Hate Your Neighbor on Halloween; Give Them A Bible Tract (How to Fake Obedience to Jesus on Halloween)

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True

Today is one of my favorite days of the entire year.  It is that once a year magic of Halloween where kids dress up in their favorite TV characters, favorite monster, or pretty much anything that gives them the appropriate cultural security clearances to accept free candy from neighbors, local businesses, churches, and school-approved functions.

Dressing up is awesome.  I remember my favorite costumes of dressing up as Don Majkowski, the year I dressed as Kung Lao from Mortal Kombat (so cool), or the year I went as the devil and my brother was cookie monster (the picture is a classic, I wish I still had it).

Even better than dressing up is getting a chance to give candy to kids and get to speak to your neighbors.  I met more neighbors in our area last year through Halloween than any other single day of the year.  My son and I sat on the sidewalk by our house and were able to bless our neighborhood with hot chocolate and it was really cool to get to talk to people and enjoy a little conversation on a chilly night.

And the candy…the pounds and pounds of candy.  I have a particular jones for Milk Duds and Laffy Taffy.  Mmmmm…Laffy Taffy.

However, there is one thing that drives me absolutely crazy about Halloween that I need to get off my chest.  No, I am not talking about the ultra-revealing and highly inappropriate costumes that are sold to women and girls every single year.  I am not talking about the safety of the day or the pranks that are pulled by middle and high school kids on un-suspecting neighbors and teachers.  Nope, I am talking about the annoying practice of stuffing Halloween-themed Bible tracts into the plastic pumpkins of un-suspecting kids.

I make no apologies for saying that this is one of the stupidest things that a disciple of Jesus Christ can do and I would contend that it is less loving than *gasp* dressing up as the devil.   Not only is this highly ineffective at actually making disciples of Jesus, it is a practice that unhelpfully goes against the grain of evangelism  It also sends out a message that not only do we not love our neighbors, but that we don’t really like them, either.  I know a lot of people are going to bristle at the suggestion that handing out evangelism tracts is a stupid idea, but I challenge you to convince me that it is actually a loving gesture.

I find it to be a picture of laziness in our walk with Christ and a self-justification that we checked off evangelism on our obedience check list and pat ourselves on the back for “redeeming” this “Devil’s holiday”.  When we just slap a tract on the back of the fun-size Butterfinger we’re not making disciples, we’re drawing up cultural battle lines and not bothering to think that, instead of creating a hostile thin red line between us and those that “celebrate” Halloween, Jesus just might want us to obey his Word and to “do the work of an evangelist” and cross that line in order to start some not-yet-Christians on the journey to becoming followers of Jesus.

Evangelism is NOT an information blast on a tiny piece of paper, an extemporaneous conversation, or an 1800’s style camp-meeting, although all of those things can and have served as mediums for evangelism.  Evangelism is a sharing of the good news, which is a pillar of and an avenue for making disciples of Jesus Christ.  To limit our evangelism and the sharing of the good news with our neighbors and their children to a silly tract in a pillow case is not just ineffective disciple-making, but it is lazy and borders on being disobedient.  Jesus didn’t invite us in to his family to pass out tracts, he drafted us into his spiritual army to get right into the thick of the action.  Tract passing is propaganda work; real evangelism is getting into the trenches of our community and the muck and mess of people lives and speaking the good news of God reconciling us to Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Lastly, I know quite a few people who have gotten those tracts in their bags.  I have never heard a person say that they enjoyed receiving that.  Usually it is good for a laugh and trying to think about who gave it to them, and then it is quickly tossed in the trash.  If this is the case (and my circumstantial evidence is just that but I am positive others have similar stories) then why are we wasting our time with this and why aren’t we moving on to embracing “new” ways of evangelizing and making disciples on Halloween (and every other day for that matter).

Let’s follow Jesus’ command to GO and MAKE disciples and STOP printing and stuffing useless Halloween tracts that don’t MAKE disciples but only FAKE spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Stream New Avett Brothers Tonight!

