Tag Archives: Satan

God’s People, part 187: Demoniac

Read Mark 5:1-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  (Ephesians 6:12, NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

THE-EXORCIST-1973Part 187: Demoniac. We’ve already discussed the exorcisms Jesus performed and the battle he waged against demons who had possessed people. That was a major part of his earthly ministry. There can be no doubt that there is more to meet the eye when we think about this world and the sin and evil that plague it. There can be no doubt that we are at war not just with our own sinful nature but with the spiritual forces of darkness that work behind the scenes in the world.

So, naturally, Jesus’ ministry included many exorcisms and conflicts with the spiritual forces of evil at work in the world. With that said, the account of the demoniac reveals whole new level of possession, and not in the way that one might think. That is why I felt that it was important to single out this particular person who was possessed by demons.

In the account, we learn that Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee and came upon a series of burial caves. It is at this place of burial that we are introduced to a man who was possessed by “an evil spirit” or “a demon”. I put that in quotes because we learn that, in fact, the man had many evil spirits or demons within him. When Jesus demanded the man was not living by these caves due to personal choice; rather, he had been chained up and placed there by other people.

We all know the result, this man rushed up to Jesus and begged him to not torture him or send him out of the region. Jesus then exorcised the demon and sent him into a herd of pigs which ended up squealing and running into and drowning in the sea. We also know that the man was so joyful to be delivered from the demons that he begged Jesus to let him come with him, but Jesus declined and told the man to spread the good news in that Gentile region.

The focus for this devotion, however, is on the people of that region. Not only did these people shackle and chain another human being in a cemetery, leaving him for dead, but they also had no apparent concern for the person. I am sure he was chained by the tombs out of fear that he might harm the villagers; however, when he was healed and he shared what Jesus had done, the villagers begged Jesus to leave because he had cost them their entire herd of swine.

In other words, they had more concern for their own safety and their own financial stability than they did for a human being in desperate need for hope, healing and wholeness. That is possession on a whole new level. These people were possessed with their own selfish desires and they allowed those things to justify the evil they perpetrated on this man.

The challenge for us is to recognize this fact: demons come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. One need not be turning their head 360 degrees and vomiting pea soup in order for one to be possessed by evil. Sometimes evil is much more subtle and, as always, the devil surfaces in the details. The question for us is this, what have we allowed to possess us? What sorts of things do we have within us that enables us to justify the wrong we do.

You may be thinking that there’s nothing. Yet, if we think outside of the box on this, the truth will be revealed to us. Plenty of Christians, for instance, have used their “love for their children” as an excuse for not raising their children in the church and worship God. Kids are now given the religion of sports and activities, as opposed to being raised in the Church worshiping God.

Plenty of Christians have allowed their love of nation to justify treating immigrants and foreigners with contempt and lots of other evil thoughts and deeds. There are tons of examples where people are possessed by a different spirit than the Holy Spirit, and every one of us is possessed by things that are counter to the Spirit and the teachings of Christ. The challenge for us is to be honest about that, to repent, and to invite Christ into our hearts so that we can be delivered of such things. While this type of possession is different than that of the demoniac; however, it is just as destructive. My prayer is that we all may continually open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit so that such things may be driven out.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Human beings, we have dark sides; we have dark issues in our lives. To progress anywhere in life, you have to face your demons.” – John Noble

PRAYER
Lord, deliver me from the demons that possess me so that I may be freed for joyful obedience to you! Amen.

God’s People, part 183: Demons

Read Mathew 8:14-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”  (James 2:19, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Demons_SilhouettePart 183: Demons. If I took the time to write about every individual person healed by Jesus, then I think the concluding words to John’s Gospel would be especially fitting, “If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written”  (John 21:25, NLT). So, I have decided that I would group most of the healings together per the type of healing they were.

The first grouping of those healed are the demon possessed. In the Gospel of Mark, aside from preaching, exorcism was the very first act Jesus did at the beginning of his ministry. The Gospels state, in fact, that Jesus performed exorcisms on many people throughout his three year ministry. These acts tell us quite a bit about Jesus, about the demons themselves, and about those who were possessed by them. What’s more, it also tells us a lot about the society in which these miracles occurred.

