En Gedi: Finding rest in the wilderness!

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Is the Church Today Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?

Posted by Scott on February 22, 2008

 

Are We Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?

An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it during the past few years. It has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.


Could it be, even that which glorifies evil can (and should)
be embraced by the church to appeal to the multitudes?

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PRESENTATION AT OLDTRUTH!

Truth is ancient; it’s grey hairs may make it venerable;
it comes from Him who is the ancient of days.
–Thomas Watson

-Scott Bailey 2008

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WARNING: Young Men Watch the Dangers of the Love of Pleasures!

Posted by Scott on February 11, 2008

As a young man myself one time in the past I can tell you our passions are at their strongest.  At the age of 18 to 25 the discovery of young women can be tremendous.  Today, it is far too easy to slip off into these passions as they lead to a daily life of sinfulness.  As a youth you will cry so loudly to indulge in all the pleasures that come your way without a vision for the consequence or sinfulness of the indulgences.  Guys, when you are so young death does not enter your thoughts, because you are strong, powerful, smarter than anyone else, able to skip around death.  However, I must warn you not to fall for the lie that the pleasures of this life are satisfying, because they will leave you with a huge hole in your life that cannot be filled by anyone except Christ…our life is all about the glory of Jesus Christ.

Titus 3:3

You might be asking what is wrong with a young man sowing his wild oats first?  What is wrong with getting drunk, gambling, “grind” dancing, going out with many women or partners, and anything like this you may ask?  Many of us including myself know too well about some or all of these activities and more with bitter experience.  Realize guys that anything that satisfies the flesh will only be gratifying momentarily….the aftermath is where it gets rough.  Be on your guard is what I can advise you.  2 Timothy 3:4 tells us not to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”

God wants to prepare your soul for use in His kingdom.  His desire is that you be devoted to Him from your youth throughout your entire life.  No where in scripture can we substantiate that “wild oat sowing” is a right of passage.  That is man made not God made.  Most of how young men are raised today that seems right is from a worldly point of view not scriptural point of view.

By living in a manner that is not worthy of God is to live in such a way that could eventually harden your heart to the word of God.  Creating a hard callous around your heart is not good.  1 Peter 2:11 “Abstain from fleshly lusts, which wars against the soul.”    Guys we must kill out sin in our lives everyday….scripture calls it to “mortify sin”. 

If you are a young man living an openly sinful life I encourage you to stop and turn your life back over to God now.  That life style will leave you empty, unsatisfied, and it is all in vain.  We are living for our heavenly home, not for ourselves on this earth.  You will hear far too many times that “you must take care of yourself or live for yourself or live for today”.  Do not fall for this lie of the world.  It is a lie….take it from someone that has been there.  To quote J.C. Ryle, “All is not gold that glitters.  All is not good that tastes sweet.  All is not real pleasure that pleases for a time.”  Remember this younger guys or even older guys that refuse to grow up. 

Guys, to state it plainly here.  Stay away from sexual impurity, adultery, fornication and any such sinful acts including the popular homosexual alternative lifestyle.  Above all others this sin against the natural order of God will scar your heart, mind, and life forever.  Yes, God can restore you if you have already fallen in this area…get on your knees today and repent.  He can really restore you.  But if you are just thinking of taking this road because your mind tells you it looks good, must feel good and what a story you will have afterwards take this as a warning.  God has designed all of us to act in a certain respectful way that brings glory to Him not a clone of someone else….acting contrary to this is to separate you from your God.  This separation is dark, lonely, quiet, tragic, and this pit is very cold and deep.  Stay out of this pit!

My prayer is that someone reading this might stop and think before they go down this dark trail.  God is not a joy kill…He knows what is ahead of us and the providential plan He has for us, so let’s try to keep our focus on the word of God and glorifying His holy name with our life.  We all need to get an eternity mindset rather than a “all for me now” mindset.

Pressing on in Christ,

Scott

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Be Strengthened By His Grace!

Posted by Scott on January 16, 2008

Hebrews 13:7-16

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. 15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

The Lord Is My Helper, I Will not Be Afraid

Last week we saw from the first paragraph of this chapter that we should love each other and show hospitality and care for prisoners and keep our marriage vows and avoid the love of money – and do all of this not by our own strength or ingenuity but by the power of the promise of God in verses 5-6: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say, “The lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”

In other words, if you really believe this promise, if you believe it is true, and your heart is satisfied with the God who promises to be there for you and help you, then you will not crave money, you will keep your marriage vows, you care for prisoners, welcome strangers and love each other. Faith in the promises of God is the power to live a radical, normal Christian life.

It takes strength. It takes strength to love. It takes strength to risk yourself with strangers. It takes strength to take the suffering of prisoners into your life, when you may have enough of your own. It takes strength to keep your marriage vows when the going gets rough and it is not the way you dreamed it would be. It takes strength to turn away from the promises of money. And that strength is what today’s text is about. Where to get it and how to keep it. And the answers are not new, just newly stated.

Is Your Heart Strong?

Look at verse 9: “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.”

I ask you: is your heart strong? I don’t mean your physical heart. I think the writer means here the non-physical, non-material you. The thinking, feeling, willing, hoping, fearing, trusting, longing, raging, grieving, rejoicing you. The inner you – what Paul meant when he prayed in Ephesians 3:16 that you would be strengthened in the “inner person.” Are you strong? It has nothing to do with your muscles or your pulse or your measurements or your cholesterol or your white blood count or your PSA or your electrocardiogram. Are you strong – the inner you?

