Sister to Sister: Q and A: Boo-ing Halloween?

10615534_10204242926530145_8465613083946747314_nQuestion: Should Christians participate in Halloween traditions?

Response: Perhaps I am wrong about what I think about Halloween traditions. Maybe there’s something I’ve yet to consider that may change my mind. At the very least, it is probably not a smart thing for me to publicly say what I think because there will be so many people who disagree with me about a matter that I deem so inconsequential. Besides that, we all know that it really doesn’t matter what I think about it…at all. So you can stop reading now if you want and be none the worse.

But the question has surfaced in our inboxes three times already this week, so I’ll go ahead and take a stab at conveying my thinking about costumes, trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns and all things Halloween.

1. I believe there is an innocent way to observe the candi-est holiday of the year. I was an adult before I knew there was any supposed tie to anything pagan or evil about Halloween. When I was a child my parents were creative in costuming and very much involved in our fun neighborhood masquerade night. I had absolutely no idea that wickedness was ever associated with the holiday until I was much older…an adult. Today, my family in the West Huntsville church has the best of times in what we call a “trunk-or-treat” night, although it is primarily done indoors in our fellowship hall. It involves nothing scary and nothing that has to do with death. It involves sweet children in delightful costumes walking around giving big smiles and hugs to the adults that line the walls. And it involves chili and Mexican cornbread and orange cookies and treats in the bags that the children carry. Lots of the adults dress up and join in the fun, too. I’ve already been a popcorn vendor and “Lucy” from the Peanuts gang at two different West Huntsville get-togethers this season.

2.   I do not believe that the origin and early development of the holiday necessarily prevents our nod to it in benign observances. It is my judgment that, just as we can separate Christmas from the birth of Christ and celebrate it as a national rather than religious holiday,we can celebrate Halloween as a cultural observance rather than a pagan one. Just as we can celebrate Valentine’s day without expressing allegiance to or approval of a Catholic“saint”, we can celebrate Halloween, in innocuous (otherwise innocent) ways without any allegiance to anything wicked or pagan. Just as we can call the names of our months by names that are derivatives of the names of pagan gods without implying approval of idolatry, I believe we can trick-or-treat without implying approval of witchcraft, Satanic practices or devil worship.

3.   I do believe this is a matter of opinion and not faith. (I love I Corinthians 8 when I’m contemplating matters of judgment.)

4.   I believe if one finds herself in violation of conscience by participating in any form of trick-or-treating or pumpkin carving, that it would be wrong for her to thus violate her conscience by so participating. It is always wrong to violate your conscience. Consciences can be retrained by diligent Christians who are studying the Word, but never should be violated.

5.   I believe it would be wrong for me to cause another Christian to stumble by my participation in any event that is not commanded by the Lord. If a weaker brother who worships with me is offended if I wear a shirt around Halloween time that says “Boo”, then why would I wear that shirt? However, in most scenarios, I have found that those who choose not to celebrate Halloween in any way are reading the same book about unity and freedom in matters of judgment that I am reading, and, most of the time, they are not offended by the “fun” that others in the church are having with pumpkins and trick-or-treat.

6. I believe it is appropriate for moms and dads to decide together about their tolerance level regarding this holiday. While things associated with death and the morbid and certainly the mean and destructive practices are not becoming of Christians, things associated with princesses and super-heroes and candy treats might be fun  and wholesome for your family. I believe parents should enjoy the freedom to guide their families in this tradition.

7. In congregations in which unity may be threatened over an observance of Halloween, it would  be good for elders to sit down with concerned families and express their judgments about the concerns and members should thus abide by their wishes. After all, what are shepherds for, if not to  make judgment calls in matters of opinion and, in making such decisions, to preserve the flock from division? The biggest tragedy about Halloween would be for a church to find itself, on November 1st, splintered and at odds over something so insignificant as a Halloween party…or not. (I might add here that it would be challenging for me, as a preacher’s wife in our congregation, to abstain from participating in our West Huntsville time of holiday fellowship without causing some discomfort among some in the body. That is, I believe dressing up this year as Lucy for trunk-or-treat was more of an encouragement to others than a stumbling block, in my particular circumstance. Perhaps in another church in another part of the country, that might not be true.)

