Halloween: Yes or No – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceHallowe’en: Yes or No – Introduction

We’ve talked about some pretty heavy subjects lately. I thought today we might lighten things up a bit – as you can tell by the quasi-costume I’m wearing. And, although the topic is on the lighter side, I hope our discussion is no less thought provoking. Should we, as Christians, celebrate Halloween: Yes or No.

Do a little research and you’ll see that the debate within Christian circles over Halloween is alive and well. Many folks get downright nasty in vehemently expressing their opinions. So I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the history of Halloween, some of the arguments from various sides of the issue, and to discuss our thoughts.

Spiritual Quote

“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.”
~Voltaire

Thoughts

Those of us who identify as Christian are often confronted with choices – whether participating in some festivity moves us toward or away from a relationship with God. And very often these choices give rise to sometimes very heated debates. Well meaning people stand firm in their position, which is as it should be.

All too often, though, these debates create division rather than unity, set up an attitude of us verses them, and, in so doing, reinforce an ‘attitude’ of superiority wherein the ideology is worshiped more than God Himself. This is clearly seen, as we’ve talked about before, in the debates over celebrating Christmas, Santa Claus, Christmas Trees, celebrating Easter, bunnies, and Easter eggs. This debate is also seen in a tradition to be celebrated this week, Halloween.

Debates continue between people of different faiths such as Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Debates also rage on between people within a particular faith. In Judaism, debates occur between followers who identify as Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Hasidic, and Kabbalah. In Islam, the followers of Bahai, Suffi, Wahhabi, Shi’ite, Sunni all debate with each other. In Christianity, debates rage on between Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and other denominations such as Baptist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Amish, Quaker, 7th Day Adventist, Church of Christ, United in Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.; as well those identified as non-denominational and inter-denominational. For those of us who identify as Christian, these debates, while sometimes useful for education, enlightenment, and spiritual growth, more often serve to create division within the Body of Christ.

History of Halloween

One of the simplest resources provided a history of Halloween is Wikipedia:

Halloween, also spelled Hallowe’en, is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening,” or “All Hallows’ Eve.” Celebrated on October 31st, it is observed on the evening of the Western Christian “All Hallows’ Day,” which is November 1st. (Note – Eastern Christianity celebrates this day on the first Sunday after Pentecost.) The day is set aside to honor all saints, known and unknown. The celebration begins as sunset the evening before and continues to sunset on November 1st, at which time the celebration of “All Souls Day” begins.

Many scholars believe that All Hallows’ Eve is a Christianized feast that was initially influenced by the Celtic harvest festivals, and may have had pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain (pronounced Sah-win or Sow-in). However, the original celebration of All Saints’ Day dates back to 609 or 610. Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to bless Mary and all the martyrs on May 13. The feast has been celebrated in Rome ever since. The day coincided with the pagan Feast of the Lemures in which malevolent and restless spirits were appeased.

The change to November 1st occurred as a result Pope Gregory III’s oratory in St. Peter’s. This happened to fall on the Celtic holiday Samhain. The celebration gradually changed over time, and has different meanings to various Christian denominations. For instance, the Roman Catholics still honor the saints on November 1st, and all the faithful who death have not been cleansed from temporal punishment (purgatory) on November 2nd. Protestant denominations celebrate to remember all Christians past and present; and is sometimes celebrated on the first Sunday in November.

Etymology

The word Halloween is of Christian origin. It literally means Hallowed, or Holy, Evening. The word stems from the Scottish word for evening, which is even.

When contracted, evening becomes een, or more appropriately, e’en. In Old English, the phrase “All Hallows’ Eve” dates back to 1556. It wasn’t contracted to the Scottish ‘Halloween’ until somewhere around 1745.

Gaelic and Welsh Influence

Varying customs and beliefs associated with Halloween have been influenced by both those of Celtic-speaking countries, including some pagan, and Celtic Christianity. Some studies of folklore have found ties to the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds; and the festival of the dead called Parentalia. More typical is a tie to Samhain, which in Old Irish means “summer’s end.” It was the first and most important of four celebrations in the medieval Gaelic calendar celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Even at that time it was held on or about October 31st and November 1st.

The Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the darker half of the year. It was believed that at this time spirits and fairies could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. Offering of food and drink, portions of crops, etc. were left for these spirits and fairies to ensure that people and livestock survived the winter. People also set places at the table or by the fire to welcome the souls of the dead who revisited them. In the 19th century, Irish Catholic households lit candles and offered prayers for the dead. Following eating and drinking, games were played, often with the intent to divine the future of those assembled, especially in regards to marriage and death. Nuts and apples, and sometimes bonfires, were used in the rituals; the smoke and ashes having protective and cleansing powers that were used in divination. The Christian adoption of the bonfires was to scare witches and warn them of their awaiting punishment in hell.

Costumes & Trick-or-Treat

Going about in costume, known as mumming or guising (disguising), dates back to the 16th century. People went house-to-house reciting verses in exchange for food. It may have its roots in Gaelic folk origin; or it may be rooted in the Christian custom of “souling” – a custom of giving cakes of fruits and spices for the souls of the dead.

They were set out with glasses of wine on All Hallows’ Eve as an offering for the dead, and then on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day children would go ‘souling’ – literally begging for cakes door-to-door. This was seen as a means of alms-giving.

Depending on the custom of the regions, costumes included representations of the spirits, men dressing as fearsome beings, young people dressing as the opposite gender, as well as animals representing the wearer’s desire for his or her future. Many practices of costuming included a desire to ward off supernatural beings by imitating them or hiding from them.

Though guising (costumes) and souling (trick-or-treat) has been part of Hallowe’en for centuries, the recorded evidence in North America was a newspaper article in Ontario, Canada in 1911. Another reference appeared in 1915, and a third in Chicago in 1920. The earliest known printed use of the term “trick-or-treat” appeared in Canada in 1927. In the U.S., it didn’t become widespread until the 1930s. The first printed use of the term occurred in 1934 in both Portland, OR and Chicago, IL; and the first national publication to reference the term was “The American Home” in 1939. So, in North America, and the United States in particular, wearing costumes and going door-to-door begging for treats is relatively new.

Jack-o’-lanterns

Used as lanterns to be carried by guisers and pranksters, turnips were hollowed out and carved with faces to represent the spirits or goblins. They were meant to light the guisers’ way and to frighten away spirits. It wasn’t until immigrants brought the tradition to North America that the pumpkin was used. The pumpkin is much softer and larger, making it easier to carve than a turnip. The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837, but was associated with harvest time. It wasn’t specifically associated with Hallowe’en until several decades later. And, true to American capitalism, the celebration of Hallowe’en has become just one more commercial enterprises.