Do you want to be? Verse 9 says, “It is good for the heart to be strengthened.” This is good. Therefore it is something we should want. It is something you should, right now as I am preaching, desire and seek. The strength of heart to be the kind of person described in verses 1-5. Not the power to put on a show. To clean the outside of the cup and leave the inside weak and dirty. But strength of heart. Strength that is real enough on the inside that it shapes the outside naturally. Do you want that? I do. Let’s look to God now in his word to work it in us.

Strengthened by Grace, not by Foods

Verse 9 tells us in a word where to turn for strength of heart and where not to turn. Turn to grace and do not turn to foods. “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.” Evidently in that church there were some strange teachings circulating about the power of foods. It’s good that we don’t know the details. It causes us to ponder our own situation.

There are today many religious and secular food routines. Religious food routines like fasting and sacramentalism and vegetarianism and various kinds of abstinence. And there are the secular routines of food supplements and vitamins and antioxidants and organic diets, and fat-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free, chemical-free foods. And sometimes, not all the time, these things become obsessive. They take on a life-consuming importance. Slowly and subtly the promises they make for our well-being become the promises we hope in and the promises we live by.

But over against this misuse of foods, God says (in verse 9), “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods.” So beware of “alien teachings” that elevate diet and nutrition and food to a place where they are the real strength-givers and health-givers and hope-givers in your life. And instead learn to have your heart strengthened by grace – day after day, morning noon and night.

How Do You Eat Grace?

How do you do that? If you don’t eat food to strengthen your heart, how do you eat grace? If you wake up in the morning and feel guilty and defiled because of something ugly you did yesterday, or you feel like a failure because of how poorly something went yesterday, what do you do? The “strange teaching” might say, “Eat a good breakfast. Get the right nutrition pumping through your blood. Do some exercise and get out into the sunlight.” But God says, “Get your heart strengthened by grace. On a morning like that, eat grace for breakfast.”

How? Well, consider verse 10. Picking up on this issue of being strengthened by grace and not foods, he says, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” He’s referring to the priests in Jerusalem who have rejected Jesus as their Messiah, but who go on “serving the tabernacle” which was meant to point to Jesus as the final sacrifice and the cross of Jesus as the final altar of sacrifice (Hebrews 9:26; 10:12). So the altar he has in mind is the cross where our final sacrifice was offered once for all for our sins. There is where our food is found. There is the table where grace was prepared.

If you want to know where your breakfast of grace was prepared, the answer is (verse 10): We have an altar – the breakfast of grace was prepared on the altar of the cross where Jesus died for our sins. If you want to be strong in your heart, when your heart is groaning with a sense of sin and failure, before you go to the kitchen to eat food, go to the altar to eat the blood-bought grace of forgiveness and hope.

Eating Forgiveness and Hope

Keep reading in verse 11. He explains that on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16, after the blood of the sacrificed bull and goat is taken into the holy of holies, and sprinkled there to cover the sins of the people, the bodies of the bull and the goat are taken outside the camp and burned (Leviticus 16:27). “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp.” The point he is making is that these sacrifices are not eaten, as with some other sacrifices. The nourishment the people received on the Day of Atonement was forgiveness and hope, not meat.

Yes, but all of that was meant to point to Jesus, the final sacrifice for sin. There was a lesson in that. The writer draws out the comparison in verse 12: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.” In other words, Jesus has fulfilled the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement; they are completed in him; they find their final meaning in him. And the meaning is: All there was to eat on the Day of Atonement was forgiveness and hope. That’s all there is to eat from the altar of Calvary where the body of Jesus was consumed with suffering.

So the point is: When you feel like a failure, when you feel discouraged and hopeless and dirty, don’t turn to food. It’s an alien remedy, and verse 9 says, it has not benefited those who walk in it. It only makes things worse. Instead go to the altar of grace. We have an altar. And there is food. And the food is grace – the grace of forgiveness and the grace of hope. The only way to be strong is to come back to this table again and again.

Feasting at the Altar of Grace

I speak from some years of personal experience in these things; there are many mornings when feasting at the altar of grace is only way I survive. Sometimes the breakfast of grace has to replace the breakfast of foods. When you are a leader, the heart must be strong. People turn to you for help; they need answers to hard questions; and comfort in the midst of grief; and guidance in perplexing decisions; and hope in the midst of discouragement; and an ear for their disappointments or even their anger; and a vision of God in the midst of darkness. The heart of a leader must be strong.

And so must yours. You are all ministers. And the glory of Christianity is that we have an altar – we have an old rugged cross. And there the Savior, Jesus Christ, serves inexhaustible helpings of grace. Do you want your heart to be strong? Do you want to be a strong person who has the resources to love each other, and take in strangers, and care for prisoners, and stay married or single and chaste, and not love money? Then stay close to the altar and eat and eat and eat again – the grace of God.

The only strength that really matters in life is the strength of heart that comes from feeding on grace and trusting in grace. All the way through life, it is not health and physical strength that God delights in. The Lord takes pleasure in those who hope in his grace (Psalm 147:11). And when we come to die, no food and no diet will matter at all. One thing will matter: are we nourished at the altar of grace?

