Monday, October 31- Oh, You Wicked, Wicked Halloween!

     Well…it’s here…it’s finally here. I am, of course, talking about Halloween. Today is the day when kids all around this great and varied nation of ours dress up in costumes and parade around the neighborhood, vying for candy! What a great country! 

     When I was a kid (you know, back when we rode dinosaurs to school?!), we NEVER (did I mention NEVER?!) purchased Halloween costumes. My mom was morally opposed to that concept. But we always DID costumes…we just would put them together from stuff we had around the house. She thought the “store-bought” costumes were overpriced and tacky! (Looking back…she HAD a point!)

     Halloween is one of those interesting “holidays”, from a Christian standpoint. I mean, the “normal” holidays…Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving…are easily tied to Christian values and traditions. There is no debate to be had as to whether or not Christians should be celebrating those holidays. BUT…there is MUCH debate to be had when it comes to Halloween. There are MANY…did I mention “many”?…churches that feel we should not only not celebrate Halloween; we shouldn’t even acknowledge it in any way, shape or form. And those churches have good reasons for taking that stance. They lift up the fact that Halloween is based on some decidedly non-Christians roots. And it’s hard to argue with that. I “get” it.

     BUT…(you KNEW that was coming!), I have a different take on the whole “Halloween vs. Christianity” argument. (I know- what a shocker…right?!) I do NOT disagree that Halloween has some elements that don’t exactly lend themselves to upholding Christian values. What I DO disagree with is that, as the Church, we can simply stick our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that it’s happening. Halloween is GOING to come, whether we Christians like it or not. The kids in our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches are GOING to dress up and go trick-or-treating. So…what are we going to do about it? That’s the real question here. 

     I think what we as the Church do about it is absolutely embrace the fact that it’s happening. I think we say, “Halloween is coming, and we WANT you to participate in it! BUT we are concerned about the safety of our kids. We’re concerned about what images our kids take will remember after it’s all over. Do we want them remembering the dismembered corpse and the undead zombie? Or do we want them to remember the fun that they had, the games they played, the fact that people who didn’t have to chose to offer them a fun, upbeat alternative to “traditional” Halloween? 

     My church is offering a Fall Festival tonight. Kids from the community are invited to come at spend an hour with us- playing games, decorating cookies, winning prizes, and yes…getting some  candy! There are no strings attached, and at the end of the night we will thank them for coming and wish them well as they head home to enjoy their prizes and count their candy! And I KNOW that stresses some churches; that is certainly not our intention. But I genuinely believe that the biggest thing most churches struggle with is being relevant. The Church, in large part, has become increasing irrelevant. We HAVE to find ways to become more relevant, and if it means having a Halloween party…then let’s hang the pumpkin banners and set up the dusk pond!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

  Tomorrow- Learn From the Saints

Sunday, October 30- Aladdin: Lust

     If you’ve ever seen the Disney movie Aladdin, you’re familiar with the character of Jafar. Jafar is the primary antagonist in the movie. Jafar is the vizier- the sultan’s “right hand man”, and he has a strong lust…for both the heroine of the story, Jasmine, and, more importantly, power.  He tries to find a genie’s lamp in order to take over as ruler. Initially Aladdin controls the lamp and becomes the genie’s master. Eventually, Jafar’s lust for power drives him to steal it from Aladdin. His 1st wish is to become the sultan. But that isn’t enough to satisfy his lust for power. So his 2nd wish is to be the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Then Aladdin slyly manipulates Jafar into using his 3rd and final wish to become an all-powerful genie in an attempt to rule the whole universe. The power-hungry Jafar is convinced that becoming a genie is the only way to have ultimate power, and he falls for Aladdin’s trap. He is transformed into a genie with unlimited powers, but he has no free will. In the end, Jafar is trapped in his own lamp, then tossed out into the desert by the genie.

