Did you know that Halloween has a distinctively Christian origin? All Hallows Day is a historic Christian day set aside to remember those that have gone on before us, especially those who were martyred for the faith (kind of like Memorial Day). The evening before that day is what gives it the name ‘Hallow’s Evening’, or Hallowe’en. Like Christmas, the Eve before took on a life of its own. And, also like Christmas, various cultures that immigrated into America blended together to give Halloween its own dark and mysterious flavor.
Another likeness to Christmas is that this occasion has also become a huge marketing tool for American businesses. And, also like Christmas, our western flavor of celebrating these special days is spreading around the world. Even Muslim cultures are celebrating these two occasions.
Anita and I have never banned our kids from celebrating Halloween. We took our kids Trick or Treating to safe houses early on as a part of our culture. We never wanted our children to feel that we Christians were out of touch with the world around us. And we didn’t want them to rebel against our strict Christian values. But, we never allowed them to go to the “dark side”. They dressed as princess or hero, and we encouraged pretending. And there was always too much candy. And we never made it a worship activity; just fun.
One day this week Anita complained to me that there was a dead mouse smell in the basement toy closet. So I checked it out and found a dead baby mouse in plain sight. I picked him up with a paper towel and stuffed him into a zip lock bag. I zipped the zip lock and tossed him in the kitchen trash. An hour later Anita yelled, “Ralph, did you put that mouse in the trash!?”. How could she smell that dead mouse locked in a zip lock bag? Isn’t that supposed to lock odors in? What kind of a seal is that?
The Apostle Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit “with whom you were sealed for the Day of Redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). I’m sure that seal is better than that of a zip lock bag. Anita and I were once under the false teaching that being sealed by the Holy Spirit meant that Satan could not touch us. And then she had a bad automobile accident that totaled our car and broke her nose. We were not in the protective bubble we thought we were. That caused us to re-evaluate what the “seal” really was.
What it means is that Satan cannot steal our souls from the Day of Redemption. The deal has been sealed. It is locked in. I have my reservation. And its leak-proof.
I’m rejoicing that I have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, but I did have to take the trash out.
Last weekend we witnessed four people being baptized: Camdyn Woods, Charlotte Albaugh, Wayne Scott, and Josiah Young. Each of these did a good job telling us how they came to know Jesus as Savior. Baptism is one of the two ordinances of the church that Jesus told us to do.
On Pentecost, when Peter first preached to lost people, they asked, “‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37b-38).
Note that being baptized wasn’t enough; they also needed to repent. And note that repenting wasn’t enough; they also needed to be baptized. Repent means “to change the mind” and baptism is a public demonstration of your identification with Jesus Christ.
I can’t wait to see who will be next to follow the Lord in water baptism.
Last weekend we had eight people raise their hands to make John 3:16 their way of life. One was a lady in her upper 70s, another was a kindergartner. God is a God of variety. He isn’t just a God who connects with one generation or another, but He connects with everyone. The problem in the church world is that we humans tend to want to narrow the presentation of the gospel down to our own cultural group, which limits who will respond.
As the pastor of New Hope, I have tried my best not to focus our message to one focal group, but to broaden the message to all cultural groups. Which causes some angst among some believers who feel their way is the only way. I believe we should find ways to involve all ages in the message of the gospel. In using that strategy, we have lost hundreds of people over the years who want a particular style of music (contemporary or traditional or southern gospel or Christian rock), volume control (too loud or too sleepy), style of preaching (topical v. expository), appropriate attire (dress your best or laid back), or those who want to do everything v. those who want to do nothing.
When Jesus chose His disciples, He selected Simon the Zealot (ultra conservative) and Matthew the Publican (ultra liberal). Peter was likely the oldest Disciple and John was likely still a teenager when Jesus invited them. He is a God of variety and we will be wise to expect variety in the church of Jesus Christ.
Monday is my day off and I spent it again feeding wood onto the Ash tree stump in my front yard. Again I had to use artificial wind from my box fan. By the end of the day the stump was at ground level. I believe with one more burn day I’ll have it burned to my desired depth: 2 inches under level. Some things just seem to take forever to reach your goal.
And its like that in our spiritual growth, as well. God can touch our hearts in about one minute. But it takes a lifetime to develop that heart into something He can use. There is just so much worldliness in each of us. And some of us are harder than others and take even longer. But God never loses patience with us. He can see what we can become.
The hard thing for us is to see who we are in Christ and not be filled with pride as we do. When we finally get there, every else will be a pile of ash. Go with God.
In 1968, as the War in Vietnam grew in intensity, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr. took command of the American naval forces in Vietnam. In an effort to reduce US casualties, he ordered the waterways sprayed with the chemical defoliant Agent Orange. It was a move designated to push back the jungle and make it harder for North Vietnamese to ambush Navy river patrol boats at point-blank range.
One of those boats was commanded by his 21-year old son, Lieutenant Elmo Zumwalt III, who died of cancer in 1988. The admiral believed that Agent Orange killed his son. What a heartbreaking story of a father who made a decision that resulted in great suffering for his own son!
How much greater was the heartbreak of God the Father when He provided salvation for us! He made a decision that resulted in immeasurable agony for His only Son. Think of how God must have felt as he watched His Son suffer the mockery of the crowd, the lashes of the whip, the pain of the nails through His hands and feet, the inexpressible weight and humiliation of our sins, and the indescribable agony of isolation and abandonment.
“They crucified Him” (Matthew 27:35).
If you think you have leadership problems, consider Jesus. He hand chose twelve men to enroll in an intense mentoring program that lasted day and night for three years. And at the end of that training, two of the twelve failed the exam. Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter both became burdened under the crushing weight of guilt. Both denied their Lord, both betrayed Him, and both suffered remorse because of it. The guilt destroyed Judas (Matthew 27:3-5), while it brought about the beginning of a whole new life for Peter (Matthew 26:75 and John 21:15-19).
We’ve all failed and betrayed our faith. And we’ve all felt the guilt that follows that. What do we do with that guilt and shame? We can either let it destroy us, or we can step through the doorway of repentance and accept God’s unconditional forgiveness. Peter took the second route and received a brand new beginning.
God isn’t concerned with your failures. When you repent and confess, God forgives and forgets! He is ready to begin where you are at this moment, to give you a fresh start.
“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).