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Scarier than Halloween

It’s finally the end of October! That beautiful time of year filled with pumpkins, colored leaves, and cool, crisp evenings. It’s also the time of year that we as Christians are inundated with blogs, ministry programs, articles and hallway conversations at church all centered around the reoccurring (and far too divisive) question: “Should Christians let their children participate in Halloween?”

I have personally been on both sides of the discussion. When my first kid was a toddler, we didn’t participate in Halloween at all, and didn’t even answer the door to the neighborhood kids. But as our family grew and our children got a little older, my husband and I rethought the topic and decided that with careful explanation and guidance away from the dark side of Halloween, there was little harm in allowing them to dress up and get candy for a few hours one night a year, and would have no more lingering effects than a princess tea party or a super hero-themed birthday bash.

But, this post isn’t for the purpose of debating whether ‘to costume or not to costume.’ (There are plenty of other blogs on that topic.) Instead, I want to take this opportunity to point out a few things that really should be of more concern to believers than a door-to-door dress-up day once a year.

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I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 1 Tim2:9-10

Decking out in a costume and pretending once a year seems to be fairly unoffensive to most, but far more damaging is a lifestyle of immodesty that doesn’t represent who we are in Christ. It’s not uncommon to see young (and ‘not so young’) women in churches, Bible studies and Christian events wearing skirts that are way to short and shirts that are cut way to low. Even girls as young as 8 or 9 can be seen wearing clothing that is far too suggestive. I’m aware that not all who attend such events or populate Christians schools are believers, but it’s sad to realize that you usually can’t tell the difference just from appearance!
I’m not suggesting a return to Puritan-like drab attire of the past, but I am saying that modesty, decency and appropriateness are virtues that seem to be rapidly disappearing from today’s Christian youth culture, and if not individually corrected, this trend and these attitudes can easily become the gateway to far more damaging behaviors of immorality and sin.

Young woman whispering something to her frind.Spooky Speech –

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. ~ Psalm19:14

“Trick or treat…Smell my feet… Give me something good to eat.” My friends and I used to giggle and laugh at that silly rhyme in our primary school years. However, the speech and language heard today in the hallways and back rooms of most Christians youth (and adult) organizations is nothing to laugh about. Paul warns believers to be careful about the words they use and specifically names “obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking” (Eph 5:3-4) as being at odds with a life of faith. We should take careful inventory of the words we (and our children) use and replace any unholy speech with words of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord. Remember that inability (or unwillingness) to purify our speech may indicate deeper heart issues.  Jesus Himself reminded us that “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (Matt. 12:34)

Scary Screens

I will set before by eyes no vile thing.” Psalm 101:3.

What would have to change in your life if you decided  to actually follow the pattern that the psalmist penned in the verse above? More insidious than the ‘evil’ of Halloween is the true evil lurking no further than the closest screen. Your television, computer, smartphone or local movie theater is all too often a conduit to the worst corners of the kingdom of darkness. Parents who might keep trick or treating at arms length often sit down and ingest a steady diet of sex, violence and twisted evil scenarios that are often presented on the most popular shows and movies with the justification, ‘well there’s just a couple of bad parts.’ Perhaps we ought to condition ourselves to not just to ignore the “bad” parts of our entertainment, but instead to choose to eliminate them all together… with the realization that even a tiny amount of evil is still evil.

Eerie Emotions –

Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. ~John 17:17

A lot of what goes on during Halloween is designed to trick people into believing what isn’t true. But in everyday life, we have what amounts to the same kind of trickster living inside of us… that is, we all deal with the deceiver called “emotion.” Too often, we determine in our minds what is true, based chiefly on how we feel about it. But allowing feelings and perceptions to trump facts and faith unintentionally sets us up for a life of volatility.  Feelings usually morph and change based on any number of things like external circumstances, attitudes, prejudices, fatigue, presuppositions, hormones, and personal history. Because so many factors sway us, it’s imperative that we be firmly anchored to, and believe what is true, which is reliably found in the pages of God’s Word.

