Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Don't be like Woody Allen and 2 surprises about Halloween

2 surprises about Halloween

What does God think of Halloween? How are Christians to respond to all the spooky outfits, scary masks, witches hats that dominate the scene at this time of year? Should we simply retreat, batten down the hatches, avoid all shops and hope no one knocks on Wednesday night? Before answering that question allow me, to share with you my top tip, that I think is guaranteed to ruin any good party (do not ever say I am not a generous person)! So imagine the scene; you’ve arrived at a party – the venue is lovely, the music is playing, the food is fantastic, conversations are flowing, everyone you want is there and at this point in the party, no one has done anything silly or embarrassing. No one has been on the dance floor and made a fool of themselves, no has attempted to sing along to the music in a tone deaf way, no one has had too much to drink and started acting a bit silly. All told, everything is going well so far. Well here is how to ruin the party. Just wait until there is a bit of a pause, perhaps, after someone has cracked a really good joke and then raise your voice a little and say “I tell you what, this seems like a good time to speak about death!” That would be it wouldn’t it? To wait until everyone is having fun, the party is in full flow and people are enjoying themselves and then mention the dreaded d-word: death.

Now here is the link with that anecdote[1] and Halloween. When you see the sorts of outfits that are sold in the shops and supermarkets at this time, isn’t it as if our society says ‘let’s have a party, a celebration, a festival, and use it, to talk about death’ – isn’t that what it’s like when you come across the scary, horrible-looking, death-imitating costumes in the shop aisles? Don’t they just scream “death” and remind us of this horrible enemy in our midst?

Well here is the first surprise as we return to our question (how are Christians to respond to Halloween). The first surprise is this – Christians (unlike the world/non-believers) have a good reason to celebrate Halloween by putting on scary costumes and joking about death etc because unlike the world we have a King, Jesus Christ, who has conquered, triumphed and overcome death. We Christians have a Saviour, Jesus Christ, who has experienced this horrible enemy death, but who thankfully has defeated it (Hebrews 2:14-15). As Paul asks provocatively in 1 Corinthians 15:55

Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?

His answer: thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who are united to this Jesus Christ have every reason not to fear death. Christians can look death in the eye and say “horrible though you are O death, one day... one day we will have the last laugh on you”. We Christians can mock death because even though we know that it is horrible and painful and sad, yet we can still laugh at it because we have a Saviour who has completely triumphed and defeated death. Christians need not therefore fear these scary costumes that appear at this time of year, and we should be free to mock death by wearing ghoulish outfits as a mock on this defeated enemy – death.

If you’ve seen the film Crocodile Dundee, you’ll know that there’s a scene where the main character, Dundee is walking home late one evening when he gets accosted by 3 kids wanting to mug him. The lead member pulls out a penknife and shouts “give us your wallet” and Dundee’s girlfriend in a bit of panic, urges him to respond quickly by giving the thugs his wallet. Dundee retorts by asking “Why?” to which she replies “because they’ve got a knife” And Dundee’s comical response is to say “That’s not a knife... here’s a knife” as he draws out a machete! And it’s a little like that with the victory accomplished by our risen, reigning Lord. You can imagine him looking at all the scary outfits which people don at this time of year and saying “You think that is scary? Wait until you see the fierce dragon that I had to fight. He is horrible and cruel and everyone he attacks loses. Everyone that is, except Me”.

Halloween then can and should be for the Christian a time to laugh. Not a fake, shallow, pretend laughter, but the kind of laughter which is filled with a certain hope that even though the present may be painful, even though the present may be full of tears and sadness, yet in Christ we are confident that our sorrows will be turned to joy.

Here is the second surprise related to Halloween. Modern day Christians should reclaim the celebration of Halloween, given that it was our forbears who encouraged people to wear scary outfits as a parody of death. Halloween as you may know was originally known as All Hallows Eve. It is the day before All Hallows/All Saints Day, when the Church remembers those who have died in the faith and give thanks for their faithful witness. All Hallows Eve therefore was (and is) an occasion to tease death by reminding ourselves of the wonderful hope of the final resurrection as we give thanks for those who’ve fallen asleep in Christ. The medieval Church thus encouraged Christians to wear frightening and death-imitating costumes not because they were morbid or because they didn’t have access to GAP or Calvin Klein but rather because they were confident that death had been defeated. Christians therefore wore horrible outfits not because of a lack of fashion sense but to satirize death and say to it, ‘you’re a loser!’ or more positively ‘we will win!’ This by the way is the reason that many old churches and some grand buildings have gargoyles. Have you ever wondered why someone would build a beautiful church with intricately designed mosaics, pretty stained glass windows, ornate looking furniture and then include unappealing and oftentimes scary looking gargoyles? Well the reason was simply to say to the congregation (and to the world) that though death may still be present among us (which is what these gargoyles pictured) yet in Christ, we shall overcome. In other words, gargoyles were a visual way of saying that the medieval Christians were not afraid of death.

