which transcends (our) understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” In other words, he’ll enable us to “Keep calm and carry on,” just as he did Paul. Despite the constant battering Paul got he was never “crushed,” nor did his “despair” and endless persecution leave him permanently scarred or feeling abandoned (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

So God may not actually speak to us to “Keep calm and carry on” like he did with Paul, but he’ll prove it instead through our experience.  

Keep calm and carry on

On a search for the origin of Keep calm and carry on I found this longer version of it, that “Keep Calm” meant, “We may be suffering something of an invasion at the moment, but that’s no reason to start acting in a rash and hot-headed manner. We may be a subjugated nation but we are not about to start acting like savages.”

And the “Carry on” bit meant, “As a nation, we’ve been trained to look past the bad behaviour of our rudest guests, especially the uninvited ones, and rather than cause a scene, we shall just go about our daily business as if nothing has happened.”

It’s a little difficult fitting all that on a cup or poster, but it easily fits in a scared mind. Which reminded me that it was God who came up with the “Keep calm and carry on” message first, for a very scared man called Paul nineteen hundred years earlier. 

The circumstances were a little different, in that Paul wasn’t facing an invasion of planes with bombs intent on blowing up British cities and killing thousands of civilians, but he was being faced with the threat of “subjugation” by the “bad behaviour” of some very rude people. 

And all he was trying to do was prove from Scripture to his fellow countryfolk “that Jesus was the Christ (Messiah),” which was the best news they’d heard after hundreds of years of hoping for the Messiah’s arrival. But, as Acts 18:6 continues, “the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive.” 

In ‘Greek speak’ the word abusive in that verse means “blasphemous,” meaning totally disrespectful of God, even to the use of profanity. It was total madness, because these people weren’t even interested in the facts of their own history or the marvellous prophecies of what the Messiah would do, repeated dozens of times in their scriptures. 

It was scary stuff, because it was they who were now “acting like savages.” And in their own minds they’d justified it too. They felt totally free, therefore, to slander, censure, condemn and stigmatize Paul as a law-despising enemy undermining the very fabric of their culture (verse 13).

So Paul knew he was in deep trouble, because there was no reasoning with them. In their state of mind these people would stop at nothing to have him silenced, and only that would do. 

But, fortunately, God knew. He also knew that Paul, stalwart fellow that he was, having been beaten up and abused by mad crowds before, was really scared this time. There was something more going on, more sinister, more evil, more twisted, more unrelenting, and more hateful – and from his own countryfolk too. It was like men and women who’d been friends for years turning on each other in unbelievable savagery in times of war. 

So, “One night,” verse 9, “the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision” – like a dream, perhaps? Whatever it was, the message was clear: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.” In other words, “Keep calm and carry on.” Don’t, as the longer version of it stated at the beginning of this article, “start acting in a rash and hot-headed manner,” but rather “go about your daily business as if nothing has happened.” 

And the reason for God saying that was because “I have many people in this city,” verse 10, who desperately needed such a man as Paul to get that message about Jesus across loud and clear. Because Jesus being the Messiah and fulfillment of every good news prophecy in the Old Testament is our only hope of a better world, free from the mass formation hypnosis caused by the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4), free from corrupt and emperor-seeking politicians, and free from our own culture-tainted minds (Romans 12:2). 

Above, and yet with us in this mess of ours, is Jesus, sent by God to save this world, so any corrections that need to be done, he will do them. 

All good reasons for us to “Keep calm and…..” 

Respecting our differences

Following up on the last blog about the Holy Spirit being our guide as Christians, Romans 14:23 seems to be saying we should be following our conscience too, because “everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Or, as the New Living Translation phrases it, “If you do anything you (personally) believe is not right, you are sinning.” 

Are we only good Christians, then, if we do what we, personally, believe in? But if what we believe in is (or has been) heavily influenced by what our conscience for years in the past has interpreted as right or wrong, what then?   

What if, for example, it’s stuck in our heads as Christians because of our background or upbringing that we should “only eat vegetables” and never eat meat (Romans 14:2 and 6), or that we feel some days are more “special” or “sacred than others” (verses 5 and 6), or that we shouldn’t “drink wine” (verse 21)? Are these conscience issues that we had better follow, and we’re sinning if we don’t?

Or what if we were brought up in a Muslim or Jewish household that thinks of pigs as “unclean” or filthy animals that God never meant us to eat? Or that eating “food offered to idols” (1 Corinthians 8:4) – or eating processed junk food in our terms today – is totally wrong, or that Saturday or Sunday should be observed as “holy Sabbath” days? Should we persist in these habits as Christians because we feel they might “weaken” and “defile” our conscience if we don’t (1 Corinthians 8:7)? 

