Do you celebrate Halloween? If you answered, “yes,” then you agree with the majority of Christians in America. A 2015 Lifeway Research survey found that 54% of Christians believe that Halloween is “all in good fun,” and another 18% celebrate while avoiding the pagan elements. Only 23% of Christians avoid the holiday completely.
The majority opinion does not necessarily equate to truth, however, and the question that is too seldom pondered is, “Should Christians celebrate Halloween?” In preparing for this post, I spent time reading articles and listening to messages on both sides of this issue, including one writer who claimed that Halloween was, “more Christian than pagan,” and a pastor who argued that pagan roots cannot produce anything but pagan fruits. Let’s explore some of the facts surrounding this holiday.
Christian or Pagan Roots?
While there are Christian practices in the history of Halloween, it’s earliest roots can be traced back to Samhain (pronounced SAH-win). Samhain was a pagan festival that marked the final harvest and the end of summer for the ancient Celts, who lived a little over two millennia ago. It was held on the last night of the year and into the next day (October 31-November 1). October 31st was believed to be the one night of the year that the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds was thinned as Samhain, the god of the dead, allowed the spirits of those who died that year to return to visit their friends and family once more before being reincarnated (the good into humans and the bad into animals). The people would light up the hilltops with bonfires where they would offer sacrifices (both human and animal) to appease Samhain, the god of the dead, and don masks and costumes in order to ward off the evil spirits. (The word bonfire is believed to come from bone-fire because the Celts used bones to fuel their fires.) They would also put out banquet tables full of delicious food to welcome the wandering spirits of their loved ones.
After Rome conquered Celtic lands, (appx. 43 a.d.) they combined two of their festivals, Feralia (another festival of the dead) and Pomona (named after the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, whose symbol was the apple) with Samhain, co-mingling traditions from all three.
It wasn’t until the eighth century A.D. that the Christian, or to be more accurate – Catholic – aspects of Halloween came into the picture. It was during that time that Pope Gregory III expanded All Martyrs Day (a holiday that was established to coincide with the pagan Lemuria Festival) to All Saints Day or All Hallows Day and moved the celebration from May 13th to November 1st, in an attempt to Christianize the festival of Samhain. Thus, the preceding night became All Hallows Eve and eventually Halloween. In 1000 A.D., the church added All Soul’s Day on November 2nd and the trio of “Christian” holidays was celebrated much the same way as Samhain with bonfires and costumes.
Halloween was not commonly celebrated in America until the late 19th century after more than 650,000 Irish immigrants came here seeking relief from the potato famine. As they settled into this great “melting pot,” they introduced many of their cultural traditions to their new land, including Halloween. Although Halloween is celebrated in other countries, it is still most popular in America and Ireland. Following are some of the Halloween traditions and their origins.
Costumes are one of the most anticipated parts of Halloween for children and adults alike. As mentioned previously, this part of Halloween originates from the costumes that the ancient Celts donned in order to confuse and ward off evil spirits on Samhain.
Every October, throngs of children visit pumpkin patches, most in order to select the best pumpkin for carving their perfect jack-o-lantern. There are a couple of theories as to the origin of this practice. The first is the legend of stingy Jack, a man who made a deal with the devil in order to stay out of Hell when he died. Nevertheless, when his time came, he was rejected from Heaven because of his stingy life. When he ventured down to Hell, he was not welcomed there either, as the devil had a promise to keep. So, as he left to wander the earth, the devil threw a burning coal at him, which he placed inside a turnip to use as a lantern – hence the modern jack-o-lantern. Despite the dreadfully erroneous theology at the basis of this story, it is a reasonable explanation. The second theory is that the Jack-O-Lantern originated with the witches’ use of skulls with candles inside to light the path to their coven meetings.
