Jack-O-LanternI’ve written a bit on Halloween in the past, and I’ve even engaged in a very gentle debate with some of my coworkers on whether or not it’s appropriate for a Christian to Trick-or-Trick (here). Some people can be dismissive about this issue (myself included), but there are significant factors involved. It deserves careful thought.

Here’s what no one should ever do on Halloween, or any other time of the year:

  • Worship Satan
  • Call upon evil spirits, enlist their aid, or try to appease them
  • Celebrate evil
  • Harm other people or their property, whether through physical or magical means

If Halloween means any of those things to you, run from it. If taking your kids door to door to ask your neighbors for candy implies any of the above listed activities to you, then find a suitable alternative. I have no agenda to convince anyone to go against their conscience. My simple and slanted thoughts are offered only for those who aren’t sure what to make of Halloween.

Here’s what you need to know. Halloween has pagan roots. I have not done the work to verify this, but I’ve read it a couple of places and it sounds right. I’m not interested in finding a credible source to verify the pagan roots because they don’t bother me. The names of our planets have pagan roots. So do the names of the days in our weeks. So does the timing of our celebration of Christmas and several of our Christmas traditions. Same with Easter.

So the roots are pagan. Do we throw it out? Honestly, why not? Definitely feel free to stop celebrating Halloween. There’s no reason why you need to. I’m not going to argue that it’s the Christian thing to do.

Halloween Hula GirlsBut here’s something to consider. Kids have fun on Halloween. My girls love to play dress up any day of the year, so they have a good time when all of the kids in our neighborhood dress up. Our country happens to celebrate National Dress Up Day on October 31. That makes for a fun night for my kids. This event also happens to coincide with National Share Your Candy Day, which my kids also happen to love. So it’s fun for them to go door to door, say hi to the neighbors, bump into them on the sidewalk, talk about each other’s costumes, and share candy with each other.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t believe my neighbors are engaging in the occult on Halloween. They’re having fun. They’re atypically social on this one night. Some of my neighbors have decorated their lawns with spiders, tombstones, and ghosts, but I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that they won’t conjure a single dead soul or perform a single hex on October 31. They’re not thinking through the cultic connections of some of the original Halloween practices; they’re just enjoying what our culture has made Halloween into: National Dress Up Day / National Share Your Candy Day.

I’ll admit that I could be wrong here. My neighbors could be sacrificing goats in their backyards. But from everything I know about them, they’re not closet occultists. I’ll also acknowledge that while my neighborhood doesn’t seem to be into Satanism, yours might be. If so, don’t engage in their celebration of evil. That’s an easy decision.

But statistically speaking, your neighbors and mine are more likely to be naturalists than Wiccans. Which means that they don’t believe ghosts, spirits, curses, or the any other supernatural manifestations are real. I’m pretty convinced that my neighbors are not worshipping Satan—not because I think they’re too Christian to do such a thing, but because I don’t think they believe in Satan or anything similarly “unscientific.” I think they’re dressing up and sharing candy.

To me, this means we all have an individual choice to make. You can view Halloween according to its pagan roots and avoid it as a celebration of evil. You’re entitled to make that decision, and I won’t look down on you at all. You’ve got to do what’s best. Or you can view Halloween according to the way its modern celebraters see it—as a day of fun and games and sociability. I’m choosing to see it that way, and I hope you won’t look down on me for that.

Vampire TeethIt may be difficult to overlook the evil origins of Halloween, but our Christian predecessors thought it was possible—even beneficial—to take a pagan celebration and rework it into a reminder of good things. That’s why Christmas is when it is, why Easter is the way it is, and why we have All Saints Day at the close of October. Maybe they were wrong, but they took a celebration and tweaked it for what they believed to be God’s glory. In my view, our culture has handed us a gift in weeding out the actual Satanism of some early Halloween practices and giving us a night of fun and games. They’ve done the hard work of systematically forgetting all of the pagan implications and viewing it in terms of the imagination.

If you’re still up in the air on the whole issue, ask yourself whether it’s possible to redeem National Dress Up Day / National Share Your Candy Day for the sake of your friends and neighbors.

You are free to decide.

 

open_graveThere is a reminder that we all need to hear from time to time: lust is destructive. It will eat you alive. This is the kind of sin that begins attractively, that looks so appealing, that we’re tempted to call “innocent”—at least at first.

But it ensnares us. And it has done so throughout the centuries. This has always been a human problem, and it has always been deadly. In fact, the most vivid warning ever written against the destructive effects of lust was written thousands of years ago. This is nothing new.

I have no idea what you’re struggling with at the moment. Maybe you indulge lust “just a bit,” “only here and there.” Maybe you’re secretly into pornography. Maybe you’ve been taking second and third looks at attractive passersby. Maybe you indulge lust only in your thought life. Maybe you’ve actually been doing really well in your battle against lust. Regardless of your situation, you need this reminder. I encourage you to read these wise words, to step into the imagery, and to remember why lust is so harmful.

