Thursday, November 01, 2018

lighting up HALLOWEEN

yesterday was Halloween. we had such a fun night walking through the neighborhood with our friends and neighbors. it was chilly and it had rained earlier. most of the children were bundled in jackets and raincoats, costumes covered. clinging to their candy buckets, kids of all ages dodged puddles, going door to door in droves to meet friendly faces and get some chocolate. our kids are 10 and 13 now. they have outgrown a lot suddenly. but last night they were young. last night, we let them be little. chasing candy dressed as Spongebob characters with glow necklaces. midway through the night, i looked around at my neighborhood bustling with families and i thanked God that i get to be here and now. i thanked God for another fun Halloween for the collection of memories in my heart. 

i've shared my journey of navigating Halloween as a God-fearing, Christian family. i have absolutely struggled with the tension of the holiday. there were a few years when i was so confused and torn that we skipped Halloween altogether. my heart was broken for the lost and for those in darkness. now i know God used those years to convict me, and he has shown me that the way to respond with a broken heart to a lost and dark world is not to hide from it, but to light it up.

here is how we did Halloween in 20092010, and 2011. i was/am transparent in my struggle because i know i'm not the only one, and i believe there's freedom in bringing things into the light. 

ultimately, here is what October 31 actually is in my community in 2018: a night for children to dress in costumes, get together with friends and neighbors, collect buckets of candy, put candles in pumpkins with toothy grins, and pretend to be afraid of plastic spiders in cotton webs. i mean, let's just call it what it is, right?

but i still see so much tension surrounding October 31. especially, sadly, among Christians.

the week before Halloween i had a conversation with my kids about it. i wanted to know what they thought about Christ followers celebrating Halloween. do you ever do that? so often i think we (adult Christians) overthink things and make mountains out of molehills. my perception is so clouded because of my experiences and exposure to other people's opinions. i can always count on my kids for some grounded, simple, insight. their faith is so pure!

our Halloween vs Christians conversation was incredibly insightful. there's nothing like a Bible-believing child to offer an untainted perspective. they asked really good questions. they were mostly confused about why Christians wouldn't get out there among the unbelievers. why would anyone think that Christians are celebrating witchcraft? why wouldn't we want to invite our neighbors over? aren't we supposed to show the love of Jesus to everyone even if they practice witchcraft? is our faith so weak that it can't withstand fake skeleton decorations and sound effects CDs? are we only supposed to celebrate Christian holidays? why are Christians so small-minded sometimes? how do we show love in this situation? why is there division? what would Jesus do? 

they're all "who told you that you were naked?" and i'm like, oh snap.  

after we talked, i prayed, and was prompted to share some of our thoughts with others who might be feeling the tension and confused about Halloween. i put my thoughts in an Instagram story and was blown away by the responses. first, the struggle is real. Christians are trying to navigate this, and carefully, because there is so much tension and division over this issue. however, Christians are overwhelmingly burdened to love like Jesus and redeem October 31 for the glory of God. 

Pastor Dustin Bates says it like this:
when you walk into a dark room and you flip on the light switch, light overcomes the darkness. 
it's no longer dark. darkness doesn't prevent the light from lighting up the room. 
so turn on the light! God will turn the darkness in life into an opportunity for His light. 

i have come to believe Halloween is no different. as a Christian, regardless of the day of the year or the origins of a holiday, my obligation and burden and honor is to be light in the darkness to display the love of Christ to everyone. 

i have seen God work His redemption firsthand. 

i watched a close friend practice witchcraft at a party years ago. a few years after that, she needed a place to stay so we invited her to live with us. she went to church with me and my family during that time. even more years later, she is a completely new person.

another friend of mine was not a believer. a week before Halloween, her best friend tragically passed away. Halloween fell on a Sunday that year and it was her first time in church. she's been going ever since and she tells me it's changed her life. Halloween is her new birth-day.