First, that Jesus has the authority to command demons to leave people tells us who Jesus is. Only God has such authority purify the unclean. Each of these exorcisms are an exercise of God’s authority over sin, evil and death. Each of these miracles represent God’s power to forgive sins, to rid a person of evil, and to purify them, making them righteous before God. That Jesus had such a command over demons is a witness to the presence of God within Jesus.

The demons themselves all knew who Jesus was too. In each case, the demons would hiss out at Jesus, “We know who you are, Jesus, Son of God!” Each time, especially in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus commands them to be quiet and to no reveal who he is to the masses; however, the demons DID know who he was. In fact, in the Gospel of Mark they are the only ones who KNOW Jesus’ true identity, with the exception of the Roman Centurion, who figures it out right after Jesus dies.

Again, this all points us to Jesus’ divine identity. Jesus was not merely a nice prophet who taught really nice things before being wrongly put to death on a cross; rather, Jesus IS the Son of God, the embodiment of God in human flesh. The demons all knew that and they were terrified of Jesus because he was filled with the authority of God.

Those who were demon-possessed were truly on the margins of society. Thus, the people themselves were shunned. They were avoided like the plague by friends and community members who saw them as being “unclean”. That meant that they could not participate in community life, and they most definitely could not participate in religious life. Just stop and pause a moment, who needs to be embraced by the religious community more than someone who is possessed by demons. Yet, these folks were isolated away from spiritual nourishment.

The reason for this was the fact that demon-possession was viewed as being the result of sin. Thus, the demon-possessed were viewed by society as being unclean and were to be avoided. We see this most clearly with the demoniac, whom I will write about in more detail in a separate devotion; however, in that person we see someone who was outcast from his community, chained up and living among the caves and tombs.

It is to such people that Jesus came and brought the loving acceptance and healing of God. In fact, Jesus’ actions made it clear for all who witnessed, God doesn’t reject the folks people deem as unclean or unworthy; rather, God shows them favor, forgives them, and includes them in God’s Kingdom. Following their being healed, those who had been demon possessed all became witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ!

This should give us hope, for we too have our demons. We are possessed by things that tear us away from God. We also, like the religious community in Jesus’ day, fail to see our own demons are too quick to point out demons in another. One thing is for sure, Jesus Christ is the ONLY One who can exorcise our demons and free us for joyful obedience to God.

Let us open ourselves to Jesus who will save us from the spiritual warfare that rages on within us. What’s more, let us not fall in the judgmental trappings of the religious institution. Christ has empowered us to bear God’s forgiveness, mercy, healing and salvation to all who need it. Let us be demon hunters in Christ Jesus our Lord, as opposed to people judgers.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you pain, He’s a pain taker. If you feel lost, He’s a way maker. If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior. If you’ve got chains, He’s a chain breaker.” – Zach Williams in his song “Chain Breaker”

PRAYER
Lord, cleanse me from the demons at war within me, and guide me to be a presence of love and healing for those who are struggling with demons of their own. Amen.

Be Gone!

Read Matthew 4:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.” (Psalms 91:9-10 NLT)

melaToday is Ash Wednesday, which kicks off the Lenten journey. Lent is, so to speak, a time in the wilderness. It is a time to fast, to pray, and to reflect on the sin we find ourselves enslaved to. What’s more, it is also a time for us to be take the journey with Jesus from the wilderness to the cross. Yet, we cannot make that journey without being prepared for it.

That is what the wilderness is all about. It is about time away from the trappings of the world. It is about time away from those things that make us comfortable. It is about time away from those things we long for in order that we might draw closer to God and be prepared for the transformation God is continually working within our hearts. Lent is a time for changing one’s heart and doing a U-Turn in order to head back in the direction God is calling us.

In the Scripture, we see Jesus enter into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, the exact length of time of the Lenten season. During his stay in the wilderness, it is written that Jesus underwent a series of temptations from the devil. To be exact, we read of three specific things that Satan was tempting him and the exact ways in which he responds back to the devil.

