Tag Archives: satan

Satan did not break my lawn mower

29 May

Related image

Are any of you suffering?  Any of you going through a hard time?

How does it feel?  Lonely, right?  Maybe you feel people just don’t understand.  Or your suffering might be ongoing, and you feel you are a burden to the people around you.  You worry about that, and your worry only compounds the suffering.

Have you ever wondered if you’ll ever be done suffering?

What can be so hard for us Christians is that we know we are to cling to Jesus in the midst of our suffering, but it can seem like he is not there.  That’s scary, right?  Suffering can lead to a crisis of faith?  Why is Jesus allowing me to go through this?  Does he really care about me?  Does he know what I am going through?  Of course he knows.  So why he is letting this suffering drag on so long?  What does my relationship with Jesus matter during the hard times?  Am I just supposed to get through this on my own?  I don’t know that I can do that.

As we continue to study Peter’s first letter, we find that he has a word for people who are suffering.  But not just any sufferers. Before going any further in the post, please stop and read 1 Peter 1:6-12.

First of all, what are the trials that Peter was referring to?  Remember that Peter was the leader of the church in Rome, and he was writing to Christians around the Roman Empire that had been dealing with some persecution.

I know this is not fun to talk about.  Persecution.  But we need to have at least a basic grasp of what Peter and the Christians in that day were facing before we can apply this passage to us.  Especially because there have been Christians facing persecution for hundreds of years in many places around the globe, and there still are many Christians being persecuted today.

If we don’t have a good sense of the trials that Peter is talking about, we could very easily apply Peter’s words to every situation that we find difficult.  Getting a bad parking space at the mall.  Having your dryer make funny noises, like ours was this week.  Well, actually, the first comment was “Dad, there is a bat trapped in the dryer…we need to get it out of there.”  Over the course of a few days, the sound went from trapped bat, to full-on shrieking.

You can think about the difficulties and griefs that you’ve had this week.  Are they in any way related to the trials that Peter is talking about?  My concern is that we can trivialize what Peter is talking about.  Missing an important family event.  A sports team losing a big game.  A dryer breaking.

These situations are nothing like what Peter is talking about.

Scot McKnight says it this way: “Peter was addressing the impact salvation had on one’s life and how a person’s changed life (and status) ran counter to the culture in which these Christians lived.”[1]

In other words, the people in Peter’s day, and Peter himself, were suffering specifically because they were Christians.  Their suffering was completely and totally connected to the fact that they had decided to live their lives according the way of Jesus.  Peter is not talking about bad things happening to people who happen to be Christians.  They are suffering because they are Christians.

As I said, my dryer broke last week, and thanks to YouTube it was easy to fix, but also my mower broke…in the same week. Equipment breaking has nothing to do with me being a Christian, or being a pastor.  Now some may say, “What about the spiritual realm?  Couldn’t that be an attack from Satan meant to discourage you?”  I will admit that I don’t know for sure, but I highly, highly doubt it.  That, to me, sounds more like a plot line in a Christian fiction novel than it sounds like how Satan really works.  We need to be careful to avoid spiritualizing things.

Here’s what actually happened.  It was anything but spiritual.

A couple weeks ago, my mower stopped working.  You would pull the cord, the engine would fire up and immediately stop. So Daniel, a teenager in my church, fixed it for me. Daniel is learning small engine repair in an internship, and he did great! I mowed my whole yard, and the mower worked like a charm.  Then a few more days went by, days filled with rain and warmer temps, and the grass was growing out of control.  But there was no end in sight to the rain.  So Friday a week ago, we had a break in the rain, and even though the grass was wet, I had the kids start mowing.  They did their portions, and then I was going to finish up.

I didn’t get far, and the mower died.  Same thing as before.  Pull, start, die.  Pull, start, die.  Pull, start, die.  Ugh.  I thought, how dumb of me to mow wet grass.  And tall grass to boot!  Totally my fault.  Probably got the carburetor clogged again.  So the next day I took it to Daniel again.  I was hoping he could teach me what he did before. But this time there was no fixing it. Same thing: pull, start, die.

He said he would take it to his internship and look at it.

Well the streak of rain and warm temps continued. The grass grew like crazy.  On Wednesday I asked my neighbor if I could borrow her riding mower, and she said I could.  I got it out of her shed, it started, and I drove it maybe 20 yards, and it died.  I couldn’t start it. So I checked and it was out of gas.  Whew.  I filled it up, and I still couldn’t start it.  It would turn over a little, but never really start.  So I pushed it back into her shed.  When she got home, she was able to start it.  It looked like I didn’t have the throttle in the right place.

So I walked over to get started using it, and when I tried, it wouldn’t work.  I thought I must be the lawn-mower anti-Midas.  Whatever I touch breaks.  Then she got on it, and this time, even she couldn’t start it.  She said she had just had it serviced a few months ago, and wasn’t having any problems, so she would call her mechanic.

I was really frustrated, and my grass was super tall.

Then I got a text from Daniel.  “Your mower is fixed.  There was two-stroke gas in the engine.”

