Monday, November 21, 2016

Celebrating Christian Holidays

It has been a growing trend for several years for certain groups of Christians to refuse to celebrate holidays like Christmas or Easter because they believe those days have pagan roots.

I think it's misguided to think the actions of some group of pagans in the past has corrupted a day God made for all eternity such that Christians can never celebrate anything on that day for fear of inadvertently celebrating something pagan. The same thing goes for inherently harmless activities like decorating a tree or having a game to find hidden eggs. The fact that these things might once have had a connection to some sort of pagan activity doesn't mean that people today have any sort of evil in their hearts or are worshiping a false god in doing them.

So, yes, it's somewhat true that many Christian holidays and traditions had some sort of pagan association at one time (though not all the rumors about this are true). That's not a problem. Christians went into new cultures and used their existing traditions to tell the Christian message instead of a pagan one. They redeemed days of celebration, as they redeemed the people, by converting them to worship the one true God.

Something similar was done by John and Charles Wesley when they took bar songs and used the tunes for hymns. The people were familiar with the tune, but now the song taught them about God and encouraged them to worship Him. Christians changing traditions of a pagan people to instead celebrate and teach about Christ is a good thing. A former pagan association to a day or activity doesn't contaminate the hearts of those who are actually worshiping and celebrating Christ.

Of course, if someone's conscience prevents them from celebrating Christmas or Easter because they believe it is wrong, then they should not violate their conscience. However, they can inform their conscience if they choose to. We are free in Christ and do not have to be bound by ideas of spiritual contamination by association. To the pure, all things are pure.

Christ came to earth as one of us and died in our place so that we can be reconciled to God. That's something worth celebrating. If that's what is in our hearts at Christmas or Easter or other holidays, then that's what we're celebrating, and no other tradition that may or may not have ever occurred on that day can corrupt it for us.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What Does the Bible Have to Say About When Life Begins?

Biologically, every human being starts life at conception. That's just scientific fact. But some Christians who want to support abortion try to pretend they have Biblical reasons for questioning when a baby becomes a person and often refer to "ensoulment," when the soul enters the body, as being the point at which it would be wrong to take a life. Some point to the Bible's mention of the "breath of life" when Adam was created as proof that until a baby takes a breath, he has no soul and can be killed. Others think ensoulment happens at implantation, viability, when the heart begins to beat, or at some other point during embryonic development.

Of course, the idea that there can be a biological human without a soul is complete imagination. Nowhere does the Bible indicate or even hint of this. Nor does it follow that even if there were no soul, that humans would be allowed to kill such a soulless human. We were given dominion over the animals and plants, to use them for our good and even to kill them, but not over other humans - soulless or not. Thus, even if the soul were given at some point after conception, we have no authority to end that life merely because it has no soul yet.

It also makes no sense to argue that not knowing for sure if a human embryo has a soul means killing them would be permitted. It would be wrong to shoot a gun into the bushes or tear down a building if there could be a person inside. The Bible gives penalties for even the accidental killing of another person. It is our responsibility to ensure that we do not kill other humans, and thus if there could be a person there, we must err on the side of caution. If we are unsure of whether or not a woman's womb contains a human person, we must refuse to abort. The doubt does not give justification to proceed with an abortion. It requires just the opposite.

The breath of life argument is similarly flawed. The first man, Adam, being created from dust and then being turned into a living man by the breath of God is how humankind first began.
Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
However, the claim that one doesn't have a soul or personhood until the first breath does not follow from this verse. Not even close. For one thing, this isn't how people usually come to exist. This was a one-time act of creation. Adam was never in a mother's womb at all, nor was he a zygote or fetus. But in addition to that, this verse isn't talking about taking a first breath of air. The breath of life refers to the breath of God, not air. And the verse says a man newly created is a living soul. It doesn't say Adam became living, then became a soul. It sure sounds like a living human is a soul, with no point at which he is living, but not a soul. So if there's anything to learn from the creation of Adam, it can't be that abortion is okay until the first breath.

