Category Archives: Traditions / Holidays

A Clean Start… God Is Ready Anytime, Not Just in January

It has become very common for people to view the start of a new year as a means of getting a “clean start” with regards to making changes in their life to improve their situation. Sometimes people take this time to commit to stopping a bad habit or undesirable behavior and sometimes a start of something desirable. Somehow they come to feel as if a new year means their past mistakes are behind them and they have a clean start. If they tried to exercise regularly and failed, somehow now the past failure is forgotten. Unfortunately, seeking a “clean start” in the powerless framework of December turning to January usually falls apart quickly and by the end of January people have lost any momentum in their “New Year’s Resolutions”.

There is a way to make a true clean start, one that comes with power to help us… and it is available to us any time, not just in January. Through Christ, our sins can be forgiven. We repent of our sins, ask forgiveness, believe that He died for us and submit ourselves to the Father. He is waiting for us, looking on the horizon so to speak for our humble return to Him. There is no sin too big to be forgiven, no previous disrespect of God that we can not repent from.

Luke 15:11-32

The Prodigal Son

     11And He said, “A man had two sons. 12“The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13“And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14“Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15“So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16“And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 20“So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22“But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

      25“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26“And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27“And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28“But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29“But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; 30but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ 31“And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”

God waits for us to return home to Him, as the father waits for the prodigal son. He will run to greet us and welcome us. He will not, however, force us to come home. He will allow us to remain separated from Him if we choose to do so.

It is hard for us to get our minds around this type of forgiveness, because we can not imagine granting it to others, but He is God and we are not. Come home to Him now, without delay. He is always ready to receive you… not just in January.

When He receives us as His children, He also gives us a helper in the Spirit to bring His power to bear on our repentance and our fresh, clean start. We are not on our own. We have the power and help of God Himself.

John 16:5-15

The Holy Spirit Promised

     5“But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6“But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

      12“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14“He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15“All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.

Some may still be asking, does God really forgive all my sins if I repent and submit to Him in Christ? … yes and He speaks a lot about it. But to be clear, do not expect forgiveness if you continue in rebellion toward Him and do not live according to His word.

Isaiah 1:18-20

18“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.

      19“If you consent and obey,
You will eat the best of the land;

      20“But if you refuse and rebel,
You will be devoured by the sword.”
Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Daniel 9:7-14

  7“Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. 8“Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. 9“To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; 10nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. 11“Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. 12“Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. 13“As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. 14“Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.

Acts 3:19-21

19“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.

Ephesians 1:3-14

    3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Colossians 1:13-14

     13For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

1 John 1:9-10

9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

Psalm 103:1-13

1Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.

      2Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;

      3Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;

      4Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;

      5Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

      6The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.

      7He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.

      8The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

      9He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.

      10He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

      11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

      12As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

      13Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

And there are plenty more scriptures about forgiveness… a clean start can be yours, in Christ, in January or any other time of the year. You don’t have to do it alone, but the power and guidance is in God and not in the turn of a calendar from December to January and not in what our culture or society says is good and to be valued.

To learn more about following Christ, continue reading The Message of the Cross.

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Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? Are you living today filled with the peace and joy of truly knowing and following Jesus Christ? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.

What is Love?

What is love? This is a very old question with many answers. Context is important. We may “love pizza”, but that is different than when we say we “love our spouse”. Today, the world even steals the word “love” as a replacement for “sex”, which is completely incorrect. These are certainly not the same meaning. Greek, the language in which the New Testament was largely written, had multiple different words for different types of love. In English, we have one word and we must therefore pay close attention to context.

Many put a lot of time and focus into the highly marketed cultural holiday of Valentines Day. Candy makers will tell you that you must buy chocolates to show you love your spouse. Greeting card makers insist you must “care to send the very best” and thus spend $5 or more on a card, and send one to everyone you know. Flowers are a must, right? But now they even sell gold dipped flowers. Wow. Of course, not to be outdone, Jewelers insist that you are a buffoon if you don’t buy diamonds for that special someone in your life. We do well to remember that this is marketing intended to sell things and get our money. This is not how God tells us to show love to one another.

God calls us to show love to one another daily, not once a year, or on a few annual special occasions!

1 Corinthians 13

The Excellence of Love

      1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

      4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

      8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

If you want to give a gift, and it is wisely within your budget to do so, go ahead. But don’t do so because you “have to” or are “expected to”. These gifts mean little and will ultimately have a very limited impact if you do not show love the way God tells us to. Often times just giving gifts on designated marketing holidays comes to be expected and not appreciated as much. If you choose to give an expensive gift, don’t do it because it is Valentines Day, do so because you want to give a gift and can wisely afford it within your budget. Consider intentionally giving it at some other time besides the widely marketed holidays for an even greater impact.

Warning… if you come to make changes in how you celebrate these marketing holidays, discuss it openly with your spouse ahead of time! Don’t surprise someone by not giving them something they already expect from years of habit.

