FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: Caesar Augustus

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” Luke 2:1

 

Gaius Octavius was the adopted heir to the Roman throne, being the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. His road to the throne was not so easy, however, as the nation was in the midst of civil wars especially after Caesar’s assassination. Octavius came out victorious, returning to Rome as sole master at the age of 34. Consummate politician that he turned out to be, he settled relations with the Senate of Rome (something his predecessor had totally ruined with dictatorship), rejected any monarchical title like ‘king’, preferring to be called ‘First Citizen of the State’, spread the reaches of Roman rule through conquest of much of the known world, and he turned what was a Republic into an Empire. His reign was an era of relative peace, laying the foundation for the next 1500-or-so years of the Roman Empire. He had left many architectural achievements, initiated a taxing system, an official police, and even a fire-fighting system (yes, this was all BC!) among other things, including a steady constitutional framework. He was a lover of the arts as well, relating with poets and writing some literary works himself. The people loved him. To this day, many historians consider him Rome’s greatest Emperor, considering his many achievements. Some explain, though, that his peace actually came through disguised force and ruthless methods.

The Roman Senate gave him the title ‘Augustus’, meaning ‘the illustrious one’. It was a religious title designating authority over humanity and nature, and was the beginnings of a culture of emperor worship. Full of it, he went ahead to tack on, among many other titles, the title of ‘Son of the deified one’, or ‘son of god’ (the god here being Julius Caesar, who they had already elevated to god-status). Still, he hung the civic crown above his door, a crown that was usually placed over a general’s head as the Latin phrase ‘Memento mori’ was chanted, meaning ‘Remember that you are mortal.’ For all his claims to godly fame, he knew he was a man and would die someday. By 6 BC, as his age told more on him, he was already preparing his stepson, General Tiberius, to take the throne.

With his family name of ‘Caesar’, which he turned into a title for future emperors, Gaius Octavius is now more popularly known as Caesar Augustus.

 

One of the lands conquered by Caesar Augustus was a middling nation named Judea, which he then annexed to the province of Syria. Moving on to more lands, he had no idea that he had just plugged in to a livewire that predated him and sovereignly superseded any authority he thought he had. He had just been joined to the history of God’s chosen people, and the unfolding of God’s mighty plan.

As it turned out, Caesar sent out a decree for all in the Empire to be registered, like a census scenario, except that they would all have to return to their hometowns. This is what caused a Jewish carpenter and his pregnant wife to make the long journey from Nazareth to the carpenter’s hometown in the South. Bethlehem. It was in that town that their baby was born, a baby who was the true Son of the true God. Jesus the Messiah.

 

Caesar played a part in the Christmas Story and exited as soon as it was done. Really, his name only occurs in one verse. But God used this pagan ruler in the ordering of set pieces for the fulfilment of prophecy surrounding the birth of Jesus. Micah had prophesied that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), but the key players were based in Nazareth. God used the Roman emperor to fulfil His plans for His own.

In the same way, God can order the political terrain of any nation, or any other official construct, to favour His children. He’s done it many times. Scripture tells us, ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as are the watercourses; He turns it whichever way He wills.’ (Proverbs 21:1, ironically written by Solomon, a king himself)

God used Cyrus, king of the Persian Empire, to allow the exiled Israelites to return to their land and rebuild their temple. He caused Ahasuerus, another Persian king, to favour His servant Mordechai and deliver him from death. He revealed cryptic dreams to Pharaoh in Egypt and Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, dreams that only His servants Joseph and Daniel respectively, could decrypt in order to elevate them and set them in positions where they could save many and rule with justice. He is still doing that today.

Many nations today are ruled by people who don’t know God. But that is not a barrier to the Lord, as He can cause them to order legislation to favour His own. Beyond governance, even in school or the workplace, the Lord can influence the management to make decisions that favour you. And, in some cases, when His people are thus rightly favoured and rightly placed, He can do even greater things in those offices.

This is what Jesus’ coming promises us. God still rules in the affairs of men. Even of those who have rule over you. The fact that they have become your governor or president or chairman has made them subject to God’s will for you.

That is something to be thankful for, and something we can trust Him for too.

 

Hold on, there’s more.

Caesar Augustus’ famous last words as he died were, “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.” He considered the regal authority that he’d put on as emperor, as all play-acting. He knew he wasn’t the big deal they all made him out to be. Memento mori. He died in AD 14, in his 77th year.

You know, your leaders are human too. Even the worst despot has fears and doubts, dreams and aspirations, and loved ones too. They need the Lord just as much as anyone else does. The Bible encourages us to pray for all men, for our kings and leaders and all who are in positions of authority. It is pleasing in God’s sight (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Pray for them to have the right counsel, for their families, and for their souls so that they will know the Lord. As a part of God’s Kingdom, this is your duty. If all is well with your leader, the country will function well as well. As God’s children this is our charge, the watchtowers we are called to defend.

Remember, we are of a kingdom that transcends these, but it’s a kingdom that serves. Pray for your leaders too.

Christmas is a great opportunity for all the world to slow down and relax and rest. With fewer distractions, it is a chance for some to hear and see the true purpose of Christ’s coming: God’s plan for them through salvation in Christ. Pray for your leaders, that they encounter these opportunities and for their hearts to be receptive to listen.

Jesus came for them too.

 

#8DaystoChristmas

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FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: Elisabeth

#FacesoftheChristmasStory
 
“Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon me, to take away my reproach among men.”
Luke 1:25
 
She had grown up watching women get pregnant and giving birth, fantasizing about when she would do the same. She had probably even helped change the diapers of some relatives’ babies on occasion. She got married and couldn’t wait to have a baby. But she didn’t. As the months passed, the questions started coming. Aunts were all too willing to give their unsolicited advice on ‘successful baby-making’. At first it was amusing, until it became frustrating. The months turned to years. Her friends’ babies grew into adults, got married, and were having their own babies already.
The questions dwindled, soon replaced by whispers. Soon those whispers were replaced by silent furtive glances. Everywhere she went, she could feel them. Sure, the people respected her, but it was the things they didn’t say, the things she knew they were thinking, that stung the most. She was the barren old woman from down the street. Barren. A name she had never thought would be hers.
God knows how many times she prayed. Were they being punished for their sins? Her husband was a priest, and she was a direct descendant of Aaron, the first high priest. That alone should have given them points before the Lord, but still no babies came.
Was God hearing her? Was He even there? Questions she didn’t dare put to speech. After years of agony and sadness, she settled for what they had. After all, His ways and thoughts were higher than theirs. They served God faithfully still.
One day her husband returned abruptly from the Temple without sending prior word. Literally too, because he had no words, since he had been stricken dumb. Hours of panicking and frantic sign gestures later (and the mental note to learn sign language ASAP) she was finally able to get him to write down what had happened. Long story short, the Lord had sent an angel to tell them that they would have a baby. A son. (Why couldn’t he speak? You can read about it in yesterday’s post, or better yet, check out the real account in Luke 1:5-22)
It was hard to believe. It took her a while to accept it all, but in the days that followed, she knew. She could feel it … HIM … she could feel him forming in her. “Oh dear God! So this is what it feels like? I really am having a baby?”
It’s not that she had forgotten she had a womb, it’s just that she had not needed it or even had a reminder of its presence in over a decade! But this was new. This was…different.
What would she do? How would she live, taking care of her silent husband and nursing a pregnancy? How could she, a post-post-menopausal woman, move around town with the prominent bump leading the way, an embarrassing reminder that she was carrying something that was not for people her age? She felt ashamed. The rumours would only reach a fever pitch. She couldn’t dare go out again.
But in her heart, she was hit by the reality that God had blown the barriers she had settled for and invaded her space. Prayers she had long stopped praying were being fulfilled, right in her own body. Not her neighbour’s body this time, not a woman from the stories of the days of the patriarchs … but her. “Me…?” And it gladdened her heart. “So this is the extravagant way God wants to take away my shame?”
For Zacharias it was a son, but for her it was personal. She carried the pregnancy. God had done something in her body. Her own body.
It was a miracle. For a long time, miracles were just the stuff from the Scriptures. Like the Lord parting the Red Sea, or stopping time for Joshua’s armies to prevail, or making Aaron’s dead rod bloom. They were the stories she loved hearing as a young girl. But now, a miracle had been wrought in her own life – in her own body. The Lord had chosen her.
 
