Archive for the ‘Teachable Moment’ Category

In the last several years I have read countless articles on the celebration of Halloween… some say Christians should have nothing to do with it and others say it’s no big deal. Honestly, I have found it all very confusing and frustrating. As a Christian I want to orient my life around the glorification of Jesus Christ and as a mother, I want to teach my kids to do the same. However, with so many conflicting and passionately held positions, it has become very difficult to know what direction to take.

This frustration inspired me to launch my own little mini research project and what I found has challenged me to rethink my entire approach to holidays in general, not just Halloween. Let’s take a look at some of my findings. (Please see links listed at the bottom of this article for references)

Christmas:
As most Christians already know, Jesus was not born on December 25th. In fact, no one really knows when Christ was born because the Bible doesn’t say, so how in the world did we end up with Christmas in December? Most sources I have read trace the origins of the modern day Christmas celebration to the Roman holiday called Saturnalia. It was to honor the Roman god of agriculture named Saturn and was celebrated by a myriad of activities including gift giving, reversal of order (slaves and children were waited upon by masters and parents), drinking, gambling and a strange practice of setting up a mock king known as “The Lord of Misrule” who was sometimes killed at the end of the festivities. It’s kind of dark actually and not very Christian.

Halloween:
Halloween of course is the most obvious offender for pagan origins. It originated in Ireland when the Celts would celebrate the end of summer and harvest in a festival called Samhain on October 31st. It was believed that on that night the boundary between the living and the dead was blurred and the Celtic priests, also known as the Druids would lead the people in engaging in divination and sacrifice to their pagan gods. Also not very Christian.

Easter:
Easter is named for the Saxon fertility goddess Eastre/Eostre and was celebrated at the time of the spring equinox which closely coincided with the Jewish Passover. Bunnies, being a symbol of fertility, were frequently used in the celebrations honoring Eostre along with eggs, which were considered to be a representation of new life. There is actually very little information to be found about Eostre but she is said to have been derived from the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar whose rituals were highly sexual. Again, not a Christian holiday.

So now that I have successfully ruined every major holiday I am sure you are asking yourself “What’s the point of all this? Should we just not celebrate anything?” The point is we are gentiles and unless you are Jewish, there is no such thing as a truly God-centered holiday except for maybe Thanksgiving. So the real question to ask is, as gentiles redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ what do we do with our pagan holidays? Well I think there are two things we should do and two things we should not do.

What to do:
The first thing we should do is look at the scriptures for guidance. In Romans 14 Paul says this “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God…” This verse indicates that the observance of a special day is not the important thing; the important thing is that whatever a person does he should do it for the love and glory of our Savior. Colossians 2 echoes this sentiment when it states “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Other good passages to read on this subject are 1 Corinthians 8, 1 Corinthians 10 and Galatians 5, but I think it’s pretty clear that what is important to God is not the celebration itself, but that the heart of the person celebrating is intentionally focused on honoring Him.

In light of these scriptures, it is also clear that we have been set free, not for the purpose of self-gratification but for the glory of Christ. Such things as divination, witchcraft, debauchery, fornication and pagan gods are all clearly described in scripture as evil, forbidden and should certainly not be celebrated. So the second thing to do is choose what we celebrate. During each holiday season we should focus our celebration on what honors God and the good things that He gives us to delight in. It is hard to argue the fact that modern day Halloween festivities are still very centered on the celebration of death, witchcraft and the grotesque. However, this can easily be remedied by focusing on celebrating God’s provision of harvest time. There are lots of ways to do this, including fall festivals, family events and block parties but the important thing is to be intentional about avoiding the dark aspects of the holiday. As for Christmas and Easter, I think it is helpful to remember that God created bunnies, eggs, and Christmas trees. Just because the pagans have used them for a corrupt purpose does not mean that they are actually bad in and of themselves. 1 Corinthians 8 supports this idea when speaking of food sacrificed to idols saying “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him.” To put it more simply, let’s redeem all we can and leave out the rest.

What not to do:
Now moving on to what we should not do. I do not think we should be ignorant of the pagan aspects of our holidays. I think we should honestly confront them and use the opportunity to explain to our children why we do not believe in those things, why they are dangerous and why it is so important to make Christ central in all that we celebrate. 1 Corinthians 10:14-33 emphasizes the dangers of paganism and clearly states that “all things are lawful but not all things are profitable.” We need to be very purposeful in how we teach our children to redeem the culture. God is the author of all good things and it is Him alone who deserves the glory.

