A Christian Response to Halloween

How should we respond to Halloween as believers in Christ?  The holiday itself has undeniable pagan roots.  Should we avoid it completely? Should we participate, but with caution and discernment?  Or, should we seek to engage in it fully in order to see people come to Christ? Ultimately, our decision must be informed by Scripture and by a desire to see God glorified.

Here’s a great article I ran across from the Grace To You website that will help you discern the right approach for your family:

Christians and Halloween

Colossians 2:15, 1 Peter 5:8, Hebrews 10:27, Romans 2:14-16

Halloween. It’s a time of year when the air gets crisper, the days get shorter, and for many young Americans the excitement grows in anticipation of the darkest, spookiest holiday of the year. Retailers also rejoice as they warm up their cash registers to receive an average of $41.77 per household in decorations, costumes, candy, and greeting cards. Halloween will bring in approximately $3.3 billion this year.

It’s a good bet retailers won’t entertain high expectations of getting $41.77 per household from the Christian market. Many Christians refuse to participate in Halloween. Some are wary of its pagan origins; others of its dark, ghoulish imagery; still others are concerned for the safety of their children. But other Christians choose to partake of the festivities, whether participating in school activities, neighborhood trick-or-treating, or a Halloween alternative at their church.

The question is, How should Christians respond to Halloween? Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat? What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season–are they overreacting?

The Pagan Origin of Halloween
The name “Halloween” comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, began the time of remembrance. “All Hallows Eve” was eventually contracted to “Hallow-e’en,” which became “Halloween.”

As Christianity moved through Europe it collided with indigenous pagan cultures and confronted established customs. Pagan holidays and festivals were so entrenched that new converts found them to be a stumbling block to their faith. To deal with the problem, the organized church would commonly move a distinctively Christian holiday to a spot on the calendar that would directly challenge a pagan holiday. The intent was to counter pagan influences and provide a Christian alternative. But most often the church only succeeded in “Christianizing” a pagan ritual–the ritual was still pagan, but mixed with Christian symbolism. That’s what happened to All Saints Eve–it was the original Halloween alternative!

The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major celebrations were marked by the seasons. At the end of the year in northern Europe, people made preparations to ensure winter survival by harvesting the crops and culling the herds, slaughtering animals that wouldn’t make it. Life slowed down as winter brought darkness (shortened days and longer nights), fallow ground, and death. The imagery of death, symbolized by skeletons, skulls, and the color black, remains prominent in today’s Halloween celebrations.

The pagan Samhain festival (pronounced “sow” “en”) celebrated the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter, for three days–October 31 to November 2. The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living–ghosts haunting the earth.

Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead. They sought “divine” spirits (demons) and the spirits of their ancestors regarding weather forecasts for the coming year, crop expectations, and even romantic prospects. Bobbing for apples was one practice the pagans used to divine the spiritual world’s “blessings” on a couple’s romance.

For others the focus on death, occultism, divination, and the thought of spirits returning to haunt the living, fueled ignorant superstitions and fears. They believed spirits were earthbound until they received a proper sendoff with treats–possessions, wealth, food, and drink. Spirits who were not suitably “treated” would “trick” those who had neglected them. The fear of haunting only multiplied if that spirit had been offended during its natural lifetime.

Trick-bent spirits were believed to assume grotesque appearances. Some traditions developed, which believed wearing a costume to look like a spirit would fool the wandering spirits. Others believed the spirits could be warded off by carving a grotesque face into a gourd or root vegetable (the Scottish used turnips) and setting a candle inside it–the jack-o-lantern.

Into that dark, superstitious, pagan world, God mercifully shined the light of the gospel. Newly converted Christians armed themselves with the truth and no longer feared a haunting from departed spirits returning to earth. In fact, they denounced their former pagan spiritism in accord with Deuteronomy 18:

There shall not be found among you anyone…who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord (vv. 10-13).

Nonetheless, Christian converts found family and cultural influence hard to withstand; they were tempted to rejoin the pagan festivals, especially Samhain. Pope Gregory IV reacted to the pagan challenge by moving the celebration of All Saints Day in the ninth century–he set the date at November 1, right in the middle of Samhain.

