Controversial Jesus

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Halloween is approaching, bringing with it candy and controversy, both of which get stuck in our teeth and make us queasy. 

Being a pastor’s wife and a mom of four, I am asked every year by other mommas how our family handles Halloween. I feel my shoulder muscles clench every time as I try to determine if this question is being asked by a mom really struggling to know how to handle it, or a mom looking for a heated debate. While I’ve experienced both, nine times out of ten it is a mom who is sincerely doing her best to navigate this suspicious holiday in a way that honors Christ faithfully, and is unsure what that looks like for her family. I’ve been that mom!

Whether we celebrated or not, Halloween was a holiday we all experienced as children. There are few who didn’t at least know about it and somehow get their hands on some candy corn. (Also, can we just stop and do a slow clap for the person who first came up with the idea to add peanuts to the bowl of candy corn? You are brilliant, my Friend.

You may have been the kid whose family embraced the celebration and went all out with the costumes. You may have been the kid whose family went to church for a “Halloween alternative”. Maybe you were the kid whose parents shut her away on Halloween night with a Bible and a Psalty the Song Book cassette tape (yeah…I just went there) and pretended to not be home. 

I was the one in the middle. I went to a Halloween alternative at my church referred to as a “Harvest Party”. I wore costumes every year representing women of the Bible like Mary (white robe with blue head wrap) Ruth (same costume as Mary), Ester (same costume with a golden crown added). I asked one year if I could go as the witch of Endor, but apparently not all the female Bible characters were welcome to the party (Jezebel never showed up either).

So, how does my family handle Halloween now? Well, at first we did the church thing because we were on staff and we were expected to help set up and run the event. Then, one year we weren’t required to be at church, so we bravely stayed home with a bowl full of candy and turned on our lights . The most amazing thing happened. All of these neighbors that we had never met came to our door and asked for candy! We met dozens of people with whom we knew we should be sharing the love of Christ, but never had time to talk with because we were always at church events. 

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That year, we made the decision that we would participate in Halloween with our neighborhood. The next year, we set up a table of candy, a cooler of bottled water and chairs, because lots of sugar + walking your kids all over the neighborhood = really tired and thirsty parents. Our neighbors next door and from across the street would hang out for awhile. Eventually, we started ordering massive amounts of pizza and basically became the Halloween party house. We decided sitting in our front yard needed to be a year-round activity for our family. Instead of hiding in our house in the evenings, we started sitting in the driveway while our kids played. Neighbors would bring their chairs out and we grown ups would chat while the kids played together. It became a normal part of our week.

Participating in Halloween with our neighbors changed the way our family viewed our place in our neighborhood. We knew it was not by accident that we lived where we lived, that God had a purpose for us being in that place at that time.

We also realized that when Scripture talks about Jesus eating, drinking and having a great time just hanging out in the community, that is exactly what it meant (Mark 2:13-17). Did he join in on being with everyone? Yes - both religious and non. Did he participate in sin? No. 

So, what do we tell our children? The truth. Halloween is a celebration of death and as believers, we don’t celebrate death. Jesus came to give us life (John 10:10) and has called us to share this new life with others (Acts 1:8). As believers living in a broken world, we cannot escape death. It is all around us and one day we will experience it. Until then, God has called us to share the life of Jesus with those who are lost and dying, and Halloween is a wonderful opportunity to do just that. How do we do it? We don’t make it weird. Let me just state that Jesus wasn’t weird. He was different, but he wasn’t weird. If he’d been weird, no one would have invited him to their party. He joined in, not to participate in sin, but to lead people to himself. This is what we are to do as Christians. We join in. 

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So, my kids dress up (nothing scary or pertaining to death), we hand out candy, we go collect candy (not everyone has kids so if we want to meet some neighbors we have to go to them). 

When our kids see the super scary decorations we explain that those things celebrate death and, while we won’t put those things in our yard, we still want to get to know those neighbors and hear their story.

 This helps us to be more intentional about looking for neighbors we know when we are out and about, and invite them for dinner or host block parties. Really, the point is to connect with our neighbors any time of the year - Halloween is just a really easy starting point because it’s the one day of the year that knocking on people’s doors is socially acceptable, and not awkward.

Our families have God-given purpose in this world and we do not need to be afraid. One of the things I must teach my children is to walk faithfully with Jesus, on mission with him, in a dark and scary world (John 15:18-21; John 16:33). Hiding in our houses and churches tends to teach them the opposite-that Christianity is clean and safe. It’s not.

What being on mission with God in this world looks like for your family is entirely up to you. I would encourage you to search scripture. Start with Matthew 5:13-16 and then let 1 Corinthians 10 mess with your head a bit. Ask God to give you wisdom to navigate the world in which you live with boldness, because you have the light of truth and this dark world desperately needs that light. Let’s not hide it! 

My prayer for us today is that we would be salt and light in the places where we are living. I pray that we will not give our children a false Gospel that implies we don’t associate with non-believers, but rather may we be faithful to teach them the true Gospel that tells us we were all at one time non-believers, and are justified only by Jesus’ death on the cross. I pray that we will rejoice in the freedom from sin and death that we have through faith in Christ, and share it generously with those who are still living enslaved to sin. 

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:35-38 ESV

 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.

Luke 7:34-35 ESV