First, Satan tempts Jesus with his physical needs. He suggests to him that he simply command the stones on the ground into loaves of bread. This does not seem to be an unreasonable suggestion. After all, why would God wish for Jesus to die of starvation in the wilderness? Surely, God did not send Jesus out there to die. Jesus, of course, does not fall for this temptation but responds by quoting Scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3 to be exact. Jesus rebukes Satan by reciting and upholding God’s Law!

This does not deter Satan, however, and so Satan takes the game up a notch. As we find out, Jesus is not the only one who knows Scripture. “Throw yourself from this high place”, Satan challenges Jesus. “For as the Scriptures say, ‘God will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up in their hands so that you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.” Here Satan is quoting Psalm 91:11, but Jesus is not fooled for Satan is taking the verse out of context.

If one reads the Psalm, it is clear that those who make GOD their refuge have nothing to fear for God will protect them. Putting God to the test is NOT making God one’s refuge. Thus, Jesus rebukes Satan a second time, once again quoting God’s Law that is is not cool to put the Lord God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16). Finally, Satan promises Jesus to give him all of the power and possessions of the world if Jesus will only bow down and worship him. Fat chance. It is at this point that Jesus gives Satan the strongest rebuke yet: “Be gone! The Scripture says, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”

In Jesus’ wilderness temptations, we can see how temptation works in our lives. We can allow our physical needs to become temptations to stray from God. We can allow our own interpretations of Scripture to allow us to stray from God. We can also allow our desires, our hopes, our fears, and our ambition to steer us away from God. Like the snake in the garden, tempation slithers into our lives in the most subtle, but deceitful of ways. On the surface things seem fine until we find ourselves being constricted by the sins coiled around us.

With that said, Jesus’ wilderness experience we can see how to respond to the temptations that ensnare us. The truth is that Satan and/or the tempations we suffer only have the power that we give to them. If we are in a relationship with God, if we know what God commands of us through Scripture and through being a part of the community of God (aka the church), then we know the difference between God’s Word and our temptations.

This Lent, instead of giving up trivial things, take up Studying Scripture. Take up worshiping in a faith community that reflects the love and grace of God. Join in on small covenant groups with people who will nurture you in your faith and hold you accountable to growing in it. Begin to take your Spiritual needs seriously, and seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. It is then that you will realize that you have been given power over your temptations and that, through Jesus Christ, you can command the devil to “be gone” from your life! I pray that this Lent you spend your time preparing to move from the wilderness of temptation to the cross of eternal love, grace and redemption!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me.” – Jesus the Christ in Matthew 16:24 NLT

PRAYER
Lord, help me cast away my temptations to live my life fully in you who are my refuge! Amen.

Killing Strangers

Read Revelation 13:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword.’” (Matthew 26:52 CEB)

Marilyn-Manson

Is it just me or does it seem like the world is spinning completely out of control? The news is daily filled with stories of people killing other people. Growing up, I remember hearing of murders here or there, I remember the shock that would bring to me everytime I heard of someone’s violent demise. It was shocking because it didn’t happen to often, or it was at least less often brought to my attention, so that when I heard of such violent acts I was horrified by it.

Nowadays, I must admit, that I am not shocked to hear of such things at all. If anything, like most in our society, I have grown numb to it. That’s not to say that I am apathetic to the people who suffer. I am an empath, meaning that I can easily put myself in the shoes of others and will often feel the pain others are going through, not to the same level as the suffering, but enough to empathize with them. Yet, overall, I have grown numb (in that I am not shocked) to the constant barraging of violent extremism in this country. It has, sadly, become the norm.

We live in the age of the sword. People no longer can look at the other, despite the differences they have, and see common humanity in them. Rather, they see the other as being the enemy. They embrace the spirit of Satan, which is the spirit of divisiveness and enmity. They avoid, at all costs, the long, hard road of open, honest, and painful communication. They avoid seeking to understand the other, as well as seeking the other to understand them, and they resort to pointing the finger, scapegoating, warring with others, and taking lives. From our politicians modeling this kind of enmity in their campaigns to common protestors who are outraged over injustice, violence is becoming the modus operandi for getting oneself or one’s group heard.

