Friday, August 4, 2017

Hold Fast To What You Have

The Bible tells us to "hold that fast which thou hast." (Revelation 3:11) I have quoted the King James here because of the word "thou". It is singular. So John is not telling the church as a whole to hold fast to something, but is telling individuals within the church to hold fast to what they have received from the Lord. Some people believe and teach that if God gives something to you that you cannot lose it. But if we have to hold fast to it, then it must be possible to lose it.

Let's look at divine healing. I am not talking about natural healing through doctors and medicine, but supernatural healing by the Spirit of God. Many people think that if God heals you, then that is it, you are healed forever. But that is not the case. We have to hold fast to it. Many people have lost their healing and, unfortunately, well-meaning Christians have thought that God did not really heal them after all. A person may receive their healing through a minister or in answer to prayer and experience divine healing. All the symptoms leave and even the doctors say they are healthy. Then the symptoms return and they think, "I thought God healed me, but I guess He didn't really. Otherwise, this would not have come back on me." This is erroneous thinking and it leads to folks losing their healing for good.

So let's look at some facts about divine healing and we will see what is really going on here. First, the New Testament is quite clear about where sickness and infirmity come from. They come from Satan. "How Jesus of Nazareth went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil." (Acts 10:38) Jesus healed those oppressed by the Devil, and since the gospels say over and over again that Jesus healed all who came to Him for healing, then sickness must be Satanic oppression.

In some cases, Jesus would cast out an evil spirit oppressing someone's body.

"And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God." Luke 13:11-13

Jesus then said that Satan had bound her. But even if there is not an evil spirit present, Satan is still the causal agent. That might be hard for some people to accept, but that is what the Bible teaches.

With that said, we can look at a passage in the gospels that show that whenever demons are forced to leave, they seek a way back in.

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning, it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first. Thus it will be with this evil generation.” Matthew 12:43-45

So when the Devil has been oppressing someone with sickness and then that person is healed, it only makes sense that he will try to oppress them again with the same thing. And it could even be worse. The Devil does not give up easily. I wish believers would be just as determined to be free as Satan is to oppress them.

So, what do we do when he tries to put that back on us again? We resist him, firm in our faith. "Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith." (1 Peter 5:8)

I recall a time when I had to resist the devil who tried to steal our daughter's healing. When she was little, our oldest daughter was allergic to citrus. If she even had a little bit, she would break out all over. It was very unpleasant. So I had prayed for her to be healed and, frankly, forgot about it. Then when someone else was watching her, they gave some orange juice or something. She had no reaction. For the next year or two, she had no reaction to citrus. Then one time my mother was watching her and she told me when I went to pick my daughter up that she had a reaction to citrus. I examined her and rebuked the Devil and told him to take his hands off of her - she was healed and is still healed! Now, were the symptoms real? Yes, they were, but I recognized that the Devil was trying to steal her healing and I refused to accept those symptoms. I resisted the Devil and he fled! She has not had a bad reaction to citrus and that was more than 30 years ago.

Of course, sometimes when it seems we have lost our healing, the Devil strikes us with fear. We think, "Oh, no, not again!" If we read in 1 Peter 5:7, just before the passage about resisting the Devil, it tells us, "Cast you care upon the Lord, for He cares for you." Then we can resist the Devil by rebuking him or by praying to God and receiving our healing again, knowing that we are already healed. "By His wounds, you are healed." 1 Peter 2:24

Let's do what Peter says and learn to resist the Devil and anything that is of the Devil and not let him steal from us any more.




Saturday, July 15, 2017

Eternal Life, part 3

[This is part three on a series regarding Eternal Life. We have found so far that God gives us His own Nature, called Eternal Life or Love. This message will be about the fact that God is light and that we have that light in us.]

"This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5)

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth." Ephesians 5:8-9

These two verses tell us a lot about God and lot about being a new creation in Christ. We know that God is pure light, spiritual light and that there is no darkness in Him. Light is goodness and righteousness and truth; darkness is evil and sin and error.

We were darkness. Now we are light. Goodness and righteousness and truth have been put within us. We are born of the God who is Light. "For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:6) God Himself has shown in our hearts.

