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Many of you who read this blog will be gathering together with other Christians this morning to offer worship and praise to God.  However, no two people in your assembly will be in the exact same frame of mind, condition of heart, or state of emotion.  Unity as a spiritual body and being “of one accord” as Christ’s church does not mean that we are an undifferentiated, monolithic mass of Christians who think and feel just like everyone else or who will experience the worship assembly in exactly the same way.

Some of us are filled with joy and expectation this morning.  Things are going very well in our lives right now.  We are employed, and happily so.  There is “peace in the valley” in our marital and parental relationships and among our friends.  We are feeling healthy, wealthy (relatively speaking anyway), and wise.  If that’s the case for you, then praise God!  I mean it.  Praise Him!   Thank Him!  “Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, and I will tell of Your greatness.  They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness, and shall shout joyfully of Your righteousness,” (Psalm 145:6-7).

Some of our hearts are filled with fear and doubt.  I completely understand.  Faith and doubt co-exist in constant tension during our journey in the steps of Jesus.  Some days, faith has the upper hand; at other times, doubt appears to be winning the day.  If that is the case for you this morning, freely and openly acknowledge those feelings to the Lord .  He knows that we’re feeling that way anyway, so why try to hide it?  Join with the frantic father who, wrestling with faith, said to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief,” (Mark 9:24).

Some of us are feeling anxious, worried, and stressed.  We are still seeking a job after an extended period of unemployment, or we’re concerned about the stability of our workplace.  We are experiencing difficulties in our marriage or strained relationships with other people in our family.   Responsibilities just seem to keep piling up on top of us, and we feel increasingly more overwhelmed, further behind, and unable to cope.  Lay these burdens before the throne of God this morning.  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” (Philippians 4:6); “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you,” (I Peter 5:7).  Hang on!  Keep trusting!

Some of us are hurting today from the physical pain and discomfort of a chronic illness or degenerative disease.  Others are extremely weak and feeling totally wiped out because of ongoing cancer treatment.  Others are feeling numb and lost this morning because of the recent death of the person who sat beside them and held their hand every Sunday morning for over fifty years.  If you’re just not up to being around other people today, I get it!  May the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort grant you peace and strength to endure.  May He hasten the day when sorrow and pain will be no more, death will be swallowed up in victory, and His gentle, loving hand will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Some of us are angry this morning, either at someone or about something that happened in our life this week.  It’s natural to experience this intense emotion, but we need to process it, work through it, talk about it, get over it, and forgive whoever we need to forgive.  Otherwise, bitterness will consume us from the inside out.  “In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” (Ephesians 4:26); “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God,” (James 1:20).

Some of us are feeling guilty this morning because of sin in our life.  Been there, done that, too!  Allow the God of salvation and the blood of Jesus Christ to take care of that for you!  “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.  How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” (Psalm 32:5, 1).

As we bless His holy name today from places that are scattered all across the emotional map, may His blessings fall upon each of us according to our need!

(updated and reposted from October 30, 2009)

Next Monday is Halloween.  All across the country, costumed children will be trick-or-treating their way through neighborhoods, house by house, filling their bags and plastic jack-o’-lanterns with sugar-laden treats.  Some older kids and young adults will be out pulling pranks, ranging from relatively harmless “gotchas” to outright vandalism and criminal destruction of property. 

Like it or loathe it, Halloween is an American cultural tradition.  Many churches have sought to counter the darker side of the holiday with activities of their own.   Fall festivals, harvest celebrations, Good Guy Carnivals, hayrides, and Trunk or Treat have provided more festive, family-friendly alternatives to the demonic and macabre associations of Halloween.  However, some churches have taken a radically different approach by co-opting the horror motif of secular haunted houses.  Welcome to Hell House.

Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas, has been credited with popularizing the Hell House phenomenon.  A 2001 documentary, aptly titled Hell House, focused on this church’s innovative and controversial evangelistic outreach geared toward teens.  Some churches use the name Judgment House.  Here in Tulsa, the most popular version is Nightmare, now in its 19th year of production at Guts Church, a local megachurch with a wide range of trendy ministries. 

Regardless of the nomenclature, the concept is much the same.  Groups of visitors are led by a guide through a series of dramatic scenes that are heavy on screams and theatrical blood.  There are graphic portrayals of automobile accidents, school shootings, abortions, teen suicides, drug use and overdose, domestic violence, and homosexuals suffering with HIV/AIDS.  Hell Houses may also include a Passion of the Christ-like dramatization of the crucifixion of Jesus and a depiction of heaven.  The intent is simple: show sin and its consequences, portray the destiny of the damned, and offer a call for salvation through Jesus Christ.  Kids flock to Hell Houses by the thousands.  Most scream.  Many cry.  Some vomit. 

At the end of the tour, visitors (mostly teens) are taken into a Decision Room while their heart rates and adrenaline levels are still elevated.  They are asked a simple question, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven or hell?”  A church leader in the Hell House documentary tells rattled teens at Trinity Church, “You have six seconds to decide….five seconds…”  Those who want to make a decision to follow Jesus or rededicate their lives as Christians are asked to go into a room to pray with counselors. 

I understand and appreciate that faith in Christ is not only rational and reasoned; it is also strongly connected to our emotions.  But, when does the appeal to emotion cross the line into manipulation?  It is my opinion that Hell Houses cross that line.  I have deep concerns about impressionable hearts and minds that are asked to either accept or reject Jesus under that level of emotional duress.  Yes, I know that Jesus talked more about hell than anyone before or after Him in the Bible.  Still, it was not His typical means of saying, “Come, follow Me.”  And the apostles?  Just think what they could have accomplished on Pentecost with a Hell House instead of just preaching Christ and Him crucified! 

If souls are led to a sincere, lasting faith and full obedience to the Gospel of Christ, then I won’t quibble too much about methodology.  But, I worry about teens’ faith being sustained after their hearts have stopped beating in their throats and the nightmares have ended.  I would far rather inspire heaven in their hearts than merely scare the hell out of them.

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