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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

 

Does the Bible deal with the tough issues?  It does.  Christianity is neither merely a religion nor outdated.

People despair.  People struggle with mental illness.  People get trapped in the belief that there are only two choices – a long tortuous death or a quick release… but the problem is that there are almost always more than two choices.

https://southspring.org/teaching/suicide/

This sermon is near to my heart as we open up the Bible to understand the awful tragedy of suicide.   I hope it encourages you and gives you strength to face life and to help others do the same.

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Intermarriage

There were multiple commands from God to the Jews not to intermarry with the Canaanites and other tribes they were conquering in the Promised Land.

“You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” Dt 7:3-4

First off, though many of these people would be the offspring of Canaan, in some cases, like the Edomites and Assyrians, they would be other offspring of Shem! They wouldn’t even be a different race. I personally don’t think race was the main issue. The Persians (modern day Iranians) are descendants of Ishmael – another son of Abraham. Can these concerns be primarily about race? I don’t think so.

The evidence is in the passages themselves.

These instructions are found in Exodus 34, Joshua 23, and I Kings 11. Each time, the command is very implicitly connected to the warning that these people will turn them to other gods (except maybe in Joshua where it is still implied). The main concern in these passages seems to be that intermarriage with these other peoples will lead people away from Him!

This has a New Testament equivalent, too. Consider:

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 2 Cor 6:14-15

Paul warns that key relationships, like marriage, can be dangerous for living out the Christian life if entered into with a non-believer. Consider the ramifications for the intimacy of the marriage if THE MOST IMPORTANT thing in a person’s life is not shared with the spouse.

So, what does the Bible say to New Testament Christians about marrying people of a different “race”? I think that the answer is: marry another Christian; I see nothing in the Bible that a New Testament Christian could apply that would limit what “race” a person chooses to enter into a marriage covenant with (and it seems like that was never the real issue).

If people want to make an argument about races not intermarrying, fine (I guess)… but I would say that they cannot use the Bible at all to do so.

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Col 3:11)

*****

Are Ham, Shem & Japheth all welcome to the Cross?

Here is the cool surprise I told you about related to the Shem, Ham and Japheth concepts. In the middle of the Book – The Acts of the Apostles, there is an intriguing series of conversions… 3 of them to be precise.

In Acts 8:26-40, we see the miraculous (and seemingly non-sequitur) account of Philip the

Evangelist being led into the presence of a traveling Ethiopian (and what an Ethiopian, too – a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians! He was an African, just to be clear – and an exceptional example of an African!

 

 

In Acts 9:1-18, we experience the conversion of Paul. Paul is a Jew; a descendant of Abraham – and an exceptional one:

“…If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:5

 

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin,

 

a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Phil 3:4-7)

In Acts 10:1-48, we are privy to the conversion of Cornelius, a Roman , and his whole family. He is a member of the Italian cohort – a child of Rome!

In other words, in Acts 8-10, Luke specifically recalls that in his research, he heard a very clear account of a descendent of Ham, a descendant of Shem and a descendant of Japheth all saved by the power of the gospel… and all three very defined by their nationality! And yet, the message of Jesus Christ and their faith in Him made them brothers.

This is the theology of race.

We may (or may not) be divided by nationality, race, economic status, etc… but we are all brothers under Christ. He is the elder brother and we are all the younger siblings by adoption – equal in the Kingdom as princes and princesses.

Proper Christian theology is that there is no superiority among races. None is superior to the other. Jew or Greek, Asian, African, Caucasian, Latin… when it comes to value and dignity, we are all created in the image of the same God.

My view on the Christian Response:

Theology is truth that naturally leads to a response – worship or ministry.

I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of calling in which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  (Ephesians 4:1-3)

“Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:11-13).

Let us always seek to love one another. Prioritize faith and identity in Jesus Christ over any other source for identity. Other things may be descriptors, but only Jesus Christ can define us.

I am not saying the “race” (though I dislike that word, I mean the concept of race) does not exist. It exists; skin color exists; cultural differences exist; they are real and they are very important.

In order to love someone well, it is vital to care about and seek to understand their context and their narrative and their heart.

All I intend to say is that important as race is – or historical heritage – even family – or any other thing, the thing that defines us is what we believe about God.

