Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Notes from Anne Rice's "Out of Darkness"

"This book is about faith in God.

For more than twenty centuries, Christianity has given us dazzling works of theology, yet it remains a religion in which the heart is absolutely essential to faith.

The appeal of Jesus Christ was first and foremost to the heart.

So here is the story of one path to God.

The story has a happy ending because I have found the Transcendent God both intellectually and emotionally. And complete belief in Him and devotion to Him, no matter how interwoven with occasional fear and constant personal failure and imperfection, has become the true story of my life.

Before I can describe how I returned to faith, at the age of fifty-seven, I want to describe how I learned about God as a child.

What strikes me now as most important about this experience is that it preceded reading books. Christians are People of the Book, and our religion is often described as a Religion of the Book. And for two thousand years, all that we believe has been handed down in texts.
It’s important to stress here that my earliest experiences involved beauty; my strongest memories are of beautiful things I saw, things which evoked such profound feeling in me that I often felt pain.

In fact I remember my early childhood as full of beauty, and no ugly moment from that time has any reality for me. The beauty is the song of those days.

I vividly remember knowing about God, that He loved us, made us, took care of us, that we belonged to Him; and I remember loving Jesus as God; and praying to Him and to His Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, when I was very small."

Rice’s Faith Begins to Crack

She saw ‘good people’ with no faith.

She had a desire for modern world.

She had a conversation with priest- “He just said, ‘You are catholic- there is no life outside catholic church’.

Her heart wanted to explore.

She quit the church for 38 years.

Never prayed to God about it.

Stopped talking to God.

Began to see God as voice of authority over infinite compassion.

God could not have made a church so fragile- vulnerable to information- 'churches told you lies.'

Rice writes ‘Interview with the Vampire’- ‘an obvious lament for my lost faith’

Atheism Begins to Crack

She began to study history- the more she studied history- ‘the more my atheism became shaky’- particularly the survival of the Jews-

She goes back to New Orleans and finds the Catholics warm and receiving

Struggle was waging- atheism held firm

Took trips to Europe and Holy Land- The Statue of Jesus at Rio de Janeiro- a spiritual experience-

She began to see His presence and also began to see that the Lord was pursuing her- EWTN-

Atheism was cracking…”I was losing faith in nothingness”

She saw people committed to ‘good’- ‘NO ONE WAS INDIFFERENT to conscious or to acute moral responsibility’.

Creation was speaking to me- the music of a violin sang to me of God-

Jesus weighed on her.. ‘He started a worldwide religion’ Why was America obsessed with Jesus- he was on their lips- Why was His name the most common curse word I heard?

FINALLY she gave in to something deep… I loved God..I love Him in Jesus… I wanted to go back

“In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from Him for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I’d been, all of my life, missing the entire point.”

“And it was His knowing that overwhelmed me….His was the Divine Mind that made snowflakes, candle flames, birds soaring upwards…

He knew the answer to every conceivable question before it was formulated…

And why should I remain apart from Him just because I couldn’t grasp all of this? He could grasp it. Of course!”

Decides to write only for God- Her husband dies of a brain tumor

From 2002- 2005 devoured New Testament scholarship

“It isn’t simply finding skeptical New Testament scholarship so poor, so shallow, so irresponsibly speculative, or so biased. That has indeed been the case.
“ But it was the Incarnation- Jesus becoming flesh- “You became a child for me”

“Not only do I find no evidence for isolated Gospel communities, but I see no collaborative writing in the gospels at all.”

The interplay of simplicity and complexity seems to go beyond human control.

She finds many Christians full of love and division is hurting the church.

“I became convinced that my urban atheist friends were to a great extent out of touch with Christian America”

Last line :

I am broken, flawed, committed: A Christmas Christian searching for that stigmata, for the imprint of those Wounds on my heart and my soul, and my daily life”

Anne Rice: A Christmas Christian - review of her auto-biography.

I just finished CALLED OUT OF DARKNESS: A Spiritual Confession by author Anne Rice.

My first experience with Anne Rice was around 1998 when I finally read "Interview with the Vampire". As a boy, I loved monster stuff (Dracula, werewolf, Frankenstein) and had heard a lot of praise for the Vampire Chronicles.

