Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas: Evil or Good?

The Truth About Christmas: Evil or Good?

Introduction: Knowledge and Freedoms In The Truth
It is essential that our relationship with God be based on the truth: God’s Word is Truth. (Jn. 17:7). "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32) 

To teach and preach the traditions of men and give them the same status as the Word of God makes one a false teacher. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1) 

True Christians must keep a clear distinction in their minds between God’s Word and the traditions and teachings of men. We must never allow the teachings and traditions of men to be the authoritative basis of our faith, worship and service to God.  "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Mat 15:8-9)

For this reason, we must examine the religious ideas of the world, proving what is good and       acceptable to the Lord. "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Th 5:18-21)

On the other hand, there is some degree of individual or personal liberty and freedom which each person has in regard to how they choose to honor God.  One Christian should never judge another to be wrong for personally  keeping a traditional holy day if it does not involve some sinful activity. (To do so is to condemn a servant of God with no scriptural authority). "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." (Col 2:16-17)   

Should we condemn another Christian because they make a “personal decision” to respect one day or practice to honor God. "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. 2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks."(Rom 14:1-6) 

"I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. 16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of: 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. 19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." (Rom 14:14-19) 

Note that the “weak in faith” are those who do not yet have full knowledge and Biblical understanding.  But those who have “knowledge” must be patient and not condemning of those who are still learning as far as some (non sinful) personal convictions.

"But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. 10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; 11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" (1 Cor 8:9-11) 

But one thing we know for sure:  We cannot present and teach the teachings of men as if they were the teachings and truth of God in the church! The purpose of this  lesson is to examine the religious teaching and tradition known as   Christmas.  What should a true Christian know about this holiday?     What is Good about this holiday?

I. The Truth About Christmas:

The first thing we should know is that neither God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit taught or required      that  the birth of Jesus be remembered with any special activity or special day.  Humans have a “birthday”, but Jesus is eternal and never had a beginning as we do; He did  have a “became flesh” day.  The Bible does not require us to commemorate the human birth of Jesus.  But,   Jesus and the Holy Spirit (through the Apostles) did require that we remember His death by   partaking of the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week (Luke 22:19,20; 1 Cor. 11:23ff).

We should know that December 25th is believed by most scholars to NOT be the actual   birthday of Jesus.  Various methods of determining this day (none being foolproof) place Jesus’ birth in either January, April, May, March or even June, but not December 25th.  The date of December 25th was decided upon around 273 AD by the Roman church.  The church’s purpose for this was to create a special day as a substitution for an already  established pagan celebrations to false gods.

We should also know that the original meaning of the term “Christ-mass” is incompatible with the  teachings of the scriptures:    “Mass” is said to be a sacrifice of the actual body and blood of Jesus for sins; practiced   again and again. (The “mass” was used to commemorate many different events, today even  being used for the funerals of deceased Catholics).

The scriptures teach us that Christ was offered “ONCE” for the sins of the world. "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."(Heb 9:28)   "Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself." (Heb 7:27)  As noted earlier, we are commanded to “remember” Christ’s sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper weekly.

We should know that many, if not most of the traditions and decorations had some origin in pagan  customs and traditions.   We should also know that former association with pagan worship does not in itself make a  thing unacceptable to those who know the truth of God.  "As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one." (1 Cor 8:4)   "Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse." (1 Cor 8:7-8)  Idolatry (devotion to false gods) is wrong, but customs and decorations which have lost their  idolatrous meaning pose no threat, especially since other gods have never existed.

We do know that it would be wrong for the true church to teach others that God requires us to   celebrate this holiday.   "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Pet 4:11)   I believe one of the DANGERS  of “holy days” is that they give the false idea that one can be pleasing to God by honoring Him a few times a year and not in their every day lives.

