Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Reformation Day!!!

Well, most of us know October 31st as Halloween, but many people in our churches really have no clue what Reformation Day is really all about. Reformation Day is Oct. 31st and it is an opportunity to at least point out to our children the importance of this day. As I point out to our congregation, the Jewish people had a lot of festivals and celebrations to lead their children to ask questions so they could teach them about God. We have celebrations and we come up with ways to exclude Christ and gospel. Use this time to at least mention this to your children. If you want to make the most of it, use this weekend as a movie night and watch “Luther” as a family and talk about the blessing of men who were bold enough to stand on the Word of God when it could cost them their life (while "Luther" can be a dark film and may inappropriate for young children...parents will need to be the judge of this.  Please see http://www.pluggedin.com/videos/2004/q3/luther.aspx for a review of the film and its content)

Below is a short blog from biblegateway.com about October 31st.

Did you know that October 31 is one of the most significant dates in church history? No, I’m not talking about Halloween—I’m talking about Reformation Day! You probably won’t see neighborhood kids going door-to-door dressed like Martin Luther or Ulrich Zwingli on Monday night, but these men and their fellow reformers made a huge and lasting impact on the way that evangelical Christians understand and approach Scripture.
The Protestant Reformation was shaped by many people over many years, but came into focus when a monk named Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church in 1517. Luther was a Catholic priest who was upset at the widespread corruption he observed within the ecclesiarchy, most notably the sale of “indulgences” that promised postmortem forgiveness of sins for deceased loved ones.
Outside Luther’s Germany, similar “protest” movements were helmed by people like John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Knox. Beyond protesting corruption in the church, the emerging “protestant” movement challenged many of the theological teachings of the Roman Catholic church. The reformers believed that Scripture alone—not human traditions or the rulings of a church—held complete authority for Christians (see “sola scriptura”), and that salvation was a free gift of God that could not be earned by good deeds. The widespread publication and distribution of Bibles—indeed, the fact that all of us can afford and freely read the Bible ourselves—is one of the most enduring legacies of the Reformation.
The century following the Protestant Reformation was a chaotic and violent time, but the reform movements survived to form the basis of today’s Protestant denominations. Protestants owe a debt of gratitude to the many reformers who risked (and in some cases, lost) their lives rebuilding the church. And non-Protestant Christians can appreciate the reformers for confronting corruption in the church, even if they don’t agree with all of Protestant theology. So on October 31, pause for a few minutes amidst the Halloween festivities to remember this pivotal moment in church history.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What to do for Halloween?

As a Dad of two boys, one of the many mistakes I have made is getting things too early for them. In Georgia we had the opportunity to build a home: it had two oak trees in the back and I had a simple zip-line put in. It was every kids dream, however I had 3 year old and 2 year old and I was crushed that they were so fixed on safety that they screamed and cried as they experienced their first “ride” on it. Now they would love it, in fact in a couple of years they would have loved it. There are times I do the same thing as a Pastor; I either present or teach things too early, or I simply show you some of the best information I have found as I come across it and, when it comes “that time” again I will either restate it or repost it. Below is a post that I did last year regarding Halloween, I hope it helps you think through how we as believers should approach this time of year.

A Great Blog to Think Through

I love Tim Challies's blog and I also have a high regard for Dr. John MacArthur, as Mr. Challies does. Below is an outstanding blog on Halloween that is, at the very least…food for thought:

Halloween Fast Approaches
Halloween is fast approaching, and I am beginning to see articles on this always-popular topic in the blogosphere. I wrote about this for the first time last year and thought I would follow that article with a similar one, but one that is hopefully a little more developed as I've had another year to think about this issue. This topic was been discussed last year on an email discussion list in which I participate. One member of the list posted a couple of responses to Halloween provided by John MacArthur in an informal question and answer setting. MacArthur was asked, “Is there anything wrong with children going out 'Trick or Treating', like Halloween, and if so, what specifically is bad in it, and what do the MacArthur kids do? And, should Grace get involved in any alternatives?” His response was as follows:

