Dec 262014
 

Boxing dayAs Boxing Day has fallen on blog day (or Friday to the rest of you) I thought I would write a short blog on the subject. I was vaguely aware what it was all about; I knew it wasn’t about the sport of “Boxing” for instance, but I didn’t know anything else for definite other than that. I must confess I don’t like not knowing things so I decided to do some research and find out the facts.

The first thing that surprised me was that Boxing Day is largely not celebrated in America. However it is celebrated in Canada, although through the passage of time many differences have developed between the way we Brits and Canadians celebrate this day.

The second surprise I had was that the more I searched, the clearer it became that nobody actually quite knows where it all started. There are a number of theories and in fact it could be a little bit of all of them…or not. The one thing that all agree on though is the date: December 26th. But hereafter the theories of the origin of Boxing Day vary. Here are the main theories so take your pick!

  • Some believe it dates back to the Middle Ages when the Church of England had ‘poor boxes’ in which they would collect money. These boxes would then be opened on Boxing Day and distributed amongst the poor.
  • It could also be the tradition of trades people such as postmen, bin men etc receiving a box of goodies or money in recognition of great service throughout the year.
  • Another possibility is that this tradition stems back to when the wealthy had servants who had to work on Christmas day serving their masters. Their masters would give them a box of gifts to take home the next day, which would be their day off.
  • A tradition I wasn’t aware of was that during the Age of Exploration, when great sailing ships were setting off to discover new lands, a “Christmas Box” was a symbol of good luck. It would be a priest (bringing a bad name to Christianity in my opinion) who would place the box on the ship while it was still in port and the superstitious sailors would put money in it hoping for a safe journey. The priest would then seal it until the journey’s end when, upon safe return, he would say a mass of thanks and distribute the contents to the poor.

In many places Boxing Day is referred to as “St Stephens Day”. St Stephen was the first Christian martyr as recorded in Acts 6&7. It says that he was “Full of grace and power and was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). He was arrested and taken before the council, where he preached an amazing sermon to the religious leaders who took exception to him accusing them of putting to death the Messiah. He enraged them so much that they took him out and stoned him. Even while being stoned he still forgave his attackers. Now he is the type of hero I would like to celebrate on Boxing Day!

On a similar heroic note, the popular Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” was set on Boxing Day (the feast of St Stephen). It tells the story of a king braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant . During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step by step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia(Modern day Czechoslovakia).

Let us take inspiration from “St. Stephen” and “St. Wenceslaus I”, continuing in the tradition of these two men, who stood strong against violent opposition and refused to compromise in the face of opposition and put themselves out to help the poor. Happy St Stephen’s Day!

 December 26, 2014  Posted by at 9:00 am Christmas No Responses »
Dec 192014
 

True meaning of ChristmasI have to admit that I get quite worn down with the Christmas palaver. It seems we say it every year that “Christmas gets earlier and earlier”. I think that’s mainly because the shops start to stock Christmas items while I’m still wearing shorts! It gets to November and all the Christmas adverts are on the tv and homes across our towns are starting to drain the national grid with their colourful (and sometimes very gaudy) light displays. It can be a very stressful time as the list to buy presents reaches its second or third page- and what to buy people? And how much should we spend? And can we afford it?

A couple of weeks ago, we as a family went up to London and experienced ‘Winter Wonderland’ in Hyde Park for the first time. It’s an impressive set-up; huge; lots of noise, sights, sounds and smells, but sadly didn’t fill me with the Christmas spirit I was hoping for. It was free to get in, but everything once you walked in was hugely expensive. The myriad of eating places (with their fantastic smells) provoked gluttony. The children (who think we are actually made of money) badger us constantly to go on this or buy that and it just left me feeling a little bit sad.

Before I leave you too depressed, I want to remind you (and myself) that this is not what Christmas is all about. It’s not about ‘winter wonderland’, it’s not about spending money we don’t have. It’s not about lots of television shows and films, or rich food or even (dare I say) spending time with friends or family.

