The Creative Forerunner

loudspeakerIf you resonate with the truth of the forerunner ministry and you do not have a strong gifting in preaching from a platform are you invalidated? The very simple and obvious answer is no, and the truth is, due to the radical shift in technology in recent years the most effective preaching platform may not even be the church pulpit anymore. I say the church pulpit rather than the church platform, because I still strongly believe that it is “through the church (that) the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known” (Eph. 3:10). The reason I make a differentiation is because preaching is not the only gifting that the New Testament envisages that the church members will possess, indeed it is envisaged that as the “ekklesia” gathers to worship each one would bring their own contribution to edify to the body depending on their particular gifting. The Bible outlines many giftings and callings that can help build up the body and there are many extra-biblical callings (which if they had existed in Bible times I believe would have been included), which likewise need to be employed to communicate the fullness of the gospel.

Do you feel invalidated from this ministry if you are a designer of any ilk, a blogger, a script writer, an author, a TV producer, a videographer, a podcaster, a coder, an inventor or indeed any other kind artist? It is evident that the workplace is increasingly populated by those that have been termed by Richard Florida as the “creative class” (see “The Rise of the Creative Class”—Revisted, Revised and Expanded, 2014, Basic Books). Florida has noted in his work that over a third of the workforce are part of this class. Sometimes the workplace is simply seen as a place to be endured by Christians, perhaps something that can be used to fund Christian ministry, yet the truth is we need a much more holistic approach. We absolutely need to ask the question about what we do with our financial resources, but perhaps a more germane question is what are we doing with our creative skills. Do we even consider that these skills can be used to further the Great Commission of Jesus more directly? How are these skills important in the storyline of Jesus returning to the earth? My earnest desire is to see these giftings fully align with the New Testament’s message and be an effective tool to build up and prepare the Body of Christ.

CREATIVE GIFTS – Let us break this down a little further as it relates to the various creative forms that we engage in either for our vocation or simply as a creative expression of who we are. This is in no way an exhaustive list, what it is however is a challenge to think about common forms of creative expression in missional ways. If you are a creative, I challenge you to think of your artistic calling and think how you can use it for missional purposes.

SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS – We live in an age of social media revolutions. The pen has truly become mightier than the sword. Social media is a platform of much that is banal, yet there are growing number who are using it to disciple a generation. Today most Christian young adults are spending more hours on Facebook than they are reading the Bible. The platform may not be Facebook or Twitter tomorrow, but rest assured there will be a platform and writing will be a critical component. Communicators who can cut through the dross, redeem much in society and provide biblical insight to those who might not receive it anywhere else are much needed. If you are a communicator, social media is both a place to cut your teeth in speaking to this generation and to hone your skill in communicating the bare essentials in compelling and engaging ways.

BLOGGING – Blogs such as Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Mashable and Gawker are some of the most popular destinations for many online today. While you may not consider the latest personality quiz or celebrity news a blog, it is an undeniable fact that blogging both forms and changes the world views of many in this generation. It is my contention that the growth of New Calvinism since the early 2000s has come about largely through an army of bloggers. Blogging should be a critical component of any social media ecosystem. It takes a little more effort than simply tweeting, but it also provides a destination for the brief thought of your tweet to be fleshed out. Whereas a Facebook discussion might be fruitless, blogging provides a forum for discussion to happen in a much more reasonable way. Oh that we will see a generation of creative bloggers communicate the message of God himself.

AUTHORS – While social media and blogs are a first step in the journey of writing. It is my hope that out of every one hundred bloggers we can see ten effective authors emerge. While we need effective songwriters to spread theology through sung worship, the truism is born out that “leaders are readers”. And if this is the case (which it is) then we need an army of writers. Writers who are poets, writers who are story tellers, writers who are theologians, writers who are historians, writers who inspire and teach through their craft. The pen has always been mightier than the sword and today the many technologies which help us write have become mightier than an arsenal of weapons.