When you are ready to truly grow in maturity, turn towards God’s definition of love and begin showing it today to those you love. No warning necessary. They will greatly appreciate how you treat them. However, you may consider sharing the scripture with your spouse and helping one another as you both make the effort to shift focus from the world’s definition of love to God’s.

You can also ask yourself, if I am celebrating love, would it not be right to celebrate loving God as well as loving one another? And to come in thanksgiving to Him for all the love He has shown, shows, and will show us? If we are to focus on love in the Biblical sense, Valentines Day just does not match up very well at all. If you explore the origins of this celebration you will find that once again the Catholic church embraced this festival, but it was based first on a pagan celebration. As followers of Christ, we are better off separating from these pagan festivals and loving one another His way instead of man’s way.

World Religion News: Pagan origin of Valentines day

One last parting thought… we can love YHWH and love others because He has first shown me love. Yeshua died for us to make a way for us to be forgiven our sins.

John 15:12-13

      12“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

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Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? Are you living today filled with the peace and joy of truly knowing and following Jesus Christ? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.

Spending and Debt – The Christmas Hangover

Sharing this message originally written by our partnership website, GrowGodsMoney.org.

Christmas is over and many of us are back at work. This is a good time to reflect on how we celebrate Christmas and brace for the credit card bills that are coming our way in January.  A good time to reflect on the last few weeks and look ahead with a plan for next Christmas.

Most people in our culture get drawn into the heavy marketing and traditions of the season which tell us that we should buy many things for everyone we know in order to show them that we love them or even care about them. As a result, they are facing heavy credit card debt from well-intended spending. For those who put it on a credit card and can not pay it off right away they will now also pay high interest until it is paid off, increasing the bill for the season.

It goes well beyond the money alone. Gift exchanging actually becomes a stressful distraction from celebrating Christ at Christmas. It can consume even those with the best intent for one whole month out of every year. It centers gift giving and getting as the important part of celebrating instead of Jesus Christ.

While you are experiencing your Christmas financial hangover, please consider a few alternatives or suggestions for next year.

1- Reduce the number of people for whom you buy gifts.

Buying gifts for everyone you know is not necessary. Instead of buying gifts out of obligation for many with whom you are not close, just make a point to be nice to them all year round. Treat them with kindness and sensitivity and they will know you care for them even if you do not give them a gift. If they only like you when they receive a gift, then they are not really your friend anyway. If you are concerned they will buy for you and you will not have something for them, just have a real conversation with them about managing your expenses and budget responsibly and encourage them not to give something to you. If they are not close enough to you to have this conversation, then why are you even exchanging gifts with them? In some cases, it may be very important to someone close to you to exchange gifts… go ahead if you want to.

2- Reduce how much you spend on each person

Contrary to advertising… you do not need to buy a car, a diamond, gold jewelry, expensive electronics, etc. for people just because it is Christmas. If you don’t show them you love them throughout the year, you will not fool them with an expensive gift in December. For those with whom you want to give or exchange presents, you can set a reasonable budget for each person and then stick to it. This helps you set your overall Christmas budget in a predictable instead of impulsive way.

3- Save up your Christmas budget in advance and avoid credit cards you can not pay back before you have to pay interest.

Once you decide who you will get gifts for and how much to spend, you have a good estimate for your budget planning. Now divide by 11 and start saving it each month starting in January and continuing through November. Inevitably you will still have surprise expenses in December from the season’s activities, so you don’t plan on taking money for gifts from that months budget.

4- You can even consider replacing your current gift exchange traditions with a donation to a charity or family in need… someone you can give to in God’s name with no hope of receiving a gift in return. You will spend less money and honor God more.

5- Simply agree not to exchange presents. Enjoy spending time together without the high expense and extra distraction.

If you find yourself condemning me as “Grinch”… I do not mind. You are not alone, but you are in fact also not correct. If Christmas is all about giving and getting gifts as the centerpiece and focus, then it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ and is simply a pagan festival where people want to get a lot of expensive stuff from each other. I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically reject giving (and receiving) gifts on the basis of obligation.

The alternative is to recognize that gifts are intended not as the focus, but as a means of showing those closest to us that we were thinking of them. That does not require spending lots of money, despite what our culture would have us believe. Besides, you can  give gifts to those you love any time during the year… it does not all have to be at Christmas.

Many tell us that giving gifts is a tradition originated to honor God’s gift to us in the birth of Jesus Christ or because of the acts of the real man who came to be known as Saint Nicholas. Though many give with this in mind, the fact is that this is not the accurate origin of gift exchange. In fact gift giving to children in late December did not start with Christian origins, but rather as part of a pagan celebration of the sun god, Saturnalia, in ancient Rome. It is easy to research for yourself… even in Christian history encyclopedias such as by Zondervan.

Let’s explore the gift giving tradition further and test if it is even consistent with celebrating Jesus’ birth according to the principles of the Biblical record of that glorious event. Does this tradition point to or honor God, or is it just a tradition of men and a potential distraction from God?

