Thursday, October 29, 2015

Let’s have some wholly holy fun by putting the “hallow” back in Halloween!

(Originally posted October 27, 2014;
reposted here with minor edits)

In Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional short story, “The Masque of the Red Death,” a wealthy prince, Prospero, gathers his friends into a sealed abbey, determined to hide from the “red plague” ravaging the country outside.

Believing they are safe from a disease that kills quickly and brutally, Prospero and his guests party on. After some months, someone new shows up and, well, things go opposite of what was intended.

In other words, they circled the wagons against the “evil” they perceived in the world but it still got in. And it killed them.

Kind of like a lot of Christians do when it comes to Halloween.

These fretted believers behave as if this is what Paul admonished in Ephesians 6:
“Finally, be hidden in the Lord and in his mighty power. Circle your wagons so that you can avoid the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is against our ungodly neighbors, as well as scary things going bump in the night and against the spiritual forces of evil who come trick or treating at our doors. Therefore bunker down, so when the day of evil comes, you’ll be clueless as to what’s happening, and after you have cowered in fear, you can point to how the world around you is going to hell in a hand-basket.”
No, no, no! That’s all wrong!

Halloween’s tainted muddled history

As a kid I loved Halloween. So did my friends. We dressed up as friendly spooks, good witches, silly pirates, and raggedy little beggars.

Our goal was candy.

The decorations on the doors we knocked on were of cute hunch-backed kittens, smiling little witches, toothy Jack-o-lanterns, and dancing cardboard skeletons.

Besides trick-or-treating, there were the Halloween parties --many hosted by our churches -- with games, bobbing for apples, costume judging, apple cider, donuts, and more candy.

It was fun. Innocent fun. I’ve captured the mood in a poem called “Rounds” (click here to read). In a more recent poem “A Bone to Pick,” I lament the loss of Halloween’s innocence.

But, even then, there were those who were beginning to insist, because some were claiming Halloween had some dark roots, the holiday was an anathema event for real believers.

There are always the party poopers.

Yes, I know, there are the claims of our modern Halloween having origins in the Celtic fire festival called Samhain, a celebration related to the end of the harvest season. That it was picked up by the Druids, Wiccans, and other pagan groups and made one of their prime “religious” days. And that now there are those who make it a day of evil.

So what?

We shouldn’t care! Or at the least we should not be fearful.

The claim is that by participating in Halloween in any way, Christians are somehow worshiping the devil or yielding themselves to that evil.

And at least one of my Facebook friends has declared that Protestants shouldn't be celebrating Halloween because “a big part of the Reformation was to purge the church of the false teaching of purgatory and works based indulgence system.”


Again, no, no, no!

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Halloween is also tied to All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day. In the day’s title is the clue to a better response from Christians. Halloween is merely a shortened version of All Hallow’s Evening. The definition of “hallow” is “to make or set apart as holy; to respect or honor greatly; revere” (American Heritage Dictionary).

Just as people can be made new and holy in Christ, so certainly can man-made holidays. We don’t need to hide from a calendar event.

Instead of ceding ground to the enemy and letting evil rule, we need to recognize that what Paul was really admonishing in Ephesians is this:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 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, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13, NIV).
In other words, put on your costumes and let your light shine! It’s time to stop running, come out from hiding, take a stand, and put the “holy” into Halloween!

Fostering whimsy and joy over horror and fright

There are some churches who have grasped this truth and offer events such as “Holy Ghost Parties” or “Boo Bashes” or the semi-lame “Harvest Happenings.”

While these are moving in the right direction, they do so hesitantly by labeling these events as “alternatives” to Halloween.

It’s time to get over the skittishness and start having truly “Blessed Halloween” events.

The focus is to have fun not promote fright. Keep things light and point to the “hallowed” aspect by dressing and decorating appropriately.

A simple rule of thumb here is to aim for whimsy and not horror. If anything depicts cruelty, it’s over the line and not appropriate. This eliminates blood, gore, and worse, including “Christian” haunted houses that depict horrible accidents and the like.

