It was October 2008 and Bex and I were settling down for the evening. It had been a long day and were treating ourselves by chilling out in front of the television.
“I wonder how many little heathens we’ll get knocking on the door begging for treats this year?” I asked, as I remembered it was Halloween.
Of course I was only playing, I meant no disrespect to anyone. But believe it or not, that was more or less my attitude.
A little while later, we received a quiet knock on the door.
“I’ll go love.” I said, whilst singing to myself “onwards Christian soldier…”
“Be nice!” Bex called out as I walked towards the front door.
I opened the door to find 2 small children, no older than 9 or 10 I guess although it’s hard to tell these days. They looked pretty shabby I thought. I mean how reasonable is it to call a bin liner sellotaped to your t-shirt a proper Halloween costume? And the other one just had mascara on their face! Surely they weren’t expecting to be rewarded for this!
“trick or treat?” they mumbled rather nervously.
I paused as I considered my plan of attack. I had spotted my sword on the stairs behind me; my English Standard Version bible – ready with highlighted sections for ease of access. I could swing that a few times and cut them right down to size! What bible verses could I turn to? What profound statements could I make? What an opportunity I had to loom in holiness over these sinners!
I looked at my watch, and then looked again at the two young children stood at my door and decided to have mercy on them, after all I wanted to get back to my nice warm sofa and television, getting into a deep conversation with 2 children would be time consuming.
“I’m sorry guys I don’t believe in Halloween so I shan’t be giving you any treats!” I said, rather succinctly.
As I returned to my lounge to continue watching TV, I thought about what I had just said, and how I had treated those 2 young children who had bravely knocked on my door.
As a man who has grown up in a Christian home, I had developed over the years certain Christian opinions, principles and practices, most of which I still hold as important today. However every so often, I encounter a situation that does not compute!
This is where I am confronted with a particular situation that my upbringing feels very strongly about. However, there is something of a conflict, as I hear my upbringing dictating in my ear on one shoulder that which ought to be my perspective and then hearing the “current” me disagree with it on the other shoulder.
No doubt I am not alone, I think it’s part and parcel of growing up! Once and while I have to unpick and re-establish my opinion on certain things, once and a while certain practices and principles that have been wedged in so firmly have to be dislodged.
Little did I know but as I returned to my sofa that evening, in the depths of my heart a particular perspective was being well and truly challenged.
What did I mean that I didn’t believe in Halloween?
Was I saying that I didn’t believe it existed? Obviously not, that would be stupid.
Was I saying that I didn’t believe in the darker side of Halloween; in the practice of witchcraft and the Occult? Again, no as I do believe these things not only exist but have a hugely damaging impact on those who get involved.
What, then, was I saying that I didn’t believe? I was troubled…I couldn’t seem to find an answer.
Then it came to me, I didn’t believe that Halloween was right. I didn’t believe that it was a good way for me to live. I didn’t believe that it was a good way for those children to live.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I realised that I had faithfully discharged life guidance to those young children, I’m sure the Apostle Paul would have been proud. How lucky they were to have knocked on my door; their parents should probably thank me – no doubt those children were returning to their homes, with their heads hanging in shame, totally provoked and challenged by the fact that “the bloke from number 46″ didn’t ‘believe’ in Halloween.
…Of course, deep down, I knew that wasn’t what was happening at all. The truth was they just moved on to the next house and had probably decided that next year they wouldn’t bother knocking on my door. More than likely I was already being black listed, just like my dad had been by the Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was a child.
I started to think a little deeper. I started to feel quite uncomfortable with how I had just handled myself.
I started to feel the ache of missed opportunity. I know that feeling well.
“But Halloween is wrong!” I said to myself, trying to justify how I had behaved. “People need to know that!”
The problem is me standing on my door step telling 10 year olds that Halloween is wrong, just won’t have the desired affect… at all! All I was achieving was isolating myself from the young people in my street, and I really didn’t want to do that.
Quick rule of thumb: If you’re communicating the gospel in a way that doesn’t give hope to the unbeliever, then you’re not communicating the gospel.
This got me thinking about a lot of things.
There’s plenty that I could announce to my family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues that is wrong, but shouldn’t my efforts as a witness to the mercy of God run deeper than that? Shouldn’t I be making more of an effort than that? Isn’t the gospel more effective than that?
