Tag Archives: satan

False Ideas Christians Believe About…Temptation

10 Jun

Author’s Note: It’s been 2+ months since I wrote for this blog, and I’m excited to get back to it. A very busy season of life has finally eased up, and I want to catch up where we left off in the series on False Ideas Christians Believe. In order to speed the catch-up process, what you will read in the remainder of the series is the full sermon rather than the smaller portions, which was the approach I had been using. I’ll also be posting the current sermon series, which just started this past Sunday.

Remember the classic story of temptation, that of Adam and Eve in the garden when they were tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge?  After they give in to temptation, God asks them about it. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake.  Certainly it wasn’t their fault!  This story is so powerful because we see ourselves in it. We struggle with temptation just like they did, as you will see in the phrases we’re fact-checking today.  Here they are:

  • The devil made me do it.
  • That just the way I am. Deal with it.
  • The temptation was too strong. I couldn’t resist.

When I found the picture above, I thought, “Yes, that expression captures the way this phrase is often used!”  Whatever that guy did, he is really trying to defer attention away from himself.  He knows it was all his fault, but he wants to make a joke out of what he did.  He wants us to think that it was no big deal!

Can we defer our sins onto the devil?  We can try.  And actually, I think we often do.  When we say, “The devil made me do it,” how seriously do we mean to talk about the devil?  If we seriously meant those words, then we would be saying that we were possessed by Satan or a demon, and that they took control of our body and made us do something that we actually didn’t want to do.  We would be insinuating that our free will was temporarily overridden by a more powerful sinister force, and there was nothing we could do about it. 

That’s not going to hold water for most situations.  You’d be better off pleading temporary insanity. 

The reality is we know what we did.  We chose to do the wrong thing.  It didn’t have anything to do with Satan or a demon.  We say “the devil made me do it,” though, because we got caught, or we’re about to be punished, and we don’t want to face the consequences.  Sometimes we say “The devil made me do it” like the guy in the photo above, with a smirk and an eye roll hoping to get a laugh from the other person to diffuse the tension a bit, and hopefully lighten the consequences. 

That said, we can seriously blame Satan, but in another way.  We might not say, “The devil made me do it,” but I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people talk about Satan as involved in many circumstances.  Usually it is when a person is going through a rough time, and they say that Satan is at work. 

So how involved is Satan and his demons in our lives?  Is he constantly at work trying to tempt us?  Is he hovering around all the time?  Is he here right now? 

Many people in the Faith Church family have told me that they have been in the church alone at night and thought, “this place is super creepy.”  Me too. I walk through this place in the pitch black all the time.  But are Satan and his minions hanging out in churches waiting for us Christians to stop in after hours for some reason, and he is rubbing his hands together thinking, “Now I have them!”?  That makes for great TV and movies.  But real life?  What does the Bible say?

First, of all, Satan is real and he is powerful. 

In 1 Peter 5:8 Peter describes the devil as our enemy who is like a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour.  This is no joke.  Peter is saying that the devil is serious business and we need to take him seriously.  The devil does want to take Christians down. 

But that doesn’t mean we need to be walking around in fear all the time. 

Peter goes on to say, “Be self-controlled and alert.”  Further, Peter says, “Resist [the devil], standing firm in your faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 

Also, James 4:7 teaches that we can submit ourselves to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from us.  James goes on to teach that we should come near to God, and God will come near to us.  So while Satan is real and powerful, our response should be to grow closer and closer to God, who is infinitely more powerful than Satan! 

We are not alone in this.  God is with us! 

Consider how Jesus himself resisted temptation.  We read in the Gospels that Satan tempted Jesus, and each time Jesus resisted Satan.  But Jesus chose a very interesting method of resistance.  Jesus could have simply overpowered the Devil, as he is infinitely stronger.  It is a no-contest.  But Jesus chose a method that fit quite well with his humanity.  Each time Satan tempted Jesus with a way Jesus could sin, Jesus resisted Satan by quoting from the Bible!  Jesus countered Satan’s lies with truth from God’s word.  Satan’s lies were incredibly similar to the lie the serpent told Adam and Eve in the Garden: “There is a better a way, God’s way is not the best way, indulge yourself.”  That lie sounds so good.  But Jesus shows us that we can stand firm on the truth of God’s Word.  Jesus serves as an example for all of us.

