Friday, October 28, 2011

"Should Christians celebrate Halloween?"

Whether or not Christians should celebrate Halloween can be a very controversial topic. Some Christians celebrate Halloween simply by dressing up in a costume and having fun, seeing it as innocent and harmless. Other Christians are equally convinced that Halloween is a satanic holiday established to worship evil spirits and promote darkness and wickedness. So, who is right? Is it possible for Christians to celebrate Halloween without compromising their faith?

Halloween, no matter how commercialized, has almost completely pagan origins. As innocent as it may seem to some, it is not something to be taken lightly. Christians tend to have various ways to celebrate or not to celebrate Halloween. For some, it means having an “alternative” Harvest Party. For others, it is staying away from the ghosts, witches, goblins, etc., and wearing innocuous costumes, e.g., little princesses, clowns, cowboys, super-heroes, etc. Some choose not to do anything, electing to lock themselves in the house with the lights off. With our freedom as Christians, we are at liberty to decide how to act.

Scripture does not speak at all about Halloween, but it does give us some principles on which we can make a decision. In Old Testament Israel, witchcraft was a crime punishable by death (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27). The New Testament teaching about the occult is clear. Acts 8:9-24, the story of Simon, shows that occultism and Christianity don't mix. The account of Elymas the sorcerer in Acts 13:6-11 reveals that sorcery is violently opposed to Christianity. Paul called Elymas a child of the devil, an enemy of righteousness and a perverter of the ways of God. In Acts 16, at Philippi, a fortune-telling girl lost her demon powers when the evil spirit was cast out by Paul. The interesting matter here is that Paul refused to allow even good statements to come from a demon-influenced person. Acts 19 shows new converts who have abruptly broken with their former occultism by confessing, showing their evil deeds, bringing their magic paraphernalia, and burning it before everyone (Acts 19:19).

So, should a Christian celebrate Halloween? Is there anything evil about a Christian dressing up as a princess or cowboy and going around the block asking for candy? No, there is not. Are there things about Halloween that are anti-Christian and should be avoided? Absolutely! If parents are going to allow their children to participate in Halloween, they should make sure to keep them from getting involved in the darker aspects of the day. If Christians are going to take part in Halloween, their attitude, dress, and most importantly, their behavior should still reflect a redeemed life (Philippians 1:27). There are many churches that hold "harvest festivals" and incorporate costumes, but in a godly environment. There are many Christians who hand out tracts that share the Gospel along with the Halloween candy. The decision is ultimately ours to make. But as with all things, we are to incorporate the principles of Romans 14. We can’t allow our own convictions about a holiday to cause division in the body of Christ, nor can we use our freedom to cause others to stumble in their faith. We are to do all things as to the Lord.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What Is Mormonism

Often, with the up-coming presidential election, I am ask what I think about Mormonism. I am not trying to make someone mad at me deliberately, but you have to look at what the "Scriptures" say about their beliefs.

Probably a little of history need to be looked at, first. Let me "present the facts," and you make up your own mind.

The Mormon religion (Mormonism), whose followers are known as Mormons and Latter Day Saints (LDS), was founded less than two hundred years ago by a man named Joseph Smith. He claimed to have received a personal visit from God the Father and Jesus Christ who told him that all churches and their creeds were an abomination. Joseph Smith then set out to begin a brand-new religion that claims to be the “only true church on earth.” The problem with Mormonism is that it contradicts, modifies, and expands on the Bible. Christians have no reason to believe that the Bible is not true and adequate. To truly believe in and trust God means to believe in His Word, and all Scripture is inspired by God, which means it comes from Him (2 Timothy 3:16).

Mormons believe that there are in fact four sources of divinely inspired words, not just one: 
  • 1) The Bible “as far as it is translated correctly.” Which verses are considered incorrectly translated is not always made clear. 
  • 2) The Book of Mormon, which was “translated” by Smith and published in 1830. Smith claimed it is the “most correct book” on earth and that a person can get closer to God by following its precepts “than by any other book.” 
  • 3) The Doctrine and Covenants, containing a collection of modern revelations regarding the “Church of Jesus Christ as it has been restored.” 
  • 4) The Pearl of the Great Price, which is considered by Mormons to “clarify” doctrines and teachings that were lost from the Bible and adds its own information about the earth's creation.
Mormons believe the following about God: 
  • He has not always been the Supreme Being of the universe, but attained that status through righteous living and persistent effort. 
  • They believe God the Father has a “body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.” 
  • Though abandoned by modern Mormon leaders, Brigham Young taught that Adam actually was God and the father of Jesus Christ. 
In contrast, Christians know this about God: 
  • there is only one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6-8), 
  • He always has existed and always will exist (Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 90:2; 1 Timothy 1:17), and 
  • He was not created but is the Creator (Genesis 1; Psalm 24:1; Isaiah 37:16). 
  • He is perfect, and no one else is equal to Him (Psalm 86:8; Isaiah 40:25).
  • God the Father is not a man, nor was He ever (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Hosea 11:9). 
  • He is Spirit (John 4:24), and 
  • Spirit is not made of flesh and bone (Luke 24:39).
Mormons believe that there are different levels or kingdoms in the afterlife: 
  • the celestial kingdom, 
  • the terrestrial kingdom, 
  • the telestial kingdom, and 
  • outer darkness. 
Where mankind will end up depends on what they believe and do in this life. 

