Thursday, December 30, 2010

Worship Who?

On coming to the house, they [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Matthew 2:11.

I recall preachers using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer—still in use in my youth—instructing the man to say after exchanging wedding vows: “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”

I understood the importance of the “for better, for worse” stuff that went before, but I found “with my body I thee worship,” both erotic and sacrilegious. Erotic because of my hormone driven thinking, but sacrilegious because God demands worship for Him alone. It would take a smooth-tongued cleric to explain that one!

Fortunately the Magi got it right, they worshipped the Christ child. The New Testament restricts legitimate worship to the one God, and includes many instances of worship to Jesus—further testimony to the deity of Christ. As we close the year 2010, we have the privilege of joining the Magi in worship to our living Lord.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Public Performance

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. Matthew 5:14-16.

Here’s a verse to upset the day, especially if you’re not happy performing in public! Whether we like it or not, those of us who take our faith seriously stand out in the crowd. Just like rocks revealed as the tide recedes, so our differences become more noticeable as the culture retreats from Christianity.

Constant reminders to be a light to the world intimidate me. I’m not one to crash parties, and I generally wait for an invitation to share my faith. I wish they came more often. However, two areas of thought give me comfort.

First, serious faith reveals itself in everyday life; people notice the difference without our conscious effort. Frequently, throwaway lines or unconscious comments have a greater effect than a carefully orchestrated speech. Faith shows through the ordinariness of our lives.

Second, I enjoy writing, which provides an outlet for my faith, but gives others the choice to read or not. This way, I don’t intentionally invade others’ space without their permission. Yet the light still shines, not necessarily from a hilltop, but from the confines of my study.

We all have a lamp stand from which to share our light. What is yours?

Friday, December 24, 2010


This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9.

Well, I’m a day late. I try to blog every Monday and Thursday, mainly as a discipline for myself. Christmas really got me muddled up this week, about which day was which. Now it’s Friday, Christmas Eve and I haven’t finished with Thursday yet! Still, the above text is true whatever day it is, and brings to mind a story.

One cold winter, a young boy looked out of his window watching the snow and wind rage outside. The yard lamp illuminated the forecourt to the barn, and in its light he saw a number of birds flying in the snow. “It looks as though they need shelter,” he thought to himself, and wondered how he could help them.

He had an idea. The barn was large, with plenty of places for birds to perch in the rafters. “I’ll go and open the barn doors so they can take shelter there.” He dressed for the cold, went outside and opened the barn doors. But to his disappointment, the birds continued to fly about in the wind and snow.

He ran into the yard, waving his arms, trying to shepherd the birds into the barn. But the birds flew more wildly, scared by this young human and his antics. Finally, after several minutes of frantic waving, he gave up, and trudged disconsolately back into the house. He settled in the window once more, watching the birds’ aimless flying.

His father came and sat beside him, aware of his young son’s concern for the birds. “Son,” he said, “There’s only one way you could help the birds. You would have to become a bird yourself. Only then could you lead them to shelter.”

The story reminds us of He who became one of us in Jesus, so He could lead us to safety.

Have a very blessed Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Jesus: Humility or Power

She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7.

Every age makes life’s biggest mistake imagining God in every guise but His reality. Wouldn’t we expect the Ruler of the entire universe to come to a palace and take up His rightful place as King of the earth? In fact, God’s people of that time fully expected their Messiah to come as a liberating hero and kick out the occupying Romans.

Both convenience and fear dictate caricatures of God. He probably wants everybody to have a good time, so let’s imagine him as a grandfatherly figure, who pats us all on the head. Or possibly His love provides a haven where He overlooks all our sin, and we’ll all enjoy a heaven of our own making—some heaven!

He may mimic an erratic father who needs to be appeased at every turn. Perhaps as a stern and disinterested judge, He punishes us for our sins by bringing us adversity. Maybe He waits to pounce on every deviance from his will like a tyrannical dictator. Alternatively, He simply wound up the universe like a watch, and, with no further interest in it, left us on our own.

