It’s that time of year again when churches all over the southeast transform into haunted houses. Christian haunted houses. They have names like Judgement Journey, Tribulation Trail and Hell House. And if things work out okay, these places will scare you away from sinning and make you more like Jesus. If you’re not familiar with the phenomenon, here’s how it works.
Step One: Find an open field somewhere on the church property. That one where they normally park the bus should do just fine.
Step Two: Build some kind of structure for everyone to walk through. It has to be big enough to show plenty of really scary scenes. You know, a car wreck scene, a dude trying meth for the first time scene and a scene where a girl contemplates downloading a Miley Cyrus album. Oh, and there has to be plenty of room for middle school kids dressed up like demons and middle aged men on horses to jump out at unsuspecting customers.
Step Three: Advertise. This is easy. Just put a scary looking sign reading Hell House! out front where it used to say Jake Roberts Memorial Baptist Church. People driving by will either think that the church is having another business meeting or some sort of a Halloween event. Either way, they’re sure to check it out.
Step Four: Close the deal. At the end of the entire experience, have everyone sit in a room where one of the deacons is dressed up like “the angel of death” and asks them a few simple questions. Note: “the angel of death” has a thick southern accent and really doesn’t want to be there.
“That was bad, huh?”
“Who wants to go to a place like that?”
“If you don’t, raise your hand and repeat this prayer after me.”
And just like that, you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a full blown revival.
In real life the frightening things are often much more subtle. And the scarier we try to make those things, the closer we get to just playing games.
Ephesus was steeped in idolatry, sexual perversion and Satanism. When Paul came to town, he diligently and lovingly confronted these sins head on (Acts 19:26-27). As a result, the Holy Spirit really started to work. Sick people were healed and possessed people were set free. Some just by touching garments that had Paul’s sweat on it. This is where TV preachers got the idea of mailing out prayer cloths. Only Paul didn’t charge $22.99. Or use hairspray.
Anyway, people were watching and they were astonished.
Some were so in awe that they tried to get in on the action (Acts 19:13). But instead of doing so under the power of their Lord, Jesus Christ, they tried to cast out demons, “by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims” (Acts 19:13). Jesus was not their Lord and Savior. He was Paul’s. For them, Jesus was just another good luck charm or magical spell to keep evil spirits away. The same guy you mumble some prayer to or about before eating or flying for the first time but certainly don’t consider to be the Man who rules the universe and demands total obedience.
There were seven men who were making a habit of this. Imagine them going door to door or setting up a booth in the middle of town to cast out demons. What a way to get a following.
“Demon, I command you by this guy who Paul talks about, what was his name? Jesus? Yes, that’s right. Jesus. I command you by Paul’s Jesus to come out.”
This got them more than a following. It got them a response. A response that they were sure to carry with them for the rest of their lives. It was a verbal response. And then a physical one. But it didn’t come from a mere man. It came from a demon. A real one. Not a middle school one. Here’s what he said.
“Jesus I know.”
Of course the demons knew Jesus. He created them and had them at his service before they rebelled. And still today they shudder in fear of him (James 2:19).
“Paul I recognize.”
Satan uses all of his resources to keep men blinded from seeing the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul’s mission in life was to undo that blinding. And Satan took notice. He recognized Paul, not just as an enemy, but as a threat.
“But who are you?”
The Enemy was only really paying attention to those who were a direct threat to his kingdom. Why should he bother with seven boys who only cared about using Jesus to make a name for themselves? Today, why would Satan bother with a man who neglects prayer and prefers spending hours online looking at porn? That’s just maintenance work for Satan. Keep the Internet connection going strong and let the rest take care of itself.
After that question, the demon possessed man jumped on the seven brothers, beat them and sent them running away naked. But that’s not nearly as troubling as that question.
“Who are you?”
This questions forces us to wonder if we are merely playing games and building our own kingdoms? Are our churches known by our adversary as a threat or are we seen as just another maintenance issue? Have another business meeting and let the rest take care of itself.
A couple of months from now all of the Hell Houses, Tribulation Trails and Judgement Journeys will be torn down. That big, open field will be empty again, except for the bus. And a lot of the people who had Jesus scared into them will already be back to their old way of living.
But the war will continue. For Christians, it’s a war that has already been fought and won on our behalf (Colossians 2:13-15). Nevertheless, battles still rage.
So we must continue to fight and endure until our Master returns.
And we must remember that the battlefield is no place for playing games.
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. Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)