In contrast, the Bible tells us that after death, 
  • we go to heaven or hell based on whether or not we had faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. 
  • To be absent from our bodies means, as believers, we are with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Unbelievers are sent to hell or the place of the dead (Luke 16:22-23). 
  • When Jesus comes the second time, we will receive new bodies (1 Corinthians 15:50-54). 
  • There will be a new heaven and new earth for believers (Revelation 21:1), and 
  • unbelievers will be thrown into an everlasting lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). 
  • There is no second chance for redemption after death (Hebrews 9:27).
Mormon leaders have taught that Jesus’ incarnation was the result of a physical relationship between God the Father and Mary. Mormons believe Jesus is a god, but that any human can also become a god. Mormonism teaches that salvation can be earned by a combination of faith and good works. 

Contrary to this, Christians historically have taught that 
  • no one can achieve the status of God—only He is holy (1 Samuel 2:2). 
  • We can only be made holy in God's sight through faith in Him (1 Corinthians 1:2). 
  • Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16), 
  • He is the only one ever to have lived a sinless, blameless life, and now has the highest place of honor in heaven (Hebrews 7:26). 
  • Jesus and God are one in essence, Jesus being the only One existing before physical birth (John 1:1-8; 8:56). 
  • Jesus gave Himself to us as a sacrifice, 
  • God raised Him from the dead, and 
  • one day everyone will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:6-11). 
  • Jesus tells us it is impossible to get to heaven by our own works and that only by faith in Him is it possible (Matthew 19:26). 
  • We all deserve eternal punishment for our sins, but God's infinite love and grace have allowed us a way out. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Clearly, there is only one way to receive salvation and that is to know God and His Son, Jesus (John 17:3). It is not done by works, but by faith (Romans 1:17; 3:28). We can receive this gift no matter who we are or what we have done (Romans 3:22). “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Mormons are deceived by a false religion that distorts the nature of God, the Person of Jesus Christ, and the means of salvation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"What is the abomination of desolation?"

I was reading an article and wanted to share it with you from Spiros Zodhiates (1922-2009), who served as president of AMG International for over 40 years, was the founding editor of Pulpit Helps Magazine (Disciple’s predecessor), and authored dozens of exegetical books.

This article is from Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, 2006, AMG Publishers

[15] The word “therefore” (oún[3767]) connects “the end (télos[5056], terminal point)” in verse 14 with the event being introduced here. “When” (the Greek conjunction hótan[3752]), focuses on a specific event within the nation of Israel, which will be miraculously preserved. The appearance of the abomination of desolation is connected with the worldwide preaching of the gospel of the kingdom at “the end.”

This is the closest Jesus gets to answering the disciple’s question of when in verse 3. However, the “when” is eclipsed by a “what”, that is, some physical object called an “abomination of desolation” is given in place of a date. There will be a day and hour when this profane, sacrilegious idol will be erected, but the disciples were to deduce the time from the sign, not the sign from the times.

Once in this discourse, hótan is qualified only by anticipatory waiting (prosdokáō [4328]; v. 50). In three other instances, the expectation of “then” is connected with signs that are empirically observed (here the abomination of desolation, in v. 32 the branch putting forth leaves as summer approaches, and in v. 33 “all these things”). In looking at the magnificent temple, Jesus had said (v. 2) that one stone would not be left on another, but the entire structure would be “thrown down” or destroyed (from katalúō [2647]).

Jesus now spoke of “the abomination of desolation.” Abomination is the Greek noun bdélugma ([946] from the verb bdelússō [948], to emit a foul odor or to turn away through loathing or disgust). The abomination, then, whatever it is, will cause desolation. The verb translated “shall see” is ídēte (the aorist active subjunctive ofeídon from horáō [3708], to see and perceive with emphasis on perception). Believers will see or perceive this disgusting thing at the completion of the age (suntéleia toú aiōnos; v. 3). Furthermore, they will need to “mind” what was written in the book of Daniel to perceive accurately how this event fits into the general scheme.

In 1 John 2:18 we read, “Little children, it is the last hour: and as you have heard that antichrist (antíchristos[500] from antí [473], against; and christós [5547], anointed one) comes (from érchomai [2064], to come), even now there are many antichrists; so we know it is the last hour” (a.t.).