Elisabeth’s story is a picture of what Israel was going through. Their history was full of accounts of God’s miraculous intervention time and again. But for the past 400 years or more, precious little had occurred beyond the ordinary. Reality overshadowed them as foreign nation after foreign nation invaded and took over their land. Even the prophets seemed an order of the past, so there was little if any hint of divine intervention. Where was the arm of the Lord? For many, even if they did not admit it, the miracles were a thing of the past. Those historical accounts were little more than myths to some. God and His ways were probably just a coping mechanism, just in case. Still, Israel felt abandoned.
But God had not forgotten them. He was coming to them, and He was coming in a BIG way, in a way that would be so grand it would be embarrassing.
Like a soldier returning from war to meet his fiancé after years of separation, who lavishes her with lots of gifts, lots of money, a new car, teaches her to drive, and spends quality time with her … all on his first day back. Her friends are watching, bewildered as they whisper among themselves about all the attention she’s getting. And just when his fiancé has gotten embarrassed enough, a troupe of mariachis that he’s paid comes out of hiding to serenade her (she loves Mexican music … Why is it always Mexican music?). Her family has been in on the surprise, and they join the circle of onlookers with knowing grins as her Romeo drops to his knee, pulls out a ring and asks her the question…
“Will you … go see The Last Jedi with me?”
I’m just kidding. He asks her to marry him, while everyone stands in awe, literally going, “Aw…” The lady wipes a tear. (Hey, was the ring an onion ring?) You get the picture. He is with the love of his life, and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. He will ‘spoil’ her with enough to make up for the lost years, and enough to set up their new life together. Enough to show her his boundless love for her and his delight in her.
This was God’s promise to Israel. He’d said, through His prophets, that He would not only save them from their enemies, but would also lavish them with His goodness, would give them a great kingdom with a great king, so that all the world would see His faithfulness. And He came to save, not only Israel but all the world, totally overshooting the ‘save-them-from-their-enemies’ bit, giving a new life and an inheritance to all who receive His salvation, making them part of His endless kingdom, where He is King. He is awesome like that, always doing exceeding abundantly above all we could ask or think. He saves to the uttermost.
That’s the big picture, and I’ve not even come close to describing it.
But Elisabeth’s story shows us something even extra special. “God has come, for ME.” The blessing of God, in the form of her son, was a flashing neon sign to everyone around that God had done something supercalifragilisticexpialidociously AWESOME in the life a woman well past her prime. Everyone knew her as Barren. Now she was Fruitful. God had visited her life and left His fingerprint for all to see.
It’s the gift of God being with us, among us, in us, coming into our very situation and changing it with the peace and blessing of His very presence. Immanuel. God in the life of a person changes everything, setting things right.
It’s what He did in salvation. It is a blessing upon many, and a blessing upon each one that receives Him. A blessing upon you. That men will see His awesomeness in you as well.
It’s what He can do in your life. If you’re His child you are so much more set up for His hand to work wonders in your life.
And He does. Though our lives may seem to define ordinary, He has set things in motion on your behalf.
Sometimes we don’t think we see His miracles because they don’t all seem spectacular. How wrong we are. I think it was Max Lucado that wrote, “A coincidence is a miracle where God chooses to stay anonymous.” You walk into a building and the first person you meet gives you the information you need to avoid unnecessary stress. You feel a prompting to take a certain route on your way home from a stressful workday, and on that route you meet an old friend whose presence lifts your spirits. Sometimes miracles are like that.
Some miracles are a little more direct. Let’s go back to Elisabeth for a moment.
Remember she’s expecting a baby and supporting her mute husband. She’s going to need a lot of help. So what does God do? He’s set up Mary, her younger cousin, to come down all the way from the other end of the country to visit her (Luke 1:36-40). Mary stayed there until the Elizabeth’s baby was born. Many times, just like this, God uses people to help us. He may use someone to call you with words of encouragement at a moment when you’re feeling down. Someone else may be ready to mess up your day with an annoying Whatsapp chain message, but that person is suddenly distracted by joy at the news of his daughter finally gaining admission to the university of her choice. Wheels within wheels, God is working miracles just beyond our sight.
He may even use you in the working of a miracle in someone else’s life. He did that with Elisabeth. Mary had just been told that she too would have a baby that would be the Son of God. The young lady was still going over the ramifications of this when she entered Elisabeth’s house. Suddenly, the baby in Elisabeth’s belly leaped and she, suddenly spoke words that confirmed what Mary had heard from the angel, further establishing her confidence in God’s promises. God used them both to encourage and build each other’s faith. That’s His desire, to use us to bless one another. But first, like He placed the babies in the women’s wombs, He must give you His kind of heart. That is the kind of person He can use to do His will and be blessing. That’s what Jesus’ coming was all about, to make you that kind of person.
And, yes, God does overt miracles too, through the hands of His children. You can be used of God to heal the sick, cast out devils, and even raise the dead. These are the qualities He’s promised to all who believe in Him and His work of salvation (Mark 16:15-18). If you are Christ’s, this is your nature and ability. It’s all His gift to you.
 
There is so much more we can learn from Elisabeth’s story, but I’ve kept you here long enough. It was not an accident that the writer of the Biblical account told her story together with her husband’s, Zacharias (spoiler alert: he gains his speech back in the end). While Elisabeth’s story shows us that God can do great miracles, even the impossible, in our lives, Zacharias’ story teaches us about faith in God, even in what looks impossible. Needs are a very common part of the human experience, both those that can be met and those that are a bit harder to meet. In all things, let your faith be in God, and you will see His hand at work in your life.
Don’t let your heart get weary. Miracles are not alien to God’s children.
After all, they are our Father’s specialty.
Remember that, this Christmas.
 
May you grow stronger in faith, established in the knowledge of His faithfulness in Jesus’ Name.
Amen.
 