So we can make a practice of knowing the word of God! Study it, learn it, and become familiar with it.  Employ it, say it, use it to declare truth to a temptation.  As Psalm 119:9-11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”  Memorizing is a practice we ask children to do, but what about teens and adults? 

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics.  In God’s word we have gift.  Most ancient Christians had very little access to God’s word.  What they were required to do was memorize it.  So I would encourage you to consider your level of interaction with the Bible.  We can fool ourselves into thinking, “I know where it is if I need it…it’s on the shelf…or on my phone app.”  The reality is we so rarely go to it.  The Bible is not God, so we need to remember that we are in relationship with Jesus, not with the Bible.  We can grow our relationship with Jesus by studying the Bible.  That’s not the only way, but it is an important way.  It is especially helpful to do so in groups.  If you are not part of a small group for Bible study, I encourage you to consider it. 

Remember that Jesus himself gives us an example of knowing the Bible, and finding great help in the Bible to resist temptation. But what about when it seems that God’s help is not working?  Have you ever felt that?  Maybe you’ve prayed for victory over temptation, and you have prayed and prayed and prayed, and you just keep struggling. 

And you keep failing.  You keep indulging the temptation.   Frankly, that giving in to temptation may have even hurt you personally, and it may have hurt your relationships.  The pain has been real.  But still you can’t stop.  Still you give in to temptation. 

Maybe you’ve thought the next statement:

We can think like that, can’t we? 

I’ve mostly heard people use this statement two ways.  Both are dangerous.

The first way is almost a proud owning of a tendency in our lives.  For example, a person might say, “I’m just an in-your-face person, and that’s how it’s going to be.  You don’t like it?  Tough.  The truth hurts.  Deal with it.”   This kind of person knows their issue, and doesn’t seem to care that it might leave wreckage in their wake. 

The other way I’ve heard this used is by a person who doesn’t want to be a certain way, but after trying hard to change, has made little or no progress and feels hopeless.

The first person might say, “Well, God made me with free will.  If he didn’t want me to sin, he shouldn’t have given me the option.  That’s just the way I am.”

The second person might say, “Well, God made me with free will. And I don’t like it, but I’m afraid that’s just the way I am.”

In both people, there is a clear indication that it is God who made us this way, and though they don’t say, it is implied that it is God’s fault. 

Or sometimes we think in terms of biology and genetics.  “Well, I am predisposed to it, it’s been in my family for generations, so it’s not my fault. It’s God’s fault.  My dad was an alcoholic, and so was his dad before him, so that’s just the way we are.” 

For me, this one is personal, because I struggle with anxiety.  My mom does too.  It very well could be genetic.  The more researchers learn about DNA and the human genome, the more they are finding about how so many issues are genetic and passed down.  It would be very easy to say, “Well, I guess that’s how God made me, and therefore, that’s just the way I am, so deal with it”?

What about you?  It could be an anger problem.  It could be an addiction.  It could be an attraction.  Perhaps our bodies are guiding us and we have less free will than we think?

In James 1:13-15 we read that God doesn’t tempt us, but “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” 

See what James is saying?  Temptation is so often not an attack on us from the outside, as if we are being assaulted by temptation, and it is just too strong.  James is saying that temptation so often comes from within us.  We have desires in us.  And we allow them to control us, giving them control.  We indulge them, and they grow and grow.  James is very clear that we shouldn’t be blaming others. 

So while there is a sense in which free will could mean that we do have an option to indulge temptation, we have to see that it is an option.  Giving in to sin is not just the way we are.  We can say no to temptation. 

And that leads us to our next phrase:

It sure feels like temptation is this strong powerful force, doesn’t it?  It feels like it is outside us and pulling us in.

Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 10.  He refers to episodes in Israel’s history when they indulged in sinful pagan revelry.  Paul is reflecting on times when Israel worshiped false gods and idols, when they committed sexual immorality, and even when they grumbled.  We don’t often think about grumbling and complaining as much of a temptation, but Paul mentions it in Philippians 2:14 where he adds arguing.  How often do we consider that we are tempted to be complainers, grumblers and arguers?  Here in 1 Corinthians 10, I’m glad Paul brings it up, because usually we only think of being tempted to steal or lie or lust or overeat or something like that.  We can also be tempted to complain, grumble, and argue.  We can be tempted to be jerks. 