I miss the days of truly “Happy” Halloweens. I abhor what’s become mostly a giant horror-fest.

It’s time to push back the darkness and light a candle -- and put it inside a happy Jack-o-lantern.

Have a happy, holy, and blessed Halloween!

Agree? Disagree? Why or why not? Do you enjoy or hate Halloween? What's your favorite Halloween memory from childhood? What's your biggest complaint about Halloween now? Don't be afraid! Sound off in the comments!

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Bone to Pick (#PoetryMonday *)

dem bones
dem bones

the faded leaves leave behind limbs
dark and wet, stripped of color

dem bones
dem bones

shellacked by the rain, whipped by the wind
twigs clatter and scatter on the ground

dem bones
dem bones

chilly fear fresh squeezed from pure hearts
rises up masquerading as giggles in the dark

dem bones
dem bones

we grip
tightly our bounty bags
   the collected candy as precious as gems
   the currency of our childhood
we amble
in clusters through the howling neighborhood
   with staccato barks of surely rabid wild dogs
   seasoning the wind more chill
we glide
a gang of costumed goblins
   super heroes
   affable spooks

dem bones
dem bones

once upon a time halloween was fun
and not a horror fest

dem bones
dem bones

now evil poisons everything
where innocence fails to flourish

dem bones
dem bones
dem dry bones

arise and give glory to the lord

* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

As a kid I used to love Halloween, Now, not as much. For one thing, it has become ridiculously commercialized -- it
’s all about the Benjamins. For another, it’s become far too bloody and horrified. In some instances, the imagery involved is simply evil. What was once innocent fun, in my opinion, has become dangerously dark. And somewhat of a metaphor for the times we live in. Another Halloween-themed poem is Rounds.What do you think? Do you feel Halloween has become too gory?Please share your thoughts and impressions in the comments!

NOTE: The following lines break above due to the graphic. They do not break in the original:
  • “shellacked by the rain, whipped by the wind
  • “chilly fear fresh squeezed from pure hearts
  • “rises up masquerading as giggles in the dark

This poem is included in this collection:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dust to Dust (#PoetryMonday *)

we offer our used goods
to those we know
who, politely, yet insistently
reply, no.

So, we take some to the
thrift stores where all is
welcomed and some later
discarded because,
well, you know.

Other items,
as we make our impromptu decisions
to let go, are hastily placed
on the tree lawn
in front of the house.

Later, noticing what’s been taken
we feel a tinge of loss,
maybe even a slight regret
that cannot be recalled or undone.

For items overlooked, left behind,
we feel empathy wondering why
they are unwanted.

They stand forlorn
at the street’s edge
like kids picked last
for dodge ball teams,
self-worth slowly deflating.

But, as we look on, finally,
someone rescues the final items.
We sigh, happy to see them
taken in, reclaimed, continue on
in use, our bits of living legacy
gathering dust in another’s home
as they once gathered dust
in ours.

* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

Based on a true story! Ripped from the headlines! Yep, this poem, albeit a little rough, is based on true-to-life recent experiences. Does it resonate with you? How does it feel like when you give away stuff? Is it easy or is the parting difficult, sweet sorrow?
Please share your thoughts and impressions in the comments!

This poem is included in this collection:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Brief Review: The end is near! This book is not new!

When news headlines start filling up with pronouncements of wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and other natural or man-made disasters, there are few Christians who don’t perk up our end-times-antennas. It’s what we do and that’s okay.

But when these kinds of headlines increase in frequency, then the books offering predictions and interpretations start rolling off the presses and flying off the shelves. Some new. Others old but repackaged.

Everyone wants to get in the last word on the last days.

The easiest way to start a heated discussion among believers is to bring up the book of Revelation (or any end-times-worthy biblical passage of prophecy) and toss out an opinion. Any opinion.

When these kinds of discussions kick up around me, I usually try to walk away or at least remain mum. They, sadly, tend to be no-win situations. Plus, even though I’ve been involved in two books covering the Book of Revelation, this is a tough topic to tackle and I get easily befuddled.

