By James Emery White, edited by Bobby Price
Amanda, a 28-year-old Los Angeles resident, prays nightly and believes in Jesus. She also chants, goes to Kundalini (yoga), meditates with a group and is into crystals. “The energy they hold is this ancient energy,” she said. “It helps your own energy when you work with them; when you’re near them.”
According to a recent Pew Research poll, she’s not alone. Most Americans “mix traditional faith with beliefs in psychics, reincarnation and spiritual energy that they say can be found in physical objects such as mountains, trees and crystals.” A staggering 41 percent of Americans believe in psychics. A stunning 42 percent believe spiritual energy can be located in physical objects.
People genuinely didn’t know the difference between authentic spirituality and the world of the occult. They need a proper understanding of the spiritual world, specifically the great spiritual conflict in the heavens and the nature and work of angels and demons.
Here are the three marks of the occult, as opposed to biblical spirituality:
1. The disclosure or communication of unknown information unavailable to humans through normal means. This involves things like horoscopes, fortune-telling, psychic hotlines and tarot cards. That knowledge comes from somewhere—and if it’s not from God through the sources God has ordained, then it is not real or worse, through the evil one and his forces. There is no neutral and impersonal “Power” just floating around out there. Nothing that has a voice or can be tapped into—some kind of cosmic consciousness for secret knowledge about the future of a human life. Everything falls under heaven or hell, good or evil, God or the evil one.
“You have trusted in your wickedness…your wisdom and knowledge mislead you... Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away…keep on, then, with your magic spells and with your many sorceries…let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month…they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves…each of them goes on in his error.” (Isaiah 47:10-15)
“…diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain." (Zechariah 10:2)
“I am the Lord, the Creator of all things. I alone stretched out the heavens… I make fools of fortunetellers and frustrate the predictions of astrologers.” (Isaiah 44:24-25)
“Let no one be found among you who…practices divination or…interprets omens... Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
2. The placing of persons in contact with supernatural powers, paranormal energies or demonic forces. This involves things like spiritual energy in a crystal or any other entity, attempting to summon up a spirit or a deceased relative through a séance, channeling a spirit, or procuring the services of someone claiming to be a medium.
“Let no one be found among you who…is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?” (Isaiah 8:19)
So what is happening when you get in touch with a ghost? It’s not a ghost. There is no such thing as a ghost. So what happens at a séance when Uncle John suddenly seems to appear or to talk through a medium? You are either being tricked (and many really are just flat out hoaxes) or you are in contact with a demon impersonating who you hoped to connect with. The first scenario makes you out to be a fool; the second is simply nightmarish.
But in both cases, you are receiving knowledge, contact and advice that is not of God—it’s either of human origin or of demonic origin. Look at the words on this from the prophet Jeremiah:
“So do not listen to…your diviners…your mediums… They prophesy lies to you… ‘I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord. ‘They are prophesying lies in my name.’” (Jeremiah 27:9-10, 15)
3. Any attempt to gain and master paranormal power in order to manipulate or influence other people into certain actions. In other words, all forms of witchcraft and the casting of spells. Being clear on this is important because of the rise of modern day witchcraft, which goes by the name of Wicca.
“Let no one be found among you who…practices…sorcery…engages in witchcraft, or casts spells… Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
So there you have it. A map of the supernatural world. On the one side you have God and His faithful angels. On the other side the world of the paranormal, or the occult, which is the world of Satan and his demons. These are the only two worlds. These are the only two forces. These are the only two sets of beings. There isn’t anything else.
One of them is good, the other is evil. There are a lot of ways, sadly, that Satan and his team seduces us to engage the evil side—to open our lives to it and to invite it in without even knowing it. And when we do, whether we are aware of it or not, we are engaging the forces of darkness. We are connecting with Satan and his demons. We are willfully opening up the door of our life to their presence and activity. And they will enter. And nothing could be more dangerous.
Initially it might seem benign, even innocent, for as the Bible says, Satan positions himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). But then the evil engulfs you. And it’s even more than playing with fire. It’s dousing yourself with gasoline and then lighting the match.
It is spiritual suicide.
by Erick Erickson, edited by Bobby Price
In Scripture, Acts 19 recounts a series of miracles that led to mass conversions of residents of Ephesus. The conversions created an economic problem.
Ephesus was, at the time, world-renowned for a temple to the Greek goddess Artemis, one of the wonders of the ancient world. As people began converting en masse to Christianity with St. Paul’s preaching, temple visits declined, as did the purchase of idols. According to Luke, the writer of Acts, a silversmith named Demetrius who made silver replicas of Artemis began rallying other men of similar trades to fend off the Christians.
“Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship,” Demetrius said. (Acts 19:25-27).
“When they heard this, they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!'” (Acts 19:28). A riot broke out, and the Ephesians seized Paul’s companions. The rioters had to be calmed. For two hours, the crowd chanted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" before being calmed. In spreading the gospel, Paul had wiped out income and mythology, which brewed resentment. Today, the Temple of Artemis is a ruin.
Two thousand years later, as true religion recedes in America and secularism rises, the Ephesians are back now as the wokes. By any measure, the United States has continued to advance and heal the wounds of slavery and racial discord.
There are racists still because there is sin in the world, and racism is one. But as Americans move beyond the sins of the past, the cry of systemic racism gets louder. It is the new, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” This time, instead of silver idols, it is Ibram X. Kendi’s and Robin DiAngelo’s books. Buy them to repent. Pay a speaker’s fee. Have a critical race theory advocate perform seminars. Hire a “diversity, equity and inclusion” czar for your company or school. “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
As Christ commanded his followers to spread his gospel message and preach, teach and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so the wokes spread their gospel of discord, which is both devoid of hope and deeply anchored in never-ending grievance. Heretics of Christianity added inconsistencies to a consistent Christian orthodoxy. Heretics of wokeism merely point out the consistent inconsistencies of critical race theory. How exactly can a race or gender that is socially constructed also be determinative? It is heretical to ask. Instead, buy a book, virtue-signal with a donation to a woke charity, and attend a class on equity. Whatever you do, do not let the wounds heal and love your neighbor. After all, the silversmiths have idols to sell. “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
by Hank Berrien, edited by Bobby Price
Bobby: [Jhn 3:19-20 ESV] 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
This news is one more piece of evidence that the world is trying to discourage our faith. While this may not seem like a big deal, it is one step further toward a widespread persecution. This Christian organization was rejected tax-exempt status because they claimed the bible’s teachings are affiliated with the Republican Party. This is a clear misunderstanding of the Christian faith and the bible’s teachings. The worst-case scenario enters my head: is this a test to see if they can get away with it so they can do more in the future? Either way, we can all conclude that our culture is changing and the latter form of it is antagonistic to Christians.
In shades of the IRS targeting conservative groups during the tenure of former President Obama, inhibiting their attempts to gain non-profit status, the IRS recently denied a Christian non-profit organization tax-exempt status, stating that the “Bible’s teachings are typically affiliated with the Republican Party and candidates.”
Last week, First Liberty, representing the non-profit group Christians Engaged, filed an appeal. They wrote:
Christians Engaged’s mission statement articulates three goals: “to awaken, motivate, and empower ordinary believers in Jesus Christ to: pray for our nation regularly, vote in every election to impact our culture, [and] engage our hearts in some form of political education or activism for the furtherance of our nation.” To accomplish the first, Christians Engaged provides a weekly Bible study, sends out weekly prayer alerts, and organizes statewide and area prayer gatherings. …
Second, Christians Engaged educates the public on the importance of voting in every election and provides tools to enable them to do so. … Christians Engaged invites individuals to pledge to pray regularly for the nation, vote in every election, and “commit to some form of political education or activism for the furtherance of our nation.” It also follows up with election reminders, but it does not produce voter guides or otherwise suggest that recipients should vote for or against any particular candidate or candidates.
Finally, Christians Engaged empowers ordinary Christians who are generally unfamiliar with civic and public policy processes and issues to become actively involved by 1) “educat[ing] believers on the national issues that are central to our belief in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God,” and 2) providing training, resources, and mentorships that help them navigate the political process in order to “promote [their] values or get involved with [their] passion.”
On May 18, 2021, Exempt Organizations Director Stephen A. Martin denied the application, contending that Christians Engaged “engage[s] in prohibited political campaign intervention” and “operate[s] for a substantial non-exempt private purpose and for the private interests of the D [Republican] party.” This conclusion pointed specifically to Christians Engaged’s education of “believers on national issues that are central to their belief in the Bible as the inerrant M [Word of God]” : namely, “the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and [sic] borders and immigration, [and] U.S. and Israel relations.”
Because Director Martin believes that “bible [sic] teachings are typically affiliated with the D [Republican] party and candidates,” the Proposed Determination Letter found that “[t]his disqualifies [Christians Engaged] from exemption under IRC Section 501(c)(3)” (underline added -Bobby).
