Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Should Christians regard halloween?

        One of the most significant days of the year, for unbelievers, is approaching and it seems as though a lot of Christians tend to take advantage of this day to pass out tracts and share the gospel of Christ's sacrifice.  However,  is this really something that the true Christian should be doing?  Let's look at what the Bible says, but before examining what the Bible says about participating in this day, let's remind ourselves of the origins and very real existence of what halloween celebrates; witches, witchcraft,  and the occult.  Here is a brief look at the origins.

      The Halloween customs the world observes on October 31st had their beginnings long ago. The origins and traditions can be traced back thousands of years to the days of the ancient Celts and their priests, the Druids of ancient Gaul and Britain. We know little of the Druids, but of certain is that they had an elaborate religious and political organization. Some were soothsayers, magicians, sorcerers, and barbs (composers and reciters of heroes and their deeds). Their religion worshipped numerous gods and natural objects, such as trees, wells, etc., in which magical practices were involved.
        The Druids believed that witches, demons, and spirits of the dead roamed the earth on the eve of November 1st. Bonfires (literally "bone-fires") were lit to drive away the bad spirits. The great bonfires served another purpose as well -- on this night, unspeakable sacrifices were offered by the Druid priests to their Lord of Death (Saman). The celebration was called "The Feast of Samhain" (pronounced SAH-WEEN). The Druids would carefully watch the writhing of the victims in the fire (sometimes animals, sometimes humans). From their death agonies, they would foretell the future (divination) of the village. The local householders then each took a portion of the fire to their own hearths for good luck and good crops in the new year.
         To protect themselves from the mean tricks of these spirits (like killing livestock), the Druids offered them good things to eat (sometimes food, sometimes female children). The Druids also disguised themselves in order that the spirits would think the Druids belonged to their own evil company, and therefore, not bring any harm to the Druids. They also carried "jack-ó-lanterns," a turnip or potato with a fearful, demonic face carved into it, to intimidate the demons around them. And, thus, this "tradition" is carried over today as Halloween and is celebrated by dressing up in costumes, playing trick or treat, wearing masks, and carrying jack-ó-lanterns.
        Much later, the Roman Catholic Church set aside the first day of November to honor all the saints who had no special days of their own. This was known as All Saints' Day, and was preceded by All Hallows' Eve (derived from the word "hallowed" or "holy evening"). Eventually, the two festivals (the old pagan customs and the Roman Catholic feast day) were combined, and All Hallows' Eve was shortened to Hallowe'en. Professing Christians were now provided a convenient "alternative" to the aforementioned pagan ceremonies.
           Despite half-hearted attempts by the Catholic Church to destroy the pagan religious practices associated with Hallowe'en, they have survived. During the Middle Ages, such practices found an outlet in the practice of witchcraft, which was and is devoted to communing with the spirits of the dead and to the worship of Satan himself. While almost every major holiday has been tainted with some form of paganism, none are so deeply immersed in the occult as is Hallowe'en.

            To this day, one of the special "sabbaths" for Satan-worship continues to be October 31st -- HALLOWE'EN!   (Sourced from Biblical Discernment Ministries)

            A wiccan (modern day witch) website describes this day as "A night of magic and chaos." This website also states that "It's generally celebrated on October 31st,  but some prefer November 1st, being the festival of Samhain, 1 of the 2 spirit nights each year, the other, Beltane.  And it's a magical interval when the mundane laws of time and space are temporarily suspended and the thin veil between the worlds (physical and spiritual) is lifted, and communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easier at this time.  It's a time to study the dark mysteries and honor the dark mother and dark father, symbolized by the crone."
          A lot of these traditions are still obviously present in todays practice of halloween, and clearly it is a day that is still dedicated to witches, witchcraft, and the occult.  
           I used to live about an hour north of Salem, Massachusetts, where the famous witch trials were held.  There are big parades held during this day every year that celebrate witchcraft and other occult traditions.  Even though I lived an hour north, I remember a lot of ex-coworkers that were and most likely still are very into this celebration.   When I was younger, I was a bag boy and the cashier was a dedicated wiccan, and it was quite normal for me to see palm reading shops and psychics along the main roads.  When I moved to PA, I thought that "...halloween is probably not celebrated much.  I mean, I was in the direct radius of where the witch trials were."  I was mistaken.  Halloween and the occult is probably more regarded. My first encounter was with a boy who attended my church.  For other obvious reasons, he was unsaved, however I soon found out that he was heavily involved with all things paranormal and the spirit world.  Soon afterwards, I was getting a haircut and the lady was bragging about her halloween decorations and that for the next year, she wanted to buy a coffin for her yard.  I have also talked with multiple people who find these things to be fascinating.  My experiences from when I was younger not only drilled it deeper why the Bible takes this evil seriously,  but also how seriously people involve themselves in these things.
           
