Some of you may be surprised to discover that this is not my first blog. In fact, there was a time when I was managing three blogs at once! Back in the days before Twitter or Facebook even existed, or even as Myspace was gaining popularity, the most popular "social media" site (although that term hadn't even been invented at that point) among my junior high and high school friends was Xanga, which was primarily for blogging. At first, I had one personal account, but then I was interested in being involved with some fandom groups. I ended up making two more accounts, one about my favorite music group of the time Jump5, and the other for The Lord of the Rings.
What was so interesting about what I did with those accounts though is that instead of just blogging about how much I loved these fandoms, I wanted to keep the focus on Jesus. My usernames on these accounts were Jump5lovesJesus and LOTR_LordofAllKings. I started to write devotional thoughts around lessons I’d learned from this film trilogy and music group. When I went back to these sites a few years ago, although I was kind of laughing at some of it, I was also surprised at how decent some of these devotions were. There were some pretty solid thoughts, considering I was 15 when I wrote them!
When it came to the LOTR ones, most of the thoughts were not totally unique to me, for a lot of LOTR devotional books have talked about things like Aragorn’s servant/king journey, or Sam’s loyalty to Frodo, or even the boundaries changed by the trans-racial friendship of Legolas and Gimli. But as I was looking through these old blog posts, one of them stood out as being the most unique thought I shared, which was a comparison of an LOTR character with a prominent character from the Christmas story. And this idea has stuck with me ever since.
How Frodo’s Story Relates to the Nativity Narrative
Frodo Baggins was shocked by everything Gandalf was telling him. He was only a Baggins of Bag End, a hobbit of the Shire. And it was just a simple Ring he had received as an heirloom from his Uncle Bilbo. Yet Gandalf told him that it was an instrument of absolute evil being sort out by the Dark Lord that created it. The Ring of Power, so it was called.
If something was not done soon, the life of peace his kin-folk had known in the Shire would be gone forever, and this evil would eventually take over all of Middle-Earth. Gandalf told him that those seeking the Ring would be coming for it very soon. So the Ring could not stay the Shire anymore, and Frodo was the most likely candidate to take it out of the Shire since he had the Ring in his possession.
Somehow, Frodo sensed that this task would be his to bear. Yes, he was afraid of what would lie ahead for him. He wondered why he was one that had this task fall into his lap. He wondered if he really could succeed with all this evil set against him. But somehow, he knew that this was something he needed to do. In the film version, when he comes to this realization, he takes hold of the Ring in his fist, and then he asks Gandalf a profound question without hesitation:
Gandalf did not want Frodo to go on this journey alone, so when he found Frodo’s gardener under the window outside the house, he told Sam that he was go with Frodo with the instructions to never leave Frodo.
Throughout the journey, Frodo is supported by Sam, but is also guided and comforted by those that had greater spiritual wisdom than he, like Gandalf and Lady Galadriel. Although he had no idea the amount of danger or the perils he would face, he knew that only he could complete this task, and he would be faithful to that task, no matter what.
How Mary’s Story Relates to The Lord of the Rings
Mary was shocked by everything the angel of the Lord was telling her. She was just a simple, ordinary girl from the town of Nazareth in Israel. She was just trying to live her life the way she should, as she was preparing for her marriage. Yet this angel told her that she was to bear the Son of God himself, even though she was a virgin and had never been with a man.
This child would not only be God’s son, but he would also be the Messiah that had been prophesied to redeem Israel for thousands of years. He would bring the salvation everyone had been hoping for. Not only did this not make any sense, but she also knew the way that this would look to everyone around her, including her fiancé. There was the possibility of facing a premarital divorce or public disgrace. She knew it would be impossible to convince others it was true.
Yet somehow, she sensed that this must be her task to bear. She wondered why she out of all other women had been chosen, but the angel told her that she was favored in God’s eyes. Yes, she was afraid of what the future would hold, but she realized that this was something she needed to do. After the angel told her how it was going to happen to her, she responds humbly without hesitation:
The Lord did not want Mary to go through this alone, so when her fiancé Joseph was ready to divorce her quietly, the Lord sent the angel to tell Joseph not to leave Mary.
