Thursday, December 18, 2008

Three Christmas Angles: The Third Angel

Augustus Creaser was a canny man. He came into power out of the civil war following the assignation of Julius Creaser, his great-uncle and adoptive father. Carefully and intentionally he laid the foundation of an Empire out of the crumbling Republic. Being a strong administrator, he conducted a census in what was to become the birth year of Mary’s Son. In Judea that meant each family went to its tribal center to register. For Joseph and his pregnant wife the long journey to Bethlehem, the home of his ancestors and King David, must have been grueling. Imagine a cold ninety mile trip over rough roads with a pregnant woman on the back of a donkey! At its end, they found the city crowded to overflowing. “No Vacancy” signs were out all over town. Finally, an inn keeper allowed the couple “space in the stable,” out among the animals. It is here that Mary delivered her Son and laid Him in His “bassinet,” a manger … a feeding trough!

This Baby was unique, of the line of kings in a human sense, since his parents were of the House of David, He was also the Son of God, the King of kings … but no one recognized Him as such or even cared. Such a birth had to be announced with fanfare. And it was, but not in the way a royal birth is usually announced. No, this was even more monumental, more exciting, more overwhelming. The heralds to this royal birth were not ordinary men but angels. The crowd they drew was not the rich and famous of Judaea but the smelly and lower class shepherds drawn in from their fields and a motley collection of townsfolk and visitors from far and wide. This crowd foretold the kind of people the King of kings would seek and find. They were all humble enough to respond to His call.

Can you imagine the absolute astonishment and fear that must have overawed the first recipients of the herald’s cry? Put yourself in their place. You are out in the fields doing your job … keeping a night watch over your flocks … sitting by the fire, gossiping with your friends, nodding off for a few winks before you went out to patrol the sleeping animal’s bed ground to be sure no predator, beast or human, was lurking about. Suddenly you are confronted with an unbelievable sight … so glorious and terrifying you fall to your knees as the blaze of glory and sound of revelation surrounded you and your friends. An angel stood right there in front of you:
…. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
Luke 2:8-14 (The Message)

When the angels were gone, what would you do? These shepherds discussed their options coolly and collectedly, right? No, they quickly decided this good news had to be shared and off they ran to Bethlehem to confirm for themselves the wonder they had been told. Of course they fond the Baby and his parents just as they had been promised. This glorious conformation set their tongues wagging all the harder and they TOLD everyone they met, all over town, what they had experienced. The town was agog with the news in no time. Human voices now heralded the coming of the King … and they still do!

Three angels! Three different audiences! Three different messages. To a young woman (little more than a girl). To a man. And to a group. Each message was a part of a whole. Each message was what was needed at the time. The first message told a loved one what the Father is doing! I Am in you! The second message told a loved one what to do. I Am with you! The third message told loved ones WHAT TO SEEK. I will save you!

Thank God we have heard Him speak to us the same message. May our voices also join the human chorus!

From all of us at Ventures for Christ, the very warmest Christmas wishes. Bullets for the Battle will not post during the Christmas/New Years Holiday (we will return January 6th). We look forward to a prosperous New Year with you, or valued readers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Three Christmas Angles: The Second Angel

Time passed. It became apparent that Mary was “with child” (pregnant). Now, everyone knew Mary was a “good girl” but she was also a married woman and apparently she and Joseph had anticipated their wedding a little. What a shame; young people were much too impetuous these days; no respect for tradition, that is what it is, these and similar opinions must have circulated among the neighbors. The problem was, Joseph knew better! He was 100% sure the child his Mary carried was not his.

As we speculate about the character of Joseph we have two solid facts to go on: Scripture calls him a righteous man (Matthew 1:19) and he had been chosen to be the earthly father (stepfather) of the Heavenly Father’s only Son. Joseph must have loved his young wife. The fact that he did not want to disgrace her in public but was contemplating a quiet divorce shows his concern. Consider some of the thoughts that might have run through his mind:

What should he do? He took marriage seriously. It was a solemn promise that affected a family far beyond the partners to the marriage contract. There was a heritage to consider. There was honor to uphold. There was the law that must not be disgraced. On the other hand there was his sweet Mary. He had no desire to hurt her, to cause undue disgrace and punishment. But how could he complete his marriage commitment with another man in the picture? Could he accept another’s child as his own and not let resentment grow toward both the child and its mother? Above all, how could he deal with his deep pain of betrayal? How he wished the answer was simple!

It would be best, surely, to quietly divorce Mary. Then she could turn to her child’s father and they could marry and be the family they should be. It would break his heart to let her go but better to distance himself from her, her folly and the liaison she had contracted that had brought them to this point.

Mary, his good name, Mary, his responsibilities, Mary, what the village would think, Mary, what is right and what is compassionate, Mary … it made his head ache. He wouldn’t disgrace her, no, but he couldn’t stay married to her. There couldn’t be a foundation of trust between them after this. He had to do what was right in God’s sight. He must follow the law but he couldn’t make a mockery of the woman he had loved … no, did love. There had to be an end … for the good of them all, for conscience sake … yes, breaking the marriage contract was the best answer. He would do it, no matter how it hurt; this lesser hurt was preferable to the disgrace of an unfaithful wife.

So Joseph drifted off into a troubled sleep … and into his own encounter with an angel.

… God's angel spoke in (a) dream: "Joseph, son of David, don't hesitate to get married. Mary's pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God's Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—'God saves'—because he will save his people from their sins." This would bring the prophet's embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for "God is with us").

