Archive for March, 2011

Caiaphas and Annas: A Conversation in the Dark


Caiaphas and Annas: A Conversation in the Dark

Caiaphas: Valerius Gratus himself gave me this position.  I am not High Priest for no reason.  I am High Priest because I seem to be the only person who understands what it takes to keep the peace.  Any time Caesar wants to, he could tear down this Temple and crush us all.  There is a delicate balance that must be maintained.  Our traditions must be protected at all cost. The Zealots I can handle.  I know their lot.  They can be bribed. They can be distracted. They’re all about power just like the rest of us.  But this Jesus movement is much tougher to nail down.  Every time I think I have it stamped out, it pops up somewhere else.  Jesus is a threat to the entire nation of Israel.  And he is a threat to the very Temple itself.  This Temple is the mechanism by which we maintain our relationship with God.  If something were to happen to it, our relationship with God would be severed; not to mention that I’d be out of a job and so would you.

Jesus has to be stopped.  His followers are just people like everyone else.  Someone among them can be turned.  Someone can be bought.  There is a traitor in every group, especially groups that rely on conscience alone to provide loyalty.  How naïve they are.  If I can get someone inside their inner circle, I know I can get someone to give Jesus up.  He will say something seditious, and then we’ll have him.  If we can cut the head off the snake, the snake will die like all these other wild movements have.  The priests and scribes have outlasted them all. It is God’s will that this Temple should stand forever.

Annas: What’s the big deal about Jesus?  We’ve seen his kind before.  These “messiahs” are like uprooted weeds.  They blow in and then they blow back out. We undo him, and that’ll be the end of it. Nothing can top the majesty of the Temple. When push comes to shove, everybody knows that this is the place to be.  People come from all over to worship here.  This Jesus is just another flash in the pan.

Caiaphas: No, Annas.  Even I have to admit that there is something different about this one.  You were here when we questioned him about Lazarus.  There was something about him.  He is more dangerous than all the others put together.  We have to protect the faith from him. Even our Temple regulars skip out to listen to him.  When he’s preaching and healing, our attendance is down to nothing. And the offering is down to nothing, too. I can’t put my finger on it, but when he speaks, people listen. The miracles alone are very hard to explain away.

Annas:  It’s just smoke and mirrors, mere sorcery.

Caiaphas:  Maybe.  But maybe not.  Every time Jesus opens his mouth, blasphemy spills out.  The Romans don’t care about that.  Blasphemy is our problem. But…if we can pin sedition on him, Pilot will have no choice but to execute him.  And THAT will be the end of him.  Even Jesus can’t stand up to Roman justice.  No, he’ll be dead, and that’ll be the end of this. The best part of the whole thing is that we’ll be able to wash our hands of it because everyone will think that it was the Romans who killed their precious leader.  In a few weeks, they’ll all come flocking back to us with their tails between their legs. So who’s the weak link among his followers? What about this Judas Iscariot character? Do you know anything about him?

Annas: No.  But I will have my people look into it.


Simon of Cyrene: What it is to be Human

Simon of Cyrene Speaks

(Matthew 27:32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.)

I remember Jesus saying some time ago when we all thought that if we followed him, all of our problems would just disappear, “Take up your cross and follow me.” If I’d known then that this was what he meant I would never have come out here today. Did he mean that what happened to him is what is going to happen to all of us?

They had beaten him so bloody he could hardly walk…much less carry that thing.  These people are ANIMALS! By the time I got that beam off of him, I was covered in his blood.  He whispered to me, “This blood is shed for you.”  I didn’t understand it then, but I do now.  The Lamb…the Lamb of God, the Passover lamb.  My life now bears the mark of his blood like the mark on the doors of the Israelites in Egypt.    And I am covered BY his blood.  Covered by his love.

I came to Jerusalem on pilgrimage.  I needed to bury my pain.  People say that salvation can be found here in Jerusalem.  A person can be made new here.  When my wife died two years ago giving birth to our still-born son I was so mad at God.  I felt so far away from Him.  God is immortal…unwoundable.  How could God possibly know what my wife and child’s deaths felt like?  He either did that or He let that happen and all I could think up to this very day is that God had left me to suffer alone here on this earth.  How could God possibly know the pain of being human… the grief that comes with being a son of Adam?