Another Help to Faith – Remembering Those Who Loved and Led Us

Now there is more help for us. Not only does this writer tell us where grace is prepared, namely at the altar of the cross, he also tell us how to keep faith in grace stirred up. He says in verse 7: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” This writer really believed in the importance of heroes and models and biography (see chapter 11).

Not only should we remember that we have an altar where we can find grace every day, but we should also remember people who trusted that grace and loved and spoke to us the word of God. Remember them, verse 7 says. Know some history – perhaps just your parents lives, or your grandparents, or a pastor or a missionary. Or, even better know these familiar ones, and then go to the wonderful biographies that tell the stories of those who were leaders in the church and who spoke the word of God.

Some of you may wonder why for eleven years at our pastors’ conference I have given biographical lectures on people in church history – Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Brainerd, Spurgeon, Machen, Lloyd-Jones, etc. It’s not just because they’re interesting. It’s because God said, “Remember those who led you and spoke the word of God to you.”

Specifically God says (in verse 7), look at the result or outcome of their conduct. What does that mean? It’s not just: Look at their conduct. It’s: Look at the outcome, literally, the exit of their way of life. I think it means: Look at the whole course of their life, especially the end of it. How did they run? Did they hold fast till the end? Did they finish well? Did they do what this whole letter of Hebrews is written to help us do – persevere to the end and be saved?

This is why dead heroes are more important than living heroes. Living heroes are important, but they might cease to be heroes before they die. They might let you down. Rather, he says, “remember” – that’s a word that reaches into the past. Remember those whose conduct you can survey from beginning to end, and consider all of it – especially how it ended.

Imitate Their Faith

Why? Why this focus on human leaders who knew and spoke the word of God? Was it so that you could copy their conduct? That’s not what the writer says. He says the reason is so that you will imitate their faith. Verse 7: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

Not their conduct. If you try to imitate their conduct, you become a religious fake, a spiritual counterfeit. This is a frightening reality when you see it – people who have learned the forms of godliness and know nothing of the power that comes from genuine faith. Instead he says: look at the whole course of their conduct and how they finished their course, and get the same motor that made them what they were: their faith.

In what? The next verse says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Do you see the sequence of his thought? In verse 7 he says “Remember leaders who in the past had faith, and now in the present you imitate that very faith.” Then in verse 8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Do you see the point?

Jesus is the Same Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

They trusted Jesus in the past. Now you, today and tomorrow, go on trusting Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is the same today when you trust him and he will be the same tomorrow when you trust him.

But do you see what this implies about grace and how it strengthens the heart? Something new is implied here that we didn’t see in verses 9-10. If Jesus were only important for what he did on the cross then it wouldn’t matter if he were the same today and tomorrow. All that would matter is that the past work on the altar of the cross is still valid. Does the blood still buy my forgiveness? But if Jesus is important not only because he died once to forgive my sins, but also lives to be with me and help me in the next two minutes and this afternoon and tomorrow, then everything hangs on whether the Jesus alive today is the same as he was when he died for me on the altar.

And that is exactly what we saw he promised to be last week: I will never leave you or forsake you (verse 5). The faith we are to imitate is faith in future grace, not just past grace. Faith that the living Jesus who helped yesterday will help today and tomorrow.

Grace of Forgiveness and of Promised Help

When I wake up in the morning and feel guilty and defiled because of yesterday’s ugliness, and hopeless because of yesterday’s failure, my heart needs to be strengthened by two kinds of grace, not just one. I need the grace of forgiveness based on a great past substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, that covers all my sins. O, how precious! And I need the grace of promised help from Jesus today and tomorrow.

If I can have forgiveness, and if I can have the promise of omnipotent help from Jesus who is the same yesterday today and forever, my heart will be strong, and I will be able to carry on another day. Such is the glory of grace in the Christian life.

If you do not enjoy the forgiveness of your sins or have hope that Jesus will give you all the help you need today and tomorrow, then I invite you to turn from foods that cannot satisfy or help, and put your trust in the grace of Jesus.


© Desiring God By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org-Scott Bailey 2008

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-From A Dad: Psalm 34:1-22 Promises!

Posted by Scott on December 19, 2007

As I chewed intently on this passage of scripture the promises of God started bubbling forth like suds out of an overfilled washing machine.  The richness of God’s word keeps me in awe most of the time.  Gleaning from each verse that which God intends me to glean is a challenge at times, but Psalm 34 has become a favorite chapter of mine.

Promises

He answers prayer!

He hears our prayers!

He will rescue the righteous!

He guards those who fear Him!

He will bring about joy for those who trust in Him!

He will meet the needs of those who honor Him!

Those who trust in Him will never lack any good thing!

God will bless His people!

God hears our cries!

God is always close to the brokenhearted!

God rescues those that are crushed in spirit!

The righteous will face many troubles!

If you hate the righteous, you will be punished!

God redeems those that serve Him!

Trust in Christ and a free pardon is yours!

As these promises and more penetrate the muscle lining of your heart and dig deep into the crevices of your brain, remember those and look for more promises.  God’s word will never lack power as we use the word to rule our lives and fight away the devilish attacks of our enemy.  Learn to hunt God’s word for each spec of truth and do not turn from it ever!

-Scott Bailey (c) 2007 

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*Training Our Daughters in Purity!