For that point on, Joseph supported Mary, but also guided and comforted not only by those that had greater spiritual wisdom than she: not only the angel, but also her relative Elizabeth. Although it was not easy and she had no idea what the future would hold, she knew that this was the task God had given her to complete, and she would be faithful to the task, no matter what.
Similar Callings, Difference Responses
Although their stories and their tasks are very different from each other, it’s interesting to see how similar their callings are and the support they received along their journey. As I look at their responses, I see two different ways that we may be called to respond, depending on our situation.
Frodo was called to action. Something bad was going to happen and the clock was ticking. Although Gandalf didn’t directly tell him what he needed to do until he asked, Frodo understood from what he was told that something had to be done fast. Since the Ring was already in his possession, he was the most likely candidate to take the Ring out of the Shire. Eventually, when the Council of Elrond is trying to decide who would have the task of taking the Ring all the way to Mordor to be destroyed, he realized it had to be him. He declares that he will take the Ring to Mordor. When the Fellowship of the Ring is chosen, Boromir tells Frodo in the film, “You carry the fate of us all, little one.” But from the beginning, Frodo knew that he had to do something about it.
Mary was called to faith. The angel told her what was going to happen; she just had to be willing to accept the task she had been chosen for. She didn’t technically volunteer for the job, but she accepted God’s decision with the greatest of humility. She just had to let it happen to her. Once she was pregnant, she simply had to live out each day and each situation she found herself in by faith. No matter what she faced, she had faith that the Lord will fulfill every single promise He had made to her. She simply had to do what He asked. It would even mirror the decision her Son would make the night before He was crucified, when He told the Father, “Not my will, but your will be done.” They both needed to surrender to the Father’s plan, no matter what the cost.
I think that most situations we find ourselves in will require us to respond in faith, with action, or maybe both. But I find the examples given in these stories to be so striking. I feel like any of us should give one of those two responses any time God places something in front of us for our future. You probably won’t be called to destroy an evil ring in a volcano and you definitely won’t be called to bear a child as a virgin, but we will be called to action or faith throughout the circumstances in our lives. To ignore these callings is to ignore God’s best for your future. To accept will demand much, but will be more fulfilling that living our lives exclusively within our own plans. So next time you know God is calling you, remember these two responses:
What must I do?
Let it happen just as you say.
To conclude this post, I thought I would share a video I uploaded to my YouTube channel a few years ago that was inspired by my original blog post. Its clips from The Lord of the Rings to the song Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant. I think a few people thought this was a little strange when I first started sharing this, but those of you that have read my thoughts here will better understand the point I was trying to communicate.
Two lines worth paying attention to in regards to how they relate to Frodo’s story:
I am waiting in a silent prayer / I am frightened by the load I bear
Do you wonder as you watch my face / If a wiser one should of had my place
One more thing I almost forgot:
Merry Christmas and
Happy Incarnation Day!
I love traditions, don’t you? At this time of the year, many dearly held traditions of gatherings with family and friends are revisited, and despite the fact that we've done it all before, they never get old. From the games to the food to the movies, we love our holiday traditions. We get comfortable with the way that we have always known things to be. We would never call these traditions into question. We continue to do these traditions as long as we are able, hoping that they will never change.
We tend to feel this way about out traditionally held beliefs too. There are many “facts” about the nativity story that are merely traditions mistaken as facts. They can be hard to spot, because we are so use to thinking of these traditions as facts. There are also several parts of the story that confuse us because we struggle to understand biblical culture. I want to address some of the confusing parts and traditionally accepted “facts” of this great story, using my personal research and study. I do not claim to know everything, and there are some things that we cannot know for sure because the Bible simply does not tell us. But my hope is to help you better understand what the Bible actually says happened, and not to rely on traditional beliefs.
