Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sorcery Gone Wrong

Truth that money cannot buy.

Acts 8:9-25

New International Version (NIV)

Simon the Sorcerer

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

What would you classify as "sorcery" or witchcraft?
A simple definition reads...

Full Definition of SORCERY

1:  the use of power gained from the assistance or control of evil spirits especially for divining :  necromancy
2:  magic 2a 

That word in the first line of the definition seemed very familiar. Needed to look that up too. 

Full Definition of NECROMANCY

1:  conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events
2:  magic, sorcery

One of my favorite movies actually covers this subject in-depth.
The Chronicles of Riddick starring Vin Diesel brings with it a character who conquers worlds and destroys peoples lives in hopes of creating a universe of order. An order that follows him, of course. The title given to the world conquering leader is the Necromancer. He is half man, half...something else, as the narrator of the movie describes him. Lest we Hollywood-ize this moment too much, the subject matter is something that is real and consistent with our reality. 

The beginning of this great country we call America, land of the free, home of the brave, has it's own grave origin story. The Salem witch trials are a dark blot for a culture in which legalism, conspiracy, and fear were driving forces. We are afraid of what we don't understand. We lash out at those who we fear are trying to lead us astray. Many times innocent folks gets caught in the crossfire. Innocent folks following the ones doing the leading. And, innocent people who weren't leading anybody astray in the first place. 

Sorcery. Magic. Trying to see beyond our current reality into another world is nothing new. 
One of the many tragic stories in the Old Testament comes to us from the dismal moments of one King Saul. Saul had not followed the Lord through much of his later days as king. The Spirit of the Lord had been taken from him, the "anointing" lifted. Saul still very much wanted to know about the direction for his life and his kingship, so he began to consult other forces outside of the God who had given him his position. King Saul and the Witch of Endor is just such a moment. 

What we see in King Saul's story is that God can use the moment to speak.
Sorcery is something that we are told not to dabble in, and rightfully so. Well, if God can use anything or anyone, then why not dabble in this area and see what God has to say to us?
Interestingly, the New Testament Greek word translated “sorcery” is pharmakeia, which is the source of our English word pharmacy. In the Apostle Paul’s day, the word primarily meant “dealing in poison” or “drug use” and was applied to divination and spell-casting because sorcerers often used drugs along with their incantations and amulets to conjure occult power. 

One of the most relevant pictures I can paint here in from the origins of Mormonism. The truth behind this occult style faith is that the father of their movement, Joseph Smith, openly and knowing went out into the woods, took some peyote, which is a hallucinogenic drug contrived from a cactus plant. He then wrote on some gold plates the words that he felt God was speaking to him as he supposedly witnessed God and Jesus coming down out of the clouds to him. Smith, of course, was the only one who could properly read the plates and translate what they had to say. This is where the Mormons get their "Book of Mormon" that they hold up next to a King James Bible and use it to try and interpret what God wants for our lives.

Sorcery can be a drug.
There are people all over the religious landscape who get too high on themselves, or an ideal, or a person leading them. Look at our example from Acts 8 today. These people gathered in this region of Samaria have looked to this Simon the sorcerer as "...
rightly called the Great Power of God". They have become dependent upon him. It says in v9 that "He boasted that he was someone great..." People in this world tend to be attracted to the charismatic styling of a person. Look around at the televangelist scene. People are very much into just dropping their dollars on a person who can weave a nice message and sound very spiritual. There are people willing to not pay their own bills and fulfill responsibilities to their own families in order to send money off to people like this. And, there are leaders who seem to have some kind of mystical hold over the people following them. 

There is nothing, however, that can stop the word of God once it has been interjected into the mainframe of our lives. It says here that once the Apostle Philip stepped in and began to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ that everyone who was following Simon finds themselves in the baptismal pool. Everyone finds Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Even the Simon the Sorcerer. He is also baptized and begin to follow Philip around like a lost puppy dog. Once we begin to share the message of what Christ has done the words can squelch the loudest storm. 

Persecution has been on the table these last few weeks. This is the backdrop for all of this.
Some of you have heard me refer to one of my former bosses. He was a man who owned an appliance store. Previous to that he worked at an AMF bowling parts plant. While on this job he was subjected daily to the taunting of a Jehovah's Witness man.  Here's is another ill-conceived religious front born out of the same time period as our Mormon friends. It seems around 1870, a Congregationalist minister named Charles Taze Russell, grew tired of the subjects of hell and damnation. So, he devised a way to eliminate the power those subjects. By taking Jesus of the throne and not proclaiming him as God's Son, the keys of death and hell were no longer in the hands of Jesus. 

Over the years, truly starting in 1950, the Watchtower Society began to take the KJV and change certain phrases and words to fit their own liking.  John 1.1 no longer reads "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (capital G - the Greek word here is Theos). In their conveniently framed New World Translation bible the line now reads "...and the Word was a god" (lowercase g - The JWs would say the word here is logos, which doesn't even mean "god". It means "word". The Word was the "word"???).  Along with this twisted view of the scriptures came a desire to predict when the end of the world would come about. I can remember in 8th grade sitting there in class when one of their world ending predictions was to come about. We all sat their quietly waiting to see what would happen. And, of course, we are all still here today. 

Back to my former boss... 
He had to put up with this JW man coming to him everyday, giving him grief over what he believed as a Christian. Everyday my former boss put up with this. He is retelling this story to me as we are driving one day in the company truck. You know what finally silenced this guy? My boss says he just simple told the guy what Christ had done for him. He just told him about the day he knelt down and asked Jesus to come in to his heart and life. Jesus forgave him for his sins. When he got up after that prayer everything changed and he was a brand new man. The JW guy just sat there and listened. He got up, shook my boss' hand and never said another word to him about anything. 

There is another matter that needs to be covered here. The giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit. 
Not only is there a moment when a person comes to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but there is also a moment when the Holy Spirit comes. This is sadly something that we need yet is missed by so many. We need to power of the Spirit! But, how does that happen? In many cases, the Holy Spirit is given by the laying on of hands. The Apostles, John and Peter, come down to Samaria to see about all the news they are hearing. We when arrive, they pray for all the people who have come to Jesus. They lay their hands on them and they receive the Holy Spirit. 

This next part troubles me. 
When Simon, this former sorcerer now come to Jesus, sees that the Spirit is given by the laying on of hands, he offers money to the Apostles in order to get that same blessing. I am mystified. Why not just comes to the Apostles and say, "Hey, lay your hands right here! PRAY FOR ME!" It is as if the sorcerer has now become to misguided follower. How many people have simply given their money to Simon over the years without even thinking about it? It is truly sad how quickly some people will jump to the point of wanting to give up all they have in order to get that "power". That thing they crave. Simon has been tricking people all these years. Now he sees the real Source of all power and can't dish out his money fast enough to get his hands on it. 

"May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!" 

We cannot buy our way in to what God offer. Some folks think they can do enough good things in life that God will show them favor and blessing. Not how it works. We simply come. We simply ask. We simply receive. "Pray for me!" If that's the kind of blessing you are looking to receive, a blessing that doesn't come with a price tag, then come and ask. 

Receive the Holy Spirit.

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