Tag Archives: Christmas

Jesus and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016You would really have to be from a galaxy far, far away to not know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already set new box office records in the USA and the UK.  Indeed the latest sci-fi drama is predicted to become the highest grossing film of all-time, perhaps succeeded only by the two anticipated sequels. Given its epic story and massive popularity, it is worth exploring why, for example in the 2011 UK Census 176,632 people described themselves as Jedi knights. The criteria are really quite appealing. 1) Fight evil. 2) Do good. 3) respect all life even if it is ugly and slithers. 4) rescue princess. 5) save planet. Clearly the mystical Force that binds all things together in Star Wars does not equate with the personal infinite Creator God revealed in Scripture. Nevertheless, those of us who firmly believe in the supernatural shouldn’t dismiss or discourage the conviction that all life is somehow divinely charged. Obi-Wan’s teaching that the Force “surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together” strikingly mirrors the imagery of the Bible which reveals, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6). In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he expands on this:

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

There is much more to Star Wars than a cool new world with aliens, spaceships, hi-tech gadgets, a princess, and a darkly evil bad guy. We are drawn to a story of “an underdog who takes on an evil Empire of unsurpassed power, overwhelming technology, and unchecked authority” with impossible odds (Caleb Grimes). Josh Hayes observes, “This is how art works, it reflects and interprets life. We love stories because at some level we as human beings realize that we are part of one.” Because we bear God’s image, we have a sense of purpose, we believe history is going somewhere, that life matters.

Star Wars helps to awaken this sense that we participate in something greater than ourselves… “Most great stories, regardless of their creators’ intentions, mimic the Creator’s story and will on some level fit the template of creation, fall, redemption and new creation.  Drama, of course, predicates on conflict and resolution, and God was the first to think up such a concept. Good versus evil. The hero against the villain. The underdog winning against the seemingly invincible. The light overcoming the darkness. There’s a reason these dynamics are repeated and yet never get old or go out of style. They are strangely familiar because they belong to the original story—God’s story, our story.” (Josh Hayes).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, points us, however imperfectly to three profound truths written large in our Bible reading from John’s gospel tonight about God’s story – our story:

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Christmas: God’s Indescribable Gift

Hands up if you have already opened all your Christmas presents. Hands up if you haven’t opened your Christmas presents yet. Hands up if you have only opened some of your Christmas presents. Hands up if you don’t know if you have opened all your Christmas presents yet. In our family we have a tradition that although Father Christmas may leave some small edible gifts in the night by our beds while we are sleeping, we try really hard to restrain ourselves and open our larger gifts after lunch. But why do we give presents at Christmas? Is it because Nicholas gave gifts to a poor family? Is it because the wise men brought gifts to Jesus family? What were the gifts they brought? I like building traditions and so I’d like to suggest that as you share gifts today, or play with the ones you have already opened, you remember the most important gifts of all.

1. God’s Gift of Life

The Apostle Peter speaks of “The gracious gift of life” (1 Peter 3:7). We are alive today because God created us. If you have held a new born baby in your arms then you know what I mean.

2. God’s Gift of Food and Drink

“That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil-this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13)

There are two very ancient prayers prayed by people of faith for centuries: “Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the Universe, who brings bread up from the earth. Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” These two prayers, prayed during the festival of Passover are at the heart of our desire to thank God before we eat. None more so than today when we will probably eat one of the loveliest meals of the year.

If you don’t normally say grace before your meals, why don’t you start today? Thank God for the gift of food and drink.

3. God’s Ultimate Gift of His Son Jesus

Jesus describes himself in this way.

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

Jesus’ name means Saviour. And that is what he is and that is what he has done. One sentence in the Bible sums up God’s ultimate gift.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Jesus came at Christmas to that we might be forgiven. He came to make us good. He came that we might go to heaven, saved by his precious blood. So when you open your Christmas gifts today, remember the most important gift God has given you. Jesus.

