Unmosquing Obama’s remarks: God is not a generic god if He is God

Philadelphia 081America’s first freedom, the freedom of religion, took center stage Wednesday during President Obama’s religious liberty speech at a Muslim mosque in Baltimore. Trumpeting the presence, contribution and value of people of Muslim faith throughout American history, the President encouraged the American public to embrace Islamic believers today by suggesting that differences in religion do not matter as much as similarity in nationality or family concerns.

Familiarity seemed to be part of the President’s agenda. Abolishing the idea that people of different faiths are different, the President sought to make people of all faiths feel for each other in the midst of their common concerns and the face of their shared fears.

Now, a lot of Americans have never visited a mosque.  To the folks watching this today who haven’t — think of your own church, or synagogue, or temple, and a mosque like this will be very familiar.  This is where families come to worship and express their love for God and each other. 

There’s a school where teachers open young minds.  Kids play baseball and football and basketball — boys and girls — I hear they’re pretty good.  (Laughter.)  Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts meet, recite the Pledge of Allegiance here. 

The problem is, God is not a generic reality. The God under whom we live as “one nation” is not a mythical generic imagining designed to assuage our fears and galvanize our nationalism. God is either really God or He is not God at all.

Furthermore, if God is really God then He cannot be both the Allah of Islam and the YHWH of Christianity made known through the incarnate second member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

The President’s attempt to blur the difference and deny the veracity of religious conviction is not helpful if the goal is an honest respect of the faith of the other in a pluralistic society.

So, while the President is right when he says:

If we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking to my fellow Christians who are the majority in this country — we have to understand that an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths,
He is wrong to say that “groups like al Qaeda and ISIL, they’re not the first extremists in history to misuse God’s name” without clarifying exactly what name that is.
In similar comments in February 2015, the President said explicitly named Christ as the misused name.
And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
But on Wednesday the President was less precise and used the generic term God.  Again, it is more confusing than helpful to suggest that God is both Christ of the Crusades and Allah of today’s jihadists unless the goal is to paint all people of faith in a particular God as extremists.
This lumping together without distinction was evidenced as well when the President said,
Like so many faiths, Islam is rooted in a commitment to compassion, and mercy, and justice and charity. Whomever wants to enter paradise, the Prophet Muhammad taught, let him treat people the way he would love to be treated,” he said, to an applause. “For Christians like myself I’m assuming that sounds familiar.
and again when he began laying out the principles he offers as a way forward together:

First, at a time when others are trying to divide us along lines of religion or sect, we have to reaffirm that most fundamental of truths:  We are all God’s children.  We’re all born equal, with inherent dignity. 

And so often, we focus on our outward differences and we forget how much we share.  Christians, Jews, Muslims — we’re all, under our faiths, descendants of Abraham.  So mere tolerance of different religions is not enough.  Our faiths summon us to embrace our common humanity.

I would challenge the President on his use of the concept of “inherent dignity” while America continues its practice of abortion, but I would also challenge his theological assertion in a nation where freedom of religion also means that people are free to have no religion. When he says that “we are all God’s children” he is either making a profound declaration affirming the Genesis 1 Creation narrative or he is mocking the reality of god altogether. As if god were on a par with Mother Nature.
In the end I agree with the President that “none of us can be silent.  We can’t be bystanders to bigotry.  And together, we’ve got to show that America truly protects all faiths.” But I disagree with him that the route to getting there is a dilution of all faiths to the point that God is stripped of His particularity, power, presence, will and name.
If God is God then He is no generic character.
Here’s the full video:

Zika is “a battle for life”

zika virusIt is not taking long for dystopian fear about Zika to spread. Purveyors of death have descended upon vulnerable pregnant woman and economic threats to entire societies are very real.  Those who have been battling in the U.S. for the unborn have been equipped to fight on this new front of the “battle for life.” Now is the time for pro-life advocates to march into the forefront and offer truth, hope, resources and love.

No sooner did my blog post earlier this week raising ethical questions about Zika than abortion export opportunists charted a course of Brazil’s coast.

Abortion advocates are also using Zika to seek to legalize abortion in largely Roman Catholic countries where the value of every life has been historically affirmed.

Zika is being described as a “ticking time-bomb,” “the price we pay for globalization,” and the newest STD.

Remember the readiness response of U.S. airports and hospitals when the threat of travelers with Ebola was a risk? Similar measures are being instituted now in preparation for international travelers with Zika.

Travel warnings to 22 countries in the affected region are in place and there are blood donations from those who have traveled to the region are now restricted.  Now that it is confirmed that Zika can be sexually contracted, travel advisories are likely to now extend beyond pregnant women.

The economic impact of Zika on affected nations is going to be significant as many of these nations rely heavily on tourism. It has also been suggested the the Olympics, scheduled to be held in Brazil, be rescheduled.

And now that Zika is “here” – 12 cases in Florida, 2 in Nebraska, more in Texas – you can bet that Planned Parenthood and big Pharma will be pushing abortiofacients.

This is, as the president of Brazil described in a televised address on Wednesday, a “battle for life”.

Pro-life leaders need to get out in front of this with information and strategies about the whole range of medical and ethical concerns as well as the whole-life affirming resources that are available to those affected.

  • What are the proven preventions for sexually transmitted diseases? What collaborative array of NGO’s, Christian missionaries and government workers is going to get this information out throughout the affected region?
  • What are the proven preventions for mosquito born viruses? Who is going to supply and distribute the nets?
  • If Women on Waves are making abortions available, who is making sonograms available? And the accompanying life-affirming counseling and community support that will be needed by those whose babies have birth defects?
  • Where are the stories of children, families and adults living with microcephaly?
  • In a pro-life whole-life approach, who is going to come along women, children and families who bear Zika affected babies into the world?
  • In pharmaceutical research, where are the pro-life laborers who will ask the hard questions about the ethics of testing experimental vaccines on people who are vulnerable and afraid? And the associated ethics of forgoing placebo controls?

Pro-life advocacy groups will be now be tested to live into their convictions. Is this #WhyWeMarch?

Fear abounds – but perfect love casts out fear.

Truth and hope are powerful allies in the battle for life and Zika is the new front line.

