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Not afraid of Halloween

I’m glad I didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist home. I also am happy that, for the most part, I’ve been cared for and discipled as a follower of Jesus in churches that want to engage culture redemptively and not just run away from it, or constantly look for the worst in it. I have been reminded over the years of hosting Halloween parties sponsored by the church of the incredible good that comes out of being in the community on arguably one of the most community-focused holidays of the year.   Halloween is many things, but it is also this unique night of celebrating creativity, and unlike every other holiday where we gather with our family, we actually go out and connect with our entire neighborhood. 

On Halloween nights I’ve watched kids come out to participate in a fun night at Epiphany Church.  I experienced a single-mom reach out for someone to be a big brother to her son, and one of our church members instinctively and instantly step up.  I even had a couple of people ask me for counseling for themselves and family members.  I’ve had deep philosophical conversations with people that we haven’t had much time with all year.  I’ve been able to meet the spouses of some of the parents in our Christian community I haven’t yet met and have had many people ask me about our church, what we do and what we are about, and I’ve had the opportunity to invite them to worship with us at Church and / or connect with us at Theology on Tap.  Just tonight we served more than 200 folks some hot chocolate, took photos of 70 families and personally connected with dozens of people and reconnected with even more.  All we were doing was embracing and celebrating Christ and having fun on a Halloween night in our hood.

None of this would happen if our church decided to freak out and consider a party, on Halloween night, at the church building something demonic.  I am so glad we intentionally use many opportunities to engage our community, and not just hide at home. 

Look I’m not the guy that just doesn’t believe in evil on all kinds of levels.  I’ve sat as a Pastor in the front row and witnessed the fall out of murder, rape and years and years of abuse and manipulation in people lives.  I’ve also seen the effects of the occult. Overseas while serving in central Africa, I saw witching, hexing, and cursing as a common way to settle scores with enemies.  As a trainer of Pastors in the village, I was a guy who was called on regularly to visit people oppressed by unseen forces, as I led people towards renouncing that evil through repentance and faith in Christ I also saw the victory and healing of the Lord in the most amazing ways.

So I believe deeply in the truth of Colossians 2:15 (that on the cross Jesus disarmed all the dark spiritual powers), which leads to the call to not judge about matters of food, days and other external things in Colossians  2:16. Our engagement with the world, even its darkness, and brokenness, is love, truth, and God’s power, not fear, hate and trying to impose our will. 

We don’t co-sign everything that is going down on Halloween now or in the past.   It is true that the holiday was long ago an ancient druid holiday, but every holiday on the calendar has its pagan roots.  There is a reason holly makes us think of Christmas and not some ways to increase our chances of getting pregnant as the ancient Romans did.  Even the regular days of the week retain the names of old gods, (Thor’s day, Saturn’s Day…) and we use those names, every single day.  Just like Paul counseled new Christians that meat that was sacrificed to some god was okay to eat, because there really is one true God (1 Corinthians 8) and that for one person certain days are holy and for another all days are alike (Romans 14:5), we believe that in the presence Jesus, we do not have to fear.  They are like a wolf that has been defanged or a snake that has had its venom drawn out.  Our ancient foremothers and forefathers who spread the love, light, and truth of Jesus saw the victory he had over these days, they saw the biblical truth that all curses are null and void in (Galatians 3:13) Jesus and did not wonder if the light would still shine in the darkness.

Our ancient brothers and sisters did not keep a posture of fear, or ask themselves “what has come of this world?”  They did not always look for the next thing to freak out about and add to their list of reasons the world is so bad.  Instead, they asked in wonder and proclaimed with love “what has come into this world!” They already knew the world was hurting and in chaos, but they had confidence, hope, and love.

This is our context; this is our mission field, so we step into any opportunity to share the love of  Christ with our neighbors.  Therefore, we are not scared to lovingly engage our neighborhood on Halloween night.

