Mark Kelly

I've been wondering about stuff since 1975!

A grandmother was busy making tea in the kitchen and needed a can of tomato soup, her house was old, and she still had a pantry where she kept food and other non-perishables, so she asked her 5-year-old grandson to go into this pantry and get her one. The pantry was just out of the kitchen and under the stairs. But the light in the pantry was out, and he didn’t really want to go. “It’s dark in there, and I’m scared.” he said.
 
She asked again, and her grandson repeated his no, a bit more firmly this time, but with growing fear. Being a good Christian woman she encouraged her grandson, “It’s okay darling, Jesus will be in there with you.”
 
So, the little boy walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. Looking inside, he decided it really was too dark, and so he closed the old, wooden creaking door and started walking away when a thought hit him.
 
He ventured back to the pantry and with a little more confidence and hearing his grandma’s words ringing in his ears, he peeked again inside and called out, “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you get me a can of tomato soup?”
 
Let’s talk a little bit about Halloween!
 
Did you know that Halloween was actually celebrated hundreds of years before the birth of Christ? The Celtic nations observed a festival they called Samhain (pronounced: sow-en) which fell on what eventually became October 31st. But unlike today’s Halloween, the Celts didn’t ‘celebrate’ it as a holiday.
 
You see, the Celtic New Year began at the start of November. The autumn harvest had come to a close and winter was just around the corner. At this time of year the Celts knew that the power of the sun was fading and for the next several months, darkness would prevail. For the Celts, this impending darkness was a scary time. Nature became cold and dark, and in their eyes – in the coldest of the darkest night – lifeless.
 
But there was something even scarier for them than merely wondering whether there was going to be enough food to survive. For the Celts, there was a something like an invisible curtain that separated the living from the dead. And they believed, at this time of the year, that that curtain was at its thinnest. On the evening of October 31st, they believed that evil spirits and souls of the dead would pass through this curtain, this barrier, and enter the world of the living. And when they crossed over, they would torment the living. Crops would be destroyed, babies stolen and farm animals killed.
 
To appease these ‘dead spirits’, various sacrifices, which could include human sacrifices in some cases, were performed by the Celts. A portion of what little food they had was also left out for the spirits, hoping that this “treat” would prevent an evil “trick.”
 
When you boil all this down to its most basic component, you find something really quite simple: Halloween came about because people are instinctively afraid of the dark.
 
We don’t like darkness. We’ve spent most of our human existence trying to get rid of it, first fire then eventually electrical lights. Darkness – literal and metaphorical – is a time when life becomes uncertain and even scary.
 
But here’s the immensely encouraging bit – Knowing that darkness has this kind of effect on people, the Christian God, through His Word, has made repeated promises:
 
The book of Isaiah from the Bible tells us that the reason the Messiah (Jesus) was being sent, was to “open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS.” (Isaiah 42:7)
 
In the Gospel of Matthew (quoting Isaiah) he tells us that: You who spend your days SHROUDED IN DARKNESS can now say, “We have seen a brilliant Light.” And those who live in the dark shadow land of death can now say, “The Dawning Light arises on us.” (Matthew 4:16)
 
Jesus Himself declared: “I am light to the world and those who embrace me will experience life-giving light, and they will never WALK IN DARKNESS.” (John 8:12) And “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that all who trust in me will no longer WANDER IN DARKNESS.” (John 12:46)
 
Some time ago there was an atheist from the U.S. who gained some fame by trying to ‘sell his soul’ on eBay. Some local churches reached out to him after reading about it and asked him to come and share why he was an atheist. I don’t know whether he ultimately found Jesus, but after one such visit, he’s quoted as saying this:
 
“At one church I visited, some people were asked to write down how they felt before and after becoming Christians. They said things like ’dark and light’, ‘lonely and befriended,’ which got me wondering: Is being down, or lonely, or desperate, a prerequisite to finding God? Do these people think that others who have not yet found God are lost, scared or miserable? Do I have to go through some sort of trauma or crisis before finding ultimate meaning?”
 
What our atheist in this story didn’t understand was that many people who become Christians do so because they’ve actually seen how dark and lonely life can get. People become Christians because they’ve recognised sin and darkness in themselves and see the light of Christ as the best, and indeed only, way out.
 
We can’t successfully have a satisfying relationship with God when we live out lives in the darkness of guilt and shame. The dark stain of our past sins will always prevent us from having a close relationship with Jesus.
 
On our own, we’re unable to remove sin from our lives, but amazingly God did this for us. He came down in the form of a man and gave Himself up for every wrong thing we’ve ever done. He died on a cross and rose from the dead to give us life and enable us to live in the light.
 
John 1:4 tells us that: Life came into being because of Him (Jesus), for His life is light for all humanity.
 
In Acts chapter 9 there is a description of a confrontation between Jesus and the Saul (who became the Apostle Paul and wrote a lot of the New Testament). In the telling of this story, we find that God literally lunged Saul into darkness:
 
Just outside the city, a brilliant light flashing from heaven suddenly exploded all around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a booming voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
 
5–7 The men accompanying Saul were stunned and speechless, for they heard a heavenly voice but could see no one.
 
Saul replied, “Who are you, Lord?”
 
“I am Jesus, the Victorious, the one you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you are to do.”
 