The thing is, we really do know what Christmas is all about; we just find ourselves getting constantly caught up in all the ‘stuff’. Christmas is about Jesus; His amazing descent from heavens throne room to a smelly dirty stable; His sacrifice, commitment; the grace and His very great love. “For God so loved the world that he gave..” (John 3:16)

God is the most amazing generous giver and He calls us to aspire to His generosity.

When we think about it, Christmas is a time when we celebrate Jesus’ birthday and birthdays usually mean gifts to the birthday person. However, at this birthday everyone else gets a present except the one whose birthday it is. We of course cannot give Him a physical gift, but how about getting a little creative?

I think a nice little gift would be the sacrifice of some of our time. How about setting aside 20 minutes or so each day to pray and meditate on His word? He’d like that. Or what about singing? Christmas is a time of singing and Jesus loves it when we sing our worship to Him. It only needs to be an audience of one, nobody else needs to hear (in case you’re worried about your voice!). Another idea of a gift would be to bless His brothers and sisters, our church family. That would be like giving to Him in His eyes. So also we could provide for the poor. They are always on His heart and we have been called to be Jesus’ hands and feet. Where He is not physically present He has called us to stand in His place.

I’m sure we could be very creative with ideas about what to give Him. And as we give, we will find it impossible to out-give Him because He will ensure we receive His peace in our hearts which far outweighs all the other ‘stuff’ this Christmas.

 December 19, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Christmas No Responses »
Dec 122014
 

God of old & newOn a superficial reading, the God of the bible can seem quite different in the Old Testament as He does in the New. If you are not careful you can focus on His wrathful character, where he smites whole nations and appears; angry and vengeful and compare that with ‘nice’ Jesus who went around healing people and cuddling babies!

Modern atheists and sceptics love to seize on this caricature and focus on God’s angry aspect without any reference to God’s qualities of love and patience etc. The well known atheist Richard Dawkins writing in his book ‘The God delusion’ said “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (page 31) ouch! I don’t even know quite a few of those words but they don’t sound very nice. Now Richard Dawkins I know, has an agenda, but is there an element of truth in his rantings? Is this God of anger and wrath so different to the God of the New Testament?

The idea that it is a different God has been around for centuries. It started with a chap called Marcion in the second century, who had this teaching ‘Marcionism’ named after him. He believed, much like the Gnostics of the time that the wrathful God of the Old Testament was a lesser god (with a small g) from the all forgiving God of the New. He was denounced as a heretic and his teaching was refuted for the following reasons;

The bible is God’s progressive revelation. He dealt with people very differently throughout history. We see this in the various covenants He had with characters like Noah, Abraham and David. Each covenant building on the other, each one revealing more and more of His plans and purposes. These covenants also meant he dealt differently with people. He established and called His own people, the Israelites who could demonstrate His character to the world. This was with the express purpose of reaching these people and demonstrating mercy and grace to them, but they rejected Him outright and subsequently had to face the consequences.

To describe God in the Old Testament as only angry is a huge misrepresentation. God is amazingly loving, compassionate and faithful. This is demonstrated again and again in the Old Testament.

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Exodus 34:6)

But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf (Nehemiah 9:17-18)

For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. (Psalm 108:4)

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:13)

Any many, many other passages.

The fact is that in the Old testament, God had to jealously guard His people to protect them from their enemies because they threatened to destroy His plan of salvation for all people, for all time (God is always looking at ‘the big picture’). What has to be remembered is that God is a God of justice as well as love and the evil of His enemies could not be condoned and go unchecked. Even then he gave them ample time to repent. The Amorites in Genesis 15:16 had hundreds of years to repent and in Genesis 6:3, Noah preached for 120 years calling the people to repentance before God sent the flood. Surely enough time to give them a chance? This was not a case of God wiping out innocent people. They were all wilful in their rebellion and often engaged in very violent and barbaric practices. To not act would mean that God would seem unjust. God dealt with His own people as a father would discipline the child he loves. It’s not unloving but ‘tough’ love, designed to bring transformation, repentance and change.