     Today we continue our current sermon series- Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust: The Gospel According to Disney. Each week we look at one of the seven deadly sins…through the lens of one of the classic Disney villains. The 1st week we started with Gaston from Beauty and the Beast as we considered pride. Last week we dug into envy as we looked at Snow White’s Evil Queen. Today, obviously, we are considering lust.
     I would start out by stating that the most violent appetite in all creatures is lust. But what IS lust? I will admit that the sign out front has piqued some interest- people said, “What’s he up to now?” Lust conjures up very specific images for most of us. According to dictionary.com, lust is: “an intense, uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire or appetite; lecherousness”. And if I stopped there, that’s what most of us think of when we think of the word lust. BUT…there’s more! Lust is also “a passionate or overmastering desire or craving”. And the example it gives is “a lust for power”. So we are NOT going to solely focus on the sexual nature of the word, but instead broaden it out by looking at the lust for power.
     James 1:13-19- When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
     Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The news is full of stories about the abuse of power. The misuse of power has brought untold suffering to the world. We tend to define power as power over someone or something. Leo Tolstoy said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Power is a mark of success in today’s world. We all know about power because we’ve all experienced it, on both the giving AND receiving ends. Power is tough to define because it comes in so many different shapes and sizes. How we respond to power depends on who HAS it, and how it’s used. Power is seductive. And maybe power is so seductive because it offers an easy substitute for the hard work of true relationship. Maybe it’s easier to BE God than to be in relationship WITH God. Maybe it’s easier to control people than to love them. In Matthew 20:21, Jesus asks, ‘Do you love me?’ And how do the disciples’ answer? “’Can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in your kingdom?” We’re often tempted to replace relationship with power.
     How many of you recognize the name Alice Cooper. If you think Alice Cooper is a “she”–you’re giving your age away. Alice Cooper was the first “shock rock” act. He paraded on stage with makeup and live snakes- just to name a few. His long, successful career is the epitome of everything that critics hate about rock-n-roll. He glorifies rebellion, idolatry, and excess like few others have. AND, he wielded a power over his audience like few others have, as well. But then an amazing thing happened- in 1995, it was announced that Alice Cooper had become a  Christian. He gave his life to Jesus Christ and is now involved in a Bible church in Phoenix, Arizona- singing in the choir and volunteering at church dinners. Cooper ceded that power he wielded and now keeps a low profile, concentrating on growing in, and serving, Jesus.
     As we continue to consider the lust for power, I want to share with you a very familiar story found in the Gospel of Matthew.
 

     Eldredge Cleaver was one of the best-known black militants of his time. He was also one of the most notorious leaders of the Black Panthers. He had a power over both his followers and the movement itself that few could match. But today, Eldredge Cleaver is a follower of Jesus. In his book, Soul On Fire, Cleaver tells about his conversion. He shares of a vision he had of the shifting of power as he knew it: “I saw all my former heroes paraded before my eyes- Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-tung, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, all passing in review- each one appearing for a moment of time, and then dropping out of sight, like fallen heroes. Finally, at the end of the procession, in dazzling, shimmering light, the image of Jesus Christ appeared.” And at that moment, he understood power in a totally different way.   
 Matthew 4:1-11- Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very
high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away 

     So we have this Gospel story commonly known as The Temptation of Christ. And because of that, we think the story is primarily about temptation. And while temptation IS a large part of the story, I would argue that the core of the story surrounds the lust for power. Why? Because of HOW the devil tempts the only begotten Son of God. He offers Him…what? POWER! Think about it: he says to Jesus, “You’re hungry? No problem. Use Your power to turn these stones to bread.” But Jesus isn’t falling for “the banana in the tailpipe. So the devil steps back and takes another run at it. “Throw yourself down from this lofty expanse- use Your power to call the angels of heaven to save You!” But again his call to the lust of power fails. So then he begins to wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus isn’t as powerful as the devil thinks He is. So he offers Him…power itself! Bow down and worship me…that’s it…bow down and worship me, and You will have power over ALL that You see.” SURELY even Jesus will lust after this type of power so much that 
He will do what the devil says. But Jesus is stronger than that and He sends the devil running, tail between his legs.from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
     During Jesus’ temptation, He took time to decide how He was going to deal with people. He possessed great power, but he refused the temptation to misuse it. Have you ever thought about the fact that many temptations are actually the misuse of power? Pastor and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said that there are times when we have to exercise power – times when it’s the only right thing to do. But we should do so being aware that the use of power is inevitably corrupting. In other words, every act of power, no matter how much good it may do, causes some injury to someone. Whether you agree with that viewpoint or not, Niebuhr’s conclusion reminds us of the complexity of human interactions and should make 