As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together. On the one hand, pagan superstitions gave way to “Christianized” superstitions and provided more fodder for fear. People began to understand that the pagan ancestral spirits were demons and the diviners were practicing witchcraft and necromancy. On the other hand, the festival time provided greater opportunity for revelry. Trick-or-treat became a time when roving bands of young hooligans would go house-to-house gathering food and drink for their parties. Stingy householders ran the risk of a “trick” being played on their property from drunken young people.

Halloween didn’t become an American holiday until the immigration of the working classes from the British Isles in the late nineteenth century. While early immigrants may have believed the superstitious traditions, it was the mischievous aspects of the holiday that attracted American young people. Younger generations borrowed or adapted many customs without reference to their pagan origins.

Hollywood has added to the “fun” a wide assortment of fictional characters–demons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, mummies, and psychopaths. That certainly isn’t improving the American mind, but it sure is making someone a lot of money.

The Christian Response to Halloween
Today Halloween is almost exclusively an American secular holiday, but many who celebrate have no concept of its religious origins or pagan heritage. That’s not to say Halloween has become more wholesome. Children dress up in entertaining costumes, wander the neighborhood in search of candy, and tell each other scary ghost stories; but adults often engage in shameful acts of drunkenness and debauchery.

So, how should Christians respond?

First, Christians should not respond to Halloween like superstitious pagans. Pagans are superstitious; Christians are enlightened by the truth of God’s Word. Evil spirits are no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year; in fact, any day is a good day for Satan to prowl about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). God has forever “disarmed principalities and powers” through the cross Christ and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them through [Christ]” (Colossians 2:15).

Second, Christians should respond to Halloween with cautionary wisdom. Some people fear the activity of Satanists or pagan witches, but the actual incidents of satanic-associated crime are very low. The real threat on Halloween is from the social problems that attend sinful behavior–drunk driving, pranksters and vandals, and unsupervised children.

Like any other day of the year, Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families. Christian young people should stay away from secular Halloween parties since those are breeding grounds for trouble. Christian parents can protect their children by keeping them well-supervised and restricting treat consumption to those goodies received from trusted sources.

Third, Christians should respond to Halloween with gospel compassion. The unbelieving, Christ-rejecting world lives in perpetual fear of death. It isn’t just the experience of death, but rather what the Bible calls “a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume [God’s] adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). Witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are not terrifying; God’s wrath unleashed on the unforgiven sinner–now that is truly terrifying.

Christians should use Halloween and all that it brings to the imagination–death imagery, superstition, expressions of debauched revelry–as an opportunity to engage the unbelieving world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given everyone a conscience that responds to His truth (Romans 2:14-16), and the conscience is the Christian’s ally in the evangelistic enterprise. Christians should take time to inform the consciences of friends and family with biblical truth regarding God, the Bible, sin, Christ, future judgment, and the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ for the repentant sinner.

There are several different ways Christians will engage in Halloween evangelism. Some will adopt a “No Participation” policy. As Christian parents, they don’t want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities–listening to ghost stories and coloring pictures of witches. They don’t want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives.

That response naturally raises eyebrows and provides a good opportunity to share the gospel to those who ask. It’s also important that parents explain their stand to their children and prepare them to face the teasing or ridicule of their peers and the disapproval or scorn of their teachers.

Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called “Harvest Festivals” or “Reformation Festivals”–the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. It’s ironic when you consider Halloween’s beginning as an alternative, but it can be an effective means of reaching out to neighborhood families with the gospel. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.

Those are good alternatives; there are others that are not so good. Some churches are using “Hell House” evangelism to shock young people and scare them into becoming Christians. They walk people through rooms patterned after carnival-style haunted houses and put sin on display–women undergoing abortions, people sacrificed in a satanic ritual, consequences of premarital sex, dangers of rave parties, demon possession, and other tragedies.

Here’s the problem with so-called Hell House evangelism: To shock an unshockable culture, you have to get pretty graphic. Graphic exhibits of sin and its consequences are unnecessary–unbelieving minds are already full of such images. What they need tosee is a life truly transformed by the power of God, and what they need tohear is the truth of God in an accurate presentation of the gospel. Cheap gimmickry is unfitting for Christ’s ambassadors.