Listen tonight at 11 PM EST
Listen tonight at 11 PM EST

NPR First Listen has an AWESOME treat for new music junkies and music lovers alike.  Avett Brothers new forthcoming album “Magpie and the Dandelion” will be available to stream starting at 11 PM Eastern Standard Time tonight.  You can bet I will be joining the herd of people to crash their site to get a first listen.  You can LISTEN HERE starting after 11 EST, 10 CST.

A couple months ago they streamed one song, “Another Is Waiting,” on the site, and it was a great first song.  Now, the album will be available for an early listen before it comes out next week!  I can honestly say I am really looking forward to this.  Their last album, which I initially thought was a huge disappointment, grew on me and turned into one of my favorites of the recent 12 months.  Now, less than 12 months later, they are back with a brand new pile of folky goodness.  Take a listen tonight and let me know what you think.  You fortunate souls on the West Coast don’t even have to stay up!

Serving and Discipling on the Move

As some of you may know, our family recently made the transition from living in Waukesha, Wisconsin to Appleton, Wisconsin (about a two-hour drive north).  On top of that, I still don’t have a job up in Appleton, so I continue to work down here in Waukesha while my family lives up in Appleton.  I split my time and sleep Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights with my parents down here in Waukesha and Wednesday nights and the weekend I am back up in Appleton.  This has given me a lot of time to reflect on how one stays faithful to discipling in the transitions and over distances.  It is not nearly as effective as actually being there (obviously) but I wanted to share some of what I have been learning about serving others and being an effective disciple-maker during transitions.

Technology is Your Friend – Keep the Communication Lines Open

We live in an insanely privileged time.  Cell phones and the internet have made communication among people instant and global.  While we should be cautious in how embrace and consume said technology, it is a huge blessings to be able to stay in touch.  The nice thing is that we can continue relationships of distance with very few differences.  Use your phone and email to stay in touch and keep in communication about everyday life, your struggles, your prayers, and your ups and downs.  Usually when we are close to people, most of our texting, emailing and calling is all strictly important stuff that needs to be taken care of.  Take those risks with people you love and text them something incredibly stupid and just let them know you are thinking about them.  Communicate your prayer needs through email or ask how you can pray for them.  Setup a Google Hangout to just be able to see them and see what is going on in their daily lives.  Ask them and invite them to stay in touch with you and do the same things you are doing.

An important note to all of this, make sure you actually RESPOND if people text you or email you.  It is almost criminal how long I can take to get back to someone via email or text.  If someone is making an effort to get in touch with you, the least you can do is actually respond.   Remember Jesus’ words about the Golden Rule, “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them,” (Luke 6:31 HCSB).  It’s always disappointing to put yourself out there and not hear back and the feeling can stink, so think your heart and text them back, even if it’s a short, “Thank you.”

Send Them Small Reminders or Blessings

So far, I have only got a chance to practice this by blessing my wife in small ways since we are apart.  However, some people are gift people and are blessed by receiving something that shows you were thinking about them (my wife is definitely one of those people).  It doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive; it can be as simple as a refrigerator magnet or a keychain.  It might be a useless trinket, but it’s not that way to the person receiving it.

James says in the book of James, “If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it?” (James 2:14-16 HCSB).  I might be vamping a bit on what he says, but some people don’t need your kind words, they literally need you to show them (through some physical provision) that you care for them.  I’m not saying this passage means you have an obligation to give a small gift to someone, but I think we can take the idea that some people don’t see our passing words of blessing as a real blessing but need to have a tangible form of what our heart feels for them.

Remember Them Often In Your Prayers

This is the most important one, in my opinion, and where I need the most work.  The Apostle Paul greeted those he dearly loved by encouraging them that he has remembered them and is praying for them.  “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer,” (Philippians 1:3-4 HCSB).  “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience as my ancestors did, when I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,” (2 Timothy 1:3 HCSB).  Paul remembered his close disciple and friend Timothy and the wonderful church in Philippi when he prayed for them.  Not only does remembering someone in your prayers come from the relationship you already have, your affections and your thoughts will begin to focus on that person or group of people more as your pray for them.  You end up doing the above things; you text them how you can pray for them; you seek ways to serve them even though they are far away and remind them of God’s truth and the good news even when they are out of the range of your voice.