1. Jesus probably wasn't white (and probably not one else was either)
How many of us have seen a black Santa? Some of us think that’s weird, because we are so used to seeing him as the jolly white man we know and love. I actually know of a white guy that used to live in my neighbor that brought and used the black light up Santa in his yard just because it was cheaper. Somewhere along the line, someone wanted to adapt the normal image of Santa to identify within a different cultural context.
Do you know that people have done that with the nativity story too? We did the exact same thing when we made Jesus white.
The truth of the matter is that Mary, Joseph and Jesus probably looked Middle-Eastern. They probably have had a darker complexion, brown or black hair, and brown eyes. They might have looked like the kind of people that we might be quick to label as Muslims or terrorists today. So did most of the other people in the story, probably including the wise men. It’s very common to portray them with three different ethnicities: one black, sometimes one Asian, and one white. However, there is nothing in the text to indicate the ethnicity of any of them. Historical research shows that the eastern school that they most likely came from was located in Babylon, which is located in present day Iraq. It’s possible that these men were scholar who moved to Babylon to study, but the Bible doesn’t actually tells us for sure. There’s a good chance that they were all Middle-eastern. That presents a different appearance to these scenes than we are used to seeing.
2. Mary probably walked to Bethlehem
Despite the popular traditional belief, the Bible mentioned nothing about Mary riding a donkey. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was only 70 miles, which would have taken 3 or 4 days. Joseph probably would not have been able to afford to buy and keep a donkey, considering that he was a newly married craftsman. Although it can't be confirmed that she didn't ride one, the fact that it is not mentioned in the biblical account calls it into question. She most likely had to walk. The text also mentions nothing about the difficulty of the journey because it was a normal kind of trip in those days. It wasn’t quite as difficult and treacherous as some film versions make it out to be.
3. Mary was probably not in labor when they arrived in Bethlehem
Because of the size of the census, they had to go to Bethlehem as soon as they could, but they probably had to wait for their turn to register. It was probably during this waiting period that Mary’s time came and she gave birth. If she had been in labor when they arrived, it probably would be have been detailed in the gospel written by the Luke the physician, since he is often very detailed in his accounts of illnesses and ailments in other places in his books. They also may not have had the time needed to gather things such as the swaddling clothes if the baby had come that soon. Besides, there were probably anxious to leave Nazareth for a time since they both were probably facing ridicule for Mary's unplanned pregnancy. They would not have waited until the last minute to leave.
4. Mary and Joseph may not have been rejected by every place in Bethlehem
It is also a popular tradition to portray their rejection by several inns before they found an innkeeper compassionate enough to squeeze them into their stable. However, this part of the story is completely made up! The text says nothing about them knocking on doors and being rejected by other inns in Bethlehem. It does say there was no room for them to stay, but this is misunderstood to mean several things that it doesn’t.
Those that interpret this passage this way have a major misunderstanding of Jewish culture. The Jews had a high sense of hospitality, and it would have been highly unlikely for them to turn people away, especially a young couple with child. The fact that the place where they stayed still found somewhere for them to stay even when there was no room illustrates this kind of hospitality. If they had gone knocking on several doors and had been rejected all over town, it most likely would have been recorded.
This is also a misunderstanding of the concept of an inn. Inns were a Roman concept, and Bethlehem probably didn’t have a real inn since there were such a small town. Most people that would have wanted to stay at an inn probably would have gone to Jerusalem, which was only 5 miles north. The word “inn” is probably better translated as “guest room,” inferring a private house. It is also quite possible, since Joseph was from the family of David, that whoever took them in was actually a relative, who would have been unlikely to turn them away. This may be confusing to those of you that have the picture of the wooden stable in your mind, but that is probably not accurate either. Read the next point to see what I mean.
5. Jesus was probably born in a private house, not a wooden stable
Although the wooden stable is a dearly loved tradition, the Bible mentioned nothing about a stable. The only thing that implies a stable is the manger. Wooden stables were not common in Israel because wood was scarce. In fact, stables separate from the house were also rare. This tradition also relates to a cultural misunderstanding of what an inn was verses a guest room. Based on biblical research, there is a high possibility that Jesus was born inside a private home, not in a stable. To show you what I mean, here’s a diagram to illustrate.