We have the light of God in us. It is up to us to walk in that light. "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." God's Word is a light to us. As he reveals His Word to our hearts, we are able to walk in the light of it. If we choose not to, then we will walk in darkness, not light. "If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:6-7) This verse very clearly states that we must walk in the light that we have.

If we walk in the light that we have, then we have fellowship with God and with one another. If we walk in the light that we have , then we have automatic cleansing from that sin we don't yet have light on. We don't know everything, so there are sins in our lives that we are unaware of. I don't know about you, but I used to do and say some things that were wrong, but I didn't know they were wrong. Yet I was still in fellowship with God. Once God made me aware of those things, I repented and walk in this new light that I had. And that is something that we must do continually throughout our lives. We have keep learning and growing and walk in the light. If we walk in the light we have, God will give us more light to walk in. It seems that just when I think I am doing pretty well and have it all together, that's when God begins to bring more light and I have to conquer something else in my life. That's with God's help, of course.

This leads us to another question. Can I be sure I am actually hearing from God? You can if you are born of Him. "They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error." There is a Spirit of truth and a spirit of error. Since we are "from God", in other words, born of God, we know the truth when it comes out. Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them." Since we have in us God's Nature, Eternal Life, we can hear His voice. The sheep know the Shepherd's voice. They follow Him.

So, by having God's Nature in us, we can hear Him and understand Him and walk in the light - in goodness, righteousness and truth.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Eternal Life - part 2

[This is part two of a series on the subject of eternal life. If you have not read part 1, I encourage you to do so before reading this.]

In part one, we discovered that "Eternal Life" is not just living forever, but is actually our receiving God's own Life and Nature in our spirits in the New Birth. Specifically, we found that the Greek word, "zoe", which is translated as "life" in the NT refers to the Nature of God that is imparted to us. That is how we can become children of God.

But there are two other words, "light" and "love" that also describe the Nature of God. 1 John 1:5 says that "God is light". That means that light, spiritual light, is what God is. In 1 John 4:16, the NT tells us that "God is love". The Greek word is 'agape' which is used almost exclusively as the kind of love that God possesses, and that which He gives to us.

The fact that we have the kind of love that God has is best described in Romans 5:5, "The love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit." That love is the Divine Nature given to us in the New Birth. Notice 1 John 3:14. "We know that we have passed from (spiritual) death to (eternal) life because we love the brethren." I recall when I was in college, I came across a sister in the Lord who was doubting her salvation. She had struggled spiritually when she was away from Christian fellowship back when she was on break (I could relate) and came back to school wondering if she really was a true Christian. I asked her if she was happy to get back with the Christians in our college fellowship group. She said she was overjoyed. She had missed them so much! I shared with her this scripture to assure her that if she loved the brethren that was proof that she did know the Lord and had eternal life.

Some Christians doubt that we can even have the God kind of love. They fall short many times and figure they could never love as Jesus loves. "I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26) This is quite a statement by Jesus. He says that the love that Father has for the Son is in us. That should settle that issue once and for all. God's love, His Nature, is in us. That is not a hope but a fact.

Why do we still struggle? If we truly have God's love in us, why do we not seem to experience it. Once again, we must be aware of the fact that that love is in our hearts (spirits) and not in our flesh or our minds. Our flesh still must be kept under and our minds renewed with the Word of God so that the love of God can come out of us and bless others. "But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him." (1 John 2:5) We have to do what the Word says so that God's love can be perfected in us. In other words, the love of God has to grow in us.

Can the love of God grow? Paul taught that it can. "The fruit of the spirit is love ... ". (Galatians 5:22) Love is a fruit that grows. It grows in our spirits. We must bear the fruit of love. So we can grow in love and the other fruits of the spirit. If we let this love grow in us and yield to it, then we will experience the love of God in greater and greater measure.

God's life and love in us can grow. It will eventually dominate our beings until we are just like Jesus. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can never live up to the high demands of the love commandment. "Love one another as I have loved you" and 1 Corinthians 13 is not some unattainable ideal. These things were not put in the Bible to show us how inadequate we are. On the contrary, they tell us who we are in Christ and what we can do. God would not tell us to do something we could not do. He would not tell us to love as He loves unless He provided that love to us.