 

Excerpts from Proverbs 5–7 (quoted from the ESV)

“My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it.

“And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, ‘How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.’” (5:1–14)

“Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
and he ponders all his paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.” (5:20–23)

“My son, keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always;
tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you.
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
to preserve you from the evil woman,
from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
Do not desire her beauty in your heart,
and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;
for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread,
but a married woman hunts down a precious life.
Can a man carry fire next to his chest
and his clothes not be burned?
Or can one walk on hot coals
and his feet not be scorched?
So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
none who touches her will go unpunished.” (6:20–29)

“He who commits adultery lacks sense;
he who does it destroys himself.
He will get wounds and dishonor,
and his disgrace will not be wiped away.” (6:32)

“My son, keep my words
and treasure up my commandments with you;
keep my commandments and live;
keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and call insight your intimate friend,
to keep you from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words.
For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.” (7:1–9)

“With much seductive speech she persuades him;
with her smooth talk she compels him.
All at once he follows her,
as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
he does not know that it will cost him his life.
And now, O sons, listen to me,
and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
do not stray into her paths,
for many a victim has she laid low,
and all her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is the way to Sheol,
going down to the chambers of death.” (7:21–27)

The Freedom of Self-ForgetfulnessIf you want to gain some powerful insight in a very short amount of time, I’m going to recommend you read The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller. It’s very short—as in, you’ll likely be able to read the whole thing in an hour or two. And it’s inexpensive—as in, $1.62 on Kindle at the moment I’m writing this.

Like everything I’ve read from Keller, this book is powerful. It’s well thought out, it is right on the money in terms of its description of the human condition, and its advice for growth is saturated in the gospel. Here’s my pitch: If you have two dollars and two hours, you can’t afford to skip this little book.

Keller’s argument runs like this…

We’ve all heard it said that our human problems are caused by low self-esteem. What we need is to believe in ourselves, to be more self-confident, to grow in our self-esteem. But Tim Keller argues that there is no evidence to say that low self-esteem causes problems, nor is there evidence that high self-esteem would solve anything.

We don’t need to think more highly of ourselves, but neither do we need to become more self-deprecating. What we need, Keller says, it to think about ourselves less. Worrying about yourself, protecting your own interests, making a name for yourself—there is incredible freedom in letting go of these pursuits and instead choosing to love and serve others.

Keller’s book focuses on Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 4. In particular, Keller finds Paul’s basis for self-forgetfulness in verses 3–4:

“With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.”

Essentially, Paul is saying, “I’m not worried about your verdict on my life. Nor am I worried about my own verdict on my life. The only verdict that matters is God’s.” When we can live in confidence that only God’s view of our lives matters, then we are free to stop trying to prove ourselves.

We are constantly trying to prove ourselves to other people. They are trying to hold us to some standard (or at least, we often think they are trying to hold us to some standard), so we do our best to show them that we’re good enough. But we’re not good enough, so we disappoint them. We also try to live up to our own standards, but we also fail miserably at that, so we disappoint ourselves.

Paul’s words are revolutionary at this point: I don’t care what you think about me. But I also don’t care what I think about me. The only thing I care about is what God thinks about me. And because God has given his own Son to reconcile me to God and make me holy before him, God is pleased with me. That’s all that matters.

Tim KellerKeller explains that Christianity is the only religion in which the verdict precedes the performance. In every religion, if you perform well enough throughout your life, you receive the verdict that God (or the gods, or some impersonal force) is pleased with you, that you’re good enough. But in Christianity, the verdict comes first. God declares himself to be pleased with us before we perform anything but wicked deeds. He loves us while we are still sinners. And then that verdict enables the performance.

All of this frees us from having to prove ourselves. It frees us from having to make a name for ourselves. It frees us from having to look out for ourselves. We belong to God and he is pleased with us and he has given us a mission to accomplish. We can and must spend our lives in pursuit of something greater than ourselves.

 

 

I am so thankful for Christianity. That probably sounds odd, or lame, or both. But the longer I live, the more I test out my Christian beliefs in more of the real world, and the more amazed I am at Christianity’s ability to explain this world and to allow me to thrive within it.

Francis Schaeffer always said that Christianity offers an explanation for all of life. It speaks to everything. And I keep finding that he’s right about that. We sometimes think that Christianity is about going to heaven when we die, but it provides the only accurate and profound answer to everything we encounter.

I am thankful…

Return of the Prodigal Son (Rembrandt)To be able to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve forgiveness, and to know that justice is still served. Because the wicked will be punished, and because Jesus was punished on behalf of the wicked who trust in him, justice will be completely served in this universe. I can always forgive because Christ forgave first, and because vengeance belongs to him. This gives me unbelievable freedom and joy in relationships.