The second thing we should not do is treat each other with contempt over something as ridiculous as a holiday celebration. Scripture commands Christians over and over again to live in unity and peace with one another. Romans 14:10 specifically warns us against holding our brother in contempt, stating that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 1 Corinthians 8:9 commands us to not let our liberty in Christ be a stumbling block to our brothers and that goes both ways. As mentioned in the scriptures above, we are both free to observe a day and to not observe a day and neither the one should point a condemning finger at the other. The worst witness against Christianity is not when someone dresses up in a tinker bell costume on Halloween but when we treat each other with contemptuous judgment. This we should never do.

Well, I think that concludes my thoughts on holidays, pagans and Christians. I have spent many years struggling over this subject and I truly hope that I have helped some other parents out there with making decisions for their family. God Bless and Happy Holidays to all!

Links for Christmas Origins:
(http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/20617780)
(http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice-customs.html)
(http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christmas_TheRealStory.htm) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_of_Misrule#History

Links for Easter Origins:
(http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t020.html)
(http://www.gotquestions.org/easter-origins.html)
http://www.truthontheweb.org/easter.htm
http://www.cbcg.org/should_christians_celebrate_easter.htm
http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/place_settings/ishtar.php

Links for Halloween Origins:
http://www.history.com/topics/halloween
http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/onlinediscipleship/halloween/halloween_Pagan_Ankerberg.aspx http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/a123

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Steady

Posted: September 13, 2013 in Teachable Moment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Steady. It’s a word that carries the idea of patient endurance; like someone steadily walking towards a faint glow in the distance despite torrential rain, wind and mud clawing at their feet. Every step is slow and difficult but they never stop walking towards the light. Jesus was steady. Despite temptations in the desert, loneliness and exhaustion in His ministry and torture at the cross, he walked steadily towards the light of glory in the end. Steady is a characteristic that should weave itself into the fabric of who we are as imitators of Jesus, but in recent days I have been heavily burdened with the realization that too often this is not the case.

Last week I heard the story of a woman who, because of her gambling and drinking addictions, has decided to give up her children with no real desire to ever get them back. I heard three different stories of women who are giving up on their marriages simply because they are not in love anymore and feel that divorce is what they need to find their happiness. These stories are sad but the saddest thing to me is that they are not rare. Marriages, kids and friendships, both Christian and non-Christian, are falling by the wayside because somewhere along the line our culture has lost what it means to be steady; to walk a road that is hard because it is right. This is not to say that a change in circumstances is never necessary, but it seems that all too often it is not the circumstances but the person who really needs to change.

So as a mom, I find myself asking the question is this all my kids have to look forward to? How do I teach my kids to let hardship change them into strong, steady followers of Jesus Christ instead of people who run away at the first sign of difficulty? In Hebrews 10:35-36 it says this: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” I think this verse holds the key to learning how to be steady. In verse 34 it describes how the readers of the letter joyfully accepted the seizure of their property knowing that they had a better and lasting treasure waiting for them. Their confidence was in the promises of God; that he would come back for them, bringing both justice and reward and this confidence gave them endurance to walk through the pain and be changed.

To me, the coolest thing about God is that He has not only revealed who He is in the truth of scripture, but He has also told us how the story ends. Why? To make us steady; to give us the endurance we will need to do His righteous will even when it feels like death to do so.

Now, the way we pass this on to our kids is twofold. Not only must we strive to firmly root them in their faith (Colossians 2:6-9) but we must also live this way ourselves. We must be steady. If you are anything like me, this idea is terrifying. Life is full of torrential rain that drowns my resolve, howling winds that blow my emotions in all directions and mud that weighs down my soul making it difficult to even move. But the light in the distance is the promises of God and the thing that must be steady in every day of my life is a constant re-orientation around His truth. This is what my kids must see. When I am sick of life and I want to run away, they need to see me clinging to Jesus and they need to see me stay. Not because it is easy but because it is right and the glory of God’s promises is what waits in the end.

