Saturday, November 16, 2013

Serving Our Generation with Purpose: David's Legacy

Episode 2 of Healing for Everyday is ready--Serving Our Generation with Purpose: David's Legacy.

Everybody wants to leave some mark in the earth that says, “I was here; and in some small way, I made a difference."

Despite that desire, many people wander aimlessly through life without a sense of purpose—a hit and miss kind of life. They’ve never asked, “Why am I here?” They develop and use their strengths and talents mostly for personal gain.

Christians also can miss the mark in life if we don’t ask the same question: “Why am I here”?

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

What I'm Not by Nature, I Am by Grace
Part 1

I want to focus on the reality of an important part of our Salvation--being adopted in Christ--and what it really means to be called children of God.

Not all human beings are granted this privilege, though you hear it tossed around quite frequently by unbelievers.

All of mankind is His beloved creation, nurtured under grace; however, only those people who receive by faith the finished work of Christ are adopted by God and legally--in terms of inheritance--called His children.

"How blessed is God! And what a blessing He is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in Him. Long before he laid down
earth's foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by his love.

"Long, long ago He decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure He took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son." (Ephesians 1:4-6 Message Bible)

Imagine standing in a courtroom, ready to hear the verdict against you. This is unlike any other court:  it is the court of the Most High God. His decisions are final. There is no appeal.

You never contested your guilt. In fact, you eventually turned yourself in, unable to live under the escalating torment.

The prosecutor is alarmingly accurate in profiling you. He gleefully points a finger in your direction. With embarrassing, relentless evidence, the accuser demands the death penalty. His twisted eloquence surely has everyone convinced there's no hope for you. Remarkably, your defense attorney makes no effort to counteract the claims of the devil. Well, you are guilty. Yet, you expect him to mount some arguments in your favor.

The verdict rings throughout the courtroom. "Guilty as charged!"

Suddenly, your attorney stands before the judge and asks that the sentence that's about to be imposed upon you be transferred to him instead. What? Is he playing a cruel joke? Why would someone do such a thing for a stranger?

You are so astonished that you stagger and reach for the table to steady yourself just as the judge drops His gavel and says, "Done!" You watch horrified as they handcuff your advocate and take him away to be executed in your place.

He looks back with piercing eyes that slice through every pretense you've ever had. No one has ever been able to look that deeply, that truthfully into you before. Yet strangely, you feel no condemnation from his gaze.

"Do not fear, "he says, "I make all things new."

Your heart is breaking. A muffled cry escapes your lips.  "Please...wait!"

Your savior, your substitute never looks back. The door slams behind him, then locks...sending a dreadful echo through the room.
There's an uneasy silence. Enveloped in a confusing swirl of emotions, you turn to face the bench.

The judge speaks. "This decree was settled before the foundation of the world. Your debt, as far as I'm concerned, is paid. You and this court are at peace. You are free to go."
God could have ended the matter right there.

In the Salvation process, this astonishing legal declaration of "not guilty" is called Justification. The Judge of the Universe declares you cleared of all charges. But how, if you're still clearly guilty?

God can't go against His own principles or He'd be unjust. Therefore, His Son Jesus willingly took the sins that estranged you from your Creator and paid for them with His own life. But that's not all. He also left you something wonderful in its place so you wouldn't stand empty before God--the benefits of His having lived a pleasing life on earth before His Heavenly Father.

"...being justified FREELY by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24 KJV)

Therefore, we see that the obedience of Jesus in life AND death secured justice, AND restored the possibility of a relationship with God for all humanity. All of this...and you never really knew Him!

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8 NIV)

Now, back to the courtroom.
Trembling, you gasp. "How could you allow that?"

The judge was straightforward. "He was insistent. He wouldn't have it any other way."

"But...but he doesn't even know me!"

The judge steps down from the bench. "Yes, yes he does. And he loves you...always have."

"Loves me?"

"Even before you were born, dear."

The judge comes over and puts his arm around you. "By the way," he asks, "do you have anywhere to go?"

You're fumbling for words as he continues. "Out there, you'll wander like an orphan. You're pardoned, but now you need a home--a family. I've arranged for you to come live in my house...that is, if you want to."

Your head is spinning in disbelief. "Wha...Why would you do all this for me?"

With a warm smile, the judge whispers. "The man who took your place was my only son. I, too, have known and loved you before you were born. I want you to join our family. Through My son's sacrifice, you can receive a fresh start in life with a new name, identity, and a secure home."

But what about your son," you stammer through tears, "your only son?"

The Judge smiles as he walks you out of the courtroom and into the fresh air of a beautiful day.

"Everything will work out for good," he confidently replies.

You ask, "What did your son mean about making all things new?"

"I'll explain along the way," he replies.