One belief concerning the origin of trick-or-treating was that ancient witches stole the supplies needed for their festivals. Another connection is to the Druids (Celtic priests), who would go door to door begging for materials for their Samhain bonfires. Later, after the institution of All Soul’s Day by the Catholic church, the people began making and eating Soul Cakes for the dead. They believed that the more Soul Cakes they ate, the more souls they could save from Purgatory. The poor would go around their neighborhoods begging for soul cakes because they couldn’t afford them. (Interestingly, the concept of Purgatory developed not from the Bible, but from the Celtic belief that gifts and sacrifices offered to Samhain could help to lighten their punishment.) The “trick” aspect of trick-or-treating can be traced back to the belief that spirits would play tricks or make mischief if they weren’t provided with treats on Samhain.
Bobbing for Apples
This tradition was added to the Samhain festival by the Romans, who used bobbing for apples as a way to divine (foretell) who their future spouse would be. Apple divination was a common practice in Scotland and other cultures as well. For both the Celts and the ancient Romans, Samhain was a special night of divination. Celtic divination mostly revolved around human sacrifice, which was ended by the Romans.
Although the majority of people who celebrate Halloween consider it a secular holiday, Samhain is still practiced by Wiccans and neo-pagans and the church of satan describes Halloween this way, (note: this is a link to a Christian website. Please don’t carelessly visit the website of the church of satan or others like it. It is spiritually dangerous to dabble with things like that unless you are well grounded spiritually and have a specific, God-given reason to do so.)
Satanists embrace what this holiday has become, and do not feel the need to be tied to ancient practices. This night, we smile at the amateur explorers of their own inner darkness, for we know that they enjoy their brief dip into the pool of the “shadow world.” We encourage their tenebrous fantasies, the candied indulgence, and the wide-ranging evocation of our aesthetics (while tolerating some of the chintzy versions), even if it is but once a year. For the rest of the time, when those not of our meta-tribe shake their heads in wonder at us, we can point out that they may find some understanding by examining their own All Hallows Eve doings, but we generally find it simpler to just say: “Think of the Addams Family and you’ll begin to see what we’re about.” (emphasis mine)
Is the Bible Silent?
Often, Christians will excuse certain activities because, they say, the Bible is silent on the issue. There are indeed many things that the Bible does not directly address. In reality, the only way that the Bible could possibly address every issue that has arisen throughout 6,000+ years of human history would be to continue it’s writing indefinitely. However, the Bible does lay out principles that can guide us through every situation in life and Halloween is no exception. Let’s look at a few scriptures.
9 “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you. (Deuteronomy 18:9-14, NKJV)
According to scripture, Samhain was and is an abomination to God and not only does virtually every aspect of Halloween have it’s roots in that pagan festival, but Samhain is still celebrated today by Wiccans, Neo-Pagans and others worldwide (appx. 3 million Wiccans and 1 million Neo-Pagans in America alone). This commandment still applies to us today. We are to be separate, in the world but not of it, and we should not adopt the wicked customs of our culture just because everyone else is doing it.
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” 17 Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” 18 “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18, NKJV)
Halloween is a dark day – I don’t think anyone would disagree with that – and New Testament scriptures instruct us to have nothing to do with darkness. Ephesians 5:11 tells us to, “… have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”
God takes spiritual darkness very seriously. The punishment for things like witchcraft and sorcery in the Old Testament was death. Why? Because our loving Father knows that those things will destroy us and He didn’t want them to have any part in the congregation of His people. So, why do so many believe that taking part in a holiday that glorifies darkness is okay? Romans 16:19 implores Christ followers to be innocent of evil and 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
My family celebrated Halloween until I was 10 or 11 years old, when my parents felt that God was leading them to stop participating. Since Matt made a personal decision in high school to stop celebrating, it was a given that we would not celebrate the holiday with our own children. In the early 2000’s, our church decided to directly confront Halloween in an attempt to reach out to our neighborhood. For several years, we held an annual “Dragon Slayer Party” with the theme of slaying the dragon (satan) as followers of Christ in order to bring souls into God’s kingdom. As with Harvest Parties, we invited the community to come in their costumes and join us for a meal, games and candy and during the night they would hear a short, casually presented Gospel message. Later, we held Harvest Parties at our house for our extended family. Our children and their cousins dressed in costumes, we had hay rides, bounce houses and candy. We tried to keep the party at least a couple of weeks before October 31st, but since half of the family celebrated Halloween, our younger children became confused and believed that we were celebrating Halloween just like everyone else. As we attempted to explain, they didn’t understand why Halloween was bad and what the difference was between Halloween and our Harvest Parties, so we stopped holding or attending Harvest Parties altogether.