Have you received God’s gift of Jesus? With Jesus, God has given you many other gifts also.

The Gift of a Relationship
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

The Gift of his Grace
“For it is by 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… the gift of God’s grace.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, 3:7)

The Gift of Eternal Life
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

The Gift of Righteousness

“how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

The Gift of the Holy Spirit
“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

God has given us everything we need to serve him and become like him.

“Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” (1 Corinthians 1:7)

All of these gifts – a right relationship with God, sins forgiven, eternal life, righteousness, His Holy Spirit – all of these are ours in Christ Jesus.

This is why the Apostle Paul could say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15). Indescribable!  This is what makes Christmas so special.  This should make us want to give gifts and use our gifts to serve others, not just today but every day. As Peter insists:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

This is what will show we are thankful for God’s gifts this Christmas. When we thank God for the gift of life. When we thank God for the gift of food and rink. And above all when we thank God for the gift of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are not sure about all this take a copy of the booklet, “The Real Christmas”. If you would like to find out more, you are invited to a special supper on Thursday 5th February when we start our Christianity Explored course.  But if you are sure and you want to receive God’s gift of Jesus today, there is no better day in the year. The day that we celebrate when Jesus was born the Son of God can be the day you celebrate when you were born again as a child of God. Pray this prayer with me now silently.

“Lord Jesus, I recognise you as God’s greatest gift. Thank you for coming to earth to enable me to know God as my heavenly Father. Thank you for dying on the cross in my place so that I could be forgiven. I repent of my sin and all that has displeased you. Thank you for rising again so that I can have eternal life. Come into my life to be my Saviour and Lord, so that I can be born again. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit to help me serve you and please you for the rest of my life. I ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.”

If you prayed the prayer for the first time, then tell someone today. May we all treasure the gifts God has given us in Christ Jesus.  May God bless you and those you love this Christmas and for ever more.

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Super Hero’s Nativity

This morning we have been thinking about heros. Who is your favourite hero? Here’s one of mine. Can you guess his name? “This mighty-muscled, super-powered strongman can single-handedly rescue a little old lady’s cat from a tree while apprehending bank robbers – and along with Elastigirl, a super heroine with amazing stretchability, protect all the citizens of the great city Municiberg. Mr Incredible. I wonder who your favourite super-hero is? Can you guess the three most popular super-heros of all time?  Superman is #3. He was created in 1938. Batman is #2. He was created in 1939. But the youngest of the three super-heros and currently the most popular is Spider-Man, created in 1962.

Why are we so attracted to heros? Why do many people seem to prefer fictional super-heros who save the world from evil? And why do we seem to need new heros like Mr Incredible to replace those who have faded in popularity?  Does a society where evil and injustice is unknown seem like a dream? Can we really imagine a place where crying, and pain, and death and mourning will ever cease?  Is hope to be packed away, like the super-heroes in the movies, along with the Christmas tree and decorations on the 12th night? No, because the long promised hope that became human that first Christmas is more powerful and long lasting than all our super-heros combined.
What have we learnt about Jesus this morning? What makes a real H-E-R-0?

Help the helpless
and defeat the forces of evil
lost sinners
back into God’s universe

Jesus came to:

Rescue God’s world from evil
Redeem God’s children for heaven
Restore God’s rule for ever

The Angels – remind us we have a saving hero
The Shepherds – remind us we have a suffering hero
The Kings – remind us we serve a sovereign hero

And, like the angels, shepherds and kings, the Bible tells us that we who follow Jesus Christ have a purpose driven mission, a calling and destiny more awesome and more captivating than even that of Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl.

Our powers may not be as spectacular but we have been given the Holy Spirit of God who is transforming us into God’s children. That makes us – through the power of God – more than equal to any task, more than conquerors, to use St Paul’s words.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:36-38)

As long as there are hungry ones, lonely ones, poor ones, as long as there are sick people or imprisoned people, abused or marginalised people we have work to do. As long as evil reigns we have a mission to fulfil. As long as injustice exists we have a Gospel to proclaim. As long as people remain captive to sin, we have a Saviour’s love to share. We are not called to “save the day” or overcome the world – Christ has already done it. We are not even called to bring in the new heaven and the new earth –  for that is His role, but we are called to join the family business.