8. I believe Halloween is a great opportunity for widows and elderly Christians to bond with the children of the church. Our own children made “appointments” with elderly people in the church to come by and “show off” their costumes and we sometimes took treats to those elderly people (kind of backwards trick-or-treating). Anticipation and excitement emanated from the faces of those older saints. But more importantly, our kids grew, through this and other service projects to love these mature Christian people—a great blessing in the development of our children, for sure.

9. I believe that sometimes the innocent celebration can open doors for evangelism. I know it did with us in our neighborhood as we discussed and invited neighbors who had questions even in the street as our kids trick-or-treated together. Of course, that knife could cut two ways and if your religious friends are  negatively impacted by your participation, you should be sensitive to their concerns and even take the chance to discuss your practices with them. Souls of people are far more important than your personal family fun.

10. Having said all of this, we should not underestimate the positive impact of family traditions on our kids. They are a big part of the glue that holds your family together. They are second to the spiritual traditions of family Bible times, prayers before meals, prayers before kids leave the house for school or college, attending singings and gospel meetings together, participating in programs for leadership development,etc… in binding your family together. From experience, I know that the anticipation of traditions and holidays celebrated in ways that belong uniquely to your family are huge in creating the cohesiveness that you want your family to maintain—the bond that helps you through the tough times that every family inevitably faces. (And it is usually Mom who best creates and maintains the great traditions that sweeten the adult memories of every child who grew up loving family traditions.)

Now, this ten point synopsis is probably overkill for the subject of boo and bats and costumes and candy. Further, I’m sure there will be those who disagree and that’s okay. But if all of us can be 100 times more concerned about the health of the Body of Jesus than we are about promoting our own “take” on the holiday, we will experience a strengthening of our precious unity as the family of God, even during the last week of October.

Sister to Sister: Q&A–About that Strong-willed Child

imagesI have a question for you, that I hope and pray you will have a few minutes to respond to. I remember at TFE a couple years back, you spoke about one of your children having a strong willed nature. I remember the phrase, “45 minutes here, and another 45 minutes there, and so on,” regarding discipline. I have had some strong willed children, but my 2 year-old son takes the cake. I was wondering if you could share some practical advice from your dealings, that you think I could benefit from. I would really appreciate your sage advice….Tara

Hey Tara,

Now I know that you know lots more than I do about child-rearing since God only gave me two, but I will give a few suggestions that I am sure you are already doing. In my experience (and according to the Word) strict, consistent discipline is the only thing that I have found to be effective and, with the strong-willed (i.e. consistently disobedient child) it just takes a whole lot more persistence and determination on the part of the parents. That child tests the mettle of the parents and, really, what kind of parent you are doesn’t even start to reveal itself till you’ve had the big challenge of a consistent “war” with a child. Dealing with this is not for the faint of heart, as you know. It is worse, if you have a strong-willed child who is also manipulative and, even though this may not be surfacing yet, I have not seen a strong-willed child who is not also constantly trying to “play” you. (At two, it is probably “It was an accident” and at eight or ten it’s “You are spanking me too hard. You are hurting me.” or “You need to calm down, Mom.” —all manipulative ploys and they can tell when they are breaking you down. Most of this I have come to be confident about because my adult child is now very open with me and remembers those tactics very well. =))

In our experience, “time out” is hardly worth doing. To us, it seemed to prolong the behavior, demand a lot of attention from parents to enforce, and have very limited positive consequences. At two, we spanked and spanked and spanked—not for forgetting to obey or for carelessness, but only for blatant disobedience, rebellious back-talk or lying. Both kids just knew that those three infractions were going to get a penalty that was very uncomfortable, physically, from the time they were about six months old (at six months it was just a little hand pop and, of course, was only for screaming at us when we tried to put them in the car seat or buckle them in the high chair) till they were about twelve years old. Every.Single.Time. Now I know this is not rocket-science, but this is what we found worked. Just consistently doing this. You probably are already ahead of the game here, but I cannot tell you how many parents we know who have not ever been consistent in this process, but when they do it for the first time, it works! It takes about two weeks of tormenting living and then life gets a whole lot better and they call us and say, “We are so glad we did this, even though we wanted to give up several times during the first two weeks.”