What???  Where in the world did I get two-stroke gas?  I have no two-stroke engine equipment like a chain saw.  I never bought two-stroke gas.  What was going on?

Then I had a scary thought!  I had filled up my neighbor’s riding mower with the same gas!  I ran over to her house hoping she was still home.  And she was.  She graciously allowed me to empty her gas tank of the two-stroke gas.  But neither she nor I had regular gas.  As I write this, days later, her mower still isn’t working.

Daniel dropped off my mower, and it works great.

But where did this two-stroke gas come from?  I realized that my father-in-law had been at our house a few weeks ago using his chainsaw to cut some of our wood.  That gas can must have been his, but it looks incredibly similar to our extra gas can, and it had no markings on it!  You know, like a label that would say “two stroke gas”  or something?

There was no demon.  It was the wrong gas.  We need to be super cautious about spiritualizing difficult situations in life and blaming them on Satan.  So many times difficulties come as a result of our own actions and choices.  When we blame the consequences of our poor behavior on the devil, we are trvilializing the actual suffering that people are going through around the world, specifically because they are Jesus-followers.

This week in my prayer app, Prayer Mate, which I have mentioned before, it pulled in a prayer request for Sabina in Tajikistan who became a follower of Jesus. Several members of Sabina’s own family, including her father, beat her when they found out. That didn’t stop her from giving a Bible to her friend Madina, who is now a follower of Jesus.  Sabina and Medina are following Jesus at the risk of their lives.

McKnight told the following story, “I recently spent some time with a young athlete who had some rough experiences at his local high school with his “former” friends. As a senior he had a track record of drinking and drugs but was converted to Christ. His conversion made a sudden and immediate impact on his life, so much that he found himself on an island. After games, he was no longer invited to the parties; during games, he was no longer given the same opportunities to shoot the basketball; and in the hallways at school, he was no longer a “hit” with either the girls or his friends. He came to me for consolation. I explained that at least part of this was suffering and that he needed to guard against retaliatory speech and bitter attitudes. He began to see, in a painful way, that commitment to Christ can involve suffering.”[2]

That is who Peter is talking to.  Peter is writing to people who started living life in a very differing way because they began to believe in Jesus and learn from him how to learn. As a result, other people in their communities starting mistreating them.  As we start looking into this passage this week, it will be very helpful for us to have a proper perspective on the kind of suffering we’re facing.

Tomorrow, check back in, as we look at how Christians have a distinctly different response to suffering.

[1] McKnight, Scot. 1 Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

[2] Ibid.

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!

How much land does a man need? and other temptations and discontentment

23 Jan

Is there a certain area of your life where you are constantly tempted?

I am listening to an audio book this week. It is called How Much Land Does a Man Need? by famed Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Tolstoy is famous for his mammoth works like Anna Karenina or War and Peace, as well as for his desire to live out Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. But How Much Land Does a Man Need is a very short story. James Joyce called it the greatest short story of all time.

how much land does a man needIn it Tolstoy tells the tale of a peasant, Pahom, who progressively desires and gets more and more land. Each time he is excited about the new land thinking it will give him the kind of life he yearns for. But as time goes by, even as he does well for himself, each time he gets more land he soon grows discontent with it. He wants more. He finds out about some well-landed people who are willing to sell land cheap. One ruble per acre! So he travels to them, bearing gifts to impress them.  They love the gifts, and he says he is interested in purchasing land.  They like him and are willing to sell at the very cheap price he heard about, but they offer to sell the land in a most unusual deal.

They give him the opportunity to purchase a parcel of land for a very low price, but the parcel size is based on how far he can walk in one day. It is very simple. He has from sunup to walk as far as he wants, stake out the land, but he has to return to his starting point by sundown. Sounds great, right?

There’s a catch. If he does not return to the spot of departure within a day’s time, he loses his money and the land.  Pahom is delighted!  So off he goes excited thinking he is going to get a steal. It should be very easy to get more land than he ever dreamed of.

I think about when I have run marathons around the city of Baltimore. I took me about four hours. You can cover a lot of ground in four hours.  You’re totally exhausted, but you’ve covered a lot of ground.  How broad an area do you think you could cover from sunup to sundown?  Ten square miles?  More? Less?

How do you think Pahom did? Think he went out too far didn’t make it back? Good guess, close, but you’re wrong. He actually made it back. In time. But that is not the end of the story.

But greed and discontent got in the way. Discontent fueled his heart, his desire. Greed was his temptation.  You will be surprised to hear the end of the story.

We are all tempted by many things. What is it about our inner desire that gives temptation its power?

Is temptation so powerful in and of itself? No. Temptation is powerful because of something inside us. Some psychologists call this the empty self. We have an emptiness within us, and we long to fill it. We are discontent. When we are discontent, it is very, very hard to defeat temptation.

Jesus was once at the place in his life where he had every reason to be discontent. Satan knew it. As he knows when we are discontent. In that moment he can strike with a temptation that is nearly impossible to defeat.

In Luke 4:1-15 we see this work out in Jesus’ life.  And we’ll hear what happens because of the discontent in Pahom’s life.  Join us at Faith Church on Sunday!