 

 

The Zika virus, ethical questions, and the potential rolling population impact

zika world mapThe Zika virus has South and Central America in a near panic. With no vaccine and no known cure, the fear associated with delivering a baby with severe neurological problems has led to the recommendation that all women of child-bearing age avoid getting pregnant until at least 2018.

The Centers for Disease Control say that about 1 in 5 people who are infected through the bite of an infected mosquito will become ill. Symptoms are minor (flu like) and Zika is not deadly. But the effect on babies in utero appears serious. Zika infection has been linked to cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains. 4000 children with microcephaly have been born in Brazil since October. 400,00 Brazilian women are currently pregnant and the World Health Organization is concerned the virus could spread to Africa and Asia.

avoid pregnancyWith no known prevention and no known cure, four countries are urging women to avoid getting pregnant for the next few years.  El Salvador, Ecuador, Jamaica, and Columbia have issued a recommended two year hiatus on pregnancies and therefore, births.

That has led to both commendation and condemnation but neither the commenders nor the condemners are offering alternatives to the women in the region.  And the region we’re talking about is truly massive: all of South America, Central America, Mexico and all the islands in between.

It is hard to imagine no babies being born for the next two or three years in Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Samoa, Barbados; Dominican Republic; Guadeloupe; Haiti; Martinique; Puerto Rico; Saint Martin; Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  But its also difficult to imagine the potential devastation to the people, families and nations if children continue to be born at current rates in affected countries in the midst of a Zika pandemic.

Add to this we must soberly add the complicated truth that as many as 50% of pregnancies in the region are unplanned, access to birth control is limited and Roman Catholic teachings forbidding birth control remain a cultural fixture.

Looking from problem toward solution, the bio-ethical questions we confront are myriad.

ethics and morales

  1. Where and how will experimental Zika vaccines be developed? How will they be tested? On whom? What are the ethics related to use of placebo controls when the risk to developing children is so high?
  2. If experts are right and a vaccine may be 3-10 years away, Is avoiding pregnancy a real option?
  3. How will whole-life pro-life advocates, including the Roman Catholic Church, answer the potentiality of hundreds of thousands of children born with severe neurological problems in a region already impoverished?
  4. How will nation states in the region prepare to care for and support families of children born with congenital microcephaly?
  5. How do nations balance the need for immediate mosquito control measures with the use of chemicals known to be hazardous to human health or the environment?

In addition to bio-ethical questions there are political-ethical questions, like:

  1. What kind of visa waivers will be sought by women from the region who are pregnant now and want to avoid infection by spending the remainder of their pregnancy in a nation to the north of the hot zone?
  2. How will U.S. taxpayers and other donor level nations respond when public health solutions include the preventative termination of pregnancies of infected pregnant women?

The larger ethical question may be urban poverty in general which brings us back to the impact of a gap in births in the affected region until a vaccine or cure is identified.

The rolling effect of a three year virtual hiatus in child-bearing in a nation, let alone a region spanning all of Latin America, would be enormous. From 2021-2023 there would be no children entering Kindergarten. There would be no high school graduates from 2034-2036. No college graduates from 2038-2040. And that three year gap would then be magnified as those missing young adults fail to bear a future generation.

Now consider it takes 10 years to find a vaccine instead of three.

A coordinated collaborative response by governments, faith-based NGO’s and humanitarian aid organizations is urgently needed. Lessons learned recently from the Ebola outbreak are relevant but those seeking solutions on Zika could take some pointers from the response to AIDS in Uganda. Abstinence education in that country was very effective.

Undoubtedly opportunists will immediately be looking to invest in pharmaceutical, mosquito abatement, and mosquito netting companies. They will also begin to imagine 9 month medical visas issued to women from affected countries to destinations like Canada.  Or 9 month medical cruises that return to South American ports with twice the number of passengers.  But in the meantime, we’re looking at a cautionary gap fueled by reasonable fear.

If we think that that the impact of a post-WWII baby boom has had an impact in the United States, imagine the post-Zika population depression now threatening our southern neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

Cross my heart and hope to die or cross my fingers and know I lie?

Sometimes the right hand and left know exactly what the other is doing

Sometimes the right hand and left know exactly what the other is doing

Does your left hand know what your right hand is doing? Physiologically, yes. Organizationally, not always.

When we encounter incongruent directives or conflicting information we often respond in exasperation that “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing!” By this idiom we mean that there is confusion between, what should be, interconnected and interdependent parts of the same organization.  As citizens we trust that the various parts of the government are on the same page. We expect the right hand to know what the left hand is doing and we expect them to be moving in concert toward the mutual goals of national security and preservation of personal liberty. We are often disappointed.

Even more frustrating are those times when we discover that the right and left hand are intentionally out of sync. Case in point: U.S. national security specialists are providing clear information that the policy-political class in our nation is intentionally ignoring.  What results is not only confusion among the citizenry but a negative assessment of America on the world stage where consistency between what you know and what you do has real consequences.

Utopian evolutionists believe the Dalai Lama, “I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends.” Pragmatists believe the Arabian proverb that, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But students of history know that after the mutual foe is vanquished, the enemy of my enemy is often revealed to not be my friend.  These competing views are played out on the big screen in movies like Batman vs. Superman and Warcraft but they play out in the real world of geo-politics everyday.

We must face the fact that there are people who hate America and therefore Americans. There are people who hate Jews and therefore Israel. There are people who hate Jesus and therefore Christians.  It doesn’t matter to the haters where the American, Jew or Christian is geographically nor how pacifist their ideology.  And all the haters don’t neatly line-up nor do they stay put in distinguishable sets, but they hate us none-the-less.

The fact that the proverbial we may find common cause against some of them against others of them does not change the basic reality that they hate us, want to kills us, and are using us now for what’s best for their own preferred future.

So, who are our friends on the international stage these days? Who really shares our values? Who really desires a future of liberty, freedom and justice for all?  Are we united like blood-brothers in pinky-promise, cross your heart and hope to die kind of partnership or with fingers crossed behind the back in knowing lies?

Would you be surprised to learn that Hating America is Official Saudi and Qatari policy?