8 Saul stood to his feet, and even though his eyes were open he could see nothing – he was blind. So the men had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus. 9 For three days he didn’t eat or drink and couldn’t see a thing. (Acts 9:4-8)
 
For three days Paul waited in Damascus – blind, fearful, and praying for all he was worth. He knew that he’d sinned against the Messiah that his people had waited for for generations. He was afraid of punishment, he was afraid even for his very salvation. Then a man named Ananias – sent by Jesus – came to him. And when Ananias laid his hands on Paul, it says that ‘something like scales’ fell from his eyes and he could see. Ananias reinforced the commission Jesus had given 3 days earlier, and when he’d told Paul all this, Ananias said firmly: “So now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised, and wash away your sins as you call upon His name.” (Acts 22:16)
 
Paul wrote later in his life to the Christians at Philippi: “Live a cheerful life, without complaining or division among yourselves. 15 For then you will be seen as innocent, faultless, and pure children of God, even though you live in the midst of a brutal and perverse culture. For you will appear among them as shining lights in the universe, 16 offering them the words of eternal life. I haven’t laboured among you for nothing, for your lives are the fruit of my ministry and will be my glorious boast at the unveiling of Christ!” (Philippians 2:14-16)
 
Paul was telling the guys in Philippi that is was their job as Christians to “…appear among them as shining lights in the universe, offering them (people of the world) the words of eternal life.”
 
Of course, Jesus had already told us that.
 
He said: “Your lives light up the world. Let others see your light from a distance, for how can you hide a city that stands on a hilltop? 15 And who would light a lamp and then hide it in an obscure place? Instead, it’s placed where everyone in the house can benefit from its light. 16 So don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others, so that the commendable things you do will shine as light upon them, and then they will give their praise to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
 
So how do we do that? How do we let our light shine? How do we “offer words of eternal life,” to people still in darkness? God has given us a job to do. He’s not going to do the whole thing for us. It’s ours to do. He desires us to help others understand what they’re missing without Jesus.
 
Here’s an interesting thought: Paul was not saved on the road to Damascus. He was saved in Damascus when Ananias did his job and obeyed Jesus – when he went to talk to Paul.
 
Acts 22:16 tells us up to that point, Paul’s sins had not yet been washed away. Ananias said: “So now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised, and wash away your sins as you call upon his name.”
 
Paul’s salvation could be said to hinge on Ananias doing what God asked him to do. God had sent Ananias to Paul to lift him out of his blindness. God sends believers out to others to help them out of their blindness – to help guide them out of darkness.
 
When we (Christians) talk to people about Jesus, God doesn’t expect us to do it all by ourselves. Holy Spirit is working behind the scenes to change their hearts. Jesus had already worked on the Apostle Paul’s heart long before Ananias showed up.
 
In the same way, Jesus tells us that one of the main jobs of the Holy Spirit is to expose sin (John 16:8). God’s Spirit works behind the scenes to soften the hearts of those we talk to. We pray – and prayer should be at the start and at the heart of all that believers do – and as we pray and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are confident that God is (and has been) working behind the scenes to help us do what He’s asked us to do.
 
If, like me, you’re a believer, that we need to tell people why we are Christians. We need to tell them what’s so important about Jesus that we’re willing to build our lives around Him. Why we would sacrifice so much of our time to worship Him and honour Him!
 
This story of Paul’s conversion is recorded three times in Acts. The first time, it’s merely a fact of church history. The other two times – Paul is telling people why his life was changed. He had a life-altering confrontation with Jesus, and he wanted others to know about it.
 
If you’re a Christian, your story might be about why you were baptised into Christ (why you became a Christian to begin with), or it might be about something that has happened since then that has made God even more real to you.
 
We could have a powerful worship service every Sunday at the church where I lead (Freedom Church in Leeds, come and visit us if you’re in the area!). The singing will be inspirational. The prayers touch our hearts. The preaching might even bring us to our knees in repentance. And the fellowship will be outstanding.
 
But we can’t really class anything as successful until we’re indeed convicted of the need to help open the eyes of our neighbours, friends and family and help them in their journey from darkness to light. From the power of Satan to the power of God. By placing their faith in Jesus where they will receive the total forgiveness of sins and be made holy, taking hold of the inheritance that He gives to His children! (Adapted from Acts 26:18)
 
That’s a significant part of what God called us to do. If we fail in this responsibility, a lot of people will spend their lives – their eternal lives – in a very dark and uncertain place.
 
God blinded Apostle Paul for those three days as a lesson. He intended this physical blindness to drive home the spiritual blindness that had symbolised Paul’s life to that point. And that object lesson was so powerful that Paul later wrote: “Yet I was captured by grace, so that Jesus Christ could display through me the outpouring of His Spirit as a pattern to be seen for all those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
 
Because of that blindness, for the rest of his life, Paul understood that he had been brought out of darkness into light, from the power of satan to God, and that he had received forgiveness … and a place in God’s family.
 
On Halloween, don’t shutter your home, don’t ignore the knocks on the door. Buy some sweets and welcome people with a big smile and bright eyes. Take the opportunity to be the light in the darkness. Let your story shine. Take opportunities to share your faith when conversations about Halloween inevitably come up.
 
And one final thing … don’t be scared of the dark!

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