As our children get older, our story may change, but we are committed to avoiding all appearance of evil in the form of Halloween and anything else that God convicts us of. Harvest Parties can be a great outreach, but we should always be careful to obey God’s command to, “come out and be separate,” which is what holiness is. One pastor that I listened to explained his belief that we should attract people to Christ, not through entertaining them but by just being different so that our friends and neighbors will realize that we have something they don’t and come to us for answers on Halloween and every other day of the year and I think that is the best that we can strive for.
In July 2012, two men asked the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop (in Littleton, CO) to make them a cake for their homosexual wedding. Because the owner (Jack Phillips) is a Bible-believing Christian, he refused to make the cake, telling the homosexual couple that, because of his faith, he could not in good conscience make a cake that promoted homosexual weddings.
The two me filed a complaint against the Cakeshop with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) in 2013. Mr. Phillips contacted the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) which took the case defending him in front of the CCRC. In December 2013, an administrative law judge ruled against the shop saying that designing and creating cakes was not “free speech” protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. They also ruled that the shop would have to make the cake or stop producing any cakes for weddings (40% of the shop’s business). Mr. Phillips and his staff were ordered to go through a “re-education” program and file quarterly “compliance” reports explaining why any future cake requests were declined.
In July 2016, the ADF filed a petition with the Supreme Court to decide on the case. The case was accepted by the Supreme Court and will be heard October 2017. In addition to the filing by the ADF there have been numerous “friends of the court” brief filed supporting Mr. Phillips. Among those supporting the defendant is the Department of Justice as well as a large number of Senators and Congressmen who have written in support of Mr. Phillips’ right to exercise his religious freedom.
A decision by the Supreme Court will be made during this term (which will last into next year). At that time the Court will decide if a Christian business can refuse service based on their religious beliefs. If the Court rules in favor or the homosexual couple, it could mean that Christian businesses would be forced to perform homosexual weddings and or participate in them by catering or photographing them. The alternative, of course, is to close the business.
Regardless of the final decision by the Supreme Court, the truth about homosexuality remains the same. The Bible is very clear on this matter, both in the Old and New Testaments. Some might argue as to the validity of the Bible as a whole, but apart from that argument, there can be no doubt as to the truth.
In Genesis 19 there is the account of Lot protecting the two angles while he is living in Sodom, and the angles warning him to get his family out of the city, as it would be destroyed due to its wicked practices of homosexuality.
Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.”
In the New Testament we can see two prohibitions against homosexuality: directly and in the context of the sin of adultery. In Romans 1:26-28 we see this when Paul is writing to the Romans: “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is unnatural. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the women, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error with was due.”
Within the Jewish community it was understood that homosexuality was a sin and an abomination. It did not need to be called out specifically, although Paul does. We also know that God made us “male and female” and that He created us in His image and that his work was “good”. He wanted us to “be fruitful and multiply”, and His plan can only be accomplished when man and woman are joined together in marriage.
It is also important to remember that we, as Christians, are to love our neighbor. That love is to be a conscious, active love, focused on bringing people into the kingdom of God. If they are leading a sinful life, regardless of what that is, we are to love the individual and help them turn away from their sinful ways. Our approach should always be with love and compassion and prayer so we do not drive them away from the salvation message. Also keep in mind that our responsibility is to “plant the seeds” and let “God bring the increase”.
When we look at the original documents written by the Founding Fathers, we see a very religious group of men who publicly professed their belief in the principles of Christianity, and fought a war of independence to defend them. The writers of the Constitution all stated publicly that they were affiliated with one of the established Christian denominations present in America.