According to the government’s official website, “hate” for non-Muslims is the official state position of Saudi Arabia. “But they’re one of our best friends in the Middle East,” you protest.  Indeed.

fingers crossed iran deal

For most Americans, crossed fingers are either a sign of wishing for luck or the freedom to lie with impunity.  When it comes to U.S. foreign policy whose fingers are crossed, for what purpose and to whose advantage?

Originally, crossing ones fingers meant that you were relying upon the protection of the Cross of Jesus Christ in whatever situation you faced. Clearly that’s not what Uncle Sam nor the Ayatollah mean in this cartoon.

So, back to the issue of the right and left hands. When working at cross purposes and out of view of the public, goodwill is not the aim. That could not be further from the origin of the idiom nor its purpose.

The opening verses of Matthew chapter 6, just before Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray using what we call the Lord’s Prayer, he says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. …when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

God knows what’s going on in our heads, in our hearts, in our negotiations and yes, behind our own backs. You can cross your heart and hope to die or you can cross your fingers in a knowing lie and God still sees.

So, what do you mean when you cross your fingers and what does it mean to deal personally or politically with those whose fingers we know are crossed behind their backs when they say they are our friends?

 

 

The “Real” Empty Chair

For his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama plans to feature an empty chair to bring attention to the lives lost in the United States due to gun violence.

When you see the empty chair the President knows you’ll have a visceral reaction and that’s because every one of us has an empty chair in our lives.

It seems counter-intuitive and even silly to ask, “who is sitting in this chair?” IMG_8547

The chair is empty. There’s no one sitting in it. Right?

Wrong. The point of putting an empty chair in front of you is to have you think of very real person sitting in that chair in your heart and mind.

My dad sits in that empty chair.

When I was 15 my dad died of a sudden heart attack. Our idyllic suburban in-tact, loving, upwardly-mobile, church-going, civic-minded, dual-income, party of four was radically changed in a myriad of ways in an instant. My dad was a robust 43 years old man in his prime. He was President of his own company, coach of my softball team, leader at our church and my mom’s very best friend.

For many years my dad sat in every empty chair. He occupied the empty chair at our kitchen table, he sat in the 4th chair in every restaurant, and he sat in the empty chair at the head of every holiday gathering.

So, I ask you again. As you read this today, in your heart and in your life: who is sitting in the empty chair?

Through my mom’s experience of losing my dad I know something of what living in the world as a widow looks like. My mom is a powerful force unto herself, but the death of my dad changed her identity.  Couple friends no longer called to include “the Fowlers” because doing so would invite into their party “the empty chair.”  If you’ve lost a spouse, there’s someone sitting in the empty chair.

Tables are set for even numbers – 2 tops and 4 tops predominate in our culture. And when a singleton sits down, the empty chair only makes the odd-man-out appear all the odder.  Why is that? Why do we focus so much attention on the empty chair instead of focusing our attention on the person, the individual, the precious child of God occupying the other chair?

Sometimes we are that one.  I was the “party of one” for most of my adult life. I was a single woman in a married world from the time I graduated from high school until I wed at the age of 42. The empty chair of my childhood which was occupied in my heart by my dad, yielded over time to a yearning for the empty chair to be occupied by a person with whom I could spend my life – a husband, a friend among friends, a soul mate.

People often asked me when I was single, “Aren’t you lonely?” But there is a world of difference between being alone and being lonely.  I am never alone. I am literally possessed by the God who made me, the God who redeemed me, the God who fills me, the God who animates me, the God in whom I live and move and have my being.  God is not “mine” but I am “His.” I am never alone because the great “I Am” is always near.  So, from that perspective, from the supernatural perspective on life, who is sitting in that chair?

Have you ever considered having an audible conversation with the One who promised to be with you always, even to the end of the age? Do you talk with Jesus when you are otherwise alone? Do you ask Him to make Himself known to you in the breaking of the bread even in table fellowship that involves the two of you?

Do you see just how full that empty chair is when you take a supernatural perspective?

  • From the perspective of naturalism the chair is empty.
  • From the perspective of emotion the chair is occupied by those we love who are no longer physically here with us.
  • From the perspective of faith the chair is occupied by the One who has promised to never leave us nor forsake, the One who has come in power to occupy the voids, the Counselor, Companion and Friend whom alone is the Spirit of the Living God.

Are you beginning to see the chair differently?  Does it still look empty? From what perspective?  With which set of eyes?

Rocking baby angels

empty chair

My grandmother’s rocking chair sat empty for many years in a corner of my mom’s room.  We could all “see” her sitting there – rocking, crocheting, singing “The Old Rugged Cross” or humming “Amazing Grace.”  She was always filled with peace and ever-so-slightly smiling.

When the youngest of her six grandchildren outgrew her lap there were times when you could catch her rocking with her eyes closed, humming lullabys, smiling peacefully.  As she was dying of a painful cancer in a hospital bed her chair sat empty – and yet she rocked.

As death approached she told my mom that it was time for her to go to the Father’s house. My mother need not worry and need not fear, my grandma said. For she had long known what she would do for eternity – she told us that her task would be to rock the baby angels.

I can assure you that in our hearts and minds my grandmother’s rocking chair has never since been empty for a moment. We can “see” her doing what she loved, rocking babies. And if you’ve ever lost a baby, if you’ve ever grieved over an empty high chair, know this – my Grandma Benefiel has that baby in her loving arms…waiting expectantly for you.

You see, the rocking chair only appears empty here, but it is occupied in heaven forever.

We know the names of the people who occupy the empty chairs of our hearts who now take their seats in the Kingdom of Heaven.

chairs as far as eye can seeHave you ever considered that from their vantage point, from where they sit right now, at the King’s table, set for the wedding feast of the Lamb, there is an empty chair that God has reserved for you?

Next to my dad, near my Grandma, surrounded by all the faithful followers of Jesus who have bowed the knee and received God’s grace in Jesus Christ, there is an empty chair. That’s my chair.  You have one too.

Now, who is sitting in this chair?

There are people whom we all know and love whose chair in the Kingdom of Heaven will remain eternally empty unless they accept the invitation to receive the Father’s good and gracious of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in your chair at the wedding feast of the Lamb. Your place card is right in front of you.

