Archive for October, 2010

October 30, 2010

To Treat or Not to Treat?

Christians should be passionate about God’s holiness. Personal godly holiness means that we gladly consider our entire life. Any nook we discover that is not a reflection of God’s holiness we then willfully change to be in alignment so that our lives are a joyful representation of his glory. The result means constant evaluation and reevaluation as we consider things on a personal level. We should be asking questions such as:

Where does my belief or approach about this come from?

Is this something I always assumed is right but have no biblical foundation for it?

Is there any biblical precedence for this or against it?

Is my attitude about others who disagree with me reflective of the fruit of the Spirit or the works of the flesh? Does this attitude itself reveal an unholy thing that I am trying to hide by casting the blame on others?

These questions are natural questions of investigation into personal growth. Am I willing to be accountable to others? Do I have a valid defense that my conscience confirms? Am I seeking to privatize my decision and just cast people off because they ask me hard questions I’m not willing to consider?

A great example of this process is how we Christians determine if we should or should not celebrate in Halloween. Are you willing to consider Halloween in terms of holiness? By Halloween I mean trick or treating, dressing in costumes, going to parties. So if your church is doing a “Fall Festival” or “Trick or Trunk” my first suggestion is get over your Christianese euphemisms and own up to the fact that you are actually celebrating Halloween. The act of trying to change the reality by employing tactful and political contrived terms should not be the practice of the church. The only ones we are deceiving concerning this nonsense is ourselves. Call it a self-righteous pat on the back. You have your reward in full. Let us not get too cute for our own good.

As for Halloween , I can take it or leave it as a Christian. I am not a proponent of Christians celebrating Halloween…nor am I an antagonist against it. I neither have a desire to  “convert” Christians to participate or to abstain. I think that the guiding principle here is to recognize that anything apart from faith is sin (Rom 14.23). With this recognition in mind, I think it a worthy endeavor to consider biblical instructions that can offer us guidance and sanctuary as we seek God’s holiness while considering the issue known as Halloween.

For those opposed to celebrating Halloween I offer the following ideas to test your conscience:

  1. The issue of legalism: I say legalism because the Six Antitheses in Matthew 5 :21-48 (Sermon on the Mount) deal with what was known in Jesus’ day as the fence around the Law. The Pharisees were so concerned with NOT breaking God’s law that they built a fence around it so they wouldn’t get even close. Seems like a noble aspiration, but it is an insidious lie that gets the best Christians when we are not guarded against slavery to the sin of self righteousness. When we make flat rules such as “we are not doing Halloween so that we don’t engage in idolatry” or any similar argument we have fallen into legalism. My question here concerns the heart. Walking by faith means that we are constantly bringing the internal before God in submission and glad filled obedience. If we don’t “celebrate” Halloween due to a heart that is distant, hard, unflinching, unyielding, unavailable and doesn’t go to God asking for him to reveal our idols (that we do have) to us then we are but outwardly acting in a manner inconsistent with the Godly life.  I think that for those who abstain from Halloween this is the biggest danger.
  2. The issue of immaturity: In 1 Corinthians 8, some brothers just couldn’t get over the fact that meat slaughtered to idols didn’t mean a thing because these idols just weren’t real. Were these brothers sinning because of this? No. It just means they got stuck in their personal history. They couldn’t get past it. This is a sensitive subject because if you are the weaker brother you can’t go around holding people hostage to your issues, but if you are the mature brother you can’t beat your brother over the head with truth and call it love – it is in fact hate. The test of legalism is who are we outwardly trying to conform towards. This test of maturity asks why are we trying to look like an opposite. There are godly reasons to desire to actually be an opposite, but if we are merely trying to look like opposites so that the world knows we don’t approve then perhaps we have become our own victim.