I have recently become addicted to a TV show about fairy tale characters trapped in our world by a curse; the story line is intricate, the characters are interesting and for someone like me who is always looking for good parallels to scripture, it gives much material to think about.

One of the common themes in the show is that all magic has a price. Every time a character has their heart broken or is desperate to save something precious to them, they seek magic to solve their problem. However, every time the magic is used it always costs them dearly and in most cases, if salvation is to be found they must fight that much harder to gain back what has been lost. For instance, in one of the episodes the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland desperately desires make a better life for his daughter so he makes a deal with the evil queen. The queen promises him that if he uses his magic hat to get her what she wants then his daughter will want for nothing. However, in the end she ends up leaving him in Wonderland where he can never see his daughter again. Although his daughter is well taken care of as promised, the cost is much more than he could have ever imagined.

This to me seems like a perfect parallel to sin. Sin promises to be the ideal way to acquire what we want and get around the difficulty of our circumstances, but just like in the case of the Mad Hatter, it costs us more dearly than we can comprehend. When we hurt do we circumvent the pain with sex, drinking, gluttony, apathy or even anger? Do these things not cost us our soul in the end? When we have a deep desire to obtain or save something do we idolize it and sacrifice all else in the quest to pursue our desire? Does this quest not leave us empty, longing for the eternal? This is because no matter what sin promises us, there are no shortcuts to true life and salvation.

Just like the magic in the story, sin always has a price and it never gets you where you wanted to go in the first place. The only way to rise above the brokenness of this world is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. He is our Prince of Peace who conquered sin and the terrible curse of death. We must cling to His every word, resting in the promise that He is coming back for us and eternity awaits when we are finally brought home for the great wedding feast. This is the gospel and it is the ultimate fairytale.

So my challenge is this… As parents let us never waste an opportunity to show our kids the beauty of the gospel; weather it’s a bedtime story or a TV show about fairytales, the threads of redemption give exquisite depth and intricate beauty to everything we encounter. It sure would be a shame to miss it.

A few nights ago my husband and I were watching the first session of Tommy Nelson’s Daniel study. He began his teaching by laying out nine reasons why studying prophecy in the Bible was of utmost importance. While all the points were quite profound, there was one that resonated with me on a subject that has been stirring in my mind for the last week. He was teaching out of 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 which says this:

“Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

He described how the study of prophecy should keep in our vision the judgment seat of Christ; not because we will be judged for sin, because that was paid for on the cross, but because we will be judged for what we have done with our lives and rewarded accordingly. For most Christians this is not an earth shattering concept, but what struck me was his analysis of the words “good” and “bad” at the end of the verse. He said that in Hebrew the word for glory carries the connotation of weight. The greek word “Phaulon” used in this verse for the word “bad” carries the connotation of something that is worthless and has no weight. So the deeds in my life that are truly good will carry the weight of God’s glory, and the deeds in my life that are bad will blow away like chaff in the wind because they are worthless, having no substance before the throne of God.

This is something that I think of often and as strange as it may sound, I spend many of my thoughtful moments imagining what my eulogy would sound like if I were to die tomorrow. What would people say about me? Would the stories they tell reflect the glory of my Savior or would they reflect only my own ambitions? Would my existence be like chest weighted with eternal treasures or would it look more like a pile of ashes full of wasted time? Often these questions reveal to my heart the places in my life that are filled with worthlessness and have lost the weight of God’s glory.

I know to some this might sound like a morbid line of thinking, but personally I think Tommy Nelson is right. By maintaining a view of my day at the throne of God, the desire to please Him is kept awake so that I don’t fall asleep. And maybe when I go home someday there will be enough of my life weighted in His glory for Him to say “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

So I guess my challenge to all my fellow thinkers out there is to ponder what your eulogy might sound like if you died tomorrow… would there be weight to the things people would say about you or would it mostly be chaff in the wind?

Daniel Study by Tommy Nelson
(http://www.gotothehub.com/biblestudies/tommynelson/daniel/)

My mother is a very wise old woman and one of the many great sayings she has passed on to me over the years is “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.” To be truthful, I never really thought much about the meaning of that statement until recent days, but as my husband and I desperately strive to find the balance in cultivating good relationships with our children while also disciplining them effectively it has taken on a new depth.

