Struck down, but not destroyed

Christians around the world today face persecution from many sources.  Nevertheless, we always have this hope: we are not forsakenand He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.

Iraq has made Christmas Day a national holiday, its government confirmed this morning.

The Iraqi Cabinet approved an amendment to its national holidays law which creates a new official one ‘on the occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ‘.

Previously, Christmas Day had been designated as a religious break only for the Iraqi Christian community, but the amendment extends the holiday to everyone.

There are thought to be only around 300,000 Christians remaining in the country, the vast majority of whom are Aramaic-speaking ethnic Assyrians.

Before western countries’ invasion of the country in 2003, Iraqi Christians numbered around 1.4 million, but the onslaught of violence forced hundreds of thousands to flee, either to Iraqi Kurdistan or further abroad.

They have also found themselves persecuted on religious grounds by so-called Islamic State in recent years.   Christians living areas under ISIS control were ordered to pay a large tax, convert to Islam, or be killed.

But now their Lord is being recognized officially.  The Iraqi people have suffered tremendously for decades, first under a ruthless dictator, then in an international crossfire between the West and radical Islamists.  But it is just like our God to bring beauty from such ashes.  I was one of thousands who served there, what seems like a lifetime ago, and I pray this is but the start of a great work by the Spirit in that land.

Merry Christmas!  The Christ Child is still in the business of setting captives free.

Tigris River

Note: there’s an observation made by the composition of this photo I took. See if you can find it.  If you do, feel free to share it in the comments.

Saturday Sounds

This is not usually considered a “Christmas” song.  And yet, Christmas has no meaning apart from the message it conveys.  One of our ministers shared last week at church that his daughter’s coworker, upon being wished a “Merry Christmas,” said she couldn’t remember whether Christmas was whether we “celebrate the birth or the killing of our God.”

Yes, it’s a shocking commentary on how ignorant of the basic doctrines of the faith our country has become.  But it’s also a reminder: neither the birth or the killing of Christ has any meaning without the Resurrection.

What a work we have, to tell those around us what all this really means.

The Fullness of Time

“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”  Galatians 4:1-7

Our pastor recently preached from this passage, noting that most sermons this time of year tend to come from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John).  He referred to this scripture as sort of the “Gospel of Paul.”  His emphasis was on the “fullness of time” — How everything had been prepared for the arrival of the Messiah and the rapid spread of the message of hope in Christ:

  • The conquests of Alexander the Great had spread the Greek language across the entirety of the known world at that time.
  • The rise of Rome brought extensive travel and commerce:  the Pax Romana reduced risks to travelers using Rome’s intricate road system, and the cursus publicus (postal system) moved communications at a speed that would not be achieved in Europe again until the 19th Century.
  • The experiences of the Jewish people under various foreign rulers had increased their longing for the promised deliverer.  While they may have expected a secular ruler rather than the Son of God and His sacrifice, this expectation still led to spiritual preparations that made way first for John the Baptist, then Christ.

Then he concluded his sermon with an unexpected twist.  He asked us what “the reason for the season” is.  After the congregation answered “Jesus,” he said he was not surprised at the answer and that it was not necessarily wrong.  But he pointed back to the scripture above, and noted we celebrate Jesus’ birth because of what it means for us — a chance at redemption and adoption.  Before God ever said “let there be light,” He already had the Incarnation and the Cross on His mind.  From God’s perspective, WE were the reason for this season — why He went to all this effort in the first place.

As we look at the swirl of world events around us, it’s encouraging to remember this promise: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Merry Christmas!