HOW AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE CHANGES HOW WE VIEW THE PRESENT

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In the day to day ministry that I am privileged to participate in, I get to speak with many people who would hit a speed bump in their relationships, careers and future aspirations.

Jessie (not his real name) is uncertain about his future in the current position for he has in the company because he decided to keep his integrity intact by not giving in to the pressure of getting involved with under the table deals. As a result, he gets bypassed for every possible promotion he should’ve had the past years.

Sharon just found out that her husband has had an affair. Though it wasn’t a long drawn out relationship, still, it has crushed her and has no clue how to put the pieces back together with her 2 children.

Rick perseveres to witness to his schoolmates about the gospel message of Christ and yet rejection and persecution slammed the door shut everytime he opened up spiritual conversations.

Now, with our limited perspective, it seems that giving up is a viable option. But this is not what we are told in the Scriptures. The Bible will make no sense at all without the eternal perspective.

In Colossians 3:2-4, Paul declares:

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

We are told that as a result of what Jesus has done, our lives are no longer lived for our own benefit. With this in mind, we are given a perspective – “this life isn’t all that there is!”  There is a glory that will appear when Christ appears. There is a better end than what we are living in right now. Sin has been conquered. We have been redeemed and heaven and earth will be restored when the New Jerusalem appears. All the troubles, hardship, brokenness and sacrifice would make no sense without an eternal perspective.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that “if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied than all men.”
If God isn’t taking us somewhere, then following Jesus is a sheer waste of time!

Why would Jessie keep standing up for his convictions in the workplace?
In everyone’s eyes, he is being stupid.
Why would Rita forgive her husband’s transgression? He doesn’t deserve it. He may be repentant but he’s caused her lots of pain. Without eternal perspective, she is just getting duped.
Why would Rick persist on sharing God’s love to his friends?
If there’s no eternity, then he is just wasting his time.

Everything God does and everything God calls us to do will only make sense from an eternal perspective. Paul says, if our hope is only in this life, then “we are to be pitied than all men.”

But that’s not where the story ends. The story ends with Christ as King of all kings and Lord of all Lords. The story ends with Jesus on the throne victorious. The story ends with God’s people from every tribe, language, nation and people worshiping the Ancient of Days.

Remember, this life isn’t all that there is.
When we see things from an eternal perspective, things eventually make sense.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

RADICAL FORGIVENESS: “First A Sinner, And Second, Sinned Against.”

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A failure to grasp the grace that have been demonstrated to me will cause the failure of demonstrating grace to other people.

I grew up religious. But we all know that being religious doesn’t necessarily mean being righteous. I had a semblance of virtue but only I knew the wickedness brewing inside of me.

It didn’t take long to show on the outside what stemmed from the inside – pride, greed, immorality, selfishness, self-righteousness. And when it did, I would mess up big time.

Gratefully, at 17, God rescued me from my sinfulness. But that rescue mission didn’t stop that moment when I accepted Christ. He had to rescue me daily from slipping back to my old self. I am forever grateful for the gospel that frees me from sin, the Holy Spirit that sanctifies me to become more like Christ and the hope of the resurrection that is to come where sin will no longer be present.

I used to have great difficulty dispensing forgiveness. I said “great difficulty” because to this day, offense is never an easy thing to deal with. But it has become quicker to forgive when I remember that I myself have been forgiven.

I love how Colossians 3:13 (NLT) puts it.

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

Make allowance for each other’s faults.
In other words, Paul was telling the church, “Expect it. You’ll have to practice forgiveness for offense will happen. The people you have relationship with, they have faults. They are not perfect. Because of that, not only will you have to make allowances for their faults but choose to forgive when the opportunity arises.”

How in the world can we do it?
As the Lord has forgiven, we are to forgive others.

This we need to remember, we are first a sinner
and only secondarily sinned against.
Read it again.
We are first a sinner and only secondarily sinned against.