 
“…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of the things that were spoken to her from the Lord.”
Elizabeth speaking to her young cousin, Mary, in Luke 1:45
 
#9DaystoChristmas

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: Zacharias

#FacesoftheChristmasStory

‘But the angel said unto him, “Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.” Luke 1:12

Imagine you are sitting on a park bench, scrolling through your phone while waiting for the 3 o’clock bus. On a hunch, you look up from your screen to see a stranger sitting beside you, smiling.
“Hello…” you say, but what you’re really saying is, “Do I know you?”
The stranger proceeds as if you two had been in the middle of a conversation. “What if I told you that by this time tomorrow, you will be able to fly?” He stares straight into your eyes unblinking. He actually believes what he’s just said, and he expects you to believe it too. You, fly?
What would you do? What would you say?
I would probably reply, “Sorry, but I don’t do drugs,” before I make up an excuse to leave. I would always look back on that moment as a weird one, but I would wonder about the possibilities, somewhere in my subconscious. I would remember the times when, as a kid, I tied a wrapper around my neck like Superman and leapt up, up and away … unto the floor. Living with a little concept called Reality, and it’s distant cousin ‘Gravity’, has taught me that I can’t fly, so I don’t even try or even entertain the possibility. And with that, I shove the memory of the stranger’s pitch into the ‘Don’t-even-think-about-it’ cabinet of my mind.
That’s probably what Zacharias felt like when he, while performing his priestly duties in the temple, was told by the angel Gabriel that he would have a son. He and his wife were ‘far advanced in years’ (read, they were really, really old) but they had no children, and it was definitely not for lack of trying. They had prayed and trusted in God for at least a child, but none had come. Yet they remained faithful to Him. Zach had probably even resigned to serve God wholeheartedly, even if God didn’t give him a child. And that’s quite commendable too.
But now, an angel appears and tells him he would have a child? A son, no less? Of course he was amazed that an angel had appeared to him, and this was clearly from God … but what was this? Could he dare get his hopes up again after watching them get dashed for decades? Could he dare try to even wrap his mind around all the angel said about this ‘son’? Was this a practical joke from on high? Did God even do practical jokes?
His doubts stood abreast to the angel’s words, and all Zach could say was, “What proof can you give me, so I can be sure? I’m really really old, and my wife is an old woman too.” And, if you know the story, Gabriel said that because he doubted, he wouldn’t be able to speak until those words were fulfilled. And, just like that, Zacharias couldn’t speak.
Every time I look at this story, it looks a bit unfair. [Am I permitted to think that?] So Zacharias doubted, but haven’t we all? He was only human. Why did God expect him to believe the unbelievable? I even tried explaining it away as Gabriel acting rashly without God’s permission, but angels don’t operate that way. They call Him the Lord of hosts for a reason. There’s a chain of command for heaven’s armies, and God is at the top, and none move without His permission. Those angels that rebelled and left their assigned posts were cast out and bound (Jude 1:6). If Gabriel had broken rank here he’d have been out of a job too and, well, we still see him visiting Mary a few verses down, so…
So why treat an old man so?
In the days and weeks that followed, Zacharias might have had a conflicted mind; the guilt of doubting God’s words battling with the question of why God would do this. And just in case he wondered if it was all in his head, his tied tongue was proof enough that it was still so real. And Elizabeth’s cheeky remarks about the cat finally getting his tongue didn’t help matters. But what was this about her feeling dizzy these days? And was she gaining weight or, was her belly getting bigger, or…?
And then it dawned on him that it was real. They really were having a baby! How did this happen? Of course he knew how it happened, he just didn’t expect it to result in a baby. In their old age? Impossible! But then, God had said they would, hadn’t He?
The reality of his doubts stared at him every day, along with evidence of God’s ability. If he had just believed perhaps he would still have his speech. Oh, to have the faith of their forefather, Abraham. So, apparently, God expected them to have that kind of faith. But now, Zach had doubted and he was stuck without speech. Maybe this would be with him forever, like Jacob’s limp. Or, like the angel said, perhaps when the son is born it will all be over…
In the months leading to delivery, Zach’s understanding of God’s ability was proven to him. The evidence before him was too much to deny. The angel’s words played in his mind over and over. And he knew that it would be true. Not only were they having a son, but this boy would be a major part in God’s plan to prepare His people for Messiah? Despite his doubts?
In time, the baby was born and Zacharias named him John, just as the angel had said. It was quite providential, since John means “the Lord is gracious,” or “The Lord has stooped down to favour us.”
And then, Zacharias’ speech was returned. And what did he do? Now that his words could match the faith built up on the inside, filled with the Spirit of God, he spoke words of blessing and prophecy, telling of what God was set to do through Messiah and through John, his boy. (John shows up in later chapters as John the Baptist)

Doubt is a part of our human experience. It is a consequence of our fallen nature. Since we are used to the mundane reality around us, accepting God’s promises that seem to be above the normal is not easy, and doubt sets in. That’s human. But to relate with God, we must have faith; faith in Him and His ability. And God wants to be a part of our lives much more than we want Him to, but our doubts prevent us from allowing Him.
So what does God do? He doesn’t need to take our speech. He has a better solution: he gives us new hearts that can grasp and believe His words, and then we can say the right things. He did this through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, creating new hearts in all that believe in Him. Zacharias was living in a time before this Redemption plan had reached fruition, but God still wanted to use him. So, however long it took, some faith was built in him. And, ironically, when he could speak, it was this Redemption Plan he spoke about (see Luke 1:69-75).
Now, faith is a gift to anyone that trusts in Jesus. It is through this faith that we are saved, all an act of the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8). And with faith, He can do so much in and through us. Our part is to keep or minds focused on God’s ability, even when facing insurmountable odds. In reading His word and following Him, we grow stronger in faith. We would trust in His words better, we would speak as He pleases, and He will do great and mighty things in and through us.
We may still encounter doubts at different points in life. The giants and mountains we will face may be bigger than the ones we’ve encountered before. But the more we follow Jesus, the stronger we are in faith, and the better we can overcome doubts when they come up. So when the giants come, we send them to the ground, and when we meet the mountains, we send them for a swim.

Zacharias, and Elizabeth’s story by extension, may seem like filler episodes in a season-long Christmas TV show, not furthering the plot or telling us about the main characters. But they are anything but fillers because they show us the human faces of the time. Zacharias shows us that, true enough, while we were unable to meet up to God’s standards, despite our doubts and lack of faith, despite the lethargy that had set in with reality and it’s unfulfilled promises … God was coming to our neighbourhood and bringing us to His. He didn’t wait for us to measure up to His standards before calling us. Now all we have to do is to respond to his call, by believing in Him. He’ll handle the rest, because He can.