In the Scriptures we are given lots of commands regarding God’s desire and plan for our lives. Some people see these commands as protection and a source of life, but most people see them as outdated and restrictive. So what makes the difference between the two perspectives? Relationship. People who have a relationship with Jesus Christ do not see the Bible as simply a collection of irrelevant, oppressive rules, but as a love letter from their Father. It’s a narrative that reveals the very nature of God and His design for a most beloved creation. However, for those who do not know the author, they simply discard whatever words do not suit them and live a life of rebellion against the God of the universe as though He doesn’t even exist. Rules without relationship equals rebellion.

This same principle can be applied to us as parents. When we are all about the rules in order to manage the chaos of life and not much about cultivating relationships that can withstand the chaos, then we lose the heart of our kids. This is something I fear more than death itself. If I make my kids behave the way I want them to, but never get to their heart what have I gained? However, as much as this question haunts me, the fact remains that it is much easier to enforce a rule than it is to spend time engaging the heart of my children. Thus is the battle between what I should do and what the weakness of my flesh wants to do. It is a battle that often leaves me feeling hopeless, inadequate and exhausted. However, I would like to share an example from my past that always reminds me of how important it is to keep fighting and I hope it will encourage all my fellow parents out there to not give up either.

Once upon a time when I was somewhere around 15 years old I wanted to do something really stupid. I had been homeschooled all of my life and had just started working at McDonald’s. I was young, innocent and fresh meat to a crew full of teenage boys hopped up on hormones. It was these teenage boys who invited me to go on a road trip with them and a group of friends to Galveston for the weekend. I wanted go so badly! I was high on all the attention I was getting from a bunch of cute boys and felt this was a good time to spread my wings and fly. So I asked my dad if I could go. Instead of simply saying no, my dad took me out for ice cream at an old Dairy Queen Restaurant to discuss the matter. After we got our frozen treats we sat down and he patiently listened to me divulge all the reasons why I felt it was reasonable for him to let me go on the road trip. Looking back, that must have been absolutely painful for him to listen to but listen he did. After I had made my air tight case for going to Galveston with a group of teenage boys that were practically total strangers, my Dad very respectfully laid out all of the reasons why he felt it was not a good idea for me to go. Of course, in all of my 15 year old maturity, I disagreed with him. We went back and forth for a bit until my dad finally said to me “Angela, I know you cannot see my perspective and you think I am being ridiculous but I am asking you to trust me. I have taken care of you your whole life and I am asking you to trust that I am looking out for you even when you can’t see exactly where I am coming from.” He wasn’t angry with me and even though he had every right to appeal to his authority as my father, he appealed to his relationship with me instead and I have never forgotten that.

Needless to say, I didn’t go to the beach that weekend and now that I have two daughters of my own, I look back on this story and thank God for my Dad’s steadfast protection. The relationship that he built with me allowed me to trust him as a person even when his rules didn’t make sense to my young mind. This is what drives me to keep fighting for my relationship with my kids; so that when push comes to shove and obeying the rules can mean the difference between life and destruction, they know who I am as a person and they know that I am always looking out for their ultimate good. This is how it is with God and this is how I as a parent demonstrate the reality of God to my kids. So no matter how much I fail, I will keep walking in the direction of relationship, because in the end nothing matters more than God becoming real to the little souls that He has entrusted me with.

Last night I was at our small group meeting and the topic of discussion was barriers to godly communication in our marriages. Now, all of us in the group are parents of small children, and anyone who has kids knows that managing a family is the chaotic form of an Olympic. It requires endurance, perseverance and a steady supply of chocolate. However, this frenzied pace of family management has a tendency to build up massive amounts of frustration, which seemed to be the most common barrier mentioned by everyone in our group.

Frustration has it’s source in many different places. For moms it usually comes from managing the kids, the house, the bills, relationships with family and whatever else happens to come across their path during the day; for dads, frustration is often sourced in the demands of work, fighting rush hour traffic to get home in time to see the kids and balancing the needs of their wives and families. For most parents, including myself, all of these little sources of frustration tend to build up until the end of the day when our spouse comes home and says that magical phrase “How was your day?” Suddenly every tantrum the kids have thrown and every item on the checklist that didn’t get done comes flooding out of our mouths like an angry bull finally released from its cage. Hence the conditions are perfect for a fight.

