Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Christmas Reflection

I have been concerned (annoyed) for many years that Santa has almost totally replaced Jesus at Christmas time.
The real meaning of Christmas is drowned out under the feasting, drinking, parties, dinners, holidays, extravagant shopping and  excessive gift-giving, and the stresses and crime often associated with them.

For example, how often do we hear Jesus mentioned (compared to Santa) in the lead up to Christmas, on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day in the media, in shopping centres, in general conversation, especially with children, even in many Christian homes?

Surely Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the "God With Us", the Saviour of the World, is the reason for the season and, with His name clearly embedded in its title, why is He now almost totally ignored when this season is mentioned and celebrated?

I remember when we moved to Brisbane a few years ago, we bought a house in a street which had Christmas decorations displayed on the roof tops and in the front gardens of nearly every house. Although we were not in the habit of decorating our previous houses in this way, it didn't seem possible to live in this street and not do so.

Interestingly, all the decorations displayed were of Santa, reindeer, sleighs, soldiers, Christmas trees, gnomes, and the like. Nothing even closely resembled the real story of Christmas in a whole street full of striking illuminated decorations.

So, as well as being "shamed" into installing Christmas decorations for the first time, here was my big chance to introduce something that told the real story of Christmas, and to do it in a way that outshone those secular displays.

Our "out-of-character" display, showing Mary and Joseph with Jesus in the manger, shepherds, angels and a very large bright star overhead, gained a lot of attention and discussion in the neighbourhood and gave us an excellent opportunity to share the real meaning of Christmas with our neighbours as we competed with them for the most eye-catching display.

I continue to marvel at why people are more intent on telling the fairy tale about Santa from the North Pole rather than sharing the facts about Jesus from heaven.

Although both Santa and Jesus come bearing gifts, they are hardly worth comparing. Things that are of benefit only on earth from a fictional character like the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny versus a gift that benefits this life and the next from the Creator of the universe.
No competition there!

Another important difference appears when we consider to whom these gifts are given?
Kids are told by parents and others that they must be good to receive their gifts from Santa and are often bribed into acceptable behaviour or performance with the threat that Santa won't even visit them unless they do.

Just to illustrate, here's a chorus from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", often sung at Christmas time.

"He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're a awake;
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good, for goodness' sake!
Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry,
Better not pout, I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is comin' to town."

How contrary to the real message of Christmas is that?
Being good to receive gifts from Santa is the antithesis of what Christmas is all about and totally turns on its head the reason for the season.

Compare the Santa song with the Bible's description of Jesus' mission and conditions for receiving gifts from him.

"I didn't come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners."
(Jesus own words recorded in Luke 5 : 32 CEV)
St Paul affirmed this when he wrote to Timothy: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."(1 Timothy 1 : 15 CEV)
How about we Christians consider restoring Jesus to his rightful place in our Christmas conversations and celebrations?
We have lost enough ground to the secular western world already without losing out in the proper celebration of the Christian seasons themselves.

I can handle parties and celebrations as long as we remember what we are celebrating. I can handle trees and lights and tinsel as long as Jesus gets a look in and his true worth is recognised.

After all, the message that Christians have been given to tell the world is that 

"God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them". 
(2 Corinthians 5 : 19  NLT)

Surely we can do this at Easter and Christmas - at the very least.

Blessings, Barry

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

God Still Has Work for Me Here

A very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year to you all.

Our celebration of Christmas at St.Luke's has been well-attended and God-honouring, very different from all the Santa stuff and happy holidays emphasis of our increasingly secular world.

I am looking forward to 2018 for a fresh start on a number of fronts.
As you are probably aware my blog has not been very active recently, but I hope to change that in 2018.

In the second half of 2016 I had a major back operation and, while still doing rehab from that, I had a quintuple by-pass operation in early 2017, which gave me a good dose of "can't-be-bothered-ness" for most of 2017. (I have been doing the things that just had to be done, but not the things that I usually choose to do.)

So, I am letting you know I am still here, and looking forward to being re-energised and re-motivated and continuing/completing the several projects God has given me since returning to Geelong 8 years ago.

It might take a little while to find and sort my notes and refresh my memory of where I was heading with my new book, website and blog, but I started that task today and hope to complete it before we get too far into the new year.