It struck me as a little sad that at the age of 23 I had never been to a single Halloween Party. I couldn’t even recall having been invited to one.
“I am sure I must have been – I mean I’m a fun guy to be around – just imagine what a great time you would have with someone telling you that you are wrong all the time!!”
“Oh dear!” I was starting to realise that things need adjusting in my mind. The change taking place in my heart was working it’s way to my head.
I had started to learn a very very valuable lesson in life ‘win the person and not the argument’
At the end of the day, as and when my friends start to question life, and want to know the Christian point of view, then I want them to feel like they can come and talk to me. I am sure you want the same in your life – but how likely is that to happen if we as Christians only ever tell our unbelieving friends that they are doing life wrong?
One of the things that strikes me about Jesus is that He struck that beautiful tension between being hard hitting in His perspective to sin, but yet in a way that was inviting to those who were guilty of it. I want to get that tension right. I don’t want to water down what the bible teaches, I don’t want to grow comfortable with sin. But I want people to feel comfortable around me.
Like Jesus I want to be invited to parties, I want to be known as someone who befriends people that the ‘religious and legalistic’ people don’t mix with.
If and when I get that tension right, then the potential for salvation amongst my nearest and dearest will increase.
So what about you?
Halloween is tonight, and maybe like me you aren’t keen on it, but perhaps this year is a good time for you to consider the opportunity you have as groups of young people (sometimes with parents) come knocking on your door.
Perhaps this year is a good time to leave them with a sweet taste in their mouth as opposed to a bitter one (excuse the pun).
Maybe this year Halloween could help you.
For an idea of a good way to get the gospel and Halloween working together follow this link to UCB’s website.
Don’t get me wrong it’s hugely disappointing to watch and there’s definitely things our national team need to get better at, and from my massively inexperienced perspective it’s the basic footballing principles, things like closing a player down, marking your man, applying pressure are things we seem to struggle with at the moment.
But hands down the biggest cause of our defeat in my opinion is me and you, the English fans, the English press. Have you noticed just how much we crucify our players in the media or on twitter if they don’t perform?
Something I noticed during last night’s game against Uruguay – we started off shaky and nervous and things got more shaky the moment Suarez headed his first goal past Joe Hart, BUT the moment Rooney finally managed to hit the back of the net, then things changed for us, it might have only been for a few minutes, but they changed. Suddenly we were confident, energetic, creating space and opportunity.
Here’s what I think is happening.
England are suffering a serious lack of confidence on the pitch, confidence that as individual players, they have buckets of whilst playing for their clubs.
Take Wayne Rooney for example, there’s absolutely no doubt that this guy is a world class player – he’s scored some mind-blowingly good goals in his career and he’s respected and renowned the world over, and yet he receives so much abuse from English football fans.
This year it’s even gone up a notch – people have now targeted Wayne’s wife; Coleen. Seriously? I mean seriously when did that become an OK thing to do?
We tweet all these abusive comments and gestures and then for some stupid reason seem to think that it won’t make any difference but of course it will.
How stupid have we become?
If we are continually abusive towards people then that’s going to have an impact. If we continually apply pressure onto the shoulder of our sporting representatives then of course eventually every so often they will buckle.
I’ve got a revolutionary idea to fix this… it’s crazy so you have to bear with me.
Why don’t we become supportive.
The clue’s in the title a little bit – I’m an English supporter… therefore I ought to support England!!
As a dad with two young boys I can tell you I get a much better response when I’m encouraging and supportive towards my boys. That doesn’t mean that I don’t give them the hard truths at times – but I do it with respect.
There you go… RESPECT, that’s something we’re not too good at here in England.
One of the phrases that gets thrown about during these times is “national disgrace” – the media hang the players out to dry, but I think the real disgrace is how we treat our team and I think it needs to change.
I’m proud of my heritage and I think we’re better than this. We have an opportunity to properly get behind our team, show them our support, show them that they’re not alone in this tournament. Rather than kicking them when they’re down it’s our job to pick them back up again and fill them with confidence, to help put that British Bulldog fire back into their gut.
So it’s Friday and we have a game against Costa Rica on Tuesday, our fate this year largely depends on what happens between the other teams in our group – but why don’t we as supporters start tweeting encouragement to Stevie G and the boys in the run up to potentially our last game. If we are going to go out in the group stages let’s go out with a bang.