Posted by Scott on November 13, 2007

Training Our Daughters in Purity

It is no secret that purity is not being taught enough to our young kids any more.  The pregnancy rate among young girls is only getting worse.  And the age of girls getting pregnant is getting younger & younger each year.  Can you imagine your 10 year old daughter pregnant?  I can’t, but they are out there.  Satan is out to steal our children’s purity.  As mothers we must teach our daughters the importance of remaining a virgin in all physical and emotional ways until they are married.  Today, it is to not just keep them pure for their future husband, it is too keep them healthy also.  There are diseases that can be caught just from kissing much less the obvious ones from being with multiple partners.  This is such an accepted way of life, a passage into adulthood, that to teach against premarital sex once again puts me on the outside of normal according to society.One approach we have taken with our children is to talk to them about what they are doing to their future mate if they chose to be in a physical relationship before they were married.  Saving their self emotionally and physically for their husband is like giving him a gift that no one else has opened.  Does he not deserve her whole heart?  When she stands before her friends and family on her wedding day and she says her vows she wants to bring only her whole self to her husband, not just what is left over after giving pieces of it away to other boys.  Saving her body for her husband is part of God’s plan for marriage.  Just like he wants our whole heart, our husbands deserve our whole heart also.

Click “Purity” for the rest of the story.  For more great articles go to Living Stones Ministry for Moms!

-Scott Bailey 2007

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American Heritage on Halloween!

Posted by Scott on October 29, 2007

HALLOWEEN

From its birth in pagan transactions with the dead to the current marketing push to make it a “seasonal experience,” America’s fastest-growing holiday has a history far older (and far stranger) than does Christmas itself

by Ellen Feldman

In 1517 Martin Luther took a stand on it. In 1926 Houdini made his final exit on it. In 1938 Orson Welles perpetrated a national hoax on it. Today 70 percent of American households open their doors to strangers on it, 50 percent take photographs on it, and the nation drops more than six billion dollars celebrating it. The night is Halloween, of course, and the history of its rise is as unlikely as any ghost story. Halloween has become the darling of American holidays. Only Christmas outearns it. Only New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday outparty it.

The festival was not always so lighthearted. For the Celts of ancient Britain, Scotland, Ireland, and northern France, November 1 marked the end of harvest, the return of herds from the pasture, the time of what was known in folk wisdom as “the light that loses, the night that wins,” and the start of the new year. It was also the festival of Samhain, who may or may not, depending on the source, have been the god of the dead but who remains a favorite of modern witches, neo-pagans, and fans of Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia. On October 31, the last night of the old year, spirits of the deceased were thought to roam the land, visiting their loved ones, looking for eternal rest, or raising hell. They particularly liked to wreak havoc on crops. They were also capable of revealing future marriages and windfalls, and illnesses and deaths. It was incumbent upon the living, therefore, to welcome them home with food and drink, to propitiate the grudges they might still be carrying, or to light bonfires and carry lanterns made from hollowed-out turnips carved into frightening faces to keep them away. The bonfires also came in handy for immolating vegetable, animal, and human sacrifices to Samhain. In other words, anything might happen on this hallowed night, or, given the sketchy state of modern scholarship about ancient Druid practices, we can easily imagine anything happening. Most accounts of the Celtic origins of Halloween, including this one, should be taken with a pumpkin seed of skepticism. About all we can be certain of is that some festival marked the onset of the long, cold northern winter when living conditions grew raw, food was scarce, and many died.

THE NEW IRISH SLIPPED INTO COSTUMES AND WENT HOUSE TO HOUSE SOLICITING HANDOUTS.

By the first century A.D., Rome had conquered Celtic lands, Romans and Celts were living cheek by jowl in small villages, and Pomona, the Roman goddess of orchards and the harvest, whose festival was celebrated on November 1, was cohabiting happily with Samhain. But if the Romans, who associated Pomona with the apple and therefore with love and fertility, lent the macabre Celtic festival sex appeal, the church gave it an air of respectability and a new name. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III, acting on the theory that if you can’t beat paganism, which was still rife throughout Christendom, you’d better join it, moved All Saints’ Day (which had been consecrated the century before when the number of saints outstripped the days of the year), from May 13 to November 1. The night before became Allhallows Eve, or Hallowe’en, and the old Celtic practices became Christian pieties. Instead of appeasing spirits with food and wine, villagers gave “soul cakes” to poor people who promised to pray for departed relatives. Instead of dressing up as animals or spirits to frighten away the dead, parishioners of churches that couldn’t afford genuine relics dressed up as saints. As the church militant marched around the globe, its hybrid Celtic-Roman-Christian celebration chased after it like a faintly disreputable but fun-loving camp follower. It was one of the many church practices that incited Martin Luther to action. Whether Luther chose October 31 to nail his theses to the church door to protest the practice of purchasing indulgences or to take advantage of the crowds that would be out on a festival eve—or whether, in fact, he ever actually nailed anything anywhere (and modern scholarship is beginning to doubt that he did)—tradition has him hammering on Halloween.

The Reformation’s abolition of saints’ days should have put an end to the celebration of Allhallows Eve in Protestant countries, but the festival that had survived Roman invasion and Christian conquest had gained too firm a hold on popular imagination and practice. In 1606, when the British Parliament declared November 6 a day of national thanksgiving for the foiling of the plot by the Catholic revolutionary Guy Fawkes to blow up the Protestant House of Lords the year before, the new holiday, coming just five days after the old, took on many of Halloween’s trappings while assuming an anti-Catholic and anti-Popish flavor. Bonfires lit the autumn evening, revelers carried lanterns of hollowed-out turnips carved into grotesque faces, and no one worried too much about the rationale for celebrating the quickening of a crisp new season.

