Tag Archives: demons

Avoid the occult [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 2]

27 Nov

Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash

As we saw in part 1 of this series on Deuteronomy 18:9-22, God instructs Israel to not dabble in the detestable religious practices of the nations they will encounter when they enter the Promised Land of Canaan.  He lists a bunch of these practices, making it abundantly clear what he is talking about. 

The most obvious one is child sacrifice in verse 10, a grave injustice he has warned them against previously in Deuteronomy.  That one seems obviously wrong.  It is hard to imagine how any people group could ever practice ritual child sacrifice. 

The others on the list, though, are not as obviously destructive, but they are just as detestable in the eyes of God.  They all relate to the occult, and are almost all in the realm of gaining special knowledge or power through occult practices.  Witchcraft, sorcery, divination, trying to consult with dead people. You see these activities pop up in many Bible stories.  The magicians of Pharaoh in Egypt, the wise men of Babylon, and the prophets of Ba’al, to name just a few.  God comes against these practices totally and completely.

In our society there are many movies and TV shows that have similar practices,so that we might be confused about what God is talking about here.  This is not the Jedi of Star Wars or the wizards of Harry Potter. This is not Disney.  God is referring to real dark, evil power.  And it exists today.  It is rooted in the power of Satan and his demons.  So of course God doesn’t want his people to getting mixed up in that.  It might look impressive, and enticing, because Satan is powerful.  But God is more powerful yet, by an infinite magnitude.

When Israel follows God who is truly powerful, there is no need to get mixed up in the lesser powers of the occult.  But the occult is tempting.  Especially when we want to know the truth about life, and especially when we feel like God is being silent.  That happens, right? We can feel God is silent, and we get desperate, and we can be tempted to get knowledge in dark places.

A couple years ago my Amish neighbors wanted to dig a new well, because they needed extra water for the animals and gardens. So beforehand they hired a local water “guy.”  He walked around their property with metal pipe wrench that supposedly started vibrating when he got over a place that was good to drill for water.  I did not see this man, but when they dug the well, I saw the drilling rig.  A few days later, I stopped by their house to buy eggs from them, and I asked about the well.  The wife explained that they were seeking more water, and then she told me about the “water guy.”  She asked me what I thought of him.  She had heard that it was just science, the vibration in the pipe wrench.  In my mind, I thought, “diviner,” and I said to her that I wouldn’t have hired him. 

Every now and then I hear about groups, usually at teenage birthday parties or sleepovers, where people get an Ouija board and ask it answers.  Sometimes people hold séances to contact the dead.  There used to be a  palm reader and tarot card reader that had a storefront not too far from us.  None of this is rooted in God and his ways, and Christians reading this, I would strongly encourage you to stay away.  Like Israel, we have knowledge and power from God, and we just don’t need to seek it anywhere else.

Growing up my wife wasn’t allowed to watch certain movies and TV shows or read certain books because of this same concern about dabbling in the occult, when we Christians are to find the truth in God.  I’m not trying to tell your family what to do, but I do think we need to be cautious.  Don’t underestimate the power of evil.  Take it seriously.  So often we live our lives seeing how close we can get to line of what is evil, without crossing over it.  Instead, I would like suggest what Moses says in verse 13, “You must be blameless before the Lord your God.”

That word “blameless” is the Hebrew word for “complete” or “perfect”, and that is a high bar, right?  One scholar I read said that here in Deuteronomy 18, it refers to the integrity of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, the Lord, meaning that they must give their devotion to God and God alone, and they must not have allegiance to any other god or detestable worship practice of the nations in the land of Canaan.  Same goes for us!  See what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.  “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?  Are we stronger than he?”  The answers Paul is obviously looking for, in response to both of these questions, is “No!” 

And that is where Moses goes next.  If they are not to rely on knowledge and power from the occult, where should Israel go to get that knowledge and remain blameless?  We’ll find out in part 3.

Unmasking Halloween

31 Oct

Image result for unmasking halloween

Last week, I asked “What could be wrong with Halloween?”

Well…maybe this:

The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that Halloween has “its origins in Samhain, one of the most-sinister festivals on the Celtic calendar. The ancient Celts believed that on November 1 the souls of those who had died returned to visit their homes or to journey to the otherworld. People set fires to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by ghosts.”

Almost all of our Christian holidays are responses to pagan holidays.  For example, Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25th.  Most scholars believe it is much more likely he was born in the spring.  But we celebrate his birth on December 25th because centuries ago the church wanted to have a Christian holiday in response to Winter Solstice which is on December 21st.  The same exact thing happened with Halloween.  All Saints Day was always in spring, and still is for the Eastern Church.

