Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Reason for the Season

"Do not follow other gods, the gods of the people around you." Deuteronomy 6:14

"You must not worship the LORD your God in their way." Deuteronomy 12:4

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." Romans 12:2

I have been struggling within myself whether to share this with others unsolicited. My family has already made a decision, and it has not been our desire to coerce others into the same decision. This is a big topic and one to be addressed delicately, but plainly. I pray the LORD would direct you in the way He has called, to walk the narrow path of his salvation. I know the God of the heavens will bring to completion the work of sanctification He has begun in you.

The Bible is very specific that the punishment God brings on the people of Israel is because they prostituted themselves to other gods rather than worshiping Him in the way He prescribes. They continuously turned away from Him to other gods and the gods of the people driven out before them as they entered the land. They violated the covenant God made with them that He would be their God and they would be his people.

An issue of Biblical Archeology Review last year (Volume 35, #4/5) featured an article of their "Top Ten Discoveries: Favorite Finds throughout the Years." Number 5 was the discovery of shards of a clay pot from northern Israel dating to the time of the biblical divided kingdom. It depicted several drawings of "gods" which would be characteristic of the idol worship the Bible describes occurring in Israel at the time. The interesting fact concerning the pottery is it attributes the image to "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah." The article interprets this find as showing the "Yahwistic faith" of the Israelites was not as "monolithic" as depicted in the Bible. That analysis is from a secular perspective. The Bible condemns Israel for worshiping Baal and Asherah. In the synthesis of the two perspectives we can see the people believed they were worshiping the God of their fathers, while God did not accept such worship and instead called it Baal worship. Thus, in two ways the people of Israel disobeyed the word of God. One, they worshiped the gods of the people around them. Two, they did so while attributing the worship to the LORD their God.

So, what is my purpose in writing? For thousands of years people have celebrated the annual rebirth of their god at or near the beginning of winter. They celebrated this god's consort and their conjugation at or near the beginning of spring and then mourned the annual death of the God at or near the beginning of autumn. This god had various names in various religious systems, and likewise the festivals had different names. Respectively, the three holidays are Saturnalia, Easter, and Samhain. Currently they are known as Christmas, Easter and Hallowe'en.

When the Roman church came to prominence, these holidays were incorporated into the Christian calendar in an effort to make Christianity more palatable to the masses. The holiday which celebrated the birth of this pagan deity was attributed to Jesus. Easter was attributed to Jesus' resurrection because of the holiday's proximity to Passover. To counteract the festival of Samhain, the church introduced All Saint's Day the day following. This accounts for the name change first to All Hallow's (Saint's ) Evening, then shortened to Hallowe'en. As one might expect All Saint's Day is virtually nonexistent. Here we have the church abdicating its responsibility to spread the good news of the true God and instead simply attributing pagan worship to the God of creation, much as the Israelites had done before them.

Even before Jesus' birth, Christmas was celebrated as it is today. People decorate their homes with evergreen, place candles in their windows, and travel between homes singing joyous songs, giving gifts to each other, having merry parties, and remembering the birth of their beloved god. Within Christendom, these things have been attributed to Jesus and the nativity. The Christmas tree, which has always been worshiped within paganism is still the focal point of most people's celebrations, but is now a "symbol" of the tree upon which Jesus was crucified. We place candles in the windows and lights on our houses to commemorate the light of the world coming into the world, but the pagans did (and do) the same things. Gifts are given as they always have, but now it is a sign of the gifts the Magi brought. Each pagan tradition is drawn into the body of Christ. The presents, the decorations, the get-togethers, and the food which seem so easily to become the focal point of the holiday and promote materialism and strife are, in fact, "the reason for the season." They were the reason before Jesus and continue to be today.

Pagan traditions are immortalized in the church and attributed to the true God in oppostion to God's clear mandate not to conform to the ways of the world (Romans 12:2), and we usually excuse it because of one passage in Colossians (2:16) encouraging believers not to be forced into observing the biblical feasts. Does this verse permit pagan worshiping festivals to be attributed to God? Not apparently, but it is often used as such permission.

