Trick or Treat: Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Trick or Treat! Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

It’s literally impossible to avoid Halloween these days. In a few days, everyone from Donald Trump to Pennywise the Clown will be knocking on our doors looking for candy. There will be parties and movies and fright nights in the woods, and haunted houses. The celebration seems to have expanded from a single day to an entire month.

According to the National Retail Federation, almost 70% of Americans will be celebrating Halloween this year. It is second only to Christmas as a commercial holiday. A quarter of all of the candy sold this year will be sold this season. And adults across the country will be eating that same candy for months.  Americans will spend over 8 billion dollars during this Halloween season. That’s billion with a B!

The origin

Where did Halloween come from? It seems that the celebration actually began with the Christian church. As early as the 4th century, according to church historian John Chrysostom, the church celebrated a festival in honor of martyred saints. It was called All Saints Day and originally held in May. The day before All Saints Day was called All Hallows(Holy) Day and eventually morphed into All Hallow E’en and eventually Halloween. Pope Gregory 4 shifted the original All Saints Day to November 1 to combat the popularity of the pagan Samhain Festival, and the rest is history.

The issue

So now the issue is, should Christians celebrate a pagan festival, or at least a festival with pagan origins.  It’s no question that Halloween is circled on the calendar of the occult community. During the Halloween season:

  • There will be countless attempts to contact the dead.
  • More spells will be cast than at any other time of the year.
  • Animal shelters will refuse to offer black cats for adoption for fear they will be used in a bloody sacrifice.

It is the pagan high and holy day. Nothing else comes close.

The answers

What about Christmas and Easter? Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 and there were no eggs and bunnies at Calvary. Both of these celebrations have pagan origins, but Christians have chosen to infuse them with spiritual meaning. Of course, Halloween is worse. Not only is the origin bad, but the object of the celebration is worse.  But if you’re going to use pagan origins as your argument against Halloween, at least be consistent.

And don’t stop with Halloween and Christmas and Easter. If you’re having problems with pagan origins, you’ll have problems with the names of weekdays and months, church steeples, clergy robes, wedding bands, and even flowers at funerals. And don’t forget about those pagan symbols on our currency, or money. Just saying.

It’s a matter of conscious – What does the Bible say about celebrating Halloween? Nothing specifically, but a lot in principle. Leviticus 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:9-13 are among a number of passages that warn Christians about the danger of flirting with the occult. But many Christians quickly respond that they are not celebrating the Kingdom of darkness, and that they are not impacted or impressed by the history. Halloween seems to fall under the banner of disputable matters, Romans 14. Matters that good Christians can disagree on.

It reminds me of Paul’s response in I Corinthians 8 to Jewish Christians who were upset because Gentile Christians were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. (Sounds kind of Halloweenish to me.) It was causing such a stir in the church that Paul’s eventual advice to the members was to stop it.  It wasn’t worth the trouble.

But not before he counseled the Jewish Christians that they were immature and super sensitive. “Weak’ is the word he used. The idol, he reminded them, was nothing but a piece of stone. No matter what the original idol worshippers intended, that idol is “nothing”, he says.  He makes the point that if your conscious is bothered because of the origin and history of the meat, then it’s wrong for you to eat it. But if another Christian has none of those issues with the meat, he’s free to eat it. The issues were Christian liberty and Christian unity.

Don’t celebrate like a pagan. As I said earlier, Halloween is a high and “holy” day for the occult community. Each year around this time I receive one article after another from former witches and warlocks who caution Christians not to be naïve about the spiritual and physical dangers of Halloween. The Devil is real and so are his followers. Christians partying as demons and vampires are out of place any time of the year. Christians celebrating inappropriately or to excess are wrong any time of the year. Christians entertaining themselves with occult books, and motion pictures, and television series are playing with fire any time of the year. It is absolutely wrong to celebrate Halloween as a pagan tribute to the kingdom of darkness.

Take the day back! Halloween actually has its roots in the church. It began with good intentions, always a bit questionable to me,  but the Devil absolutely defiled it. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather, Expose Them.” One of the most powerful reasons for Christians to celebrate on Halloween is to expose the tricks of the Devil.