To be able to tell my daughters that they will see their dead loved ones again—and mean it. The loss of a loved one is unbearable. And yet I am so comforted that when a believing friend or family member dies, I will be able to look my daughters in the eye and tell them truthfully, “You will see him again, and it will be amazing!”

To be able to point my daughters to Jesus as an example of forgiveness—and everything. This morning I was talking to one of my girls about what to do if her sister hits her. How amazing that I can explain that Jesus was hit, wounded, and even killed, and that he did not hit back! Parenting would be so difficult without the example of Jesus.

To be able to explain and value the good in this world. When I see people doing good, pursuing good, praising good, I don’t have to wonder why people who don’t see the world as I see it can still do good things. I believe in a God who made a very good world, and who still showers his goodness in all corners of this world, even when some people want nothing to do with him.

To be able to explain and oppose the evil in this world. Contrary to some world religions, I don’t have to accept evil as simply “the way it is.” And I can fight against the evil in this world without fighting against God (as in some Eastern religions). This is God’s good world, and though he permits evil for a time, he has sacrificed himself to defeat evil and he will one day remove it entirely.

Rembrandt - Descent from the CrossTo be able to point people to the power of love, and know that it’s something deeper than the power of positive thinking. Love can be a cheesy concept—Why can’t we all just love one another? And yet I believe in a God who is love. I can say with a straight face that true, self-sacrificing love is the most powerful force in the universe.

To be affirmed in my deep understanding that I am not good enough, and to be reminded that that was never the point anyway. Every day I am proven right in my suspicions that I’m actually a horrible person. And Christianity told me that this is what I would find about myself. Yet Christianity also reminds me daily that my value is not dependent on my performance, and that Jesus saved me while I was a sinner. There are no words to express how amazing this reality is.

To be affirmed in my love for this world. Contrary to some religions (such as Gnosticism or Buddhism) that see this world as icky or illusory, I can look around at this world, love and enjoy it deeply, and be affirmed in this by the Creator. He made a good world and placed us within it. What a joy to have the freedom to love the world God made!

To be affirmed in my love for the people around me. I don’t have to be in competition with the people around me. I don’t have to hate them. I can value them as bearers of the image of God. I can see their value, and love them with the love of Christ.

To know that God is there, and that he loves deeply. I am part of one of the very few world religions that sees God as a personal being who cares about what happens in this world. I belong to the ONLY religion that understands that God cares so much about us that he sacrificed himself for the sake of human beings. There is so much comfort in these profound truths!

To know that no godly effort in this life will be in vain. I don’t have to wonder if my sacrifice for the sake of God and his kingdom will be worth it in the end. I am promised that every bit of suffering, every bit of effort, every single undertaking done for the Lord has value, and none of it will be wasted (1 Cor. 15:58).

This list can (and should) go on forever. Christianity is more than a dusty, lifeless belief system. It is the self-revelation of the infinite-personal God who is the only foundation for reality. I am so thankful for God and for his accurate, artful, and brilliant revelation to us.

 

This is a simple thought, but today it’s striking me as important.

Yesterday I went to the beach with my family after church. We packed up our beach gear, packed up our dinner, and headed out. We had an amazing afternoon with the girls—relaxing, playing in the waves, turning the girls into sand-mermaids, the usual.

When it came time to eat our packed dinner, we paused to pray. My wife prayed for us, and then Claire, my youngest (3), asked if she could pray. Without closing her eyes, she started talking to God. She started close at hand.

“Thank you for the sand. Thank you for my crocs. Thank you for my water bottle.”

Then she ventured out.

“Thank you for my towel. Thank you for our food. Thank you for my shovel.”

Pretty soon she was almost running around our encampment.

“Thank you for my sister. Thank you for the water.”

She said many other things, but we couldn’t hear. She was caught up in her on-the-go prayer. She kept her eyes open, she took in what was around her, and she thanked God for every bit of it.

Running for the Ocean

Obviously, it was super cute. But then the blogger in me began to see the spiritual lesson. What if we spent our days this way?

For starters, what if we kept our eyes open? We look at everything around us every day, but we don’t really see much of it. It’s amazing what you can see when you really begin to look around.

And what if our waking moments were prayers?

Thank you for my computer. Thank you for the ability to communicate. Thank you for my health at this moment.

What if prayer was less of a scheduled event and more of an ongoing frenzied thank-you card as we ran through our schedules?

Thank you for my family. Thank you for my car. Thank you for employment. Thank you for my church family.

Our lives are filled with God’s gifts. We’re so busy using these gifts, so busy ignoring them, so busy taking them for granted. What if we thanked him repeatedly? With eyes wide open. With a sense of ongoing wonder. With an ingrained sense of gratitude that sees the beauty of the Giver in every big and small gift with which he surrounds us at every moment.

Honestly, what if?

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