For those celebrating Halloween I offer the following ideas to test your conscience:

  1. The issue of antinomianism: Antinomianism is the issue of people seeking to live a life full of a decadent heart filled with sin with little regard to the freedom that grace has given us in Jesus Christ (Gal 5:1). This freedom is the joy of obedience. To glibly throw off the discussion of Halloween because you are free in Christ means you are guilty of this abuse. Remember Jesus tells us that in order to enter the Kingdom of God your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and pharisees (and trust me they looked way more righteous than you or I). We also know in John 14 that all Christians WILL obey God and lovingly act out God’s commandments in our lives with joy because we have  become sons and daughters of God. If you desire to be holy as God is holy than you must take a look at your heart’s motives for wanting to participate in Halloween.
  2. The issue of pride: The issue of pride also correlates to 1 Corinthians 8. We know that while there are some people out there that celebrate Halloween with pagan beliefs in view that a) these gods/goddesses don’t exist and b) most Americans do not celebrate Halloween from this perspective but actually treat it as whimsically as they do Christmas. So I know as I go from door to door with my kids that we are not giving any credence to any false pagan religion. I also know that nobody along with us thinks different. But I can be fooled to think that makes me the mature Christian who needs to go around “educating” my less mature brothers because they stumble on the issue of holiness. This is a trap of the worst kind. If this description sounds like you then the test is to ask, “If I had a Christian brother who stumbled over my family’s participation in Halloween would I give it up for his sake?” Halloween may be the best example of living 1 Corinthians 8 out in our lives today in America.
  3. The issue of cultural assimilation: Christians are called to be salt and light. We are to be that which makes the culture around us holy and pure. We are God’s purifying agents now, today. We must linger and consider the implications of all our actions in this regard. Again, Matthew 5:13-14 remind us that when we lose the ability to have a purify impact on those around us it is gone for good. So much is at stake. When we say things such as “pursue the Kingdom of God and the righteousness that goes with that kingdom” we are not merely throwing out a nice slogan. Our final test then should be one of not personal holiness bu the spread of God’s glory specifically through the furthering of his kingdom by the proclamation of the gospel. We must ask ourselves as we participate in Halloween if we can honestly make this connection.

Guidelines for all:

Having said all this, my family does participate in Halloween. Our primary attachment to it is that it has become an extended family tradition four years running. We go to Rachelle’s brother’s house. The two families all have only girls all the same ages who all dress like princesses. We only go among that neighborhood with neighbors that they have built a relationship. We are intentional about what they filter and process what they see. We are doing a pumpkin piñata this year and eat dinner as an extended family. It is a time of fellowship for us.

Having given these tests, there are guidelines we practice that are applicable to all.

  1. We must have guidelines and boundaries – not created out of a legalistic heart, but a desire for holiness.
  2. We should not let our kids dress up as anything nefarious. I would not let any of my kids dress up as a priest of Ra, Ashtoreth, or Baal nor will I let them dress up as a witch, or anything like a demon, Dracula, zombie, etc. These characters celebrates evil and darkness. I would argue this is one way we are different in how we enjoy Halloween.
  3. We must dialogue with our kids. Since I have all girls they don’t want to be Dracula, but they know they can’t be a witch because we DISCUSS these issues. Also, I don’t think Halloween is a clean ticket to dress your child as a whore. As my youngest constantly laments since I won’t let her go as the Little Mermaid, who is her “favorite princess – even though my daddy says she is scandalous.” We parents need to recognized that our children are exposed to the nefarious things of Halloween to some degree no matter how much we would like to prevent it. And no doubt they will have some scares and maybe even some nightmares based on what they come across. I think no matter what you decide on celebrating Halloween or not, one thing you definitely do is talk to them about the evil these things represent and help them start to filter these things now. Sometimes our silence on such things make them even more scary and powerful from the perspective of a child. It is like Harry Potter . He says the name of He-who-must-not-be-named aka Voldemort because Voldemort held no power over him (or translation – he wasn’t afraid, even though of course he was at times). Children need safe environments to wrestle with fear as we seek to protect their innocence. And even the best stories you’ll read to them have scary characters such as the White Witch from Chronicles of Narnia. For children, who still have the strength of imagination these characters can be just as scary as anything they come across on the street. Not even considering some of the frightful characters (such as Satan) we come across in Holy Writ. Some of the best lessons you can start teaching your children right now is how to handle fear in a godly manner. Not that we expose our kids on Halloween night for this reason, because we don’t, but it is indeed a good opportunity for the lesson. Remember, they are exposed to this stuff already – like when you are driving down your neighborhood street and they are looking out and seeing all the ghastly decorations people have put out.
  4. Holy Day versus special day: Halloween is not a Holy Day, but a special day (or a take it/leave it day). We would do well as Christians not to confuse the two. The two groups  who view Halloween as a pagan holiday are first, actual pagans who actively engage in specific worship that night. My understanding is that pagans do not view anything anyone else does as any sort of tribute to their gods/goddesses. In fact, they view what everyone else does as silly and trivial and totally missing their point and why they worship. The other group consists of devoted monotheists – typically Christians, who don’t believe in the pagan religions, but don’t want to give credence to them. Only they will do nothing on that night that a pagan would recognize as credence. It is akin to thinking that reading A Night Before Christmas gives credence to Jesus as the Messiah because we are reading about Santa with our kids making cookies for Santa and then waiting up for him with no tribute or reference to Jesus. Christians look at that, shake their head and say “My, my – how everyone misses the true meaning of Christmas.” So it is with Pagans and Halloween. Everyone else treats it as a fun night for bringing the stories of our children alive – mostly.
  5. Blood – I have to admit that I have a real issue with blood and so it has its own point. Some of my Christian siblings would agree on not dressing up as a priestess of Aphrodite because those people existed, but not concerning vampires, werewolves, zombies and other modern-day fictional horror characters. My issue with these characters has to do with blood. I think we don’t take blood seriously enough today in our church culture. We are too quick to forget that Hebrews 9:22  “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb 9:22). This is a two pronged concern. First, I think that it is hard enough to get people in American culture to recognize the need for the spilling of Jesus’ blood in order for our sins to be forgiven. It is hard because we struggle connecting justice and holiness together meaning we don’t understand why blood must be spilled. Secondly, we as Christians have become a little whimsical on this most sacred idea. We should learn well the Israelites’ lesson in Judges. Each extending circle of repetition in sin and ignorance became greater and greater. Will our cavalier attitude of the spilling of blood today result in our children’s denial of its requirement tomorrow? And I can think of no other example in which Christians make blood and its spilling a thing of small consequence than on Halloween.
October 27, 2010

