Category Archives: holidays

Keeping Christ In Christmas

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”                                                        —Isaiah 7:14

Christmas is almost here again, and people are pretty much doing one of three things: they’re looking forward to it, ignoring it, or dreading it. If you’re one of the ones looking forward to the holiday, you probably are one who has some very specific memories attached to Christmas from your own past. And it seems the day just can’t get here fast enough. (Just ask any 7 year old!)

It only takes a mild case of procrastination for one to ignore Christmas: “I’ll worry about Christmas when I get done with these other things.” And of course, you never get done with the other things in time. So this action eventually turns into dread.

For those dreading it, I suspect it may be financial. These are tough times. In my own family, we just spent some five months with my wife on sick leave and unable to work. It’s hard to do everything you want to do when all of the sudden the job ends or sickness intervenes. We all get caught off guard at times. And yet Christmas, and our own expectation of what we want to be able to do to celebrate and make it a special day, still rolls around every year, regardless of the finances available.

But some that may be dreading Christmas have a much deeper reason than just finances. You see, there’s been a story going around for a while now that Christmas is actually a celebration of JESUS. And for those who, for whatever reason, hate Christianity and anything to do with Jesus, the Christmas holiday becomes almost a horror. You have to hear that name. The songs of old talk about the ‘new born king’ who is laid ‘away in a manger’ bringing “Joy to the world’ are just too much.

Often, these are the people who push aside the “Christ” of Christmas and opt for some “Happy Holidays” instead. And in the past seventy years or so, our society has even developed a whole canon of ‘Happy Holidays’ music so that Christmas  can be celebrated without all that Christ talk. So now we hear the music of White Christmas, of Rudolf saving Santa, of Frosty and his magic hat, of grandma in a hit & run accident with a reindeer, of chestnuts being cooked by a fire, of a kid who wants teeth as a gift, and of another kid who’s misbehaved so much that he expects nothing for Christmas. And there’s even a few that are so suggestive that I’m embarrassed to even write about them.

What on earth do these songs have to do with Christmas? Very Little. And Lots. They have very little to do with the gift of a savior given by God Himself; sending his one and only son to live and die and be raised again.

But they also have a lot to do with Christmas because the savior that was born came to a world that wasn’t Christian and didn’t really even realize how much they needed a savior. They didn’t know God. They didn’t even know that they didn’t know him… let alone care.

The gushy warm feelings of imagining a peaceful land without war is about as close to heaven as many people can ever get. In fact, without Jesus, it is as close as any of us could ever get.

The influence of Jesus Christ on the world around us is still pretty pervasive. Courts and marketplaces may have walked away from much of our earlier practices as a nation which tried to mandate Christian behavior, but people the world over still know Christmas as a day of peace and hope, whether they know Jesus or not.

The first Bible passage I quoted, from Isaiah 7:14, is in the midst of God delivering Judah’s King Ahaz from an attack by foreign armies. God tells the king he’s being delivered because God has decided to do so. And  he allows the king the privilege of a special sign as proof that God will keep his promise. Ahaz tells God “No” he doesn’t want a sign and the Lord gives him a sign anyway. He describes a young woman who will give birth and have a miraculous son. And goes on to describe how the birth, and life, of that child will be a reminder of God’s care for his people.

In fact, whoever that little child was in Ahaz’s day, he didn’t grow very old before the enemies of Ahaz were no longer even nations!  His name was Immanuel… His name literally meant God is with us!  Every time Ahaz (or anyone else) said this child’s name, they were reminded how much God was with them and how he had delivered them from their enemies. What a reminder! What a gift! What a gracious and loving God!

And yet, like so often in Scripture, God had a double meaning in that sign of the child. Yes, it referred to someone that Ahaz would have been able to see in his day (if not, then God would have been a liar). BUT God also was looking ahead to another day when another young woman, this one an actual virgin, would conceive and have a baby who would also be called Emmanuel… the very one that would save us from our sins.

And that second child, Emmanuel (in Greek) or Immanuel (in Hebrew) was truly more than just a reminder that God was with us… He literally was GOD WITH US!

