Sunday, July 27, 2014

Where My Demons Hide

Jesus casting out demons
Imagine Dragons is a popular alternative group that released their debut album Night Visions in 2012.  Songs like “Radioactive” and “Demons” have driven them quickly to the top of the charts.  Half the members of this band are Mormon, and half are agnostic[i].  While they say their music isn’t religious in nature, there are some spiritual references in their songs. 
This song is sung from the perspective of someone who knows he’s spiritually lost.  He’s singing to someone that he perceives as pure and innocent.  The song begins with his depressing anticipation that in the end, things will fall apart: “When the days are cold / And the cards all fold.” 
The singer says that the people who ought to be role-models will turn out to be fakes without life or passion: “And the saints we see / Are all made of gold / When your dreams all fail / And the ones we hail / Are the worst of all / And the blood’s run stale.”
He wants to hide the truth that things are falling apart, and shelter the person he loves from all of it.  Yet he recognizes that there’s a beast inside him, and that he can’t help her hide as long as he’s around her.  “I wanna hide the truth / I wanna shelter you / But with the beast inside / There’s nowhere we can hide.”
He says: “No matter what we breed / We still are made of greed / This is my kingdom come / This is my kingdom come.”  Recognizing the sin nature inside all of us, he says that even the best that we can do is tainted with our own selfishness, our desire to see our own kingdom come.
Finally, the singer faces the reality that not only is there evil in his own soul—there is also evil that resides within him that comes from an outside source.  He calls this evil his “demons.”  “When you feel my heat / Look into my eyes / It’s where my demons hide / It’s where my demons hide / Don’t get too close / It’s dark inside / It’s where my demons hide / It’s where my demons hide.”
The singer knows that there will be a judgment day coming.  As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and the people only players,” so the singer says, Curtain’s call / Is the last of all / When the lights fade out / All the sinners crawl.”  He understands that in the end, at the curtain call, the sinners will no longer be able to stand in judgment.  At our own death, all our false fronts, all our masks will be revealed: “So they dug your grave / And the masquerade / Will come calling out / At the mess you've made.”  All your lies, all your sins, will all be exposed.  And the singer knows what will be the result of God’s righteous judgment.
I’m amazed at the people I’ve met who are fully aware that if they were to die today, they’ll be lost—and yet they still don’t turn to Jesus for salvation.  The singer says, “Don't wanna let you down / But I am hell bound / Though this is all for you / Don't wanna hide the truth.”
He feels trapped in life—like no matter what he does, it’s going to have the same result.  He feels like he has no choices:  “They say it's what you make / I say it's up to fate / It's woven in my soul.”  A lot of people feel similarly trapped, and don’t know where to turn for any hope.
The singer has become so hopeless that he doesn’t want to drag the person he loves down with him.  So he says, “I need to let you go ./ Your eyes, they shine so bright / I wanna save that light / I can't escape this now / Unless you show me how.”
And there’s the ray of hope!  He realizes that there’s nothing he can do to save himself, that there’s nothing good in himself—only a man plagued by demons.  But he hopes that someone can show him how to be saved.
And that’s where Jesus comes in.  Acts 10.38 (ESV) says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”
Jesus was always casting out demons.  Everywhere He went, He proclaimed the Good News, healed people’s diseases, and cast evil spirits out of people.  It’s unclear whether Imagine Dragons intended to talk about demons as a reality or a metaphor—but my experience is that Satan and his agents are active in this world, seeking the harm of all God’s children.  That’s why Jesus made deliverance a major part of His mission.
In the song, the good news is that there may be a way of escape.  Believers know that His name is Jesus!  He came to set the captives free.  And then He commissioned His followers to show others how to be free.  Mark 16.17a (ESV) says,And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons....”  If you need deliverance, it’s available to you through the power of Jesus.  If you’ve been set free, then it’s your job to set at liberty those who are oppressed.  I pray that you’ll take hold of the hope that Jesus offers.  I pray you’ll find the peace He wants to give—and then share it with others who need the Lord’s deliverance.