The stable, one of the most significant symbols of Christianity, destroys all our foolish imaginings. Seeing God in a cattle trough can only attest to one overriding characteristic: humility. When God gave Moses the Law, he described Himself by the ways He would administer it: compassionate, gracious, patient, loving, faithful, and forgiving (Exodus 34:6–7), all the components of humility.

But that does not discount His omnipotence. He also described Himself as just, and when His humble approach to humankind reaps no response He will take the only course left, that of judgment. He was constrained to the manger by His love, not weakness. Don’t let us mistake “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” for a weak, ineffectual Ruler who will never bring justice to the world.

But in this season, we rejoice that God reached out to us in a way we can comprehend—by becoming like us, feeling our pain, showing us how to live, dying to redeem us back to Himself, and finally rising from the grave to confirm his authority, power and truth.

Hallelujah! What a Saviour.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Keeping Christmas Alive

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." Luke 2:15.

Well, I guess I won’t go to the stable in Bethlehem as the shepherds did, mainly because Bethlehem is a distance away, and I don’t want a stray bullet in my back. Besides, the stable is long gone, and the ornate structure that replaces it, or where they think it was, is totally out of character with the original.

Mind you, we can visit it regularly at children’s portrayals in myriad locations, at crèches in front yards and on mantle shelves. We can’t hear the angels sing, but we can hear their song in malls, shopping centres and on radio. And we can see and hear it in the comfort of heated homes and public places, not the windswept winter hills of Bethlehem.

Trouble is, yearly repetition and a barrage of the Babe’s birth every Christmas dulls the message behind the excess. Even I find it hard to reflect on the wonder of the Christmas message when constant use devalues its impact. I cling to the mental knowledge that for me, for many of us, it is the greatest wonder of the world, but I have little emotional attachment.

How do you keep the freshness of Christmas alive?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Like Us, Mary Faced Adversity

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Luke 2:1.

Of course, this text reminds me of the hype over Canada’s recent decision to make the long form census voluntary and remove jail time for those who refused to fill it out. Opposition complained this would undermine accuracy, as though coercion ensured it. In our time when convenience or just plain cussedness trumps truth, census accuracy can’t be guaranteed.

Joseph and Mary didn’t have the choice. The self-styled god Caesar could exact dire penalties for refusal to co-operate. Thousands probably travelled to their ancestral homes to register; the edict was for all the Roman world. So Joseph with Mary, now his wife and close to delivery of her firstborn, made the arduous journey to Bethlehem.

How did Mary cope with this? With some difficulty, I am sure. Did she really have a donkey as many pictures suggest, or did she walk all the way? And when she arrived, no place to sleep and bear her child but a stable? Beyond the physical endurance necessary, did she wonder if she was mistaken in believing God was orchestrating all this?

After all, if this was God’s Messiah in her womb, surely He could have arranged for a smoother pregnancy. Perhaps move the census to later, and leave them at home for more comfort; or some other easier alternative. From what we know of Mary, I’m sure she bore the hardships with great patience. Besides which, in her devotion to God she would have known the Scriptures.

If Herod could find Messiah’s birthplace, Mary would have known it. She would recognize this exhausting trip to Bethlehem as part of God’s plan. Knowing He traveled with her, she would have strength for it. In addition, sufficient Scriptures pointed to His coming as one who would be “despised and rejected”; the stable was an appropriate entry point.

Of course, we do not have Mary’s detailed map for our lives. Without precise reasons for our adversity it’s difficult to find meaning in it, and even if I’d had Mary’s assurance, I would still have doubted along the way. Bumps in the road regularly occur that can make us doubt our sanity, if not the Scriptures.

But when all else seems awry, the promises of God stand secure. We may not know the details, but we can be sure of the outcome. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28), and “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Sometimes, we simply have to cling to His promises in raw faith as beneath it all we know we can trust Him. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).