This diagram illustrates the way that many houses would have been set up in Jesus’ day. The room for the guests was on the second floor. The main floor would have probably been the last place that would have the room and privacy needed for giving birth. This main area of the living quarters would have had a manger for when they usually brought the animals in at night. Mark Moore’s commentary, The Chronological Life of Christ, suggests this paraphrase of Luke 2:6-7, “Sometime after Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem, Mary gave birth. Since the guest room was already filled, she delivered in the main living area of the house and used the manger as a crib.” (Moore 50) I think there is a possibility that they actually did stay in the crowded guest room until Mary gave birth, then they moved downstairs. This is something that we cannot know for certain, but it is interesting to see that it has been presented as fact.
6. There may not have been any animals at the birth of Jesus
It is very popular to depict animals at the birth of Jesus, because of the belief that he was born in a traditional wooden stable. However, the Bible mentioned nothing about animals at the birth of Jesus. Again, the only thing that indicates animals is the manger, and there’s a possibility this manager was in the house or brought inside the house for the baby. But the only animals mentioned in the entire nativity narrative are the sheep of the shepherds outside of town, and the account doesn’t tell us if they brought any of the sheep with them to see the baby. It appears that there were excited enough by what they heard that they might have abandon their flocks to see the child. If Jesus was born inside, and the house was crowded enough to have people staying the main living quarters that night, there probably did not have the room to bring the animals inside. They probably stayed outside. Besides, the animals obviously couldn’t use their feeding trough! And again, if animals had been there, it probably would have been recorded.
7. Joseph probably didn’t delivered the baby
8. Jesus was not born on December 25
Although we celebrate Jesus’ birth on this date, most scholars agree that Jesus was not born on December 25. The most obvious argument against this date is the shepherds. The shepherds, who are described as being nomadic, simply would not have been watching their flocks at night in the winter. It is not practical or logical. Also, the idea that the governor would have called for a census right at the start of winter is not practical or logical. We are unsure of the date of Jesus' birth at all, although it is more likely to have been in spring or summer for these same reasons.
9. The angels did not sing to the shepherds
How many of you have seen a Christmas play put on by kids or with kids in it when they cutie angels would sing a song? I’ve been one of those angels. Although it’s cute, it’s not necessarily accurate. It is very common to portray the angels that came to shepherds outside of Bethlehem singing their message of peace and goodwill. It sounds nice, but it is simply not true. There is no mention of these angels (or any other angels in all of Scripture) singing their message. It clearly says that they spoke their message. Besides, I personally think that the shepherds would have been less terrified by a company of heavenly hosts singing than to them than by the heaven hosts speaking with a mighty unified voice.
10. The star probably did not appear over Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus
11. The number of wise men are unknown
It is a commonly held tradition that there were three wise men that visited Jesus, because they had three gifts. Tradition even made up names for them. However, we do not know the number of Magi, or their names. Magi is the plural of Magus, so the only thing we know for certain is that there were at least two. There may have been three, but it is also likely that there was a bigger group of Magi that studied together that made the decision to travel to Bethlehem. I have heard someone argue that Herod would not have been so disturbed about the announcement of Jesus’ birth if only two or three Magi had come to Jerusalem to see him.
12. The wise men were not at the birth of Jesus
- First, the account in Matthew describes Jesus’ birth in the past tense: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem” “Where is the one that has been born King of the Jews?”