As I read the book, I was totally absorbed and very impressed. At the same time, it had the most sense feeling presence of evil I have ever experienced in a book. Not that I was repulsed by it, I was actually impressed by it. It was the truth of it that caught my attention- this work of supernatural fiction regarding the tragic life of godless vampires captured the tragedy of it all in dazzling images.

Knowing a little of Louis and Lestat, it was delightful to read of Anne's return to the faith and mesmerizing to read her life story. It is also comforting to know that the proverb is indeed true: 'Train up a child....'

I encourage this book and after reading it, I want to read her latest two about Jesus.

I will post more about Anne's life and conversion at a later time, especially how Scripture captured her mind and shaped her theology.

But I highly recommend this excellent story of life and faith.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Good Disorientation- A Beneficial Distraction

The best part of Christmas break happened today.... I forgot what day it was. There was a significant amount of time today where I did not know the time and I did not know the day and best of all, it did not matter the time or day- and for you smart aleks out there- I was sober.

This has been a good break. Been reading a little theology by John Frame- working on a few power points for school- watching football and drawing a few plays- eating, sleeping, a little exercise- but mostly just hanging with the family and having a good time.

I am very grateful to God for all He has given me. Ready for a big 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Feast Worth the Wait- Christmas in Isaiah

Having trouble waiting to open those presents? Is the anticipation killing you?
Some will lose sleep tonight so excited about the morning of surprises!

Isaiah 25 expresses why the Lord is worth the wait. Jesus came at the right time. The baby came into a world ready for the gospel. The Roman roads and the greek language were to be the vehicles for the spread of this amazing story.

Some of you will eat an amazing Christmas dinner tomorrow- look at what the Lord is cookin' up!

Isaiah 25:6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7 And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”


I hope your first thought in the morning will be rejoicing in this great God. He is definitely worth the wait! His gift is already open and waiting for you!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Unintended Opening in Avatar

OK OK- before you blast me for over analyzing everything (my kids sometimes give it to me about reading the Bible into everything) I will direct some Biblical worldview analysis of Avatar- I'm sorry, but it is how I am wired.

First of all, how can you not admire the film?- and you have to especially admire the creative imagination of James Cameron who has played this over and over in his mind for 15 years. He had to invent technology to even begin putting this down in digital wonder.

But the story does two unexpected things:
1) This is the first movie I have seen to show a fatigue of and dis-satisfaction with post-modern thought.

See, ultimately post-modern philosophy destroys the 'big picture'- in post-modern thinking there is NO meta-narrative that pulls everyone together. The consequence is a fragmentation of humans into individuals with no truth and no purpose. The problem with this is that we cannot live this way. As we become less and less connected (despite facebook, texts, and tweats ) we begin to grow cold. When E-harmony.com become a multi-billion dollar business, you realize that our relationships are crumbling under the terrible carnage of post-modern fractures of tradition and truth.

And (2) the movie again unveils our deep heart desires. Did you see it? What was special about the Na'vi? It was their ability to connect to the life force of Eyra that all of nature is connected to. Wasn't it cool to think of uploading your inner being into a 'horse' or Banshee and guiding them with your thoughts? Why is that such a yearning? Because we are so not connected.... we live in bubbles spending our time traveling in cars and zapped into boredom by tech-screens.

As Christians, we are getting very close to entering a time of unprecedented gospel need in America. All of our idols are dull. We need a $15 movie to provide the next big whoop. All of our stories are looking tarnished- sports, government, entertainment, and pleasure is fading- life is not fulfilling what we all want.

We think we want Pandora... but it too is full of flaws. We romanticize about the Indian lifestyle only to realize that they got cold, hungry, and had no answer for mosquitoes. Eventually you want to build a home and cook on a range top.

But we also want that meta-narrative- we desire harmony- but it never happens because we run around being little gods caught up in our own pathetic stories. NO- the only way to harmony is to escape our prison and enter the story of our Warrior- King, The Creator of all life, love, and passion.

It is an incredible story, a story about His pain and sacrifice, a story of His love and mercy.

I do think Cameron's imagination should also encourage our hope of Heaven. You think flying among floating Islands is cool? Wait til you see the new heaven and earth! You get caught up in 9 foot, perfect blue bodies?... just wait and see what God has for you in your resurrection body!

Two last notes: The movie demonstrates God over and over.... our need to worship- the moral law that inhabits all humanity (even alien ones)- the evil of greed and selfishness- the joy of faithful love and service.