“I think, it's not a wise thing to have children go out trick or treating. I mean, I think it's kind of dumb for Christian kids to dress up like ghosts and witches and weird things, and devil suits, and trouble-makers, and all that. I think, for example, you know, the whole thing of All Saints Day or All Hallows Eve has connotations, first of all of Roman Catholic tradition. It has connotations of demons and spirits. Plus the fact that little kids are exposed to screwballs as well as to cars, and all kinds of other things…What we do in our family is we have an alternative. Like you said, we do an alternative thing. We do something fun for the whole family. It varies from year to year, and our church has always done that, too, for the kids. Have parties and socials and things.”
Of course I'm sure it has been a few years since the MacArthur children asked to dress up for Halloween. I post MacArthur's response because I feel it is quite typical of the Christian attitude towards Halloween. He feels the day holds too many negative connotations and that Christians should find a more sacred alternative.
I acknowledge this as a difficult issue and that it is, in many ways, an issue of conscience. I do not believe there is absolute right and wrong here. Each person much examine his conscience and decide what he believes. The Bible says nothing about Halloween, though certainly there are principles we can find that will help guide us. But ultimately I believe we have to trust our consciences and our sanctified reasoning to guide us. Let me share where this has led me.
My conviction is that it is a very poor witness to have the house of believers blacked out on Halloween. Halloween presents a unique opportunity to interact with neighbors, to meet their children and to prove that Christians are part of the community and not merely people who want only to interact with Christian friends or to only interact in our own way and on our own terms. At the same time I despise how evil Halloween is. Already our neighborhood has ghosts hanging from trees and evil plastic figurines stuck into lawns. One section of houses nearby always feels the need to go the extra step, playing recordings of scary music, dressing in occult costumes and generally glorying in evil. To this time we have allowed our children to go out trick-or-treating, provided they do not wear evil or occult costumes. It is a compromise, and admittedly not one I am entirely comfortable with. Over the past several years churches in our neighborhood have offered an alternative to Halloween with “harvest parties” or similar events. These tend to be parties in a nearby community center that allows children to dress up and get their fill of candy in a less-pagan environment. But there are other churches that encourage families to be present in their homes, to greet their neighbors and to look for opportunities to interact with them. A couple of the pastors in a nearby church are going so far as to hold neighborhood barbecues before dark and inviting people to come and share a meal with them. I think this is a great idea.
Perhaps the greatest fallacy Christians believe about Halloween is that by refusing to participate in the day we are somehow taking a stand against Satan. And second to that, is that participation in the day is an endorsement of Satan and his evil holidays. The truth is that Halloween is not much different from any other day in this world where, at least for the time being, every day is Satan's day and a celebration of him and his power. A member of the discussion discussion list wrote the following last year around this time: “Yeah… I've heard all of the 'pagan' reasons Christians should avoid Halloween. The question is whether we are actually participating in Samhain when we participate in Halloween? Who or what makes the 'Witch's League of Public Awareness' the definers of what Halloween is, either now or historically? Such a connection between Samhain and my daughter as a ladybug or my son as a Bengals Boy is highly dubious.” And it is highly dubious at best.
I am guessing my neighborhood is all-too-typical in that people typically arrive home from work and immediately drive their cars into the garage. More often than not they do not emerge again until the next morning when they leave for work once more. We are private, reclusive people who delight in our privacy. We rarely see our neighbors and rarely communicate with them. It would be a terrible breach of Canadian social etiquette for me to knock on a person's door and ask them for a small gift or even just to say “hello” to them. In the six years we have been living in this area, we have never once had a neighbor come to the door to ask for anything (except for this time). Yet on Halloween these barriers all come down. I have the opportunity to greet every person in the neighborhood. I have the opportunity to introduce myself to the family who moved in just down the row a few weeks ago and to greet some other people I have not seen for weeks or months. At the same time, those people's children will come knocking on my door. We have two possible responses. We can turn the lights out and sit inside, seeking to shelter ourselves from the pagan influence of the little Harry Potters, Batmans and ballerinas, or we can greet them, gush over them, and make them feel welcome. We can prove ourselves to be the family who genuinely cares about our neighbors, or we can be the family who shows that we want to interact with them only on our terms. Most of our neighbors know of our faith and of our supposed concern for them. This is a chance to prove our love for them.
The same contributor to the email list concluded his defense of participating in Halloween with these words: “One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.”
The truth is that I have several convictions regarding Halloween. I despise the pagan aspects of it. I am convicted that my children should not dress as little devils or ghosts or monsters. But I am also convicted that there could be no worse witness to the neighbors than having a dark house, especially in a neighborhood like ours which is small and where every person and every home is highly-visible. We know that, if we choose not to participate, the neighbors will notice and will smile knowingly, supposing that we feel too good to participate. We have nothing to fear from our neighbors or from their children. So my children will dress up (my son as a police officer and my daughter as a princess) and we will visit each of our neighbors, knocking on their doors and accepting their fistfuls of candy. Either my wife or I will remain at home, greeting people at our door with a smile and a handful of something tasty. If the kids are deemed too old to trick-or-treat, they'll be forced to sing a song to merit any handouts. Our door will be open and the light will be on. And we trust that the Light will shine brightly.
My encouragement to you today is to think and pray about this issue. I do not see Halloween as a great evangelistic occasion. I do not foresee it as a time when the people coming to your door are likely to be saved. But I do think it is a time that you can prove to your neighbors that you care about them, that you care about their children, and that you are glad to be in this world and this culture, even if you are not of this world or this culture. Halloween may serve as a bridge to the hearts of those who live around you who so desperately need a Savior.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Great Post for Every Parent

