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A young woman came into my office yesterday, terrified.

I don’t know much about her background. She spoke broken English with a thick accent that made communication difficult.

The object of her concern was a human figure, made out of wire, with a hangman’s noose wrapped around its neck. She had found this in her bed. She did not seem to know where it came from or why it was in her bed.

But in her mind it was voodoo. Since she had found it, she had experienced great fatigue, and she was scared. Convinced that the figure was both evil and powerful, she had come looking for a place where she could escape its powers. A place where there was some stronger magic. A church.

She believed that my prayers as a pastor would be stronger than hers and that I might be able to negate the power of this evil.

It was not a situation I recall being covered at seminary. I was tempted to tell her that the prayers of a pastor are no more potent than those of anyone else. I was tempted to tell her that I don’t believe voodoo has any real power other than that which a frightened mind will give it.

But it was not the place for either a theological or psychological discussion.

All I could do was offer a prayer for her to calm her fear, take the object of her distress away from her and promise to destroy it—which I did.

There are a great many people who do not understand religion. They believe pastors to be high priests of the magic arts, whose spells (the rite of baptism, for instance) can overpower the dark forces of the world. Those who believe in this sort of magic come to a church for a dose of it. Those who do not believe in magic dismiss all religion as bogus.

I don’t do magic. I am a microbiologist by background. I understand very little of the existence of spirits and their powers. I can’t tell you exactly where spirituality ends and superstition begins.

A few years ago, I was talking with a woman who had friends in a Christian sect who were urging her to submit to them so they could perform a miracle for her. I told her that we muggle pastors can’t do that kind of thing. We don’t claim special, superhuman powers. We do not provide miracles on demand.

That does not mean we are useless. Through the power of Jesus Christ, we are able to change lives. A young woman needed to be released from a dark power that had her tightly in its grip. That is exactly what the Gospel does. It calms our fears and takes the object of distress away and destroys it.

We don’t just preach because it sounds nice, or holy, or we like to hear ourselves talk. The Word is not magic, but it has power. Great power to bring God’s love and grace into the world. That is why we preach.

Nathan Aaseng serves as pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, WI. He has had more than 170 books published, sacred and secular, for readers from 8 to adult. His latest work is The Five Realms, an epic fantasy based on 1 Corinthians 1:27.

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John Gullick

commented on Aug 1, 2014

Whilst this article very helpfully points out the dangers of over spiritualising everything it seems to me to be tending to reduce the miraculous to mere words and scientific phenomenon. This scripture describes the reality we all face daily: In Ephesians 6:12, Paul writes: ?For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.? The task for each of us is to interpret this carefully but not philosophically. Blessings John gullick

commented on Aug 4, 2014

Lyall Phillips, Australia - I agree with all Nathan has said. We are just disciples like all believers. However, I am conscious too, of the tremendous responsibility to only preach the Word and what God has given for that time. I find that being in the pulpit places a real burden to meet His expectations for an anointed presentation of the Gospel. So I guess I am saying that it is a special place from which God can produce miracles of grace.

commented on Aug 4, 2014

Lyall Phillips, Australia - I agree with all Nathan has said. We are just disciples like all believers. However, I am conscious too, of the tremendous responsibility to only preach the Word and what God has given for that time. I find that being in the pulpit places a real burden to meet His expectations for an anointed presentation of the Gospel. So I guess I am saying that it is a special place from which God can produce miracles of grace.

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