So the question posed by our group leader was how do we remove the barrier of that frustration in order to communicate our struggles in a way that honors God and does not wound our spouse? The first thing that came to my mind was stopping at the end of the day when the kids are asleep and set aside time to just focus on each other. While this is a good thing to do, one of my friends in the group said something that made me think about the subject a little deeper. She said that in the moments where the day seems to be swallowing us alive and frustration threatens to poison the rest of the evening, we must refocus our mind on what it means to love our spouse in that moment instead of just focusing on what needs to happen to make the issues go away. Focus time with our spouse should always be a priority, but when the pace of life makes that impossible on any given day we have to know how to elevate our spouse above our frustration so that managing the issues can become a team effort that is edifying to our marriage. For instance, speaking in an agitated, confrontational tone might serve as an outlet for my frustration but it wounds my husband. Choosing to speak with kindness elevates my husband above my own desire to relieve stress and there is opportunity for the frustrations of life to be managed in a team effort that reflects the love of Christ, instead of being compounded in opposition.

This perspective from my friend added new depth to my original line of thinking and my challenge to all of my other fellow parents out there is to shift your focus from simply trying to attain that quiet moment to learning how to redeem the daily chaos by elevating the needs of your spouse in the moment. In doing this, the quiet moments will be that much sweeter because the love we practice every day adds depth to our marriage and gives life to our souls.

Like most Christians out there I spend a lot of my time trying to hide from God; particularly when I know what I should do but I don’t want to do it. It’s like when my three-year-old child knows she should share her toys but instead hides under the table with the doll she stole from her sister. She knows she is in the wrong, yet somehow thinks I won’t notice the screaming from my other child and by hiding she will be able to hold onto what she views as her happiness. I play this little game of hide-and-seek with God more than I care to admit. Fortunately for me, He always finds me and sometimes it is in the most creative of ways; like speaking through an animated asparagus.

On a typical day with the kids I was sitting among the mess of toys watching Veggie Tales, which is a staple item for all Christian parents. I was tired, cranky and feeling very pouty about the circumstances I was in at the time. My husband, my children and I had been living with my parents for a year and a half waiting for a house to be built by a builder that was having “issues” which is code for “totally incompetent on all levels”. Every time we turned around there was some new problem that delayed our house from being finished and on this particular day I just couldn’t take it anymore. My eyes welled up with tears as I let the frustration of my circumstances crash over my soul in successive waves. I just wanted out. My husband and I had both agreed that this was the right thing to do and we genuinely felt we were going where God wanted us to go; however, in that moment none of it mattered. I knew I should be resting in God’s sovereignty and provision but to me this was pure insanity. I just wanted what I wanted so I could feel “happy” again. I didn’t want to do the right thing anymore and I certainly didn’t want to talk to God about it because I knew He would probably speak truth that I didn’t want to hear. I was hiding; or at least I was trying to hide but it didn’t take long for God to crash my pity party. The Veggie Tales episode playing on the TV was Josh and The Big wall and I hadn’t been paying much attention until I heard a voice say “Wait! Don’t you see what you’re doing?” A little startled, I sat up straight. It was Junior Asparagus reminding the vegetable version of the Israelites what had happened when they didn’t trust God’s provision, choosing instead to do things their own way. He reminded them of all God had done for them; little things like parting the Red Sea and making food rain down from heaven in the middle of the desert. Then he closed with this phrase “Don’t you see! Sometimes God asks us to do things that don’t make sense to us… But when we remember that God made us and loves us and always wants what’s best for us we can be sure that His way is the best way.”

Who says Veggie Tales are for kids! I was a grown woman blown away by the theological genius of a talking asparagus! But even more than that, I was blown away by the fact that God loved me enough to use whatever He had to in order to find me. I was hiding like a three year old under a table desperately grasping onto what I thought would make me happy.

Well, after all that I honestly didn’t want to feel any better but I did. Not because my circumstances suddenly got better but because I knew that if He could use an animated vegetable then He could use anything, and that meant even when I was trying to run I couldn’t really hide from this God who pursues me in love. So the next time you feel like playing hide-and-seek with God just remember He will find you and He just might use the theological genius of Junior Asparagus to do it.