Friday, January 29, 2010

“Oppose the Devil” as Jesus Did

“Oppose the Devil, and he will flee from you.”—JAS. 4:7.
JESUS CHRIST knew that he would face opposition from the Devil. This fact was apparent from what God said to the serpent and thus to the wicked spirit rebel speaking through it: “I shall put enmity between you and the woman [the heavenly part of Jehovah’s organization] and between your seed and her seed. He [Jesus Christ] will bruise you in the head and you will bruise him in the heel.” (Gen. 3:14, 15; Rev. 12:9) Jesus’ being bruised in the heel meant that he would suffer only a temporary blow by being killed while on earth, for Jehovah would resurrect him to heavenly glory. But the bruising of the serpent in the head would mean that the Devil would receive a death blow from which he would never recover.—Read Acts 2:31, 32; Hebrews 2:14.

Jehovah was confident that Jesus would successfully fulfill his assignment and oppose the Devil while on the earth. Why could Jehovah be so sure of this? Because he had created Jesus in heaven ages earlier, had observed him, and knew that this “master worker” and “firstborn of all creation” was obedient and faithful. (Prov. 8:22-31; Col. 1:15) So when Jesus was sent to the earth and the Devil was allowed to test him to the point of death, God was confident that His only-begotten Son would come off victorious.—John 3:16.

Jehovah Preserves His Servants

Jesus referred to the Devil as “the ruler of this world” and warned His disciples that they would be persecuted, even as he had been. (John 12:31; 15:20) The world, lying in the power of Satan the Devil, hates true Christians because they serve Jehovah and are preachers of righteousness. (Matt. 24:9; 1 John 5:19) The Devil particularly targets the remnant of anointed ones who will eventually rule with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom. Satan also targets the many Witnesses of Jehovah who have the hope of living forever on a paradise earth. God’s Word warns us: “Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.”—1 Pet. 5:8.

As an organization enjoying the support of Jehovah God, we successfully oppose the Devil. Consider these facts: In the past 100 years, some of the most ferocious dictatorships in history have tried to stamp Jehovah’s Witnesses out of existence. But the number of Witnesses continues to grow and has now reached nearly 7,000,000 in over 100,000 congregations throughout the world. The cruel dictatorships that persecuted Jehovah’s people are the ones that have been stamped out of existence!
5 Speaking to the congregation of ancient Israel as his “woman,” God promised: “Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success, and any tongue at all that will rise up against you in the judgment you will condemn. This is the hereditary possession of the servants of Jehovah, and their righteousness is from me.” (Isa. 54:11, 17) That promise has proved reliable in the case of Jehovah’s people throughout the earth during these “last days.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5, 13) We continue to oppose the Devil, and no weapon that he tries to use to wipe out God’s people is successful, for Jehovah is on our side.—Ps. 118:6, 7.

At the rapidly approaching end of this entire wicked system of things, all aspects of Satan’s rule will be crushed out of existence. Writing under divine inspiration, the prophet Daniel foretold: “In the days of those kings [existing in our day] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom [in heaven] that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms [now existing], and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” (Dan. 2:44) When that happens, both satanic rule and rule by imperfect humans will disappear. Every aspect of the Devil’s system of things will be gone forever, and God’s Kingdom will rule unopposed over all the earth.—Read 2 Peter 3:7, 13.

There is no doubt that Jehovah’s organization will be preserved and will prosper spiritually. (Read Psalm 125:1, 2.) How about us? The Bible tells us that we can succeed in opposing the Devil, even as Jesus did. Indeed, the prophecy that Christ gave through the apostle John shows that despite satanic opposition, “a great crowd” of those having an earthly hope will survive this system’s end. According to the Scriptures, they cry out: “Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb [Jesus Christ].” (Rev. 7:9-14) Anointed ones are spoken of as conquering Satan, and their companions, the “other sheep,” also successfully oppose him. (John 10:16; Rev. 12:10, 11) But this requires diligent effort and earnest prayer for ‘deliverance from the wicked one.’—Matt. 6:13.

The Perfect Example in Opposing the Devil
8 The Devil tried to break the integrity of Jesus. In the wilderness, Satan used temptations in an effort to get Jesus to compromise His obedience to Jehovah. However, Jesus set a perfect example in opposing Satan. After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus likely had a strong desire to eat. “If you are a son of God,” said Satan, “tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus refused to make use of his God-given power for personal benefit. Instead, Jesus said: “It is written, ‘Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.’”—Matt. 4:1-4; Deut. 8:3.

Today, the Devil seeks to exploit the natural physical desires of Jehovah’s servants. We must therefore be resolute in resisting illicit sexual temptations, which are especially common in this immoral world. God’s Word emphatically states: “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men . . . will inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) Clearly, then, people who live immoral lives and refuse to change will not be allowed to live in God’s new world.

Concerning one of the temptations Jesus experienced in the wilderness, the Scriptures state: “The Devil took him along into the holy city, and he stationed him upon the battlement of the temple and said to him: ‘If you are a son of God, hurl yourself down; for it is written, “He will give his angels a charge concerning you, and they will carry you on their hands, that you may at no time strike your foot against a stone.”’” (Matt. 4:5, 6) Supposedly, this would result in a spectacular display of Jesus’ Messiahship. In reality, though, it would have been an improper, arrogant act that would not have had God’s approval and support. Once more, Jesus maintained his integrity to Jehovah and responded by quoting a scripture. He said: “Again it is written, ‘You must not put Jehovah your God to the test.’”—Matt. 4:7; Deut. 6:16.

Satan may tempt us to seek glory in various ways. He may try to induce us to imitate worldly fads in dress and grooming or to engage in questionable entertainment. But if we were to ignore Bible counsel and imitate the world, could we expect the angels to shield us from the bad effects of such a course? Although King David repented of his sins involving Bath-sheba, he was not shielded from the consequences of his actions. (2 Sam. 12:9-12) Let us not put Jehovah to the test in improper ways, perhaps by cultivating friendship with the world.—Read James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17.

Still another temptation that the Devil used in the wilderness involved an offer to give Jesus political power. Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and said: “All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.” (Matt. 4:8, 9) What an unscrupulous attempt to get the worship belonging to Jehovah and to induce Jesus to prove unfaithful to God! By meditating on the desire to be worshipped, that once loyal angel had become the sinful, covetous, and grossly evil tempter Satan the Devil. (Jas. 1:14, 15) In stark contrast, however, Jesus was determined to remain faithful to his heavenly Father and therefore declared: “Go away, Satan! For it is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’” Thus Jesus again opposed the Devil in clear and definite terms. God’s Son wanted no part of Satan’s world and would never worship that wicked one!—Matt. 4:10; Deut. 6:13; 10:20.

“Oppose the Devil, and He Will Flee From You”
By showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, the Devil was offering him unprecedented human power. Satan hoped that what Jesus saw would appeal to him and convince him that he could become the earth’s most powerful political leader. Today, the Devil does not offer us kingdoms, but he does attempt to corrupt our hearts through our eyes, ears, and minds.

The Devil is in control of this world. Hence, he controls its media. It is not surprising, therefore, that the world’s viewing, listening, and reading material is saturated with immorality and violence. This world’s advertising elements try to build in us a desire for a flood of consumer goods that we do not need. By such means, the Devil constantly tempts us with materialistic attractions that can appeal to our eyes, ears, and minds. But when we refuse to view, listen to, and read Scripturally unacceptable material, we are in effect saying: “Go away, Satan!” We thus imitate Jesus in being firm and decisive in our rejection of Satan’s unclean world. The fact that we are no part of Satan’s world is also seen in how we courageously identify ourselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christ’s followers at work, at school, in the neighborhood, and among our relatives.—Read Mark 8:38.
15 After the Devil’s third unsuccessful attempt to get Jesus to compromise His integrity to God, “the Devil left him.” (Matt. 4:11) However, Satan did not intend to stop tempting Jesus, for we are told: “So the Devil, having concluded all the temptation [in the wilderness], retired from him until another convenient time.” (Luke 4:13) When we succeed in opposing the Devil, we should thank Jehovah. But we should also seek God’s continued help, for the Devil will return to tempt us at another time convenient for him—and not necessarily when we may be expecting a temptation. Hence, we must remain alert at all times, ready to persevere in rendering sacred service to Jehovah regardless of the tests we must face.
16 To help us in our efforts to oppose the Devil, we should pray for and will receive the most powerful force in the universe—God’s holy spirit. It will enable us to do things that would be impossible for us to do in our own strength. Jesus assured his followers of the availability of God’s spirit by saying: “If you, although being [imperfect and thus comparatively] wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!” (Luke 11:13) Let us continue praying to Jehovah for his holy spirit. With this most powerful force backing us up in our determination to oppose the Devil, we will be able to come off victorious. In addition to regular and fervent prayer, we need to put on the complete suit of spiritual armor from God in order ‘to stand firm against the machinations, or crafty acts, of the Devil.’—Eph. 6:11-18, ftn.

