In a recent interview, US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia volunteered, "I even believe in the Devil."
This provoked interviewer Jennifer Senior to probe: "Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?" Justice Scalia replied:
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run
off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore. …
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful
The event to which Justice Scalia referred is at the end of Matthew chapter 8:
And the demons begged Jesus, saying,
“If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.”
And he said to them, “Go.”
So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters.
Back then, it was pigs jumping off cliffs--the first case of swine flu. Today, does deviled ham have relevance? Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber sees three options:
I don’t always know what to do when it comes to talk about demons in the Bible. Especially
when the demons talk and have names and stuff like that.
I’m never sure if back then they had the exact same things going on that we do, but they didn’t
know about things like epilepsy or mental illness so they just called it all demon possession.
Or if maybe there used to be demons possessing people and sorta like polio and smallpox,
it’s just not something we have around anymore.
Or if we do actually still have demons and it makes it more understandable and controllable
for us if we use medical and scientific terms to describe the things that possess us.
I honestly don’t know.
I too am puzzled. Bottom line, I take spiritual things seriously enough that I wince at the Hollywood cliches of Satan. On screen the prince of darkness is a charming executive with a suave mid-Atlantic baritone, pitching for souls and dispatching often bumbling, comic minions. My problem with this is not comedy. The problem is in trivializing demons and demonizing trivia. Laughter has great power:
"The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked."
— Thomas More
“I often laugh at Satan, and there is nothing that makes him so angry as when I attack
him to his face, and tell him that through God I am more than a match for him.”
— Martin Luther
Martin Luther is said to have thrown an inkwell at the devil. This inkwell story was noted by the Brothers Grimm, famous for their stories of Little Red Riding Hood, and Hanzel & Gretel. A better-documented quote from Luther comes from 1521: "I fought the devil with ink." This most likely refers not to flinging inkwells but principally to his translating the Bible into German and also to his other engaging writings. Variously bigoted, academic, crude, witty, sarcastic, profound, sentimental, cheeky, and humble, if not the first, Luther was arguably one of the best to weaponize ink. For an introduction, try Luther's Table Talk.
Luther fought the devil also with singing. He wrote anti-Devil words and tunes in the popular style of his day. Listen to his big hit, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" in its original tune--not the cover version heard in most churches today. The original tune had an energetic off-beat lilt fit for a Renaissance Faire. Oh, wait, it was the Renaissance.
Luther accompanied singing on his lute. He wrote, "Next to theology I give place to music; for thereby all anger is forgotten, the devil is driven away, and melancholy and many tribulations and evil thoughts are expelled." Katharina von Bora became Martin Luther's wife after escaping from a convent in a fish barrel. She was devoted to Luther, who referred to her as "my lord Katie". She skillfully managed the household of 8 despite limited funds and many guests. She bought a farm, raised cattle and vegetables, and brewed beer.
What of devils today? Are demons just a metaphor for struggle, as in the headline, "Rapper fights booze demons"? Are they just another way to sell greeting cards and candy?
"What is this Halloween and devils?" This is what Christians from Taiwan and Korea have asked me more than once. They remarked, "So many ugly things, like the Buddhist demons back home." One cautioned me, "When my mother became a Christian, she burned all that devils stuff."
I have three resolutions concerning the devil and demons.
(1) Do not give the devil more credit than due. I have seen terrible afflictions yield to medication or counseling.
(2) Do not give the devil less caution than due. Like Justice Scalia, I cannot rule out fiendish activity whether on personal matters, social scales, or inconceivably larger. Paul describes an axis of evil:
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.
(3) I aim to not dwell on devils and angels. I look to God. This may explain the Bible's brevity on such matters. We don't need silver bullets and holy water. We need God! In his dialogue with the devil, even Jesus was absolutely terse: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." For demons, Jesus typically had just one word: "Go."
... Or is it?
Jesus had a warning for a culture that thought it was clear of demons:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest,
but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it
finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits
more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than
the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Don't just evict evil. Fill that vacuum with God.
A lovely article published in Christianity Today, by Alicia Cohn!
The full title is:
Help Wanted: Coming-of-Age in a Recession Can Shake Our Faith
Most millennials will tell you: We're never not looking for a job. Recession-style insecurity is our new normal. We live in an age where it's not uncommon for college-educated adults to move back in with their parents or work multiple part-time jobs...
Last Sunday we spent a little time talking about some of our key values, giving an update on some practical details of our financial situation and then answering questions... and eating delicious pizza. It was a lovely time and we're more encouraged than ever that God is up to something amazing at The Surge!
Here is a quick recap...
1) We are a Bible-based church.
- We believe the Bible is God's word, drafted by people under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that we would know what God wanted us to know about him and us and our world that we would not otherwise know.
- We believe God preserved that word--spoken through the early fathers, through the prophets, through Jesus, and through the apostles--intact through the ages so that we would have before us today what God spoke originally.
- This belief results in one central driving principle: It's the bible and God's word that comments on culture, that assesses culture, not the other way around. So, we take what he wrote as valid today, as relevant today, and as authoritative today, despite the fact that we'd like to think sometimes that God surely didn't anticipate our day and age.
