Alpha is going so quickly! Next week, we have a full Alpha-day to discuss the three segments covering the Holy Spirit. I'm really looking forward to it, and I just realized how geeky that is to say - "Wow, I've got a wild weekend coming up! I'm hanging out at church discussing the Holy Spirit. Wicked!"
This week's topic: How can I resist evil?
What a HUGE topic for one night's discussion. We could have stayed there all week talking about it. The first part of the talk is about the idea of spiritual warfare. It's funny how many of us will believe in God, but dismiss the idea of Satan. We've made Satan into a cartoon character. He has funny horns and a silly tail. But if there is a force for ultimate good, doesn't it just make sense that there is a force for ultimate evil? Nicky Gumbel gives many different sources of evidence to support this idea, and one of those is the writings about Satan and evil in the church's history. This got me thinking about hymns. In contemporary Christian songwriting, we so rarely write about Satan. Yet in old hymns, Satan made a regular appearance. The first to come to mind was "Down on my knees", with the line: 'Old Satan tried to tell me the Bible was a lie, that Jesus did not love me, and I was going to die'. We don't sing about this any more. It's like we've made him into such a cartoon that we don't feel it necessary to warn others of his danger. We don't feel the need to personify evil, yet our society personifies everything else. (Don't believe me? How many people name their cars?)
I truly believe in absolute evil. I believe in Satan and demons. And I believe it because of Steve. Steve was a person who loved living and who was fighting for his life. But on that day, when he took his life, I know it wasn't his own decision. He wanted to live. He was praying for his health, and we were all praying for him. But something that day convinced him that he had no other choice. I don't believe he made that choice of his own volition. It may sound hokey, but I believe he met with demons that day. I believe it with all my heart. Steve didn't want suicide, and I don't believe God wanted that for him either. If God wasn't part of that decision, it just makes sense that an evil force, Satan, was a part of it.
Nicky had some great thoughts on tempation too. He said that temptation is not sin; acting on temptation is sin. But the moment we are tempted, Satan comes around and whispers in our ear, "You're thinking evil. You are obviously doing something evil. Shame on you. Oh well, if you're this close, you might as well go all the way." Can't we all relate to this? Haven't you ever been tempted and thought, "Oh, well, I'm thinking it, so I might as well yell/cheat/swear/lie"? Nicky brought this to a great point when he reminded us that Jesus was tempted in the desert. He felt the very real pangs of temptation, but he didn't act on it. His temptation was just a desire; it wasn't sin.
We had a great discussion on Ephesians 6:11, where it talks about putting on the armour of God. I'd sort of put this passage aside in my own thoughts. I associate it with militaristic imagery, which is uninteresting to me. I have no comfort in imagining myself to be a soldier. But this passage is so full of goodness and hope. And I love the idea that God gives us so many gifts of protection.
We also talked about the "sins" of following astrology, etc. I put sins in quotes because a few years ago, at the Ex, they had a floor that had been excavated from an ancient Christian temple. They were touring this floor around North America. It was all mosaic. Just gorgeous, and full of symbols. At one end was a full astrological chart! We were a little shocked to see it, so we asked the guide about it. Apparently, very early in Christianity, the astrological charts were put in temples and incorporated into the Christian practice. I guess people had followed the charts for so long that they were reluctant to let it go too easily. Anyone who's tried to introduce a new prayer book into their congregation will understand!
Alpha only lasts a few more weeks. I can see why people do it more than once. I'm only scratching the surface here!