This past Sunday, Pastor Matt preached on Scripture's teaching on demons and Satan from Acts 16. Listen to that sermon here. Here are some of the other passages that speak of demons and Satan which Matt referenced:
Ephesians 6:12 - For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
1 Peter 5:8 - Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Genesis 3:1 - Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
Revelation 12:17 - Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.
1 Timothy 4:1–3 - 1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
Galatians 1:8 - But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
Galatians 4:8–9 - 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
Zechariah 3:1 - Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
2 Corinthians 11:14 - And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
Genesis 3:15 - I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Colossians 2:13–15 - 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Mark 9:29 - And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
1 John 4:1-3 - 1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
2 Ephesians 6:10–18 - 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
We believe in discipleship! We believe every Christian ought to seek to grow in Christ! But why do churches like this do that? Why do we believe this?
Here are 26 biblical reasons why we value discipleship:
- Pastor Matt LaMaster -
I used to work for a church that printed an article for reflection in their bulletin each week. They had for years and decades, and it was a matter of interest to me. One week in my office, a box appeared of expired paper, yellowed with time. As I rifled through them, I curiously searched for the bulletin issued on my birthday, knowing I was born on Sunday. I found this curious quote: “Sunday school is for everyone.”
This is more profound than we probably knew at first.
Why should I become a church member? Why should I go to small groups? Why should I spend time reading the Bible? These are legitimate questions. Many of us have been Christians for years. We have walked with Christ through the good and the bad. Lesson upon lesson he has taught us. We’ve read through the entire Bible! Not only that, but look at our bookshelves for a plethora of Christian literature! Sure, those are good things for other people to attend, people who aren’t there yet. But, I know pretty much everything, already, right? I attend the service on Sundays, isn't that enough?
I am confronted by the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:14-16, “We must no longer be children... we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...”
Paul uses “we” here. He acknowledges that he himself needs to “grow up” and that he can no longer be childish. Paul knows that the single body of Christ will never be mature until all its individual members are mature. But he also knows that, as John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8). And he knows, that even though he wrote a significant portion of the New Testament, even though he himself had visions of Christ on high, even though he stood toe-to-toe with Peter for walking out of step with the gospel, he too needs to grow.
And if this man whom we revere so much, who has been the fountainhead for Christian thought from Augustine to Billy Graham, from Jonathan Edwards to John Piper, needs to grow, so do I.
Pretending you don’t need to grow is neither truthful nor successful. It will only hurt you in the end. Acknowledging the need for Christian growth is not self-loathing, rather it is humble truth-telling. So may we all, each and every one, no longer be children and grow up into Christ who is the head over all.
This post is adapted from a reflection for Addison Street Community Church.
- Pastor Matt LaMaster -
He stood up, waving his hands. Those hands, calloused with the workman’s trade, were once instruments of kidnappings, beatings, and torture. Now they did little to shield him from the same blows directed at him. A strange reversal had happened, and now the man faced the same mob he once led. He opened his mouth to speak.
For everything we know from his writings, Saul of Tarsus’ life remains dim. What is best preserved for us is the beloved doctor Luke’s commentary on his life between his conversion and his first imprisonment in Rome. Much of the rest of his life is obscured, although there are clues.
Saul, we know, was from the port city of Tarsus, a hub of Mediterranean activity, being the gateway to Galatia and other regions in Asia Minor. He grew up in a home with some semblance of religious tradition, after all they still knew their tribal roots, a rarity for Jews in that day. And yet, despite this, Saul’s parents raised their son to know Greek. They were wealthy enough to buy Roman citizenship, a prized status in the eyes of the migrants in the Roman empire. It was their sign that they had “made” it. To say the least, this Benjamite clan had settled with the way things were being done by Rome with complete satisfaction. They were likely Hellenistic Jews, moderate and nominal.
Somewhere along the way, young Saul radicalized. Perhaps it was on a pilgrimage to the holy city. Did he run away from home? Maybe it was on a visit to relatives in Jerusalem. The details are obscured, after all, Paul counted everything before his conversion as rubbish (Phil 3:8). The Saul we know was a likely dedicated religious scholar throughout his twenties, training under the influential post of Gamaliel. Perhaps Saul was his protege. No longer a Hellenist, Saul had made the dip into pure Judaism. He adorned himself in the law, becoming blameless. The funny thing about beliefs, though, is that they matter. They really matter.