- Second, Herod had to ask when the star had appeared. This is very interesting clue that is often ignored. Most people did not realize the significance of the star, because it says that all of Jerusalem was disturbed, or shocked, along with Herod by what the Magi said. No one had taken notice of it, even in a culture where people were familiar with the stars. After all, they didn’t have the same light pollution we have today, which meant their eyes were adjusted. When they slept on their roofs during the summer, they were seeing the stars. Maybe they didn’t know as much as the Magi, but they were familiar with them enough that they would have noticed something out of the ordinary. That’s why it’s interesting to notice that everyone was shocked when they heard about the star the Magi had been following. It took scholars that studied stars to realize that what was happening in the sky indicated the birth of a Jewish king. If the star has been as out of the ordinary as it is often portrayed, Herod would not have had to ask.
- Third, according to what Herod learned from the Magi, the star had appeared two years before. The Magi said they “saw the star when it rose” (Matt 2:2 ESV). The star had risen in the east two years earlier, either when Jesus was born, or possibly when he was conceived. It is because of Herod's knowledge of this timing that he orders the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem that were born in that time frame.
- Fifth, it is unlikely that Jesus could have been dedicated at the temple on the eighth day (as is recorded in Luke 2) if the Magi had arrived at his birth. Bethlehem is so close to Jerusalem (5 miles south on the main road), that Herod’s order to kill the baby boys probably would have come within the week and they would have had to flee from the baby slaughter before they could have gone to Jerusalem. Mary would have also been unclean from the birth, and therefore unfit to travel by the Law of Moses (A woman was unclean for 7 days about giving birth to a male child, until she offered her purification offering on the eighth day). If the slaughter was a few days later, it still would have been unsafe for them to go to the temple if Herod was looking for the child.
- Lastly, if these events (the birth, the shepherd’s visit, and the Magi’s visit) had overlapped each other, it most likely would have been recorded in both accounts (Matthew and Luke)
Hopefully, this inspires you to look at the nativity narratives again with a better understanding of what the Bible says and you are able to see some of the areas in which our culture has embellished the story. It's crazy for me to see how off some of these traditional versions of the nativity story have exaggerated what is actually written. But even amid all the traditions and alterations that this story has gone through over the last 2,000 years, one thing remains the same:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14a (NIV)
Halloween has been a topic of controversy among Christians for centuries. There has simply never been complete agreement about whether it is acceptable for Christians to take part in this popular holiday. The argument both for and against it are many, and make it difficult for us to discern what side to take. Many that are against it continue to bring up the origins of the holiday as being blatantly evil, believing nothing good can come out of it. Those that are for it would say that it’s just harmless entertainment or thrills. How are we supposed to decide what is right?
I do not claim to be an expert or to have all the answers on this topic, but I have done my research. And although I know that there are blatantly evil aspects to this holiday, I believe there are ways for it to be redeemed for God’s glory. In order for this to happen, I do think we need to recognize the evil parts of this holiday for what they are and understand what Halloween is pointing to in its current content. Then we can discern what we can do about it.
The Icons of Halloween
There are a lot of iconic characters and symbols associated with Halloween that have developed over the years. While many of them are viewed as harmless or amusing, there is a danger in assuming them to be innocent. Most of these symbols and characters stand in contradiction to God’s truth. Don’t quite see it? Well, I’ve broken down several of them so you can see what I mean.
Zombies and Mummies
There are only a few instances in Scripture of people that has already died being raised to life again, but in all those cases, they came back fully alive, not in any undead state. Any other supernatural occurrence that would try to raise someone from the dead is outside of God’s will. It also seems to imply that God does not have the ultimate power over death if some other outside force can change it. It therefore makes the resurrection of Jesus less significant, when in truth, it’s the cornerstone of our faith and the reason for the hope we have. Therefore, anything undead should not be given any validity, even in fictional situations.
Ghosts and Spirits of the Dead
Under most circumstances I’ve observed, when people do have problems with evil spirits or exorcisms in this world, it’s at the hands of Satan himself, and is not something to be taken lightly. It’s one of Satan’s way of distorting this life and the next one when we live in fear of ghosts or evil spirits. Therefore, we must be cautious about using these characters as amusement.
