Do you believe in ghosts?

As some of you know we recently moved into a one hundred and ten year old row house on the west side of Bethlehem. As the second home from the end, we have neighbors on both sides. As the three families sat on our front porches last evening the conversation turned to ghosts. My new neighbors matter-of-factly told me that both of their homes were haunted.

Celtic-Cross-Shadow

I’ve lived a number of places over the years, but this is the first place I’ve lived were someone seriously claims to have encountered a ghost.

The people on the left claim that after their son told the ghost to “go to the light,” they were no longer bothered.

My other neighbors claim that they still, on occasion, sense a “presence” and that their son has “seen” the spirit and for that reason none of their children will spend the night.

I’ll be honest, my initial thought was: go on, pull the other one! I’m a reasonably intelligent person and in my thirty-eight years of life I have never encountered anything even resembling a ghost. To my modern reformed way of thinking, talk of ghosts is tantamount to a contemporary manifestation of the age-old human impulse toward superstition.

If we understand ghosts to be the souls of the departed that are somehow trapped or so strongly connected to place that they indefinitely abide there, i find absolutely no basis in Scripture for such a belief. In other words: I don’t believe that ghosts exist. I don’t believe that Mrs. Jackowski is haunting her former house because she somehow cannot “let go” of something that ties her to that place.

Scripture is quite clear that those who die in Christ are immediately brought into the presence of their Lord and there abide for the age that is to come. Likewise those who die and are not in Christ enter hell.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (32.1) summarizes the Scripture’s teaching on this matter:

The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

While the Scripture makes no provision for the souls of the departed wandering the earth or haunting a house, it does speak to the existence both of angels and evil spirits. Is it possible that what people often describe as a haunting is, in actuality, the manifestation of an evil spirit? It is entirely possible since many point to these experiences as showing that all find fulfillment in the life to come, even those who die apart from Christ.

Before today I haven’t given this much thought. What do you think?

The discipleship gap

The North American church has a deep problem — the discipleship gap. This discipleship gap manifests itself in two ways:

  1. Most people who identify themselves as Christian and who attend church regularly, even those who are in leadership in the church (whether ordained or lay), are not moving from casual observer of Jesus to apprentice or disciple.
  2. Where they are making this leap, discipleship is often so limited in scope as to make it really less than biblical.

As part of her degree program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Anna is participating in a series of integrative seminars. In preparation for an upcoming seminar, she was asked to conduct a simple survey of ten people regarding their Bible reading patterns. The results showed that few Christians are spending any significant (more than 5-10 minutes) amount of time in Scripture during the week. 

Why is this a problem? 

I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of the Holy Scriptures to forming our imaginations. The word imagination is often associated with creative writing — the skill of finding words and images to describe the unreal or the not physically present. That certainly is one way in which we use our imagination. Imagination, more broadly understood, also has to do with creating ideas.
Deep reading of the Scripture helps us to bring into focus the ways in which we can follow Christ in our world and what that following will look like, both individually and in our life together. The Bible is a unified witness to God’s redemptive action in our world and His mission of forming a community of people who will bring honor and glory to His name in the midst of a creation that has been alienated from Him.
How can contemporary Christians carve out time to read Scripture? 
Here are some ideas:
  1. Wake up 15-20 minutes earlier in the morning and spend that time in the Scripture.
  2. Wake up at the same time but covenant to spend time in the Scripture before engaging in your normal daily diet of media (email, Facebook, tv news).
  3. Observe prayer and Scripture reading at natural waypoints during the day (at lunch, before leaving your desk to come home, at the dinner table, immediately prior to retiring to bed).
  4. As you exercise listen to the Bible on CD or mp3.
  5. Fast from social media during Lent and use those days as a period in which to create a new habit of daily Scripture intake. A new habit is said to require sixty days to acquire.
  6. Kill your television and turn off your laptop at the end of the work day – these are two time killers for me (the laptop way more than the tv since we don’t have cable).

Other ideas:

  1. Learn to practice new ways of reading Scripture such as Lectio Divina or inductive Bible study
  2. Form a small group (a covenant group) designed to meet regularly and briefly to discuss what your reading and how it’s affecting your life.
  3. Blog about it – if you’re a natural writer like me, capturing your thoughts in print helps you process the experience of reading Scripture.
  4. Use a lectionary to jump around the Scripture or commit to reading a book in its entirety (start small and work to bigger books).
  5. Read the Psalms – A Psalm a day is a good prescription for spiritual vitality.

How do you make room for Scripture reading? What practices do you employ?