Participate or Not?

So, should we participate in and celebrate Hallowe’en? Non-Christians may not have any issue at all. It may simply be a matter of a fun activity. For others, they may still celebrate one of the various harvest festivals, but, just because they occurs on the same day doesn’t make it a Hallowe’en celebration. Just as spring festivals and winter festivals really have nothing to do with Easter or Christmas. Some Christians choose not to celebrate Easter or Christmas. Others do, even though the Christian celebration happen to coincide with non-Christian festivities. And, like Christmas and Easter, some Christians celebrate Hallowe’en and some do not. It there one right answer?

Argument Against

The main argument against Christians participating in Hallowe’en focus on the pagan and occult aspects. They point to divination, communication with the dead, witchcraft, fertility rights, and, of course, following the practices, rituals, and customs of non-believers.  And, of course, there are both Old Testament and New Testament teachings on, and prohibitions against, practicing witchcraft and participating in the occult. Most of the arguments against celebrating Hallowe’en revolve around a fear of evil, and welcoming evil into our lives.

Argument For

Many argue that celebrating Hallowe’en is acceptable and appropriate. Are there Christian celebrations that coincide with non-Christian celebrations. Yes. But that’s not reason enough not to celebrate. Easter and Christmas are prime examples. The Christian celebration of All Hallows Eve, and All Saints’ Day, have nothing to do with Samhain. Additionally, the focus was not, is not, and does not have to be focused on evil. Costumes such as hobos, pirates, superheroes, princesses, etc. have nothing to do with anything sinister and evil. Even if one wishes a costume of a more “evil” nature, they can be used as a way to mock and laugh at evil – thus removing it’s power. Finally, in the true tradition of Hallowe’en, we can celebrate, honor, and remember our loved ones who have passed on. Sort of a Christian version of Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day.

Conclusion

As with most other aspects of our lives, celebrating Hallowe’en really comes down to intent. It would be wrong for a Christian to celebrate with the intent of honoring and bringing about evil. On the other hand, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the true meaning of Hallowe’en; just as we celebrate the true meaning of Easter and Christmas. And, just like Christmas and Easter, we should understand, and we should teach our children, why we celebrate Hallowe’en.

Regardless of our position on celebrating or not, we must be careful not to allow our differences to cause division within the church, the Body of Christ. The Bible is silent on actual holidays like Hallowe’en. Like Christmas and Easter, Christians must think and choose for themselves whether or not to celebrate. Like our quote from Voltair, we should incorporate the principles found in Romans 14, allowing each to think and decide for himself. Verses 1-6 tell us, “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.”

In closing, I’d like to share a couple of brief statements I found while researching:

  • “So, should a Christian celebrate Halloween? Is there anything evil about a Christian dressing up as a princess or cowboy and going around the block asking for candy? No, there is not. Are there things about Halloween that are anti-Christian and should be avoided? Absolutely! If parents are going to allow their children to participate in Halloween, they should make sure to keep them from getting involved in the darker aspects of the day. If Christians are going to take part in Halloween, their attitude, dress, and most importantly, their behavior should still reflect a redeemed life (Philippians 1:27). There are many churches that hold “harvest festivals” and incorporate costumes, but in a godly environment. There are many Christians who hand out tracts that share the Gospel along with the Halloween candy. The decision is ultimately ours to make. But as with all things, we are to incorporate the principles of Romans 14. We can’t allow our own convictions about a holiday to cause division in the body of Christ, nor can we use our freedom to cause others to stumble in their faith. We are to do all things as to the Lord.” Read The Full Article
  • “Should Christians and their children participate in Halloween activities if they are unsure whether it is the right thing to do or are convinced it is wrong? The Bible teaches us that we should be fully persuaded in our own minds about these things—either pro or con. But we should not judge or condemn others who are of a different persuasion. The apostle Paul’s advice in Romans 14 can be applied to the question of Halloween activities.
    If some people feel uncomfortable participating in Halloween activities, perhaps due to problems in their region, then they should not do so. The day has religious significance only to those who give it religious significance. (Of course, as mentioned earlier, we would do well to avoid those activities that still do have an unChristian flavor.)
    It is the responsibility of each Christian to decide, based on biblical and Christian principles, whether to participate in Halloween activities, and to avoid judging other Christians who have different circumstances and make different decisions.” Read The Full Article
  • “Why should Christians allow others to claim Halloween as their own?  We should not.   We should take it back All Hallows Eve by embracing All Saints Day and remembering our “saints”.  By separating All Hallows Eve from the pre-Christian practices, Christians can take comfort in understanding the historical Christian remembrance that is associated with All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day.  Children can collect donations for UNICEF or for a local cause. We Christians can also view Halloween as a fun event for children by having events in churches or in our communities where children and their parents can dress up, play games, and share some treats in a safe place.” Read The Full Article

And finally, this is a wonderful response to the above post and other comments that were made about it:

  • “Christians are the most narrow minded people on the planet. Do you really think that God is up there saying.. “how dare you celebrate with candy and pumpkins?” Holidays are what YOU make them to be. My father is a fundamental baptist pastor, and I grew up with Halloween. We talked about how it was ‘all hallow’s eve’ and what that meant, then we celebrated with trick or treating and a party at our house for our friends/family. We do the same thing with Christmas. We talked about the real meaning and where it comes from and how it translated into Santa… I don’t feel jipped, I felt informed. Maybe if more parents spent time educating our children on the TRUTH we wouldn’t have so many leaving churches and God. Trust me, God will still love you even if you go trick or treating… Good Grief people get a clue!” (Kim R)

Personally, Hallowe’en as it’s commercially celebrated holds little meaning for me. I can take it or leave it. I don’t particularly enjoy Hallowe’en parties, decorating my house, or, dressing up in costume (though I did put on a bit of a costume today to make a point). My participation in the commercialized aspect of Hallowe’en is pretty much limited to giving out candy to trick-or-treaters. But, over the years, I have also learned to celebrate the true Christian aspects of All Hallows Eve and All Saints’ Day – taking time to honor and remember those who have passed on. That’s what works for me. I encourage each of you to decide for yourselves and, most importantly, not to judge others who might decide differently.

Scripture

  • Romans 14:1-6
  • Philippians 1:27

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Halloween: Yes or No – Quote

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceHalloween: Yes or No

Do a little research and you’ll see that the debate within Christian circles over Halloween is alive and well. Many folks get downright nasty in vehemently expressing their opinions. So I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the history of Halloween, some of the arguments from various sides of the issue, discuss our thoughts, and answer the question: Should we, as Christians, celebrate Halloween, Yes or No?

