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Friday, December 22, 2017

The Best Gift Ever

'Twas the Sabbath before Christmas, and all through the land, COG folks were resting, “The Two Babylons” in hand. 

Their church magazine was laid out, with care, to a page with a man dressed in
red, with white hair.


Honestly, those magazine articles almost kept me from writing this season.  It's not surprising, but it's still frustrating, to go into painstaking detail to challenge Alexander Hislop's fabrications, only to see groups like LCG, COGWA and UCG practically copy-and-paste the same articles we refuted last year. But whatever. It's not the first time, and it won't be the last.

I had almost decided to let Christmas pass without writing. This season is just as overwhelming for mainstream Christians as the spring and fall holy day seasons are for Armstrongists. There are shut-ins to visit, homeless to feed, concerts to attend, cookies to bake and gifts to buy. It's easier for a Martha-type like me just to focus on handing out bread to homeless families than to convince Armstrongists I'm not deviant for doing so.

But then, as I was putting up decorations, I stumbled across an ornament with John 3:16 printed on it. This isn't a super common verse to read in the Churches of God, but my kids' Sunday school teachers
have had them memorizing it before they could even read. You know, at the same age I was memorizing the tribes of Israel in the Worldwide Church of God. I'm not sure I heard this passage until Passover services as an adult. In case you're not familiar with it, verses 16 and 17 go like this:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

That word translated “believe” in verse 16 is the Greek pisteuo, from the root, pistis. It's the word for “faith.” When followed by “in Christ,” it implies knowledge of, assent to and confidence in Him, according to Zodhiates' Complete Word Study of the New Testament. 

We get more insight into this verse when we backtrack to verse 14 and 15, where Jesus compares His work on the cross to the episode with Moses and the bronze serpent in Numbers 21.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

In Numbers 21, those who looked upon the snake were healed. Not those who dragged themselves to Moses and touched the snake or obeyed enough of Moses' commands. Their own efforts did not factor into their healing. Likewise, our actions do not factor into our salvation.

“The nature of belief is implied in the illustration of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. Belief consists of accepting something, not doing something. The result of belief is that one receives eternal life,” according to The Expositor's Bible Commentary

I have heard this concept mangled so many different ways in the COGs. I've even heard a minister say that “faith IN Christ” is a mistranslation, and should be translated “faith OF Christ” - the same kind He had. In other words, we are not saved by having faith in Jesus. We are saved by achieving the same level of faith He had.

Huh? Jesus was God. Is it even called “faith” at that point? Self-confidence? I don't even know where to go with that idea.

Anyway, back to that pisteuo we were talking about earlier.

I don't care if you don't have confidence that Jesus was born on December 25.  I don't think we're ever going to conclusively settle that one. I don't have total confidence either, although there's decent evidence it's a possibility. At the very least, it's not the pagan slam dunk many would have you believe. Christians didn't pinpoint the December 25 date for the first century or two of Christianity, and we can assume those believers are ok, since Romans 14:5-6 tells us our salvation doesn't depend on celebrating specific days:

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.

I don't care if you believe that Christmas trees are pagan. After doing a good bit of research myself, I am confident that they aren't. Frankly, I think some of the popular theories used to “prove” their pagan origins are pretty ridiculous, and I find it annoying to feel compelled to defend myself on this point. But that's ok, I'll just blame it on the Nazis. That's a popular thing to do these days. And if we put up a tree despite our doubts, it's sin, according to the reasoning in Romans 14:23:

But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

I don't care if you believe that Christians shouldn't celebrate man-made holidays. But just so we're clear, there's no prohibition on creating them to celebrate miracles. The Jews certainly did it. They established Purim after Esther and Mordecai prevailed against Haman. The Jews created Hanukkah to commemorate the miracle of the oil at the re-dedication of the Temple during the Maccabean revolt. The Bible doesn't condemn these man-made holidays – in fact, it tells us Jesus was at the temple during Hanukkah. I even know several COG families who have started embracing these festivals.

So what DO I care about?

I care whether you are placing your pisteuo, your confidence, in the work of Jesus, or in yourself. Because really that is the only thing that matters.

If you are placing your confidence for salvation in His sacrifice, by faith in the promise of forgiveness through His shed blood alone, then it doesn't matter whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Pentecost. If your confidence is in Him, then you have what you need.

If your confidence for your salvation is in your own actions, then it also doesn't matter whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Pentecost. If your confidence is in yourself, then you'd better make sure your batting average is 100 percent.

Nothing else matters - not twinkling lights, evergreen trees, matzos or shofars. Nothing else gives you right standing with God. Nothing else besides confidence in His promise of forgiveness  - by grace through faith - in the shed blood of Jesus.

Now how's that for a gift? Christmas or not, it's the best one ever.

(Ephesians 2:8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.



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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11
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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

God's Evergreens

God loves evergreen trees. Trees aren't evil in any way. Don't blame the poor trees.





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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11
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