It is reported that Woody Allen when once asked about death responded “I’m not afraid of death I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” How different for the Christian! This Halloween then, let us not fear... let us not fear the frightening costumes, let us not fear the knock on the door, let us not fear the future and crucially let us not fear death. And why not think of a tangible way (including perhaps wearing a scary costume?) to teach and share with your family and friends, that in-Christ, death is not the end!

[1] Taken from Lee McMunn’s Identity course, Session 4 “The God who comforts us” 

Monday, 22 October 2012

Monday fun: clever cut

A man and a boy go into a barbershop.

After getting his haircut, the man says, “Now cut the boy’s hair too. I’ll be back soon.”

When he’s finished cutting the boy’s hair, the barber says, “When is your father coming back to pay?”

The boy says, “He’s not my father. He met me in the street and asked if I wanted a free haircut.”

Sunday, 21 October 2012

He never saved a friend

Isaiah 45:4 says:

I call you by your name,
    I name you, though you do not know me.
 I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God

This is the Lord speaking, describing a rank pagan - Cyrus, whom God used to revive a despondent Israel. What is striking is not why God uses an unbeliever to rescue His people but rather how God shows His incomparable uniqueness by saving strangers. Rather than thinking of Cyrus as pagan cog in God's salvation machine, better to think of him as a type of every true believer, every follower of Christ. In other words, God always saves strangers - He never saved a friend. God never saved someone because they had done their part. God never saved anyone by merely giving a helping a hand. God saves sinners. He saves the lost. He saves those who don't know Him and don't know that they need Him. He delights to rescue those who are without hope  in this world. He delights to take dry bones and by His Spirit brings life into existence. And God does this by sending Jesus to die in our place. Some gods might apparently die for good men but our God died for bad men - our God died for the worst of men - traitors, terrorists and tax collectors. God clothes strangers and enemies with Honour so that the world may know that they have never seen a love like this. That they have never met a God like this. Do you know Him?

Friday, 19 October 2012

Spurgeon: paedobaptist in woolly clothing

Reading more Spurgeon, I've come across more of his wonderful inconsistencies. Despite being one of the greatest baptist preachers of all time he advocated catechesis for children and exhorted parents to treat their littl'uns essentially, as growing saints. Read the man yourself:

For my part, I am more and more persuaded that the study of a good Scriptural catechism is of infinite value to our children, and I shall see that it is reprinted as cheaply as possible for your use. Even if the youngsters do not understand all the questions and answers in the “Westminster Assembly’s Catechism,” yet, abiding in their memories, it will be of infinite service when the time of understanding comes, to have those very excellent, wise, and judicious definitions of the things of God. If we would maintain orthodoxy in our midst, and see good old Calvinistic doctrines handed down from father to son, I think we must use the method of catechising, and endeavour with all our might to impregnate their minds with the things of God.

Huh! Talk about being paedobaptist in woolly [i.e. baptist] clothing!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Self-pity is like having wet pants

“Feeling sorry for ourselves feels so good. That’s why we love it. But like the boy who loved to wet his pants because it felt so warm, we are soaking in our own toxins.”

Via: Faith working

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

3 points on the Resurrection

1) Immortal life outranks the stench of death
2) Our justification outranks the dirty rags of judicial iniquity
3) The everlasting Word is the ultimate word on us our world

Prize quote: It doesn't matter what you name it. It matters what Jesus names it. But someone will say "but we've passed a law that says this [homosexual marriage] is a marriage." Oh yes? And Caligula made his horse a senator. Men in rebellion against God can call it what they want - you can call your horse a senator but that doesn't make it a senator. You can call homosexual marriage a marriage - that doesn't make it a marriage. The world is what God names it.

Listen to the 3 points from the horse's mouth below:

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Loser's last laugh

Today the Church remembers William Tyndale, a brave man and brilliant translator who was martyred on this day in 1536, for his new translation of the Bible. His dying words as his was strangled were: "Lord, opt [open] the King of England's eyes". 4 years later, Tyndale's prayer had been more than answered as there were 4 translations of the Bible all based on Tyndale's work. One of them was even appointed as the official English Bible and Tyndale's influence on the Bible translation work, continues to this day - a brilliant example of the 'loser' having the last laugh.