            Time to explore and examine what the Bible says about all this.  Most references are found in the old testament, however, there are some key passages in the new testament.   In Exodus 7:11 "Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments."  Pharaoh ordered that people involved in these things perform their magic and enchantments.   In 1 Samuel 28: 7-14, the witch of Endor contacts the dead. Deuteronomy 32:16-17 tells us that demonic involvement was intentional.  Even involvement in the occult and witchcraft were grounds for excommunication, according to the law.  Leviticus 17:7-9 says "And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. 8.And thou shalt say unto them, Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers which sojourn among you, that offereth a burnt offering or sacrifice, 9  And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer it unto the LORD; even that man shall be cut off from among his people."  This sentiment is repeated later in Leviticus 19:31, "Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God."  Exodus 22:18 is very convincing in the tolerance of witches, in which the law demanded, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."  The Lord took these things very seriously, and still does.
        According to Leviticus 19, there is a very real consequence for, even, involvement in such things: defilement.  The Hebrew word translated "defiled" is a word that means contamination, in regards to being sexually, religiously, or ceremoniously.   This defilement would affect the religiously or ceremoniously aspect in our lives.  In essence, being involved with the occult or witchcraft,  will very likely hinder our own personal witness endeavors to those that are involved in these practices. In other words, a believer that is involved, whether it be embracing all the traditional practices or just 1, will have a much harder time explaining what the Bible says about separation from these things, (because he/she compromises) then if a believer who has completely separated themselves from these practices.
            Finally, in Deuteronomy 18:12 "For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee." The act of how the Lord drove  out these abominations, is not too clear.  There is only 1 instance I can think of in the old testament in which the Lord drove out an evil spirit, and this was through music.  In 1 Samuel 16:23 "And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." (To learn more about music and it's Biblical role, visit here .)
         There are a few chapters in the new testament dedicated to the subject of Christian liberty, or a Christian involving themselves with something that offends neither them or God.  According to the Bible, regarding these things is an abomination unto the LORD.   In the new testament,  these abominations,  along with all fleshly abominations,  have been driven out or, more specifically, crucified at the cross of Christ.         
         Witchcraft is a very real existence,  even today.  Paul indicates this for us in Galatians 5 when he states witchcraft as a work of the flesh.  Another clear passage is found in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5. "Abstain from all appearance of evil."  Because this is a day dedicated to evil and the dark mysteries of the spirit world,  this should be a very clear command.  Paul also writes to the believers at Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 10:20-21

          "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. 21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils."  According to this passage, it is a contradiction for a believer to participate, or to even give regard as we saw earlier, to such things.

        Finally, Ephesians 6:12 is clear in the premise of the Christian's battle grounds and halloween is considered by wiccans to be 1 of their 2 high and holy days during the year.  It is no coincidence that Ephesians 6:12 states these grounds to be found in HIGH places.

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in HIGH places."

          The verses to follow in 13-17 describe for us the armour in which to defend against this  spiritual wickedness.  Only by the Grace of God will His children be able to stand firm on His truth.  I pray that this post helps to bring Christians to a concrete conviction on these matters. 

1 Corinthians 10:12 "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall."

James 1:5 "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Evangelizing or Proselytizing

         Similar to the "Redeeming the Time" posts, there is a distinction to be made in how to witness, to evangelize or proselytize. 
         Biblically speaking, evangelist is found in the Scriptures,  where proselytizing, or any form of the word, is no where to be found, so what's the difference between these two methods?