When we have no idea how much we have been forgiven, it will be hard for us to release forgiveness. If we don’t comprehend how much grace has been dispensed toward us, then we will have a hard time dispensing the same grace to others.

And this will extend to our marriage, friendships, work relationships, family relationships, classmates and church friends.

The more aware we are of our own need for grace, we become more willing to extend it to others.

“But this person doesn’t deserve my grace! You have no idea how much he/she offended me.”
Well, that’s why it’s called grace.
Grace is kindness undeserved.
The bottom line is that the person we choose to forgive may not change when we first extend grace.

Once we embrace this truth, it will not just benefit those we forgive. It will greatly free us from baggages we’ve been carrying for days, weeks, months, maybe even years.

Grace changes everything!

NOTE TO SELF, PASTORS AND FULL TIME MINISTERS

 

 

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The call to shepherd God’s people is an amazing privilege. While I believe that every calling is important in whatever arena – marketplace, academe, athletics, business, entertainment, media – God has specific instructions to those who have been called to full-time ministry.

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:2-4)

We are called to serve in these ways:

1. Willingly NOT obligatory.

It is an extreme privilege to serve the King.

Serving Him is not a “have-to” but a “get-to”.
Imagine, we get to do what we do. Years ago, we were lost, without purpose and no direction. But because of His grace, we have been given the opportunity to feed the sheep (John 21) and care for the flock (1 Peter 5).

If you find that you are forcing yourself to meet people, prepare for the message on Sunday, pray for people, then consider what’s causing it. Either check your attitude or check your calling.

2. Sacrificial service not personal gain.

We live in a culture where people love to serve. We are a very hospitable people. People love to serve those who are called to serve in the Kingdom of God full time.

As a result, it is quite possible that we can start to enjoy certain ‘privileges’ that are given. We are called to serve and not be served. Jesus came to do just that. We are called to follow that example.

You might find yourself being the first in the buffet line, or being given a seat while everyone stands, or getting special treatment because you are the ‘special guest’ or your Starbucks drink is paid for with an extra chocolate chip oatmeal cookie. When you do find yourselves in these situations, consider the reasons, motives, and consequences.

3. Leading by example NOT lording over people.

A lot of lessons are really more caught than taught. And the power of example can never be underestimated. Paul declared, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)

Peter encourages the elders of the church he was writing to lead by example. It’s a tough call but the grace of God is overwhelmingly available. He who called us is faithful and He will do it. (1 Thes. 5:24).

Are we asking people to do things that we ourselves won’t do?
If no one else will do it, are we willing to take the initiative?
As we lead, are we doing it for Christ or just so we can give a good example?

That being said, let’s continue to pray for one another, the church of Jesus and all who have yet to hear the wonderful message of Christ’s work on the cross.

Jesus said that He will build His church and the gates of Hades will not prevail. Our role? To continue to plant and water. The growth and increase? That’s up to God.

To all the pastors, thank you for all that you do for the Kingdom of God. I honor you for loving Jesus, preaching the gospel and training leaders who will go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

CHOICES WE MAKE AS WE HELP OTHERS FOLLOW CHRIST

Blog Banners.001In my recent Japan bike trip with Ryan (click here to read about it), we were guided by Google maps on my phone. I would shout out directions to Ryan if we needed to turn left or right. When I would give an instruction, he would do it, not because it was a command but because it was a relationship based on trust.

Discipleship is following Jesus and helping others follow Christ. As we follow Christ, we listen to His instructions not because we have to but because we want to, knowing that He desires what’s best for us. This trust is based on the relationship we have with Him.

Discipleship is relationship.

It is a relationship on 3 levels:
Relationship with God.
Relationship with other believers.
Relationship with the lost.

If we are going to help others follow Christ, there are 3 choices we will need to make as we do so.

