Tag Archives: Halloween

No fear, God is near

Ghosts, ghouls, goblins. . .

No Fear, God Is Near

given on Sunday, October 19, 2014

 

For some reason I keep thinking that Halloween is this week, but the 19th is closer to the middle of the month and Halloween is still almost two weeks away. I suppose I am being easily influenced by all the advertising and store displays that seem to jump out and try to scare me.

Two different concerns evolve from this issue. Marketing in our world today seems to sway people’s thinking so easily that we cannot seem to keep our own standards. We follow the latest fads without a care. Even the Halloween hype has created a subculture based on people’s fears and fantasies which brings a few questions to mind:

  • Where is God in all the ghosts, ghouls and goblins?
  • Does Halloween grant the freedom to be werewolves, vampires, and Zombies?
  • Is it really just pretend or do the costumes show the true selves?

 

This week’s lectionary begins with the story of Moses and the Israelites struggling to survive in the desert. They are afraid, frustrated, and tired. Moses has left the encampment to talk with God up on Mount Sinai. The people are filled with questions and fears, so Aaron steps in with a plan:

32 When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

 

In a way, Aaron throws a party, but that party centers around an idol created to shift the focus away from the fears and the frustrations. The Baal culture that surrounded them worshipped gods fashioned after bulls and the people observed them having all the fun. So Aaron channels all that energy into creating the Golden Calf, made from their donated gold, and throws a party:

Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!” The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.

Fear has a way of clouding our judgment and leading us away from God. It is easy to feel lost and alone when things are tough, but God is with us. He knows when we are tired, lonely, or afraid. He does not wish bad things to happen to any one of his children, but things do happen. The manner in which we continue to follow God is the key to managing the worst of times.

As adults it is easy to fall into a pattern of life that follows the marketing techniques or the pressure from work or the whims of our own mind. When we do this, we wander away from God and suddenly trouble shows up. Maybe it is buying too much stuff—like that old drive to keep up with the Joneses—or maybe we start spending too much time and money on recreation and suddenly there is no way to pay the bills. We may be following our own whims disregarding the safety and security of our families, and suddenly the possible loss of a spouse and kids sounds the alarms.

Fear comes with the realization that life has turned away from God and panic sets in. But even when we make our worst mistakes, God is near. We must take an assessment of what we have done wrong and what we need to do, and then ask forgiveness and for guidance. God will hear. We should remember there is no fear when God is near.

Think of how it is when one of your children—whether still in school or whether an adult with children of their own—run into a problem. Maybe it is something like the loss of a friend through moving away or even death. You watch that child experience the pain of loss, the sense of loneliness, and then search for a way to fill that void. There is nothing you can do to fix the problem; but God is near, so teach them to pray and to trust in God.

Living a Christian lifestyle gives us the structure, the guidelines, and the confidence to know that whatever loss or fear we experience, we are never alone. Living with God is living a life that knows the ghosts, ghouls and goblins we meet in our lives do not scare us away from God. The human experience is temporary, but the Christian life continues into eternity.

During the next two weeks, kids are excited to prepare and to go out trick or treating. Parents guide the youngest kids in the choice of the costumes, the houses that they visit, and even the goodies they eat. As kids grow up, the parents’ role shifts. Tweens and teens begin listening to friends about what costumes to pick, where to visit, and what trick or treat means. Parents watch with apprehension, uncertain of their kids’ safety. Becoming angry is evidence of how afraid they are for their wellbeing.

The Old Testament tells story after story of how God gets angry with his children. He uses so many different techniques to manage his chosen children and yet Moses had to plead with him not to turn his anger onto the tribes of Israel:

11 But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? 12 Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people!

 

The Old Testament story is referenced even in Psalm 106, when the psalmist repents from sin. God is reminded how Moses interceded for the people. God listened then and he continues to listen. When we are afraid, God is near. When we cry out for him, he hears us.

