Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why We Don't Celebrate Halloween

"The night is nearly over, and the daylight is near, so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." Romans 13:12

Have you ever been re-convicted about something? This is what I mean.

Halloween was huge in my hometown. It was good for business. The stores stocked up on and sold out of the two essentials - candy and eggs. Yes, I said eggs. You see, once the little kiddies had filled up their bags of candy and headed home, the big kids came out to play. They treated. We tricked, and our trick was throwing eggs. We didn't egg houses. Occasionally we would egg a car or truck. Sorry about your truck, Jimmy Ray. Mostly we just prowled around in gangs egging each other. Just like candy and beads all over the streets after a Mardi Gras parade, the morning after Halloween revealed hundreds and hundreds of spent eggs littering the town's streets.

Cut to young adulthood. Halloween had lost a bit of luster. My wife and I were never really into horror movies, or all the scary stuff. Occasionally we would buy candy and hand some out from our home. Then life changed. I was born again. We started going to church, and both of us were involved in working with people who were seriously into "the deeds of darkness." There was a lot of sensationalism at that time about the evils of Halloween, and I wasn't much into the sensationalism.  But, I was strongly convicted that the celebration of Halloween had little to do with the celebration of Christ. So, we started having times of prayer on that night.

Then a young woman started coming to our church. She had moved down south to get away from an abusive family situation. As we got to know her, we found that her family had been very involved in witchcraft and then Satanism. She had pictures of their family's unholy altar. Several of the young adults in our church got involved with helping her, but then strange things began to happen. In the long run, it appeared that she was still very involved in those deeds of darkness. Chaos seemed to follow her. Couples who tried to help her found themselves at odds. There was nothing specific, but alot of strange things happening.

Well, life went on, and my wife had our first child. God was good. Life was good. We were good. One day, as we were cleaning up in the yard, we discovered that someone had attempted to break into our daughter's nursery from the outside. They had disconnected automatic lighting we had in the yard, come at some point when we were home, and used a crow bar to try and get her window up. They went to great lengths to avoid getting caught. As we thought about who would possibly have done such a thing, the young lady and several others came to mind.

The young woman had shown a keen interest in any pregnant woman in our church. My wife was working with some people who we knew to be into witchcraft and Satanism. I worked in emergency mental health services with law enforcement, and they told me that they suspected there was a local cult that could be attempting to steal very young children for potential sacrifice.  We did not know, but we thanked God she was still with us.

Ok, right now you're thinking I'm a nut. I'm reading too much into all of this. But, all of this did happen. Do I know if Satanists were trying to kidnap our 10 month old daughter? No, but someone was. Do I know if that young lady was sent into our live and the life of our church by the enemy to disrupt? No, but that is exactly what she did.

So, we made the decision to avoid all darkness. We never let our children watch shows about witches, vampires, zombies, etc. We did not play with Ouija boards, or read our fortunes, or do anything on Halloween night or any other night that was remotely connected. As a pastor, I preached about the dangers of Halloween. I endured criticism because I was "overzealous" since "it's all just good clean fun."

Then I slid. A few funny, scary movies here and there. A zombie show here and there. It seemed to lose its darkness, and I lost a bit of my edginess, until last week.

My wife and I were attending a pastor appreciation banquet put on by a para-church ministry that distributes Bibles, and heard the testimony of a woman who had been raised in a home full of the dark arts. She told how she escaped, and how her family was always able to find her no matter how far off the grid she got. She told how, in despair, she was about to take her own life when she found a little Bible and read about the hope of the Gospel. She told of spiritual battles, and the victory we have in Christ. And now she is the wife of a pastor, and the mother of godly children, and she has nothing to do with Halloween or any of that anymore.

So, thank you, God, for reconvicting me and for awakening me. Thank you for reminding me why we don't celebrate Halloween, even though so many think we're crazy not to. We don't celebrate Halloween, because, for some, it's more than candy and eggs. We don't celebrate it, because it is a dark holiday and we no longer walk in the dark. We don't celebrate Halloween, because even in its seemingly innocent forms it is a doorway to far less innocent practices. Honestly, I like a lot of the scary entertainment stuff, but why would I want to open my mind and heart to that when Jesus died to save me from the darkness. It's so much better to walk in the light.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Responding To The Evil Of ISIS

Evil is defined as anything that is profoundly immoral and malevolent. ISIL, ISIS, or just IS, it is evil. Sadly, though, if it had not been for the public execution of Americans, most of us would not have been moved to action against that evil. We did little while thousands of innocent men, women, and children in Syria, Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan were murdered by ISIL.

