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Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween and High Places


“For they provoked Him to anger with their high places, and moved Him to jealousy with their carved images” – Psalm 78:58


More than half of the population of the United States will celebrate Halloween this year. This Halloween is expected to break records economically. A recent online article opened with the following: “Halloween retail spending is projected to be $9.1 billion in 2017. That's a new record. So is the number of people celebrating at 179 million. They will spend $86.13 each, another record.”[1] The article goes on to state that the most popular costumes for adults are “a witch, a Batman character, an animal, a Marvel superhero and a vampire.” And, “The top five for children are superhero, Batman character/princess (tied), animal, Spiderman and a Star Wars character.”  Halloween is an economic boon. It’s a national holiday.

The word “holiday” is compound derivative of the words “holy day.” “Holy” simple means special, unique, distinctive, different from the rest. The way we define and respond to the idea of “holy” is important for Christians and Bible believers. Throughout the Bible God conveys the concept of His holiness and that His people are to be holy. We are to be special, unique, distinctive, different from the rest. “For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). And lest we think the idea of holiness is only an Old Testament emphasis by the LORD, it is consistently mentioned and emphasized by the LORD in the New Testament as well. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (1 Corinthians 7:1). “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4). “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16). God is “holy”; He is special. And God’s people are to be “holy” and special. We are to be distinctive as our God is distinctive. We are to be uncommon as our God the LORD is uncommon. God is distinct from all other gods. God’s people should be, by virtue of their connection to Him, distinct from those in the world who are not connected to God.  

This theme of specialness versus commonness is found throughout the Bible. God puts a premium on holiness and holy living. He emphasizes this in part for our own good for much of what the world commonly does is detrimental to His children. The common practices of the world tend to cloud and through chaos and complications create static for the person trying to hear from and walk with the Lord in life. It’s hard to tune into God when you’re listening to the static produced by the things of this world.

God also emphasizes our holiness in terms of our fidelity to Him. To cross the line venturing outside the parameters of His Holy Word and revelation hurts our covenant bond to Him. If we relate to God in Christ as in a marriage, then venturing outside the parameters of God’s word leads to infidelity. Spiritual adultery is cheating on God with the things of this world. The prophet Hosea spoke prophetically about God’s people in this regard. The “things of this world” with which His people cheat on Him with, are idols and pagan gods or pagan deities. Our Spouse is God. He is our LORD. Your “Lord” is your master passion. Is God your “master passion,” is He truly your Lord?

God is grieved when His people divert their attention from Him to idols and gods. He desires His people to approach Him in a holy way. We shouldn’t approach God in a common casual way. Coming into the presence of God is, or at least should be, special. The book of Hebrews is written to Jews who had believed in Jesus as their Messiah. Their problem however was that, to a great extent, they had forgotten just how special their New Covenant provisions in Christ were. They were considering returning to their Old Testament ways. The supremacy of Jesus as High Priest who paved the way into the presence of God is inspiringly communicated throughout that incredible book. Through Jesus we can come to God’s throne of grace to find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). That should never be taken for granted. We should never let what Jesus has provided for us be reduced to a common thing in our lives. We are special by virtue of His special sacrifice on our behalf. We need to be mindful and heartful of that.

In light of God’s holiness and His call for us to be holy, the way we approach God is important. We shouldn’t think we can approach God in common worldly ways. An illustration of this is God’s reaction to His people in the Old Testament who began to adopt the common religious practices of the pagan people around them. God’s people, when they entered the Promised Land, began to worship pagan gods in “high places.” Pagan people thought they could be closer to their deities by way of elevation. Canaanites worshipped their gods in mountains and would set up high places.

The first real high place is found at Babel. At Babel the ziggurat was a high place meant as an affront to God. Nimrod led this construction and the gist of it was not only for humans to reach to the stars, but to make a statement to God Almighty something like, “Go ahead and bring another flood. We will survive it on this high place.” The high place originated as a defiance to God.