Here is the meaning and origin of the word evangelist:

G2099

Original: εὐαγγελιστής

Transliteration: euaggelistēs

Phonetic: yoo-ang-ghel-is-tace'

Thayer Definition:

a bringer of good tidings, an evangelist
the name given to the NT heralds of salvation through Christ who are not apostles
Origin: from G2097

TDNT entry: 14:16,3

Part(s) of speech: Noun Masculine

Strong's Definition: From G2097; a preacher of the gospel: - evangelist.

Because proselytize is not found anywhere in the Bible, here is the etymology and definition from an online source:

The word proselytize comes from the Greek language and the etymology or the "true sense" of it means converting someone into one's very own path or way of life. 

Proselytizing says that this is truth and I don't care what you think, you need to accept it and seems to have a more forceful connotation in trying to convert or somehow trying to make the person believe the truth and also seems to leave out the free will of man, when evangelizing is basically the act of heralding.  Evangelizing says that this is the truth and it's up to you whether you accept it.  The evangelist realizes that the final decision of whether or not a person believes is between them and the Lord and they don't have anything to do with that, and can't control that heart decision.  
       However,  a lot of Christians seem to have a mindset that they hold the truth and with that seems to come a mindset of proselytizing. We're still human and have a sin nature, but God's word is perfect and only God's Word can change the heart of man.
       I've known pastors that will prepare a message and then tell me that they are re-thinking it simply because they don't want to "go over the people's heads."  That thought is, not only arrogant, but statements like they "need to hear it" is along the lines of proselytizing, especially if that message is not exactly what God's Word says.
         Whether the truth of the Bible being evangelized is directed towards an established church or towards an unbelieving group of VBS kids, it is God's Word that will have the effect. 
     The truth of God is found in scripture.  There's a power in God's Word that is inexplicable and we can explain it in the most eloquent and clear way, but when the actual words are read by a person, it seems to have a supernatural effect. And rightly so since it is God's Word.

Redeeming the time part 2

          My previous post was left stating that in Colossians 4:6, believers are exhorted to be tactful in their witnessing.  Every situation is different, however some situations can obviously dictate certain scripture verses or direction of conversation, but ultimately, all these things will be led by the Lord.  As good stewards of the truth of reconciliation, we as believers need to think before we speak (James 1:19) that truth, so we do not unnecessarily close that door. 
           Being tactful in witnessing is, not only wise to keeping opportunities open and is biblical, but also helps maintain a good testimony before others.  For example: Christian A might be convinced that "redeeming the time" means that every time they have a conversation with an unbeliever, they need to push the love of Christ and force the direction of the conversation.  I know Christians that are convinced of this, but then complain when the unbeliever cuts them off or distances that relationship.  That relationship is now limited and the opportunity for witness to that person is at least hindered, if not ruined.
           On the other hand, Christian B is convinced that "redeeming the time" and the "how" need to be utilized at the same time.  The Lord is sovereign over all and is very capable of directing conversations and situations.   Maintaining a good testimony before others is vital to witnessing.   It shows others a kind of patience that can only come from the love of God, although they may not realize that at first.  In time, and perhaps in their personal reflective times, that may be a factor in their salvation.  People also do not like to be pushed into a decision and have information thrown at them.  Once the unbeliever knows that we are always willing to talk, letting them start the conversations will be much more effective in the long run.  When people know they are being treated with dignity, that simple and basic privilege of letting them make their own decision and being given the time they need to get to whatever that conclusion is, goes a long way and is a huge sign of respect.  
        

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Redeeming the time


In Ephesians, is the warning and the encouragement to be " Redeeming the time, because the days are evil."  This word redeeming in the Greek has the idea of ceasing opportunity for good.  As was said in my previous post, prayer is true evangelism and seeing an opportunity to share the love of Christ involves praying for wisdom and discernment as is exhorted in James 1:5

Quoting Romans 8:28a ("And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God")
at a funeral, perhaps, as true and encouraging this is, may not be the best opportunity to reiterate.  

Some Christians see that it's more advantageous to cease every opportunity,  regardless of the context in which the truth of God is presented.  This may be dangerous.  When Christians present the truth about God's love, or any truth about God, the presentation should be in accordance with God's character.  Back to our funeral example.  That verse is an everlasting, encouraging truth about God and promise to his children. Those who are dealing with immense pain and suffering that will last a very long time, upon hearing that, will most likely "write you off" or at least limit their interactions with you and future opportunities to minister will be lost.