But what was acceptable in the Old World was anathema in the New. The colonies were, of course, a patchwork of customs. From its earliest days, Catholic Maryland celebrated All-hallows Eve, and Anglican Virginia, by allowing the celebration of saints’ days, simply put the stamp of approval on what its subjects were already doing. But New England soil was notoriously hostile to holidays. Early Northern settlers did not even celebrate Christmas; indeed, only three occasions—muster day, election day, and the Harvard commencement—merited official recognition until a new holiday, Thanksgiving, began to find its way onto the New England calendar during the 16705. Despite the best efforts of Puritan church officials, however, New England settlers refused to relinquish Guy Fawkes Day. In 1685 Judge Samuel Sewall noted in his diary, “Friday night being fair, about two hundred hallowed about a fire on the Comon.” Almost a century later, costumed young men and boys paraded with “Guys” or “popes” of straw for the bonfire, and John Adams wrote, “Punch, wine, bread and cheese, apples, pipes, tobacco and Popes and bonfires this evening at Salem, and a swarm of tumultuous people attending.” Soon Britain’s day of thanksgiving was getting mixed up with the colonies’ drive for independence, as New Englanders burned effigies of the Stamp Man along with those of the Pope and the devil.

The New England celebration of Guy Fawkes Day rather than Allhallows Eve had to do with more than Puritan hatred of Catholic habits. Halloween still retained many of its pagan associations with the spirit world, and nothing struck fear in the Puritan heart so forcefully as witchcraft. New England led the way in persecuting witches, but every colony prescribed a punishment for the use of magic, and there was a reason for, if not a rationality to, the laws. In the colonies, astrological almanacs outsold Bibles.

As the new nation grew and sprawled, its far-flung citizens sought occasions for community celebrations. In the fall, families came together to husk corn, pare apples, and make sugar and sorghum. Soon these task-oriented gatherings gave way to “play parties,” which promised nothing more than a good time. Revelers told stories, traded gossip, and—though many churches forbade dancing and that instrument of the devil, the fiddle—shouted, sang, and clapped while they swung their partners round in the first American square dances. Perhaps most important to farm families living at great distances from one another, these gatherings brought together men and women of marriageable age. Play parties were not a direct descendant of Halloween; they did not occur on any particular night, had no religious affiliation, and were more concerned with producing future generations than with honoring or placating past ones. But they did keep alive certain Halloween traditions, such as telling ghost tales and divining future romance with apples and nuts, so that when a new wave of immigrants arrived, the old holiday customs they brought with them didn’t seem quite so alien. In the wake of the famine of 1820 and the even harsher devastation beginning in 1846, more than a million Irish Catholics arrived in the urban areas of North America. Starved and penniless, they brought little with them beyond their traditions. Though they celebrated All Saints’ Day, they gave over its eve to more pagan practices. Irish girls peeled apples, roasted nuts, unraveled yarn, stared into mirrors, dipped their hands into a series of bowls while blindfolded, cooked dinners in silence, and played with fire to find out whether and whom they would marry. In place of the turnips they had used at home, revelers carved out indigenous pumpkins to light the way as they went from house to house. Instead of dressing up as saints in church parades and begging for soul cakes in return for prayer, these new urban Irish slipped into secular costumes and went from house to house, soliciting handouts.

Where there were Irish on Halloween, there were often “little people” who had a tendency toward vandalism, and although most Irish immigrants had settled in the cities, the tradition of Mischief Night spread quickly through rural areas. On October 31, young men roamed the countryside looking for fun, and on November 1, farmers would arise to find wagons on barn roofs, front gates hanging from trees, and cows in neighbors’ pastures. Any prank having to do with an outhouse was especially hilarious, and some students of Halloween maintain that the spirit went out of the holiday when plumbing moved indoors.

Despite a strong Irish influence, in the years after the Civil War Halloween practices still varied widely throughout the country. Witches roamed among the Scottish and German settlers of Appalachia, and Halloween was their special night. In the South, voodoo customs associated the holiday with witchcraft, charms, and deceased ancestors. Southwesterners celebrated a joyous Day of the Dead by taking food, drink, flowers, and candles to the graves of loved ones at midnight on November 1 and staying till the sun rose the next morning.

But America was becoming a more uniform nation. Railroads, the telegraph, and magazines were blurring sectional differences. In 1871 women in every part of the country, at least women of the middle class, opened their issues of Godey’s Lady’s Book and read one of the first articles published about Halloween. Other magazines and newspapers followed with stories, poems, illustrations, and suggestions for celebrations. But a funny thing happened to Halloween on its way to national prominence. It severed its ties with restless spirits, destructive pranks, and, perhaps most important, working-class Irish Catholic traditions and became a proper Victorian lady—safe, sinless, and romantically inclined. By the end of the century, it was so intimately associated with polite social gatherings and innocent amorous pursuits that celebrants were hanging mistletoe on October 31.

IT IS A PLASTIC HOLIDAY, MOLDED AND MAULED TO SERVE EACH GENERATION.

