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When Evil is No Longer Evil  

Halloween. Like it or not, the season is here. Christians can disagree over whether it's okay to dress up or go trick or treating.  But I am not interested in that discussion at the moment.  My focus is much more fundamental.  I want to talk about evil itself.  The evil that is increasingly celebrated at Halloween.

The “Spirit” chain of Halloween stores has grown from 63 in 1999 to nearly a thousand this year!  In our neighborhoods, many homes now put more effort into decorating for Halloween than they do Christmas.

The other day I passed a car with a giant applique depicting a young woman with a bloodied axe.  Just what I want my four year old granddaughter to see.  And by the way—how would it somehow be “more acceptable” if she was fourteen?  Does the sight of a bloodied axe at fourteen become less evil?  I think not. 

Consider the exponential increase in Fright fests, gore stores and Haunted Houses.  I read online about a “Club AntiChrist” Halloween party. Among other things, it features a performance by Sexor...snake-hipped belly dancing from Hell.  Okay, so that's an extreme.

But horror isn't just for Halloween anymore.  Not just for movie theatres.  It's gone beyond Twilight and Freddy Kruger.  Now it's highly successful television fare.  Even favorites like the CSI series seem to cherish and embellish every possible moment of blood and gore.

As our culture has been desensitized, it takes more and more to truly shock us.  So the “slightly scary” of a generation ago, has been replaced by the ghoulish and ghastly.  

But to my point: how does any of this help a follower of Jesus follow Jesus?  You say, “Brother Jon, you're preaching to the choir.”  Not at all.  Christians are among the biggest consumers of this stuff!  (1:45)

Many listeners will disagree but I boldly make the statement anyway.  It is wrong for us to watch this stuff, to buy this stuff--in the theatres, on television, or at parties.  It's wrong. 

The culture’s comfort notwithstanding, our growing fascination with gory will NEVER bring glory to Jesus.  Ever.  Let's have nothing to do with the dark side. 

Our Slippery Slope  

When did America begin to self-destruct spiritually?  Do you ever wonder?  I have.   Ask ten people and you'll get ten answers.

Some say it began in the 60s with the Beatles and permissive parenting.  That lead to drugs, free sex and a general contempt for authority. 

Others say, “No, it began before that.  It was the 50s—think Elvis and his wild hip gyrations.” 

Some point to the roaring 20s, with speakeasies and crime sprees and dime novels with questionable characters.

But Harvard historian Dani Shapiro offers a disturbing piece of evidence that dates much earlier yet.  It was the year 1860 when a young American toymaker named Milton Bradley schemed upon an idea for a successful board game. 

Seems he retooled a popular British board game called the “Mansion of Happiness.”  Players in this game sought to free themselves from vices and—at the same time—accumulate virtues.  All of this in order to outrun their fellow players—pilgrims if you will—on the road to heaven.  Hence the use of the term, “mansion.”  If it smacks of influence from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, there's no accident.  Consider the long shadow Bunyan cast.  Nearly 200 years after Pilgrims Progress was first published, it still influenced the entertainment of British culture.

But back to Milton Bradley.  He took the “Mansion of Happiness” concept and infused it with a focus on self-fulfillment through the acquisition of money. Historian Shapiro said Bradley--quote-- “chucked the piety.  In his version, originally called the Checkered Game of Life, players raced through life's stages seeking maximum material wealth. Quite obviously” says the writer, “our ideas about life's purposes had changed.”

Sad, isn't it?  Our slippery slope has been a long time in coming. The Game of Life.  The world says the objectives have changed. Jesus begs to differ.

Too Many Leaders  

Leadership.  It's quite a buzz lately in Christian circles.  Have you noticed all the leadership chatter?

Consider the enormous popularity of Christian publications like...

  • Leadership Gold
  • Leadership Journal magazine.

Then there are all those Leadership conferences.

But go ahead and Google Christian conferences on “Following Christ”...and you won't find much.   Following lacks the flash and fun of being a leader.  And, in my opinion, therein lies the danger.

Now hear me carefully.  I'm not saying we don't need leaders, or that there shouldn't be any new training for leadership.  But I AM saying I think our current emphasis is probably out of whack. 