Here is a suggestion that can help you along these lines: Read 1 Corinthians 13, especially verses 4 through 8 every day for 30 days. Spend time thinking on these scriptures. Meditate on them. Let them sink into your consciousness. It will change you. I especially like the Amplified Classic translation of these verses. It brings out the fuller meaning of it.

Another suggestion for developing the love of God that is in you: Walk in love! That's how to grow it. Love is an action not a feeling. You can walk in love even if you feel nothing. Ask yourself in any situation, what would love do? Then do it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Eternal Life, part 1

Most Christians seem to be unaware of what the term "eternal life" means. I was taught that it meant that we were going to live forever, but when I would point out that everyone, saved or unsaved, will live forever somewhere, then I would usually get a blank stare. Other times, it was "explained" to me that it means to live forever with Jesus. That did not satisfy me. Yes, of course we will live forever with Jesus but that leaves a lot of scriptures regarding eternal life unexplained.

I think people get tripped up with the word 'eternal'. 'Eternal' can mean to live forever, but it is also an attribute of God. God is eternal, His existence is independent of time. So, if we were to describe what kind of "life" that God has we would have to say that He has "eternal life". His Nature, His Life is beyond the natural realm. Yet Jesus came to give us this Life. "I came that they may have life." (John 10:10b) The word "eternal" does not appear in this passage but it means the same thing. To see this we will have to dig into the Greek words translated as "life".

First, there is the word "bios" and that means manner of life or how one lives their life. The church has majored a lot on that. Then there is the word "psuche" which means one's natural life. That is the word Jesus used when He said that He was going to lay down his life (psuche). And He did. But there is another word translated "life" and that is "zoe" (pronounced 'zo-ay'). It means life in the absolute sense. It is used as the word for the Life and Nature of God. "For as the Father has life (zoe) in himself, even so he gave to the Son also to have life (zoe) in himself." (John 5:26) Notice that "life" is said to be "in" the Father and the Son. It is a nature, a substance. And Jesus said that He came to give it to us!

So how does that work? If we received the Life and Nature of God, wouldn't we be like Him? The answer is yes! But you might say now that we must not have it yet because we are not like Him, we have a lot of sins and problems and stuff. “Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn’t come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." (John 5:24) I like this passage because it tells us two things. First, it tells us that we do have eternal life and, second, it tells us that we are no longer dead. We weren't physically dead, were we? No. He is talking about being spiritually dead, having our spirits cut off from fellowship and relationship with God. "We were dead in trespasses and sins." Now that our sins have been washed away we have been made alive together with Christ. (See Ephesians 2:1,5) Our spirits, not our minds or our flesh, have been made alive with the Life and Nature of God. That's what it means to be born again and become a child of God.

God is the "Father of spirits". We were re-created in His image and likeness. We are, as Peter said, "partakers of the divine nature". (2 Peter 1:4) When we were joined together with Christ, His life flowed into us. His love came into our hearts. We want to do right now. We want to live 100% for God, but we still struggle with the flesh. Our flesh has not yet been redeemed. But there must be a way to walk in the light of eternal life and live as Jesus lives.

The church has tried to get us to live like Jesus told us to live, but we have failed most of the time. We have tried to correct our manner of life by trying to get our flesh to do what is right. Yet the flesh is contrary to God, it cannot obey Him. So, we struggle. We should have majored on eternal life (zoe) instead of manner of life (bios). The flesh cannot overcome itself. Our spirits, which have the life of God, have to become strong and overcome the flesh. We have to walk in the spirit so we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

So when Jesus said that He came to give us life, He was not recommending a new code of conduct or a new religion. He was offering us the life of God in our spirits so that we could live out that life so that it would change our manner of life. We can walk in newness of life. If we walk in the light of eternal life it will continually transform us to be like God wants us to be.

[The rest of this series will be about how this "zoe" can affect our lives.]

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Feast of Tabernacles

The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration of God's provision of the children of Israel in their wandering in the wilderness. In particular, it was a festival of water and light. God provided water in the wilderness through a rock that followed them. They did not know where the underground water sources were. (The bedouins knew.) Archaeologists have suggested that God led them to places where there was water perhaps deep underground and the rock was bringing up water from the ground and distributing it to the Israelites. That is speculation, but it is possible. In any event, God got water from a rock. That doesn't happen in nature. It is supernatural.