Mary and Joseph did not get gifts for one another or even for Jesus and they knew who He was and that He would be born soon. The shepherds came to celebrate and honor God. They did what they were commanded by God to do… which did not involve bringing gifts. The wise men did not even come when Jesus was born… contrary to common tradition.  Scripture tells us they came and found Jesus in a house, not a manger. Herod killed all the male children two years and younger… not a week and younger, or even a few months and younger. It was likely they arrived over a year after Jesus was born. When they did come, they brought gifts to honor God. They did not exchange gifts with each other, nor did they expect to receive gifts in return from Joseph and Mary. I should not fail to mention that God came down as Jesus to die for us and while this is a great gift, He expects no gift from us in return.

So if you really want to focus on giving gifts to honor Christian traditions… give in a way that honors God to those who will not be able to give anything in return and convince others to do the same. You will honor God more, find more joy instead of stress, and spend less.

If suggestions number 4-5 seem overwhelming… start with suggestions number 1-3. The less focus you put on gift exchange, the more focus you will find is available to consider God’s gift to us in the person of Jesus Christ. You will have more time and less stress to enjoy the holidays and hopefully next year you will not have the Christmas hangover in January.

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Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? If you die today, do you know for sure that you would be with God in heaven? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.

Do We Compete To Win For Christ?

As the Super Bowl draws near and the national championship for college football has recently completed, it is an interesting time to reflect on what effort and dedication it takes to compete in such a way as to win. Beyond this, it is also a good time to reflect on what we choose to prepare and compete for.

Throughout the world, people enter competitions of all kinds.. sports, crafts, baking, writing… even hot-dog-eating contests. Yes, really. People enthusiastically compete to eat the most hot dogs in a few minutes. No matter what the contest is, those who win had to work hard and dedicate themselves to the competition in order to compete well and win.

Much glory is given to those who win and win consistently. Athletes in particular are raised up by society as having accomplished something meaningful when they compete at a high level of ability. Inevitably, those who reach the highest levels have devoted much of their time and effort to preparation and training. For example, NFL Super Bowl champions did not sit around watching TV on the couch all year, eating whatever junk food they feel like and practicing once in awhile maybe an hour a week. They were working hard to prepare their minds and bodies all year long. Their pursuit of greatness in a particular field becomes a huge part of their personal identity.

It is much the same way for us to succeed in a life spent truly serving God. I do not mean one in which we just go to church once a week, or occasionally open the Bible or help someone. We must train as the athletes do… train to win! Study consistently the word of God in the Bible, pray daily, apply the word of God to our own lives by changing our wrong behaviors and attitudes… even when others might say we are “good enough”. Those who accept man’s definition of “good enough” will never achieve greatness. We must use the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and the scriptures in the Bible as the standard for what is good enough. We must work hard and dedicate ourselves to keep moving toward that holy example. Do not settle for being “better than most” because “most” fall far short of the standard God calls us to work toward.

Ask how many champions in this world, at any event, attribute their success to a dedication to “sort of work at something when they have time” and a satisfaction with being “better than most”. I tell you none with this attitude have achieved greatness.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

  24Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Perhaps you should also consider that if you spent more time, energy, and focus pursuing a great Super Bowl party than you have in seeking God over the same period of time… you may want to reconsider your priorities.

Do not get complacent.  Continue to know, love and serve God forever. Obey His commands. Fear Him instead of man. It is a journey where we never reach the final destination in this life, but it transforms us along the way to become more like Jesus Christ and less like our own selfish nature.

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Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? If you die today, do you know for sure that you would be with God in heaven? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.

A Clean Start… God Is Ready Anytime, Not Just in January

It has become very common for people to view the start of a new year as a means of getting a “clean start” with regards to making changes in their life to improve their situation. Sometimes people take this time to commit to stopping a bad habit or undesirable behavior and sometimes a start of something desirable. Somehow they come to feel as if a new year means their past mistakes are behind them and they have a clean start. If they tried to exercise regularly and failed, somehow now the past failure is forgotten. Unfortunately, seeking a “clean start” in the powerless framework of December turning to January usually falls apart quickly and by the end of January people have lost any momentum in their “New Year’s Resolutions”.

There is a way to make a true clean start, one that comes with power to help us… and it is available to us any time, not just in January. Through Christ, our sins can be forgiven. We repent of our sins, ask forgiveness, believe that He died for us and submit ourselves to the Father. He is waiting for us, looking on the horizon so to speak for our humble return to Him. There is no sin too big to be forgiven, no previous disrespect of God that we can not repent from.

Luke 15:11-32

The Prodigal Son

     11And He said, “A man had two sons. 12“The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13“And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14“Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15“So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16“And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 20“So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22“But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

      25“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26“And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27“And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28“But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29“But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; 30but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ 31“And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”

God waits for us to return home to Him, as the father waits for the prodigal son. He will run to greet us and welcome us. He will not, however, force us to come home. He will allow us to remain separated from Him if we choose to do so.

It is hard for us to get our minds around this type of forgiveness, because we can not imagine granting it to others, but He is God and we are not. Come home to Him now, without delay. He is always ready to receive you… not just in January.