1. OPPORTUNITY OVER OUTCOME

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up… (Luke 19:5a)

Jesus had a mission. He was about to sacrifice His life so that mankind could be saved. It was important to get to Calvary but wasn’t so focused on the outcome that He missed the opportunity to stop and speak with Zacchaeus. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem but when He got to Jericho, He looked up and took some time to be with Zacchaeus.

Sometimes we are so busy that we miss out on divine appointments.

We miss out on divine appointments when we are quick to dismiss seemingly human distractions.

2. RELATIONSHIP OVER RULES

Jesus… said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5b)

During those days, there was an unwritten rule that they were not to eat with sinners and tax collectors. People hated tax collectors because though they were Jewish, they worked for their enemy at that time, the Romans. Moreover, when they would collect taxes, they would get more than required so they could pocket the extra. They were corrupt and abusive aside from working for the enemy.

Jesus stopped to speak with Zacchaeus. In fact, He didn’t just want to eat dinner with him, He wanted to stay in his house! People were wondering, “Jesus, what are you doing?!!!” This is not acceptable!”

But Jesus broke the ‘rule’ so that He could build a relationship with Zacchaeus.

To treat people the way Jesus treated them, we need to see them the way Jesus saw them.

I’m just grateful God valued me so much that He sacrificed His only Son so I can have redemption. I was insecure, lost and without purpose. Thank God for the gospel that saved me.

3. PEOPLE OVER PROCESS

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Jesus had a process He was going to go through – suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. But He wasn’t so caught up with that process that He missed out on the very people He was going to die for.

Why? Because lost people matter to God.

Sometimes, we can get so caught up with the process that we miss out on the simplicity of loving people. We are worried about the form, that we miss out on caring for people. We are wrapped up with the program that we miss out on the very reason why we even have a program.

I remember going through One2One discipleship with someone I met 2 and a half years ago. We initially started with One2One booklet. But because he had a lot of questions, we had to set the booklet aside to answer his questions. We tried to do the Purple book. We got to chapter 4 and it was helpful. But since he still had lots of questions, we actually went straight to the book of Romans. The process is important but sometimes, we have to ask God for wisdom what tool to use because people are more important than the process. Finally, after 2 years, we finished one2one and he was able to go through Victory Weekend this past March.

Jesus stopped to encounter Zacchaeus. He had a process to go through but He didn’t let that stop Him from spending time with the very people He was about to die for. Why? It’s because lost people matter to God.

I love how Joey Bonifacio put it:

God who is most valuable, so valued us that He gave us Jesus who is most valuable to Him.

As we continue to honor God and make disciples, may we do it with zeal coupled with sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the compassion of Jesus.

WHEN REJECTION HAPPENS…

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One of the hardest things to go through in life is to be rejected.

Nobody wants it.
No one seeks for it.
None desire it.

But we’ve all experienced rejection in one way, shape or form.

Getting turned down by a client.
Being left for another man.
Experiencing abandonment by a parent.
And so on.

Jesus met a woman at the well in John chapter 4.
She is not unfamiliar with rejection for she has had 5 husbands and the one she is with at the moment wasn’t a permanent relationship probably to avoid further rejection in the future.

Jesus asks for a drink of water.
In her mind, she was asking why this rabbi would approach her.
Number 1, it was obvious that she was a woman.
This was not kosher in those days.
Number 2, she was a Samaritan.
Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans.

But in her mind, she was probably thinking that if this rabbi knew her deepest secrets, he would end up rejecting her as well. And more than verbal rejection, he would probably have her stoned to death.

“Good thing he doesn’t know about my immoral past.”
Or so she thought.

Jesus asks her, “Go call your husband and come back.” (John 4:16)
“What should I say? If I tell him about my 5 husbands plus the one that is not mine, I’d get rejected again.”
She gives Jesus a safe answer and says, “I don’t have a husband.”

To this, Jesus said, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (John 4:17-18)

He knows!!!

But here’s the thing. Jesus offered her living water. And He did that way before she confessed her real condition and situation. Jesus knew her fully but loved her unconditionally by offering her living water.

