Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas and the Test of Truth

Joseph Herrin (12-18-2013)






















Some of my earliest and fondest childhood memories were of Christmas. Each December my parents would go pick out a live Christmas tree and bring it home. I still remember the heavy metal stand, painted green. It had thumb screws on three sides of the base to tighten down on the trunk of the tree. The center of the base held water, which my parents would keep filled so that the tree would continue to live even after it had been cut down.

My mother was in charge of decorating the tree, but she asked us as children to help her put some ornaments, or tinsel on the tree. There were also strings of colored lights to be strung on the tree. I remember one year when I must have been somewhere between 5-7 years old finding the lights to be so beautiful. Perhaps we did not have colored and blinking lights before that year. I was so enthralled by them that I lay down on my back on our living room carpet and scooted my head up under the edge of the tree boughs so I could look up through the branches at the blinking colored lights. I was transfixed at the scene before me, and the smell of the fresh evergreen was delightful.

I cannot remember a Christmas as a child when we did not have loads of presents under the tree. One of our great thrills as youngsters was trying to guess what was in the boxes. When our parents were not looking we would shake a box, or see if we could read through a thin spot in the wrapping paper. Everything about the Christmas season was magical for me as a child. There were parties at church where gifts would be exchanged. Poinsettias would be purchased and placed in the sanctuary of the Baptist church we attended. We even attended a couple of churches that put up a Christmas tree.


















The allure of the Christmas holiday season did not end there, however. All my life I have loved food, and sitting around eating with friends and family was an occasion of much joy. Christmas and Thanksgiving were the only two holidays when my family did such things. When I was a child, my family would travel to visit aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins. There were always piles of food: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, cookies, pumpkin and mincemeat pies, in addition to the pre and post-feast appetizers such as chips and cheese dip, sausage balls, spiced cider, and hot cocoa with marshmallows or whipped cream on top.

My parents eventually established a tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve. Perhaps they gave in to the clamoring of my two sisters and I (my young brother came along 8 years after me, so he wasn’t much of a presence in my early years). My parents would gather us together and my dad would read about the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. Try as I might to be a good young boy, I couldn’t wait for the Bible story to end so we could get to unwrapping the boxes of presents.

I still remember some of my prized presents from childhood. One year among the various gifts I received were two yellow steel Tonka Trucks, one was a road grader and another was a steam shovel. They both had adjustable and moving parts and I spent many hours playing with them. Then there was the erector set I received one Christmas Eve. It seemed to have a million little metal parts with pre-drilled holes, and there were masses of little nuts and bolts to hold everything together. I remember one of my dad’s friends from work came over that Christmas Eve with his family. My dad and his friend spent most of the evening building things with my erector set, but I didn’t mind. I had so many other presents that I could easily wait to get my turn. I remember the Tinker Toys and the Lincoln Logs, the Lego construction kits. Perhaps all of these were my dad’s way of getting me interested in building things. I certainly didn’t mind. I spent many hours with these treasured toys.

Another fond memory of Christmas celebrations from my early years was the music. That was back in the day when music came on records. We had a decent collection of special holiday music. There were Christmas albums by Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Burl Ives, and Alvin and the Chipmunks.

It is easy to see how men and women develop such strong attachments to Christmas. The various traditions of Christmas appeal to all of the human senses, and fulfill many longings of the soul. It is a time of indulgence, but also a time of joy in giving to others. It is an unusual time of year when strangers will speak kindly to others, wishing people they pass on the street a “Merry Christmas.”

There was never any discussion in the churches I grew up in of the origins of the various Christmas traditions. We never questioned where the Christmas tree, colored lights, tinsel, wreaths, spiced cider, Christmas ham, mistletoe, or feasting originated. All these things were simply accepted as Christian traditions of long standing. There was the annual Christmas play at church put on by the children. Since the story of Christ’s birth, the journey of the magi and their camels laden with gifts, and of the angels appearing to shepherds in the field to announce the birth of the Savior, was recounted in church at this time of year, I assumed that Jesus must surely have been born on December 25th.

The only Christmas controversy, or word of concern, I remember hearing of in three decades of church attendance related to warnings of the danger of the holiday taking on too much of a materialistic emphasis, or of secularists trying to remove Christ from the Christmas holidays. To combat these threats we were plied with slogans such as “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”














I remember in my thirties being pretty self-satisfied that I was pushing back against the encroaching secularism by putting up a lighted manger scene in our front yard and wearing a button to work that said “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” I think it was the very next year that I began to encounter teachings about the pagan origins of many of the dates and traditions that surround this “Christian holiday.”