When He receives us as His children, He also gives us a helper in the Spirit to bring His power to bear on our repentance and our fresh, clean start. We are not on our own. We have the power and help of God Himself.

John 16:5-15

The Holy Spirit Promised

     5“But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6“But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

      12“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14“He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15“All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.

Some may still be asking, does God really forgive all my sins if I repent and submit to Him in Christ? … yes and He speaks a lot about it. But to be clear, do not expect forgiveness if you continue in rebellion toward Him and do not live according to His word.

Isaiah 1:18-20

18“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.

      19“If you consent and obey,
You will eat the best of the land;

      20“But if you refuse and rebel,
You will be devoured by the sword.”
Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Daniel 9:7-14

  7“Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. 8“Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. 9“To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; 10nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. 11“Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. 12“Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. 13“As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. 14“Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.

Acts 3:19-21

19“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.

Ephesians 1:3-14

    3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Colossians 1:13-14

     13For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

1 John 1:9-10

9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

Psalm 103:1-13

1Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.

      2Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;

      3Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;

      4Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;

      5Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

      6The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.

      7He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.

      8The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

      9He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.

      10He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

      11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

      12As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

      13Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

And there are plenty more scriptures about forgiveness… a clean start can be yours, in Christ, in January or any other time of the year. You don’t have to do it alone, but the power and guidance is in God and not in the turn of a calendar from December to January and not in what our culture or society says is good and to be valued.

To learn more about following Christ, continue reading The Message of the Cross.

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Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? Are you living today filled with the peace and joy of truly knowing and following Jesus Christ? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.

Obedience Is More Pleasing Than Sacrifice

Whether or not we argue or rationalize that we obeyed YHWH is not what is important, as Saul found out in 1 Samuel 15. What is important is how YHWH judges whether or not we obeyed Him. It is more than partial obedience He expects, especially when He has instructed us clearly. He expects obedience on the what and the how. There are consequences.

He values obedience more than sacrifice. That goes today as well as it did a few thousand years ago. Maybe today instead of animal sacrifices it might look a little more like someone choosing to live a lifestyle that is not aligned with all that YHWH teaches us, but excusing it as providing money they can donate to church or help others with in His name. There are many ways this may play out in our lives today. If we are not careful, we can rationalize many things using His name.

Another example would be those who celebrate common cultural “Christian” holidays like Christmas and Easter that include many pagan elements and very few truly Biblical ones, but we say that we are celebrating in His name.  He would rather us worship Him in His ways, biblicaly, without rationalizing why we accept pagan rituals that were developed to worship false gods. It does not matter that we say we are doing it for Him. It matters how He judges it to be in terms of obedience or rebellion to His instructions.

1 Samuel 15

Saul’s Disobedience

      1Then Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the LORD. 2“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. 3‘Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

      4Then Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, 200,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 men of Judah. 5Saul came to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the valley. 6Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart, go down from among the Amalekites, so that I do not destroy you with them; for you showed kindness to all the sons of Israel when they came up from Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. 7So Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as you go to Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8He captured Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

Samuel Rebukes Saul

      10Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, 11“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the LORD all night. 12Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul; and it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, then turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal.” 13Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have carried out the command of the LORD.” 14But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” 15Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” 16Then Samuel said to Saul, “Wait, and let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.” And he said to him, “Speak!”

      17Samuel said, “Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the LORD anointed you king over Israel, 18and the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated.’ 19“Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD, but rushed upon the spoil and did what was evil in the sight of the LORD?”

      20Then Saul said to Samuel, “I did obey the voice of the LORD, and went on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21“But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

22Samuel said,
“Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.

      23“For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He has also rejected you from being king.”

      24Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice. 25“Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.” 26But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 27As Samuel turned to go, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. 28So Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you. 29“Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” 30Then he said, “I have sinned; but please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and go back with me, that I may worship the LORD your God.” 31So Samuel went back following Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD.

      32Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag, the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him cheerfully. And Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 33But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the LORD at Gilgal.

      34Then Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. 35Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.

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Do you know for sure if you will go to heaven or hell when you die? Are you experiencing in your life the peace and joy of a personal relationship with our Creator and Father? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.

Christmas on Trial – The Closing Argument

I am sharing an article from LifeHopeandTruth.com. If you really want to test what is pleasing to God in how you approach this holiday, then I encourage you to invest some time to read this article.

Christmas on Trial

Imagine a courtroom where Christmas is on trial, charged with false impersonation of legitimate, godly worship. Both sides have presented their cases. Now it’s the prosecutor’s turn to make his closing argument. It could well go something like this.

By Clyde Kilough

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you’ve heard the defense supporting the religious practice of celebrating Christmas. I trust you noted it was not a biblical defense, because none exists.

Let’s step away from human reasoning and emotion, and revisit the facts presented to you by history, scholars and God’s Word itself.

You’ll recall that all the expert witnesses—secular historians and theologians alike—attested that modern Christmas practices can be easily traced back to non-Christian origins. Their sources were so numerous that no one bothered to present counterarguments.