Halloween with all of its baggage is a great teachable moment. It’s an opportunity to expose the Devil and his devices. So instead of screaming at the dark this Halloween, turn on the light. How?

  • Sponsor a Harvest Festival. Have a Halloween replacement celebration at your home or local church. Make sure that there are plenty of “treats” that will make the kids forget what they might be getting at a stranger’s door. Some churches encourage the kids to come to these events as Bible characters and they have contests for the best custom. But a word of caution here. Don’t be cheesy. Get the kids involved in the planning. A cheesy, thrown together program is worse that no program at all. Better to just have the kids over for pizza.
  • Have a brief but inspiring message. In an age-appropriate way, teach the kids that there is literally a Great Controversy raging between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Teach the kids that life with Christ is a life of power over darkness. I John 4:4. Bring in a speaker who can connect with the kids or go to the Christian bookstore and choose from a number of powerful videos and resources for just that purpose.
  • Create a space for creative Christian fun. This isn’t rocket science. This isn’t brain surgery. Many Christian kids are already disappointed that they are missing one on the most enjoyable days on their school calendar. They already feel a bit awkward explaining why they don’t celebrate Halloween like their classmates. That’s understandable. But it seems inexcusable for a local church to make a challenging holiday even worse by not scheduling some good clean Christian fun.

Halloween will always be a hot topic with Christians. It’s one of those issues that will never be settled, but it’s too important an issue not to discuss. I think the answer is this. Don’t celebrate Halloween, but celebrate on Halloween. What do you think?

Non-Christian Friends? 7 Reasons You Need Them

Non-Christian Friends? 7 Reasons You Need Them

Actually, the original title for this blog was, 7 Reasons You Need Some Heathen Friends. But that was a bit harsh. Plus, when I say heathen, I don’t see a hopeless sinner, I see Aunt Esther calling Fred a heathen in Sanford and Son. (Consult your parents or Netflix…and yes, I did watch too much TV.)

For years we have known that the longer we remain members of a good bible believing church, the fewer friends we’ll have outside of that church. Now, that’s understandable and at times absolutely necessary. There are some friends we don’t need to keep. But you can’t cut them all off! How can you expand the kingdom of God if all of your friends are already inside?  I believe the church is paying a steep price for its reluctance to engage a lost world. Not through research and revivals, but through relationships.

So, let me give you 7 reasons you should have some non- Christian friends

Because that was you. I’ve noted the results of the historic Arn survey before. They asked the question, “Who was the person primarily responsible for introducing you to Christ or your church?” The results were clear. The vast majority of us, more than 70%, came to Christ because of the influence of a friend or relative. One friend telling another friend what worked for them. It works for Amway, it works even better for the gospel.

Because that was your family. From the time my kids could crawl, I was obsessing over how soon they would accept the gospel. Sure, my head told me that God was in control, but my heart wasn’t’ settled until I felt they were safe. That non-Christian neighbor is not only God’s creation, but someone’s’ son or daughter.  Treat them the way you’d like someone to treat your lost family member.

Because some things shouldn’t bother you now. We need to be careful of compromise. We need to be aware of how bad company can influence us. We need to avoid people and places that corrupt our morals. But you shouldn’t be as vulnerable and as sensitive about certain things today as you were when you were a young Christian. It’s called maturity.

I have four children. When they were babies I made all of their decisions for them. I told them what to eat, what to wear, what to drink, when to go to bed…..you get the picture. Now if I was making the same decisions for them at 12 that I did when they were 2, then something would be wrong. Their development would be stunted. And I’m afraid that’s a problem with some Christians. They see separation from the world as super spiritual when it might actually be arrested development.

Because it makes you share. Having non-Christian friends makes you share your faith. Because inevitably matters of faith will come up. The importance of cultivating non-Christian friendships is that generally before people trust Christ, they need to trust a Christian. Christians are called to be salt and light. It’s impossible to do that if we’re not in relationship with those who need Christ.