In the midst of our day in and day out stuff that happens, even when it seems so ungodly and even hostile or painful, God is still with us. When the finances are tight, when the neighbors cause trouble, when things aren’t going well at work, God is still with us.

And, like Matthew did with a verse in Isaiah written to a king about an invading army, God will take seemingly unimportant things from our pasts and our surroundings and open up spiritual realities to us… helping us to see that God really is here with us at all times and in all places if we’ll turn to him.

And so the world feels the ‘warmth’ of the season and celebrates as best as it can with ‘Happy Christmas’ and ‘Feliz Navidad’ and doesn’t realize that there’s more to the story… but as they see that story and peace exhibit itself in our lives, then they too will want what we have… and they won’t just have to imagine.

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”     —Matthew 1:23

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Filed under Advent, Bible, Christmas, Church Leadership, holidays, Newsletter

Rest and Relax

The Lord is My Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

  –Psalm 23 (KJV)

Like many others, I love the Twenty-third Psalm. I read those words about “green pastures” and “still waters” and am reminded of the free spirited fun I had spending summers at my grandparents’ farm up a dirt road hollow in Potter County. Depending on the day, I’d go off on an adventure with our neighbor, or my cousins, or even my little brother, and we’d explore the pasture, the upper meadow, or the forest, staking out our claim to territory and finding great “undiscovered” camping sites.

But some of my best memories were the times I was alone, just me and God, out for a walk. Inevitably, I’d end up stopping and sitting alongside the banks of this one little stream that cut through the pasture behind the barn. I would just sit there and watch the water bubble along on its way down the stream… knowing that, eventually, that water would end up as part of the Gulf of Mexico via the Oswayo, Allegheny, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers. It was peaceful. In the quietness of those moments, I found myself close to God and able to talk with Him and hear Him talk with me.

Summertime is here again, only now I’m more than 45 years older. And I don’t have a schedule of playing, followed by hiking and exploring. Not even sitting down by a stream. I’m adult now… I have a lot to do. I have expectations to meet for my job and my family. I don’t have the time to do that “kid” stuff… Or do I? The problem is just this: In losing the “play” time, most of us lose the quiet time… and lose the time to spend quietly with our God, as well.

The Bible is filled with times where God commands His people to rest and times that they were commanded to play!

The command to take time off and rest goes back to the Ten Commandments, requiring that one day out of every seven be spent doing no work… just resting. And if you violated that command even to go out and try to pick up extra food (the manna lying on the ground), God would see to it that that food went bad before you got to eat it. He knew that He made the human body needing rest. Even now, without proper rest and time off, our bodies still become more susceptible to disease and injury… as well as stress and burn-out.

The command to celebrate was extra-time off every so often where the people had a festival, special meals, special worship services, being together with extended family and friends that you wouldn’t get to see all the time. It renewed the mind and rejuvenated the spirit. You had something to look forward to once again, no matter how tough the year might have been.

This summer, let’s schedule in some time to rest and to play… the way God meant for us to do. Time off to relax and connect with God again and also time deliberately spent reconnecting with the people He’s put in our lives… our families… at home and at church.

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Filed under Church Leadership, holidays, Newsletter, sabbath

The Problem with the Pews

A potentially dangerous situation has developed in the church sanctuary. The pews, which are as old as the church building, have begun to dry out.

This loss of moisture, and the subsequent loss of weight, has led to the distinct possibility that they might float free. This presents the possibility that during worship, a free-floating pew could damage a member or guest. Further, it is believed that even if a member or a guest were able successfully to dodge an oncoming free-floating pew, the evasive action would certainly disrupt the spiritual tranquility of the worshiping dodger.

The problem was brought before a committee in the latter part of last year. The committee first considered using steel cables to anchor the pews to bedrock, which is 247 feet beneath the church. After receiving the cost estimate of $145,912.77 and extensive consultations with engineers, this idea was abandoned. The committee, after deliberating, deciding that adding weight to the pews would be a better solution to the problem. The committee considered using brass scrap or lead ingots but they proved to be too expensive. Pig iron was found to be cheaper, but it, like brass and lead, had a certain lifeless quality.

