Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas: The Unknown god To The Known God

A friend shared one of my blog articles Christmas: Love In Action, in a whats app group discussion and the first question to hit her was the basis for the celebration of Christmas in the Bible. Specifically, she was questioned on the date 25th December which has come to be widely accepted as the day to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ our saviour.

Now, Christmas, despite its significance, is one of the most attacked celebrations of Christianity. The most common charge against it is its pagan origins but this can be explained as well as the date for the celebration. The question is: "how did we settle on 25th December?"
There are two theories today: one extremely popular, the other less often heard outside scholarly circles (though far more ancient). The most loudly touted theory about the origins of the Christmas date(s) is that it was borrowed from pagan celebrations. The Romans had their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December; barbarian peoples of northern and western Europe kept holidays at similar times. To top it off, in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals. (biblical archaeology .com)
The pagan origins of Christmas, from the above, is clearly a fact we cannot deny. However, this fact doesn't in anyway dent the significance of the event: The celebration of the birth of Christ-God incarnate. He was born, wasn't he? As believers, Scriptures admonishes us to be prepared to make a defense for what we believe. (1 Peter 3:15-16). To answer the pagan origins debate whenever I get the opportunity, I throw in a Scripture I have come to love. It gives us a very clear picture in the bible of pagan thoughts used as a basis to point people to the true and living God just as Christmas.
...Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man. nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘ In him we live and move and have our being’;  as even some of your own poets have said, “‘ For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:22-28).
In this Scripture, we see Paul engaging His contemporaries on pagan worship. The Athenians--Greeks-- were religious and polytheistic and in their desire to not offend any god they have not yet discovered or created, they mounted an altar dedicated "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD". How pathetic! Worshiping what they do not know, when God, in His creation has revealed Himself plainly to all humanity. Instead of worshipping the Creator, "who made the world and everything in it" the Athenians rather "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things." (Romans 1:23).  Their pantheon of gods was not enough. They still had space for an "unknown god" "They became  futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts...darkened" (Romans 1:21).

Now, how does Paul help us here to answer or defend the pagan origins of Christmas and why we must celebrate it? If we revisit Acts 17, picking from the last paragraph of vs 23, we read: "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." There is no better analogy, in my opinion, to draw from Scriptures in defending the celebration of Christmas than this. Using the very object of pagan worship to proclaim the true living God. Paul used their "unknown god" to point them to "The God who made the heaven and everything in it". Paul turned their attention from their "unknown god", to the true living God. In the same text, there is a statement worth our attention: "In him we live and move and have our being;  as even some of your own poets have said, “‘ For we are indeed his offspring."  Note the words "some of your own poets" This means "In him we live and move and have our being" is a quote from Athenian pagan poets, who are believed to be Aratus and Epiminides. So in today's words, just as we argue the pagan origins of Christmas, we must then say that "In him we live and move and have our being" is unbiblical because it has no links even to the Old Testament Scriptures Paul quoted often.Paul quoted a line from the poem Phaenomena to make a case for the living God.

Whatever we have today as Christmas, as rightly said, is a "spinoff from pagan solar festivals" The question we must however answer for ourselves now is; "Is Christmas still pagan or it now directs us from the "unknown god" to "The God who made the heaven and the earth and everything in it" Was Christ born? Is His birth a historical event? "For God so loved the world, [9] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."(John 3:16).

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Celebrating God's Love

Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the [children of God]...(1 John 3:1).
The phrase "that we" would be a good phrase to look at. John here I believe is painting a picture of how undeserving we are of God's love: ...he is telling his audience and us, of course, the extent of God's love displayed towards us who have come to saving faith in Christ. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us..."

It was love for unworthy sinners that sent Him down to earth to live amongst His own in the midst of rejection and finally died a sinners death to pay for God's wrath. When He cried out "my God, My God why hath thou forsaken me", it was a cry of the pain of rejection. He was Holy without sin, but at that moment He carried the sins of the whole world on His shoulders and God who cannot behold sin, turned His face from His only begotten Son. What an excruciating pain! The thought of separation from the eternal glory of God: " Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us..."

Image Courtesy:
"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us" "There is none righteous, no, not one" "O wretched man that I am who shall deliver me from this body of death". No where in Scripture do we find a single soul laying claim of entitlement to God's love. Probably, the Pharisees did. But you know how Jesus called them right? "Hypocrites, a whitewashed tomb with dead men bones"

"We" are not worthy, but by the sacrifice on calvary, we who have come to Him in faith through Christ Jesus are counted worthy. We were not a people, but now He counts us as people. We were dead in sins and trespasses, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9 ESV)

"Behold what manner of love the father hath bestowed on us..." Blessed Day!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Finishing Well: Lessons From Paul

We are left with three months to finish the year. Reminiscing, probably, yours will come with a sense of regret or accomplishment or a mixture of both. Whatever your sentiments are, I present you with three points from Paul's life--what a great person he was--that will help you sail through the rest of the year with hope if you have regrets. Expansion if you have a sense of accomplishment. 