For some time I vacillated back and forth. Christmas had a very strong bond to my soul. All of my memories of Christmas were pleasant ones. I now had children of my own and as a father I delighted to give them gifts and see their reactions of joy. I have remained a child at heart in many ways, and I still enjoy colored lights and vibrant decorations. It was a struggle to consider ending an annual tradition in which my soul had found so much pleasure.

I also considered that there was much spoken about Christ at this time of year. Although I could not deny the pagan origin of the date established for the celebration, or the many traditions attached to it, I questioned the role a person’s attitude and focus had in such a matter. After all, do not the Scriptures state, “To the pure all things are pure”? Could I not observe a holiday of unclean origins as long as I made Christ my focus at this time of year, and adopted Christian explanations for the various traditions?

From my earliest days I have had an unusual affinity to God. I have never been one to place denominational beliefs over what I discerned to be truth in the Bible. I have since my youth questioned, and at times challenged, the teachings and practices of the churches that I attended. I have always understood that my chief loyalty lies with Yahweh. He it is Who created me, and it will be to Him that I will have to give an account one day.

At the same time, I have since my early years had an inquisitive spirit, wanting to understand mysteries, and to comprehend the things of God. I have made the study of the Scriptures my avid pursuit since my early teen years, and perhaps before that. I have wanted to know truth, and I have called out for it.

One thought that stuck with me from my youth is of reading the story of Solomon. There came a day when Solomon was newly appointed as king of all Israel. He went up and offered many sacrifices to Yahweh, and Yahweh appeared to him in a dream in the night. Yahweh instructed Solomon to ask for anything he desired, and it would be granted to him. Solomon could have asked for riches, for a long life, or victory over all his enemies. Instead, Solomon asked for God to grant him wisdom that he might rule well the nation of Israel. This request pleased Yahweh, and he gave Solomon breadth of mind and understand that surpassed any man before, and which would not be excelled until that day when the Son of God appeared in human form.

I Kings 3:10-13
And it was pleasing in the sight of Yahweh that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. And I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days.”

I remember in my youth intensely desiring that Yahweh might grant me the same gift. I did not desire wealth, or physical strength, or any other thing. What I yearned for was a wise and understanding heart. I wanted to receive the knowledge of mysteries, and to perceive spiritual truths that others did not see. I do not believe there has been a time since my teenage years when I have read the story of Solomon when this desire has not burned in my heart. I want to know truth. I yearn to have a wise and understanding heart.

Because I frequently made this request known to Yahweh, He began to reveal to me some things about the apprehension of truth, wisdom, and understanding. He showed me one of the principles of His kingdom that was inextricably linked to the acquisition of truth. The principle is revealed in the following words of the Messiah.

Luke 8:18
"Therefore take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him shall more be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him."

Christ spoke a parable in which He said, “He who is faithful with a little will be given greater things.” As Christians, we often equate this saying to money, for that is the immediate context of the parable. What we fail to understand is that parables are used to convey spiritual truths. If we understand them in a natural sense only, we will fail to comprehend the true meaning of God. In Luke 8:18 Yahshua reveals that this principle applies to the things we listen to. We are admonished to take care HOW we listen. If we want to be given more truth, more understanding, more wisdom, more discernment of God’s mysteries, we must prove ourselves faithful with that which has already been entrusted to us.

I thought on this as the Father began to show me the historic roots of various Christian holidays that are not found observed in the Bible. I began to meditate upon how Yahweh’s feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles had been replaced by festivals that occurred on different dates, and which contained different symbols, practices, and traditions. The modern church’s two highest holy days are Christmas and Easter. They are both traceable back to the mystery religions of ancient Babylon and the worship of fertility gods and goddesses.

This writing would be too lengthy to recount all of this information here, but I will include the following links to articles that explore the origins of these holidays.

Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), Ash Wednesday, Lent and Easter
http://parablesblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/fat-tuesday-mardi-gras-ash-wednesday.html

Removing the High Places
http://www.heart4god.ws/index_htm_files/Removing%20the%20High%20Places.pdf



















As I continued my studies on the pagan origins of Christmas, I became disturbed in my soul. I could not reconcile the unclean, clearly idolatrous, origins of this festival with the Christian practice today. I knew from having been an ardent student of the Old Testament that Yahweh is a jealous God who requires purity among His people. Yahweh judged Israel and Judah repeatedly for mixing together the holy and the profane. He charged His priests and prophets with teaching His people to distinguish between that which is clean and unclean.