Spiritual Quote

“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.”
~Voltaire

Potential Scripture

  • Romans 14: 1-6
  • Philippians 1:27

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Be True to Ourselves – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceBe True to Ourselves – Introduction

We’ve all heard the saying, “to thine own self be true.” So many people cross our paths every day. And, while we’re on our journey into a relationship with God, with His Son, and with His Holy Spirit, we might be tempted, at times, to compare ourselves to others who we perceive as being either farther along or somewhat behind us on their respective journeys. It’s important to remember, especially when tempted to compare our journey to that of someone else, we must be true to ourselves.

Spiritual Quote

“Avoid comparing yourself with others. If you do you’ll lose the chance to see the beauty in you.”
~Ritu Ghatourey

Thoughts

On our journey into a relationship with God, many people are brought into our lives. We come together here each week, and have developed a strong spiritual community. We interact with people at work, at play, while we shop. Sometimes we’re with friends, and they introduce us to others that we might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet.

We are also introduced to people, vicariously, through books, CDs, lectures, articles, blogs, etc. I think of the people I have ‘met’ through their books and writings. People like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Eckhart Tolle, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Wayne Dyer, Elaine Pagels, Louise Hay – just to name a few. I also think of other pastors and theologians such as Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, John Shelby Spong, Charles Fillmore, and others.

Less Than/More Than

Sometimes when we meet people, or even some of whom we meet through their works such as books, we might think, “Wow, thank God I’m not…” or “Thank God I don’t…” We compare ourselves, and finding the other person lacking, we build ourselves up by declaring them “less” – less evolved, less spiritual, less faithful, less than us.

This type of thinking is really nothing more than our own ego and pride. We make ourselves feel better, we build ourselves up, and we gain a sense of superiority by making someone else inferior.

On the other hand, which is more often the case, we compare ourselves and our journey, and we feel inadequate. We feel like we’re not as far along on our journey as we should be. We think things like, “If I could write like that…,” “If I could express myself like…,” “I wish I was as sure and confident as…” In this comparison, it is we who come up lacking. The others to whom we are comparing ourselves seem to have it all figured out, they have it all together. We believe they are more advanced, more evolved, more spiritual, more faithful, more…than us.

This type of thinking diminishes us, and gives us the sense that we are not good enough. We are telling ourselves that our relationship with God, as it is right now, is not good enough. And, by implication, we are telling ourselves we are not worthy, we are not good enough.

I’m pretty sure that each and every one of us has compared ourselves and our journey with others and their journey. I know I have. I’ve met, spoken with, and read the works of others who have left me feeling completely and wholly inadequate.

A Little Secret

I’d like to share the secret I’ve learned. Would you like to hear it?

Here it is…It’s not about “them” – it’s about me. It’s about my journey. The same holds true for others. It’s not about how I, or you, or anyone else sees them. It’s about their journey. I am exactly where I am supposed to be on my journey – just as others are exactly where they are supposed to be on their journeys.

God loves us all, just as we are. It doesn’t matter how others see me, or how I see them. It matters how we see ourselves, and how God sees us. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “…For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

You see, it doesn’t matter if I perceive someone else as not being as far along, or being farther along, on their journey than I. What matters is that we are all where we are, and God loves us all equally. When we look at others, all we see is the outer appearance. We don’t see their internal struggles. Even those who seemingly “have it all together” have doubts and fears; we just don’t see them. God knows our hearts.

Kick-start Our Journey

To deepen the relationship in our hearts, we may have to give our journey a little kick-start every once in a while. How do we do that? We read and study Scripture. We listen to and read other spiritual seekers to enhance our understanding. We discern their messages, giving heed to that which helps and dismissing that which impedes our path. And, most importantly, we pray and meditate.

Paul gives us some advice in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul advises us to not worry so much about what others, the world, thinks. We are to be true to ourselves. When we renew our minds (listening, reading, studying), we gain knowledge. When we test what we’ve read or heard, we can discern what is right and perfect, and God will lead our journey.

When tempted to compare ourselves to others, we should also remember Paul’s advice in Romans 12:6 & 7: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;” We all have different gifts.

Those gifts are all part of our journey. It’s up to use how we choose to use our gifts along the way. Sometimes another’s gift will inspire us and propel us on our journey; sometimes, our gifts will be a source of inspiration to others.

When we read Scripture, or the works of others, we can pray that the Holy Spirit guide us in our understanding and knowledge. And, we can meditate, giving the Holy Spirit time and space in which to give us that guidance. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” And 1 Timothy 4:15 says, “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.”

Let me talk about meditation for just a moment. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines meditate as:

  1. to engage in contemplation or reflection
  2. to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness
  3. to focus one’s thoughts on :  reflect on or ponder over
  4. to plan or project in the mind

I know a lot of people think that to meditate one must empty his or her mind in order to attain a heightened level of spiritual awareness. That is certainly one way of meditating; as is described in the second definition above. The first and definitions, however, are more in alignment with the Scriptural meaning. The Greek work used is Meletao; and it means to revolve in the mind. When we meditate, we can spend time in contemplation and reflection; we can ponder over the topic at hand and let the Holy Spirit guide us.

According to Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew provides us with a wonderful overview of how we can be true to ourselves. In Chapter 5, verses 1-12, Jesus taught what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. In His sermon, Jesus describes what our character should be. Verses 3-6 describe our attitude toward ourselves – being humble and having a hunger for living a Godly life. Verses 7-9 describe our attitude toward others – being passionate about peace. And verses 10-12 describe our attitude toward those who we would perceive as enemies – finding joy even in the face of persecution. Then, Jesus goes on to say, in verses 13-16, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Our gifts, no matter what they are, can be used to help others experience and see God’s Kingdom – just as the gifts of others can help us. Notice that Jesus didn’t command us to be “salt and light.” He declared us to be “salt and light.” Salt brings out the flavors of that to which it is added. As the salt of the earth, we bring out the best that the earth, and by implication, God, has to offer.

When Jesus speaks of the salt losing its flavor, becoming tasteless, what does He mean? The word translated as tasteless was originally savour. And, savour was translated from the Greek ‘moraino’, which means ‘become foolish’.

If we hide our gifts, or feel our gifts aren’t “good enough,” we are, in essence, being foolish. We must use our gifts to help each other taste, meaning experience, the Kingdom of God. As the light we allow others to see God’s Kingdom. We can use our gifts to light the way of not only our journey, but others’ journeys as well – thus giving ‘light to all who are in the house’.

