Monthly Archives: October 2006

Half-Full or Half-Empty? A Christian Response to Halloween

For this week’s sermon, I started with an object in hand: Half a glass of water. My question to the congregation was simply, “Is it half-full or half-empty?”

The answer of course, depends on your perspective… the way you choose to view the glass.

Are you an optimist? Then it looks half-full to you, doesn’t it?

Are you a pessimist? Then it looks half-empty, doesn’t it?

It all depends on your perspective!

There is only one glass, only one quantity of water, yet there are two different views you could have regarding that glass and that water. You could believe it to be half-full or you could believe it to be half-empty. And both answers seem to be acceptable answers and both seem to be right. It all depends on your perspective.

During this next couple of weeks, everyone around us will be focusing on the fun and festivities of Halloween, and many of us here in this sanctuary right now have already made plans for what our family will be doing that evening.

Halloween can be a lot of fun. If you are allowing your children to go trick or treating or to a Halloween party or whatever, I hope it is a fun event. It ought to be.

Throughout my adult life I have run the gammet on what I believe with Halloween as a Christian. When I worked at the Olean General Hospital as an orderly, I guess I still didn’t think about it too much. Somehow I would always end up working on October 31st, and the tradition was to dress up as a character of some sort. The only one I remember was that I spent one Halloween night (3:00 to 11:00) dressed as a modern prince. You know, three piece suit, cape, sash, crown, rings, dress shoes. Trying to do my job in that get up was a royal pain, to say the least. Especially when a patient died and, as the orderly, I had to take her to the morgue… dressed up in a suit… on Halloween night… and there was a full moon to boot.

Other years, as I’ve come to understand some of the realities of what all happens on Halloween night, like the razor blades, the drugs, the occult practices, I’ve refused to participate in the day at all. I had more of a fear of all the occultic stuff I guess.

Bit by bit, though, I have come to understand that it’s my perspective that makes the difference. Just like that glass of water… half-full or half-empty… it depends on your perspective.

I COULD look at Halloween as an evil holiday, originally instituted as a druid festival with heavy emphasis on the occult. I COULD focus on the druid “Lord Of Death” that supposedly sent evil spirits out on the night before ALL HALLOW’S DAY to roam the earth in search of food which, if not given, would cast an evil spell on the person who would not help. I COULD focus on the masks and costumes the Celts wore to try and convince the Lord of Death that they were just one of his spirits, so he should leave them alone.

And all of those things are true. They are the reason behind our “give us a treat or we’ll play a trick on you” attitude of trick or treat and our dressing up in costumes. But I think that just might be the wrong perspective. That’s fear speaking.

We have been taught as Christians that we are in the world but not of it. We have to be a part of the world. We’ve been called to be in the world… rubbing shoulders with the everyday people, with sinners, with mean people, and yes, even with those who don’t understand us or our Lord. We, as Christians, will continue to encounter those people every day, because we are IN the world. But we don’t have to be LIKE the world. Because we’re the ones who know the HOPE that there is through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said in his sermon on the mount, that we are to be salt. (Matthew 5:13) Salt is never very good on its own, but it always changes the taste of the food it is put on. And the salt itself never gets to really choose what food it will affect…it has the same effect on every piece of food it touches… it makes it more salty. It gives it a new taste.

I guess that’s where I am now with my understanding of my responsibility as a Christian when it comes to Halloween. I must be salt and help change its flavor. I need to help redeem this holiday like Christians in the past helped to redeem midwinter pagan rituals and gave rise to our current birthday celebration for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

What does that mean, in practical terms, for me as a Christian then? I have discovered two practical ways that I can help redeem this holiday as a salty Christian. I’ll take the good of this holiday and focus on that and draw people’s attention to the truth.

First of all, I can emphasize the good things, while taking a stand against the evil. As our children have grown, we have deliberately allowed them to dress up for the Halloween parties at school, and let them go to select neighbors’ houses for trick or treat… but never were they allowed to hide their faces behind a Freddy mask or dress as a goblin, a witch, or a vampire. We reject that part of the ancient traditions of Halloween of trying to convince the evil one that we are just another demon spirit so that hopefully he’ll leave us alone. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is greater than any other spirit. And followers of Christ have nothing to fear.

So we could allow our girls to play dressup, and still take a stand against the false belief that we must fear the evil spirit lord. In fact, for this next weekend’s costume party out at the church camp, thrown by the youth group for ALL of the church, my kids will have the option to be dressed up if they want, without a mask, without the evil disguises. And without the fear.