Those who have died in Christ surround you. But there are empty chairs. Whose names are on those place cards? Who is next to you in this life that at this point does not know that there’s a seat available for them in the Kingdom of Heaven?

Heaven and earth are passing away and empty chairs we worry about today will one day litter the landscape. But with each chair that’s vacated on earth a person takes the seat in an empty chair in one of two eternal realities. The Christian’s responsibility between now and then is to live out the fullness of the Gospel in such a way that the empty chairs in Heaven are filled and the empty chairs in Hell remain unoccupied.

So, is the way you’re living your life now creating the desire in other people to want to sit next to you in the Kingdom of Heaven?

(And Jim LaBerge, if you get there before I do, save me a seat next to you.)

 

God is on the move!

I spent the last two days in prayer with leaders representing moworship-praise-revivalre than a third of the churches in America.  In the spirit of Joel 1:14, we gathered to “Cry Out to the Lord” in solemn assembly.

It was a time of united prayer – across all that ordinarily divides us generationally, racially, and denom
inationally. Evangelical leaders humbled themselves together before the Lord and sought the Lord’s forgiveness and restoration. We committed to desperately pursue God’s manifest presence, to re-engage God’s divine purpose, and to enter into a season of prayer for spiritual awakening in the church and revival in the culture.

It was humbling. It was convicting. It was encouraging. It was uplifting. It was energizing. It was hopeful. It was amazing.

The hope is to multiply this experience through similar solemn assemblies in congregations throughout the nation as God moves to unite the heart of the Body of Christ in fresh ways.

If you’re hungry and thirsty for righteousness; if you’re desperate for God’s presence, power and provision; if you know that the Church needs awakening and the culture needs reviving in order that Gospel can be advanced without hindrance to the world, then join the movement of prayer that God is igniting today.

You can start today and then join others in a national virtual prayer meeting that starts January 10th from 9-10:30 p.m. eastern.  The devotional guide is a valuable resource if you’re like me and you need a physical companion to keep you tracking forward for the duration of the journey with Jesus.

 

There are several initiatives you should know about:
www.AmericaPray.net which is a national prayer meeting that starts January 10 and runs through January 31.
Palm Sunday, there’s a plan for the largest bi-rational pulpit exchange in American history.
National Campus Renewal REZ week, March 28-April 1 in anticipation of Together2016 on the national mall.
July 16 #JesusChangesEverything as we experience a generational reset. This is going to be something you regret missing. Visit Reset2020.com for the vision.
Tony Evans is planning a BIG thing September 21…a National Solemn Assembly in Dallas but simulcast in local churches across the country – to re-invite God’s manifest presence into our lives and into our nation.
October 25-27 in NYC, “Movement Day” is inviting others to taste and see what God is doing to reconnect the Body of Christ in NYC – from megachurches to storefront, across every socio-economic and racial division. Pray NY is just one example.
Ronnie Floyd who heads the SBC is fanning the flame – breaking down all barriers between Christians and getting on our knees and faces to Cry Out to the Lord.
I expect we’ll be hearing out “Cry Out to the Lord” events in more churches and communities than we can count. God is on the move!  They’re asking pastors to replace their regular Sunday morning services with a solemn assembly. Resources here: http://www.preach2engage.com/prayer.htm
On the “resources you should know about” front: check out
If I sound excited, I am.
Its more than a feeling – its this hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck raising, eyes-filled-with-tears, heart racing exhilaration that’s Scripture fueled and Gospel-advancing-concerned.
Then, I came home to this witness of the movement of God’s spirit and the manifestation of His power in the life of the Body of Christ in Boulder, CO:

e·piph·a·ny

əˈpifənē/

noun

Today, January 6, 2016, marks Epiphany, which recalls the revelation of the infant King Jesus to the Magi, those wise men described in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2. On this day we celebrate the inclusion of the Gentiles in the blessings of Israel, particularly in the gracious reign of Jesus Christ, as it enfolds all nations, tongues, and tribes. Every people, every group, every culture, and every ethnicity is embraced and welcomed in the transforming, life-giving reign of Christ.

More commonly, “epiphany” is also an “aha” moment, “a moment of sudden revelation or insight”, as the dictionary puts it.

Yesterday, I believe, our First Presbyterian Church of Boulder, CO staff was given an epiphany. We were in our typical all-staff meeting, 30 to 40 of us. We were tired after a long season which focused not only on Advent and Christmas Eve celebrations, but also on helping lead our denominational dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) to the new denomination, the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). As part of the dismissal agreement, our congregation must buy back its buildings from our presbytery (as they are only held in trust locally for the broader denomination). This has necessitated a congregational capital campaign to raise $2.29 million dollars. In our staff meeting, we’d just been told the good news that the congregation had already pledged more than 2/3 of that amount. We then went to prayer in preparation for communion together.

Our quiet group prayers were suddenly startled by a booming male voice shouting at us. We anxiously snapped to attention to see some 20 or more men rush into our midst. Quickly, they identified themselves: they were the lead pastors of many, if not, most of our sister churches of Boulder County. They’d heard of our decision to depart our denomination; they’d read the somewhat disparaging articles about this in the local newspaper; and they had come to show their support and solidarity. Each in turn gave words of appreciation for the historic impact of First Pres on our region and on their congregations. In fact, the lead pastor of our county’s largest and fastest growing megachurch (and indeed one of our country’s fastest growing churches) spoke appreciatively of the small group Bible study from our church that over time grew into their congregation.

Then the pastors did an even more remarkable thing: they presented our church with checks from their congregations in support of our capital campaign, which we’d entitled “All In.” In total, our sister churches contributed $48,000. For these busy pastors to make time in their schedules to offer such kind words of appreciation, along with bringing us gifts of such staggering generosity from their congregations–this blew us away. We all knelt on the carpet for prayer and then shared communion together. There were hugs exchanged, tears flowing, and much laughter.

Why is this act so significant and why does it constitute an epiphany? Sadly, churches and pastors too often view each other with jealousy and a competitive spirit. We lamely look at neighboring congregations, particularly the newer and more successful ones, as competitors for “marketshare”. We compare our attendance numbers, the size of our buildings, the creativity and reputation of our programs and staffs. We mourn the loss of church members who decide to move to these other congregations.