II.  What Is Good About Christmas?

As Paul teaches, we have just “proved” or tested the origins and teachings concerning Christmas.   But, Paul also requires that we “give thanks” in everything and “hold to that which is good.”  "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Th 5:18-21) 

Is there any “good” in Christmas that we should be thankful for?  There are actually many  good truths which are published and emphasized because of Christmas.  It emphasizes the truth that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1).  It causes the good news of Jesus’ birth to be told and told again. It emphasizes the importance of this event to the whole world (“Joy to the world”).     It emphasizes the salvation which Jesus brought to this earth. It emphasizes the need to praise and glorify God for His wonderful gift. Many of the religious songs sung during Christmas are scriptural in their content.(except the  Santa songs--Sorry kids).

But perhaps, the best thing about Christmas traditions is it perpetuates the truth of Jesus when   He said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) 
-It emphasizes love and service to our fellowman and doing good.  "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." (Gal 6:10) 
-It emphasizes unselfish concern for others and personal sacrifice: "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. 3 For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me." (Rom 15:1-3)
-It emphasizes the need for each of us to be more like Christ in our service to others: "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;" (Phil 2:1-10) 
-It exposes many to the joy and happiness that comes from sacrifice and giving ourselves to others: A taste of true Christianity?    I believe Christmas has become a yearly reminder to the world, not only of the birth of  Christ, but the joy that comes from behaving like a Christian (Loving, giving, etc.)            
I believe that the giving of gifts associated with Christmas can be a great teaching tool for  both the young and the old.  One of my most precious memories of childhood came as a result of Christmas giving: My  brother and  I worked hard cleaning up trash and earned $10.00. I still remember the joy we  had buying gifts for our parents and grandparents ($10.00 does not go that far today!).

I believe the Spirit of Christ and His ideas bear much fruit because of the Christmas tradition. "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. 9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. 11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. 12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." (John 15:7-14) 

As a true, Biblical Christian, can I be unthankful and completely reject a human tradition that causes the  importance of Christ to be proclaimed to the World year after year?  As a true Christian, can I be unthankful and reject a human tradition which reminds us to be     kinder, more generous and helpful to our fellow human beings? Must I find only fault with a human tradition which causes people to experience Jesus’ truth that  it is “more blessed to give than to receive?”

Conclusion: Point me in the right direction!

As true Christians, we must be aware that the Christmas tradition is not required by God.  But, after proving that which is unacceptable, how can we not be thankful and hold to the good  that is published and practiced by this tradition??? Christmas is of worldly origins, but it is so saturated with the truth of God that we should be very careful in forming our opinions and what we have to say against it.    Truth is truth and good news is good news no matter where it comes from, whether for the right reasons or not, much of the Gospel is being preached!  Too bad Christmas does not emphasize God revealed way of accepting the gift of salvation by believing and being baptized into Christ (Mark 16:15,16). 

We must speak the truth against that which is false, but we must also learn to be thankful for that which is good.

"What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." (Phil 1:18)

Christmas cannot do our job for us, but it just might get some people moving in the direction of wanting to know “the rest of the story" As reveal by God himself!  Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I See Dead People

It Is Or It Is Not: Important To Understand Death

 I See Dead People?

  The television and movie world continue to make millions depicting dead people who are not really dead (primarily: vampires, ghosts and zombies).  Like the heros in the old Ghostbusters movie, many are even making a living by claiming the ability to detect and remove these troublesome dead souls who are still around.  One of my favorite "ghost" programs  is the Ghost Whisperer.  This lady sees dead people (souls lingering with the living after death).  The show is about Belinda trying to find out why they are sticking around and helping them into the light.  Her life's goal is to help as many souls into the light as possible.  Her character is noble and selfless in her efforts to be of help to these wayward spirits of the dead.  Of course, this is a work of fiction for our entertainment and for their profit.  