While it is true that there is no mention of God in the Constitution, the writers of that important document purposely left out a reference to Him, because they did not want the federal government establishing an official national church. They had left a country that had such a church and saw the excesses and abuses that resulted. Further, they did not want the federal government to have the power to “define” God. The Constitution was designed to limit the federal government, and the first 10 amendments to that document added additional restrictions. The states wanted to further insure the government was truly limited.
The First Amendment was “first” because of its importance to the states and to the people. The modern secular progressive community reads this amendment as meaning that, because the government should not establish a religion, they should not favor any one religion and remain silent when it comes to any mention of religion. Again, the mistake they make is to read what has come to be known as the “Establishment Clause”, and not the “Free Exercise” Cause. The whole point of putting these two concepts in the same amendment was to have a balance between favoring one religion over another and allowing individuals to publicly express their religious beliefs.
The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that the government did not stifle the free exercise of religion in public. Such exercise is not favoring one religion over another, but rather allowing all religions access to the public square. As further evidence of the intent of the Founders, we need merely to look at the Declaration of Independence, which lays out the principles upon which the country was founded, and which underpins the basis of a Constitutional government.
The Declaration clearly states that there are certain inalienable rights that government cannot take away, and that those rights come from God. Further, that God is the Creator of all things and that He does, in fact, exist. Such a statement had not previously been so stated in any governing document in the Western World. So when we honor God in the public square, we are conforming to the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.
Secular progressives (who dominate today’s media, Hollywood, and public education system) disagree with this stance, and will defend their position by referencing all the Supreme Court cases which support the silencing of free exercise of religion in the public square, and unfortunately for us, they are right. These decisions were put forth by liberal courts who based their decisions not on any precedents, but on what was a popular view in society at the time they decided.
Armed with these court decisions, the secular progressives have proceeded to try to force the elimination of any image of Christianity from the public square. They do not want any crosses on city or state emblems or symbols. No crosses on public property, along with the 10 commandments. Of course, those who are offended by the removal of those symbols are not considered, only those few who are offended by the existence of the symbol. The minority is protected from offense over the objections of the majority.
As Christians, we should continue to press our case, as those unprecedented decisions by the courts can be reversed. They were made by men and can therefore be overturned by men. We have the Founding Fathers and God on our side and the historic truth should, in the end, win out.
A revival occurred in the early 1700s that brought a generation back to church, raising regular church attendance from a 60% level to above 90% throughout the American colonies. Since the establishment of the first colonies, the church had always played an important role in shaping opinions and behavior in society, and when it came time to decide on independence from England, the church again played a critical role. Had The First Great Awakening not occurred, religious influence would have been diminished to such an extent that the independence movement might not have succeeded. Even with the influence of the church and other prominent pro-independence figures, there was still about 30% of the population that wanted to remain under the English government.
By the early 1700’s, there had been two to three generations of people born in America. Those generations had, by and large, not experienced the hardships that the first settlers had. As often happens with generations that go through hardship, they desire to spare subsequent generations from that same experience. They are also more inclined to be lenient when it comes to social and religious requirements. As a result, these later generations were not attending church which, in most colonies in New England, was a requirement. Instead of attending religious services, those younger people were hanging out at the local pub and fraternizing with members of the opposite sex.
In hopes of at least getting the “kids” to attend services, the congregation modified the requirements for membership in the church, eliminating the need for a public testimony (provided they accepted and agreed to follow the creed of the church), and allowing the younger generation to be baptized and to take communion. Their children could also be baptized, but they could not take communion.
In 1734, a minister named Jonathan Edwards began preaching in a small town in western Massachusetts. He preached against the concept of halfway conversion and focused on the grace and mercy of God and His salvation message. He also preached that unless there was a true conversion experience, a testimony, people had not truly accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and thus they remained unsaved.
His sermons finally had an influence in the spring of the following year. He had preached his now famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, and true converts started providing their public testimony. The numbers swelled and the small church in Northampton began receiving attendees from the surrounding villages and towns, all coming to hear Edwards preach and to provide their testimony.