There’s another option open to Christians: limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. There’s nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbors. Even handing out candy to neighborhood children–provided you’re not stingy–can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behavior does not dishonor Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

Ultimately, Christian participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience before God. Whatever level of Halloween participation you choose, you must honor God by keeping yourself separate from the world and by showing mercy to those who are perishing. Halloween provides the Christian with the opportunity to accomplish both of those things in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a message that is holy, set apart from the world; it’s a message that is the very mercy of a forgiving God. What better time of the year is there to share such a message than Halloween?

This article by Travis Allen originally appeared here at Grace To You.

 

 

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My Favorite Bible-Based Movies and One I’d Like to See Made

I love the Bible and I get a real kick out of seeing Hollywood do their best to interpret Scripture through the medium of film.  There have been a lot of lousy Bible-based movies made but there have been some that are actually quite excellent.

These are my top three favorite Bible movies in order:

Joseph

Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting much from this TV movie when it first appeared, but I have to say I really liked it. I love the way it stays true to the Biblical narrative. Of course there are some times when the writers have to “fill in the gaps” of the Biblical account to keep the story flowing, but they do so in such a way that they remain true not only to the historical context of the film, but the spirit of the Bible story as well. I was very impressed.

The scene where Joseph is tempted to commit adultery by Potipher’s wife is powerful and depicts a real man’s struggle with immorality as he chooses to obey God rather than give in to the temptation he is experiencing.

The film also boasts Ben Kingsley as Potipher and Martin Landau as Joseph’s father Jacob. Kingsley is one of my favorite actors and as usual, he is stunning in his role as Joseph’s master and gives you some insight into how Potipher may have truly thought of Joseph even after he was falsely accused of trying to rape his wife. Landau is always exciting to watch and certainly does not disappoint here. The man’s facial expressions alone could be used to teach a master’s class in film acting.

Turner Broadcasting did an excellent job with this one.

King David

I first saw this movie when I was a teenager and loved it. The creators of this film did not stay as true to the Biblical text as the ones I mentioned above, but the movie is nonetheless very powerful. David is one of the most complex characters presented in all of Scripture, and Richard Gere does an excellent job portraying King David and all the many facets of his character. You see him quite clearly as a poet, musician, ardent worshiper, warrior, renegade and eventually king.

The depth of emotion displayed in the scenes where David learns of Absalom’s death and the scene where he dances before the Lord as the ark of the covenant is being brought into the city make them some of the most memorable in the film.

My favorite part of the film however is in the opening scene where Samuel confronts Saul for his refusal to obey the word of the Lord to utterly destroy the Amalekites. Samuel takes a sword and slays the Amalekite King before Saul and pronounces God’s judgment on him. The kingdom will be taken away from Saul and given to one who is better than him, a man after God’s own heart. I still get chills every time I see it.

The most disappointing part of the film is David’s fight with Goliath. The filmmakers decided to have Goliath’s armor bearer do all of his talking for him and they showed David missing on his first attempt to slay the giant. I hate that they ruin such a powerful part of the Biblical narrative, but the rest of the movie makes up for this flaw.

The Ten Commandments

How can I not pick this one? Charlton Heston as Moses? Yul Brynner as Pharaoh? Does it get any better than this?

I used to watch this movie every single year when it came on TV. I loved it. My favorite scene is the crossing of the Red Sea of course, but equally powerful to me is when Pharaoh is holding his dead son in his arms and lays him in the lap of the idol of Anubis, Egyptian god of the afterlife, desperately seeking for life to return to his boy’s body.

But the one true God, the God of Israel, has pronounced judgment, and there will be no reprieve. You see a broken and humbled man allowing the people of Israel to leave Egypt in that scene and Brynner plays it masterfully.

As far as a Bible movie I would like to see made, I think the book of Judges would translate well to film. A powerful film depicting the history of Israel as they seek to establish themselves as a nation would be fun to watch. If necessary a filmmaker could focus on the story of Gideon or Samson, as long as it is done “right” i.e. remaining faithful to the Scriptural narrative.

What about you? What are your favorite Bible films and which one would you like to see made?

