We can go a long way toward meeting the needs of others and serving their interests, all the while building friendships and creating opportunities for good conversations, by simply showing hospitality to others.
By Justin Wishart
Contemporary Christian Singer (CCS): Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary: Well, I was a bit surprised by this one. However, when it happened, the words of Job came to me when he said, "He alone spreads out the heavens and walks upon the waves of the sea." This is, of course, talking about God and since Jesus is God, I was no longer surprised. But, it did give me some goosebumps when I heard of this event.
CCS: Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Mary: Yes, of course! Gabriel himself came to my husband and said, "he"—meaning Jesus— "he will save his people from their sins." Gabriel also came to shepherds and said, "today, one who saves from the punishment of sin," referring to Jesus. Simeon said, upon seeing Jesus, "my eyes have seen the one who will save men from the punishment of their sins." Anna soon gave thanks for my son as he will take our sins away and set us free. Isaiah spoke of my son saying, "After he," as in Jesus, "has suffered, he," as in the Father, "will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities." Really, I can go on, but this is one of the most sure things I knew about my son.
CCS: Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
Mary: This depends on what you mean by "new." If by this you mean saved, then I have already answered your question. If you mean that I would be made a "new creation," as Paul puts it, then I would have to say that I did not expect this. For my son to ontologically change me into a new creation as he did was something that I would come to understand when Jesus became an adult.
CCS: This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you?
Mary: This is a confused statement because you are equivocating the word "delivered." He certainly did not deliver me in the same sense that I delivered him. It seems, however, that you mean "deliver" in the sense that he would deliver me from my sins. If this is your meaning, I have already answered this.
CCS: Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary: Yes and no. Isaiah speaks of God's servant who will have extraordinary powers. He specifically says that "the eyes of the blind [will] be opened" and my son will "open eyes that are blind." I always thought that this meant giving wisdom or knowledge to people and this was used metaphorically. I still think this is probably true, but given all the other healing abilities mentioned, restoring sight should be expected.
CCS: Mary, did you know that your baby boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Mary: Again, I didn't know specifically this miracle would happen. But, since my son is God, that idea still gives me shivers, I am not surprised that Jesus did this. Doesn't the Psalmist say, "he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed?"
CCS: Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
Mary: Why, yes! When Gabriel spoke to me he said, "the Holy Spirit will come on you. The power of the Most High will cover you. The holy Child you give birth to will be called the Son of God." This seemed to make it clear to me that this child somehow came to me directly from heaven. I could not imagine this meaning anything different.
CCS: When you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God?
Mary: This is a harder question to answer. For one thing, Jesus looked very human. Holding Him, though, you knew something was different and He certainly didn't act like any other kid I have seen. My knowledge of the Trinity was pretty small at that point, but I would often contemplate the words of Daniel: "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." I would also meditate on this while also thinking about what God told Satan: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel." So, a human who is an offspring of a woman and was like a son of man, would have the same power and authority as God and will set up an eternal kingdom while crushing Satan. I must confess that I was confused by all this, but I did know without a doubt that I wasn't kissing a mere human. It wasn't until Jesus started teaching and speaking did I start coming to a fuller understanding that He was also God.
CCS: Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary: This is basically the same question as the last one. Some of these questions seem a bit repetitive.
CCS: Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Mary: Well, I already mentioned Daniel's words, but I suppose you want more. I knew Isaiah said, "See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted."
CCS: Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
Mary: Yes. When I became pregnant, I read the words of Isaiah a lot. I have the book memorized. See, the servant Isaiah speaks often of the servant being perfect; there is "no violence" or there is "no deceit in his mouth," for example. Yet, just like the Passover lamb, the servant would be "pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed." Knowing this did not make watching Him die on the cross any easier. In fact, I felt it was really unfair. Yet, I suppose grace is unfair. Fairness would mean we all get the judgment we deserve, but grace allows us to not receive what we deserve. This is blatantly unfair. It's really a beautiful concept when one thinks about it, though. I am so glad that God is not fair. We would all be in trouble then.
CCS: The sleeping Child you're holding is the great "I am"?
Mary: Listen, man! I have already answered this twice. Three strikes and you're out, buddy. I am done with this interview.
 Questions taken from Michael English, "Mary, Did You Know?" by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, Michael English, Curb Records, 1991, CD.
By Jojo Ruba
I still remember their chants as they protested, "It's time for you to go!"
In 2009, I was invited to speak at McGill University in Montreal. The room was booked by the pro-life student club and the booking was approved by the university. Around 50 people were in the room, attracted by the controversy around my talk. I barely got two sentences out when about 20 students and supporters began to disrupt the presentation. They sang songs, yelled slogans and kept me from finishing my presentation. In their minds, my pro-life view that abortion takes a child's life and that abortion is akin to other past genocides, was so offensive that I had to be stopped from speaking. You can still watch the video of the event here.
If you've been following what's been happening on university campuses across North America, you'll know that it's gotten even worse. It's no longer just pro-life presentations that are being censored. Legitimate discussions on rape culture, politics, and even Halloween costumes are being shouted down and censored because these debates may "harm" students. Many campuses have created "safe spaces" that purport to provide a space where no potentially offensive ideas are ever spoken or heard. Many include children's toys like Lego or Play-Doh to help students alleviate stress. All of them define a "safe space" as a place where no "harm," either physical or emotional, is allowed. Harm is so broadly defined that it can mean simply disagreeing with someone's beliefs. Today, this definition of safety is permeating into other parts of society.
