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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween: Do or Don't?

"Should Christians participate in Halloween?" 

Admittedly, this is a strange image.
Every year I've managed to dodge this question fairly successfully - preferring to respond: "But the real question is: Should Christians participate in Valentine's Day? The origin of love according to Hallmark and the Peanuts card that Ramsey Rives gave me in 3rd grade is a Greek mythological figure who shoots arrows -- not Yahweh. Well, that's heresy right there (see 1 John 4). Okay, I'll wait for that. This is a legitimate and serious question and I've been asked by a host of persons about it this year. Katie and I have actually given it quite a bit of prayerful & biblical consideration over the years so here we go...

A word of grace. Wherever we land on these types of gray-area issues, I always encourage folks from Romans 14:4: “To his own master a servant stands or falls.” In other words, We each will have to give an account to God but we should not demand others give an account to us. But we often do demand, don't we? If not in word, through our attitudes or our judgments toward others about 'other' things (but really, it's all about that thing).  Pressing accountability is not true of every or even most issues. Most issues aren't matters of Christian liberty or gray-areas. Most issues Scripture is pretty clear about. So while we should refrain from being demanding of accountability about drinking in moderation, watching R-rated films, or perhaps (??) certain language we use, the same isn't true for "sleeping with someone" before marriage - some will argue that this is a gray-area issue so they can keep doing who they are doing  but Scripture (not to mention wisdom!) gives us clear instruction with regard to "keeping the marriage bed pure" (Hebrews  13:4). So with this issue of Halloween, some will walk away happy, even smug with what the Oelschlagers have decided to do, while others will be infuriated. Which is why my intent here is not to change a person's mind as to whether they should celebrate it. It ain't gonna happen. My hope is that, by considering the matter from God's Word, we extend further grace to persons on both sides of the issue.

Where I my "Megatron" costume. I do not think it is wrong for Christians, who have a clear conscience in doing so and are not causing a ‘weaker’ brother to stumble, to participate in Halloween. Let me give a few thoughts to support that statement – allowing God’s Word to be our primary guide.

The counter argument. The two major points against Halloween:  (1) That we are celebrating an ancient druidic/Celtic holiday in which spirits of the trees were worshipped and (2)  add to that the continued existence of modern day witchcraft, sorcery, ghoulishness still celebrated today around Halloween (even though isolated & amongst a small minority at least in Cayman's varied cultural landscape). These are both serious matters. We are called to be “in” the world yet not “of it” (John 17). So we are equally called to guard our hearts from evil yet also be a friend to sinners. 

God’s Word. While it doesn’t speak to this issue directly, it does speak to a surprisingly similar issue. Namely meat sacrificed to idols/false gods/demons. 

1 Corinthians 10:19-31:  19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?  20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.  21 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.  22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?  23 "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up.  24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.  25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  26 For "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof."  27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  28 But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience-  29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience?  30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?  31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

A few notes:
Conscience. If your conscience (see also 1 Corinthians 8) doesn’t allow you to participate & if God has convicted you it’s wrong, don’t do it until/unless God changes your mind. Far worse to do what you believe God has told you is wrong than to do it doubting with every timid step.
     >>> If you can in good conscience, dress up your kids, have them walk around the neighborhood & pilfer candy from the neighbors (but "Take only One" if they aren't home), do it without being burdened. 
     >>> If because of your past, concern for your kids, deep belief/suspicion in dark spiritual forces being harder at work, don't do it even if you acknowledge someone else's freedom to do differently.
Idols & Candy. You might make the parallel of meat with Candy or with costumes. Were either dedicated to the Celtic figure Samhain or any sort evil spirit? Likely not. Could they have been, sure. Was that a Wiccan who just handed me a tootsie roll and cursed it with a spell that will make me prematurely bald? Perhaps. Is it likely? Depends on your culture, where you live, etc. But likely not (I hope someone put Rogaine in my bag just in case).
So verse 28: “BUT if someone says to you, “This party, candy, costume is in honor of Samhain who we believe to be the Celtic Spirit of Halloween,” don’t eat it, put it on, participate. Lest we cause a young Christian or non-Christian to confuse our faith in Christ with hypocrisy. 
Helpful? Then the next logical question comes from v.23: I can understand how the participation in Halloween can be “lawful” or “permissible” (NIV), but how can it actually be "helpful" or "build" someone up??  Great question (see two points below).

Your situation. If our children had a strange unhealthy interest in ghoulish, ghastly, fearful, & all things “dark,” I would certainly abstain. Also, if we weren’t being intentional about exposing our kids on a daily basis to the truth & light of God’s Word & the truth and light of the Rescuer Jesus Christ, then I might also be more hesitant about making much of any holiday lest they put all their hope & attention on a self-indulgent occasion to stuff themselves full of Laffy-Taffy (not to mention the potential of impish evil spirits...although they do act rather impish themselves after a half-bag of High Fructose Corn Syrup and a pint's worth of Red Dye #3) . If we ran into a haunted house or a block party that stressed the perverse, spiritual strangeness, fear-based entertainment, Katie and I would have no problems walking away from it. So I think, practically and with wisdom, you must take into account your own situation as well – being brutally honest about your spiritual state & influences.