Again, the Britannica tells us that “In the 8th century…the Roman Catholic Church—perhaps in an effort to end the pagan holiday of Samhain—moved All Saints’ Day to November 1. The evening before became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween. While the day was celebrated by some Christians, many of the Samhain traditions persisted, and Halloween eventually became more commonly known as a secular holiday.”

So it is that out of these ancient traditions grew Halloween.  Samhain’s focus on evil and witchcraft and demons and ghosts, and the current iteration in Halloween, has caused many people to wonder if it is something that Christians should steer clear of.

It is a concern Christians should take seriously.  What do we do about the spirit world?  Is it possible that participation in Halloween could mean that we Christians are in league with the devil?  Are we being tricked into something?

In 1st Corinthians 10:14-22 Paul talks about this in a letter he wrote to Christians living in the city of Corinth in the first century AD.

In their day and age, idol worship was a daily occurrence.  Pagan temples abounded in their cities.  Paul tells them to flee from idolatry.  The idols?  They’re nothing he says.  Just some carvings made from wood or stone.  The meat sacrificed to idols?  No big deal.  It’s just food.

But what he says in verse 20 is quite important.  Though idols and the meat sacrifices are nothing, who the people are actually worshiping is something.  He says the people are actually participating with demons.  Paul is very concerned, then, that the Christians should not have involvement in pagan worship because it was actually demonic.  Don’t make God jealous, he says.

Samhain, the root of Halloween, was once a pagan holiday.  So many Christians feel we should not participate in Halloween.

Before we address Halloween in particular, let’s talk about the spirit world a bit.  We do need to heed Paul’s teaching that we Christians are not to get involved in the spirit world.  The spirit world and demons are real and powerful.

How many of you have had experiences in which you felt you were directly interacting with the spirit world or that spirit world was interacting with you?  At Faith Church we have had missionaries tell us about interactions they’ve had with the spirit world oppressing their families and ministries.

During the summer I did my college missionary internship in Guyana, I had two such instances, and when we were missionaries in Jamaica there was a time when we, along with other missionaries, prayed through a family’s home as they were experiencing some demonic manifestation.

But those are all examples of foreign places.  We hear about the spirit world and demons in foreign lands, especially related to missionary work.  But what about here? I personally have had very little experience with the demonic in the USA.  But there have been a couple times.

When I was Faith Church’s youth pastor our youth group did work camp mission trips, and one year we went to Gloversville, New York.  The project I was on included minor repairs and painting at the home of a family in need.  As we got to know the family, the mother divulged to us that she was a witch.  She went on to describe what kinds of magic she did, as if it was all totally normal.  My work team I led, about 8 middle and high schoolers, found her stories to be disconcerting.

She then showed us a cabinet in her dining room.  It looked like a really big spice rack, and the containers had more than just spices.  She explained that they were ingredients for her magic potions.  The family also had a tree in their yard that she said they performed magic on, and somehow used it in her spells.  Some of the team members heard this and started looking at one another nervously.  They had been climbing in that tree.  Near the end of the week the lady told us that she was going to make us BBQ chicken as a thank you for the work we were doing.  When we got in the van after work that day, the team immediately started questioning me about the chicken. Should they eat it?

Then there was the woman living in one of the apartment complexes near our church property.  She had started attending Faith Church.  I was the youth pastor at the time, and she stopped by the office one day to tell the senior pastor that there were demonic manifestations in her home.  She wanted us to come over to her house and pray.  So we went over and prayed through her house.

What have you experienced?

And what do I mean by “demonic manifestation”?  I am not talking about just being scared.  Growing up I was often afraid of the dark.  My regular chore was to take out the trash, and I hated collecting the trash from the wastebaskets downstairs. If no one else was down there, as soon as I was done with the trash, I would turn off last light and bolt up the dark stairs, imagining evil things nipping at my heels.  I also can get freaked out at scary movies.  The Sixth Sense did me in for a few days.   I often have vivid scary dreams.   Are these examples of intersection with the spirit world?

I recently heard a psychology professor talk, and he was saying that there needs to be balance.  Some people want to say that anything that was once called a demonic manifestation is actually just the brain and our bodies misfiring.  Emotion that is too strong.  Out of control.  There is no spirit world, they say.  It is all in our minds.  This psychologist counters, “Wait a minute…not so fast.  It is a both-and.”  The spirit world is real, and likewise our minds and bodies can create situations that are not true.  The movie A Beautiful Mind is an example of how schizophrenia can impact a person.  In years gone by, a real condition like schizophrenia would have been considered demon possession.  Now we know that it is not so.

Look at the stories of Jesus, though, or look at the vast accounts of the spirit realm throughout the ages, and in our own day, and we need to conclude that the spirit realm is real.