Unless we start respecting our team and doing our bit to give them confidence I don’t think we will ever win a World Cup or a European Championship.
It’s up to you… you know what needs to be done.
If you’re anything like me bible verses like Romans 8:28 can be tough to work through in these times. How can God be working all things together for good when so much suffering exists?
Some days are colourful and vibrant – full of joy and expectation.
Some days are less colourful.
Other days are just totally black.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed but for a picture to come to life, there needs to be depth and dimension.
Even those shady and dark jigsaw puzzle pieces have a purpose in this regard. A picture can’t come to life without some shading to provide definition. The darker colours help the brighter colours stand out more.
Ultimately the dark days can be used to help emphasise and highlight and draw attention to the colourful and vibrant parts of the overall jigsaw puzzle.
It might sound crazy but even the dark days of our lives end up playing a huge part in making our finished picture beautiful.
It’s in our times of lament that we often learn life’s most valuable lessons.
It’s in our times of trouble that we remember to treasure what’s most important to us.
It’s in our difficult days that we learn to be more like Jesus.
Your life is a jigsaw puzzle and every day is important.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Max Clifford is a man who has made his living from the secrets of the rich and famous. His job involved ensuring the continuity of the popular facade of those in the spotlight.
Now I’ve never met Max but certainly a lot of people seem to suggest that it’s possible an element to his success also involved using the secrets of certain celebrities to his advantage, after all when you have your publicist knowing the detail of your dirty laundry then it would be dangerous to not treat him like your best friend – wouldn’t it?
What I find most interesting is the stark contrast between the behaviour and reputation of Max Clifford and that of Jesus Christ.
Whereas (it has been suggested) Max Clifford knew the deep and dark secrets of many and used these secrets to enslave people in order to profit himself. Jesus Christ knows the deep and dark secrets of everyone and still works to see people set free… even at great cost to Himself.
Many who have approached Max Clifford in the past will have done so to prevent people from finding out about their hidden shame, and Max was able to provide them that service albeit it at a cost.
Many more have approached Jesus not just to remove their hidden shame from the public arena but to remove it totally. Jesus Christ isn’t interested in making you look good, he’s interested in making you completely good, He’s interested in setting you totally free.
You see Jesus can deal with your bad habits and your bad behaviours. Max Clifford may have been a pro at covering up shame but that doesn’t deal with the root problem, it didn’t deal with his problems… he’s now in prison because of them.
All those who have put their trust into Max Clifford will be sorely disappointed and no doubt fearful.
Whoever you are, or whatever you’ve done Jesus Christ wants to help you.
It doesn’t matter what your secret is Jesus Christ is trustworthy… still!
Have you ever had one of those moments when you suddenly become a little bit more aware of your own shortcomings?
It’s rubbish isn’t it?
The other day my wife and I had an argument, and when we settled down again afterwards, she very graciously pointed out that I was unnecessarily nasty during the argument; I made some unhelpful and quite hurtful comments. As the truth dawned, as my eyes opened to how I had just behaved, it felt like a dagger in my heart. “Wow I can be quite horrid sometimes!”
When I’m being totally honest I regularly let myself down, regularly fail at achieving my own standards of behaviour – never mind that far off standard of perfect holiness as set out for me in the Bible.
There’s absolutely no doubt that I am not worthy of all that God has done for me.
My rebellion towards God and my flagrant disregard for His caring instructions has warranted punishment. And yet God, in His desire to fulfill justice and yet rescue me from the consequences of my own sin, decided to absorb my sin and endure my punishment.
I don’t deserve that. I am not worthy of that kind of love. Never have been… never will be.
But despite being unworthy, God considers me worthwhile.
As I dare to survey the wondrous cross, as I comprehend the barbaric and torturous death that Jesus endured alone, on my behalf, I can’t help but be impacted by two things:
1. My selfish and stupid rebellion is what put Christ on that sinner’s cross.
I have no right to a self-esteem in that regard, there is nothing in myself worth esteeming. And yet I have access to the most robust sense of self-worth imaginable because:
I am so loved by God that Jesus gladly died that death so that I didn’t have to.
I may not be worthy… in fact I’m definitely not… but I’m considered worthwhile.