We are to use the talents and gifts God has given us to show a sceptical world that Jesus is the ultimate hero worth following and that through Jesus, God is building his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

And if you are not sure of God’s will for your life, if you need more information about Jesus in order to decide whether to serve him, then talk to one of our staff team after the service. Pick up one of the booklets on the meaning of Christmas from the table, and join us for our next Christianity Explored course starting Thursday 5th February.

Join us next week and every Sunday in 2009 to find out more about the incredible, supernatural life God wants to live in and through you. God’s will to create and redeem will not be stopped. Hope will not be suppressed. Justice will prevail. Peace will come.  If we live in this way there may be ridicule, there will certainly be hardship and possibly even imprisonment – but, like the Incredibles, when at last we lay down our lives we will know we have fulfilled our mission and will be ready to serve our hero in eternity to the glory of God in the highest. Lets pray.

Listen to this talk here

Christmas Message

Although they were excluded from the invitation list at the Annapolis Middle East Conference last year, everyone from the Royal Family and the Prime Minister down, and even the US President and people the world over, will soon be celebrating the visit of an Iranian delegation to Palestine. This Christmas, we will remember how a group of Iranians visited Palestine carrying funding for an opposition figure the authorities wanted dead. Then the Iranians evaded the authorities, ignoring the correct exit procedures and fled the country. Of course, the Queen, Prime Minister and President have not been celebrating contemporary Iranian involvement, but the historic visit of a past Iranian delegation – the Magi (the ‘Wise Men’ or ‘Kings’) who came to Bethlehem bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for Jesus. So without Iran and Iranian involvement, we would not have exchanged gifts on Christmas Day.

Bethlehem is a very special place, especially in the weeks leading to Christmas. Heading south about five miles out of Jerusalem just off the main road to Egypt lies Bethlehem. It’s quite a small town that has sprawled like the tentacles of an octopus along the rocky ridges of the Judean Hills. The Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in the world lies at the centre of the town square looking more like a fortress than a place of worship. Given the tensions that have plagued this over-promised land for centuries, it has indeed served as both. The Emperor Hadrian, in AD135, built a grove over the site dedicated to the pagan god Adonis, with the intention of stopping Christians from worshipping there. It had the opposite effect as it marked the site until in AD315 the Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena, on the conversion of her son, directed that the pagan shrine be demolished and a basilica be erected over the original cave.

In the eighth century when the Persians invaded Palestine, the Church of the Nativity was the only church to be left standing, simply because they found a painting hanging inside depicting the three wise men whom they took to be Persians. As any pilgrim will discover, Bethlehem is an ordinary place, smelly, dusty, dirty, noisy, and this says something about the identification of God with us in our ordinary situations. The scene of Jesus lying in a stone feeding trough with Mary and Joseph huddled at the back of a cave surrounded by animals sheltering from the cold is not hard to imagine when you visit the barren hills of  Beit Sahour which literally means ‘the shepherds fields’, on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

Shepherds were considered the lowest of the low in those days, indeed they would virtually have been viewed as criminals. Many of the shepherds today are Bedouins, roaming the hills of Judea, living a nomadic life unchanged by thousands of years, alienated from modern civilised Israeli society, a law unto themselves. Yet it was to such as these that the birth of the Son of God is first announced.  News of the “Saviour” and the possibility of “peace” is proclaimed to them, and it is they who carry this news to Mary and Joseph and to all who will listen.

Malcolm Muggeridge once speculated what the situation would be if Jesus were born today.  He said rather provocatively, “He would have been born a Palestinian.” By this he meant that because there is no room for them even in their own country. They are forgotten, hounded from country to country – a curiously similar fate to the other children of Abraham, the Jews. For the Palestinians there is no room at the inn, even in their own society. The irony is that if Mary and Joseph were making the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem this year they would never make it. The town of Bethlehem is entirely surrounded by a wall eight meters high with watch towers every few hundred metres.