Another miracle in the wilderness was the fire above the tabernacle indicating that God was present and also providing light by night to the Israelites in the dark desert. According to some sources, the Jews of Jesus' day put two giant torches on the temple to represent the fire by night in that wilderness. Supposedly, those torches could be seen from anywhere in Jerusalem.

In John chapters seven and eight, Jesus and his disciples went up to Jerusalem to the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths). During that time, Jesus proclaimed, "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12) I can imagine Jesus standing at the entrance of the temple, torches lit, saying these very words. Once again, Jesus has transformed our understanding of a key Jewish festival. We should no longer look back to some past time when God did great things. He is our light, our guide, our understanding. He brings us truth. Later in that same chapter, Jesus said, "If you continue in my Word, you will be my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32) When we are set free, then we can help others get free through the Word. Jesus also said that we are the light of the world. (Matt 5:14)

Likewise, Jesus is the Rock that followed them in the wilderness. "They drank from the same spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ." (1 Cor. 10:4) But it goes further than that. Jesus extended this image to the followers of Christ. "On the last day, the great day of the feast [of Tabernacles], Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him would receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:38-39)

So we believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit have rivers of living water flowing from Jesus through our spirits to meet the needs of the world. That is what the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is for. It is not for us, but for our ministry to others. "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be My witnesses." (Acts 1:8) We need the power of the Holy Spirit to minister to others. We cannot do it in the flesh. And if God can get water out of the ground and through a rock to bring needed water and refreshing, then He can use the church as channels of blessing to all the world. Jesus is the source of water and then it comes through our hearts (spirits) and brings life to others. These are rivers of the gifts of the Spirit, the love and mercy of God, wisdom and whatever else is needed at the moment.

Another part of our transformed understanding of the Feast of Tabernacles is the future. During the Millennial reign of Christ, all nations will celebrate this feast. "It will come about that any who are left [after the battle of Armageddon] of all the nations ... will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles." (Zechariah 14:16) Some of us have known this, but there is one more part of this we have missed. And that is the fact that during the Millennium, the Feast of Tabernacles will be celebrated continually. "In that day, there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle ... [there will be] neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light. And in that day, living waters will flow out from Jerusalem." (Zechariah 14:6-8) That is the Feast of Tabernacles.

So, we have Tabernacles being celebrated all the time. We should always honor God's provision for natural and spiritual needs and any other needs that we might have in this world. For the church, we honor this by ministering the Word and the Spirit to those God puts in our path for that purpose. He is the source of blessing, but we are the channels of blessing. And, of course, we are first the recipient of blessing.

The church need not celebrate this feast on certain days of the year. Instead, we celebrate it every day by ministering the Word and the Spirit to others. That is true for all the Jewish feasts. They are fulfilled in Christ, and often, in His Body, the church. We celebrate them every day by honoring Him to Whom all the feasts point.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Pentecost - Firstfruits - New Testament and Old

I was not even considering the fact that it will soon be Pentecost Sunday when I began thinking about doing a blog post about the Feast of Firstfruits, or as Christians say, Pentecost. Perhaps it is a coincidence. Christians do not call this time "Firstfruits" but "Pentecost" since it happened fifty days after the resurrection. The first Easter, or Resurrection, Sunday was when Jesus was raised from the dead. Right before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He instructed His followers to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. On the Jewish feast of Pentecost, or Firstfruits, the Holy Spirit came down from Heaven to baptize the disciples. They were filled with the Spirit and spoke with other tongues. (Acts 2:1-4) That is what we Christians think of when we talk about Pentecost. As important as that event was, we cannot get a full understanding of the concept of firstfruits as it is used in either Testament without further study.

The Jews, of course, celebrated Passover and then the Feast of Firstfruits fifty days later. Since Passover was not always on Sunday, they do not always celebrate Firstfruits on a Sunday but on the same day of the week that Passover is, seven weeks later. The offering of Firstfruits may go back even further than when the Law was given. Many believe that Abel was offering firstfruits soon after mankind was created when he brought his offering to God. That may or may not be so. The offerings of Abel and Cain are still shrouded in a little mystery. What did God tell them to do and why was Abel's offering accepted and Cain's rejected? We do not fully understand.

