Saturday 6 January 2018

Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ

The Birth of Jesus Christ

     People in the Western world, and other countries around the world, love to celebrate birthdays. They will celebrate them in a variety of ways. Children often get a birthday party, some adults get a surprise party or a quiet dinner with their spouse or girl/boyfriend, and others travel to celebrate their birth. There are numerous ways to celebrate a birthday.

    It stands to reason and it is logical then for humans to want to celebrate the birth of Christ. They want to give him the joy they receive when their birthday is remembered by friends and family. But there is more than just this reason why believers celebrate the birth of Christ. (The date selected will not be discussed here as that is another discussion for another time and it is not appropriate to discuss here). Those reasons will be discussed as follows:

i. Peace on earth- the angels sang of this when they announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds watching their flocks (Luke 2:14). The angels were bringing good news to them and to the world by announcing to all there will be peace. Of course, that announcement did not imply that there would be no more strife, crime or wars but that the minds of people can be at peace because there is a Savior who has come to earth.

ii. Good News- people celebrate Christ’s birth because of the good news they have received and acted upon. They have heard the gospel message and rejoice that their names are now written in the book of life.

iii. Eternal life- this is a big reason why many believers celebrated the birth of Christ. They have been given a great gift from God. No longer must they offer sacrifices to receive forgiveness and eternal life but now they only have to believe and live according to Jesus’ instructions. They are overwhelmed with gratefulness because they have received this gift and want to reciprocate in kind.

iv. Praise for what has been received- this reason  snot focused on what has been previous mentioned but looks at people celebrate the birth of Christ because of what Christ has done for them throughout the previous year or years. They see how God has worked in their lives and they celebrate the birth of Christ as a form of thanking God for all the good things he has done for them.

v. The Scope of what Christ’s birth means to people- Christmas, since many people use it to celebrate Christ’s birth, helps people to realize exactly what Christ did for us. For example, he was a divine being born to an earthly woman- Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel

Immanuel or God is with us, what a beautiful feeling that is. No wonder people want to celebrate Christ’s birth. Then the passage in Romans 6:23 which reminds us of what Christ did for us
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,

The seriousness of what Jesus did comes through with those words and provides ample reason why people want to celebrate Jesus’ birth. People understand that they have something special and want to celebrate that fact. What better way, in their minds, than to celebrate the birth of Christ. There are other verses which help believers see the scope of what Christ did for us. Start with John 3:16 and going on to Gal. 4:4-5, John 1:14, 1 Tim. 1: 15-17, Is. 9:6-7.

These are but a few verses that spark our souls to want to celebrate the birth of Christ. The final reason and probably one of the more important ones is that celebrating the birth of Christ we can give glory to God for what he has done for us. The Bible tells us in 1 Cor. 10:31 that we are to do all things for the glory of God. That means that our Christmas celebration of Christ’s birth should be conducted with that purpose in mind. We should use the occasion not to follow the world’s idea surrounding Christmas and the holiday season but to bring attention to God for what he has done for everyone and then give him glory for it.

     We do not need Christmas to celebrate the birth of Christ or do all the above things. We can use communion to accomplish the exact same things. We do not have to wait until Christmas to celebrate the birth of Christ but do it all year round. Jesus said do this in remembrance of me and his birth is part of what he did for us.

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Friday 5 January 2018

Expressions of God's goodness


May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. -2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV

The God of biblical revelation is no impersonal absolute. The living God is the God of love and grace. But what do such terms mean? It is in Scripture that big terms such as “love” and “grace” are embodied in stories as well as in direct affirmations. In particular it is Jesus Christ and his story that provides the lens through which to view what the big biblical ideas are about.

What does divine love look like? 

Love is manifested in action, as the story of Jesus exemplifies. Jesus embodies the divine love in his coming and his cross. As John 3:16 famously affirms, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” Paul elaborates, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). John adds to this testimony: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). As in the OT, in the NT practical consequences follow. Jesus exhibits a new paradigm for loving others (John 13:1-7). This love serves. This love shows hospitality. This love washes the feet of others. We are to love like that. Love is the new commandment (John 13:34). It is new because it is informed by the story of Christ.