Ezekiel 44:23
“Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.”

Yahweh so impressed upon His people the fact that He did not like mixture, that he forbid them to wear a garment woven of two types of material, or to sow their field with two types of seed, or to yoke together an oxen and a donkey. Nor did this emphasis on distinguishing between the holy and unholy end with the new covenant established by Christ.

II Corinthians 6:14-18
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

I Corinthians 10:21-22
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?

After much prayer, study, and meditation on the matter, I found that I could no longer in good conscience continue to observe Christmas with my family. I sat my wife and children down and shared with them about the matter. They were very understanding, and did not object. This will strike some as remarkable, but we had already been on a journey for more than a year that others would view as quite radical. We were daily choosing obedience to God to an uncommon degree for our day.

Because we had annually exchanged Christmas gifts and cards with other family members, and participated in Christmas day gatherings with my wife’s parents, her brothers and their families, I knew that I needed to share with them as well. At the same time, I realized that it was not my place to tell them what they ought to do. I could only explain to them my own convictions and what our practice would now be. So, some weeks before Christmas in 2001 I sent out a letter to all of our family members. Following is an excerpt from that letter.
---
Dear Family Members,

As we enter into the midst of the holiday season, we desire to let you know of some changes we are making in our home this year. Our Heavenly Father continues to lead us into new truths that require obedience from us, and we are finding that many things that we could do in former years without any violation of conscience we are now not able to do...

It may come as a surprise to some that there are a number of holidays that are routinely celebrated by Christians that have their origins in the worship of false deities. It was prophesied by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul that in the last days before Jesus returned that the church would turn aside from truth and they would embrace many myths and fables and false traditions. This has occurred and, as the Father reveals these false traditions to us, we are hearing His call to separate ourselves from them.

There is a scripture in Revelation that is written to those who have participated in these false traditions in the days we live in. The scripture is Revelation 18:4, “Come out of her, My people, lest you participate in her sins and partake of her plagues.” We have been hearing the call of God to come out of all that does not originate in Him that we might obtain His favor and escape the judgment to fall on those who walk in disobedience...

This mixing of the sacred and the pagan, the holy and the profane is not pleasing to God. In the book written by the prophet Ezekiel, the following words are related to us:

Ezekiel 22:26
"Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean...”

As the Father has given us light and understanding of these things, we feel that we must respond in obedience and separate ourselves from these practices. For this reason we will not be celebrating these holidays established by man, instead we will seek to remember the holy days established by God; Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Trumpets. All of these are recorded in scripture and their dates are given.

We are not judging any others who choose to still remember these dates or participate in these celebrations. We must all walk in the light we are given, and we simply desire to share what we have received from the Holy Spirit as the manner in which we are to walk. We want to let you know of our decision that was arrived at after much prayer and consideration.

We acknowledge that many family members have taken these holidays as an opportunity to express their love for one another through the giving of gifts, and we have done so ourselves in years past. We will not be able to participate in the giving or receiving of “Christmas gifts” this year, and we hope that no one will take offense at this. We are simply seeking to be found pleasing to God by walking in a clear conscience before Him.

The Father has revealed nothing wrong in giving or receiving gifts, as it is an expression of love, and there were many gifts given from one person to another in scripture. The greatest gift we have ever received is the free gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. However, this gift has no association with December 25th. We will continue to give and receive gifts on appropriate occasions, or simply as an act of love from one person to another.

As the days we are living in grow darker in many ways, we feel called to walk in a greater separation from the darkness. This is our heart and we hope you will understand and that you too will find a place of peace and security in the midst of troubled times.

In gratitude and sincerity,

Joseph, Tony, Kristin and Josiah
---
I anticipated that this announcement would not be well received by most, if not all, of our family members. Some were Christians, and some were not, yet all of them celebrated Christmas with much zeal. In my heart, I had peace with God, and that is what was most important to me. I desired to be found faithful with the truth Yahweh had entrusted to me, in hope that I would be given greater truths in the days ahead.

The fact cannot be avoided that truth is divisive. When a man or woman embraces truth, and orders their life in accordance with the same, it must necessarily result in separation from those who have not embraced truth. Yahweh will in this way test His people to see if they are lovers of the truth. Those who love truth are willing to suffer in obedience to it. Those who do not love truth will compromise, or make excuses, in order to continue to enjoy those things their soul loves, and to maintain peace with men. Though compromise may afford them some temporal satisfaction, the end will reveal the serious error of failing to embrace the cost of obedience to the truth.