It's the beginning of a long and fruitful journey home.
Salvation has several components: Conversion (faith and repentance), then Regeneration (better known as being "born again").

In conversion, you surrender to the conviction of the Holy Spirit of your need for Christ. With His enabling grace, you then make a decision. He awakens faith in your heart and you are able to believe and turn around (repent).

I believe that conversion and regeneration happens simultaneously. Being born again means that because of your repentance from sin and faith in Christ, God transfers you out of the Adamic life with its consequences, and into Christ's life and benefits.

"But how many ever received him, he gave to them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name." (John 1:12-Wycliffe)

But you can't enter the Kingdom (or be "born anew") with the sins of your Adamic nature still on the books; that is, the sin nature you inherited from him as part of the the human race, along with your personal acts of sin that followed.

Consequently, Jesus offers you the gift of His passive obedience (a life lived on earth without sin and thereby righteous), and His active obedience (His death) as the payment to settle the accounts and eternally clear the evidence against you.

Based on what Christ did, God declares you fully justified. It's the Great Exchange! It's a wonderful feeling to know that you are at peace with God because of Christ's extraordinary gift, but is that all Salvation means?

Sadly, many Christians live as if it is...truly thankful for the justification based on Christ's substitution, but devoid of the intimate relationship that comes with it. It's like settling a legal dispute with a neighbor, but never reconciling the previous friendship.

There's another part of the Salvation experience that we don't hear too much about--adoption. If we did, we would enjoy God and each other a lot more, and be better able to grow under Father's nurturing as royal siblings.

Adoption is becoming by grace what you could not become in your fallen nature--a son or daughter of God. Justification gives us right legal standing before God that the devil cannot dispute.

Adoption, however, is having a personal relationship with God. Yet in this area, the devil has done a good job at keeping us at arm's length from the Father. He comes to us with all kind of lies about how bad we are. He puts our sins smack dab in our face when we try to pray. He even convinces us that Father God is like our fallen, earthly father. He baits us with myriads of offenses that keep us injured and unwilling to forgive one another.

I have always believed that the world mirrors the Church, not the other way around. In other words, if it's happening in the world, look for the principle behind the behavior to have first run unchecked through the church.

We have head but not "heart" religionists; kids have all kinds of sex that does not require face-to-face "I can look you in the eyes without shame" unions. We are a society that lacks intimacy. I've heard some post-modernists insist David and Jonathan were gay, along with such characters as Frodo and Sam in "Lord of the Rings". No they weren't. We live in a time where such depth of commitment between two people of the same sex seems strange unless it's also sexual.

Believers want to praise God, but grow restless when the worship gets intense and the atmosphere changes. God is too near for comfort. We read in the New Testament of the love and unity within the primitive Church, yet we struggle to recreate that same reality in our modern churches and fellowships.

Our Christian marriages, which are supposed to refract the love, unity and intimacy that exists within the Trinity, thereby giving the unsaved a small, but tangible example of life within the Godhead's family, fall so desperately short of that glory. We go as often as unbelievers into divorce courts.

Many believers live like orphans--wandering from church to church, relationship to relationship--broken, sad, fearful. They seem continually offended and stay out of sorts with their brethren over small matters. They live far beneath their status as God's adopted royalty.

I was adopted here on earth. An older couple welcomed me into their lives after the dad of my underage birth mother signed me away.They gave me a new name, a new identity, and a loving home.

I met my birth mother twenty-eight years later, and we remain good friends today. However, I am aware that if I had stayed in her environment, I would not be a writer today nor would I have entered the broadcasting profession. Please don't misunderstand; I'm not belittling my natural mother's situation. From her genes, I have an inner strength to persevere and survive.

God orchestrated my adoption, placing me into the home of a woman who had a great love for the English language and theater. Early on, she introduced me to many activities that thrust me in front of the public. As much as I dreaded piano and dance recitals, God was shaping me for my calling. In school, I served on the newspaper staff and joined the journalism and drama clubs.

Being transferred out of Adam and into Christ removes the limitations of the natural man; living in the Kingdom gives us the right opportunities and cultivation to fulfill our potential in character and Christian service.

My first mother named me April because I was born in that month. My adoptive mother changed it to Mary Diane. We are all given earthly names that define something about us, honor someone important in the family tree, or represent a favorite of the parents--from celebrities, athletes or creation. (I had friends named "Sky" and "Star".)

On the other hand, when we finally see our Heavenly Father face to face, the Bible says each of us will have a new name known only to perfectly suited because no one knows us like Father God. (Revelation 2:17)

Not all earthly adoptions in this fallen world have happy endings, but God cannot be anything but a good parent.

"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate?

"As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?" (Matthew 7:9-11 Message Bible)

God neither abuses nor abandons His children. He is not unpredictable or moody. He keeps His promises.