Elizabeth’s story … well, she’ll take the spotlight tomorrow. See you then.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David; as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets…
…that He would grant us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life…”
Zacharias speaking in Luke 1:68-70, 74-75

#10DaystoChristmas

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Angels

‘And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels…’ 1 Timothy 3:16

While the Bible tells us a lot about the activities of angels through the history of God’s people, they do not take centre stage and, as such, one can’t really trace the time of their origin. Some things we know, however, are that they are spirits, they were created by God, they worship Him, they are His messengers, they serve the heirs of salvation, and they do not die.
Also, they are so strong that one killed an army of 185 000 men in one night. And Jesus made reference to the fact that there are whole legions of them (over 80 000), so … yeah, they are quite a lot, and quite powerful too.
So picture this.
Did you know that the angels rejoiced at Creation (Job 38:7)? They had never seen a material world before, nor ever experienced such a dimension as Time, yet they watched as the Lord made these novel constructs, and they rejoiced. “How awesome is our Lord! He is in a class of His own … Holy!” Just when they thought God was so awesome He went ahead and blew their minds, making water and plants and animals and … to top it all, He wanted to make a being in His image and likeness out of, ahem, clay?! Of all the gems in the universe, He chose red earth? Oh well, He knew what He was doing. And what He made was a Clay-being, living and breathing. So much potential locked inside ‘walking Clay’. “Isn’t the Lord awesome?”
And God loved Clay. He gave authority in the material universe to Clay, and the ability to make things, to reproduce after his kind. They spent much time together, like friends. It was a privilege to watch, even much more to experience. But the angels could only watch in amazement as Clay experienced it all.
But Clay went ahead and ruined everything. He sinned and introduced an evil into God’s Creation, an evil that made Time a dreadful thing because of the end it promised. An evil called Death. And it was all because of Clay.
But the Lord didn’t turn away, loving as He is. He stuck with Clay and gave him rules and instructions to keep Death away a little longer, and to allow Clay and his descendants to still be able to interact with the Lord, in spite of their fallen, flawed and Death-tending nature. Over the centuries the Lord would even have to send the angels to help Clay’s people out of their self-induced mishaps and the consequences of their actions. Sometimes He sent them to help those that actually pleased Him. But in the end, Death still took over their bodies and they were separated from the Lord for the rest of eternity. For beings that lived all their lives in an immaterial realm, the ramifications of such a separation were stark and horrific to even consider.
Yet Claykind — or ‘mankind’, as they like to call themselves — lived their lives with its pursuits and desires, ambitions and dreams, oblivious to the larger supernatural world that surrounded and influenced their courses, oblivious to the battles the angels fought on their behalf in the unseen in obedience to the Lord’s orders, and oblivious to their impending eternal doom. Anytime they looked at mankind it was his cringe-worthy fallen state that stared back at them.
But then, the Lord had never strayed from His plan.
In the fullness of time, it all unfolded. The sacrifices and coded notes He’d slipped to mankind over the centuries through the prophets suddenly made more sense. He was going to settle the Man problem, by becoming a Man Himself.
Ah, the privilege! Such a wonder! Such a marvel! For the Creator of Worlds to take on the frame of the very creatures that had rebelled against Him. It was unspoken of in any other terms, but then it was the Lord here. He was coming in to make things right.
He had come, and He was a human baby.
“So this is what the Lord looks like? A Baby?! That’s Him right there, and the people are oblivious to even this? Have they no idea what’s just happened? Have they not an inkling of how privileged they are?”
Soon the order rang out, and one of the angels zapped over to a group of human shepherds to tell them the great news. Soon as he flicked the visibility cloak on, the men gasped in fear at the alien intruder. “Whoa, don’t be afraid! You won’t ever have to be afraid again, because what I’m here to tell you is GREAT NEWS about something that will bring joy to all your kind, EVERYONE! Because, for you, this very day, a Saviour has been born down in David’s town! He is Messiah, yes, the One you’ve been waiting for. He is the LORD! But instead of a shiny being, what you’ll find is a Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger—” [a paraphrase of the account in Luke 2:10-12]
The men were still trying to grasp it all when the angel was suddenly joined by a heavenly knighthood, a multitude of them, singing and rejoicing! The skies were agog with light and music and joy so thick. The gist of what they sang was summarised as, “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
They understood that God was bridging the gap between Himself and man, by Himself. But this would not be the end. They would watch Him grow as a man. They would watch Him die, and wonder why. They would watch Him rise, making the way for mankind to become a newer kind of being: sons of God. The Godkind. A people that are pleasing in His sight, and would do His will always. The product of God in union with man.
The journey to this was long and wrought with much agony, but it was the Lord’s doing. And He did it well. And the angels watched it all.
And they still watch, amazed by His goodness and faithfulness shown toward us. They are not to be worshipped, and they are quick to deflect any attempt to worship them, quick to point the attention to the One that deserves it all.
It was all His doing.
And when they look on the New Creation, the result of His sacrifice and victory, they are amazed over and over again.

“How favoured is mankind? The Lord has brought peace and goodwill to him.
How awesome is our Lord?
Just when we think He is awesome, He keeps on blowing our minds!
The Lord God Almighty is in a class of His own!
He is Holy!”

‘All [the prophets] were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves – through the Holy Spirit – the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this!’
1 Peter 1:12

#11DaystoChristmas

Faces of the Christmas Story: THE PROPHETS

‘Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries.’ Hebrews 1:1

When we think of the prophets, much of the time we imagine old men with flowing beards bellowing words of doom with glazed eyes, ready to rip their clothes at the slightest hint of blasphemy from their audience. Well, some of them were like that. But some of them were kings like David and government officials like Daniel.
Whenever God wanted to let His people in on what He was doing, He spoke to His prophets who would then speak to the people. So, no, these prophets were not ‘fortune-tellers’.
The people of Israel lived through some of the worst times. From slavery to finding a homeland, to raising a kingdom, to occupation by invading armies, to a scattering and an exile and the plundering of their land, to their return to that land, to another invading army coming in … phew! Talk about a rags-to-riches-to-even-more-rags story! But in all this time, God did not leave them alone to face it. He had His prophets among them, men who would speak to them exactly what God needed them to hear. Sometimes theirs were words of judgment, sometimes they were words of comfort. But one thing the people of Israel knew was that God had not abandoned them. These prophets were given to God, faithful to Him so that they could be effective mouthpieces for Him to inspire His people.
In the midst of their prophecies and teachings, the prophets were inspired of God to utter and write about His Big Plan: God was going to save them! God was going to raise someone who would bring them to a prosperous place, a King that would bring them home and restore their glory. While these prophets had glimpses into these plans, they did not fully understand it, but they wrote the prophecies as they were inspired by God. Some had their contextual interpretations, but they did not fully know.
They told of how he would be born from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8), from the family of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) and a descendant of King David. They told of a ‘son’ that would be born to rule them in a peaceful and never-ending kingdom, who would also be the ‘Mighty God’ (Isaiah 9:6-7). They told of how He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
What they didn’t realise was that they also spoke of the same Person when they prophesied about an anointed one that would be killed for the sake of others (Daniel 9:26), a suffering servant that would be scourged to bring healing to others, be rejected and despised, stricken for the sins of the people (Isaiah 53). They probably thought they were describing their own pain and agony when they wrote about someone that would be forsaken by God, be pierced (long before crucifixion was even invented), and whose clothes would be gambled over (Psalm 22). They probably didn’t even link it all together when they wrote about someone who God would not leave in the land of the dead, but would raise to life (Psalm 16:10). They didn’t know this was all God was talking about when He talked of giving them new hearts so they can always do what is pleasing in His sight (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Only later, by the inspiration of God’s Spirit, would the apostles look back and see the road map God had prepared long before, telling of what He was doing. They could look on this, gain more understanding, and edify one another, confident in God’s faithfulness to His Word. (1 Peter 1:10-11)
The Prophets lives were not wasted, however, because in the time before God would become a Man and set things right, these were the people He used to bring comfort to those around them. Telling them that God was still with them. They too were human with their failings and doubts, fears and questions. But God used them. And they knew there was something more coming, and they looked forward to it.
And God fulfilled His promises, by Himself. He became a Man and fulfilled all He had promised He would. Just as He had said.
Like these Prophets, the circumstances around us may seem to cloud our understanding of God’s Word. They may even make us doubt if He is even there. It may look bleak, like we are all on our own. But we are not. The grace they prophets looked forward to has arrived in the Person of Jesus. He has promised to never leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), and He is true to His Word. He is alive in you, making you who He wants you to be. His promises for you are true, and He makes sure they come to pass.
Even when it doesn’t look like it. He is faithful and reliable, and you can trust Him, and in Him. Trust in His Word, in what He has said.
You don’t have to be in the dark about His faithfulness to you anymore. He won’t leave you in the dark. The Light has come. This was what the Prophets looked forward to. Now God can be known by all. Everyone.
Even you.
Trust Him.
The more you experience His love, the more it becomes a part of you beyond facts, and the more you can be a blessing to others. And they will see Him in you. That’s a life fulfilled.
It’s what God intended.