- So, what we are about as a church is driven by what God says in the bible that God's family, God's people, the church should be doing: It's so simple, it's baffling: Go into the world and introduce people to Jesus Christ, then do everything possible so the relationship and love affair with Jesus grows to the point that those people introduced to Jesus then go into the world and introduce people to Jesus Christ.
- We have set up The Surge to be led as the bible guides us - by elders selected because of their close walk with God and a calling to lay down their lives in service out of love for people.
2. Reaching people far from God.
- The organization of the Surge won't save anyone. People talk to people, that means YOU. It can...
- Be a help
- Create environments and opportunities for people to connect
- Provide some organization to let us band together
- Help provide community and encouragement
- What is the strategy?
1) Continue to encourage Surge members to talk to people in their network about the love of God
- If I talk to 2 people a week about God, that's ~100 people a year. If 50 people do, it's ~5,000 people
- Think of an aircraft carrier, you don't bring the target TO the carrier, you send planes
2) Leverage Sunday morning as an opportunity, State Theatre, music we do, specials, slides, style.
- People are 7 times more likely to come if invited by YOU vs. a pastor. 7 times.
3) Church planting - most effective tool for evangelism on earth
- Nimble - can meet the Specific need of local community
- People love new things, it doesn't carry negative weight of church perception, knee jerk is positive
- Opportunity for people to step forward in real ways, for leaders and members
- A church planter would benefit us as a community and we could bless him in turn
4) Social justice... finding opportunities to meet real needs and love people in the name of Jesus
- looking at helpful training on finances for community
- coordinating corporate sponsorship to feed hungry kids (things like Generosity Feeds)
- Unity club - investigating ways to bless / open a door for these folks
3. Developing the Love Affair with Jesus.
- We also want to be a church that encourages that love affair with Jesus to continue, to grow, to mature. Why? Because we believe that our joy is found in Jesus, and all that God has for you and me rests in this relationship with Jesus.
- To grow, you need to eat. To mature the love relationship with Jesus, you need to invest in the relationship with Jesus. As the lead pastor here, I am absolutely passionate about this: that God wants joy to be yours and to have it to a level that you can hardly contain it. So, I do everything I can to persuade you that Jesus is better -- better for you, better with you, than all the other things you think will satisfy you at your deepest level.
- We are all parts of the body. Together, we comprise the body of Christ--the expression of Christ in a local church. And Jesus loves the church -- He calls the church his bride. And if Jesus words are true, He has designed something magical to happen in community, when the body parts come together.
- So, practically speaking, please be here, please engage as a member of the body. And this is especially important right now, when we're trying to get this up and running. Even a few people missing makes a huge difference. This isn't about setup or teardown, this is about how Jesus intends to use his church to bring people to Himself.
- Evangeline, all by herself, praying after vaccination...good stuff is happening in our nursery
- Greg's goal of showing God to be worthy of trust - a little more every week in his time with grade schoolers
- The energy and power of a youth group is just amazing for a church
- Selma, using practice and ministry principles from Young Life, ministering from relationship has good things coming, our official launch of a team group is Oct 13th
- The goal is that our teens would be a vibrant part of our vision, not just a club
- Who needs God more than teenagers? So much change, uncertainty, shaping of identity... it is a critical stage of development
- The goal is a youth group that can really find God and grow in Him... and be a light to their friends / schools
-- Some basics first. The average time for a church plant to become fully sustainable (if they survive) is about 5 years), we knew that going in.
-- We also expected that for a time, we'd be running a deficit in terms of expenses and giving. Good news is that we had a nest egg to cover that deficit for a time. And even though we knew we were stepping out on a ledge, we made the decision to move to the Theatre and to hire Selma.
-- We also got the clear sense that debt is not a good thing. Unless slavery is a good thing. The debtor is slave to the lender. So, we have an overarching perspective that we are not willing to go into debt. That sets us apart from many out there, ok?
-- But earlier this year, reality hit hard. The nest egg was getting smaller. We attracted new people, but we also lost many to overseas assignments, and some of our key core decided to move on. We knew this happens in every church plant, but still, it hurt. Then Fairfax County hit us with what was going to be a $28,000 real estate tax bill on the property over in McLean - they said since we moved out Sunday service to the Theatre, we were no longer tax exempt.
- So, the pressure was mounting. With expenses and giving still far apart, what do we do? Did we move back to the barn and try to regroup? Hunker down? Cut costs? How do we stay on target with the mission by doing that?
-- Bottom line is this. I believe that God put us under stress to move us to do something we weren't actively looking for... a real estate agent approached us to ask if we would be willing to sell the property in McLean. Taking a look at all of the options, we decided to put the property up for sale.
Our vision is that the proceeds from the sale will allow us to greatly expand our ministry to the community and open doors for church planting and starting new vibrant ministries.
-- It will be several months before the sale will be finalized, so we'll need to continue to be careful and frugal as a church related to spending. The reality is, we're close to being sustainable now. If we could attract ten families who were willing to tithe, we would fully meet expenses and generate a strong surplus related to our current budget.