On the other hand, does sticking to these habits show “our faith is weak,” compared to the faith of those who can kick these habits and be free of them, Romans 14:2

But if a person can’t kick these habits because he’s “fully convinced in his own mind” they’re the right thing to do in God’s sight, verse 5, and he’s doing them “to the Lord, giving thanks to him,” verse 6, and therefore, as Paul says, “God has accepted him” in verse 3, it means we’re now stuck with fellow Christians who may have vastly different or even totally opposite views, so how on earth can we keep the peace between us, or even relate to each other at all?  

And what a question that is, and especially in a pandemic too, when some Christians strongly believe in God’s sight that they should be vaccinated, but others just as strongly believe in God’s sight that they shouldn’t be.   

Paul’s answer is simple: respect our differences. And he says it in several ways too, like not “passing judgment on each other” (verses 1 and 13), not “looking down” on each other (verses 3 and 10), not “putting any stumbling block or obstacle in our brother’s way” (verse 13), and not “distressing” a fellow Christian by pushing what we believe as “good” and what he believes as “evil” (verse 16), because if that’s what we’re doing we’re “no longer acting in love” (verse 15), and we could even be “destroying the work of God” in a fellow Christian’s life too (verse 20). 

And Paul offers some pretty compelling reasons for stepping carefully too, like “Who are we to judge” a fellow Christian as being out to lunch in what he believes or burdening himself with unnecessary and silly obligations, when “the Lord is (fully) able to make him stand” (verse 4)? And even if he dies because of his beliefs, “whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (verse 8), which is why “Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (verse 9). Jesus can sort anyone’s life out, so that we can “ all stand before God’s judgment seat” to “give an account of ourselves to him” without worry (verse 12).

On the other hand, Paul did express his own belief when he said “I’m fully convinced no food is unclean of itself” (verse 14) and “all food is clean” (verse 20), making room for discussion and reasoning together. But if there’s any hint of sensitivity on a subject that might unsettle someone it’s better to “keep what you believe between yourself and God” (verse 22). 

Because the kingdom of God we’re all part of is about “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (verse 17),” and “anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men (creating good relationships).”   

Hopefully, then, these tricky differences between us can actually build our love for each other, making us a wonderful example in a world where differences can be so destructive. 

Is it our conscience or the Holy Spirit that’s now our guide?

So why did people pour out “from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan” to hear John the Baptist and “confess their sins,” Matthew 3:5-6

It had to be their conscience, right? They knew they’d been slacking off. They knew they needed to make improvements, much like people today making New Year’s resolutions. But was their guilty conscience enough to create permanent change? And if it wasn’t, what did they need instead? 

Well, first of all – no, conscience isn’t enough. We see that in Genesis 2:17, when God told Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Which sounds odd, because what’s wrong with knowing good and evil, or knowing right from wrong? It gives us a conscience that nags away at us if we’re tempted to do something stupid; it makes us feel guilty enough to want to change and improve, and it never lets us forget what we’ve done wrong as a reminder to not repeat it.   

A conscience is a jolly useful thing to have, then, isn’t it? But was it enough for Adam and Eve to tell God they were deeply sorry for what they’d done? Was it enough for them to ask for his forgiveness? And did it play a vital part in changing their behaviour? No. It made them feel guilty, yes, but all that did was make them want to blame others for their actions to rid themselves of their guilt, and hide from God rather than own up to him. 

We then have the long and sordid story of Israel through most of the rest of the Old Testament. To prove what, exactly? That knowing right from wrong, or having a conscience, isn’t enough to create permanent change for the better. There were times when the Israelites knew they needed to change and they really wanted to change too, but like most determined New Year’s resolutions it all soon fizzled out. And even after the Jews were carted off into slavery their conscience wasn’t enough to permanently correct their attitudes after they returned, and it stayed that way up to John the Baptist turning up. 

But what was the point of John the Baptist turning up and stirring up their conscience to want to change when their history had already proved a guilty conscience never creates permanent change? 

Because it was preparation for “one more powerful” than John, who would “baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire,” Luke 3:16, which to John was “good news” (verse 18). 