News of Edwards’ revival spread to England, and George Whitfield began preaching a similar message among the Anglican congregations in England and Scotland. Whitfield was a charismatic preacher, having been trained as an actor before becoming a minister. His flamboyant style pleased the congregations, but was not well received among the established clergy. Eventually, he was unable to find a church that would allow him to preach, so he took to the public parks and open fields, gathering large crowds.
In 1740, he was invited to come to America and preach. He was enthusiastically received in Boston and began traveling up and down the east coast of America, mainly preaching outdoors or wherever he could find a venue. He continued his work up until the day he died in 1770. During that time, he preached more the 18,000 sermons and his work resulted in thousands of conversions. In New England alone, the estimates were that 15% of the population either returned to regular church attendance or accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior for the first time.
Join me again as we explore God in America.
“People will only see Jesus in us if they hear about him from us. There is no gospel without words.” John Piper
Yes, as believers in Jesus Christ we are born again. We have been redeemed. Our debt to God for our sin has been paid through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Being redeemed brings freedom that is glorious beyond words. Salvation is a free gift, a treasure discovered, the most important thing that happens in a believer’s life. As a receiver of this precious gift there should also be a longing and desire to share what we have. Unfortunately sharing faith is not a common practice of many Christians. According to the Barna Research Group, only 55 percent of born again Christians believe it is their responsibility to even share their faith at all. According to Dr. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, only 2 percent of Christians share their faith on a regular basis.
What does it say when we have the cure to the biggest problem and cause of death, which is sin, and keep it to ourselves? Knowing the fate of those around us, how can we not share the salvation offered? A deep conviction should pierce every believer’s soul when scales are removed and spiritual eyes see a dying world. Paul was so concerned for his fellow man that if he could, he would gladly take their place.
We must remember our own salvation and that we are beggars showing other beggars where to find bread. Urgency should be stirred in us when we understand the person in front of us will face God on judgment day he needs to be warned of the wrath to come. Alerting them is our job and God draws them in unto salvation.
The more we mature and grow in Christ through prayer, His Word, and fellowship with believers, we will see that sharing our faith is not an option. We cannot stay inside of the church and keep what we know from others. “How then shall they call on Him of whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). Evangelism should be at the forefront of our minds as we interact in the world, looking for opportunities in our jobs and with our neighbors, opportunities when out in the community and with our family. Looking with spiritual eyes we will see opportunities daily.
Jesus said, “Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). This is a command, not an option, for the Christian. Understanding that “The harvest truly is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37) should ignite our hearts to take time to talk to the person in front of us in line at the grocery store, or the stressed mother who is in need of encouragement and the gospel, or the unbelieving co-worker who lost a family member. This should move us also as fellow believers to go out into our community and talk with people together. We have a worldview that is different then the world’s. Our perspective is one that needs to be shared. Understanding that the Word will change others, our job is to preach it and it will do its job.
“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose and the lion will defend its self.”
Like much of American history being taught today, the exceptional nature of America has been distorted. In recent years that exceptionalism has come to mean that we, as Americans, feel “superior” to other nation and that we look down on them. The truth is that American exceptionalism has to do with the founding of the country and the unique nature of the foundational principles that created the structure of our government. It also can be traced to our strong Christian social foundation which enabled us to enjoy the blessings which God bestowed upon us (at least for the first 250 years).
When the European settlers first came to America, in the 1600’s, they had a unique opportunity to start with a “clean slate” regarding how they would conduct their social, political and governmental affairs. They took advantage of the clean slate to create a society founded on Christian democratic principles. They had come from countries that did not want them. They were mostly religious minorities who were, at best, being shut out of the established religious order, or worse, they were being persecuted for their faith. They were also able to throw off the social and governmental structures of the old countries and establish their own.
