On Hallowe’en and Standard Time

Two interesting occurrences will befall us this Saturday evening:  Hallowe’en, and the changing of the clocks back to Standard Time.  (Well, there is a third happening, which interests me more than the other two:  my beloved Habs play on their home ice against the four-pointed Leafs that evening!)  As a spiritual discipline, however, I will limit my thoughts to the first two matters.

 There are divergent opinions on what followers of Jesus should do about Hallowe’en.  Is it just an evening for kids to dress up and collect mountains of candy from trusted neighbours, or is it a celebration of all things evil?  I think the answer to that question really depends on the individual’s perspective.

 Hallowe’en is a shortened name for “All Hallows Eve”, which in the ancient and mediaeval church was (and, for many today, still is) the night before All Saints’ Day – a day when the Church remembers, with thanksgiving, those who have laboured for the Lord and have gone on to heaven.  Like Easter, whose name and timing find their roots in a Christianized pagan feast, Hallowe’en stems from an ancient Celtic festival for Samhain, the lord of the dead.  When the Romans conquered Celtic lands, there was some intermingling of practices.  It was in 835 that All Saints’ Day was moved to November 1, and that’s when October 31 became All Hallows’ Eve (or Hallowe’en).

 Some say Christ-followers shouldn’t have anything to do with an event that celebrates a pagan deity.  And to be sure, there is a disturbing reality that goes with Hallowe’en among those who continue to follow the Celtic rituals.  I won’t go into the details here, but there are practices that go along with the ‘religious’ side of Hallowe’en that would make you sick to your stomach (and would cause your spirit to recoil in horror).

 Other believers see Hallowe’en as an evangelistic opportunity – a chance to share the light of Jesus on a dark night with people who willingly come to your door looking for goodies.  With the candy you give, you could offer a printed message of good news and a blessing for those who come.

 Still others see Hallowe’en as just a fun night for kids.  As Christians, how can we make a fun night for kids into something that can be potentially life-changing?  Pray about that one!

 “Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97.10, NIV).

 How about the switch to Standard Time?  (If you’re in Saskatchewan reading this, you may think this doesn’t affect you, but read on.  When my wife and I were travelling through Saskatchewan this summer, we couldn’t remember whether their time equated with Alberta or Manitoba!)  The use of Daylight Saving Time in the warmer months has its name as its purpose:  to make the best use of daylight. 

 Again, this is a secular activity that has little spiritual bearing – or does it?  Can God’s people make use of something as seemingly innocuous as the time shift to share the good news?

 Maybe it’s too late for this time, but think about it:  we shift the time because we want to take advantage of the light.  What does the apostle John say?  “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1.7, NIV).  It’s simple, but it can have an impact.  Give it some thought.

 By the way, don’t forget to turn your clocks back on Saturday night after the Canadiens win the hockey game.  You’ll get an extra hour of sleep, and you won’t find yourself arriving at worship on Sunday before the doors are unlocked!

Biblical Messages

GO FISH: Why Fish? We were all fish once…

If you’re a follower of Jesus, how did you become one?  It’s most likely that someone else whonana frerends loved Jesus shared his or her faith with you, and you became a follower, too.  Jesus invites his friends to “fish for people”.  Just as someone else ‘fished’ for us, we can ‘fish’ for others, too, by sharing our story of faith!  Go fish!

This message is based on Matthew 4.18-22 and Acts 4.1-22. Near the end of the message, I show the video linked here.

Listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Vision and plans

I heard a great quotation the other day, from Andy Stanley, that applies so well to the church:

“Be in love with your vision, and infatuated with your plans.”

Do you see the difference?  Love is enduring; infatuation is, at best, temporary.

When God blesses a church’s leadership with vision – with a glimpse of his preferred future for that gathered congregation – the leaders need to love that vision and treat it as the gift from God that it is.  They are called to be faithful to the vision, because love is faithful.