This is why when a rabbi with the outlandish message that he himself had come to reveal God, that he in fact was God, the very Word by which the world had been brought forth, a fire was lit under establishment’s feet. This fire, which was running amok (even in Samaria!) had to be stamped out. For this quest, they needed a zealous young Jew, who better than the up-and-coming Saul?
We have gotten too familiar with the text to realize the enormity of Saul’s actions, and his brash rebellion. Saul approved of the mob that killed Stephen, he sanctioned the action with the authority of the religious establishment, holding the coats above the ground, to keep the mob clean from the dust of the beaten path (Acts, 7:58, 8:1). Saul gladly overstepped the legal restraints the Romans had placed upon Jews. Saul ravaged the church (8:2). We seem to forget that he went from door to door, kidnapping women, children, and men who had called upon Jesus Christ. This was not a legal procedure. This was a man who wanted to force the kingdom of God. He wanted to set up the heavenly abode, and he was willing to slaughter whoever stood in his way to do it. He was embroiled in sectarianism. He was zealous for his religious identity. Saul’s quest to Damascus was to kidnap Christians. Are we really to imagine the authorities of his day would have been pleased with his actions? There was a shred of formality to it, in the same way Al-Queda has affiliates, or ISIS has a ruling council. Let us not believe this to be a benign violence, this was the equivalent of terrorism.
This is the extent to which Saul felt threatened. For the message of grace threatens the self-righteous. And the reaction of the self is violent. Saul’s life, his convictions, everything he was, had been dedicated to becoming blameless under the law. So zealous was he for this law-serving lifestyle, he would willingly put his life at risk to prove it right. If anyone had come to know the righteousness the law gives, it would have been him.
And then a funny thing happened. God saved him. Jesus Christ met him on the way to Damascus. Lights flashed, sound boomed, and everything went dark. The judgment of the Almighty had been pronounced on this self-styled Pharisee, and despite all his law-keeping, he was found wanting.
From that moment, Saul became Paul. The persecutor became the persecuted. The carrier of death became the herald of life. The Jewish zealot became the apostle to the Gentiles. The self-righteous became justified. The one who was so cold and darkened was in an awful instant united to the Lord Jesus Christ. The one born wealthy took up a blue collar trade to support himself so that he might gospelize the nations.
Now as he stood before this very mob decades later, with his hands motioning, he explained to them what had happened. That day on the Damascus Road, Saul, perhaps with a tremor in his voice, asked Jesus Christ what he must do. Paul wanted to earn forgiveness from Christ, to do penance. The Lord sent him to a pious believer named Ananias who restored to him his sight, and ordered him to be baptized (Acts 22:6-15). Notice the pattern, the Lord first restored his sight and then gave him instructions to be baptized. There was nothing to really do. He had asked the Lord what he might do, and he had found this to be the secret of the Christian life; there really is nothing to do, just someone to know. There is nothing to earn, only someone to receive. Of course there are good works which we have been transformed for (Eph 2:10), but these in themselves are diving deeper and deeper into the one who has created us, and they call us back to him, they are the fruits of our union, not a way we purchase salvation.
Saul had grown accustomed to earning a right standing before God, and now it was proffered in the scarred hands of the object of his hate. And in grasping those broken, mangled, bloody hands, he found himself healed. After all his strivings he found rest.
At the bottom of it all, you and I are not so separate from this disparate man or the thousands other like him. You and I all search for meaning and purpose in our own pithy systems. Let each of us reckon that our strivings are as Paul's. You and I are an extremist in the same way. Perhaps our systems are less externally vitriolic and more polite, in a Victorian kind of way. But, make no mistake, when our self is threatened it lashes back just as violently. Like Christ, everything before Christ is nonetheless rubbish. Will you see Paul's hands waving in the wind? Will you grasp Christ who beckons you to himself?
Blaise Pascal says it well in his famous Pensèes, “It is good to be tired and wearied by the vain search after the true good, that we may stretch out our arms to the Redeemer.”
May this be so for you and I.
- Pastor Matt LaMaster -
In the epic film Inception, a complex relationship between Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Cob (Leonardo DiCaprio) unfolds. Throughout, Ariadne tries to unlock Cob’s past, but throughout the film Cob draws a line and bids Ariadne, “Come no further.” What is this palpable boundary? In a word, shame. In seminary, I took a class on missions which called me to really investigate the sense of shame in child prostitutes. What is shame? These are some of my thoughts.