For those who strongly feel like this is some kind of compromise, I have a word for you if you will listen.  Compromise is not just distorting the message, but it is also a compromise to not get His message out there in an effective way that people can actually hear it and respond.  I’ve actually had folks jam me up in the middle of one of these outreaches and I’ve had to tell them, ‘hey listen can we get back to this conversation?’  I’d love to talk to the twenty people over there that have no real connection with a church.  I’m not saying at all that you have to celebrate Halloween, but I am only explaining why we do.  Let’s spur each other on with creative ways to reach out and if you choose another way, I’m not mad at that, just understand why we do.

We have no reason to fear Halloween, but I think we should be a little more afraid of missing opportunities to get on the block and in our community to show off the love of Jesus.

5 stupid reasons we suffer.

homerhammer

Suffering is unavoidable in this life. Despite the cons of a lot of wacko preachers who promise you the moon and the stars (for a donation), you can depend on the words of Jesus. “In this world, you will have trouble” ~ John 16:33. ANYONE telling you if you follow their program, you will no longer suffer is (1) trying to sell you something and (2) disagreeing with Jesus.

I’ve thought a lot about how to deal with unavoidable suffering. At Epiphany we are even in the middle of a study on the book of Philippians, to explore how we can learn to be content when suffering breaks into our lives. However, here, I just want to share with you 5 stupid reasons we suffer. These 5 are all avoidable, but I’ve dived in head first into every single one of them.  In a future post I’ll talk about 5 good reasons we suffer.

5. You are way too big on yourself.

You think what you are doing is so important, you stay in a situation that is just terrible for you, or the people you love. This is just pride. Learning to take God seriously means we are freed up to take ourselves lightly and chill. If you haven’t learned that, maybe you’re doing it wrong. Are you suffering today because you’re too big on yourself?

4. You haven’t learned to listen.

“Nobody understands me!” Nobody? Really? Maybe you haven’t slowed down enough to listen to what people are saying. Listening is one of the most difficult skills to develop, but one of the most important. Sometimes we keep hitting our heads against the wall, and not paying attention to the door right next to us.  Are you suffering today because you haven’t learned to listen?

3. You are living in unrepentant sin.

I remember the story of a notorious woman in our old neighborhood, when we lived in Africa. Her world included adultery, prostitution, performing illegal and unsanitary abortions, murder, witchcraft and constant manipulation.  However, she would share in tears that she was devastated she could not see biological children live with her. Then our friend bravely challenged her, telling her “how can you expect anything good to come out of your life with the way you are living?” The Bible and personal experience both teach us that we “reap what we sow” (Galatians 6:7). Are you suffering today because you are living in unrepented sin? Or is your life the living embodiment of Social Distortions’ song “Bad Luck”?

 

2. You don’t have boundries.

It’s funny how the same action from two different people can come from opposite motivations? Take for example the instruction Jesus gave us on how to throw a party. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:12-14)

Now what if you took to heart Jesus’s instruction to not let ‘repayment’ or climbing the social ladder be your motivation, but did exactly what He says, but your motivation wasn’t primarily to love, but to be loved?  When you find yourself taking care of everyone and your own life is falling apart.. when you make promises on the fly with everybody but break promises regularly to your own kids.. You have lost ability to have the stability God wants for you. God wants you to not be like some weed tree that shoots up fast and is easily knocked over by the wind, but a redwood. Are you suffering today because you don’t understand how to have boundaries and take care of yourself?

1. Ignorance.

Ignorance is the cause of a massive amount of suffering in the world. One day some good friends of ours were at the pool, and a maintenance guy was about to fasten a metal bar into the side of the pool as a safety rail. The only problem was, this was in a part of Africa, where being a worker at the local pool, didn’t mean you went to school, the pool was full and he was half in the water, along with a bunch of kids swimming and was about to drop his corded drill into the water to fasten the rail! Unfortunately, the saying ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you’ is dead wrong. Electricity is real, and water is a terrible conductor of electricity whether you went to school to find that out or not. There are tons of areas in life we need others to guide and enlighten us in.