Something else helped Jesus to oppose the Devil, and it can help us too. The Bible states: “For the joy that was set before [Jesus] he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2) We can have similar joy by upholding Jehovah’s sovereignty, honoring his holy name, and keeping the reward of everlasting life before us. What joy we will experience when Satan and all his works are obliterated forever and ‘the meek ones themselves possess the earth and find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace’! (Ps. 37:11) Therefore, keep on opposing the Devil, as Jesus did.—Read James 4:7, 8.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

What Makes Life Worthwhile?

What Makes Life Worthwhile?

“Fear the true God and keep his commandments.”—ECCL. 12:13.
IMAGINE a man who seems to have everything. He is a renowned statesman, one of the richest men on earth, and the greatest intellectual of his generation. Despite all his accomplishments, however, in effect he still asks himself, ‘What makes life worthwhile?’

Such a man really existed—some three thousand years ago. His name was Solomon, and in the book of Ecclesiastes, we find his description of his search for satisfaction. (Eccl. 1:13) There is much we can learn from Solomon’s experience. Indeed, the wisdom found in the book of Ecclesiastes can help us to establish goals that will give true meaning to our lives.

“Striving After Wind”

Solomon explains that God created an abundance of beautiful things on the earth—an inexhaustible and amazing source of interest and wonderment that we never cease to enjoy. However, we can hardly even begin to explore God’s creation because our lives are too short. (Eccl. 3:11; 8:17) As the Bible says, our days are few and they pass quickly. (Job 14:1, 2; Eccl. 6:12) This sobering fact should move us to use our lives wisely. That is no easy task, since Satan’s world may well point us in the wrong direction.

To highlight the danger of wasting our lives, Solomon uses the word “vanity” some 30 times in Ecclesiastes. The Hebrew word translated “vanity” refers to something empty, futile, meaningless, of no substance, or of no lasting value. (Eccl. 1:2, 3) Sometimes Solomon uses the word “vanity” as a parallel of “striving after wind.” (Eccl. 1:14; 2:11) Obviously, any attempt to catch the wind is futile. Anyone trying to do so ends up grasping at nothing. Pursuing unwise goals will prove to be just as frustrating. Life in this present system is too short to waste on endeavors that leave us empty-handed. Hence, to help us avoid making that mistake, let us look at some examples that Solomon gives of common pursuits in life. First, we will consider the pursuit of pleasure and possessions. After that, we will discuss the value of work.

Will the Pursuit of Pleasure Make Us Happy?

Like many people today, Solomon tried to find satisfaction by pursuing a life of pleasure. He reports: “I did not hold back my heart from any sort of rejoicing.” (Eccl. 2:10) Where did he search for pleasure? According to Ecclesiastes chapter 2, he ‘cheered his flesh with wine’—at the same time maintaining self-control—and pursued such activities as landscaping, designing palaces, listening to music, and enjoying good food.

Does the Bible condemn having a good time with friends? Not at all. Solomon notes, for instance, that enjoying a meal in a relaxed atmosphere after a hard day’s work is a gift of God. (Read Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12, 13.) Moreover, Jehovah himself invites young ones to ‘rejoice and let their heart do them good’ in a responsible way. (Eccl. 11:9) We need relaxation and wholesome entertainment. (Compare Mark 6:31.) However, recreation should not become the primary purpose of our life. Rather, relaxation should be like the dessert at the end of a meal, not the main course. You will agree that no matter how much you enjoy sweet desserts, you would soon tire of them if you ate nothing else, and they would not provide much sustenance. Similarly, Solomon discovered that a life centered on pleasure was “a striving after wind.”—Eccl. 2:10, 11.

Furthermore, not all kinds of recreation are wholesome. Many are downright harmful—both spiritually and morally. How many millions have plunged their lives into despair just because they ‘wanted to have a good time,’ abusing drugs, overindulging in alcohol, or gambling? Jehovah kindly warns us that if we allow our heart or our eyes to lead us toward what is harmful, we must expect to suffer the consequences.—Gal. 6:7.

Moreover, an unbalanced pursuit of pleasure will hinder us from paying proper attention to weightier matters. Remember, life passes by quickly, and there is no guarantee that our short life will always be marked by good health and freedom from problems. That is why, as Solomon further noted, we may derive greater benefit from attending a funeral—especially that of a loyal Christian brother or sister—than from going to a “house of rejoicing.” (Read Ecclesiastes 7:2, 4.) Why is that so? As we listen to the funeral discourse and reflect on the life course of the faithful servant of Jehovah who has died, we might be moved to examine our own life course. As a result, we may conclude that we need to adjust our goals in order to use the remainder of our lives wisely.—Eccl. 12:1.

Will Material Possessions Give Us Satisfaction?
9 Solomon was one of the richest men on earth when he wrote Ecclesiastes. (2 Chron. 9:22) He had the means to acquire anything he wanted. “Anything that my eyes asked for I did not keep away from them,” he wrote. (Eccl. 2:10) Nevertheless, he discovered that possessions do not in themselves bring satisfaction. “A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, neither any lover of wealth with income,” he concluded.—Eccl. 5:10.

Despite the fleeting value of possessions, wealth can still exert a powerful attraction. In a recent survey in the United States, 75 percent of all first-year university students described their principal goal in life as being “financially very well off.” Even if they reached their goal, would they be truly happy? Not necessarily. Researchers have noted that an emphasis on materialism is, in fact, a hindrance to happiness and satisfaction. A long time ago, Solomon had already reached that same conclusion. He wrote: “I accumulated also silver and gold for myself, and property peculiar to kings . . . And, look! everything was vanity and a striving after wind.” (Eccl. 2:8, 11) In contrast, if we use our life to serve Jehovah wholeheartedly and thus receive his blessing, we will obtain true riches.—Read Proverbs 10:22.

What Kind of Work Brings Genuine Satisfaction?

Jesus said: “My Father has kept working until now, and I keep working.” (John 5:17) There is no doubt that Jehovah and Jesus derive satisfaction from work. The Bible indicates Jehovah’s satisfaction with his creative work when it says: “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31) The angels “began shouting in applause” when they saw all that God had done. (Job 38:4-7) Solomon likewise appreciated the value of meaningful work.—Eccl. 3:13.

Many humans understand the value of honest work. For instance, José, a successful artist, says, “When you are able to paint on the canvas the picture you have in mind, you feel as if you had conquered a high mountain.” Miguel, a businessman, notes: “Work gives satisfaction because it enables you to provide for your family. It can also give you a sense of achievement.”

On the other hand, many jobs are monotonous and offer few opportunities to be creative. Sometimes the workplace itself is a source of frustration and even the scene of injustice. As Solomon points out, the lazy one—perhaps because he uses his connections with people in power—may reap the reward of the diligent worker. (Eccl. 2:21) Other factors may also lead to disappointment. What starts out as a so-called wonderful business opportunity may end up in failure because of an economic downturn or unforeseen occurrences. (Read Ecclesiastes 9:11.) Many times, the person who struggles hard to succeed ends up bitter and frustrated, realizing that he has kept “working hard for the wind.”—Eccl. 5:16.

Is there any kind of work that never disappoints? José, the artist mentioned earlier, observes: “Over the years, paintings may get lost or destroyed. That is not the case with the spiritual things we produce. By obeying Jehovah in preaching the good news, I have helped to build something permanent—fine God-fearing Christians. That is priceless.” (1 Cor. 3:9-11) Miguel likewise says that preaching the Kingdom message brings him far more satisfaction than his secular work. “Nothing can replace the joy you feel when you share a Scriptural truth with someone and you sense that it has touched that person’s heart,” he says.