The Teenage Years & The Naysayers

As of this month, my wife and I now officially have two teenagers in the house.  We have four sons, and the second just turned 13, the older, at the cusp of 15.  I know its cliché, but I don’t see myself as being old enough to have two teenagers, but yet, here we are…ready or not!

As Susan and I have gone throughout our years together, we have been given a lot of advice about parenting.  Some of it has been good advice and some of it not so good, but if it has been anything, it has been plentiful.  Seems as though anyone who ever had a kid had advice for us about parenting.  One of the interesting themes of a lot of this advice has been what I call the advice of “naysayers”.  They meant well, but the “naysayers” always seemed to communicate one central thought; “parenting is just one difficulty followed by another”

When our first was born, the naysayers said “just wait till he begins to crawl!”

When he began to crawl, the naysayers said, “just wait till he starts to walk!’

When he began to walk, the naysayers said, “its so easy with one…just wait till you have two!”

After we had two, the naysayers said, “just wait till you have three!”

HA!  Gotcha naysayers!  We were blessed with three and four at the same time.

In the last few years as we have defied the naysayers by enjoying all the stages of our children’s development, the naysayers have been saying, “just wait till they’re teenagers!”

That’s a familiar refrain in our culture.  The teenage years are declared to be so scary and so wrought with danger that parents should retreat to the bunker and just hope to simply survive these tumultuous years.  At least that’s what the “naysayers” say.

As with all the other stages of development, God has proven to Susan and I that He will not be defined by “naysayers”, that parenting does not have to conform to the world’s posture of fear and anxiety, and that the teenage years don’t have to be simply a time of survival….for the parents or the teen.

We’re being reminded that the teenage years are a time of great opportunity.  This is a time of unequaled opportunity to provide “real life” reinforcement to the God-focused and Bible-saturated instruction you’ve given throughout the early years.  Now is the time where life begins to rub up against the theoretical, and our teens will either see their faith proven, or defied.  Now is the time they need us more than ever to engage relationally and walk next to them as they experience this life.  Now is not the time for us as parents to “retreat to the bunker” as our teens are “on the battlefield” where they are exposed to influences that to this point we’ve only been able to warn them about.  Now is the time for us to engage in that battle with them, to be on our knees for them, to equip them with Gospel Truth, and to ensure that they know we love them no matter what.

Speaking with the naïveté of a dad of two young teenage boys, I think the teenage years are a wonderful time of opportunity.  I don’t think I’ve got blinders on.  I know they will not be easy.  They haven’t been easy yet.  But I believe they can be good, and productive, and fruitful, and I have hope in a God who uses difficulty to produce a godly harvest…who uses the heat of the furnace to produce the fruit of godliness.

The naysayers will say, “just wait till they start driving!”  Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

The Bible Isn’t Boring!

We’ve talked many times at NewBranch about the need we all have to be immersed in Scripture; to nourish ourselves on the feast that God serves up in His Word.  We’ve lamented about how so many of us nibble on God’s Word like we used to nibble on our vegetables when we were 5 years old.  If we ever expect to grow in spiritual maturity, if we ever hope to achieve Christ-likeness, if we ever expect to able to live for the glory of God despite our circumstances, then we must grow up in our intake of God’s Word….no more nibbling…instead we need to be feasting and gouging ourselves with the bounty of Scripture.

Just for fun, I wanted to post this video that poignantly and humorously describes how many of us approach God’s Word.  We know it holds truth, and we know it holds life, but we are so “pulled away” by the world, that it has lost its luster in our eyes.  Laugh, but let the Lord speak to you about where you look for nourishment for your soul.

Now, I haven’t seen Avatar (I hope to soon), so I don’t know if it’s “boring” or not, but compared to spending time listening to the omnipotent Creator God speak timeless powerful truths to me, shouldn’t it seem so?

I think we can watch movies and appreciate the artistry and creativity; listen for the redemptive value in them; look for the Gospel in them; use them as tools to engage culture with the timeless narrative of God’s redemptive purpose in the world…..but when we get so excited about the world’s offering of “new and exciting” to the point where Scripture doesn’t move us…then maybe we’ve lost focus somewhere along the line.