It is understandable how people can resort to violence. When groups of people suffer seemingly endless injustice, while others are treated with respect and dignity, that is angering. When groups of people who are being discriminated against feel like the majority of people are not hearing them out or understanding their woes, that adds fuel to the already stoked fire. Even more, when the majority of people want to keep things exactly as they are because it suits them at the great cost of others, and they discount or deny the experiences of discrimination that others are going through, that can be a rallying cry for those who are fed up with being silenced in their suffering.

Yet, violence almost never helps anyone’s cause, but often begets more violence. We saw that in the shootings of Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas. The shootings of two black males by police officers, resulted in someone angrily taking justice into their own hands by shooting unwary police officers who were just trying to ensure the safety of protestors in Dallas, and they were officers who had nothing to do with the previous shootings. We also see this at the often chaotic and sometimes violent rallies of our presidential candidates. People in both of these instances, and beyond are fed up with NOT being heard and are, unfortunately, venting their frustrations violently. As one candidate’s followers get violent toward the other’s, the other candidate’s followers retaliate.

This reminds me of two Marilyn Manson songs. In his song, “Killing Strangers,” Manson writes that “we’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones that we love.” This is a profound truth, in that out of frustration we resort to killing the other, the stranger, in order to “protect” those we love and care about. The problem is that those “strangers” often did nothing, and would do nothing, to deserve being killed.

In his song, “Antichrist Superstar,” Manson writes, “Cut the head off, grows back hard. I am the hydra, now you’ll see your star.” This, of course, is imagery taken straight from the book of Revelation. While Manson is writing about how the church created the “evil” they perceive him, and others, to be, I believe that these lyrics apply here as well. We use the sword (proverbial or literal) to cut down our perceived enemies, only to see those enemies rise back up to strike us back.

The question for us is this, when does the violence stop? Surely, there is truth in Jesus’ warning that “those who live by the sword will surely die by it.” I am not saying that all violence is uncalled for, but when we are reactive in violent and destructive ways as a result of our fear and anger, that almost always leads down the path of destruction. We may be killing strangers to begin with, but we are killing pieces of our own souls in the process, and reaping the harvest of our seeds of fear and anger. Let us, as Jesus taught, lay down our swords and seek the better, more righteous way of responding to injustice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realizing Him.” – Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER
Lord, help me to find constructive and nonviolent ways of harnessing my righteous anger, for the elimination of injustice and the transformation of this world. Amen.

Adversary

Read Zechariah 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NRSV)

lionI just got finished participating in an observance of Memorial Day in my community. Prior to the observance that the memorial park, we start off with an ecumenical service at the Presbyterian Church in my community. This year it was my turn to preach and so, in preparation, I began by reflecting on Memorial Day, on those who gave their lives in defense of their country and its interests, as well as on our society.

Instantly two Scriptures came to mind. The first was that of Jesus being accused of being an agent of Satan by the religious leaders in his day. That Scripture can be found in Luke 11:14-17. The second Scripture is of the division that came to mind was that of Zechariah 3:1-8, where the people are divided against the new high priest, Joshua (Yeshua in Aramaic and Jesus in Greek). Though this is not the same Jesus, from Nazareth, this Jesus is experiencing people throwing accusations against his leadership as the High Priest.

This latter text is the one that is most revealing in terms of what  I want to write about today. In that text, God has it out with the people through the voice of Zechariah. “The Lord rebukes you, Adversary,” Zechariah proclaims. “The Lord, who chooses Jerusalem, rebukes you, Adversary!” The fiery prophet’s word must’ve sounded quite harsh to those on either side of the division.

There, in the midst of the division, Zechariah denonces the “Adversary”. Now, this English word may not sound too harsh on the surface; however, the English is derived from the Hebrew word “Satan” (והשׂטן, pronounced shaw-tawn). In other words, Zechariah is denouncing and rebuking the work of Satan, the Adversary, the arch-enemy of good, amid the people of Jerusalem.

One thing to note here is that Zechariah is pointing out the key function of the Adversary’s role in opposing God. This key function is creating division. While God is trying to establish the divine Kingdom on earth through unity and peace, the Adversary is actively standing in the way of us reaching God’s divine purpose through division and disunity.

