Tuesday, October 28, 2008

No Scary Costumes?

First of all, let me say that I'm not advocating for scary costumes.
Secondly, let me say that I'm not on a "gripe fest."
Thirdly, let me say that I know with the subject of Halloween we are not all going to agree with each other concerning this issue. The important thing is to respect one another's convictions and let them operate within those boundaries they have established. God's Word says this..“Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should.” (Romans 14:4 NLT)
The purpose of this blog is to hopefully cause helpful questionings of the reasons why we do what we do. All in a non-offensive way.

With that said, here are three things that I know to be true concerning the subject of Halloween.

I. Halloween culture can be traced back to the Druids, a Celtic culture in Ireland, Britain and Northern Europe. Roots lay in the feast of Samhain, which was annually on October 31st to honor the dead. Samhain signifies "summers end" or November. Samhain was a harvest festival with huge sacred bonfires, marking the end of the Celtic year and beginning of a new one. Many of the practices involved in this celebration were fed on superstition.
The Celts believed the souls of the dead roamed the streets and villages at night. Since not all spirits were thought to be friendly, gifts and treats were left out to pacify the evil and ensure next year's crops would be plentiful. This custom evolved into trick-or-treating.
Certainly, Christians should not participate in the "dark side" of Halloween–or in any way approve of the satanic or the focus on paganism, evil, death, etc.

II. The reality of Halloween participation for many, believers and unbelievers alike, is simply dressing up in costumes and having fun collecting candy around the neighborhood. To many, this is what Halloween is about, without any connection to occult or pagan practices. Because many parents, including myself, do not sit our children down and explain to them the origin of Halloween. That would be like sitting down a 1 year old and explaining quantum physics. People give Halloween their own meaning, regardless of its origins. Consequently, because people participate in Halloween, does not necessarily mean they are promoting or encouraging occult or pagan practices and beliefs. The same is true concerning Christmas. People give it its own meaning. We would never say that everyone who participates in Christmas is a follower of Christ or is honoring God.

III. The early church responded properly to the original origin of Halloween by creating a new day on which they focused on reaching the pagans for Christ. They called it "All Saint's Day" (Nov. 1st). I commend any church who provides a safe place for children to come and have a good time and get candy. I believe this is a proper response to a less than ideal holiday.

Some final thoughts:

The other day I had my three year old with me in store and we had to walk down the costume aisle to look for a piece of clothing. I tried to shield him from the really outrageous stuff, but didn't make a huge issue out of it. Then it happened: my three year old son (who loves spiders) saw the display of overgrown "scary spiders." He asked what those spiders were for and I told him some people like to put those out and scare people. His response was, "we don't want to scare people, that's not nice." I just became the proudest parent in the world! Why? Because through healthy boundaries set, he was able to echo our heart in the matter. I didn't spend my time covering his eyes, telling him he better not dress a certain way, or like those types of things. Simply creating a home of love caused him to respond properly.

If the current culture around Halloween is a time to dress up and get free candy, then who "celebrates" Halloween the most?
Churches do.

As I mentioned before, there's nothing wrong with that--in fact I'm glad they do. However, I do have one concern. I believe most church groups are making a good thing bad. I hear and see all over town the advertisement, "No Scary Costumes." Shouldn't it read, "Don't come to OUR event for OUR people." Or maybe, "You can come on one condition...." Or even, "Hey, sinners, go sin somewhere else."

Church Halloween alternatives should be an outreach to people in the community, and according to Jesus when he reached out to people, it's not all neatly packaged up. It doesn't look like you do or think like you do. Reaching out to people and children who don't know Christ takes doing things differently.
It's messy.
It's odd,
and it's even scary.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Blew It. Big time.

Do you want to make a difference?
Do you want to make a BIG difference?
I do.

About six months ago, myself and three teens were in my car on our way to play disc golf, when we saw a car on the side of the road with the driver reaching in the trunk to grab a gas can. Thinking to myself that this would be a great time to help someone while teaching the teens...we picked him up and filled his $4.80 of gas can.
I felt good.

Just four months ago I was headed to the church for a college day out trip, when I noticed on the side of the road a lady with a flat tire. I had time to spare (no pun intended) so I changed her tire and got her back on her way.
I felt good.

Last Tuesday I went to the home improvement store to pick up some items to fix a leaky bath. (Lora mentions it in her blog) As soon as I pull in the parking spot, I saw an elderly lady pushing a cart with a couple of items in it while walking with a cane. As I shifted the gear stick into park, I thought to myself, "well she made it out this far, I'm sure she'll be okay."
Walking throughout the store, I did not feel good.

I seemed to classify making a BIG difference by doing BIG things. Changing tires, picking up people out of gas and paying for their gas sounds huge in comparison to asking a lady already at her car if she needs help getting the items that she clearly put in her cart, out of her cart and into her car. How wrong. How far from the truth.

Truth is, loving people should just be about loving people. No hidden agenda, no scale to weigh the impact helping someone makes. Everyday lending a hand to whoever needs it. Everyday helping others without looking for a reason to "share" God's love. It should be the very fact that I or we have God's love that causes us to help others and not the other way around.

