Sunday, 29 December 2013

God Invades Humanity

The Christmas story is staggering in all respects, a virgin, angels, a star... but the most staggering aspect must be that God invades the realm which he had created and takes on the dirt of the earth that he had taken and fashioned and given his own breath to - flesh! God himself becomes a human; yes, real flesh and blood, without ever stopping being God.
That is the staggering nature of the Gospel, the Good News - God has come, he has invaded 'our space'!
We were on the run, we were hiding, and God came to find us and put things right.
He couldn't do it from 'out there', he had to come here.
He couldn't send someone else, he had to come himself.
  • Our salvation necessitated it.
  • Our restoration required it.
  • Creation's renewal demanded it.
He had to be both God and man, not one or the other. He must represent, and be both sides.
He alone could bridge the gap, the distance brought about by the Fall.
He alone could save and heal. As the early church Father Gregory said "the unassumed is the unredeemed." God must assume the very likeness of our broken sinful flesh in order to redeem and heal it.
How? By the Holy Spirit - that's all the Bible tells us; or in the words of the hymn writer - "God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man" (Charles Wesley). Mystery. But that doesn't mean it's not true.
The first few verses of Wesley's Hark the Herald Angels Sing express it well:
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Then there are two verses that rarely ever get sung, and they are gospel loaded, a prayer applying the truth of the incarnation to one and all who will believe:
Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.
Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King!
Loaded verses indeed! Full of Gospel truth.  He has invaded 'our space,' taken it on, healed, redeemed and reconciled it in order to reinstate us in his love.
We were made by God for God, and God's invasion of 'our space' is a declaration that God is for us.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

What if Jesus hadn't come?

I found myself wondering the other day what would the world be like if Jesus had never been born, and the more I thought about it the more I began to realise it would be a vastly different place to what we know now and certainly not a better one.

Unfortunately the liberal West loves to blame Christianity for many of the world's ills and keep people ignorant of the positive and profound impact Jesus, and consequently, those who have believed in, and followed him, have had upon the world.

Let me list a few...

The coming of Jesus has transformed lives, relationships and communities.

It has brought liberty and justice, education, medicine and health care to the masses.

It has brought deliverance from false and futile religion and dark satanic practices.

It has provided relief to the poor, lifted the downtrodden and broken the yoke of the oppressed.

It has impacted politics and law and given dignity and rights, freedom of speech.

It has been a stimulator and contributor to the whole arena of science.

It has given dignity to work and the rights of employees.

It has contributed enormously to music, literature and the arts.

It has provided the biggest season of goodwill the world has ever known.

And so we could go on....

Which reminds me, not so long ago I read a report that had come out of atheistic China that said that all that is good (note that) about the West derives from Christianity and therefore from Jesus. That is some statement!

Yes, if Jesus had not come into the world it would have been a far worse and poorer place.

Praise God, Jesus did come!

Friday, 20 December 2013

God Couldn't Just Turn Up - Israel's Role in the Incarnation

The incarnation didn't just happen, as we observed in the previous post God took a long time preparing for that first Christmas, and for very good reason.
There was indeed much to be done, God couldn't just turn up. For God to come in Christ as he did, he needed to prepare the way, to prepare peoples hearts and minds that they might truly know him, his ways, and how they could relate to him.
That's where God's calling and dealings with Israel come in. To that end the story of Israel is one of the revealing of God to those whom he had created - the breaking in of God upon the hearts and minds of humanity, a humanity broken, distanced and separated by sin.
For that reason he chose Abraham, a man from a  pagan background, and no special individual. He gave him a family, and from that family chose and brought forth the people and nation of Israel, a people who were no more special than any other nation on earth, the least of all people's, and as it turned out, a stubborn, rebellious people at that.
Over a period of time God made himself known to them in different and varied ways, ways that would distinguish him from the non gods of the surrounding nations as the only true and living God, a God worthy of their praise and devotion.
Part of that was a variety of rules and religious rituals, rules and rituals that may seem strange to us today and somewhat of a palaver, but they were all a necessary part of how he revealed himself to them and how he educated them in their knowledge of and relationship to him.  They enabled them to understand exactly who he was, the difference and distance between them and God, and how they should relate to him.
It would tell of his undeserved covenant love and faithfulness, his unending mercy and grace, the nature and depths of sin, the way of redemption, forgiveness, atonement, salvation. It would tell of prophet, priest and king, and the promise of Messiah which would ultimately lead to the womb of a young virgin girl and the incarnation of the Saviour God.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

God Prepares for Christmas

Preparation is a must – ask any decorator. It’s vitally important to the finished job.
The same applies to Christmas. In the run up to Christmas people prepare in many different ways and over different lengths of time, nevertheless preparation there must be, otherwise it just wouldn’t happen.
What most people fail to realise is that God took a long time preparing for Christmas, a lot of time and a lot of effort, it didn’t just happen spontaneously one idyllic night.
From the beginning, before the foundation of the earth, God had a plan to display his love, but to do so he needed to prepare a people, and bring everything together at the right time and in the right place. The plan was conceived and formulated in the blessed fellowship of that holy community, the Trinity, and there it was set in motion.
He started by calling Abraham, giving him a family, making them a nation, raising prophets, priests and kings, taking that nation on a journey so that they would get to know him, understand his ways, and be a witness to him among the other people’s and nations of the earth.
It was a long and eventful journey, but eventually we arrive at the crucial point in human history, and God finds the right person to conceive and bring forth his Son Jesus, his co-equal and co-eternal partner with himself and Holy Spirit.
The womb of the incarnation had been a long time in forming, through a family, a nation, an individual, but one day it was ready, and the time was right, that point in human history, that juncture of nations involving political, cultural and religious development.
Yes it took God a long time to prepare for Christmas.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Christmas is coming - has come!