Did that mean, therefore, that the Holy Spirit would become our guide and not our conscience anymore? Especially when the Holy Spirit enables us to “participate in the divine nature,” so that we can “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires,” 2 Peter 1:4, which conscience has never been able to do. God proved beyond any shadow of doubt that eating off the tree of knowledge of good and evil – or knowing right from wrong – cannot overcome the power of evil, nor does it create the permanent change his children need to make.   

Giving us a conscience wasn’t a bad thing, though, because God also said it made humans “like one of us” (Genesis 3:22), and that would keep a little door open to our brains so that, as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:2, when the truth is spoken it would “commend” itself – or ring true – to our “conscience.” 

Which is exactly what happened when thousands of people heard John the Baptist and suddenly their conscience was stirred to confess sin, seek forgiveness and want to change. Which in turn prepared them very nicely for Jesus healing them as proof they’d been forgiven, and as a picture of the permanent healing from sin and evil he would provide through the Holy Spirit after his resurrection.    

And for those who haven’t received the Holy Spirit yet, and still rely on their conscience to moderate their behaviour, God honours that too, Romans 2:14-15. Which is very encouraging for those who make New Year’s resolutions to be better people. But there’s only one way of making those resolutions permanent, and that’s the Holy Spirit in and with us (John 14:17). 

What do I base my decisions on this year?

In short, I’d like my decisions to be based on the Holy Spirit being my “Paraclete.” This was the Greek word Jesus used in John 14:16 when he told his disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (NIV translation).  

“Counselor” is the word used in several other Bible translations for Paraclete too, but words like “Advocate,” “Helper,” and “Comforter” pop up as well. Surprising for me, though, was how many translators went for the word “Advocate.” And there’s no doubt the Greek means that, but what does it mean in English?

So on the hunt I went and discovered in a vote on synonyms for the word “Advocate” that the top choice was “Intercessor,” expressed rather nicely in this statement I read, that “When important decisions are being made about your life, we (your Advocate Intercessors) will stand by you to help you to understand the important issues, understand your rights and take control of your life.” 

I had a bit of trouble with the “take control” part, but Romans 8:6 does say “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace,” and in verse 9, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” 

As my Advocate, then, the Holy Spirit has full control of my life, but as Paul wrote in verse 14, “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” As “God’s children,” then, verse 16, we look forward to sharing the same life and glory as THE Son of God, verse 17, but in the meanwhile, while “we wait eagerly” for that to happen (verse 23), the “Spirit helps us in our weakness” and “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express,” verse 26.  

As God’s children, then, we have an ever present Advocate “helping” and “interceding” for us. Imagine having a lawyer like that, who takes us that seriously, making absolutely sure our case and voice are heard and fully respected. But that’s exactly what we’ve got. As children of God we have a champion in the Holy Spirit, a backer and promoter, supporting us at all times, advising us, reminding us, guiding us, mentoring us and empathizing with our every need, and it’s happening all the time “for he lives with you and will be in you,” Jesus said in John 14:17. It explains why some translators use the words “Counselor” and ”Comforter” for Paraclete too, to express how intimately involved the Spirit is in our lives, and what he’s in us and with us for. 

So rather than fear the decisions that may have to be made we have a Paraclete in total control of the best outcome. He is the master of timing, the great orchestrator of bringing people together who can share and care and help each other. He can direct our thoughts when tricky situations arise, or the world is driving us crazy. 

He settles us down, helps us see sense, gives us the right words to say to cool a heated exchange or heal a relationship, and he comforts us when we’re feeling helpless. He gives us the humility to admit we’re wrong and receive correction. He’ll make it obvious when we need to stand up and be counted, and when to keep quiet, so in all these things we can look back on a year of decisions that help us “know” he’s been with us (John 14:17 and 1 John 4:13). 

So here we are with another year and another chance to prove it.  

Jesus was given 3 gifts; he also gives 3 gifts…

A couple of years or so after Jesus was born travellers from the East landed on his doorstep with three rather strange gifts for him; gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

But they handily describe the three seasons of Jesus’ ministry – myrrh (used in embalming the dead) to picture the first season of his ministry as our Saviour who died for us, frankincense (used in the temple) to picture the second season of his ministry as our temple High Priest cleaning us up and healing us, and gold (used as gifts for kings) to picture the third season of his ministry as our King ushering in God’s kingdom to take over forever from the mess we’ve made. But as our Saviour, High Priest and King, how does he make all this happen?

There’s a clue in Ephesians 4:7-8, that Jesus graces US with gifts too, the purpose of which is to “build us up until we all reach ….the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” also stated in Ephesians 3:19. That’s the ultimate goal, so what gifts do we need from him to make it happen? 