This by far can be the hardest one for some of us, especially those of us who get excited for the above two.  I find myself consistently forgetting to remember those who are away from me in my prayers.  It’s no surprise that very often my feeble prayers are all about me and my circumstances.  Conversely, when my prayers are saturated with the needs and cares of others, the prayers I send out are vital and filled with joy as I remember those people and also anticipate with joy the Spirit hearing my prayers and coming to the aid of those who need it.  When you lift those who are far from you in prayer the Spirit will help you to remember them in the future in the everyday hustle and bustle of life.

There are three things I have been turning over in my mind.  What other things can you do to disciple and serve others while you are in transition or apart?

Random Coolness – 10-07-13 Music Monday

Random Coolness Videro JamesGood morning Count Blog-ulas!  Enjoy a special Random Coolness with links to streaming new music to start your happy week!  Who says Monday has to be depressingly dull?

First Listen : NPR – NPR has new music streaming from Cults, Dismemberment Plan (yeah!), Lucius (great new music), Darkside, and more!  This is the premier site for streaming not-yet-released music.  Especially check out the Dismemberment Plan.  They are crazy weird and especially good for the fan of Mars Volta, Modest Mouse, or Man Man.  Good stuff!

Sleigh Bells -‘Bitter Rivals’ – If you like shred and pop music, then it gets no better than Sleigh Bells.  Dig in to their new album via Rolling Stone.

Cage the Elephant – ‘Melophobia’ – Missed this one and even thought the album drops tomorrow, still a chance for a listen before it comes out in the morning.

What is the Best Pixies Song? – Rolling Stone’s weekend rock question asks, “What is the best Pixie song of all time?”  My favorite is probably either ‘Debaser’ or ‘Caribou’, but it is tough to make a decision.  Any one else have a thought?  You’re probably right no matter what you pick.

Listen to Unreleased Gorillaz Song – Via Sterogum, check out a 90-second orchestral piece from Gorillaz they wrote with the Syrian National Orchestra.  Pretty cool stuff!

My Favorite Albums of the Year (So Far)

It’s completely official and the first three-quarters of the year have faded into memory and now the fall season is in full swing and the holiday months are upon us.  In order to kick off all the candy, thankfulness, and giving, I thought it would be nice to share my Top 10 albums of the year (so far).

I have a big caveat that I will NOT rank them at this time.  Also, some albums yet to debut may sneak into the list, but you can be sure that this group is going to make the end of year Top 25-50 (depending on how much typing I feel like doing).

So, without further introduction or blathering, here is the list of my Top 10 Favorite Albums of the Year (so far):

Wampire

Wampire – Curiosity 

Don’t be fooled by the first track and single off Wampire’s album Curiosity called “The Hearse”.  Although darker elements pervade this debut album from the Portland group, their synth-pop music has a 70’s/80’s new wave feel that hits the right hooks with a dash of comedic whimsy.  I really liked this album and enjoyed the hookier tracks like “The Hearse”, “Giants”, and “Trains.”

 

Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety 

AnxietyThis has been a favorite of mine all year.  I have been frequently coming back to the smooth, yet dissonant and slightly strange R&B of Arthur Ashin, the man behind Autre Ne Veut.  This reads like an R&B album, but the tracks have a distinct other quality that is different than most R&B you are going to hear.  It is Marvin Gaye mixed with a sort of Ziggy Stardust and M83 quality to it.  It’s like Duran Duran but a lot less 80’s pop and sexuality.   It’s cool stuff and is one of favorite albums of the year.  Check out “World War”, “Play by Play”, “Don’t Ever Look Back”, and “Ego Free Sex Free.”

 

DucktailsDucktails – The Flower Lane

When I want to bring things down a bit and still enjoy what I am listening to, Ducktails’ album, The Flower Lane, hits the spot.  It is such beautiful, mellow indie pop LP.  Matthew Mondanile, a member of Real Esate, started this as a side project in 2009ish, and has put out some real quality albums, this one being the pinnacle, so far.  Every track has such a dreamy sound that mixes well and sounds so good.  The overall album is one of the best of the year.  Check out tracks “Ivy-Colored House”, “Planet Phromm”, and “The Flower Lane”.