I rejoice in the commemoration of Jesus' birth and celebrate it even as the angels did, and proclaim that birth in the light of the good news of his coming kingdom. It was a joyous occasion and should continue to be so. However, this does not excuse folding paganism into the body of Christ. Celebration of Jesus' birth and celebrating Christmas are not synonymous. While the Bible makes no statement as to the time of year Jesus was born, placing that celebration at the same time as the ages old winter solstice celebration seems to be a clear invitation for it to be corrupted. Given the mass campaigns believers launch annually to attempt to maintain the illusion of the Messiah as the centerpiece of this pagan celebration, it seems apparent corruption is exactly what has occurred. Every year believers seem to look forward with great anticipation the Christmas season. and likewise welcome the end of the frantic pace and wearisome after-effects of its visitation. Is this then the peace Jesus promised to give us? Is it truly the joy which comes from knowing the salvation of restoration and rest prophesied from the beginning?

The path I took to this point has been a long one. Over time, however, I have begun to realize these celebrations may not be as benign as I had once thought. I used to view Colossians 2:16 as a permissive which allowed any celebration to be honored as long as it was given to God. I even had moved myself from a desire to have a tree as a focal point of the celebration to a nativity scene. Recently, I saw how even this blatantly rebels against the second commandment, and how subtle wickedness can slip into ones worship when that worship was never meant to be holy. I am not here to pass judgments on pagan celebrations. I believe strongly pagans should be allowed to continue in them, but we are to be set apart and shine the Light into the darkness of demon worship. Is that really possible when we look like they do?

Monday, February 13, 2006

It is Time

It has been a long time in coming for this next post. I wish I could say I had been too busy to post anything more to the blog, but that is not the case. I have gone through a bit of a storm. I liken it to the story of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet in ancient Israel. God told him to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, and give them a message. Jonah refused, and instead boarded a boat headed in the opposite direction. While in transit, a great storm came upon the sea and nearly destroyed the boat. Nothing the sailors could do would help them stay afloat, and finally it came down to Jonah. He admitted he was running from the LORD, and if they would throw him overboard, the storm would cease. It did. God then sent a fish to swallow Jonah (really just more of the storm) and for three days and nights Jonah sat in the belly of the fish. Finally, he repented. He told God he would go to Nineveh, and the fish promptly deposited him on the seashore.

I have been going through my own personal Jonah storm. I am not as bright as Jonah, and now twice I have turned to go the other way when God told me to go speak to someone. The first time occurred last March, and it took me about six months to come out of the storm (I am an obstinate person sometimes). Almost immediately upon coming out of that storm, he sent me again to tell a message. I went to do it, and then was overcome with fear, and I relented. I was afraid of the reaction people would have toward me, that they might not like what I had to say, and would ostracize me. This storm lasted only about three months, but was more intense and affected more of my life, including my job.

God got my attention! I went before my church and passed on the message!

I have shared some of the message before on this site, but it is time to share it and a little more.

God is moving in and out amongst the church, seeking who are “his people (the church, all of it, especially in America, as a whole and individually among congregations), who are called by his name (Christ-ians), will humble ourselves, and pray, and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways (the church’s wicked ways), so that He might hear from heaven, and forgive our sin, and heal our land.”

The decline of the United States is not due to prevalent social acceptance of homosexuality, on demand abortion, free sex and the sexual revolution, drugs, alcohol, or rising crime rates. Actually, these are all symptoms of the real reason for the decline of the US. The real reason is the decline of the American church. All of these other factors are a result of the ineffectiveness of the church in society. Do you wonder why church attendance is down among young adults? How about increasing desperation and hopelessness? It is because the church is dead in idolatry and worldliness!

However, God is reviving his people!

This is not your grandfather’s or father’s revival. God is preparing the body. He is readying his bride. He is cleaning her up.

