When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[d] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)
It was midnight. It had been a fairly quiet evening and my wife and I had long placed our child to bed. Suddenly we heard the sounds of cars pulling into the parking lot of the church we pastored. I had caught countless people doing countless misdeeds over the years since the parsonage was located on campus, so having people with ill-intent use the ministry campus for less-than-honorable activities was nothing new, especially since a graveyard was attached to the land.
As I looked out the window I could see at least a dozen teenagers come out of two cars and begin gathering at the front door of our ministry center building which homed our fellowship hall, pastoral offices and bible study classrooms.
Whatever this was I wasn’t having any of it. So I went out to meet them.
As I approached the group of teens, some of whom were in various stages of intoxication, a silence fell on the members who had been otherwise quite occupied with conversation. Like an episode of Cops I asked “So what is going on here tonight?”
The silence continued for an uncomfortable period of time, especially since I stood between them and their cars, so running was less an option than initially imagined. Finally a girl about sixteen or so spoke up.
“Well…we are here to do a séance. You know, to speak with the spirits. We’ve heard that this is a place where you can come and the spirits will appear to you.”
I wasn’t particularly surprised. The church campus, including the home in which we lived, had a reputation for such things in the community both inside and outside the congregation, and people would occasionally try to use the campus for Satanic rituals. And the teens were right. They probably would have a spirit or two appear to them – it happened all the time to various parishioners and visitors.
Having summarized the situation I spoke with words I had learned long ago in this area of ministry.
“The relationship you are trying to create tonight will end in one of two ways. Either it will become harmonious or conflictual. Conflictual is bad. Harmonious is even worse. Now if you want to experience real supernatural power and spiritual presence we hold our meetings once a week on Sundays at 9:30am. Now get out and go home.”
I shook hands with everyone, and they quietly got into their cars and left.
I’ve never forgotten that encounter. These teens snuck out of their homes, gathered, drove to the campus and were ready to do anything it took to encounter the spiritual world. They took risks, they sought, they yearned, they were excited and compelled – but all for darkness, not knowing that witchcraft is the lie that one controls the spirits, when all that happens is the spirits end up controlling you, and that witchcraft has an idol of manipulation is antithetical to discipleship which is rooted on surrender, following and trust. Witchcraft is a statement that God is not trustworthy, and we are a better god than He is, that we are more worthy to be called god than God Himself. It’s the anti-Christ, it sets itself up against the lordship of Jesus. Those who practice its follies inevitably pay the price of its falsehoods, seeking life from the dead and only finding death in their lives. Yet it is powerful that a group of teenagers that we struggled to reach and impact and invite and create groups for and content and curriculum were so compelled by mere rumor to encounter something beyond themselves. Of course they grew up with media, movies, book series and television saturated with spiritual references, encounters and experiences. They knew in their hearts there is more to life than meets the eyes, and they were right. In fact, we don’t live at all by sight, but only by faith. Here this large group of teens would do almost anything to experience the spiritual world, having no understanding of the truth but still feeling the pull of connecting to the power of the unseen. They were looking for God, but using the means of Satan. What they really needed they could have, and so much more. They didn’t need to settle for the dead. They could have Someone still alive. They didn’t need spirits teasing them with tricks and little moments of supposed revelation – they could have the presence of the Holy Spirit “leading you into all truth.” Witchcraft is such a pathetic substitute for the wonder of knowing Christ, and being known by Him.
There are so many stories I could share just like this one. But I have a point to this in particular. At the store, on front lawns, on the television, all we see is Halloween. At the supermarket the cashier wants to talk about it. The kids spend a month asking questions why they see horrible things out their car window. I personally ponder the hypocrisy of a world that claims it is tired of fear and chooses to celebrate its presence, like wanting to get rid of cancer and having a cancer holiday when everyone gets a form of it. But there are three common responses. The first is to desperately try to avoid it. The second is to join it and defend its display. The third I believe is the best choice, to leverage its social acceptance into an opportunity for Jesus. One month a year everyone is open to discussing the spiritual world and their experiences in it – many experiences, by the way, that people keep secret to themselves all their lives because there is nowhere for them to talk about it and not be considered insane, weird or disdained. It is a powerful conversation when one can say, I have little need for Halloween, because fear isn’t part of my life anymore. And anyhow, why would I fear spirits when Jesus is greater than they are? And by the way, do you believe in spirits? You see that last line – which many Christians have not even addressed themselves – opens up the chance to give people some truth tools about the spiritual world. On the inside many of them are like those teens – knowing there is more, and yet not putting together that the church down the road is all about the spiritual world and that there is a King over it. And you can know that King. And that King already knows you. It’s powerful when someone says sure, I believe in spirits, do you? Funny you should mention that… people who accept Jesus have a Spirit who lives inside of them, but He isn’t like the spirits you are thinking of. Are you curious?
Making Halloween holy is a miracle only Jesus can do. But put yourself in the eyes of an outsider. Once a week a group of people who believe in the spiritual world get together in a building and use words I don’t understand to access the power of a spiritual force I’ve never heard about then go through the rest of their week living according to that spiritual power and even claiming that a special Spirit tells them what to do and how to think and the right things to say. Now to us that description is almost painful – but to those teens I mentioned, it would make perfect sense. They didn’t understand that Sunday morning had spiritual power to it, or if it did it wasn’t the kind that would be beneficial to access and accept. These kids weren’t Satanists. They were deceived and, in some sense, just had bad information and assumptions that were never challenged in a way that was understandable in their world. To most people today all they know about Jesus is the blasphemous use of His Name. They are more likely to give honor their local medium than the actual Messiah. So I encourage you to use this month and holiday differently. Teach your kids the truth that yes, the world is right. There is a spiritual world. But just like with sex or marriage or meaning the world has lots to say about the spiritual world and zero of it is based on actual truth, like a mole telling you what sunshine is like. We have a holiday handed to us that says we should be afraid of scary things, that darkness is power and that the way to deal with fear is dressing up as someone you are not. But the believer doesn’t hide behind a costume to meet with fear. We are clothed with Christ, and fear answers to Him, not the other way around.
Somewhere out there is a large group of teens who decided to either continue their journey of joining darkness in its clever costume of power, knowledge and helpfulness or to pursue the reality that they met someone who stood in the middle of a proposed séance and did not fear disrupting the activities of the spirits. Some of these teens had to drink just to face their fears of encountering the spirits, and a sober person wasn’t afraid to cancel the whole thing?
Let the One dwelling in you show the world something more powerful than the fears inside of them.
“Behold, I [Jesus] give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19).