Halloween entered the twentieth century stripped of occult associations and religious significance. Populist city fathers with boosterish hearts, alert for ways to promote community spirit and Americanize a motley immigrant population, recognized its potential. Allentown, Pennsylvania, sponsored the first annual Halloween parade, and in 1921 Anoka, Minnesota, held the first citywide party. Halloween had left the parlor, taken to the streets, and discovered its nationality. Shortly after World War I, a young Ernest Hemingway wrote a sketch in which the hero, lying wounded in an Italian hospital, hears the sound of the armistice celebration and remembers neither the Fourth of July nor, despite the November date, Thanksgiving, but Halloween at home.

Now that the holiday had got another whiff of fresh air, the scene was set for the practice that more than any other symbolizes contemporary Halloween. Medieval villagers had begged soul cakes and Irish immigrants had extorted handouts, but not until the 1920s did costumed children begin going from door to door to trick-or-treat. One of the first mentions of the practice appears in a 1920 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, and by the 1950s it was an established ritual, although one Depression-bred student of the subject insists that in North Dakota in 1935 no one had ever heard of it and chides later generations for having “sold their rights to rebellion for some sugar in expensive wrappings.”

Not all the young made such a craven deal, however. If the Victorian age had denatured the more raffish aspects of the holiday, it had not wholly obliterated them. While some youths had lingered under the mistletoe in the parlor, others had continued to roam the countryside on the lookout for unguarded livestock or remaining outhouses, and even today many law-abiding males of a certain age remember that dressing up and going from house to house was fine for girls, but boys were looking for trouble. Many of them found it. As families moved to the city, the old purportedly innocent high jinks gave way to more serious vandalism. Youths slashed tires, stole gas caps, and rang false fire alarms, all in the spirit of good fun. In Queens, New York, in 1939, a thousand windows were broken.

Just as city officials were trying to find ways to channel all this youthful energy into constructive civic action, like raking lawns and mending fences, America entered World War II, and pranks and vandalism became sabotage and treason. The Chicago City Council abolished Halloween and called on the mayor to make October 31 Conservation Day. “Letting air out of tires isn’t fun anymore,” wrote the superintendent of the Rochester, New York, schools. “It’s sabotage. Soaping windows isn’t fun this year. Your government needs soaps and greases for the war…. Even ringing doorbells has lost its appeal because it may mean disturbing the sleep of a tired war worker who needs his rest.”

After V-J Day, children went back to trick-or-treating, youths to making trouble, and civic leaders to trying to head it off with community celebrations. Then, in 1950, a group of students from a Philadelphia-area Sunday school sent the $17 they had collected trick-or-treating to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and another holiday tradition was born. A newly rich and powerful America celebrated Halloween by lending a helping hand to less fortunate peoples around the world. But as the certainties of the fifties gave way to the rebellions of the sixties, which many Americans didn’t experience until the seventies, an innocent holiday became an opportunity for tragic accidents. In 1970 a five-year-old boy died from eating heroin, supposedly laced through his Halloween candy but actually filched from his uncle’s stash; a number of other scares, most of them unfounded, followed; and trick-or-treating began to decline. In the late 1980S, however, as President Reagan’s “morning in America” headed toward high noon, costumed children began venturing back onto the streets, and by 1999, 92 percent of America’s children were trick-or-treating. In fact, the spirit and intentions of the old pagan holiday of darkness had finally become so sunny that an affluent Indiana suburb began busing in less well-to-do children to share the goodies. Unfortunately, a glut of less affluent trick-or-treaters roaming the well-kept lawns soon led residents to move Halloween to another night, advertised only in the community association’s newsletter.) On a more entrepreneurial note, in 1987 a Canadian good neighbor began handing out stocks to the first 100 trick-or-treaters who showed up, some of whom, once the word was out, traveled more than 200 miles to beef up their portfolios. When the shares took a downturn as the rest of the market soared, the financial Good Samaritan began questioning the values he was fostering and put an end to the practice.

Halloween is a plastic holiday. Lacking the religious foundations of Christmas, Easter, and their cousins from other cultures, or the patriotic underpinnings of Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, or even the single-minded sentimentality of the synthetic Mother’s Day (hatched by Anna Jarvis, an unmarried childless woman who never got over having abandoned her mother for a career, and subsequently seized upon by the flower, telegraph, and greeting-card industries), Halloween could be mauled and molded to fit the needs of each generation. Puritans, intent on survival in a new world and salvation in the next, ignored it. A hard-pressed immigrant population let off steam in its honor. A Victorian society tamed it. World Wars I and II and even Vietnam undermined it. And a newly powerful postwar nation gave it a social conscience. Even the masquerades chosen commented on the era in which they were worn. In 1973 Time magazine reported that first prize for the most frightening costume at a Halloween party went to a child wearing a Richard Nixon mask, and, in 1986, 49 schoolteachers marched as Imelda Marcos’s shoes. But perhaps the most significant sign of the times is contemporary Halloween’s strenuous consumerism.

The process, though recently accelerated, began almost a century and a half ago. In the decades following the Civil War, the American business community stopped viewing holidays as impediments to production and began recognizing their potential as incentives to consumption. In 1897 one of the leading trade papers of the time, the Dry Goods Economist, bemoaned those out-of-date entrepreneurs who still regarded “holidays as an unavoidable nuisance” resulting in “the loss of trade.” Three years later, the Dry Goods Chronicle urged its readers: “Never let a holiday… escape your attention, provided it is capable of making your store better known or increasing the value of its merchandise.” Advertisers took up the cry by promoting seasonal campaigns.