Understand that He chose to create you before the foundation of the world. God--who sees the past, present, and future simultaneously--saw you in Christ (Ephesians 1:4). He did not favor you based on your earthly appearance, performance, or value to man--you had yet to be born! You were just passionately, extravagantly, unconditionally loved.

Man, however, decides there is something about you to love (usually fleeting), and then chooses to want you. God's love is just the opposite--He chose you without you doing anything to earn His love.

I was placed into the arms of a couple that already loved me. Actually, they said "yes" over the phone. They were good friends with the doctor who delivered me. My birth mother's father wanted to take care of the matter quickly and quietly, so the doctor personally placed the call and the paperwork followed days later.

Blessed to grow up in an affirming, affectionate home, I was never made to feel different or inferior. God won't do that to you, either. He will never bring up your background and use it against you! There is always a forward-facing seat around His table.

Let's say you're running late for a much-anticipated family reunion at a restaurant. You walk in to a hearty reception and discover an empty seat waiting just for you. You didn't have to call ahead and beg your father to save you a place; you didn't journey anxiously to the restaurant wondering if there will really be a seat. You are secure in your relationship with your Father. Unfeigned love assures you that what was promised will be done.

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" (Romans 8:14-15 NLT)

The Aramaic word "Abba" is translated best as "Daddy". Does the thought of this kind of closeness with God seem strange and uncomfortable to you? Yet, this is the kind of relationship He desires.

Take a few moments and honestly confront yourself. What has robbed you of this remarkable closeness with your Heavenly Father? He is eager to heal and deliver you from whatever keeps Him at a painful distance from all aspects of your life.

"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ...: (Romans 8:16, 17a KJV)

A joint-heir doesn't split the inheritance 50/50; it's shared together as One-without keeping score, without counting. Whatever Christ has is also fully yours!

"But when the right time came, God sent his Son who was born of a woman and lived under the law. God did this so he could buy freedom for those who were under the law and so we could become his children.

"Since you are God's children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and the Spirit cries out, "Father (Abba)". "So now you are not a slave; you are God's child, and God will give you the blessing he promised, because you are his child." (Galatians 4:4-7)

In the second grade, our assignment was to learn how to tell time. I just wasn't grasping the concept. Our teacher informed us that we had a week to review. By Friday, each student would be required to stand up and tell time based on where she moved the big and little hands on the teaching clock.

Such fear gripped me that I just shut down and didn't try to learn. Mom put me to bed on Thursday night as usual, but I tossed as the thought of the test loomed over me. Finally, I crept out of bed and noticed the light still on in daddy's makeshift office. I heard his old hand-pulled calculator cranking away as he worked on the bills for his business. I slowly made my way up the steps and stood there for a long time. Stopping for a moment, he caught me out of the corner of his eye.

"Doodles, what are you doing up? It's way past your bedtime."

I burst into tears. "Daddy," I cried, "I can't tell time! I can't tell time!"

It was already late. Daddy had worked all day as an electrician and still had a batch of statements on his desk. Nevertheless, he called me over and swept the paperwork to the side. I guess maybe an hour passed...I'm not sure (Remember, I couldn't tell). However, when I crawled out of his lap, I knew how to tell time.

Please continue with Part 2

What I'm Not by Nature, I Am by Grace
Part 2

I want to focus on the reality of an important part of our Salvation--being adopted in Christ--and what it really means for you and me to be called the children of God.

Not all human beings are granted this privilege, even though you hear it tossed around quite frequently by unbelievers.

All of mankind is His beloved creation--nurtured under grace; however, only those people who receive by faith the finished work of Christ as their redemption from sin and self are adopted by God and legally (in regards to inheritance) called His children.

This is Part 2 of the message  (Please Read Part I)

My father died in 1986. Mother sadly passed two years later. As the only child, I was the executrix of the estate. Immediately, I could pay bills and take care of what was left, simply by signing my name on mom's checks. Mom and Dad provided a good life for me while they were alive, but I did not get access to the full benefits of their inheritance until they passed.

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.. (Hebrews 4:14 NAS)

God revealed Himself in history and worked first through the nation of Israel to bless humanity, but mankind did not have access to all the blessings and benefits of the Kingdom until the death of Jesus Christ.

Even now, only kids adopted into the family with legal evidence can be executors and executrices of His estate.

There are so many unclaimed inheritances around the world because beneficiaries have never showed up to make a declaration of ownership.

Some Christians aren't convinced of the goodness of their Heavenly Father and the bountiful blessings already designated for them LEGALLY in Christ. They don't even bother to check the will (His Word). If they do, they make up excuse after excuse as to why they can't have what is LEGALLY theirs.

I Peter 1:4 reminds us that we have an inheritance--incorruptible, undefiled and unfading--- kept by the power of God!

