Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Nice, Nasty or Neutral?

It comes each October and has steadily gained popularity in recent years. And it is by far the strangest of all days in the calendar year. Of course, it is none other than Halloween.

It always has been a favorite day, especially with kids, who try to stock up on candy and other teeth-rotting goodies to hopefully last them until Christmas. The bizarre fall event has seen related revenue climb to almost obscene levels over the last few decades becoming more of a month-long seasonal celebration than just a one-day deal. Then, too, overall participation has also increased dramatically among adults who now dress up and party in growing numbers each year

As most everyone knows, the main theme of this now rather lengthy celebration is the occult and the supernatural. Assorted ghosts, witches, vampires and demons seem almost omnipresent. This is indeed interesting considering that the word Halloween means “hallowed evening” or “holy evening” and that October 31 is the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows or All Saints Day. That certainly seems ironic and about as far away from the current concept as possible.

The typical Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, costume parties, carving jack-o-lanterns, lighting bonfires, visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching graphic horror films. To many this is just harmless fun for the kids and yet another reason to attend a party. Few seem to really care much about its origins or any negative aspects that may accompany it. Maybe this is because those who see no problems don’t place much stock in the reality of supernatural evil in the world.

But for those who believe in the teachings of Scripture, a passage like Ephesians 6:11-13 comes into play and may shape their views on the subject. The Bible says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God.” The Bible also records repeated encounters of Christ who had regular dealings with literal demons like the one recorded in Matthew 17:14-21.

The bottom line is that everyone must consider what to think and do about Halloween. Each must decide for themselves whether it is good, bad, or neutral and to what level they will participate in it. Some will view it as a happy, harmless and fun event. Others perhaps feel it to be a twisted or dangerous one. And there are still those who just don’t care one way or another. But there is no getting around certain basic facts regarding this huge yearly event. It does glorify and promote the occult, evil, violence and horror. And it does, in recent years, increasingly promote sexual themes in graphic ways.

But most importantly, there is a real and undeniable link to a literal existence and influence of supernatural darkness and the literal living enemy of God. It has been said that one of the devil’s greatest tricks is convincing people that he is only a make-believe religious myth and, therefore, not really working to destroy a vulnerable human race. This is why God has provided numerous warnings concerning his existence and his tactics in passages like 1 Peter 5:8. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Because this is tragically true and real, God has countered him through the life and death of His Son who came to deal with Satan’s destructive treachery. 1 John 3:8 sums it up simply like this. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”

Halloween is often viewed as just a fun harmless celebration – give or take the ensuing dentist bills down the road. And yet it must be remembered that evil is every bit as real as a cavity, and so is the one who helped cause mankind’s fall in the garden so long ago.

But with man’s great fall into sin came God’s greater forgiveness found in His Son! The Apostle Paul wrote, “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)

The supernatural realm is real on both sides of the fence. And likewise real is the One who bravely “destroyed the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8) through His sacrifice on the cross and His literal resurrection from the dead. He purchased redemption and a heavenly home someday for all who would believe and trust Him as the real Son of God and the literal Savior of men!

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Killing Jesus" - Missing the Big Picture?

The title is beyond intriguing and the contents compelling. It is destined for success and the best-seller list because the author is already famous. But is it all it could be, or more importantly, what it should have been?

It is the new book by Billy O’Reilly - long-time TV commentator on the Fox News network and author of other recent literary works as well. But this new book, even though using a similar title to his last two, is somehow unique. It is entitled ‘Killing Jesus’ – a phrase that will draw the attention of some who did not have any interest in Mr. O’Reilly’s last to titles, ‘Killing Lincoln’ and ‘Killing Kennedy’.

The author appeared on ‘60 Minutes’ recently to discuss the reason and purpose behind his latest piece of literature. He shared how he, and his co-author, offered the historical side of what happened to Christ and how everything surrounding His death really occurred back in that day. He used various external sources along with the Bible accounts. And it appears that what he did cover in that realm was quite well done.

Despite many good reviewers regarding the stated purpose of  “Killing Jesus, problems linger in two other key areas. First, the subject of this new book is not like writing about anyone else who ever lived. Presenting Christ in only a historical light only, no matter how well done, is incomplete at best. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh (Colossians 2:9) and His cross was the instrument that allowed the price of sin to be paid and for lost sinners to be saved! So to not talk about Jesus’ ministry, purpose and accomplishments, while referring in detail to His death, is a major omission - whether intentional or not.