Something to think about.  I’m still going to go see the movie, and I doubt I’ll think its boring; however, if we  spent as much time reading our Bibles as we do watching TV and movies (or video games or romance novels, etc.), ….maybe we would be better equipped to have a Biblical view of the world, instead of a worldly view of the Bible.

Chew on that with the Holy Spirit, and let’s hear what He tells you.

Why Make New Year’s Resolutions?

I must admit that most years I do make some kind of attempt at setting new goals or resolutions to improve myself.  I recently read a post that Justin Taylor put on his blog at The Gospel Coalition website: (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/), where he asked guest author David Powlison to write on the topic of New Year’s Resolutions.

Whether or not you typically make resolutions or New Year’s goals, I hope this post provides you with some helpful insight, as it did for me.

Happy New Year!

——————

 

I was intrigued by Justin Taylor’s invitation to offer a comment about the cultural phenomenon we call “making your New Year’s resolutions.” First, a disclaimer. I’m 58 years old and I’ve never, ever made a New Year’s resolution. The notion somehow passed me by, and it’s simply a non-category in how I operate. So my only first-hand qualifications as a commentator are ignorance and naïveté. Might such an observer see things in a fresh light? Perhaps. In this arena I am surely the tribal Amazonian stepping into a socialite’s soirée on Manhattan’s upper East side. I’ll try to walk in with eyes wide-open. (I did field research via Google and a few friends.)

There are several negative possibilities in any culture-crossing encounter. The Amazonian might experience culture shock and confusion upon entering a world of decidedly foreign attitudes, actions, and meanings. “I just don’t get it.” Or he might get self-righteous about his own assumptions and practices, and only feel disdain at the oddities of others. “A pox on New Year’s resolutions as a holdover from pagan Roman practices.”

But there are also constructive possibilities in culture-crossing. I’ll mention three.

First, an Amazonian might see things that the Manhattanite has trouble seeing: the sociocultural ocean, as it were, in which the cultured socialite swims. To this outsider, the New Year’s resolutions business seems odd and striking in a number of ways.

  • Some resolutions are petty, but most resolutions make a profound statement. They express a sensed need for moral reformation. Gluttony, laziness, drunkenness, overspending and debt, loveless isolation from others, joyless workaholism, peaceless anxiety, restless entertainment, sexual self-indulgence, bitterness and estrangement from kith and kin, slovenly disorganization . . . these provide grist for resolutions to change. They raise matters that could be plucked straight off a list of the 7 deadly sins (and 7 lively virtues), of the 10 commandments about how to love, of the 9-fold fruit of the Spirit set against those “obvious” works of the flesh. I was struck by how significant the issues were. “Lose weight, quit drinking, smell the roses, and treat my family better” are not trivial matters – when properly framed.

 

  • That’s the rub: proper framing. Whether petty or profound, New Year’s resolutions as such merely express good intentions. They describe self-referential problems – “I find abc displeasing about myself.” They make no reckoning with the power of our passions, fears, habits . . . inner sinfulness, sin directly against God Himself . . . and with the power of outer evils (including enculturation) that allure and constrain us. They propose self-dependent solutions – “I resolve to do xyz to change myself.” Change depends on fickle will-power and on common-sense strategies for self-management (e.g., “set achievable goals that are personally meaningful, and take small steps”). So they fail in large measure. Or, even when they succeed, they create absolutely no reasons to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” They make no reckoning with either the chief end of man, or the madness in our hearts while we live, or the inexpressible gift of God to sinful, dying people. Self-referential resolutions function within a self-salvation project, however noble and desirable the proximate ends in view.

 

  • Furthermore, whether petty or profound, New Year’s resolutions express purely individualistic intentions. A self-improvement plan finds no corporate context for commitment, no reasons for joint effort and mutual accountability, and no participation in a common cause bigger than any and all of us. So it fails. Or even if it succeeds, ditto the previous paragraph. I might feel better about myself, but what is God thinking about the Better Me I have become? Am I becoming more integral to the Holy We that is His new creation?

 

Those are my Amazonian fly-on-the-wall observations. These “New Year’s resolutions” are about extremely significant things: moral failure, self-salvation, and individualism.