Looking forward to connecting with you again soon.
Blessings, Barry

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

God's Grace Prevents Discouragement

Readers of the previous post may well be thinking ...
If by increasing sin God's grace can be increased even more, then let's sin up a storm so we will be swamped with God's grace.
That's reasonable, logical, isn't it?
If you put more fuel on the fire, surely the fire will burn more fiercely.

That point of view is so reasonable and logical to unbelievers and skeptics that Paul addresses this very question at the beginning of Romans 6.

"What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?"
Paul then spends some time declaring not only that we should not keep on sinning, but that we cannot keep on sinning.

His argument is that if we are in Christ, we have died with him.  Jesus paid the death penalty for our sin, so our enslavement to sin is over. The old Barry is dead and buried with Christ. 

And a dead person can no longer be a slave to sin. We may still be tempted on occasions, but we have the power of the risen Christ within us to help us choose to say NO.

Grace has trumped sin for me, for all believers.  Indeed for everyone, for Jesus paid the sin penalty for the whole world.

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. Romans 5 : 18 - 19
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2 : 2
Indeed, Paul tells to rely on the Saviour of all mankind, as he does.
We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people ...
1 Timothy 4 : 10

Anything less than this would be insufficient as a perfect conclusion to God's purpose and plan for His creation. Even King David saw that centuries before Paul was born.
Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord;
   no deeds can compare to yours.
All the nations you have made will come and worship you, O Lord;
   they will bring glory to your name.
For you are great and do marvellous deeds;
   you alone are God. Psalm 86 : 8 - 10
Does everybody deserve that?
What, even the rogue who lives next door?
Even the ISIS crowd who are currently terrorising the world?
No, of course not. They don't deserve it and neither do we.

Let's return to our opening thought - where sin increases, God's grace increases even more.
As one translation puts it: Where sin increases, God's grace super-exceeds.
Grace will trump sin for everyone eventually.

The whole purpose of Paul's statement that God's grace trumps mankind's sin is to demonstrate that no matter how serious or extensive our past sin has been, God's grace has it more than covered.
It's not a challenge to see how much sin we can credit to our account, but to save us from discouragement if our past has been particularly bad.

Of course the greatest advantage is gained by responding to God's call to salvation and discipleship immediately we hear it. There are so many benefits of being an early believer, gaining life by the empowering Holy Spirit while still on planet Earth.
(We can keep that discussion for another post.)

Blessings, Barry

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Do We Make God Angry?

Popular opinion suggests that when we sin we make God angry. Indeed, the more we sin, the angrier he becomes, and the harder it is for us to get to heaven.
Even some church-goers believe this.

One of the Bible's outrageous verses contests this view.
It is Romans 5 : 20

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more. (NIV)
Let's explore this verse.
When there was no law, wrong doing was just suspected. If someone stole from you, you would think "that doesn't seem fair, that doesn't seem right".
But when the Law arrived, wrong doing was clearly seen, named and shamed, and so magnified. The suspicion that stealing was not right was confirmed with the arrival of the Law.

Many people think that the Law was given to improve humanity's behaviour or moral fibre.
Actually it as a side-play, not the main game at all.
The Law was given to show us God's righteousness, and our inability to attain it. It shows us how hopeless we are to meet God's righteous standard. It was the necessary fore-runner to the Messiah's entry into the world.

The second part of this verse is the outrageous part.
Because of Christ's death dealing with all and every sin, it doesn't matter how much sin increases, God's grace has it covered.

Those of us who have played card games like Euchre, Bridge, 500 and Whist know full well the power of trump cards. A trump card always wins no matter how impressive the opposing card looks. Even the smallest trump card defeats an opposition Ace.

If Paul was writing this verse in our time he may well have said, "Grace always trumps Sin". It doesn't matter what sin card you play, God's grace card trumps it.

And the next verse (Romans 5 : 21) puts the icing on the cake.
Although sin was in control of us, had us heading towards death because the law could never be fully obeyed, God's trump card, grace, declares us righteous.

Paul also repeats this awesome news to other Christians he wrote to. 
Here's an example:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5 : 21 NIV)
How outrageous is God's grace?

The question raised in the first verse of the next chapter confirms that. We'll look at this question in the next post.

Blessings, Barry

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Can Christians Fall From Grace?

We often hear the expression "he/she has fallen from grace" when referring to a follower of Jesus who has become lukewarm or antagonistic towards their previous Christian faith or lifestyle.
Even Paul accuses the Christians in Galatia who have reverted to following the law as their means of remaining in right-standing before God as having fallen from grace (Gal 5 : 4)

Since grace is God's gift, his undeserved favour toward us, and completely under his control, how can we fall from it? No matter what we do God doesn't withdraw his love or grace. It is determined, guaranteed, by his character.