Though Halloween, compared with some of the more traditional holidays, was a slow starter in the race to commercial prominence, its fixed time slot, unlike the wandering Easter and Thanksgiving, and its established icons, such as jack-o’-lanterns, witches, and black cats, ultimately made it a marketer’s dream. Of the six billion dollars raked in on the holiday today, almost two go for sweets. Costumes account for between a billion and a billion and a half. The remaining sum buys decorations and food and drink for friends, but if you think that means some apples for bobbing, a pumpkin from your nearby road stand, and a cardboard skeleton with crepe-paper limbs, you’re hopelessly out-of-date.

Americans buy enough Coors beer for their Halloween parties to increase seasonal sales 10 percent. A Syncromotion Skeletal Grim Reaper, which talks and sings, sells for $199.95; a Fog Master to give lawns that haunted look, $99.95. In addition to the products, there are the promotions. In the mid-nineties, companies decided to make Halloween not just a “candy occasion” but a “seasonal experience.” The results of this process include orange and black Rice Krispies, a drinking straw twisted around a plastic eyeball at Taco Bell, and a free trip to Alcatraz for the lucky winner who has purchased a Barq’s root beer. When Nabisco began filling Oreos with orange rather than white cream, demand for the garish result increased cookie production by 50 percent. The movie industry has long mined the potential of the holiday, but recently studio competition has become fiercer as Universal and Disney theme parks duel for the Halloween dollar, with Universal selling beer, blood, and gore and Disney sticking to its clean-cut image and offering discounts to entice the youngest Halloween revelers.

One cultural critic argues commercialization of the holiday has gone so far that when he made an informal study by asking his local trick-or-treaters what they would do if he said “trick,” 83.3 percent of the admittedly small and unscientific sample that rang his doorbell answered, “I don’t know.” The rite was simply “a rehearsal for consumership without a rationale. Beyond the stuffing of their pudgy stomachs, they didn’t know why they were filling their shopping bags.”

Even community festivities have become big business. What started in 1973 in New York City’s Greenwich Village as a small parade organized by a puppeteer and theater director and grew into a riotous celebration of gay life has become a commercial enterprise that attracts tens of thousands of participants, more than a million spectators, and scores of international film and television crews, and pumps $60 million into the local economy.

The popularity of the parade as well as similar, if less splashy, parties in San Francisco, Georgetown, and Key West, to name only a few places, points up another contemporary change in Halloween. Although children still claim the night, adults are once again taking it over. The Victorians dedicated the holiday to decorous romance; our less restrained age makes it an occasion for wild parties, heavy drinking, and, often, sexual exhibitionism. The beer and liquor industries blitz the media with ads. Men and women spend small fortunes and long hours dressing or undressing as their favorite fantasies. While juvenile celebrations become more controlled, with parents vigilant against excessive sugar consumption shepherding their children from house to house, adult festivities grow more licentious.

They also grow more violent. In San Francisco in 1994, when gay bashers invaded the annual Castro Street revel, police officers donned riot gear, dodged bottles, detained nearly a hundred people, and confiscated several loaded guns. In Detroit between 1990 and 1996, 485 properties went up in flames on Halloween Eve, which is known there as Devil’s Night. In New York a decade ago, a group of costumed teenagers descended on a homeless camp with knives, bats, and a meat cleaver, shouting, “Trick or treat,” and leaving one dead and nine injured. One of Halloween’s chief attractions—slipping into a mask to slip out of constraints—has turned deadly. Sometimes the violence isn’t intentional. Last year in Los Angeles, a policeman summoned to a noisy party shot and killed an actor brandishing a fake weapon.

AS JUVENILE CELEBRATIONS BECOME MORE CONTROLLED, ADULT ONES GROW MORE LICENTIOUS.

A more subtle sort of violence is the damage done to young psyches. In 1911 Sears advertised wigs, masks, and makeup to enable children to play at being “Negro”—“the funniest and most laughable outfit ever sold.” Feathered headdresses were always a favorite of small boys, and in my own youth I remember being wildly envious of a friend’s harem costume. My mother, whose political consciousness was insufficiently raised but whose sartorial sense was finely honed, may have put her foot down for the wrong reason, but as current critics have pointed out, there is something offensive about pampered American children playing at being members of oppressed minorities and natives of Third World countries.

The greatest opposition to Halloween today, however, comes not from fearful parents, politically correct posses, or the foes of consumerism but from the religious right. Christian conservatives see the holiday as nothing less than the celebration of Satan and have set out to exorcise it. Some churches stage “trunk or treat” parties: Parishioners in the parking lot hand out candy from the trunks of their cars and invite children to step into the church for a party. A less benign custom is the dramatized glimpse of hell. Congregations stage “mortality plays” featuring teenage girls undergoing bloody abortions, AIDS victims dying agonizing and unredeemed deaths, and businessmen who didn’t have time for Jesus burning in hell. In 1996 The Wall Street Journal reported that some 300 variations of these lurid portrayals of the wages of sin were intimidating more than 700,000 potentially savable souls, and the number was still growing.

