Good vs. Best on Halloween

Have you considered good vs. best when it comes to a Christian view on Halloween?  Many churches host Halloween ‘alternatives’ for their members–most common are “Reformation Celebrations” and “Trunk or Treats”.  Both can be good things.  I’m not trying to say they are bad.  My aim is to question whether they are ‘best’.

Reformation Day is commonly celebrated on October 31.  It recognizes the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Church in 1517.  This is commonly viewed as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Halloween (also celebrated on Oct. 31) is an ever growing ‘holiday’ in the US.  I read one statistic that estimates that 80-90% of children trick or treat on Halloween. Where are these families doing their trick or treating?  My guess is in your neighborhood and mine.

This means if Christians are ‘celebrating’ the Reformation at an alternative event at their church on October 31, they are not in their neighborhoods.  The one day a year that our neighbors come knocking on our door–our porch lights are off, houses are dark, our doors are closed.

Is celebrating the Reformation a bad thing?  No.  I think it’s a perfectly good thing to take time to thank God for all that He did in and through Martin Luther.  My question is–does it have to be done on October 31?  Are we doing good things at the expense of the best things? Is there a command in the Bible to commemorate the Reformation? Not that I’ve seen.  Is there a command to be salt and light to the world?  Is there a command to go forth and make disciples?  Yes and yes.

Again-are we doing good things at the expense of the best things?  Let’s have the courage to stand up and not allow the best to be substituted with the good.  There’s a whole world out there that is waiting for you to be salt and light in it.  God has called you to this.  Don’t tarry!  People need the Gospel and being intentional in your neighborhood on Halloween is one way to build relationships with your neighbors.

Neighborhood Observations and a Theology of Neighborhoods

At the beginning of the week, I committed to walking our neighborhood every day-focusing on the poorer parts.  I usually took at least 1 kid or husband and 1 dog (our smaller one because she’s cute and less intimidating than our bigger one).  Some observations:

  • I live in a racially diverse neighborhood- White, Latino and African-American
  • People work on their cars in their yard/driveway.  I don’t work on my car-I’m certain I would kill it if I did but if I didn’t have the money to get it fixed-I suppose I’d have no choice.  My neighbors likely don’t have a choice.
  • People grill in their front yard-not their back yard.  (Have we always grilled in the backyard?)  We grill in the front now.
  • People spend time outside-whether it’s hot or not.
  • Clotheslines.  I’ve observed many clotheslines in our neighborhood.  They aren’t just for decoration.  They get used and seemingly used often.  Thinking that through….it means they are used because of lack of funds, space, availability of a clothes dryer.  Something I never even think twice about having and using.
  • Kids (and some adults) like our dog and she likes them.  Having the dog with us creates opportunities to meet people.  Example:  my husband and I were walking through the parking lot of the neighborhood laundromat.  There was a Latino family inside.  Their 3 kids saw our dog and started pointing and getting excited.  We came toward the door and indicated that we’d be happy to let them meet Ginger.  The family came out and we had a 10ish minute conversation with them-turns out they immigrated from Honduras.
  • Trash cans are left in the front yard.  In my old neighborhood, we received nasty letters if a trash can was left out.  I’ve heard my old neighborhood referred to as Disneyland.  The place where everything is perfectly manicured and landscaped.  We definitely don’t live in Disneyland any more.

Yes, my neighborhood has a laundromat and many more check cashing, pawn shops and title loan places.  It’s very different from where we used to live and I’m thankful.  I guess you’d say my ‘theology of neighborhoods’ has changed.  I don’t think of ‘bad neighborhoods’ the way I used to–as places to avoid at all costs.  I think of them as places where the brokenness of sin is on display to the outside world–as opposed to hidden away behind manicured landscaping and closed, attached garages.  I think of them as places to shine the light of Gospel truth rather than places to be written off as Godless and hopeless.

When Helping Hurts: Chapter 3

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All quotes from “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

“Poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to put all things into right relationship again.”

“Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation:  moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self,  with others, and with the rest of creation.”

“Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work.”

“First, material poverty alleviation involves more than ensuring that people have sufficient material things; rather, it involves the much harder task of empowering people to earn sufficient material things through their own labor, for in so doing we move people closer to being what God created them to be.”

“How we work and for whom we work really matters.”

“Poverty alleviation occurs when the power of Christ’s resurrection reconciles our key relationships through the transformation of both individual lives and local, national, and international systems.”

“This implies that the local church, as an institution, has a key role to play in poverty alleviation, because the gospel has been committed by God to the church.”

When Helping Hurts- Chapter 2-Notable Quotes

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All Quotes from “When Helping Hurts” Chapter 2 by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

“…while there is a material dimension to poverty…there is also a loss of meaning, purpose, and hope that plays a major role in poverty in North America.  The problem goes well beyond the material dimension, so the solutions must go beyond the material as well.”

“If we treat only the symptoms [of poverty] or if we misdiagnose the underlying problem, we will not improve their situation, and we might actually make their lives worse.  And as we shall see later, we might hurt ourselves in the process.”

  • If we believe the primary cause of poverty is a lack of knowledge, then we will primarily try to educate the poor
  • If we believe the primary cause of poverty is oppression by powerful people, then we will primarily try to work for social justice
  • If we believe the primary cause of poverty is the personal sins of the poor, then we will primarily try to evangelize and disciple the poor
  • If we believe the primary cause of poverty is a lack of material resources, then we will primarily try to give material resources to the poor

“If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10)  ‘Spending yourself’ often involves more than giving a handout to a poor person, a handout that may very well do more harm than good.  A sound diagnosis is absolutely critical for helping poor people without hurting them.