God could have stopped this at any point.  But if it was me that they beat and strapped to a cross, I couldn’t have done anything to stop it.  I couldn’t even stop my wife and child from dying.  I’m just a man. Powerless. A nobody.  Not even a good man. There would be nothing my dad could do to help me. He’s a nobody just like me.  But this man, Jesus,  was God’s anointed one.  God was his dad. God could have stopped this…but that would have made Jesus separate from me…different…special.  And he chose not to be special. He rejected his privilege.  I get it.  That’s what it means to be faithful…even to death.  I get it now.  His blood won’t wash off.  It was shed for us.  He LET THEM do this…for us.  For me…so that I would know beyond a doubt that God knows what it is to be human.  These Romans might do the same to all of us, but now I know that no matter what this life throws at me, God is with us…even to death.   God never left me.  In my anger and grief, I left God.  Oh, my God, please forgive me.  I didn’t understand.  This is a King I can follow.  THIS is a King I can lay MY life down for.

Nicodemus Speaks

Nicodemus Speaks

(There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.” Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.” from John 3:1-17)

I think the worst thing about who I had become was that I had forgotten how to laugh at myself.  In fact, I had forgotten how to laugh at all…I starting taking everything, including myself, way too seriously.  I was so focused on keeping myself out of hell that I had no joy in my life anymore.  And I had surrounded myself with other people who were just like that, too.  Everything was negative, negative, negative. It was all about smug self-importance.   It was like a mass incidence of obsessiveness had over-taken all of us in my social circle of Pharisees. My life had become this oppressive holiness competition.  I had become a total phony for fear that my friends would find out that I am no more righteous or wise or holy than the next guy.  I had become arrogant, defensive, judgmental, controlling…and…just plain mean.

All of that began to change one night.  You know how it is that when you hear the truth spoken, you know it? You know how it kind of connects a lot of dots…kind of invites you into a sense of peace? I don’t know how to explain how you know it for the truth that it is, but you know it when you hear it. Anyway, I had been listening carefully to what this Jesus was out there teaching.  At first I admit I was listening with the wrong kind of ear…I was listening for something he would say that I could discredit him with.  I mean, for heaven’s sake, all of my own disciples were jumping ship and chasing after that guy.  I was watching everything I’d worked my whole life to gain run over to the guy who was contradicting everything I’d been teaching. The crazy thing is that the more I listened, the more what he was saying made sense.  He was saying that we had it all wrong about the Law.  For us, it had become an ends unto itself.  Everything for us was about getting into heaven when we die.  Everything for Jesus was about living in God’s Kingdom right now, right here. We had all gotten so crazy about keeping the Law in all of its minutiae that we had lost relationship with the living Lord and were just relating to the Law as if it was all there was of God to relate to.   And he was doing these amazing signs and wonders that no one could refute.  They could only have come from God.  They were Elijah’s miracles…really crazy stuff.

So one night I snuck over to talk to Jesus face-to-face.  Man, if anyone from my sect had found out I’d done that, they’d have had me stoned for blasphemy…well, maybe not stoned…but certainly I would have been stripped of my position.  But I couldn’t help myself.  I went to see Jesus after I was sure that the other Pharisees had gone to sleep.  We had the most amazing conversation.  I don’t remember everything he said, and a lot of what he said didn’t make any sense until yesterday when they…we…crucified him.  But what I do remember is that he put me back in touch with my own soul.  He reminded me that I am not a brain or a body.  I am a soul…something that you can’t touch or see or smell.  And he told me that in order to understand what he was teaching about the Kingdom of God being present now that I would have to be reborn of God in my spirit.  I would need spiritual eyes that the Law could never give me.  Only God’s living Spirit could make me see the unseen.  Jesus reminded me that the most important things in the world are things that you can’t see…that are things not of this world at all, but born from above.