Although these characters are completely fictitious, it is disturbing that our culture has been so fascinated with them, especially since they don’t have souls. I personally believe that God would never allow for such a creature to exist in the natural order, because He wants to give every single person who has lived and will ever live on this earth the choice to have that relationship with Him, and that’s a choice a vampire would never have. Therefore, I believe that it’s unwise to legitimize these characters.
I do think that if you can present monsters in non-threating ways either to reveal their perspective (like Monsters Inc.) or to illustrate a point in their monster state (like Beauty and the Beast), then that is safe for families and children. But the more common use of these creatures is for the sake of invoking fear in others, especially in children. I don’t think that is something that a Christian should participate in with a good conscience, which I will discuss a little more in a moment.
Skeletons and Bones
The use of these as a symbol of death neglects the fact that our skeletons are a part of God’s intelligent design for our bodies. He designed our bodies with incredible structure to give us the best ability to function. He designed our bones so well, they usually outlast the rest of our physical bodies after we die, and that’s pretty awesome when you think about it that way. Although it is true that “for dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19), I believe that we should not participate in mocking the way we are designed by the way we use or portray skeletons or bones.
Witches and Mediums
Some of the more recent portrays of witches have really been more like magicians as far as their magic is concerned, and this type isn’t necessarily inherently evil, but is also completely fictitious. (This is the type of magic I believe is portrayed in Wicked the Musical. If you want to read more about my perspective on this play specifically, click here.) In the end, the overall principle is that we should avoid honoring any witches/witchcraft that appears in any way to be connected with Satan or spirits of the dead, because that is what the Bible specifically condemns.
Blood and Gore
It is quite common to create situations on Halloween to scare someone or invoke fear into them for the sake of amusement or entertainment. But I don’t think this is healthy for Christians to be practicing, on Halloween or any day of the year. This is because fear separates us from God. It’s difficult for us to trust Him or to experience His love for us when there is fear present. Fear can drive us away from God completely if we let it. Therefore, fear is another of Satan’s great victories in our world, and is not something that we should be honoring in any way for this reason. We should not be participating in the game that Satan is trying to play with peoples’ souls. We have to learn how to discern when he’s playing it so we can overcome it.
I know this is a lot of information to process, but I hope that you see there’s a lot about Halloween that is not just fun and games. Not only is most of this stuff evil and used by Satan, but much of it stands in direct opposition of the way that God designed it to be.
The Positive Aspects of October 31st
Although much of what Halloween has become has shown itself to be not God-honoring, there are two aspects of October 31th that I think we should get back to in our culture, especially as Christians.
It was the day that Martin Luther nailed The Ninty-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church. In the end, it led to all the protestant churches we have today. When I was in college, we used to greet each other on Halloween by saying “Happy Reformation Day!” It was kind of a joke in some ways, but not completely.
As I look at these different things that happened on October 31, I have realize that they give us the opportunity to celebrate the opposite of what everyone else is celebrating on Halloween. While they celebrate death and fear, we can celebrate life and courage. Life can be celebrated because All Saint’s Day is a reminder that those that placed their life in Jesus Christ before they passed away are now more alive than they have ever been. We can also celebrate courage as it has been exhibited throughout church history. It took a whole lot of courage for Martin Luther and those who followed him to work towards reform in the church. It also brings to mind those in the past and present that have faced persecution and even martyrdom for the sake of Christ. They were not afraid of death, because they had the hope of salvation through Jesus Christ. It’s the love that compelled Christ to sacrifice Himself that will drive out all fear, if we choose hope and courage instead of darkness and despair.
What Should We Do About Halloween?
Although we have established that much of what Halloween represents is evil and of Satan, we are still left with the question of what we are to do in response to this truth. It is my personal opinion that it is unwise to completely reject and ignore the holiday. When we refuse to participate in Halloween, we miss an opportunity to be a light in the darkness of this holiday as well as be part of community. Even in the simple acts of kindness and hospitality that can come from passing out candy could become an open door to share Jesus with the children and their parents. And since it is a holiday, it’s an opportunity to spend time with your friends and/or family.