Colossians 4:6 " Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man."

This command in Colossians is very indicative of that parental advice you got as a child.  "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say it."  Though very good and Biblical advice, it only refers to the first part of this verse.  The first half of this verse, along with "redeeming the time" above, is no small feat and needs the watchful and prayerful discernment which can only be sought from the Lord. 

Everyday, there is a slew of reasons for believers to get angered or stressed. (causing a temporary loss of sober thinking).  Adding to all this is the word how in Colossians 4:6.  This tells believers that their is tactfulness involved in knowing what to say and when to say it.  Ceasing every opportunity for the glory of God is needful and effective,  when the situation allows.  (to be continued....)

Mission-minded

How often have you seen someone “stay on track” until college, or twenties, and then "go off the deep end"? Christian faith seems to have all but disappeared and they seem to be embracing their new found “freedom.”

Sadly, I’ve seen that exact scenario happen over and over and over again.

Somewhere along the way we, as Christians, may have missed the point of why we do what we do.

To some, the Christian life has become a list of rules containing do’s and don’ts, and sadly we’ve left our Savior completely out of the picture.

A lot of people view Christianity as restraining them from the “real” fun.

They view Christianity as a list looking something like this…

Don’t have sex until you are married.
Don’t watch bad movies.
Don’t have boyfriend/girlfriend until you are ready to get married.
Don’t curse.
Don’t lie.
Don’t cheat.
Don’t steal.
Don’t drink.
Don’t, don’t, don’t.
The list of don’ts continues on and on and many of us have no idea exactly why we shouldn’t do those things. Much less a real heart conviction on our own.

That list of don’ts is an excellent list containing some excellent advice. That is if it’s viewed from the right perspective. If it’s not viewed from the right perspective, Christianity is nothing more than a rule book with checkboxes to mark off and good works to fulfill.  There are very good and Biblical reasons to avoid all of the above, and a Christian should avoid those things.

Over the years, I have come to understand the “why” behind the do’s and don’ts.

In Matthew, part of Jesus' great commission is to go out into all the world and lead others to Christ.   I have also learned that true evangelism is not always "doing", but praying.  Praying for opportunities to witness to people and praying for God to be working in the hearts of everyone we meet, even before we share the gospel.  Later on in the Bible, Paul states that "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you."

Not all things a Christian does is rightly percieved.  Some believers are trying to minister to others, yet they have been "written off" by others or perhaps Christians take up a hobby that doesn't seem right to their Christian friends, but are then seen as "gone off the deep end".

Being mission minded is being made aware of the ultimate mission and goal, making Christ known.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Resting in the Sovereignty of God

          So often, we get caught up in the busy-ness of ourselves.  If we aren't caught up in ourselves, it may be ministry or simply getting our life in "order".  It seems we're busy with anything but God and resting in our relationship with Him.  Oswald chambers said:

          "It is never do, do, with the Lord, but be, be and He will do through you."

           There are always times a believer needs to rest in our relationship with God, but more specifically,  in times of busy-ness and times of discouragement.

          Usually, there is an apathy that accompanies our busy-ness, whether it be in ministry or self.  Being busy in the ministry is, of course needful, but at the same time, it is needful to rest in the knowledge that God will grow a ministry or work through a ministry, in His time and according to His will.  Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to get the results in ministry that we think should be there.  In our thinking, when that doesn't happen,  we logically conclude that we have to do more, because obviously what we're doing isn't enough, instead of resting in the truth that God is sovereign.  Always has been, still is, and always will be.  We are commanded to be good and faithful stewards,  however, being busy can sort of blind us from resting and to "be still and know".  We are only human and have to remember that our bodies need rest and replenishment. But much more important than that is to rest in the sovereignty of Almighty God, to do what He will, in His time, and being led by Him. Too much activity, or "do, do" as Oswald Chambers said,  can and eventually will burn us out.  In Exodus 18 and specifically verses 17-23, Jethro advises his son in law to not do so much.  The context is that Moses was trying to be a mediator between the people and God, but the point is that he placed too much responsibility on himself.  Verse 18 is probably a key verse for this context.  Jethro tells Moses, "Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone."  God is sovereign over the results of a ministry and also will guide and lead in the amount of activity.   To rest in the sovereignty of God also assures to prevent burning out (otherwise we won't be of use to God).