This newness carries over into the Christian household. As in the OT, the NT presents no mere duty-ethic. This love is an answering love to the divine love as experienced in Christ: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This love is not manufactured by us; it is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ living within us (Gal 5:22). This love cannot possibly claim to love God while hating other believers (1 John 4:20). Some things - like knowledge and prophecy - fade away (1 Cor 13:8). But love remains (1 Cor 13:13). It never fades.

What does grace look like? 

Divine grace is undeserved favor of a superior bestowed on an inferior. The Israelites experienced God’s grace when he delivered them from Egyptian oppression. God proclaims to Moses on Mount Sinai, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God” (Exodus 34:6). The exodus event also shows that when God acts graciously, it means salvation for some (Israel) but often judgement for others (Egypt and its gods as in Exodus 12:12-13). In Jesus the divine grace comes into view in the most personal of ways, as John points out in his prologue (John 1:17). By coming among humankind and dying on the cross, Jesus Christ did what he was not obliged to do, and he did so not for his own sake but for ours, undeserving though we are.

The nature of this undeserved favor removes any grounds for our boasting before God about our meritorious works. As Paul tells the Ephesians, “It is be grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).

Even though the accent on grace in Scripture focuses repeatedly on God or Christ as the gracious one, those who have received such grace must be gracious themselves. This graciousness must show itself especially in Christian generosity (2 Cor 8:9) and speech: “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Col 4:6). Unsurprisingly such gracious speech characterized Jesus Himself (Luke 4:22).

Grace and love occur together in the Bible, and both express his goodness. We deserve neither God’s love nor his grace. Church leader Irenaeus rightly said in the second century, “[Jesus] became what we are that we might become what he is.” Such is grace. Such is love.

How does the grace and love you receive from Jesus Christ affect the way you treat others?

Cred: Bible Connection News

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Wednesday 3 January 2018

'We Want to Obey Jesus' says Laos Teen sisters

Teen Sisters in Laos Beaten, Tied Up by Family for Converting to Christianity

Two teenage sisters in Laos who converted from animism to Christianity have shared how their loved ones beat them, tied them up, locked them out of the home, and left them there for four days -- however, their faith continues to be unshaken.

17-year-old Nani and 16-year-old Nha Phong converted to Christianity in autumn 2016 after listening to the truth of the gospel from a relative.

"My cousin told me about the Good News," Nani told persecution watchdog Open Doors. "He is a pastor in a church based in a village near ours. I liked what I heard really, and for this reason, I became a believer."

The sisters before long became involved with their local church -- nevertheless, their newfound faith didn't come without repercussions. The girls' parents and extended family members, devout animists, strongly opposed their decision for being followers of Jesus.

"When we went to church one time, our family became very angry at us. They told us never to go. My cousin and nephew said It was necessary to return to my old religion, and if I failed to they will hit me and force me out from the church," said Nani.

That period, the cousin failed to fulfil his threat. But 3 weeks afterwards, as soon as the girls left for church, their family members - around 6 to 9 individuals - followed them secretly­ and dragged the sisters out from the worship service

"They tied us up and my dad hit my sister, but he didn't hit me. I don't know why" Nani recalled.

They took the sisters back to their village, where they were separated and kept tied up for several days.

"They took me to my uncle's house and asked over and over again: 'Do you still believe in God?' They threatened me and told me that unless I renounced my new faith, they will keep me tied up," said Nha Phong.

Finally, after four days, the sisters were released.

"Our family remained very upset over our decision to stand firm in our faith in Jesus," Nha Phong said.

Despite such persecution, the girls say their faith is stronger than ever.

"I believe our strength to stand firm is a gift from God. God gave us the passion to believe," said Nani. "There is a Bible verse in Ephesians 6. Whenever people fought in the past, they used a shield, and I want to have faith like a shield. When the evil one tries to shoot arrows at us, I will use the shield to protect me. So I have to put my faith in Jesus."

While Nani and Nha Phong's father is still opposed to his daughter's religion, his wife has shown interest in Christianity and even followed her daughters to church on occasion.

"Our mother never hit us, but our father did. He did this after the head of the village told him to. Dad listened to the authorities who did not want us to go to church," said Nani. "He didn't want my Bible in the house, so he took my Bible and hid it somewhere I couldn't find it. I found it later, so now I can read my Bible again."

