Four Ways to Use Halloween as a Christian Parent

Every year a debate ensues about whether or not good Christians should involve themselves with Halloween. “Isn’t it devil worship?” some cry. “It’s harmless fun,” shout others. Meanwhile, somebody else just got the last good candy bar and left nothing but tiny bags of candy corn in the treat bag. (Candy corn and circus peanuts, though, may have been created by the devil as a snare – unflavored sugar molded into unholy mockeries of their namesakes.) But can this seemingly creepy holiday be used for anything other than greed, cavities, and celebrating the darkness? I’d say, yes.

Coming to Grips with Mortality

In the affluent West, we often don’t consider the finality of life and our own looming mortality. Most of us could go weeks without having anyone we know die. Some areas of the world, though, watch death take their loved ones at a rapid pace. Our ancestors faced this reality on a regular basis, and they took whatever chance they coudl to host a raucous party. Why? Because winter was on the horizon and who knew if everyone would survive the season. Skulls and death have always been a motif of Halloween, and remind us, subtly, that we all must face death someday. Not to say that death is any friend to us, but death itself has been conquered. Christians have nothing to fear from death, and may even find some solace in laughing in its direction while stuffing another Snickers in our face. (I prefer Twix for my own chuckle session if anyone was wondering.) In fact, the Christian Calendar celebrates this period as a time to reflect on the Saints that lived exemplary lives in service to God and others. All Hallows Eve, a time to remember those who have gone before and the impact they made on our lives, a moment of prayer, of thanksgiving.

Pray While You Trick-or-Treat

Prayer? On Halloween? Of course! See, the act of going from house to house begging for treats has a long history. (Shorter in North America, but the UK has a longer history with this sort of celebration.) In those old celebrations of All Hallow’s Eve, the poor would often go by the houses of the rich and receive food in exchange for prayers. (On that note, if you’d like to bring me lunch, I’d be happy to dedicate some prayer time to you and your needs any day of the week.) So, what if you and your kids had a prayer ready to pray over each house you visit? Sure, it may take some extra time, and may fall through a few houses in as the excitement builds (or as kids start tiring,) but what a difference that might make for your kids and the families you pray over!

Costume Talks

What’s in a costume? (Hopefully some extra layers this year, it’s been CHILLY!) The costume tradition comes down to us from several directions, but one is the dressing up as saints to honor their memory. Sure, your kids probably won’t ask to dress as St. Nikolas or Athanasius, or Teresa of Avila, but what role models do your kids have in their lives? Whether fictional or real, is there someone your child looks up to and wants to embody that person’s character? Or if you’ve picked the costume already, ask your kid why she chose what she did? Why did that character stick out to him? (Or you can go straight Scriptural on everyone like my Youth Minister growing up who dressed in a burlap sack with the word “rice” painted on the front… You know, a “living sack-of-rice”[sacrifice].” Romans 12.1)

Making Memories

Halloween was always fun with my family. From my brother being dressed as a Hershey Kiss when he was little and being fascinated by the white tights that came with it, saying “Pretty legs,” (sorry, bro, still funny,) to the Harry Potter costume my mom scratched together before Harry Potter got huge and you could find licensed stuff everywhere, my family had fun figuring out what we’d be and spending time together. We’d often make it a big family gathering with all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and some extras and have a party so we’d have something to do before and after trick or treating. The memories made on those occasions stick with me even now.

Halloween can be a great time with your kids. Be intentional with every holiday and chance to make memories. Sure, it can be a little creepy, and a little morbid. And some people do go a little overboard and spend a little too much time in the deep dark. Instead, let’s focus on the positives and make sure that we make the most of the time we have with our kids.

Oh, and eat candy. Lots of candy.

(Now I want a Twix… I wonder if Halloween candy’s on sale yet?)

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Resistant, Stubborn, Pouty Evangelists

Reading through the Minor Prophets section will certainly give you some perspective on life. Some might see it as a lot of doom and gloom, but, remember, when God warns about coming punishment, there is always the implied, “You can always turn and this could be avoided.” Many times, though, people were set in their ways and refused to turn, to repent, and be saved the hassle of the coming trouble.

We get this idea when we read Obadiah, who comes right before Jonah. Obadiah, besides being the shortest book in the Old Testament, also comes across as fairly harsh. There seems to be very little room to maneuver for the people on the receiving end of judgment. It would seem their hearts had become so enmeshed in their way of life that the possibility of repenting had all but disappeared. Which is where Jonah comes in to challenge that idea.