Other believers don't think they're good enough, assuming more godly siblings can access the benefits of the will. One must always remember that God's acceptance of us is not based on our religious performance, but on the performance of Christ. YOU unequivocally qualify as benefactor and executor of the Kingdom--all because of your faith in Christ and His finished work.

"See how much the Father has loved us! We are called God's children. It is true, we are God's children. People in this world did not know him and so they do not know us. My dear brothers, we are God's children NOW..." (John 3:1-2a NLT)

We have "two witnesses" to our adoption-one in Heaven and one in Earth.

1) Our names are recorded in the Lamb's Book of Life, written there when we exercised our FAITH to believe. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus... (Galatians 3:26)

2) Our following in baptism by OBEDIENCE, wherein we demonstrate on earth and before witnesses the reality of the Heavenly document.

In my process of earthly adoption (see Part I of this article), there had to be a legal release from one family before I could be adopted into the new.

(Jesus) ..."having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross" (Colossians 2:14 TNIV)

I love this part from my actual adoption papers:

"By law, the said infant would have the same rights and privileges afforded to her that a child of the bodies of George O. Milford and Mary Ellen Milford would have under the law."

"It is furthered order that the name of the said infant child be, and the same hereby is changed from "Baby Girl Griffin" to Mary Diane Milford, and she shall hereafter be known as Mary Diane Milford.


Stop and consider that no matter what man has called or labeled you, God has given you a new name that defines you from His perspective; and your Heavenly Father has given you powerful permission to legally use power of attorney (the name of Jesus Christ) in all spiritual transactions and disputes.

Stop and think again: by God's decree, you have the same rights and privileges as His only begotten Son!

Most adoptions today are "open", meaning that the natural mother works out a legal arrangement with the adoptive parents to maintain contact with her child or receive information through the formative years. My adoption records were sealed. My birth mother and I didn't meet until twenty-eight years later, after I initiated a search.*

More adoption agencies are working with the birth mothers to involve them in every aspect of the process, including interviewing and even selecting the adoptive parents. Such cooperative methods respect the dignity and desires of both mothers and hopefully avoid heartaches and litigation down the road.

However, this was not the case years ago. Adoption records were--for the most part--always sealed. Many natural mothers later on agonized about the whereabouts and welfare of the children they released. Additionally, many of these hand-written records were not filed or stored properly, so both natural mothers and adoptees seeking later reunions were encountering innumerable frustrations and dead ends.

I'm thankful for the growing number of adoption search sites on the internet. It is my prayer that hundreds, even thousands of reunions can become a reality from these years of closed records.

However, God ALWAYS seals His adoption records! We are "in the Secret Place of the Most High" (Psalm 91:1) and "hidden in His pavilion (lair) " (Psalm 27:5).

We often fall back into Adamic behavior because taking on the characteristics and behaviors of our new family is, after all, a learning process; nevertheless, you need never fear the devil coming to claim you. He would have to break the Blood seal and such a feat is impossible!

"You also became believers in Christ. That happened when you heard the message of truth. It was the good news about how you could be saved. When you believed, he marked you with a seal. The seal is the Holy Spirit that he promised.

"The Spirit marks us as God's own. We can now be sure that someday we will receive all that God has promised. That will happen after God sets all of his people completely free. All of those things will bring praise to his glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14 TNIV)

Here's the Message translation:

"It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free-signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit.

This signet from God is the first installment on what's coming, a reminder that we'll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life."

"Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30 NAS)

I like how the Amplified Bible brings out the meaning of the same verse:

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God [do not offend or vex or sadden Him], by Whom you were sealed (marked, branded as God's own, secured) for the day of redemption (of final deliverance through Christ from evil and the consequences of sin).

I didn't need a legal document as proof of my adoptive parents' love and commitment, but if anyone outside the family ever questioned the validity of the adoption, the earthly document was undeniably clear.

What is the believer's earthly proof of adoption? Baptism!

Here's a great word from Rick Warren in The Purpose Drive Life:

"Baptism is not some optional ritual, to be delayed or postponed. It signifies your inclusion in God's family. It publicly announces to the world, "I am not ashamed to be a part of God's family." Jesus commanded this beautiful act for all in his family:

"For years I wondered why Jesus' Great Commission gives the same prominence to baptism as it does to the great tasks of evangelism and edification.

"Why is baptism so important? Because it symbolizes one of the purposes of your life: incorporation into the fellowship of God's eternal family. "

Have you been baptized? Do you have a record of that day? If so, pull it out and keep it close to your Bible so that you (and the devil) may be reminded of it often.

If you are a believer but haven't been baptized, don't delay having earthly evidence of your Heavenly status.