The committee searched for a medium density object which was both sparkling and vibrant. After sifting through all of the possibilities, the committee has opted to use warm bodies to weigh down the pews, and the committee is asking the membership to provide the necessary weight. This can be done by coming to church and, if possible, by bringing a medium density object (in the form of a friend or neighbor) with you.

 

HAPPY APRIL FOOL’S DAY!

 

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Filed under holidays, Humor

The Atheists’ Holiday?

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”

— Psalm 14:1/Psalm 53:1

 

There’s a funny story that circulates around the internet about an atheist who is in court claiming discrimination since there are holidays for religious observances, but none for those who aren’t believers. The judge is reported to say that atheists in fact DO have a holiday: April Fool’s Day! The judge’s rationale is this verse from the Psalms.

It’s a cute story, even though I doubt it’s true.

As usual, April starts with this holiday celebrating foolishness and fun. But this year we also have Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday. Holidays for non-believers AND believers alike!

But this idea of the fool has captured my attention. Nobody (that I know of) likes being called a fool. And yet, to the extent that we are still unbelievers… ones who doubt God… then, according to the Bible, we ARE fools.

Most of us involved with this church family would claim to be a believer in God… in fact, we regularly use the Apostles’ Creed to declare, and reaffirm, our beliefs. “I believe in God the Father… in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord… in the Holy Spirit…” We believe.

But if we are really honest with ourselves, there are many moments when we’re not sure WHAT to believe. There are so many different opinions on what it means to be a Christian, what you’re allowed to do or say, even what you can wear if you’re going to be a member of this group of Christians or that other group down the street. Many people look at the very same Bible we read and get an entirely different meaning than we do. What are we to do?

Ultimately I find myself in those moments remembering the father of a sick child asking Jesus for help and for healing. Jesus asked him “Do you believe?” And that father replied “I do believe… Help my unbelief.”

Isn’t that our situation so often? We DO believe… yet there are so many areas where our faith needs to keep growing and our believing needs help. We, like that father of the sick child, can honestly say: ‘I believe… Help my unbelief.’

It is only the foolish ones that categorically decree that there is nothing in which to believe. And they are known as fools.

Let’s respond to God and his offer of help and healing through Jesus with those words: “I do believe… Help my unbelief!”

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This was my pastor’s column in my church’s newsletter.

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Happy PI Day

Today, at least in the United States, is affectionately called PI Day! In U.S. notation the month, represented by a number, is noted first, followed by the calendar day of the month, thus today, March 14th, is 3.14, which any of us geeks will tell you is the beginning numbers of the mathematical PI!

I won’t bore you with all the details, but PI is a number that you get when calculating with circles… AND as you divide it out you soon discover it is a never ending number. To understand it better, check with your favorite mathematician or watch the movie “The Life of Pi.”

I’ve collected a few PI jokes through the past few years and then found some in a news article from Newsweek online at https://www.newsweek.com/pi-day-2019-jokes-celebration-1361317.

Here are the jokes from their article…

Why should you never talk to pi? Because he’ll just go on forever.

What was Sir Isaac Newton’s favorite dessert? Apple pi.

The mathematician says, “Pi r squared.” The baker replies, “No, pies are round. Cakes are square.”

What do you get when you take green cheese and divide its circumference by its diameter? Moon pi.

How many pastry chefs does it take to make a pie? 3.14.

The worst thing about getting hit in the face with pi is that it never ends.

What is 1.57? Half a pi.

What do you get when you cut a jack o’lantern by its diameter? Pumpkin pi.

3.14 percent of sailors are PI-rates!

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Filed under holidays, Humor

Another Year Is Dawning

I saw a Twitter post yesterday highlighting the first verse of this 1874 hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal, called Another Year Is Dawning. I’ve never sung it before, but I’ve been captivated! Check it out:

1 Another year is dawning:
Dear Father, let it be,
In working or in waiting,
Another year with Thee;
Another year of progress,
Another year of praise,
Another year of proving
Thy presence all the days.