I mean, just the basic four views of the end-times -- historicist, preterist, futurist, and spiritual -- each have their unique definitions and multiple off-shoots of thought.

For example, the preterist view (yes, I know it’s a ridiculously weird word but that’s the way of theology) can be sliced into radical preterism, moderate preterism, partial preterism, orthodox preterism, full preterism, and who knows how many more.

And let’s not forget premillenialism, amillenialism, postmillenialsim, and dispensationalism.

Ah, the lovely lilting language of eschatology! Mishandled it can create the fog of bore.

Which brings us to this book.

In his recently re-issued 1998 book (which is not really a new edition as the copyright page indicates), The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return, R. C. Sproul, Sr. tackles eschatology.

But before I go further, let me offer this caveat: I like R. C. Sproul, Sr.. I’ve read a couple other of his books and really enjoyed them. I don’t always fully agree with his theology, but he’s a good guy.

But this book? Well, my issues aren’t with the content so much as with the style. While the back cover copy calls it a “compelling” style, it actually reads more like a dry dense doctoral dissertation.

Despite its teasing title, Sproul’s book is a far cry from, say, The Late Great Planet Earth kind of read. And it’s not just me who thinks so.

When reading a book for review, I seldom look at others’ reviews when they’re available. But I had to make an exception for this one because I wasn’t clear what Sproul was trying to accomplish. I needed some help.

Another reviewer also had the same problems I was having, stating, “Dr. Sproul seems a bit hesitant to come right out and admit that he believes in the preterist position and so that makes his points seem a little wishy-washy at times.... [This] makes for a passive voice approach at times that lacks clarity...[and] makes for difficult reading at times. The information is there, just not as clear as if he had stated his views plainly then proceeded to explain why he held those views.”


Another reviewer pointed out that Sproul seems to be rebutting Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian, which would imply to understand Sproul’s book it would be helpful to have read Russell’s.

Reading these and other reviews helped clarify a few things for me. Namely, that Sproul is attempting to defend moderate preterism. Also known as, I think, partial preterism, which is also known as orthodox preterism, as per Sproul’s definitions.

He almost comes right out and says as much at the end of the fifth chapter -- about halfway through the book -- when he states, “Moderate preterists, such as those who hold a postmillenial view of eschatology, insist that though the bulk of the Olivet Discourse was fullfilled in AD 70, there still remains a future coming or parousia of Christ.”

If that sentence sets your heart a-flutter, then this will probably be a book you will enjoy and will be worth your time to read accompanied with a strong cup or two of coffee.

On the other hand, if it makes your eyes glaze over, you have no idea what preterism mean,  and you feel a nap coming on, then you’ll want to give it a pass. You’re welcome.

The book was not out of print and has been available on Amazon for about $18 in paperback. Now, it’s got a new cover and a lower price. Go figure. Other than that, it’s the same as the 1998 edition.

Sproul is generally even-handed and fair when discussing views with which he disagrees. Although, he does takes a mild swipe at futurists by lumping them together with references to “Rosemary’s Baby” and Jeane Dixon. Well, then!

He concludes saying, “Debates over eschatology will probably continue until the Lord returns and we have the advantage of hindsight rather than the disadvantage of foresight. The divisions that exist within the Christian community are understandable, considering that both the subject matter and the literary genre of future prophecy are exceedingly difficult. This does not mean that we may push the Bible aside or neglect its eschatological sections. On the contrary the interpretive difficulties presented by eschatological matters simply call us to a greater diligence and persistence in seeking their solution.”


In the meantime, I just ask that books like this actually be written in a truly “compelling” and accessible style when targeted to the general reader. Especially when titled in such a teasing manner.


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

How would you define your views of the end-times? Are you concerned about what is going to happen? Do you believe we are in the end-times now? Why or why not? Leave a comment sharing what you think!

Books I've been involved with:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Are you damaging the cause of Christ & being the mouthpiece of Satan with lazy, slanderous social media posts? Probably.

1 Peter 2:1 is a very instructive verse offering some pretty clear admonishments to believers: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (ESV).