A pastor told me years ago that baptized members of his congregation, who fully understood its importance and meaning, had a tendency to become more stable and fruitful in their Christian walk.

As a child, I was teased a time or two about being adopted. But Mom explained that what made me different was that I was wanted--personally chosen by my parents. Her positive spin helped me silence most kids when I said, "Yeah? Well, your mom had to take what she got!"

But guess what? We've got to "take" who we get in our spiritual family.  We are indeed stuck with each other.

Although I don't have any brothers or sisters in my earthly, adoptive family, I have millions in Christ. Understanding God's heart of adoption changes how I relate to them.

I must never forget:

1) My Father wanted them or they wouldn't be here; therefore, my siblings are of immeasurable value to Him (and as a result, equally as valuable to me).

2) They are extravagantly, eternally loved by the Father--even when they act unlovable. (Just like me!)

3) They chose to love Him back...and for this shameless confession, they are worthy of my respect.

4) They live in the same house with me--a house Christ is building and deems holy.

5) They have something important to do for the Father, and their ability to serve Him depends a great deal on me.

And...I will be chastised for mistreating my family!

"And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, "My child, don't make light of the Lord's discipline, and don't give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.

"As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?

If God doesn't discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all." (Hebrews 12:5-9 NLT)

Our growing into the image of Christ is the progressive, ongoing part of our Salvation called SANCTIFICATION. The Holy Spirit helps me in this process by often using others in the family.

This growth is not without pain, but the Bible says that Christ's gift to me was Salvation. What I do with it--and what I become because of it--is my gift to Him.

Our "works" (The word in the Greek also denotes "moral conduct"), will pass through His holy fire.Those things that are not of God will burn as wood, hay, and stubble. What remains is the reward I get to lay at the feet of Jesus, my Elder Brother.

"For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.

"If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:11-15 ASB)

So often we speak to each other out of our own injuries, ignorance, or immaturity. I've learned to ask the Father to redeem something out of every encounter--whether highly encouraging, strongly corrective or plain bad--that will make me more like Christ and add to my rewards for Him.

Like me, were you naturally adopted? If you're also a Christian, then you're "doubly blessed" to have been chosen twice! Yet, whenever the topic of adoption comes up, every believer has a great conversation starter that can shake out a little salt.

You can casually mention, "Oh, I'm adopted."

Your friends and co-workers, a little startled, will probably respond, "Really? We didn't know that about you!"

You smile. "Well, let me tell you my story!"

* Cotton Butterflies tells the story of my teen birth mom's pregnancy, her resulting adoption, and how we  met 28 years later.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

All Saints, All Souls, All Hallow's Eve
The Druids, the Christians--What Should We Believe?

I didn’t think I would say much about The Feast of All Saints this year, but someone asked me a question about it and two coffee cups later the keys were clicking.

Within the feast, Friday, Nov. 1 is All Saints Day and Saturday, November 2 is the Commemoration of All Souls. Several historic communions are observing the feast this Sunday in their churches, which means I’m officially on schedule until midnight central—about the time my procrastination disorder will kick back in.

Here’s a loose definition of the Feast: November 1 honors those deemed saints by the Church—Christians who were so sanctified in life that they passed purgatory altogether and went on the express cloud to Heaven. Usually miracles are associated with them after their passing. Martyrs are automatically added to this category. November 2, All Souls Day, honors everyone else that eventually made it.

Historic Protestant churches usually combine these days into one because in the Pauline Epistles, all believers are called saints: (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1 and 15; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2,4 and 14.) The word “saint” simply means someone who has been set apart, consecrated, and is holy.

I wrote a companion article expounding more on the sainthood of the believers, sanctification, and the judgment seat of Christ. I also give my perspective on purgatory. Link here to “Saints, Sanctification, and the Judgment Seat”.

Early Christians always honored their departed loved ones on the anniversaries of their deaths, particularly if they were martyrs. Unlike today, believers were not fettered by the morbidity of death or accompanying superstitions. It was a positive time of celebration and feasting.

The tradition was so common that the early church fathers decided to set aside dates on the calendar during the Easter season for remembering those who were resting in the Church Triumphant, as it was called. Those on earth were (and still are) in the Militant Church, signifying our command to fight the good fight in a fallen world.

“Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses.” (I Timothy 6:12)

Pope Gregory III officially moved the feast to November after consecrating a chapel to all martyrs, then ordering an annual celebration to be observed church-wide.

We need not read anything sinister into this change, although it does coincide with the pagan holiday known as Samhain, which eventually became known as Halloween. Yep. But let’s get a bit of scholarly research on the subject before raising that famous ire against things non-Christian.

Samhain was an agricultural holiday celebrating the beginning of a new yearly cycle and for feasting, parliaments, and formal games. Evidence suggests from an old ballad that the holiday was originally observed on November 11.