That practice of elevating to reach deity continued throughout the Old Testament. Israel encountered such things once they entered the Promised Land. God forewarned His people through Moses that if when they entered the Promised Land of Canaan they didn’t obey Him and worship Him in a holy way, He would, “I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and cast your carcasses on the lifeless forms of your idols; and My soul shall abhor you” (Leviticus 26:30). God was dead serious about any possible compromising in the area of worship and holy living.

When we look at the incidents of “high places” in the Old Testament we see the vast majority of 71 references were associated with negativity. The carnal false prophet Balaam sought God on a “high place” (Numbers 22:41). God gave through Moses very clear instructions about the “high places” they would encounter in Canaan. God said His people were to,” drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places” (Numbers 32:52).

Solomon was the wisest of the kings of Israel, however among the few exceptions to his wise reign was the decision that “he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places” (1 Kings 3:3). Such compromise led to Solomon’s demise. Scripture states, “Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods” (1 Kings 11:7-8). The consequence was that the LORD said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant” (1 Kings 11:11). These “high places” which apparently Solomon thought were no big deal to indulge in, were a very big deal and a serious offense as far as God was concerned. See this, Solomon, the wisest king and possibly the wisest man who ever lived (apart from Jesus), decided to worship foreign gods on such high places and therefore suffered great loss. I refer to Solomon because in our day there are those who claim to be wise in the scriptures and who take a similar path to that of Solomon; indulging in high place activities. The point being, you can be wise and think using high places is no big deal, but know that God feels otherwise.

As a consequence of Solomon’s use of high places, after his death, the kingdom experienced civil war and split into two parts. The northern kingdom was ruled by Jeroboam and one of the first things he did was to erect “high places” (1 Kings 12:32; 13:2, 32, 33). The sin of Jeroboam would spread and perpetuate itself to the point that the northern kingdom would be taken into captivity (1 Kings 14:15-16). The southern kingdom of Judah didn’t do much better also indulging in “high places” worship (1 Kings 14:23; 15:14; 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4 and 35; 16:4; 17:9, 11). The Samaritan’s compromise in captivity was that, “They feared the LORD, yet served their own gods – according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away” (2 Kings 17:33). “High places” always lead to spiritual confusion.

Good king Hezekiah was viewed as good by God in part because he “removed the high places” (2 Kings 18:4; cf. also 2 Chronicles 31:1). Evil king Manasseh was viewed as evil in part because he rebuilt the “high places” (2 Kings 21:3; 2 Chronicles 33:3). He was restored later in life when he repented. But the “high places” were left in place and used to worship the LORD (2 Chronicles 33:17). Josiah the good king whom God used to bring revival, broke down the “high places” as part of his reform (2 Kings 23:5 and 8, 13 and 19-20; 2 Chronicles 34:3). Asa was viewed as a good king for the most part because he removed the high places (2 Chronicles 14:3 and 5; 15:17). Jehoshaphat was viewed as a good king as he too removed the most of the “high places” (2 Chronicles 17:6; 20:33). God looks favorably on those who would do away with “high places.”

It’s interesting that the Bible associates demon worship with “high places.” “Then he [Jeroboam] appointed for himself priests for the high places, for the demons, and the calf idols which he had made” (2 Chronicles 11:15). It was in these “high places” that God’s people copied the practices of pagan people to burn their offspring in the fire (Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; 32:35). Today we do worse, we murder babies in their mother’s wombs. “High places” were viewed as sinful places (Jeremiah 17:3). It was at the “high places” that Israel committed spiritual harlotry (Ezekiel 16:16). This association with demonic activity is at the root of why God wanted the “high places” removed from the Land. In Psalm 78 when God’s mercy is reviewed over the history of His people, it states, “For they provoked Him to anger with their high places, and moved Him to jealousy with their carved images” (Psalm 78:58).