Granted, we give lip-service to all of us being on the same team, but too often this rings hollow. In this surprising act of kindness yesterday, these pastors demonstrated how Jesus views his Church: he sees us all together in one body in a region, teaming up to minister together in his name. First Pres, the most historic and long-tenured of these congregations, can often feel culturally irrelevant, stodgy, and passé in comparison to the cooler start-up churches. But these gifts of praise, appreciation, companionship, and money corrected our perspective: they showed us we’re not alone in our ministries or pilgrimage; we’re lovingly surrounded by friends who share in the work with us. We’re family.

Epiphany is first centripedal: the nations come in with gifts to Israel, particularly to its Messiah, Jesus. Then, from this common center in Christ, Epiphany is shockingly centrifugal: it spins out one global people, Jew and Gentile united in Jesus, to go into the world with his message of gracious embrace. Epiphany makes us gasp with fresh realization that God’s blessings are all-embracing. His people are not just sequestered in a small historic space: God’s people are spun-out in Jesus Christ far and wide. Epiphany blows the roof off the church’s parochialism and shows us its colorful community. The people of Jesus can’t be limited to one place, one parish, one tradition. In Christ, there is a great big beautiful family. Aha.

– Carl Hofmann, posted here
Amen and amen and amen.
The people of God need to get ready to move, because God is on the move!

Surveying our walk with Christ and charting a course for spiritual growth

Bible-Calendar-for-slider[1]Think of this as an exercise in taking a year-end inventory of your life and cultivating the spiritual soil for an abundant harvest in the year ahead.

Taking stock of your spiritual life

Get out your 2015 calendar, your journal, your Bible and your check register.

Slowly, soberly look through them and take stock.

Bible

  • Make an inventory of the books of the Bible you read through in 2015. How much of the Bible did you read? Did you start the year with a reading plan? Did you follow it? Did you finish it? If not, when do you stop and why?
  • Take stock of the Bible studies you attended, participated in or did individually in 2015. What did God teach you? How did God conform you more fully to His will through the examination and apprehension of His Word in your life?
  • Look through your sermon notes. What did you learn from the proclamation of the Word in the past year?

Calendar

  • Count up the number of days you spent intentionally alone in Sabbath with the Lord.
  • Count up the Sundays you were in worship.
  • Count up the holidays you actually set aside as holy unto the Lord.
  • Count up the investments of time, talent and resources you made advancing God’s Kingdom purposes through mission work or Christian service.
  • Count up the divine appointments you kept along the way as you walked day by day, moment by moment, with the Lord your God.

Check register

  • Do an honest accounting of your financial giving to the Church and to explicitly Christian ministries.

Reflect

Read Galatians 5:22-25:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

  • Do an honest fruit inspection. Where is there evidence of each fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life?
  • Was the 2015 harvest of righteousness greater than 2014? 2013?
  • Can you see evidence of growth in grace and production of righteousness in your life? Where is pruning needed that greater growth might occur in the year ahead?

Journal

  • Write it all down in your journal as an accounting before the Lord for 2015. Spend time praying about the “return” God received over the past year from His investment in you.
  • What verse or story from Scripture was really your life verse in 2015? Now, turning the page, consider what verse you desire to live into in 2016?

Spiritual planning for abundance in 2016

Get a 2016 calendar, a blank journal, a new check register, your Bible and a pen with indelible ink.

Write your life verse, the verse you desire to whole-heartedly live into in 2016, on the front page of your journal and on the blank space that appears before the numbered days of each month on the calendar.

As you make plans for the year ahead, consider your plan for monthly, weekly and daily exercises in discipleship. Make a Bible reading plan. Plan for real Sabbath time. Plan for authentic worship. Plan for genuine times of retreat and holy-days (times that are set apart as holy unto the Lord). This is not vacation or recreation; this is Sabbath rest with the Lord your God. Plan for real Christian fellowship with believers who will sharpen you and hold you to account. Plan when and where you will invest yourself in Christian service and pray that the Lord will make you aware of the divine appointments He has already set.

Consider that whatever else you “do” in 2016 your real calling is a moment-by-moment, obedient, faithful walk in the Spirit that leads to a life worthy of bearing the name of Christ into the world. Consider setting a goal for 2016 of living into and up to Ephesians 4:1-3 and II Thessalonians 1:11-12.

Expect of yourself to actively and intentionally:

  •  Seek to have the mind of Christ in all things
  • Seek to manifest the spirit of Christ in all situations
  • Seek to demonstrate the manner of Christ in every moment
  • Seek to advance the Kingdom of Christ in all that you say and do – and in the way you do it In order to do that, you’re going to need a plan.

Cultivate the mind of Christ.

  • a mind set on the agenda of the Father: Luke 22:41-43
  • a mind set on things that are above: Colossians 3:1-2
  • a mind that cultivates a Biblical worldview: Romans 12:1-2
  •  vigilant attention to what’s on your mind: II Corinthians 10:5b

Cultivate the manner of Christ: become a person of prayer and humble service

  • honor God; humble self; serve selflessly: Philippians 2:1-11
  • make prayer your practice and discipline: Matthew 6:6, 14:23; Mark 1:35,Luke 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 22:39-41
  • pray with confidence and belief: Matthew 21:22, 7:7-11, Mark 9:28-29, 11:24, John 14:13-14, 15:7, 15:16, 16:23-24
  • pray with thanksgiving and in song: Matthew 11:25, 26;30; Mark 14:26,
  • pray before meals: Mark 6:41, Mark 8:7, 14:22, Luke 24:30
  • pray submissively, ardently and without ceasing: Luke 22:39- 46

Cultivate the spirit of Christ

  •  be holy: I Peter 1:13-16
  •  bear good fruit: Galatians 2:19-26

Hone your witness to Christ

  • His name and reputation are at stake: I Peter 2:11-12
  • You are a signpost, pointing to Christ: Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:14-16
  • You are Christ’s ambassador: II Corinthians 5:14-21
  • You are a witness, bearing testimony on the stand: Acts 1:8; Hebrews 12:1-3

Colossians 3:17 reads:

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.”

At the end of each day, take stock.