The Pilgrims came to America in 1620, having been shunned by the Church of England and even the Puritans in England. The Pilgrims came from their home-in-exile in the Netherlands and landed in Plymouth. On their perilous journey they drew up the Mayflower Compact which laid out the Christian democratic principles under which they would govern themselves. They and other settlers who came after them drew up similar documents of self-government. Even though each colony had a Royal Charter which spelled out how the colonists would conduct their affairs with respect to England, and most of the colonies had Royal Governors appointed by the King, they still had the freedom to set up their own legislature, religious practices and a society based on equality.
The early settlers benefited from the “benign neglect” of the English government (at least until the mid 1700s). By and large, England was only interested in receiving a steady supply of the rich natural and agricultural resources that the colonies were providing. The settlers also benefited from the fact that a one-way trip to America took anywhere from six to eight weeks. Additionally, the political situation in Europe and England left the King of England with more pressing issues to which he needed to attend.
America grew and prospered, while turmoil and civil unrest plagued England and Europe. This unrest was actually a benefit to America because the economic success and the freedoms that the country enjoyed became known in the countries where war and civil unrest made the lives of the ordinary people very difficult. The result was a steady stream of immigrants to America who had virtually unlimited land on which they could settle. The newly arrived settlers were greeted by a Christian society with a strong work ethic and were they were free to pursue their own dreams. They also had the opportunity to become land owners, which was a rare thing in Europe giving them a source of income and social equality they had not known.
It is this beginning in America which makes us an exceptional country. The settlers were all seeking a place where they could be free. But that freedom was wrapped in Christian principles which required a strong moral framework. The moral framework was found in the Scripture by which the settlers lived and which enabled them to receive the benefits God had for them in this land of new beginnings.
As we go forward, this series will continue to explore the roots of God in America and our freedoms. Join me, won’t you?
Many Americans today are uninformed or even misinformed about the truth of our nation’s history. Is the American educational system teaching an altered view of American history, or has it been altogether rewritten?
For centuries, the American people were taught about the now forgotten heroes and moral foundations upon which this country was founded. But in recent years, a new version of history has assaulted the spiritual fiber of our nation, leaving the truth of our founding eliminated and forgotten. What happens to a society that forgets the truth of its own past and what are the consequences when they do? Do we agree that “those who forget the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them”?
America’s founding is unique among most nations in that we can pinpoint our beginnings and we know who those fist settlers were, why they came, and how they chose to establish a country. The story of America’s founding is one of a people who left their homeland in Europe and began with a “clean slate” to found what has become the greatest nation on earth.
The principles upon which the country was founded were spelled out the Declaration of Independence and the structure of government was created in the Constitution. The content of these two documents were, at that time, unique in human history. No other nation on earth had stated in its foundation that man’s rights come from God and the government derived its power only from the consent of the governed.
It is these truths, along with the truth about the strong Christian faith of the men who authored these documents, that have been virtually written out of the history text books of today and have been silenced in the classrooms and the public square. It is up to Christians in America to learn the truth of our founding and teach it to our children and grandchildren.
Fortunately, the materials revealing the truth are even more available than they ever have before. The thousands of pages of books, pamphlets, newspaper articles, sermons, speeches and official records have been preserved and are available. The reason so much of what was written was available to be preserved is because the Founders knew that what they were doing was unique in human history and that they wanted future generations to be able to “look back” and understand what they believed and why they did and said what they did. Their forethought was for our benefit, that if we should “go astray” that we could return to our “roots” through their words.
For those who are interested, I will be teaching an 11-part weekly class on the subject of God and the Founding of America spanning the period from the settling of the colonies in the early 1600’s thru the creation of our founding documents and the post-Revolutionary era. The class will begin Tuesday evening, April 25, at 6:30 at Family Worship Center. Additional blog posts will include summaries of the material presented during these classes.
“My brothers are out there! Go testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment!” The rich man in hell was in full evangelism mode, wasn’t he? He knew first hand of the torments awaiting the lost, and his five brothers were lost. He was so passionate about them hearing of the way of escape that he wanted Lazarus to go back from the dead to warn them.