Jesus didn’t miss the opportunity to rub my foolishness and arrogance in a little. “What? You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t even know the basics?”, he said.  That stung.  But I needed to hear it.  I had lost my humility and I needed to be humbled in order to get it back.  He told me how to experience what so many other people were experiencing.  In doing so, he taught me how to live.  He gave me my joy back.  It didn’t sink in right away…I left not really understanding what he was saying.  But I understand it now, and I am alive in a way that I haven’t been alive in very, very long time.  In order to find my authentic life, I had to lose the phony life that I had constructed. I had to give up my life in order to find Kingdom life.

A few days after I met with Jesus, I asked one of my disciples to hear my confession.  The Pharisees would have flipped if they knew that I had done that.  Jesus taught that we should let no one call us “teacher” or “father” because we all have one teacher and one Father in heaven. And he taught us to confess our sins to one another.  So I needed to humble myself.  I got down on my knees in front of this bewildered student and poured my heart out.  I came clean about everything.  I had made a mess of things and in the process had become someone even I couldn’t stand to be around.  I had tried to control my own destiny rather than turning the reins of my life…ALL of my life…over to the King.  I cried like a baby over the mess I had made.  Like a baby…reborn anew…a baby…from above.  I prayed that God would open my eyes to see his present Kingdom at work in this world.  I felt the weight of the world literally be lifted from me.  And I was filled with a joy that I have never known.  And so many unseen things began to be clear to me.  I was reborn…of fire…and the Holy Spirit.  It was not of my own doing.  I had just gotten done telling God what an idiot I am.  It was all God’s doing.  Keeping every aspect of the Law had nothing to do with it.  It just happened…maybe because God wanted it to happen.

And now he’s dead.  But I also know that he’s not dead.  I know it because he told me that night that these events had to happen.  Remember, I told you that I didn’t understand then everything he told me?  He said, “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.”

Lifted up.  Don’t you see? The cross! Lifted up on the cross.  Oh no, my friend.  This story is by no means over.  Just wait.  God is about to do something totally awesome…God is about to change everything. I have goosebumps just thinking about it.  Jesus told his disciples that he would return to them…that the ruler of this world had no power over him.  Don’t you get it? Death rules this world.  And death has no power over him.  In the same way that I believe in what Jesus told me and I now know it to be true, I now believe in Jesus…that he is exactly who he said he is – the Messiah, the very Son of God.  Keep your eyes and ears open, my friend.  God is about to do something that’s never been done before that tops all of those miracles Jesus was doing put together.  I can’t see it yet, but I know it. Wait…..and watch.

A Man Who was There to Stone the Adultress

A Man Who was There to Stone the Adultress

(3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”)

I was there that day.  I am an elder of my town.  The woman was an adulteress and the Law says we had every right to stone her.  The Law doesn’t say to stone her lovers, but it is clear about her.  It says to drag her to the edge of town and kill her.

Jesus humiliated us.  That’s what he did.  We were right to stone that trollop.  It’s in the Law.  She made us all look bad, brought us all down.  We can’t have that stuff in our town.  What will people think? What will God think?  Laws are laws. Who was that Jesus to make me look like that in front of my town?!?! Personally, I’m glad he’s dead.  Serves him right.  We can’t have these people thinking they can get away with stuff like that.  She was an ADULTRESS, no better than a prostitute, for heaven’s sake.  The next thing you know, Jesus would have had this trash thinking they were equal to us…to ME! I keep the Law.  I’m not a prostitute.  MY children aren’t prostitutes.  And DON’T give me some line about poverty and choices either…she could have done something else to feed her kids.  She could have sent them out to beg, and she could have begged herself.  Lots of people make it that way.  It’s the way God intended it.  The weak pass away, and the strong and righteous prosper.  That’s the Law.  Who was this Jesus to tell us anything different?

Humiliate ME in front of my town. Crucified.  That was too good for him, if you ask me.  Serves him right.  Good riddance.