In some Celtic countries, this date is still regarded as "Old Samhain". There is NO evidence of a deity known as Samhain, the supposed Druid god of the dead. The word simply means summer's end. The Celtic gods of the dead were Gwynn ap Nudd (British) and Arawn (Welsh).

We ended up with the October 31 date after the Gregorian Calendar was implemented by another Pope in the 1500s—Gregory XIII—long after the Gregory III  died (A.D. 741).

Most historians agree that Gregory III changed the date of the feast for economic reasons. Rome was swamped with pilgrims coming in the spring right after Easter, which meant supplies were low. It’s much like a Southern run on bread and milk when snow is forecasted.  Get to the store late, and all you’ll see are bare shelves with only a bag or two of hot dog buns.

Other researchers, while agreeing with the springtime economic strain, point out that Gregory’s decision may have been a deliberate attempt to move the Christian feast to coincide with Samhain. Wait! Hold your tongue before saying, “See, I TOLD you…another Christian holiday with pagan roots!”

I've noticed the Church has no problem introducing alternative parties on Halloween. In my home state of South Carolina, these events are called 'Hallelujah Parties".

Imagine 150 years from now if October 31 becomes the date for a strictly Christian holiday known as "Hallelujah Night". Still, controversy reigns because folks will point out that in "ancient" times, it was a pagan festival about demons, witches, and ghosts.

Yet, all the church did was start alternative celebrations that allowed children to enjoy getting candy, dressing up, and having a good time. There was no insidious plot to mix a godless religion with Christianity.

Hence, think this through logically. The pagan observance of Samhain existed before the Feast of All Saints. All Romans throughout the empire, including Christians, were given time off from work for the festivities, but believers did not enjoin themselves to all the pagan revelry.

Wise old Gregory provided a Christian “alternative” in the midst of the celebrations—just as we do today for Halloween. Not only could the faithful enjoy their days off and feast like everybody else in town—but also their alternative was a great calling card to the unsaved. (And the two observances have much in common, which I’ll explore later in this article.)

"Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity." (Colossians 4:5)

Historians point to Julius Caesar and other Romans for stirring up misinformation about the people they wanted to conquer so that the populace would rally behind them and fill up the war chest.

Caesar was the one who mentioned Celtic sacrifices, using it as a justification for: "why we have to conquer these people." (Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentary on the Gallic War)

Did the Celts practice human sacrifice? Maybe. Many cultures at early stages of development did--including Rome. Human sacrifices to gods were abandoned by Romans only after 113 BC. But let's not forget the legal and celebrated Roman Coliseum games--replete with gladiatorial fights to the death and Christians being mutilated by lions to the cheers of the 'civilized' crowd!

Bones found in peat bogs that were initially thought to be evidence of Druidic human sacrifices are now considered by archaeologists to represent judicial killings instead.

Animals were culled during harvest time so that the stronger ones in the herds would make it through winter. No doubt, these animals were used for feasting and as offerings to Celtic gods.

You must be advised that the Romans spread nasty propaganda about us, too:

Here's a portion of dialogue between two characters in Menicus Felix's first-century work,  Octavius, that reflects the typical Roman beliefs that existed about the new 'cult':

"As for the initiation of new members, the details are as disgusting as they are well known. The novice himself, deceived by the coating of dough (covering a sacrificial infant), thinks the stabs are harmless. Then, it's horrible!

They hungrily drink the blood and compete with one another as they divide his limbs. And the fact they all share knowledge of the crime pledges them all to silence. On the feast-day they foregather with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of either sex and all ages.

Now, in the dark, so favorable to shameless behavior, they twine the bonds of unnamable passion, as chance decides. Precisely the secrecy of this evil religion proves that all these things, or practically all, are true."

Notice the last line: "...or practically all, are TRUE." What were the Germans told about the Jews prior to World War II? Now, will you admit that perhaps what we've been told about the history of Halloween is not true?

One damaging book, written in 1873, is Two Babylons or the Papal Worship, by Alexander Hislop. It attempts to tie the Catholic Church to ancient Druidism and is full of "shocking rituals and beliefs". Hislop never intended for his work to be historically accurate. It was a cleverly disguised treatise for his hateful bigotry. Witnessing tracts by shock pencil "Christians" such as Jack Chick, use works like Hislop's to deliberately spread misinformation, fear, and judgment to satisfy their prejudices.

And we wonder why modern-day Wiccans and pagans rarely convert or return to the faith of their childhood! We Christians claim to know-it-all, disperse hearsay as gospel, and gleefully sit in judgment over those who dare not believe as we do.

Okay. I’m off my soapbox…for now. So, just how did the early Christians celebrate the Feast of All Saints? As I mentioned before, our ancient ancestors in the faith did not look at death the way we do today—full of dread and spooky superstitions.