Scripture mentions three gifts we need: forgiveness, faith and freedom. And just as the three gifts given to Jesus handily describe the three seasons of his ministry, these three gifts from Jesus handily describe the three stages in our journey as Christians toward that “fullness of Christ” – or, as Paul describes it elsewhere, our journey to being “transformed into Christ’s likeness” (2 Corinthians 3:18), and being “given the “fullness of his Deity in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9-10).  

And all three stages of that journey to the fullness of Christ are necessary: Forgiveness is essential in getting us started, faith is what enables us to continue, and freedom is what we experience as a result. 

On “freedom,” for instance, we have Romans 8:21 telling us “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” So on our journey to the fullness of Christ, we are going to experience true freedom, just as Jesus experiences true freedom as a child (or Son) of God. It’s part of his fullness, which he wants us to experience too (John 17:24-26). And as Colossians 2:10 says, it’s “GIVEN” to us. It’s a gift Jesus gives us, because we cannot create it on our own.

Which is where the second gift from Jesus comes in: faith – the kind of faith Jesus had, that every step of his journey was in the safe hands of his Father and being directed by the Holy Spirit. Well, that’s given to us by Jesus too. It’s “through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God,” Ephesians 2:8, so that we firmly believe we are “God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do,” verse 10

It’s why Paul could say in Galatians 2:20, “The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God.” In other words, the faith given to Paul by Jesus enabled Paul to trust whatever God had in mind for him to do. 

But none of this would have got off the ground if it wasn’t for forgiveness, because we’ve “all fallen short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23. We all missed out, therefore, on the faith and freedom we could have experienced as God’s children. But, fortunately, God included the gift of forgiveness too, “freely given us in the One he loves,” Ephesians 1:6. It’s “in him,” referring to Jesus, that “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us,” verses 7-8

So, forgiveness is a gift, faith is a gift, and so is the freedom that comes with being a son of God. Every stage of our journey as Christians is a gift, and all provided by God through his Son.  

How fitting, then, that the ministry of Jesus is described in three gifts given to him, and how his ministry is then fulfilled in the three gifts he gives to us, so that we as God’s children experience the same fullness he has as the Son of God. He received three gifts for that purpose, and he gives three gifts for that purpose too. 

The ministry of Jesus in 3 words: gold, frankincense (and) myrrh

A year or so after Jesus is born a caravan of Eastern folk arrive on his doorstep with three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Very odd. But everything that happened in Jesus’ human life had significance and essential meaning, so what was this all about too?

Scripture offers us an answer, because it clearly demonstrates there are three seasons in Jesus’ ministry, the first of which was Jesus dying for the forgiveness we desperately needed for not wanting to obey God or trust him. What a “coincidence,” then, that one of the gifts the foreigners from the East gave to Jesus was myrrh.

Myrrh was used back then as an embalming resin, which is an odd gift to give to a baby. Imagine being given a bottle of formaldehyde in your Christmas stocking. But the myrrh perfectly pictured the ROLE Jesus would play as our Saviour, who would die and be buried, taking and burying our messed up, sin-filled lives with him. 

But once that had been done, and all humanity had been rescued from the death we deserved, Jesus moved on to his second role and the second season in his ministry, that began after his resurrection and victorious ascension to his Father. He now became our High Priest, pictured beautifully again by another of the three gifts he received: frankincense.  

Burning frankincense was part and parcel of a priest’s role, and especially the high priest’s role in Israel on the Day of Atonement, when he took coals dipped in frankincense into the Holy of Holies on behalf of Israel for the cleansing of their sins over the past year, enabling Israel to remain in contact with God in the fulfillment of their God-given purpose. Which, of course, is Jesus’ role in his church today. He is our high priest, entering God’s presence on our behalf, so that we have all the help we need in the fulfillment of our God-given purpose too.  

And that’s where Jesus is today, in God’s presence as our High Priest, and there we are too because Jesus raised us with him when he was resurrected. We are living in the reality of the second season of Jesus’ ministry right now, therefore, in the ongoing, everyday maturing and nurturing of his church into his very own likeness.  

But there’s a third season in Jesus’ ministry as well, when he takes over the kingdoms of this world as our King forever. Which ties in very nicely with the third gift he received, gold, the gift for kings – and totally grasped by a bunch of foreigners too, who knew his role would be that of a king

But Jesus’ full kingship in all its visible glory only begins when Jesus returns to this earth. It’s at a future time, in the third season of his ministry which we look forward to. Up to that point, meanwhile, we are living in the second season of his ministry and his very personal care for us as our High Priest, through the intimate aid and guidance of the Holy Spirit and millions of angels as “ministering spirits.”  

