October 31 is approaching, which means. It’s national eat candy till you puke day for kids! Yep, all the kids in the neighborhood will put on their costumes and come to your door begging for treats, and then judging each house in the neighborhood on the basis of who had the best stuff. Those who give apples or other fruit are instantly written off. Miniature candy bars are OK. Those who give bubble gum get an extra star. And the few that are crazy enough to have full sized candy, well they become the heroes of the night.
I realize that there is considerable discussion and debate among followers of Christ about whether we should participate. One one hand, there are those that share great concerns about Halloween, which I understand. The argument is that the day has its foundation in the occult and the day is a celebration of death, fear, and evil. For Christians to participate in this sort of celebration is to deny teaching of the Bible about witchcraft and avoiding evil.
On the other hand, there are those who argue that participation in something like Halloween does not mean that one has to endorse the evil, witchcraft, and other stuff that is associated. These people will point out that Christmas began as a Christian response to a pagan holiday, and that there is nothing inherently evil about allowing kids to dress up as sports stars, super heroes, or princesses.
The debate has led to many churches holding Halloween alternatives, such as harvest parties. Often the goal of these parties was to provide a safe place for kids, with bonfires, games, and of course, candy. Many times the parties were billed as outreach events, something for the community around to attend. These parties have been produced with varying success. Some had good crowds, while other churches struggled to get them off the ground. Yet, for most of the churches I know of, the crowd attending was primarily made up of church people, from the host church, and other churches in the community.
This blog is not an attempt to define my side of this debate. Actually, I think there is a bigger issue here. For several years I attended harvest parties, taking my kids, and helping with the event. Then something dawned on me! While I was working at church on the night of the party, every family with young children in my neighborhood was coming to my home, and I was not there. In fact, most followers of Jesus that I knew were not home. The one night of the year they came to us, and we were absent! For me, this is the much larger issue, the opportunity to live God’s mission on a night when the entire neighborhood is going to visit without even being invited.
In Acts 17, Paul visits Athens Greece. When he arrives, he tours the city, and is grieved by all of the idols throughout the city. Paul begins preaching in the synagogue, the Jewish house of worship, telling them about Jesus. His preaching nets him an invitation to Areopagus on Mars Hill. You are probably familiar with Mars Hill and this building, if you have ever seen pictures of Athens. This is the large, pillared building that is famous for ancient Greece. It was outside this building that people like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle shared their ideas. And now Paul is taken to the court that met in the building, to share his story. The amazing thing about Paul’s experience on Mars Hill lies in the fact that he uses their culture and experience as a launch pad to share Jesus. He quotes their poets and play writes, and he even references their idolatry and polytheism as a point of reference to show them that they are seeking the real God.
I could say so much more about Paul on Mars Hill. It is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. But the point I want to make is this, when thinking mission, Paul was willing to enter into their arena, use their language and ideas, and share the truth of Jesus in terms that they understood. Whether or not you are comfortable with dressing kids up, we can see Halloween as an opportunity to meet people, engage them in conversation, and if given the opportunity, share Jesus. Much like Paul, I tend to be grieved when I see little kids dressed in horror oriented outfits that celebrate death, or exalt the occult. Yet, these people need to see people living in their culture who love Jesus yet are willing to be relational and non-judging.
Let me end this by telling my story about this. I actually came to this conviction a couple years ago, so we decided to put it to the test. On Halloween, we pulled our grill and our fire pit out to the end of our driveway (we lived in Ballwin at the time). We bought hot dogs, had s’mores, and bought the best candy in the neighborhood. We just lit the fires when the rain started, and for about a half hour, we thought nobody was coming. We pulled the fires up to the edge of our garage and set up tables in our garage. Then the rain slowed down, and people started showing up. We offered hot dogs, hot chocolate, etc., Some of the people just dropped by, got their candy and maybe a hot chocolate, and kept going. But most of the people who came to our house stopped and spent a few minutes in our garage. That night I met multiple people who lived in our neighborhood, of whom I did not know. I had lived in the neighborhood for 13 years and didn’t know these people (that is sad). We actually shared Jesus with two parents who dropped by and wondered why we were doing this. At the end of the evening I was pretty amazed at what happened, knowing God had spoken into my life clearly.
Last year we did this again, this time inviting our Community Group to join us. We served hot dogs, s’mores, hot chocolate, and the best candy in the neighborhood. We were the best house to visit on the block, and we have a street that loves this holiday. As people stopped, we had the chance to visit with parents for a few minutes, and time to get to know the kids.
Next Wednesday night every family in your neighborhood is coming to your house. I want to encourage you to see this as a chance to live the mission of God in your neighborhood, or that of your Community Group.