See, Jonah was called to preach judgment to the Ninevites. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, a historically notorious country for violence, cruelty, and harsh treatment of its own people and conquered peoples. Assyria had also been the nation to conquer and capture the northern kingdom of Israel – so Judah would be right to fear Assyria, especially later when Assyria showed up on their doorstep. Anyway, Jonah received his call and promptly “noped” right out to the coast to catch a boat to Tarshish. The Bible is almost comical in its threefold repetition of Jonah’s destination, as if to say, “No really, Jonah is dead-set on removing himself from this whole going to Nineveh thing, and don’t try to stop him.” There are times when people can choose to not go with God’s calling… this was not one of those times. God was not taking “no” for an answer.

So a storm comes up, some plot devices happen, and Jonah is tossed overboard and sits inside a sea creature for three days praying. While it is a lovely prayer, it is odd that the idea of an apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing never come up. It’s as if Jonah recognizes God’s power, but is continuing to hold his heart just out of reach of being softened or changed. God gives Jonah a second chance, and Jonah is vomited out onto shore. Vomited, ya’ll… Ugh.

Jonah walks the length of the city, and the entire city, nay the nation, begins fasting and mourning their behavior and repents. And, well, God relents. See, Jonah’s message wasn’t “turn or burn.” Jonah’s message was, “This place is gonna be toast in a month or so. Good luck!” The Ninevites turned on the off chance that God would relent – and God did.

So why tell this story? Well, there are groups here in America that you probably see as Ninevites: Republicans, Democrats, Northerners, Southerners, Liberals, Conservatives, etc. Are they in need of God’s love and message? Or do you really just want to watch them wallow in whatever destruction you see coming?

At the end of the story, Jonah was mad at God. He was angry because God had relented from allowing destruction to fall on the Ninevites. Jonah was angry at God’s character, revealed at Sinai and in Jesus: “For I know that You are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment.

How would you react if you found out your “enemies,” or those you see as doomed to destruction had received God’s forgiveness? What would you do if you found out your scope of God’s grace was too narrow? Would you pout like Jonah? Would you refuse to celebrate like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son?

I wonder sometimes if the American church, in particular, really wants to go out and reach the lost. I don’t wonder if it doesn’t secretly revel in its “special” status while watching the world continue on its path. I don’t wonder if that’s a similar attitude the Israelites held before the exile…

How does the way you speak about others model to your children the values of evangelism, grace, mercy, and forgiveness? How does your lifestyle set you apart from the world without removing you from the world? What may you need to repent of in order to extend grace to others?

Your Kid Is A Theologian

While I was praying the other day, I was struck with deeper meaning to a verse I had read over and over again, but something new rose out of the old. The verse was Genesis 1:27 “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This is going to come as a shocker, I know, but kids are made in God’s image, too. (I’ll wait while you pick your jaw up off the floor.) It seems obvious, but what didn’t seem obvious to me was the implication that kids have the ability to teach us about God as much as we have the ability to teach them. (I would argue, though, that perhaps they have much more to teach us.)

My first example is an elementary-age girl in my children’s ministry, whom I will call Lana for the sake of safety. Lana is so full of love, energy, and enthusiasm, that she cannot help but throw her entire body at the objects of her love in a kind of linebacker-style tackle that, if you’re not ready, could easily knock a fully grown man to the ground. Her boundless love, and preferred method of showing it, reminded me of the story of the prodigal son, when the young man’s father runs at full tilt, crashing into his son with all the force of longing and love built up from sorrow and expectation. I expect God is like this whenever any of his children turn back to Him – smothering them in a love that has all the force of hurricane-strength winds.

I learned about the simplicity and effectiveness of prayer from a little girl named Michelle (again, name changed for safety.) Even at around 2 years old, she got the concept of praying. She would pick up her toy phone and say, “Hello God? Kissy, Alex, Baby Re-re. Bye.” (Let’s take a moment to collect ourselves after that level of depth and adorableness on display.) This little girl understands that God hears us – and that God cares about what we care about. We had so many people praying for us the week my daughter was born, but I was absolutely humbled by the prayers of this little one. Luke encourages us, often with pictures of nagging neighbors and widows, to continually pray and to not let things go. Regardless if I have the words to say, I know that even a two-year-old’s prayer can be more effective than hours of prepared words.

I see Jesus’ compassion in one of our young men, named Jeffrey. Jeffrey is the kind of kid who can be crazy, bold, and exude more energy than several kids his age at a time. And yet, I have seen him put others first in more than one occasion. I watched him help every other child obtain a candy bar before he attempted to reach his own. (I had taped them just out of jumping reach to get them to help one another, and he did so without prompting.) I’ve watched Jeffrey tip his own Easter egg basket to let eggs fall out behind him when he saw little ones show up late to our church Easter egg hunt. Paul, in Philippians, says that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself humble, taking on the very nature of a servant. He became obedient, even to death on the cross. Jeffrey reminds me, often, of what it means to show Jesus’ compassion, humility, and servanthood to others.

