I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was in the early spring of 2017 in the middle of that aforementioned fifty-seven-day, 11,300-mile road trip around the entire country with several sisters in Christ who would meet me somewhere along the way and travel a leg or two with me. We’d visit congregations, listen to an audio Bible every day, give out free Bibles, and engage strangers in conversation all over the country until I dropped off whichever sister was traveling with me at an airport to fly home.
It had been a long, hot day of driving through the Southwest with my friend Stephanie, as we enjoyed the music playlist we had created together by searching through Spotify for a favorite song to represent each of the states we entered. Since we were driving through Indian reservations of New Mexico, we wanted something that sounded native, so we selected a rhythmic song by Native American Flute. It was all fun and games until we came very close to running out of gas on an exceptionally long, barren stretch of desert highway. As we slowly pulled into the gas station on fumes, I’d never been so relieved to see that red-winged horse logo in my life! Our housing plan for the night was to stay with a couple we’d never met before — the local preacher and his wife, but it was pitch dark by the time we began to approach the city of Albuquerque. As we crested the highway, we had no idea the city lights would be so beautiful down below in the valley. It was stunning.
It had been four years since that trip, when Mark and I drove to the Sandia church of Christ where he was invited to speak. Both in the morning and evening worship, we noticed the clouds coming over the mountains looked just like a tidal wave — a phenomenon that turned out to be no rare occurrence, as those clouds continued to play that trick on our eyes all weekend.
After Mark’s lesson, many members went out of their way to express how encouraged they were, and we enjoyed getting to know them better while sharing lunch at Monroe’s Restaurant, which served some of the best Mexican food I’d ever eaten. As we left, I joked with our hosts, Don and Junie Dart and Brian and Raeline Latimore, that although they had the sweetest of intentions, they’d inadvertently ruined all future Mexican food for me, because it would never be as good as Monroe's in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After evening worship we went to dinner with the preacher Derek and Kathy Chambers and enjoyed hearing about Derek’s firsthand witnessing of so many receptive hearts in his successful missionary work overseas. Then, we began sharing ideas about which approaches to draw hearts into the fold of God were presently proving to be most successful all over the country.
We enjoyed these brethren so much and are eager to return one day to spend more time together. But what I was most encouraged by was our Bible class as we explored together Acts 19, which included a topic perhaps not covered as frequently as many other topics:
“God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” Acts 19:11-20.
During class, we discussed everything from family-friendly sleight-of-hand type tricks that everyone, both performer and audience share a common understanding that the show is all about the fun of the performer’s skill in making things appear as they are not.
Beyond that though, we addressed the situations when people maliciously create a culture of superstition in order to manipulate the people they are attempting to deceive in order to obtain a feeling of power and financial gain.
Then we addressed the kind of magic that is neither a game nor tricks — the kind of darkness that Jesus essentially said, “Only God can help you with that” (Mark 9:17-29). We talked about the value of walking a wide circle around anything related to the occult because things such as sorcery, witchcraft, and divination are an abomination to God, and where evil is real, we don’t fight it with a peashooter. King Saul even lost his life over the sin in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 “So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore He killed him and turned the kingdom to David, the son of Jesse.”
No matter what the culture says, sorcery is not awesome. That’s why in the scriptures, unrepentant sorcerers always “get it in the end”, so that the innocent can be protected and so that good can triumph over evil (Exodus 22:18; Joshua 13:22; Leviticus 20:26-27).
As Christians, no matter what the culture is doing around us, we must never forget that this category of sin is nothing less than spiritual adultery against the Lord. Why? Because it assigns our trust in the power of God’s enemy. These kinds of activities are called “detestable” to the Lord, and we are told to not even listen to those who practice witchcraft in Deuteronomy 18:10-14: "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. "You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so.”
Of course, these same principles are contained in the New Testament when witchcraft is included in the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21. Most Christians aren’t tempted to practice witchcraft themselves, nor receive any entertainment value from stories based on drunkenness, carousing, sensuality, homosexuality, and so on. We are morally outraged by stories of spouses cheating on one another, but have become much less sensitive to stories of sorcerers, although such is said to be just as detestable to God because it is spiritual harlotry (Leviticus 20:6). We are called instead to have purity of heart and mind.
May we never put a stumbling block in our children’s path by telling stories that normalize or even romanticize witchcraft, for "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.” (Mark 9:42). Let’s instead only put into the hearts and minds of our children stories that will strengthen their trust in God. "Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:23). The choices are vast for parents wanting to only put under their children’s eyes and into their hearts only quality materials that tell fascinating stories of heroes doing the right thing and winning the day, and many websites that have taken it upon themselves to curate the all best books for growing virtues in our children’s lives through fiction and more. Here are a few, for starters: goodandbeautifulbooklist.com/book-list; and perhaps even better: iew.com/sites/default/files/page/fileattachment/IEW_Book_Recommendations.pdf
Those in Acts 19 who “... practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver”, we learned that the equivalent in today’s dollars would be between $4-$5M! Now that’s a sacrifice. The lesson is clear: No matter what darkness we give up, it's always more valuable in light of eternity to do God's will. Don’t donate it. Purge it. Pluck it out. Dump it. Burn it. Make the sacrifice. Repentance always does. And what a statement of faith it makes to those precious souls watching thoughtfully the flames of such a beautiful bonfire.Sandia Church of Christ
3939 San Pedro Dr. NE, Bldg D
Albuquerque, NM 87110