Fresco in a Roman Catacomb of Christians feasting and
honoring a departed loved one

They would gather and make a pilgrimage to the grave or burial site of their dearly departed, complete with picnic baskets and elements for the Lord’s Supper. They would actually feast in the graveyard or catacomb while sharing memories and recalling aspects of a loved one’s faith in Christ. Afterward, they would take Communion and place candles at the site to burn throughout the night.

Pagans burned the bodies of the departed and Romans cremated their dead. Christians preferred burial of the entire body, if possible. In their minds, they were lovingly storing and overseeing a precious treasure that would one day be resurrected unto glory. However, please don’t feel bad if you favor cremation. Customs and beliefs aside, here’s the reality:

Even a well-embalmed body eventually decomposes and becomes part of the earth's cycle of life and decay. As we know, some bodies are torn, burned, and even vaporized in this world full of violence and tragedy; yet, the souls of these individuals remain intact and housed by God. The day will come when He will resurrect and unite each body with its existing, fully aware spirit/soul—unto either everlasting glory or regret.

No body maintains its continuity, even in life. Every seven years we get a "new" body as cells regenerate and die. What IS constant, however, is our genetic coding. In the Christian Resurrection, the person’s physical body will rise, but it will function differently-- as Jesus demonstrated in His resurrected body prior to the Ascension.

Understanding this truth helps us realize that burial customs are only for the benefit of those left temporarily behind...a comforting way to say good-bye while at the same time holding on to what remains of our loved ones. Embalmment, a grave, a headstone, an urn--these things help us stay tangibly connected until we are reunited.

Thus, be comforted with these words from Tatian: 'I am laid up in the storehouse of a wealthy Lord."

Earlier Christians understood they remained tied to their departed loves ones by their placement in Christ. Those alive on earth and those alive in Heaven were IN Christ together. Christians who had pierced the veil were nevertheless, still very close to their loves ones on earth:

But you have come
to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

The writer of Hebrews is saying that when someone accepts Jesus, he or she becomes a citizen of a spiritual community that encompasses not only believers on earth, but a city of angels and of Christians in Heaven. We will not one day "come" into its reality--we have already arrived!

Early Christians were taught properly that they remained united to the departed in Christ through His atoning sacrifice and blood, and demonstrated this profound truth by taking Communion every time they gathered. They believed, as I do today, that while partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus, a holy intimacy is shared with our loved ones as at no other time.

Could it be that when we worship, they are worshiping with us? When we pray, are they adding their amens? When we are in sorrow, could they be making intercession to encourage us? And when we are tempted, do their petitions before the Throne lend us strength?

I am convinced Heaven is closer than anyone has ever imagined. I don't think of my home in God in geographical terms anymore, but dimensional. A friend of mine, a former nuclear physicist, said scientists are aware of 10 dimensions so far that occupy the same space.

We live in three of these spatial realities: up, down; forwards, backwards; left, right--with time as the fourth dimension. Don't ask me to explain any further. It already blows my mind! As a result, angels don't travel here...they simply step into our world.

“...since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses
, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

The word “cloud” in classical Greek, Latin, and Hebrew is a metaphor for a great multitude. The word “witnesses” means witnesses to the sincerity and the reward of faith.

However, what’s exciting is the meaning of the word “surrounded”:  We know our Heavenly family is witnessing us as well because the word literally means surrounding us on all sides, like the witnesses in a circus or a theatre!

I love this quote on the occasion of the feast by John O’Donahue, Celtic Christian poet and priest:

Hallowtide - All Saints' and All Souls' is that time of year when we honour our ancestors ....
"... one of the great storehouses of blessing is the invisible neighbourhood where the dead dwell. Our friends among the dead now live where tim
e and space are transfigured. They behold us now in ways they never could have when they lived beside us on earth.

“Because they live near the source of destiny, their blessings for us are accurate and penetrating, offering a divine illumination not available according to the calculations of the given visible world. Perhaps one of the surprises of death will be a retrospective view of the lives we lived here and to see how our friends among the dead clothed us in weave after weave of blessing.”

You see, the ancient Celts also believed in honoring their departed during their harvest festival. Celtic life revolved around the land, and the people were totally dependent upon the harvest

Samhain was considered a divide between the season of cold and warm. Beltain, signaling the start of summer, was celebrated six months later. These days were looked upon as "non-days"--divides between what was and what is to come.

As a result, they believed that the veil between the two worlds--the living and the dead--was thinnest during this brief period. Celtic life was not only tied to the land, but to family. Quality of life and continuance of the tribe depended upon this cohesive, harmonious bond.