"It has been really hard to not obey our father, who is the head of the family. But we want to obey Jesus more than anyone. We know that Jesus died for us, and we do not want to go back to our old religion. Even if it is difficult, we want to follow Jesus," she added.

While the girls have been able to go to church for Sunday service from time to time, they continue to face persecution.

"The head of the village told our mum that if we, her daughters, continue to go to church, they will throw us in jail. They said that we should get out of the village," said Nha Phong.

In May, authorities arrested the girls along with seven other Christians. Shortly after, the sisters were released, and they escaped to another village. Today, they live in their Christian cousins' village.

Due to the fact, Nha Phong cannot read, she's only able to hear the Word of God when she's able to come to Church.

"But I believe in my heart," she said.

Open Doors asks believers around the globe to pray that Nani and Nha's mother, father and cousins should come to trust in Jesus; that God will give the girls the strength and courage to stand firm; and that Nha should be able to learn how to read and write to ensure she can read the Word of God for herself.

Buddhists make up more than 57 percent of the population of the Communist country, according to Operation World. About 35 percent of the population adheres to indigenous religions, and only 3.4 percent of the population is Christian.

Open Doors notes that Buddhism, animistic beliefs and practices, is deeply ingrained "in the thinking and culture of society."

"Every deviation from it is unthinkable and perceived as dangerous," says the outlet. "Therefore, Christians refusing to participate in Buddhist practices are perceived as foreign and a threat to traditional culture. Witnessing to Buddhist neighbours and family can be a huge challenge, but believers here are boldly living out their faith."

Laos is ranked 24 on Open Doors’ World Watch List of countries where believers face the most persecution and have received the maximum score in the violence category.

Kiss American Money Goodbye, Trump Tells Palestinians

President Trump threatens aid to Palestinians

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned that if the Palestinian Authority does not become more conciliatory in its approach to Israel, then it will no longer receive American financial aid.
The Palestinian leadership has painted Trump's recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a major obstacle to peace, going so far as to reject any further American role in the peace process.

Trump's White House has responded that the Palestinian Authority was itself an obstacle to peace long before he ever came to the White House. Trump himself said that was evidenced by the Palestinian regime's latest refusal to even come to the negotiating table.

The president tweeted that "with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?"

Nor was Trump's threat a mere Twitter rant.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told reporters that cutting funding of the Palestinian Authority has been a very real topic of discussion.

"The president has said that he does not want to give any additional funding until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiating table," Haley said at a press conference on Tuesday. "The Palestinians now have to show their will that they want to come to the table. As of now they’re not coming to the table but they ask for aid. We’re not giving the aid. We’re going to make sure that they come to the table. And we want to move forward with the peace process."

Israel Communications Minister Ayoub Kara hailed this new approach by Washington, tweeting that Trump had finally ripped of the "Palestinian mask of hypocrisy."

Palestinian leaders were less impressed, insisting they would not be "blackmailed" by Trump.
Keeping to the Palestinian Authority tradition of ignoring even the most recent past, Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi presented the situation in a vacuum, suggesting that Trump's Jerusalem declaration was the sole reason the peace process had stalled.

"President Trump has sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice. Now he dares to blame the Palestinians for the consequences of his own irresponsible actions!" Ashrawi screeched.

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Tuesday 2 January 2018

Bible Stories About Forgiveness

Five Inspirational Scripture Summaries

The Bible is one long story of how God reaches out to show His love and forgiveness to mankind. In Genesis 3:15 God gives His first promise of a Redeemer who would forgive the world of their sin. God gives various stories in His Word demonstrating forgiveness.

Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25, 27, 32, 33)- Forgiveness Bible Story

The twins Jacob and Esau were very different from one another. One was a man’s man. Esau loved outdoor activities like tending the sheep and hunting. Jacob preferred to stay at home and learn from his mother.

One day Esau came in from the field famished. He begged Jacob to give him something to eat. In return Jacob sold a bowl of soup to his older twin in exchange for the birthright. Esau traded the larger portion of their inheritance for a bowl of beans. (Genesis 25:29-34)

The deception continued. When their father Isaac knew he was near death he requested that his manly son Esau kill a deer to prepare a fine meal before dividing the estate. Rebbecca, the mother of the twins, heard the request and helped Jacob pull off a grand scheme to fool Isaac into giving Jacob the larger portion of the inheritance.