Second, hanging around the New York soirée helps this Amazonian see himself in a new light. Culture-crossing can throw light in both directions, helping us become properly self-critical. Why don’t I make resolutions? Maybe I should. Does my “non-category” register a relatively haphazard, goal-less way of coming at life? Is there a way to make resolutions that is truly constructive and life-rearranging? Or, maybe I do a functional equivalent to “resolutions,” but have never recognized the analogy? And isn’t there something important in that common-sense idea of clearly defining goals and identifying small steps in the direction you want to head? Those questions lead to my final point.

Third, culture-crossing can help us become constructively counter-cultural. We can subject both our own assumptions and those of others to criticism and reevaluation. Both Amazonians and Manhattanites can change by cross-pollination in light of the Redeemer of every tribe. We can each and all think about this resolutions business in a new way.

For starters, what is a resolution? What does it mean for me to resolve something? (We can dispense with the “New Year’s” part as merely arbitrary, not necessary.) This use of the word resolution means coming to a firm and determined decision to do something, to behave in a certain manner, to abide by certain principles. That sounds decidedly Christian. Considered from this angle, the Nicene Creed is one sort of resolution. And “I am Your servant . . . I promise to keep Your words” (Ps 119:124, 119:57 ) is another example of resolve. When you resolve_____, it means you formally express what you believe, will, or intend. It is a stand you take, a direction you choose. After thought and decision, you commit yourself to take steps along a trajectory which changes the destination of your life. Put that way, the entire Christian life might be conceived as a lifelong determination to make and walk out “New Creation Every-Day Resolutions.”

Let me give a specific example. In 1976, newly converted to Jesus Christ, I joined a church. I did so by making a resolution in front of an entire congregation of likeminded people. These were the words: “I now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that I will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ.”

That resolution was not cooked up on some hung-over January 1st because I’d become dissatisfied with my life over the previous 12 months. It is a resolution expressing the mind of Christ, mapping out a new life through all my days and years. To live “as becomes a follower of Christ” takes very seriously many specific sub-resolutions. For example, it identifies those sins against what ought to be: gluttony, laziness, drunkenness, overspending, drivenness, anxiety, and the rest. It aims for the fruits of change: temperance, diligence, gratitude, stewardship, rest, trust, love, joy, peace. . . . And the resolve to “humble reliance” seeks to make very sure that this is no self-referential and self-dependent project for self-salvation.

The corporate context, too, was significant. This was not my resolution for 1976. It was and is our resolution together, always, because it captures God’s resolve and purposes. One of the ways, then, that we help each other is by getting down to specifics. We identify goals that walk out how we will live becomingly today, wrestling out the particular steps – here, now, for me, for us – that head in the direction where Christ is going.

In fact, this past Saturday my wife and I spent the better part of a long car ride making “resolutions.” We didn’t call them that (remember, I don’t do resolutions!), and the approach of the New Year never even came up. But, as I think about it, such fresh resolves of faith and love have been part of every good conversation we’ve ever had. On Saturday we discussed ways to pay closer attention to our choices in the “transition-connection points” at the start and close of each day and whenever one of us returns home. We prayed to God for each other. We decided and committed to specific expressions of love. Sitting here on Monday night, I can identify immediate, sweet fruit in at least a dozen choices made and attitudes expressed over the past 48 hours.

So are you making your New Year’s resolutions? On this New Year’s eve, I’ve decided to make one for the first time in my life, and I’m making it public.

I now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that I will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ.

I can see very specific implications for my choices later this evening (when Nan and I go to a party with old friends) and early tomorrow morning (when we drive our daughter to the airport).

Then, by the grace of God, I’ll make this same resolution tomorrow on New Year’s Day, and, no doubt, there will be different implications, in different spheres of life. (My office really does need to be tidied up and reorganized. And University of Hawaii is playing in the Sugar Bowl. And several good friends are facing serious cancer. And. . . .) And then by the grace of God, I’ll make (and live out) the same resolution on January 2nd, and 3rd, . . . , and every day in this new year of Christ’s new creation, every day, for as long as it is called Today.