‘Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries.
Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son…’
Hebrews 1:1 and 2

#FacesoftheChristmasStory

Presenting ‘Faces of the Christmas Story’

 

Christmas is my favourite time of the year.
The Carols and lights, decorations and sights, everything working to tell of a story so bright. You know what I’m talking about … right? 
But Christmas is more than all that. It’s the chronicle of the invasion of light into darkness, of music into a gloomy room … of God becoming Man. At the time, it was the biggest cosmic event ever, only soon surpassed by Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. There was much to celebrate, and there still is.
When I look at the Christmas story, I see men and women going about their own business when, all of a sudden, God invaded their stories and made them a part of His … be it just for a moment. They are people like us … from carpenters to shepherds, to emperors to priests, from aliens to business men, from sweet-sixteens to rolling eighties … And I see in them pictures of all of us, or some of us, at different stages of our journeys. If any of us haven’t already, we will soon see how God’s Story has coincided with ours as He calls us to be a part of what He’s set in motion, and not just for a moment but for-EVER.
So, over the next few days, we’ll be looking at some of these people. The Faces of the Christmas Story. We’ll pick just 12 as we count the next 12 days down to Christmas Day. Each will also be accompanied by an illustration, so that’s something to look forward to, I guess. Prepare for a fresh experience as you look at these people through new eyes to learn some lessons you’ve learnt already, and be reminded of some that have always been there. More than anything, I pray these light a spark in you, turning your attention to His Light. That you see, in your own corner, how He’s lighting up the room of your heart so that you can see Him better, like He did for these guys. And, unlike some of the people in this story, I pray that you actually do see Him better, that you actually receive and experience and enjoy the Gift that your True Love sent to you 2000-ish years ago.
And with that, I present to you … the Faces of the Christmas Story!
#FacesoftheChristmasStory
#12DaystoChristmas

Here are the characters. It will be updated as the list expands:

The Prophets

The Angels

Zacharias

Elisabeth

Caesar Augustus

…and more to come.

A Fish ‘Tail’

A Fish Tail

There once was a fish named Mee

Who lived in the Galilee Sea.

With water all around

‘Twas the best place to be found.

All was just as he hoped it to be.

 

But one day he saw something uncanny

It looked like a shiny little penny

It glistened right there on the seafloor so bare

So inviting for a gastric journey.

 

So, ignoring the warnings he’d always been told

Like how not all that glitters is supposedly gold

He opened his mouth and, with one big gulp

He swallowed the penny.

That’s what ruined his world.

 

For from that moment, his troubles got a head start

His stomach hurt so bad, he wished he could just fart

But the penny weighed heavy and couldn’t be purged

No matter how hard he tried, it just wouldn’t budge.

 

He was stuck in position

With a bad case of indigestion

‘Cause he’d messed up big time. He deserved his lot.

But in a moment’s realisation

He saw there was salvation.

So he looked up and prayed, “Lord, save my halibut.

 

“I know that I’ve been a total fool.

And though I’m stuck in water, this is just uncool.

I’m sorry I messed up. Please help me for real.

I know you can help me. I trust that you will.”

 

It wasn’t immediate. But Mee didn’t fear.

For though it took a while, help did appear

In the form of a hand that broke through the water

And grabbed Mee in a fist.

“Oh crap,” he did mutter.

 

But the hand squeezed Mee and, voila, it was over.

The coin popped out of his mouth. He cried, “Praise Jehovah!”

The hand’s human muttered, “It’s just like Jesus said.

I’m broke, but this coin’ll pay our taxes instead!”

 

So while Mee was glad to be out of his mess

It amazed him that Jesus could use it to bless.

So he mused, “If God could take

The messes I make

And turn them into something great for His Name’s sake

Then I can trust Him to help me

And, in all my ways, lead me

And make me to be all He wants me to be.

 

Every step ordered to follow His own

Every day, knowing I’m never alone.

Every way, making the right decisions.

Guided by His hand.

That’s all my submission.”

 

I don’t know what else happened to the fish called Mee.

Haven’t seen him in a while. I’m just the Narrator.

But now, I figure he’s living a bit differently.

He’s learned a lot. And will learn a lot more.

————

 

This story was inspired by the account in Matthew 17:24-27. Jesus and his disciples entered a town and were told to pay the temple tax, so He sent Peter to the sea and said, “Take the first fish that comes up and, when you open its mouth you will find there a shekel. Take it and give it to them to pay the temple tax for Me and for yourself.” (verse 27)

Some reaches were made here for comedic and rhythmic purposes, so some artistic license was stretched. For example, halibuts are not native to the Sea of Galilee, and we don’t know for certain that Peter was broke, and most importantly, we don’t know how that shekel got to be in that fish’s mouth in the first place. For all we know, it could have been carrying that coin in its belly since it was a wee little baby fish-thingie!

But the point here is that, when we trust God with our lives, He can make something beautiful out of each and every one of us. Of course, His intention is not for us to make mistakes, as some mistakes can totally change the course our lives. But if we trust Him with our lives, He can make it so that it would look like part of a grand plan for something better when we look back on how He’s led us and guided us in and through it all. A loss may look like a set up for another opportunity. A break up may set one up for a new perspective and/or a new relationship. A delay may set one up to find something missing before.