So what can possibly be meant by the expression "fallen from grace"?
Because it is an action taken by the once-believer, and not an action taken by God, it can only mean that people in that position no longer appreciate God's grace and, of course, have foregone all the benefits that God's grace showers on us.

So, can we fall from grace?
Most definitely YES.
We can turn our backs on what God has provided for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, as the Galatians did, and miss out on the blessings of living in union with Christ during the ages, the realm of time.
And this would be a great shame to have tasted these blessings and then let them go.
(I don't really understand how people manage to live in this corrupt world with all its dangers and heartaches without a relationship with God.)

But does this mean such a person is eternally lost?
Most definitely NO.
God eventually abolishes death and becomes All in all at the completion of the ages. (1 Cor 15 : 20 - 28)
So although people might miss out on eonian life (age-during life), life exists for all after death is abolished.
And how does this eventuate?
Not sure, but I offer some suggestions in Chapter 5 of "The Really Good News About God".

Blessings, Barry

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What About John 3 : 36 ?

Several years ago, I posted "Jottings from John" on the blog, which included several verses that described God's inclusive and universal plan to save all his creation through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Today let's discuss John 3 : 36, a verse usually promoted to disprove this plan.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them. [NIV]
As usual, I need to challenge the translation of the Greek "aionian" into the English "eternal" and replace "eternal life" by "life in the ages". I will also add "this" to help link the second reference to this life later in the verse.
So my adjusted NIV translation becomes ...

Whoever believes in the Son has life in the ages, but whoever rejects the Son will not see this life, for God's wrath remains on them. [BV]
which is not far from the Young's Literal Translation ...
He who is believing in the Son, has life age-during; and he who is not believing the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God does remain upon him. [YLT]
So we see that this verse is not referring to the eventual outcome of God's plan, with many of his creation lost forever, but to the kingdom stage where only those chosen to believe in the ages (during the realm of time) will be experiencing life, while the others not seeing life until the consummation of the ages.

And this conclusion is consistent with what John said earlier in Chapter 3 (verse 17) ...

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. [NIV]
I am much more comfortable believing our God of love and mercy will fully achieve his purpose for the world than believing many of his creation will overturn his plans for them through their current unbelief.

Blessings, Barry

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Firstfruits and the Harvest

This is an important topic that will be addressed in detail in our next book "The Really Good News About Jesus". However, we'll just mention it here using two key references. 

As you are probably well aware, one of my favourite verses is 1 Timothy 4 : 10, which is in the sidebar on the Blog and therefore appears beside every new post.

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially  of those who believe. (NIV)
Apart from assuring us that God has decreed that all of his creation will be saved and live in harmony with him (and each other) in eternity, it also shows the distinction between those who are believers in their time on this planet and those who are not.
The believers are the firstfruits of the eventual harvest of all. They are those especially chosen for knowing and appreciating the saving grace of God in their earthly lives and been given the responsibility to live as ambassadors for Christ having the really good news to announce. (See 2 Cor 5 : 18 - 20)

Another reference that makes the same distinction as 1 Tim 4 : 10 occurs in Romans 3 : 21 - 22 (when translated correctly).

And now apart from the law has the righteousness of God been manifested, testified to by the law and the prophets, and the righteousness of God is through the faith of Jesus Christ to all, and upon all those believing, ... (Young's Literal Translation)
The distinction is indeed clear in a good, literal translation - the righteousness of God is to all (eventually) but upon believers (in the realm of time). 

Interestingly, this distinction is obscured, even omitted, by many modern translators who do not wish to admit that God's plan is to save all, and who restrict salvation to those who become believers during their earthly lives.
Compare the verse quoted above from YLT with this one from NIV.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. ... (NIV)
Why do so many Christians, including many modern translators, want to portray our loving God as such a sadistic monster when Jesus has already fully paid for all our sins and God has clearly revealed his plan to save all at the end of time? (See Ephesians 1 : 9 - 10)

The Firstfruits are NOT the Harvest. The firstfruits are few: the harvest is plentiful.

Blessings, Barry

PS.  You might also have noticed another example where popular, modern translations attribute the righteousness of God in which we stand to our faith in Christ, rather than to the faith or faithfulness of Christ, as we discussed in the previous post.