As those happily agnostic to shame’s more subversive influence, we, Westerners, struggle to define it, and to often ignore its presence.
But we should be careful about ignoring shame, for it is a universal fact. Though some of you will deny it, there is a deep and profound shame in each of us, the sense that all is not right. That downward look of children at having done wrong, that overwhelming need you have to defend yourself, that pain when someone stabs you in the back, these are all instances of shame. Ignoring shame is like ignoring cancer, you can deny its reality, but it will eat you away.
Shame is a flexible. Your shame touches your marriage, your children, your job, your parents, your church. Shame is subtle. You do not ever need to actively think, "I feel so ashamed" to feel shame. Shame is deceptive. We can notice our shame, but think, "It's no big deal." Yet if we would leave it alone, it would dismantle our souls.
Escaping shame is a long journey. Do not expect to be rid of it soon. It is a long, cold, winding and precipitous trail. Escaping seems to be impossible, as it will suck the life into its frigid vacuum.
The story of our first parents is instructive. Upon unbelieving God’s word and eating the forbidden fruit, our progenitors were illuminated to their nakedness (Gen 3:7). Thus, we see shame is at least semi-conscious: eyes are opened; attention is garnished. The first humans are instantly aware that evil is present and that they have entered in. This moment of realization begets shame. Notice, someone does not have to think, "I am ashamed" to feel shame, but merely to feel, "I am not right." Insecurity, hurt, pain, guilt, all shame.
Scripture tells of more: Judah himself enters in when his daughter-in-law Tamar reveals his unrighteousness with an incestuous verdict (Gen 38). While Judah enters in, shame overtakes the daughter of David, Tamar. Tamar sees the shame approaching like a storm on the horizon, and weeps when it has done its damage (2 Sam 13:1-19). Shame comes from both wrong we've done, and wrongs done to us.
Shame realizes all is not right, neither out there nor in here.
Shame is a spiritual “eye-sore.” It is nakedness. Nothing is dignified about it. It is embarrassment and humiliation. Shame needs to covered; it needs to be hidden. Adam and Eve sought to forget it through the use of fig leaves (Gen 3:7). We have become manufacturers of such things. The episode of Tamar embarrasses David’s whole family, but each finds a different “fig leaf.” Amnon banishes his sister, hiding her from her presence behind locked doors (2 Sam 13:18). Tamar hides herself in her brother’s house (13:20). David rages, but through inaction internalizes his anger (13:21). Absalom surges with revenge (13:29). Variegated taxonomies they may be, but they are fig leaves nonetheless. Shame is the desire to disappear.
We have our own fig leaves. We vigorously deny wrong doing. We avoid people attached to painful memories. We focus our mind on the nostalgic. We select that which is worth remembering, and discard the rest. We get angry when it is implied we have done wrong. How dare someone brings to mind our shame?
However, there is a hope.
God hates shame more than we, and goes to great extent to give us a permanent cover. Just as God provided a covering for Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21), he does so for the shame of the world. Christ so despises shame, that he embodied it and put it to death (Heb 12:2). Christ is the Father’s covering for us, laid on by the Holy Spirit. Fixing ourselves on him, we are covered. Rather than the dysfunction of the cosmos, we share in the honor of the Son of God. This is the hope that we need, the way out of shame, the escape from pain.
“Truly God is our glory and the lifter of our heads (Psalm 3:3).”*
*Diane Langberg, Suffering and the Heart of God, 137.
- Pastor Matt LaMaster-
When was the last time that someone opened up to you and shared their trials with you? What did you say in response, what was the pattern of the conversation?
If you are like me, you have probably made the mistake of cutting someone off and explaining why they don’t actually understand their own pain. Often, people don’t open up because they want you to fix it. Sometimes people speak because they just want someone to hear. Yet, for competitive people like myself, it is much easier to listen to find something to reply to. I am a competitive person. So when I converse, I am usually ready with a reply faster than the fastest draw in the West (even if I don’t know what I am talking about!).
The reality is that often you and I engage in conversation to be heard, not to hear.
What does this have to do with the Christian faith?
Christians believe that Jesus Christ has humbly given up himself considering equality (which was his) nothing to be grasped, and instead emptied himself (Phil 2:5-8). “Have this mind among yourselves,” (2:5) Paul commands the Philippians. Paul’s desire is that they likewise consider their own value nothing for the sake of one another. That though they are indeed equals, they intentionally consider themselves beneath their peers. And indeed, through our union with our Lord, this mind already is ours, it is now a matter of using it. This is humility.