Because it makes you sharp. Most Christians don’t know how little they know, until they try to share what they know. Many Christians don’t realize how wacky some of their beliefs sound, until they try to explain them. Everything is great as long as you’re with your own little group. But when you get outside that clique and someone asks the simple one word question, “Why?”, then you’re in trouble.

Years ago, I befriended a Mormon couple in Franklin, Tennessee. At some point, they challenged my explanation of Ellen White. It surprised me but it motivated me to reexamine a few things. I was challenged, I checked it out, I changed, and it’s been a blessing to this day.

Because your church is shrinking. A practical benefit of having non-Christian friends is that they are candidates for the body of Christ, the church. And make no mistake about it, there’s nothing inherently holy about a shrinking church. Some churches are remnant churches because the ones who are left ran the other ones out!  Luke 13:6-9 and John 15:16 represent passages that remind us that God is looking for us to bear fruit. Fruit in our lives and fruit from our witness.

I conduct evangelistic campaigns regularly, and when we ask members to invite their friends to the meetings many quickly realize that they don’t have any.  All of their friends are right there in the church. Is it a sin? Probably not. Is it a shame? Absolutely.

Because it imitates Christ.  Christ is known by over 200 titles and names in the Bible. Everything from Bread of life to Son of God to Prince of peace. I love them all, but I’m particularly drawn to one. Friend of Sinners. Why? Well it’s pretty simple and a bit selfish. Because if He was a friend of sinners then, He’s a friend of sinners now.  I need that kind of friend.

Look at Luke 5:29-32. “And Levi gave a big reception for Jesus in his house, and there was a great crowd of tax gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax gatherers and sinners? And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Seems pretty clear to me. We serve a God who keeps bad company. And it’s also clear that He expects the same passion from us. Jesus put it this way in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” Let’s get busy.

The Second Thing Every Leader Should Do

The Second Thing Every Leader Should Do!

I was preaching in Philadelphia not long ago for young pastor Marquis Johns. I had a fantastic time at the North Philly Church. The worship was rich, the fellowship was great, and the church was alive. I sat in the study before and after I preached, observing the endless parade of members into and out of the office. I listened to the buzz of activity that’s always present in a growing church.  It reminded me how rewarding leading a local church can be.

But it also reminded me of the challenges. Marquis has a clear vision for where he wants the church to go and every gift to get them there. I reminded the church in my remarks that he’s a race horse.  He reminds me of myself early in my ministry. Surrounded by people.  Always pushing. Never satisfied. Self-motivated. Not always listening. He’s always going to be at, or near the top of the productivity scale. But at times the personal and professional price is going to be high. I can see it because I’ve seen it.

But we desperately need Marquis and others like him in these complex times. Why? Because he’s a leader. He’s creating while others are criticizing. He’s a gifted, impatient, stubborn, productive leader.  He’s going to drive some members crazy, but he’s going to get some amazing things done. He’s going to make some big mistakes but he’s going to make an even bigger mark.

Why did I start this blog with Marquis? Because when I was with him, I was convinced that I needed to complete a blog I released months ago. The blog was, “The First Thing That Every Leader Should Do!” And what is that first thing? The first thing that every leader should do is listen. At some point in our time together, I counseled the young preacher to slow down a bit and listen. I was actually recalling some principles I laid out in the earlier blog. The first thing that every leader should do is listen, because:

  • You Don’t Know Everything – No matter how gifted you are, there are gaps in your ability to lead that others can fill. You have to listen and learn before you leap.
  • You Don’t Know Everyone –  It’s about relationships. Kenneth Blanchard says, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”  You may have arrived at the local church with gifts and a title, but real leadership authority is forged through relationship building.
  • You Don’t Know The Culture – All churches are different. Boundless energy and amazing gifts can bring immediate success, but that success is temporary if it’s cut and pasted onto a reluctant culture. Lasting change comes through cultural change. Cultural change calls for listening and learning before you launch out.

