Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Integrity Is...

You probably heard about him in the news a few weeks ago.  His name is Matt LaBrum.  He made quite a stir in a town in Utah when he suspended all 80 of his players from his football team.  He suspended them not because of their performance on the field.  Rather, he suspended them because of their performance off the field.  

He said in his letter to them, “The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field.  It is a privilege to play this wonderful game!  We must earn the opportunity to have the honor to put on our high school jerseys each Thursday and Friday night!” 

It is my opinion that Coach LaBrum taught them a thing or two about integrity.  By its definition the word integrity means: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.”  He taught them that they cannot live up to their calling with excellence on the field and then turn around and contradict that excellence off the field.  He taught them that being men of integrity means that they lead a life of honesty and morality at all times, not just once in a while.

For a Christian, integrity is critical!  Here is what God has to say about integrity: “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.(Proverbs 10:9).  When your family and friends observe your “walk” in life, what do they see?  Do they see someone who is walking with integrity or do they see someone with crooked paths?  Is there an area in your life where you are lacking integrity?  It may be hidden for now, but it comes out eventually.  Why not confess it to Jesus now?  Why not trust that you’re forgiven because of Jesus’ nail-scarred hands and empty tomb which proved His integrity on your behalf?  Why not choose a path of integrity now?  Why not make a difference in the lives of others, like Matt LaBrum did, by setting an example of integrity?

If you’re still breathing, and I assume that you are because you’re reading this blog post, then now is the time to recommit to living with integrity not to try to earn our way back on to Jesus’ team, but because we already are on His team.  Thank God for Jesus!  Let’s show Jesus that we mean what we say.  That’s integrity!

-Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ghost Stories

Are ghosts real or not?

Ghosts, sometimes called poltergeists, are said to be spirit apparitions through which the souls of dead persons manifest themselves. All of us have heard fictional "ghost stories" from the time we were children. Didn't we all have a ghost in our closet or under the bed? 

While we dismiss such stories now as figments of fertile juvenile imaginations, we cannot altogether dismiss the idea of genuine spirit phenomena popularly associated with ghosts.

Ghostly appearances

Thousands of sophisticated, intelligent people around the world are convinced that ghosts not only exist, but that they can and do communicate with the living. Do "ghosts" speak from the shadows of a candle-lit room? Are there actually supernatural spirit phenomena associated with those creaks and knocking sounds in the abandoned house on the corner? And if so, are they adequately explained as the spirits of the deceased?

Milbourne Christopher, once known as America's foremost magician, was also a psychic researcher. Christopher, like many researchers today, was convinced that accounts of ghosts and haunted houses could be explained on a natural level. He offers the following example of a so-called haunted house that was found to have a natural explanation:

There are sounds in old houses that are not made by human hands or human voices. They are heard during storms or at certain seasons of the year or in some cases on specific days and at specific times. When the sounds persist, rumors spread that houses are haunted, and they are difficult to sell or rent (ESP, Seers and Psychics, p. 167).

The shrieks and groans of another "haunted house" were discovered to be the work of an adventurous young child. Apparently the child had lodged a toy whistle in the knothole of a tree directly opposite a broken pane of glass. When the wind blew hard, it caused a draft and the wild shrieks that tenants had mistaken for the groans of the walking dead.

Scriptural explanations

Examining such cases of "ghostly" apparitions, we as Christians can use scriptural principles to define our response to such phenomena. Remember, much of what is reported as "ghostly" phenomena is fraudulent. It is either deliberately manufactured "evidence," or a natural explanation for the phenomena is more reasonable and probable than a supernatural explanation. We are not concerned here with such natural phenomena, but only with what defies natural explanation.

Scripture clearly teaches that "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment," and after death occurs "the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (Hebrews 9:27, Ecclesiastes 12:7). There is no soul sleep or "wandering" period for the departed soul. Jesus said, "Today, you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Those who die in faith immediately live with the faithful in eternal peace and joy. Those who die apart from Christ remain so eternally.

A common denominator in the most convincing ghost stories is that the ghosts don't have peace. They are in torment, usually bound in some way to the place or building where they died. As we have already seen, the soul of a Christian would go immediately to be with Jesus Christ. Because he would have peace, he would not have to wander in torment. 

Another common denominator is the compulsion of the departed spirit to see his murder avenged. He cannot rest, it is said, until the crime is punished. This desire for personal vengeance, exemplified by such "hauntings," is denied to one who desires to follow the Lord. "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, 'It is mine to avenge I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19).

There is no need for a Christian's spirit to return to "haunt" this world. Jesus conquered death and rose from the dead to prove the good news of God's love and grace extended to mankind. It is highly unlikely that these visitors are members of the kingdom triumphant. 

Furthermore, Scripture never indicates that a spirit of an unbeliever is permitted to leave its place of torment in hell.

Demonic deceptions

Therefore, it is a fair assumption that the vast majority of "ghost" experiences that defy natural explanation are demonic in origin. Hebrews 2:14 notes Satan's preoccupation with death. It would be fitting for his legions to pretend to be the spirits of the departed. The Bible even tells of a demon-possessed man who had a compulsion to roam a graveyard (Matthew 8:28, Mark 5:2-5).

The account of Samuel and the witch at Endor in 1 Samuel 28 has been a source of fruitless debate among Bible-believing Christians. Many, like Martin Luther, said that it was an evil spirit that imitated Samuel in appearance and dress. One argument set forth by such people is that God would not permit one of his saints to be summoned back to earth. 

Nowhere is this taught in the Bible. In fact, it would appear to be contradicted to some extent by the appearance of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration. If God in his wise providence saw fit to send back a saint for a message of confirmation, could he not also send one back for a message of judgment? We dare not limit God's power and plan by placing him in the "box" of our own limitations.

A closer look at this account also reveals that nowhere is this spirit called evil, but it is simply called Samuel. The language certainly sounds like the message of the departed prophet and, in fact, the prophecy is perfectly fulfilled. Fullfillment is always characteristic of a prediction that comes from God (Deuteronomy 18:22).

Let's not forget, however, that the devil is a clever deceiver who often tells the truth for his own purposes. He is the adversary who takes old lies and skillfully rewraps them. Paul reminds us that Satan even appears as "an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). It is not necessary for us to debate such open questions. As one Lutheran theologian said, "That it was a sinful act on Saul's part to attempt to gain hidden knowledge in this way and that it brought him nothing but grief is made crystal clear in the text."

Sound advice

It is imperative to remember that any effort to seek knowledge about the future through the dark arts is a violation of God's Word. Christians not only sin when they seek to communicate with the beyond but they place their souls in grave danger. The devil plays for keeps. Christians are content to trust the words of the one who holds our future in his hand. Surely his Word is of more value than that of a disembodied spirit!

-Dr. John Parlow, Lead Pastor

**For more on this and related topics, please join us for a new sermon series, "Wizards That Peep," beginning October 13th.