The Bible also has many things to say about the identity of the child in the womb. For example:
Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

Psalm 139:13-16  For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. 
The Bible indicates in multiple places that humans exist as persons in the womb. God knows them. They're people. It even says that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb and leaped for joy when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, arrived to greet his mother Elizabeth because he recognized the Savior while he was still in the womb.

But that's not all. The Bible also indicates that conception is the defining point at which the existence of a new person begins. For example, Psalm 51:5 says "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Here David says, through inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that it was him that was conceived, not some biological entity that became him.

This sort of assumption that it is a person that is conceived is all through scripture. But even more direct is what the Bible says about Jesus' conception.
Luke 1:31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
Matthew 1:20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
Jesus wasn't incarnated by entering a fetus in Mary's womb. He was incarnated by being conceived. That's what it says. God taking on flesh and becoming a man had to start at conception because that's where humans begin. Jesus was a zygote. The Creator of all the universe became a zygote. Let that sink in for a minute. Then try to tell me you can kill a human zygote or embryo because it's not a person. You can't.

Of course, the question of whether abortion should be legal is not solved by referencing the Bible. Not all wrong things should be illegal. To answer the question of abortion's legality we must look at what government's purpose is and the biological facts of human reproduction.

But the Bible does tell us about the morality of abortion. It is immoral to kill innocent people. A child in the womb, from conception onward, is an innocent person. Therefore, abortion is immoral. It's really as simple as that.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Learn to Control Your Mind

It's important to develop control over our minds. It's a form of self-discipline. The Bible tells us to take every thought captive to bring it into subjection to Christ (II Cor. 10:5). It also tells us to think on things that are noble, pure, and true (Philippians 4:8). Part of loving God with our minds is learning to think about things that are pleasing to Him and not giving a place in our minds to thoughts that would grieve our Savior.

We can control what we think about. It's something we all have to learn. It doesn't come naturally. We naturally just follow our passions and appetites as children do. But as we mature, we must practice controlling ourselves, and that includes what we allow to occupy our thoughts. We can't always help it when a thought enters our minds, but we can choose not to dwell on it.

The best way to combat intrusive thoughts is to replace them with something else that is good. Replace wrong thoughts with truth. Replace hateful thoughts with kind and compassionate ones. Replace fearful thoughts with remembrance of God's faithfulness and provision. Replace bitterness with forgiveness. Replace temptation with meditating on God's word or thanksgiving for our blessings. Replace self-condemnation with praise to God for His forgiveness.

Learning mental self-control is also very important for developing self-control in other areas as well. After all, every sin starts with a tempting thought. Learning to stop temptation in the mental stage makes it far easier to avoid turning it into sinful action.

Controlling our thoughts is also important for controlling our emotions. Emotions follow our thoughts. We should certainly learn to avoid spewing our emotions through our behavior, especially where it would be wrong or inappropriate to do so. But we can often stop the emotion all together by controlling our thoughts. Emotions don't have to control us.

Self-discipline of the mind is also how we obey the commands of God. God commands us to love Him and praise Him, for example. But we must do these things authentically. God doesn't want just empty words. True praise and love come from the heart. We develop these things in our hearts by controlling what we think about. If we want to love God, we must think about the good things He has done - both for us and for others throughout history - and the virtues of God's character. We must meditate on His justice, His mercy, His provision, His patience, and so on. That takes purposeful thinking and developing a habit of this kind of thinking.

Controlling our thoughts and emotions properly is not something we learn overnight. It's a habit we must form by constantly checking our thoughts and choosing to think of something better when harmful or wrong thoughts intrude. We can't let ourselves be passive bystanders of our own thoughts. It might take pushing a thought away hundreds or even thousands of times and purposely making ourselves think of something else instead before we find victory. It takes identifying thoughts that are good to dwell on and putting them in the place of harmful or false thoughts. It can be mentally exhausting at times. But it grows easier with practice. And it's a habit well worth cultivating.