Jobless for a Year

Today is a special anniversary, one I will never forget – October 27, 2009 will always be a special day for me. Indeed, it is a day I reckon as an anniversary. For it was on this day last year that I was laid off. Why is this good news? It is good news because I must give glory to God for providing for us – not that he had any obligation to do so, but he found it within his pleasure to do so and so we praise him for such mercy.

I remember the day well. It was as surreal as my wedding day and the birth of my firstborn. I felt detached as I knowingly packed up my personal belongings into two boxes full of pictures and children’s artwork, carrying each one into the car – separately, to prolong the inevitable. I remember the gracious, and last, conversation I had with my employer. Sales just were not coming in, my place just could not be rationalized. Saying our goodbyes I drove home wondering. My thoughts were mostly on my family – my wife and children. How could I provide for them? We had not a month’s worth of savings in the account. In less than a week a mortgage would be due with no funding to go towards it. But my thoughts also turned towards God. What was he doing? What was the lesson? Where is this journey suppose to take us? In many ways I felt I was driving down a tunnel. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but drive as I might, no matter how long or how fast it never got closer. It was always a dim, distant light. That was how I felt.

And a year has passed. We have not missed one bill. We have not had one late payment. Our pantry stocked almost the entire year and just recently needed replenishing. We have not gone hungry or cold. Indeed, we have had extra. We have been so overwhelmingly abundantly supplied for that our cup has run more than over. And still we live paycheck to paycheck. Only there is no regular, dependable paycheck this time. It has come from odd jobs, temp jobs and the love of others.

How then does a family of five survive for an entire year with perhaps four to five months worth of odd jobs? The answer is God. He is our all. Of course, I should not have been surprised. He has been the author of all our provisions in the past and will continue to be in the future. Why would it be different now? We have been given six (or seven – we’ve been given a truck since this post) cars in a row as a foretaste of this time. Consider them the first fruits of how God pays a salary.

Of course, this is no indictment on those who God has not provided for in this way in their lives though they are in desperate need. God’s grace is in response to nothing in us. It has just been his good pleasure. But let us not forget those who are in need tonight – desperate need.  Right around the corner there are senior adults who must choose between a mortgage and medicine. And there is a 30 something couple with children in tow looking for an overpass to sleep under tonight. The orphans, by law or death, are waiting for someone to live with them – just live. And the widows are slumbering in cold, cockroach infested nursing homes tonight chewing their nails as they live the glory days when someone just came to visit. If anything, this time has told me to go and do likewise to these. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 11 that the proclamation of the Gospel is accompanied by something else. Matthew 11:2-6

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples  and asked Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see:  the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news.  And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.”