The Collect/appointed prayer for today:

O Lord, grant to thy people
grace to hear and keep thy word
that, after the example of thy servant William Tyndale,
we may both profess thy gospel
and also be ready to suffer and die for it,
to the honour of thy name;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Final words from a dying pastor

A Christian pastor in the last stages of terminal cancer writes to his local paper to say goodbye. Wonderfully, the paper publishes the letter which speaks movingly of the abiding comfort Christ gives and the unique hope we Christians have beyond death and all this, in under 400 words...

Dear Editor:
Terri and I moved to Sedalia with one child in 1983 to pastor a new church which has met at Highway M Chapel since 1987. Alas, pancreatic cancer showed up two years ago. Apart from divine intervention, I’m near the end of the road. Permit a farewell to my dear community.
In the almost 30 years we have raised our five children, lived our lives, gone in and out of the businesses, talked on the sidewalks, preached indoors and out, and I’ve written maybe 300 letters to the editor. This appears to be the last. The song writer says, “Time, like an ever-rolling stream bears all its sons away.”
Especially being a Christian, I’ve known that life is brief, death is certain, and an appearance before the Judge of all the earth is coming. Yet, my life is more of a “disappearing vapor” than I imagined. Indeed, the one great thing in life is to be ready to die. It is simple, but big. Yes, I’d like to stay on with my family, with my church, and with the souls of men to try to serve. But God’s will is sovereign. And, I am ready to die, in that I was saved from my sins by the grace of Christ 41 years ago. Heaven is ok! This world is passing away, ruined by sin. There is no fix to all the misery. A new president cannot fix the land. Hospitals remain, law courts remain, the jail house remains, the military remains, and tears will continue to fall.
My closing exhortation to fellow-Sedalians is that Christ is the only hope. Make sure you have Him. That’s all one can have, ultimately. All else is stripped away. He will fix you; He will fix it all. He conquered the grave. I go down with a glad shout, “O grave, where is your victory?” When the Lord Jesus returns I will rise again with all the Christians to a new heavens and new earth. There is a heaven to gain; there is a hell to shun. Farewell to all. It has been a well-spent journey here in Sedalia.
Robert C. Jennings
Sedalia, MO

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

More Post-mil from Spurgeon

I keep coming across my stuff by Spurgeon that makes me think he was a closet post-mil. Commenting on on the Holy Spirit's chief work in History he says:

The eternal purpose of God to set his king upon the throne, and to make Jesus Christ reign for ever and ever, must be fulfilled, for the Holy Ghost has undertaken to see it accomplished. Amidst the surging tumult of the battle, the result of the conflict is never in doubt for a moment. It may seem as though the fate of Christ’s cause hung in a balance, and that the scales were in equilibrium; but it is not so. The glory of Christ never wanes; it must increase from day to day; and the day shall come when Christ’s praise shall go up from all human tongues.

That sounds like the 8 cylinder, turbo-charged version of postmillenialism to me - way to go Spurgeon!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

7 Rules for Reformers

Doug Wilson nails it again with this post here. In sum the 7 rules are:

1) Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever.

2) Remember the distinction between principles and methods

3) Prefer the concrete to the abstract

4) Cultivate a high sense of humour

5) Be combative

6) Play the long game

7) Always remember that religion shapes culture and culture trumps politics.

There are too many choice quotes, but me being a good Trinitarian, here are my favourite 3:

Secular conservatism is like trying to use your pocket handkerchief to slow you down after the main chute has failed. The person and work of Jesus is not optional.

Love your neighbour, not mankind. Build an actual school for your children, and do not love the notion of educational great concepts in some Euclidean eschaton.

You have to fight, and you have to fight clean, and you have to fight fair. When you enlist in the army, you cannot feign surprise when you find yourself in battles.

Read the whole thing here

Monday, 1 October 2012

My biggest weakness

With the vicar unexpectedly away these past few weeks, I've discovered what one of my big weaknesses is - I'm a wimp. I want everyone to love and esteem me and so I avoid taking the hard road when it comes to the tricky decisions especially when dealing with people face to face. E.g. one of our church deacons resorts to foul language when frustrated and all I can think of is when will the vicar be back so that he can rebuke them! A parishioner living in sin turns up seeking baptism for their child, and my confident chatter a moment before becomes stuttering babble. As I prepare sermons for the Lord's Day I opt to go for short (and hopefully funny) homilies so that the punters will be pleased and not moan. What has become of me? As I've been reflecting on my cowardice these past few weeks I see that C S Lewis was right: 

'[Courage] is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point... A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.' 

He's right. Very often, our decisions come down to choosing between courage and cowardice and most times I've been quick to take Pilate's path. I really really would like to grow some gracious backbone, so that I'm gentle yet firm, reproving yet abounding in love, full of grace and truth - anyone have ideas how one does this?