A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Trick or Treat?


Should Christians observe holidays at all? Many Christians have understood Galatians 4:9-11 to forbid them from observing special days in any capacity. I don't have a problem with it if that's your choice, but I don't understand that text to forbid observing holidays altogether.

Consider Romans 14:4-6. The manner in which the Galatians were observing special days was not the same way Paul wrote about in Romans. If you want to set aside a day to observe as especially holy to God that's just fine for you to do, so long as you remember that in truth all days are holy days for Christians, and in the sight of God, no day, week, month, or year is any holier than another. That shouldn't be taken to mean there are no holy days to celebrate (as some mistakenly think), but that (in general) every day for the child of God is a holy day to celebrate! So, if you want to live every day as a high day to God (and one way or another you should), that's fine too. There is no spiritual danger in setting aside special times of family and community celebration and enjoyment. Now, there is a sense in which the first day of the week, as the "Lord's Day," and time for the church to assemble and observe communion, has special biblical significance, but otherwise what I've said stands. I could say much more.

For now, I want to specifically talk about whether or not Christians should celebrate a day like Halloween that's so often linked to the occult.

To know the answer, first apply the principles from the above passages. It isn't biblical to think of "All Hallows Eve" as if it is a day especially set apart by God for observance. But, religious reasons are not the only reasons for celebrating a special day. While some occult groups have claimed Halloween as their high day/night, most people just see it as a fun day to dress up in costume, hand out candy, and party. Yet many Christians recognize the claims occultists stake on the day and its traditions and shun it like the plague. What's right?

Well, we certainly want nothing to do with the pagan roots of the day. I don't want anything to do with the Catholic attempt to "Christianize" it either. To old Catholics, "All Hallows Eve" is the evening that began the 24 hour celebration of "All Hallows [Saints] Day," which is the origin of the shortened name "Halloween." But, the question to ask is: Does the fact that ungodly people and their practices originated the day make elements of its contemporary observance evil by (perceived) association? Was the meat sacrificed to idols sold in ancient Roman marketplaces thereby corrupted for Christian consumers? Read 1 Corinthians 10:25-31. No! Did the fact that wicked child-sacrificing heathens built the cities of the Promised Land mean they were no good for Israelites to live in? Read Deuteronomy 6:10-11. Again, the asnwer is no!

So, the ancient pagans don't have anything to say about dressing up and visiting your neighbors to ask for a few pieces of candy. Occultists don't own the rights to carving pumpkins and bobbing for apples. There isn't anything wrong with the way we celebrate Halloween in America today unless you make it wrong. --My point of view, for what it's worth. Be good. Be responsible. Don't do anything that dishonors God.
---JLP

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

National Morality


"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34 ESV).

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them(Romans 1:21-32 ESV).


This morning I was listening to talk radio in the car, and the subject was a recent gang-rape and beating in San Francisco. Dozens of people witnessed the atrocity over the space of two hours and did nothing to stop it. No one even called the police! The host, with whom I normally agree, said, and I paraphrase, "I know what many of you are going to say... took God out of schools... less and less people practicing religion... but this is something that can't be explained just by a lack of belief in God or practice of religion. Even someone who doesn't believe in God should have the basic goodness to do something about a horrible crime like this--at least call the police." He went on to affirm this is evidence of moral decay in at least pockets of the U.S. that cannot be explained simply by the lack of God and religion.

I agree with the host that this is an atrocity. It is a reproach upon the people of San Francisco, if not the whole nation. Someone should have personally interceded even if it means bodily harm or death!

On the other hand, I disagree with him about how a community of people can become so apathetic. The lack of God and (true) religion fully explains it. What my friend, the talk-show host, doesn't understand is that moral decay is often a generational process. While it's true that one can choose to become as evil as he wants to in one instant decision, regardless of how he was raised, culturally and nationally speaking, it usually happens generationally.

Like this: A couple marries and has children. They are devoted practitioners of their faith, but they fail to pass it on in any way other than by example. So, their children grow up, and follow their parents' example, practicing the religion they saw in their parents, but without the substance. Their children, then, as they mature, begin to question the point of practicing empty religious rituals, and so, depart from religious practice. O, they still believe in God, but just not religion. Their children, in turn, are raised in a basically godless environment. Though their parents held to belief in God, their was no practice of religion, no training in righteousness to serve as foundation. They grow up to question whether there is a God. Many come to atheism altogether, but still cling to some sense of groundless moral goodness. Finally, they raise up a generation without belief in God, no religious practice, no foundation for morality. When those of such a generation face temptations and influences of outright evil, and it seems to be acceptable by their peers, what's to stop them? Through the process of generational religious decline, each generation drifts farther and farther away from righteousness. Without God there is none!

The situation in pockets accross America today is the result of generational moral decay, the result of decades of growing animosity towards God and truth. I don't believe for one second that the people in any part of this great land are beyond hope of revival, but there's only one place it can come from: God.

In whatever pocket of the nation or the world you find yourself, seek God with all your heart, practice true religion as revealed in the Holy Bible, and relentlessly influence those around you to do the same. That's righteousness. It exalts a nation. It's any nation's only hope for a bright future.
---JLP

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When I'm Judged...


When this life is over and I stand before Jesus in Judgment, I want to have...