Having primarily an oral tradition, the Celts gathered around the bonfires to tell stories of old warriors and leaders to inspire future generations to take up their mantles within the tribe. At Samhain, it was believed the spirits of the ancestors were able to pierce the thin veil and lend their presence to the festivities. It became customary to put out symbolic gifts of fruit for them.

There is just NO credible evidence of ritualistic, Druidic channeling or calling forth demons to roam the earth, although it does appear the Celts believed they could receive guidance from their ancestors at this time.

Celts had nothing in their religious beliefs akin to the classical, Christian concept of Hell; consequently, there was no doctrine about a devil and his demons and no place of eternal punishment. The ideas of bad ghosts, witches, gnomes, and elves are seen much later in Irish folklore--interestingly AFTER the Christianization of these lands. (Watch the video below.)

While our loved ones in Christ never return to earth, nor are we permitted to
channel them for guidance, there are at times when we sense their nearness--a familiar smell or song will turn our attention to their memory. They have not been conjured up by an Endorian witch nor have they crossed the divide. I believe it is simply Gods way of reminding us that our loved ones who died in the faith are safe with Him—joyful, productive, and eagerly awaiting our reunion.

Pagans look for
thin places in the earth where they can commune with the spirit world. To the Christian, however, every place is thin. Being able to connect spiritually to Christ and the Host in Heaven is not determined by a certain spot on the earth, but by our fixed residency in Him.

One Sunday at church, I was despondent over a personal issue. As hard as I tried, I could not remove the worry of the matter from my mind during praise and worship. At one point, I managed to lift my hands and look up. For a brief moment, I
saw my parents, both deceased, through the eyes of faith. Each one reached a hand in my direction. Together they said, If you could see what we see, and know what we know!

The vision ended quickly; but in those few seconds, I became energized and the heaviness left.  I lifted my hands in adoration and joy with tears streaming down my face. Now I focused on Him, not me. I had put on a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isaiah 61: 2, 3).

What happened to me was not about wandering ghosts, demons, or mediumship. I didn
t seek it; it came to me. And the encounter drew me closer to the Lord. I never obsessed over the vision or tried to make it happen again. My parents, who passed from the earth in the 1980s, are in the same place as I am today--secure and safe in Christ!

Truth be told, they are more alive than I am right now, for they live unhindered and free from the effects of the fall. They behold the face of God, and are the most productive and fruitful they have ever been. They will return with Him to be united to their physical bodies as we who are alive are transformed. Then together, we will all be glorified and join in the rule of our King in a once again seamless Heaven and Earth. We
ll receive our rewards and get on with the Fathers business throughout His vast domain.

All right, let
s wrap up. How can a family today practically celebrate the Feast of All Saints?

I think at the evening meal on November 1, a discussion of favorite saints from the Bible would be fun. Have each person draw a name and see if they remember what he or she did to be included in the Bible
s Hall of Faith. The next night could be a remembrance of personal loved ones that have passed--recalling favorite memories, photos, and their faith in Christ. There are time-honored liturgies that include prayers and Bible readings in the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Celtic traditions (available easily online). Our children need more heroes within their families, rather than looking to athletes and entertainers as role models.

You don
t have to eat a meal at the graveside, but it would be nice to visit, say a prayer, and light candles to burn throughout the night, showing that even in our darkest moments of separation and grief, Christ is our light.

The candles also signify that morning will soon come
and those found in Christ will no longer have need of the sun, neither the moon to shine among us: the glory of God and the Lamb (Jesus) will be our everlasting light.

So there you have it. The CHURCH is where the idea arose in Medieval times of making fun of the forces of evil on All Hallow's Eve--“All Hallows” (holy saints)--later contracted into Hallow-e'-en, then into the modern Halloween.

It's true: most of the symbols of Halloween--the jack o' lantern, black cats, and trick-or-treating arose after the Christianization of Celtic lands.

Even the great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther weighed in on the matter:

“Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing..."

And why not? How appropriate...that on the night before honoring our loved ones who have passed, we make fun of death and all of its representative minions--both mortal and immortal--that took them away from us.

We mock and laugh at their attempts to envelope us in a hopeless darkness because we know they were stripped of their authority to hold us in death and sorrow. We know the sting and tyranny of death has been removed, and Jesus--not satan--has the keys to death and the grave. Yes, we laugh like God does:

The kings of the earth take their places; the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and His Anointed One (the Messiah, the Christ). They say, Let us break Their bands [of restraint] asunder and cast Their cords [of control] from us. He Who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision [and in supreme contempt He mocks them]. (Psalm 2: 2-4)

The devil was stripped of his authority at Calvary. However, he still wields power through deceived, fallen mankind to steal, kill, and destroy. At the return of the Lord, sin and satan's power will be taken away for good.
There will be no more sickness, disorders, or accidents; no sorrow, no tears, and no more separations. No more death--ever!