“Send Out Your Bread”

In conclusion, what really makes life worthwhile? We feel true satisfaction if we use our brief time in this system of things to do good and to please Jehovah. We can build up a close relationship with God, we can pass on spiritual values to our children, we can help others to know Jehovah, and we can forge lasting friendships with our brothers and sisters. (Gal. 6:10) All these endeavors have permanent value and bring blessings to those who achieve them. Solomon used a very interesting comparison to describe the value of doing good. He said: “Send out your bread upon the surface of the waters, for in the course of many days you will find it again.” (Eccl. 11:1) Jesus urged his disciples: “Practice giving, and people will give to you.” (Luke 6:38) Furthermore, Jehovah himself promises to reward those who do good toward others.—Prov. 19:17; read Hebrews 6:10.

The Bible urges us to make wise decisions while we are still young regarding how we will use our life. In that way, we will be able to avoid frustration in later years. (Eccl. 12:1) How sad it would be if we were to waste the best years of our life chasing the attractions of the world, only to find that they are no more substantial than the wind!

Like any loving father, Jehovah wants you to enjoy life, to do good, and to avoid unnecessary heartache. (Eccl. 11:9, 10) What will help you to do that? Establish spiritual goals and then work hard to reach them. Nearly 20 years ago, Javier had to choose between a promising medical career and the full-time ministry. “Although a doctor’s work can be satisfying, nothing could compare with the joy I felt when I helped several people to come to know the truth,” he says. “Full-time service has enabled me to enjoy life to the full. My only regret is that I did not begin earlier.”

What, then, is the most valuable thing we should strive to possess? The book of Ecclesiastes says: “A name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born.” (Eccl. 7:1) Nothing illustrates this better than the life of Jesus. He surely made an outstanding name with Jehovah. When Jesus died faithful, he vindicated his Father’s sovereignty and provided the ransom sacrifice, which opened the way for our salvation. (Matt. 20:28) During his brief time on earth, Jesus provided the perfect example—one that we strive to imitate—of a truly worthwhile life.—1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Pet. 2:21.

We too can establish a good name with God. Having a good reputation in Jehovah’s eyes is for us far more valuable than having riches. (Read Matthew 6:19-21.) Every day, we can find ways to do things that are good in Jehovah’s eyes and that will enrich our lives. For example, we can share the good news with others, strengthen our marriage and our family, and deepen our spirituality by personal study and meeting attendance. (Eccl. 11:6; Heb. 13:16) So, then, do you want to enjoy a truly worthwhile life? If so, keep on following Solomon’s counsel: “Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.”—Eccl. 12:13.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Roots of Modern Christmas

FOR millions of people worldwide, the Christmas season is a very joyful time of the year. It is a time of sumptuous meals, time-honored traditions, and family togetherness. The Christmas holiday is also a time when friends and relatives enjoy exchanging cards and gifts.

Just 150 years ago, however, Christmas was a very different holiday. In his book The Battle for Christmas, professor of history Stephen Nissenbaum writes: “Christmas . . . was a time of heavy drinking when the rules that governed people’s public behavior were momentarily abandoned in favor of an unrestrained ‘carnival,’ a kind of December Mardi Gras.”
To those who view Christmas with reverential awe, this description might be disturbing. Why would anyone desecrate a holiday that purports to commemorate the birth of God’s Son? The answer may surprise you.

Faulty Foundation
From its inception in the fourth century, Christmas has been surrounded by controversy. For example, there was the question of Jesus’ birthday. Since the Bible does not specify either the day or the month of Christ’s birth, a variety of dates have been suggested. In the third century, one group of Egyptian theologians placed it on May 20, while others favored earlier dates, such as March 28, April 2, or April 19. By the 18th-century, Jesus’ birth had been associated with every month of the year! How, then, was December 25 finally chosen?

Most scholars agree that December 25 was assigned by the Catholic Church as Jesus’ birthday. Why? “Most probably the reason,” says The New Encyclopædia Britannica, “is that early Christians wished the date to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the ‘birthday of the unconquered sun.’” But why would Christians who were viciously persecuted by pagans for over two and a half centuries all of a sudden yield to their persecutors?

Corruption Introduced
In the first century, the apostle Paul warned Timothy that “wicked men and impostors” would slip into the Christian congregation and mislead many. (2 Timothy 3:13) This great apostasy began after the death of the apostles. (Acts 20:29, 30) Following the so-called conversion of Constantine in the fourth century, vast numbers of pagans flocked to the form of Christianity that then prevailed. With what result? The book Early Christianity and Paganism states: “The comparatively little body of really earnest believers was lost in the great multitude of professed Christians.”

How true Paul’s words proved to be! It was as if genuine Christianity were being gobbled up by pagan corruption. And nowhere was this contamination more apparent than in the celebration of holidays.

Actually, the only celebration that Christians are commanded to observe is the Lord’s Evening Meal. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) Because of the idolatrous practices associated with Roman festivals, early Christians did not share in them. For this reason third-century pagans reproached Christians, saying: “You do not visit exhibitions; you have no concern in public displays; you reject the public banquets, and abhor the sacred contests.” Pagans, on the other hand, bragged: “We worship the gods with cheerfulness, with feasts, songs and games.”

By the middle of the fourth century, the grumbling subsided. How so? As more and more counterfeit Christians crept into the fold, apostate ideas multiplied. This led to compromises with the Roman world. Commenting on this, the book The Paganism in Our Christianity states: “It was a definite Christian policy to take over the pagan festivals endeared to the people by tradition, and to give them a Christian significance.” Yes, the great apostasy was taking its toll. The willingness of the so-called Christians to adopt pagan celebrations now brought a measure of acceptance within the community. Before long, Christians came to have as many annual festivals as the pagans themselves. Not surprisingly, Christmas was foremost among them.

An International Holiday
As the predominant form of Christianity spread across Europe, Christmas expanded with it. The Catholic Church adopted the viewpoint that it was fitting to perpetuate a joyous festival in honor of Jesus’ birthday. Accordingly, in 567 C.E., the Council of Tours “proclaimed the 12 days from Christmas to Epiphany as a sacred and festive season.”—The Catholic Encyclopedia for School and Home.

Christmas soon absorbed many features from the profane harvest festivals of northern Europe. Merrymaking remained more common than piety as revelers indulged in gluttonous eating and drinking. Rather than speak out against the loose conduct, the church endorsed it. (Compare Romans 13:13; 1 Peter 4:3.)

In 601 C.E., Pope Gregory I wrote to Mellitus, his missionary in England, telling him “not to stop such ancient pagan festivities, but to adapt them to the rites of the Church, only changing the reason of them from a heathen to a Christian impulse.” Thus reports Arthur Weigall, who once was inspector general of antiquities for the Egyptian government.

During the Middle Ages, reform-minded individuals felt the need to speak out against such excesses. They sent out numerous decrees against “the abuses of Christmas merriment.” Dr. Penne Restad, in her book Christmas in America—A History, says: “Some clergy stressed that fallen humankind needed a season of abandon and excess, as long as it was carried on under the umbrella of Christian supervision.”

This only added to the confusion. It hardly mattered, though, for pagan customs were already so closely fused with Christmas that most people were unwilling to give them up. Writer Tristram Coffin put it this way: “People at large [were] doing just what they ha[d] always done and paying little attention to the debates of the moralists.”

By the time Europeans began settling the New World, Christmas was a well-known holiday. Still, Christmas did not find favor in the colonies. Puritan reformers viewed the celebration as pagan and banned it in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681.
After the ban was lifted, the celebration of Christmas increased throughout the colonies, particularly south of New England. In view of the holiday’s past, however, it is not surprising that some were more concerned with having a good time than with honoring God’s Son. One Christmas custom that was especially disruptive was that of wassailing. Rowdy bands of young men would enter the homes of wealthy neighbors and demand free food and drink in a trick-or-treat fashion. If the householder refused, he was usually cursed, and occasionally his house was vandalized.

Conditions in the 1820’s worsened to the point that “Christmas misrule” became “an acute social threat,” says Professor Nissenbaum. In cities like New York and Philadelphia, wealthy landowners began hiring watchmen to guard their estates. It is even said that New York City organized its first professional police force in response to a violent riot during the 1827/28 Christmas season!