These, I must say are no "wild insights". They are things we know already, so let me say these are just a gentle reminder: 1: Forget Past Failures, 2: Don't Be Complacent, 3: Focus On The Future. I will glean these three lessons from Philippians 3:13-14:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Forget Past Failures

If Paul says "forgetting those things which are behind” we have to pay attention to him. He was a murderer. He has  blood on his hands. To get a good picture of Saul(Paul); imagine him as head of any of the terrorists groups we have today. He  hated believers of his day, persecuted and handed them over to be executed.

It was on one of such persecution trips that he met Jesus. Hear his own words: “And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him” (Acts 22:20). I believe Paul, as human as he was, had to deal with this regret constantly.

The devil might even take advantage and constantly whisper in his mind “You're a murderer”. Remember one of the credentials of the devil is “accuser of the brethren”. Can you identify with the effects of having to deal with past regrets, mistakes and failures? It can be energy sapping. Dwelling on past failures can breed guilt and immobilise us from moving forward. Everyone, without exception, got things in the past they not proud of. But we have to rise above our past failures and press forward. “... reaching forth unto those things which are before ... press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus "

If you ever admire Paul--you should if you are a believer-remember he is not a product of his own achievements. He is a work of Total Grace. God's grace made him. No wonder he taught us so much about grace. "By grace are you saved...", he reminded his congregation in Ephesians. There is no pit of failure so deep grace cannot reach you. I recently spotted a book title  "You failed and So What?"...that would make good reading I believe...

How bad have you fared? Put your regrets and failures behind and press on...PRESS ON! God is not done with you: "...he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:" (Philippians 1:6)

Don't Be Complacent

"Don't be Complacent"-that is so basic; nonetheless, I have indicated these are just gentle reminders and no "wild insights". For those with regrets, I said in the previous post that "Forget Past Failures" and for you with a sense of accomplishment, I am saying today,"Don't Be Complacent"
Paul, unlike the first twelve Apostles, was a scholar. He studied in Tarsus under Gamaliel, one of the best teachers of His time. He also belonged to the order of the Pharisees--the highest political and religious order of his time. A qualified lawyer; Paul never considered himself inferior to any of the first Apostles, though, he never walked physically with Christ. He asked "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant...” (2 Corinthians 11:23).

It is on record Paul wrote all his epistles before any of the earlier Apostles penned their gospels and epistles. So we are not looking at a man with average success in Paul. We are looking at a highly successful minister of the gospel. In today's world, Paul would easily qualify for a “Mega church” pastor. Despite these feats, Paul had no room for complacency: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus."(Philippians 3:12) What Paul is communicating here is that: “I have not achieved it yet”. “I have not arrived”. “I have not become all I was called to be”. “There are still territories to cover.” “There is more success ahead” “There is more work to do”. 

Regardless of your level of achievements, don't be complacent. Don't settle for less “ toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.

Focus on the future

"...reach forth unto those things which are before”. Life should be progressive; building on successes and learning from failures. The day the past becomes the standard, we stop growing, we enter a comfort zone and our purpose on earth gets clouded.

In Deuteronomy 1, we see a comfort zone situation where the Israelites, instead of moving forward, pitched camp in a comfort zone and stopped moving: "The LORD our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: Turn you, and take your journey ... and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them“ (vs 6-8).

Settling in a comfort zone when we are supposed to move on is equated to rebellion. In vs 26 of the same Scripture, Moses said: "Notwithstanding ye would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God:” (vs26).

Paul, didn't settle in complacency. Reach forth into the future. "Turn you, and take your journey...". Move on.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Grace: A Total Transformation

And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him” (Acts 22:20).
This is Paul; recounting his former deeds. You admire Paul right? Before he became Paul, he was Saul: a murderer and hated believers with all zeal. He has blood on his hand. Today, if you are looking for the equivalent of Saul(Paul), look at the most gruesome terrorist group around: Saul(Paul) could could be a leader of any one of them.

Image courtesy
You will understand it better when you consider the believers response when they heard of Saul's conversion. They didn't believe it. They took it to be a scam, another strategy to get believers. Ananias even had guts to question Jesus' instructions: "Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name." (Acts 9:13-14). Hear more: "But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? (vs21). This guy Paul doesn't belong in the fold of God's people humanly speaking. He unleashed terror on God's people  yet he was a chosen vessel of the Lord. In response to Ananias who had questioned the Lord earlier, Jesus said "... he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:" (Acts 9:15).

If you still don't get the terror of the guy I am writing about, this would be helpful. I believe Saul's terror rose up to heaven and broke the very heart of Jesus. I am speculating on this one: I believe Jesus stood up and said "I must stop this guys, enough is enough" on his way to Damascus to unleash more terror, the Lord brought him low on his feet: "And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do."(Acts 9:3-6).

Saul the terrorist "trembling and astonished"...the rest of his life he became a disciple of the Lord and what a gift he was to the body of Christ. If you are a believer and you don't admire Paul then you have no good role models. But, before your admiration goes overboard, note that Paul was a work of grace: Total Grace. No wonder he wrote so much about grace than any other. He was a Scholar, he has rights to boasting, but knowing who he was, he said "by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."(1 Corinthians 15:20).

What have you done that you think you are beyond the reach of God's grace? Grace gives a Total Transformation