You may have heard it said, “In the end times, the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats.” This time is now! God is walking among the flock and removing the goats from among the sheep. Do not be arrogant and think you are one of the sheep. For in the day when the results of this separation are revealed to all people, many will say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we do so many good things in your name.” And He will say to them, “Depart from me, you evildoers, for I never knew you.” The criteria are set out before you: if my people will humble themselves, pray, and turn from their wickedness, then will I hear from heaven.

Our Father, we repent of our sin!

Monday, July 19, 2004

"What About MY Life?"

One of the primary issues so prevalent in the American church today is the idea of practicality. Practicality is the quality of being useful. We ask questions such as, "How do I apply forgiveness to my life?" "What does joy look like lived out on a daily basis?" "How do I exhibit faith in times of trial, or when someone is in need?" These and thousands more questions like them permeate our churches. Pastors spend thousands of hours preparing and giving multi-part sermons on applying the principles of Christ to daily living. Again, this misses the whole point of Christ.

Luke 21:34-36 says,
"Be careful or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
Verse 34 especially hit me like a ton of bricks the other day as I read this chapter. The largest part of chapter 21 concerns signs of the end of the age, or signs of Christ’s return and rule. Jesus tells his disciples to be careful not to be weighed down with the anxieties of life because that will prevent them from being ready for the day of the LORD’s coming, and they will not be able to stand (in other words, be victorious) on that day. Jesus also told other stories about this lack of preparedness like the story of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25 or the story of the great banquet in Luke 14. So what does it mean?

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." --Matthew 6:25-34

This seems to be a popular passage of scripture. But the meaning is lost on most people. It has not been understood for thousands of years, and obviously, it was an issue before Jesus’ day as well. However, it has not always been this way. I have been made aware, from at least two separate sources, of a little bit of history. The first place I heard it was a Christian radio broadcast and the second was my Introduction to Philosophy class in college. The story is this. The first century Christians believed the time of Christ’s return was near. Jesus Christ himself had said he would be back soon. Many of these believers, because of this idea, devoted their time to praying, fasting, fellowship, and the teaching of the Apostles and leaders. This is reflected in Acts 2:42-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the LORD added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This was characteristic of the first century church as well as the second century church. The attitude in the second century was, "well, God’s ‘soon’ may be a little longer than our ‘soon.’ We know, however, he is coming soon." So they continued to devote themselves to Christ and his kingdom.

However, in the third century a change of paradigm occurred. Now the Christians took on the attitude of, "Well, the first century believers thought Christ would return in their life times, but He did not. The second century church thought He would return during their life times for certain, but still we wait. Perhaps it is time we begin to prepare for a much longer stay." They made this paradigm change as if God had not been providing for them during the first two centuries. At this time, the focus of the believers moved from devotion to prayer and fellowship and teaching and growing in relationship with God to developing doctrine and theology and studying how to apply Biblical principles to daily life and jobs. The focus was no longer first on God’s "kingdom and his righteousness" but on how to practically live our lives in this world. The focus was marrying and giving in marriage, getting jobs and making a living, providing for family and protecting lifestyle. Today, much more of the focus is finding how to overcome stress and worry, to be joyful, to find time for God in the midst of our busy lives (all problems created by our lifestyle), but still the focus is on our lives and finding a place for God within them, not on God.

Often today, we only attempt to practically apply Matthew 6 to our lives while completely ignoring what Jesus Christ was actually saying in it. We try to stop worrying about whether we will be fed professing to believe God will provide a job to feed us. We try to stop worrying about our clothes professing to believe God will provide a good enough job for us to afford them. We try to stop worrying about a vehicle to drive or a house to live in professing to believe God will provide that loan we think we need. Jesus was speaking of something deeper than this lack of worry. He was attempting to move our focus away from those things which we think are so important, but truly are trivial. (We think our needs are the most important things in our lives to be fulfilled. God thinks our needs are simply those things he will automatically give us.) Jesus was attempting to shift our eyes from those things Satan was able to fix them on (i.e. ourselves, our situations, our survival, etc.) and fix them on what we were initially intended to be focused upon, God’s Kingdom. Jesus is speaking of a change in our world view.