As you have probably already heard me say, we are really pretty set on the “process” of spanking. That is, rather than going to physically remove the child from the “temptation” as you spank him, you spank him and then put him right back into whatever the action was. Then re-issue the command and see if he learned to obey from that first spanking. If he obeys the second time, that’s great. You praise him. If he disobeys the second time, you spank again and then put him back in the same scenario, once again re-issuing the command.  You just have to do this over and over and over until you, the parent, win. Every.Single.Time. Winning, of course, is getting the commanded action. Of course, the most important thing to remember is that the child can never “win”. You have to always win. This is torture for most parents. But it is short-lived torture. The over-all tenor of the home gets a lot happier in short order when this system is enacted. It’s important that the child knows this spanking will occur no matter what the outward circumstances are. If you are in a restaurant, it will happen. If you are in the church building, it will happen. When they are five, you can tell them it will happen when you get home IF you are positive you can remember to do it when you get home. But when they are two it has to happen within a couple of minutes, at least, of the infraction (just long enough to get to the restroom or car, if necessary.) I have parents all the time tell me it gives children low self-esteem and shames them to spank them in public. I believe it gives them low self-esteem if they understand (and they eventually do) that you do not care enough about their behavior and souls to be consistent when there may be some external risk of embarrassment or even legal action. They have to know that you will sacrifice whatever it takes that is pleasurable for you to be the kind of loving disciplinarian that God wants you to be. Once when our kids were older, it was an anniversary night away for which we had already paid the hotel cost, but we told this child that his/her behavior was not such that we could leave him/her that day. That child still tells us that that day was a very important day in his/her training.

When the strong-willed child got older, there were some more positive things that we did to make him/her know that we were willing to make investments of time and money to be with him/her, because he/she was fun and because he/she and his/her sibling were the most valuable heritage God had given us. But I will save those for another time, since this is a book and since your baby is two. I know it is cliche, but let me emphasize that the child with the iron will can be the Daniel, the Shadrach Meshach or Abednego, the Joseph—the one who will literally die before giving in to sin. I have seen that blessed process occur—the trip from refusing to flinch in self-will at the threat of punishment to the refusing to flinch in HIS will in the face of persecution. It takes a lot of foresight and faith. It takes not doing what seems the most reasonable and easy right now, for what you can have for His glory in the long run.

Q&A: She-wolves Will Eat Ewe, Too!

wolfQuestion: Do you believe it’s okay for a group of women from our congregation to attend a religious seminar in which a dynamic denominational woman teacher will be saying a lot of good things, but also may teach some false doctrines?

Response: I believe this is a very bad idea for several reasons. Here are ten that come quickly to mind.