YOUTUBERS – Compared with some of the venerable media companies YouTube is still a child. In existence since only 2005, it like many of its other social media compatriots has grown rapidly. The statistics for Youtube are simply staggering. YouTube beats any cable network hands down in a contest for Millennial viewers; we have seen the short form videos of YouTube find a ready audience in our instant social media.  Unsurprisingly, individuals who have the skill and tenacity have been able to make a living from such videos. Explainer videos, animated videos, spoken-word videos are all watched millions of times and shape the way that culture thinks and the way that culture acts. The technical barriers that once applied to television have been reduced dramatically, but the question of compelling content and able communicators still remains. Is it possible that the revolutionary meta-narrative of the Gospel could become a virus on YouTube? One thing is for sure, it will not disciples of Jesus do not embrace this tool.

DOCUMENTARY MAKERS – Documentary has become the domain of modern day activism. It is possible to find documentaries about many of the great “causes” of the day. What is not always so evident however is the power of the documentary to challenge and change world-views. Worldviews are important as they are typically assumptions that are communicated implicitly by the filmmaker. These implicit assumptions are very rarely challenged by an audience. Individuals will often discuss the issues the documentary raises, few will go down the onerous task of deconstructing the worldview presuppositions that the film assumes before discussing the issues at hand. Yet such deconstructions are necessary for many Christians who will conform their thinking to the pattern of the world. The challenging question for Christians however is where the documentary makers are who can speak about the issues of the day are from a Christian worldview. I believe having discussions with a foundation of truth will always have good results.

MEDIA PRODUCERS – Television and radio producers of both entertainment and news media face similar challenges to the documentary makers. There are many Christians in these fields and many who have been raised in by Christian parents. In the rough and tumble of everyday tasks, decisions and to do lists do we let the revolutionary message of the Gospel shine through not only our daily interactions, but actually inform the way that we write and produce the television and radio that goes forth.

CODERS – Code is perhaps the fastest growing international language. We live in a world dominated by the latest applications that make our world more efficient, more social and generally a better place to live. Is it possible that we can think about this new language to help the gospel go forward more efficiently? Coding is undoubtedly a valuable economic benefit to the individual, but are the coders who have surrendered their life to the claims of Christ selling their skills so that they can stand before the kings of this age, or so that they can bring many into glory in the age to come.

ARTISTS – Painters, photographers, actors, dancers, musicians are often the subversive ones in society. Making controversial statements through their art. Changing the way we think about reality and culture. Let us not divorce our faith from our art. Let the subversive message of Jesus flow through our art and in some small way prepare a way for the coming of the Messiah.

This list of creative callings is far from complete, yet as we close this blog I encourage you to think about the creative calling which God has given you. It is perfectly natural to think about your work and creative expression as a form of worship and I encourage you to do that, however also start to think missionally. How can your gifting build up the body of Christ, how can your gifting proclaim the truth of the gospel (and often in ways that are not blatant, overt or stereotypical) and how can your gifting prepare the way for the return of the Messiah to the earth?

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Is Webstreaming Good for the Body of Christ?

Webstreaming: Our Story

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10 Rules of Social Media Etiquette

social-media-logos“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)

Paul is here transitioning in his letter to the Romans from a masterful  exposition on the salvation of Jew and Gentile alike into practical advice on how the Jew and Gentile can relate to one another in a joint fellowship. This transition is an appeal to believers who are both Jewish and Gentile to live sacrificial lives that do not conform to the pattern of the present world. This is a perennial challenge to believers; that we truly become strangers and aliens in this world, that we don’t embrace friendship with the world and yet we still reach out to the world in intentional ways of love and service.

Be Intentional

Social media is the way that billions in the world are relating to one another. There will always be a temptation to simply embrace the habits of the world, because everyone is doing it. Yet we have to be intentional. Intentional about even opening accounts on social media. What are our intentions for opening a Facebook or Twitter account? And then once we have, we must be intentional about what we post.