Finally, my daughter has taught me vulnerability. She depends on her mother and I for everything in life – safety, food, cleanliness (because diapers don’t change themselves.) Little Bit is a perfect example of how we live before God, vulnerable, dependent on Him for all of our needs – as we pray “give us today our daily bread.” Our dependence on God is no weakness, as the Israelites knew, and often forgot, but rather our greatest strength.

What have your kids taught you about God? I, for one, am looking forward to learning so much from my daughter as she continues to grow with each day.

On Celebrating A Divorce

This month, Christians all over the world, but especially in the West, will be remembering the Reformation which took place 500 years ago this month. Regardless of which side you find yourself on today, the Reformation (of the 1500s) continues to impact the way church is experienced for all Christians for good and bad. Roman Catholic believers will say that the Reformation created a rift that separated people from the One True Church, while Reformation congregations will be celebrating the birth of a movement.(Greek Orthodox will probably be rolling their eyes at the whole thing, having been the target of the first great Christian Schism.)  However, I find the Roman response to the whole thing more in line with Jesus’ personality – mourning a divorce within the church’s body.

Maybe divorce is the wrong term – it’s almost as if the church continues to cut parts of itself off to see if one part can do the role of the whole body. Suddenly, we’ve got a grotesque mental image of the body of Christ in pieces on an operating table, each part twitching ineffectively. I must be honest as say that the disunity and this mental image haunt me. Perhaps this feeling comes from growing up part of a movement within the church that began by valuing unity under Scripture. (Spoiler alert, it broke off and became it’s own thing separate from other Christian groups.)

I wonder what we Protestants have lost. I know that growing up, we rarely heard from the church fathers or mothers – even in passing. The word “saint” almost became a dirty word, a holdover from the “dark times,” or whatever we were supposed to consider them. Every once in a while Augustine would pop up, but only in regards to Calvinism. What about Origen, Athanasius, Iranaeus, Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, Hildegard of Bingen, and others? What are we supposed to do with nearly 1200 years of Christian history between the 4th Century and the 16th? These are questions I’ve had to consider over the past few years as I have begun digging into historic Christianity.

All of Christian history is full of people who seem to “get it” and also those who want to take advantage of it. There are those willing to give up power, and those willing to take it up. There are those willing to give generously, and those who want only to hoard. There are those who zealously guard orthodoxy, and those who don’t see the point.  All we need to is look at the way the apostles themselves reacted to Jesus to see that.

I do find beauty in the great variety of worship patterns (liturgies), locations, language, and ways of relating to God within the Christian Church. However, I do mourn our lack of unity. I mourn the good change that comes so slowly because the Church refuses at act as one body.

As we mark 500 years past the moment of decision – may we stop and consider where we find ourselves. May we stop and contemplate how the church can begin to come together again and work as one body, instead of each congregation or denomination acting like a finger twitching, separated from the rest of the body.

None of This Matters

Before this starts to sound existential or like the end of a Queen song, let me explain what I mean by nothing mattering. See, last week I had a blog post all laid out. I was going to discuss a topic (the NFL and what I see as a overreaction to something [the anthem] that is inherently there to grab your attention and earn more money being used as a moment of confrontation of what we believe America is ideally and what others experience as reality) when I received word that my wife and I would need to report to the hospital because our baby needed to come out – and soon. Our medical caretakers were very careful to stay even-keeled and speak in calm tones about what we would learn later was a fairly worrying scenario. The next day, my wife was wheeled into an operating room for an unplanned (though not “emergency”) C-section and our daughter was born.

The moment she was placed into my arms, ya’ll… I cried. I cried for this beautiful little life that had been placed into my care – her eyes open wide, soaking in the wide world around her. Our eyes met and I fell apart, filling up with love for this little girl who could do and has done nothing to earn my love, except exist. Two days later we would hear the words most parents wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies, “We’ll have to take her to the NICU.” Suddenly, our rapture was slammed into a harsh fear as I followed a nurse and my baby through back hallways into the NICU, where my baby was cared for efficiently and quickly by the nursing staff there. Two sleepless, stressful days later, we brought our little girl home.

So what really matters? For the past week, the safety of my wife and daughter. I listened to political news for the first time yesterday since being out of touch for a week and was struck by how petty, trashy, and foolish the dialogue has become. Honestly, take the leaders out of the conversation and we might be able to get somewhere, because we all have priorities and the things that really matter: family, friends, and making sure they are healthy, content, and safe. We really seem to forget that everyone else, for the most part, have these same priorities – even though they have a different idea of how to achieve them.

As far as application goes this week… just… hold your family and friends close. Remember that we all have limited time together. I have 964 Saturdays left until my little girl is college age… It seems like a lot, but last week I had 965. Focus on what really matters, and go into conversations assuming others have that same focus. Be present with your family and friends. Enjoy the quiet moments with your little one asleep on your lap listening to quiet music as she breathes gently.

Don’t let the world shift your focus.