In the end, Jacob had to run for his life. He fled to another country to find his mother’s relatives who would care for him. It was many years before he returned to his own family. When he did, he heard that his brother Esau was looking for him. The deceiver Jacob was scared. He devised a plan so that his brother could only destroy half of Jacob’s wealth if he was caught. (Genesis 32)
When they finally met, Esau ran to Jacob and hugged him and kissed him and showed forgiveness and mercy. He had so forgiven Jacob that he was surprised Jacob would even think that there might be hard feelings between them. (Genesis 33)

Joseph (Genesis 37-50 )- Forgiveness Among Brothers

The 11th son born to Jacob was Joseph. God revealed His plan for the life of Joseph when he was still a young boy. Joseph excitedly talked with his brothers about God’s plans. His brothers became jealous and eventually sold him into slavery while telling their father Jacob that his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph was bought by a man who eventually recognized Joseph’s honesty. The man gave Joseph great freedom even though he was still a slave. Eventually Joseph was wrongly accused of a crime and ended up in prison. Joseph’s integrity won him favor with the jail keepers and he became a guard over other prisoners. Through time God elevated Joseph to great power within the kingdom.

The brothers thought Joseph was dead. They did not suspect that the man they stood before was their own brother Joseph. When Joseph revealed himself, they were shocked to know he was alive. They even feared for years that he would seek retribution. After the family was reunited they lived together in Egypt. When their father passed away, the brothers began to fear even more that Joseph would finally show his hatred towards them (Genesis 50:15). Joseph was heartbroken when he learned they still did not trust him and that they feared what he would do to them (Genesis 50:17).
This amazing story of forgiveness culminates with these words from Joseph to his brothers:

“And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.” (Genesis 50:19-21)

David and Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9 )- Another Great Bible Story About Forgiveness

Though King Saul tried to destroy David throughout the book of 1 Samuel, David responded with kindness and forgiveness to the household of Saul. After he became king, David looked for anyone who was still living from the household of Saul so that he could demonstrate his love and friendship for Jonathan, Saul’s son.

David showed kindness to Mephibosheth by restoring to him and his family the land owned by the former king. David paid to have the land farmed and cared for. As for Mephibosheth himself, David made a place for him at his own table so that he was accepted as part of the kings family.

Prodigal Son (Luke 15)- Forgiving Bible Story Between A Father and a Son

Jesus taught a story that illustrates redemption, love and forgiveness in Luke 15:11-32. It is commonly called the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

There was a man who had two sons. The oldest was obedient and content to live with his father. The younger couldn’t wait to get away from the family to live life on his own terms. When he was able, he went to his father to ask for his portion of the inheritance. When he got his money he ran off to a far away land. Jesus says that the young man wasted his money in wild living. A short time later the economy bottomed out and the man had no money, no job and no friends. He was willing to take whatever job he could get and ended up taking care of pigs for a farmer. He was so destitute that he was willing to eat the pig feed to stay alive.

The young man wised up and realized that he had a loving father who treated his servants better than the boy was currently living. He decided to return home as a servant to the father. At least he would have food to eat. Little did he know, his father was expecting the boy’s return. As soon as the father saw the young man on the horizon, he ran to him with open arms of forgiveness.
Though the boy returned with hopes of just being a servant, the father accepted him as the son he always was. The boy was forgiven and restored to his former position in the family.

Woman Taken in Adultery (John 8 )- A Bible Story Where Jesus Examples Forgiveness

In a show of His own divinity, Jesus forgave a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. She was brought to the Lord by the spiritual leaders in town. They wanted to see if Jesus, claiming to be the Son of God, would obey the Law of God and have the woman stoned. Instead, Jesus said that they were welcome to start the stoning as soon as they felt like they were without sin and did not deserve a stoning of their own. They dropped their rocks and walked away.

Jesus feigned surprise when he looked up from playing in the dirt and the woman was standing there alone with no accusers. Asking her if there was anyone left to accuse her of her sin, she answered “No.” Jesus responded, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

Forgiveness is an attribute of God that we are consistently taught in the Bible that we too can demonstrate to others.

By  David Peach

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