Thursday, December 27, 2012

So where is the "Peace on Earth" the angels talked about?

12/25/12 Tuesday
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

          Christmas is here. As I read that scripture, one that we have all heard so many times, the question comes up “Where is this “Peace on Earth” it speaks of? I sure don’t see it”. I will address that further down in this post.

It is a strange holiday for us in that we don’t get all caught up  in the hoopla and just watch as others do. For me Christmas is for children, at least the presents and pageantry part of it. We don’t have children and the two boys I helped raise are in their late 20’s, or maybe even just hit 30. (I know, it’s sad I don’t know how old they are, or even their birthdates) The oldest has one or two young children but because we don’t talk I’m not sure if it’s one or two of them but know there is at least one baby. Children was one of the things Cherie and I were robbed of due to the first divorce and missing the childbearing years. But let’s not go there.

          A storm blew in about 8:00 this morning. It dropped the temperature right away and there is a strong wind blowing out of the north. Sadly we got no rain out of it but the sand is certainly blowing. Instead of a white Christmas we have a West Texas brown Christmas. Cherie bought a nice steak for us to have for our Christmas meal. I had planned on cooking it out on the grill but with the wind, cold, and blowing sand that won’t happen. Would sure be a gritty steak in this stuff.

          The blanket we have nailed to the top of the bedroom window is blowing as the wind finds its way through all the cracks and crevices these old leaky windows have. I opened one of the windows a little and put a kitchen towel in the crack and then closed the window on it to get a better seal. The other window has the air conditioner someone gave us in it. I had stuffed insulation around it and tied a plastic garbage bag around it to reduce the air coming through. So we winterize the best we can.

          I am not sure we will have enough wood to stay warm all winter. We’ve already burned about have of what I was able to cut but if it gets bad I know where there are some dead trees I can go cut up. Had it all planned out regarding wood but then someone decided to cause problems with me and the sweet little old lady I was helping anyway I could. She had 40 pecan trees that are mostly dead I was to cut and trim. With this wind blowing cold through the house the back room where the wood stove is stays almost too warm while the bedroom with its leaky windows is cold. We dress warm in the house.

The wind is blowing hard this Christmas day.
         This Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the son of God who came to earth to pay the price for every wrong we have ever done, my thoughts are swayed to focus on division. Jesus came to show us the way to get along, to unite us under His banner of love, but He knew that there would be strife despite that. In fact one time he said "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; 36 and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.” (Mathew 10) How strange this must sound to many, how opposite of the common perception of the Christian faith it might be. And it seems to contradict what Jesus said in Mathew 5 “Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.” “How do you explain that Bob?” I’m sure someone would ask.

          There are always the realities of how things are, versus how nice it would be if they were not such a mess. Jesus knew, and still knows, exactly what will happen. The  scripture above describes some serious division within a family, lots of fighting between relatives. Lord knows I’ve seen and experienced plenty of that. When you read the whole chapter you can see that Jesus was instructing His disciples before sending them out to preach to the surrounding communities. As is often the case when Jesus talked, He prophesies the future as well and the words he spoke to His disciples He knew we would be reading 2000 years later and thus are for our instruction too. Jesus warned the 12 disciples that they would run into lots of opposition not just on this journey but in the future as well.

          And what about that “Peace on Earth” thing the angels were singing when Jesus was born? There has been little if any peace on the earth since that happened, though at the particular moment Jesus was born and during his lifetime there in fact was an unusual period of peace in the known world. It was called the “Pax Roma” for this was the moment that Rome had pretty much whipped everyone into submission so for this short period of time there were no big wars between nations. But we know that did not last long.

          What you need to understand is that God does not see things the way we do. God knows the end from the very beginning and He does not have the sense of time we do. We are born, live, and die. We get up in the morning, go to work or whatever we do, and the day comes to an end where we must sleep. God however has always been and will always be. He has no beginning or end, does not get tired or sleep, so He thinks eternally. God knew and planned when Jesus was born that the long term end result of Jesus’ birth and death on the cross would be the final end of all that is bad and a new beginning for all who choose to believe. The start of eternity where there is no more suffering, no more pain, and no more tears. But the path there will be one of fire and turmoil, through which all will be tested and tried to see what is true and what is not. So peace is coming but there will be hell first.

          So what about Jesus not coming to bring peace but a sword? What Jesus knows is how we are. People are proud, get jealous, envy the others who seem to be better off, covet what they have, and that whole list of our weaknesses. James said “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4)

          Jesus is God and represents all that is pure and holy. The problem is that none of us are pure or holy. Now I understand that for those who are true believers all their sins have been washed away and they are thus, in God’s sight, as clean as fresh snow, but the reality is we are still a mess. When James wrote that letter we just read a part of, he was writing to Christians. Being a Christian does not make you perfect or better than anyone else, what it means is that you are forgiven and now must work to be a better example to the rest of the world. We are sometimes the only Jesus anyone will ever see, and they judge God by how we act. Being a Christian means you understand you are a mess, and in need of God’s grace and mercy. Being a Christian requires you to humble yourself and work to serve others instead of serving yourself.