The answer of hope hadn’t meant anything to him while he was alive. He was unconcerned about his eternal life and that of his five brothers. Death made a stark change in his perspective. Suddenly he saw things as they were. And they were unspeakably and inescapably horrible.
The answer to his desperate cry for someone to go to his unsaved brothers was that the Word of God was proclaimed each Lord’s Day in the churches. And the Word of God is available for any who want to read it. Let those who need salvation, find it in the house of God. Sound a bit harsh?
Maybe, but it’s the truth. The plan of salvation is out there. But how shall they hear without a preacher? Or if we don’t carry the answer to them of the hope within us? Are we passionate, as passionate as a man in hell, about testifying to the lost that they may escape that place of torment?
Paul said that love constrains us to take the gospel message to the lost. So does love push us out to witness to the lost? Is that the passion behind our answer? Love doesn’t want anyone to be lost. Love is what brought the plan of salvation to mankind from before the foundation of the world. Love drove the man in hell to beg that his five brothers be warned about the eternal sufferings in order to avoid the place he found himself.
Hope. The hope that is within us.
Hope of eternal bliss. Hope that we have obtained through believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the lost desperately need to hear. Hope that everyone in hell wants their living loved ones to be told. Hope that we must hold out to everyone who crosses our path. Because love is the passion behind our answer of hope.
Few things have touched me as deeply as the book, The Hiding Place, which I read at the age of 15 as a part of my homeschool curriculum. It is the story of Corrie Ten Boom’s life during World War II, following her from the years that her family spent hiding Jews in their home through her time in a Dutch prison, a Dutch concentration camp and finally the German concentration camp where her sister, Betsie, died. Throughout their trials, Betsie’s faith was a constant inspiration to Corrie, who understandably struggled with feelings of hatred and anger toward the Nazis.
The part of the story that has always stayed with me was when Corrie and Betsie were moved to a barracks that was plagued by swarms of fleas. Betsie had a Bible that, because of God’s grace, she was able to keep hidden from the guards. The women in their barracks regularly gathered around Betsie for Bible studies in the midst of that terrible place. One day, Betsie read out of 1 Thessalonians 5: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” Joyfully, she told Corrie and the others that they were to give thanks for everything and even in the most dire of circumstances. The women began to pray together, thanking God for literally every single thing about their situation, concluding with Betsie thanking God for the fleas. While this prayer was inconceivable to Corrie, who didn’t believe that she would ever be able to be thankful for fleas, they later found out that it was this very annoyance that kept the guards out of their barracks, granting them freedom from the constant abuse that faced other prisoners as well as allowing them to continue with their Bible Studies.
Several thousand years ago, another group of people were faced with the choice to grumble or be grateful. They chose the former. As the Israelites made their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, they saw countless miracles, yet every time God tested them, they failed. They failed to remember how God brought them out of Egypt, with an abundance of wealth, given willingly to them by the Egyptians as they prepared to leave. They failed to remember the Red Sea Crossing and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army as they came out safely on the other side. They failed to remember how God had never failed to provide for them, from manna to quail to water, first by miraculously making bitter water sweet and then by twice providing water from a rock. They failed to notice how their clothes and shoes were not wearing out. In short, they failed to recognize the power of Almighty God and made every problem bigger than the One who created them. Moses wrote this about their trials:
“And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.”
Just like King Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32), the trials that the Israelites went through in the wilderness were not unforeseen by God, but tests intentionally given to them by Him to know what was in their hearts and whether they would obey Him, honor Him and praise Him no matter what. Both the sin of Hezekiah as well as that of the Israelites lied in not being thankful – Hezekiah in his prosperity and the Israelites in their trials.
During this Thanksgiving season, we would do well to learn from the stories of Corrie Ten Boom, King Hezekiah and the Israelites. Be thankful in all circumstances. Sometimes this means to be thankful, as Betsie instructed Corrie, for every circumstance and other times it means to be thankful in our circumstances, no matter how bleak, remembering the miracles in our lives, how God has cared for us in times past or how He has used difficult times for good. And sometimes, it means honoring God with our success and guarding against a prideful heart that robs God of the glory due only to Him. Whether you are currently experiencing good times or bad, take time throughout your day, every day, to honor the King of the universe with your unwavering gratitude. He is the only One deserving and He will always remain faithful even when we are not.