One year one of the girls decided to be an angel and the other was Sleeping Beauty. One time Michele was Pocahontas and Sarah was a skunk. They dressed up and had fun. And they can again this year as well.

And yes, if kids come to our door this year for trick or treating, we’ll have a treat for them… not because we’re scared of the repercussions if we don’t, but because my Bible speaks of generosity, and “suffering the little children.”

The other aspect of what I need to be doing as a Christian when it comes to Halloween is to recognize the underlying spiritual message of this holiday.

The message of today’s modern Halloween is still spiritual, and I don’t just mean the occultic influences…. it is a pre-occupation with death… and what comes after we die. Just take a look at the decorations in the stores, on homes, and on the TV… We have ghosts and skeletons and gravestones and the un-dead (whatever that’s supposed to be). We hear of evil spirits and witches and “bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble.” And Hollywood always seems to have a new thriller/horror movie out that packs the movie theatres.

Halloween, and the time leading up to it, is the one time of year that our society says it’s OK to deal with death. And seemingly everyone becomes fascinated with it. My responsibility as a Christian, trying to be salt and redeem some of this holiday, is to recognize the spiritual hunger that I see during this Halloween season.

Because we all hunger for a reality in the spiritual world. We long for there to be forces at work on our behalf in the spiritual dimension. We have a society that literally cries out in abandon at Halloween for there to be an answer to death… to spiritual life. And they fall back on “ancient wisdoms”. They try to control the spirit world on demand, they try to conjur and channel and image. They look for spiritual truth.

And so often, we Christians deny there’s any spiritual dimension to the day (or we go the other extreme and refuse to even acknowledge it). I believe we have a responsibility to acknowledge the spiritual hunger… because we are the ones who have the bread of life… Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior.

And we are the ones who know the most about death… because Jesus came back from there and said,

 

I am the resurrection and I am life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, and I hold the keys of hell and death.
Because I live, you shall live also.

We have nothing to fear from death, because Jesus defeated death. All death has left, is fear.

Knowing that we would have trouble understanding this, Jesus, just before he went to Calvary, took the disciples aside and spent some time with them explaining what was on the other side of death and how to face it on this side during our lives. He didn’t say we had to wear evil disguises and hide our faces. No treats or offerings to demon spirits were needed. He simply said that we shouldn’t be afraid… and then went on to tell us about the other side of death, for those who allow Jesus to be both their Lord and their Savior. He simply said:

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
Because I live, you also will live.
Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

When Jesus spoke of us as salt, he never expected us Christians to just act like Christians when we are at church. He spoke of us as salt so that we would get a clear picture of our role in this world. We help even the bad stuff seem better. Not by sugar coating evil nor by compromising our standards, but by recognizing spiritual hunger and offering spiritual bread… a life with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Because, when all is said and done, and the final analysis is in, it is JESUS that this Halloween minded society is looking for. The questions concerning spiritual forces are answered when Jesus proclaims I AM THE WAY. And in all our uncertainty, Jesus answers even our unspoken, unuttered questions, by declaring I AM THE TRUTH. And our questions concerning death and the afterlife are answered when Jesus reveals: I AM THE LIFE.

I have a mission this Halloween… to redeem what I can of the good, take a stand against that which is evil, and to lift up the truth of Jesus Christ.

Because you see… the glass really is… half-full.

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The Toddler Diet

This post is in honor of my son who turned three yesterday and my doctor who (again) highlighted the importance of my losing weight. I wish I had been the one clever enough to author this, but alas, it was not me.

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THE TODDLER DIET

People are always on the lookout for a new diet. The trouble with most diets is that you don’t get enough to eat (the starvation diet), you don’t get enough variation (the liquid diet) or you go broke (the all-meat diet). Consequently, people tend to cheat on their diets, or quit after 3 days.
Well, now there’s the new Toddler Miracle Diet.
Over the years you may have noticed that most three year olds are trim. Now the formula to their success is available to all in this new diet. You may want to consult your doctor before embarking on this diet, otherwise, you may be seeing him afterwards. Good Luck !!!

DAY ONE
Breakfast: One scrambled egg, one piece of toast with grape jelly. Eat two bites of egg, using your fingers; dump the rest on the floor. Take one bite of toast, then smear the jelly over your face and cloth.
Lunch: Four crayons (any color), a handful of potato chips, and a glass of milk (three sips only, then spill the rest).
Dinner: A dry stick, two pennies and a nickel, four sips of flat Sprite.
Bedtime snack: Throw a piece of toast on the kitchen floor.