           It is also human nature to think we need to better our lives.  It's human nature to create our own happiness in life, mainly by doing what our flesh enjoys.  Wherever a believer is in this life is right where the Lord wants them, whether it is fully surrendered over to God or in a season of backsliding.   God is still sovereign regardless of what we may think about ourselves, lives, or our current state.   Resting in the sovereignty of God brings with it an inexplicable peace and comfort.    The Lord is sovereign over the timing of everything in the believers life. 

            In 2 Corinthians 4:8, Paul says that "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;". 

           The passage that comes to mind is in Acts 16 where Paul and Silas are wrongfully imprisoned.   Their circumstances were, quite literally,  discouraging, both physically and mentally, I'm sure.  Verse 25 states that they were singing praise to God, and praying, at midnight, (probably a time when, physiologically and mentally,  they would be the weakest.)  In other words, these men were resting in God's sovereignty, giving them an inexplicable peace and comfort.   It's definitely hard to imagine that situation,  but no situation is dire enough for the Lord. 

         The Psalmist said "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Unity in the bond of Peace

Christians can so easily get caught up in the work of the ministry.  Of course there is tons of work to do, but is it right to disregard our testimony to others?
This reminds me of the one another verses throughout the Bible: Receive one another as in Romans 15:7, Admonish one another as in Romans 15:14 and Colossians 3:16 and Submit yourselves one to another as in Ephesians 5:21and I Peter 5:6.  In the midst of all the work of the ministry, it is needful to be reminded of these verses, often. The church is also God's program for this age of Grace, but there seems to be less and less interest in learning what the Bible says or even serving God. 

In Romans 15, God commands us to receive one another.  This is similar to the idea of receiving a gift from someone.   I remember as a kid at Christmas time that I got gifts that I didn't want or like, but because of who it was from, I had to teach myself to receive that gift with thanksgiving.   Everyone that is called by God, whatever role it is, needs to be received (and will always be received by God) or need to receive others.  In other words, all Christians need to receive there fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, disregarding the role in which we are called to serve, either a pastor to the congregants or the congregants to a pastor.

Later on in the same chapter, there is a command to admonish.a. There is a LOT of work LOT that goes into the ministry, both physical activity and spiritual exercises.  The Greek word for admonish is to warn and no one likes to be warned of potential dangers.  It is usually taken as very critical, however, if Biblical, very necessary.  Romans 15:14 speaks of admonishing one another, but Colossians 3:16 is a little more detailed.  God exhorts us to admonish every man, in all wisdom (consistent with Col. 1:28).  Of course, God's Word is where wisdom is found and, specifically,  the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all  wisdom.   Back to Romans 15, which seems to indicate that all  believers are able to admonish a brother or sister, not just dependant on a believers role in ministry.

Lastly,  believers are commanded to submit.  This is hard for anyone, not just believers.   Yes, we are told to submit to others, but when caught up in the work of the ministry,  we want things to be done "our" way.  The busier we are, it seems the more blinded we are of the bigger picture, which of course, is leading to, and teaching others more of, Christ.  Ephesians 5:21 is a powerful verse and reminds us to submit one to another, regardless of our ministry role, in the fear of God.  As was mentioned earlier,  the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, all wisdom.  The Lord will gives us wisfom, even when submitting. Because ultimately,  it is God we are to submit to. 

There is another command found in Ephesians,  the command to endeavor or strive to keep unity.  There is so much involved with keeping unity among believers, especially when working in ministry.  Sometimes Christians overlook some areas of life in order for unity, but  when God's word is in question in a situation, of course we should obey God's Word. For life issues in the lives of our brothers and sisters,  unity is of prime importance.  God has a reason for brothers and sister to strive for peaceful unions.  According to this verse, with peace comes unity and to become a disunity because of life issues, disunity is also in disregard to all points previously mentioned.