At the end of each week, take stock.

At the end of each month, take stock.

At the end of each quarter write up a report to the Lord.

Give Him an accounting for the return on His investment in you.

At the end of next year, the harvest of righteousness will be abundant!

 

Christmas is coming! What does that mean?

As we approach the celebration of Christmas, let us unwrap the mystery and the meaning of the manger. 

From the perspective of reasoned thought or a rational mind, the Bible’s claim that the God of the universe, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, took on human flesh by being born of a virgin some 2,000 years ago in Judea may seem preposterous. Certainly from a naturalistic or humanistic worldview, what is claimed in the birth narratives of the New Testament gospels is regarded as impossible. However, from a super-naturalistic worldview and from the perspective of faith in a personal God, the Christmas proclamation is truest truth. Indeed, by the power of the Holy Spirit, very God of very God was conceived in the womb of a willing servant named Mary and born in a town called Bethlehem.

That one event changed the course of human history.

To deny the truth of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is to deny one of the foundational claims of the Christian faith. Without the Incarnation there is no redemption, without the manger there is no cross, without Christmas there is no Easter, without the God-Man there is no hope of heaven. The oldest of our creeds, the Nicene Creed, affirms that:

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through Him all things were made. For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.” Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Confessions, 1.2.

That declaration of faith in the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is echoed throughout Presbyterian Confessions.

In The Apostles’ Creed (2.2), The Scots Confession (3.06), The Heidelberg Catechism (4.035-.036), The Second Helvetic Confession (5.062-069), The Westminster Confession of Faith (6.044-.045), The Shorter Catechism (7.021-.022), The Larger Catechism (7.146-150 and 7.156-.157) and The Confession of 1967 (9.07).

Prophets foretold it, Elizabeth anticipated it, Mary and Joseph experienced it, angels announced it, shepherds witnessed it, Simeon and Anna confirmed it and wise men from the East followed the natal star to acknowledge it. So threatened was the Roman procurator by it that he had all the Jewish boys under the age of two in the city of Bethlehem exterminated. But God’s plan would not be thwarted.

It is the Incarnation, literally God in carne (God in flesh). The Messiah had been born, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Kingdom of God drew near as the God of the universe became flesh to dwell among humankind, full of grace and truth. The essence of the Incarnation is that God literally became a man, at the same time fully human and fully divine.

Litanies like Hebrews 1:1-3 and Philippians 2:5-11 amplify the reality that the Incarnation is inextricably connected to the crucifixion, resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Christmas cannot be cut off from the realities of Good Friday, Easter, Christ’s ascension, nor His now awaited second coming. Jesus’ birth is both the advent of a “who” and a “what.”

Christmas is the celebration of the reality of God with us and the celebration of the inauguration of the Kingdom of God among us. John the Baptist cried out that the Kingdom of God was drawing near. With the advent of Christ, it did. With His coming again the Kingdom of God will be fully present and the will of God will be fully accomplished on earth as it is even now in heaven. For that advent we now wait.

In reference to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, Luke 2:19 says, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” With her, let us then ponder the advent of Jesus Christ and prepare our hearts and minds to be discerning of the truth as we approach the manger throne.

The Incarnation of the living God

Question 47 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How did Christ humble Himself in His conception and birth?” Reflecting both John 1:18 and Philippians 2, the answer confesses that “Christ humbled Himself in His conception and birth, in that, being from all eternity the Son of God in the bosom of the Father, He was pleased in the fullness of time to become the Son of man, made of a woman of low estate, and to be born to her, with diverse circumstances of more than ordinary abasement” (PCUSA Book of Confessions, 7.157).

It is false to think that Jesus sprang into being at Christmas. Jesus has always been, is now and always will be. Jesus is fully and eternally God, the second member of the Trinity. Colossians 1:15-20 affirms that

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.”

In this one succinct passage God reveals Christ’s eternal and incarnate nature. Indeed, all things were made by Christ and for Christ.

Further, it is important to receive the revelation that Jesus is not merely a good or even great representative human being. According to the Scripture, the fullness of God was personally and fully present in Jesus. Jesus is the God-Man. Believe it or not, that’s the reality of the Christmas claim. It should not surprise us that many people do not believe that Jesus is God. Even in His own day, many people did not believe that Jesus was who He said He was.

John 10:30-39 reveals that Jesus’ claim to be God was an offense to the Jews. The Christian claim that Jesus is God born in human flesh is offensive to many people today. Convincing people to believe is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit, our part is to bear witness to the One who came, the Word made flesh to dwell among us, to testify to His glory, and to demonstrate His grace and truth.

Ponder these things and discuss with others:

1. Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” John 10:30. (Read in context, John 10:30-39)

2. Read and discuss John 1:1-14.

3. What does this passage say about the eternal nature of Jesus?

4. Place John 1:1 in conversation with Gen. 1:1 and Rev. 21:1-5.

5. Read John 1:4 in conversation with John 10:10. 6. Read John 1:3 and 10 in conversation with Col. 1:15-20 and Heb. 1:1-3. 7. Reflecting on John 1:5 and 11, what prevents people from accepting the Biblical revelation that Jesus is God incarnate? (Hint: A naturalistic vs. super-naturalistic worldview; and elevating reason and rationalism over revelation)

The Incarnation is imperative for redemption

Hebrews 1:1-3 reads

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

The writer of Hebrews affirms the eternal nature of Jesus as well as affirming that as God incarnate, Jesus is both the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.

Then the writer speaks of the “why” of the Incarnation: God incarnate, the One named Jesus, was born as the God-Man to die as the only sacrifice sufficiently holy to atone for sin and conquer death. Having accomplished that mission, Jesus has returned to His rightful place at the right hand of the Father. It is impossible to disentangle, get free from or undo the Incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and glorification of Christ. Indeed, in Him all things hold together.

Again, the prophets foretold it, the angel Gabriel announced it, Mary knew it, Simeon and Anna affirmed it, the gifts of the Magi honored it, Herod feared it, and Jesus revealed it frequently to those who had ears to hear. The Messiah of God, the Christ, was born to die to save His people from their sins.