At Trinity, we talk a great deal about the importance of speaking to the heart of our children when correcting them. We don’t want them to simply be well behaved pets that walk on two legs. I can teach a dog how to sit, stay, not beg, to quit barking and many other things: if all I want my children to do is perform, they can be taught to do this. If they get in trouble for “talking back” or for “telling a story” there is no biblical cure for this because there is no biblical sin called “talking back” or “telling a story.” There is a great deal to be said about disobedience, dishonoring, and lying. These are biblical words for which there is a biblical answer. We don’t want moralists: we pray for, and strive to teach our children so they will have a passion for Christ. The difference is clearly demonstrated in a wonderful blog by Dr. Al Mohler below. I hope it opens all of our eyes to the dangers of simply teaching good morals.

A recent letter to columnist Carolyn Hax of The Washington Post seemed straightforward enough. “I am a stay-at-home mother of four who has tried to raise my family under the same strong Christian values that I grew up with,” the woman writes. “Therefore I was shocked when my oldest daughter, ‘Emily,’ suddenly announced she had ‘given up believing in God’ and decided to ‘come out’ as an atheist.”

The idea of a 16-year-old atheist in the house would be enough to alarm any Christian parent, and rightly so. The thought that a secular advice columnist for The Washington Post might be the source of help seems very odd, but desperation can surely lead a parent to seek help almost anywhere.

You usually get what you expect from an advice columnist like this — therapeutic counsel based in a secular worldview and a deep commitment to personal autonomy. Carolyn Hax responds to this mother with an admonition to respect the integrity of her daughter’s declaration of non-belief. She adds, “Parents can and should teach their beliefs and values, but when a would-be disciple stops believing, it’s not a ‘decision’ or ‘choice’ to ‘reject’ church or family or tradition or virtue or whatever else has hitched a cultural ride with faith.”

That is patent nonsense, of course. Declarations of adolescent unbelief often are exactly what Hax argues they are not: rejections of “church or family or tradition or virtue.” Hax does offer some legitimate insights, suggesting that honesty is to be preferred to dishonesty and that such adolescent statements are often indications of a phase of intellectual questioning or just trying on a personality for style.

Hax then tells this distraught mother that she “didn’t throw out what my childhood, including my church, taught me; I still apply what I believe in. I just apply it to a secular life.” In other words, Hax asserts that she maintains many of the values she learned as a child in church, and simply applies these values now to a secular life.

