Thursday, April 20, 2017

The reality of the demonic and not giving up on Christ

These are my reflections on my quiet time with God this morning. (For more on what quiet time is and how you can have an intimate relationship with the God seen in Jesus Christ, see here.)
Look: “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

I used to think that the whole idea of demon possession was ancient superstition.

At the age of 63, I say that I’ve seen too much of life to hold to such naive denials of demon possession.

The concept has been abused through the centuries. People have ascribed physical and mental illnesses to the demons. But simply because people have misdiagnosed issues as demonic possession doesn’t mean that demonic possession doesn’t exist.

I’ve come to believe that Satan, the most subtle of enemies, employs the most sophisticated marketing techniques to accomplish His doomed ambition of taking control of God’s creation. So, in parts of India and Haiti, their culture and mindsets virtually unfazed by post-modernity, the devils still overtly possess people. In the post-modern West, the demons still possess people, but in more subtle ways designed not to call attention to themselves, to leave people’s naive notions of having “moved beyond all that” intact. What a putrid pile of stinking manure Satan and his demons are! They can even make themselves seem clean and aromatic. Even as they drag their victims to hell with them.

In this passage, Jesus warns us against leaving vacancies in our lives, minds, and wills that can Satan and his demons can enter and exploit.

To me, it’s a warning against falling into what I call “cruise control Christianity.” This is a Christian faith of taking God for granted, not reading God’s Word, not praying, not giving ourselves to regular worship, not submitting to the mutual discipline and mutual accountability of regular engagement in a church, not regularly receiving Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In other words, if I don’t fill up on God, the demons will enter our lives. And that’s true whether they choose to do so overtly or stealthily, the latter being their preferred approach in the secularized West. (After all, the devils can get away with a lot more when people think that their existence has been disproved by science. It hasn’t.)

It’s important to be vigilant. Peter echoes Jesus’ warning in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” And Ephesians 6:12 warns believers: “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.”

Listen: I sense the Lord telling me: I am bringing you great blessings these days, Mark. I am using you as a matter of grace. You are watching how my Holy Spirit can transform and deepen people in their faith in Christ through a steady and intentional attentiveness to My Word and to the Church, My Body, the only thing that will survive the end of this universe. I have graciously forgiven your sins and graciously acknowledged your struggles with your own personal temptations and favorite sins. As you have surrendered to me daily, as you have reached out to me in countless particular situations which you knew that you could not face, let alone conquer, in your own power, I have renewed you with My Holy Spirit and I have set My angels over you.

But, as you know, I am not a coercive God. I force no one to believe in Me, to trust in Me, to walk with Me. I’m not a frustrated suitor or five year old child screaming at you to look at me, to pay attention to me.

I call you. And the closer you remain to Me, the more clearly you will hear me calling in all the everyday moments of your life. The greater the distance between us, the more faint My call will be to your spirit. I will never abandon you. I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:50). But you are a grown-up and I will respect your decision to leave me behind or consign me to the position of afterthought.

Few people make that decision consciously. Our relationship is more like that of a married couple. Marriages and friendships rarely rupture over single events. When the ruptures happen, they’re the result of a steady, prolonged inattentiveness on the part of one person or the other or both. Couples and friends allow time and space to have their way. The same can be true in the lives of those who have fallen away for me. There is no room left in their lives for Me. I will never be the One to give up on our relationship or on You. And I will always fight for those who have wandered away like lost sheep. My love for all people never ceases. But, as I say, I will not force those who have turned from Me to be with Me, either now or in eternity.

Remember that I have said: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

Keep following Me, Mark. Keep growing in your faith in Me. Keep living in daily repentance and renewal. You’re either growing or you’re dying. Keep growing. Live in me because, it’s true: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Respond: Help me to remain connected to You, Lord, in all the ways You so graciously provide connection: Your Word, the sacrament, the fellowship of believers, prayer. Help me to be intentional each day in following You. After all: "Lord, to whom shall we [I] go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. He's also a sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.]

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