How terribly tragic that is. Just pause for a moment; just pause, close your eyes, and begin to reflect on the division you see going on in the world around you. Look at the political climate in our country. For each of the political candidates out there, there is a group of people who hate them. What’s more, they hate those who support the candidates they hate.

Look at the Church, for the church is terribly divided. Now, we in the church all talk about Christ’s call for unity, about the need to “worship without walls”, and yet we divide the body of Christ over politics, over polity, over doctrine, over gender, gender identity, over human sexuality, over theology, over race, over views on other faiths, and just about every other thing imaginable.

Here’s the thing, when we get divided, we are failing to follow God and choosing to follow the Adversary. Let that soak in. When we are divided we are NOT following God or Christ, but are following the Adversary. That is not to say that we cannot disagree on issues. That is human and can be quite healthy in the life of the church. BUT DIVISION IS NOT! Our challenge is to, like Zechariah, rebuke the Adversary and choose to be an agent of unity and peace, rather than an agent of division.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If we don’t unite in Christ we are bound to fall, with the Adversary, in division.

PRAYER
Lord, protect me from the Adversary and keep me far from the sin of division. Make me an agent of unity and of peace and of love. Amen.

Bewitched

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14, NLT)

TheWitch01The lights darkened, the room silenced, and the discordant sound of stringed instruments filled the air in an unsettling and disturbing manner. The sounds of violin and cello cut through me like seraded steel as the theater screen faded in from black to the image of a teenager’s stone pale and frightened face. It was clear from the way that she was dressed that she was living in seventeenth century New England and that she was among a group of people known as the Puritans.

As it turns out, her father is standing trial for not adhereing to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the time a British colony, because he believes those laws to stand against the teachings of the Gospels. As such he and his family are banished and end up moving out of the village they were in and settling in the wilderness of New England on the edge of a think and dark wood (aka forest). While I will not give away anything, as I run a tight “no-spoiler” ship, this is where the 2016 film, “The Witch”, opens up and where the horror begins.

This film, as I see it, is a work of fine art and there is much for us Christians to pull from it. On the surface, the horror is centering on a potential witch that lives in the woods and is preying upon a New England family that is doing everything they can to remain godly and to stay together as a family. But as misfortune after misfortune happens, and as the family becomes more and more certain they are “witched”, the more and more it is that the real horror is revealed.

Right from the opening scene onward, we are made aware that this family is hypersensitive to their sin, to the sin of others, and to the soveriegnty of God. It is not wrong to be sensitive to those things in a healthy kind of way, but this family is overly sensitive, to the point that every conversation is filled with talk about their sinfulness, the wickedness of the world and the uncertainty of their own, let alone anyone else’s, salvation.

At every turn, the family is reminded that they are wicked and sinful and they start to have the feeling that they are “witched” because God is punishing them and handing them over to the devil as a result of their wickedness. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is God’s grace really at play here in this film and in the psyche of the family. Even when God’s mercy is mentioned, it is with the understanding that they are in need of mercy because of their wickedness, and their pleading for it betrays their theology that they worship a God who just might not show mercy to them.

It becomes clear to me, without giving anything away from the actual story line of “The Witch” itself, that the family is bewitched by their own stringent, and horrific, theology. While it is true that God is  sovereign and it is true that we fall short of God’s glorious standard, it is NOT true that God is out to get us for our fallenness. Their theology is so damning that they could never, ever experience the grace and mercy that was already there waiting for them. They were so busy worrying about the prowling devil in the woods that they could not see that they had all they needed to thrive in the wilderness: their family and their faith.