Here’s the principle:

To be loved and not known is superficial.
To be known and not loved is rejection.
But to be fully known and yet unconditionally loved
is the heart of the gospel.

You and I have been rejected because of who we are and what we’ve done. But Jesus loves us unconditionally even though He knew us completely.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
He showed His love before we even came to Him.
Way before we went to church.
Way before we started reading our Bible.
Way before we acknowledged His presence in our lives.

I love how Bishop Juray put it:

“Our God knows us at our worst and yet is the One that loves us the most.”

Next time you feel rejected, remember that you are accepted by your Heavenly Father.
Through Christ, you are loved, received and accepted.

WHO CAN BRING LASTING CHANGE IN A NATION?

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“Diyos-Diyosan” is a socio-political film made with the intention to educate voters of what is happening in the political world that will be shown in theaters in Metro Manila starting May 4.

It is about those who want to lord it over all (diyos-diyosan) and about the Lord of All. Let us reminisce what happened during the EDSA People Power and after. The characters are not real, but a composite of what happens around us. We hope that this film helps us all to make the right choice for this coming election.” (Cesar Buendia)

Our choices matter and will have an effect on the future of our children

Princess Punzalan has this to say about her character in the movie:

“Estrell has a lot of hurts caused by the government. She became a rebel and an atheist. She saw that her bitterness and her decisions that were driven by it did not make her life better. In the middle of the film, she has a change of heart and becomes an advocate for the truth that gives people real and lasting freedom.
She stops relying on her own understanding and strength and starts relying on the only One who truly has the best perspective, perfect wisdom and power to really change the world.

The people we rely on will have limitations.
But only God has the real power to change this nation for the better.”

 

WHEN ELECTIONS CAUSE DIVISION

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One of our Victory Group leaders messaged me this morning asking how she should respond to relatives, friends, and even church members who are at odds due to differing opinions and preferences regarding the ongoing election campaign.

It has become divisive and estranging. Families end up not talking to each other, office mates argue, and friends quarrel over who they feel would be the best to lead at this season of our nation’s history.

Here are a few random thoughts I shared with her:

1. What is most important?

I am saddened by how certain people are responding and reacting to all these. The Bible says we are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

That being said, we have to keep things in proper perspective.

Long after this election is over and done with, blood relatives will still be family. Church community will still be our spiritual family. Division or breaking relationship is simply just not worth it.

Some of the candidates won’t even remember us long after the elections are over.

Values determine priorities. And when the priorities are clear, decisions are simpler. It may not necessarily be easier but it is simpler for you know what or who is most important.

2. How about social media posts?

Posting on social media is not the problem. It’s what we post and how we say things are some of the concerns. Forcing, arguing, throwing hate, mud slinging are what makes it unhealthy and problematic.

3. Can I really be sure?

We can’t be completely sure who God has chosen to be the next president, vice president, mayor, councilor, etc. Remember, even the prophet Samuel made a mistake in choosing who the next president was. He thought it was the eldest son of Jesse. David, the youngest son, was who God chose.  Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.

But this is what I am sure of: GOD IS SOVEREIGN!

He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. (Daniel 2:21)

He is in charge over the affairs of men. He can even use a Pharaoh or Cyrus to fulfill His purposes. How come? Because He is in charge!

4. What should we do?

First of all, go out and vote according to who you feel God has put in your heart.
Samuel had to hear the voice of God.
We all have to go to God, pray and vote according to your conscience.

5. What else can we do?

Pray! Pray! Pray for our nation.
This election campaign has been very divisive.
To reiterate what Ephesians 4:3 said, “Make every effort to keep the unity…”
To make every effort means to do your best within your powers to maintain unity.
“A kingdom divided cannot stand.”

How do we maintain unity? We can agree to disagree agreeably.
When someone shares who they will vote, we can maintain unity by respecting their opinion and not trying to convince them to change their mind. They’ve thought long and hard and hopefully have prayed.