For some of us, it may not be all that dramatic. All the good that may come out of that mess could just be so that your story would be an encouragement to another person going through what you went through, as they see God’s faithfulness even through the adversity in your story. 2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “[God] comforts us in every trouble, so that we can share the same comfort with others in trouble.” (Contemporary English Version) It could be the coin the person needs to be lifted on the inside. That, in itself, is worth it.

This is God reaching into our darkness with His Light, like Peter’s hand breaking into the water to reach that fish. God led the way in sending Jesus to die and rise for us. Through the ages, through our lives, the effects of the Gospel story will continue to reach into our stories, directing our courses to His worthy destination. Himself.

However He does it, God is at work in each of our stories, working it all out for His glory, to show His love and mercy and grace and AWESOMENESS!

He is out for you too.

Your story is not over.

UNDER THE NIGHT SKY: A Prelude to THE RIDER

Under the Night Sky teaser

“Tell us a story, Grandpa!” Betty cried.

It was a starry night in the Old West. The war had been over for decades, but the country was still settling in. Deals with the native landowners were still being brokered as many communities still dared to live on the frontiers. In those days, many chose to live independent of established settlements. Many drifted in search of a home, in search of a life. Some, having lived the lives they had wanted, chose to spend the rest of their days camping in the scenery the land afforded, living on the frontiers. Just like the old man sitting by the fire with his grandchildren, under the night sky.

The twins‘ squeals were so loud they echoed in the still night. He tried to calm them down, though he still enjoyed the sound of youth around him. What precious moments he could have with these children, be it in wilderness camp-outs, he was determined to enjoy. He’d only wished it had been under better circumstances.

“Yeah!” Ben intoned, rubbing his palms together. “Tell us a scary story.”

“Or a romantic one,” Betty said, beaming. “Where the man fights for the maiden’s heart.”

“Ugh…” Ben shook his head.

Grandpa turned to Janice, their older sister at sixteen. “What d’you think, Janana?”

From the wagon behind them where she sat, she smirked. “It’s Janice, Grandpa.” She had chosen to stay in the wooden wagon, probably deeming the grass too undignified for a young woman like her. “It’s been ages since anyone called me that.”

“You used to love it when we called you Janana.”

“Yeah, when I was nine.

“C’mon, Grandpa,” Betty chimed in. “We want to hear the love story.”

“As long as it’s also a scary one,” Ben added.

“Last time you heard a scary story you wet your bed, and I had to wash those sheets,” Janice said, staring pointedly at him.

“GRANDPA!” Ben protested, Betty laughing by his side. “She wasn’t supposed to bring that up again!”

“But the stink on that mattress was lethal…”

“GRANDPA!”

Grandpa tried to stifle a laugh, holding a hand up. “It’s alright, little man. Nobody’s bringin’ it up again. Are we, Janice?”

“OK, Grandpa.” She returned to the book she was ‘reading’. Grandpa was certain she could barely even see the words in the dim lighting where she sat.

He ruffled the boy’s hair. “’Sides, you’re all grown up now, Benny. I’m sure you don’t wet the bed anymore. Like the Good Book says, old things are passed away.”

Janice muttered, “The bedbugs definitely passed—“

“Janice!” His eyes flared enough for her to get the message. She covered her lips, still smiling. “I could tell stories from your own childhood, young lady. Embarrassing stories.”

She gasped, playing along. “You wouldn’t.”

“Oh, this sounds good.” Betty said, sitting up.

“Tell us, Grandpa!” Ben said.

“Grandpa?” Janice was just now considering the possibility that he was not joking. He was considering the same thing.

Pa leaned in to the twins conspiratorially. “There was this time, when Janana was just a wee little—…”

“You know what?” She threw her hands in the air. “The fire’s dying, Grandpa. I’ll go get more wood. And it’s Janice.

He knew there was much more on her mind than she let on. “You OK?”

“I’m fine, Grandpa,” she pushed herself to her feet.

Their parents had dropped them with him on their journey west, telling the children that they would just be ‘spending the summer with Grandpa’. But he knew it was really gold fever that had overtaken them. Rumors of the gold deposits in California had drawn throngs from across the nation just to get some gold to change their lives. He could not blame them, though he feared they would be disappointed. Even if there was something to this gold rumor, then soon everyone would have gold, and then it would be worth nothing. It was all up to chance. He just wished their lives could be better. The children definitely felt the same, and none felt it more greatly that Janice. They surely deserved better.

“Don’t go too far,” Grandpa turned to her. “You don’t want the Rider to getcha.”

“The who-now?” Ben asked, his ears practically perked at the idea.

Pa turned to the twins, knowing he had their attention. Dramatically affecting a shocked expression, his nose flared in mock horror. “They never told you about the Rider?”

Janice rolled her eyes. “Ugh, you are not telling them that one.”

“What story?” Ben’s ears practically perked at that. “Tell us, Grandpa.”

“You’ve never told us this story,” Betty said, frowning at Janice.

Pa dramatically paused, letting the shadows of the flames dance in his face as he took on a haunting tone. “Why, the Legend of the Dark Rider is a tale as old as time. It was first told to me when I was … really really young.”

“Bet Janice wasn’t born then,” Betty intoned.

“It’s a story just as true back then as it is to this day. But the best way to tell it…” he hoisted his guitar up on his shoulder. “Is to tell it in a song!”

“Yeah!” Ben pumped a fist. “A story and a song.”

“Sshh…” They fell silent as Grandpa strummed. He could see Janice sauntering by the periphery, listening. Everyone loved a good story, he mused. He cleared his throat dramatically and, with a barrelling baritone, began:

There’s a tale about a man from hell

Who rides across the desert land.

Only thing on earth he’s got’s his horse

And the rifle in his hand.

He rides to find the life he lost

Or a life he seeks, nobody knows.

You’d best watch out or he might just take yours.

That’s how the story goes.

“Is he a ghost?” Betty asked.

“More like an Outlaw?” Ben asked, his mind reeling with ideas. “Ghosts don’t know zip about guns.”

“When did you become an authority on ghosts and guns?” Grandpa asked with a smirk, still strumming. “You OK back there, Jan … ana?” He completed the pet name quietly, sending the twins in giggles.

“I’m fine, Grandpa!” Janice called back.

“Better be careful,” Grandpa called back. “Forgotten the rest of the story already?”

Janice turned back. “Grandpa, you can’t keep scaring us with cautionary tales to make us stay safe in the desert. Stay close, don’t wander off on your own. That’s the gist of it. If you want them to wet their beds while you’re at it, it’s fine by me. I don’t care.”

Grandpa wrapped the bridge and moved on to the next verse.

He creeps out in the dead of night

There’s no telling when he’s here.

He’s always lurking beyond your sight

I tell ya, you’d best beware!

‘Cause it make no difference who y’are

He’s a tortured soul, he’s got no care

He preys on your most darkest fear

That’s how the story goes.

Most darkest?” Betty asked.

“Hey, grammar wasn’t all refined back in the old days,” Grandpa said. “That’s how the song was taught to me.”

Don’t matter just how far he’s gone

Don’t matter all he’s taken.

When he’s got his rifle in your face

Remember, he ain’t fakin’.