Today’s challenge is this: don’t let yourself get bewitched by a negative and graceless theology. Rather, at every turn, steer clear of the devil by choosing to see the grace of God throughout your life, in your family, and in your community. Community is not perfect, but God is working to perfect it through your presence as well as others. Remember, God saved you from slavery to sin and death, so why negate that by making those things the foundation of your faith? Jesus Christ is the grace of God. That, and that alone, should be your faith’s foundation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The devil’s work is division and separation from others.  God is the great uniter.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from bewitching myself with bad theology. Remind me daily of your grace. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Maundy Thursday

Read John 13:21-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays Him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” (Mark 14:21 NLT)

JudasHave you ever read the story of Jesus’ betrayal in the Gospels? Have you ever noticed the sentiment conveyed about Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus? Have you ever noticed that as you read through the Gospels chronologically in the order they were written (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), that there is a progression from cold to seething despise in the representation of Judas and his final act of betrayal? In Mark and Matthew, Judas’ actions are more or less presented in a very “matter of fact” way. Judas decides to betray Jesus, for which no reason is given, and he gets paid for the betrayal. In Luke, the author writes that “Satan entered Judas Iscariot” which led him to go to the high priests. In John, Jesus calls Judas “a devil” (John 6:70) and Judas was possessed by Satan, who entered him following eating the bread at the Last Supper (John 13:26).

Since the moment he decided to betray Jesus, Judas has certainly gone down in infamy. He has been forever remembered as the man who betrayed the prince of peace. What sort of man would do such a thing? How could he have possibly even thought that betraying Jesus is a good thing? These questions, and more, to this day remain unanswered. We’ll never know why Judas did what he did. It is easy to understand why a growing number of Christians, from the Gospel writers onward, came to despise him for betraying our Lord. Yet, the ironic part is while we hold Judas accountable (perhaps more than accountable) for his actions, we give the other disciples a complete pass. After all, while Judas actively betrayed Jesus, didn’t the others betray him too? Which one of them stood by Jesus’ side in his time of need? They all deserted, they all fled, they all abandoned him…and in some sense…they all betrayed him.

Yet all of the Gospel accounts are consistent on one thing, if not on their view of Judas himself. They are all consistent on the fact that Judas was welcome at the table of grace, on the fact that Judas was welcome to share in the last supper, but a Jesus who was well aware of his deceit. While we’ll never know what was in Jesus’ mind at the time, it is consistent with his teaching on not judging, and loving even one’s enemies. In fact, Judas wasn’t an enemy at all, he was a friend and he was a trusted confidant of Jesus’. Yet, instead of reacting negatively toward Judas, Jesus pitied him and made room for him at the Last Supper. I would like to believe that Jesus wished that Judas would be able to forgive himself and eventually rejoin the disciples in spreading the Gospel message; however, I also believe that Jesus knew that Judas would never be able to.

The question for us, out of all of this, is how far are you willing to take the Jesus’ command to love? By his very example, Jesus showed us that he wasn’t being hypothetical or theoretical in his calling for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, including our enemies. How far are you willing to go in your love of others? Will you love others, including your enemies, even if it comes at a great personal cost? Today’s challenge, as we approach the Lord’s table of grace at the Last Supper, is to reflect on your call LOVE OTHERS, just as Christ has loved you. Will you follow Jesus in living a life of LOVE, or will you abandon him and his cause for your own comfort and safety? The choice is, ultimately, up to you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 5:46-48 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to open myself up to your love and help me grow to be a person who more fully loves others, even those who I would otherwise consider to be my enemies. Amen.

Antichrist Superstar

Read Matthew 18:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” (Mark 3:28-29 NLT)

tumblr_static_antichristsuperstarIt was October of 1996, I was 18 going on 19 years old, and I remember the religious fervor that was being struck up by a band that had just hit the mainstream airwaves a year before with their cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These).” Though this band came out in 1994, it was clear that this latest album would become it’s defining moment; for some Christians, choosing to listen to that album would be a soul-damning moment, one that had eternal consequences, and this is just what the band Marilyn Manson was banking on.

It’s not that they were banking that their album, Antichrist Superstar, would send people to hell; however, Marilyn Manson were banking on the religious fervor that inevitably ignited against it, and they rode that money train all the way to the bank. The album, to date, has sold over 7 million copies, with 1.9 million of those copies being sold in the United States alone. That’s probably not what the protesting Christians were hoping for, but it was an unintended consequence of all of their protests.

