Halloween Is About You

Halloween. That is a weird word! Where did it come from? What does it mean? No doubt you know what it refers to, but do you know how it came into use?

Halloween is a conjunction, that is two or more words joined together. It shortened “All Hallows Eve”, which is the evening before All Hallows Day or All Saints Day. See, Halloween isn’t about ghosts, goblins, and witches. Halloween is about Saints. Are you one?

Most people would respond, “I’m no Saint!”. They reach that conclusion because they look at the way that they have lived, the decisions that they have made and the things that they have done, and rightly see that they are far from perfect. If that was the standard for being a saint, no one would be one. However, that is not the way that the Bible speaks of saints.

This is how Paul addressed the Christians in Corinth: “To the church of God in Corinth—those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, who are called as saints”. (1 Co. 1:2) Christians are saints because they are sanctified in Christ Jesus. That means that you can be a saint too. Everyone who believes in Jesus has been washed clean of all of their sins. Everyone who believes in Jesus has been credited with Jesus’ perfect life. In Jesus, you can be a saint too.

This year you will know what Halloween is really about. It is not about ghost goblins. It is about saints. It is about you. You have been clothed in Jesus perfect life by faith. You are a saint.

From the latest ELS Outreach Newsletter

The Story of a Toe

There was a person who was blessed to be born with all of the usual parts. Dad counted the fingers and toes, and was relieved to find that the number was exactly right. No birth defects, and everything was in working order.

Later in life, one of the toes began to say to itself, “How important could I be? There are four other toes on this foot, and they can surely get the job done without me. It would please me more to take my rest, and let them handle all that the foot needs. Besides that, it seems to me that toes on the whole don’t have much to contribute.” So this toe began to enjoy life more, and didn’t concern itself with the usual toe activities like sensing the balance of the foot and the contour of the ground beneath, or giving a little extra push when the foot was walking, running, or paddling through water.

After some time, the toe also began to say to itself, “Since I’m doing my own thing now (and enjoying it), I don’t really need all of this oxygen and nutrition that the foot is sending my way. It would be better to let the other toes have more of those things: they’re working so hard. (What a great thing they’ve chosen to do!) But I will shrink the vessels that bring these things from the foot. No need to be selfish.”

This thought may seem alarming, but the toe didn’t mind. It was enjoying the sensation of freedom that comes with relaxation. “Sometimes a toe just needs to dangle,” it would say to itself.

More time passed, and the toe (which now had plenty of free time to notice and ponder other things) began to notice that there were other bodies in the world. Some were furry, and had toes with claws. Some were scaly, and to the the toe’s amazement, had no toes at all! Some bodies were much like the body of the toe, except those ones were doing much different things, and going to much different places. The toe began to wonder what it would be like to be attached to one of those bodies. Would it be better? Maybe the other members of those bodies would think more like the toe, and less like the four other toes on this foot. Maybe they would all enjoy life more. Maybe they would all enjoy the kind of freedom together that the toe had discovered: freedom from such strict discipline that the toe’s own body wanted to follow. Of course, there was no way for a toe to switch bodies, but it did not stop the toe from wondering and dreaming about it.

Soon the dreaming turned into longing, together with something the toe had not experienced before. It began to look down upon the other toes on its own foot, and even the foot and the body itself. It began to despise the body for its demands and discipline, and to loathe the way the body wanted all of its parts to work. It never occurred to the toe that it had begun loathing itself, for it was attached to the body.

The toe sometimes dreamed of a day when it might fall off the foot and be separated from its body. During this time, it continued shrinking the vessels that brought oxygen and nutrition from the foot.

At this time, the toe thought it knew the purpose of the body, and it considered the body to be failing in its purpose. It didn’t wish any harm to the body, but wanted it to do better by relaxing the discipline and the demands that the body made on all of its members. What’s the use of working together so well, when the result is something as uncomfortable as exercise, or as bland as an oatmeal breakfast? The toe doesn’t even get to taste the breakfast, anyway! All of the other members should become as free and relaxed as the toe. They should loosen up, and consider how life could be better.

Are you like the toe? What do you think is the purpose of the Church, which is the body of Christ? Are you helping to fulfill its real purpose, or are you mistakenly working against it, to your own harm? If you have ever had an injured toe, you know that even if your body is still capable of doing many things, the whole body is also affected by the injury. If you have been shrinking the connection between you and the body of Christ — especially the Word and Sacraments, which are provided in the Sunday Divine Service, how do you think that has affected your faith, your perspective, and your spiritual health?

The good news is that the body in question went to see a doctor, who noticed that the toe was weakened and malnourished. With treatment, the toe’s connection to the body was restored. All was forgiven, and the toe once again saw how its own contribution to the body provided the greatest possible satisfaction. Even better, the toe was able to encourage all of the other members to remain steadfast, so that the body worked together to accomplish greater things and receive greater blessings.