God let me be an up close and personal witness in those situations so that i could live fearlessly. His redemption and love conquers all. nothing, no day, no darkness is out of His reach. 

these are the thoughts that i shared on Halloween, also available here:

i refuse to believe that the enemy of our souls thinks our gathering with friends and neighbors tonight for fun and fellowship is bringing us any closer to him and his evil ways. 

the enemy is a liar and would love to STEAL, KILL, and DESTROY our attempts to have a fun night with our neighbors. 

as for me and my household we will serve the Lord in all we do, on every day of the year. we will redeem the day. we will glorify God in all of it. 

this day might have origins in evil, but we serve a God who calls us to light and love, and can make all things new. beauty from ashes! redemption is His. 

we are not celebrating the origins of this day. we are celebrating victory in Christ.

we choose to reject the evil roots and aspects of today, and instead redeem it by loving our neighbors, practicing hospitality, and sharing the love of God with friends and family.

we teach our kids that god can be glorified in all things.  
everything can be redeemed. 
everything and all things. 
even a pagan holiday. 

i refuse to believe that my friends and neighbors and those little cuties coming to my door for candy are out celebrating witchcraft tonight. 

and if they are? come on over, sweetie, i'll show you the love of Christ.

living not of this world sometimes means taking the things of this world and turning them upside down for God's glory.

our neighbors might not be Christians. we might be the ones on the block who represent Christianity to them. you better believe we're prioritizing love.

we believe there's nothing and no one too far out of God's reach that He can't redeem. we will be the catalysts of change today.

once you witness redemption, you can't unsee it. 

the enemy wants me fearful today. he wants this day to be set aside for evil because after all that's how it originated. and he wants me to leave it alone. he wants to make me believe God doesn't have any power on October 31. the enemy celebrates when believers are divided and turned against one another. let's not give him that opportunity today. or tomorrow. or ever. 

perfect love casts out fear. nothing can separate us from the Love of God. don't lose consciousness of God's perfect love or our access to it today.

if the origins of Halloween are a stumbling block in your relationship with Jesus, or cause your faith to weaken, by all means skip it. 

pray about it. honor your convictions. don't judge others. (they have their own convictions). and stand firm in your faith. 

my conviction was this: the enemy doesn't care if it's 10/31 or 5/9 or 2/28. he just wants me isolated so he can shame and confuse me. he wants me to feel proud of myself and to judge others. he wants my doors locked, lights out, curtains drawn. he does not want me loving on my neighbors, enjoying family time, and being in community. 

God is sovereign. that doesn't change on Halloween.

i am called - and so are you - to light up Halloween.

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, 
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." 
-Matthew 5:14-16

"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. 
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"
-John 8:12

"You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. 
This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood." 
-1 John 4:4-6

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

5 practical ways to practice WORD BEFORE WORLD

word before world is a buzzy little catchphrase intended to serve as a reminder to start the day in God's Word before engaging with the world. have you heard it? i'm a believer.

word before world is the concept of literally spending time in God's Word first, before consuming the noise of the world. it's an intentional practice meant to set the first focus of your heart, mind, and spirit on the promises of God. 

i believe - because i've experienced it - that spending time with God, in the word, before getting caught up in the day's tasks centers and sets my heart in the right direction, builds up my faith so i can face whatever comes at me in the day, and deepens my relationship with Jesus. the way i see it, word before world goes hand in hand with the "firstfruits" principle, which is to honor God with my first and my best according to proverbs 3:9-10. along those same lines, word before world is not done out of obligation or to check a religious to do list, but is done out of sheer reverence and gratitude. giving my first daily moments to Jesus is a joy! because, afterall, Who told the sun when to rise in the morning? and Who thought to give me breath for one more day? with the same heart of awe and thanksgiving that i end my days thanking God, i begin my days thanking God.       

consider the alternative...waking up to gloom and doom news headlines? focusing first on my neverending chore list? starting my day off filling my head with the noise on facebook? none of that will contribute to the overall good of my heart or my mind. but surrendering the first moments of my day to Jesus? is starting my day with peace, love, joy, truth, and goodness. the time i take to spend in God's Word is an investment in my life, my heart, my wellbeing, my family, and my legacy. it changes everything. 

but what does it look like? how does word before world actually play out for a mom with a bustling household, a lengthy to-do list to tackle, places to be, laundry to fold, and kids that will wake up any minute now? it sounds lovely, but, really, how do we stop the world from coming at us first thing in the morning? let me tell you: it's doable, and it's worth it. 