What is Paul’s response to this?  He does not want the Christians to be anything like the Israelites.  Instead, in verse 11, he says that the Israelite stories serve as examples to us, as warnings.  In particular, they are warnings to us to be humble and teachable, so that we don’t think things like, “Well, that’s just the way God made me,” as if we are destined to give in, as if we cannot change.  I get it.  If you are a person who has a proclivity to a certain sin, it can seem impossible to overcome. 

Some of you have battled and battled.  Some of you, after reading biblical passages like the ones mentioned above, feel convicted about a certain behavior, and you pray to God for help, you receive his forgiveness to start fresh, and in fifteen minutes, you’ve committed the sin again.  It can feel so frustrating.  So hopeless.  In frustration, and maybe spiritual depression, we can say “That’s just the way I am.” 

To that God says in 1st Corinthians 10:13, through Paul, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 

There is hope.  God is stronger than your sin.  There is a way out. 

Notice the imagery that Paul uses.  It is not an image of removal of the temptation.  That’s what I wish he said!  I wish he said, “But when you are tempted, God is faithful, and he will eliminate the temptation and you will never struggle and life will be easy.” 

Nope.  He said, God will provide a way out. I love that! Yes, give me an escape hatch, a way out, far far away from the temptation.  The way Paul is starting this image awesome.  But then Paul surprises us.  He says that the way out is not an escape hatch, but something that will help us stand up under the temptation. 

Wait?  Did Paul just bait and switch on us?  He gets us all excited and happy for the way out.  We who are so frustrated and worn out by temptation, and longing for a way out, are thanking God for the way out, but then Paul says, the way out doesn’t remove the temptation.  It is strength to endure. Strength to say no.  Strength to deal with it.  Strength to resist. 

Hmm…I’m not sure I like that.  I don’t want to have to resist!  Who is with me?  We are so used to life being easy and comfortable in our society, that we don’t want to stand up under anything.  We want to sit on a recliner or sofa or bed and lounge.  And that goes for the way we approach sin.  We don’t want to struggle with temptation. We’d rather it be easy to defeat.

But God says, “No, temptation will always be there, but not more than you can handle, especially because I will help you stand up under it.” 

What does that look like?  What is this help, this empowerment to stand up under it?

It could be the community of believers we call the church family.   We need one another.  We can and should encourage one another to stand strong.  We can and should hold one another accountable.  We can and should confess our sins to one another, and ask for prayer, for advice, for help.

It might need deeper attention though.  If you are battling and addiction and losing, you may need professional help.  Go get that help.  I’ve personally gone to counseling in two different periods in my life.   Six sessions each time.  Both counselors were incredibly needed and helpful.  You might need to see a counselor or a spiritual director too. In conclusion, let us know that there is hope and strength and provision when we face temptation!

3 reasons bad things happen [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s involvement in our lives. Part 2]

19 Mar

Does everything happen for a reason? Many people believe so, but as we discussed yesterday, sometimes things happen because of the kind of world we live. What do I mean by that? What kind of world do we live in? Our world demonstrates at least the following three tendencies that very much affect why things happen.

First, something scientists call the second law of thermodynamics – this is a principle of heat transfer that says things, generally, move from order to disorder.  The technical word for this is entropy.  Things rot, they rust, they wear out, they break.  It is the super-rare exception that a car, for example, would improve its working order.  Cars break down and need tune ups.  Our bodies heal, yes, but the normal tendency is that they age and break down.  This is what Paul is likely referring to in Romans 8:21 when he says that creation is in bondage to decay.

Second, Satan is in the world, tempting, lying, and as we read in Scripture devouring. And he is no joke.  We should be cautious in our view of Satan’s influence.  I so often hear that a person is going through a difficult situation because of Satan.  But we really don’t know that Satan is responsible, do we?  If your car is broken down, it’s almost certainly not because of Satan; it is because cars follow the second law of thermodynamics, and they break down.  It seems to me that we are generally too quick to blame Satan, and maybe we blame Satan when it was actually our own fault.  He is real, though, and powerful, and he does tempt and devour.