“God established four foundational relationships for each person:  a relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.  These relationships are the building blocks for all of life.  When they are functioning properly, humans experience the fullness of life that God intended, because we are being what God created us to be.  In particular for our purposes, when these relationships are functioning properly, people are able to fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work.”

“Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable.  Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.”

“…every human being is suffering from a poverty of spiritual intimacy, a poverty of being, a poverty of community, and a poverty of stewardship.”

“We are all broken, just in different ways.”

“By showing low-income people through our words, our actions, and most importantly our ears that they are people with unique gifts and abilities, we can be part of helping them to recover their sense of dignity, even as we recover from our sense of pride.”

Missional in Practice

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What is missional living looking like for us these days?

It’s a cookout that we invite our neighbors to.  We provide the main dish-our guests provide sides. (Next month it will be an ice cream social.)

It’s taking walks around our neighborhood.  Greeting people.  Taking the time to strike up a conversation and not being in a hurry to get back home.

It’s spending time outside, when we’d rather be inside.

It’s going to the gym at the same time each week.  Going to the same classes in the hopes of meeting people.  Then being willing to strike up a conversation.

It’s going to the same grocery stores and restaurants in the hope of meeting employees.

Its going to the park and bringing our dog.  She’s an ice breaker.  She makes it a little easier to strike up a conversation.

It’s noticing when a house goes up for sale and a new neighbor moves in.  Then taking the extra step of bringing them a meal or some cookies. It’s looking for those baby announcement balloons and doing the same thing.

It’s volunteering with a few local organizations that work with poor people in our area.

When Helping Hurts- Chapter 1

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When Helping Hurts- Notable Quotes: Chapter 1 by Steve Corbett/Brian Fikkert

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Luke 4: 18-19

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”  Isaiah 58: 9-10

Why was Israel sent into captivity?  Many of us have a picture in our minds of the Israelites getting out of bed every morning and running off to the nearest shrine to worship idols.  Indeed, numerous passages in the Old Testament indicate that idolatry was a problem in Israel.  But these passages give a broader picture.  Here [Isaiah 58:1-3, 5-10] Israel appears to be characterized by personal piety and the outward expressions of formal religion:  worshiping, offering sacrifices, celebrating religious holidays, fasting, and praying.  Translate this into the modern era, and we might say these folks were faithfully going to church each Sunday, attending midweek prayer meeting, going on the annual church retreat, and singing contemporary praise music.  But God was disgusted with them, going so far as to call them ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’!

Personal piety and formal worship are essential to the Christian life, but they must lead to lives that ‘act justly and love mercy’ (Mic. 6:8)

Referring to Acts 4:34 “there were no needy persons among them”:

Luke is indicating [in Acts 4] that while Israel had failed to care for the poor and was sent into captivity, God’s people have been restored and are now embodying King Jesus and His kingdom, a kingdom in which there is no poverty  (Rev. 21:1-4).  Indeed, throughout the New Testament, care of the poor is a vital concern of the church (Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 6:1-7; Gal. 2:1-10; 6:10; James 1:27).  Perhaps no passage states it more succinctly than 1 John 3:16-18:  ‘This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.’

What is the task of the church?  We are to embody Jesus Christ by doing what He did and what He continues to do through us:  declare–using both words and deeds–that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords who is bringing in a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace.  And the church needs to do this where Jesus did it, among the blind, the lame, the sick and outcast, and the poor.

God has sovereignly chosen to work in the world beginning with the weak who are on the ‘outside’, not the powerful who are on the ‘inside.’

…the early church’s engagement with suffering people was crucial to its explosive growth.

Should the Gospel Inform Where We Live?

“Safe” and “good” neighborhood?  Subdivision with amenities (pools, parks, walking trails)?  Sidewalks?  Proximity to work?  Square footage?  These are a few things a typical American considers when buying a home or deciding where to live.

Should the Gospel inform where an American Christian lives?   I would answer yes.  If the answer is yes, than how?  What would that look like?

If God left us on this earth to be conformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) and to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28: 16-20).  It makes sense that where we make our home should be an outworking of what God wants to do with our lives and what He calls us to.

What does this look like practically for a Christ follower?  I propose that it looks like putting the typical American housing criteria toward the bottom of our list.  At the top of our list should be a home where God has called us to be Christ’s representatives to our neighbors and where we can do this most effectively. This might mean finding another family or families in your church body that are looking for others to come alongside them in neighborhood evangelism.  This may mean purposely moving into a lower income neighborhood with the purpose of mission.  This might mean renting an apartment rather than buying a house-for the specific purpose of reaching people living in that particular apartment complex with the Gospel.  Even if it means less living space and it makes less financial sense for your family.

Christians should look different from the world.  “Even in the sphere of house buying?”you might ask.  If you find yourself saying ‘no’, I’d like you to ask yourself why you might be saying that.  Could it be that you are more in love with comfort, ease, and the American dream than you are with Jesus and living on mission for Him?  I know it’s not easy to take a hard look at these things.  It’s going to cost something, it’s likely going to hurt in many ways.  I’m here to say though, that it’s worth the cost.  It’s good to question ‘the way we’ve always done things’.  How a Christian decides where he or she lives is one of those things we need to question.  The Gospel should inform where we live.  God is too big and we spend too much time in and around our homes to not take a hard look at this area of life.  God has something to say about every area of our lives-where we live is just one of them.