And sadly, it also shows the hypocrisy of our culture. We tolerate all faiths.... and encourage worship by indigenous people to all except Christians. I heard it this morning: The only thing tolerance has given us is an excuse to sin and not feel shame. It really is a lack of love- we sit back and passively watch people apply error and wonder why they are hurting.

I admit my part in this- the church has mistaken self-righteous separation for service and honored cowardly silence over loving, humble, and sincere gospel proclamation.

So don't be afraid to step in the opening and say.. I know a real answer to your desire for Pandora's magic. And it is not a fantasy, He is a PERSON. The most wonderful being in the Universe.. and our only hope for love, peace, and true harmony.

Just my take... I hope to see it again. And I loved it in the IMAX theater... WOW!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Christmas of Comfort- Christmas in Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins.

The peace of Christmas is an end of war. The peace pointed to in Scripture is a 'laying down of arms' - 'a surrender"- Stop fighting the Lord, end the madness of this frantic fraud of a world. May you find comfort and peace in the Son! We were once enemies, but we are now adopted children. Experience the magic of a child, you are God's child- if you submit to Him!

3 A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

This is referenced as John the Baptist. He is a wonderful character in the Christmas story!

6 A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”

All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

This is one of my favorite verses- more true than ever. This Nativity story is timeless and eternal! I am more convinced that God's Word is a must to make it as we get swept up in a fragmented culture that runs on microwave moments. We need to read it- meditate on it- memorize it- study it. We live in a land that reasons by sight and makes decisions by urges- only God's Word can provide a compass for survival.


9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”

Christmas is about good news! That is what 'gospel' means.........


10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

Christmas is about the tenderness of a babe and the steady care of a shepherd....


28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Christmas is about renewal and rest......


Lord I pray that your children will experience the beauty and power of Christmas.... even TODAY!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Government Shall Be Upon His Shoulders- Christmas in Isaiah



The Government Shall Be Upon His Shoulders

Isaiah 9.2–7; Luke 2.1–20

sermon at the Midnight Eucharist on Christmas Eve 2008

in the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert, Durham

by the Bishop of Durham, Dr N. T. Wright

‘Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders.’ Unless you sigh with relief at those words, you haven’t really been listening. What we need just now, more obviously than ever in my lifetime, is someone to shoulder the burden, someone who can get under pick up our multiple problems and carry them for us.

It should be obvious by now that nobody locally or globally has the slightest idea how to address, let alone solve, the crisis that has come swiftly upon us. And I’m not simply talking about the voting methods in Strictly Come Dancing. I’m talking about those admittedly lesser concerns, the problems of global power, global finance, global humanity as a whole.

We have of course just witnessed a kind of secular version of Isaiah 9. The election of Barack Obama has been hailed with wild delight around the world. Desmond Tutu sounded crazy with joy talking about him on the radio – even while being realistic about the fact that the black revolution he helped to inspire has failed to confront Robert Mugabe. Oprah Winfrey said on election night that there had ‘never been a night like this on the planet earth’, which may have been over-egging the Christmas cake just a little. The whole world was hungry for hope, and now Obama, who is indeed brilliant, charming, shrewd and very capable, is being told that the government of the world is upon his shoulders, and we expect him to solve its problems. Poor man: no ordinary mortal can bear that burden. Nor should we ask it of him. The irrational joy and hope at his election only shows the extent to which other hopes have failed, making us snatch too eagerly at sudden fresh signs. And that can only be because we have forgotten the Christmas message, or have neutered it, have rendered it toothless, as though the shoulder of the child born this night was simply a shoulder for individuals to lean on rather than the shoulder to take the weight of the world’s government.

Because this night, together with its senior cousin, the night of Easter, is the real night for which planet earth was waiting and to which it must look back if it wants to know the way forward. We place too much trust in our politicians because we place too little trust in God, and in the self-revelation of the living God in the child who is born to us. And when our politicians let us down, all we can think of is . . . how to find another politician, who will get it right this time. That’s like the non-solution to the present economic crisis proposed by our Prime Minister: let’s all spend some more and then it’ll all be all right! Which means, of course, Let’s all borrow some more, so that the banks can charge us interest so they’ll be happy again and then we’ll all be happy – except, of course, for those who are losing their jobs, those whose homes are being repossessed, those who are lured into the trap of spiralling debt and can’t get out. And that applies just as much globally as it does locally.