That is the difference, and it's BIG.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Things that make you go, "hmmm."

Do you have a favorite phrase that makes you go, "hmmm?"

Here are a couple I've heard, as well as, have pondered the deep meaning of.

We say an alarm clock is "going off", when really it's coming on.
We drive on a parkway, but we park on a driveway."
We say "we slept like a baby"....but a baby normally is up every 2 hours all night.
Deep questions.

These are things that when you think about it by itself in its entirety, it makes no sense. But because we are accustomed to it, it makes perfect sense.

How about this one: You're at church. You're at the place where dozens, even hundreds of followers of Christ....people who love one another....people who have at least one thing in common...come together for an hour and a half....
Worship ends and the minister tells everyone something to the effect, "find someone around you and love on them."

Again, by itself, it really makes no sense. But in it's context....it's followed out.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't say this, it's just one of those funny things that we do.

Do we really need direction to love each other? Has our spiritual programming over the years caused us to be focused on what's happening in the very moment that we can't take it upon ourselves to love one another without hearing Pavlov's bell?

It had for me.
Doing church.
Playing church.
Participating in church.

Here's another. The way you follow the leader will be the way others follow you when you're the leader. For me, I want to be a better follower of Christ. Then maybe, just maybe, I can say what Paul said, "follow me as I follow Christ" and when I look back I will see people loving others not because of what I said or told them to do, but because of what I did.

By the way, if you throw a cat out of a car window, does that make it kitty liter?

(no cats were harmed in the writing of that sentence).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Listen Up

I went to church today.
A statement was made.
It has been bothering me all day.

The well-intended minister was speaking in regards to us as children of God and hearing God's purpose for our lives.

The statement(paraphrased): "You should be concerned with knowing what God is saying to you rather than feeling inadequate to hear Him."

The example: If your child is playing in the street, and a car is coming, are you going to quietly say, "John, please get out of the street" hoping he hears you? Or are you going to do everything you can to get his attention? Of course you'd be jumping and yelling.."Get out of the road!" That's how God is.

I see what he was trying to portray. I personally believe there's more under the surface that we all at one time or another have questioned when trying to listen to God.

As a parent, I want my children to hear my voice and respond instantly. This really stuck out to me this morning because this was a real life situation that happened to me when my son was two. We were outside in the front yard and before I knew it...he took off down the driveway headed towards the street. I instantly stood up and yelled, "Son, stop!" He did. A two year old. My child instantly heard and responded. Why? He knows my voice.
Now don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that my children instantly do this every time. If you're a parent then you know the joys of telling your children to do something and they look at you like your Vanilla Ice trying to explain the difference between his beat on "Ice Ice Baby" and David Bowie's beat "Under Pressure."

I distinctly remember one time being in a church with 2000 other people listening to a message with my wife, Lora. Then I heard a sneeze. I leaned over to Lora and said, "that sounds like my dad." Unknown to us, he was in the building, too. Turned out, it was him sneezing. How did I recognize him out of a room of 2000 people? I spent time with him. A lot of time.

Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27)
Again, going back to personal experience, I have found that the times in my life where I have asked God to talk to me, give me direction and it seems that He's not talking.....the truth is He was talking, I just forgot what He sounded like. I hadn't spent time with Him like I once did.

If you're like me and have struggled lately to hear from God, the good news is He does speak and the key to hearing Him...is spending time with Him. I assure you when you do that you'll hear His heartbeat and know what He wants for you. And He didn't have to jump around and yell at you.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I'm going to side with Job on this one.

Bad things happen.
Bad things happen to good people.
Bad things happen to good people for no reason.
Bad things happen to good people because of someones wrongdoing.

We've all been there. Maybe you're like me and you're still there. I'm in a place right now that I never thought I'd be in my life.

I'm in the ashes.

Looking back over the last 4 months, then the last 7 months and finally the last 2 years, I've come to quit asking the questions and decide to side with Job on this one. Job is the guy from the Bible who a lot of terrible stuff happened to him because, well, honestly....because God gambled. The devil asked him a quesiton. A question that we all must face at some time or another.
Was Job in love with God, or was Job in love with what God gave him?

The outcome, Job loved God. Period.

In searching for answers to my own situation I've found it really easy to blame others. I mean really easy. In fact, the worse someone acted the easier it was to blame them. The more the neglect, the easier it is to focus on their wrong doing. The more gossip, the more I cry out, "God take them out!"

All of the sudden it makes me, this "good person", as wrong as those who are doing the "bad things" towards me.

In his ashes, Job makes this statement, "He (speaking of God) gives and takes away." Job had this unnatural realization that God is in total control and anything that happens comes by God allowing it to happen. Joseph told the same idea to his brothers (the ones who sold him into slavery) he said, "this wasn't your doing, but God's purpose for my life."

I have found that pointing fingers at people who have "done me wrong" makes forgiveness extremely hard to achieve. However, when I realize that God, "did me wrong" all of the sudden it makes forgiving those who acted wrong towards me very easy, and it makes me understand the situation. Because God is good. He never does us wrong. He gives and takes away.