Finally, Jesus commands us to let our light shine, let our works be seen and experienced, and, as a consequence, glorify God. We must be true to ourselves as the “salt and the light.” We can only be true to ourselves when we utilize the gifts we have, rather than comparing them to the gifts of others. We each must use our gifts to strengthen our relationship with God; and to help others on their journey into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Him. It is through our individual gifts that the body is made whole.

Now, some may feel like Scripture is giving us some mixed messages in Matthew. Chapter 6:1 & 2 says, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”

This would seem to contradict Matthew 5 wherein we’re told to let our light shine so that they may see our good works. Take special notice of the last part of that line – “and glorify your Father in heaven.” That’s the difference – and the key. It comes back to our intent. When we use our gifts to light the path for others, and in so doing, bring glory to God – that’s a good thing. In Matthew 6 Jesus is warning us of the dangers of using our gifts to draw attention to ourselves – seeking glory and recognition.

Conclusion

If we, in our heart of hearts, have a deep desire to know God, and to have a relationship with Him – He knows. He knows our doubts, our fears, our strengths, our weaknesses. And, He knows how much we desire a strong relationship with Him. It matters not what others see, or what we see in others – it only matters what is in our hearts.

I am exactly where I am supposed to be on my journey. You are exactly where you are supposed to be on your journeys. We each have gifts that we can use in order to be the salt and the light. And we can learn from the gifts that others offer to help guide us on our journeys.

I don’t have to be Bishop Spong, Billy Graham, Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King. I don’t have to be Elaine Pagels, or Joel Osteen. God made me Alan Little. I simply have to be the best Alan Little I can be. The same holds true for you. You don’t have to be anyone different from who you are. You simply have to be the best you that you can be.

When all is said and done, when we are being the best we can be, we don’t have to compare ourselves to others – we simply have to be true to ourselves.

Scripture

  • 1 Samuel 16:7
  • Romans 12:2
  • Romans 12:6 & 7
  • Philippians 4:8
  • 1 Timothy 4:15
  • Matthew 5:1-16
  • Matthew 6:1 & 2

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Be True to Ourselves – Quote

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceBe True to Ourselves – Introduction

We’ve all heard the saying, “to thine own self be true.” So many people cross our paths every day. And, while we’re on our journey into a relationship with God, with His Son, and with His Holy Spirit, we might be tempted, at times, to compare ourselves to others who we perceive as either farther along or somewhat behind us on their respective journeys. It’s important to remember, especially when tempted to compare our journey to that of someone else, that we must be true to ourselves.

Spiritual Quote

“Avoid comparing yourself with others. If you do you’ll lose the chance to see the beauty in you.”
~Ritu Ghatourey

Potential Scripture

  • 1 Samuel 16:7
  • Romans 12:2
  • Romans 12:6-7
  • Matthew 5:1-16
  • Matthew 6:1 & 2

Join Us!

Join us for worship and fellowship!

We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

More Than a Set of Rules – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceMore Than A Set Of Rules – Introduction

We’ve spoken so much recently on the subject of how we show up as Christians. As one of our favorite hymns says, they will know we are Christians by our love. Our discussions have started my thinking…

Is there more to being a Christian than following a set of rules?

What truly makes one a Christian?

Spiritual Quote

“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”
~G.K. Chesterton

Thoughts

Think about it for a moment. Jesus taught over and over again that the law, rules, were made for us; we were not made for the rules. And where do the rules come from, anyway? Which rules do we follow? Where do they come from?

I used to teach a class on Ethics and Morals in the workplace. As part of the discussion we discovered our morals, the rules we live by, come from many sources…

  • parents
  • school
  • church
  • friends

When we are very young, we grow and learn the morals and values that our parents and family teach us. Then, as we get older, we notice our friends do things we don’t, or don’t do things we do. We start to realize that not every family “plays by the same rules.” Added to the mix are the rules set by our school and by our church.

Then we enter the world of work and a whole new set of ethics is introduced. Ultimately, we end up facing choices – which morals and ethics are we going to live by, and which are we going to set aside.

In addition to the “societal” morals and ethics, we have the rules and regulations set by man. We have laws and statutes by which our society is ordered. But, they, too, are subject to change. Our laws are constantly in a state of flux – what was legal a decade ago might not be legal today; and what’s legal today might not be legal a decade from now.

It can all get very confusing. As a case in point, let’s take a look at murder. Biblically, Exodus 20:13 says, “thou shalt not murder.” But what does “murder” really mean? The Bible also gives many examples when it would seem okay to kill. Even our laws can be confusing. We have first degree murder, first degree murder with special circumstances, second degree murder, manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, etc.

Another case in scripture…Luke 6:29 says, “…If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” If this is viewed as a rule, we’d all be walking around half naked most of the time. But, what’s the underlying message? Be generous, without expectation of receiving anything in return.

It’s easy to see that if we were to try and live by a strict set of rules, we’d all fail – miserably. Worse – living by a hard and fast, fixed set of rules isn’t living – we become automatons. Jesus wouldn’t even be necessary anymore. That’s the way the Hebrews tried to live before Jesus came. They tried to live by a strict set of laws, and failed miserably. Which was Jesus’ message – the laws were made for man, not man for the laws. And in the application of the laws, there must be thought and consideration given to the situation and the spirit. Jesus demonstrated over and over again that taking care of people was far more important than living by the letter of the law.

And what if God doesn’t care so much about how well we follow rules, but is more interested in how deep our relationship is with Him. When we simply do this, or don’t do that, hoping to earn God’s favor, we are living by works, not by faith. Remember, Ephesians 2:8 & 9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Romans 3:28 says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” And Galatians 2:16 says, “…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ…” Scripture makes it abundantly clear that it’s by our faith we are saved, not by our works, and not by how well we live up to “the law.”

God gave us free will. When we accept Jesus into our hearts, His spirit saves us from ourselves. It’s our faith, not what we do or don’t do, that makes the difference. And yet it is through that faith that we are changed, we are made new. And, as a result, we strive to live better. As we do, we turn to Him in every situation and we strengthen our relationship more and more as we go.

So…where do we start?

Scripture tells us where to start. We start by seeking the kingdom of God. Matthew 6:33 tells us, “…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” Luke 17:21 tells us, “…the Kingdom of God is within you.” The Greek meaning of “within” used here is “in the midst” of you. It accompanies Jesus.

Just because we’ve accepted Jesus, doesn’t mean our work is finished. We can’t just show up to church and call ourselves Christian. Once we have accepted Jesus, we have made the choice to follow Him.