2 Another year of mercies,
Of faithfulness and grace;
Another year of gladness
In the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning
Upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting,
Of quiet, happy rest.

3 Another year of service,
Of witness for Thy love;
Another year of training
For holier work above.
Another year is dawning;
Dear Father, let it be,
On earth or else in heaven,
Another year for Thee.

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Filed under Church Leadership, Devotional, holidays, Poetry, worship

REPOST: Teach Us To Number Our Days

I like the story of a man who accidentally calls a wrong 1-800 number and gets GOD. After being apologetic about wasting God’s time with a wrong number, God says that’s OK, what we humans think is a long time is really almost nothing to him. So the man says: “Let me get this right: 1000 of our years are like nothing more than a minute to you?” And God says “yes.”

“So what money?” says the man. He continues: “Is it true that you really own the cattle on a thousand hills and that everything we could possibly ever own is really yours?” Again, God responds with a “yes.”

Feeling a bit braver, he pushes on. He says, “So a million dollars to you is like nothing more than a penny, huh?” God says “That’s right.”
The man then asks “Hey God, I got a favor to ask. Can I have a penny?”
To which God responds: “In a minute.”

 

PSALM 90:10 says: “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty.”

The most we can hope for, as far as our age goes, is about 70 years; maybe 80 or so if we’re exceptionally strong in health… more or less. And back in verse 4 of Psalm 90 we read “For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.”

Our full-life, in God’s reckoning of eternity, is like the morning fog: it’s gone pretty quickly without a trace. But what does 70 years give us… what value does it have?

Depends on what we put into it.

chalkboard-hours

There are 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year, which means we each have 8,760 hours in a year. If you multiply that number of hours in a year by a life span of, let’s go ahead and say 70, you get 613,200 hours in a 70 year lifespan.

BY THE WAY, by following the math out, a 70 year lifespan would have 36,792,000 minutes (36 MILLION…) OR 2,207,520,000 seconds (2 BILLION, 207 MILLION…)

So, since our time is our most precious commodity, we ALL could be considered to be MILLIONARES! (or even BILLIONAIRES). So how do we spend our time? Into what purposes and activities do we invest our time?

To start with, the average American person, in a 70 year lifespan, will have spent an average of 178,360 hours just sleeping. (7 hours/day x 7 days/ week x 52 wk/yr x 70 yr = 178,360 hours of sleep in your lifetime. To make it easier to process, you can take that number of sleeping hours (178,360) and divide it by the number of hours in a year (8760) and that means you sleep about 20 years of a 70 year lifespan.

That same person will have spent 104,000 hours of their life working, which turns out to be almost 16 years spent working out of 70.

That person will also spend an average of 76,440 hours of their life eating! (Assuming an hour for every meal (that’ll count your snacks) X 3 meals a day X 7 days a week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 76,440 hours of eating. That’s almost 9 years of eating!

Time spent watching television is also insightful: 3 hours of TV each day = another 9 years spent just watching T.V. !

Now, when it comes to church, there’s a bit of a problem because the AVERAGE American simply does NOT go to church! So for the average American it boils down to ZERO hours a year.

But, for OUR benefit, we’ll assume the Average American Church going Christian will have spent 6/10 of a year worshipping God.(Assuming an hour and a half each week, giving you time to get in here and get out plus the normal hour and fifteen minutes we usually set aside for the worship service.)

NOW, some reading this are going to challenge me in this. They might say: “That’s not fair, preacher! I go to church more often than that, I’m a really committed Christian!’”

Assuming that’s true, we’ll take you Sunday morning worship time PLUS EVERY Sunday School Class you’ve ever attended, PLUS EVERY Prayer Meeting scheduled, or Youth group meeting, or Women’s group, PLUS EVERY Bible Study that takes place, and we can bump your weekly Church worship time up to 5 hours in a week. What’s that give us? (5 hours per week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 18,200 hours in worship in your lifetime = about 2 years and a couple of months spent worshipping God.