When I recently taught this material across a few weeks to a very diverse staff at the Mentoring Alliance here in Tyler, one of the African American staff said that at some level, he had always felt like he was a member of the White Man’s Religion.  He was amazed to find out that his view was completely off!  (If any argument was to be made, and it was for many years, Christianity is the Jewish person’s religion! – thankfully, God desires His gospel to reach all people and that His gospel transform them into professional ministers of grace and reconciliation!

Now, I accede the last words to another author – one of the most brilliant authors of all times, whose words will transcend race:

If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us.

(And the final stake in the heart of any “Christian” racial supremacist:)

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not lovehis brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. – The Apostle John.

In the US in 2017, we are facing a crisis that stems from our poor theology of race – it has to do with the removal of monuments of different people in history.  How should Christians engage in this conversation?

I pretty much never comment on the photos I take from the internet (I try to always use them in good taste and as I think the original artist would intend)… but I wanted to comment on the last one with the man hugging the trooper.  That is a member of the “Free Hugs Project” by Ken E. Nwadike Jr.  I know pretty much nothing about him and therefore cannot therefore don’t know if I can recommend him, but I like his idea of fighting the anger and hatred with a simple act of love and affection.

 

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  1. Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-8,9)

The idea of a universal human language goes back at least to the Bible, in which humanity spoke a common tongue, but were punished with mutual unintelligibility after trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way to heaven. Now scientists have reconstructed words from such a language.

“Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”

This passage, which is among the shortest and most obscure in the entire Bible to cover something so intense, would seem to indicate that language was the source, not of racial differences, but merely of the dispersal of humans to various parts of the globe.

I am going to approach these passages as having historical significance as well as biblical and theological significance.  I know that there are many, including serious Bible-believing Christians who think these are best understood as parables, not historical.  However, I am approaching them with their impact on racial thinking.

Of course, why would this have been across racial lines (by the Shem, Ham, Japheth theory)? Did God strike all the Shemites with all the same, or at least similar languages, and so they ended up lumping in together? None of the Hamites got those languages?

Again, as is always (or at least often) the case with deep and ancient passages of the Hebrew Scriptures, we scratch our head looking for good interpretation. It seems like these accounts explain two different things (racial development & division and language development & division) in two very different accounts that perhaps somehow overlap. Without a time machine, it is just not possible to interpret these with precision…

Now, certainly, this spreading out effect would work well with the idea of how genetic differences developed over time – evolution of the genetic structures over hundreds of generations of people isolated from one another would presumably begin to have phenotype differences as well.

As Noah’s descendants migrated from the Middle East after the Tower of Babel, their group numbers would have grown smaller as they extended further out. As the groups grew smaller, certain genes within the human gene pool became dominant, while others became recessive or even just latent.

The idea is that with time and generations, these genes produced the skin color, bone structure and other physical characteristics that made each group distinctive within its isolated geographical area.

Of course, what we know now is more complex than just “people who went North became white while people who went South became darker”… though there is a certain logic to nearness to the equator and sun requiring darker skin to survive, as we learn more about how early human migrated, intermarried, etc., we will continue to learn about the complexities.

That all being said, the theological concept buried here is that God was the impetus for man spreading out and forming into nations and eventually, what we call ethnic groups. Whether you take any of these as historical in nature, the vision for the ethnic diversity of the race of mankind rests with God.

In the simplest terms, all of the previous 9 chapters are summarized in Genesis 10:5

 “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations”.

The first chapters of Genesis are meant to tell us the Who and the Why of the creation and early development of the race of humans as moral creatures who develop cultivation, pottery, and language under His guiding hands.

Overall, the Old and New Testaments show that God does not assign any special significance to race.

God sees all people as one people called “man.” Physical characteristics are not a part of God’s evaluation of man “. . .for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (I Samuel l6:7).

God states clearly He is not a respecter of persons, and that includes race or nationality – though Israel had a special covenant from God, that was not because of anything special about them.   In the end, He revealed to Peter the truth about God’s opinion of nationalities:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

Race, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is not really or clearly even a Biblical concept and nowhere can it be shown that physical characteristics of people are a reason or a guide to distinguish one from another that I can find.

God is not a respecter of race, nor sex, nor socio-economic status:

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)

This is God’s view of humanity in regards to the diversity of humanity. In Christ, we are one.