I’m assuming many who are reading this have already made the plunge for varied reasons and set up one or many social media accounts. If you have what follows are a few principles that I want to present as a way to “not” conform to the pattern of the world, but to use social media in a way that is both Christian and redemptional. These questions actually apply to more than simply social media, most are more general relational rules, however social media has a tendency to amp up inherent human challenges, so be intentional and try to think about these questions before you post:

Question #1:  Am I adding to or providing a way through the clutter?

We live in a world of clutter, we are constantly bombarded with media messages[1]. This is truly the information age. We are constantly in need of wisdom how to navigate this overload of information; trusted curators are needed who can provide a light in the midst of the clutter. So the very real question that you need to think about concerning what you personally post is whether you adding to the clutter or are you becoming one of the curators of information.

Question #2: Does this post provide helpful resources or information to my friends and social media contacts?

I am unclear whether your posting of the latest personality test proving what kind of dog you are is helpful to others, or what you are eating for dinner is an encouragement to others (it may be… I’m just asking the question), but one helpful way to bring definition to the first question is to ask whether what you are posting is helpful, informative and edifying to others.

Question #3: Am I being kind and encouraging?

Building up others in their faith and in their life is always to be encouraged. It is a good in itself, it will make you feel better and will make your audience better. The corollary is also true. Try to avoid unkind comments and expressions.

Question #4: Am I being negative?

Please take a moment to consider whether what you are posting is negative generally or offensive to someone else. As a general rule take all complaints offline. Bitterness, gossip and slander should not be found in the midst of the Christian community, yet the allure of gradations of sarcasm, cool cynicism to outright bitterness, gossip and grumbling is strong. It always has been, that is why the Bible takes such a strong stance against such language. The difference today is that such back room conversations are taking place in the open on social media platforms. Nothing good can come from this. If you would not make the comment to the person in front of a crowd of people, then don’t do it online.

Question #5: Am I angry right now?

If you are angry PLEASE don’t post. Social media is a very “immediate” medium, it is very easy to dash off your thoughts in a moment of anger and hit “send”. This would also be true of email. Please make it a rule if you are feeling angry/frustrated to cool down before you send any kind of electronic communication. Emailing, posting and texting lack so much of the nuance of human interaction. So if you need to resolve the issue immediately try to meet face to face. Sleep on the issue. If you have to write something try to get an objective counselor to read what you have written and offer some changes (and avoiding gossip in the process).

Question #6: Am I seeking approval through this post?

In addition to anger try to avoid posting while feeling other negative emotions e.g. self-pity, depression, and try not to post with a hope to self-justify yourself in the eyes of others.

Question #7: Am I being an online bully?

Social media is inherently tribal in nature. It is very easy to fall into political groups online either defending your own camp or criticizing another camp. In such a climate it becomes easy to fall into easy name-calling. If someone does not agree with me, this by necessity makes them a [fill in the blank] heretic. This is the epitome of online bullying, yet it seems to be a space that is inhabited online by those that have a passion for calling out heresy in others in the name of passion for Christian orthodoxy.

Question #8: Am I “pimping” my audience?

The sphere of social media is a place for dialogue. True dialogue involves active listening, not simply waiting for a space to speak, or sometimes in social media simply posting once and not responding to other people’s response. If you are trying to build a platform and you are a driven with a definite purpose often in trying to cut to the chase you want to mention your product, event, latest and greatest thing without building up a relationship/rapport with your audience. Sandi Krakowski has termed this practice as “pimping your audience”. Most people have a fairly good “insincere/phony” detector. You don’t like having product pimped to you, so do unto others as you would have them do to you.

Question #9: Have I become a social media stalker?

Unlike the other questions this one isn’t about posting, it is more generally about obsessive behaviors related to someone else’s profile/account. Relational dysfunction is common and it can sometimes get amped up on Facebook and other networks. There are several manifestations of “stalker like” behavior, but let me give one example. You have been in a relationship with a significant other and you break up. After the break up you visit the social media profile of the person you have broken up with rather too often. As a rule of thumb I would advise the couple to no longer be Facebook friends. There is a place of bitterness/fantasy that is very unhealthy that still being Facebook friends can create. The news media has noted that Facebook is being used in many divorce cases as people connect with previous partners.[2]

Question #10: Is the debate I am having healthy?