The Father was to test me sorely in this matter of holding to my spiritual convictions. In October of 1999 my family had been led into a great adventure as the Holy Spirit directed me to leave my employment as a computer professional and to begin writing while looking to Him to supply all our needs. There was correction that came to my life at the same time, for I had accumulated many things through debt. A spirit of covetousness had been manifest in my life for many years. The, discipline I endured as Yahweh stripped me bare of all things gained during my years of covetous living was excruciating, and at times terrifying, but the Holy Spirit held me to the course.

December of 2001 found us as a family having been stripped clean of our former way of life. I had recently had my final yard sale, disposing of all the furniture and appliances we had left. The Father was indicating that He would have us traveling in a motorhome for a season, though we had no idea where it would come from. When December came I had just enough money left to pay for two weeks in a Super 8 hotel room in Perry, Georgia.




















Super 8 Perry, Georgia

This was a season of intense praying for me. I had endured more than a year of fiery cleansing. I had been scourged, and was at a time of new beginnings. In hindsight I recognize why the Father led me to the Super 8 motel. The number 8 signifies new beginnings.

It had been the practice of my wife’s parents for all the years my wife and I had been married, to give each of their children and their children’s spouse’s a large financial gift at Christmas. The previous year they had given each couple $8,000. I knew that the money would meet some very pressing needs, but I did not know how our heavenly Father would work all things out. I knew that I could no longer receive the money as a “Christmas gift,” but I also knew the gift had little to do with Christmas. It was just a way for my wife’s parents to help their children out financially once a year. I committed the matter to prayer and waited to see what the Father would do.

At this time, my wife’s family had come to despise me. This was not due to the announcement that we would not celebrate Christmas, but rather because I had followed the Lord in quitting my job, with the result being that Yahweh had stripped us of our home, all but one vehicle, our furnishings, and we had only the possessions we could carry with us into the hotel room. Even those relatives who were Christians could not accept that Yahweh had led me to take my family down this path. Those who were not Christians concluded that I was a lunatic, and did not hide their displeasure.

It had been the practice of my wife’s parents to always hand out checks on Christmas morning as all of their children and grandchildren were gathered in their home. I had announced that we would not be attending any Christmas celebrations this year, so I committed the matter to the Father’s hands. We had been at the hotel some days when my wife’s parents did something they had never done before. They gave all of their children checks on December 8th instead of on Christmas day. Because I had fallen out of favor with them, instead of giving me a check for $4,000 and my wife the same, as they did with every other one of their children and their wives, they wrote a single check for $8,000 and put it in my wife’s name.

The check was endorsed by my wife’s father, and certified. This was typical, for he did the same every year. He would simply give us an envelope with an unadorned check inside. This year, however, my mother-in-law also did something she had never done before. She wrote in the comment line on the check, “Merry Christmas!” in large letters, and she affixed numerous Christmas stickers to the face of the check. I knew this was done to spite me, and to show her contempt for the convictions I had shared with each of our family members.

I recognized the test immediately. Here I was in a hotel room with my family. We had little more than a week left. I had sold the rest of our possessions and had no other way to raise income besides returning to secular employment, and the Spirit of Christ was restraining me from doing so. The money would go a long way toward meeting our needs, but if I accepted it I would be demonstrating that money was a greater priority than obeying God. It did not take me long to announce to my wife that we would not be able to accept the check, but would have to return it to her parents. My wife understood, as she saw clearly that the message and stickers on the check were intended as a dig. To my knowledge, no such message or stickers were put on any of the other children’s checks.

People of God, I firmly believe that Yahweh orders the steps of His sons and daughters. He brought me to this test because He wanted to prove my heart. He wanted to demonstrate whether I walked in the fear of Him, and how much I truly desired truth. Yahweh does not dispense spiritual knowledge and understanding indiscriminately. Truth is costly. Had I failed this test I do not doubt that my life from that day forward would have been very different from what I have experienced. Since that date, Yahweh has given me many revelations of truth which are largely unknown to the majority of His people. Receiving these further truths has also proven costly, resulting in my being rejected from various fellowships of believers, reproached by online ministers as a teacher of heresy, having to find my consolation in Christ. Yet, I would rather walk alone with Christ in truth than to have abundant fellowship with men mired in error and deception.