The Way

So what does it mean to follow Him? If following Him meant living by a strict set of rules, scripture would have to list every rule and every situation that could possibly occur. And, He would have to take into account things like changes in culture. Instead, we should use scripture as a tool. It provides us the basic instruction. We must read and study scripture, and make our decisions accordingly. And we must take responsibility for our own learning. This is where a lot of folks go wrong. They attend church, and they wait for “the church” or the pastor or some other person or group to tell them what to think, how to behave, what to do, and what not to do. That, quite simply, is putting our faith in man, not in God. In order to deepen our relationship, we must accept responsibility for our learning. Can others help along the way?

Of course. But, ultimately, it’s up to us. Remember, 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17 tells us, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Christianity is more than just a religion. Merriam-Webster defines religion as:

  • a) the belief in a god or group of gods,
  • b) an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods

By definition, rules are a part of religion. And, most often, rules are man-made based on the denomination of the church in question; and those rules are decided by groups of people. Christianity is more than that. Remember, Jesus wasn’t walking around proclaiming a new religion. He was Jewish, and spoke, primarily at first anyway, to other Jews.

He spoke in terms Jews would understand – based on the Torah. The term Christian didn’t come about until well after Jesus’ death. In chronically the journeys of the disciples after Jesus’ death, Acts 11:26 tells us, “…The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Prior to that time, Jesus’ followers were considered a Jewish sect. And they were known as “followers of the Way.” Remember, Paul himself said in Acts 22:4, “And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison.”

In John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way…”” The Greek word translated as Way is hŏdŏs (hod-os’). It literally means a road, and by implication, a progress – the route; and figuratively, a mode or means – a journey. When we proclaim ourselves to be Christian, since Jesus is the Way, and we are followers of the Way, we are, in fact, followers of Jesus. He is the route we have chosen by which we strengthen our relationship with God, and it’s a progressive journey. We’re not perfect, and we’ll make mistakes along the way, but, through faith, we stay the course.

Jesus taught that the way to God is found in how we treat one another, not in blindly following rules for the sake of following them. I know it’s turned into more of an advertising slogan, but the question “what would Jesus do?” is exactly what we should be asking ourselves. Whenever we’re confronted with a situation, before responding or reacting, we should be asking ourselves that very question. How do we know what He’d do? Study Scripture! Pray and meditate on the question and listen to that still, small voice within – that’s the Spirit of God speaking to you.

Conclusion

To be truly Christian we must do more than just show up at church. As our quote so plainly puts it, just showing up doesn’t make us Christian. We can stand in our garages and call ourselves a car all day long, and we won’t be a car. We can swim in a lake and call ourselves a duck, that doesn’t make us a duck -we’re still human.

As Christians, Jesus is our Way to God. To be Christian means more than a set of rules. It’s not about rules, it’s not about just showing up to church and blindly following along with what “the church” or the pastor says – it’s about a way of life. Rules don’t define the way, they are simply a guide to point us in the direction and help to guide us. To be His followers, we must follow His example. As Christians, we should act and behave a certain way because it’s the way Jesus would act and behave. Does it mean we have to change? Yes! When Christ lives in our heart, we must strive to be more, to be “better” than we were before. And, to quote a line from one of my favorite movies, To Save A Life, “What’s the point of all this if you’re not going to let this change you?”

Scripture

  • Exodus 20:13
  • Luke 6:29
  • Ephesians 2:8 & 9
  • Romans 3:28
  • Galatians 2:16
  • Matthew 6:33
  • Luke 17:21
  • 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17
  • Acts 11:26
  • Acts 22:4
  • John 14:6

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If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please feel free to share it.

More Than a Set of Rules – Quote

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceMore Than A Set of Rules – Introduction

We’ve spoken so much recently on the subject of how we show up as Christians. As one of our favorite hymns says, they will know we are Christians by our love. Our discussions have started my thinking…

Is being a Christian more than a set of rules to follow?

What truly makes one a Christian?

Spiritual Quote

“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”
~G.K. Chesterton

Potential Scripture

  • Exodus 20:13
  • Luke 6:29
  • Ephesians 2:8 & 9
  • Romans 3:28
  • Galatians 2:16
  • Matthew 6:33
  • Luke 17:21
  • 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17
  • Acts 11:26
  • Acts 22:4
  • John 14:6

Join Us!

Join us Sunday for worship and fellowship!

We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Preposterous Assumptions – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeacePreposterous Assumptions – Introduction

Preposterous Assumptions…we all make them. When we do, what we’re really doing is judging others. And frequently, if we’re not careful, our judgemental expression takes the form of vile, nasty comments.

Spiritual Quote

“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity, nothing exceeds the criticisms made of the habits of the poor by the well housed, well warmed, and well fed.”
~ Herman Melville , Criminal Minds Episode

Thoughts

I originally had a totally different subject in mind for today’s quote. But, as is often the case, current events have inspired me to view it from a different angle. Today’s quote reminds us that there are those who are never at a loss to give advice, usually in the form of criticism. You know the type…the people who have all the advice in the world on how to raise children, but who have never had children of their own. All too often the well housed, well warmed, and well fed have no problem at all finding ways to criticize and judge those who are poor, or at least not as well off.

In their zeal to be superior, to have all the answers, and to tell others how they should live, they usually don’t have all the facts; they make preposterous assumptions; and they make very hurtful comments.

Let me share a story…

My daughter is married and has three boys under the age of 10. My daughter made the choice not long ago to quit her job in order to be a stay-at-home mom. A choice, by the way, that used to be seen as a good thing. It was a hard decision because she enjoyed working, enjoyed her job, was good at what she did, and was well liked by her employer and coworkers. Unfortunately, the cost of day care was more than she brought home each month. It simply didn’t make sense to continue working. Her husband works extremely hard to provide for their family. He’s in construction, which means there are times when income is scarce. They don’t have a lot of money, but they pay their bills, and their boys have a roof over their heads, and they are loved, clothed, and fed. Due to their income level, they qualify for WIC – a nutritional program providing supplemental foods, health care referral, and nutrition education to pregnant and post-partum women, and to infants and children up to age five. The maximum income for a family of five, the size of my daughter’s family, is $51,000 per year. The WIC program isn’t “food stamps.” It pays for specific nutritional foods like formula, baby cereal, bread, milk, eggs, vegetables, baby foods, peanut butter, etc. The program is designed to provide better nutrition to children in families that, due to lower incomes, might otherwise purchase cheaper, less nutritional foods.