In March 2011 James MacDonald of the Harvest Church in Chicago hosted an event called the Elephant Room. He brought together ministers of the gospel of different theological persuasions with a stated purpose “to model loving confrontation and gracious disagreement that honors relationship and allows diversity of opinion but stands without compromise on the revealed word of God. As Proverbs 27:17 instructs us that iron sharpens iron, so we want to sharpen each other for effective ministry”[3]. As I recall, Macdonald had noted the amount of vitriol that attended online theological debate, especially in the comment section of articles. He thought there was a different more productive way and initiated the Elephant Room.

This was a valiant endeavor indeed, for often such debate around theological or political issues become like a gladiator sport. Everybody is right in their own eyes and everybody has to defend their turf at the expense of civility. Such debates are commonplace on Facebook. Many of the questions we have already discussed also apply to such debates on social media. However a few further points should be added to determine whether you are having a healthy dialogue. It is important to note that Facebook or for that matter any similar online platform of either synchronous or asynchronous written communication is inherently flawed as it cannot carry the same nuance and pathos as a face to face encounter. The same words in one context can create mortal enemies, while in the other context can result in deeper friendship. If the debate is getting heated (and you can figure this out by asking questions such as are the participants civil, demonstrating humility and not saying things they would not say in a public forum) I would suggest to take it offline.

Understanding Intellectual Development 

One other piece of wisdom is seen by understanding some of the sequence of intellectual development outlined by Harvard psychologist William G. Perry, Jr in his seminal work Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years. In this work he noted the development of students during their college years from a very black and white dualist view of beliefs to a more gradated relative approach to belief. He noted nine distinct stages of progression. The change from the first to the second stage are however germane to many debates on Facebook that I have encountered. This change sees students coming from a position that the authorities of their youth (be they teachers, parents, spiritual leaders) are correct and know right from wrong, to a position that the “new” authorities the student has embraced are true and their previous authorities are not just wrong, but are actually being fraudulent. This violent switch from one set of beliefs to another is surely a prime motivating factor in historic revolutions and also results in very vitriolic comments online.

The next stage of development sees a little disillusionment in the “new” teachers, as the student comes to a realization that they actually don’t have all the answers. The progression moves on until the student finally arrives at a strong set of personal beliefs but with respect for others and a teachable spirit to other views. Let us be aware of this progression, having grace for those who are transitioning from the first to the second stage in this progression, but also aware that we need to navigate individuals beyond this stage to a place of civility and Christlike love.

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Why the Disciples didn’t tell Parables… or did they?

ImageThe main teaching methodology used  by Jesus to the masses was parables. Symbolic and analogous stories with deeper spiritual meaning. It is interesting when we get to the time of the Apostles that we do not find them using the same method. Instead we find them in more direct proclamation and apologetics. Why was this?

I think the first thing to say is we actually don’t have much evidence of actually how the apostles taught. After the Acts of the Apostles we enter into different literary genres (letters and apocalyptic prophecy). However we do have the Acts of the Apostles. It is helpful that both Luke and Acts are written by the same author as we have a direct comparison. The reason that we have no parables recounted in Acts is not simply because of a different author.

Before I get to my hypothesis as to why we find no parables, I just want to make a point that I think is important in New Testament exegesis. There has been an approach to this subject that I believe drinks too heavily from 19th century higher biblical criticism, and what I mean is this, we examine each piece of literature in the New Testament independent of the other parts and as such we seek (for some consciously, for others unconsciously) to drive a wedge between Jesus and the Apostles (in particular Paul), both in terms of message and methodology. I believe the greater joy and profitability in New Testament exegesis is to mine areas of synergy. We all know the individuals were different, with varied educations and experience, but as believers we should believe in the divine inspiration of scripture. To seek out the divine is more profitable than not, after all isn’t that why we follow Jesus?