Please remember these facts:

    • Christmas is a man-made holiday. The Bible has zero reference to celebrating Jesus’ birth, which was probably in the autumn, not winter. Not until nearly three centuries later, in fact, did a “birthday party for Jesus” make its way into religious observance. Not until A.D. 336 did a Roman calendar officially note celebrating Jesus’ birth on Dec. 25.
    • So how was Dec. 25 selected for this celebration? Pope Julius I decreed it. Why? Because syncretism, the blending of religions, had become a common tool employed by the Roman church for assimilating “heathens” into its fold. Midwinter pagan festivals were immensely popular throughout Europe, so mixing these into the church’s rituals was an easy method to induce nonbelievers to embrace their version of Christianity.
    • What were these festivals? They included:
    • The birthday of the sun god Mithra.
    • Saturnalia, a time of debauchery honoring the Roman god of agriculture, Saturn.
    • Northern European celebrations of the winter solstice glorifying the sun’s return.
    • The Scandinavian Norse religion’s yule celebrations Dec. 21 through January, with its abundant superstitious customs.
    • The German version revering their god Odin. Interestingly, Odin is supposed to have made nighttime flights during which he would watch people and decide who to bless and curse. Hmm. Isn’t that reminiscent of a modern tale of a mythical guy who flies at night, somehow having godlike powers to know “who’s naughty and nice”?

People aren’t easily converted from entrenched popular customs, but church leaders had their methods. Let the people keep their customs, they figured, but simply syncretize them with ours and call them Christian. Instead of celebrating Dies Natalis Solis Invicti—the birthday of the unconquered sun—we’ll say we’re now honoring Jesus, the Son of God.

I remind you of the historian who quoted Augustine of Hippo, a great church influence, as saying in a Christmas sermon, “Let us celebrate this day as a feast not for the sake of this sun, which is beheld by believers as much as ourselves, but for the sake of Him who created the sun.”

If Jesus appeared today, would He okay our worshipping on a holiday borrowed from pagan religions that idolized the sun, moon and rocks?

I’ve barely recapped the historical evidence, but clearly, no one can legitimately argue for any biblical support upholding any aspect of Christmas as a Christian holiday. In fact, virtually all of our Christmas traditions—trees, mistletoe, gift-giving, wreaths, caroling, Santa Claus—sprang from these pagan festivals.

It is the thought that counts!

So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s examine the defense’s arguments in support of observing Christmas today, beginning with the contention that “at the end of the day—so what? It’s the thought that counts!”

Actually, I agree 100 percent! It is the thought that matters—and it’s God’s thought that matters most! God left ample evidence of His thought on this in His Word, the Bible.

I remind you of the religious scholars who admitted that God has always adamantly opposed syncretism, often bemoaning how His people mixed their idolatrous neighbors’ customs with their worship of Him.

When God delivered Israel from Egypt, what did He command? “Do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.”

What part of “you shall not” is so confusing for us humans?

For emphasis, He added, “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” That’s in Deuteronomy 12:30-32.

So, centuries later, after watching the people continually blend pagan practices into their worship, taking from and adding to everything He’d said, God told them through the prophet Amos, “I hate, I despise your feast days” (Amos 5:21).

Did God use lightly the words hate and despise? If not, why should we assume He feels differently today?

In the same verse He also said, “I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (Revised Standard Version). Today’s most important “solemn assemblies” are Christmas and Easter, but they are not the holy days God appointed. Even then, God told them, “Take away from Me the noise of your songs” (verse 23). They may be beautiful and catchy songs, but because of what they represent and where they come from, to God they are just noise!

Now, since God says in Malachi 3:6, “I am the Lord, I do not change,” and emphasizes in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” we have to ask, “Has God now changed His mind about such things?” If Jesus appeared today, would He okay our worshipping on a holiday borrowed from pagan religions that idolized the sun, moon and rocks? Because someone mixed it into religion and called it “Christian,” does that mean God sanctioned it?

It is the thought that counts—but what does God think?

But if my heart’s right …

You also heard from a defense witness who reasoned, “I know Christmas’ origins are wrong, but I know in my heart why I go to church at Christmas—it’s to honor Jesus—and I believe it’s what’s in my heart that counts!”

Absolutely—the heart does count! That’s big on God’s list of qualities! But don’t forget what Jesus said about the heart in Mark 7:6-9: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men.” Jesus doesn’t accept just any worship, even if in our heart we think it’s okay.

Notice, too, He said, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”

Christmas offers a prime example of this. Isn’t God the One who said, “Do not lie”? But what is one of the biggest Christmas traditions people cling to? Lying to kids about Santa Claus! How does that honor Jesus, who commands us not to lie! And don’t forget Easter. How do people lie to their kids that rabbits lay eggs, then trot off to church saying it’s all about worshipping God?

Do we really think we can reject doing what God says, instead borrowing religious practices from pagan religions, and think He’ll be happy about it because we say “my heart’s right”?