            Perhaps the reason these stories about the dead are so popular is because we all know we too shall die. But, of all the people Melinda has helped into the light, there is never a mention of God's True plan to save the lost by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we lay aside all the science fiction and the imagination of the entertainment industry, we can actually gain a clearer picture of what really awaits us after death.  Even more importantly, we should be especially focused the kind of faith we have while alive and how our choices affects us after we die. 

           Please allow me to briefly address some things the Bible has to say concerning the word "death" and what waits for us when our time to die finally comes.

Physical Death Is Not The End Of Our Existence:
            Some would have us think that death means we no longer exist in any way, shape or form.  But the Bible teaches us that physical death is not the end of our existence.   In the book of Matthew, Jesus is confronted by some religious leaders (Sadducees) who did not believe in an afterlife.  Jesus quotes a statement made by God.  "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine" (Matthew 22:32-33)  If any of the sincere listeners  were on the fence with their beliefs about the afterlife, they were probably amazed at the plain and simple truth of God's words. God did not say "I was" their God. Speaking of the dead, He uses the present tense to proclaim "I am" their God.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still existed somewhere according to God.
           The very hope of all Christian teaching has to do with the resurrection and our relationship with God after physical death.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is clear evidence that it is not all over for us at physical death. "For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living" (Rom 14:9).   Paul, by inspiration said, "...there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust"  (Acts 24:15).  Jesus said, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,   And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29).  The Apostles were to preach to all the people that Jesus, ...  "was ordained of God to be the Judge of the quick (living) and dead"  (Acts 10:42).
            If we reject the existence of the afterlife, we are blind to the truth and purpose of the Bible altogether.  Paul addressed the false teaching that there is no resurrection and said if this is true then we should all just " and drink; for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor 15:32).  The truth is, the Bible was written to reveal to us what we need to prepare for our after death existence.  Paul told the church, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Cor 15:19).  God, speaking His truth in the scriptures, tells us the grave is not our "final resting place."

            But we are not left to figure out this afterlife stuff on our own, nor are we wise to let Hollywood explain it all to us.  God's Word is the authoritative truth about all things eternal.  In this coming judgment, it is God's Word which will judge us.  Jesus warns us, "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). 

Death In the Bible:
            The Bible uses the word "death" in several different ways depending on its context.  But, it is always speaking more about a separation (and the accompanying  limitations) between two things than it is about something no longer existing.  We also  shall see, depending on the context, one might be "dead" in one sense, but alive in another.

Physical Death:
            First of all, there is physical death: the separation of our spirit from our bodies.  "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."  (James 2:26).  Likewise, physical death is overcome when the body and spirit are reunited.  "And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.   And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise.   And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat."  (Luke 8:53-55)

            Jesus literally died physically on the cross.  In His death we see this temporary separation of body and soul (spirit).  "He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell (hades, place of the dead) neither his flesh (body in tomb) did see corruption." (Acts 2:31). The Greek Word "Hades" is translated as "hell" along with a number of other words in the King James Version.  But, "hell" in this context is not talking about the place of final punishment (Greek: gehenna), but of Greek: hades, the grave or waiting place of physically dead spirits.

            Jesus gives us a specific account of two men who were dead and buried physically.  One was a self centered rich man and the other a poor beggar named Lazarus.  They both had existence after death and had gone somewhere (hades?), like Jesus, with other dead souls (Abraham was there).   The rich man was in torment because his wicked life had followed him.  He wanted Lazarus to go back to the world of the living and warn his brothers not to die in his condition.  Abraham told him that, if they would not believe the scriptures, they would not believe one who had returned from the dead.  (Luke 16:19-31).

            According to Jesus' words here and what actually happened to Him, we too (our spirits or souls) will someday be in this place called "hades"  when we die physically. How we prepare while alive will determine which part of hades we will experience. Physical death is that time of temporary separation of our body and spirit until the resurrection of all who are in the grave.

Spiritual Death:
            There is another kind of death spoken of in the Bible which we will call "spiritual" death.  People who are physically alive can be dead in a spiritual sense.  Spiritual death occurs when a living person's soul is in a state of separation from fellowship and acceptance with God. 