Indeed, the Incarnation is imperative for redemption. To help us understand why, let us turn to the historic confessions of the Reformed faith. Consider three questions and answers from the Larger Catechism.

Q. 38. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?

A. It was requisite that the Mediator should be God; that He might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to His sufferings, obedience and intercession; and to satisfy God’s justice, procure His favor, purchase a peculiar people, give His Spirit to them, conquer all their enemies, and bring them to everlasting salvation.

Q. 39. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be man?

A. It was requisite that the Mediator should be man; that He might advance our nature, perform obedience to the law, suffer and make intercession for us in our nature, have a fellow feeling of our infirmities; that we might receive the adoption of sons, and have comfort and access with boldness unto the throne of grace.

Q. 40. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God and man in one person?

A: It was requisite that the Mediator who was to reconcile God and man, should Himself be both God and man, and this in one person; that the proper works of each nature might be accepted of God for us, and relied on by us, as the works of the whole person.

Ponder these things and discuss with others:

1. Read Gal. 4:4-5. What do these verses reveal about the connection between the Incarnation and redemption?

2. Read Mat. 1:18-25. According to the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream, why was Mary’s son to be named Jesus? What does that tell you about the connection between the Incarnation and God’s redemptive plan?

3. Read Luke 2:25-40. Knowing what you now know about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, what were Simeon and Anna forecasting?

Christ was incarnate and Christ is incarnate, now and forevermore

Jesus was always with the Father. We have established that as the second member of the Trinity, Jesus was present at Creation and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. He is pre-existent, the Alpha and Omega, the Living One. But at a specific point in history, in what the Bible calls “the fullness of time,” God the Father ordained that the eternal Son be born in human flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit. And at that time, Jesus became God incarnate.

  • Jesus was God incarnate when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary.
  • Jesus was God incarnate when He was born in Bethlehem and throughout His life on earth.
  • Jesus was God incarnate when He died on the cross and when He rose from the dead.
  • Jesus was God incarnate when He ascended into heaven.
  • He is God incarnate as He sits at the right hand of the Father.
  • Jesus will be God incarnate when He comes again to judge the living and the dead and He will be God incarnate when He reigns in the New Heaven on the New Earth.

Jesus did not become other than God incarnate during the temptation, trials or crucifixion. He was really God and really human, really suffering and really dying.

Nor did Jesus become something other than God incarnate after the resurrection. He was not a ghost nor a spirit but really flesh, risen from real death to real life to real glory.

The Larger Catechism asks (Q 36), “Who is the Mediator of the covenant of grace?” The answer: “The only Mediator of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ, who being the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father, in the fullness of time became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man, in two entire distinct natures, and one person, forever.”

Don’t miss the power of the final word in that answer. Jesus is the God-Man forever.

“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Again, the Scripture does not say lived, but lives, forever; even now.

Hebrews 7:24-26 echoes saying, “because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”

Jesus didn’t start being God at the Incarnation and Jesus didn’t stop being the incarnate God when He ascended into heaven. He is at this very moment seated as the God-Man next to the Father, interceding for the saints, preparing a place for us, waiting to return. He is coming again, in carne, to judge and reign and rule.

Ponder these things and discuss with others:

1. 700 years prior to the birth of Jesus, Isaiah wrote his prophecies. Read Isaiah 9:1-7.

2. Read Isaiah 9:2 in conversation with John 1:4-5, 9 and John 8:12.

3. How do you understand the prophecy of Isaiah to have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ?

4. What of Isaiah’s prophetic word is yet to be fulfilled?

 The first coming of Christ prefigures the second coming

Philippians 2 reminds us that after His humiliation, Jesus experiences exultation.

“God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

God promises that one day, in the context of human history, every knee of every human being will bow to the incarnate God, Jesus the Christ. Maybe not today, but God promises that one day it will be so.

Just as the Jews in the days of John the Baptist were awaiting the advent of a Messiah, Jesus promises His disciples that He is coming again. Another advent is yet on the horizon of human history.

“Ready or not, here I come” is the joyous proclamation of the one who seeks those hidden in a game of Hide-and-Seek. So too, the eternal One who came to seek and to save the lost is coming again whether we are ready or not. Acknowledging that only God the Father knows the day and time (Matthew 24:36), Jesus counseled His followers to not be afraid, not be deceived, and to stay alert and keep watch (Matthew 24:42, 25:13).

This watching is active, hopeful and motivating. Upon His ascension into heaven the disciples were simply standing, gazing in the direction Jesus had ascended. The angel confronted them and got them going on the mission of bearing witness to Christ. As we wait, expectantly, we also live the abundant life Jesus died to give us. This is an active, moment-by-moment life of discipleship. The disciples of Jesus are to actively yield to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, growing in grace, producing good fruit, serving as faithful stewards and sharing the good news.

The fact that we do not and cannot know the day nor the time is a significant motivation for Christian evangelism, recognizing that today might be the last opportunity to share with those we encounter the good news of the grace of God in Jesus Christ the Lord.

The second coming of Christ is not a re-Incarnation. The second person of the Trinity, the only Son of God, the same Jesus who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, the same God-Man who died to atone for our sins and was raised from death in carne, the self-same Jesus who ascended bodily into heaven, is coming again. Same Incarnation, same Christ, different advent.

The Greek word for the second coming is parousia. Read Matthew 24-25 and Revelation 22:12-17 to begin cultivating a Biblical understanding of Jesus’ promise to come again.

The second coming is about reconciling accounts (aka: judgment) and the advent of the Kingdom of God in its fullness upon the earth. For this the Church prays “Maranatha!” come, Lord Jesus. And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

Ponder these things and discuss with others:

1. Are you living with an honest and watchful expectation of Christ’s return? If not, why not? If so, how so?

2. Read and discuss Matthew 25. What feelings, thoughts, insights or responses are provoked by Jesus’ words in this chapter?

3. Are you hopeful or fearful about the prospect of Jesus’ return? Why? (Make the group’s answers to this question the subject of prayer and close with Maranatha!)

A pdf file of this equipping study on The Incarnation is available here.

Other resources: Carmen’s equipping study on Advent —  Celebrating that He has come, we await His coming Bible study by John Piper: Luke 1:30-37, What Child is this?

