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The Christian and Halloween

This post certainly isn’t a slam on Christians who do the Halloween thing—I’m all for you dressing up, eating candy and having fun!  Personally, I’m just not really into holidays.  They sort of come and go around here—with exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I hold more of the “to each their own” when it comes to celebrating holidays.

Halloween was nothing more than dressing up for some candy when I was growing up.  Not much has changed since then—other than the fact that I am a Christian now.  I’ve heard a lot of people claim that the celebration of Halloween has become far darker than it was 10+ years ago.  I’m not sure if that is true, or if I’m simply running with Christians these days that are more sensitive than my old SEAL buddies.  Maybe a little of both?

I’m preaching on Romans 14:1-12 this Sunday.  This passage deals with how Christians should relate with one another concerning issues of opinion and conviction that the Bible doesn’t explicating touch on.  I find that Halloween is one of these issues of opinion and conviction.  I can’t tell you the origin of Halloween, nor I am interested in you telling me either.  It is what you make of it.

That being said, I’ll never forget a Halloween when I was in Bible College.  I had class that day and the church where the seminary is located was having a Harvest Festival—you know the Christian alternative to Halloween.  I wasn’t upset that I was missing the holiday for class, but I was pretty annoyed that all the parking was taken up walking to class.  When I arrived in the classroom, I was met with an uncomfortable situation.  There was a middle-aged lady in the room weeping.  Man, I wanted to leave the room as quick as I could, but she saw me—I was stuck.

I asked what was wrong to discover she was heartbroken that the church was doing a Harvest Festival for Halloween.  Inside I thought she was making a big deal over nothing and should just grow up.  Of course I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it.  As the conversation unfolded, it turns out that this lady was raised a Pagan (literally) and Halloween was a day where they did a bunch of evil stuff.  I was shocked to hear her tell her story.  I learned the holiday was far more than pillaging candy to her as it surfaced very dark memories and the present reality for many in her family.  This conversation changed my feelings on Halloween dramatically.

Fast-forward about 11 years to today.  I still don’t make a big deal about this day.  I’m not vocal about it…just sort of slips by without commentary on my part.  I have an almost 8-year-old daughter who just hates this holiday.  Where does it come from?  I don’t know other than I believe she has a deeply sensitive conscience to spiritual things.  Yesterday she came home from an event where the teacher said the kids could wear their costumes to class next week—which falls on Halloween.

I was sitting in my office when she approached me in anguish.  She explained that she had a real problem and wasn’t sure how to handle it.  The issue was that she didn’t want to get dressed up, she didn’t want to lie about why she won’t dress up, and she doesn’t want to condemn her friends.  What should she do?  I must pause to say that as a dad I am so proud of this little girl and her genuine walk with God.  Seriously, these moments are super special for me to help her navigate life in this world.  Nothing greater than being pastor-dad!

After she explained the problem, I shared with her the passage I was studying—Romans 14:1-12.  I found it very relevant to the problem at hand as it gives some insight to how we as Christians should handle things like Halloween.  Here are some points that I told her and I believe these apply to all Christians, regardless of your stance on Halloween.

Pray.  First and foremost, I explained that she should pray and ask God for wisdom on how to handle this.

Heed your conscience.  One’s conscience is a super special gift that God has given us.  It’s not always right, but we shouldn’t make a habit of violating it because we can damage it.  We laid out a bunch of options from going dressed up, not dressed up, not going at all, or making other plans.  My main concern is that I want my daughter to recognize her conscience and to develop a plan on how to listen to it.

You answer ultimately to God.  We so desperately want to fit in and be accepted by friends, but ultimately we must recognize that we cannot make others happy.  So the best option is live your life in a way that you think pleases God the most.  As this relates to Halloween, I can see a case for both sides.  Whatever you do, it should be for God’s glory.

Be sensitive to others.  You want to get dressed up?  No problem, just be sensitive to others.  This holiday may not be to them what it is to you.  You want nothing to do with this holiday?  Fine, don’t get dressed up, but be careful not to condemn others as it probably isn’t to them what it is to you.

There is some debate whether or not Augustine actually said these words, but I think they are an appropriate way to end this post, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Why I’m optimistic for the future of Calvary Chapel

Calvary Chapel, a ministry and movement I’ve had the privilege of both growing up in and serving with for more than 20 years, is now facing the most significant transitional changes that it has in all the time I’ve been associated with it. With the passing of Pastor Chuck Smith a week ago, the changes will [now] be far more apparent, but they have actually been going on for the better part of the last two years.

Just over a year ago, the internal leadership structure of the Calvary Chapel changed with the creation of the Calvary Chapel Association, and as of yesterday, Pastor Brian Brodersen was chosen to be Pastor Chuck’s successor as the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. While it remains to be seen what this change at Costa Mesa will mean for the larger Association, I find myself very optimistic about the future of Calvary Chapel. Why?

First, Pastor Brian is (in my humble opinion) the right man, at the right time. He has faithfully served as an associate/assistant to Pastor Chuck for the last thirteen years. In addition to his faithfulness to Pastor Chuck and CCCM, Brian has a genuine passion for foreign missions and a clear commitment to the younger generation of leaders coming up in CC. In my experience—primarily at conferences domestically and abroad, and on occasion at Costa Mesa—Brian has proven to be one of the most approachable senior leaders I’ve encountered in Calvary. He takes the time to be available to those seeking counsel and prayer, and has thus proven himself a pastor, not only to the members of CCCM, but [also] to the missionaries and pastors of the greater Calvary Movement.