One of my favorite songs off of the album is the title track, “Antichrist Superstar.” In it Manson writes, “You built me up with your wishing hell, I didn’t have to sell you…cut the head off, grows back hard. I am the hydra, now you’ll see your star.” Many Christians feared that Manson was the Antichrist, that he was leading kids to Satan and ultimately to hell, and that the end of the world was near with the rise of someone who seemed so blatantly Satanic. But when you look at the lyrics, we find some substance beyond all of the theatrics. It is Christians who created this “Antichrist”, and it is Christians who were now protesting his rising like a star.

Brian Warner grew up going to a Christian school that taught him all about the devil. It taught him to fear Satan, but to fear God even more. He was taught that if he didn’t do the right things, think the right things, say the right things, and pray the right things, he would end up going to hell. He grew up having nightmares of the Antichrist coming and devouring him, he grew up having nightmares of God damning him to hell for not living the “good” life. This was what Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson) grew up believing Christianity was. The lyrics to his song, “Antichrist Superstar,” are a mirror of how Christianity represented Christ to him. It was Christianity that had built him up to fear, it was Christianity that taught him God was a God of wrath, and it was Christianity (sadly enough) that helped drive him away from Christ. Of course, it was only a certain brand of Christianity; however, it was the brand he grew up knowing and fearing. Though he attempts to show he’s broken free of that fear, his album is really more of a reflection of how that fear still consumes him.

As Christians, we are not called to be driving the “fear” of God into anyone. Satan only has as much power as we give him. If all we do is focus on evil, on the possibility of misstepping, of the possibility of damnation, then we imbue power into our fears of such things. God has not called us to do that; rather, God has called us to focus on the hope, healing and wholeness that comes through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. What saddens me is that Marilyn Manson, and countless others, have not gotten that memo because the ones who were representing Christ were too busy pushing fear rather than love and acceptance. Let us not be such a people. Let us not fail the little ones who look up to us and model themselves off of us. Let them see within us the light of God, rather that the fear of darkness. Let us not build up antichrists by our wishing hell, but let us build up Christians by showing the love and the light of heaven in all we do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is the culture you’re raising your kids in. Don’t be surprised if it blows up in your face.” – Brian Warner

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to move beyond fear and into your eternal arms of love. Help me to grow in that love and share it with others. Amen.

Crying Wolf

Read Matthew 7:15-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

wolf-howling-at-the-moon1In Christianity there seems to be a fear that one needs to be careful not to be deceived by the devil who will steer one away from the truth and the light of God. When I was growing up, I remember coming across all sorts of different things in Christian bookstores and in churches. I remember seeing tracts that would warn of the perils of the New Age movement, there were tracts warning against the danger of letting your children watch the TV show “He-Man: Masters of the Universe”, and that there were perils in allowing your children to participate in Role Playing Games (RPGs) such as “Dungeons and Dragons.” I have since seen similar tracts and brochures against books such as “Harry Potter” and the like.

What’s more is that fear often crosses into Christian territory as well. “Beware of false prophets who clothe themselves in words of light but are really agents of darkness.” I have seen devout Christians such as Rob Bell and others get thrown under the proverbial bus as being heretics and agents of Satan. And there seems to be some serious Biblical precedent for it, as Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15).

But what does Jesus mean by that? Is Jesus trying to strike fear into the hearts of his followers? Or is Jesus doing something completely different? And what do we make of that when we pair it with Jesus’ other warning, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged”, which only comes 14 verses earlier and is what starts off this section of teachings?

The reality is that, while we ought to be worried about taking a wrong turn onto a destructive path, that worry often turns into a form of “holier than thou” judgmentalism that Christians have been warned against by the one we claim to follow. So, first things first. How do we spot false teachings without falling into a group of hypocrites who judge others and lack the humility to see ourselves as the wolves in sheep’s clothing?

First off, Jesus rightly said in today’s scripture passage that you will know a tree by its fruit. We, as Christians, know what God wants from us. God want our full devotion; we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of our souls, and all of our strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). And, equally as important, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. ANYTHING or ANYONE who leads you to THAT is producing GOOD FRUIT. After all, this is the heart of the Gospel and, according to Jesus, sums up all the Law and the prophets.