But the other issue has to do with something equally serious. Mr. O’Reilly has said something staggering and for some quite troubling. He states that Jesus never actually cried out from the cross some of the words that Scripture records. In particular he says that the well-know phrase, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”, was not literally uttered by a dying Savior. When asked the reason O’Reilly said, “We don’t put in things we think did not happen”. He believes that no one could have spoken out at all due to the special physical complications of suffocation during crucifixion. When further questioned about the biblical account he said, “You can believe what you want. If you want to take the Bible literally that is your right. We believe that the oral history in the Bible is largely accurate but we are not taking it literally.”

So a very influential Catholic, who stated that the Holy Spirit ‘directed’ him to write this book, concludes the same Holy Spirit is in error and that the Bible writers did not really hear what they recorded in the Scriptures. Further, he believes that the people were not allowed close enough to the cross to hear even if anyone could speak under those gruesome circumstances. And yet one would think that this would have been picked up on and questioned by the many who were alive in those days from day one. But they did not seem to question the written Gospel records. But it is also interesting that, in addition to Mark’s account, that Matthew, Luke and John all recorded phrases that Jesus said from the cross. All three state that, “He cried out with a LOUD VOICE”. And all three recorded words that were spoken at the end, or near the end, of Christ’s physical death when he would have been the very weakest.

But is this really any big deal? And if it is, then why? Who really cares as long as the majority of what is in the biblical text is true and and accurate?

If you are in this camp, consider this. It is a very big deal because the biblical writers were inspired of the Holy Spirit as they penned every word of the Old and New Testaments. 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. Other passages like 2 Peter 1:21 declare likewise. So the issue at hand is all about the authority, reliability and accuracy of  God’s word – all of it. In Theological terms it is called “verbal plenary inspiration”. This means that the precise words of the original manuscripts were directly inspired by God, although He did not change the author's intelligence or understanding while doing so. This means that God choose, inspired and sovereignty guided the biblical authors who were equipped by Him to write the very words of scripture - each and every one. This is the foundation of the evangelical view of the inerrancy of scripture.

Again, some may argue that a few verses being recorded in error, or even missing in the overall Biblical record,  is no big deal as long as the bulk of the writings are there. That concept seems to be acceptable on the surface – but for one major and critical  exception.

When it is suggested in John’s gospel should not include the above phrase uttered by Jesus from the cross, then what is to prevent this same view applying to other words in the Bible narratives? And what if the words under scrutiny this time happen to be a passage the caliber of a John 3:16?  “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.” Or what about the veracity of foundational passage like that of the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:9? “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” When there is a skeptical approach to Scriptural truth itself, then the question arises as to whether or not the Bible is reliable enough to base one’s eternal destiny upon.

Simply stated, there is far more at stake here than meets the average reader’s eye. Many have complimented this new title as being fine historical research including Christians. And on that level, Mr. O’Reilly and his partner did their job just as they sought to. An it is the author’s prerogative to, as he stated, to not take everything literally on the pages of  Scripture. But the real harm is to hose who may be on the fence about the Bible being fully trustworthy. Some will wonder what parts really are of the Holy Spirit, which Holy Spirit or even if there is a Holy Spirit if the entire book is not 100% true? This can then easily  impact whether or not readers see biblical claims as reliable enough to act upon for their salvation.

“Killing Jesus” is a well done, historical and enjoyable book – but one that is an incomplete one. Even when the stated purpose has been met, Christ’s life and his death on the cross can’t be logically or practically separated from why he came and what He accomplished.  Only God could pay the price for sin and cry out loudly from the cross the three most important words ever stated - “It is finished”.  Was this too perhaps never uttered or heard?  Irregardless of what anyone says or believes, the Jesus who walked on water, healed the sick and rose from the dead could easily have mustered the power to ‘shout out’ from the cross the victory over sin and death forever?   I choose to take that ‘literally’ and the salvation it provides for miraculously!

To hear the full Word and The World broadcast from 10/13/13 on this story click here.

Bill Breckenridge