Tag Archives: Judeo-Christian

The Little Known Good News about Christ’s Birth

Christ’s Miraculous Birth

Christ’s birth was a miraculous and foundational element of Christian belief. This historic event is not accurately portrayed among most traditional churches, as it most certainly did not happen December 25th. And typically, in the midst of the winter celebration, the story and import of Christ’s birth is obscured by useless traditions. So what really happened? And why is it important for people to understand the message that Christ’s birth conveys? The bible has stories that you may not know and answers that might surprise you.

In one sense the story of Christ’s birth begins in the book of Isaiah, during the reign of Ahaz. The prophet had told Ahaz to ask a sign from God. Ahaz was facing an implacable foe and fearful of defeat, and yet he refused to ask for a sign. The prophet then gave the prophecy of the Messiah, as a sign of the immediate deliverance of the nation from the Assyrian invaders. But it also promised a future fulfillment and greater deliverance. For a virgin would conceive and bear a child and he would be ‘Immanuel’ – God with us.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Isaiah 9

Isaiah’s Prophecy Fulfilled – Partially

This prophecy began to be fulfilled in the time of the gospel writers. Luke wrote about the angel who appeared to Zacharias promising the childless couple that they would have a son. This son, John, would be a Nazarite devoted to God’s service and filled with God’s spirit. He would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. And, like Elijah, he would turn the hearts of the people back to serve the Lord God, rejecting the idolatry of the contemporary society. Zacharias had a hard time believing what he had heard and experienced. But soon, as promised his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant. It seemed to this elderly couple that anything was possible when God was involved, for there was nothing too hard for God.

Shortly thereafter, the angel appeared to Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph. Mary was surprised when she was told that it was through her that the prophecy of Isaiah would be fulfilled. She, though a virgin, would conceive a son who would be ‘Immanuel’ – God with us. He would be named “Jesus/Yeshua” which means God is salvation. Mary did not doubt what the angel said, though she wondered how it would all take place. She understood that nothing was too hard for God. Even Joseph, when told the circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy in a dream, believed in God’s ability to perform a miracle as he had promised.

Jeremiah and the Message of Messiah

In Judea, based on the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures, many people were anticipating the coming of the Messiah. They looked for the coming of a warrior king to save them from Roman domination. The people remembered Jeremiah’s prophecy of the return of Judah to the land of promise. They had seen these prophecies fulfilled when their forefathers were released from exile in Babylon and their land was restored to them. So they believed that there was nothing too hard for God.

The begettal and birth of the Messiah, Jesus, as the son of God was the fulfillment of prophecy. But, he was also the forerunner, being the first of many brothers and sisters, to be begotten of the Father. His coming gives every Christian hope for the future, as co-inheritors of the great promises of eternal life in the family of God. Just as Jeremiah obtained a title deed in hope of a future inheritance in the land of Israel, so the spirit of Christ in us is our “title deed” to a place in the spiritual promised land. But there is more. Jesus’ birth also gives hope to all of humanity, everyone who has suffered under the tyranny of human rule. For his birth opened up the possibility of the restoration of all things.

Daniel and the Son of Man

Daniel’s prophecy of the Son of Man and the Ancient of days provided a historical context for the second coming of the Messiah. There would be a time of restoration after the rise and fall of the great empires of the world: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The Ancient of Days would send the Son of Man, the Messiah, to destroy human civilizations. And in their place the Messiah and the saints of God would establish the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom, made possible by the birth and death and return of the Messiah, the Christ, will remain forever.

So when we consider the good news of Christ’s birth it has profound implications for humanity. There is nothing to hard for the Lord God. For when he returns, he will establish justice and the end result will be peace – something our world needs desperately.

Learn more about the Messiah from Handel’s Oratorio:

http://cogwebcast.com/sermons/video-archives/authentic-gospel-messiah/

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What disqualifies a person from leadership? And, can they be restored?

toronto signNow that they’ve taken their lumps—what is the best medicine that could be prescribed for Rob Ford, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau?

What disqualifies a person from leadership? Can a fallen leader be restored?

It would seem this is the hot topic in Canada these days. The front pages of our two national newspapers, the National Post and the Globe & Mail, were completely taken up by a massive photo of Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford and stories about the mayor’s acknowledgement that he smoked crack cocaine while in a drunken stupor.

Of course, Rob Ford’s confession makes it obvious by his own acknowledgement that he told the public, his own family, and his closest political allies a pack of lies for a long time.

And then there is the case of the three Canadian Senators, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick duffy cartoonBrazeau, who were all suspended from the Canadian Senate for submitting falsified expense claims. As a direct consequence they have been tossed into seeming political oblivion. Their security passes, government credit cards, Blackberry phones were all immediately cut off and their personal office staff fired. The dishonesty of the three motivated the Senate to act swiftly in order to salvage something of that institution’s tattered reputation.