Matthew 1:20-21 (The Message)

Joseph, too, found his own encounter with a heavenly messenger persuasive. He shared his own vision with Mary and she must have been even more relieved and overjoyed! He went through with the wedding and brought his Mary home. They both knew that the child she bore was special, so very special, and Joseph determined to wait until He was born before he and this lovely wife consummated their marriage. When “his son” was born he named the baby … JESUS!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Three Christmas Angles: The First Angel

In today’s world a marriage is made when the officiating minister or clerk pronounces a man and woman husband and wife. That was not so in the first century in the land of Israel. When a woman entered into a marriage arrangement, a betrothal, she was OFFICIALLY married even before she was claimed by the bridegroom and the dowry paid to her family. In modern terms, she was married before the wedding.

Rome ruled the land that God had given Israel at the beginning of our current era (A.D.). A king, Herod Antipas, sat on the throne but he was a puppet of this distant super power. Unrest and rebellion were always just under the surface in this troubled land but the Pax Romana extended even here. People still went about their business more or less normally.

The map of the land of Israel changed several times as the Roman Empire brought the area firmly under its control. In general it was called first Judea then Palestine. At the end of the era before Christ (B.C.), a large political unit of the northern part of Judea was called Galilee. Less than ten miles from the lake of the same name was the village of Nazareth. A hill town, situated at the southern end of the Lebanon Mountains, it was home to a young woman named Mary. She was married (betrothed) to a man, Joseph, but the wedding had yet to take place. Like most other young women, Mary must have anticipated her wedding with both trepidation and delight. Things were going well until an astonishing thing happened. An angel from God, Gabriel, appeared to her and greeted her with an incredible announcement. It is hard to imagine which Mary found the most amazing … the angel or his message.

Good morning!
You're beautiful with God's beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, "Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great,
be called 'Son of the Highest.'
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob's house forever—
no end, ever, to his kingdom."

Mary said to the angel, "But how? I've never slept with a man."
The angel answered,

The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God.

“And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God."

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now:
I'm the Lord's maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 (The Message)

Mary hurried off to her cousin’s house where she found everything just as the Angel had said. Elizabeth was expecting … and so was she! How her heart must have burned and churned with the wonder and the dread of it! There was one duty, though, that must have weighed heavily on her. Joseph must be told of her condition very soon. She must have wondered … what would he do?

Image of Nazereth from The Holy Land Book (1842) by David Roberts

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: A Powerful Solution to Relationship Woes

Just living together evidently doesn’t free one from legal responsibilities either. The California Supreme Court famously ordered actor Lee Marvin to pay “alimony” to the woman he had lived with for six years. Couples who live together “as though married” may be asked to divide their property “as though divorcing.”

Lacking a ceremony to define the relationship, couples usually move into an apartment together without ever stating their goals. One twenty-three year old woman stated that their relationship seemed to jump between, “I’m unhappy” to, “Who gets the cat?” They were afraid to be honest because they feared rejection if real angers, fears, needs and problems were brought up!

Score another one for Jesus, folks! His plan of how a man and woman can best handle their nature and the gift of sex can’t be improved upon or escaped. Just because people … both inside and outside the church … don’t heed God’s law of love and sex doesn’t put His idea of marriage out of date.

Marriage as God intended it to be is a permanent love arrangement symbolized by a ceremony (social) and sex (spiritual). Real marriage is a commitment to the community as well as to one another. It won’t work any other way! Thousands of men and women who mock God’s intentions for marriage are finding out that you don’t have to be married to suffer!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: More Than Living Together

Two things must be made clear about the Biblical teaching on sex and marriage. First, marriage is the general will for most men and women but many are called to a single state, equally blessed by God (I Corinthians 7:7). Second, sex is intended for pleasure and not procreation only (I Corinthians 7:2).

The Bible view of marriage is being lightly taken by millions of Americans. The militants are advocating alternate life styles of homosexuality and lesbianism as well as free (or no contract) marriages. Just “living together” has been the gospel of the “free sex” prophets since the 1960s. Marriage was “out.” Come and go was “in.” (Incidentally, true sex isn’t free … it costs!)

But the truth has reared up and slapped the “just living together” folks in the face. Today, marriage counselors and family therapists report a marked increase in their caseloads of “unmarried couples”!

One co-habiting couple having serious problems were advised to just break up, split and find someone else. To this, the distraught female member answered, “I couldn’t bear to go through a divorce, married or not!”

One counselor analyzes such couple’s difficulty by saying they experience “fear of abandonment” and “fear of closeness.” Real marriage, the symbol of a permanent love commitment, eliminates both. Real love says to each partner, “I want to know all about you and I’ll never leave you.” Or as the Scripture put it, “… and the man and his wife were both naked (total closeness and openness) and they were not ashamed (no fear of being rejected)” (Genesis 2:25).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: One Man and One Woman

Jesus Christ said, “A man should leave father and mother, cleave (be permanently faithful) to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. What God joins together let no man separate!” (Matthew 19:5-6).

Clearly, God’s major purpose with the sexes is for one man and one woman to become one. Two men can’t become one! Two women can’t become one! Ultimately, sex is but a symbol of “love unity” between a man and woman who have been given the capacity to create life in their own image. Homosexual or lesbian relationships can never create life.

One of the cutest expressions I’ve heard along this line is that if God had intended homosexuality to be right and to fulfill His intentions He would have put Adam and Bruce in the Garden of Eden rather than Adam and Eve!