He’s never full, he’s always out

To have his fill. He’s always about

To spill more guts and blood and gout.

That’s how the story goes.

The twins were grimacing now.

“Don’t worry. It gets better.” Grandpa peeked over his shoulder. “Janana? Wanna sing the next part?”

“Oh, don’t stop, Grandpa.”

“Yeah. The music is nice. The story, well…”

But then he stopped strumming. “Janice?” She had not replied him.

That was when he realized that something was wrong. He did not have to wait too long to find out what.

As one they turned, and the sight before them took their breaths away. Grandpa’s heart sank as he hurried to his feet. There was a horse standing by the wagon. And there was Janice on that horse, her face white. But it was the man covering her mouth, the man on the horse, who completed the picture. His wide brim hat cloaked his face in a shadow.

Dear God, Janice!

“Speak of the devil and he will appear,” his voice gruff voice droned. “Looks like someone wasn’t listenin’ in church.”

The twins screamed. Grandpa pulled them to stand behind him. But the stranger would have none of it.

“QUIET! All’a you, zip it, or she’s dead!” The barrel of his gun was in Janice’s cheek. Grandpa’s heart thumped as he tried calmed the twins down. The fear in Janice’s eyes sliced through his gut. In a way he feared he had brought this evil upon them all.

Dear God, please… it can’t be.

He held his hands out. “L-let the girl go, please,” Grandpa said, mustering as much confidence as he could. “You don’t have to pull that trigger. I – I’ll give you anything. We don’t have much money. But we have f-food … an-and water, and—“

When he’s got his rifle in yer face, remember, he ain’t fakin’…” The Rider twisted the barrel in her cheek, drawing his voice out by her ear. Her sobs were amplified in her breathing now.

Grandpa shook his head. “We’ll give you all of it! Just … please, let the girl go. Don’t … do … just, p-please … don’t hurt her.”

For a moment they just stared at each other, Janice whimpering with tears streaming down her face. God protect that child. Dear God …

“Where is it?”

Grandpa blinked. “What… Oh, sure, yes. We’ll give it to ya.” He kept his gaze on the man as he reached back for the twins. “It’s OK, little ones. I’m just going into the wagon, to get s-some stuff for the good gentleman here. You stay right here, and don’t move. Ok?”

But they still clung to him, quivering. The night had flipped, taken a turn for the worse. This was definitely the last thing they had expected for the night, and why would they? They must have been scared to death, but Grandpa had to think of their safety too.

He turned to the man on the horse. “I’ll move with the children. The food is in the wagon—“

“No,” the Rider growled. “You go in. They stay.”

Pa tried to take a step, but they still clung tighter to him.

“GET BACK!” the Rider snapped. That jolted the children as they let go of Grandpa, bawling with all their might. “Get them to shut up! Disgusting maggots!

Grandpa stretched his hands out to calm them down. “Shh. It-it’s OK. Everything’s gonna be fine. I promise.”

They sobbed past their closed mouths as Grandpa walked slowly towards the wagon. The Rider maneouvered his horse to stand by, keeping Grandpa in full view at all times. The older man knew that he could defend his family. But that gun in Janice’s face sat on the edge of his mind through it all.

Good Lord, protect that girl.

He stepped out with the sack of fruit. He dropped it by the Rider’s horse. “This is all we’ve got.”

The man watched Grandpa without a word. Slowly, he dug out one of the fruits from the bag. An apple. He bent low and gave it to his horse. The crunching of the beast’s munching stood out bizarrely in the stand-off.

Janice was crying out loud now.

Pa wished he could take control of the situation. But he couldn’t. No options – no safe options – presented themselves to him. He stepped back to hold the twins.

The Rider tossed Janice to the ground then. The girl screamed and scampered over to her Grandpa, who was just grateful to have her alive. “Oh, thank God,” Grandpa exhaled as he hurried to her. “Are you OK?”

“I’m f-fiiiiii…” But she wasn’t. Now she let the waterworks flow as she cried openly. Grandpa embraced her. The twins clung to him, crying and quivering.

“W-was that him?” Ben asked. “The Dark Rider?”

Grandpa looked up, but the man in black was already riding off into the night.

Grandpa shook his head. “I don’t know. It’s OK, Jan… it’s OK.”

She cried into his chest as Grandpa looked on. “I th-thought I was g-going to d-die…”

“You’re not dying, pumpkin.”

“H-he’s not coming back, i-is he?” Betty stared off in the Rider’s direction too.

Grandpa shook his head. “No, he’s not. But we’ll be safe and prepared, if he does.”

Something did not sit right about the intruder to Grandpa. It could not be the Rider of the story he was telling. But if it was, then that meant a whole cache of other things were about to unfold.

“And he’ll get what’s coming for him,” Grandpa said. “The story wasn’t over.”

He whispered in their ears,

So the Rider came to steal to his fill

He took and did whate’er he willed.

He’s crept on us, ’cause we weren’t on our toes.

“Pa,” Janice tried to protest, but he just patted her hair and nodded.

Cheer up, my dears, though all be dim.

‘Cause we’re not victims of his whim.

He’ll surely get what’s comin’ for him.

That’s how this story goes.

“Still think that song makes things better?” Janice asked.

Grandpa nodded. “He’ll get what’s coming for him.” He squeezed their shoulders.

One thing he knew, staring into the eyes of that man, was that he was flesh and blood. And whenever myth gave way to reality, whenever the word became flesh, things could never go as planned. Something was about to happen. He could feel it in the air.

“If I know a thing or two about men like him, it’s that no man can escape from his own story. That man’s story is not done. Not just yet.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED IN ‘THE RIDER’, THIS FALL

© Emmanuel Onimisi 2017

ABOUT ‘THE RIDER’

Hi there. Emmanuel here.

Man! It’s been over a year since a posting something new on here. But I’ve got something new coming up and can’t wait to share it with you. You ready?

If you’ve been following me on the social media lately you may have heard a bit here or there about this little novel I’ve been working on called ‘The Rider’. Initial plans were for it to be released by today, but sadly it is not completed. As the concept expanded and evolved, more editing and pruning and refining has been required. But, not to worry, it is very close to completion. Today, I’ll be releasing a short prelude to this adventure to keep appetites whetted.

But first, what is ‘The Rider’ about?

Of course I can’t spoil the whole story to you here (sorry), but I can tell you that it is about a man who rides (DUH!) It is set in the late 19th century and primarily framed as a Western (you know, those old American movies about cowboys and outlaws) because it plays on the themes underlying such stories. They are usually about a man, or a group of people, living out in the Old West, under adverse circumstances, who have to fight to protect a town, or a family, or a way of life. Some are about people running away from the life they’ve known, some about outlaws living outside the law on their own terms, and some about families on a journey. These elements have since diffused into the stories we tell to this day.

I chose the time period because of the stock elements of that time; discovery majorly. The basis of much of the inventions and knowledge base of the 20th century were propounded in that period as principles, laws and theories. But even outside of the fields of science and technology, geographical discovery had been alive for centuries by then. Many families and individuals were not tied to particular places but were in flux, not only geographically but also emotionally. Frontier families and communities were rife in those days.