And when God blesses a church’s leadership with vision, those leaders need to plan.  They need to find ways to execute the vision God has given them.  But they can’t have the same love for their plans that they have for their vision, or the vision will never come to fruition.   Why?  Because plans need to change.  Sometimes it’s because of a culture shift, sometime’s it’s because of a boneheaded idea that just didn’t have what it takes to work.  Whatever the reason, plans change.

I attended a seminar on Thursday that gave the perfect illustration of this.  Consider the Apple Computer company.  What they set out to do – their vision from the beginning – was to make an excellent computer.  (There’s probably a vision statement that is much more exacting than that, but you know what I mean.)  What that “excellent computer” looked like could not always be the same.  Their first Mac Pro was a good effort for the mid-1980s; but for today, it wouldn’t fly.  There’s more memory on the smallest thumb drive today than there ever was offered on the Mac Pro.  The newest offering from Apple is the MacBook Air – ostensibly the best computer on the market today (and I’m a PC guy, by the way).

Here’s what we didn’t see between the Mac Pro and the MacBook Air:  some 80 changes in plans.  There were many computers offered in between these two, and many more changes in plans, all because the folks at Apple love their vision, to make excellent computers.

How about us, church?  God has given us a basic mission:  “go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I [Jesus] have commanded you” (Matthew 28.18-19, NIV).  How that happens can work really well in one place at one time, and not so well at another time.

Sometimes, people cluck their tongues at churches that are innovative, as if the innovators were thumbing their noses at the sacred; in fact, the reverse is true.  It is those who refuse to change their plans in order to fulfill the vision that thumb their noses at the sacred.

Cardinal Newman said, “To live is to change, and to live well is to change often.”  That doesn’t mean the vision changes – but the plans to carry out that vision must change.  It means church leaders need to be on top of the culture, and ready to learn what will reach another generation for the Lord.  And it means church members must be willing to adapt to change, if the church is to avoid extinction within a generation.

If you’re in church leadership, pray over your vision, and be willing to change your plans as the vision evolves and the culture changes.  If you’re not in church leadership, pray for your leaders, that God will infuse them with passion for reaching those who are far from God – whatever it takes.

Encouragement From The Word

Beyond Thanksgiving

Are you still giving thanks?

Yeah, I know, Thanksgiving was last weekend.  Depending on the size of your gathering and the size of your bird, you might still be eating leftovers (I know we are).  But beyond that, is Thanksgiving still alive in your life?

For some, being thankful is a once-a-year thing, like going to church on Christmas Eve or visiting the in-laws on their anniversary.  But for the growing follower of Jesus, being thankful is a lifestyle choice.  The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-17, NLT).

There are a few things worth noting about those two short verses.

First, the verb tenses indicate ongoing activity.  Joy, prayer, and thanksgiving should be characteristic of who we are.

Second, thanksgiving doesn’t stand alone.  Joy and prayer are the companions of thanksgiving, and help to make thanksgiving a natural outworking of a life filled with joy and prayer.

Third, thanksgiving is not momentary, nor is it intended to be a blind, pollyanna-ish blanketed thanksgiving ‘for everything’.  When we visit our loved ones and they welcome us warmly, we might depart by saying, “Thanks for everything!”  But we hardly do that in every aspect of life, do we?  If we’re in a car accident, do we give thanks for the accident?  I doubt it!  What Paul exhorts us to do is to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances.

Giving thanks in all circumstances requires a great degree of patience and Christian maturity.  After all, if verse 17 is true, we don’t expect those who are not followers of Christ to be thankful in all circumstances.  The verse says that such is God’s will “for you who belong to Christ Jesus” – not for anybody else.

To that end, giving thanks in all circumstances can be a powerful testimony of faith to others.  When people see you enduring hardships or trials of various sorts, and thanking God in the midst of those troubles, they will see a faith that is worth investigating, if not adopting.

Without a doubt, giving thanks in all circumstances – all of them! – is not easy.  It only happens by the grace of God flowing through us.  But when it does, life takes on new meaning.  Deeper meaning.  Eternal meaning.

So, are you still giving thanks?