Agreeing to disagree agreeably means respecting their opinion even if it differs from yours.

Remember, we can win the argument but lose the relationship in the process.

To quote Pastor Dennis Isleta, here’s what he said,
“I feel restoration does not begin after the elections but even as early as now. True Christlike character ought to be shown when no one is yet winner or loser. It is easy to be Christlike after one has won, and easy to be less Christlike when one has lost. So is it true about praising God for victory or asking Him for help for the nation when defeated.”

Hope this helps us.

God bless the Philippines!

WHO SHOULD I VOTE FOR?

Blog Banners.001Who should I vote for?

What are the guidelines in choosing the next president, senator, congressman, mayor, and so on?

The Bible gives us principles we can draw from the different leaders and kings that have ruled in the Old Testament.

One of them is Abimelech.

Abimelech was one of the sons of Gideon. His name meant “my dad is the king.” This would already give you an idea of what kind of character he was.

Gideon was one of the judges in Israel. A judge was one whom the Lord raised as a temporary and special deliverer and rescued the Israelites from their oppressors. After Gideon and his 300 won the war against the Midianites, the people wanted to make Gideon king. His response?

“I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” (Judges 8:23)

Gideon was reiterating what already has been established in Deuteronomy 33:5 that the Lord Himself was their King. They weren’t a monarchy but a theocracy.

GREAT LEADERSHIP ACKNOWLEDGES WHO THE ULTIMATE LEADER IS.

All of us are under authority.
Whether you’re the head of your house, student council president, unit manager, CEO or board chairman, you have delegated authority.
God is the Supreme Authority and there’s no authority that we are able to wield apart from Him delegating it to us.

Now, since Gideon chose to not become king, guess who aspired for it? His son, Abimelech did.

Abimelech goes to his mom’s house and hires her to be his campaign manager. After which, he goes to his relatives and gets their loyalty. And then, he goes to the key leaders of his city to explain his platform. He had great execution but with bad intention.

He was hungry for power and desired to get it whatever it took.

As a result, he killed his half brothers – all seventy of them. For whatever reason he had in mind, he needed to get rid of all the possible hindrances from him becoming king.

HUNGER FOR POWER CORRUPTS JUDGMENT.

As he started his campaign, his relatives spoke to the leaders of Shechem .
“So Abimelech’s uncles gave his message to all the citizens of Shechem on his behalf. And after listening to this proposal, the people of Shechem decided in favor of Abimelech because he was their relative.”(Judges 9:3, NLT)

It’s not wrong to have a relative rise in leadership. Moses and Aaron were brothers as they led Israel out of Egypt. But relationship is not the main qualification but character and competence.

Does the person have integrity? And does he have the skills to lead the city, region, province, nation?
David led God’s people well. And the Bible says that he led them “with integrity of heart and skillful hands.” (Psalm 79:72)

During the campaign, Abimelech’s relatives gave him 70 pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith. (Judges 9:4)

Campaign funds are necessary but somehow, they started using funds from evil sources. And here’s the principle:

MONEY FROM EVIL SOURCES IS RARELY USED TO HONOR GOD OR HELP OTHERS.

In choosing the next leader, it is important to know where they get their campaign funds for where they get it from is where they will be grateful towards.

With these campaign funds, Abimelech “used the silver to hire some lawless, dangerous men as his followers.” (Judges 9:4, NET)

He then goes to his father’s house and set out to kill his 70 brothers.

Be wary of men of violence.

MEN OF VIOLENCE ARE OFTEN SURROUNDED WITH MEN WHO ARE VIOLENT THEMSELVES.

But as the story goes, the very people who crowned Abimelech as king were the same people who plotted to get rid of him. The way he started his kingship was also the manner he was exiting it.

While the men of Shechem was trying to pursue him to get rid of him, he ran to a tower. As he approached the entrance, a woman dropped a millstone on his head and cracked his skull. Bad leaders and bad people attract each other, use each other and destroy each other.