It suddenly dawned on me last week that we are in the run up to Christmas! No, it’s not like I didn’t know, after all at church we’ve been preparing for weeks, but rather in the busyness of life I hadn’t realised it was that close – I mean, that close!
I wonder whether it was a bit like that that first Christmas, everyone was going about their daily routines as one day followed another, even as one year followed another. Of course it hadn’t happened yet, so it wasn’t on the annual calendar, nevertheless they had the prophetic promise, a promise that had been passed on from one generation to another, the promise of a Saviour. And O, how they longed and prayed for that day when he would come. But hey, life goes on, living and hoping, hoping and living, and you can get lost in it and not realise where you’ve got to, or what’s going on.
Now I’m guessing that they really didn’t have that much idea either on what that would look like as they had no previous experience, so when the promise finally came to pass they were just going about the usual business of the day, and then….. when he does turn up he looks like the rest of us, a vulnerable little baby, dependent in every way on his mother and father.
I mean, in many ways it was so ordinary, too ordinary – could this be God? In fact it was so ordinary it needed angels to announce the fact that this was not just another child just like every other one, but the Child, the promised One, the prayed for and longed for Saviour. Life didn’t pause or wait for everyone to get all spiritual, feel right good and ready, no, suddenly in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Eastern life he made his appearance, he was born – fact. Not in a synagogue, or at the Temple, or some other religious setting, not even the comfort of a home, but a simple stable. I mean what a way to wrap a present!
I wonder how many today are going about this Christmas, not realising where they are at, and missing the fact that he has come – not as superman or some powerful macho all conquering hero, but as a vulnerable little baby who cried (Yes, I don’t think ‘Away in a Manger’ is correct on this point!), and was as dependent as we were on those around him when we first entered this world. Nevertheless he is none other than the Promised One, the longed for Saviour and we don’t need to wait for another. He has come, and he came ‘veiled in flesh.’

Monday, 2 December 2013

Strange Fire and Prophecy

The recent Strange Fire conference (and book) has attempted to restate an old argument of cessationists re the gift of prophecy, that there was only ever one type, and that it was inerrant and totally authoritative and the basis of the Word itself, and therefore all other prophecy is false and such prophecy and people should be rejected.
The problem with this view is that it totally ignores the fact that there was prophetic activity of what might be called a secondary nature in the Old Testament. Such prophecies didn’t find there way into Scripture (apart from the mere reference to it’s activity), and they weren’t considered inerrant and totally authoritative, i.e. the Spirit coming on the 70 in Numbers 11: 24–27 with the result that they prophesied, plus the two who weren’t in the right place (Moses response interestingly was that he wished that all of the Lord’s people were prophets); the schools of the prophets mentioned in Samuel and Kings, and Saul’s particular experience, and then we have Joel’s prophesy (inerrant and authoritative and part of scripture) that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh and they would prophesy.
Turning to the New Testament we find second level prophecy as a very real and necessary part of church life. It’s there in the book of Acts, and in the letters we find Paul writing to the church in Corinth and strongly encouraging them in it, and again in his writing to the Thessalonians he tells them not to despise it.
Though it is to be encouraged and not despised nevertheless Paul makes it clear that all prophecy is to be weighed, meaning that it may not all be of the Lord, but in doing so, in no way does he suggest that if turns out not to be of the Lord and therefore not to be accepted should the person giving it be rejected or stoned. And even if it were accepted as from the Lord, the individual still had the choice as to their response, i.e. Paul’s response to the word not to go up to Jerusalem, but he went.
Even so the fact that it is ‘second level’ doesn’t mean that when it occurs it is any less ‘of God.’ This is truly an activity inspired of the Spirit and is to be treated as such, and for this reason Paul writes, “Don’t stifle the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies,…”
In my own personal experience I have been blessed, encouraged, helped and guided by the prophetic word, churches that I have been involved with likewise, and I can’t imagine a Christian and Church life without it. Hearing God is vitally important. Taking heed to the prophetic word is as well. Too many churches are living in the past because they are not willing to hear God today.
If you are someone who has been thrown off course on the things of the Spirit due to Strange Fire (the conference or the book) I would encourage you to go back to the Word to see whether these things are so, and also to find out and talk to those who are experienced and have integrity in these things. Please don’t allow the enemy to rob you of the gift(s) that the Father gives through his Spirit for the benefit of his people.
Have you ever been blessed by the gift of prophecy?
Have you ever prophesied?
How seriously do you take prophecy?
When was the last time you responded to such a word?