Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Hope Of The Christian

There are three essential virtues, within Christianity, on which we have our foundation in Jesus Christ built on. Two of them are faith and love and the third one is hope. In this blog I will be, specifically, dealing with hope, but first, seeing that all three inner relate to each other, what does Scripture say about the faith and love. I Corinthians 13:13 regards love as the greatest of the three virtues--“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” [NIV] Faith, as well, is very highly important, for it is our “core” foundation, without it salvation in Jesus Christ would not be possible--Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” [NIV] Though, faith is essential for salvation, it is hope that gives us security in that salvation--Titus 3:7, “So that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” [NIV] I have heard many sermons about faith and many sermons about love, but, specifically, I have rarely heard a sermon about hope. Why is that? Well, what is the cornerstone of the Christian belief? It is faith--Ephesians 3:17, “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” [NIV] To have hope in Christ one must have faith in Christ first. Well, I think it is obvious on why so much it talked about love: God is love (John 3:16) and love is the key word in the two greatest commandments--(1) love God with all your being (2) love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the cornerstone to our Christian obedience to God and fellowship to our fellow man; furthermore, love is the foundation to all God given laws--Galatians 5:14, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, " YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." [NIV] However, hope is the cornerstone of Christian perseverance--Hebrew 6:11, “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.” [NIV]

Hope and I mean real hope, which is only found in Jesus Christ, is not present until we deny our human selfish-pride and bring in our new life in Jesus Christ. Hope, as I see it, becomes the “glue” so to speak that holds all three virtues together. Colossians 1:4-5, tributes hope as the spring for our enduring faith and love in our new life--“Because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saint (5) the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel.” [NIV] True hope brings us true peace and true joy in our lives through our promised “Comforter,” the Holy Spirit--Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." [NIV] Hope brings us enduring strength and great rejoice through times of suffering and true hope in God will never disappoint us--Romans 5:3-5, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; (4) perseverance, character; and character, hope. (5) And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” [NIV] Hope is the promise of eternal life through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ--Titus 3:6-7, “Whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, (7) so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” [NIV] Moreover, the greatest encouragement that hope gives is the “blessed hope” of the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ, Titus 2:13, “While we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” [NIV]

Often, I think where Christianity would be today if it was not for hope. Hope in Christ is what keeps us going, hope in Christ is our passion to witness, hope in Christ is our power to love, hope in Christ is the glory of Heaven, and hope in Christ gives us true freedom. The world has so much to offer in the way of hope, but it is a false hope that never will please, fulfill, or satisfy. This false hope is a constant let down that will keep us always wanting more, but we never truly getting what we want. What the world’s sense of hope will bring us? Nothing, but death--Proverbs 16:25, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” [NIV] To the Christian, hope is not wishful thinking, as the world suggests; hope is trust in God’s word, which leads to everlasting life--Isaiah 49:23, “…Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in Me will not be disappointed." [NIV]

Of course, our hope in Christ will fall under attack, by the one whose enduring pursuit has always been to destroy our love, faith, and hope. Satan will attack us in a way that is quite seductive, he will have us to think that our own self-passions, self-wants, and self-desires will be given to us by God, no matter what, as long as we have enough “faith.” Oh, brother and sister, we know better. Christ told us to deny our self-passions, self-wants, and self-desires, to take up our crosses and follow Him. (Luke 9:23) Satan truly has a false sense of hope; he keeps trying and trying to destroy the very hope that we have in Jesus Christ, to prevent our way of spreading Christ’s hope in a hopeless world. Satan knows, by far, his future and we know it as well, he has a “hopeless hope” and he wants it to become ours, but we unlike him, we have a “living hope”--I Peter 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a LIVING HOPE through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (4) and into an INHERITANCE that can NEVER perish, spoil or fade—kept in HEAVEN for you.” [NIV]

“The children of God are filled with peace and joy, despite all their struggles and valleys, they are confident of the salvation that waits for them. They receive peace in the knowledge that, thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, who shed his blood and was crushed for their sins, the evil one can no longer accuse them before the Father. They have confidence that God will forgive them their sins because they trust in him, and confess their sins. They have confidence while they work and while they rest that the Son of Man will give them eternal life when he returns. They belong to God, and no one can snatch them out of his hand. They will never betray the Lord as Judas did. They love their Saviour, and he loves them. They produce much fruit. They are good and faithful servants who put what he has given them to good use. They keep themselves ready and waiting for his return.”

Romans 5:1-5, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (2) through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (3) Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; (4) perseverance, character; and character, hope. (5) And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” [NIV]

Will it not be a great day when our hope turns to reality.

God Bless You

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hey Christian, Christmas Is Okay--If You Were Concerned

So, what is the story behind all this Christmas is pagan stuff and why are some Christian concluding that Christmas is sin against God?

