Living in Missouri for 21 years provided the opportunity to go to Branson, a cultural center for some mid-west folks, on quite a few occasions. The trip always included visiting at least one of the entertainment palaces: country music, comedians, troubadours on horseback to accompany meals eaten with fingers, outdoor dramas, biblical character productions, Asian jugglers and magicians. I tend to enjoy most productions because of the fellowship with friends and family setting with me. One venue, however, had to be endured through sheer will power. Attending a magic show rates right down there with root canals and colonoscopies.
Other audience members audibly respond to the tricks while I selfishly wish someone would pull the fire alarm to put me out of my misery. For some reason the tricks do not peak my curiosity. I can’t make myself care enough to figure out how the hankies change color or the lovely assistant gets bloodlessly bifurcated. I know they are highly skilled craftsman; I just find more excitement in watching small ripples in a quiet pond at a much cheaper price point.
Magic is not so innocuous in some parts of the world. Witch doctors control villages in many cultures. Powerful world figures consult them to make important discussions. That kind of magic goes back beyond the days of King Saul. In Acts 13 we see an Apostolic encounter with a sorcerer or magician. The encounter made visible the protestations of evil ordered against the dawning of a new day in God’s salvation history. Bar-Jesus, the Jewish magician, saw the threat to his power position. He misrepresented the Lord’s straight way and sought to keep the governor from the faith.
Other established Jewish leaders reacted in a similar way to the upstart Jewish sect. They heard the same message as the common Jew and God-fearer Gentile, but envy kept them from really hearing the Word. Rather than magic, they resorted to their position and tradition to stir up the city power brokers.
Acts 13 demonstrates the stark difference between the Holy Spirit on one side and the human defenses of witchcraft and slander on the other. Envy served as a powerful motivator that blocked the ability to see and hear the gracious Gospel message. Bar-Jesus was physically blinded for a season while the synagogue leaders experienced spiritual deafness. Paul certainly knew what both of these Gospel responses looked like. At one time he defended what he knew against the new Jewish sect. He too had experienced temporary blindness for his efforts. Paul’s solitude prepared him to hear the disciple who would pray and share grace with him. Paul knew how to confront the resisters … because he once used the same emotional rejections to the preached word.
Have I mentioned I don’t enjoy magic acts?
I really don’t like them when I discover my own use of God’s gifts devolving into the realm of magic. Sometimes I have used the Name as a magical enchantment to get my way. If I call on the Name the right way while increasing frequency and fervency, then the door should open as I want like Alibaba and the 40 thieves chanting “Open Sesame.”
I have seen well-meaning people use church attendance, fasting, holiness “standards”, and tithing as magical tokens as if these talismans would protect us from physical, financial, and spiritual evil. We think to ourselves, “If I do these things, then I should not have to actually walkthrough the valley of shadow of death.”
While all of these practices have tremendous value for followers of Christ, they are not our magical tools to get our way. Envy and pride blocked Bar-Jesus and the synagogue leaders from seeing the Holy Spirit work, the Word preached, and grace dispensed.
If I am not careful I could miss God’s missionary work in the world today because a magical gospel protects who I am rather than propel me into the world as salt and light. Paul and Barnabas used the same texts and synagogue structure to proclaim the Gospel, but they did so on behalf of the world as witnesses sent by the Spirit.
What results came from authentic use of spiritual resources?
- The Word was preached.
- Jews and Gentiles heard and asked for more.
- People were filled with the Holy Spirit, gladness and joy.
- A promising mentee withdrew from the team and went home to safer prayer meetings.
- The disciple team got kicked out of town.
- The mission continued to the next city.
I think I need to pray.
Thank you for all of those prayer meetings with teachers, prophets and other saints. The Spirit spoke. Thank you for letting me know that even when I pray alone, I pray with my brothers and sisters. The Spirit still speaks! Thank you for sending us into the world today just as you sent Barnabas and Saul in Acts 13.
I repent of defensive prayers and attitudes towards those who do not yet see. I repent of taking rejection personally when I have honestly taught the Word to offer the pure wonder of grace to people in need.
But I really must intercede for forgiveness for efforts to control the moving of the Spirit through some kind of holy magic. I truly do not want controllable grace or programed witness to the world. I do not want to control others, for then I would rely on my own ability and want the glory for myself. You want to do a different, unbelievable work for all people.
As I turn from magical use of the Name and spiritual disciplines. I pray my spirit opens to the Wonder Work You ARE doing in the world today (v. 41). I pray for humility to see all of the Spirit’s work in my brother and sisters’ lives. When we follow the Spirit’s directions, then the contrast between a dark world and Gospel light will be sharpened. Hungry people will follow. Temporary blindness will lead some to reflect on the Light. Defensive spirits will be exposed.
You will be glorified.Your kingdom will come, and Your will shall be done.
In Jesus’ Name,