Past experience suggests that at this point someone will be thinking, I came here tonight to hear about the baby Jesus, not to have a political rant. Well, all right, let’s talk about the baby Jesus. Why was he born in Bethlehem? Luke tells us: because the then global superpower wanted to raise taxes, so told everyone to sign up and pay up. That’s how the Middle East worked then, and, with minor adjustments, that’s how it works today. This was Caesar’s world, and unless you were fool enough to try to buck the system you shrugged your shoulders and did what you were told.

Yes, says Luke; but watch what happens next. The child who is born is the true king from the house of David. And all the ancient prophecies spoke of the coming royal child from David’s line as the king, not of one small country far away, certainly not of a heavenly kingdom removed from this earth, but of the earth itself, the world claimed by Caesar and taxed by Caesar, the world where the rich get rich at the expense of the poor while telling them they are giving them freedom, justice and peace. The world of empires from that day to this.

Luke’s story digs underneath this typical story of everyday empire and undermines it with the explosive news of a different empire, a different emperor, a different kind of emperor. Jesus isn’t simply another politician on whom everyone can pin their hopes and who will then let them down. His way of establishing God’s justice and peace on the earth was different to Caesar’s, different to the usual power games and money games, different in source, different in method, different in effect. We are today hungry for exactly that difference, and Christmas night is the time to ponder it.

Think back to that wonderful passage in Isaiah and listen to the hunger for hope, the hope of the coming boy-king. ‘The yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken’, declares the prophet: good news for a people, like so many today, hopelessly enslaved whether by debt or force of arms or a combination of both. ‘The boots of the tramping warriors, and the garments rolled in blood, shall be burned as fuel for the fire’: good news for a people, like so many today, who find themselves caught up in wars they neither started nor wanted. And we, who hear these sorrows far away, are nevertheless implicated, since the debts of far distant people are incurred in the same way that our own credit card bills and big overdrafts are incurred, by rich banks luring people in over their heads and then demanding interest upon interest; and the wars of people far away are fought, often enough, with weaponry manufactured here in the rich countries, and indeed paid for, often enough, with the loans which we have made, on which we continue to charge the victims compound interest.

And Isaiah cries out, and Luke in his spectacular Christmas story cries out too, that it’s time for a different kind of world, a different kind of empire. What we need is a new economic system, a new way of doing global politics, a new style of leadership. That’s what the Christmas message is all about: ‘Unto us a child is born, a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And his name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Christmas is all about the coming of the world’s true king, the one who stops wars, who forgives debts, who establishes true justice and judgment in the earth.

But how does he do this? How do those four astonishing titles take effect? How can we prevent the Christmas message, whether of Isaiah or of Luke’s angels, being more than just whistling in the dark, a fantasy to help us forget the dark reality for a day or two?

The story the gospels tell is not whistling in the dark. It’s about this child growing up and starting to put God’s kingdom into operation, close up, wherever he goes. This is what it looks like, he says, when God is running things. The world gets turned the right way up. Watch, in the gospels, as the Wonderful Counselor goes to work, dealing with individuals but also confronting the systems which had enslaved them, and upsetting the slavemasters. Watch as the Mighty God strides through Galilee feeding the hungry, healing the sick, rescuing people and restoring creation itself. Look on in awe as the Everlasting Father is seen mirrored in the incarnate Son, giving himself totally to his beloved world. And, if you dare in the light of our culture where war, the way of death, is the way of life for so many, watch as Jesus, from his earliest beginnings with a price on his head through to his riding the donkey into Jerusalem, shows what it looks like when the Prince of Peace is on the move. He comes to get God’s kingdom off the ground – or perhaps we should say, precisely on to the ground, the real life of real people. And that involves taking upon himself the full force of the world’s cruel systems, the political and economic enslavement from which we still suffer, so that the power of evil can be broken and something new may take its place. That was true at Jesus’ birth, as it was true at his death. This is what the alternative looks like. Some mock it as if it were irrelevant, but the truth is that it is all too relevant, a rumor of hope that the powers of the world do their best to hush up. Hence the present push towards disestablishing the church: let’s get God off the public square in case he upsets our business as usual.