My first encouragement to you today is that you do not underestimate the power of the dark side.  Ok, that was a little Star Wars reference for you.  But the point is true.  Satan is powerful.  Demons are no joke.  Remember our series through Luke and all the times that Jesus interacted with demons?  Those demons had lots of power to wreck, totally wreck, people’s lives.  So don’t toy with them.  Don’t experiment. Don’t think that you’ll be fine.  Don’t think you are strong enough to handle it.  Be teachable, be self-aware.  Know that you are not capable of defeating the spirit world should spirits interact with you.

Don’t invite the battle.

But aren’t Christians safe because of Jesus?  Safe from possession, yes, but not oppression.  As we often saw in the Gospel of Luke earlier this year and last year, Jesus regularly interacted with the spirit world.  Whether it was Satan himself or the many demons who confronted him, there was always one thing that was the same:

There was no contest. Those demons ran scared.  Even Satan couldn’t tempt him.

Jesus either outsmarted them or he overpowered them.  It wasn’t even a question.  Each time it was no contest.  He would win.

If the battle would be between us and the powers of darkness, it would also be no contest, but we would lose!  We need to humble ourselves and admit that.  The problem is that we often think we can do battle.

In Ephesians 6:10-20, we read about the Armor of God.  I’ve heard people talk like all we need to do is strap on that armor and go do battle with spirits.  But if you look closely at how Paul actually describes the armor of God, you see a very different picture.

When you put on the armor of God, you are actually depending on God and obeying him so that his power is at work in us and through us.  It is not our power.  It is all him.

Be truthful, faithful, righteous, study God’s word, and pray.  These might not sound like typical weapons in a battle, but in God’s Kingdom they are powerful, because they rely on his power.  By doing these things we stay humble, we stay dependent on God’s ability and power.

So whether it is real interaction with ghosts or Ouija boards or any form of sorcery or witchcraft, anything having to do with demons I encourage you to stay away from it.

But if the spiritual realm comes to you, and it might, I urge you not to assume that you can fight it and win.  Instead go to God in prayer.  Plead for him to save you, plead for him to have victory.

I have heard of formulaic prayers that are supposed to be able defeat demons.  Pray a “hedge of protection.”  “Pray the blood of Jesus”.  Claim victory in Jesus name.  As if these are magical incantations.  I’m not so sure about that.  I don’t see any Scripture that gives clear instructions about that.  They are based on Scripture, which is good, but in no way should we consider them to be formulaic prayers that will automatically defeat evil.

Instead, we are to put on the armor of God!

And what of Halloween?  Same goes there.  Put on the full armor of God and you’ll be fine.

Let me be a bit more specific.  Halloween in our day is not the same as the ancient Samhaim. Samhaim involved direct interaction with the spirit realm.

When you are participating in a costume party or trick-or-treating, are you involved in direct interaction with the spiritual realm?  I highly doubt it.  For most, Halloween is a bunch of kids in costumes, followed by their parents, as the kids run from door to door in friendly neighborhoods getting candy.  Whatever connection to the spirit world trick or treating once had, it is long, long gone.

The spirit world is active in many other ways.  And those other ways are where we need to be on alert.  Demonic possession and oppression.  Methods used for directly trying to interact with spirits.  Methods used for trying to access the power of spirits.  Steer clear of them.

Fortune tellers, mediums who claim to be able to contact the dead, Ouija boards.  Interaction with ghosts.  Sacrificing of animals.  Magical potions and incantations.  These are no joke.

I urge you to stay away from direct involvement in the spirit world.  And if that Spirit world should come to you, remember that Jesus is greater!  Remember that Jesus won the victory.  Pray for him to intervene!  If it keeps happening, talk with your pastor or a trusted, mature Christian friend for help.  And remember that our God is greater.

Halloween and Horror…should we be concerned?

29 Oct

Image result for why is halloween celebrated

What kinds of commercials are you seeing on TV in the very few spots that are not already taken by election commercials?

This time of year there are always lots of commercials advertising the latest horror movies.  It’s Halloween season, and they’re trying to scare you.  But why at Halloween?  Have you ever thought about that?  What is the deal with scary things and horror movies at Halloween?

In Christian circles over the years this connection between scary things and Halloween has actually been the cause of controversy surrounding Halloween.

How many of you were not allowed to trick or treat?  How many of you were not allowed to wear costumes?  Or how many of you were not permitted to wear costumes of witches or wizards or demons? How many of you had Harvest parties instead of Halloween parties?

And why?  Why are some families or churches opposed to Halloween?

