A simple stick figure guide to Christmas …
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The Bible says God is real, perhaps more real than you imagine, but there is something seriously wrong between us and him. There are a few things it tells us we need to do:
Face up to the problem
Most of us think of ourselves as decent people. But although we may not be murderers or thieves, we’ve all been angry or proud, looked down on others, said or thought bad things about others, tried to hide the truth. The Bible says all these things mean we fall short of God’s standards. It’s not just our actions but our wrong thoughts – the things on the inside – that are sins in God’s eyes and where the problems in our world start. We may not seem bad in our own eyes. It is easy to justify our own behaviour to ourselves. But God is perfect, and he doesn’t share our compromised and desensitised standards.
Stop relying on ourselves
We find it hard to forgive others’ words or actions that have hurt us. Yet we feel God will forgive all our wrongs, help us in this life, and accept us into heaven as if we were friends. But the Bible says that God is good, and he has a sense of justice. He cannot ignore wrong but will judge all of us as he brings about justice and divides the good and bad in heaven and hell. We are guilty of breaking God’s rules and the shocking truth is that the Bible says we are ‘alienated from God’ and his enemies because of our wrong behaviour (Colossians 1:21), facing his condemnation not reward. It is a dangerous place to be. We cannot rely on our own merit.
Yet the Bible says God loves us and doesn’t want to punish us. He gave everything to offer us a way out. He has paid, himself, what his justice demands, so he can forgive us. This is where the Christmas story starts – God entered our world, not to condemn us, but as a baby in humble settings, to sympathise with us and help us – ultimately to die in our place on the cross, paying for all our wrongs. Unbelievably, the Bible says, God himself ‘did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45)! This is how valuable we are to God and how much he loves us, though we have ignored him.
Make a new start
God wants us to know him, and to start living life following his good instructions in the Bible. We desperately need to do this, and to take up his offer of forgiveness, to make things right between us and him, in this life and the next. Christianity is not about doing good to earn a reward or escape guilt, but simply coming to God, faults and all, to live with his help. As we do this we can start to experience the reality of his existence and help in our lives. Why not do just that this Christmas?
How dare God create a world with disease, natural disasters, etc? This might sound a strong argument against God’s existence, but in fact, the Bible claims that God didn’t make the world like this. It says that he made it without suffering, or even death. It stopped working as it should when we told the one holding it together to ‘get lost’, as it were.
When we say we don’t want God’s rules and his rule over the world, we are separated from his perfect control – life is unjust, and the physical world is broken and tough. This happens in Adam and Eve’s story, the story of each of us.
Maybe you don’t feel you have opposed God or asked him to abandon us, but in fact our lives live out a rejection of God and all he stands for. We don’t love our neighbour or bother to find out what God says; we entertain negative thoughts towards others; we’re dishonest, we hide things from each other. With each wrong, we reject God as the benevolent ruler whose instructions should be followed. Is God’s reaction off the scale? Our rejection of him is the choice to make ourselves number one – the root cause of every hurt and evil: unequal wealth, abuse, war, painful relationships on every scale.
But when we accuse God, the irony is that he has done something about human suffering – more than we’ve done about the needy in the world. He entered our world and suffered, himself, to pay our moral debt. This is what Jesus’ life and death is about. The Bible says that God will one day end suffering and create a new, perfect world – heaven. Hard to believe? Surely not, if God is really good, as our starting point questions. But God won’t force us to enter the world he rules (heaven). If we continue to reject him, we choose hell. Atheism faces suffering with no hope. But there is hope if all the BIble says is true, and too much at stake not to find out.
She cheated on him.
He loved her. He gave her everything she could want.
But she wanted more. She wanted to be the boss.
It’s how the Easter Story starts – right back at the beginning: a story of him and her. The Bible describes it as a lover’s betrayal – but it’s talking about God and us. He created a beautiful world, perfect satisfaction of every kind, but we left him. We broke the rules. We’ve gone against the loving morals God created for life. In every unkind word, thought or action, we rebel against God.
What happened next? We cut ourselves off from the maker of the universe, and the world we see shows it – war, natural disaster, and human evil – suffering, in this life, and in the next. But …
… He didn’t give up. He didn’t owe her anything, but he loved her. She meant everything to him. He gave everything to get her back.
Wrongs cannot be ignored or swept under the carpet. But she had nothing to give to make it up to the one who had given her everything. So he sent someone to rescue her – to rescue their relationship. Someone to pay for her wrongs. And not just anyone – he paid for them himself.
Easter is the story of the greatest act of forgiveness – a man called ‘Jesus’ (meaning ‘Rescuer’), unjustly executed in AD33. His good life and teaching had created enemies with the religious hypocrits of the day. Even worse to them, he claimed to be God – something incredibly arrogant, unless it were true. But this God came not to condemn – as they were so good at doing – but to serve a human sentence, die a human death, and pay for the things that hurt him most – our wrongs.