This year, in review, has taught me many fine lessons. More than I care to share here. But let me leave you with a life vision for me. This isn’t my vision as a pastor – I have that, nor is this my vision as a husband – I have that too, and it is not my vision as a parent or child, rather this is simply my vision as a Christian.

I had a preaching professor who had a doubloon made in New Orleans that he gave to all his students. One one side it read “Preach the Word” in Koine Greek. I don’t remember the either side. I still got that doubloon somewhere. But if I were to do an imprinting of a doubloon or coin on one side it would say, “Those who please God walk by faith.” And on the other side it would read, “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” For these two sides of the coin are really the same thing. This is my vision because I want to be holy as God is holy. I want to hear from him “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Finally, then, as I sit and ponder what a year it has been I am forced to take a deep breath and admit I’m yet to know what it means to walk by faith but now, Dear Father, I ask that you take me there.

I pray peace to you all in the name of Jesus Christ.

October 26, 2010

A Good Place To Be – a poem

With the rising sun it is bravado I display,
While under the resting moon as a small child I lay.
Bravery, bravery, why are you hidden today?
Testify, as to myself my own heart does betray.
So forlorn as my rescue is so long in delay.
Oh, the affable Father is molding me like clay!

Isaiah 64:8 “Yet LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we all are the work of Your hands.”

October 17, 2010

Praying Missionally

A good axiom about prayer for the majority of us is that if we don’t have triggers to keep us on target our minds tend to wander. This certainly is not categorically true, but I think it is mostly true of most people when they pray most of the time. 🙂

For that reason it is always a good idea to pray with the Bible open so you can pray Scripture into your life. A prayer journal is also a great tool to rely on everyday. Of course there is also prayer tactics such as ACTS and IOU and concentric circles in your prayer life. All good ideas.

Let me now propose another prayer tool for you to stay vigilant in keeping the whole of God’s Great Commission in view as you pray. The Joshua Project highlights a different  unreached or mostly unreached people group every day. You can even have them email them to you every day.

My family has incorporated this tool into our nightly devotional time. I’m trying to get my blog to post it too, but so far my attempts have failed – so until then sign up for their emails.

October 15, 2010

Be Ye Holy

Ever wonder how if God being holy is such an alien idea then why does he call us to be holy? Isn’t that a difficult prospect!

God: Be holy as I am holy.

Me: Yeah, only I don’t know what that is! Remember?

Well, if that conversation is yours – as it is mine. Here is a sermon I heard earlier this week while aerating and thought of my last post. It is by Dr. Derek Thomas and I believe it will do you well.

October 12, 2010

God as Holy

When we say God is holy we struggle with what holy means. We define terms intensively and ostensively. Ostensively we point to examples of a thing to define it through these examples. For example, when talking to a child or someone who speaks a different language we can point to the color red as we say “red” to convey the meaning of the idea of “red.” Or we might define “tree” ostensively simply by pointing to a maple or poplar tree and saying “that is a tree.” Ostensive definitions work because although there may be some type of struggle in defining the term – be it comprehensiveness or different languages – we have a common starting point to work from. While every tree is different from every other tree in the world, there is enough similarity in the trees we all come across to know that we can come to a common understanding as we point ostensively to a tree as we say “tree” knowing that we each can to an understanding then. This is exactly why ostensive definitions are so important – because it is the simplest way to define things as we experience them, by simply pointing to them. Ostensive definitions rely on human experience to work.

Intensive definitions are the lexical definition of a term, which give a precise explanation of the idea behind the word rather than simply pointing to it. A way to think of these two types of definitions is to think of your dictionary. The intensive definition is the explanation written on the page. The ostensive definition is the picture next to it.

But when we define holy our struggle is that we combine an intensive and ostensive definition, not to point to what we mean when we say “God is Holy,” but to point to the boundaries of our understanding and to say “God being holy means something infinitely beyond these boundaries.” That is the best we can do. God is so holy! Or in Biblical language, God is Holy, Holy, Holy!!!

Here then is me pointing to these boundaries. God is holy in that:

  1. God is Good: He is wholly perfectly pure in every detail of his being and attributes.
  2. God is Great: He is supremely excellent above all others.
  3. God is Grand: He is transcendent and other. He is separate. He is different. He is one of a kind. There is none like him. He is infinitely and majestically supreme. He is the ontological king.
  4. God is God: Holy points to the all-encompassing synonym for God and is a constant reminder that we can only understand the things about God which he has revealed. Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us that “The hidden things belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.”