[i]Johnson, John H.  October 18, 2012.  “Imagine Dragons and Mormon Rock.”  July 26, 2014.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Love One Another

Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in the Cape Province of South Africa.  As a young boy he worked as a cattle-herder, and was baptized as a Methodist.  He studied law as a young man, and soon became an anti-colonial and anti-apartheid activist.  His dream was to change the government that separated the races and oppressed black people in his country.  In 1962 he was arrested for treason and sentenced to life in prison. 
Mandela served 27 years in prison, and was finally released in 1990 so that he could help negotiate a peaceful end to racial inequality.  The once-illegal African National Congress was legalized the same year, and in turn they renounced the practice of violence for political means.  In 1991, Mandela was elected President of the ANC.  Working with President de Klerk, he abolished apartheid and established multiracial elections.  Mandela and de Klerk were both awarded Nobel Peace Prizes in 1993. 
Mandela was elected as the nation’s first black President in 1994.  During his term as President, he worked for racial reconciliation and peace.  In the later years of his life, he continued his work to combat poverty and injustice.  After battling a recurring lung infection, Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013, at the age of ninety-five.  He is remembered for his dedication to humanity and work for peace.
The first international Nelson Mandela Day was celebrated in 2010, as a day in which people dedicate 67 minutes working for peace, justice, and reconciliation in the service of others—one minute for each of the years that Mandela spent on these causes.  This past week was the first Nelson Mandela Day since Mandela’s death.  His memory lives on in the good works that others do in his name.  On Mandela Day, volunteers work at local homeless shelters, food banks, orphanages, and schools.  They help with literacy programs, clinics, and neighborhood cleanup projects. 
Those who participate in Nelson Mandela Day have said that 67 minutes once a year is just a starting point—that the real goal is changing their own habits and becoming people who have a personal mission to affect people’s lives and bring positive change to the world.  Though the early years of Mandela’s life were occupied with thoughts of violence, hate and revenge, his mature years saw a change of heart.  Mandela said, “I know that my country was not meant to be a land of hatred.  No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin.  People learn to hate.  They can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”  Those who honor Mandela’s life say they try to live that sentiment.
This week at Vacation Bible School, our kids focused on 1 John 4.7 (NLT), which says, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.”  We heard the story about the paralyzed man whose friends went out of their way to get him to Jesus the Healer (Mark 2.1-12).  We heard how God loves us so much that He gave His Son to save us from our sins (1 John 4.9-10), and that our response to His love should be love for one another.  Loving your friends is easy to do—but loving those who don’t love you, as Nelson Mandela discovered, is much harder. 
1 John 4.20-21 (NLT) tells us, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?  And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.”  Mandela modeled the same thing that Jesus showed and taught: that we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5.44).  This can be a fearful thing to do, because there’s risk involved in showing such reckless love.  But 1 John 4.18 (NLT) says, “…Love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.”  When God gives us His perfect love, then His perfect love working inside us ought to prompt us to love fearlessly—even to love those people who have made themselves our enemies.
Acts 9 tells the story of a Christian named Ananias, who lived in Damascus.  One day, God spoke to Ananias, telling him to go to the house of a man named Judas on Straight Street.  There he would find Saul, the notorious persecutor of the church, in need of divine healing.  God told Ananias that He wanted him to proclaim God’s peace to Saul.  Ananias was reluctant to go, and reminded God just who Saul was, and the terrible things that Saul had done to fellow believers.  Nevertheless, God insisted that Ananias go.  Obeying the Lord’s word, the disciple found Saul, laid hands on him, and healed him in Jesus’ name.  The one-time persecutor of the church would in time become its chief missionary—all because Ananias allowed God’s perfect love to expel all fear from his heart.  All because Ananias was willing to love others just the way that Jesus had loved him.
Like the friends who carried the paralyzed man to Jesus, we ought to love our friends enough to bring them to Jesus.  Like Nelson Mandela and Ananias, God calls us to work for peace and reconciliation.  Our Lord asks us to love not only our friends, but also our enemies.  This may be a fearful thing.  As Mandela found, there may be a price to pay.  But Jesus’ perfect love working in our hearts can expel all fear.  It can give you the strength you need to do the impossible.  It can help you live the command of 1 John 4.7: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lions and Giants and Bears--Oh My!