// PAGE A DAY CALENDAR. years ago, someone gifted me a pretty little page-a-day calendar that stands up on the kitchen countertop next to the sink. every morning, it is part of my routine to pour my coffee and flip the calendar page. on each page is a verse or two of scripture. standing there in the kitchen every morning, beadhead and groggy, the very first thing i read is a snippet from God's Word. i read it, pray it, consider it's context, and it becomes the "theme" of my day. it sets the tone. i put another page-a-day calendar on my bathroom sink, too, since i'm at that sink first. from the time i wake up, i go from bed to bathroom sink (scripture) to kitchen sink (scripture) and already i'm off to a great start with God's Word in my heart before the world even had a chance to distract me. and every time i'm back at the kitchen or bathroom sink throughout the day, i glimpse again at the scripture on the calendar and repeat it in my heart. it's simple and practical, but effective! here are some calendars with God's Word on each day.

// MUSIC. not just any music, of course, but praise and worship music. Romans 10:17 says faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word, so start the day listening to God's Word! most popular songs on Christian radio stations are inspired by scripture. as soon as you turn off the alarm clock, turn on the music and let your heart be lifted by hearing and singing along to God's Word. find (or make) a playlist, and let it be the soundtrack of your days. i've shared before how sound affects the peace in our home. there are a lot of noises in the world competing for our attention (tv, news, advertisements, dog barking, phone notifications buzzing...). choose wisely what you start your day listening to. let it be something that turns your heart towards gratitude, joy, God's blessings, and the new mercies of the day. 

// BIBLE STUDY. being part of a bible study is a very practical way to get in God's Word on a regular basis, especially a study that has a daily reading plan. it can become part of your morning routine to pour a hot mug of tea and sit down with your Bible open, reading scriptures, studying their context and meanings, and letting the promises of God take root in your heart. the YouVersion Bible app and have free reading plans and bible studies, and there are several others online that you could find by doing a quick Google search. hosts bible studies regularly (topical and biblical) with guided reading plans and devotionals. use a calendar, find an accountability friend, or join a group bible study to hold you accountable to making word before world a daily practice. the Word is alive and active, and engaging with it - truly meditating on the words - has the power to transform your life.

// PAPER AND PEN. i love the way one of my friends practices word before world! she keeps a small notebook and pen next to her coffeepot in the kitchen. every morning, as she pours that first cup of coffee, she jots down the date, her prayers for the day, and things she's thankful for. then, she opens her bible and searches for scripture to pray for her specific needs, and writes the verses in the notebook. by the time she's ready to refill her mug, she's already established a strong foundation of truth and grace for the day. paper and a pen, and a longing to spend time with the Lord, is all she needs to put the word before the world.  

// WILL-POWER. very practically speaking, focusing on the word before engaging with the world takes will-power. it takes a heart that is determined to prioritize what is true, lovely, right, admirable, noble, trustworthy, commendable, worthy of praise, honorable, and pure (Philippians 4:8). it might mean waking up a little bit earlier. it might mean making some changes to your morning routine. if having your phone next to your bed makes it tempting to check in on social media before your feet hit the floor in the morning, consider getting a non-phone alarm clock so you can keep the phone in another room and avoid the temptation to world before word. it takes will-power to create a new habit, and where there's a will, there's a way.  

the world wants us to hit the ground running, hustling, texting, posting. the Word wants us to hit the ground submitted, surrendered to God's will, trusting His plan, soaking up His peace. word before word will require you to go counter to the culture. try it tomorrow morning and see if it makes a difference in your day. may i recommend reading the story of Jesus miraculously feeding the multitudes? it's pretty remarkable what God can do when you give Him what you have. and all we're talking here is the first moments of your day.

“I did nothing; the Word did everything.”
-Martin Luther

God's Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105) and i need God's Word with me, in my heart, to light up my daily walk in a dark world. before i need to check the weather forecast, read the headlines, see what so-and-so posted on social media, check my phone notifications, look at my to-do list, or open my email inbox, i need Jesus. i need to seek first His kingdom. what He has for me is far greater than anything the world could offer. when i practice word before world, i'm dedicating my day to God's will, and it is good. it's day changing, and ultimately, life-changing. 

i saw a funny, yet pointed, post on instagram recently that said:


word before world, friends. first things first. get out of bed with a heart determined to put God first in your day, in your life.

"Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life."
(Psalm 143:8)