Questions to Ask on Halloween

pumpkinToday is Halloween. I’m not interested in debating how Christians should think about Halloween’s origins and how it is observed today.

Here’s the great value I see to Halloween: your neighbors!

Do you know your neighbors? If yes, how well do you know them? How often do you interact? Do you pray for them and look for opportunities to point them to Jesus? If so, here are a few questions to ask:

  • How can I welcome my neighbors in a way that would reflect Christ’s gracious and welcoming heart?
  • What does it say to my neighbors when they hear Christians bashing Halloween as “the devil’s day” and then they see me (they know I’m a Christian) walking with my family or happily passing out candy to families at the door?
  • If Jesus came to seek and save the lost, why would I turn down an opportunity to interact with my neighbors?
  • Why don’t I pray for my neighbors more often?

Take a long-term approach towards your neighbors.  Sure, many of those who come may not be able to distinguish your house from any non-Christian house… but your neighbors know, and hopefully you’re cultivating Gospel-bearing relationships with them. Regardless of whether or not you choose to trick-or-treat, you have the strong potential to show hospitality to your neighbors and to strangers tonight.

Your neighbors may not give your hospitality tons of weight tonight, but they will take note if you DON’T show hospitality.

Please note: I am not encourage you to only show hospitality in order to evangelize. We are not salesmen, we are men and women who love God. Because we love God we must also love our neighbors.  And when we love our neighbors well, we will reflect the love of God and He will provide opportunities for us to share the Gospel and invite them to find life and hope in Christ. 

Self-Righteousness

Self Righteousness… does anyone like it?  You know the type… those who walk around like they’re holier than thou, judging everyone else for not being as godly as they are.  That’s basically the stereotype that every Christian needs to fight against (see the above image!).

But here’s the thing… you can’t be a Christian and be self-righteous.

Self-Righteousness says:

  • “I am better than you are.”
  • “I am good enough to be acceptable to God.”
  • “You can’t judge me, only what I believe matters.”
  • “You need to do and believe what I do and believe, because I’m the one who’s right.”

Those are things no Christian can say.  If you are a Christian and you say those things, then you have not understood the Gospel.  (Yes, I realize the irony here. Before you accuse me of being self-righteous, please finish reading this post.)

As Christians, we completely rely on Jesus’ righteousness, not our own.  The only thing my righteousness earns for me is judgment (Romans 3:23-24, 6:23).  The Gospel shouts, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

The ironic thing about accusations of “Self-Righteousness” is that every religion other than Christian actually teaches self-righteousness.  I know that’s a huge claim to make, and I’m willing to be proven wrong in the comment section below, but I do think it’s true.  Only Christianity teaches that we are acceptable to God because of someone else’s righteousness; other religions and philosophies teach that you are required to improve yourself before God in order to “attain righteousness.”

When we build our understanding of “truth” on our own interpretations or opinions then aren’t we defending our own self-righteousness by saying that we are the ultimate knower and determiner or what is real?  Instead, when we rely on what God has revealed through the Holy Scriptures and we seek to understand what God has spoken and how the Scriptures still speak today (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then we are again relying on the righteousness of the God who speaks rather than on ourselves.

Ultimately, Christians, we must remember that we are not self-righteous… we fully rely on the righteousness of Jesus.  Let us live in such humble and faith-full way that the righteousness of Jesus would shine through us, and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

I don’t want anyone else to be more like me!  I want them to be more like Jesus… because I want to be more like him too.

(note: this post originally was published on my ministry’s blog here as “Thinking About Self-Righteousness”)

The Most Important Thing I Know

Three of the hardest words for me to say are these: “I don’t know.”

I hate saying it, and yet I know how much I don’t know… I just don’t want YOU to know how much I don’t know!

One of my professors in seminary (Dr. Garth Rossell) once said, “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of ignorance.” I’ve always remembered that, because it’s so true. The more you learn, the more you discover you have no idea. I think that’s why I like education and reading so much, because there’s always another question to ask and another perspective to discover.

But, ultimately, we weren’t created to know everything. We were made to know it all. That’s why it’s so humbling to confess “I don’t know” – it’s a recognition that I’m not God, I’m not omniscient, and I have very limited knowledge. Ever since Eden we’ve wanted God’s place, and we’ve been tempted to think we know more than we really do.

Tomorrow is my defense for my doctoral thesis, and tonight I’m reminded that the most important thing I know is this…

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.(John 3:16-17)

Tell Yourself the Truth (About Yourself)

Lies are dangerous.  But the most dangerous of all are the ones you tell yourself.