I am a husband and hopefully one day will be a father. I do understand the tension and stress which comes from concern over providing for a family. I often wonder about what kind of job, or college degree, I should pursue, or even if I should. The LORD is leading me into a ministry which is rather unorthodox and I struggle with how I may provide for my family. The answer I receive from Him and his word is "You are not your family’s provider, I am." Somehow we have gotten the mistaken idea the man, or even today, the woman, of the house is the provider, or "bread-winner" when in actuality Jesus was trying to remind us God is the "bread-maker."

"So," you may ask, "in practical terms, what does this mean for our lives?" In Matthew 6 Christ tells us to devote ourselves to God and his righteousness. We have set ourselves up in a busy lifestyle running from thing to thing, event to event, place to place and trying to find time to fit God in and not get stressed out. Jesus said, echoing Solomon in Ecclesiastes, this is all meaningless. Practically speaking He says "Stop! Slow down, none of those things are even remotely as important as you have thought. All that matters is to ‘fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.’" (Ecclesiastes 12:13) We need to reshift our paradigm. The church needs to redirect its attention from how Christianity affects our lives to how we are reborn through Christ.

Jesus warned us in Luke 21 not to become weighed down with this life, but "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) We need to take heed the story of the great banquet so we do not fail to participate in the wedding feast of the Lamb because we were too busy with our own "lives." Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:14) Are you certain you have found it? Are you certain you will find it? "LORD help me with my unbelief!!!"

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Dangerous Distinction

In a previous post, I addressed some "fine lines" I have begun to see in the life of a believer. In talking with my wife I was able to more clearly understand a very dangerous "fine line."

In my most recent post,
Faith, I wrote of the case when some people use the fact of God’s sovereignty, or his superiority to us in his ways and thoughts, as an excuse when they fail to see the miraculous work of God in a person’s life. Sometimes I think people fear being insensitive in accusing a person of lack of faith when they are not healed, or when they are not lifted from financial burden, or any number of other instances in a person’s life. So instead, we blame it on God. "Well, God knows best, and we cannot argue with Him." "Well, God is sovereign, and sometimes He has a different plan." "Well, God’s ways are higher than ours and we do not understand them."

These are all true, do not misunderstand me. However, this is where the dangerous distinction comes in between the people of God and those who labor in vain; the sheep and the goats to take from one of Jesus’ parables. The danger here is to be satisfied with this lack of knowledge. It is one thing to say and believe, "Well, God’s ways are higher than ours and we do not understand them." It is another thing entirely to say, "LORD, show me your ways and teach me your right paths." Both statements acknowledge the difference between the LORD’s ways and ours, but one statement desires to know God’s ways more deeply, while the other is satisfied with ignorance. Christ is not satisfied with ignorance. He told the goats to depart from Him because He never knew them.

In previous posts I have spoken of the necessity of the Holy Spirit in our walk with Christ. In
Let us Go a Little Deeper, Shall We I spoke of the difference between a requirement of Baptism of the Holy Spirit in power for salvation and the result of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in power for those who are saved. I have witnessed a similar "satisfaction" with salvation here as well. It is dangerous for someone to think themselves "saved" simply for the purpose of not going to hell, and thus not in need of the Holy Spirit. Why is it dangerous? Because "fire insurance" does not exist outside of your local insurance company. Salvation is so much deeper than this idea of not going to hell. Yet many become satisfied at this point and may not make much effort to go further, thinking they have the grace of the blood. Salvation is the simplest thing in the world, Christ and Him crucified, but it is foolish to think it is simplistic. Never get stuck thinking you are as deep as you can go, or will go, but eagerly seek more. Eagerly seek the greater gifts, for if you seek you will find. Eagerly seek the greater knowledge of Christ, for if you seek you will find. But repent of the mindset of this world, for truly, God’s ways are much higher than the ways of the world, and the world can never understand Him. Consequently, the world also can never enter into his rest.