I used to not understand the offerings of firstfruits as it is revealed in the Old Testament. I had pretty much followed what I had heard others say. And I had a teaching on it that I was really quite proud of. It was a teaching on tithing based on Proverbs 3:9-10, "Honor the Lord with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine." See, I thought that tithes and firstfruits were the same thing. I knew that there was blessings associated with tithing based on Malachi 3:10-12. This seemed to be the same. Besides, I had always heard that tithes and firstfruits were the same.

Then I listened to some tape recordings (remember cassettes?) from a class taught at Rhema Bible Training Center. The teacher clearly showed that tithes and firstfruits in the Old Testament were two different offerings. You can read about both offerings in Deuteronomy 26. You will see there that the two offerings are handled a bit differently. Also, if you read Proverbs 3:9-10, you will notice that the offering of the firstfruits occurs at the beginning of the harvest season. Different crops are harvested at different times. The earliest harvested crops along with the animals born in the spring would be offered at the time of the Firstfruits. There was no specified amount that one had to offer unlike the "tithe" which means 'a tenth'. According to this passage, the Israelites were guaranteed a good harvest when they brought their firstfruits. After the whole harvest was in, then they would bring the tithe. One could hardly tithe at the time of the Firstfruits because one would not know how much 10% of the harvest would be. The offering of the Firstfruits was an act of faith. They offered it believing that God would bless them if they did. This idea of a guaranteed future blessing as a result of the offering of the firstfruits is very important for understanding how this concept is used in the New Testament.

As with all the OT feasts, Firstfruits is transformed by the coming of Jesus Christ, perhaps more than any other of the feasts. On the Day of Pentecost, as we have seen, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples to empower them for service. Nothing that happened on Pentecost seems to guarantee anything about a future blessing. However, we read in Ephesians 1:13 "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory." It says that the promised Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our future inheritance from God. WOW! That is a lot better than just getting a good harvest.

As well, we read this in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23: "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming." Jesus' resurrection is the firstfruits guarantee that we, too, will be resurrected. He offered Himself and became a firstfruits for us. Our future is guaranteed!

There is one more NT passage I want to consider here. It is James 1:18: "God chose to give us new birth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of the new creation." (Mixed translations) I am going out on a limb a little bit here, but I think it fits in with what we have seen so far. Along with, and because of, Jesus, we are the firstfruits of the new creation. Our spirits have been re-created in God's image and likeness. We are His children. But we still live in a fallen world and in the flesh. The fact of this new creation within us is evidence and guarantee that the new creation will be manifested in our bodies (resurrection) and in the New Heavens and the New Earth. "Behold, I make all things new!" (Revelation 21:5) Our redemption, which Jesus has accomplished, is guarantee of the redemption of our bodies and of the whole creation: "The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:21-23) Notice that the "Firstfruits of the Spirit" guarantees the redemption of our bodies, our resurrection. But it also says that the creation awaits the release from the bondage of corruption that came with the Fall of Adam. That release will come about when the creation enters into the same glorious liberty that we have as God's born-again children. Once again, we can see a link between the New Birth, new bodies, and the New Heavens and New Earth. And, of course, it all really goes back to Jesus and what He has done for us.

One last thing I want to note. One of the biggest differences between the Old Testament offering of the Firstfruits and the theme of firstfruits in the New Testament is the difference between works and grace. In the OT, it was the Israelite who offered the firstfruits. It the NT, it is Jesus who does the work and we who freely receive it. There is nothing for us to do but enjoy the benefits of it. So let's do that. Let's celebrate Pentecost, not just by wearing red, but by remembering what Firstfruits means to us today.












Saturday, April 29, 2017

Historical Accuracy - A Must

It still surprises me when careful teachers and preachers of the Word give us "false history" when trying to present a message to us. Recently, I was watching a video blog of one of my favorite teachers when he made very inaccurate, and even deceptive, historical claims. I do not mean he was purposely deceptive, but it doesn't matter because the effect is the same. We are led to believe things that are not true and draw erroneous conclusions from them. Sometimes this is harmless but other times it undermines the message itself.

This particular teacher was making the assertion that the church today ought celebrate the Jewish feasts. I have addressed that in my previous blog so I will not repeat what I wrote here. Of course, this teacher quoted the OT commands about keeping the feasts. Those were addressed to the Jews though I do commend him for showing us how Jesus fulfills them and transforms our understanding of them. That is good.