So now we have three roles, three seasons, and three gifts all providing the same meanings, making it easy for us to understand what the ministry of Jesus is all about.  

What if Jesus hadn’t been born?

It would have been jolly frustrating if Jesus had not been born, because so many of the rituals, sacrifices, ceremonies, stories, songs, prophecies and promises in the Old Testament would have been left hanging without some sort of answers to explain them. 

If you’d been an Israelite, for instance, and told in Leviticus 6:8-13 to bring one of your best bulls, sheep or goats to the entrance of the tabernacle where the animal is killed, its blood drained and sprinkled around the altar, its skin stripped off and its intestines and legs washed, and the meat cut in pieces and burned at the altar all night, with the priest getting the animal’s skin as his fee for the job, what would you have made of it? What relevance would it have had to anything in your daily life? Clearly it was all very important, but why?

The only real hint that it all had a purpose was in Moses’ comment in Deuteronomy 18:15, that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.” And that stuck with the Israelites – all through their history too – as we see in John 1:21, when John the Baptist was asked if he was “the Prophet.” And when Jesus fed 5,000 from just a few loaves of bread and fish, the response in John 6:14 was, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world,” and again in John 7:40, after hearing Jesus speak, the response was, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

So the Israelites always carried with them this promise of someone special coming, kept alive through the centuries by Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and even the fake prophet, Balaam, in Numbers 24:17. But then the Old Testament ends, and no sign or clue as yet as to who this Prophet is. But it never stopped Israelite or Jew looking and longing for him to come. 

And it’s the longing that becomes so real, as we see when Jesus starts his ministry and thousands of people leave work and home and head out to hear him speak – without even thinking of bringing food with them too.

So what were they longing for that life up to that point had not supplied? And what was Jesus saying that for many of those listening met that longing? 

Well, it started with John the Baptist because he was sent to prepare people for Jesus and what Jesus was coming for. And people in their thousands turned out to hear him speak too. And what was John’s main topic? Luke 3:3, “He (John) went Into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 

And that’s what drew people out in their thousands to hear John and be baptized by him. There was something about “forgiveness” that touched a nerve, and the chance to have one’s past buried in a symbolic baptism and to start afresh with a clean slate. 

It also prepared people’s minds for what Jesus had come for, because when John spied Jesus coming toward him he cried out, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” John 1:29. Which led to Philip announcing in verse 45, “We have found the one Moses wrote about.” 

Philip was the first to see the connection between “the Prophet” and Jesus, and what the Prophet had come for as well, to forgive and take away sins. And that now made sense of all those sacrifices and offerings in the Old Testament too; they all tied in with how sin would be forgiven and dealt with. 

But it also tells us what these Jews and Israelites were longing for; it was having the guilt stored up in their heads from the mess they’d made of their relationship with God and with people removed and buried forever. Thanks to “the Prophet” it could all now be forgiven and forgotten. No more being eaten up by past guilt.

And that does something to you, doesn’t it? It’s like a new beginning or a new chapter in your life opening up, and who knows where it will now lead us? But God set it up this way from the very beginning when Adam and Eve were tempted into sin and immediately felt the dreadful power of guilt. And if Jesus had not been born that guilt would have remained and eaten us all up too.        

The virgin birth – faked or fact?

If there’s one thing the pandemic has been showing us it’s how to tell the difference between facts and wild conjecture. Facts are clear, provable evidence based on consensus of peer reviewed data. Wild conjecture, on the other hand, is based on fanciful speculation. It may have a few facts thrown in to make it sound like it’s true (like the Da Vinci Code book), but it’s usually exaggerated and cleverly manipulated to fit an agenda or narrative.  

Applying that difference to the virgin birth of Jesus, and it could go either way, right? It can either be proven by facts, or dismissed as wild speculation to fit a Christian narrative and agenda. So, do facts prove it, or is it just another conspiracy cooked up by a religious cult to get attention? A virgin birth? Wow, that’s quite something, when the data of human history and human biology are clear that no such thing is possible.

But let’s assume the Bible version of Jesus’ birth is correct. In which case we’re on the hunt for facts.

So, fact number one: The evidence from Mary herself. When told she was going to give birth to a son, she replied in Luke 1:34, “But how, when I’m a virgin?” And the word “virgin” is backed up in verse 27, which calls her “a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph.” So no husband yet; still a virgin, which is also backed up in Matthew 1:18 which says, “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together she was found to be with child.” 