Hunting Tiger Woods

This post is a reprint of an article I read over at the Sovereign Grace Blog  by CJ Mahaney.  The Tiger Woods story is a hot topic that is fueling a media frenzy, but this post contains a helpful perspective on what a believer’s response to this news should be.  How do we respond, and how might a gospel-focus on our part affect our thoughts and conversations about “that Tiger thing”.

Tiger Woods wants his privacy back.

He wants the media entourage to disappear from his life.

He wants to be left alone so he can manage his personal problems in private.

Not a chance.

The story began unfolding in the early hours of last Friday when he crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a tree and a fire hydrant near his Florida home. He refused to speak with the police about the incident, raising curiosity about the circumstances. The story has now escalated into allegations of marital infidelity, and that generated a blog post from Tiger that stated, “I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart.” This statement by Tiger has led most to believe that the allegations of infidelity are true.

Hunted by the Media

As expected, the allegations of adultery involving a public figure are attracting a media pile-on. This is a big story with a big audience and it’s a story that will not disappear soon. Tiger Woods is being hunted by the media.

But let us make sure we do not join the hunt. A Christian’s response to this story should be distinctly different. We should not be entertained by the news. We should not have a morbid interest in all the details. We should be saddened and sobered. We should pray for this man and even more for his wife.

And we can be sure that in the coming days we will be in conversations with friends and family where this topic will emerge. And when it does, we can avoid simply listening to the latest details and speculations, and avoid speaking self-righteously, but instead we can humbly draw attention to the grace of God in the gospel.

Hunted by Sin

But Tiger is being hunted by something more menacing than journalists. Tiger’s real enemy is his sin, and that’s an enemy much more difficult to discern and one that can’t be managed in our own strength. It’s an enemy that never sleeps.

Let me explain.

Sin Lies

The Bible in general, and the book of Proverbs in particular, reveals an unbreakable connection between our character, our conduct, and the consequences of our actions. These three are inseparable and woven by God into His created order.
                                              
Deception is part of sin’s DNA. Sin lies to us. It seeks to convince us that sin brings only pleasure, that it carries no consequences, and that no one will discover it. Sin works hard to make us forget that character, conduct, and consequences are interconnected. And when we neglect this relationship—when we think our sins will not be discovered—we ultimately mock God.

Sin Hunts

We’ve all experienced it: Sin lies to us. We take the bait. And then sin begins to hunt us.

One commentator on Proverbs articulated this truth like this: “The irony of a life of rebellion is that we begin by pursuing sin…and end up being pursued by it!….You can ‘be sure your sin will find you out’ (Num. 32:23…).”* In other words, sin comes back to hunt us.

In light of this fact, sin is an enemy Tiger can’t manage. He can’t shape this story like he does a long iron on a par 5. Tiger doesn’t need a publicity facelift; Tiger needs a Savior. Just like me. And just like you. And if by God’s grace he repents and trusts in the person and work of Christ, Tiger will experience the fruit of God’s promise that “whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

Conclusion

Tiger cannot intimidate this enemy like he can Pebble Beach or any of the field of professional golfers. And there is no privacy he can claim from this enemy, regardless of his resolve, his silence, or the name painted on his yacht. It’s likely Tiger only perceives the press hunting him out of a vain “curiosity about public figures.” But Tiger is being hunted and hounded by a far greater foe: the consequences of his sin.

And this story should humble and sober us. It should make us ask: Are there any so-called “secret sins” in my life? Is there anything I have done that I hope nobody discovers? Is there anything right now in my life that I should confess to God and the appropriate individuals?

And this should leave us more amazed by grace because there, but for the grace of God, go I.

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*John A. Kitchen, Proverbs (Fearn, Scotland: Mentor, 2006), 294–295.

 © Sovereign Grace Ministries. http://www.SovereignGraceMinistries.org.

Eyes Wide Open – A Cultural Christmas

One of the issues that I struggle with about our “world” (“world” being our immediate cultural context in 21st century suburban America) is the way that the Christmas holiday has become so commercialized.  At times I am repulsed by the way the celebration of the Savior’s birth has become more of a retail bonanza than a time of worship….more of a secular celebration than a spiritual celebration….more about giving gifts to one another than about praising the Giver of the Greatest Gift….more about decorating homes with tinsel and tiny light bulbs than about adorning our lives with the fragrance of Christ. 