But before we ask why we have bad leaders, let’s ask ourselves, “Are we a bad people?”
Are we manipulative? Are we clannish? Are we selfish in our thinking?
The leaders will come from the very people they will lead in the future. The leaders of tomorrow are already the leaders of today. Are we living in integrity? Is there a sincere love for the nation? Do we pay the right taxes? Do we still go when the traffic light’s red? Do we put the litter in our pockets or flippantly throw them on the streets?

What then is a sign of good leadership?

Jesus told us in Matthew 20:25-28:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A LEADER THAT SERVES IS A LEADER WORTH FOLLOWING.

Why do the candidates have to say, “When I am elected, I will do this and that…?”
Why wait till they’re elected? What have they done now? What is their track record?

A leader is one who serves now and not when he is elected.

These are thoughts from the life of Abimelech and are by no means exhaustive.
I pray that God will give us the insight and pray through who we will write on the ballots when the time comes we go to the precincts.

But most of all, to those who follow Christ, we are called to pray for our leaders and our nation.

We are told in 2 Chronicles 7:14:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

As the people of God we are called to:

1. Humble ourselves.
2. Pray.
3. Seek His face.
4. Turn from our wicked ways.

Because of this, God will hear our prayers and heal our land.

God bless the Philippines.

“YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN WHAT YOU’RE SAYING”

Blog Banners.001“I don’t think you really believe in what you’re saying.”

Joe Kim (not his real name) was telling me today regarding his experience before he met Christ. He was in high school when someone shared the gospel to him in Korea. He felt that his friend had just come from an evangelistic seminar and he was his friend’s first “project.”

Growing up in a Buddhist background, Joe wasn’t all that interested. In fact, he challenged his friend’s faith by telling him that “he really didn’t believe in what he was saying.”

When his friend asked how come he said that, Joe’s answer was, “Well, if you really believed in what you’re saying, it would show in how you live.” Joe loved his friend. In fact, they were often together, even in parties and drinking sprees. But he concluded that what his friend declared didn’t really work.

“If you believed in what you are declaring, you’re life would be different.”

Joe’s statement hit me. In fact, it hit me quite hard.
I began to look at my own life to see if what I believed lined up with how I lived my life.

Jesus addressed the crowds and told them this about the religious leaders of his time,

“Pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:3)
What they taught didn’t line up with how they lived.

Our lives are sometimes the only Bible our friends will read. We can say one thing but if our life exemplifies something else, it will be difficult to believe. Does this mean that our lives need to be perfect? By no means. However, the important thing is that we’re progressing towards what God intended for us to go towards – to become like Christ. And THAT would be entirely by His grace working itself out in our daily lives.

LORD, thank You for saving me by Your grace. It is never by personal merit or deserved achievement. As I grow in the knowledge of Your grace and salvation, allow me to grow in greater Christ-likeness and holiness. May my life be a story of someone who was undeserving yet unconditionally cared for, fully known yet fully loved. And for that, I am forever grateful. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

CHRISTIANS AND HALLOWEEN

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How should we respond to Halloween?

Years ago, it wasn’t as big as it is today in the Philippines.
Because it’s gaining popularity, we get asked a lot of questions both from parents and kids alike.

Following is an interesting article by Travis Allen of Grace To You.

Let me know your thoughts.

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Halloween. It’s a time of year when the air gets crisper, the days get shorter, and for many young Americans the excitement grows in anticipation of the darkest, spookiest holiday of the year. Retailers also rejoice as they warm up their cash registers to receive an average of $79.82 per household in decorations, costumes, candy, and greeting cards. Halloween will bring in approximately $8 billion this year.

It’s a good bet retailers won’t entertain high expectations of getting $79.82 per household from the Christian market. Many Christians refuse to participate in Halloween. Some are wary of its pagan origins; others of its dark, ghoulish imagery; still others are concerned for the safety of their children. But other Christians choose to partake of the festivities, whether participating in school activities, neighborhood trick-or-treating, or a Halloween alternative at their church.