(Turning aside to shoo away a beggar) Hey! Get away from me, you slime! Get a job! I EARN my money. (Walking away) Trash.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well Speaks

The Woman at the Well Speaks

(John 4:7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”)

They told me he was dead.  They said the Romans killed him…but I know better.  The Romans might have done the deed, but it wasn’t the Romans he was a threat to. Jesus was all about reconciliation…making whole…sewing back together the torn garment of Israel.  Somebody has long benefitted from this separation.  Somebody has been benefitting from all of this hate.  The fact that their religion tells them that somebody always has to be an outsider in order to figure out who’s an insider is why I have to come to the well in the heat of the day instead of the cool of the morning. I have lived my whole life as a “second-class citizen”, and it was never the Romans who treated me that way. They treat everybody here equally bad.  It was the religious people.  It’s like they think that they’re somebody because we’re nobody.  It’s like they have to tell themselves, “At least I’m not a Samaritan”…like any of us chose our birth…so they can feel like they’re somebody in God’s Kingdom.  Show me that craziness in the Scriptures!!

Jesus was God’s own heart.  He was the Messiah.  He told me as much, and I believe it.  And he told me that one day all of this silliness and pettiness that separates us will be put aside, and we will all worship in one place…in Spirit and in Truth.  Jesus was a threat to the powerful religious people because they used lies about us to make us less than them…they made us, the Samaritans, an “issue” to keep the focus off of what really matters.  As long as the people were afraid of us…hated us…for what we represent…they need those laws of purity and separation.  And it is that fear…those laws of purity and separation that give the religious authorities their power…and how they maintain their wealthy lifestyles.  Those religious officials are the ones who enforce those laws.  So they keep themselves in power by keeping us less than human.  That’s who killed him.  The Romans might have hung him on that scaffold, but it was the powerful religious people that dragged him there.  He didn’t do things their way, so they killed him for it.

The funny thing is that in exactly the same way that I knew who Jesus was…even before Jesus told me, I know this story isn’t over.  God’s not through here yet.  And I still hear Jesus speaking to me.  His voice in me is even more clear now and he’s been dead for three days.  He’s dead…and he’s not dead.  I don’t understand it…but I know it.