Lumped together are five deadly character expressions: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander.

We are instructed in blunt terms to put these away, meaning to eliminate them from our behavior.

Sadly, in social media especially, the fifth and last one -- slander -- is all too common.

This needs to be corrected.

Avoiding the slippery slope of slander

What is slander? It’s spoken or verbalized libel. Libel means to malign.

To be a little more precise, the American Heritage Dictionary offers these definitions for both terms:
  • Slander: “Oral communication of false statements injurious to a person’s reputation. A false and malicious statement or report about someone.”
  • Libel: “A false publication, as in writing, print, signs, or pictures, that damages a person’s reputation. The act of presenting such material to the public. The written claims presented by a plaintiff in an action at admiralty law or to an ecclesiastical court. See Synonyms at malign.”
Slander by any other name is still slander.

Just recently I saw this meme posted on Facebook (I overlaid the warning text to discourage further sharing):

The posting declared, “STILL worried about a Confederate Flag? This is in Dearborn Mi. Time to pull some heads out of some rear ends!”

The thing is it’s a slanderous, malicious fake. It’s a lie. It’s libel -- slander -- a false publication. A distortion. A misrepresentation.

The sign does not exist in Dearborn, Michigan or anywhere else within the United States. Yet people share the post -- even Christians -- because, well, it seems true, or they want it to be true.

The content of the meme was intentionally created to malign, to be hostile, to be malicious toward all in the United States who are followers of Islam.

But just as it isn’t true that all who call themselves Christians are good, it also isn’t true that all who call themselves Muslim are evil and believe what the this false meme is attributing to them.

Tossing the Golden Rule on the garbage heap

So let me say it again. The posting and sharing of the meme is libelous. It’s simply slander.

The word slander as translated from the original Greek in 1 Peter is defamation, which is defined as “To damage the reputation, character, or good name of by slander or libel.”

This meme just one example of dozens of such slanderous items that are posted by Christians on social media every day. And it needs to stop.

It’s sinful. It’s hurtful. There is no good, biblically supportable defense for posting such damaging piffle.

In fact, this meme checks off at least 4 of the 5 sins cited in 1 Peter 2:1: It’s malicious, deceitful, slanderous -- and it’s hypocritical for a Christian to post such garbage.

Is it any wonder believers get so much hostility thrown back in our faces? It’s time we started doing a little cheek turning and aggressively living out the golden rule.

Three times is a charm

When studying the Bible, it’s a known truth that when something is mentioned 3 or more times, that’s a good indication that it’s a serious issue. In other words, we would do well to pay attention and take corrective action as needed.

In addition to the 1 Peter reference, here are a few more biblical references to the problem of slander:
  • Matthew 5:19 -- For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (ESV).
  • Mark 7:20-23 -- “And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person’” (ESV).
  • 2 Corinthians 12:20 -- “For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish--that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” (ESV).
  • Ephesians 4:31 -- “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (ESV).
  • Colossians 3:8 --  “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (ESV).
  • 1 Timothy 6:4-5 -- “...he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (ESV).

Yep, that’s at least three.

Lazy is as lazy does so don’t be!

I know some who post items they aren’t sure are true or not. Their claimed motivation is to “spark a dialogue” or “get feedback” from friends about its veracity.

This is both lazy and irresponsible.

When you post something you are automatically viewed as supporting or believing in the truthfulness and content of what you post.

If it’s some kind of distortion or outright deceit, then you are accountable for passing along a lie, a slander, a falsehood.

With so many trustworthy resources available at our fingertips, there is zero excuse for not taking the time to research what you want to post.

But if you’re just too lazy and aren’t sure if something is true or not, and don’t want to do the research, then just don’t post it!

If you do post something and then are told by others it’s wrong -- take it down! Leaving it up is a tacit endorsement.

Believers who knowingly or lazily post slanderous or erroneous items damage the cause of Christ and hurt the reputations of all Christians. It makes us all appear stupid and mean.

Working hard for the Devil

In John 8, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees and challenged on some moral issues. He responds by schooling them on grace and truth. In verse 44, he pulls no punches when he declares to them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (ESV).