How is it that we can so distance ourselves emotionally from evil? The world is so evil that we often feel overwhelmed, so we distance ourselves. The 24 hour news cycle has contributed to our spiritual and moral numbness. Our immersion in the entertainment culture has certainly played a huge part. We watch the acceptable beheadings of Zombies, sympathize with murderous vampires, and laugh with illegal moonshiners. All of this has served to dull our reaction to evil and has watered down our own personal morality.

I wonder if we could get a message to ISIL that they went too far, too fast. These gruesome beheadings will backfire on them, because repeated exposure to evil eventually dulls, rather than heightens our senses.

No, they do not care. They are evil. They have already scripted the next episode of Jihadi John, and unless something miraculous happens, Peter Kassig will die. Sadly, tragically, evilly, he will die a Muslim. As he served the Syrian people, he came to accept their majority religion, converting to Islam and taking the name, Abdul-Rahman. So, he will not die believing in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He will die believing in a false god.

Has he ever heard about the one who died for him? Hopefully he has heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and we should pray that he believes in it before he dies.

Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

So, what will you do about this evil? 

Will you PRAY for Peter Kassig, his parents, and the families of the tens of thousands slain? Pray for all the Christians in that region to share the Gospel boldly and wisely.

Will you GO?  Peter Kassig put himself in harms way out of a humanitarian desire to help the hurting in that war-torn region. There is a better reason to go. The love of Christ compels us to go. So, perhaps you, or your child should go somewhere in the world other than the safety zone.

Will you SPEAK? Speak against evil, but also speak about Christ. The only answer that defeats evil is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It must be our weapon in this war against evil. So, speak it. Share the Gospel.

Will you CHOOSE? Refuse to slip into the news cycle. Refuse to be entertained by evil. Ask God to resensitize your heart.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Do Not Let This Go To Your Head

Let me begin this blog with a clarification. If you're a drop in, it's not for you. If you just drop into church once in awhile, stop reading. If you just drop into work, collect your check and head on home, stop now and read something else. This is for those who are connected and committed. It's for those whose caring can sometimes drive them to compulsion.

If I said, 'don't let this go to your head,' you'd probably think I meant, 'don't get too proud about this.' Maybe you'd hear me say, 'Don't get too big for your britches.' Jesus had to say something like that on numerous occasions to His disciples. He told the 12 that the key to greatness was not greatness, but service. Apostle Peter did the same for elders in the church, warning them not to use their authority like the puffed up leaders of their day. We all need to hear that part of it. Even the meekest of us occasionally feels our oats. Parents do it. We are the authorities in our homes, but all it takes to deflate our egos is one three year old pitching a fit in public. 

There's another way things can go to our heads. I know you'll find this hard to believe, but we can often think that we are the answer to peoples' problems. We can actually think that if it has to be, it's up to me. See, people who fall into that trap are not uncaring. They care. They're not unprincipled. They have standards. They are pastors, elders, deacons, youth leaders, social workers, parents, grandparents, mothers, mothers-in-law and good friends.

Well, it begins to go to their head. They begin to think that if they don't fix everybody, if they don't meet every need, if they aren't there for every one of their child's ballgames, then . . . 

Oh, and there are a lot of people who will feed this kind of big-headedness. There are always a few groupies who will tell you you're great if you're a dictator. But, if you're the one who's meeting their needs, then you'll never be alone. Pastors, listen up. If you're good at what you do, your people can think you are da man, and you can start to believe it. Don't fall for it. You're not. There's only one who can save, heal, redeem, convict, and truly protect. The preacher may say, "You are to be the hands and feet of Jesus," and He would be right, but don't let that go to your head.

If there's a definition of big-headedness, it would be thinking that you are what only God can be.

This may not be for you right now, but I needed to remind myself of just who I am. I am a pastor, elder, husband, father, friend and son, and in each of those relational realms are situations in which I want to be the answer but do not have an answer. I want to make it better, but clearly cannot. That is what has led me here to these keys to type these words. I, and perhaps even you, need to be reminded that while we may be used to comfort, we are not the comforter. While we may be instruments of healing, we are not the healer. While we may be parents, we are not the eternal Father. While we may be the pastor who teaches, we are not the transformer of minds. While we may be the elder who rebukes and disciplines, we are not the convictor of sins. While we may share the Gospel, we are not the Savior. While anything God has called us to is important, we must never forget that we are all replaceable. And, if we think we are not, we should remind ourselves by reading the epitaph of Judas Iscariot in Acts 1:15-26.

Only God can be God without letting it go to His head.