Deadly Doctrine –

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ~ Eph 4:4-6

One the most prevalent oppositions to Halloween is the fear that participation will somehow confuse children and lead them away from true faith in Christ. More often, confusion for kids (and other seekers) comes directly from professing Christians who say and do things that are in clear opposition to what even many unbelievers know scripture teaches. Perhaps that’s because there is a lack of clarity on the essentials of the faith in many of today’s churches.
Every believer should know what he or she believes about God, about Jesus, about the Bible, the church, about sin, righteousness and the way to heaven. And be clear upon what those beliefs are based. But once those teachings are established, they must be linked with a consistent way of living. James 1 reminds us that knowing what is right and just is not enough. His simple and clear instruction exhorts us to follow through with obedience. Verse 22 says “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Without firm grounding in the truths of God and a commitment to obey, we can never hope to stand firm and defeat the influence of the real evil that is always present in this world which chiefly intends to destroy our faith in the trustworthiness and love of God.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…
Ephesians 6:11-13

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ReNamed

20141015_112710A cute little terrier mix puppy arrived at our house last week. She’s about 5 months old and couldn’t be properly taken care of by her previous owner. So being suckers for furry canine faces, we decided to give her a new home and adopt her into our pack. So far, she is getting along with the other dogs, and even our high strung yorkie is enjoying the ‘elevated’ level of puppy activity. The only thing we didn’t like about her was her name, Madeline. It just seemed to be too laid back of a handle for such an active bundle of energy. So, after much debate, we picked a new name for her… one that seems more fitting to who she really is.

You know, God is known for doing the same kind of thing.

The book of Genesis contains a story of the re-branding of a familiar Old Testament figure. At birth, Isaac’s second son was given the name ‘Jacob’, which means “supplanter, schemer, and/or deceiver.” (Gen. 25:24-26) The text from Genesis 27 shows how he lived up to his label by manipulating his brother out of his birthright and then deceiving his father in order to steal his brother’s blessing, effectively robbing him of his inheritance. Then, many years later, Jacob engaged in his famous all-night wrestling match with the Lord (Gen. 32:22-26), but before he ceased his struggle, he demanded a blessing… This time a real blessing and not a stolen one. The Angel of the Lord responded by asking his name. (vs 27) It was then that the father of the future Jewish nation finally stopped pretending to be someone else and admitted who he really was … Jacob … a schemer & a deceiver.  The scene culminated with a dramatic name change.  No longer to be known as Jacob, his new name would be Israel (vs 28) … which is sometimes translated as “Prince of God.”

Jesus did that for the people he met and knew as well! Outcasts were renamed ‘disciples.’ Sinners, He called ‘companions.’ The immoral, He labeled ‘forgiven.’ The unwanted, He marked as ‘Beloved.’

When you become a Christian and join your life to Christ, God will do that for you too. When Christ becomes your Savior and brother, the Father adopts you into His family and renames you as His own. No longer do you have to wear labels of shame and worthlessness. When you come clean about your guilt and sin and stop pretending, He offers a brand new start and will immediately rename you as “Valuable,” “Cherished,” and “Loved.”

“And you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will give.
You will be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
a king’s crown in the hand of your God.
You will no longer be called “Left Alone.”
Your land will no longer be called “Forgotten.”
But you will be called “My joy is in her,” and your land “Married.”
For the Lord finds joy in you.”
~ Isaiah 62:2-4 (NLV)

Meet Pepper!
Meet Pepper!
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Trail Blazes

My boys have been fond of camping since they were in grade school, and they still manage to go on at least a couple of outings every fall and spring. In fact, Jason just got home from a backpacking trip two weeks ago.