Sadly, there are many who wear that Christian label but act quite contrary to what it means. There are many who reject our faith because of what they have seen done in the name of God. Throughout history there have been wars fought and tens of thousands of people killed under the banner of Christ. This has been thrown up to me many times as I strive to explain God’s love to others. There have been (and still are) people killed as they fought over different interpretations of what it means to be a Christian, and of course this disgusts those who watch. The atheists are quick to point out all these faults and use them to justify their rejection of God. What they fail to understand is that these people, groups, even nations miss and do not follow the basics of our faith. That is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. You don’t have to love what they do but understand and have compassion, knowing they will stand before God and be judged, just as you will.
There's not much left of the corn we grew. We'll mow this down and disk it under
Jesus once sat a child in His lap and said “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks ! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come ; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes !  (Mathew 18)

We all need to understand that judgment comes to us all. If, through our words or actions, we cause someone to despise the church or decide it is all a big fraud, their blood is on our heads. So many do not get that. They think that because they had an emotional experience, or go to church, or simply say “I’m a Christian” they have their get out of hell free card. I’ve got some bad news for them. Jesus, who is the judge on that final day, said "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles ? And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

          Talk is cheap. We are not saved by our works, but we are judged by our works, for what you really believe is displayed by what you do. God judges our hearts, for He sees the innermost workings of our minds and knows our thoughts. Jesus quoted what the prophet Isaiah wrote hundreds of years before when He told the religious leaders “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' " (Mathew 15)

Christmas last year. What a rare snow that was. 

        But in regards to the sword Jesus brings, that sword is the reaction of others to the truth. The fact is no is comfortable when faced with the truth that they live a lie. Everyone I know believes they are right, or justifies their actions. But none of them enjoy having their lives exposed. This is the eternal battle of light and darkness, and in the face of God’s pureness we all understand how far from the mark we fall, or at least some of us do. There are many who revel in their darkness and as a result hate with a passion all that is good. How well this is spelled out in the gospel of John,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

As it was in Jesus’ day, so it is now. After Jesus died and then, three days later, rose from the dead the early church exploded. Many became converts to the faith but it caused great rifts between families as the religious leaders fought what they labeled as a religious cult. At first it was the Jewish leaders, who tried to stamp out this movement through persecution and even by killing those who had converted, but as the church grew it became a “threat” to the Roman government. So the words of Jesus held true, not just then but even today. In Egypt there is a reward offered for anyone who learns of a Moslem converting to Christianity. Often those collecting the rewards are family members who turn their own blood kin in. We know of many who died there and other places because of their faith.

In the Roman empire there were definite periods where persecution of the church was ramped up and even made official Roman law, but this often was followed by a period of somewhat eased up persecution. Around the year 202 AD in Carthage there was a young woman named Perpetua. She was pregnant but came to the attention of the Roman governor. It was a time when all someone had to do was deny their faith and throw a pinch of incense on a fire as an offering to the emperor, who was seen as a god, and all would be fine. The governor wrote to the emperor asking advice regarding these Christians. They were seen as a superstitious sect, not a real religion, for in the Roman mind all real religions had to be ancient.

          In his letter to the emperor he said that these Christians were all good people, worked hard, and had taken a vow to help others. They just refused to join everyone else at the pagan parties and would not accept any other gods except this Jesus, whom was crucified by Pontius Pilate. He found it astounding that they were so “obstinate” that they chose death over denying Christ. So he killed them.

Today we have much the same attitude, in that because we don’t do what everyone else does, we don’t accept practices that we feel are wrong in the sight of God, but maintain our moral code, we are increasingly seen as a threat to those who choose to not live that way. Unfortunately many churches now are compromising, bending to be more “acceptable” or “tolerant” and thus those who choose to maintain the biblical standard are seen as a growing minority of kooks.

So tell me, why are we so bad? Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers” because that is what a true Christian should be. We are to love our neighbor, give them the shirt off our back, turn the other cheek when struck, and forgive those who treat us badly. Interesting thing about the Roman persecutions is that the Bubonic plague struck that kingdom in many localities, wiping out sometimes as much as 80% of the population. But while everyone was fleeing in terror it was the Christians who stayed, caring for the sick, helping those who died till they passed, and risking their lives as they displayed the love of Christ in truth. The empire took note of this and persecution eased up. People saw and when compared to their other religions realized that there was a truth here, an eternal truth and a real God, not one that others had made up long ago.

I have facebook friends who have posted derogatory remarks about “Christians”. I understand that they, like I, have seen much hypocrisy from various churches or factions that wear the Christian label. But a true believer learns to be humble, not arrogant, learns to forgive, and learns to love in the true meaning of the word. The key is “Learning”, a process that takes time and practice, and none of us are perfect. In the church there are many problems but the reality is we all will answer to God in the end, and it is that fear, a healthy fear, which keeps those who truly believe conscious of how they act.

Time to go. Feel free to message me if you have any questions and feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

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