It is my personal opinion that the act of dressing up and giving away candy is not wrong! There is nothing inherently evil about this. When we dress up, we do need to remember to ask ourselves if our costumes are appropriate (like dressing up as a character we shouldn’t be honoring) and modest enough. If after you ask yourself those questions you can wear your costume with a clear conscience, then go for it! And again, passing out candy or participating in any sort of Halloween-type event/outreach is such a great opportunity to be a light in a dark world on a dark night.
I cannot answer the question “Is it OK to celebrate Halloween?" for you. I believe that this needs to be a personal conviction. I was not allowed to celebrate Halloween for most of my older childhood and teen years, and I respected my parents’ decision. When I got into college, I dressed up for parties for fun since I didn’t do it as much when I was a kid. But in the last few years, I have realized what an incredible opportunity it is to be involved in Halloween outreaches or help a busy mom with her kids on Halloween night. Aside from the fact that I love the costumes and candy as much as the kids, I also love the opportunity it provides to serve others and build relationships. These pictures are all examples of this. I participated in some sort of outreach or helped a family out every year for the last few years while wearing all these costumes, and I loved every minutes of it. The picture of me as Rapunzel is actually from one of those events, a trunk or treat for a church I attended in college. I love dressing for the kids as much as it is with the kids. I will never forget when a preschool age girl dressed as Cinderella saw me in my Rapunzel costume, and said with big wide eyes and a huge smile, "Hi Rapunzel, I'm Cinderella." It was the cutest thing ever! (Btw, I'm sure you notice a pattern with my costumes! lol)
I remember being very scared of Halloween decorations when I was a kid. In fact, I couldn’t even enter a party ware store in the month of October or go into the Halloween aisle at Walmart because there was just too much creepy stuff hanging up. Although I still don’t like the Halloween stores, I have had to learn to remember that Jesus has the power over death so that I don’t have to be afraid, on Halloween or any other day of the year. While the rest of the world is celebrating death and fear, we can remember the hope that we have in Jesus, who conquered death and whose perfect love drives our all fear.
This is a video from The Anima Series, which is perfect for remembering everything that opposes fear on a day that celebrates it. If you agree, think about sharing this video or this post on or before Halloween.
Valentine’s Day can sometimes be a real pain. Seriously. If you don’t have a valentine, you either feel left out or you end up annoyed with the world for putting this day up on a pedestal just to sell cards, roses, and candy. I've been on both sides. More recently, I've been getting frustrated when people use Valentine’s Day to emphasis love in the wrong ways. The fluffy love they talk about is the love of fairy tales, the type of love dependent on feelings and emotions, and ends up being quite selfish. That’s not what God intended love to be. It also upsets me because the man we should be remembering on the day did not condone that type of love either. In fact, I think Saint Valentine would be against it.
The Story of Saint Valentine
There isn't complete agreement about the life of Saint Valentine. Some would argue that much of what is believed about him is not based on historic fact. However, about 10 years ago, Focus on the Family released an episode of Adventures in Odyssey (LOVED that radio show when I was a kid) about Saint Valentine called “The Last ‘I Do.’” I want to share the story of Saint Valentine based on their interpretation. (I tried to distinguish some of the details I know were made up for the show by adding "In Odyssey") Here’s what you learn in that episode:
Now I know that this version of the story was fictionalized, but I still think that some of these stories are true. Many of these details are pretty consistent throughout all the different versions of his life, specifically the healing the jailer's daughter, his refusal to renounce his faith, and his martyrdom on what became his Saint Day. As I listened to this version of his story, two things stand out to me, things that I think should be the emphasis of Valentine’s Day: marriage and sacrificial love.
Marriage – Something Worth Fighting For
Valentine was one of the greatest champions for marriage to ever live. He died in the defense of marriage. It doesn't get any more real than that. However, Valentine’s Day has become a day to celebrate all types of relationships. Dating relationships and even crushes are also celebrated on Valentine’s Day. I think that in many ways, we miss the point when we choose to focus on all relationships instead of marriage specifically.