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Appalachian Trail
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I’m not a big camper anymore, but when I was in college I did manage to go on a mountain adventure every now and then. I remember it being pretty fun to hike the Appalachian Trail and enjoy being up close and personal with nature. I’m pretty sure that most of my skills are completely rusted over now, but I do remember enough to know that back before GPS and a host of other electronic gadgets, serious hikers had to be keenly aware of the trail ‘blazes’ to keep their bearings.

hiking-trails-338457_1280To outdoorsmen, a “blaze” is a mark generally cut into or painted on a tree which is used to identify a trail. The symbols are usually of uniform size or color and are placed at regular intervals to help explorers be sure they are going in the right direction, and more importantly, that they are still on the correct path. And when the batteries fail in their GPS, these markers still serve hikers well. With a simple map in one hand and a compass in the other, backpackers can still reference these markings to help them know two things:

What their current location is and where they need to go next.

Believers need to always know those two things as well.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. ~ Psalm 119: 105

You know, it’d be great to have a few well-defined marks cut into a nearby tree to consult when God wants us to make a course change, but rarely are His directions that concrete. But at the same time, we aren’t just left to wander along life’s path and hope we’ll end up getting to where we need to be either.

signpost-60092_1280God has given us His written Word to function in a similar manner as those “blazes.” This black & white reference tool gives us an objective standard to help us take a regular assessment of where we are along the path of righteousness and what we need to do to stay there. It’s essential to train yourself to recognize those spiritual trail markers because the cost of missing an important turn and going off the path can be high. Even a short jaunt away from the designated trail can delay God’s purposes for your life for months or years. Sometimes markers are the clearly written “do’s and don’ts”; Other times they come in the form of the more subtle principles that are not as plainly stated. But with a little practice, you can learn to spot them and heed their guidance.

Remember that (as Psalm 119:105 says) the Bible isn’t usually a spotlight that illuminates the entire horizon. Instead, it’s a lamp that gives us just enough light to take the next step on the journey. That’s why we need to be prayerfully reading and absorbing God’s truth so that we can know Him better and be alert for His key blazes that signal crucial course changes.

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I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
 along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
 and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
 I will not forsake them. ~ Isaiah 42: 16

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Reflected Light

Sky watchers got a special treat early this morning with the appearance of a stunning total lunar eclipse. The burnt reddish brown beauty that captured the attention of millions lived up to its nickname, the blood moon. Brilliant red hues resulted from the peeks of sunlight that were filtered through the earth’s atmosphere and reflected off the moon’s surface.  It’s as if the ‘man in the moon’ was viewing a celestial sunset, and the ruddy light bounced off his face.

GPN-2000-001487Most of us know from grade-school science class that the moon itself has no light and serves only as a reflector for the sun. So if you take away the sun’s light, it becomes a fairly unremarkable and inanimate rock.

You know, humanity is the same.

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The Creation of Adam
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The familiar story found in the first couple of chapters of Genesis reminds us that Adam began as a lifeless, and uninteresting mound of dirt.  He had no beauty.  No innate glory and was no more inspiring or special than a pile of rocks. But… that radically changed when the breath of God entered his nostrils. Genesis 2:7 records the moment that the life of God animated Adam and he “became a living being.” We can only imagine his dazzling appearance as he drew his first breath, and this living soul was robed in the  reflected radiance of the Almighty! What must he have been like as  he took his place in the world as the only “image-bearer” of God?

Though the ugliness of sin eventually marred that ability and often eclipses the light of God, we need to remember that even today, all men and women still exist as the sole beings capable of bearing … and reflecting… the image of God. However, the New Testament makes it clear that being made in His image isn’t enough to make us a part of God’s family.  But it does explain God’s special love for humanity and His willingness to surrender the life of His Son to reestablish a relationship with us.  He has made each of us special!  Remarkable! Glorious!  Not because of anything in us.  But solely, because of Him.

So, the next time you see that person in the next cubicle who just drives you crazy, the irritating cashier at the store, the individual with the opposing political view, or the obnoxious fan of your rival team, remember that each one of them also bears the image of God and is precious, loved and, if/when rightly related to Christ, able to reflect God’s glory to the world.

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For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
~ 2 Corinthians 4:6