What disgrace! They are examples of leadership that failed the test. Sure, they disappointed many Canadians, although it must be said that there are many more people who cynically believe all politicians are corrupt, anywise, so what can you expect! Many today do take it for granted that our political wallin cartoonleaders are all crooks and liars. And, consequently, in a perverse sort of way we’re not too offended when we get what we expect. In fact I’ve heard that the popularity approval rating of Mayor Ford in the polls has risen since his dramatic confessions this week.

We all know that our leaders are subject to human frailties. But, really, is it beneficial to the wellbeing of our communities and our nation as a whole to set the bar of what we expect from our leaders so low? Do we really want our leaders “living down” to cynical expectations and so become self-fulfilling prophecies? I don’t think so.

In former times Canadians widely believed and would acknowledge that the Judeo-Christian scriptures set their expectations concerning their own personal behaviour as well as for those in leadership positions. That’s why the city of Toronto was formerly known as “Toronto the good” in years now long past. The bar of the public’s expectations concerning personal conduct was then set much higher.

rob ford foreheadIt is true that according to the teachings of the Bible, God DOES expect A LOT from both the leaders AND the led—from all those who pay Him lip service. Didn’t Rob Ford invoke God’s blessing on the people he’s supposed to be serving during one of his tumultuous press conferences this week?

Nevertheless, despite the blatant hypocrisy common to our secular 21st Century, many still expect senators playing cardsour leaders to carry out their service both faithfully and with dignity. Having the leader of Canada’s largest city confess before millions that he smoked crack while in a drunken stupor, while in the company of a bunch of druggies, is just plain embarrassing. We want our leaders whether in politics, sports, or business to at least put on a public veneer of a good example for our children even if we mostly do think they are all corrupt.

So, what’s the bottom line for our leaders with proven feet of clay? After falling so low, could and should Rob Ford, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau still be forgiven and restored to positions of leadership? Could they once again regain our full confidence? It all depends.

King David of ancient Israel, who was himself no stranger to some stupendous moral lapses during the course of his leadership, came to understand this issue thoroughly. He learned what good leadership requires. His dying words are still relevant. David put his epitaph this way:

The Lord’s Spirit spoke through me,
and his word was on my tongue. The God of Israel spoke;
the Rock of Israel said to me: “Whoever rules ·fairly [justly; righteously] over people,
who rules ·with respect for God, is like the morning light at ·dawn,
like a morning without clouds.
He is like sunshine after a rain
that makes the grass ·of the earth sparkle and gleam”….

But all ·evil [worthless; godless] people [both leaders and the led] will be thrown away like thorns that cannot be held in a hand. No one can touch them
 except with a tool of iron or wood.  They will be ·thrown in [consumed by] the fire and burned where they lie (2 Samuel 23:2-4, 6-7 Expanded Version).

Such consequences are indeed far worse than mere public embarrassment and humiliation. Remember, vengeance ONLY belongs to God—something the Toronto city council and the Conservative Party of Canada would do well to remember.

So can such fallen leaders be restored? While public apologies are a good start, more is needed. A real leader like King Dave, for example, is one who learns from his or her mistakes, genuinely repents from the heart of what is morally and ethically wrong and then initiates thorough change in their personal behaviour—and so turns from black to white, death to life, political oblivion to productive leadership, spiritually speaking.  That’s how King David responded to one of the most famous moral lapses of all time when he failed to fulfill his leadership duties before God, his family and the whole nation. You can read about his “news conference,” tears and confessions in Psalm 51.

Perhaps it would be encouraging—or maybe just plain shocking—to realize that even if Rob Ford, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau had committed both murder and adultery in the course of their duties, they could be forgiven by no less than God Himself and restored to their positions of leadership—if, and only if they would humbly, totally, and sincerely acknowledge their faults, repent of them all, and then completely change their corrupt behaviour. After all, we all have had feet of clay at one time or another during the course of our years. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is life.

Biblical repentance  means not just saying you’re sorry, but effecting a complete transformation of one’s attitudes and behaviour in those areas in which one committed a sin: i.e. smoking crack cocaine, abusing alcohol, lying, cheating on one’s expenses, threatening others, etc, etc.

Much has changed in the last 3,000 years since the days of King David. But it would appear that human nature is not one of them! Consequently, godly repentance is still the best medicine for the moral and ethical sicknesses that will periodically afflict our souls and the souls of our leaders.

 

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The al-Mabhouh assassination and Purim

If you love James Bond movies or follow the American TV series Burn Notice, the real-life, continuing news story about the January 19th assassination in Dubai of the Hamas intelligence (terror) chief Mahmoud al-Mabhouh makes for fascinating reading and viewing to both Middle Easterners and Westerners. Who hasn’t been fascinated to watch the hotel CCTV tapes broadcast worldwide by the media that purportedly show the hit squad stalking their kill.