He, she – did they meet again?
He forgave. Did she return?
The Easter Story has an open ending, we write it ourselves. Will you keep running, or will you return to the one who loves you more than anyone ever can – the one who gave everything for you – the relationship that makes us truly alive: spiritually, emotionally, physically?
Jesus died and returned from death to prove he really was God’s rescue plan – the one who could take away the sentence we have brought on ourselves. He made it possible for people to do the unthinkable, to become friends with God – forgiven and accepted, in this world and the next – not through our merit but his.
It’s Easter. Are you ready for a new start? Are you ready for a new relationship?
All of us have done wrong, and fallen short of God’s goodness. But God treats us much better than we deserve … Even when we were God’s enemies, he made peace with us, because Christ died for us. From Romans chapters 3:23 and 5:10, The Bible
We’d all like it to be true but is it just wishful thinking? The Bible claims there is evidence for God and the afterlife – not just in a message or sign from God, but something more solid. God entered the world in the form of life itself, as a living person – Jesus of Nazareth. He gave us evidence – even better, a demonstration – of himself and of life after death.
But can we believe it? People just don’t rise from the dead. Wasn’t the idea that Jesus was God just invented later? It sounds outrageous to us, but remember that the God the Bible describes created the laws of physics. If he is to give us evidence of himself, the evidence has to defy these laws and show us there is one who controls them. If it were anything less than miraculous you might accuse God of not giving you good enough evidence to believe. It was meant to be something that doesn’t happen in our normal experience of life.
So is it believable? Jesus is one of, if not the most striking person in history. He made a claim that could only be made by a madman, unless it were true – that he and God were one and the same. Yet he did not behave like a madman – he was able to outwit his opponents with rational arguments and morality that has been admired around the world ever since. Jesus’ divine nature was not decided by a committe hundreds of years later, as one popular novelist recently described. We see him making this claim himself in the eye-witness accounts of his life in the Bible (John 10:30, for example).
And Jesus gave the reason God would do something so unbelievable as becoming man. He said he had come ‘not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt 20:28, Mark 10:45) – a perfect God dying a human death, in our place, for our wrongs, to give us a reward that we don’t deserve: heaven. And Jesus demonstrated life after death to prove it.
Has God given us evidence of himself and the afterlife? If he has, then Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the most obvious sign in human history. It is too important to overlook, too much hangs in the balance. Take the opportunity to find out more.
The beard, the naughty or nice list … it’s how many picture God. So is he just a made-up Santa for adults? Can we know if he really exists or what he is like?
Has science, for example the Big Bang, ruled out God, just as gravity rules out flying reindeer? The Big Bang is an explanation for how the physical world has developed from an initial ‘dense state’, but does not explain how this, or the laws of physics, started to exist. Can something physical be the cause of it all, with no need to ask what caused that? In time and space there is always a ‘before that…’. So could something outside of time and space exist, someone eternal like God? And would he care about us if he did?
What evidence would convince us that there is a creator of the laws of nature and life itself? An act that breaks these laws or creates life itself, perhaps? The Bible claims that God has given evidence, in the life and death of a person called Jesus: a life created from nothing, born from a virgin, and 33 years later, raised from death.
It sounds outrageous … We often want to dismiss anything labelled ‘miraculous’, but remember if God does exist, we’d demand something similar as proof. Is it so strange that God would communicate with us, not merely in words or information, but in the most advanced form – life itself?
But the Bible claims these events are not just evidence of God’s existence. They show that God has not abandoned the world but rolled up his sleeves and got dirty to fix it. He gave us a prototype for life: one of love and forgiveness. From the baby in an animal trough onwards, the most powerful being in the universe showed how real power is so different from how humans have exercised it.
But here is where God is most unlike Santa … He did not come to make a list of naughty or nice, but to erase our record of wrongs. As Jesus died, he chose to suffer death and hell for us, pay the penalty for our wrongs, and offer forgiveness and life after death to those who turn to him. If such good news is true, we cannot ignore it …
The Bible says we need to admit that we’ve ignored God and broken his rules. We need to say sorry and have a change of direction – with God in the picture this time. To make things right between us and God, we cannot rely on our own efforts and goodness, but we need to rely on what God has done for us through Jesus.
The Bible puts it like this … ‘For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. There is no eternal doom awaiting those who trust him to save them. But those who don’t trust him have already been condemned for not believing in the one-of-a-kind Son of God. The Light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the Light because they were not really interested in pleasing God’ (John 3:16-19, ‘The Living Bible’ & ‘The Message’ Translation)