Now I’m no expert to parenting and I’d never profess to be, but I have learnt a few things here and there.
I’m a big fan of discipline, in fact I would argue that our society is suffering because of a lack of it… BUT there are 5 scenarios I’ve come across when I really think it’s a bad idea to shout at your kids:
1. When your kid does something wrong because they genuinely didn’t know any better
Imagine the scene – you’re pushing the supermarket trolley down a packed aisle and then you notice your 1 year old has grabbed a jar of mayonnaise only to throw it on the floor. Mortified you shout at your kid as you figure out what to do about the mayonnaise mess your kid has created.
The thing is, did your child realise it was wrong to grab the jar that was positioned within reaching distance? The likelihood is they had no idea, and all that’s happened is you’ve taken your embarassment out on your poor child who doesn’t understand why.
Now obviously discipline doesn’t necessarily mean shouting or smacking – sometimes it can just mean advising. In this sort of situation there’s nothing wrong with being firm and explaining that it’s not OK to just grab things from shelves – but is it really fair to shout or smack a child for doing something that he or she didn’t understand was wrong to do?
Sometimes we would solve a lot of problems if we as parents were a little better at communicating to our children what we expect of them.
2. When your kid does something they see you do
I remember telling off my eldest boy Caleb-Jack for biting my arm and even giving him a light smack on his hand. He cried of course, but I knew I was right to smack him… or was I? I had a friend with me at the time who very graciously pointed out that just a few minutes earlier, whilst tickling Caleb-Jack, I had been playfully biting his arm. I couldn’t believe how hypocritical and unfair I had been. He was just wanting to continue playing and I shouted at him for it.
I wonder how many times we shout at our kids for only doing things they see us do.
We have to be careful with this one of course – just because we’ve done it too it doesn’t always mean that it’s right to be copied, but it’s worth remembering that when dealing with young children it can be incredibly difficult for them to learn what’s wrong and right if they copy the behaviour they see from their parents only then to be punished for it.
3. When your kid inconveniences you
Shamefully this is one that I can so often be guilty of. Frustration can lead to a sincere lack of patience, especially when you’re tired and then all of a sudden we find ourselves treating God’s precious gifts with such disdain.
A small example can be found when I’m putting my boys to bed and they want me to read just one more story to them and I have a shed load of work to do so end up just shouting angrily at them.
Again it’s worth being careful with this one – children will push the boundaries and get on your nerves – it’s part of them figuring out what they can get away with. But when you’re getting frustrated mainly because your child is inconveniencing you then it’s worth remembering that this little person needs you to be gracious and patient with them… after all they are still learning… and so are you by the way.
4. When your kid accidentally injures you
I did this literally a few days ago. I was playing with Caleb-Jack and he head-butted me causing me to bite my lip. I got instantly cross with him. Thankfully however I managed to catch myself doing it and so stopped and apologised for being angry.
I wish I could say that I’ve always been quick to correct myself in this regard… but… well I haven’t.
If your kid accidentally injures you I’m not sure it’s ever right to get cross with them – even if it’s really tempting to.
5. When your child behaves childishly
I guess it’s fair to say that a big part of parenting is about preparing your child for adult life, however it’s very easy in our day and age for children to grow up too quickly, and we’re not helping matters when we rebuke children for behaving childishly.
It’s easy for us as adults to get very grumpy and a little boring and as such we find the childishness of our kids slightly irritating.
NEWS FLASH: If your child is 5 – then it’s likely they will behave like a 5 year old. Yes it’s healthy parenting to encourage our kids towards adulthood – but don’t rush them – let them take their time. Allow them to enjoy their childhood – be the catalyst to them creating brilliant memories that they will carry with them long into the golden years of their life.
Childhood can and should be incredibly precious, and incredibly beautiful.
Everyone knows what happens if you try to rush baking a cake… it all goes horribly wrong. It takes decades for a child to turn into an adult – it’s not a process that should be rushed – it’s a process that should be nourished and enjoyed.
Just as a quick side point – your children will learn from you what adulthood should look like, in fact they’ll even start to shape their understanding of God on the basis of how you treat them. So consider them in the same way God considers you – precious and worth dying for, that perspective will always help with parenting.
Here are my 5 examples of when it’s not OK to shout at your kids – perhaps you have some other examples you’re aware of – please feel free to leave a comment.