But, my friends, it is ‘business as usual’ that has got us into our present mess. We need to think of different ways of ordering our world; as the fish-and-chip signs say, We’ve tried the rest, now try the best. And the best way is the Jesus-way, the baby-in-the-manger way, the way of putting the vulnerable and the poor first and working out from there, instead of hoping that if the very rich can only help out the very rich then the poor . . . will somehow benefit in the long run. We need new economic principles, and for and with that we need new social and political principles. Now is the time to be working on them, instead of assuming that we know the answers already and only need to iron out a few accidental glitches. And into that debate we who worship the Christ-child need to be ready to speak up, and like Jesus himself to speak up out of a context where we are already at work, doing the kingdom on the street, in our families and schools and offices, in local and national government, education, business, administration and, yes, even in church.

‘The government shall be upon his shoulders’: that is the good news of the gospel. But the way Jesus Christ exercises his authority, consistent with the nature of that authority, is always through the healing and renewal of human beings, calling them as he called his first followers to the dangerous, difficult but glorious task of working as his agents, growing the kingdom as we say, making it happen for real people in the real world. Hence the to-and-fro between worship and witness, between what happens here at the altar and what happens down the street. With the story of the Christ-child in our hearts, and the Spirit of Jesus giving us energy and direction, we are called to be kingdom-bringers in whatever sphere we can. We have to think globally and act locally, campaigning for the big issues like debt remission and climate change, and working on the local issues like housing, asylum and unemployment. Isaiah spoke of the authority of the child growing continually, spreading justice and peace throughout the world, and it is through the work of Jesus’ followers that this is to come about, upheld and directed by what the prophet calls ‘the zeal of the Lord of hosts’.

How does that zeal work in us and through us? Not by just another political dream, with Jesus substituted for Barack Obama or anyone else. It’s a different dream and it works in a different way. The kingdom of the Christ-child gets to work when we stop, and pause, and look in wonder once more at the baby lying in the manger, and like Mary ponder in our hearts what it all means. Only through deep devotion to the child who is born to us, the son who is given to us, can we make sure that the government really is upon his shoulders, and so prevent our good intentions being misdirected to serve our own ends, real or imagined. ‘O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing’: we come here tonight, aware that the kingdom Jesus came to bring needs to be worked out in the real and tough challenges that lie ahead of us globally, nationally and locally but aware, too, that if it is Jesus’ kingdom we are working out we cannot get enough of Jesus himself, cannot worship him enough, cannot ponder him enough, cannot invoke him enough, cannot love and adore him enough, cannot taste him enough. That’s why we’re here tonight. ‘O come, let us adore him’; yes, and then, with that adoration opening our eyes afresh to his way of doing things, putting into our minds and hearts a new vision of how things could be, let us celebrate the fact that the government is upon his shoulder, and let us go out into the new year to face the much-heralded darkness with the news of a great light.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

God is With Us- Christmas in Isaiah

The Sign of Immanuel

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

Matthew 1:20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means God with us).

As we approach this famous passage, we actually get into one of the most intriguing parts of Biblical prophecy. And we also get to a theological controversy at the same time. In spite of these issues, if we are not careful we will miss the biggest message and our best comfort during this season..... GOD IS WITH US.

Do you believe that? Do you really comprehend what that means?

May years ago, Bette Midler sand a song with a very catching melody:

God is watching us.....

God is watching us.....

God is watching us.....

From a distance.

As appealing it was to actually hear God is a popular song, this ultimately was not helpful. Fortunately, it is not correct. God is NOT sitting way up in the cosmos, wringing His hands and wondering what will happen. He is not like Lucille Ball overrun by the assembly line or Jim Carrey inundated with e-mails- He is present, living, active, and sovereign over the minute details of your very life. AND HE IS FOR YOU!

REMEMBER ROMANS 8:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?


37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What an awesome message! What a Christmas message!


Now a little Bible teaching here.....

The toughest one is the translation of the word 'virgin' in Isaiah. It may be a little bit of a force here by translators. Please don't tag me as liberal, just wanting to give you all the evidence.

Jesus was born of the virgin Mary as recorded in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38. But the emphasis of this verse and in Matthew is "IMMANUEL" not the woman. The word in Isaiah is more likely 'young woman' here in Isaiah. But the virgin birth of Jesus stands on the account in the gospels where Matthew and Luke testify to this. And then Matthew gives a legitimate rendering of 'virgin' to the Isaiah reference. The greek work in Matthew is parthenos (a virgin, chaste woman).

