Halloween is What You Make It

Every year someone who claims faith in Jesus will say something like “Christians shouldn’t celebrate Halloween.  It’s a pagan holiday.”  I wish people would stop and think before they say something like this.

In Jesus’ day, there were lots of pagan holidays to honor Roman gods and emperors.  There is no evidence Jesus ever threw a party on such an occasion, but I’ll bet if he were working on a Roman building job and they told him to take the day off, he took it.  Here’s the significant thing:  Jesus never said that if you want to follow him, stay at home during the pagan holidays.

If celebrating Halloween means you will give your soul to the devil for one night, that’s not a good idea.  If Halloween is your excuse for being a glutton and pigging out on candy, that’s not such a good idea either.  If you want to get drunk and party, I pretty sure Jesus would tell you that’s not good for you..

On the other hand, if your children want to dress up and say “Trick or Treat,” i don’t think that’s a sin.  If you are an adult and want to have a Halloween Party, I don’t think that’s a sin either.  If you want to go “Scream Acres,” so you can get your heart rate up, go ahead.  But if you want to see something really scary, I’ll show you my check book.

I think Jesus followers lose a lot of credibility by majoring on minors.  There is a lot in this world that needs the touch of Jesus.  If celebrating Halloween causes you to sin by acting in a non-Jesus way, don’t.  Recognize others may not be impacted the way you are.  Let’s keep the main thing the main thing – helping as many people as possible take their next step toward Jesus.

Mosquitos

I’m no stranger to mosquitos. After all, I grew up in Florida, at the edge of a swamp. We didn’t use bug spray. Instead, the grove sprayer would swing by the house whenever we sprayed the grove. Mosquitos would die in droves. Still, when you rode your horse down into the swamp the blood-sucking mosquitos would draw off blood from you. You could lose twenty pounds from blood loss if you rode into the wrong spot.

The problem with being on horseback and being under attack is your start slapping everything in sight with your hat. This is a signal to your horse to take off and run. It requires more coordination than I have to swat mosquitos, duck limbs, and stay in the saddle at a full gallop. Mosquitos have a way of upsetting your life.

There is an often overlooked story in the Bible. In Exodus, God sends plagues on the people of Egypt to get Pharaoh’s attention. His message is simple: I’m God and you’re not. The first plague is turning the water into blood. Moses does this miracle. But Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate it. The second plague is a plague of frogs. Again, the magicians were able to duplicate it, although let’s face it, how hard is to bring frogs on the land of Egypt when it is already covered with frogs?

The third plague is where it gets interesting. God tells Aaron to stretch out his staff and all the dust in Egypt will become gnats. Have you ever seen pictures of Egypt? Do you know how much dust there is?

The word translated “gnats” is an obscure Hebrew word. Scholars are not certain of its exact meaning. Since the next plague is a plague of flies, some scholars suggest this was a plague of mosquitos.

Exodus 8:19 contains a striking confession by the magicians: “This is the finger of God.” There was something about mosquitos that the magicians couldn’t duplicate. They stop seeing Moses and Aaron as clever tricksters and start seeing the finger of God at work. Pharaoh didn’t listen. He wouldn’t pay attention until there was the loss of his own son, who died because of his stubbornness, along with all the first born in Egypt. The magicians saw the finger of God, but Pharaoh missed it.

This week Sumter has been plagued by mosquitos. Because of the floods, conditions have been perfect for eggs to hatch and mosquitos to fly. I have offered up several blood sacrifices to the mosquito’s proboscis (the sucker tube they insert into your skin). I wouldn’t say our outbreak of mosquitos is God sending a plague on our community. But the outbreak has started me wondering, “Would I recognize the finger of God?”

I’m praying to keep my eyes open to see where God is at work. And, I am spraying myself down with bug spray.

Don’t Google Submission

I Googled the word “Submission” this week.  Let me save you both some time and some temptation.  The first two entries had were definitions from online dictionaries.  Then came the suggested images.  I have my search setting set on safe, but apparently what I think of as “safe” and what Google thinks is “safe” are two different things.

In our culture, submission has been twisted beyond recognition.  “Fifty Shades of Grey” has turned the meaning of this word into something exploitative.  So naturally when we hear it in used in a religious context, our mind goes “Really?”

The truth is, submission is required in every relationship.  I first learn submission from my mother – I learned I wasn’t in charge.  Then I learned submission in kindergarten; except there it was called “sharing.”   Marriage has taught me more about submission than any other relationship.  To be married successfully, I have to give up the privilege of having the last word and the false notion that I am right all time.  As a parent, I learned to submit to the cries of my children telling me they were hungry, or wet, or had just had an accident with their cars.  No wonder God asks us to submit to Him.