The second reason that I am optimistic grows out of an observation I had from outside of Calvary this week.

This week Exponential held its first West Coast Conference in Orange County. I had the privilege of meeting with some of the Exponential and Leadership Network leaders to discuss church planting and the Calvary Church Planting Network prior to the conference; and then I’ve tuned in (online) to several of the sessions throughout the week.

The theme for Exponential West has been DiscipleShift, and while the sessions from pastors such as Miles McPherson, Larry Osborne, Rick Warren, Robert Coleman, and many others have, been substantive, I have found it interesting that much of what is being presented as the new discipleship paradigm in American Christianity, has been standard Calvary Chapel practice for 40+ years. No, it has never been branded, packaged and promoted by Calvary, but for more than 40 years, it has been our practice. Thus, Calvary Chapel is, in a number of ways, still ahead of the curve and continuing to reshape American Protestantism. And, if Calvary can maintain the consistency of simply teaching the Word of God simply, loving God, loving others and making disciples, it will do so for many years to come.

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Remembering Pastor Chuck Smith

Early this morning, Pastor Chuck Smith went home to be with Jesus, after a nearly two year battle with cancer. In thinking about Pastor Chuck, a few thoughts come to mind.

In about May or June of this year I tasked one of our staff members at CCEsco with clearing out an onsite storage area that had become nothing more than an archive of Bible teaching cassette tapes. With more than 32 to years as a church, you can probably imagine that there were quite a few archived tapes. A couple days into the process I walked into my office to find a cassette sitting on my desk. It was a teaching from Pastor Chuck Smith at a Calvary Chapel youth camp at Green Valley lake, from July, 1996. The guys who were clearing out the storage area had no idea what that camp and that teaching series by Pastor Chuck meant to me; it was no less than God’s sovereignty that the tape ended up on my desk.

I remember that youth camp very well. It was the first time I’d attended a Calvary Chapel youth camp. When I, as a sophomore in High School, journeyed up to Green Valley Lake that July I honestly had no idea that Calvary Chapel was any larger than the Calvary Chapel I attended (Calvary Chapel of Escondido), nor did I know the name Chuck Smith. The camp that year was themed “In Christ” and was based completely in the book of Ephesians.

As the sessions opened on Monday, July 22, 1996, Pastor Chuck Smith came to the pulpit and 400 high schoolers sat almost completely silent—aside from occasional laughter at his jokes—through three, 1-hour long studies in the book of Ephesians. One of those teachings (unfortunately not the one on the tape the guys found) I still remember to this day, for it was a defining moment in my life. No, I didn’t give my life to the Lord that day, I had done that many years before, but I am completely certain that I first sensed a call to ministry on that day.

Pastor Chuck, speaking from Ephesians 1, exhorted the room full of 15 — 18 year-olds to not waste their lives. He challenged us to not “meander through life,” but to follow and serve the Lord. I remember wrestling with the thought of what it was that he was teaching. I distinctly remember thinking, “If I do what this man is encouraging me to do, then God is going to call me to do something crazy or send me somewhere I do not want to go.”

Quite honestly, I resettled with that thought and that teaching for 2 more years through High School. But looking back, 17 years later, I’m absolutely convinced that that 1 hour teaching by Pastor Chuck, in Ephesians chapter 1, on Monday, July 22, 1996, completely changed the course of my life, and for that I will always be extremely grateful to Pastor Chuck Smith.

One more thing…

In my lifetime I think I’ve had no more than 5 or 6 personal interactions with Pastor Chuck. I’d like to share about two of them.

On that same Monday night in July of 1996, as Pastor Chuck walked to his car, following the eking Bible study, I followed him out the door and asked, “Pastor Chuck, will you sign my Bible?” Yes, it makes me laugh a little now. Yes, it was a little odd. In my defense (although I don’t need one) I wasn’t the only one who asked. Chuck, with the smile I don’t think he ever was without, kindly took my Bible and pen, sighed his name and a verse reference. Of course I immediately looked up the verse, which is likely the answer for Chuck’s enduring smile.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

— 3 John 1:4

The second interaction happened two and a half years later, as I was attending Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California. Following Pastor Chuck’s weekly Friday chapel session, I was talking with a few of my friends in one of the patio areas at the Bible College, when Pastor Chuck pulled up in a golf cart, jumped out, grabbed a broom and dust-pan from passenger seat and greeting us as he passed by us, he began sweeping up some leaves and dirt 5 feet from us. Several of us asked Pastor Chuck if we could help, he of course said “No, no,” and continued on his way.

While it is certain that Pastor Chuck was a huge heavy-weight in 20th and early 21st century, American Christianity, he never carried himself as such. Over the next several weeks I’m sure a lot of stories, like this one, will be told about Pastor Chuck, as he was exceedingly humble and walked in such a way as though nothing was below him. Truly, if anyone could say it, Pastor Chuck could declare, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”