“How can I help my daughter see that she is making a serious mistake with her life if she chooses to reject her God and her faith?,” the mother asks. Hax tells the mother to accept the daughter’s atheism and get over her “disappointment that she isn’t turning out just as you envisioned.”

What else would you expect a secular columnist who operates from a secular worldview to say?

The real problem does not lie with Carolyn Hax’s answer, however, but with the mother’s question. The problem appears at the onset, when the mother states that she has “tried to raise my family under the same strong Christian values that I grew up with.”

Christian values are the problem. Hell will be filled with people who were avidly committed to Christian values. Christian values cannot save anyone and never will. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Christian value, and a comfortability with Christian values can blind sinners to their need for the gospel.

This one sentence may not accurately communicate this mother’s understanding, but it appears to be perfectly consistent with the larger context of her question and the source of the advice she sought.

Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values. If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would. Most of our neighbors have some commitment to Christian values, but what they desperately need is salvation from their sins. This does not come by Christian values, no matter how fervently held. Salvation comes only by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Human beings are natural-born moralists, and moralism is the most potent of all the false gospels. The language of “values” is the language of moralism and cultural Protestantism — what the Germans called Kulturprotestantismus. This is the religion that produces cultural Christians, and cultural Christianity soon dissipates into atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief. Cultural Christianity is the great denomination of moralism, and far too many church folk fail to recognize that their own religion is only cultural Christianity — not the genuine Christian faith.

The language of values is all that remains when the substance of belief disappears. Tragically, many churches seem to perpetuate their existence by values, long after they abandon the faith.
We should not pray for Christian morality to disappear or for Christian values to evaporate. We should not pray to live in Sodom or in Vanity Fair. But a culture marked even by Christian values is in desperate need of evangelism, and that evangelism requires the knowledge that Christian values and the gospel of Jesus Christ are not the same thing.

I pray that this young woman and her mother find common hope and confidence in the salvation that comes only through Christ — not by Christian values. Otherwise, we are facing far more than a young woman “making a serious mistake with her life.” We are talking about what matters for eternity. Christian values cannot save anyone.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What To Do With Guilt? - Part 2

In my last post I began talking about guilt; and we discussed some of the wrong ways to deal with guilt. We discussed how the believer should understand his guilt in light of the Gospel. I want to take just a short time today and mention some very practical ways to not live under the oppression of guilt. When we actually practice what we know to be true, and that is an understanding of, and resting in the grace of God, we find it is more than enough. So, below I have summarized some of Dr. Lane’s suggestions for the believer.

  •  Freely confess your sin: Part of what makes guilt thrive is secrecy, and silence.  We are to confess our sins to one another. Now, this doesn’t mean proclaim your sin in the middle of a fellowship or church service; but, it does mean that I allow other believers to step in my life and I do not hide my sin from them. The Church is to aid in your sanctification: your brothers and sisters can give you truth, they can see your sin and direct you to the cross.  As they give you the truth of the Word of God and provide accountability and prayer, you will find that God uses them to grow you and sanctify you. This growth in your life can also open up doors for you to minister to others who are struggling with the same sin.

  • Know that you are not alone: Again, this is where confession to other believers will help, by understanding that you were allowed to face this challenge or crisis to encourage others. After you have gotten victory over the specific sin or the general guilt, don’t hide it, but rather encourage and help others as they walk through guilt and sin. We need to remind ourselves that guilt is more than a feeling, it is a reality. We are guilty on our own, but we are righteous and do not have to live under that guilt because of Christ.

  • Preach to yourself: Speak to yourself about the power and beauty of the grace of Christ. Read Romans 5:  it is not flattering about us, but speaks wonders about the grace of God. Remind yourself what Christ did for you on the cross, and then proclaim that truth to others as they are struggling in their walk with Christ.  As you speak that truth to them, it will help you as well. As I am preaching to myself and encouraging others, it will keep me in the Word of God.

These are only a few of the things we can do to battle the feeling and reality of guilt. There is a wonderful book by John MacArthur entitled Forgiveness that will help you greatly if you are facing this.