When we lived in the City of Lancaster, Trick or Treat night was an amazing night.   It was like a block party that never ended.  It just went on and on, street after street, block after block.  Tons of people out walking around, conversing on their porches, giving out candy.  It was awesome.  Neighbors talking, laughing, getting to know one another.

What could be wrong with that?

And yet some people are totally opposed to it.  I would guess that in most churches you’ll find people that agree with either perspective.  That’s pretty normal in church families, to have people who disagree with one another.

We invite you to join us at Faith Church on Sunday.  We are going to be looking at why there has been concern about Halloween.  Do you know?

You have to go way back in history.  And it starts with the word “Halloween” itself.  It is actually two words “Hallow” and “eve”.  At some point those two words were contracted together to make “Halloween.”  But that should make us ask, what is the connection between “Hallow” and “eve”?  What “eve” are we talking about, and what is a “Hallow”?

Hope to see you Sunday!

Ghost Tours & Ghostbusters: Is the Spirit Realm Real? – Luke 8:26-39

18 Aug

We were in the city of Lancaster a few weeks ago in the evening, around 8pm, and we saw a lady dressed in a costume leading a group of about 10 people. It was clear that this was a tour. But what kind of tour would be happening on a Sunday night at 8pm?

The lady was wearing a cape and carrying a black cast iron lantern. It wasn’t dark yet, but twilight was coming. Know what it was? A Ghost tour. Ghosts? In Lancaster.

When I was in high school I remember classmates talking about there was supposedly a covered bridge in the Lancaster countryside where you could see a blue light levitating in the air at a specific time.

Have you heard of Charlie Charlie, which is like a modern-day Ouija board?

And there is a new Ghostbusters movie coming out.

Is there any doubt that our culture is fascinated with spiritual things, and especially by spirit beings?

What do you think about the spirit world? For every person who thinks it is not real, that it is just the product of our emotion or delusion, there is a person who has had an experience with the power of the spiritual world. I’ve often heard people question why we don’t see the spirit world so much here in the USA, as compared to places around the world where voodoo or witchdoctors are prevalent.  Usually the answer has to do with how wealthy cultures are more scientifically aware and thus are not as prone to credit the spiritual world with causing certain phenomena, as they are to say that these supposed spiritual manifestations are just psychological. But many of us have stories of personal encounters with the spirit world, encounters that cannot easily be explained away by science.  Is it possible that we are too quick in our wealthy culture to say “we don’t see the spirit world at work in America”? Maybe we actually do see it.

So what should we think about the spiritual world? At Faith Church we have continued our study through Luke, reaching Luke 8:26-39 where Jesus encountered the spirit world.  Take a few moments to read the story, and you will see that Jesus believed that there is a spiritual world out there. In fact he interacted with the the spiritual realm through what some have called spiritual warfare.

Luke tells us that Jesus was faced with a legion of demons.  A Roman legion could have up to 6,000 soldiers!  In a battle, when the competing sides line up, and one army is larger than the other, history has taught us that the larger army usually wins.  Even a well-trained, well-equipped smaller army will have a tough time against a more numerous enemy.  Sheer volume can be overwhelming.  Luke describes for us a scene where Jesus is alone versus thousands of demons.  In any normal battle field, this would be a no-contest.

This battle actually is a no-contest, but because the battle never takes place.  Instead the legion of demons concedes defeat before Jesus says a word.  The demons recognize that their massive numbers are no match to his power.

Jesus won the victory. He is the real power. We can get fascinated by manifestations of power in the spiritual realm. Those manifestations are real, but we need to remember that our God is greater.

May God’s victory give us assurance and hope, not arrogance.  Satan is strong. The spiritual forces of darkness are not something to be toyed with. Look at what they did to this man. He was ruined. When we allow spiritual darkness to enter our lives, it has the power to ruin us, and it almost always does. Our missionary friends in Kenya told us about a situation they had to deal with at their school recently. A student shared with his classmates that Satan was telling him to do evil things. The staff took it seriously, and the boy had to leave the school so that he and his family could get counseling. It’s no joke. It’s not Ghostbusters.

But know this, our God is greater! He has won the victory over Satan. I’ve heard people say that in spiritual warfare we should pray a hedge of protection around the situation, or that we should pray the blood of Jesus over the situation. I’ve heard people say that we should confront the devil in the name of Jesus. Almost as if there is a formula about it, like we have weapons that we can fight spirit beings with. I don’t know about that. I think we should feel very cautious about the spiritual realm. I don’t think we should try to take matters of spiritual warfare into our own hands! Especially when Jesus has won the victory. Instead I recommend that you pray to him. He is the real power. Ask him for help. When you suspect spiritual warfare, call out to the one who is greater!