NORTH MINNEAPOLIS PRAYER FOCUS FOR 10/31/17: ALL HALLOW'S EVE AND THE BONDAGE OF PAGANISM

Issue: God’s Will-All Hallow’s Eve and the Bondage of Paganism

Yesterday we looked at religion and how it differs from God’s will in His work of grace for salvation. Today, we will continue to look at the bondage of sin. God’s will is to free us, or save us, from this bondage. Religion ensnares men and women much like a net. Sin does this as well. Guilt and shame can wrap us up and keep us bound, but thanks be to God who has set us free from guilt and shame by taking both upon Himself on the cross! But before I get off on a praise rant, let’s jump into the history of Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve.

Let’s start with a quick summary from History.com[1]:

Halloween is an annual holiday, celebrated each year on October 31, that has roots in age-old European traditions. It originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating and carving jack-o-lanterns. Around the world, as days grow shorter and nights get colder, people continue to usher in the season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.

Let’s look a little closer at Samhain to better understand what we are really dealing with:

Samhain (pronounced sow-in) is directly tied to human death. The bitter cold of winter and its relation to death was magnified by the belief that the two worlds, that of the living and that of the dead, would crossover one night a year. Samhein is that day. Druids (Celtic priests) would attempt to foretell the future since this otherworldly power was believed to be available and increase accuracy of prophecy. But it went further than that:

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.

The story can go on and on. I think its one worthy of discussion. Minneapolis is home to several pagan religious groups and Anoka is the Halloween capital of the world.[2] That makes it pretty personal to those of us who live here. We have friends and family that have some level of agreement and belief with the cultures and people represented in this story. Harnessing the powers available in nature and from the spiritual realm is not a detached, far off belief system. I’ve been with worshippers in Little Rock, AR and Minneapolis who sacrifice animals, use candles and incantations, and seek spiritual help from entities that are able to cross over and interact. It’s everywhere. More importantly, Jesus loves His people who are involved in these “arts” and He calls us to love them and seek them as well in order to free them by His finished work. He is the sacrifice that frees us from sin and death. His message is the power that works in us and through us. He gives us His very Spirit, the Spirit of the Father, the Holy Spirit which dwells within us and works to protect, preserve, and apply the holiness of God to us. We read the only truly Holy book, the Bible, which is the Word of our God who is the Creator of all that exists. God has revealed Himself to us in nature and frees us to see Him there. His glory still fills the earth, though it is marred. There are lots of bridges where we can relate to our neighbors who worship differently than we do and have not heard or believed the gospel. Pagans are our neighbors. We are no less called to know God by reaching out and really loving them.

Here is why: Religion is slavery. All Hallows Eve is marked by fear. The people who lived in these towns that celebrated Samhein would dress up in order to protect themselves from spirits. They couldn’t walk down the street as themselves or they might be overtaken. So they created costumes. “The spirits were believed to be either "entertained by the living", or to "find a body to possess for the incoming year". This all gives reasons as to why "dressing up like witches, ghosts and goblins, villagers could avoid being possessed."[3] Think about that quote. Imagine really believing that spirits are here walking around and one might inhabit, or possess, you. Sounds like some of the issues we see in the Bible except spiritual warfare is a day in and day out battle, right? A LOT of people still deal with this in their daily lives. But also imagine the bondage of having to do all of the right things to keep spirits from hurting, attacking, overpowering you? Add in the fact that you believe other people are just as able to use spirits to harm you as you are at using them or protecting yourself from them and you get a hamster wheel of work that you have to do at all times in hopes that you will be protected. Of course, that’s just a hope, not a guarantee. So rest is out of the question.

But God is sovereign over Satan and all of his (Satan’s) army of evil angels (demons). They cannot do anything God does not allow and we have the promise of God that He (God) is working for our good. He will not allow Satan to separate us from His (God’s) love. Nor will God allow our enemy to overcome us. He intercedes on our behalf, protects us with His word, delivers us from evil, commands the demons who must obey Him, and gives us the power to stand against Satan, Himself, who will flee from us if we resist Him. Jesus commanded demons during His time on earth in the flesh. He also went toe to toe with Satan in the wilderness in an extremely weakened state from fasting. And even in His human weakness, Satan was nothing but a toothless viper who had no power and was vanquished. One of our precious gifts from God in the work of salvation is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit or Christ and our Father, that lives in and on us. We are sealed and protected from Satan and His army’s ability to indwell us. He also lives within us and Scripture, our great gift from God, also explains that darkness and light cannot dwell together. When the Holy Spirit moves in, no other spirit can come and dwell there. This is a great promise for those of us who have feared Satan and the spirits.

It is also worth noting that the general revelation of a need for a sacrifice (or sacrifices) is not far off. Jesus is our perfect sacrifice. See, the blood of bulls and goats (or any other animal) is insufficient for our real problem: we deserve to be puished by God for our sin, our rebellion, against Him. We need a sacrifice. Pagans aren’t off on that point. But the sacrifices are insufficient to make up for our sin. They just point to a greater need and a very real warning. We will pay for our sins. Blood will be spilled. But here’s the gospel. God, in His mercy, has sent His Son who never sinned and is spotless (perfectly clean) who willingly went to die on the cross under man and God’s wrath so that we might be saved from God’s wrath. But you have to know that sacrifice is for you personally. If you do, you won’t need any other sacrifices. You won’t have to worry about demon possession or live the continuous cycle of doing acts that will protect you or bring you good. God knows all of your needs and He works in all things to bring it about. On top of that, He has the power to guarantee it. There is no worry here. You can lay down guilt and shame, cast out fear, and instead rest in Christ and the work of God for your good.

Today I ask you pray that we have gospel conversations with our neighbors who are enslaved to working for their protection. Pray God would deliver some (or all) of them from the bondage to Satan and His demons. Pray God would cast out fear in our and their lives. Pray God would richly dwell in them. Pray God would bring new birth and the freedom, which comes for freedom’s sake. Pray that grace would overpower fear and mercy would be abundant. Pray that love would bind us to God’s children here. Pray that we would stand on the truth and not give sway to threats or pressure to conform to paganism in order to preach the gospel. That’s a real threat, just look at what Pope Gregory III did.[4] No Christian is less susceptible to sin. We need God’s grace. We also need to meet people where they are and walk with them in love. Pray for much of that. Jesus has done it with each one of us who knows Him. He is far more gracious than any of us are. May we grow in His likeness in this way.

Thanks for your prayers.

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[1] http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

[2] John A. Mayer, Cityview Report, page 9.

[3] http://www.albany.edu/~dp1252/isp523/halloween.html

[4] NOTE: I take my kids trick or treating. We also give out candy. I’m getting at the addition of pagan religion into corporate worship. This is a heart issue and deals with one’s desire to retain non-Christian, pagan elements of religion by “mixing” it with Christianity. Worship is then fundamentally changed and the pagan beliefs, which are not grounded in Scripture, become “baptized” or “sanctified” in the minds of the participants. Our familiy’s participation some years and non-participation is grounded in the principle Paul applies to meat sacrificed in the temple. Our conscience is not stained and we do not seek spiritual power rooted in pagan beliefs because there is none. There are no other gods and demons must submit to God. Instead, we prayerfully engage our culture as an individual family. We do not agree with a requirement to participate for all members due to conscience. I’m sure it is a matter of conscience for many former pagans to participate in Halloween. I believe it is good in such case to avoid participation because for them it is (truly is) sin. That’s a matter of one’s conscience though.