But as I was counseling the young “race horse” it was clear to me that my counsel to him was incomplete- and so was my earlier blog. It was good counsel but it was partial counsel. Because as important as listening is, it’s only the first thing that every leader should do. After you have demonstrated the wisdom to listen, you need to muster the courage to lead. The second thing that every leader must do is lead!

And that’s what Marquis and other talented leaders are doing. They are leading. It might not be perfect leadership but it’s productive leadership. And frankly, there is no such thing as perfect leadership. There will be those on the sidelines who complain, and at times those complaints will be necessary and absolutely accurate. But a good leader can listen and move at the same time.  Most of our pressing problems, especially in the church, are actually leadership problems.

  • We Need Spiritual Leadership – This is the leaders highest call. You can be effective in the board room, or the back room, but if you’re a stranger to the prayer room, you’re not an effective leader. Church leadership is essentially spiritual leadership.

I have seen a number of surveys that identified the quality people desired most in a leader. The number one quality is almost always integrity. The skills that people value most are soft skills- a combination of social skills and character traits. If a pastor is not pursuing a closer walk with God, eventually it will undermine everything else he does.

  • We Need Structural Leadership – Spiritual leadership alone is not enough.  At some point leaders must come out of their prayer closets and deal with the nuts and bolts of leading difficult change in institutions and people.  Andy Stanley reminds us that some problems at church are spiritual but many are structural. And you can’t solve a structural problem by praying about it. In fact, at times prayer can become a convenient excuse or delay.

I was assigned to a church years ago that complained about prayer meeting attendance. The problem, they felt, was that people were not as committed, not as spiritual as they once were. But when I explored the problem I realized that they had scheduled prayer meeting at a time when most of the members were still driving home from work. We changed the time and the attendance spiked. It wasn’t a spiritual problem it was a structural problem. Real leaders know the difference.

  • We Need Strong Leadership- Leadership is not for the faint at heart. You must be strong.  The criticism is constant. The rewards are few. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone knows a better way. Everyone has seen it done better somewhere else. But few are prepared to participate or sacrifice.

Now let me be clear. We need leaders who are strong, not leaders who are bullies. We need leaders not bosses. Unfortunately, that’s a concept that many leaders don’t get. I Peter 5:3 warns against “lording” leadership. Leadership that’s controlling, independent, and deaf.  The tragic fate of a lording leader is that at some point he will need someone to save him from himself, and he will have driven most independent voices away.

So, hats off to the leaders who are not only listening well, but leading well. John Maxwell said that good leaders, “know the way, show the way, and go the way.”  I like that.

Michael Nixon, Andrews U., and Race

Michael Nixon, Andrews U, and Race

Historically, I’ve never been a big Andrews University fan. I graduated from Andrews, but in the same way you graduate from reform school or drivers school – I had to go.  I was fresh out of Oakwood, and newly sponsored to pursue my call to ministry.  The last thing that I wanted to see was snow in early October. But there I was in Michigan, teeth chattering, body shivering, and wondering why my ears wouldn’t stop itching. Welcome to frostbite. Welcome to Andrews.

In short order Andrews reaffirmed many of my past perceptions of conservative Anglos in general and Adventist Anglos in particular. It was a place where, despite the diversity, white was “normal” and everything else was “ethnic.” I’m convinced that if they had asked the campus community to paint a picture of Jesus, the prevailing portrait would have been a blue eyed, English speaking, white man…. who loved 3 ABN.

So, in light of all that, what has happened on Andrew’s campus since February is nothing short of an act of God to me. As you can see, I’m not shy about sharing my view of Andrew’s stumbles, so I’ll be equally as willing to share my kudos.

You probably know the story by now.

  • On February 9-11 of this year, Pastor Jaime Kowlessar lit a fire under the campus when he spoke for Black History Weekend. He was accused by some of partisan, divisive speech. He touched on issues of social justice and the impact of a Trump presidency.
  • His messages caused such a stir on campus and in the community, that the University issued an apology. Bad idea. That apology from the University insulted and enflamed many Black students on campus.
  • On Feb. 18, Chaplain Mike Polite and other students released the, “It’s Time AU”, video. The video demanded an apology from the University for systemic racism and called for plans to address the long- standing problem.
  • On February 23, President Andrea Luxton addressed the volatile issue at a University chapel service. The video she showed and remarks she made shook the University and stirred the church.