No matter who you are, or how good your education and upbringing was.  For example, there are surely some relational, financial or spiritual skills that you could still learn, and would make your life better.  Are you suffering today because of what you don’t know?

When will you plant?

churches

So we believe God has called us to plant a new congregation in Gloucester City!

The number one question I get from family, friends and neighbors when they find out is ‘oh which building are you going to get / when will you get a building?’  The question is fairly obvious and innocent really.  I’m learning our town has a few nicknames, I suppose like most towns.  I won’t share with you some of the more unflattering ones, but one of them that goes a long way back is ‘the holy city.’

See, Gloucester is full of unused and underused little church buildings that once were full and thriving, just as it had over thirty bars down to about seven.  If only this was just a shift in behaviors, and ways people find community, that would be one thing.  But I think this is actually a much deeper symptom of a real family, spiritual and economic breakdown.  Like many communities in America, even the sight of our intact family, with all three of our kids coming out of our marriage is something a bit exotic.  I get it though, alcoholism and abuse broke up my family, but my mom found a way all by herself to get us through life the best she could.

But I’m praying that what I’ve experienced in my life, could be passed on again and again in this town.  I’ve learned two things from God’s grace.

The first is that it’s not how you start, but it’s how you finish.

Our families may be bruised up, and our life may have baggage, but that doesn’t mean we need to redefine our destination, we might just have to redefine the journey.  Things like love, loyalty, integrity, aren’t old school things that don’t work for us anymore, they are the destination.  This is the message of Jesus, that he came to give us all a new start.  A new start to live out the ancient way we are deeply wired to live.

The second thing I’ve learned about God’s grace is that it’s all about creating a new family

It’s not just about my fresh start, my forgiveness, and my new source of love and power to live right.  I’m adopted into a new family!  I have had the privilege to serve in the ministry in Philadelphia and for years as a missionary in Africa, and now serve as the Community Life Pastor in Camden.  I’m not scared about the way this town is changing, because I’ve seen, again and again, God stepping into the toughest situations, and bring about change in people’s lives in a matter of hours that would take us years and years on our own strength.

I’ve seen unlikely people coming together, becoming brother and sister.  I saw it in Rwanda of all places, a place that had one of the most horrifying ethnic clashes in all human history. So just like the New Testament days, where the Apostles (just the greek word for missionary) preached, and people gathered in each other’s homes.  Just as they ate and drank together.  The same way they called each other to be generous, to break down generational, ethnic and cultural gaps, and to become one new family.

The same way people were cut in the heart about their past lives, trusted in the death Jesus died for them to wipe their slate clean and trusted in the resurrection of Jesus that showed He was more than a man but Lord and Savior.  We believe God is and will continue His work here in Gloucester City.  We will patiently but persistently gather people, and share our story, as He brings together a people in His timing.

Buildings came much later for the early Church.  In the Bible we see some folks meeting by a river, others at the synagogue, and many in large homes.  From history, we know they even met underground in catacombs because they were persecuted by the Romans.  For us, we may get a building some day.  Probably not one of the old church buildings but something like an old bar.  The problem with some of the Church buildings is that we would be on the hook to keep them up financially with limited resources that would better go into building community and blessing the poor, rather than being tied up instead into fixing roofs and repairing boilers for heat.  The other advantage is we could get some rental income from this kind of the property that has some living spaces with them.

We’d also love to have one of those living spaces be a spot for a young couple who are preparing for ministry and attending one of the area bible colleges or seminaries who can serve along with us.

We would get a building not because the building is the Church, the people are the Church.  We’d get a building one day to be a focal point and a tool to serve Gloucester City seven days a week in all manner of ways.  We’ll also get a building to just take down one more barrier to folks from experiencing God’s grace in a fresh start and a family.

Do you want to learn more?  Don’t hesitate to reach out, I’d love to share more with you.