  1. I believe you will, of necessity imply that you generally endorse the teachings of this religious leader, if you take a group to hear her.
  2. I believe that you may lead those in your group who are weak and deficient in Bible knowledge to believe false doctrines that may, in the end, jeopardize their souls (Luke 17:1).
  3. I believe you will be hard-pressed to take a group without advertising the event and encouraging other women and groups of women (for example, visitors to your services or those who read your bulletins) who may be even less discerning than you are, to attend. The potential for damage may increase as a result of your advertising and endorsing.
  4. There is a good chance that false worship may occur at the seminar and those in your group will be tempted to join that false worship (Mark 7:7).
  5. There’s an abundance of good, sound teachers and materials and a shortage of time to study in groups. Why would you want to waste a morning or a day at the feet of a false teacher (Colossians 4:5)?
  6. Often attendance at these kinds of seminars requires payment for registration or admission. Your money, when this is the case, would go toward the spread of false doctrine. You would be supporting this work. (I Timothy 5:22).
  7. Those in your group who enjoy listening to a false teacher may be encouraged to read her books and study her materials (which will no doubt be advertised and available at the seminar) after having attended, thus ingesting even more of the false teaching that she has craftily woven into her teachings.
  8. A little false teaching mixed with truth is less recognizable, raises fewer red flags and thus is more dangerous to vulnerable women. She, then (the teacher) is the veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).
  9. I believe that, in many congregations, there’s a group of women who are already leaning toward a denominational mindset. To take a group of women to such an event would empower and embolden them in this mindset and in their influence. We need to be teaching sound doctrine and emboldening those who are full of the Book rather than those who are leaning toward a rejection of the New Testament pattern.
  10. We hurt the church when we lead weak sisters to drink at a fountain that spews forth unbiblical terminology, celebrates unbiblical worship and implies that opposing doctrines can all be acceptable to God and those who follow them can all be saved. Those unbiblical terms like “witnessing for Jesus in our day,”…”praying the sinner’s prayer,”… “the rapture” and “the Christmas story” will soon make their way into our congregations. Soon, our members will be unclear about why we are so concerned about authority for our worship practices and they will begin to consider those who are following various plans of salvation to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is a dangerous path to travel over to the city auditorium with a group of sisters who are supposed to be diligently watching for the Savior’s return. What if he does return while I am enjoying the dynamic speaking ability of one who is leading people eternally astray? I would further add that it is just as dangerous, if not more so, for us to study the teachings of these false teachers in our group Bible studies in our congregations. I know of several very weak congregations who are using the works (written and video) of known false teachers as the basis for their women’s studies. Excuses like “…but she is so interesting and practical,” or “…there is really not that much available in video,” are often given. Though these are, in reality, just excuses, they would not warrant the risk of souls even were they true. This practice is a grave mistake and there will be a price paid in eternity.

Sister to Sister: Q and A – Secondary Virginity?

womanquestionQuestion: I went to a youth rally recently and there was a girls’ class and the question was asked about sex before marriage. A lady on the panel said that you can regain your virginity by “second time virginity.” Some of my girls from the youth group came to me to ask if “… it’s ok to have sex before marriage because based on what she said you can have sex and repent and you can regain your virginity?”

Response: While some may believe that virginity is a commodity that can be restored once surrendered, I do not believe that to be the case any more than a peeled apple can be restored to the state of fresh and uncut. I believe the restoration of virginity is a physical impossibility.

Someone might argue that, since God has promised to purify sinners upon their repentance of sins and the meeting of His conditions of purity, that such purification restores them, as women who have engaged in premarital sex, to the same state of guiltlessness as the girl who has never had sex, thus reclaiming that status of virginity.

It is true that purity of soul can mercifully be restored after the child of God sins. How thankful am I every day that this is true. It is true that the young unmarried girl who has given in to sexual temptation and lost her virginity can be forgiven. She can be as white and pure before God as the one who has guarded her virginity. Should they both die in a covenant relationship with the Father, both will reach the safety of the arms of Jesus.

But it is simply not the case that both of these young women are virgins, because of the definition of the word and because of its use in the Scriptures.

Genesis 24:16 aptly defines the word for us:

And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up.

Leviticus 21:13-14, in describing whom the high priest was to marry, would make little sense if a virgin could have been one who had previously been sexually active. It is clearly instructing the priest to marry a woman who has never been sexually active:

And he shall take a wife in her virginity.
A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife.

The first part of Deuteronomy 22 is a section of scripture that would be futile in inclusion in the law and in application if a virgin damsel was anything other than a sexually untouched female. In this passage, virginity was clearly a physical state that hinged on abstinence from sexual activity rather than a state of purity of heart before God.

Perhaps the strongest passages about the true meaning of virginity have to do with the immaculate conception of our Savior. If a virgin could possibly be someone who has known a man sexually, then Mary could have, at the time of the birth of Jesus, been a penitent fornicator!

But, just as the prophet Isaiah foretold, the Lord was born of a virgin…a woman who had not known a man:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Is. 7:14).