An antichrist is one who opposes Christ. “Antí” also means “in place of,” so this last Antichrist will be a supplanter; he will try to replace the true Messiah. The “little horn” on the fourth beast of Daniel 7:8 and “the beast” (thēríon [2342]) of Revelation 11:7; 13:1–8 are then both Antichrist. Three-and-a-half years into Daniel’s seventieth week, this beast will attempt to replace Christ (Dan. 9:27; 2 Thess. 2:3-10; Rev. 13:5). This ultimate Antichrist surpasses the attempts of former antichrists to replace God as the object of worship (Rev. 13:12).

Satan will energize him (Rev. 13:2, 3) and aid his cause by performing miracles through him and deceiving the world into worshiping him through “another beast” (Rev. 13:11, 12). Elsewhere the Antichrist is called “that lawless (ánomos [459]) one” (2 Thess. 2:8 NASB), the “man of sin,” and the “son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:1–12). He will be destroyed on and by the “Day of Christ” (2 Thess. 2:2). This final Antichrist may be the “angel of the abyss,” the “king” of Hades (Rev. 9:11), whose name in Hebrew is “Abaddon” and in Greek “Apollyon” (apollúōn [623]), both names signifying “the destroyer.”

This final Antichrist is so obnoxious (bdelússō or bdéō [n.f.], to stink) that Jerusalem and the temple will be desolated as prophesied by Christ (Matt. 23:38; Luke 21:20) and earlier by Jeremiah (Jer. 22:5). This is not so much a military conquest as moral abandonment, far worse than defeat. The amazing thing is that all this was predicted so long ago in Daniel 8:13 and 9:27. Daniel 11:31 says, “And they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.”

The activities of this supreme world leader are given in historical narrative in Daniel, chapters 7–12. Satan himself empowers him according to Revelation 13:2, warring against the people of God (13:7). The conflict that ensues is unimaginable. At the end, the Messiah stops the transgression and the “wicked one” (2 Thess. 2:8; a.t.). All this centers in Jerusalem (cf. Dan. 9:26).

According to Daniel 11:36 (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4), this Antichrist magnifies himself above every god, including the almighty God, arousing His indignation. While two words in Greek (orgē [3709], wrath, in Matt. 3:7, Luke 3:7, Rom. 1:18, etc.; and thlípsis [2347], tribulation, in Mark 13:19, 24; 2 Thess. 1:6; Rev. 2:22; 7:14, etc.) are both characteristics of this time, Paul makes it clear that believers are not appointed to the wrath (from orgē; 1 Thess. 5:9) of God. The Lord, rather, “rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess. 1:10 NIV).

Jesus now said parenthetically that understanding this prophecy is essential and should occupy our careful attention: “Whoso readeth (from anaginōskō [314] from aná [303], again; and ginōskō [1097], to know by experience), let him understand (noeítō from noéō [3539], to comprehend, understand).”

Each individual should read these Scriptures over and over again until he or she understands what is meant. Of course, this will take place in the middle of the Tribulation period. I believe that those who understand already will be raptured beforehand, but many will seek the truth in that day. These people must learn what Christ would have them do when the abomination of desolation approaches. This is impossible apart from a careful study of Daniel chapters 7–12 and other related portions of Scripture (2 Thess. 2:1–12; 1 John 2:18; Rev. 13).

As disciples, we all ought to read the biblical lessons given by God’s inspired prophets like Daniel. Accordingly, we should not read prophecy casually, but carefully interpret it and apply it to our own experiences.

[16] When believers recognize the identity of the Antichrist, Jesus continued, they should take certain measures. The adverb “then” (tóte [5119]) here agrees with the “then’s” of verses 9 and 10, referring to the second half of the seven-year, seventieth week of Daniel. Conditions in Jerusalem will be so bad that Jesus forewarned His disciples to leave the region of Judea and escape to the mountains. The verb “let them flee” ispheugétōsan, the present imperative of pheúgō (5343), to flee (cf. Mark 13:14; Luke 21:21).

[17, 18] Other specific instructions are worth noting. If anyone is on the roof of his house, Jesus warned, “Let him…not come down (from katabaínō [2597], to go down) to take (from aírō [142], to take away) anything out of his house. Nor let him who is in the field return (from epistréphō [1994]) back (opísō [3694]) to take (also fromaírō) his clothes” (a.t.). No material possession is worth a human life. As Judea will be surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20), panic and anarchy will set in. People will no longer find safety in status or possessions. Jesus’ clear advice here is to flee from the land.

[19] A specific exhortation is given to expectant and nursing mothers: “And woe unto them that are with child, and them that nurse (from thēlázō [2337], to breast feed a baby) in those days” (a.t.). “Those days” may extend to the full forty-two months or 1,260 days noted in other places (Dan. 7:25; 9:27; 12:10–12; Rev. 11:2, 3; 13:5; see below for further discussion).