Christians today have a unique opportunity – one I fear we are squandering. A horrifying reality of people taking into their own hands the determination of whose life matters and whose life doesn’t now brings our country to the brink of implosion. Police overreach threatens legitimate police action. Hate group terrorism threatens legitimate citizen concerns. What is the answer and how do we, as Christians, respond? Whose life matters, anyway?
As Christ followers, we have the answer, the same answer we give to those considering abortion, to those contemplating suicide, and to those concerned about refugees and immigration: All lives matter to God, and therefore all lives matter to us. How we determine through discernment the best course of action in order to preserve life may be different in each situation, but even within those differences, the underlying foundation remains the backbone of every decision: All lives matter to God, and therefore all lives matter to us.
John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known and most often quoted verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and raised again.”
1 Peter 3:18 is equally clear: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just and the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”
Hebrews 2:1 makes its own case: “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”
And Genesis 1:27 explains why: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (All emphases mine)
The Bible says Jesus died for all. That means Jesus died for all. You, me, him, and her. Them. Yes, even them. Kermit Gossnell. Members of ISIS. Celine Dion and that twerking kid. Gays and straights. Drug addicts and holier-than-thous. Blacks and whites, Asians and Hispanics. Stubborn Scots and the Fighting Irish (thank God). Jews and Gentiles, Samaritans and lepers. Us. All of us.
Not all will accept His blood sacrifice. Not all will go to heaven. But all will receive the opportunity (Romans 1:20) because all lives matter to God, and therefore all lives matter to us.
Humanity, however, has a unique way of swinging the pendulum of truth wildly from one far side to the other, and when that gold ball hanging from a thin gold post swings left, right is forgotten entirely. All lives matter to God, and therefore all lives matter to us. But neither in godly principle nor in God’s Word are we instructed or given the option of ignoring justice and the truth of the Gospel in the name of tolerance or acceptance. To consider such a thing is proof our view of God’s love is skewed at best. Neither we as Christians nor our law enforcement officers will or should handle everyone in the same manner, but instead as unique individuals in a unique situation (Proverbs 13:8&9; Romans 13:2-5).
What, then, is our job as Christians? To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all, because all lives matter to God, and therefore all lives matter to us (Matt 28:19). What, then, is the Gospel? The true Gospel always begins with the bad news: All have sinned and the penalty of sin is death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). There’s that word again – all, and you’re part of all. Each one of us has fallen short of the mark, short of God’s glory, short of good, and none of us can redeem ourselves. Death is imminent and hell is reality…but for the grace of God! And herein lies the Good News: Christ died once for all…and you’re part of all.
And because all lives truly matter to us, we are to love people enough to speak the truth in love to them – the truth of God’s justice, mercy, grace, and sacrifice. The truth that all other lives matter, too, and that taking the lives of others because you’re angry or discriminated against or hurt is as unjust as the injustice enacted upon you. We are to stand against crime, stand against sin, stand against injustice in its various forms, but we are not to stand silent, for to do so is to squander the opportunity we as Christians are now given.
I am reminded of the tale of two salesman who ventured to Africa to find new business opportunities. They both sold shoes and, upon arriving at their destination, they each quickly formed an opinion. One man called his wife and sadly told her to book him a flight home immediately. “I can’t sell anything here,” he told her, “No one here wears shoes.” The second salesman called his wife, as well. Full of excitement he told her to get ready for an adventure. “I can sell to the whole country,” he exclaimed, “No one here wears shoes!”
We’ve all read the stories, heard the reports, and seen the news. We all know our friends’ opinions, the pundits’ opinions, and the president’s opinions. But the only opinion with which we need concern ourselves is God’s. Whose life matters, anyway? The value of every human life is infinite and sacred. All lives matter to God, and therefore all lives matter to us. Go buy up that opportunity.