Monday, September 24, 2018

spiritual battle, Satan's Dominion (Acts 26)

When Paul was arrested, he appealed to Caesar.  In doing this, he had a great opportunity to present his personal testimony and the gospel message to people in places of high authority.  His message from God was to save people from Satan's dominion...

(Acts 26:1-32)  Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense:
“In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
“So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?
“So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
12 “While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
19 “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. 21 For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. 22 So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
24 While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. 26 For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” 28 Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”
30 The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, 31 and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

From this we see:
- we are all born into sin and belong to Satan's dominion, until we decide to become believers and belong to God (Acts 26:18)

Personal experience:  I know most people would be very offended if they were out-of-the-blue accused of worshiping Satan or being on Satan's side because they are not a believer.  I have seen some Christians take this bully-approach when trying to "witness".  It does not go over well.

I've even been attacked by a group of Christians in public.  While I was riding the subway, suddenly a bunch of them jumped onto the train and started pointing straight into people's faces while yelling, "YOU ARE A SINNER AND YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!!!"

When it was my turn to be accused, I said, "I'm actually a Christian and I've been forgiven, so  I am going to heaven."  To which they quickly responded by yelling out again, "YOU ARE A SINNER AND YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!!!"  Then they dashed away.

Wow.  So NOT the way to witness.  And even if it is true, we never see Jesus forcing His word on anyone.  And never did he use the motive of fear and anger.  In fact, even with Judas Iscariot being one of His disciples, Jesus remained very loving and patient while teaching them a little bit at a time.

Today's takeaway:  the strongest testimony we have is our behavior.  Like being a parent, it is very ineffective to just tell a child, "Do as I say and not as I do!"

As Francis of Assisi said, "You may be the only Bible some people read."  This was based on the following scripture verse...

(1 Timothy 4:11)  Prescribe and teach these things. 12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

spiritual battle, Exorcism vs Spiritual Healing (Acts 19)

Through God's power, Paul was able to do amazing things, so much so that even articles that had touched his body, held God's power to cure people of diseases and cast out demons...

(Acts 19:11-12)  God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. 

After seeing what Paul was able to accomplish, Jewish exorcists then tried to deliver people using the name of Jesus and of Paul - more than likely because they could see that God's way was far more effective than their own methods of exorcism...

(Acts 19:13-14)  But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.

Demons do have some level of intelligence!  They know exactly who God and Jesus are.  As well, because they do not die, and they can follow people around, they knew who Paul was.  The demons would have been keeping a close eye on Paul just because of his strong ministry.  They would have been looking and plotting and waiting for a chance to attack Paul.

But in this circumstance, when the unbelievers tried to cast out a demon using Jesus' name, the demon empowered the possessed man to attack the exorcists...

(Acts 19:15-16)  And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

The strategy and actions of the demon backfired, because people who heard about this became believers.  And those who had once practiced magic were burning their books as a public testimony, which would have carried a lot of weight since these books would have brought great value to their previous careers...

(Acts 19:17-20)  This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.18 Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. 19 And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.

From this we see:
- through God's power, Paul was able to do amazing things, so much so that even articles that had touched his body, held God's power to cure people of diseases and cast out demons (Acts 19:11-12)
- demons are intelligent and know who Jesus is (Acts 19:15)
- demons are able to follow people around and figure out who is on God's side and who is a big threat to them, so they knew exactly who Paul was (Acts 19:15)
- Jewish exorcists tried casting demons out using Jesus' and Paul's names (Acts 19:13-14)
- unbelievers do not have authority over demons (Acts 19:15-16)
- demons are able to empower people to attack with supernatural strength (Acts 19:16)
- as people became believers, they were confessing and burning any books relating to magic and demonic practices (Acts 19:18-19)

Personal experience:  when I was in grade 4, our teacher allowed all of us to bring our favorite board games to school one day.  One of the girls had brought a Ouija board.  I had never seen one of these before nor had I even heard about this "game".  But as I observed a few girls try it, somehow I just knew not to touch it, or even continue to watch.

Today's takeaway:  the people in Ephesus who were becoming believers knew to destroy their books of magic.  Once we have experienced God's light, why would we want to have anything to do with the darkness?

Again "ironically" - here is something that Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus...

(Ephesians 5:1-14)  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light  (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says,
Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Friday, September 21, 2018

spiritual battle, Spirit of Divination (Acts 16)

While in Philippi, Paul cast out a demon of divination.  We do not know what happened to the slave-girl after that point;  but because Paul had caused future profit-loss for her master, they were sent to prison.  Out of that circumstance - many people became believers...

(Acts 16:11-40)  So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.
14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
16 It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” 18 She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment.
19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, 20 and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.”
22 The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. 23 When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24 and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.
35 Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” 38 The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. 40 They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

From this we see:
- some fortunetellers have access to actual spirits of divination.  These demons will either "tell them of things no one else should know" because over the years it has collected information about people; or it will "predict" something and then it will make sure to make it happen (Acts 16:16-17)
- demons try to disrupt, annoy and fluster believers (Acts 16:18)
- believers have authority over demons, Paul commanded the spirit to come out and it obeyed (Acts 16:18)
- because every prison door opened and every chain fell off, this would indicate that either angels had been there, or God Himself did this (Acts 16:26)

Personal experience:  real or fake, people can make a lot of money with divination, because so many people are so desperate, they will pay any amount of money to know the future, or know what happened to a deceased loved one.  Add a music or movie star to an advertisement or "documentary", and people will just gobble it up as fact.

Some people will consult mediums for other things - or consult mediums for everything!  Like this one wealthy woman on a television show, who was explaining that she had to consult her medium before making any purchase, whether it was a house, a piece of art, dishes jewelry...  She could not make a move without that woman's approval.

And the medium was probably more than happy to take her money and tell the woman (what she wanted to hear), that a certain color would make her feel more happy, or a certain gem would give her more energy.   Like a placebo - it was all psychological and self-fulfilling.

What was sadly hilarious, was that this same wealthy woman made fun of Christians because they had to consult the Bible for everything!

Today's takeaway:  hm, let me see... consult a person - or - consult the God who created everything, and knows everything, is all-powerful, and came to die for our sins because He loves us that much...???  This is not even a close call!!!  AND it's free!

Ironically, this scripture was written to the believers in Philippi...

(Philippians 4:6-9)  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.