With this in mind I think it is important to put ourselves in the mindset of the early apostles. They had been given the Great Commission from their master. A command to make disciples, teaching them everything he taught. My hypothesis (and I know it is largely from silence) is that the disciples did this. They taught what Jesus had taught them; meaning that they told parables…. Jesus parables. The other parts of Acts and indeed the letters are simply commentary on the teaching of Jesus. If this was the case then the New Testament writers (Luke in particular) would find no need to repeat what had already been written. However it was important to gather some of the Apostolic commentary on Jesus teaching which would add to our understanding of the teaching of the master.

It is also very probable in my opinion that the Apostles told their own parables, which were perhaps not directly building on Jesus points and therefore were not included. So there you have it… I believe the apostles did tell parables.

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Church History Bites – Why Palestine is Anti-Semitic

a_palestine_map_jesus_timeTranscript: The teacher in Ecclesiastes is correct that there is nothing new under the sun, how often do we look back into history so that we can learn Short Lessons from Church History is a podcast devoted to small bitesize chunks of history, which are designed to give you the aha moment that we all love in history. “I never knew that”. and hopefully a few tips to help us grow in wisdom and devotion to Jesus.

Today we look at the question of why the name Palestine is Anti-Semitic.

Many Bibles printed in recent years have had helpful Maps at the back. One of those maps in recent years has been a map entitled Palestine in the time of Jesus. However the truth is that Palestine never even existed in the time of Jesus. So where exactly did the name Palestine come from? Well many people are familiar with the first Jewish Revolt which saw the fall of the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD. People are less familiar with the second Jewish Revolt which occurred a little over 50 years later. Between 132-135 AD the Revolt also known as the Bar Cochba Revolt was eventually cruelly put down by the Romans under the Emperor Hadrian. After the revolt was crushed the Emperor expelled the Jews from the city of Jerusalem, had the city plowed like a field and rebuilt as a Roman city named Aelia Capitolina. The province of Judea was also renamed. Hadrian chose a new name based on the ancient enemies of Israel.

If we remember back to the beginning of the monarchy in Israel, we remember the leader of the Hebrews – the prophet Samuel and Kings Saul and David fought against a iron working people called the Philistines. They were eventually vanquished, but it was these enemies that Hadrian sought to revive by spitefully naming the province of Judea after. In Latin, the lingua franca of the Roman World this name became Palestina, which we know today as Palestine.

The trouble with this naming is that in the Abrahamic Covenant that we find in Genesis 13 God says he will bless those who bless the descendants of Abraham and will curse those who curse, and that word curse includes the meaning of making light or ridiculing Israel. As a result it is important if we are using the name Palestine that we first understand where it came from and secondly if we do have to use it, use it in a way that does not repeat the insult against the Jewish people.

Thank you for listening and join us again for another short lesson from church history.

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Have we been sanctified or are we being sanctified?

RecycledThere has been much confusion on the intertubes recently over the word sanctified. I have been told that I am now completely sanctified and completely perfect. Is this true? Well, in the New Testament the word sanctified means to separate or make holy for God. Thus most references to the word sanctified occur in the past tense because the day we were legally justified before God we were also at that moment set apart for God and made holy, and in this sense we were completely sanctified.

However neither the word nor the concept of sanctification are limited to the past tense. We find examples of believers “being sanctified” in the present tense (Heb. 2:11, 10:14). The difference here is confusion between the legal position of believers and their living condition, while we are legally perfect and receive the imputed righteousness of Christ, believers still live in a fallen, sinful world and must continue on in the sanctification process to gain the imparted righteousness of Christ. Paul prays that believers might be sanctified completely (1 Thess. 5:23, Eph. 5: 26).

Perhaps the confusion arises related to another more technical word “mortification”. Although the “old man” of sin was put to death on the cross, we are still called to “put to death” (Rom. 8:13, Col. 3:5) the deeds of the flesh. Paul tells us our sanctification is found in “abstaining from sexual immorality” (1 Thess. 4:3). The power of sin was put to death and we do stand completely justified before the Father. However we cannot deny that we sin and if we do sin we must repent and put to death those deeds. And if we do this God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. Finally our sanctification will be complete when our bodies are glorified. Then we will completely set apart for God and that point we will be “once saved, always saved”.