Despite the military occupation, the home demolitions and confiscation of much of the shepherds fields for illegal settlements, Bethlehem has a message of hope for all who are forgotten, where ever they may be – God does not forget, God knows, God sees and God will act with justice and mercy. He will not leave us alone.  The message of the angels was “Emmanuel” – God with us.

Although many to whom he came rejected him, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

May you know the assurance of being born again this Christmas. The Son of God was born so that you might be born a child of God. In Jesus Christ, we find a life that overcomes death, a love that conquers hate, the truth that prevails over falsehood, and light, light that ever shines in the world’s darkness. May the light of Christ shine upon you and those you love, this Christmas and for evermore.

An article written for the December edition of Connection, the community magazine of Virginia Water, based on a sermon from last Christmas

The Day the Earth Stood Still: Jesus, Klaatu and Osama Bin Laden

Jesus, Klaatu and Osama Bin Laden
“Once upon a time, a supernatural being, who so loved the world, took on our DNA and became one of us. He walked among us, taught us, cared for us, walked on water, brought one of us back from the dead, and ascended into the heavens. You know the story well. And his name was Klaatu. Klaatu? Well, yes. He is the central figure in the box office hit this Christmas in the film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Its a remake of the 1951 classic, which was one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. Klaatu is an alien who has come to earth in an attempt to save the planet—ostensibly from itself (on the brink of war in the 1951 original, and rolling toward environmental catastrophe in 2008). A representative of an alien race that went through drastic evolution to survive its own climate change, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) comes to Earth to assess whether humanity can prevent the environmental damage they have inflicted on their own planet. Klaatu himself already has a negative opinion of humans, and in the end the aliens decide to intervene pre-emptively—without any warning—and wipe out human civilization so that all the other species on our planet can survive.  If you have seen the film or just the trailers, then you know that swarms of microscopic beings—insects, robots, or both—are sent forth to bring about the apocalypse, shredding everything from giant sports stadiums to moving vehicles.[1]

Peter T. Chattaway observes, “One of the fascinating things about the original film is that Klaatu was such an obvious Christ-figure—he went by the name Carpenter when he mingled among regular people, he died and came back to life, and he professed a belief in the “Almighty Spirit.”

In the remake, the religious parallels are more subdued: Klaatu raises someone else from the dead, after killing him, but never dies himself; he never goes by the name Carpenter; and he talks of how “the universe” transforms people when they die. In the original film, Klaatu represented a certain ideal, a vision of what we humans could become, and our survival depended on becoming more like him. In the remake, on the other hand, our survival depends on bringing the alien down to our level and making him more like us. That may or may not have theological significance, but it does say something about how our culture has changed over the last five decades.”[2]

Kenneth Chan writes, “The verdict? The human race is destructive. The sentence? The human race will be terminated. “If the earth dies, humans die. If humans die, the earth lives,” Klaatu says in one scene. Although some will see a green agenda in the remake, the message goes deeper than that. It’s not just about our destructiveness toward the Earth, but toward one another. Is the human race without hope? This is what Klaatu believes after receiving his colleagues’ report.  I won’t spoil it by giving more of the plot away.[3]

The movie does help us understand why a Holy God could and one day will cleanse this world of evil.[4] Klaatu is not a type of Jesus Christ. He is fallible and fallen. But he is representative of those who believe it is their destiny to use violence to bring about God’s judgement. Can you think of anyone who believes they have a divine mandate to purify this world of evil and destroy all infidels? The man President George Bush refers to as “the evil one”. The one the newspapers call the “CEO of Terror Incorporated.” The mastermind behind the worst terrorist attacks in recent history – monstrous crimes of premeditated mass murder – Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam in 1998, New York and  Washington in 2001, Madrid 2004, London 2005, Algiers 2007,  probably Mumbai 2008.