The bible describes God as unchanging (Malachi 3:6) and so let’s briefly look at the similarities between the God of the Old and the New Testaments;

We mentioned that God disciplines His children in the Old Testament but He also does this in the New;

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Hebrew 12:6)

He is still a God of righteous wrath in the New

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)

And He said some harsh words in Mark 16:16

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

And even though Jesus demonstrated the most amazing love and patience on many occasions he did still show his righteously angry side when He twice turned over the money changers tables and drove them out of the temple and when he rebuked His disciples on a number of occasions and the way He spoke to the scribes and Pharisee’s.

In summary it is very important to study the bible correctly and see that God has demonstrated His character in multi-faceted ways. It is also important to note that He is sovereign and is fully justified in whatever He does. I am so glad that throughout His dealings with mankind His mercy has triumphed over His judgement continually. He doesn’t always treat us as our sins deserve and that is why He is worthy to be praised.

 December 12, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Uncategorized No Responses »
Dec 052014
 

Second chanceI asked all my readers recently to provide me with any questions you may have that perhaps you have struggled with or wondered about as you have read the bible and I would do my best to bring an answer.

The title of this blog is the condensed version of one of these questions.

To expand it a little, the question was; “Given that God is a just God, it would seem unjust if someone died who had actually not rejected Jesus because they had never understood whilst alive. Surely they must have a chance to choose to accept or reject Him, so would they be given a chance to make that decision after death?”

A similar question would be “What happens to the people who have never heard the gospel?

That’s a great question! As you will have noticed in nearly all my blogs, I have used scripture a lot to back up what I am saying. This can be quite an emotive subject and so rather than give my own opinion, as best I can, I want to answer this question with the unchanging, eternal, word of God, whether I particularly like the answer or not. Remember as I said last week we want to get past our own opinions and hear what God really wants to say.

I know that some will disagree with me on the next point, but let’s start with the issue of salvation. Who is responsible for it? Is it God or ourselves? Some would say that it is only our choice, we are the ones who see our need to be saved and so when we realise this we repent and are saved. God provided it but the decision belongs to us. This is commonly referred to as the Arminian position.

The bible states that before we are Christians we are ‘dead’ in our sins (Colossians 2:13 and Ephesians 2:1) and the last time I noticed, dead people are incapable of making decisions! I believe that it is God who is the ‘Founder and perfector’ of our salvation as it says in Hebrews 12:2.

Ephesians 1:4 also makes it clear that God chose us. “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Jesus makes this even clearer when He said;

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide (John 15:16)

So point number one is that salvation is dependent on who God chooses, not on our own decision, even though it feels like our decision when we do receive him. We were drawn to make that decision by The Holy Spirit

So what about the question of God being unjust to people who don’t even get to choose?

The bible is clear that actually no-one is without excuse;

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Also that no-one has an inclination to seek after God either;

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12)

The natural state of everyone is rebellion towards God, we are all the same. Even if we were given a second chance we wouldn’t take it. Many people have received amazing miracles & still rejected God. Even Jesus when He walked this earth, after performing amazing miracles and seeing the dead raised was still rejected. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 The rich man asked for warnings to be given for his 5 brothers who are still alive and Abraham responded;

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)

The hope of a second chance is completely extinguished by the verse in Hebrews 9:27

it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

So the answer is that when we die, everyone receives justice, we all get what we deserve. For some of us though who have put our trust in Him and who God has called, we receive the most amazing mercy. We who were once God’s enemies are declared righteous and welcomed into the family of God as His own children for all time.

If you have any other questions about the bible you would like me to look at, please let me know in the comments below. I will be looking at a few more bible difficulties in the coming weeks.

 December 5, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Salvation No Responses »