However, if I’m honest, there is a part of me that really treasures many of the trappings of Christmas.  I must admit that there is something “warm and fuzzy” about the sounds of carols in the mall, the ring of the Salvation Army collector at Wal-Mart, the Christmas parties, the family get-togethers, and of course…all that good food (Thanksgiving time, revisited).  Perhaps it’s all just a nostalgic trip back into my childhood, but I often find myself enjoying some of the secular aspects of the Christmas celebration.

So, how are we to think about Christmas?  What is a Biblical perspective of Christmas?  How can we celebrate the birth of Christ without falling prey to activities and traditions that are not Christ-exalting?    How “Christian” is Christmas, and on what basis should we even celebrate it?  I’ll seek to answer this more completely in a subsequent post next week.

For now, let’s consider our “receive, redeem, reject filter”….how might that be applied to our celebration of Christmas?

Let’s open this up for discussion!  Much of this is opinion, and should be couched in terms of our liberty as Christians.  If this is unclear, then please refer to my earlier post on Legalism versus License.

1.      What must we “reject” about our culture’s way of celebrating Christmas?

The list here will not be inclusive, but representative:

–         eating and drinking in excess

–         an over emphasis on gift-giving (Jesus says a man’s life does not exist in the abundance of his possessions.  Much of our gift-giving simply promotes materialism which is already such a problem in our society)

–         the attempt to remove “Christ” from Christmas as evidenced by several large corporations and government entities (including our schools)

–         going into debt in order to celebrate Christmas (gifts, decorations, activities, trips, etc.)

2.      What must be “redeemed” by the gospel from culture’s celebration of Christmas?

Gift Giving – Ultimately, the celebration should focus on the Giver of Life and the Giver (the Father) of the Greatest Gift (His Son, Jesus), but the giving and receiving of gifts can point to Him if done in moderation and with great intentionality.  In our home, we begin our unwrapping of gifts by singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, and having a time of prayer, thanking the Lord for the Greatest Gift man has ever known.  Sadly, much of our gift-giving does not align with a commitment to moderation, but instead a commitment to follow the world’s emphasis on gift-giving, which only serves to feed our materialism.  Instead of 25 toys for your toddler, why not just give him one or two that he’ll really enjoy (after all, grandma’s still gonna make up the difference!).

Christmas decorations (Christmas trees, wreaths, lights, etc.) – Much has been written about the supposed pagan origins of these traditions.  Those arguments are not convincing to me.  The bottom line for Susan and I is, “what does the Christmas Tree represent today?”  If there is a widespread predominant belief that having and decorating a Christmas tree is catamount to pagan worship, then we would readily lay aside our Christian liberty to have one; however, that is simply not the case.  Instead, our 21st century American culture sees a great deal of Christian symbolism in Christmas trees.  Why else would our government ban Christmas trees?  http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/11/27/washington-state-implement-rules-barring-holiday-displays-inside-capitol/

Why not take advantage of this symbolism and make use of it in sharing gospel truths with unbelieving friends and family?

Having feasts – Feasts were a normal party of life for Ancient Israel, as well as the early Church.  They were a means of celebrating God’s provision.  Where we go wrong with this is too cross the line into over-eating, a sin that Scripture clearly delineates as gluttony.  We like to joke about it and treat it as a lesser sin, but we can rest assured that the Lord does not consider it so.  It is not only unhealthy for us to binge eat during the holidays (and put on our extra 10 pounds), but it’s also not Christ-honoring.  I’m preaching to myself here friends…..enjoy the turkey, have a slice of pecan pie, but not to the point where I’m clearly over-indulging my flesh.  Convicting?

There are others, but I want to leave room for you to include yours here. 

 And then finally,

3.      What can we “receive” from culture with respect to Christmas celebrations? 

Spending time with family and friends – not that we should need an excuse to fellowship with those around us, but certainly we can receive the tradition of spending time with loved ones during Christmas.

Honestly, I’m racking my brain to come up with more, but I can’t come up with any.  Can you?