Faithfully obeyed his will through grace...
Taught others how to be saved...
Helped support missionaries...
Given to take care of the needy...
Been faithful to my wife until death...
Raised my children to become Christians...
Sacrificed, endured, and persevered, not til it hurt, but til it felt good...
Wept not only for my own sorrows, but for another's...
Upheld the truth at all costs...
Spoken out against sin...
Been in church practically "every time the doors were open"...
Been able to say, "I know the Lord"...
Gained a deep knowledge of the Word and rich wisdom from it,

Because doing all of that would sort of make me feel like I'd earned a crown, and I want something to lay at Jesus' feet. Were it not for his sweet grace I certainly would not consistently have this desire to do good works. Maybe I wouldn't care about others at all!
"And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Revelation 4:9-11 ESV).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When David Saw Uriah Again


With all my heart I am awaiting the resurrection and I long to see Jesus' return. While I appreciate the patience God is extending toward the masses who do not know Christ as Lord by delaying the Second Coming, I can also say, and mean it when I say it, "Amen, come Lord Jesus!" He's coming back. He'll judge the world. You and I and everybody will hear the eternal sentence pronounced upon us: heaven or hell (Matthew 25:31ff). For me, heaven (1John 5:13), and may the Lord continue to strengthen me in every way so that this faith of mine is ever growing and repeatedly confirmed! More importantly, may he extend his grace to my wife and sons, my parents, siblings, extended blood-kin and friends, my precious spiritual family worldwide, and to many of those who have not yet obeyed him!

That day is coming, but in a sense it may come for you and I earlier than for others. If Jesus doesn't come fairly soon, we'll go to him (Hebrews 9:27). The Bible teaches of a life after death for those that die and either go to be with Jesus (Philippians 1:23) or to an unpleasant place awaiting final condemnation (Luke 16:22ff). In a sense, that's life after death. So, the resurrection hope is for what one author called "life after life after death." We look for a bodily resurrection, not just the disembodied spirit-existence between the grave and Judgment Day.

Let me try to get to the point. I say this to provide background for something that popped in my mind while I was reading Matthew 1 today. I believe the Bible teaches a conscious state of existence after death. To what degree we'll be able to interact and dialogue with others who've passed on from this life I don't presently know for certain. From Luke 16 I deduce we'll be able to converse fairly freely. But, whether we get to speak freely with the spirits of others who've died, or have to wait for the resurrection to speak to our departed friends (and enemies) again, we will see them again!

In the genealogy of the Christ (Matthew 1:6), the Bible says "And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah...." If you're familiar with the events of 2Samuel 11-12, you know that David desired Uriah's wife, committed adultery with her, and had Uriah killed to cover it up. Nasty mess! Here's the point for this post: Either David saw/spoke with Uriah again when he died, or he will when they're both raised from the dead on the last day. Can you imagine what it would be like to be David and to have to speak to Uriah again after having him murdered?

Be very careful how you deal with the people you meet in this life. The relationship isn't over at death! Live in such a way as to make every eternal reunion guilt free!

Just a thought.
---JLP

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ministry


I've seen a bumper sticker (or something) somewhere that said:

"God is dead" -Nietzsche.
"Neitzsche is dead." -God.

While I really don't like the trend today to put words into God's mouth, there is some justice in the sentiment. However, you see it all over on church marquises. One that particularly got under my skin went something like:
"You think it's hot now? -God."
It was a hot summer, and somebody thought it would be good to characterize God as taunting people with the prospect of hell. I find that to be character-assassination towards God (1Timothy 2:3-4; 2Peter 3:9), and thus, blasphemy on the church sign. I suppose that's irony.

But, back to Nietzsche... he was a philosopher who didn't sympathize with Christianity. In short, his view was that in contrast to the pagan worldview that idolized power, wealth and control, and viewed servitude as demeaning, Judeo-Christian ideals were born in slavery and thus sought to impose the slave-mentality on others in order to exalt slaves. Of course, he had a "new" philosophy that he hoped the world would embrace that was tied up in his "God is dead" stuff. I won't delve any further into that today.

I do, however, want to say a few words about the Christian mindset and the call to ministry that is so central to it. Usually when we speak of ministry we're talking about people like me who preach publicly and have some kind of "official" ministry position in a church. While what I do is certainly ministry, the truth is much bigger than the usual way of seeing things. True Christianity is characterized by the priesthood of all believers (1Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6, 5:10). Each christian is called into ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Ministry means service. Christians are indeed called and equipped to serve, and serving others unselfishly is the highest honor a true disciple of Jesus can hope to attain.
"The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:11-12 ESV).

But, though the slavery motif is prevalent in the Scriptures, it is so within the greater narrative of delivery from slavery (i.e. Exodus), and in the hope of ultimate exaltation, rulership and glory in the eternal age to come! (2Timothy 2:12; Revelation 22:5). Christianity was God's plan from before time began, and though it stresses serving others it was born in power, freedom and glory, not slavery. Though Christians willingly enslave themselves to the Lordship of Christ and view others as more important than themselves (Romans 6:22; Philippians 2:3-4), it isn't a sign of weakness, but of deeper, lasting strength--of love rather than the desire to dominate others. The pagan way, Nietzsche's way--all the self-centered ways of living that people come up with fail to bring peace and happiness, and cannot supply one an entrance into eternal life.

Ministry is the path of true meaning, service is the road to lasting success, sanctified slavery to righteousness is the way that leads to a crown and a mansion in the hereafter. Seek your own way now, and lose it! Or, lose yourself in service now, and gain more than you can even imagine in the world to come!
---JLP