Add to those numbers the results of a Survey of 6000 people polled in 1988, reported by U.S. News and World Report:

In a lifetime the average American will spend:

chalkboard years.pngSix months sitting at stoplights

Eight months opening junk mail

One year looking for misplaced objects

2 years unsuccessfully returning phone calls

4 years doing housework

5 years waiting in line

Reader’s Digest takes this even further and says that the Average American will spend 6 years looking for misplaced stuff.

OH GOD… Teach us to number our days……..

As we look back over this list of time spent, we can see how our little uses of time add up to YEARS throughout the course of a lifetime, so we need to ask God to help us number our days… to make the most of our time.

Who is our God? Our God is the one to whom we give our time and attention.

OH GOD… “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

-Psalm 90:12

(This originally started as a newsletter article years ago based on a message I had heard once at Cherry Run Camp. Then it became a blog post in January 2011. Now, it is ‘resurrected’ today here and served as the foundation for my Sunday morning sermon at Carmichaels: First United Methodist Church.)

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Filed under Church Leadership, family, holidays, Newsletter, sermons

Christmas Offerings


A year ago on this date, our family went to a Christmas party for pastors and their families. After the party we went into the sanctuary of the host church and just sang Christmas carols and worshipped our Lord Jesus. When we were getting ready to leave, adults started talking and visiting, and little Miss Elizabeth got bored (quickly) and started looking around. We hadn’t taken an offering that night, and she’s been in worship enough to know we usually “pass the plates.” So when she saw the empty plates, she walked around giving folks a chance to give to Jesus. 
So many people expect the church to meet their needs; MY kind of music, MY kind of ritual or casual style, MY pastor ‘feeding’ me. But our granddaughter, still a month before we finally were allowed to adopt her, had caught one of the keys of real worship: Real worship is about what we bring to church to GIVE to God. Clear back to Old Testament times we read how the people worshipped by taking an offering to give to God (a bull, a lamb, a bird, some of your grain perhaps). Other than that, you would bring your praises and singing, your prayers, and a heart that was ready to listen for God to speak in your heart. And then worship continued as you went home and lived for God according to His ways as much as you were humanly able. 

As I look at this picture of our granddaughter/daughter with her attempt to mimic the missing piece of worship that night (in her eyes), I am reminded that as we approach Christmas and as we approach any Sunday worship gathering: What gift am I giving to Jesus? How about you? What will you give him?

Give him your teachable heart. Give him your listening ear. Give him your excitement and praise and joy. And yes, give him whatever physical or financial offering you feel he’s leading you to give. And there’s one more thing you COULD give… Give him the one silent, unspoken, often unrecognized gift you can offer: the gift of giving God your time by simply being present. That’s often one of the hardest parts because there are lots of good activities and good groups that decide to make competing programs, practices, and fundraisers at the exact same time as the time your church has worship services. For you to give your time is truly a sacrifice. Which is how worship started so long ago. 

What will you give Jesus this year for his birthday? Give him your best!

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Filed under Church Leadership, holidays, Methodist, worship

Dreading Christmas?

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel.”

—Isaiah 7:14

Christmas is almost here again & people are pretty much doing one of three things: they’re looking forward to it, ignoring it, or dreading it. If you’re one of the ones looking forward to the holiday, you probably are one who has some very specific memories attached to Christmas from your own past. And it seems the day just can’t get here fast enough. (Just ask any 7 year old!)