What He has taken away is the "love for what He gives" and has replaced it with.....love for Him.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

We don't need another (season of) hero(es)

I'm done.
Finished with it.
Tired of the tolerance towards it.
Sick of the justification in watching it.


The show, that in season one, really had potential. It captivated me and millions of others by the thought that everyday ordinary people could posses superhuman abilities.

The only thing about the show that seemed to be out of whack, up to that point, was the name. (they should have named it what it really was.......X-Men)

Regardless of the name, it was the concept that many of us could grab hold of and lock onto. Everyday we sit in offices, we sift through activities, we wonder through life but there is something deep down inside of us that says, "there must be more." That more, I believe, is our soul crying out to be all that God has created us to be. It's the very nature of why we are here.

To be someones hero.

But alas, the show has become nothing more than a series of predictable plots and twisted turns as the villains of the show are easily made into heroes, and the heroes of the show are slowly turning into villains. I'm sorry, but I read the news. I'm current with today's real life issues. There are people and children dying of AIDS, starving, beaten, sold into the sexual slave market, dying without hope. I don't need another show to compete for my attention.

That's real.

You may be reading this and thinking, "wow, Vince, it's just a show---chill out." Yes, it is just a show. Just an hour each week that I've found myself losing that I will never get back. While at the same time finding myself telling people excuses for not calling or checking up to see how they're doing.

Real people with real issues who need more than a quick, "I'm praying for you," or a casual, "God bless you." What if we all spent a little more time in front of real issues instead of in front of our favorite show?

I think we'd all become a better hero.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Connecting the Dots

As a minister, I've spent my years in ministry with a deep passion to make followers of Jesus Christ. That's what Jesus himself told us to do, "go and make disciples." However, how do I really know if that's being done? What I'm getting at is this: I've had the same thinking that countless other church leaders did--and for the most part still do--concerning ministry.
That's the problem. We all know what the mission is: Make Followers of Jesus Christ.
But the way we gauge if we're successful doesn't work. It's the easier way, in fact, it's the only way that is tangible. It's called "counting heads."

If you've been in ministry on any level, full-time, part-time, volunteer or just sat in a service, then you've heard the phrase, "how many did we have?" I've sat in staff meetings where we gauged our success by that phrase. I've asked that same question to my own staff or other people to gauge the success of their mission. Why? Because of the belief that if people are coming to our life-changing services or meaningful classes or purposeful events, then there must be some productivity coming out of it. Lives must be being changed. So we count heads.

Unfortunately, the head is not where life change happens. It happens in the heart. When asked by the religious leaders of His day what the greatest commandment was, Jesus answered, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 22:36-39) There's the problem. Jesus gives us a way to gauge our spiritual growth that many of us, myself included, have not been using.

The way we know if we are truly making followers of Jesus Christ, or should I say, if WE are truly followers of Jesus, is by the way we/they love God and love others. The separation of the two cannot exist, at least not in the sense of truthfulness. Unfortunately, the condition of the heart is a hard aspect to see. I mean, we don't have at the entrances of all of our churches a "Dr. Seuss Heart Detector" (you know, like what was used to see the Grinch's heart two sizes too small).

However, I offer this thought. Is it possible to see our churches filled with people who openly worship God in song and dance, yet truly are not in a growing, maturing relationship to become more and more like Jesus? I think so.

I'm not discrediting that we're not passionate about worshiping God. I just think there's more--the loving-other-people-like-you-love-yourself part just seems to be missing.
Maybe not missing, just not highly visible because I truly believe that people want to love one another and given the right opportunity, they do. I also believe that this type of atmosphere has to be created and maintained by the group's leadership to continually foster that type of attitude.

Be forewarned though, a church or organization that does strive to make these types of followers of Christ will have a hard time keeping the unchurched, the lost, the hurt, the masses away. People want to be loved and to find a church that truly does that and loves God,.....well, sign me up too!

Monday, October 13, 2008


In his book, Seth Godin, goes into detail describing how we are all part of a tribe.

A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.

So the question that stands out is, "who will lead these tribes?" the Web can do amazing things but it can't provide leadership. That still has to be done by individuals---people like me and you. God has put inside of all of us a "ticker." You know, what is it in you that gets you going? What makes you tick? What is your passion?

Anyone who wants to make a difference now has the tools at their fingertips. Youtube, iMac, Facebook, Myspace....they all are just some examples of Tribes. They're Tribes because they all have one thing in common, followers---people connected to an idea, a common interest, a way of thinking. To be a leader, you need people who will follow you and the fact you have people who will follow you makes you a leader. You may not consider yourself a leader, but you must. We need, more than ever, you to step up to the plate and lead.

Ephesians 4:11 tells us that God gave every single one of us a gift, a gift that is supposed to bring out the best in others.

So if you're a leader of a blog tribe, leader of your own family tribe, leader of favorite football team tribe the key is to do that, lead. Lead with excellence. Lead with passion. Lead others to be what they were created to be, part of something bigger than themselves.