After dinner conversations: learning to talk about religion and politics in polite company

Like you, I grew up under the rule of “polite company.”  My parents regularly entertained and our home was an almost continual parade from Thanksgiving to New Years.  My sister and I always had assigned responsibilities and we were briefed on the names, relationships and interests of all who would be in attendance. Then there was the final charge in the last few seconds before the doorbell chimed: “Okay, girls, whatever your ideas or opinions on a matter, there are three things you are not to discuss: religion, politics and what goes on inside other people’s houses.”  As an adult I know that the shorthand version of #3 is “sex” but remember, we were kids.

Conversations were always lively, joyful and full of good humor ribbing related to sports, vacation plans, and one another’s kids. People asked me about school and softball. We kept the conversations polite and noncontroversial.

Here’s the problem: we didn’t learn as a culture to discuss politics and religion in the midst of polite company.  People had opinions as our neighborhood was Christian and Jewish and wonderfully colorful secular pagans. My dad’s colleagues were Puerto Rican, Jamaican, blue-dog southerners and damn Yankees. My mom worked in Higher Education, for the Federal Government, had a show on PBS and wrote a column for the Tampa Tribune. Tampa had race riots, Cuban refugees, serious economic divisions and it was growing from a small town into a real city. It’s not that there weren’t political or religious conversations to be had, we just didn’t have them, publicly.

I learned how to talk about religion and politics at the family dinner table as my parents discussed the intersection of their views with the news and opinions of neighbors, colleagues and friends. As transplants from Indiana to Florida there was always a cultural layer to work through. As the first generation in both of their families to be college educated there was always an appreciation for education, hard work, creative problem solving, leg-up neighborliness, and family values. My parents, like their parents, were living their own generational version of the American dream and they worked every day with the hope of the promise that my sister and I would have it better than they did.

One of my earliest memories is the discussion at dinner the day President Nixon resigned.  In my young mind, if the President quit then America itself was over. My parents lovingly labored to explain the extraordinary nature of “we the people,” the Constitution, the three branches of government, checks and balances, the plan for succession when something happens to the President. That’s the day I became aware of Gerald Ford.

Some of Jimmy Carter’s relatives lived in Tampa. That was a complicated time.

My folks had friends from Switzerland who kept asking how the experiment was going across the pond.

In fifth grade my best friend was Lori Tepper and celebrating Shabbat and the Passover with her family became a part of my religious experience.  In seventh grade, I thought I really wanted to be Jewish because Christian confirmation rites are nothing in comparison to Bar and Bat mizvahs. Those were interesting dinner conversations wherein I came to know my parents as believing Christians in a new way.

By ninth grade I was involved in politics, albeit in student government at school. That’s when I learned about campaign rules, campaign finances, pandering, and the various constituencies who collectively bargain in exchange for votes. When Mike Maddux beat me in the bid for the presidency, I became his best friend.

What does any of this have to do with the contemporary mess we’ve made of the public discourse surrounding politics and religion?

Now, even innocuous conversations about the weather turn into violent exchanges about climate change.

We can look at that two ways: either the list of things prohibited in polite company is further constricting to the point that we only converse in echo chambers of agreement over our own dinner tables, or the time has come for polite company to expand the conversation in every direction.

I propose that we talk openly, honestly and respectfully about religion and politics – and sports and weather and kids – everywhere, with everyone at every opportunity.

We’re starting at our house by simply expanding the dinner table to include a wider variety of people from a diversity of perspectives. I’ve found that when people are welcomed and well fed influences their ability to discuss even the most troublesome of topics.

dinner warLast night we had six adults at the table: two millennials and four of us in our 40’s and 50’s. Wow. Quite the cast of characters!

What an opportunity to learn and share and consider new questions.

At 10:40 pm they departed as deeper friends with a commitment to continue the conversation in the new year when we all know that both religion and politics will dominate the conversation – even in polite company.

Christmas Confusion: Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus but all Christians do not

While the airwaves are filled with the refrain “Mary did you know” the person of Mary, the circumstances of conception, and the nature of her child, Jesus, are sources of deep theological division.

  • Evangelical Christians and Muslims agree that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. But Progressive Christians
    and Jews reject that.mary did you know
  • Some Eastern Christians and Roman Catholics venerate Mary. But Protestant Christians and Muslims reject that.
  • Evangelical Christians, Roman Catholic and Eastern Christians believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human, the God-man.  But Muslims, Jews and some Progressive Christians reject that.

No wonder the world is confused about Christmas.

Mary

Many Christians are surprised to learn that Muslims revere Mary, the mother of Isa.  In Islam, Maryam, is considered one of the most righteous of women.  She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran and the Quran gives Mary much more attention than does the Bible’s New Testament.  But the Quran also explicitly rebukes the worship of Mary (Quran 5:116).

Virgin birth

Consistent with the teaching of the Bible, the Quran says that Jesus was born miraculously to a chaste and virtuous virgin by the will of God without a human father.  The Quran and Bible also elevate Mary above all other women.  But then the Quran and Bible diverge as the Quran states that neither Mary nor her son were divine. And while Christians agree that Mary is not divine, the divinity of Jesus is essential to the Christian faith.

Jesus

It seems that Muhammad was exposed to a perversion of Christianity wherein the Trinity (tri-unity) consisted not of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but of the Father, the Son and Mary.  Muhammad represents Christians worshipping Mary as the third member of the Trinity in Quran 5:116.  Historically, there is no record of Mary being referred to as “mother of God” prior to the fourth century A.D. but Muhammad’s revulsion to the idea reflects his conviction that God has no offspring.

For the Christian, if Jesus is not divine then we are fools most to be pitied. If Jesus is not both fully God and fully man then He cannot fully satisfy the human need for redemption from both the power and penalty of sin. The Christian’s hope of a life worth living now, free from sin’s power, and the hope of a life with God forevermore, free from sin’s penalty in death, is dependent upon the nature of the baby born to Mary in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

Understanding our own faith is essential. Understanding the faith of those who reject our faith is also essential.

So, in this Christmas season as you ponder what Mary did and did not know, ponder as well what you know about the baby born in Bethlehem.

How do you know what you know about Jesus and why do you believe what you believe?