Your neighbor’s situation. If you don’t think participating in Halloween poses a spiritual stumbling block for your neighbor (and that’s an important “if"), consider the immense benefit of participating, especially if you are trick-or-treating. There are few opportunities in our culture where people will actually walk up to our door and meet us face to face. There are few opportunities where we can actually walk up and down the streets in our neighborhoods with those who do not know Christ- and they will do this with you willingly and won’t think we are stalking them. Halloween can be a great opportunity to get to know people. I believe you have the opportunity to meet and enjoy some fellowship with the unbelievers God has put around you- and in a setting that they initiate. The ‘dangers’ of Halloween, for our family, do not outweigh these opportunities. Now, of course, being ‘separate’ on these days can be opportunities as well. It might be important to communicate your convictions by turning off the light and not answering the door. I'm sure in some contexts God can and does use this. But Katie and I have decided that we would rather be overtly engaging with those around us on this night with love and wisdom rather than abstain altogether.

The response of someone with a different conviction than me. I get pumped whenever people go to God's Word &, with the help of His Spirit, get it. This past week one of the person's with whom I engaged on this topic had a different personal conviction. She didn't begin to share my conviction about participating in Halloween, but she did look earnestly at God's Word & extended grace. Here are some excerpts from this person's response (which is right on!): 
Halloween is a very sacred day for those who follow Wicca - one of their most "holy" days which is where my struggle to feel ok about it all stems.   I fully realise that people aren't practising Wicca or celebrating anything with evil intent and aren't trying to glorify evil by celebrating Halloween so this is definitely where I get, just because I believe it is wrong doesn't make it wrong and it isn't wrong for somebody else to do it but if I believe it is wrong for me and I do it then it would be wrong.  Is that right?  LOL (YES it is anonymous person!!!!).....

I don't get any holy brownie points for choosing not to celebrate as opposed to another brother or sister in Christ who does but what I do get is that it is ok to feel the way I do about Halloween and at the same time make sure my heart is in check and not get self righteous and maintain a good heart attitude toward others that do.  Correct?  (Yes, and love the "holy brownie points" comment!)
In conclusion: No matter whether you decide to stay at home or participate, 1 Corinthians 10:31 is a good note to end on: 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

I realize I responded to this question largely from a “family” point-of-view and you might not even have children, but I think trick-or-treating & carving pumpkins (not dance parties, club scenes, etc.) is where this dilemma is most visible. As just being at a club and partying is itself another dilemma over which we ought constantly to be submitting our hearts unto the Lord, examining our conscience, and striving to be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of it’ (ie. In the world, but with a mission). 

To balance out my family's conviction with the equally valid personal conviction that it's not glorifying to God to celebrate Halloween, I provide for you (BELOW) this Halloween evangelism tract, which has no doubt graced the bags of many an unsuspecting child, for your amusement/edification. My favorite part is the clown and the lone ranger praying together to trust Christ. Makes me wonder: Can clowns know Jesus? (subject of my next post).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dudes - Part I

This Saturday we're having our first ever churchwide Men's Breakfast. So I'm making it a goal this week to post a few thoughts each day regarding issues and biblical insight surrounding being a dude and exercising one's dude-ishness. Of course, it's already Wednesday and there's a good chance this will be my last post...oh well.

I was talking today with a member of our congregation who is also on the police force. We talked about the absence of husbands and fathers in Cayman. I wondered out loud:
Isn't it strange that most women fear yielding leadership to men and most men fear taking it on (and are more than happy to give it up).
As a husband and then, by association, a father the admonition is clear about the form that leadership is to take and why it's so scary:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
Be honest guys: Was the scary part just then the vague spiritual responsibility or realizing Jesus while he lived in real flesh & in real time did everything to the point of death for the sake of the church (and then applying that to our marriages)?

John Benton calls men to be self-sacrificial initiative-takers in his helpful little book Gender Questions (and, No, as at least one of you has asked before the book is not for those questioning which gender they are...there are shorter & simpler illustrated books for that):
The word initiative could be linked to the word leadership. But I am unhappy about that word in some respects because it has become so debased by modern ideas of managers who 'sit up there and make decisions' and have nothing to do with what is happening 'on the ground'...Biblical leadership is more to do with the idea of a pioneer -- a person who says, "I go first, to take the risks, to make the way safe for others, to take the knocks."
Men, I suggest if we would make every effort, by the grace of God and clinging to Christ as both our help & our example, to be this type of leader, the women in our lives might be a little less afraid of yielding leadership and considerably more grateful that we are living out who we said we'd be when we uttered those wedding vows.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Call to Courageous Manhood - $2 through Oct 15

I'm excited that the first weekend of Dec (Dec 2-3) Sunrise Community Church will be hosting a Marriage Conference from FamilyLife Ministries called "The Art of Marriage."

In preparation for this, I came across this wonderful resource from author & relationship guru, Dennis Rainey. It's called Stepping Up: The Call to Courageous Manhood. 

In this book, Rainey examines the five stages of every man's life and the God-given opportunity as well as responsibility of each stage. I read the first few chapters already and it is outstanding. If you know a man & especially if this man owns a Kindle, iPad, or reads eBooks - consider getting him this book (a cheap Birthday present??) or send him the link to this post. See the trailer below for a better idea of what to expect.

Best part: The eBook version is only $2 through Oct 15. Here's the LINK.

If you don't have an iPad or Kindle, here are links to some free eBook software to read the book on your laptop. Microsoft Reader and also Stanza Desktop for Mac