Christmas Make-Over
The 19th century brought unprecedented changes to humankind. People, goods, and news began to travel much faster as a network of roads and railroads emerged. The industrial revolution created millions of jobs, and factories churned out a steady supply of merchandise. Industrialization also introduced new and complex social problems, which ultimately affected the way Christmas was celebrated.
People have long used holidays as a means to strengthen family ties, and so it is with Christmas. By selectively reworking some of the older Christmas traditions, its promoters effectively changed Christmas from a wild, carnivallike festival to a family-based holiday.

Indeed, by the late 19th century, Christmas came to be viewed as a sort of antidote to the ills of modern American life. “Of all holidays,” says Dr. Restad, “Christmas was a perfect agency for transporting religion and religious feeling into the home and for righting the excesses and failures of the public world.” She adds: “Gift-giving, gestures of charity, even the friendly exchange of a holiday greeting and the decoration and enjoyment of an evergreen tree set in a parlor or, later, a Sunday school hall, linked members of each nuclear family to one another, to church, and to society.”

In a similar vein, many today celebrate Christmas as a means to affirm their love for one another and to help maintain family unity. Not to be overlooked, of course, are the spiritual dimensions. Millions of people celebrate Christmas in honor of Jesus’ birth. They may attend special church services, put up Nativity scenes at home, or offer prayers of thanks to Jesus himself. But how does God view the matter? Do these things meet with his approval? Consider what the Bible has to say.

“Love Truth and Peace”
While Jesus was on earth, he told his followers: “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) Jesus lived by those words. He always spoke the truth. He perfectly imitated his Father, “Jehovah the God of truth.”—Psalm 31:5; John 14:9.

Through the pages of the Bible, Jehovah has made it clear that he hates all forms of deception. (Psalm 5:6) In view of this, is it not ironic that so many features associated with Christmas smack of falsehood? For instance, think of the fairy tale about Santa Claus. Have you ever tried explaining to a child why Santa prefers entering through a chimney instead of a door, as is widely held in many lands? And how does Santa visit so many millions of homes in just one evening? What about flying reindeer? When a child learns that he has been deceived about believing that Santa is a real person, does it not undermine his trust in his parents?

The Catholic Encyclopedia plainly states: “Pagan customs . . . gravitated to Christmas.” Then why do the Catholic Church and other churches of Christendom continue to perpetuate a holiday the customs of which are not of Christian origin? Does that not indicate a condoning of pagan teachings?

While on earth Jesus did not encourage men to worship him. Jesus himself said: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.” (Matthew 4:10) Similarly, after Jesus’ heavenly glorification, an angel told the apostle John to “worship God,” indicating that nothing had changed regarding this matter. (Revelation 19:10) This leads to the question, Would Jesus approve of all the worshipful devotion that is directed to him, not his Father, at Christmastime?

Clearly, the facts about modern Christmas are not very flattering. It is largely a manufactured holiday with much evidence pointing to a degraded past. In all good conscience, then, millions of Christians have decided not to celebrate Christmas. For example, one youth named Ryan says regarding Christmas: “People get so excited about a couple of days a year when the family gets together and all are happy. But what is so special about that? My parents give me gifts all year!” Another youth, 12 years old, says: “I don’t feel deprived. I receive gifts throughout the year, not just on one special day when people feel obligated to purchase gifts.”

The prophet Zechariah encouraged fellow Israelites to “love truth and peace.” (Zechariah 8:19) If we, like Zechariah and other faithful men of old, “love truth,” should we not avoid any false religious celebration that dishonors the “living and true God,” Jehovah?—1 Thessalonians 1:9.

Is jehovahs Witnessess the only one that recognize that many holidays have pagan roots? no others do please read further by using this link Christmas: Is it "Christian" or Pagan?

look at what happens in Chester,England every year they celebrate christmas by recognizing not God or his son Jesus but the God Jupiter or Saturn
Chester Saturnalia Parade 07

Monday, October 26, 2009

Parents—Train Your Children With Love

“Let all your affairs take place with love.”—1 CORINTHIANS 16:14.
MOST would agree that the birth of a child can be one of life’s most joyful events. “When I first gazed at my newborn daughter, it was a wonderful feeling,” says a mother named Aleah. “I thought she was the most beautiful child I had ever seen.” Such a joyful occasion, though, can also create anxiety for parents. “My concern,” says Aleah’s husband, “was whether I could properly prepare my daughter for the trials of life.” Many parents share such concerns and realize the need for training their children with love. However, Christian parents who desire to give such loving training face challenges. What are some of them?

We are now living deep in the last days of this system. As foretold, a loveless attitude pervades society. Even among family members, people display “no natural affection” and have become “unthankful, disloyal, . . . without self-control, fierce.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Daily contact with people who display such traits can affect the way members of Christian families treat one another. In addition, parents wrestle with their own inherited tendency to lose self-control, to say things they do not mean, and to use poor judgment in other ways.—Romans 3:23; James 3:2, 8, 9.

Despite these challenges, parents can raise happy, spiritually healthy children. How? By following the Bible’s advice: “Let all your affairs take place with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14) Indeed, love is “a perfect bond of union.” (Colossians 3:14) Let us examine three aspects of love described by the apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians and discuss some specific ways parents can put this quality to work as they train their children.—1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

The Need to Be Long-Suffering

Paul wrote: “Love is long-suffering.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) The Greek expression translated “long-suffering” denotes patience and slowness to anger. Why do parents need to be long-suffering? Most parents can no doubt think of many reasons. Consider just a few. Children seldom ask just once for some desired object. Even if a parent replies with a firm no, the child may ask again and again, hoping for a different answer. Teenagers may want to argue at length that they should be allowed to take some course of action that the parent knows to be foolish. (Proverbs 22:15) And like all of us, children are prone to repeat some of their mistakes.—Psalm 130:3.

What can help parents to be long-suffering and patient with their children? King Solomon wrote: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger.” (Proverbs 19:11) Parents gain insight into their children’s behavior by recalling that at one time they too used to “speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Parents, can you remember bothering your mother or father to give in to a childish request? As a teenager, did you ever think that your parents just did not understand your feelings or problems? If so, you likely appreciate why your children behave as they do and why they need constant, patient reminders of your decisions. (Colossians 4:6) It is worth noting that Jehovah told Israelite parents to “inculcate” his laws in their young ones. (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) The Hebrew word for “inculcate” means “to repeat,” “to say again and again,” “to impress.” This implies that parents may have to repeat themselves many times before a child learns to apply God’s laws. Similar repetition is often needed to teach other lessons in life.

A long-suffering parent, however, is not a permissive parent. God’s Word warns: “A boy let on the loose will be causing his mother shame.” To prevent such an outcome, the same proverb states: “The rod and reproof are what give wisdom.” (Proverbs 29:15) At times, children may question the right of parents to reprove them. But Christian families should not be run as a democracy, as if the parents’ right to enforce rules were somehow dependent on the children’s approval. Rather, Jehovah, as the ultimate Head of the family, confers on parents the authority to train and discipline their children lovingly. (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 3:15; 6:1-4) In fact, discipline is closely linked with the next aspect of love mentioned by Paul.

How to Discipline in Love

Paul wrote that “love is . . . kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Parents who are truly kind will discipline their children in a consistent manner. By doing so, they imitate Jehovah. “Whom Jehovah loves he disciplines,” wrote Paul. Please note that the type of discipline referred to in the Bible does not simply mean punishment. It carries the idea of training and education. What is the purpose of such discipline? “To those who have been trained by it,” Paul states, “it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:6, 11) When parents kindly educate their children according to God’s will, they give them the opportunity to become peaceable, upright adults. If children accept “the discipline of Jehovah,” they gain wisdom, knowledge, and discernment—assets more valuable than silver or gold.—Proverbs 3:11-18.

On the other hand, it is not a kindness when parents fail to discipline their children. Jehovah inspired Solomon to write: “The one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.” (Proverbs 13:24) Children raised without consistent discipline are likely to be self-centered and unhappy. In contrast, the children of parents who are sympathetic but maintain firm limits were found to perform better at school, to have better social skills, and to be generally happy. Certainly, then, parents who discipline their children are being kind to them.