A Reply on the Simon the Sorcerer Post

Below is a reply to the post on Simon the Sorcerer from someone with a lot experience in both the mission field and in finding Simon the Sorcerer among u/within us. Paul Burwell writes:
Since reading your message on March 8, 2011, I have spent a good deal of time pondering it. It just so happens that for several years I have been mulling a lot of similar observations. First, let me say that in regard to whether sorcery and witchcraft are real powers or imagined…yes, they are very real!!
I come from a cessasionist background which taught that all miracles, signs, wonders, and supernatural events stopped when the last person on whom the apostles laid their hands, died. I believed that evil power was just bad influence and that it caused some to behave worse than others, but that witchcraft and sorcery were just imagined. I thought they were just the power of suggestion to humans who already loved to do evil anyway.
Since coming into God’s true kingdom with much tribulation in the late 1990’s, God has educated me through experiences where he let me see glimpses…sometimes more than I wanted to know at the time…that yes indeed, these powers are really REAL. These things have absolutely revolutionized our theology and yet we feel we’ve only seen the tip of a huge iceberg. I will give you one good example of first-hand experience in the mission field.
In 2006, through a series of signs, God showed us that we were to go to Africa. It started with a dream Joy had (2003) where she saw not only the pastor who would invite us one year later (2004), but also local scenes she recognized while we were there. I won’t elaborate on the Providential events that fell into place for us to go, but we came to believe that if we refused we would likely wind up in a whale’s belly or somewhere similar. Sitting on a huge liver and dining on plankton isn’t where we wanted to be, so we complied.
During the trip we spoke daily at numerous churches in the bush. On four evenings while there, we traveled to a small town called Shianda where we preached from a crude platform (made of eucalyptus trees) to the villagers. There was big generator set at a distance with a heavy cord running to the platform for musical instruments and microphones. The pastor (our host) had about a 400 member congregation and the musicians would come down to the village and begin worshiping on the platform. This would draw the villagers out of their little booths in the marketplace and after about 30-40 minutes of praise and worship, one of the worship team members would hand the mike to me and I, with the help of an interpreter, would preach.
One evening, while on the way to this remote area, Jonathan the pastor, asked me, “Do your people believe in witchcraft?” I replied, “Are you kidding?!! We make movies out of it and people who call themselves “Christians” pay good money to go and watch them!” Joy and I had already experienced a significant brush with it in 2004 at the church we were attending, so I emphasized to him that we believe it is real.He said, “Well, it is VERY real and sometimes, they try to kill us.”
Now that wasn’t the most edifying thing he could have said at the time, but we were a captive audience. He also informed us that most of these people had never seen white people and had never been taught about Jesus and that they did, in fact, look upon us with a tremendous amount of curiosity, with one lady even trying to scrape the white “paint job” off of my arm with her fingernails! (Joy and I were the only two white people there.)
Riding with us in our rented van one evening was a girl from Jonathan’s church who had come to sing with the worship team. Her name was Lillian. She avoided attending church because she’d born a child out of wedlock and was too ashamed. Imagine that here in America!! Anyway, before the music started, I found her alone in the van and asked, “Is it true these people have never heard about Jesus?”Lillian replied, “They have HEARD about Him, but have been taught by the witchdoctors that He is powerless. Then the witchdoctors hook the people on their drugs and eventually take control over the village with everyone becoming dependent on them for more.”
There were at least three times during this trip where a cold chill went down my spine; this was probably the first of the three.  I told Lillian, “That is EXACTLY what we have in America! The churches teach (demonstrate) a powerless Jesus and the majority of our people are hooked on (medicated by) one sort of drug or the other…both illegal and prescription.”
What am I saying? That drugs (and our dependence on them and those who distribute them) can open a door to the demonic that leads people away from dependence on Jesus, thus rendering Him impotent.
While ministering in Shianda and at the end of each service we would call for the sick and demonized to come forward where we with our African hosts would lay hands on them and pray for them to recover and to be set free. People came forward eagerly, desiring relief from their sicknesses and release from their oppression. Of course, here in OUR intellect-theology worshiping world, if you insinuate that someone has a demon, it is considered an insult…as if they are somehow less spiritual or something. In fact, it is also here that if someone asks what humility is, we have to look the definition up in Websters. In Africa, we met people whose lives demonstrated a humility I had never before witnessed. But back to the story…
We attempted to preach in Shianda four nights, but were prevented on the third night. It was after the second night that God gave me a powerful dream (too long to recount fully here), but the main part of it showed a peasant woman in a robe with her face covered by a hood and enveloped by a huge storm coming toward us. I was awakened by the storm (in the dream) at 3 am, even feeling the sting of the debris as it pelted my face. After discussing it with Jonathan’s wife, Rose, the next morning (Sunday), we decided it must just be a warning dream about impending resistance so we prayed.
Sunday morning was crisp, clear, cool and beautiful. The time of the rains had ended well before we arrived and they were in their dry season. We went to church at Jonathan’s congregation in Webuye, Kenya, then headed toward Shianda to finish the campaign. After picking up some bottled water for Joy and me, we began our 1 1/2 hour journey. Suddenly and without warning, a storm descended on top of us from the mountains above. It hailed, shook the van, and since we couldn’t see the road for the rain, our driver stopped where we sat for maybe 15 minutes or so, until a slight break in the onslaught came. He drove us back to Jonathan’s church where there was a small shed roof on one end of the building large enough for our van. We sat there rocking around for probably 45 minutes.
In my mind, I was conflicted…partly relieved that we would be getting the night off as we were exhausted. However, I was also disturbed because we wouldn’t finish our campaign and had already had about 150 responses. I left the van and entered the building and lay with my face on the ground, wrestling with God about the other souls in that town. After about 20 minutes I felt I’d prayed enough and actually knew I’d not been trusting God as I should have. By this time, the storm had backed off some, yet we knew it to be heading south toward Shianda whose little road was just barely passable when dry.
Then Jonathan’s cell phone rang and it was the pastor who would be heading the new church in Shianda asking where we were. Jonathan told him that there had been a storm in Webuye and that his road must surely be gone by that time. The pastor responded with, “What do you mean?! Our road is okay and we are waiting for you!”
Still in disbelief, we drove one hour south toward Shianda and could see that to the left and right of us was destruction. Yet when we turned onto the little road leading to the village, we saw that except for a few puddles here and there, the storm had split and left that road alone!!
During the course of that campaign I also experienced severe confusion on one night while trying to tell the story of the prodigal son…a story known since childhood. Then two generators malfunctioned after having worked perfectly in town…one of them completely destroyed that had been in use for years.  We were able to finish the campaign we’d started that night and many people made decisions to follow Jesus that week.
It was later, while reflecting on all that had happened in Shianda that I understood the storm that descended on Jesus’ boat when He headed to the previously unevangelized area of the Gadarenes…that it wasn’t a freak of nature. In fact, it was commandeered by the forces of darkness to stop the liberating power of the true LIGHT. I asked Jonathan, “Do the witchdoctors have the power to bring that storm, ruin those generators, and cause my confusion?” He answered, “Sure, they do!” As a matter of fact, this wasn’t anything new to him, but it was all new info to this wide-eyed white boy. ME.
Many other things happened on that campaign and the rest of the trip that are too lengthy to recount here. Yet this story stands out as one example of the myriad of ways witchcraft works in third-world countries and how God, through dreams along the way both prepared and comforted me (though I didn’t fully understand them until reflecting back on them later). Without that, I am convinced I would have been terrified! It is here in the West that witchcraft works much more deceptively. After all…all that stuff’s just in your head anyway, right?! If you can’t see it or experience it with your five senses, then it can’t exist, right?!