Now why is this even important? We have to be careful to understand that there is often in Biblical prophecy DUAL fulfillment of the text. In other words, there will be a literal fulfillment in a soon time, but also a larger more expansive fulfillment in the future.

An example of this is prophecy regarding Babylon- the literal fulfillment of its destruction, but also the larger prediction of the world's system which will be destroyed in the second coming of Christ.

This passage in Isaiah is an excellent example of this. It was literally fulfilled in Isaiah 8:1-10 but it also points to Christ 700 years later. The Old Testament contains types and shadows of the King. Again, we use Scripture to establish these ideas... that is why I included Matthew 1 where he points back to this verse.

Now it points out an interesting part of 'Immanuel', which is this: God's presence - His being with us- is not loved or wanted by everyone. The reference in Isaiah is again judgment for God's enemies and comfort for God's people.

It is never easy... Christ is always a battle ground. That is why you see even today, conflict over nativity scenes and over the name of Jesus Christ.

But do not lose heart. Embrace Immanuel. He is with you. Yes that frightens me too. He is so with me that He knows how I think. He knows how poorly I obey. He knows how weak and sinful I am. And He still loves me- WOW!

AND He is FOR me. He is WITH me. When others run, He stands and supports. When Satan accuses, He defends.

This Christmas.... meditate on this truth. God is with us. He is not distant. God is with us, He has not tucked tail and run. God is with us. Allow Him to draw even closer still.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Red- Christmas in Isaiah

I'm sure you are familiar with the famous passage, The Suffering Servant, in Is. 53. Written 700 years before Jesus was born- look at the amazing verses again:

Is. 52:14 As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.

Is 53:

53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.


Have you considered the death and resurrection of Christ as a part of Christmas? The baby was born to die.

There is something I want you to do sometime, and that is study the Shroud of Turin here: http://www.shroud.com/

and the Suderium of Oviedo here: http://www.shroud.com/guscin.htm.

Did you know that the measurements of the face and the placement of the wounds are matched on these two pieces of cloth?

Consider the testimony of John:

"20:5 He bent down and saw the strips of linen cloth lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who had been following him, arrived and went right into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen cloth lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been around Jesus’ head, not lying with the strips of linen cloth but rolled up in a place by itself."

Whether you accept these relics as real or not, I encourage you to look at the crucified man pictured in the shroud and contemplate what Jesus did for us. He came not to live for Himself... He came to die for me.

That has to take Christmas to a deeper level... the red he shed for me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Green- Christmas in Isaiah

Isaiah 4:2 In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.

Christ is frequently referred to as this 'tender shoot' or branch that comes up out the stump.

On that first Christmas day, it would appear that the Lord had abandoned the world. The last prophetic message was now over 400 years old… where was God? Israel had been divided, broken, and burned. The people of God were scattered through Persia and Egypt.

The covenant promise of God, however, had NOT been abandoned. There were some- the steady remnant- who would not give up on the Lord though all seemed lost.

The Jews were in a turbulent time at home. The influences of Rome and Greece had penetrated deep into the land. King Herod was holding a tinderbox together. He was obedient to the Romans but also oversaw much construction, including the Temple, which began in 20 BC and continued after his death and right up to its destruction again in 70 AD.

In the midst of all the unrest and oppressive rule, a tender shoot appeared, out of the stump of Jesse…… Salvation had come and would culminate in the greatest story in human history.

The Book of Isaiah is full of references and prophecy to this King.

Isaiah 11:1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

Does God seem silent to you? As you look around in this world of consumerism, practical atheism, and seemingly powerless and fragmented church… Can you hold on to the promises of God? Cling to Christ, He is there for you!

This Christmas look around for evidence of this ‘shoot’- the Vine of God. Let Him take root in the good soil of a soft heart, and nurture His advance in your life. If you do the fruit will be glorious and beautiful!

John 15: 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Christmas Day- Christmas in Isaiah

It’s early in December, so if you will forgive me- there is some bad news in the Book of Isaiah. But do not rob the Bible by hiding the bad news…. The worse it is, the more glorious is the gospel message. It is the dark night that makes the day so good.

God tells Isaiah bad news and he tells it to a bad man. Isaiah cried out “Woe is me, I have unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips.” (Ch 6)

This was in comparison to the HOLY HOLY HOLY LORD GOD ALMIGHTY.