What is involved in disciplining children in a kind and loving manner? Parents need to discuss with their children exactly what is required of them. For example, from infancy, children of Christian parents are taught fundamental Bible principles as well as the need to participate in the various aspects of true worship. (Exodus 20:12-17; Matthew 22:37-40; 28:19; Hebrews 10:24, 25) Children need to know that these requirements are nonnegotiable.

At times, though, parents may want to bring their children into the discussion when formulating house rules. If youths are able to share in discussions about those rules, they may be more inclined to obey them. For instance, in case parents decide to impose a curfew, they could choose a specific hour that the children are required to be at home. Or, as an alternative, they might allow their children to suggest an hour and to offer reasons for their preference. The parents may then state their own desired time and explain why they feel that this is appropriate. If there is a difference of opinion, as there will likely be, what then? In some cases, the parents may decide that it might be possible to accommodate their children’s wishes when Bible principles are not jeopardized. Does this mean that the parents are abdicating, or giving up, their authority?

To answer that question, consider the way in which Jehovah lovingly exercised his authority when dealing with Lot and his family. After escorting Lot, his wife, and his daughters out of Sodom, the angels said to them: “Escape to the mountainous region for fear you may be swept away!” However, Lot replied: “Not that, please, Jehovah!” Lot then suggested an alternative: “Please, now, this city is nearby to flee there and it is a small thing. May I, please, escape there?” What was Jehovah’s response? “Here I do show you consideration to this extent also,” he said. (Genesis 19:17-22) Did Jehovah abdicate his authority? Certainly not! Nevertheless, he considered Lot’s request and chose to extend extra kindness to him in this matter. If you are a parent, are there times when you can consider your children’s concerns when establishing family rules?

Of course, children need to know not only the rules but also the penalties for breaking those rules. Once the penalties have been discussed and are understood, the rules need to be enforced. Parents are not being kind if they constantly warn their children about a deserved punishment but fail to carry it out. “Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad,” says the Bible. (Ecclesiastes 8:11) True, a parent may refrain from punishing a child in public or around the child’s peers, thus saving the young one some embarrassment. But children feel more secure and develop more respect and love for their parents when they know that their parents’ “Yes” means yes and their “No” means no—even if that entails punishment.—Matthew 5:37.

If it is to be kind, the punishment and the way it is administered need to be tailored to the child. “Our two children had different needs when it came to discipline,” recalls Pam. “What worked with one child didn’t work for the other.” Her husband, Larry, explains: “Our elder daughter was strong-willed and seemed to respond only to stern discipline. However, our younger daughter was very responsive to firm words and even a disapproving look.” Indeed, kind parents strive to discern what discipline works best for each of their children.

Jehovah sets the pattern for parents in that he knows the strengths and weaknesses of each of his servants. (Hebrews 4:13) In addition, when meting out punishment, Jehovah is neither unduly stern nor overly permissive. Instead, he always disciplines his people “to the proper degree.” (Jeremiah 30:11) Parents, do you know your children’s strengths and weaknesses? Are you able to use that knowledge in a positive, kind way to train them? If so, you are proving that you love your children.

Encourage Honest Communication

Another facet of love is that “it does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6) How can parents train their children to love what is right and true? A fundamental step is to encourage their children to express their feelings honestly, even if what the children say is difficult for the parents to accept. Understandably, parents rejoice when children express thoughts and feelings in harmony with righteous standards. At other times, though, a child’s heartfelt comments may reveal an inclination toward unrighteousness. (Genesis 8:21)

How should parents respond? Their initial tendency might be to chastise their children immediately for expressing such thoughts. If parents respond in such a way, the children might soon learn to say only what they think the parents want to hear. Of course, disrespectful speech should be promptly corrected, but there is a difference between teaching children how to communicate politely and dictating what they say.

How can parents encourage honest communication? Aleah, mentioned earlier, says, “We have created an atmosphere of open communication by trying not to overreact when our children tell us things that we find troubling.” A father named Tom says: “We encouraged our daughter to express herself to us, even when she didn’t agree with our way of thinking. We felt that if we always cut her off and arbitrarily imposed our will, she would become frustrated and would learn not to tell us what was really in her heart. On the other hand, listening to her encouraged her to listen to us.” Certainly, children should obey their parents. (Proverbs 6:20)

But open communication gives parents the opportunity to help their children develop reasoning ability. Vincent, a father of four, says: “Often, we would talk through the advantages and disadvantages of a situation so that our children could see for themselves the best outcome. This helped them develop thinking ability.”—Proverbs 1:1-4.

Of course, no parent will be able to apply perfectly the Bible’s counsel on child rearing. Even so, you can be sure that your children will deeply appreciate your attempts to train them in a long-suffering, kind, and loving manner. Jehovah will certainly bless your efforts to do so. (Proverbs 3:33) Ultimately, all Christian parents want their children to learn to love Jehovah as much as they themselves do. How can parents reach this noble goal? The following article will discuss some specific methods.
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Friday, October 23, 2009

How Do I Know If It’s Real Love?

How Do I Know If It’s Real Love?
LOVE—to starry-eyed romantics it is a mysterious visitation that seizes you, a once-in-a-lifetime feeling of sheer ecstasy. Love, they believe, is strictly an affair of the heart, something that cannot be understood, just experienced. Love conquers all and lasts forever . . .
So go the romantic clichés. And no doubt about it, falling in love can be a uniquely beautiful experience. But just what is real love?

Love at First Sight?
David met Janet for the first time at a party. He was immediately attracted to her shapely figure and the way her hair tumbled over her eye when she laughed. Janet was enchanted by his deep brown eyes and his witty conversation. It seemed like a case of mutual love at first sight!
During the next three weeks, David and Janet were inseparable. Then one night Janet received a devastating phone call from a former boyfriend. She called David for comfort. But David, feeling threatened and confused, responded coldly. The love they thought would last forever died that night.

Movies, books, and television shows would have you believe that love at first sight lasts forever. Granted, physical attractiveness is usually what makes two people notice each other in the first place. As one young man put it: “It is hard to ‘see’ a person’s personality.” But what is it that one “loves” when a relationship is but a few hours or days old? Is it not the image that person projects? Really, you don’t know much about that person’s thoughts, hopes, fears, plans, habits, skills, or abilities. You’ve met only the outer shell, not “the secret person of the heart.” (1 Peter 3:4) How enduring could such love be?

Looks Are Deceiving
Furthermore, outward appearances can be deceiving. The Bible says: “Charm may be false, and prettiness may be vain.” The glittering wrappings of a gift tell you nothing of what’s inside. In fact, the most elegant wrappings may cover a useless gift.—Proverbs 31:30.
The Proverbs say: “As a gold nose ring in the snout of a pig, so is a woman that is pretty but that is turning away from sensibleness.” (Proverbs 11:22) Nose rings were a popular adornment during Bible times. They were exquisite, often made of solid gold. Naturally, such a ring would be the first piece of jewelry you would notice on a woman.

Appropriately, the proverb compares an outwardly beautiful woman who lacks “sensibleness” to a “nose ring in the snout of a pig.” Beauty simply does not befit a senseless woman; it is a useless ornament on her. In the long run, it no more makes her appealing than would a gorgeous nose ring beautify a pig! What a mistake it is, then, to fall ‘in love’ with the way someone looks—and ignore what that person is inside.

“The Most Deceitful Thing There Is”
Some, however, feel that the human heart has infallible romantic judgment. ‘Just listen to your heart,’ they argue. ‘You will know when it’s real love!’ Unfortunately, the facts contradict this notion. A survey was taken in which 1,079 young people (ages 18 to 24) reported having experienced an average of seven romantic involvements up to that time. Most admitted that their past romances were mere infatuation—a passing, fading emotion. Yet, these youths “invariably described their current experience as love”! Most, though, will likely one day view their current involvements as they did their past ones—as mere infatuations.
The tragedy is that thousands of couples every year marry under the illusion of being ‘in love,’ only to find shortly thereafter that they have seriously erred. Infatuation “lures unsuspecting men and women into poor marriages like lambs to the slaughter,” says Ray Short in his book Sex, Love, or Infatuation.