Tradition does not trump obedience. If our heart’s right, won’t we be striving to worship God “in spirit and in truth,” as Jesus told the Samaritan woman (John 4:24)?

Saying “Lord, Lord” to no avail

You also heard this line of reasoning from the defense: “Yes, everyone knows the bad side of Christmas—the partying, commercialism, indebtedness, greed and so on—but most people have a very merry Christmas. What’s wrong with families enjoying being together with good food, gifts, pretty music and lights, or helping the needy? There’s far more good than bad, and a lot of it involves good Christian acts!”

Well, of course God loves good things and seeing people happy. But do good deeds justify bad actions? Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Who was He addressing? Religious people proudly pointing out all their good deeds!

“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

There is more “Lord, Lord” talk at this time of year than any other, but does it impress God when we persist in lawlessness—doing things He tells us not to do?

We say we’re worshipping the baby Jesus, but we’re not doing what the grown-up Jesus told us to do! If people were really serious about doing God’s will, we’d see real “peace on earth” and “goodwill toward men.” We’d see good deeds all the time, not just during a few days when they get in the “Christmas spirit.”

People of truth?

You also heard the defense try to poke a hole in our case by arguing, “The Jesus I know isn’t so radical about something that brings so much fun and enjoyment to everyone, even the fantasy part for the kids.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this one’s simple. Answer this, please: Would you like it if someone told your kids lies about you and got them to believe it? I don’t think so.

So how do you think God feels when He’s being lied about?

This is so important because of where it comes from. Jesus explained one time—in John 8:44—that the devil “is a liar and the father of it.” The people He was addressing were the religious leaders of the day, and He angered them by saying they were of their father the devil. It doesn’t matter who you are—if you lie, or perpetuate a lie, it’s wrong.

If people claim to follow God, isn’t it logical that He expects them to not lie? Aren’t Christians to be people of truth—telling the truth and practicing the truth?

Sad to say, for thousands of years God has seen people lying about Him, even under the guise of claiming to speak for Him.

Long ago God spoke through Ezekiel words that are just as true today: “Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. … Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord had not spoken.” That’s Ezekiel 22:26 and 28.

Putting words in God’s mouth is just a bit presumptuous, wouldn’t you say?

What’s really on trial?

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me ask you again: Given the weight of evidence, both factual and circumstantial, if Jesus were here today, do you think He would attend Christmas Eve services, or exchange gifts around the Christmas tree? Would He have a “Put Christ back into Christmas” bumper sticker—or would He say He was never in it to begin with?

Would He still stand by His words in Matthew 4:4, that man shall live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”? I ask, can you do that and observe Christmas at the same time?

I rest my case; but as you make your decision, I urge you to remember that it’s not really Christmas that is on trial—we are.

 

A Parable About Sharing Christ Through Holiday Traditions

This is a parable about sharing Christ with non Christians through holiday traditions. This is not a biblical parable, but it is similar to historical choices that the church has made regarding holiday traditions.

There were two men, each of whom wanted to share Christ with others. In this situation, they both wanted to reach Buddhists, but they had very different approaches.

The first man decided he would reach them with only the instructions laid out in the Bible. He knew it would be hard. He was dedicated to putting in the hard work to reach and serve them and to bring them only the truth of the God’s word from the Bible. He knew this may not bring the biggest crowds, but he wanted to ensure those who did respond to the message would genuinely be led toward Christ and a fruitful, Biblical relationship with Him. He understood that God must work in someone’s heart and draw them to Him if they are to truly follow Him. Man can not do it alone. He worked tirelessly and met much resistance. He taught them about the appointed times of God in Leviticus 23 and taught them how and when to celebrate what God had instructed rather than what man had made up. Many were very attached to the traditions and customs they grew up with. Many rejected the message of the Bible, but those that did come truly came to know Christ and His teachings. They had to make hard choices and walk away from many traditions that were dear to them. They had to change even things they enjoyed to put Christ first and live His way. For those who judged by counting the number of “converts” or the number of people attending services, this ministry was deemed not very successful. But God saw those who were truly reached for Him and smiled. People had been reached with the truth and come to Him on His terms with repentance, thanksgiving, love and submission in their hearts. Their lives were fully transformed.

The second man observed the limited results of the first man’s efforts. He saw how many of the Buddhists refused to give up their traditions and practices, even if they were willing to listen about Christ. He had a different idea. He was sure he could make it easier for people to come accept Christ if he let them keep many of their traditions and just relabeled them with Christian meaning. He observed the Buddhist traditions and holidays. He compromised purity of the gospel of Christ by blending Biblical teaching with Buddhist teaching. For one example, he embraced Buddha statues. He said they represent God’s provision and abundance rather than Buddha. He understood that God says in the Bible not to worship Him the way that the pagans worship their Gods, but he thought that was too extreme for today’s situation. He could make this a good thing and lead people to Christ by using the pagan traditions. He had many more people show up to his services and accept Christ. For those who counted success by counting the number of people, this ministry seemed much more successful. God, however, was sad. He saw now a group of people who had not repented of their sin. They had not walked away from the things that He said were bad. They had not chosen to put Him first in their lives. They simply added Christ’s name and some of His teaching on top of the traditions and beliefs they previously held. Now they had a blended teaching which kept the people farther from Him, all the while making them comfortable that they had accepted Christ, though they had not changed their lives fully. They gave Christ only part of their attention and obedience. He was not first. Rather family traditions and pagan worship traditions remained first in their hearts. They had “fit God in” around those other things.