The bad news is that we are in trouble. Israel’s history is our history. We have forsaken the true and living God, the eternal loving God, the covenant keeping Lord to follow after other gods.

And because of that Isaiah speaks of a ruthless DAY OF THE LORD. There are stark images in Isaiah of disciplined enemies who kill for killing sake. God prescribes a horrible judgment to those who repeatedly ignore Him and hurt others and ourselves by spreading the cancer of sin.

The judgment passages are disturbing. Is. 63 has the image of the Son treading on the grapes of wrath.

There are some interesting points in Isaiah. To me, the most compelling one is the callousness and stubbornness of our hearts. Isaiah’s ministry actually ‘hardened’ the hearts of the people.

What?

One outstanding commentator put it this way:

“Every time you hear the Word of God preached, you come away from that exposure to the truth either a little closer to God or a little further away from Him, either more softened toward God or more hardened toward God…. What you need is more grace. Nothing else can save you from your deadness. Therefore, fear your own hardness of heart more than anything else. Beware of rigidity, ingratitude, a demanding spirit. Beware of an unmelted heart that is never satisfied.”

Christmas can be a clue to our heart. Are we scrooge or are we childlike?

May we allow grace to melt away our cynical hearts. Laugh and sing, love and give, hope and help this Christmas season. Speak positive words of life!

Please be aware that Christmas day and Judgment Day represent two epochs of time. Christmas is mercy, The Day of the Lord begins with the closing of the door of grace.

Sing that carol with a little more cheer----- Christmas time is here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Christmas in Isaiah- The Lifetime Perspective

I wanted to devote my Christmas season blog to the incredible Old Testament book, Isaiah.

The prophet, Isaiah, was married with children. His name means- "The Lord Saves". The backdrop of his life is found in II Kings 15-20.

The book is a compilation of his God given messages from 740-700 BC. Most scholars believe he was a resident of Jerusalem and a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah.

Christmas is a compilation of years of memories- they are milestones. I find it interesting that prisoners often think of their incarceration in terms of 'Christmases'. We all tend to mark these times as special.

Oh the memories of Christmas! My mom and dad and brothers and family. The excitement of trees and gifts, Pajamas and hot chocolate.

But there are hard memories too. My first sad memory of Christmas involved the story of 'The Little Match Girl'- I remember my mom thinking it was important for me to know that story. And the sadness is always loss of loved ones- growing past the magic- the knowledge of people who are poor, hungry and cold- and watching your kids grow up. Oh I miss the magic of the 'little years' with them.

There is a sadness to Isaiah's life and message also.

God gives the prophet a very hard task:

Is 6: 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”


11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.


13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

Can you imagine?

So what in the world does this have to do with Christmas?

Well, throughout the book... there is hope in the midst of judgment.

This Book has awesome promises of the Christmas story.

But even the Christmas story is not all candy canes and coco.


The Book of Revelation portrays a dragon waiting to devour the Child (Rev. 12)


Isaiah had a hard life and hard message.

Our life can be a hard life and hard message.


But the Christmas story never loses its power to heal, comfort, and offer hope!

Stay tuned over the next few weeks and see the beauty in the storm!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Response to Modern Thinker's Creed

Here is my attempt of my assignment this week.

Here is the creed for the Bible believing, Christ yielding, Christian. We believe in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- the Triune God of the Bible- proving love, unity, and relationship existed before creation. We believe God determines what is OK- He made us and He knows how we should operate. We believe that sin is more destructive than we could ever imagine, it is not a toy, it is the worst form of cancer and infects the heart of all men and women. Though this is a fallen world, we believe that everything is going to be renewed after all sin and rebellion is destroyed. We believe there is good evidence, not proof, and all men live by faith. Jesus was not just good man and that Buddha, Mohammad taught a different path to salvation. They all cannot be right. We believe that all religions are not the same. All other faiths require good works, but Jesus gives grace. We believe that after death comes an eternal life in one of two destinations. If death is only the end, then let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die. But there is a resurrection, so we live by trust in Christ, who also was resurrected from the dead. We are tired of this worldly culture where sin seems normal and righteousness seems strange. We believe there is a time for war and a time for peace. The nations rage because of sin, a rebellion against God. We believe that man is born morally bankrupt and is incapable of living a life that measures up to God’s standard of holiness.. Our only hope is to repent of our sin and believe in Christ, His atoning death that covers our sin. We believe that this is absolute truth, and that our sense of ‘oughtness’ comes from God. We believe that there is a lot to learn from Christian creeds of the past, but all of man’s thoughts are subservient to the WORD of God.