“He that is trusting in his own heart is stupid.” (Proverbs 28:26) Far too often, the judgment of our heart is misguided or misdirected. In fact, the Bible says: “The heart is the most deceitful thing there is.” (Jeremiah 17:9, The Living Bible) Yet, the aforementioned proverb continues: “But he that is walking in wisdom is the one that will escape.” You too can escape the dangers and frustrations other youths have suffered if you learn the difference between infatuation and the love described in the Bible—the love that never fails.

Love Versus Infatuation
“Infatuation is blind and it likes to stay that way. It doesn’t like to look at reality,” admits 24-year-old Calvin. A 16-year-old girl, Kenya, added, “When you’re infatuated with a person, you think that everything they do is just perfect.”
Infatuation is counterfeit love. It is unrealistic and self-centered. Infatuated persons have a tendency to say: ‘I really feel important when I’m with him. I can’t sleep. I can’t believe how fantastic this is’ or, ‘She really makes me feel good.’ Notice how many times either “I” or “me” is used? A relationship based on selfishness is bound to fail! Note, however, the Bible’s description of true love: “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury.”—1 Corinthians 13:4, 5.

Since it “does not look for its own interests,” love based on Bible principle is neither self-centered nor selfish. True, a couple may have strong romantic feelings and mutual attraction. But these feelings are balanced by reason and deep respect for the other person. When you are really in love, you care just as much for the other person’s welfare and happiness as you do for your own. You do not let overpowering emotion destroy good judgment.

An Example of Real Love
The Bible account of Jacob and Rachel vividly illustrates this. This couple met at a well where Rachel had come to water her father’s sheep. Jacob was immediately attracted to her not only because she was “beautiful in form and beautiful of countenance” but because she was a worshiper of Jehovah.—Genesis 29:1-12, 17.
After spending a full month living in the home of Rachel’s family, Jacob made it known that he was in love with Rachel and wanted to marry her. Mere romantic infatuation? Not at all! During that month, he had seen Rachel in her natural setting—how she treated her parents and others, how she went about her work as a shepherdess, how seriously she took Jehovah’s worship. Undoubtedly he saw her at both her “best” and her “worst.” His love for her was therefore not unbridled emotion but an unselfish love based on reason and deep respect.
Such being the case, Jacob could declare that he was willing to work for her father seven years to be able to have her as a wife. Certainly no infatuation would have lasted that long! Only genuine love, an unselfish interest in the other, would have made those years seem “like some few days.” Because of that genuine love, they were able to maintain their chastity during that period.—Genesis 29:20, 21.

It Takes Time!
True love is therefore not hurt by time. Indeed, often the best way to test out your feelings for someone is to let some time pass. Furthermore, as a young woman named Sandra observed: “A person just doesn’t hand out to you his personality by simply saying: ‘This is what I am. Now you know all about me.’” No, it also takes time to get to know someone you are interested in.

Time also allows you to examine your romantic interest in the light of the Bible. Remember, love “does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests.” Is your companion eager for the success of your plans—or only for his or her own? Does he or she show respect for your viewpoint, your feelings? Has he or she pressured you to do things that are really ‘indecent’ in order to satisfy selfish passions? Does this person tend to put you down or build you up in front of others? Asking questions like these can help you appraise your feelings more objectively.

Rushing romance invites disaster. “I just fell in love, fast and deep,” explained 20-year-old Jill. After a whirlwind romance of two months, she married. But previously concealed faults began to emerge. Jill began to display some of her insecurity and self-centeredness. Her husband, Rick, lost his romantic charm and became selfish. After being married for about two years, Jill one day screamed that her husband was “cheap,” “lazy,” and a “flop” as a husband. Rick responded by striking her in the face with his fist. In tears, Jill dashed out of their house—and out of their marriage.

Following the Bible’s counsel would no doubt have helped them preserve their marriage. (Ephesians 5:22-33) But how different things might have been had they become better acquainted with each other before marriage! Their love would have been not of an “image” but of a real personality—one with both flaws and strengths. Their expectations would have been more realistic.

Real love does not happen overnight. Nor is the person who would make you a good marriage mate necessarily someone you find overwhelmingly attractive. Barbara, for example, met a young man whom she admits she was not overly attracted to—at first. “But as I got to know him better,” recalls Barbara, “things changed. I saw Stephen’s concern for other people and how he always put the interests of others before himself. These were the qualities I knew would make a good husband. I was drawn to him and began to love him.” A solid marriage resulted.

So how can you know true love? Your heart may speak, but trust your Bible-trained mind. Get to know more than the person’s external “image.” Give the relationship time to blossom. Remember, infatuation reaches a fever pitch in a short time but then fades. Genuine love grows stronger with time and becomes “a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:14.

How Can I Get Over a Broken Heart?
You just know this is the one you will marry. You enjoy each other’s company, you share common interests, and you sense a mutual attraction. Then, suddenly, the relationship dies, exploding in a burst of anger—or melting in tears.
In his book The Chemistry of Love, Dr. Michael Liebowitz likens the onset of love to the rush of a powerful drug. But like a drug, such love can trigger raging ‘withdrawal symptoms’ if it dies. And it makes little difference whether the love is mere infatuation or the ‘real thing.’ Both can create dizzying highs—and agonizing lows if the relationship ends.

The feelings of rejection, hurt, and perhaps outrage that come in the wake of a breakup may thus sour your view of the future. One young woman speaks of herself as ‘wounded’ because of being jilted. “I can only be a ‘Hi, how are you?’ person [with the opposite sex] now,” she says. “I am not letting any person get close to me.” The deeper the commitment you feel in a relationship, the deeper the hurt its breakup can cause.

Yes, indeed, the freedom to court whom you please carries a hefty price tag: the real possibility of rejection. There simply is no guarantee that true love will grow. So if someone began courting you with honest intentions but later concluded that marriage would be unwise, you have not necessarily been dealt with unfairly.

The problem is, even when a breakup is handled with the utmost tact and kindness, you are still bound to feel hurt and rejected. This is no reason to lose your self-esteem, however. The fact that you were not “right” in this person’s eyes does not mean that you will not be just right in the eyes of someone else!

Try putting the defunct romance in cool perspective. The breakup may very well have spotlighted disturbing things about the person you were involved with—emotional immaturity, indecision, inflexibility, intolerance, a lack of consideration for your feelings. These are hardly desirable qualities in a marriage mate.

What if the breakup is entirely one-sided and you are convinced that a marriage would have worked out well? Certainly you have a right to let the other person know how you feel. Perhaps there have simply been some misunderstandings. Emotional ranting and raving accomplishes little. And if he or she insists on splitting up, there is no need for you to humiliate yourself, tearfully begging for the affections of someone who obviously has no feelings for you. Solomon said there is “a time to seek and a time to give up as lost.”—Ecclesiastes 3:6.

What if you have strong reason to suspect that you were merely being used by someone who never had a sincere interest in marriage in the first place? You need not resort to vindictive reprisals. Be assured that his or her deviousness is not unnoticed by God. His Word says: “The cruel person is bringing ostracism upon his own organism.”—Proverbs 11:17; compare Proverbs 6:12-15.

From time to time you may still be tormented by loneliness or romantic memories. If so, it’s all right to have a good cry. It also helps to get busy, perhaps in some physical activity or the Christian ministry. (Proverbs 18:1) Keep your mind on things that are cheerful and upbuilding. (Philippians 4:8) Confide in a close friend. (Proverbs 18:24) Your parents may also be of great comfort, even if you feel you are old enough to be independent. (Proverbs 23:22) And above all, confide in Jehovah.
You may now see the need to work on certain aspects of your personality. Your vision of what you want in a marriage mate may be clearer than ever. And having loved and lost, you may decide to handle courtship a bit more prudently should a desirable person come along again—the likelihood of which may be greater than you think.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Truth About Halloween

WITCHES and ghosts, pumpkins and bonfires, trick or treat. The outward trappings of Halloween are easy to identify. But what lies behind this and similar celebrations? Halloween has also been called All Hallows’ Eve, the eve of All Saints’ Day. This supposedly Christian name, however, hides origins that are far from hallowed. In fact, scholars say that Halloween’s roots go back to a time long before Christianity—the era when the ancient Celts inhabited Britain and Ireland. Using a lunar calendar, the Celts divided the year into two seasons—the dark winter months and the light summer months. On the full moon nearest November 1, the Celts celebrated the festival of Samhain, meaning “Summer’s End.”