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Matthew 1:23).

Mary, herself, defined the state of virginity for us when she asked of the angel, “How shall this thing be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34).

For the truly penitent fornicator, perhaps there is comfort in calling the purified state a sort of “second virginity.” I do not want to subtract from the comfort found in forgiveness. Every sinner should claim the release and peace that comes when we begin again in purity and holiness before a merciful God. His forgiveness is certain. His cleansing is thorough. But this blessing, as wonderful as it is, does not make a woman who has “known a man” become a virgin again.

One more illustration: Suppose I am entering a second marriage after my first husband left me for another woman. Perhaps I feel much sorrow and experience deep regret as I contemplate my earlier decision to marry my first husband. Perhaps I truly wish this could be my first marriage and that the previous marriage could simply be “erased.” I can enter a God-approved marriage. I can please God in this new relationship. I can have a wonderful second marriage. But I will still be a woman who has been previously married. It is an experience that is simply part of my history.

Premarital sex is kind of like that first marriage. One can, after having sexual relations and later meeting God’s terms of pardon, be as pure in the eyes of God as any virgin. She can be as dedicated to Him as any virgin may be. She can be as holy in her present relationships as any virgin may be. But she will still be a woman who surrendered her virginity. That surrender is an experience that is simply a part of her history. When and if someone to whom she is contemplating giving her life in marriage asks the question, “Are you a virgin?”, the answer she must give is “No.”

Fornication can be forgiven. But it, like other sins, will still bring regret and unpleasant consequences in the present life. (I Corinthians 6:18).

The Summer Fitness Program for the Soul – Number 6

logoFAQsofLifeThe FAQs of Life!

This is the one about which I’m most excited. That’s saying a whole lot, because I love Digging Deep, CTS, PTP and Horizons, But this event is like nothing I’ve ever been involved in before.

This year the West Huntsville ladies have transformed our bi-annual ladies seminar into a weekend of opening up the floor, the tweets, email and facebook inboxes for any Bible related question that any woman in attendance would like to hear discussed. I will be privileged (and mostly challenged) to be answering the questions, to the best of my ability. We have already had some interest in hearing tips about parenting, answers about things like clapping in worship and children’s church, and the discussion of moral issues involving divorce and remarriage. Now, I am surely far from being the Omniscient One on any of these topics, but I have the Word of the Omniscient One and I will be very prayerful as we approach the day. I will also not be hesitant to say “I don’t know,” if I don’t, and then revisit topics later via this blog.

Far outweighing any uncertainty that we have, though, is excitement. We think it’s going to be a faith-building weekend. How can it be a bad thing when we, as God’s women come together with the spiritual issues that are foremost in our minds, examine His Word for the answers and pray together for the faith and courage to implement His Will in the areas that are most challenging?

So save the date. It’s September 13-14, 2013. Come for all or part of the weekend. The schedule follows. I am particularly excited about the “Sweet Hour of Prayer: Answers for Souls” session on Friday night. We will go to God in prayer for those precious souls we are trying to reach with the gospel and we will share strategies that may help in each of our personal evangelism scenarios. I think it will be a rich time. I think we will leave better equipped to reach souls.

Then on Saturday, we will have a full day of addressing the issues that we need most. In a very real sense, those of you who attend will set the agenda. We will have liberal doses of praise and prayer and some sessions of food and fellowship, but we will be primarily all about answers from the Word.

We hope you will plan to come and spend the night in our homes. We are hoping to fill them up! So, for now, we need you to do a couple of things:

  • Register and Plan to Attend. Let us know your lodging needs. Register at http://thecolleyhouse.org/seminar.
  • Invite your friends to come with you. We would love to have your non-christian friends as well as groups of ladies from your congregation.
  • Send us your questions as you think of them. Tweet questions with the hashtag #FAQsofLife or email diggingdeepingodsword@gmail.com. (You may also ask them from the floor on the day of the seminar!)
  • Watch this blog for more details. We hope to fill our homes and our new auditorium.
  • Be there! He has all the answers you’ve been needing!