One common application of bad theology of race has to do with intermarriage.  (**** link coming)

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  1. Shem, Ham, Japheth

A common Jewish tradition is that the three “races” were the progeny of Noah’s three sons, Shem, Japheth and Ham.

Gen 9:18-19

The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.”

Here is how they and their progeny theoretically became the various races of mankind.

1. Shem of the Mongoloid race:

The peoples of the Middle East and Southern Asia. (Gen. 10:21-32)

Eber: Abraham (the Jews) was the sixth generation of Eber who settled in Mesopotamia in the area of Ur of the Chaldees.

Elam:  The Elamites became a strong nation East of Babylonia.

Asshur:  The Assyrians of the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Lud:  The Lydians of Asia Minor.

Aram: The Aramaeans of Syria and Mesopotamia.

2.  Ham of the African race:

The Egyptians, Ethiopians, Libyans and Canaanites. (Gen. 10:6-20)

Cush: The peoples of central and Southern Arabia.

Mizraim: The Egyptians of upper and lower Nile River.

Phut: The North Africans & specifically Libyans.

Canaan: The Canaanites.

Sidon (Zidon): The people who inhabited the whole Phoenician coast.

3. Japheth is traditionally the father of the Western/Caucasian race:

The Indo-European of western Asia and of Europe. (Gen. 10:2-4)

Gomer:  The Cimmerians which are mentioned by Homer as the people of the far north.

Magog:  The Scythians of Southern Europe and the Tartars of Russia.

Madai:  The Medes who lived in area of Caspian Sea.

Javan: The Ionians (Greeks).

This is fine, I suppose, as a theory. I am not confident that the account of Noah is/was intended to be considered strictly historical, or if we even understand how it was intended by Moses (or whoever the original author of the account was).

I have no trouble with it being historical, if it is. I do think the language leaves a lot of margin for that conversation. However, this is probably still the most common biblical perspective for the division of races. I am concerned about building much in the way of theology from such a deeply ancient passage from the culture and literature that we understand with such uncertainty.

One of the things that is important to note about these biblical accounts is the curse of Canaan. (AKA by its misnomer, The Curse of Ham).

When I taught this material recently, I had an African American man ask me about “the Curse of Ham” which has apparently been used as an excuse to mistreat or diminish and even enslave people of African descent. I was a little stunned.

Here is the passage being referred to:

22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

                        “Cursed be Canaan;

a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

                        “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;

and let Canaan be his servant.

                27      May God enlarge Japheth,

and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,

and let Canaan be his servant.” (Gen 9:22-27)

For the life of me, I do not see how this would be a curse of Ham. It is a curse of Canaan. Granted, I have no idea why Canaan is cursed;* clearly there is something we are missing here. However, it isn’t even that much of a curse of Canaan!

Canaan is going to be the “servant of servants” to his brothers, and apparently, his uncles.   Obviously, this is only, at its base level, about Canaan, personally. I know that it is taken as a curse that continues on through the generations, but that is certainly not clear in the passage. It just looks like Canaan is going to be on K.P. duty quite a bit for the rest of the family.

* A quick look at some of the various thoughts on why Noah would curse Canaan rather than Shem can be found here. I don’t know this website’s other material, but this seems as good a visitation of this topic as anything else… and any critical reader will see that anytime you are working with the deep Old Testament, there is as much guess work with an ancient culture that we honestly just don’t understand well.

So, even if you DID interpret this curse as somehow being something that is going to haunt Canaan’s descendent for time immemorial… it is still focused on Canaan and has no bearing whatsoever on the other sons of Ham that I can see! And, any remnant of that “race” would now be lost and intermixed with others and have no longer any kind of stand-alone culture. Soooo, there is no way to interpret the curse of Canaan as applying to people of African descent… and even if you did think this curse somehow made it ok or right to enslave the offspring of Canaan, that culture and race is long gone.  Any claim on slavery from this argument is off base.

So, what is the application to race from the theory of Shem, Ham, and Japheth? None, except that perhaps it would be further evidence that we are all one race and descend from a single couple somewhere in the past.

Not very divisive a view of race from where I stand… and even better, I have a little surprise for you at the end of this article that connects to this theory.

How about the Tower of Babel? That is next.

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Throughout Christian history, people have made great use, and sometimes great abuse, of the Holy Bible to seek to explain the diversity of human beings.