Submission involves trust.  We are trusting the other person wants good for us.  Ultimately submission is a test of faith:  do you believe God’s will for your life is best path for your life?

Maybe submission is something more important than even Google knows.

Are We Back to Normal Yet?

“I’m so ready for things to get back to normal!”

I’ve heard more than one person say that this past week. Before the floods, we had predictable grooves for life. Now, after the kids have been home a week, we’ve worked overtime, volunteered, and tried to find clean water, life in Sumter, Clarendon, and Lee Counties is slowly coming back to that groove. But is that normal?

Normal is just a state of mind and the name of town in Illinois. Things seem to get back to get back into that groove, but sooner or later, something or someone will knock us out of that groove. Even if our life is normal, for someone we see at the grocery store or at the ball game, life is not normal. In fact it is falling apart. They have been to the doctor, or had that conversation that ended the relationship, or got the phone call from one of the kids, or were called into the boss’s office. Maybe this week all this is happening to your neighbor; next week may be your turn.

If normal is not the norm, doesn’t it make sense to prepare for it? At some level we know this – that’s why we buy insurance (and some of us are wondering why we didn’t buy flood insurance). But at another level, we live in denial, believing it will happen to the other guy, not us.

I think this is what Jesus was talking about when He told us about the wise man, who built his house on the rock, and the foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The wise man knows normal is an interlude and trouble will come. When trouble comes, you need strength that cannot be built overnight; it is built one wise decision at the time. It’s a lot of trouble to build a house on the rock, but that wise decision means you are ready when normal evaporates.

The foolish man builds his house on the sand. He thinks normal is forever. When the flood comes (or the phone call, or the conversation, or the meeting with the boss), he is surprised, and maybe even angry. He thinks the world isn’t fair and wonders why the fates conspire against him. It never occurs to him that maybe his decisions about doing things the easy way pre-determined the fall of his house. He needs strength that can only be built over time.

Even if you are back to normal, it is not going to stay around. Listen to Jesus. Build your life on His wise words, each day. You are building strength for the days when the flood comes.

5 Leadership Lessons from Steve Spurrier’s Resignation

I admit, I am a Steve Spurrier fan.  I have memories of playing football with friends at school, each of us claiming to be the next Steve Spurrier, quarterback of our beloved Florida Gators.  I was in the stands when he was the first starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and for his first head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL (his first kickoff was an onside kick).  He brought glory for the first time to his alma mater and made it fun to be a Gator.  The NFL was not really for him and I was delighted when he came to South Carolina.  He actually did what Lou Holtz tried to do – he made Gamecock Football relevant in the SEC.

This season hasn’t gone well for the head ball coach. Some recruits that didn’t work out, a tough schedule, and a team that doesn’t seem to want to gel, told him it was time to go.  Coach Spurrier announced his resignation today.  Some people will say he quit on his team.  But I listened on the radio to his resignation statement.  There are some lessons there for every leader.

  1. He took responsibility.  The Head Ball Coach has said all along as long he was winning, he would keep coaching.  When the winning stopped, he took responsibility.  He said “when you get my age, and you aren’t getting it done, it’s time to step aside and give someone else a chance.”  Leaders take responsibility when things go wrong.
  2. He realized his time was done.  Every leader has a finite amount of time with an organization.  When you realize you aren’t able to reach the people on your team, when you can’t inspire passion, or can’t coach them to be effective, you are done.  To stay is merely to mark time.
  3. He didn’t take the easy way out.  Coach Spurrier must have known that if he resigned in mid-season there would lots of speculation.  The president of the University and the Athletic Director offered to let him stay on until the end of the season.  That would have been the easy way.  Coach Spurrier knew that the best hope for his team was for him to be gone right away.  It would give people a chance to rise to the challenge.
  4. He told his players first.  The people closest to you, who do the work on the front lines deserve to know first.  So Coach told his players first, knowing the word would leak, but also knowing they deserved to know first since they trusted him most.
  5. He cleared the decks for the next guy.  As soon Coach Spurrier announced, all questions about the past were gone.  Now, everything points to the future.  Hope is more powerful than memory.  Recruiting and motivation for USC just got easier.

So thanks Coach Spurrier.  You made football fun.  You also taught us about leadership.  Even your decision to leave helps us.

Are You Okay?