 

Yo La Tengo – Fade Fade

Ah, Yo La Tengo, steadily going strong after twenty years in the business.  They cast a long shadow over indie music and the whole industry with tons of great albums over the years.  Fade is no exception to their expansive discography.  This album is such a beautiful, well-made lo-fi with a brighter edge than past albums.  I was not too familiar with Yo La Tengo before this, but now I feel like I have known about them for years.  Check out “Ohm”, “I’ll Be Around”, “Well You Better”, and “You Can Have It All.”

 

FoalsFoals – Holy Fire

Where did this album come from?!??!   A friend was discussing the Foals third album and the only song they were really known for before this was that weird “Cassius” song from 2011.  It is a complete change from what this band was, and all you can really say is the sound has grown up and become much more emotive and spacious while also developing a harder edge to their indie rock.  Love this album and can’t enough of tracks like “Inhaler”, “Bad Habit”, “Providence”, and “My Number”.

 

MVoTC

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

I will tip my biased hand; I love Vampire Weekend.  They are probably one of my favorite bands in the current musical landscape, and I can’t enough of their music.  However, the sign of a great band is one that is able to move on from past success and continue that success while not simply re-hashing previous material.  Vampire Weekend has done this with Modern Vampires of the City.  Moving past the more college-rock, ska and punk influenced numbers of their past albums; they manage to keep their musical identity while developing a maturing lyrical quality.  Tracks like “Worship You”, “Diane Young”, and “Unbelievers” are classic Vampire Weekend tracks, but have a deeper quality than previous offerings.  My favorite song that is a little different is “Ya Hey”.

 

SavagesSavages – Silence Yourself

Seriously, who doesn’t like a good, rough, distortion-filled punk rock album?  While Savages album isn’t really a 90’s/early-2000s era punk album, it listens more like an updated The Clash album.  Lead singer Jehny Beth brings a pile of attitude to their post-punk sound and bring the noise to their first full-length album.  The bass lines are raucous and energetic, while the guitars add a soundscape that grates and squeals in all the right ways.  Check out songs “City’s Full” (my favorite on the album and one of my favorite individual songs of the year), “She Will”, and “I Am Here”.

 

CarrierThe Dodos – Carrier

Sputnik music puts this so much better than I ever could.  “Carrier, finally, brings that emotional subtext to the front, and the result is a Dodos record that is thrillingly translucent and crushingly intimate, almost uncomfortably so. It’s love and loss, as straightforward as you please.”  Previous albums have fallen short, which surprises me considering their last album has a better Metacritic score than this one, but Carrier manages to take the Dodos sound to where it is meant to go.  The songs have an almost Beatles Revolver-like quality to them, and it is so good to listen to and a more emotional listen than previous stuff.  I enjoyed “Transformer”, “Confidence”, “Stranger”, “Substance”, and “Destroyer”.  Heck, this whole album is just good.

 

CHVRCHESCHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

The internets and music biz is all a buzz about CHVRCHES debut album.  The Scottish Dance-Pop trio drops a seriously awesome debut album with a unique blend of deep, emotional lyrics while having music that is just plain good to listen and dance to.  The real stand outs on this album are “The Mother We Share”, a song I am still digging deeper into; “Gun”, “Tether”, and “Recover”, which was a part of their EP from earlier in the year.  Just a hint, this one is near the top and will stay that way.  I can’t get these songs out of my head.

 

Wise Up GhostElvis Costello and the Roots – Wise Up Ghost

The soulful, grassroots funk of the Roots (ha!), which has come to define the grooves of the Roots, blend perfectly with the biting voice and brit-pop-rock sounds of Costello.  Great tracks like the radio-friendly ‘Walk us UPTOWN’ and the funky ‘REFUSE to be Saved’ stand out in contrast to the more soulful, reflective sounds of songs like ‘TRIPWIRE’ and ‘Wise Up GHOST’.  This is the best thing I have heard from Costello in a long time and deserves the high marks it is getting.

 

 

Just Missed the cut…seriously, it was painful

Man Man – On Oni Pond

The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow

On and On – Give In

Volcano Choir – Repave (sorry Justin)