Satan is the father of lies. He is the tireless accuser (Revelation 12:10).

When we post defamatory, untrue, misleading, erroneous, insulting memes and articles on social media, we are expressing the character of Satan, and in no way being Christ-like.

It’s the same as being Satan’s mouthpiece!

Applying simple gracious wisdom

This is something believers need to take very seriously.

There are right and better ways to express our disagreement and displeasure without being dysfunctional or damning.

In the 1930s, Christian businessman Herbert J. Taylor, developed a simple test that can easily be applied against any potential post you want to share.

Taylor and his company were at a crisis point. He was concerned that employees “think right and do right” and that executives “set policies for the company that would reflect the high ethics and morals God would want in any business.”

At his desk he prayed for guidance and then wrote down what came to him which he then labeled “The Four-Way Test.”

This is a test we each should apply to everything we want to share in social media:
  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
I would add one more: For a Christian, if anything we post cannot be supported by Scripture, then it’s off-limits.

If the answer to all four questions is not a resounding “Yes!” or what you want to post is counter to Scripture or biblical truth, simply don’t post or share the information or item.

Just don’t. Period.

By the way, this applies to sharing information that seems innocent and even helpful, but isn’t true or accurate. Passing along false, untrue, or inaccurate information is the same as telling a lie. Always verify everything before you post it. Or else, just don’t share it. It’s better to be safe than a liar.

Love means being able to say you’re wrong & you're sorry

If you have posted hateful and slanderous memes and links, it’s time to take them down, and then go one step further.

You need to apologize to those you have attacked. And to those who have viewed your posts.

This step is essential.

In her excellent book, Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey laments, “When the only form of cultural commentary Christians offer is moral condemnation, no wonder we come across to non-believers as angry and scolding.”

As bad or worse than moral condemnation is slander and it’s kin.

Sharing these kinds of lies puts forth a very ugly and distorted image of Christ, the Christ we are supposed to be reflecting and representing to those around us.

Jesus admonishes us saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13, ESV).

Sometimes, laying down our own life is as simple as not posting something hateful.

It’s time for Christians to start being truly Christ-like on social media and stop working for the devil.

Do you agree or disagree? Why? What are your suggestions for expressing disagreement in a godly, loving manner? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Brief Review: So you think you want to be a pastor

Ah, the life of a pastor. You can set your own schedule. Go hang out in Stabucks all day. Bang out a sermon or two in a couple of hours. And then work only one day a week.

Well, maybe not!

If this is your idea of what it means to be a pastor, you’re way off the mark.

And if this is your idea of pastoring and pastoring is something you are planning to do, then you seriously need to read Jason Helopoulos’ new book, The New Pastor's Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry (Baker Books).

The book offers more than 40 concise and well-written chapters touching on nearly every aspect of what it means to be a pastor, from discerning a calling to handling administrative tasks to managing discouragement.

While this is an excellent resource for new or about to be pastors, seasoned ministers will find value as well. No matter how experienced one is in their field, it never hurts to revisit the basics.

One of my favorite bits of advice offered comes in chapter 10. Helopoulos warns, “It’s difficult for a pastor to grow if he isn’t reading.” He states bluntly, “A reading pastor makes a better pastor.” He specifically encourages pastors to read above one’s ability, to read commentaries, theology, history, biographies, and fiction. Essentially, to read often and widely.

Amen! Preach it!

Other noteworthy cautions are to avoid being super-spiritual, be careful of moving into new things too fast, and be humble but not hesitant in regards to the Gospel.

Anyone in ministry will find something of value in this little handbook. Even laity who read it should gain a better appreciation of how much their pastor is doing, much of it unseen.

BTW: October is Clergy [aka Pastor] Appreciation Month!


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Are you a pastor? Planning to be one? Does this sound like a useful book? Are you a layperson? Do you actively serve in ministry in your church? How do you define ministry? Do you believe all ministry-related activities are the responsibility of only the pastor or other paid church staff? Why or why not? Leave a comment sharing what you think!