DAY TWO
Breakfast: Pick up stale toast from kitchen floor and eat it. Drink half bottle of vanilla extract or one vial of vegetable dye.
Lunch: Half tube of “Pulsating Pink” lipstick and a handful of Purina DogChow (any flavor). One ice cube, if desired.
Afternoon snack: Lick an all-day sucker until sticky, take outside, drop in dirt. Retrieve and continue slurping until it is clean again. Then bring inside and drop on rug.
Dinner: A rock or an uncooked bean, which should be thrust up your left nostril. Pour Grape Kool-Aid over mashed potatoes; eat with spoon.

DAY THREE
Breakfast: Two pancakes with plenty of syrup, eat one with fingers, rub in hair. Glass of milk; drink half, stuff other pancake in glass. After breakfast, pick up yesterday’s sucker from rug, lick off fuzz, put it on the cushion of best chair.
Lunch: Three matches, peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Spit several bites onto the floor. Pour glass of milk on table and slurp up.
Dinner: Dish of ice cream, handful of potato chips, some red punch. Try to laugh some punch through your nose, if possible.

FINAL DAY
Breakfast: A quarter tube of toothpaste (any flavor), bit of soap, an olive. Pour a glass of milk over bowl of cornflakes, add half a cup of sugar. Once cereal is soggy, drink milk and feed cereal to dog.
Lunch: Eat bread crumbs off kitchen floor and dining room carpet. Find that sucker and finish eating it.
Dinner: Drop pieces of spaghetti onto back of dog, insert meatball into ear. Dump pudding into Kool-Aid and suck up with a straw.

REPEAT DAYS AS NEEDED!

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What’s In A Name?


Within a couple of months of moving to DuBois, PA, as a pastor in 2003, I encountered the city’s annual Tom Mix Festival, celebrating the early 20th Century western film star and his roots in the DuBois area. This week (Oct. 12th) marks 66 years since his death. This was my sermon the weekend of the Tom Mix festival in 2003.

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I have spent a great deal of time during the past three months trying to learn names. And, little by little, I’m starting to get some of your names into this thick skull of mine… Some of them are even the right names.

Also during these past few months… actually since my very first night of meeting Mt. Zion folks back in early February… I’ve had people struggling with my name as well… just like people have for the past four decades. How do you remember a name like ‘Dayton?’ A great majority of the time I find that people think I’m saying ‘David’ because they can’t imagine anyone being named like a town in Ohio.

Then there’s the last name. Not too many letters in it… just three. That was pretty handy when I was in boot camp trying to stencil everything I owned. Pity the guys named Horowitz or Wojeckhowski.

But mine was just those three little letters… M… I…. X.
And nowadays I inevitably get one of two immediate questions
1. Is that M-I-C-K-S? …or…
2. Are you related to Tom?

During these past few days, as the annual Tom Mix Festival has been going on here in DuBois, my family name has drawn attention… but not because of my reputation… but because of a man named MIX who lived here at the end of the nineteenth century… a showman who would become very famous and very rich by the name of Tom Mix.

Names are pretty important aren’t they?

Remember elementary school? One of the absolute, most horrible things someone could do to you was to call you a name… ‘wimp,’ ‘sissy,’ ‘tomboy’ ‘cheater…’ and there were others that were even worse… and meaner… and more debilitating to the receiver of that name calling.

Our names identify who we are… not that every Mary is virginally pure in motive like the Mary of Luke 1, or that every George is presidential material like the two Bushes and Mr. Washington.

No, people aren’t like their name… but that name they wear comes to be associated with them… and to speak a person’s name is to identify that man or woman’s reputation.

Thus, to speak of Benedict Arnold or Judas Iscariot, instantly brings to mind, not so much every aspect of that person’s life, but their reputation of betrayal springs into view.

To speak of Abraham Lincoln or Rudy Guliante suggests strong leadership in the midst of crisis and the mention of names like Billy Graham or John Wesley brings into focus an image of honesty and faithfulness in spiritually leading and caring for thousands.

So, this attention to my name… and the fact that it’s NOT because of my reputation but rather this Hollywood cowboy, has forced me to find out more about this man who used the MIX name during the past two centuries.

Tom Mix died in 1940 and I wasn’t born until 1962, so I wasn’t a fan of his… I’ve never heard his radio show and never seen one of his more than 300 short films… although I bought one of each this weekend so I can see what he was like.

So far, a single comic book, is all I’ve ever seen… although I’ve read a couple of biographies and stories about him.

To begin with, I grew up with the family stories of how we were related to this really famous person named Tom Mix. My grandfather, John Dayton Mix, spoke highly of Tom Mix, and always laughingly said things like: “Yeah, I’m related to Tom Mix, but not close enough to help me… nor to hurt Tom.”