My wife took the check to her father who was at work and explained to him that because of what her mother had written on the check, and the Christmas stickers, that we could not receive it. I had no expectation of how her meeting with her father would go. She could have returned empty handed. Her father could have become very angry, venting his rage at me. Yet, neither of these things are what occurred. Instead, her father took the check from her and wrote her a new one without any messages or stickers on it. With that money the Father purchased for us a motorhome in very good shape. Thus, at the Super 8 Motel, on the 8th of December, Yahweh provided for us $8,000 with which we began anew as a family.

(For a fuller account of the tests, trials, and miracles of God experienced by our family, I recommend to you the autobiographical book Evidence of Things Unseen.)

During the years in which I have had an Internet ministry, I have had individuals with a hunger for truth write and inquire how to gain understanding of the hidden things of God. Many have lamented to me that the Bible is to them a closed book. Others have told me with sorrow that they do not hear the voice of God. Repeatedly, I have pointed them back to this principle of the kingdom that Yahweh revealed to me years ago. “Those who are faithful with the little they have been given will receive greater things.”

You may be vacillating over the issue of celebrating Christmas. I understand the struggle. My counsel to you is that when in doubt, follow the course of greater obedience to God. Do not think that your celebrating Christmas is of no importance in the eyes of God. He tests all hearts with such matters. He wants to clearly identify those who will place a love of truth, and conformity to it, above the desires of their soul and the acceptance of man.

If you want to receive greater revelations from the Father, you must first prove yourself faithful with what has already been entrusted to you. If God is giving you light on some subject, such as the pagan origins of Christmas and Easter, you would do well to consider carefully what Yahweh would have you do in regard to the truth.

We live in an hour where the church is compromising more and more with the world. Some denominations are even ordaining homosexuals to the ministry. Please consider that such apostasy does not occur in a single moment of time. Compromise advances one decision at a time. This is true for an individual as well as an entire denomination.

It is needful in this hour to discern clearly between the holy and the profane, between the clean and unclean. Perhaps this decision regarding what you will do about Christmas is a test in your life. Will your choice lead to a greater sensitivity to the distinction between the holy and profane, or to a greater blurring of the differences between them?

Update on Marcus Kauffman: I just received word from my daughter (7 P.M. Wednesday) that she has stayed in Charlotte rather than returning home last night as things took a serious downturn in his condition. Kristin has reported that doctors performed a CT Scan and found that Marcus has been experiencing multiple strokes. They are also continuing to struggle with pressure on his brain, and he has began having lung problems leading the doctors to do a tracheotomy to insert a breathing tube. The doctors are telling the family that they are no longer holding out hope for Marcus' recovery and are advising the family that they are at a point where the family needs to make decisions about whether to continue keeping Marcus on life support.

Kristin writes, "This has been an extremely difficult day for the family, and we are just crying out to God to meet us in this place, and for wisdom for the family. Please continue in prayer. We know that when we are at the end of our resources, and in the face of impossibility, God can work miracles. We also want to surrender to His will."


Heart4God Website: http://www.heart4god.ws    

Parables Blog: www.parablesblog.blogspot.com    

Mailing Address:
Joseph Herrin
P.O. Box 804
Montezuma, GA 31063

3 comments:

Brenda L said...

Excellent Joseph!! We don't do Christmas either. However, I was wondering if you had a good cookie recipe to share?? You certainly went into great detail about all the foods we used to eat! :)

Joseph Herrin said...

Hello Brenda,

I don't have any "Christmas cookie" recipes. I don't cook very many cookies, but when I do they are usually oatmeal raisin cookies. I have a recipe printed out somewhere, but I am not sure where it is right now. I have baked a few carrot cakes recently, however. A sister in Christ sent me a juicer a couple months ago and I take the pulp left over from juicing carrots and apples and add it to a store bought carrot cake mix, along with additional raisins and spices (cinnamon, allspice). Its a good, low-fat treat as I do not add any oil, but use apple sauce or eggs for a binder.

Bunny Oaks said...

Very well said, Brother Joseph. I come from a large family (12 kids) and my Father just passed this August...so the temptation to join my family on Christmas was weighing heavy.
I have not celebrated holidays for many years and my family doesn't get it. It has been a painful year (my sister died one year before my dad died) so this year the family has wanted to gather more.
I had made the decision that I would not go, despite the fact that they continue to ask me. It is not easy, but like you, there comes a time when you fear disobedience more than the rejection.
This writing didn't change anything, but drove home the need to just remain faithful, no matter what the circumstances are; including deaths in the family, and rejection by siblings.
Thank you for sharing again, the cost of choosing to walk the narrow path.
Blessings to you.