Is our biggest problem today in Christianity really a lack of good leaders?  I say it's a lack of good followers.  While there may be problems in leadership circles...we are dying for lack of obedience in the pew.  And in the end, the very best leader cannot conjure up an ounce of obedience. 

So why all the conferences and DVDs and books on leadership?

The ugly truth is, too many of us want to be leaders because leaders get to call more shots.  Leaders are entrusted with more power.  Bigger salaries.   Nicer perks.  Even in Christian organizations.  But that's the world's value system. 

The call of Christ is to be fishers of men, not leaders of men.

The Great Commission is about making disciples...followers...not leaders.

The truth is, when we have good followers, we will have good leaders.  Because an effective leader is nothing more than a follower who follows well—and who encourages others to do the same.

Yes...there's a place for vision casting and setting the pace...  But there's an even bigger call to quietly run the race with integrity and humility. 

It's time we stepped back a bit from our fascination with leadership.

It's time we stepped up our determination to follow Jesus all day... every day. No matter what the cost.

Only THEN will we create a new generation of leaders worth following.

How Did They Finish?  

By now news from the London Olympics is so old, it's not even in the rear view mirror.   We've moved on.  There’s a presidential election just before us...the NFL season is in full swing—complete with the REAL refs… These are the headlines that now dominate our attention.

But a misstep in marketing takes me across the pond nearly every day.  Let me explain. 

At the train station that I walk there lingers a set of illuminated photos of Olympic hopefuls--the heart of a bank's advertising campaign.

The campaign’s idea was to suggest that in choosing the bank on the sign…you’d be signing up with winners.  One might say the bank was using these athletes who were going for the gold…to go for YOUR gold.

Walking through the train concourse you come face to face with

Two brothers who've played tennis together since they were kids.

Several swimmers...

A marathon runner...

Track and field athletes

Now that the Olympics are more than over, I've lately been intrigued with the idea of finding out exactly how these athletes finished.   So one by one, I've Googled these athletes, tracking down how they actually finished.  Some did great.  Others didn't place.  Some were projected to medal in their event…and never got close.

In my opinion, this marketing campaign that has stayed well past its prime…has a message for followers of Jesus.

What about us?  How are WE doing in this race called the Christian life?  We who been given wonderful teaching in Bible-loving churches….we who have gone to Bible school….or been mentored by a strong Christian friend.  We who live in a nation with more resources and more opportunities for Christian advancement than any other on the planet….How are we doing?

What if it was YOUR image on the sign promoting Christianity’s effectiveness and impact?  What kind of advertisement would YOU be?  Would your life be the gold standard?  The silver?  If you’re like me….you know you’d fall short. 

But like it or not—we are in a race. People really ARE watching.  They’re really is a finish line.  And they’re really is a prize. 

Lesser Characters  

Recently, my wife and I sat down with our three year old granddaughter to watch the 1973 Disney animated classic, “Robin Hood.”  If you haven't seen the film—or it's been awhile—it's quite charming in every regard. As we sat there with Joslynn, giggling at all the onscreen antics, I was struck with an observation.   Though the storyline is a classic, and Robin Hood, Maid Marion, and the whole cast are delightfully depicted, it was the lesser characters that grabbed my attention.

They are so well developed, so carefully crafted that I found myself looking forward to their every appearance.  For instance, there's a herd of elephants that blast their trunks as if they are regal trumpets.  They have such a look of royal sincerity on their faces as their trunks collapse and expand in beat with the music, you almost have to stifle a chuckle.  There are stern faced rhinos that attempt to walk with grace and dignity ill befitting their stereotype.  This, too, is amusing.   Then there's the crocodile who only shows up once or twice with key “announcements” in a bass voice so deep, the speakers in your audio system will rattle.

But all these lesser characters do what they do with amazing faithfulness, carrying out the smallest of tasks with an enviable panache.  For me, they become the heart of the story.  Yet...we're never even told their names.

Without wanting to sound preachy, I ask myself...how many of us in the body of Christ are content to be “lesser characters?”  How many of us are willing to simply develop, hone, and sharpen that smaller role we'll been given in the Kingdom story?

Seems to me, one of the biggest problems in the church today is our rush to grab for the lead role...our lust for the limelight.

But John the baptist has a word for those of us reaching for the stars:  “He (Jesus) must increase but I must decrease.”

That's what I've been pondering lately.

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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