May you also enjoy the certainty of God’s forgiveness, which Jesus has won for you by dying once for all on His cross. Now, let us thank Him by bearing our crosses with the same joy that he had in the love of the Father. You are a member of the body of Christ. What could be better than that?

Dear (fill in the blank),

Dear N.,

We haven’t written letters to one another before, and it seems that letters are becoming more rare everywhere, but they still have their uses. You might say I could have just texted you this message, or sent a message on Facebook. But it’s hard to express things of a deep and personal nature that way, especially because a short message runs a great risk of misunderstanding. You might say I could have called or visited so we could make this a conversation, but the things I have to say all hang together, and they will take a while for me to say them well. It takes a lot of patience and goodwill to have a back-and-forth conversation about deep, personal things like this. We all tend to interrupt instead.

So I’m writing you this letter. I may never send it. Maybe I’ll just gather my thoughts here and God will give me an opportunity to express them to you some other way. You see, they must be expressed. There are some things too important to be kept silent or ignored. One of them is the matter of your life.

You have been blessed with a pretty good life. You can count many blessings, if you stop to consider them. Yes, there are many challenges too, and I can see how they could get you down. But overall, your life is a blessing, just like mine. I’m glad to be alive, and I’m glad to know you, too. Because I care about you, I want you to think about not only your life on earth, but your future life that will come afterward. I’d like to share that blessing with you, too.

We used to see each other not only at the supermarket or at special occasions. I enjoyed visiting with you at church. That’s not the main reason I was there, but it was one very good part of it. Why haven’t you been coming to church lately? In fact, I think it’s been months since you were attending every week. I suppose one obligation or another got in the way, and maybe you were sick. But church used to be a priority for you. So what happened?

Have you forgotten the reason for going to church? It’s not just some old tradition. You didn’t go because of some threatening commandment from God. Oh, I know there is one: the Third Commandment: “You shall keep the day of rest holy,” as it’s written in catechisms these days. But you know it’s not just about a certain day. It’s about our connection to God, the link He has made from us to Jesus. It’s the only way for us to reach heaven! Besides heaven, it’s the only way for us to have a truly fulfilling and content life on earth. God didn’t give us that commandment just to make you hurt with feelings of guilt and shame. He gave us that commandment out of love, so that we might not neglect His most precious gifts and lose out on what they bring.

Now, maybe you think God should give you heaven and all the best blessings some other way. “If He loves me so much, why doesn’t He give me my Sundays off to enjoy instead of making me uncomfortable? Can’t He do that and give me eternal life at the same time?”

Dear N., He can do anything, but He gets to choose how He does it! Remember who He is, here: God. And remember that you are not God. The way He gives you eternal life is through that connection: His Word and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Those things are non-negotiable, because they are the God-given connection to the one-and-only Savior for human beings. That’s Jesus, of course.

If Jesus was crucified and stayed dead, then don’t come to church. In that case, I shouldn’t go either. But did you know that the best historical evidence all supports the fact that Jesus rose to life again? If you believe in Julius Caesar, then you have every reason to believe even more strongly that Jesus Christ rose to life on the third day. And if you believe that, then you also should believe what He said it means. Do you remember John 3:16? It’s Jesus’ promise to you: forgiveness and eternal life.

You may have some hangups about all of this, and I’d like you to tell me about them. Don’t worry, I won’t blow you off or make fun of you. I’ll listen, because this is serious. I want you to share eternal life with me.

Practical Christianity

What is the cost of being a Christian? It’s God’s demands. He’s a jealous God, not satisfied with only a part of your heart. He wants it all. He loves you so extremely that He even uses a cross to save you. First, the cross of Jesus, by which you were redeemed. Second, the personal cross that chafes and bruises your sinful flesh as you are forced to carry it through the winding course of your life. In this way, He brings you finally to heaven.

Besides demanding, sometimes Christianity also seems impractical. How can you fit such a religion into your life? Your boss and coworkers probably don’t appreciate how demanding your faith can be. Maybe even your family doesn’t quite get it. When you go to church, it’s likely you will see people there who have trouble carrying their cross more than a few feet at a time.

So how can we make Christianity practical?

Can your church membership get along with all of the other interests and obligations you may have? Sounds great. It’s like having a beautifully decorated wedding cake to enjoy in a glass case in your dining room forever, like a fine sculpture, while also enjoying a piece for dessert with a little ice cream from time to time.

It can’t be done. The difficulty is that the world around us entices the sinful flesh within to join in everything except whatever God wants. Sin excludes God, because God excludes sin.

The world entices you with recreation. You are supposed to work enough that you can afford to spend as much time as possible enjoying yourself. When Thanksgiving arrives, the world says, “Be thankful above all for the conveniences and pleasures you have in your life — for all that makes you happy.” To the fallen world, that’s what life is all about.

But Jesus had plenty of practical things to say about that. For example, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). And again from Mark 8, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” In the ultimate “been there, done that” book of the Bible, Solomon speaks to those who value pleasure, accomplishments and experiences: “Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 11:9) And in the next chapter, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.'”