1. have information needed by the other person (informational power).us cautious about how we use whatever power we have. According to experts in the dynamics of power, there are 6 bases from which power comes. You have power over somebody when you:
2. can punish the other person if he or she doesn’t respond positively (coercion).
3. can provide rewards when a person does respond as you want (reward).
4. have the right to demand a positive response (authority).
5. are able to move others by your personality force or by psychological manipulation (charisma).
6. can expose the other person to embarrassment or other social costs (blackmail).
     Psalm 101:1-4- I will sing of your love and justice; to you, LORD, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life- when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart. I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no 
part in it. The perverse of heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with what is evil.
     Here’s a question for each of you: Do you think of yourself as a powerful person? Before you answer, let me make it clear- I’m not necessarily talking about the power wielded by corporate CEO’s or Washington politicians. I’m also not talking about physical strength or athletic ability. Instead, I’m talking about any ability you have to influence someone else to do what you want. If you’re a parent of small children, you may not consider yourself powerful in the larger scheme of things, but you certainly have the ability to influence your kids to do things your way…or at least you should! But even outside of family situations, most of us have some power over somebody. For example, if your friend shares with you something personal about themselves and asks you not to repeat it, you suddenly have power over that person, because you could always 
choose to reveal that secret.
     Power plays are such a part of human dynamics that they even happen among kids. Bullying is one nasty form it takes, but there are also milder versions. Kids are playing together and one says to the  other, “If you don’t play my way, I won’t like you anymore.” The reality is that, in any situation involving two or more people, a certain amount of power is present between them.
     A buzzword we hear often is empowerment- the act of giving power to someone else. But power, at its best, is the ability to influence, to choose, to help, to change. All of us have the power to do those things, when we tap into God’s power. The Good News of Jesus Christ is the most powerful force on the planet. Dictators rise and fall, but only the Gospel has the power to save the least and the lost. Only the message of God’s love can set us free. Apart from the power of Jesus Christ, there is no hope for of saving a power-hungry world from self-
destruction. Jesus’ power isn’t the kind of power we’re used to. It’s not the political, economic or military power we might expect. By those standards, Jesus was a miserable failure. He didn’t try to galvanize an army to stand against the Romans. Instead, he defies and insults them.
     Even Jesus’ followers maintained a lust for power, as we see over and over again. Jesus doesn’t say we should avoid power, but instead teaches us how to use it. He presents a new model for us all, the model of a servant. Jesus intentionally makes friends with those who have no power at all. He befriends the homeless, the destitute, the lepers, the prostitutes, and the ignorant. He amasses no wealth, and his notoriety is closer to infamy than fame. We think that’s no way to take control of history. That’s no way to stop the power and terror of Rome. Yet, the power Jesus has is the real power.
     The primary symbol of Christianity is the cross- a symbol of both complete 
powerlessness and absolute power. As an instrument of death, it symbolizes powerlessness. But as an empty cross, one that could not keep Jesus in the tomb, it is a powerful symbol of power. Power is a gift from God. And since all of us have power over somebody, power is best viewed as a gift God entrusts to us. We nee
d to be good stewards of power- use it wisely. We need to be aware of the temptation to misuse power. The idea is NOT to pretend we don’t have power, but instead to use it compassionately, and let the way we use it reflect our commitment to Jesus Christ.
     Albert Einstein said, “The attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful and then only for a short while.” Much of our power depends on the choices we make in life. Where do you find the power to hang in there, to keep on keeping on in the world? Where do you find the power to continue believing that God’s kingdom WILL come and God’s will, as revealed in Jesus Christ, WILL be done? Where do you find the power to be a disciple of 
Jesus in this world? Our agenda as children of God is different from the agenda of the world. We should be less concerned about who has the power and more concerned about how that power is used- for what purpose. We have the power…the power to choose: choose to love rather than hate. Choose to smile rather than frown. Choose to build rather than destroy. Choose to persevere rather than quit. Choose to praise rather than gossip. Choose to heal rather than wound. Choose to give rather than take. Choose to act rather than delay. Choose to pray rather than despair. Choose to forgive rather than curse.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

  Tomorrow- Oh, You Wicked, Wicked Halloween!

Saturday, October 29- We Are Family!

     I have shared before that I am a baseball fan- a St. Louis Cardinal fan to be exact. SO…I have been watching a LOT of baseball recently. (In fact, as I write this, I am waiting for Game 7 of the 2011 World Series to start. So by the time you read this, I will either be VERY happy or sobbing  quietly to myself!) As I’ve been watching the series, I have been reminded, of all things, the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirate baseball team. They had a “Cinderella” season that year, much like the Cardinals this year. They eventually beat the Baltimore Orioles by coming back from a 3-game deficit to win the series 4 games to 3. Their captain was veteran 1st baseman Willie Stargell, who was the league co-MVP (along with…St. Louis Cardinal Keith Hernandez) that year. The team had a “theme song” that year- We Are Family by Sister Sledge. (I always found that interesting- to see BIG men like Stargell and Dave Parker singing “We are family; I’ve got all my SISTERS with me!”) The theme for the Pirates that year was just that- we are family. They were w tight bunch of guys who were supportive of each other and worked hard toward a common goal. And BOY did they achieve that goal!

     I have experienced that sort of camaraderie at times in my life. The most recent example would be the praise band at my church- Gates of Grace. Most of us (singers and musicians) have been together for over 7 years. And although we don’t always agree on absolutely everything- we are a tight bunch who are supportive of each other and work hard toward a common goal. We ARE family!
     That notion- a tight bunch of people who are supportive of each other and work hard toward a common goal- is a decidedly Christian idea. The disciples, as well as the early fledgling Christian church, were good models of “family”. They were close-knit, they were supportive and they clearly had a common goal- spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and grow the church. And they did just that! The Bible says that Peter preached a sermon and 3,000 people came to Christ that day! Amazing!
     Have you ever been a part of a group like that- one that exemplifies, without the benefit of DNA, what “family” is all about? If you have, then you know how great…how life-changing…it can be. If, on the other hand, you have NOT, let me suggest that you search for one. You might find that in a civic organization. You might find it in any number of places. But, from my experience, the best chance you have of finding it is in a church. Churches are built on the bedrock principle of a tight bunch who are supportive of each other and work hard toward a common goal. 
     Now, don’t misunderstand- not every group in every church is like that! (We are, after all, human!) But if you seek that kind of relationship- you’ll find it. Give it a shot- seek…and you will find! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Aladdin: Lust