Second, if we come across something that is counter to what we find above, we simply avoid it. There is no need to interject Satan, or throw around judgments on the beliefs or their adherents. After all, judgmentalism is BAD FRUIT. We simply need to avoid bad fruit and nourish ourselves on good fruit. But to be in line with Micah 6:8, we also need to have a smidge of humility. Many people say and think differently than us, but that doesn’t make their thoughts and words FALSE. We need to be open to different angles on things without compromising on the core values of LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR.

In the end, Jesus is calling us about being vigilant in regard to not failing to see the image of God in ALL PEOPLE, even those who express things differently than us. Jesus’ words were not to inflict fear but to caution us to remain true to the Gospel and to spark a little bit of humility in us. Let us not point the scapegoating finger at people and “cry wolf” just because they are different. Rather, let us measure the teachings we hear by the RUBRIC OF LOVE and then determine whether that is something we should or shouldn’t pursue. And let us not forget to measure ourselves and our beliefs by that same rubric!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“LOVE, not fear, IS OF GOD.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to be open to difference without judgment, and allow me to discern, even among my beliefs, the GOOD FRUIT from the BAD FRUIT.

The Devil Is In the Details

Read Matthew 18:21-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

DevilI just recently saw the movie “Devil”, which was a film that was produced by and based off of a story written by M. Night Shyamalan. For those of you unfamiliar with his name, he is the one who wrote, directed and produced the widely successful supernatural thriller, “The Sixth Sense.” While many of his other films have not garnered the success that his first film did, I have always been prone to watching them and have found them meaningful and thought provoking. “Devil” certainly is both meaningful and thought provoking.

In this film, five people get on an elevator together. None of them know each other, yet when the elevator breaks down and they are stuck in it for hours, each of them gets to know one another perhaps a little more than they’d like to. Each character has a flaw, which I will not reveal here; however, one of the five characters has a little more than just a flaw as that character (again I will not reveal who) is the incarnation of Satan. Sounds like a real wholesome family film, right? Well, to use a perfectly good pun, the devil is in the details here.

Every so often, while on this elevator, the lights flicker and then go out, leaving the victims and the viewers in the dark. When the lights come on, one of the characters is dead in a weird and gruesome way. This continues to happen through out the film. Meanwhile, a detective, the police and firemen are all trying to get these people safely out of the elevator. They, too, watch in horror as the lights flicker, go out, come back on and they see yet another dead person.

While I will not spoil the whole of the movie, I will spoil it’s message a little as I believe it is so very relevant to us as people of faith. Each person in the movie is being killed by the devil, their souls taken, as a result of their unwillingness to see that they have sinned and are flawed individuals. The result of that is that these individuals never, ever seek forgiveness for what they’ve done, because they continually justify their own actions and, therefore, are blinded to their own sins and sinful nature.

Again, I will not even hint at how the film ends (you really do need to see it), but it is powerful in its message. We often talk of God as being merciful and loving, kind and compassionate, just and filled with unending grace. We often talk about God’s willingness to forgive us all, and we see Jesus Christ as the divine expression of that forgiveness; however, how can we be forgiven if we don’t see our need for forgiveness? How can we be forgiven if we are so blind to our own faults that we we fail to seek or accept forgiveness? What’s more, how can we receive forgiveness if we are unwilling to be forgiven and/or unwilling to give forgiveness to ourselves and to others?

Christ calls us to a life of forgiveness. We are called to a life of being forgiven and to a life of forgiving others. If we are unwilling to see our need for forgiveness and, therefore, are unwilling to be forgiven, then we cannot, and will not, experience the healing power of forgiveness; however, if we are open and transparent to God about our shortcomings, and we seek forgiveness, we will have it in abundance. With that said, we too have to be willing to forgive. For how can we seek forgiveness but not give it in return? How can we experience mercy and not be transformed by it? How can we receive grace but refuse to give it to others? Remember, the devil is in the details. Be transformed by God’s grace and be transformational by extending that grace to others.

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, soften my heart so that I may admit my faults and seek forgiveness. Also, soften my heart so that I may extend forgiveness to others. Amen.