Obviously, in various ways, people are different from one another, and sometimes those differences are obvious – like skin tone. For years, people have used those skin tone differences to create otherwise completely arbitrary differences.

I am of the opinion that there is actually only one “race” of humans – that is the human race. I wish we could understand it that way.

I think it is best to think of any genotype or phenotype differences understood differently.   Usually that is what we think of as “race”.   However, I feel like the differences between people that create most problems today are about ethnic or cultural diversity, not strictly color (or race) differences.

Notice how quickly people will reject another person who has the same skin tone but different political views or backgrounds.

Rather than digging into a ton of materials, I will not be citing other authors here.  That is only partially laziness and the knowledge of what an internet search on the “theology of race” tends to draw as results (wow).

One, I want o offer up my own views and be right or wrong here on my own merits. So, this is MY theology on race.

Two, I wanted to challenge the different biblical opinions that I have been taught or shown throughout my Christian life by checking them via scripture and reason rather than other theologians; I typically study other’s views and think that is important, but on this topic, I wanted to engage alone.

I know and have learned over the years that I have many unintentional racist and prejudiced views. Though I certainly had some overt bigotry as a young man, (***link to appear later) I repented of those views long ago; since then, I have had a chance to slowly learn, through international travel (and getting to be the minority at times), mission work with and for all kinds of ethnic groups, and intimate conversations with friends who were part of minority groups and willing to educate me about my own views… and the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal pride and sin.

Anyway, I pray that the Church, and my church in particular would continue to grow up in this. We have been tossed around like in the waves… accepting absurd views because we were told to accept them; accepting what people say the Bible says because we were told to accept them.

Ok, so on to the scriptural perspectives:

Here are some theories about the “Genesis” of Racial/Ethnic Diversity I have seen:

  1. Cain

I was told early on that the first black man was Cain. I have no idea where I heard this nonsensical “theory”, but here it is nevertheless:

Gen 4:15-16

Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

What was this mark?

I was told that God made Cain black and this was his mark.

Of course, this is absurd. If you think Cain was even an early human, much less the third one ever, then we now know that if there were an historical Adam and Eve, they would probably have been pretty dark skinned and from North Africa or some part of the Fertile Crescent. Anglo is really not a very valid theory for them, despite the old Sunday School pictures of them.

However, even if you don’t buy in to any evidence outside of the Bible, remember that with the biblical story of Noah, only one “race” would have survived the flood – so what would this have to do with modern race? All of Cain’s progeny would have died out. If Cain were initiation of the black “race” – why would there be any black people alive today.

Like I said, no matter how you look at that one, it is nonsensical.

Next, Shem, Ham & Japheth…

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Hello everyone – a few years ago, I was invited to speak at a church about talking to kids about death.  Recently, a child had died in their community, and they wanted tools to talk to their children about it.  Recently, in our community a child was kidnapped and apparently killed.  As Alethia scrambles to get resources to the seminar, you might find this video helpful (there is a part two as well):

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Family Time

Psalms 118:24

“This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I remember as a kid wandering around the neighborhood with other kids, all of us dressed in costumes, and going house to house greeting neighbors I rarely saw at other times… usually parents would come along – mine always did.  I would guess that it was the only time that our neighborhood gathered or united together for anything in a typical year.

I also remember when due to a combination of fearful Christian teachings and the rumors of reports (which turned out to be false, as I understand it*) of people poisoning candy and putting razors in apples, we stopped trick-or-treating for a few years. *http://www.snopes.com/horrors/poison/halloween.asp

Over the years, I consistently heard the Christian teaching on Halloween become more isolationist.  I heard about how Halloween was “The Devil’s Day” (or even the Devil’s Birthday!) when pagan Druids did evil things and that Christians should essentially avoid doing anything on that day that would smack of a Halloween celebration.  What did we have to do with the celebration of witches, ghosts, goblins, and candy corn (especially the ones with the brown layer made especially for Halloween), on the Devil’s Birthday, anyway?

So, the evangelicals generally boycotted Halloween for what seemed like at least a decade. Some still do.