Before I continue with the story let me note this.  The leadership that President Dr. Luxton provided is not just proof of unusual gifts but it underscores our desperate need for female leadership at every level of the Adventist church. My hunch is that Andrews would still be searching for a solution if a gentleman had been at the helm.  We’re attempting to provide leadership in a complex world with one hand- a female hand- tied behind our backs. But that’s for another day.

I want to look at 3 powerful things that have taken place on that campus since that racial explosion. 3 positive developments that I didn’t see coming. 3 things that are a lesson to anyone interested in genuine racial reconciliation.

The Apology

The apology that Dr. Luxton extended to the protestors and the Andrews community was a study in effective reconciliation. Two things stood out to me.

It was swift – Dr. Luxton’s response was quick.  Even before she spoke to the campus community on February 23 at the University chapel, she had already sent out an email apologizing for Andrew’s racism.  The “It’s Time AU” demand for a swift response certainly aided this, but you get the sense that the president didn’t need to be prodded. She moved and she moved fast.

It was sincere – Now, it’s impossible to read a person’s heart, but you can read their words and later review their actions. This is what Dr. Luxton said:

  • “We have not listened well…”
  • “We have not been sensitive and taken action when action should have been taken.”
  • “We never have an excuse to devalue, make assumptions, of another because of their race.”
  • “We are profoundly sorry!”

There it is. None of this, “if I’ve hurt you,” or “if you think I’ve done anything wrong” language. She was clear about the problem and direct in her apology. No hedging. No dodging. No excuses. That’s an apology.

The Action Plans

At the University chapel, Dr. Luxton continued to address the problem of historical and systemic racism by listing important steps to correct the problem. In brief:

  1. Diversity training for each group on campus; faculty, staff, and students.
  2. A priority on diversity in hiring with regular progress reports.
  3. A strengthened grievance process for reporting and resolving injustice and mistreatment.
  4. A commitment to honor, celebrate, and support different worship expressions.
  5. An immediate search for a full-time, senior level administrator of diversity who reports directly to the President.

Now, here is where most great ideas and reformations stall. It’s a lot easier to talk about change than it is to execute change. The road from vision to action is littered with casualties. Talk is cheap. So, it was here that I was most skeptical, but it was here that I was most surprised and most gratified.

The Appointment

On July 6, 2016, President Luxton announced the University’s first Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, Attorney Michael Timothy Nixon. He began his duties on August 1. It’s not often that organizations hit a home run, but this is nothing short of that.

Nixon wasn’t a safe pick. Raised in Berrien Springs and a graduate of Andrews Academy, he has experienced first- hand the challenges of racial ignorance and insensitivity in that college town. He tells of the fall-out at Andrews Academy from a presentation his father did on race and the Bible. But in reality, he’s a perfect choice.

  • He is under 30 and has the sensibility of a generation the church sorely needs.
  • He is uniquely prepared as an attorney and former legal coordinator for the Fair Housing Justice Center in New York City. He founded the Office of Service and Social Action at the University of Saint Francis.
  • He has the confidence of the community. He has for years been one of them.
  • He is the product of amazing parents, Dr. Timothy and Dr. Sandria Nixon. His ability to support and challenge the university at the same time is a direct reflection of his parents.
  • He loves the gospel, he loves people and he has a great sense of humor-and he’ll need it!
  • He has the courage to speak truth to power.

When I see Michael Nixon, I’m hopeful for the future of race relations at Andrews and the church. Over the course of his work at Andrews, I’m sure we’ll disagree on certain ideas and approaches. I reflect my generations skepticism- read cynicism- of the prospect of meaningful racial reconciliation. But he listens well and his judgment is sound.

Andrews University is still not one of my destination spots. Location alone will always work against that. But my respect for the institution has grown immensely. They have demonstrated amazing vision, decisive action, and Christian courage in the wake of a race crisis. Good example. Great job.