Ghosts, ghouls and goblins are surrounding us this time of year. The costumes are cute and sweet for the youngest kiddos but as the kids grow up, the costumes seem to transform them into alter egos filled with evil. The villains, the zombies, the werewolves, and the vampires become more and more evident. Even girls pick costumes that are more alluring and seductive as they test the limits of parental authority.

Parents are fearful as the tweens and teens leave for the Halloween trick or treating, concerned that they are not safe or may not act appropriately. The Christian lifestyle is tested. Will the kids remember what the rules are? Are the kids forgetting to follow the Golden Rule even while they are pretending to be all these alter egos? Will they be frightened and make mistakes?

The kids, no matter the age, need direction. The words Paul shared with the Philippians need to echo in our ears:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Do not fear; God is near! The way to be free from fear is to stay focused on God. See this world, even this Halloween, through the eyes of God. Ask yourself are you following Paul’s advice:

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Fear can lead us to follow the godless, the evil ones, the Devil himself, but with God near we do not have to fear. We can handle the illnesses that hit us, we can find ways to manage our budgets, and we can look ahead in drought-filled years to plentiful years. We can say thank you to God for being near in any and all trials or tribulations we face—even the ghosts, ghouls and goblins of Halloween.

Closing prayer:

Dear Protective Father,

Thank you for being near us at all times.

Thank you for hearing our prayers filled with fears.

Thank you for keeping us safe from harm.

Teach us through the stories of the Old Testament,

Through the sage words of the earliest disciples,

And through the Christian models beside us.

Let us share your grace and love

With our children and our neighbors

So they know there is no fear with you so near.

Amen.

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Avoiding Hell Even on Halloween

given on Sunday, October 27, 2013

Welcome to the end of October!  The days are getting shorter and by the time we meet again, we will lose daylight savings time.  Shorter days will be even shorter.  Halloween is just around the corner and the store shelves are filled with images of ghouls, goblins and ghosts.  Every commercial, every DJ on the radio, even the stores make it feel like you are walking into the doors of hell with all sorts of hype.

Halloween may have begun with the tradition of All Saint’s Eve, a time to honor those who have died over the past year, but instead of honoring special saints in our lives, it looks more like a living hell on earth.

Obviously Halloween is really no threat any more.  The idea of hell comes from all the hideous, grotesque, bloody costumes that kids, teens, and even parents don just for a little fun.  The images that people choose to portray ranges from the silly, cute, and sweet to the ogres, the ghosts, goblins, and villains that have become familiar through all the media blitzes for movies, television shows, and events designed to scare one to death, so to speak.  This one day a year, so many feel compelled to dress up in an alter ego that conceals their very identity.

Sometimes the “alter ego” models the wearer’s idea of what hell might be.  Hell may be full of the living dead, the zombies, ax murderers, vampires, or worse; but surely hell is not filled with the neighbors we visit with over the fence or those we sit beside during Sunday morning worship.  The images we develop of hell are all figments or our own imagination.  There is no concrete way to know what the Bible’s hell is.

There are still several days until Halloween, but the question of what hell is or how one avoids hell seems like a timely question.  References to hell are found in the Bible, but most of the images are from prophets’ dreams or John’s vision as described in Revelations.  The scriptures also include ways one can go to hell, but I struggle with understanding how a loving God can assign someone to hell.

Consider this statement:  God does not send people to hell.  What is your first reaction to that statement?  Maybe you want to take issue with it saying that only God sends people to hell.  Or maybe you agree and believe that only people can send themselves to hell.

John Wesley even had his own perception of hell that is identified as a Wesley core term in the Wesley Study Bible:

Most notions of hell are influenced by John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Wesley’s were too.  In his notes on Revelations, Wesley comments, “How far these expressions are to be taken literally, how far figuratively only, who can tell?”  Wesley did believe in a literal “lake of fire” as a place where the damned are eternally tormented.