It only takes a mild case of procrastination for one to ignore Christmas: “I’ll worry about Christmas when I get done with these other things.” And of course, you never get done with the other things in time. So this action eventually turns into dread.
For those dreading it, I suspect it may be financial. These are tough times. Yet Christmas is still coming.
But some that may be dreading Christmas have a much deeper reason than just finances. You see, there’s been a story going around for a while now that Christmas is actually a celebration of JESUS. And for those who, for whatever reason, hate Christianity and anything to do with Jesus, the Christmas holiday becomes almost a horror. You have to hear that name. The songs of old talk about the ‘new born king’ who is laid ‘away in a manger’ bringing ‘Joy to the world’ are just too much.
Often, these are the people who push aside the “Christ” of Christmas and opt for some “Happy Holidays” instead. And in the past seventy years or so, our society has even developed a whole canon of ‘Happy Holidays’ music so that Christmas can be celebrated without all that Christ talk. So now we hear the music of White Christmas, of Rudolf saving Santa, of Frosty and his magic hat, of grandma in a hit & run accident with a reindeer, of chestnuts being cooked by a fire, of a kid who wants teeth as a gift, and of another kid who’s misbehaved so much that he expects nothing for Christmas. And there’s even a few that are so suggestive that I’m embarrassed to even write about them.
What on earth do these songs have to do with Christmas? Very Little. And Lots. They have very little to do with the gift of a savior given by God Himself; sending his one and only son to live and die and be raised again.
But they also have a lot to do with Christmas because the savior who was born came to a world that wasn’t Christian and didn’t really even realize how much they needed a savior. They didn’t know God. They didn’t even know that they didn’t know him… let alone care.
The gushy, warm feelings of imagining a peaceful land without war is about as close to heaven as many people can ever get. In fact, without Jesus, it is as close as ANY of us could ever get. But with Jesus in our lives, we CAN know the peace of God.
Besides, the influence of Jesus Christ on the world around us is still pretty pervasive. Courts and marketplaces may have walked away from many of our earlier, Christian practices as a nation, but people the world over still know Christmas as a day of peace and hope, whether they know Jesus or not.
The first Bible passage I quoted, from Isaiah 7:14, is in the midst of God delivering Judah’s King Ahaz from an attack by a foreign army. God tells the king he’s going to deliver him from his enemies and he allows the king the privilege of a special sign as proof that God will keep his promise. Ahaz tells God “No.” He doesn’t want a sign. But the Lord gives him a sign anyway, so that everyone will understand that it was GOD ALMIGHTY who really rules and reigns. God’s sign describes a young woman who will give birth and have a miraculous son. And it goes on to describe how the birth, and life, of that child will be a reminder of God’s care for his people in Ahaz’s kingdom. In fact, whoever that little child was in Ahaz’s day, he didn’t grow very old before the enemies of Ahaz were no longer even nations! The child’s name was Immanuel. His name literally meant “God is with us!” Every time Ahaz (or anyone else) said this child’s name, they were reminded how much God was with them and how he had delivered them from their enemies. What a reminder! What a gift! What a gracious and loving God!
And yet, like so often in Scripture, God had a double meaning in that sign of the child. Yes, it referred to someone that Ahaz would have been able to see in his day (if not, then God would have been a liar). BUT God also was looking ahead to another day when another young woman, this one an actual virgin, would conceive and have a baby who would also be called Emmanuel… the very one that would save us from our sins.
And that second child, Emmanuel (from Greek) or Immanuel (from Hebrew) was truly more than just a reminder that God was with us… He literally was GOD WITH US!
In the midst of our day in and day out stuff that happens, even when it seems so ungodly and even hostile or painful, God is still with us. When the finances are tight, when the neighbors cause trouble, when things aren’t going well at work, God is still with us.
And, like Matthew did with a verse in Isaiah written to a king about an invading army, God will take seemingly unimportant things from our pasts and our surroundings and open up spiritual truths to us… helping us to see that God really is here with us at all times and in all places if we’ll turn to him.
And so it is that the world feels the ‘warmth’ of the season and celebrates as best as it can with “Happy Christmas’ and ‘Feliz Navidad,” and yet doesn’t realize that there’s more to the story. But as they see that story and peace exhibit itself in our lives, then they too will want what we have… and they won’t just have to imagine.

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” —Matthew 1:23

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FLASH BACK: Half-Full or Half-Empty

On this Halloween 2016, a FLASH BACK to one of my classic posts: “Half-Full or Half-Empty from October 2006… and the essence of last week’s Sunday morning sermon…

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waterFor 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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Filed under Bible, Church Leadership, Death, holidays, sermons