Most Christians today would find the approach of the second man unacceptable. They clearly see that Buddhism is separate and can not be blended with Christianity to get a godly result that Christ would be pleased with. If I said I was going to put up Buddha statues instead of a Christmas tree, they would confront me on it as wrong. However, if we study the history of Christmas for such things as evergreen decorations, Christmas trees, holly, yule log, gift exchange, and even the choice of Dec 25 itself we would find that all of these things started as pagan celebrations and traditions as part of their worship. The only difference is that the church accepted blending with these things so long ago that most of us have grown up with them as emotionally charged family traditions. Most of us have grown up with them with Christian labels and symbolism painted on top of pagan practices. Rather than turn away from them to please God, many convince themselves that they can make good what God said was bad by attaching different meaning. However, usually when I use the example of a Buddha statue, these same people see it as clearly wrong, because they do not have the bias of having grown up with the traditions, celebrated in the name of Christ. The two are not actually different except in timing.

My sincere hope is that all who read this pray about it, study the history of Christmas, study God’s word for where He says not to learn the way of the pagans, not to worship Him the way they worship and reflect on whether they are ready to really put God first and hold nothing back from him, including precious and emotionally important traditions of man. Let nothing come before Him in importance. Hold nothing back. Yes it is hard, but you will grow ever closer to Him the more you put Him first in your life in all ways.

I recognize that this is an emotional subject for many and admitting that we should change is very hard. Even if we accept it and change our behavior, there will be much difficulty among family. This is to be expected when we stand for Christ above all others. Jesus said so himself in Matthew 10:23-39.

32 “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.

34 “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.

35 ‘I have come to set a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
36     Your enemies will be right in your own household!’[l]

37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.

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Do you know for sure if you will go to heaven or hell when you die? Are you experiencing in your life the peace and joy of a personal relationship with our Creator and Father? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.

Worship The Lord His Way, Not Your Way

Most of us who have followed Yahweh for awhile have had the opportunity to see His hand at work in our lives. I have marveled that He takes such an interest in someone so insignificant as me, but nonetheless He does! He loves each of His children. As we get to know Him more closely, we more easily recognize His hand at work in our lives.

We must take heed, however, and not turn away when we feel distant from Him or when we do not feel His presence. At those times, we must continue obeying His commands and His ways, faithfully believing that He is there, even if we do not see His hand at work. Often we can point back to events in our lives where He intervened to encourage us to remember Him. Do not turn from Him.

Consider His people as they left Egypt. Yahweh delivered them from slavery through many mighty miracles. There were ten plagues, parting of the Red Sea, defeat of Pharaoh’s army, God appearing as fire  and smoke to lead them, manna and water miraculously to meet their needs in the dessert. Surely we would think that generation could never turn from God, but they did.

Exodus 32:1-10

The Golden Calf

      1Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

      7Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8“They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” 9The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10“Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”

I think we can all see clearly that Yahweh was not pleased with His people for making this idol and worshiping it. He was going to destroy them and start over. Let us consider carefully what happened. If we read to quickly we may conclude, as many have, that the Israelites were worshiping an idol of a false god and that is why Yahweh was upset… but this is not the case.

Look closer. Indeed they had created an idol and began to worship it, but in fact they were using the idol to represent Yahweh Himself. Consider the following verses:

“This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”

In fact, the people were worshiping Yahweh, and He was very upset! Why? Yahweh does not want His people to worship Him in the way that the pagans worship their false gods. It disgusts Him. He wants us to worship Him in the way He tells us.

Deuteronomy 12:30-32

30beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’ 31“You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.

      32“Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.

The Israelites may have been worshipping Yahweh, but they were doing so in like manner to how the Egyptians worshipped their false gods by making idols.

While this may seem like it does not apply today, it certainly does! Yahweh has not changed His opinion on what is good and what is bad. He still does not want us to worship Him with idols or with any of the manners or traditions with which the pagans worship false gods. If we take the time to study our common Christmas and Easter traditions (and other traditions as well), we will certainly find the history of many of these traditions are derived not from God’s word, but from pagan worship practices. Christians have created new meanings for many of these traditions, but they still are derived from pagan worship. Yahweh is not pleased, even if we say it is He whom we are worshipping.

Do not repeat the error of the Israelites, which drew great anger from Yahweh. Instead, learn the history and true origin of the traditions you practice. Reject the ones that are derived from pagan worship. Instead, study and learn the practices and worship that Yahweh instructs us in His word. There is so much to learn!