This festival, which marked the beginning of the Celtic new year, came at the end of summer, when the harvest had been gathered and the flocks and herds had been brought down from pasture into shelter. The Celts believed that as the days shortened, it was necessary to reinvigorate the sun through various rites and sacrifices. In symbolism of the dying old year, all fires were put out, and the new year was inaugurated with sacred bonfires from which all members of the community rekindled their hearths. These bonfires—an echo of which can be found today in Britain on Guy Fawkes Night and in Brazil in the June festivals—were also thought to frighten away evil spirits.

It was believed that on the festival of Samhain, the veil between the human and the supernatural worlds was parted and spirits, both good and evil, roamed the earth. The souls of the dead were thought to return to their homes, and families would put out food and drink for their ghostly visitors in hopes of appeasing them and warding off misfortune. Thus, today when children dressed as ghosts or witches go from house to house demanding a Halloween treat or threatening a mischievous trick, they unwittingly perpetuate the ancient rituals of Samhain. Jean Markale comments in his book Halloween, histoire et traditions (Halloween—History and Traditions): “In receiving something in their hands, they establish, on a symbolic level that they do not understand, a brotherly exchange between the visible and the invisible worlds. That is why the Halloween masquerades . . . are in fact sacred ceremonies.”
Since people believed that the barriers between the physical and supernatural realms were down, they thought that humans were able to cross over into the spirit world with ease. Samhain was therefore a particularly auspicious time to unlock the secrets of the future. Apples or hazelnuts, both viewed as products of sacred trees, were used to divine information concerning marriage, sickness, and death. For example, apples with identifying marks were placed in a tub of water. By seizing an apple using only the mouth, a young man or woman was supposed to be able to identify his or her future spouse. This divination practice survives today in the Halloween game of bobbing for apples.

Samhain was also characterized by drunken revelry and a casting aside of inhibitions. “Traditional values, if not flouted, were reversed,” states Markale. “What was forbidden was allowed, and what was allowed was forbidden.” Halloween still reflects this spirit today, which no doubt accounts to a great extent for its increasing popularity. Commenting on this, The Encyclopedia of Religion describes Halloween nowadays as “a time when adults can also cross cultural boundaries and shed their identities by indulging in an uninhibited evening of frivolity. Thus, the basic Celtic quality of the festival as an evening of annual escape from normal realities and expectations has remained into the twentieth century.”

Religious Rivalry
Following the potato famine in the 19th century, Irish immigrants took Halloween and its customs to the United States. From there it has returned to Europe in the past few years. The growing popularity of Halloween, though, is not viewed favorably by all. As notes the newspaper Le Monde, “Halloween, which coincides with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 1 and 2) and could even replace them, is making shopkeepers happy and panicking churchmen.”

Church representatives in France have expressed concern over the decline of these traditional Catholic holidays in favor of Halloween, seeing it as a sign of the “paganization of society.” For Stanislas Lalanne, spokesman for France’s Conference of Catholic Bishops, Halloween ‘distorts the meaning of life and death.’ The bishop of Nice, Jean Bonfils, stated that “this festival and its rituals have nothing to do with our Mediterranean and Christian culture,” and he warned Catholics against “the most important festival of Satanists the world over.”

Commenting on the French abandonment of Catholic traditions for such pagan festivals, Hippolyte Simon, bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, notes: “It is as if French society were looking for a kind of civil religion capable of replacing Christian symbolism.” He writes: “At Halloween the dead are imitated and their ‘ghosts’ come back to frighten us and threaten us with death. On All Saints’ Day, in contrast, we affirm that the departed are alive and that we are promised to rejoin them in the City of God.”—Vers une France païenne? (Toward a Pagan France?)

In a similar vein, Carlo Maria Martini, cardinal of Milan, Italy, urged Italians not to abandon Catholic holidays, declaring that Halloween is “alien to our tradition, which has immense value and must be continued. All Souls’ Day is a celebration that belongs to our history. It is the moment in which hope for eternal life unfolds, a moment in which the Lord makes us understand that there is more to life than that on earth.” Many sincere Catholics no doubt feel the same way. Yet, is the distinction between Halloween and All Souls’ Day as clear-cut as these comments would lead us to believe? What does a close examination of the roots of these Catholic holidays reveal?

A Hallowed Masquerade
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines All Saints’ Day as a feast to “honour all the saints, known and unknown.” At the end of the second century, so-called Christians began to honor those who had been martyred for their faith and, believing that they were already with Christ in heaven, prayed to them to intercede on their behalf. A regular commemoration began when on May 13, 609 or 610 C.E., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon—the Roman temple of all the gods—to Mary and all the martyrs. Markale comments: “The Roman gods left their place to the saints of the triumphant religion.”

The change of date to November came under Pope Gregory III (731-741 C.E.), who dedicated a chapel in Rome to all the saints and ordered that they be honored on November 1. Exactly why he did this is unknown. But it may have been because such a holiday was already being celebrated on this date in England. The Encyclopedia of Religion points out: “Samhain remained a popular festival among the Celtic people throughout the christianization of Great Britain. The British church attempted to divert this interest in pagan customs by adding a Christian celebration to the calendar on the same date as Samhain. . . . The medieval British commemoration of All Saints’ Day may have prompted the universal celebration of this feast throughout the Christian church.”

Markale points out the increasing influence of Irish monks throughout Europe at this time. The New Catholic Encyclopedia also observes: “The Irish often assigned the first of the month to important feasts, and since November 1 was also the beginning of the Celtic winter, it would have been a likely date for a feast of all the saints.” Finally, in 835 C.E., Pope Gregory IV made this festival universal.
As for All Souls’ Day, on which prayers are recited in order to help souls in purgatory attain heavenly bliss, this holiday was fixed on November 2 during the 11th century by the monks of Cluny, France. While All Souls’ Day is ostensibly a Catholic holiday, it is clear that confusion existed in the minds of ordinary folk. The New Catholic Encyclopedia notes that “throughout the Middle Ages it was popular belief that the souls in purgatory could appear on this day as will-o’-the-wisps, witches, toads, etc.”

Unable to uproot pagan beliefs from the hearts of its flock, the church simply hid them behind a “Christian” mask. Highlighting this fact, The Encyclopedia of Religion says: “The Christian festival, the Feast of All Saints, commemorates the known and unknown saints of the Christian religion just as Samhain had acknowledged and paid tribute to the Celtic deities.”

Popular Celebrations and You
Just how concerned should you be about the dark past of Halloween and similar celebrations? After all, in most people’s minds, Halloween is little more than a time to dress up and have fun. But would you not agree that it is important for parents to make sure that whatever recreation their children pursue is wholesome and not harmful?

A school inspector from France with more than 20 years of experience in teaching was asked about the influence of Halloween on young children. He commented: “I am worried that going from house to house threatening adults in order to obtain sweets can have long-term negative consequences on children. It can foster a selfish and egocentric personality. They learn that by exerting pressure, by demanding with threats, by making others afraid, they can obtain what they want.” Parents must therefore ask themselves, ‘What “lessons” will my children learn from celebrating this holiday?’

Not surprisingly, many families find that giving in to childish demands for treats and costumes can be an expensive undertaking. “Halloween . . . is not a holiday,” observes Robert Rochefort, general director of France’s Research Center for the Study and Observation of Living Conditions, “it is event marketing.” Halloween fills a shopping lull prior to Christmas. In other words, it is just one more thing pressuring people to spend money—money that in many cases they cannot afford to spend. Do you really need to follow the crowd in this regard?

Of even greater concern to Christians, however, is the fact that Halloween and celebrations like it are steeped in paganism. The apostle Paul wrote: “I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.” (1 Corinthians 10:20-22, New International Version) He also asked: “What common interest can there be between goodness and evil? How can light and darkness share life together? How can there be harmony between Christ and the devil? What can a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, Phillips) The Bible thus condemns the whole idea of putting a Christian mask on a pagan practice!
Also, the Bible warns against the practice of spiritism. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) While it is true that the vast majority of those who celebrate Halloween would claim to spurn Satanic practices, we should, nevertheless, be aware that historically this holiday has close connections with the occult. Thus, it can serve as a door leading to spiritism, especially for impressionable youths. Pagan rites and traditions tainted by spiritism simply have no place in Christian worship; they are far from harmless.