At a gay conference I recently attended, several prominent businesses spoke about how they screen out applicants to their companies who may not agree with their views on homosexuality. Though it is illegal to do this, panelists talked about other ways they screen out people in their application process. This was to ensure they create a "safe" and "affirming" space where dissent isn't welcome. I hear stories like this all the time now.
Worse, this kind of thinking isn't confined to the secular community any longer. Even in Christian schools and churches that we speak at, "safety" has become a paramount value. Of course, wanting children to be physically safe, or preventing damaging and manipulative teaching from being promoted, is a good idea. But this version of safety means discouraging any speech offensive to students or members of the congregation. And "offensive" simply means ideas that may threaten the feelings of safety of some Christians.
I thought about this trend as I heard the first Christmas songs of the season playing at the mall last week. As I listened, I realized that all of those lyrics celebrating Jesus' birth often mask an important truth, namely, that the first Christmas wasn't safe.
Jesus wasn't sent as an armed warrior with a host of angels surrounding Him. Instead, He first grew as an insignificant human embryo, inside the womb of an unmarried young woman. She was likely still in her teens and could easily have been abandoned or worse by the man she was engaged to. Jesus could have been born an orphan. Even His birthplace wasn't a safe place. He was born into a race that was long ago conquered by its enemies and was now under their rule. Death was a common form of punishment in their society, a fate many other children in His town soon faced simply for being born in the wrong place. One has to wonder if Mary, as she cradled her Son, ever thought how she and Joseph could protect the child. Clearly the manger wasn't a safe space.
Rather than looking for a place to hide from any potential hurt, Jesus' birth reminds us that God's main concern wasn't our safety. The Christian message was never a call to remove any offending ideas or hurtful actions. Rather, His life, death, and resurrection show us that the gospel is not safe, but it is good. And He wants us to love people enough to say and do things that are risky and often painful, because that's what He did for us at Christmas.
 "A place where everyone can feel comfortable about expressing their identity without fear of discrimination or attack." MacMillan Dictonary, http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/safe-space, accessed December 1, 2016.
By T. J. Smith In the spring of 2015, the Pew Research Center conducted a study investigating support for the Islamic State, or ISIS, in Muslim countries. They presented their findings in an article titled In Nations with Significant Muslim Populations, Much Disdain for ISIS.
Without getting into what ISIS is trying to accomplish, or looking at estimates of how many "apostates" they've slaughtered, I want to consider PRC's article, and how their facts are presented. I will outline two reminders of how we must read any such reports—and, secondly, as Christians, what our response to this situation should be.
We Must Read Carefully
The article points to an important truth: percentage-wise, the population's support of predominately Muslim nations is estimated to be quite low. But—and this is an important "but"—when interpreting any information, we must keep in mind four things: 1. the intent, 2. the source, 3. the information itself, and 4. the scope. For help remembering, these form the acronym I-S-I-S.
Intent: What's the author's angle? Is the author perhaps stacking the deck with a certain purpose? Consider any bias they might be showing.
Source: Who is writing it? Can they be trusted? Are they objective in their writing? What is their background? Do you have any reason to suspect they might be either censored or directed by their news agency?
Information: Is what is being stated true? Are they citing credible sources? Are they using sound logic? Read between the lines: are the facts being spun, twisted, or exaggerated?
Scope: What is being held up close, and most importantly, what is being ignored or swept under the rug? Look for the "man behind the curtain."
In this case, the Pew Research Center has neglected to mention that although a low percentage of Muslims say they support ISIS, the sum total of the population who say they support ISIS is quite a staggering number: by my calculation, just under 66.8 million people. Add to that the percentage who said they "didn't know," a whopping 238.5 million, and you have a grand total of 305.3 million people estimated to be either in support of, or indifferent toward, ISIS.
It is important that we do not identify all Muslims with those who act out their understanding of their faith militantly, whether by imposing their severe Sharia law or enacting nightmarish brutality, which is seen as abhorrent to many who call themselves Muslims. We must, however, consider the implications of holding every article and report up to the light; inspecting it using our four criteria.
It appears ISIS is not as benign and unpopular as the article would have us believe. To put it in perspective: According to this study, those who aren't against ISIS exceed three times the population of Germany in 1939.
We Must Pray
Let's hold up the citizens of these countries in constant prayer, both those who are indifferent to, and those who support, ISIS. As Christ Himself compels us, we need also to pray for ISIS members themselves: "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44 NASB).
Let's also pray intensely for our Christian brothers and sisters who are being systematically slaughtered and oppressed by this regime, as Hebrews 13:3 says: "Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves, also are in the body."
We are bound with them.
T. J. Smith is an artist, husband, and lover of technology. He holds an MFA in Visual Arts. He dabbles in music, and loves to travel and meet people. He's committed to spreading Christ's hope for the world: the ability to be restored unto the Creator of the Universe. He takes joy in discovering the truths in the Bible which serve to make sense of, and illuminate his world.
The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, accessed July 18, 2016, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/.
Jacob Poushter, "In Nations with Significant Muslim Populations, Much Disdain for ISIS," Fact Tank (blog), Pew Research Center, November 17, 2015, accessed July 18, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/in-nations-with-significant-muslim-populations-much-disdain-for-isis/.
"State of Palestine," Wikipedia, last updated July 11, 2016, accessed July 18, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_Palestine.