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Justification might not be the whole Good News – but it is the best news you will ever hear in this life.

The CrossToday is Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – surely the most solemn day in the calendar of the Jewish people. It is also a day that we remember the perfect atonement that took place. Jesus/Yeshua died on a Roman cross so that through His blood our sins could be atoned for and we could stand righteous in the sight of God.

The cross is perhaps as foundational as you can get in terms of the Gospel. In the death and resurrection of Jesus we see the cosmic plan of redemption and the way of redemption for each individual collide in the bloody murder of the Son of God.  Yeshua’s incarnation was good news of the highest order. God had become man and not only that but he had blended the expectation for a Messianic, son of David with the God/Man identity. That was certainly good news – the solution had arrived and was evidence that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. This was the gospel that Jesus preached around Galilee. But the coming was only the beginning of the Good News, for without the fullness of the plan (coming to seek and save the lost), I as a heathen gentile would still be dead and lost in my sins. I am not dead.

Justification is not the fullness of the Gospel, it does not factor in the Good News that the Son of God will come to rule and reign upon the earth, making all things new where there will be no more tears, sickness or sin. But justification is one of the best pieces of news you can ever hear in this life. The fact that Jesus died on a cross for your sinful condition AND for your sinful actions means that we can come to him in repentance and faith and have our old life washed away. The amazing exchange we have been given is that we can give Jesus our life of sinful mistakes and religious striving and be given in exchange a life of perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice. He took our life and gave us His. This exchange, if we understand its implications must have world shattering consequences for us as believers.

And that is why on this day I want to remember again and let the fact that “Jesus died for my sins” not become a trite cliché. But rather the start of another conversation of thankfulness to the one who still dwells with me through His Spirit.

Thank you Jesus

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The Difference between Magic and Miracle

Protective Sterling Silver St. Christopher Medal Pendant

“The righteous shall live by faith” was initially a prophetic declaration by the prophet Habakkuk, this truth was then seized upon by the Apostle Paul as a cornerstone of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In two letters where the Apostle is trying to emphasize the radical nature of the free gift of righteousness that Jesus Christ has given believers through His death and resurrection Paul quotes the scripture. As he is writing to the Churches of Galatia who are in danger of succumbing to the religious obligations of the Judaizers Paul declares

“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith” (Gal 3:11)

Again when Paul is writing to the Church in Rome emphasizing that Gospel of Righteousness is a free gift for both Jew and Gentile alike he returns to this theme

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”. (Romans 1:17)

This was a critical message for the early church where returning to Jewish religious obligations as a means of atonement was a constant concern. It was a concern, not simply because of the specific nature of the threat of the Judaizing influence, but because attaining a right standing before God on the basis of our own religious works is an inherent temptation in all fallen human nature. Not only is it a temptation, but it is at the heart of every religious system as man reaches out to God and tries through his own ethics to attain right standing with the divine.

It is no wonder that the recovery of the message that the Gospel of Jesus is not based on such works righteousness, but rather as a free gift through faith became the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. The tenets of Sola Fide and Sola Gracia stood in stark contrast to the religious penitential system that had built up in the Roman Catholic firmament. The bumper sticker asserting it is about relationship not religion is correct. The righteous do not live by religion, the righteous live by faith, always have and always will.

However there is another temptation that is inherent in fallen human nature that draws us away from living a life of faith and it is this that I want to examine in a little more depth. It is the pursuit of magic. Many will object that this is not a real threat to any believers that they know. Witchcraft and occultism are indeed a growing temptation for a small minority of our community, but it is not as big a challenge for believers as the problem of works righteousness. I would agree. However witchcraft and occultism is merely an overt extreme, for the temptations towards magic do not start with spells and potions.