But the prophet Ezekiel speaks of a time when, “No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places” (Ezekiel 43:7). The Church does not replace Israel in God’s prophetic plan, but it is not a stretch to see that the New Covenant Church of Jesus composed of those who have been born again through faith in Jesus, who have been indwelled by the Holy Spirit, that these should not rebuild “high places” in their heart. These “high places” in principle are symbols of compromise. These “high places” are common not holy things. “High places” represent “worship” or activities that the unsaved worldly person partakes in. “High places” are by nature unholy places because they are not prescribed by God. Those cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18-19) and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, “are not your own. . . .  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are chosen in Jesus, “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4). As Christians we are exhorted, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) finding out what is acceptable to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10). Read those verses and then consider the themes of Halloween. What does the Spirit say to you about that? Do you see the two as compatible? Be honest.

I therefore ask you, “Isn’t Halloween a ‘high place’?” Isn’t Halloween associated with demonic activity? God instructed the “high places” to be brought down. They were not part of His plan. They were a compromise and in reality, examples of rebellion against Him. The New Testament stipulates similarly, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b). As I age in the Lord and observe the church today as well as the formation of the next generation of believers who will follow my generation to take the baton of the Great Commission to a lost pagan world, I am greatly concerned at the “high places” being erected and allowed to stand in the land of their lives. How can we be indwelled by the Holy Spirit and feel so at liberty to participate in such unholy practices? How are “Christians” who drink like the world, mark themselves like the world and participate in worldly activities, how are they any different than the world? If holiness is specialness, distinctiveness, set apartness, how can we be so open and casually unconcerned about compromises with the world? I look at some “Christians” today and really, they are indistinguishable from the world.

In a recent message I gave at my church I suggested those who participate in Halloween should ask themselves how they think Jesus feels when He sees those He shed His blood for cavorting in the various arrays of dark costumes. I suggested they consider taking Jesus wherever they go and being mindful of what He might be thinking about what they are doing. What really saddened me was a woman who came up to me after service to thank me for speaking such things and then commented that I was only the second pastor in her 23 years as a Christian who cautioned people about Halloween. What is being taught in the churches? Are pastor’s fearful of offending people? “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Do we even consider or ask God’s approval of what we do?

I am aware that there are many who have come to the conclusion that it’s no big deal to participate in Halloween activities. They will read this (if not cast this teaching aside before they finish) and assess its contents as legalistic or fanatical. They find wiggle room to participate in “high places” by God’s grace. But any definition of grace that moves us to be less holy is not true to scripture. Grace provides the means to be freed from sin not to be freed to sin. (See Romans 6).

I would only ask that Christians consider their actions. We are called to “walk in the Spirit” the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Do you actually associate Halloween activities with holiness? I only ask that you look around at this world and take stock in where we are on God’s prophetic calendar.  Prophecies are being fulfilled on a near daily basis. We see all of this and I pray the Spirit would remind us and exhort us with His words, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:12-14). Do these powerfully holy and inspired words sound like they sync up with Trick or Treating or any of the other high place junk activities of this world? Can you dress like a witch or a scary figure and comply with such portions of scriptural admonitions?

What will you dress up as this Halloween, a Disney character? Did you know that Disney intends to have the first openly gay child character in one of their next productions? Disney has strayed from the days of the intended family friendly venture of Walt Disney. Disney is becoming more and more of a perilous minefield for those with family values. Disney has become more about indoctrination than entertainment. Sad. And how much of Halloween opens the door to deeper darkness in a person’s life? Dabbling in dark things and allowing ourselves to be titillated by them deadens our sensitivity to what is and is not holy. Do you want to walk close to God or drift away from Him? Whatever we do we are called to do it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). This Halloween, will you be able to say what you are doing is done for the glory of God? Halloween is a high place compromise. Will you tear it down or will you build it higher? Will you be special, unique, distinctive, different from the rest of this lost world, or will you settle for being common? It’s a choice between holiness and a high place. What will you choose?

[1] Halloween Spending Statistics, Facts and Trends by Kimberly Amadeo of The Balance 10/17/17.

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