If Bin Laden represents the most wanted man in the world what would Jesus say to him tonight? If we could listen in on a one to one between Jesus and Osama bin Laden this Christmas, what would Jesus say?

Read more here

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“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

The first occasion in which Bethlehem is mentioned in history has been found in the Amarna letters written from tribal kings of Palestine to the Egyptian pharaohs probably sometime between 1400-1360 B.C. The ruler in Jerusalem complains that Bit-Lahmi has deserted to the ‘Apiru people, a word probably referring to the Hebrews. Bethlehem is about 9 kilometres south of Jerusalem just off the main road to Hebron and Egypt. A strategic position perched 750 metres above sea level, the town sprawls out along several limestone ridges like the tentacles of an octopus. To the east lies Beit Sahour which means the Shepherd’s Fields and the barren hills of the Judean desert. To the west are more fertile slopes around Beit Jala where corn and figs, olive fields and vineyards abound.

The town of Bethlehem is mentioned frequently in the Bible. Its location became sacred when Jacob buried his beloved wife Rachel by the road side near the entrance to Bethlehem. (Genesis 35:19; 48:7). It is possible that Salma, the son of Caleb, built the first Jewish settlement there (1 Chronicles 2:51). The town and surrounding fields also feature prominently in the romantic love story of Ruth and Boaz who became the great-grandparents of David (Ruth 1; 2:4; 4:11). The town grew in prominence when Samuel anointed the shepherd boy David, to be king of Israel there (1 Samuel 16:4-13). By New Testament times Bethlehem had come to be known as ‘The town of David’ (Luke 2:4,11).

Around 700 B.C. the prophet Micah predicted that someone greater than David would be born in Bethlehem whose origins, incredibly, would be earlier than his human birth (Micah 5:2). When the Magi came from the East searching for the one to be born king of the Jews, Herod consulted with the chief priests and biblical scholars, who it seems knew full well the significance of Micah’s prophecy (Luke 2:1-8; John 7:42).

Bethlehem is therefore unique. It is the place where Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, entered our world and became a human being. It is hard to comprehend the wonder and enormity of this fact. Words cannot improve on the declaration of the angels to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11).

Under the Church of the Nativity, probably the oldest church in the world and best authenticated site in the Holy Land, is a simple cave. In the silence of this ancient site, best visited in the early morning, it is possible to pause and worship near the place where the Lord Jesus Christ was born. To enter the church one must first stoop low below the lintel. The tallest must stoop the furthest, only children can enter without bending down. What a lesson in humility.

For many, Bethlehem and the Christmas story is the place where they first begin to experience the meaning of that enigmatic phrase “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), for here in this place time, eternity and destiny meet in Jesus.

Incidentally, in Hebrew, Bethlehem means ‘The house of bread’. How appropriate that the One who said “I am the Bread of Life” should be born in the house of bread. On another occasion Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (John 6:54-55). Let us indeed feed on Him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

This chapter is taken from my book, In the Footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles

Bethlehem Christmas Project

Every December, the Bethlehem Christmas Project brings together, American, Israeli, and Palestinian followers of Christ to deliver gifts to orphans, children with special needs, and children suffering from post-traumatic stress in Bethlehem. The gifts we deliver include clothing, educational games, and toys. After nearly a year in production, the project recently released it’s 2nd film.

You can view the six-minute film here to learn more about the project’s vision and work.

We hope you will support us as we deliver Christmas gifts to children who are very much in need. The project delivers gifts to Christians and Muslims alike as we are here to serve all those who are in need. Please help make our project possible by visiting our donations page.

Our team of thirteen individuals from the U.S. will leave to Bethlehem on December 5th. We will be updating our website daily until we return on the 13th. Please pray for us and be sure to sign-up to our blog to receive our updates.

The video about the Bethlehem Christmas Project is also viewable on YouTube

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