            Like Adam, we are all created in the image of God and are spiritually one with God.  But when we sin we die spiritually and are separated from God's fellowship just as Adam was cast out of God's presence.   Adam did not die physically that day, but he did die in another way because he lost his good relationship with God.  Paul explains that, " the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom_6:23).  Paul also reminds us that,  "...all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23).  The Prophet Isaiah says, "But your iniquities (sins) have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." (Isa 59:2).  Ezekiel quotes God as saying, "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezek 18:4).   

        Spiritual death is not just about having sinned.  It is about being lost and unwilling to hear and obey the words and instructions of God about how to be saved.  It is about rejecting God's invitation to be saved by the blood of His Son Jesus.  Many of these dead do not even realize they are dead.  They are religious in some way, but lost because they have never submitted themselves to God's Word, only the religious teaching of men (Rom 10:1-3). 

      Jesus further supports this idea of being dead (spiritually) while still being physically alive. When some of His disciples began giving excuses about not following Him, he told them, "let the dead bury the dead." (Matt 8:22).

           Listen carefully as Paul reminds the church in Ephesus of their previous state of death.  "And you hath he quickened (made alive), who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation (lifestyle, rj) in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature (habitual lifestyle, rj) the children of wrath, even as others."  (Eph 2:1-3).  

          Of course, obedient faith in the Gospel of Jesus is the only possible way we can be made alive and restored to a saving relationship with God.  Jesus became the author of eternal life to "...all them that obey him" (Heb 5:9).  Our response to the Gospel is very specific.  It is not just believing ("the devils also believe and tremble", James 2:19).  It is about loving God and obeying His word to demonstrate Biblical faith so we may receive His precious grace. Have you believed, repented, confessed faith in Christ and been immersed for the remission of your sins?? (Mark 16:15,16;  Acts 2:38).  If you have not, then you are still separated from God. You are dead in a very frightening sense.

Dead To Sin:
            Another kind of death has to do with a true believer remaining separated from acts of sin.  We are to be dead to sin so that it no longer controls us.  This is considering oneself dead to old ways and old desires.  It is being dead to the old self.  Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:20).

            Our submission to God in baptism clearly details when we die to self, are buried and then raised to live a new life in Christ, thus separated from our sins: 

"God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?   Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.   For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:"  (Romans 6:2-5).

The "Second Death":
            Finally, there is another death mentioned in the Bible. While we are alive physically, but still spiritually separated from God, there is still time to hear and obey the Gospel.  But, if physical death takes us while we are spiritually dead, all hope of salvation is gone.  In this "second death" we will be forever lost and separated from God.

"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death ...But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Rev 2:11; 21:8).
I See Dead People:
            It is our work as the church of Christ to see dead people.  Souls who are separated from God by their sin, but are not yet willing to hear and obey the truth of the Gospel.  Sort of like Melinda, in the Ghost Whisperer, a Christian's job is to help as many people into the light of God's Truth as possible.  Unfortunately, this can only be done before they die physically.  One who dies separated from God has only the "second death" in the lake of fire in their future.  After this study you should be able to see "dead" people.  If you see one in the mirror, please get your Bible out so the truth can make you free and ready to meet God (John 8:32).

            Remember, there are the dead who do not know they are dead.  Will you study the Bible to find out if you or those you love are really dead while they live (1 Tim 5:6), destined for the "second death?"  We must look for the light before physical death.  Full trust and submission to Jesus and God's Word is our only hope of receiving a restored relationship with God forever.

"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."  (John 8:12). 

"But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:   In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). 

            Jesus compared true obedient faith in conversion to being born again (anew) (John 3:3).  If you understand the verses we have mentioned along with this one, then the meaning of this popular statement will be clear to you:

"Born once, die twice. Born twice, die once."