Valentine believed that marriage was an institution created by God and that no man should have the right to take away or change this institution. To be frank, I think Valentine would be grieved to see what has become of marriage and relationships in our world today. It is no longer holy. It is no longer permanent. Many spend extravagant amounts of money to make a wedding fancy, but end up saying vows that they don’t really intend to live out. Many are being extremely irresponsible with their sexual lives, to the point that marriage has become less important than “being in love,” or experiencing sexual pleasure. Marriage is no longer a necessity to parent a child. Families are not the backbone of society that they used to be, and we are paying the price for this cultural shift. This should not be.
On Valentine’s Day, I think we should celebrate marriage as the blessing from God that it is. It is a commitment between a man and a woman to be joined spiritually and sexually until death separates them. This is a beautiful thing, and a metaphor of God’s love for us. We should not allow anyone or anything to taint marriage any more that it has already been distorted by our culture. We need to win back marriage and sex from Satan’s grasp so that we can help our world see God’s divine intention for them. The sacred love within a marriage is something worth fighting for. This what this song from the movie Fireproof tells us.
Love – Giving Up Yourself
The other thing that stands out about Saint Valentine is that he cared enough about those around him that he gave up his life for their sake. He came to care for Julia so much that he did not want to leave her fatherless. He cared about those he married so much that he gave up his life so that they could be united. That’s incredible. That’s not the love of fairytales or a love based on feelings. It was even a parallel to what Jesus did for the church.
Jesus did not want us to be fatherless either. He did not want us to be without a way to know the Heavenly Father intimately and personally, so he came down to earth as a man, and became the Ransom for all transgressions. This hope we have in salvation was the ultimate motivation for Saint Valentine to give up his life, but he was able to do so because he knew the ultimate example of sacrificial love.
It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from The Lord of the Rings. When Frodo tells Sam that he would be leaving over Sea, Sam has a hard time accepting it. He makes a statement I will never forget, and I may expound on further in another post. This is one of the best ways that sacrifice has ever been defined.
"I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so Sam, when things are in danger. Someone must give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them."
This is the type of love that we are supposed to have for each other, especially husbands and wives. It is your motivation and your ultimate goal. You put their needs ahead your own. You don’t think about what you can get in return. You protect and defend them, no matter what. You choose forgiveness over bitterness. You let them be right instead of arguing. You chose to love them despite their flaws. You endure even when you want to give up. That is true love, and anything short of this is a counterfeit.
Sacrificial Love Isn't Grey
The kind of love people really want to know, the sacrificial love we as Christians know, isn't grey; it’s black and white. Our culture wants to believe in this type of love, but when they can’t find it, they settle for the counterfeit versions our world is selling them. That's why Fifty Shades has become so popular. We haven't given them a better alternative. We haven't given the ability to find the love that will really satisfy them. This needs to change.
As Christians, we need to learn how to have sacrificial love in our marriages and in our other relationships, so that we can demonstrate it to a world so desperately needs to know what true love is. Then, we can lead them to the foot of the cross, where they will find the love that will endure all, and teach them how to live out that same type of love in our own lives. This will be the type of love that will matter for eternity, not some man-made version with mushy feelings and "happily ever after's." As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, we need to focus on celebrating the right kind of love, and how to identify when someone is trying to sell us the counterfeit.
True love is not found in porn or erotica. It’s not found in uncommitted relationships. It’s not found in many of our favorite chick flicks. It’s not found in cheesy cards and fancy dinners. It’s not even found in fancy weddings.
True love found in a marriage grounded in Christ. It’s found in the man willing to do anything to protect and provide for his family. It’s found in the woman who gives up her dreams to support her husband’s dreams. It’s found in a child that gives expecting nothing in return. It’s found at the foot of the cross. That’s where I look for it. How about you?
To conclude this post, I want to share my newest YouTube video about Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s a spoken word poem that further addresses my perspective on the subject. I hope that all of you will know how to be pursue sacrificial love, this Valentine's Day, and everyday.