In the last decade, there have been some changes.  Now, many of our churches are hosting “Fall Festivals” that happen to fall on the same weekend as Halloween and have lots of candy (ironic, since the pagans celebrated what would loosely be a “harvest” or “fall” festival and “Hallowe’en” (“All Hallowed Day’s Evening”) was the Christian name for the celebration).  At least, we seem to see this as our token capitulation – if the kids are going to be doing bad things in Satan’s name, we can at least give them a righteous version of that event… or at best,  perhaps we are just doing what our ancestors did:  throwing a bigger and better party than the pagans.

In my extensive and maybe exhausting (not an accident) discussion of the history of Halloween and other holidays (https://chrismlegg.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/historical-understanding-of-halloween/) I reference how so many of the pagan practices have been absorbed in our celebrations of Easter, Christmas, and Halloween… but that is not actually precisely what I really believe.  It happened for sure, but something else happened first.  The thing that happened first was that the pagans tried to absorb some the good things of God’s creation!

I believe that God created everything… first… and still owns everything.

I believe that God, not druids, created evergreen trees to be green all year long.

I believe that God, not pagans, created bunnies, eggs, and bright colors.

I believe that God, not witches, created pumpkins, harvest, and children having fun.

I think it is error for us to abdicate ANYTHING to Satan.  Just because some of his representatives throughout time have tried to take control of some of the things God, in His artistic brilliance, designed and brought into creation, doesn’t mean they get to own it!

October 31st, this year, and every year, is a day the Lord has made.  I think we should rejoice and be glad in it.  Satan doesn’t get a day.  He didn’t make one, and though he may be the governor of Earth at some level at this time (a discussion for another day), he created none of it.

Of course, as a family, we have some boundaries about what our kids can dress as… but that is not primarily about us thinking that it is inherently evil for them to dress as mythical or even pagan symbols… since they come up with some pretty crazy things in their own imaginations.  Plus, if we really examine it, our standards are pretty cultural, not moral (we would probably say no to an axe murderer costume, but not to a Darth Vader costume… no to a witch, but not to an Egyptian princess (who I assume would have have been a polytheistic pagan too))   I recognize and accept the tough line being drawn there…  Honestly, I prefer them to dress up (and this is in regards my children, who often dress up to some degree almost every single day!  As I mentioned in the Phalanx, my eldest son wore a cape for 2 years! http://phalanxmen.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/phalanx-introduction-2/) as people or ideals that we can find something honorable or admirable in them to appreciate (Phil 4:8)… like heroes, princesses, and race car drivers (ok, so that last one is a stretch 😉

None of this is about denial – I believe that evil spirits and devils exist… as well as axe murders, hippies in too-short skirts or French maids, but we do avoid glamorizing such things with our children.  These are icons that communicate something.  It isn’t fear that causes me to avoid them, but I want my children to think of Holiness and modesty as not flippant topics.  Man, being a parent can be tough, can’t it?

…but primarily these choices end up being about appropriate dress (modesty), not too scary for other kids (compassion), not ‘gilding’ something that has nothing good in it… and of course, we make an attempt at avoiding offending… based on the Romans 14 mindset.

So much about the grace filled life is about motivation and the heart behind something.  The kids design faces and we carve pumpkins pretty much every year, and some years the kids pick scary faces.  We are not trying to scare off evil spirits (we count on our Savior and His hosts for that), or celebrate something evil.  We just enjoy goopy, messy, creative fun with dad.

Great evidence of the truth that this day is not somehow owned by Satan, is that almost 500 years ago, on this date in 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church.  Though the Christian reformation had been ongoing for many years, this date marks whenthe Protestant Reformation was finally fanned into a rolling flame.  God’s Day, not Satan’s.

So, my vote is that Christians don’t bunker up or hunker down with their dark porches and hide behind the couches on the “Devil’s Day”  with crucifixes in hand and the guns loaded.

I vote we have fun and celebrate as only people with new life, abundant life, and eternal life, can.

Celebrate this day as others – it is good as a reminder of the lives and deaths of Christian Martyrs, many of whom will likely die on this day again this year, as on every other day of the year (www.persecution.com)!  Thank God for His faithfulness.  Have fun with your neighbors on typically the one day that neighbors join together on something anymore – make the most of it!  Meet them, greet them and invite them back for dessert and love them in the name of Jesus Christ… and love their little witches, axe murderers and even Power Rangers who come knocking at your door.

But that’s just my opinion.

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