When shopping with WIC vouchers, cashiers must ring items up in a certain way, which can make the check-out process longer than it would be otherwise. My daughter knows this and is careful to organize the items according to their corresponding coupons. This helps the cashier ring up the items consistent with the WIC requirements, and also helps to speed the check-out process so that people behind her in line aren’t held up any longer than necessary.

The other day, she was in the check-out line and had organized all of the items and coupons. The lady behind her was impatient, huffing and puffing, and muttering under her breath. After checking out, my daughter proceeded to her car and began buckling the boys into their car seats and loading up her groceries. The lady who had been behind her came out, and happened to be parked right next to my daughter. No longer muttering under her breath, the lady proceeded to complain to her mother, who had been waiting in the car, about my daughter, how long she took, holding up the line, and, if she would get a job like everyone else she wouldn’t take up other people’s time by having to check out with the vouchers. My daughter was crushed, and, as she got into the car, tears started streaming down her face.

This lady, a complete stranger, was making preposterous assumptions. She was judgemental, unkind, and unloving. Her attitude and her remarks were hurtful. Of course, I reminded my daughter that she is not responsible for the thoughts, words, or actions of others; she is only responsible for how she reacts to them. She will never see this lady again and she does not have to give the lady power over her happiness.

Social Media

We’ve talked about judging others and minding our tongues before. When we’ve talked about judgement and minding our tongues before, it’s generally been in the context of personal interactions. This incident got me thinking about it in a whole different way.

We strive to understand how scripture applies in our lives today. This is a wonderful example. My daughter happened to relay this story through Facebook.

Reading the comments that her friends posted, the application of scripture in our lives today became obvious. Scripture doesn’t apply just in our day-to-day interactions. When we’re in a personal one-on-one interaction, our comments are pretty much between the two people involved. But with the advent of social media – even a personal comment between friends is now shared with 100’s, if not 1,000s of people. Our preposterous assumptions – our judgements – and our vile, nasty, unloving, unkind comments, and yes, our unChristian behavior is now out there for the world to see. And, the internet being what it is, they’re out there in cyber-space forever. And, when responding to an incident such as my daughter’s, sometimes the follow-up comments are as bad or worse than the original incident. For example – here are just a few of the comments that others made to my daughter’s post:

  • …i hate those people
  • …you know, i talk s**t back to people like that
  • …people like that should be knocked out…I’m sure her handicapped mom is on assistance (the lady’s car had been parked in a disabled parking space) because we all know ;you can’t live off of disability or social security…
  • …don’t mind stupid people
  • …should have punched her in the throat with a shovel
  • …people used to talk abut me, too…I just started taking longer to p**s them off
  • …s***w her…she’s a rude b***h
  • …f**k those a-holes

There were some kind, supportive comments, too, of course.

My cousin’s comment, though, was the best: judgement = more judgement. She hit the nail on the head. The people commenting about the lady’s judgement of my daughter we just as judgemental, just as mean-spirited, just as unkind – maybe even more so. They got downright rude and vulgar.

When it comes to social media, what used to be a private situation between two people, or even just a few people, now escalates to untold proportions. The anger, judgement, and hate feeds on itself. And, as it feeds, it gets bigger and bigger, flowing out to more and more and more people.

I don’t think we pay quite enough attention to the impact social media has. With it, personal, sometimes intimate details are shared to untold numbers of people. Our thoughts and our words can have an impact on so many, and we just don’t stop to realize it.

And it doesn’t stop with incidents like my daughter’s either. There are lot of blog and Facebook postings and comments on social issues such as the Affordable Care Act, Marriage Equality, and Politics in general.

Republicans slam Democrats…Democrats slam Republicans…Liberals slam Conservatives…Conservatives slam Liberals…and on, and, and on.

Here are just a few comments that have come through on postings I see from friends, many of whom happen to identify themselves as Christian:

  • …idiot Libtards
  • …didn’t vote for Obumma
  • …impeach Obummer
  • …you’re a fool…time will show how much of a fool
  • …all devilcrats have mental issues
  • …all republicans are racist losers
  • …you are a moron

Many of these posts and comments show hundreds and even thousands of “Likes” and “Shares.” Social media has a lot of very positive attributes. Unfortunately, it also provides a mechanism for nasty, vile, and unloving comments to spread like wildfire.

Applying Scripture

For those who may not identify as Christian, a simple remedy would be to remember the “Golden Rule”, “do unto others.” The concept is not new, it’s been taught by parents to children for centuries. It’s part of many faith traditions.

For those who do identify as Christian, this is a perfect opportunity to see how scripture can apply in our lives today. Actually, “do unto others” is taken directly from scripture. Luke 6:31 reads, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” And Matthew 7:12 says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…”

When we hear, or read a social media comment, that’s nasty, vile, or judgemental, do we respond in kind? Are we just as nasty, vile, or judgemental? There are countless other scriptures about judgement and controlling our tongues. I’d like to look at just one of them. Matthew 7:1-5 says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

There’s no doubt the lady in my daughter’s story was behaving rudely and being hurtful. She was, as our quote says, making preposterous assumptions. And, like I said, we’ve all done it. We’ve all heard or even maybe made comments about others. Comments like:

  • He’s not disabled, he’s just lazy…Really? How do you know? A lot of people have a “hidden” disability that limit their ability to work.
  • He should just go on a diet…Perhaps. But do you know his medical condition? Are you his doctor?
  • Why should she get a job when she can just keep having babies and collect welfare and food stamps…Are there some who take advantage of the system? Sure. But do you know what her situation is? I’ve actually heard that comment in regards to a lady using food stamps. The person making the comment had no idea that the woman in question does, in fact, have a full-time job. Unfortunately, her husband abandoned the family, doesn’t pay child support, and her income doesn’t come close to providing for her needs.
  • She should just eat something…Again, perhaps. But do you know her situation? Does she suffer from depression? Does she have a disease like AIDS-related wasting syndrome or Lou Gherig’s disease that affects the ability to swallow and to absorb nutrients?

The list could go on and on. The point is, we don’t know. And even if we did, what purpose does it serve to be nasty, vile, malicious, and mean-spirited? None – other than to make ourselves feel superior.

Before making comments we would do well to remember Ephesians 4:29, “”Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” With social media playing so large a role in our lives today, it’s important to remember that Paul’s words to the Ephesians apply not only to our spoken word to those in a face-to-face situation. Paul’s words apply all the more to our printed comments because they have the potential of reaching, and positively or negatively impacting a far greater number of people. When we’re face-to-face, we might inadvertently let a comment slip out in the “heat of the moment.” But, with social media our comments aren’t inadvertent slips. We have the opportunity to catch ourselves; we can take a moment before clicking the “reply” button.