Humility enters our conversations when we listen well. Humility asks more questions than it answers. Humility does not wait for the other person to say their piece so we can blow their minds with something insightful in reply, to drop a knowledge bomb. It means being the novice and letting them be the teacher. Humility means pondering what the other person has said; it means giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Humility patiently taught me to ask, “Do you want me to fix it, or do you just want me to hear?” Do you want me to speak or not to speak?
And when they say, “I just want you to listen,” humility teaches me to accept that.
What is it that you are suffering? This world is full of toil and trouble. We live in a world where evil presses us on every side and in a body where sin fights all restraint. We live in a world where terrorists bomb innocents, where earthquakes shake cities, where fire and drought and hurricanes and tornadoes all have their way unchecked. We live in a place and a space where evil is institutionalized, where sin is tolerated, and where hatred is cultivated. We live in a families whose systems are dysfunction, whose relationships are estranged, and whose stability is groundless.
Hatred, rife, gossip, sin, quarreling, licentiousness, untruth, bitterness, murder, coveting, idolatry, greed, gluttony, lust, adultery, abortion, and death.
This is the world East of Eden, the world of the Fall. How are we Christians to light up the world, when it seems that our flickering flames are about to be snuffed out? James tells us in his letter: Be Patient (5:7).
Be patient in the pain.
Be patient in the hurt.
Be patient in the evil.
Wait. Wait for the coming of the Lord. Wait for Christ to come and claim his people as His own. Wait for the one who purchased you by his blood and rose you with him Christ. Wait for the one who will wipe every tear from your eye. Wait for the one who will put all this death to death. Wait like the prophets of old, who endured the sufferings of this world. Wait like Job who sat scraping himself with pottery until his boils popped and oozed with puss. Wait because like them, we know the Lord will end this.
What kind of God would allow his children to suffer such ill?
He is a "very compassionate" God. In James 5:11 Scripture tells us that God is "very compassionate." But the English does not do this justice. This is actually a compound word in the Greek: πολυσπλαγχνος (polusplagknos) taken from the words πολυς (polus) meaning "much" and σπλαγχνος (splagknos). Σπλαγχνος (splagknos) is an interesting word. It's base meaning is what we might call "guts." It is the entrails, the intestines, the digestive system. It is our gut. In the Greek it also came to be used when the normal word for "heart" might not do justice. It came to mean the visceralness of love. It is the kind of love someone feels when they love so bad it hurts. It is empathy, compassion, sympathy, tenderness. It is a love which is taken from the abstract and embodied before you; it is a love you can touch. What that is, God is plentiful in it. We are told that God is "very splagknos". He is very visceral in his love, his compassion, his sympathy and tenderness for you. He loves us so bad it hurts.
We can be patient in the pain, patient in the toil, patient in the trouble because God is "very compassionate." He has not abandoned his people, but he feels for them with an extra share of affection. He is visceral in his love for us, even while we go into the valley of the shadow of death. He feels what we feel, and at the perfect time, he will return to release us from the pangs of death. So be patient.
Right now our church is going through a sermon series on the book of Psalms called "Training the Soul to Breathe." This wonderful book was the hymnal of the ancient Israelites which teaches us how to love God with all our hearts. Through it we return to where God has called us to as his image. Here are some great resources on the Psalms!
Some of us understand better through music than through books. The Psalms Project has done a fantastic job putting several Psalms to music. Check them out on Amazon here!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer simply says this: “Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.”
Augustus Strong the American writer of the last century says this, “Our baptism into Christ is the outward picture of an inward immersion of the soul not only into his love and fellowship, but into his very life, so that in him we become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17).”
Martin Luther that fiery Reformer says this: “for this cause he is made the law of the law, the sin of sin, the death of death, that he might redeem from the curse of the law, justify me and quicken me. So then, while Christ is the law, he is also liberty, while he is sin, he is righteousness, and while he is death, he is life.”
John Calvin the the Reformer says, “as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us.”
Jacobus Arminius, The Dutch Thinker, wrote, “The foundation is Christ, who possesses all things, and stands in need of nothing; the term, or boundary, is the believer in want of all things. The remote end is the external salvation of believers, and the glory of God and Christ.”
Ireneaus, the Church Father, writing about 100 years after the Apostles’ deaths, says: “By no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality.”
Southern Heights Christian Church
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