But if the religious right would like to do away with Halloween, mainstream America wants to expand it. One method is the mailing of the holiday. Merchants dress up their stores and salespeople and invite children into the mall to celebrate. Parents, fearing sabotaged treats and possible violence elsewhere, gladly deliver their progeny to temperature control and security patrols. The message is clear: You may not be able to trust your neighbor but you can put your faith in your local Starbucks.

Over the years Halloween has shown an enduring malleability and a terrierlike tenacity to survive religious persecution, class prejudice, Victorian politesse, and consumerist inflation. Still, all the adaptability and advertising and marketing in the world couldn’t keep Halloween alive if Americans weren’t yearning for what it has to offer. Candy Day, energetically touted in the early part of the twentieth century, never sent the nation out to buy boxes of sweets for loved ones on the second Saturday in October. Why have Americans, so admirably skeptical and adamantly opposed to adopting other holidays, taken to their hearts this originally scary, often silly festival? Many say it reminds them of their childhood, which baby boomers are notoriously reluctant to relinquish. And maybe it reminds some others of the childhood they wish they’d had. Since people don’t go home for Halloween as they do for Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is less likelihood of parental disappointment, sibling squabbles, free-floating depression, and the other symptoms of the disquiet we are told afflicts America’s families. Moreover, though recently cornered by adults, Halloween is still identified with children, and while our society may quarrel over the expensive realities of raising children, like health care and education, it cherishes the idea of childhood. But perhaps the greatest attraction of the holiday is that it no longer has any reason for being. It is not a night to worship the God of our choice, honor the dead, celebrate the nation’s past, take stock for the future, or woo a loved one. It is simply an occasion for fun. Organized activities permit safe and sanitized rebellion. Costumes camouflage identity, blur status, and change gender. Masks provide a moral holiday.

For one night a year, we can act out whims and realize fantasies. Men can be women, children adults, milquetoasts heroes, good girls bad, devils saints, and vice versa. For a single night we all can star in the roles of our choice. The secret of Halloween’s success is that it is more than a holiday. It is a brief and titillating vacation from our lives and ourselves.

Ellen Feldman’s study of divorce in America appeared in the November 2000 issue.

-Scott Bailey 2007

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The Postmodern Eclipse of Evil…..by Dr. Al Mohler!

Posted by Scott on October 24, 2007

Dr. Al Mohler writes:

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The Postmodern Eclipse of Evil — Be Advised . . . and Be Afraid

One of the most harrowing features of modern thought is the reluctance to speak honestly about evil. The cause of this discomfort with the category of evil is understandable, of course. When belief in God recedes, confidence in moral judgment inevitably recedes with that belief.

This is brought to life in the pages of The New York Times Magazine in the form of a film review. The film is a documentary about the French lawyer Jacques Verges — a man who has defended some of the worst criminals in France, including Klaus Barbie and Carlos “the Jackal.” He also had long friendships with murderous dictators such as Cambodia’s Pol Pot and China’s Chairman Mao.

Reviewer Daphne Merkin seems to understand the difficulty posed by the film and its subject:

What does evil — a term that came into general use only in the 15th century, originally referring to the overstepping of proper limits — look like these days, when so many of us are wary of reductive terms, unsure of our own convictions and easily persuaded of the moral relativism of our values? (The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word is “little used in modern colloquial English.”) Does it have a particular smell, like teen spirit? Does it come wearing a hood, as in the movies? Or, again, does it look like you and me, sitting over dinner and enjoying a glass of vintage Bordeaux?

The syndrome cited here — a reluctance to use “reductive terms” — reflects the moral discomfort and uncertainty of the age. How do we come to terms with humanity without using the word “evil” and meaning it?

Merkin continues:

For much of history, when an ironclad trust in a divine maker still prevailed (however many plagues or earthquakes he might have arranged), the question of “evil” was contained by one of two rationales: that people deserved it because of wicked behavior or that it was part of a larger, unknowable celestial plan. That attitude, gullible as it now seems, had the benefit of keeping this particular epistemological dilemma outside the human purview. It held steady until the emergence of a philosophical tradition that, beginning with Immanuel Kant’s questioning of God’s pivotal position and reaching an apogee of unbelief with the arrival of Nietzsche, put the concept of evil right in our laps. As Susan Neiman says in “Evil in Modern Thought,” from the Enlightenment on there have been two views: “The one, from Rousseau to Arendt, insists that morality demands that we make evil intelligible. The other, from Voltaire to Jean Améry, insists that morality demands that we don’t.”

That is a succinct, if reductionistic, explanation for what happened. The great philosophical turn was away from a fixed understanding of evil as an objective concept and toward evil (and all moral judgment) as a matter of subjectivity and context. Gone was the idea of evil as an act that opposed God’s law and offended God’s righteousness.

Gone with those beliefs was any confidence in moral judgment.  As Merkin suggests, postmoderns are more like Neville Chamberlain, trying to negotiate with evil, than like Winston Churchill, determined to oppose it by force when necessary.

The maker of the film, Barbet Schroeder, refuses to take a position in the film, resisting moral judgment.  Indeed, he calls Verges a “perverse and decadent aesthete.”  There is something particularly chilling about reducing evil to aesthetics.

The frightening specter we now face is of a postmodern world that is losing the last vestiges of confidence in moral judgment.  Be advised  . . . and be afraid.

Written by Dr. Al Mohler Jr.  Click here to go to his site directly!

-Scott Bailey 2007

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