West Huntsville church of Christ at Providence–September 13-14, 2013.

FlyerFAQsofLife

Q and A: Kids and the Nursery

babypewHi there– I was wondering if you had written any, or could direct me to, any interesting articles on nursery use during worship. Thank you!

You could ask 100 ladies this question and get answers that are all over the map. Since you asked me, though, let me give you my strong opinions about church nurseries:

  1. Since we don’t find the word or concept in the scriptures, a nursery room in a church building (“church building” being a term that’s also absent from scripture), then a nursery has to be an expedient and not a necessary element of a faithful church. Thus, if the existence of a nursery impedes, rather than enriches faithful worship in a local body, then it should not exist.
  2. Sometimes infants and toddlers impede faithful worship during the time in which parents are training them and it’s a great thing to have a place where parents can go and teach practical worship lessons along with  appropriately punishing when children are purposely disobeying during worship.
  3. I believe it is a mistake that breeds very negative consequences when a nursery or cry room is turned into an alternative to sitting still and being quiet,…i.e. a fun place to go and play while worship is in progress.
  4. I believe a child who is misbehaving in worship and knows he is misbehaving in worship should get a spanking every single time a trip to the nursery is made. ( I know there will be a lot of disagreement here, but I’m pretty settled in my heart about this one.) I’ve seen many children who push the limits of crying, laughing, whining and wiggling in worship, only to stop it all and smile as the parents get up and grab the diaper bag. They have accomplished their purpose of getting to leave the place where they have to be quiet and go to the place where the fun and toys are waiting. This is not good training for worship.
  5. I believe it is sinful for nursery attendants to visit and talk about random topics while they are watching the infants. They should be a part of the worship in every way possible. The sound system should be turned up in the nursery and they should be singing and praying and listening. What a very difficult thing it is for a young nursing mother to enter the nursery with her hungry newborn only to realize there’s a conversation going on there about the baby shower being planned for next Sunday night and the recipes that are being made. (There were times when I simply dreaded taking my babies out for a feeding because I would have to be the only one singing and praying in the nursery. That’s awkward when all your friends are having a pow-wow or a play date!)
  6. I believe parental training for worship is FAR preferable to baby sitting services. I know churches with complete child care forms to fill out for worship times. These forms include family discipline policies, allergies, etc….I believe children who are old enough to be left with others for playtime are old enough to be learning a lot from the worship service. Children can be impressed with what a baptism looks like, learn the tunes and some of the words to hymns, learn reverence during prayer time and start figuring out how to contribute before they are a year old. Why would we want them to miss this young time of immersion in the sights and sounds of worship that will become building blocks to faithful adult worship? I’m so glad our children had this infant training.
  7. I believe a toddler should have to sit just as still and be just as quiet in the nursery as he would if he were in the auditorium. If my toddler had to be carried out, he knew that was a very bad thing. He expected a spanking and then he knew he had to sit very still until he could re-enter the auditorium with the very least disturbance possible.
  8. Nurseries, to be most expedient, should provide a very quiet and private place for nursing mothers. But members should not mind if tiny babies are nursed beneath blankets on the back row of the assembly, either. This is a very natural and modest way to be inclusive in our worship. I cannot imagine God objecting to this.
  9. Members should also be very understanding and patient with mothers and fathers who are doing their best to train their children to be reverent during worship. Bringing our babies into the assembly of worship is sometimes difficult and sacrificial. Older members should encourage and help out when help is welcomed.
  10. We should avoid having groups of Christians separated from the assembly and the worship process for the purpose of childcare. Worship, in scripture, is both a requirement and a privilege. We should want to be offering our best to God at all cost. The parent’s nursery, where a parent can go, for a few moments, discipline or feed while listening through technology, and return is a pretty efficient way to avoid taking adults out of worship while, at the same time, keeping our children in the worship arena for training as much of the time as possible. In congregations in which the elders choose to have attended nurseries for infants, those who are caring for the babies should be worshiping, too. With today’s technology, there is no reason we would have it any other way!