A Biblical reference to this image is in Revelations 20, where John shares his vision beginning with verse 11, in the section subtitled “The Dead Are Judged,” in verses 13-15:

“And the sea gave up the dead that were in it.  Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done.  Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

But the discussion of Wesley’s core term of hell continues including what was written in his Sermon 73, “Of Hell”:

. . . Wesley also describes hell as the experience of loss.  Hell is the loss of beauty, music, pleasant memory, kindness, loved ones, friendship, love, and a sense of having been created by God—knowing that rest will never be found except in God.  Hell is also felt experience; a place of hate, horror, greed, rage, lust, unsatisfied desires, envy, jealousy, malice and revenge, characterized by fear, guilt, and shame.  While all of this will “incessantly gnaw the soul” like a vulture through all eternity, most hells begin here on earth. (p.1556)

This definition of hell shows that God does not send people to hell; people send themselves to hell.

Wesley’s list somewhat echoes Proverbs 11:16-19:

16 A gracious woman gets honor,
but she who hates virtue is covered with shame.
The timid become destitute,
but the aggressive gain riches.
17 Those who are kind reward themselves,
but the cruel do themselves harm.
18 The wicked earn no real gain,
but those who sow righteousness get a true reward.
19 Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,
but whoever pursues evil will die.

Granted the verses show both sides, the good and the bad; but the message is much the same.  Going a little further into the chapter, Proverbs 11:30-31:

30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
but violence takes lives away.
31 If the righteous are repaid on earth,
how much more the wicked and the sinner!

The argument as to who sends people to hell is found in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament.  Wesley himself created his own perception of hell, and so do we.  The one point that remains in common is that God does not make the decisions as to who goes to hell or not, rather people do.

Maybe those alter egos we will see this week, especially on Halloween, reflect more truth than one might want to share.  As people, Halloween might be an appropriate time to evaluate whether they are living a God-centered life or whether they are working to send themselves to hell.  Do the decisions people make this one night of the year honestly reflect their life-style?  Do the behaviors uphold Jesus’ teachings?  Is all the fun simply fun or is there a more twisted meaning behind the masks?

Our Halloween should be filled with giving.  We should see Halloween as an opportunity to share our beliefs openly.  Hand out the candy with love!  Play a safe trick on others, only if you know they will laugh.  Figure out how to tell others your story without looking at the surface of a fiery lake.  Is your costume pretend or is it real?

Remember that each of your decisions year round is your responsibility.  God is not planning on sending anyone to hell because he loves everybody.  He wants everybody to be in heaven with him.

God is pained by the people who are living with a sense of loss as Wesley listed:  the loss of beauty, music, pleasant memory, kindness, loved ones, friendship, love, and a sense of having been created by God  He weeps for all the people who feel hell as the negatives in life that Wesley outlined:  a place of hate, horror, greed, rage, lust, unsatisfied desires, envy, jealousy, malice and revenge, characterized by fear, guilt, and shame.

Does God send people to hell?  The answer lies within our own heart, our own knowledge of God.  No one can tell us exactly what follows our life on earth.  No one can tell us whether we are going to heaven or hell.  As long as we are living a God-centered life, loving one another, looking at each other through God’s eyes, following the teachings of Jesus, and working to serve one another in love, then our decisions will make the decision for God.

Halloween is ahead, have a little fun.  This is one of those times that living a God-centered life is key to assuring the safety of others.  It is a time when giving treats delights our hearts.  It is a time when we can share God’s love in so many ways, in such silly ways, and maybe even ‘scare’ someone into believing.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving Father,

We know you to be a loving God,

one who sees each one of us as your children.

Protect the littlest ones this Halloween

from those who play tricks out of meanness.

Keep the tummies healthy

even when filled with sugary treats.

Let the hands of parents safely

hold children in love and joy.

 

Lord, we ask one more thing, too.

For some, Halloween is more

than silly tricks and treats.

For them, the day is All Hollow’s Eve,

a time for remembering.

Wrap them in your love

as they wipe away tears of loss.

 

And let each one of us serve

as your hands and arms.

May we give to bring joy.

May we play to share laughter.

May we hug one another in love.

May we offer a shoulder to lean on.

Help us to show others how living

our faith will lead us to heavenly life.  –Amen

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