The third way to describe our world is talk about the broken and fallen nature of people.  People are in the world using their free will in ways that are selfish and harmful.  Sometimes we are dealing with pain of our own making.  Sometimes the pain is brought on us by others.  Sometimes it is both.  Because we have free will, and we don’t always use it in a way that is in keeping with God’s Kingdom, it leads to pain. 

But does that mean God is hand’s off?  Deism is a view of God that says this.  God created the universe, he set things in motion, but is now hand’s off.  Like a bowler releasing his bowing ball.  Is God like that?

Or is God in control?  That is the second phrase we’re fact-checking.  I’m bringing them together at this point because they are related.  “God is in control” is very much connected to the idea that “Everything happens for a reason.”  Usually we think of God like that.  He is in control, and therefore the pain we’re going through must have meaning or a purpose.  There is a reason. 

But does God control things like that?  If he does, then why is there so much pain and evil in the world?  Some people state, assuming that God is good and that God is all-powerful, that he would control the world so that there would not be pain or evil. Because the world is obviously filled with pain and evil, they conclude that either God is not good or God is not all-powerful.  As a result, some say, God doesn’t exist. 

These are deep questions, hard questions, scary to bring up.  But let’s face it head on.  What do we Christians do with this situation of evil and wickedness in the world?  Is God in control? 

We Christians respond to this in a number of ways.  And that is what we will investigate in our next post, so check back in!

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.

A story about what happens after people die

6 Aug

Photo by Ashim d’Silva on Unsplash

What happens after a person dies?  My uncle recently sent me this story, author unknown, that tries to answer that question.

On the outskirts of a small town, there was a big old pecan tree just inside the cemetery fence. One day, two boys filled up a bucketful of nuts and sat down by the tree, out of sight, and began dividing the nuts.

‘One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me,’ said one boy.  Several dropped and rolled down toward the fence.

Another boy came riding along the road on his bicycle. As he passed, he thought he heard voices from inside the cemetery, so he slowed down to investigate. Sure enough, he heard, ‘One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me…’

He just knew what it was. He jumped back on his bike and rode off. Just around the bend he met an old man with a cane, hobbling along.

‘Come here quick,’ said the boy, ‘you won’t believe what I heard! Satan and the Lord are down at the cemetery dividing up the souls!’

The man said, ‘Beat it kid, can’t you see it’s hard for me to walk?’ When the boy insisted though, the man hobbled slowly to the cemetery.

Standing by the fence they heard, ‘One for you, one for me.  One for you, one for me.’

The old man whispered, ‘Boy, you’ve been tellin’ me the truth.  Let’s see if we can see the Lord!

Shaking with fear, they peered through the fence, yet were still unable to see anything. The old man and the boy gripped the wrought iron bars of the fence tighter and tighter as they tried to get a glimpse of the Lord.

At last they heard, ‘One for you, one for me. That’s all.  Now let’s go get those nuts by the fence and we’ll be done.’

They say the old man had the lead for a good half-mile before the kid on the bike passed him.

That boy and the old man had a very interesting view of God and what happens after people die!

While we might take issue with their theology, we can agree with them that something does after to people after they die.  We believe that there is an eternal destiny for all.

Therefore, a significant element of the mission of God’s Kingdom has been that Christians tell the story of hope that we have because of what Jesus has done for us.  We don’t have to look at life beyond the grave with fear because we have hope in Christ.  Additionally, Jesus said that the hope we have in him matters before we die.  We believe that becoming a disciple, a follower of Jesus, gives us hope for eternal life after death, and gives us hope for best possible way to live now.  We believe that God is preparing a place for us in heaven, and he is seeking to transform society now!  Eternal life in heaven, abundant life on earth.  That’s how we summarize this amazing Kingdom of God.

As Peter continues teaching the Christians in the Roman Empire around the year 65 AD, he now teaches them about how to live out this mission of God’s Kingdom among people who might be antagonistic or atheistic, agnostic or apathetic.

So please read 1 Peter 3:13-17.  This week we’re going to see how Peter instructs Christians to talk about this hope they have.

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

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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

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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!