The Devil’s Diary

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

The day was great. It really was. Sundays are usually extra busy for me. Especially Easter Sundays. This one was no exception. I know that I’m not supposed to say this but there is a part of me that really does love Easter.

For a while now I’ve been paying extra close attention to one particular church. They really have been a nuisance to me. I long for the days when they return to their silly arguments about carpet color and this person not shaking hands with that person at some event. If last Sunday was any indication, those days may be closer than I first thought.

This church takes the Bible seriously. That’s a serious problem. But there are ways around it. So my team has been working hard to make sure that the church continues to think very highly of the Bible while at the same time not actually taking the time to apply what it says. A brilliant strategy, really! At the moment we are working on an older fellow who is campaigning diligently to have the Ten Commandments placed in the middle of the town square. On any given day, that man breaks seven or eight of those commandments and can’t name more than two of them. I love it!

But my finest piece of work involves another fight. This fight has nothing to do with liquor stores or that new gentleman’s club in town. It’s all pretty much contained within the church building. There are two families who hate each other because of something one said to another. Or was it about the other? It’s been so long, I can’t remember. All I know is that there is nothing more satisfying than a church full of people that can’t get along.

And the really good thing is that nobody knows why they can’t get along. So much time has passed and so many cruel words have been spoken that the hate has become a habit. Practically speaking, this particular church has three ordinances: baptism, communion and bitterness. Not a bad batting average, if I must say so. Especially when you consider how that bitterness has a way of canceling out the other two ordinances.

One of my servants has been working on a man who visited this church on Easter Sunday. He’s been curious about this gospel business so we’ve been working hard to keep him blinded. At first, we were worried about him visiting a church where people would talk and sing about sin, repentance and salvation. But just a few key conversations was all it took to turn the whole event into a dumpster fire with eternal consequences.

We made sure that as few people as possible spoke to this man. Those who did were rude, superficial or arrogant. But we did want to make sure that this man spoke to at least one family in this church. That would be our precious friends with the bitterness issues. They spent the first half of the service telling our man everything that they thought was wrong with this church.

We had ourselves quite a memorable party when our man got home from church and spoke to his mom during a big family lunch. She’s been trying to take our blinders off of him for quite some time. Her expectations were high.

You could see it on her face when she asked him the question.

“So what did you thing of the service?”

I was so happy to see this woman’s hope disappear with her son’s answer.

“It was okay but it’s just what I expected. The people all complain and fight with each other. Trust me on this, when I go out tonight, there will be no complaining or fighting. Just good times. Why bother with church when all they do is fight when I can just catch a sermon on TV every now and then and hang out at the club where it’s all love?”

Every Easter I’m reminded of that terrible day with the empty tomb. In a lot of churches, I’m reminded of my terrible future. But not in all of them. In a growing number of churches I’m reminded of why I do what I do. There really is no greater joy than seeing people who are searching for Jesus get turned away at the last second because of Jesus’ own supposed followers.

And I didn’t have to do anything spectacular. No blinking lights. No scary voices. Just a little bitterness between so-called brothers and sisters.

If things go my way, I’ll have that man with me tonight. And to think, we almost lost him. All it took to save the day was a visit to a church that was willing to let me do a little of my work. I love it when churches rent out their space and their people to me.

It really was a great day.

Hell House

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)

If You Really Want To See The Devil

I was probably only eight-years-old but I was still old enough to know that something wasn’t right. It was more than not right. It was demonic. Satanic. And it was happening in the middle of my living room.

It was a party. A Sunday School party. The kids were several years older than me. One of them was laying in the middle of the floor. The rest were sitting around her, each with two fingers under her body. They were chanting.

“Light as a feather. Stiff as a board.”

I don’t remember how the rest went. But they were trying to levitate this girl off of the ground. Did I mention that this was a Sunday School party? Who said Christians don’t know how to have a party?