Most everyone assumes the hit squad is Israeli. Like everyone else, Israel doesn’t publicly acknowledge its secret ops successes or failures—at least not for a generation or two. I’ve known a couple of people connected to intelligence work and truly mum’s the word.

Right now a variety of governments are expressing indignation publicly that the assassins dared to use their nation’s passports (British, Irish, Australian, French) issued under false identities to carry out the assignment.  Like who hasn’t watched Roger Ludlum’s Bourne Identity spy thrillers! Creating false identity papers is what every nation’s intelligence service does to facilitate dirty work.

Meanwhile, the mystery just grows deeper. Who really sent Mahmoud al-Mabhouh to his own private hell? The Israelis truly had cause. Al-Mabhouh used to boast about his killing of two Israeli soldiers in the mid-1980s and even posed for pictures standing on one Israeli’s corpse.

Al-Mabhouh also directed the purchase and smuggling of arms into Gaza for Hamas. Arms smuggling involves lots of cash, lonely docks or landing strips, and a rather unsavoury circle of contacts. A double cross or did somebody not get fully paid? At least two of the suspected members of the hit squad escaped from Dubai by taking the boat across the Persian Gulf to Iran! Israeli secret agents fleeing from  Dubai to Iran??? Go figure.

Now Hamas’ man in charge of its Iranian ties, Mahmoud Nasser, who worked closely with al-Mabhouh, asserts that Egyptian and Jordanian intelligence services tracked his dead boss prior to the hit. Perhaps another example of the age-old Middle Eastern proverb that says, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Or maybe this is just disinformation to cover up some sort of internal settling of accounts! Who knows?

What we do know is this—the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures has a way of settling up with each and every one of us, including Mahmoud al-Mabhouh! This past weekend was Purim, which is a Jewish holiday celebrated yearly on the 14-15th of the Hebrew month of Adar. The backstory for Purim is recounted in the book of Esther, which is part of the Hebrew Bible or Old Covenant.

In short form, the story is about a bad guy named Haman who wanted revenge. He was the prime minister of ancient Iran (Persia) during the reign of King Xerxes I (ca. 486-465 B.C.). As an Amalekite, Haman’s people had been enemies of the Jews for almost 1,000 years by that time. The people on the opposite side of this story are Esther and Mordecai.  Esther became Xerxes’ queen via a competitive beauty contest but because of enemies concealed her ethnic Jewish identity by adopting a common Iranian name. Mordecai was Esther’s uncle, and adoptive father. He worked as a low-level bureaucrat in Xerxes palace.

Using his powerful position, Haman deceptively persuaded the king to allow an ethic cleansing from the Iranian empire of a “troublesome” people whom he conveniently refrained from identifying to the king. But in his orders to the empire’s leaders Haman specifically targeted all Jewish men, women, and children living in an empire that covered all the ancient Middle East from India to Greece, including Egypt.

For a Christian this is scripturally crucial because the whole story of the New Covenant and Jesus being born in Bethlehem would never had occurred if Haman’s “final solution” had been successful.

But Haman’s plot was not successful due to a remarkable series of “coincidents” and the actions of a brave young woman and her uncle as well as a small group of the palace’s servants who decided to assist Esther and Mordecai in getting rid of Haman and his fellow co-conspirators.

Most of the conflict and strife in our present world would end if we focused on these words of the Apostle Paul:

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Romans 12:18-20 NKJV).

Esther and Mordecai were willing to live peaceably with all men in the multi-cultural Iranian empire of their day. But then, as today, there are men like Mahmoud al-Mabdouh who prefer using the tools of terror and war to achieve their ends. Such men forget the One who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.”

We as individuals should never take the law into our own hands to resolve our personal grudges. Rather we should show kindness and patience to all men. Heaping coals on a neighbour’s head was performing a good service to another. In the days before matches and lighters, if your fire went out starting a new one was a laborious affair. It was always easier to go to a helpful neighbour and ask for some live coals from his cooking fire. They would put the burning hot coals in a clay jar, wrap up a piece of cloth in the shape of a donut, putting this on the head as an insulator/stablizer and on that you carried the jar with the hot coals. See, no hands to get burned when you carry the coals of fire on your head!

Sovereign states are different, however, from individuals. States are charged with the protection of their people. Ancient Israel was actually commanded to deal on God’s behalf with terrorists and aggressors. Should we be surprised if modern Israel successfully deals with bloody hands in a way that reminds us of God’s ironic intervention in the downfall of Haman. Haman, the duplicitous prime minister, who Xerxes ordered to be hung on the 75 foot high gallows that Haman had built the previous day for the purpose of hanging Mordecai.  Talk about the biblical “ falling into a pit of your own making!” The celebration of Purim recounted in the book of Esther some 2,400 years ago, reminds us of God’s judgment and vengeance, and a brave woman who was willing to lay her life on the line in order to save her people from destruction, at the hands of the genocidal Haman.

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