In the Valley of Dry Bones

In the Valley of Dry Bones

There is a valley that is so deep and so dark that people simply fall away into nothingness in it.  I met Janet yesterday and she was a resident of that valley.  She is 23, very frail, insulin dependent and needing dialysis treatments.  I don’t know the “why” of that, but I can guess from others I’ve seen in this valley that her descent into the valley began with pills and really caught speed with spoons and needles.  She was in and out of foster homes most her young life, and finally ran away in another state at 17.  She came here hoping to connect with some distant relatives who turned out to be too distant to care.  What has she been doing to stay alive these past six years? I don’t know, but I can guess.  When I met her yesterday she was desperate.  She was living with a man she referred to as her “uncle, but not my real uncle”.  My guess is that he is pimping her out. The man would swap her insulin for sex.  When she would protest, he would force himself on her.  Usually he’d be drunk or high.  He is a very large man…much like another large man I remember in another valley called Elah.  She has no ID and no social security card and no money and no phone and no transportation and no energy.  When I had her call the Women’s Hotline on my cell phone to see about getting her out of that situation and into a shelter, the intake person on the line asked her if she had ID.  Janet said, “No”.  The woman asked if she had a social security card.  Janet said, “No”.  The woman said, “What do you mean you don’t have a social security card. How can you not have a social security card?” Janet said, “I have been homeless and have had all of my stuff stolen in every place I’ve ever been sleeping.  I don’t have nothing!!”  The woman told her that she couldn’t get into a women’s shelter without ID. Janet said, “I can’t get ID because I got no social security card, and I got no money, and I got no way to get to the DMV.”  Janet explained her situation to the woman.  The woman asked why Janet hasn’t called the police.  Janet depends on the man to get to and from dialysis and for money for insulin.  Janet’s name isn’t on the lease.  She has no legal standing in that house.  She is also scared to death of him.  If she doesn’t do exactly what he tells her to do, he withholds her meds. The last time she called the police, the police made no arrest, and the man beat her to a pulp after the police left and threatened to kill her if she ever reported him again.  She has no ID, no social security card, no family, no transportation or money for a bus pass, no phone or money for phone calls, no job or apparent job skills, nowhere to turn.  If he killed her, the chances are that no one would even know.  The police would have no way to even identify the body.  He knows that.  She knows that.  The woman on the line said, “We have no beds right now.”  Janet asked if she would call when one opened up.  The woman replied, “We don’t do that.” And then the woman hung up.  It occurred to me in that moment that are a thousand Janets all around her in this part of the city…scattered around this valley.

The Lord set us down in that valley of dry bones and said, “Little man, can you make these bones live?”  I could offer no response.