6. How you can help?
- Pray, we're asking God to lead us and put us in the center of His will
- Support, come, help - see us as a Startup company and you're on the ground floor
- Keep inviting people, praying for 10 families to start with
- Give generously, it's an investment in the kingdom
- Be patient with the things we can provide right now, in terms of what a church can help provide
- Look to start ministries in the community, let us know how we can help
It seems clear to us that God has put us together, and that He has called us to His work here. Our job is to be faithful and respond when He calls... very good things are coming!
Q: Are you affiliated with an established church planting network?
A: Not as such, but we're open to that relationship. We've met with church planters from Acts 29, Stadia and a couple of independent groups and are seeking counsel from experienced church planters about how to find and develop the next generation of leaders in this regard.
Q: Will we be able to stay in the State Theatre until the building sells?
A: Yes. That's the plan. We won't be willing to go into debt to do that, but on the current glidepath we are planning to stay.
Q: How transparent are financials? Do you share accounting details with church members?
A: Completely transparent and we have nothing to hide. We prepare a statement at the end of each year that accounts for every dollar spent and are willing to open up the books at pretty much anytime if someone asks. That's a good question!
Q: Could you outline some of your spiritual mentors? Or people that you look up to that have shaped your ideals for ministry?
A: One of the great things about being alive today is that so many resources are so easily found, more so than at any other time in history.
For Dwaine, Mike Minter from Reston Bible Church, where I "grew" up spiritually; others I listen to or read currently: Henry Morris, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, Craig Groeschel, Darren Patrick,Tim Keller, Andy Stanley, Dave Ramsey; and Dave Kinnaman of Barna Group.
For E, I am a fan of C.S. Lewis and Boenhoffer and Henri Nouwen in terms of writing. For worship, Dennis Jernigan would be a mentor for me musically and spiritually in that arena. Speaking, I would point to Fred Craddock, Tim Keller and Matt Chandler, Craig Groeschel and perhaps Judah Smith.
Thanks to everyone who came out! We love you dearly!
“Uncle Greg, you are not paying attention,” my five-year-old friend Gigi scolded.
I was guilty as charged. It was perhaps the seventh time I had seen this episode of Dora the Explorer. I was starting to root for Swiper. Of course I cherished these times when I returned from work and joined my friend on the couch with Dora, Steve, and Clifford. I knew that attentiveness is essential to any relationship. But knowing this, I still slipped. And she sensed it.
I also knew that I had to acknowledge and compensate for my guy chromosome. As Cecil Osborne infamously recorded,
“Women are insatiable, and men are obtuse.”
Exceptions noted, by my counts Osborne is statistically correct. But don't despair, don't turn cynical. You can save your friendship or romance. I would start with some self-examination.
Are you insatiable? Don’t trust a quick answer. Insatiable people think of themselves as perfectly entitled, as having reasonable expectations in an uncaring world. As J.R. Ewing put it, “I’m not greedy. I just want my property and everything next to it.” Men can be insatiable; they just are insatiable about manly things.
Are you obtuse? That’s a silly question to ask an obtuse person, somewhat like the ad on the side of a bus, “Illiterate? Enroll in our course!” If you frequently fail to anticipate needs, you may be obtuse. It's a blessing if people point out these failings—at least compared to having someone angry at you and expecting you to guess why. Women can be obtuse; they just are obtuse about manly things.
A common complaint—from insatiable people, of course—is that obtuse people have an ISS, an Impenetrable Stupidity Shield. Or as Karen Reiss observed last Sunday, the obtuse one may have HMS, Helpless Man Syndrome.
A common complaint—from obtuse people, of course—is that insatiable people have an RNG, a Random Need Generator. It is hard to anticipate what insatiable people want. Having scaled a mountain of wishes, the obtuse one finds to his dismay a whole new horizon of needs, some clear, some in clouds.
The solution? Love. Is that news? No, but I'd like to point out that you can't start too soon to love.
Love gets a late start because people think meeting must precede love. That’s true of feelings but not so true of really unconditional, sacrificial love. Unconditional love for a specific person benefits from practicing unconditional love for all people.
Romance is like Mark Twain's improvisational speaking: "It usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good spontaneous performance." Practice empathy for other people's needs. Rehearse gratitude for what you are given. Pretty soon, guess what? You're romantic.
Since insatiability and obtuseness are the enemies of romance, controlling these allows more friendship and more romance. Like rain quenches a prairie fire, knowing God’s love will satisfy the "never satisfied". Like sunshine after that rain, considering God's love will bring insight to the obtuse.
Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ. — Ephesians 4
One afternoon I came home and Gigi was sitting on the couch playing with dolls.
She smiled and asked: “Uncle Greg, let’s not watch TV. Let’s talk. Let’s just sit and talk.”
I pray for Gigi that a boy I’ve probably not met will see my words here or otherwise absorb those insights from the Bible. I pray he will pay attention, and always be ready to just sit and talk.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.