Fact number two: The evidence of Joseph’s reaction. In Matthew 1:19 he “didn’t want to expose Mary to public disgrace” for being pregnant before she was married. He was ready to break off their engagement too. And he “had no union with her until she gave birth to a son,” verse 25. So no sex with Mary to conceive a child, and no sex with her until after the baby was born. So why take Mary to be his wife at all? Because he believed she was telling the truth.  

Fact number three: The evidence from Jesus, who at 12 years old told his human parents who’d been anxiously looking for him in Jerusalem, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49. Jesus knew he hadn’t been conceived by a human father. He knew who his birth Father was, and it wasn’t Joseph, it was God. 

Fact number four: The evidence of prophecy. Or, as Matthew phrased it in Matthew 1:22-23, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son….’” Not bad for a 700 year old prediction. But it was also crucial evidence, because this was the sign to Israel that Jesus truly was the Messiah whom God had sent to deliver Israel, and through Israel the whole world, from the damage, the power, and the fear of evil. 

Fact number five: The evidence of those who accused Jesus of blasphemy in Mark 14:64, when Jesus admitted he was the “Son of the Blessed one (a Jewish title for God)” in verse 61. Again Jesus is saying he had not been conceived by a human father, but by God exactly as predicted. 

Fact number six: The evidence of Christianity, because it wouldn’t have existed if the virgin birth wasn’t true. Jesus’ miraculous birth was proof that he truly was the Son of God he said he was, and therefore what he’d come for would come true.  

Fact number seven: The evidence of what Jesus came for as the Son of God coming true in the lives of millions of people, exactly as predicted in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27

All this is based on what the Bible says, yes, but if the Bible can’t be believed, then can any historical book be believed as a source of facts? 

An imagined solution to Christmas in a multi-faith culture

(A Christmas Eve fireside spoof)

One dreary November evening a small group of parents gathered at the local school to discuss Christmas, because children from many different religions had moved into their neighbourhood, none of whom observed Christmas as a religious holiday.

The school couldn’t ditch Christmas all together because it was still a “must-do” part of the school calendar. Somebody had suggested, therefore, that the name of Christmas be changed so the season could continue, but include all the other religions too. So the parents put their heads together to come up with a new name for Christmas.

“How about a name that includes the names of all religions in it?” one parent asked. So they wrote the names of all the religions represented in their neighbourhood on the whiteboard. There were five main groups that they knew of: Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews. Since Christians were still the majority, they all agreed that the new name for Christmas should begin with the first three letters of Christianity: CHR.

After much playing around with letters from each of the other religions, one parent shouted, “I know, let’s call it Chrindubuddlimas – Chr for Christians, indu for Hindus, budd for Buddhists, and lim for Muslims.

It had a nice ring to it too, they all thought, until the one Jewish parent suddenly sat up and said, “But where is the Jewish religion mentioned?”

Oh dear, she was right: Chrindubuddlimas included Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, but that was only four of the five religions in the neighbourhood represented, and it was sure to cause problems if other Jewish families noticed.

Everyone went quiet for a while. And then one parent piped up, “How about Chruddhamuslindew?” – “Chr” for Christians, “uddha” for Buddhists, “musl” for Muslims, “ind” for Hindus, and “ew” for Jews. 

To her surprise there were nods of agreement. It certainly included all five religions. So they tried attaching “Happy” and “Merry” to it, and shortening it to “Happy Chruddamas” and “Merry Muslindew.” They liked it. It was fully inclusive, and with a bit of practice pronounceable.

So it was that the school solved the problem of Christmas in a multi-faith culture. It was nice too, because they could all indulge in the traditional Christmas festivities but have their own religious name attached to them, making the entire season their own holiday as well.

So on that happy note, the parents ended the meeting with a resounding cry of “Happy Chruddhamuslindew,” and even though only two of the twenty parents pronounced it correctly, it felt like a new wave of peace and goodwill had passed through them that dreary November night.

“But,” one parent suddenly blurted out, “what about the Scientologist, the Mormon family, the Wiccan lady and three new Jehovah’s Witnesses who’ve just moved into our neighbourhood? How do we include them too?”

That made everyone go quiet for a minute or two. “But one step at a time,” one parent said, “Let’s for now celebrate Chruddhamuslindew as the new culture sensitive Christmas. We’ve got a whole year to figure out how to include the others.”