I suppose Grandpa thought his reputation as a commoner might tarnish a famous movie star’s reputation.

It was this weekend, as I met an even more distant relative who was here from California for the Festival, that I finally was able to conclusively determine whether or not we are related. And we are!

And it’s even more distant than grandpa even knew… you have to go back to the early 1700’s to my grandfather’s great- great- great- great- great-grandfather to connect the two Mix family lines.

OK, so now I know… but what’s that got to do with anything practical in life… It really isn’t going to help me tap into the fabulous wealth of Tom Mix… that was gone before Tom died for the most part, thanks to the Great Depression and some personal choices and unfortunate circumstances in his life.

So what’s the value of knowing?

And I draw your attention to Proverbs 22:1 where we read: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. “

As I have heard about Tom Mix and the reputation he had on screen of being a good role model and refusing to ever even play a part that had him smoking or drinking or gambling suggests that a connection with this man, is not so bad. And millions of youngsters in the last century identified with his characters and his message he proclaimed of “Take care of your body, keep your mind clean, and always be truthful.”
In one biography, one of his wives recalls a time when Tom confronted a script writer about a script that called for Tom to be smoking, gambling, and drinking in the next film…

Mrs. Mix writes:

The script writer was taken aback. “I was only trying to get away from the old formula,” he explained.

The writer was a little hesitant. “Well, I still think it’s a good script.”

“Sure,” said Tom. “It’ll be swell when we cut out some things. The role I play on the screen has got to represent a man of high ideals. Just remember that when you do the script over, then we’ll come out all right on it. We’ve got to convince the boyhood of America that drinking and gambling are bad, that physical fitness always wins out over dissipation, that a good life brings rewards and evildoing brings punishment.”

—Olive Stokes Mix, The Fabulous Tom Mix, 1957, Chapter 8

OK… so with reports like that… and the fact that he really did make his movies that way… and didn’t use stunt men even for dangerous scenes… gives me some pleasure to have my name associated with his… Presenting a good image… positively influencing the youth and children… and conveying the dangers of drinking, gambling, and smoking… I like that. That’s a good reputation… Yay Tom…

HOWEVER…

PUBLIC IMAGE can never be all there is for reputation is there?

Off screen, it seems, my distant cousin, so many times removed, was known for his carousing, and his inability to tell a straight story… And to this day, outside of our area where we know better, there are still reports a full hundred years later of how Tom was born & raised in this place or that out West, rather than lowly, Eastern Mix Run and DuBois, Pa. And the fanciful tales continue of his heroic antics with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in battles that Tom may or may not have ever been near.

Since I arrived, I’ve heard local residents tell me that they’re pleased to have people come to enjoy their town, but wonder why such attention is given to a man who went from wife to wife… and perhaps woman to woman… and who was not such a great role model in his real life.

One man told me just yesterday, “It seems that Tom Mix left town one step ahead of the sherrif… nothing major…. just carrying on.”

Tom Mix, it seems, had two reputations… far more than any one human can carry on his or her own. A public persona… the movie image of wholesomeness that he would meticulously cultibvate and guard… and even contact various clergy to see if his image was appropriate for kids… and then the ghuard dropped, back home, off-screen image where he would do as he wished, would spend as he liked, and would drive as fast and as furiously as he wanted…

And that brings me to the second Scripture passage this morning:
Ecclesiastes 10:1 “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.”

The perfume can be the very costliest and most expensive there is… with the greatest smell you can imagine…. But let a few dead things sit in it for a while and the whole thing will stink… And you can have a reputation of honor and be known for wisdom and kindness and being a good role model, but “a little folly” behind the scenes will reveal the true nature of your reputation.

As it did here for Tom Mix… the people around here who knew Tom the man… weren’t convinced by a public persona when they had seen him in real-life right here.

So… I ask you… what’s in a name?

And the answer is… NOTHING… unless you put it there.

Yes, I’m related to Tom Mix, but my identity isn’t as a distant cousin of a former wealthy movie star. My identity comes, as does yours, in the name I make for myself… what do I want to be known as… to be known for… Not in who I’m related to… good or bad… but who I am.

I daily help redefine what the MIX name will mean… and I become a role model for those around me… And a good name is better than all the riches of the world.

How about you?

What’s YOUR name say to people… What kind of reputation have you earned?

Is it good?

Is it bad?

Does it LOOK good, even while you wallow in the muck and mire?

As we have seen with television preachers, politicians, and athletes, all it takes to ruin sweet-smelling reputation are a few dead flies… a few uncontrolled unrestrained choices…

What’s in YOUR name?

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