“Under federal law, to receive tax-exempt status as a religious organization, an organization must operate exclusively for charitable or educational purposes and must ‘not attempt to influence legislation’ or ‘participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates,’” The Blaze noted.
First Liberty Institute Counsel Lea Patterson said the claims “that Biblical values are exclusively Republican … might be news to President Biden, who is often described as basing his political ideology on his religious beliefs.” Patterson added: “Only a politicized IRS could see Americans who pray for their nation, vote in every election, and work to engage others in the political process as a threat. The IRS violated its own regulations in denying tax exempt status because Christians Engaged teaches biblical values.”
UPDATE: The IRS has reversed course as of July 9, 2021 and Christians Engaged will receive the tax-exempt status.
by Gavin Adams, edited by Bobby Price
After nearly one full year, we opened the Woodstock City Church building for in-person services on February 14, 2021. We knew our physical attendance numbers would be much, much smaller than the previous February. We required registration, masks, temperature checks, and social distancing. We capped our registration at 40% of auditorium capacity, knowing our no-show rate would net us closer to 30% in attendance. We were cautious and careful, prioritizing science, safety, and influence as best we could. All things considered, and all the frustrated emails and conversations had, our plans worked pretty well.
Fast-forward a few months, and many of our COVID protocols are going away. In our community, vaccines have been readily available for six to eight weeks. I received my second shot three weeks ago without any wait. We are now mask-optional in the lower portion of our auditorium and moving away from registration and even social distancing soon.
Under our initial, strict protocols, I expected physical attendance to be a fraction of the past. We guessed correctly. We’ve experienced anywhere from 30 – 40% of pre pandemic, in-person attendance. That number has slowly increased, but only to around 50%.
Here’s my concern: As we remove the remaining protocols, I fear our in-person numbers won’t increase that rapidly. They may not increase at all. Not because everyone is still afraid of COVID or watching our online service stream. I’m afraid we’ve lost a significant percentage of former church attenders for good.
Of course, some are attending in-person church services. Some have left our church permanently for other churches in the area. The intense polarization of virtually every topic created additional pandemics of anger and frustration that led to some unnecessary sheep-swapping. But even taking those who are attending elsewhere into account, we are missing a lot of people. There are massive numbers of people completely missing in church action (MICA). As far as I can tell, they divide into two separate categories:
Group One: The church consumers with digitally reinforced behavior
Over the past decade, our increasingly consumeristic culture created space for churches to utilize consumeristic messaging and experiences to attract people to church. Hear me loud and clear: I’m not against the attractional church per se (after all, do any of us want to create an unattractive church?), but attractional churches can accidentally create an easy conduit for consumeristic Christians. And that was before the pandemic!
Without any in-person services for months on end, digital-only church further reinforced the ease of consumeristic patterns by allowing people to attend without “attending,” making church even easier for the predisposed church consumer. These people may come back to an in-person event or service at some point, but I’m not holding my breath. They were consumers before the pandemic, and now, the ease of digital church solidified their behavior.
BTW, they have children who aren’t coming back, either. While adults might have the willpower or desire to consume spiritual growth content (sermons, books, etc.) on their own, what about their children? This should frighten every church.
Quick Note: I’m not suggesting that a robust digital presence is problematic in and of itself. I believe every church should take advantage of every channel available to spread the Gospel and make disciples. I WILL argue that our digital footprint should be a step and a supplement, not a substitute, for in-person engagements.
Group Two: The “I missed a year of church, and my life isn’t any worse” group
This is the category that worries me the most — BY FAR. I’m worried about them, their children, and the generations to follow. This group isn’t back in the building. And they don’t seem to be online, either. They aren’t back at small group or outdoor events. And they aren’t at other churches. They are at ball fields, the lake, and at home enjoying coffee and a slower-paced Sunday morning. These are the formerly churched people who are on the cusp of officially becoming de-churched altogether.
Why aren’t these people remaining engaged with the local church? What happened? Why did they so easily walk away? I fear they disengaged from the local church during the pandemic and nothing in their life got worse. They aren’t coming back because they didn’t miss it. And apparently, they didn’t need it. When you think about it, why would they come back? Possibly what they were getting at church wasn’t worth their time, energy, and effort after all.
Of course, WE know better, but if they don’t feel the pain of being gone from church, they aren’t coming back.
As a preacher and a leader, the pandemic taught me so much. It caused me to evaluate everything we do as a church and why we are doing it. I don’t have all the answers (I do have plenty of guesses), but I do know it’s up to us to discover the next version of church that meets needs in a way that is needed.
