Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Inviting Conversation: On Halloween

Britney’s house smelled of coffee and fresh cupcakes, and the counter was laden with after dinner treats. I arranged visuals for my presentation and the ladies arrived. I had feared they would be reluctant to talk, but three hours later we were still going strong. They came to learn about Halloween and how it fits, or doesn’t fit in, with the Christian life, and they were full of questions. 
Andrea has only been a believer for a few years, but she is passionate about living for Jesus. She had always celebrated Halloween, but her first year after becoming a Christian she felt different when she opened the box of decorations. I can’t do this, she said to herself. She didn’t know exactly why, but recognized this holiday didn’t fit with her newfound faith. 

“My son is totally on board with me about this,” Andrea said, “but I don’t know how to explain it when other people ask me why I don’t celebrate Halloween anymore. I want to be ready to have better conversations with people.”
Do we turn people off with rules?

Do we promise windows, but show only walls?

We all agreed we want to be inviting when we talk about our faith, and not focused on a bunch of rules and regulations. After all, Jesus was a pretty inviting guy. He knew how to draw people into conversation and ask them questions. He challenged the status quo and made people think.  He was only harsh with religious hypocrites who thought they had God all figured out, yet had no love for Him or other people. On the other hand, Jesus welcomed anyone seeking or open to the truth. We need to do the same.

When my husband served as a volunteer policeman, they had regular target practices, CPR training, and emergency procedure drills so their responses would become automatic. They needed to take action when necessary without hesitation. This proved essential the day Kelly answered an emergency call at his parents’ house. His mom’s heart had stopped and she needed CPR.

At first he thought, This is my mom, I can’t do this! But then his training kicked in and he was able to separate himself from fear and personal feelings to do what needed to be done.

This is why scripture tells us to, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).  How can we do this with an emotionally charged subject like Halloween, which not even all Christians agree on? 
Or do we put out the welcome mat?
Do we invite authentic conversation about God?
The best we can do is share from our own heart—giving reasons for the hope we have. The ladies and I practiced. I began, “I have decided to stop celebrating Halloween because I realized the main themes of the holiday don’t match up with my faith. Halloween is all about witchcraft, darkness, fear, and death. As a believer my life is all about overcoming evil by the power of God, walking in the light, living with courage, and enjoying abundant life in Jesus Christ.”

The next part of inviting others into conversation about Halloween or any part of our faith is to focus on the hope we have. And we need to do everything with gentleness and respect. That means not insulting people who don’t believe as we do or choose to do things we believe are wrong. This is where it can get emotionally charged.

I haven’t done so well with this in the past. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but God’s not through with me yet and I’m learning. I hope you too are inviting people into conversations about God and how you’re learning to live a life pleasing to Him—whether it’s about the holidays you celebrate or the multitude of choices you make every day. Let’s enter in to dialogue and love the people God brings our way. 

Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

#Halloweenconversations #gentlenessandrespect #Halloweendebate #reasonforhope #dialogueaboutGod

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Love Conquers All Fear

If the Disney creative team had continued on their original course, Frozen would have been a completely different movie. In ”Unfreezing Frozen” (September’s Reader’s Digest *) I noticed some amazing concepts beginning to surface—they sounded like biblical concepts.
The team started with all the usual fairy tale elements—princesses, gowns, a handsome prince—but it felt stale, stilted, unexciting. They wanted to say something different. With a talented team of script and songwriters they began to explore new definitions of love and sacrifice.

The prince turns out to be the bad guy instead of the rescuer. And sisters, Elsa and Anna, learn to reach beyond their own fears to save each other. Team writer Jennifer Lee summed it up by saying, “Fear destroys us; love heals us…Love is a greater force than fear. Go with love.” 

I would say amen to that.

In the middle of October, when fear is sought out, savored, and celebrated everywhere you turn, it’s refreshing to hear this proclamation. With ads for movies about cultic power and bloody zest leaping from every television, you would think fear is perfectly harmless entertainment for our children. However, Jesus’ beloved disciple said, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Later in the article on Frozen, Lee advocates another truth, Anna “has to learn that love is about sacrifice.” The message of the gospel, I believe. However it’s only Jesus’ perfect love that can wipe out our fear. His sacrificial gift on the cross rescues us from the destructive power in us that kills everything it touches. 

I was delighted to hear the makers of the “top-grossing animated movie of all time” declaring these truths. However, couched between these noble words was a sentence that revealed an underlying belief system: “The core of this movie isn’t about good and evil, because that doesn’t happen in real life.”

That statement jolted me as it should every thinking person on this planet. Good and evil don’t happen in real life? If good and evil don’t exist, how do we know fear is bad and love is good? How do we recognize that sacrificing for another is worthy of praise, and selfishness destroys? Of course there is good and evil! That’s the eternal truth that needs to be told above all others.  We instinctively know there is good and evil in this world; when we deny that fact we run into serious trouble.

What scares me is this is the daily food of children worldwide. These movies mold their beliefs with colorful images and catchy songs that defy moral absolutes. Teaching them there is no God, no right and wrong, only us and what we feel and think. They say we can determine destiny through our own efforts, that Christianity is outdated.

This is a far cry from the 1967 version of Jungle Book when Bagheera quotes John 15:13 after Baloo’s valiant sacrifice, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” 

Rather than ban all secular movies and label them evil, why not use them as discussion starters with our children. How does this story, this idea, this hero compare to scripture? Is this true, or just what makes us feel good? Our children need to know how to recognize partial truths (aka: lies) and humanistic teaching that depicts man as his own god.

What have you fed your kids today? As October marches on, the message of fear abounds. I invite you to nourish your children with books and movies of true heroism from Christian history. Challenge them to examine what they see in the world around them and compare it to God’s Word. The old cliché is true—all that glitters is not gold, sometimes you have to let it go to reach for what is of eternal value.

*Reader’s Digest, September, 2016, ”Unfreezing Frozen” by Charles Duhigg, from the book Smarter Faster Better.

#loveconquersfear #overcomeevilwithgood #sacrificiallove #halloweenandchristianity #dangerofpopularmovies #talkaboutfaith #fearandfaith