Finally, there is the fact that Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day are all based on the beliefs that the dead suffer or that they can somehow bring harm to the living. However, the Bible clearly shows that such beliefs are not true, saying: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) For that reason, the Bible counsels: “All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol [the common grave of mankind], the place to which you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) Since the dead are unconscious and thus incapable of harming others or suffering themselves, we have nothing to fear from them. At the same time, prayers to help them are of no use whatsoever. Does this mean that there is no hope for our dead loved ones? No. The Bible assures us that “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15.

With knowledge comes the freedom to choose. We cannot be expected to make intelligent decisions if we do not have all the facts. After considering the facts brought up in this article, what will you decide?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What God’s Kingdom Can Mean to You

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JESUS CHRIST taught his followers to pray: “Let your kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:10) How often those words have been addressed to God by those professing to be Jesus’ followers!
However, Jesus did more than teach his disciples to pray for the Kingdom of God. He made the Kingdom a principal subject of his preaching work. In fact, the Encyclopædia Britannica says that God’s Kingdom “is generally considered to be the central theme of Jesus’ teaching.”
When Christ’s followers pray for the Kingdom, for what are they actually praying? What can God’s Kingdom mean to them and to you? And how did Jesus view it?

Jesus’ View of the Kingdom
Jesus often called himself “the Son of man.” (Matthew 10:23; 11:19; 16:28; 20:18, 28) This reminds us of the prophet Daniel’s reference to “a son of man.” Concerning a future heavenly event, Daniel said: “I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.”—Daniel 7:13, 14.

Speaking about the time when he would receive this rulership, Jesus told his apostles: “When the Son of man sits down upon his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones.” Jesus also said: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, . . . all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. . . . These [unrighteous ones] will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.”—Matthew 19:28; 25:31, 32, 46.

These prophetic references to thrones and all the national groups indicate that the Kingdom is a government in which Jesus and some of his followers would be rulers over mankind. That government would have the power to cut off the unrighteous in death. Under Kingdom rule, however, those righteously disposed would receive God’s gift of eternal life.

Clearly, then, the Kingdom of God is a divinely instituted heavenly government. The Kingdom is not the church, and the Scriptures do not allow for a secular view of it. Furthermore, a God-given government could not be something merely within a person’s heart. Since God’s Kingdom is a government, it does not become something in our heart when we embrace Christianity. But why do some think that the Kingdom is a condition involving the heart?

The Kingdom Within Us?
Some feel that the Kingdom is in our heart because of the way Luke 17:21 has been rendered by certain Bible translators. According to the New International Version, Jesus there said: “The kingdom of God is within you.”
In this regard The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible states: “Although frequently cited as an example of Jesus’ ‘mysticism’ or ‘inwardness,’ this interpretation rests chiefly upon the old translation, ‘within you,’ . . . understood in the unfortunate modern sense of ‘you’ as singular; the ‘you’ . . . is plural (Jesus is addressing the Pharisees—vs. 20) . . . The theory that the kingdom of God is an inner state of mind, or of personal salvation, runs counter to the context of this verse, and also to the whole N[ew] T[estament] presentation of the idea.”
A footnote to Luke 17:21 in the New International Version shows that Jesus’ words could be rendered: “The kingdom of God is among you.” Other Bible translations read: “The kingdom of God is among you” or “is in the midst of you.” (The New English Bible; The Jerusalem Bible; Revised Standard Version) According to the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Jesus said: “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” Jesus did not mean that the Kingdom was in the hearts of the proud Pharisees whom he was addressing. Rather, as the long-awaited Messiah and King-Designate, Jesus was in their very midst. But some time would pass before God’s Kingdom would come.

When It Would Come
Certain followers of Jesus Christ have been chosen as his corulers in the heavenly Messianic Kingdom. Like Jesus, they die in faithfulness to God and are resurrected to spirit life in heaven. (1 Peter 3:18) Comparatively few in number, they will be 144,000 kings and priests bought from among mankind. (Revelation 14:1-4; 20:6) Jesus’ corulers include his faithful apostles.—Luke 12:32.

Speaking to his followers on one occasion, Jesus promised: “There are some of those standing here that will not taste death at all until first they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28) Interestingly, the next verse indicates that Jesus’ promise was fulfilled just a few days later. He then took three of his disciples up into a mountain where he was transfigured before them, and they thus had a vision of him in Kingdom glory. (Matthew 17:1-9) But the Kingdom was not established at that time. When would that take place?

One of Jesus’ illustrations indicates that he would not immediately be installed as Messianic King. At Luke 19:11-15, we read: “He spoke . . . an illustration, because he was near Jerusalem and they were imagining that the kingdom of God was going to display itself instantly. Therefore he said: ‘A certain man of noble birth traveled to a distant land to secure kingly power for himself and to return. Calling ten slaves of his he gave them ten minas and told them, “Do business till I come.” . . . Eventually when he got back after having secured the kingly power, he commanded to be called to him these slaves to whom he had given the silver money, in order to ascertain what they had gained by business activity.’”
In those days it could take some time for a man to travel from Israel to Rome, wait in that city until he secured kingly power, and return to his homeland as king. Jesus was the “man of noble birth.” He would receive power as King from his Father in heaven but would not immediately be installed as Messianic King. His followers would do business by carrying on the work of proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom for a considerable time before he would return as King.

How the Kingdom Comes
What are lovers of God requesting when they pray for his Kingdom to come? They are actually asking that the heavenly Kingdom take decisive action by destroying man-made governmental systems that have failed to live up to their promise of bringing about true peace and prosperity. Pointing to this development, the prophet Daniel wrote: “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” (Daniel 2:44) When would this happen?

Jesus foretold that this would take place within the generation of those who would witness an extraordinary upheaval in human affairs. Concerning his “presence,” Jesus gave a composite “sign” involving such developments as unparalleled warfare, earthquakes, famines, pestilences—yes, and the worldwide preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom.—Matthew, chapters 24, 25; Mark, chapter 13; Luke, chapter 21.
Jesus’ prophecy involves events taking place right now—in our 20th century. Hence, it will not be long before God’s Kingdom brings grand blessings to mankind. You can be among those to enjoy the benefits of Kingdom rule. But just what can God’s Kingdom mean to you and your loved ones?

Blessings of Kingdom Rule
Happiness will prevail earth wide. Under “a new heaven”—the heavenly Kingdom—will be “a new earth,” a global society of obedient Kingdom subjects. “God himself will be with them,” wrote the apostle John. “And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes.” There will be no reason for anything but happiness then, for “neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.”—Revelation 21:1-4.

Death will be no more. This terrible cause of grief will no longer rob us of friends and loved ones. “As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) What joy will exist when funerals are supplanted by resurrections of those in God’s memory!—John 5:28, 29.

Vibrant health will replace illness and infirmity. No longer will hospital beds be filled with those troubled by physical and mental illnesses. The Master Physician, Jesus Christ, will apply the value of his ransom sacrifice “for the curing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1, 2; Matthew 20:28; 1 John 2:1, 2) The cures he performed while on the earth were but a sample of what he will do by means of the Kingdom.—Compare Isaiah 33:24; Matthew 14:14.

Food supplies will be abundant. As the psalmist said, “there will come to be plenty of grain on the earth; on the top of the mountains there will be an overflow.” (Psalm 72:16) To this, Isaiah’s prophecy adds: “Jehovah of armies will certainly make for all the peoples, in this mountain, a banquet of well-oiled dishes, a banquet of wine kept on the dregs, of well-oiled dishes filled with marrow, of wine kept on the dregs, filtered.” (Isaiah 25:6) Surely, famine will not stalk earth’s inhabitants under Kingdom rule.

The entire earth will become a paradise. Thus will be fulfilled this promise of Jesus to a contrite evildoer: “You will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) You too can enjoy life eternal on this earth, an earth cleansed of wickedness and transformed into a pleasurable, parklike globe.—John 17:3.

These marvelous prospects are set before all obedient mankind. Jehovah’s inspired Word, the Bible, gives these blessed assurances. And all of this is what God’s Kingdom can mean to you.

Do you believe what Jesus said about God’s Kingdom?