It takes courage to tell yourself the truth about yourself.  It takes greater courage to tell the truth about yourself to a trusted friend in order to seek help to change those things that need changing.  Sometimes, we also need someone else to watch our back to make sure we keep the good and healthy parts what makes you “you” going and growing.

When you read Scripture and seek God through prayer and when you experience the kind of biblical fellowship that involves a brother or sister speaking the truth to you in love… will you listen, or will you defend yourself even if it means believing a lie about yourself.

Godliness and humility lead us to being honest about who we really are.  When we talk about “Speaking the truth in love” we usually think about speaking the truth to someone else in love.  But make sure you’re speaking the truth to yourself in love too.

Fear & Pastoral Visition

During my final year in seminar working towards completing my M.Div. I was interning at a church where I was asked to make regular pastoral visits to the elderly folk at the assisted living home next door to the church. As someone who has always gotten along well with “old people” this shouldn’t have terrified me as much as it did. I knew many of them already and chatted easily with them before and after Sunday worship. I truly cared for them and wanted to know how I could serve them and minister to them.

And while that last sentence is true, I was so terrified of being asked a question I didn’t know how to answer that I often found myself neglecting those pastoral visits. In fact, this is still an area of my ministry that I struggle with. Those who know me may be surprised to find that I am, by nature, an introvert (yes, I know it’s suddenly trendy and cool to claim being an introvert… when and how did that happen!). I’ve learned to be more extroverted and outgoing for the sake of ministry, but the fear of speaking with people whom I don’t know well continues to strike fear into my heart.

A friend from church sent me a link to the following blog post about “The Lost Work of Pastoral Visitation.” There is much in the article to commend (although I do confess skimming over a few paragraphs), but the following portion in particular struck me for what should be obvious reasons:

We hear much today, and rightly so, of churches committed to simple means of grace. I suggest that if your ministry does not include systematic family visitation, you are neglecting an important means of grace. I challenge you to rethink your ministerial philosophy. If you have not been doing regular pastoral visitation, I encourage you to repent and seek God’s grace to start immediately.

In whatever capacity you serve in your church, I encourage you to prayerfully consider working towards re-claiming this important ministry. It may not be something that comes naturally to you, it certainly isn’t for me either, but if we are not willing to obey this important area of pastoral duty then perhaps there are other questions we ought to be asking…

  • If a pastor completely neglects pastoral visitations, what does that say about his desire to see his congregation grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ?
  • How does the pastor raise up and train others (particularly Elders and Deacons) to conduct pastoral visitations?
  • Why do you believe pastoral visitations have become so rare in the church today?

Trinitarian Authority & Submission

I had a short but interesting discussion the the man who leads our church’s prison ministry today. He referred to the mutual submission within the Persons of the Trinity as a model for how we all should relate to and submit to one another in the Church.

He’s definitely right, and it’s not a new thought to me. The servanthood and submission we see between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is astonishingly glorious. And yet, while we need to learn and be humbled by this, we also need to resist an anti-authoritarian mindset that insinuates leadership and authority are bad.

Afterall, the Trinity is not the Brother, the Brother, and Holy Spirit. Scripture affirms the Father and the Son. Jesus himself says, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28). There is authority, there is submission, and yet there is equality.  This is something worth chewing on as you consider the church, leadership, and ministry.

What implications do you see the Trinity having for Christian leadership?

What theological nuggets am I missing as we consider the authority and submission between the Persons of the Trinity?

A Biblical Foundation for Life

How we live matters… Deeply.

It matters so much it has eternal ramifications. What we do really truly matters.

I have always loved the book of Ecclesiastes because it has such a simple way of putting life into perspective. “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless” is a common refrain throughout the book. Lovely, right? How encouraging and uplifting. I don’t like the book for its positive effects; I appreciate it for it’s word of caution. I often find myself reading through Ecclesiastes on my birthday, helping me to remember how easy it would be for me to waste my life… Afterall, who wants to live a meaningless life?  Not I!

The Hebrew word (hbl) that’s translated as “Meaningless” is a word that more literally means “vapor, breath, vanity.” I don’t want my life to be as significant as my breath on a cold morning.  I want to build on a foundation that is secure and enduring. Thankfully, the author of Ecclesiastes wants the same for me, and he urges his readers thus, (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 13-14)

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them…. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

I choose to build on God’s revealed Word, for it is the only inspired and authoritative Word of God given to man. By it we discover who God is, who we are, what God has done, what He is going to do, and what He expects of us.  Holy Scripture is the only sure foundation that I trust to build on. This doesn’t mean it’s the only book I read or consider, but it means all others are measured by that Book.

If God has spoken, I want to make sure to listen.  As this blog gets under way, I hope you’ll listen along with me…