Man is made in the image of the Sovereign LORD of the universe . And when you hear: “State of Emergency,” “Sniper Kills Ten,” “Troops on Rampage,” “Youths go Looting,” “Bomb Blasts School,” it is a call to carry this good news of salvation in Christ and love the world through acts of mercy. There will be a day, when the Lord will say, no more delay… and a new heaven and earth will wipe all of this away.



Below is the original 'assignment':

I have a creative assignment for you.

I borrowed the creed below from Ravi Zacharius. It illustrates the absurdity of the secularistic and relativistic mindset of our current culture.

I encourage you to read it and write a rebuttal from a Christian world-view.

Who can show the difference?

Modern Thinker's Creed
Steve Turner, English journalist

Here is the creed for the modern thinker. We believe in Marx, Freud and Darwin. We believe everything is okay, as long as you don’t hurt anyone to the best of your definition of hurt and to your best definition of knowledge. We believe in sex before, during and after marriage. We believe in the therapy of sin. We believe that adultery is fun. We believe that sodomy is okay. We believe that taboos are taboo. We believe that everything is getting better despite evidence to the contrary. The evidence must be investigated and you can prove anything with evidence. We believe there is something in horoscopes, UFO’s, and bent spoons. Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammad and ourselves. He was a good moral teacher, although we think basically his good morals were really bad. We believe that all religions are the basically the same, at least the ones we read were. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God and salvation. We believe that after death comes nothing because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing. If death is not the end, and if the dead have lied, then it’s compulsively heaven for all except perhaps Hitler, Stalin and Chingis Khan. We believe in Masters and Johnson. What is selected is average, what’s average is normal, and what’s normal is good. We believe in total disarmament. We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed. Americans should beat their guns into tractors and the Russians would be sure to follow. We believe that man is essentially good-it’s only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society; society’s the fault of condition; and conditions are the fault of society. We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him and reality will adapt accordingly; the universe will readjust and history will alter. We believe that there is no absolute truth, except the truth that there is no absolute truth. We believe in the rejection of creeds and the flowering of individual thought.

If Chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is His rainbow in the sky. And when you hear: “State of Emergency,” “Sniper Kills Ten,” “Troops on Rampage,” “Youths go Looting,” “Bomb Blasts School,” it is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Write a Response

I have a creative assignment for you.

I borrowed the creed below from Ravi Zacharius. It illustrates the absurdity of the secularistic and relativistic mindset of our current culture.

I encourage you to read it and write a rebuttal from a Christian world-view.

Who can show the difference?

Modern Thinker's Creed
Steve Turner, English journalist

Here is the creed for the modern thinker. We believe in Marx, Freud and Darwin. We believe everything is okay, as long as you don’t hurt anyone to the best of your definition of hurt and to your best definition of knowledge. We believe in sex before, during and after marriage. We believe in the therapy of sin. We believe that adultery is fun. We believe that sodomy is okay. We believe that taboos are taboo. We believe that everything is getting better despite evidence to the contrary. The evidence must be investigated and you can prove anything with evidence. We believe there is something in horoscopes, UFO’s, and bent spoons. Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammad and ourselves. He was a good moral teacher, although we think basically his good morals were really bad. We believe that all religions are the basically the same, at least the ones we read were. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God and salvation. We believe that after death comes nothing because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing. If death is not the end, and if the dead have lied, then it’s compulsively heaven for all except perhaps Hitler, Stalin and Chingis Khan. We believe in Masters and Johnson. What is selected is average, what’s average is normal, and what’s normal is good. We believe in total disarmament. We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed. Americans should beat their guns into tractors and the Russians would be sure to follow. We believe that man is essentially good-it’s only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society; society’s the fault of condition; and conditions are the fault of society. We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him and reality will adapt accordingly; the universe will readjust and history will alter. We believe that there is no absolute truth, except the truth that there is no absolute truth. We believe in the rejection of creeds and the flowering of individual thought.

If Chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is His rainbow in the sky. And when you hear: “State of Emergency,” “Sniper Kills Ten,” “Troops on Rampage,” “Youths go Looting,” “Bomb Blasts School,” it is but the sound man worshiping his maker.