It’s also important for us to remember that, as followers of Christ, we are called to a high standard – to be more, to be better than we were before. Titus 3:2-7 reads, “To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,…”

Conclusion

And so it is, I invite you to be more, to be better than you were. When using social media, before posting, before clicking the “reply” or “comment” buttons, take a moment. Are you making preposterous assumptions? Are you speaking evil of someone; are you picking a fight? Are you giving in to your passions and emotions? Or, are your words gentle, courteous, and uplifting toward all people who might read them? Do your words convey the goodness, love, and kindness of God; and are they an example of Jesus living in your heart?

Even if we can’t remember all of the scripture chapters and verses, we would all, Christian and non-Christian alike, do well to actually practice the “Golden Rule.” Imagine the impact we could have if we all just started there – in every conversation, every comment, every interaction – whether in person or through social media, we do nothing more or less than to treat others the way we would like to be treated.

Scripture

  • Luke 6:31
  • Matthew 7:12
  • Matthew 7:1-5
  • Ephesians 4:29
  • Titus 3:2-7

Join the Discussion

If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please feel free to share it.

Preposterous Assumptions – Quote

Innocence, Gentleness, PeacePreposterous Assumptions – Introduction

Preposterous Assumptions…we all make them. When we do, what we’re really doing is judging others. And frequently, if we’re not careful, our judgemental expression takes the form of vile, nasty comments.

Spiritual Quote

“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity, nothing exceeds the criticisms made of the habits of the poor by the well housed, well warmed, and well fed.”
~Herman Melville, Criminal Minds Episode

Potential Scripture

  • Luke 6:31
  • Matthew 7:12
  • Matthew 7:1-5
  • Ephesians 4:29
  • Titus 3:2-7

Join Us

Join us Sunday for worship and fellowship!

We Are A Community of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

 

Welcome To Our Table – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceWelcome To Our Table – Introduction

We claim to be a Community of Spiritual Growth and Healing Where Everyone is Welcome! How well do we live up to that claim? When “outsiders” or “non-believers” walk through our door, do they feel judged by us, or do they feel loved and welcome?

Spiritual Quote

“If you judge people,
you have no time to love them.”
~Mother Teresa

Thoughts

I recently received an email from someone who had joined us a while back, but had not yet returned. Let me share the gist of the email with you:

“Dear new friends,

I attended your service…because I am looking for community.  I did not know, before I attended, that is was a Christian community.  Although I respect and honor your right to believe as you wish, I felt like I was not being honest with all of you. You embraced me with such good will and I was not telling the truth. I want community, but I am not Christian, in fact, I am atheist. I did not know, until today, how to handle this. So, I am writing to let you know that I enjoyed your company and your good energy, but I would be dishonest if I told you that communion meant anything other than fellowship, for me. I would be lying if I let you believe that I believe like you believe. I am not opposed to participation in ritual, I like it, but I must state my case and ask you all how you would feel about me being present during your services.

I thank you for your sweet generosity and your kind embrace…”

Yes, the email stated we were welcoming and gracious. But, the author also wondered whether, if we knew the truth, would we be just as gracious and welcoming? It’s a fair question. And it’s that question spurred me to give it serious thought.

If We Had Known

If we had known the truth, that the author is a self-proclaimed atheist,  would we have just has gracious and welcoming? I’d like to think we would. And, the short easy answer is “yes, of course.” Personally, I think we live up to our claim pretty well. But why do we make that claim? Why a simple “yes, of course?” Is it because we simply want to attract people? Is it because it feeds our ego, allowing us to feel good about ourselves; or to feel somehow superior? Sure, it makes us feel good. We’d like to think of ourselves as open, accepting, loving. And, we want to treat others well. But, is there more to it?

I believe there is more to it – much more. I believe it’s at the very heart of Jesus’ teachings. On the face of it, this might seem like a no-brainer. But, I think it’s important to really examine the “why.” Part of what we strive to do is to make sense of Scripture, and to discuss how words written and lessons taught 2000 years ago can apply in our lives today. This is a perfect example.

Let’s take a look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In Chapter 4, verses 5 & 6, Paul writes: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Who are “outsiders?” At the time, anyone outside of the Jewish faith was an outsider. Today, within the Christian framework, those who are not Christian, those outside of the church, are outsiders – they’re outside of a relationship with Jesus. Some denominations call them “unbelievers,” some call them the “un-churched.” Whatever the term, as our emailer said, outsiders are simply people who don’t believe what we believe. And how does Paul instruct us to behave? With wisdom. Why? Because we are the embodiment of Christ’s message. Non-believers will judge Christianity by what they see in us. If we are unkind, ungracious, un-welcoming – that’s exactly how they will view the whole of our faith. On the other hand, when we are kind and loving – that’s the portrait of Christianity they will see. Remember 1 Peter 3:8 – “…all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.”

Paul also tells us to make the most of every opportunity. Outsiders who walk through our door have come for a reason. We may not know the reason, and it doesn’t matter. We all come to church for our own reasons. What matters is that they took the time to seek us out and to walk in the door. This is our opportunity to shine. It’s our opportunity to be a living example of the love and the life that we find through Jesus. If, on the other hand, our conduct is anything less than kind and compassionate, we malign Christ in their eyes and we push them away.

Next, Paul tells us to be gracious in our speech. Basically, he’s saying “watch your tongue.” When we’re speaking to others, especially non-believers, we must be living examples of Christ. How?

By not gossiping, by not slandering, by treating everyone with the same respect (not showing favoritism). And, not just when we’re talking about scripture or our faith – notice the word “always.” We are to be gracious in our speech in every situation. When we’re playing sports; when that driver cuts us off; when we’re at work; in our business dealings, etc. And, most especially when we have visitors at our table. And what does it mean to be gracious? Remember Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Salt preserves. Our words are to be seasoned with salt – they should preserve the message of Christ, not corrupt it.

So, Paul tells us that we should be welcoming and gracious. But, what about Jesus?

Jesus, the very example we are trying to emulate, provides us with plenty of precedent.