Let me start the examination of this problem with a question: what is the difference between magic and miracle? Both involve an outside force breaking into “natural” process and producing a remarkable outcome either through speeding up “natural” process or by producing something that would otherwise be impossible. From the externals magic and miracle look quite similar. In truth the outcome might look the same. You may object that miracle comes from God and magic does not, but I want to submit that the heart of the problem with magic doesn’t come primarily from the source of the power that is released (although please understand me that seeking power from demons is dangerous, sinful and extremely unwise), but rather the main problem of magic comes from deep impulses within the heart of man. The heart that pursues magic doesn’t ultimately care where the power comes from, so in one sense the power source doesn’t matter. Indeed the “magic-seeking” heart may be seeking power from God and this is where the problem comes for believers, for I want to contend that living by magic is as much an antithesis to faith as living by religious observance, and yet many believers are prone to fall into this temptation.

Let’s take a few biblical stories as examples to try and tease out this magic seeking impulse and explain it in more depth. The first story took place during the time when the Judges led Israel. Israel were fighting against their arch-enemies the Philistines. We learn in 1 Sam 4:

 Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines… And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”… As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

 10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured…

The “magic-seeking” heart is at core selfish. It seeks power through “religious” practices and often through physical objects that can be seen and handled. In this story the military leaders of Israel (Hophni and Phinehas, the evil sons of Eli) knew that God’s presence resided in the ark of the covenant, they therefore called for the ark to be transferred into the camp of the Israelites. Unfortunately for the Israelites, they were not seeking God in their fight against the Philistines, they were seeking power from the “magic box”. It was not YHWH who was going to save them it was literally the box that would save them. Here we see the magic-seeking heart in full motion. Hophni and Phinehas were not living faithfully before YHWH, they just wanted to beat the Philistines, they wanted power, they wanted easy answers and they thought that the magic box would give that answer. Interestingly the Israelites had been given many warnings about diviners and sorcerers, yet here we see them trying to use God in like manner. The ark had simply become a magic charm. You cannot manipulate YHWH in the presence of His glory and it is not surprising that the Philistines subsequently captured the ark and Hophni and Phinehas were killed.

This is not the last time we encounter this “magical” approach to power either in scriptures or in church history. We see it again in the New Testament in several places. In Samaria a man by the name of Simon (who also happened to be a magician) saw the power of the Holy Spirit and offered money to receive such power. Peter’s denunciation of his actions was quick.

“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 

Likewise in Ephesus under Paul’s ministry we are told that “extraordinary miracles” were taking place. At this time we pick up the story where “Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva” were attempting to perform like miracles by speaking what was to them a magical formula “I adjure you by the name of Jesus whom Paul proclaims”. God presence was manifest in Ephesus and in the presence of His glory God will not be manipulated by magical charms and formulas, such that we find the demon in the possessed man whom they were trying to minister to answered them “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

This example of the sons of Sceva is a startling confirmation of what Jesus had previously taught in the Sermon on the Mount

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt 7:21-23)

In this verse Jesus gives us the startling information that because the name of Jesus has inherent power it is actually possible to use the name of Jesus as a “magical formula” and it will work. This is shocking news to self-serving, self-deceived and  power-hungry hearts (and I am thinking firstly of myself when I say this). We all want answers to our pain, our needs and our ambitions, we all want answers quickly and we all live in a world of “seven secrets to a better life”. We yearn for the short cuts. We long for formulas. Humanity always has. And this is not just a modern phenomenon, throughout history we have looked to charms (relics, crucifixes, anointed objects and places) rather than seek the face and the hand of YHWH.

The righteous will live by faith. Having faith in the Genesis 1 God means that miracles will happen. God has shown time and time again throughout the scriptures and throughout history that He longs to walk and work with His people. He longs for us to ask, to seek and to knock in prayer. He longs for us to understand the position he has given us and the blessings that come from that position. Yet too often we seek the power independent of the relationship, we want our pain medicated, our pride soothed and the power released now. Faith is an ongoing trust in the absolute ability of God and one element of biblical faith that is consistent throughout scriptures is waiting. Will we learn to wait upon God, will we learn faithfulness/faith or will we succumb to the easy answers of magic, which are ultimately no answer at all. The righteous will live by faith – always have and always will.

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