But his reasoning regarding the church celebrating these feasts was largely based on the historical "facts" that he put forth. He said that in the first few centuries of the church, all Christians celebrated these 7 feasts. Then in the fourth century the emperor Constantine changed that, substituting the pagan Easter celebration instead. He also persecuted the Jews and destroyed the Jewish Church. He also made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

We have to sort out fact from fiction here. Sadly, there is more fiction than fact.

CLAIM: Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

FACT: This is false. Constantine made Christianity legal where it had formerly been severely persecuted. In 313 AD, Constantine signed the Edict of Milan making Christianity legally tolerated even where his rivals ruled. This lifted the church from great oppression. Christianity was made the official religion in 380 AD decades after the death of Constantine.

CLAIM: Constantine changed church practices like getting rid of the Jewish Feasts and replacing them with a pagan Easter.

FACT: No such thing occurred nor was it possible for him to do so. The church had endured much persecution and would not have allowed an emperor, even a professing Christian emperor, to change anything in the church. Even on the face of it, it seems an absurd claim. Why would a Christian emperor who hated paganism introduce that same paganism into the church? It makes no sense.

What Constantine did do was call for a general church council at Nicea (where we get the Nicean creed) in 325 AD. There was a controversy regarding the nature of Christ's divinity. A bishop name Arius said that Christ was a created being, the highest and most exalted of God's creation, but He was not eternal deity. He was not equal with the Father. Most disputed this, but it caused a great controversy in the church. Arius was rejected and his ideas were condemned at this council. Interestingly, Constantine was himself Arian. So much for his great influence over the church.

CLAIM: Constantine persecuted the Jewish people and closed the Jewish churches.

FACT: Sadly, this was true. Constantine shamefully persecuted the Jews and basically put an end to the Jewish church which was small but vibrant. He made no distinction between the Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah and those who did not. As a result, orthodox Judaism developed in opposition to the church, even making converts to Judaism renounce Christ.

CLAIM: All churches kept the 7 Feasts until Constantine.

FACT: Only the Jewish churches kept these feasts as they were a part of their heritage. The Gentile churches never kept these feasts. Paul made sure that the Gentiles were not circumcised and were not made to keep kosher or observe any sabbath or feast. Of course, some may have done so, but it was rare.

CLAIM: Easter was a pagan holiday not celebrated until the 4th century.

FACT: "Easter" was celebrated in the second and third centuries. It was common for churches to insist that their pagan converts receive instruction for a year or more to rid them of pagan notions and make them understand what they were committing to. Then, on Easter, they would be baptized and become full members of the church. It was not a fourth century innovation.

FACT: Despite the English term "Easter", we are not celebrating anything but the resurrection of the Son of God. The Latin term for "Easter" is "Pascha" which is derived from Passover. This indicates that the church was well aware of the connection between Passover and the Resurrection. This does not mean that they had previously celebrated Passover instead of "Easter".

The origin of the English word "Easter" is a bit obscure. I, too, used to believe that it was derived from the Babylonian goddess "Ishtar", but it is not. Other languages use some form of "Pascha" as the word for Easter so the English word did not get passed through to English through French or even German. It is extremely doubtful that the English language used the name of an ancient Babylonian goddess as the word for day we celebrate Jesus' resurrection. Babylonian paganism was far away in time and distance. But the English word "Easter" is pagan in origin. It is from an English fertility goddess called "Eoster". The word actually referred to the time of year (spring) when life burst forth from the earth. Now before you say, "I knew it was pagan", consider what other English words have pagan origins. Take the days of the week, for instance. Our days are named after various pagan gods. And our months. Most of them are named after pagan gods. Does this mean that we are doing pagan worship when we use our names for days or months? Decidedly not! It is not "pagan" to use the English names of the days of the week or months of the year or for Easter either.

Now on the whole Easter egg/Easter bunny thing - I choose to remain neutral. Decide for yourselves if you want to use eggs or bunnies or any other fertility symbols at Easter. I will say, though, that I have fond memories of getting a solid chocolate Easter bunny on Easter morning. I doubt that eating that chocolate bunny was some kind of pagan worship. So, I will enjoy some chocolate and you can do as you wish.

Happy belated Pascha!