Beware of Simon the Sorcerer

Beware of Simon the Sorcerer

The book of Acts relates a story about a sorcerer of some renown in Samaria who became enthralled with healing miracles performed by the apostles in his part of the country.  The sorcerer’s name was Simon.  We don’t know the nature of his sorcery, whether it was hocus-pocus sleight-of-hand trickery or whether it was more akin to witchcraft.  The story goes into no detail on the matter.  The Bible doesn’t say that witchcraft isn’t real. The story of Saul and the Witch of Endor relates apparently real sorcery. It instead tells us that we are not to mess with it.  We were not created to fool around with it.  We simply don’t know what it was that this Simon was engaged in. But whatever it was, the people that he practiced it among were impressed enough by it to give him the name, “The Great Power”.  The internalization of that kind of fame has a sorcery of its own that plays with the mind of the recipient – it makes that person appear to himself to be more important than he or she really is.  It creates its own dark illusions and distortions, and if we are not careful, we can find ourselves donning the wizard’s hat and memorizing incantations.

Upon gazing with amazement at the miracles that God was doing through the apostles that God sent out, Simon is said to have “believed” to such an extent that he was baptized.  The question that doesn’t get asked in the story is, “Believed in what?”  Clearly he believed that what he was seeing had real power.  But it is just as clear, though only implied, that he saw baptism as some kind of power-giving incantational ritual. The Book of Acts relates that this Simon even went so far as to offer money for the “How-to Manual of Signs and Wonders”.  His mind was filled with wonder, but the wonder that his mind was filled with led him to desire the power to perform miracles and wonders and thus become even more renowned and great in his land and among his people.  Baptism not being a magical act did not rid him of his motive of ambition.  The wonder that filled his mind did not lead him to surrender.  It didn’t lead him to humility.  It didn’t lead him to a posture of servanthood.  Instead, he apparently saw that mastering this “skill” of miracle-making would be another rung on the ladder to worldly fame and fortune.  He’d be an even bigger “rock star” and  “hit with the ladies”.  He saw people pouring out of their homes and villages, seeking what was happening in the mission that the apostles were participating in.  He wanted to be like the apostles…more correctly, he wanted the “mojo” that he mistakenly thought the apostles possessed.

In the mission fields where we serve, we see miracles happen all the time.  We see hearts transformed.  We see lives literally changed before our eyes.  We see addicts break free from their addictions, loosed from the bondage of overwhelming impulse.  We see hope long lost found again among the rubble of really broken things. And we see people who have witnessed these amazing signs and wonders bring their whole households out to participate in the Kingdom of God in our midst.  And on occasion, we find Simon the Sorcerer in our midst.  Seeing a miracle happen is intoxicating.  And if we aren’t extremely careful, it can also be distorting.  I have seen many miracles, and I have never performed a single one.  Every miracle that happens in the midst of our mission is performed singly and solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in relationship with the one being healed.  We wield no supernatural power.  We claim no ability.  We cry out to the Holy Spirit to heal the sick and broken-hearted because we have nowehere else to turn, and because we know for a fact that without the Spirit of God we are powerless.  Indeed, we ARE powerless.  WE are powerless.  And we are dispensable.  We are nothing but ashes and dust.  The King of the Kingdom is the sole power.

It is important to remember that the mission is not what we do.  It is what we PARTICIPATE in.  It isn’t our mission.  It is God’s mission.  If people witness the crazy signs and wonders and imprint on us – seek to become like us, then we have utterly failed in the mission.  Maybe more correctly, we have failed the mission.  We do not exist. We are dead people walking, dead and raised in Christ.  What does a dead person care about being a “rock star” or a “hit with the ladies”? Of what possible good is fame to a dead person? People in need need Christ and the Kingdom, not us.  It is Christ, the Teacher of The Way, that must be imprinted on.  We aren’t placing peoples’ hands in our hands.  We are placing peoples’ hands into the hands of Christ who is reaching out to them.  Anything short of doing that is sorcery, and we will be opening doors to things that we were not created to let loose.  We must be careful to stay small, indeed to not exist, so that Christ may be all that is seen or heard.  I don’t know whether sorcery has any real power.  The Bible seems to indicate that it does.  But the Bible is also clear that though it may have power, it doesn’t have the power to give life.  And life is what people need.  Only Christ can make the lame walk and the dead rise.  Christ alone.  Beware of Simon the Sorcerer in the crowd.  Beware of Simon in your mission teams.  And beware of Simon in our own hearts.  We are all susceptible.