The question is, How should Christians respond to Halloween? Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat? What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season—are they overreacting?

THE PAGAN ORIGIN OF HALLOWEEN

The name “Halloween” comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, began the time of remembrance. “All Hallows Eve” was eventually contracted to “Hallow-e’en,” which became “Halloween.”

As Christianity moved through Europe it collided with indigenous pagan cultures and confronted established customs. Pagan holidays and festivals were so entrenched that new converts found them to be a stumbling block to their faith. To deal with the problem, the organized church would commonly move a distinctively Christian holiday to a spot on the calendar that would directly challenge a pagan holiday. The intent was to counter pagan influences and provide a Christian alternative. But most often the church only succeeded in “Christianizing” a pagan ritual—the ritual was still pagan, but mixed with Christian symbolism. That’s what happened to All Saints Eve—it was the original Halloween alternative!

The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major celebrations were marked by the seasons. At the end of the year in northern Europe, people made preparations to ensure winter survival by harvesting the crops and culling the herds, slaughtering animals that wouldn’t make it. Life slowed down as winter brought darkness (shortened days and longer nights), fallow ground, and death. The imagery of death, symbolized by skeletons, skulls, and the color black, remains prominent in today’s Halloween celebrations.

The pagan Samhain festival (pronounced “sow” “en”) celebrated the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter, for three days—October 31 to November 2. The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living—ghosts haunting the earth.

Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead. They sought “divine” spirits (demons) and the spirits of their ancestors regarding weather forecasts for the coming year, crop expectations, and even romantic prospects. Bobbing for apples was one practice the pagans used to divine the spiritual world’s “blessings” on a couple’s romance.

For others the focus on death, occultism, divination, and the thought of spirits returning to haunt the living, fueled ignorant superstitions and fears. They believed spirits were earthbound until they received a proper sendoff with treats—possessions, wealth, food, and drink. Spirits who were not suitably “treated” would “trick” those who had neglected them. The fear of haunting only multiplied if that spirit had been offended during its natural lifetime.

Trick-bent spirits were believed to assume grotesque appearances. Some traditions developed, which believed wearing a costume to look like a spirit would fool the wandering spirits. Others believed the spirits could be warded off by carving a grotesque face into a gourd or root vegetable (the Scottish used turnips) and setting a candle inside it—the jack-o-lantern.

Into that dark, superstitious, pagan world, God mercifully shined the light of the gospel. Newly converted Christians armed themselves with the truth and no longer feared a haunting from departed spirits returning to earth. In fact, they denounced their former pagan spiritism in accord with Deuteronomy 18:

There shall not be found among you anyone…who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord (Deuteronomy 18:10-13).

Nonetheless, Christian converts found family and cultural influence hard to withstand; they were tempted to rejoin the pagan festivals, especially Samhain. Pope Gregory IV reacted to the pagan challenge by moving the celebration of All Saints Day in the ninth century—he set the date at November 1, right in the middle of Samhain.

As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together. On the one hand, pagan superstitions gave way to “Christianized” superstitions and provided more fodder for fear. People began to understand that the pagan ancestral spirits were demons and the diviners were practicing witchcraft and necromancy. On the other hand, the festival time provided greater opportunity for revelry. Trick-or-treat became a time when roving bands of young hooligans would go house-to-house gathering food and drink for their parties. Stingy householders ran the risk of a “trick” being played on their property from drunken young people.

Halloween didn’t become an American holiday until the immigration of the working classes from the British Isles in the late nineteenth century. While early immigrants may have believed the superstitious traditions, it was the mischievous aspects of the holiday that attracted American young people. Younger generations borrowed or adapted many customs without reference to their pagan origins.

Hollywood has added to the “fun” a wide assortment of fictional characters—demons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, mummies, and psychopaths. That certainly isn’t improving the American mind, but it sure is making someone a lot of money.

THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO HALLOWEEN

Today Halloween is almost exclusively an American secular holiday, but many who celebrate have no concept of its religious origins or pagan heritage. That’s not to say Halloween has become more wholesome. Children dress up in entertaining costumes, wander the neighborhood in search of candy, and tell each other scary ghost stories; but adults often engage in shameful acts of drunkenness and debauchery.

So, how should Christians respond?

First, Christians should not respond to Halloween like superstitious pagans. Pagans are superstitious; Christians are enlightened by the truth of God’s Word. Evil spirits are no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year; in fact, any day is a good day for Satan to prowl about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). God has forever “disarmed principalities and powers” through the cross Christ and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them through [Christ]” (Colossians 2:15).

Second, Christians should respond to Halloween with cautionary wisdom. Some people fear the activity of Satanists or pagan witches, but the actual incidents of satanic-associated crime are very low. The real threat on Halloween is from the social problems that attend sinful behavior—drunk driving, pranksters and vandals, and unsupervised children.

Like any other day of the year, Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families. Christian young people should stay away from secular Halloween parties since those are breeding grounds for trouble. Christian parents can protect their children by keeping them well-supervised and restricting treat consumption to those goodies received from trusted sources.

Third, Christians should respond to Halloween with gospel compassion. The unbelieving, Christ-rejecting world lives in perpetual fear of death. It isn’t just the experience of death, but rather what the Bible calls “a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume [God’s] adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). Witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are not terrifying; God’s wrath unleashed on the unforgiven sinner—now that is truly terrifying.

Christians should use Halloween and all that it brings to the imagination—death imagery, superstition, expressions of debauched revelry—as an opportunity to engage the unbelieving world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given everyone a conscience that responds to His truth (Romans 2:14-16), and the conscience is the Christian’s ally in the evangelistic enterprise. Christians should take time to inform the consciences of friends and family with biblical truth regarding God, the Bible, sin, Christ, future judgment, and the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ for the repentant sinner.

There are several different ways Christians will engage in Halloween evangelism. Some will adopt a “No Participation” policy. As Christian parents, they don’t want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities—listening to ghost stories and coloring pictures of witches. They don’t want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives.

That response naturally raises eyebrows and provides a good opportunity to share the gospel to those who ask. It’s also important that parents explain their stand to their children and prepare them to face the teasing or ridicule of their peers and the disapproval or scorn of their teachers.

Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called “Harvest Festivals” or “Reformation Festivals”—the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. It’s ironic when you consider Halloween’s beginning as an alternative, but it can be an effective means of reaching out to neighborhood families with the gospel. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.

Those are good alternatives; there are others that are not so good. Some churches are using “Hell House” evangelism to shock young people and scare them into becoming Christians. They walk people through rooms patterned after carnival-style haunted houses and put sin on display—women undergoing abortions, people sacrificed in a satanic ritual, consequences of premarital sex, dangers of rave parties, demon possession, and other tragedies.

Here’s the problem with so-called Hell House evangelism: To shock an unshockable culture, you have to get pretty graphic. Graphic exhibits of sin and its consequences are unnecessary—unbelieving minds are already full of such images. What they need to see is a life truly transformed by the power of God, and what they need to hear is the truth of God in an accurate presentation of the gospel. Cheap gimmickry is unfitting for Christ’s ambassadors.

There’s another option open to Christians: limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. There’s nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbors. Even handing out candy to neighborhood children—provided you’re not stingy—can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behavior does not dishonor Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

Ultimately, Christian participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience before God. Whatever level of Halloween participation you choose, you must honor God by keeping yourself separate from the world and by showing mercy to those who are perishing. Halloween provides the Christian with the opportunity to accomplish both of those things in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a message that is holy, set apart from the world; it’s a message that is the very mercy of a forgiving God. What better time of the year is there to share such a message than Halloween?