Mary, Did You Know? An Interview

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By Justin Wishart

Contemporary Christian Singer (CCS): Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?[1]

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.

[1] Questions taken from Michael English, "Mary, Did You Know?" by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, Michael English, Curb Records, 1991, CD.

An Unsafe Christmas

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.[1] 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.

[1] "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.

Thinking Critically About ISIS

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.

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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.

Sources

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.

The Meaning of Christ in Other Religions (Part 3)

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By Dr. Ron Galloway

In Part Two, I spoke of a certain graduate student who imagined that by showing me parallels between Christian symbols, beliefs, and objects and those of other religions, she refuted the originality of the Christian faith. But I have argued that all the religious parallel symbols she presented simply pre-figure the reality of Christ; they simply foreshadow the concrete reality. In all of her examples, the student was really presenting sacred objects or mythical stories that try to unite the profane with the sacred. All of them ultimately fail because they are all partial incarnations. Yes, they can all be seen by their very attempt, to point to the ultimate sacred one, the Christ, to whom all fragmented or partial understandings of the sacred point. Therefore they can be seen only as shadows, not the reality. There are a great many other parallel symbols and objects that the graduate student did not have on her list. Common among religions and mythical stories are sacred mountains, cosmic trees, annual renewals of the universe, sacred skies, seas, skies, earth, rivers , even sacred vegetation of every imaginable and unimaginable variety. The extent of such symbols is well documented in Mircea Eliade's Patterns In Comparative Religions, Cosmos and History, and his very engaging work titled Images and Symbols.[1] But as we saw in Part 2, all such symbols were seen by Eliade, and can be seen by us, as abortive attempts at incarnation. Only the incarnation of Christ fulfils these abortive attempts at uniting the profane with the sacred.[2]

Only the Jesus of Scripture was ever described as fully man and fully God, yet born as we are born. He is the God who, before His birth as a man, brought the whole of the universe into being. He is the true source of earth and sky. His death, resurrection and transfiguration are the true sources of the transfiguration of the whole of the cosmos. Christ can be viewed as the true cosmic tree, and the true tree of life that brings new heaven, earth, and humanity. Indeed the cross of Christ was a tree, symbolizing the dying and resurrected Christ who by His death and resurrection ushers in the opportunity for all to be reborn by the indwelling of Christ, who is both truth and life. The tree of life in the historical garden of Eden can be seen to foreshadow Christ Himself. In scripture He is the reality that is pointed to by the tree in the Book of Revelation whose leaves heal the nations. He is the true source of the knowledge of good and evil. As Saint Paul says: "All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him."[3]

In Scripture, He is the true living water, and true source of rebirth and regeneration. He is the true meaning of Eden in the transfigured garden of Eden that we find in the Book of Revelation.[4] Revelation chapter 21 speaks of a fully perfected, transfigured heaven and earth, yet it points to that which is beyond itself, and which fulfilled the transfiguration's own perfection, Jesus the risen Christ who overcame the power of death. All the related symbolisms of human religion will one day find their "yes." Even the horror of religions that practice human sacrifice, point out from their darkness to the true and freely given human sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself, He who was fully God and fully man.

Once we understand these symbols, whether they be pagan or Judeo-Christian, the nations of the earth have a bridge to draw them close to the one who came down into history for them, and is coming again. For surely, in the myths and symbols in sacred objects across the world, there is some part of humanity in the image of God crying out for God, however dim their understanding, to come down and save them. In longing for a centre of the earth—where God meets with humanity—are not their spirits crying out for their creator? In longing for a new world, and their own rebirth, are they not crying out for something their heart and conscience long for? With all their talk of sacred mountains, do they not truly desire Mount Zion, the Kingdom of God on earth? With the vast range of liberator and redeemer myths, and the myths of a virgin birth, do not all these point to what people long to have in reality? Do not the vast number of liberator or redeemer myths that talk of a King who will one day be born and will overcome the dark King, all refer to a true King who will one day be born in real history? This King is Christ. Do not all the fears, hopes, and yearnings that are expressed in myth and legend speak of a promise to come?

Are they not all deeply fulfilled where the Scriptures say that the "Yes" has come in the good news of Jesus Christ? [5] Does it not say in Scripture that all the promises of God to humanity have their yes in Christ?[6] Do not the Scriptures say that Christ will unite all things into Himself?[7] Do not those wondrous words in the Christmas song, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," well express the deep longing in the human heart through legend song and ritual, to draw close to God?

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

In the birth of Christ, all that man has longed for in his lost state, and separation from God, comes into history with a finality of promise. For then God, our Lord Jesus, completely took the part of man by fully becoming one. He thus brought all the blessings of eternity into time, and into the human heart. Now all that came before can be seen as shadow, and all the perverted ways of expressing the longing for rebirth of heaven and earth, of renewing the earth, and of renewing man can be seen in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In Him we see the reality in its uncorrupted, ultimate form. This does not suggest that either Father, Son, or Holy Spirit were responsible for the perverted ways of people whose understanding of sacrifice often came because of their contact with the spirit world through mediums, spells, or incantations, a form of contact strongly forbidden by the God of Israel.[8] They would do this and still do this in order to draw upon the powers of heaven, and receive its blessings. Such individuals only succeeded in contacting Satan and the spirit world. These evil practices enslaved them to a perverted lifestyle—child sacrifice, self-mutilation, ritual torment and slaughter. And yet, we continually see when Christ is preached, on mission field after mission field, that the very message of Christ, and the Bible itself, fulfil symbol after symbol couched in pagan myth, ritual and story. All their sacred mountains, temples, and objects, find their true fulfilment in the person of Christ. For here, the sacred one—the truly sacred one—comes and overcomes the power of darkness forever.

The battle that is even now bringing death to an end was won at the cross of Christ. Now in a very short time, Christ will come to claim His bride[9]. The end of sorrow and pain is very near, and all who know the Lord will live happily ever after. That is the essence of what J. R. R. Tolkien is getting at in his famous essay on myth and fairy story.[10] To Tolkien, what man invents in fantasy and myth is called secondary reality; but, as Tolkien explains, secondary reality longs to bring itself into reality. Only in Christ is that longing fulfilled. It happens because of His authentic coming down to man in the city of Bethlehem, authentic death and resurrection, authentic indwelling in the human heart, and His real and authentic return to come in a time that may not be too far away. At that time fantasies of secondary reality will all be understood as shadow, shadows that point to Christ Himself. It is He who will unite all heaven and earth in Himself. As Tolkien said of the story of Christ, it is the fairy tale that came true,[11] and those who belong to that Prince of Peace will live happily ever after on the day of His return.

This is the wonder of the Christian faith. It is such a precious reality that even the hopes and fears, and fantasies and myths of man, announce unawares—at some deeper level of the human self—the incarnation, resurrection and transfiguration of Christ and eventually of all things.

[1] Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. R. Sheed (London: Sheed and Ward, 1958); Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return, tr. W. R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954); and Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism, tr. P. Mairet (London: Harvill, 1961).

[2] See John 1, including "the Word Became a human being and lived among us" (1:14).

[3] Colossians 2:3.

[4] Revelation 22:1-2.

[5] 2 Corinthians 1:16-19.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Colossians 1:8-12.

[8] Deuteronomy 18; Revelation 21:7.

[9] Revelation 21:1-2.

[10] J. R. R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964), 65.

[11] Ibid., 64-66.