To be practical is to put something into practice. If you want to be a practical Christian, then you must put your Christian faith into practice. The psalmist writes (119:27), “The law [Word] of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of coins of gold and silver.”

The world is horrified that we might turn away from thousands of coins of gold and silver. But God’s Word is worth more. It’s the only link He’s given to Himself. Only in His Word do we know our Savior. If that’s not more important to you than an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning, then what can I say? You’re like a pig staring at a priceless pearl, wondering how it tastes.

Practical Christianity means seeking God’s forgiveness by studying His Word. It’s available to you more richly than ever before: in print, in audio, on screen, or in braille. You can have it delivered to your inbox in measured portions. You can study it with friends at church. If distance is a problem, you can study it online, even face-to-face. God is finding new ways to bring it to you, but in the end, only you can put your faith into practice.

Jesus sent out His disciples saying, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). When you have received, it’s time for your faith to be active as well, showing God’s love to your neighbors. This is a life of faith, practical faith. Practice receiving God’s forgiveness. Practice reflecting it for others. This is practical Christianity.

Thought about Small Church Activities

We all like to have a full schedule of activities available for us at church. That’s not to say that we’d actually attend all those activities. We’re probably most concerned about the activities that interest us, rather than those geared toward others (children, young families, seniors, etc.).

Some churches have lots of varied activities on their calendars. One of the challenges this creates is faith-damaging burnout, as the same group of people usually manage everything at the church. This tends to happen regardless of the size of the church. Bigger churches experience it with more activities, smaller churches with fewer.

Another challenge created by lots of activities comes with specialization of the activities. With some geared toward children, some toward young families, some toward seniors, etc., they tend to splinter the members of the congregation into artificial groups or classes, based on the presumed interests of each group. I call these groups artificial because they don’t occur naturally. Families are composed of all ages and interest groups in one household. Lots of specialized activities pulls the family members in different directions, often doing more harm than good to family life.

I’d like to offer a solution, but I don’t have one. Instead, we should probably recognize that the primary activity of a church is to gather around the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacrament of the Altar and holy Baptism. That doesn’t need to be limited to Sundays, but Sundays are the starting point. Other activities are all extra.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind. A church’s beating heart is in the assembly where she receives the spiritual gifts of her Lord. But the faith created and strengthened with those gifts is active every day of the week, in the individual lives of the church members. Our worship of God does not end when the Divine Service is dismissed. It continues in schools, in work-places, in homes, and on every street and highway. We live as children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, glorifying Him by word and deed in keeping with His will. The main part of this takes place in the God-pleasing duties we fulfill each day, serving God through our neighbors. The work of the church is accomplished in and through the sanctified lives of her members. They don’t have to come together regularly on weekdays for God’s will to be done, though the members of a household might do so for mutual growth, encouragement, and prayer.

I’ll close with one more observation. Whenever there is an activity at church, it’s not something that just happens on its own. Think of any church activity you know about, and I guarantee that it happened because one or more people did one or more things. If it was a big event, it was planned, organized, managed, and maybe even marketed. In addition, other people showed up and participated. If it was a small event, maybe one person did all of those things. In any case, a church event can be boiled down to two things: people and actions. Without people there is no event. If they do something different, then the event is not the same. All of this sounds obvious, but we easily forget it when we begin to think of our church as a faceless institution where things just happen. But events don’t just happen, people do things, and that becomes the event.

So those of us who would like to have more events like W (whatever that is) should consider whether we would like to be a person who comes and does what is needed for a W event. If no person is willing to do the critical parts, then it won’t happen. It’s as simple as that. And maybe that’s okay, because God-willing, we will all gather again on Sunday around God’s Word and Sacraments, and maybe we can do W next week, or next month, or next year instead.

Dumbing Down Questions about Christ.

C.S. Lewis describes the great Aslan tearing the costume off the child in front of him in one of his books from the Chronicles of Narnia. The child writhes in pain from the razor sharp claws that feel as though they pierce his very being. With mounting intensity, Aslan rips away layer after layer, until the child is absolutely certain he will die from the agony. When it is over with every layer removed, the child delights in the freedom, never before realizing the extra weight of the costume that he carried.

The peace that transcends understanding is not a matter of dumbing down our questions about Christ. My questions often return with a question from God who lets Scripture speak and give me the right questions to ask. Scripture directs me to the questions God wants me to ask because he does promise answers to those questions. The layers of despair and doubt do begin to fall away with transcendent propositional truth given for all people in all generations. Scripture does not return empty. The Word works out our faith by keeping me trusting Christ and his words of promise.

Society continually promotes ‘dumbing down’ with the postmodern thought that there is no transcendent truth. ‘Don’t ask because their are no absolute answers.’ The church is where we can ask and receive absolute objective answers.

Discernment for living in a fallen world takes knowing what Christ is promising and knowing takes asking and knowing what to ask takes the Word where God has chosen to speak to men. Be encouraged to invite friends to hear from God. His words promise to divinely give us the right questions to ask.