Later, I heard stories about standing in front of a mirror with something like a candle in one hand and, I don’t know, the wool from a virgin lamb, in the other hand. If you said some other chant three times while listening to an AC/DC record backwards you would see an image standing behind you. A scary image. But really, at that point, isn’t any image scary?

I was always too scared to try it. Sometimes fear can be a good thing.

As I grew older I got into horror movies. With each one I saw, I wanted to be scared out of my mind. But it never happened. Not because I was a really tough kid with nerves of steel. The movies just never delivered. A guy from your dreams with knives for fingers just didn’t seem realistic. Well, unless he could cut your hair.

Horror movies have changed. People still go to see them wanting to be scared. But instead of a villain in a hockey mask, most of today’s horror movies seem to focus on the supernatural. The Satanic. When I talk to people about their reaction to seeing those films, I find out that they respond the same way that I did all of those years ago. The movies never deliver. But maybe the next one will be really scary. And the vicious cycle continues.

We are fascinated with fear. To go a step further, we are fascinated with the supernatural. The Satanic. And as things progress, it takes more to scare us. Freddy and Jason just don’t do it for us anymore. We want to see the devil.

But, if you really want to see the devil, there’s a much more proven way. Just spend some time at a church that takes the Bible seriously.

Make no mistake, if your church is making any attempt to raise up disciples, demons are among you. They are present in your sanctuary on Sunday mornings. But this isn’t scary. Christ has already guaranteed victory for his church and equipped us in whatever daily attacks we face from our Enemy (Ephesians 6:10-20).

I’m not an expert. I’ve only been in ministry for around 15 years. Only five of those have been as a senior pastor. And I’m not one to see a demon behind every bush. If your car breaks down on the way to church, call a mechanic. Don’t call me to come and sprinkle something on it while rebuking the demon of busted fuel pumps.

But in the time that I’ve spent working in churches I have seen the demonic. Sometimes, it has been very dramatic. Like the completely rational person who feels a presence in the house or the person that violently looses all bodily control in the middle of a gospel presentation or the small child that can’t quit thinking about suicide and takes heavy doses of medication just to go to sleep at night.

You’ve seen it too. Everyone has. But the problem is that we never want to admit that a demon has something to do with any of this. We’d rather call it a medical or psychological condition. Sometimes that’s the case. But sometimes there’s more to it. Like the boy who kept having convulsions and falling into deep water and fire pits. When Jesus met that boy, he didn’t give him a psychological evaluation. He cast out the demon that was living inside of him (Mark 9:14-29).

But Satanic forces aren’t always working that way. In fact, sometimes I wonder if they would rather not be so visible. If maybe they prefer to be more subtle in their attacks. Perhaps by allowing gossip or divisiveness to take root in a church. You can be sure that whenever the Spirit is really working and people are getting saved and growing, from out of nowhere, somebody is going to complain, and I mean loud, about the chairs in the church gym being set up wrong.

Demons also like to show up in the teachings of a church.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. 1 Timothy 4:1 (ESV)

If the Enemy can’t destroy a church through gossip, or strange noises coming from the basement, all is not lost for him. There are a lot of churches that he has no problem with. Churches that he would hate to see close down. Churches where a message of sin, repentance and faith is replaced by platitudes about life goals or no cost salvation for all.

Churches where he has already won the battle.

Typically, at churches like that, everything is peaceful. There are no strange distractions during services. No gossip or divisiveness to deal with.

No demons.

And no Satan.

After all, why would the Enemy bother messing with a church that is working to promote his  agenda? He’d just rather leave it alone.

And that’s really scary.

How to Get Rid of Demons

There are two wrong ways to think about spiritual warfare. The first way is to become obsessed with it. In this approach, every time your car breaks down, it’s a demon’s fault. The second way is to reject the spiritual world all together. This happens when you encounter someone who is legitimately demon-possessed and always classify their condition as a medical one or a mental one but never a spiritual one.

Satan is content with Christians making either of these two mistakes.

Thankfully, there is a third option, as explained in this video by John Piper.