I loved playing with these elements because I believe they play out in our lives to this day. Since the cultural changes in 2016, identity has been a major issue in the social consciousness. For many, who we are and who we want to be is not an affixed position but is something we ‘discover’ gradually. Everyone out there has their idea of who we are and who we should be, and they are too glad to scream it into our ears through the media, through our institutions, everywhere! For some of us, we make mistakes in the course of this quest for discovery. But we dust ourselves off and move on, hoping we arrive at some point or points that we can call home. It’s the human story, replaying ever since the days of Adam.

But then, in and beyond and through our quests, God is also working. He is at work in each and every of our respective stories, plotting how we can come to the good life He has prepared for us. Even when we never knew or realised it, He has and is still working things out for us to answer His call to life, and to truly live. For many of us He leads us gradually, slipping into the discoveries we make, ordering our steps and bringing us home. This is the primary element of the story in THE RIDER.

Because of the personal connections of these themes to me, it has become dear to my heart. I truly can’t wait for this story to be in the hands of everyone, but that’s why it must be its very best. It would be a bit darker than most of my other works, I think I should put that out there. But I can promise you that light shines through still.

So there, that’s what THE RIDER is about. Didn’t tell you much, did it? But then there’s the prelude story, ‘UNDER THE NIGHT SKY’ available online. Consider it an excerpt that actually tells you all you need to know about what to expect.

Thank you very much and have a great weekend.

The Rider Teaser 2

Accepting Identity

Accepting Identity_2

Hi there!

In my previous blog post I wrote about how humans like to conform to certain laid down labels and stereotypes for a subconscious sense of belonging. I wrote about my own journey into figuring out which one I fit into, and I must say, putting it all down there was quite … releasing. I didn’t put in everything I had wanted to, but it was okay.

This one is about moving on from there.

You see, in trying to pick an appropriate label, we can sometimes be like the girl who walks around a room, looking at pictures of flowers on the table and trying to figure out which one is the most beautiful. She would learn something, of course, and may find out which of the flowers is the prettiest.

But then, someone opens the day and calls to her. “Hey, girl!”

She replies with a reserved but cute smile. “Hey.”

“What you doing?”

“Looking at pictures of flowers.” She holds up one picture. “I think this one’s quite pretty.”

The person smiles. “Come on outside. You’ve been looking at pictures all this time. I want to show you real flowers. Flowers you can touch, you can smell, you can see in … well, in 3D! You think you’ve seen ‘pretty’? Wait ‘til you see the real thing.”

 

__________

We have lived our whole lives in the room full of pictures.

We’ve lived our lives searching for identity in the options laid out by those that have gone ahead of us. We tack on labels popularized by the media in movies and music and novels and the news, picking those that seem to describe us best. We consider ourselves based on our nationality, our background, our race.

But God comes from outside the room and says, “I’ve got something better for y’all. A New and Better Identity.”

Come out. Let me let you in on this Identity a little bit.

Coming to Christ is like stepping out of the room. We receive a new life with this new identity; a new history, a new future, a new background.

With His blood, Jesus “…purchased men unto God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9) When you buy something from a store it belongs to you, not to that store anymore. It’s no longer called “that shirt on the Top Shelf, Aisle 5, Megabuy Stores”. No, now it’s your shirt. It’s called “my shirt.”

You are God’s own.

He makes you His child with the full identity and rights of a son, an heir of God. Imagine being the heir to Bill Gates estate! Pretty tight, huh? Now imagine being the heir of the Creator of all things. Now THAT’S bigger. MUCH bigger than we can or could ever imagine.

He remains with you forever, and He produces from within you a nature of love, of joy, of peace and serenity, of patience and perseverance. He makes you kind, good, faithful, to not find the need to insist on your own way, and to be self-controlled.

Sounds like the perfect human being. Actually, it’s so much more than that: He’s making you like Himself. That’s much more awesome than being the perfect human being.

The earth and all that is in it is your inheritance, to take care of and to prosper in.

As a child of God, He gives you the ability to heal the sick, to cast out devils, to live supernaturally, and to be an all-round blessing.

That’s what He promises. That’s the new identity He gives.

 

__________

But the girl in our story has grown used to the room. It’s not her fault, though, ‘cause she’s been in there all her life. But now she’s been invited to come out.

“But I’ve never been outside before,” she says.

“I have,” he says.

“What does it look like?”

“It’s … beautiful. There are flowers, lots and lots of flowers. And not just flowers, my dear. Grass, trees, animals! The blue sky, the amazing clouds taking different forms, the water flowing, the breeze in your face … and you can feel it all.”

“I’ve never seen these things you’re talking about,” she says. “I don’t even know if they really exist.”

“They all do! My dear, they are! And it’s all just outside, waiting for you.”

“But…” she crosses her legs as she takes a step backwards. “I’ve been doing pretty well in here. I don’t need to go out there. I’m fine where I am.”

 

__________

We like to hold on to the reality we are familiar with, to the life we are used to, to the things we have seen and experienced. Even the bad memories and painful experiences that we’ve gone through. We want to hold on to it all because, good or bad, they have all contributed in building us into the people we are. In a sense, we see them as a part of us. And as much as we want to let go, we really don’t want to. We are comfortable with them.

We want to stay in the room, while God has a whole world that He’s prepared for us – OUT THERE.

The world we know pales in comparison to the awesome life he offers. We think we are comfortable where we are … but we haven’t even a clue what ‘comfort’ really is.

True comfort can only be found in the one that made us, God.

You know the hardest part? Accepting.

Accepting the new identity that God offers would require giving in. It would require admitting that we were ignorant and wrong in staying in the room of pictures, and that He’s been right all along. It punctures our pride, the shield we’ve given ourselves to building all this time. It shames what bliss we thought we had to think that there is greater bliss beyond, bigger and better, just a door away.

And that’s how we miss out on God’s greatest gifts.

But when we do accept, we realize that we’ve been wrong all along.

When we do accept this Identity that He gives us, we come to know that we’re already accepted. That we’re affirmed and accepted by the Ultimate Dad, who defines fatherhood for all.

There is no more fear of rejection. There is no need to prove anything ever again.

We’ll come out of the room into an awesome new world that makes the room of pictures look like nothing but a mud shack.

It’s a new identity.

And it’s for us all.

For you.

 

__________

“What if I get hurt?” she asks. “Every new picture I’ve seen in here promises something better, but … it never lasts. I’m tired of getting my hopes up.”

“It’s OK. I know. What’s waiting for you outside this room is much bigger and better than you can imagine.”

“I’ve never been outside before.”

“All the more reason to come. It’ll be OK.”

“What if it’s not? What if it’s not everything I’ve hoped it’d be?”

“You can trust me.”

“Why?”

And, with a smile he responds, “Because I made it all.” He stretched a hand out to her. “I made it all for you. You can trust me.”

 

(TO BE CONTINUED)

 

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Special thanks to my friend and brother, Joshua Babarinde (author of DONUT) for his suggestions and review on this article. You can read his inspiring writing on his site, HeirWalk.