Let’s look at Matthew 9:11-13: “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” And in Luke 15:1 & 2 we read, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Remember, the “Law” prohibited eating with certain people. Jesus rose above the law to teach that people are more important. In Mark 7:13, Jesus tells the Pharisees and Sadducees that their strict adherence to “the Law” actually invalidated God’s word – “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” And Paul warns that the letter of the law kills – is hurtful to people; but the Spirit (Jesus’ teachings) give life. 2 Corinthians 3:6 reads, “…For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

It is through inclusiveness, sharing Jesus’ love, that the law is fulfilled. Jesus ate with the sick, the poor, the tax collectors, thieves, etc. He invited everyone to his table, those who didn’t already know Him, and God’s love, needed Him more than those who knew Him. Jesus welcomed everyone – the un-churched, the non-believers, need his message just as much, if not more, than those who are “churched.” If Jesus welcomed “outsiders” to His table, should we do any less?

What About Communion?

Questions like those from our emailer are good because they encourage us to examine why we do what we do. We celebrate Holy Communion, also called the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, every Sunday. But why? And who should be allowed to participate? Did Jesus institute Holy Communion? Did He give us a commandment to celebrate Holy Communion, and how often?

Some churches don’t celebrate Holy Communion at all. Some only celebrate once a month, some only at specific times of year, and others, like us, choose to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week. The list of who is permitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper is just as varied. Some churches only allow those who are members of that particular church to participate. Others allow only those who are baptized and/or confirmed in that particular denomination to participate. Some allow any baptized person; and some allow anyone at all.

Of course, there’s Scripture relating to Holy Communion. But, as with any other topic, the interpretations of Scripture on the subject are as varied as who is allowed to participate and how often the Eucharist is celebrated.

Starting in the Gospels, Luke is the only one to say, “do this in remembrance of me.” And, it was only in relation to the bread, not the wine (Luke 22:19). What were Jesus and His disciples doing? Sharing the Passover Meal. The Greek word that has been translated as “communion” is koinonia, which means a full sharing. The English definition of communion is “the act of sharing, as of intimate thoughts or feelings, especially when the exchange is ona mental or spirutal leve….” The original context was gathering together to fully share in a meal, and to share intimate thoughts and feelings of a spiritual nature. Notice that in the Gospels, Jesus gave no instruction as to specific days or times of year.

Now let’s look at the only actual instructions, which were presented by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 11:17-30 reads, “Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. There when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you; that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betreayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in any unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”

It’s important to note that this was not a ceremony with little cups of juice or wine and some wafers. This was a meal being shared. At the time, bread and wine were common to every meal. According to Paul, Jesus’ instructions were to remember Him as often as they ate and drank. In other words, remembering Him at every meal – not just as a ceremony during worship services. The Christian church adopted the Eucharist as a way to come together, symbolically share a meal, and remember Jesus together. But this should not be the only time we remember Him.

We should pause and take a moment to remember Him every time we eat or drink something – just as Paul instructed. Which is one of the reasons many Christians take a moment in prayer before meals.

So, if we choose to celebrate the Eucharist as part of our worship service, which is certainly appropriate, who should be allowed to partake?

Many churches justify excluding certain people from Holy Communion based on the passage we just read. They feel that anyone who is not part of their particular faith or denomination, or anyone not baptized, etc. is “unworthy” and is therefore to be excluded. But let’s take a closer look at what Paul was saying.

I know some interpretations would have it that those who partake of Holy Communion in an “unworthy” way (according to them or their interpretation) would bring sickness and death upon themselves. But that’s simply not how I, and many others, interpret what Paul is saying. The Lord’s Supper was a celebration and remembrance of the risen Lord. The Corinthians had corrupted and twisted it. They were not eating and drinking in a manner that remembered and honored the living, risen Christ. They were gluttons and drunkards. They filled themselves and left others to go hungry. Which is exactly what Paul meant by eating and drinking in an “unworthy” manner. If they wanted to eat their fill and get drunk, they could do that at home. But they shamed the church by gorging themselves on food and getting drunk, while at the same time leaving others to go hungry. This is why many were weak, sick, and dying.

When we share Holy Communion, we are remembering Jesus death, His resurrection, and fullness of life we find through Him. It’s also important to remember who He died for. He died for everyone – not just believers, not just those who believe a certain way, everyone! His message is for everyone. Yes, even those who would see Communion as simply a ritual.

Conclusion

If an “outsider” chooses to join us to hear His message, shouldn’t we rejoice? And if that same “outsider” understands the meaning behind the Lord’s Supper and wishes to partake of it with us, shouldn’t we welcome them to the table? Remember what Paul was saying to the Corinthians.

By misusing Communion, they were excluding others. That’s why he instructed them to examine themselves – they were to examine their hearts to figure out why they were behaving in such a way.

Many churches celebrate Holy Communion, it’s tradition. And, tradition can be good. It’s when that tradition becomes more important than the people things start to fall apart. Remember, in Mark 7:13 Jesus warned, “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Let’s face it, much of how Christians are judged by non-Christians is based on how Christians are portrayed in the media. The most sensational, mean-spirited, and outlandish behavior by people loudly proclaiming their Christianity as justification for their behavior is what the media will broadcast. If that’s all a non-believer sees, is it any wonder they say “no thanks?” When non-believers walk through our door, we have a rare opportunity to show them something different. To show them the true meaning of our faith. It is incumbent on us to demonstrate our Christian faith is much more than what is seen on T.V., heard on the radio, or read in the papers.

I’ve read and heard things like, “if someone’s not a believer, why would they even want to attend our service,” and “if someone doesn’t believe, why would they even want to partake in Communion?” Honestly? I don’t know. But, I do know they have their reasons.

I discussed this very topic with a friend of mine, who happens to be Catholic. Through our discussion he let me know that he doesn’t agree with the Catholic Church’s stance taht only baptized and confirmed Catholics are permitted to take Holy Communion. He feels that everyone should be welcome to our table. And, he reminded me, as Pope Francis recently said, “who am I to judge?” Their reasons are their own. Just as our emailer who is looking for community. If we make people feel welcome and part of our community, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about? Who knows, maybe that’s what will foster Spiritual Growth. Maybe it’s what will help heal past hurts that have caused someone to turn away from their faith. Maybe it will open their heart enough that they, too, will come to know God and the love we find through Jesus.

We know that Jesus loves us despite our flaws and imperfections. We also know that we are to love others as He loves us. This includes the “non-believers.” So, instead of judging them or their reasons, let’s simply do what Jesus commanded – take them as they are and love them.

As our hymn said, by our love they’ll know we are Christians. Just as Jesus welcomed everyone to His table, let’s also say, “Welcome to Our Table!”

Scripture

  • Colossians 4:5 & 6
  • 1 Peter 3:8
  • Ephesians 4:29
  • Matthew 9:11-13
  • Luke 15:1 & 2
  • Mark 7:13
  • Luke 22:19

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