The history of Christmas, as in the name Christmas, came from the Roman Church back in the 4th century A.D. during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. In Rome and throughout the Roman Empire their were much in the way of pagan rituals and festivals, which several festivals were held either on December 25th or sometime around the date. December 25th hosted two related festivals--natalis solis invicti, which was the Roman "birth of the unconquered sun," and the birthday of Mithras, which was the Iranian "Sun of Righteousness" whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. The winter solstice was another celebration of the sun, which fell just a few days earlier. Seeing that pagans were already exalting deities with some parallels to the True Deity, church leaders decided to introduce a new festival (i.e. Christmas or “Christ’s Mass”) for Christians to observe the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. The intention behind church leaders creating this new festival was so to avoid Christians from falling into the pagan practices and festivals that were popular at the time, as stated above. Christians first celebrated Christmas on December 25th in 336 A.D. soon after the Christian baptism of Emperor Constantine, who declared Christianity the empire's favored religion.

So where does the argument for those opposed to the Christmas tree and other Christmas traditions lay. Here is the famed Scripture passage that most “anti-Christmas” people use to justify their viewpoint that Christmas, namely the “Christmas tree,” is of pagan origin and therefore a sin against Almighty God for any Christian to partake in—

Jeremiah 10:1-4, “Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel (2) Thus says the LORD,‘Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens Although the nations are terrified by them; (3) For the customs of the peoples are delusion; because it is wood cut from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool. (4)They decorate it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers so that it will not totter.’” (NASB)

Now, to understand this passage in Jeremiah we must first understand the cultural background story behind it. If you go on in further in this passage you can clearly see that this pagan custom was a form of idol worship to the pagan god/s to represent, in a way, the One True Everlasting God. One of the most common examples of a tree idol was the Asherah, which is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. Asherah was a pagan goddess that was worshiped throughout the Mediterranean region. She was considered to be the goddess of the sea and the mother of Baal. She was always represented as a tree or pole, either planted or erected, then decorated. There are many warnings in the Old Testament about the Asherah tree--here are a couple of examples,

Exodus 34:12-14, “Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. (13) But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim (14) for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (NASB)

Judges 6:25, “Now on the same night the LORD said to him, "Take your father's bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it;” (NASB)

I believe these two examples along with Jeremiah 10 are clearly referring to idol worship, which they all relate to the pagan goddess Asherah. Therefore, to assume this has any reference to the Christmas tree is pure silliness and every bit taking the passage out of its contextual meaning. However, if those who set up a Christmas tree fall down and worship it as a god or goddess or if someone loves their Christmas tree more than God, then such a thing could be considered a form of spiritual idolatry, therefore, one could justifiably apply Jeremiah 10. Outside of these possible exceptions, I think it clear that Christians who put up a Christmas tree in their home are NOT worshiping them for idol worship purposes, nor do they love them more than their Savior Jesus Christ. They are simply using the Christmas tree as a fun custom or as reminder of the “reason for the season:” the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

It is unfortunate thing when well-meaning Christians call something sin that is not sin, and then try to enslave the minds of their fellow believers. As an old 4th century theologian stated, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of Him who made it.”

Now, I would like to encourage you to read an excellent testimonial by a dear friend of mine, J.L. McKinney. He used to believe that Christmas was indeed pagan and wrong for Christians to participate in. However, through much prayer and study in Scripture he no longer sees Christmas as an issue, but rather a joyous occasion—“A Letter To An Old Friend.” (Click the title to read the blog)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Deliverance: From Atheist to Believer

“I was an atheist at one time. And like most atheists, the issue of people believing in God bothered me greatly. What is it about atheists that we would spend so much time, attention, and energy refuting something that we don't believe even exists?! What causes us to do that? When I was an atheist, I attributed my intentions as caring for those poor, delusional people...to help them realize their hope was completely ill-founded. To be honest, I also had another motive. As I challenged those who believed in God, I was deeply curious to see if they could convince me otherwise. Part of my quest was to become free from the question of God. If I could conclusively prove to believers that they were wrong, then the issue is off the table, and I would be free to go about my life.

I didn't realize that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue. I have come to find out that God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know him. He has surrounded us with evidence of himself and he keeps the question of his existence squarely before us. It was as if I couldn't escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God's existence, my prayer began with, "Ok, you win..." It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.

I am not the only one who has experienced this. Malcolm Muggeridge, socialist and philosophical author, wrote, ‘I had a notion that somehow, besides questing, I was being pursued.’ C.S. Lewis said he remembered, ‘...night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.’

Lewis went on to write a book titled, "Surprised by Joy" as a result of knowing God. I too had no expectations other than rightfully admitting God's existence. Yet over the following several months, I became amazed by his love for me.”

By Marilyn Adamson

Truly a compelling story of rejection to acceptance, however, this is only a part of the whole article. Marilyn Adamson's theme throughout the whole article is answering the question, "Does God Exist?". Now, to a believer the answer to that question is simple, however, to an unbeliever that question is not so simple. Well, I am not sure about you, but as for me, to see a former atheist turned believer and then go on to answer the question "Does God Exist?," in itself, gives the answer. If you want to read the full article, simply, click on "By Marilyn Adamson" and your there.