“Are You Okay?” was the most common question asked this past week in Sumter, Clarendon, and Lee Counties of South Carolina.  People were not asking casually;  they really were concerned about one another.  The most common responses:

  • “We’re Fine.”  This might be better understood as “We are fine right now.”  In the moment we can shift into overdrive, powered by adrenaline and caffeine.  The emotional impact of what we went through can come later.  That’s okay, just don’t be surprised by it.
  • “We stayed high and dry.”  But even folks who suffered no damage may feel a bit disoriented.  It’s strange knowing your house is okay and your neighbors lost everything.  Remember to be compassionate.
  • “I’m overwhelmed.”  You may feel overwhelmed not because of the flood, but because it triggered memories from the past – of hurricanes, battles, and losses.  That’s okay too.  It’s a sign you have emotions that have been locked down and need to be let out.
  • “I had a close call.”  Maybe you drove through water deeper than you thought or you were rescued by a boat from your flooded house.  You had a reminder that you aren’t in control.

No matter how you answered the question this past week, remember this:  “The LORD is your shepherd…”  Let Jesus guide you as you think about all that has happened to you.

How to Respond to Someone Who Lost Everything (When You Lost Nothing)

 People in Sumter, Clarendon, and Lee Counties are at very different places this week. Some of us (including me) have only been inconvenienced by the floods. Our homes and cars are undamaged, our loved ones are safe, and we are ready for life to get back to normal.

For others, life will never be back to normal. The waters rose too high. Homes were damaged, cars ruined, and priceless memories are now a sodden mess. Families are totaling up damages, comparing them to insurance policies and bank accounts, and wondering how they will start over. As one woman posted on Facebook, “I sat at the stop light and wondered how everyone else could be so carefree when my world is in ruins.”

How do you respond to people who lost everything, especially when you lost nothing?

First some things not to say:

  • Don’t say “I know how you feel” unless you lost everything too.
  • Don’t say “I’ll pray for you” unless you will pray for them, preferably right then.
  • Don’t say “This is a sign of the end times” or “This is God’s judgment on America.” Our floods were not a sign of the end times. Jesus said it would rain on the just and on the unjust. Disaster plus bad theology is toxic.
  • Don’t say “It could have been worse.” What people are dealing with is bad enough without offering them alternative nightmares.

Some things to say:

  • “How can I help?” In the South this question is often meet with “Oh, just pray for us.” If that is the response, stop and pray right then. Pray for strength and wisdom.
  • “How are you? How are you really?” Give people a chance to share their story and express their emotion.
  • “I am sorry for your loss.” Even if you haven’t lost what that person has lost, you can tell them you feel their pain.
  • “I admire you.” Encourage people by praising their courage and their decisions.
  • “I’ll do this while you go and rest.” Do what you can to encourage people to get the rest they need.

Some things to do:

  • Do an act of kindness for those who lost everything. Take them a meal. Provide water for them. Offer shelter. Let them shower and bathe at your place.
  • If you don’t know what to say, listen and keep your mouth shut.
  • Make a note to check in with people every day for the next month. After the initial shock fades, there will be more emotion to process.
  • Be the hands and feet of Jesus.

For those who lost so much, I am sorry and I am praying for you. For those of you who lost nothing, this is your time to love your neighbor as yourself.

A Pastoral Word To Sumter, Clarendon, and Lee Counties

It has been a crazy few days in our community.  Nineteen inches of rain.  Flooding.  Evacuations.  Road closures.  Finally, the rains seem to be stopping and the water is going down.  Hopefully the worst is behind us.

Please let me offer these gentle thoughts:

  1. Some of you have lost material possessions.  I am sorry for your loss.  I know this represents a significant financial burden for you.  If we as a church can help, we want to.  Be wise in your decisions.
  2. Some of you have lost nothing.  This has been an inconvenient time, but not a time of loss.  Please be sensitive to your neighbors.  Help when you can.  Encourage each other.
  3. People will ask, and rightly so, “why did this happen?”  There is no single answer.  We are told God sends rain on the just and on the unjust. This flooding is not necessarily a sign of judgment on our counties.  God is allowing this flooding within the scope of His plans for us and His will for this world.  Some of the tragedies have happened because people have shown poor judgment.  People drove through high water instead of turning around.  People built or bought homes in low places where homes should have never been built.  Roads and bridges were built in places where they should not have been built. We too often assume disaster won’t happen to us. We’re wrong.
  4. We are not alone.  Claim Isaiah 43:2:  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. Ask God to guide you with decisions and comfort you in moments of difficulty.  Let church be your family.

Grace to all,

Pastor Clay

Will I let scripture teach, rebuke, correct, and train me in my relationship with Jesus?

2 Timothy 3:14-17New International Version (NIV)

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

  •  Who am I in this passage?
  • What does this teach me about God?
  • What does this teach me about me?

The Scriptures are able to make me wise for salvation –  which means I understand my relationship with God, who He is, and who I am, and the role each of us play in the relationships.  Will I let scripture teach, rebuke, correct, and train me in my relationship with Jesus?