[20] Within this period, apparently, there will be favorable times to escape: “But pray ye (from proseúchomai[4336], to pray to God) that your flight (phugē [5437]) be (from gínomai [1096], to become) not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day.” As Paul tells us generally, we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), but this prayer has a specific content. A desperate flight out of Judea would violate the command to rest on the Sabbath, and winter is generally a time of food scarcity, even apart from the threat of an invasion. But God will be tolerant throughout the Tribulation, His grace reaching down to save souls from “all nations” from the evil one. Among these will be great numbers of Israelites.

[21] The reason for praying that the escape out of Judea is not in the winter or on a Sabbath day follows: “For then shall be great (from mégas [3173]) tribulation (thlípsis [2347]), such as was (from gínomai [1096], “to be”)not since (ap’ from apó [575], from) the beginning (from archē [746], commencement) of the world (kósmos[2889]) to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”

The words “great” and “tribulation,” occurring without definite articles, should be taken generically, introducing us to a special kind of tribulation. “Such” translates a form of the relative pronoun hoíos ([3634], such a one). The contrast that follows is between this and every other tribulation. This will be the severest.

“To this time” translates héōs (2193), until this time. The last phrase, “no, nor ever shall be,” begins with the negative oudé (3761), “but not.” This is a contrasting compound conjunction of the two negatives ou (3756) andmē (3361) combined as an intensive combination, meaning absolutely not, never at any time. The intensive negative means that this tribulation will be absolutely unprecedented.

Though dreadful and unique, the Tribulation will be under God’s full control. Satan and his demons are sometimes called world rulers (from kosmokrátōr [2888]; see Eph. 6:12), but God is the ruler of all, thepantokrátōr ([3841], the almighty, the ruler of all heaven and earth, the universe) (2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8; etc.). Because Satan’s time will be short, he will no doubt command his malevolent ranks to carry out their evil plans efficiently. But Revelation 17:14 assures us who will be victorious: “These (the forces of evil including the Antichrist) shall make war with the Lamb (arníon [721] a living lamb), and the Lamb shall overcome them” (see also Rev. 5:6; 6:1; 7:9; etc.).

[22] The King James Version here translates the Greek conjunction ei (1487) mē (3361), “if not,” as a clause of exception: “And except (ei mē) those days be shortened, no (literally, none [from ou {3756}] of any [from pás{3956}, all, any]) flesh (sárx [4561], the emphasis is on physical preservation, not spiritual salvation) would (án[302], “then” as a potential) be saved (from sōzō [4982], to save)” (a.t.).

The contextual referent of “those days” is the Great Tribulation, the period when Gentile armies invade Jerusalem to quell the religious anarchy created by positioning the abomination of desolation in the holy place (Dan. 9:27). Such furious oppression will take place in those days that unless the time is shortened, everyone will die physically.

Will God shorten the days? Here, it would be better to think of the Greek verb translated in the King James Version as “should be shortened (from kolobóō [2856])” as “to be cut short.” Or, to put it another way, God has already determined shortened days. If He had not, the text says, the destruction would be total. Another way to translate the first part of the verse is: “If (ei, on the supposition that) those days were not shortened(ekolobōthēsan, the aorist indicative of kolobóō [2856]; the indicative—in place of the subjunctive—implies that God already shortened), then surely (an [302]) no one will escape alive” (a.t.).

Since God’s foreknowledge is absolutely accurate, it already includes shortened days, but to what extent? No doubt the original three-and-a-half years prophesied in Daniel and marked out as a unique period of oppression also in Revelation (see Dan. 7:25; Rev. 11:2-3; 12:7; etc.) have already been shortened from a longer period that would have been (see, e.g., Matt. 11:21, 23 for events that “would have been” had God determined otherwise). It is not necessary for us to know what the reduction in time is in order to know that it is.

The balance of the verse tells us for whose sake God cut the days short: “For the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (which means the shortening is included in God’s eternal decree. There’s no “if” about this here; they “shall be” shortened). The “elect” (from eklektós [1588], chosen one) are those saved from all nations during the Tribulation (Rev. 7:1–17; 12:17; 13:7; 15:2-3). The persecution by the Antichrist will stimulate believers of this period to pray fervently: “The effectual fervent prayer (déēsis [1162], prayer for what is needed)of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). Many will be saved through God’s answer to these prayers.

This does not indicate a change of God’s plan and mind but the exact execution of His will as planned. The time of the severe persecution by the Antichrist will be no longer than the length of time to which God has shortened it. The time would be longer if God were not merciful, but since He is, He will shorten the period in which the Antichrist expends his fury.

Spiros Zodhiates (1922-2009) served as president of AMG International for over 40 years, was the founding editor of Pulpit Helps Magazine (Disciple’s predecessor), and authored dozens of exegetical books.

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