I feel like I have been on an archaeological dig for a decade to understand and lay down traditions rooted in pagan worship and instead to focus on and adopt practices and traditions that are commanded in God’s word in the Old Testament.

I encourage you to invest time to get to know Yahweh. If He is Lord (and He certainly is!), then we should take time to learn His ways and reject the ways of the pagan worship… even if done in Yahweh’s name. Do not accept something just  because it is a family or cultural “tradition”. Test and explore to understand the true origin and whether or not it may be offensive to our Lord. Choose the Lord’s ways over even dear traditions that may be emotionally difficult to walk away from. Do not be like Lot’s wife who looked back at Sodom while leaving, but rather leave behind the past things without looking back on them.

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Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? Are you living today filled with the peace and joy of truly knowing and following Jesus Christ? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.

The Parable of the Widower Who Remarried

Just to be clear, this is not a biblical parable, but one based on biblical teaching and one that is true many times over.

There is a story about a young man who was happily married. He loved his wife very much. To show it, he learned her favorite flowers, favorite candy, learned how to help around the house the way that she liked, he even bought her the style of clothes she liked to wear. Of course, holiday celebrations were no exception. He honored her in the ways that she told him she appreciated and she knew that he loved her. They were married many years and many of their ways became strong habits and  traditions.

After a time, his wife grew ill and died. He truly missed her. He grieved for a time and eventually remarried.

His second wife did not like the same things or do things the same way as his first wife. He would tell his new wife how much he loved her but than continue in the old habits and traditions he created for his first wife, even buying the same style of clothing for her and giving her the flowers that his first wife enjoyed instead of the ones she liked. His second wife asked him gently many times to change how he tried to honor her and explained what she liked and did not like. Despite her many efforts to communicate clearly, the man refused to change from his habits and traditions to learn to show love and honor his second wife the way she appreciated and desired.  He simply would tell her that he was doing it for her to show his love and that it was all for her. She was deeply hurt and at times very offended. She grew to doubt whether he loved her at all or rather she was just a replacement because the one he still loved was no longer there.

How obvious it must seem to all of us that the man is making a big mistake and certainly not showing love by insisting he do things his way or the way of his first wife. How is the parable going to end? If it is to end well, the man must admit he was wrong and decide to visibly repent of, or turn away from, his ways and learn the ways of the one he wishes to love and honor.

In a way you get to finish the story… you see many of us treat God the same way as the man in the parable treats his second wife. We have learned and accepted certain ways of doing things. In some cases they are now traditions with happy memories that have been accepted for hundreds or thousands of years. None the less, God has clearly communicated what He likes and does not like… what is good and bad in the holy scriptures.

Not being aware that we are doing what is bad makes it no less offensive to Him. Why did we not take time to learn what He values…what He wants from us?

Claiming we can take something that is bad in God’s eyes and make it into something that is good is like saying we can give someone a weed, but call it a rose and everything will be great.

We must each decide if we are to cling to our traditions of man, like the Pharisees and Sadducees who came against Jesus, or if we are to stand up and do things God’s way as Jesus and His disciples did, even if we are mocked for it.

Would it surprise you to know that Christmas trees, evergreen wreaths, mistletoe, gift exchange, even celebrating on Dec 25 are all  based on pagan worship practices which the church originally banned but later accepted because people would not stop doing them? Of course much of Easter celebration also has origins in pagan worship as well. The church decided if we can’t get people to stop their detestable pagan worship, then we will join them but make up a new story to explain the items previously used in pagan worship. They took a weed and called it a rose.

If you truly love God, and submit your life to God… take the time to learn more about what He wants and not just stick to traditions of men that are offensive to Him. You can easily study online even using Christian encyclopedia’s like Zondervan or other encyclopedias. The origins are not secret, only that it has been accepted to celebrate God in ways that were developed by pagans for their gods.  119Ministries.com is putting together an effective summary in video form you can watch, but the project has not been completed yet (The Christmas Question). They have previous teachings already available you may consider as well (Sunburned – Part 1 and Sunburned – Part 2).

I recognize that this is an emotional subject for many and admitting that we should change is very hard. Even if we accept it and change our behavior, there will be much difficulty among family. This is to be expected when we stand for Christ above all others. Jesus said so himself in Matthew 10:23-39.

32 “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.

34 “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.

35 ‘I have come to set a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
36     Your enemies will be right in your own household!’[l]

37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.

We each must decide whether or not we submit to God fully or hold tightly to the traditions of man. By the way… study of the new testament clearly shows that clutching to the traditions of man was the way of the Pharisees and Sadducees, not the way of Jesus.

God wants his people to be holy (set apart for God’s use) and righteous (living according to God’s commands rather than the world’s). He wants us to put Him first, above everything else.

Challenge yourself to objectively evaluate your traditions and seek first the kingdom of God. Do not dismiss this quickly but rather prayerfully seek God to show you the truth of His word and how to apply it in your life.

Pray that God would give you courage and boldness to pursue him with how you live.

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Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? Are you living today filled with the peace and joy of truly knowing and following Jesus Christ? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.