I do know this for sure:
1. We can’t recapture the hearts of the MICAs with entertaining church services. Culture is full of entertainment.
2. We can’t win MICAs back with content. Content is literally everywhere. Today, I can listen to anything from any church without leaving my phone.
3. We can’t get MICAS back by only offering great ministry for their children. That worked in the past, but I fear that time has come and gone. The MICAs may see travel baseball as a valid replacement.
The post-pandemic church must offer an alternative to culture that provides meaningful connection and a challenge worthy of the calling.
That’s what I’ve concluded. And it’s going to take us transforming our models, methods, and strategies. We must think about connection over content. We need more realness. We need more honesty. We need to create a church that people actually miss when they miss.
The Gospel is worth it. And it’s time that we do it.
By Tim Counts, edited by Bobby Price
We need the senior saints of the church, and we need senior saints ministry in the church. A couple of days ago, I received an email from a church member in his 80s, letting me know that he’s moving. We have known for some time that it’s best for him to move closer to his family due to his health and housing situation. But the news that the move was finally happening hit me unexpectedly, as if I’d lost a dear friend. I felt it in the pit of my stomach and the tears in my eyes. Then I realized that is exactly why I felt that way: I was losing a dear friend, and a grandfather in the faith. And our church is losing him, too.
Sometimes senior saints question their usefulness in the church as they age. That’s unfortunate because they’re an essential part of the body of Christ. Although we trust in our sovereign and wise God to add and take away from his local body as he sees fit, church life is different without them. As pastors, therefore, we need to remind our elderly members that they’re not only loved by their Good Shepherd and Savior—they’re also loved and needed by his people. That means senior saints ministry, and senior saints in ministry.
1. We Need Your Prayers.
My 80-something friend often leads our congregation in prayer on Sunday mornings. Visitors and members regularly comment on how his prayers are a blessing to them. That’s an example of senior saints ministry. We need older members to pray during worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and privately. As God’s word says, “They still bear fruit in old age” (Psa. 92:14), and shows in Anna’s example (Luke 2:36-38).
2. We Need Your Practical, Biblical Wisdom.
My grandpa taught an adult Sunday School class until Parkinson’s robbed him of his voice. I’ll never forget a seminary professor who taught class using a special microphone because health complications made it difficult for him to speak. I’m so thankful that these men continued to pass on their biblical knowledge and life experience until they literally could not anymore. Whether through teaching a class or sharing a comment during a Bible study or encouraging a young mom during fellowship, every church member needs the wisdom that comes from decades of studying the Word mixed with decades of life experience. Perhaps this is why Paul told Titus that the elderly are to teach the young how to live out God’s sound doctrine (Tit 2:3-5).
3. We Need Your Encouragement.
My friend recently raised his hand at a business meeting as I was almost done explaining a new initiative, and simply said that he saw God’s hand in this and that the congregation should be supportive of where God was leading me with this initiative. We could have just stopped the explanation right then and gone straight to the vote. As a senior saint, your words of encouragement matter.
I’ve seen young, sleep-deprived parents light up when an older person in the church tells them, “Your kids are a joy.” I’ve seen discouraged empty-nesters, struggling with change, rediscover hope as they remember God’s faithfulness in your marriages of over 50 years As the Psalmist exclaims, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). Don’t hesitate to share your stories of provision and grace and forgiveness, and to remind us of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Senior saint, we need your encouragement.
4. We Need Your Presence.
We know it takes a lot of work for older folks to get to church. We know that there will come a day that we need to come to you, rather than you coming to us. But until that day, we need your presence.
There’s something particularly special about the redeemed people of God coming together for worship and seeing a spectrum of ages. There’s something about coming together to worship with people who are different than us—even generationally—that points to the beauty of the gospel and the glory of God. There’s something about knowing fellow saints who can speak of God never abandoning them through decades that powerfully reminds us of the faithfulness of God.
We don’t call you “senior saint” because you’re perfect or because you don’t have struggles like the rest of us. We call you “senior saint” because your faith in Christ in your senior years points to the fact that the same God who saves is the same God who sustains. Lift your heads, dear senior saints. You’re needed. Please don’t stop serving.
Bobby Price was born and raised by Christian parents in Perrin, Texas. Bobby decided early in life to become a preacher of God's word. He attended the Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas where he graduated in 2015 with his Bachelors of Biblical Studies with a focus in Congregational Ministry. Afterwards, he interned for a year at the valley view Church of Christ in Jonesboro, AR. He is currently working on his Masters of Biblical Studies, through the Sunset International Bible Institute Graduate School.