This past week, my church’s youth group attended a missions-oriented Christian summer camp called PASSPORT.  The week’s theme, creatively based on the Wizard of Oz, was “Follow the Road.”  Tied into the lessons learned by Dorothy, the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion, PASSPORT’s curriculum focused on choices we make and experiences of God while we’re on the road of life.  From the flying monkeys in our games to the emerald costumes we wore at our evening masquerade, everything was designed to give spiritual meaning to the quest made by the twister rider from Kansas, and to the journey of our lives as well.
            When I think of Dorothy and her friends skipping down the Yellow Brick Road, I’m reminded of their fearful chant, “Lions and tigers and bears—oh my!”  Venturing into the haunted forest, they were gripped by the fear of what might lie before them.  So might you be fearful of what lies down the road in your life.  Uncertainties bring anxiety as you move from one phase of life to the next.  Surprises lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce on unsuspecting travelers.
            In 1 Samuel 17, David’s pathway was much like Dorothy’s—exciting yet fearful.  Like the simple farm girl who became a heroine, David’s journey from shepherd to hero was fraught with both peril and potential.  The wicked witch may have had her magic, but she never made an army tremble like the giant Goliath did.  When David first saw that monster of a man, every member of the Israelite army, including King Saul, shook in fear of the brute.  Shaking his fist and his weapons heavenward he defied the armies of God.  He challenged any Israelite soldier who was brave enough to fight him in a winner-take-all single combat, but nobody was willing to step onto the battlefield.
            David couldn’t believe that everyone in the army was unwilling—so he offered to fight the giant himself.  His older brothers laughed at him, and even the king seemed incredulous. 

But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock,  I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.  Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.”  And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you (1 Samuel 17.34-37 ESV)!”

            David believed that he was on the road to greater things—note that he said he used to keep sheep for his father.  He had already decided that today was the day of God’s glory, his own victory, and a journey that would change his life.  When Saul challenged David’s ability to fight the giant, David cited the experience previous experience fighting lions and bears.  Certainly if he could defeat these beasts, he could also slay a giant!  He knew that the power he needed was already inside him, because God was preparing him for something great.
            At PASSPORT camp this week, our students learned the same thing.  They learned that God has a destination in mind for them, and that the road that they’re on is one where God will show them great things.  Like characters in Oz, they learned that the power they need for the journey is in them, because God is with them.  The mission group I worked with was doing indoor and outdoor painting at the Boys and Girls Club.  They braved dangers like ladders and spiders and bees (oh my!) in order to show Christ’s love to the underprivileged children of Danville, Virginia.  At their tender age, what these teenage missionaries probably don’t realize is that God is preparing them for even greater things.  Events like this may be just the lions and bears that they need to get them ready for giants down the road.
            Are you feeling challenged lately?  Do lions and bears seem to threaten?  God has already given you the power you need to stand against them, because the Lord is with you.  And who knows—maybe these challenges are training for some greater task down the road!  Rather than fearfully facing the road before you, you can follow the road with confidence, knowing that whatever your journey brings, the God who calls you will equip you to do His work.  Like David and Dorothy, you can travel the road and become your own kind of hero—because God is the silent traveler on the road with you.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Company He Chooses

When I was a child, I heard my mother recite the poem by an unknown author, entitled “Judged by the Company One Keeps”.  It goes:

One night in late October, 
When I was far from sober, 
Returning from the bar with manly pride, 
My feet began to stutter 
So I lay down in the gutter 
And a pig came near and lay down by my side. 
A lady passing by was heard to say: 
"You can tell a man who boozes 
By the company he chooses," 
And the pig got up, and slowly walked away. 
This recitation often came accompanied by a lesson on choosing friends wisely, and a warning about something called Guilt by Association.  We teenagers were cautioned that if we were ever caught in the same vehicle with a friend who was in possession of alcohol or cigarettes, then we could be considered guilty as well, whether or not we were actually in the wrong.  An extension of this for adults might be the tendency for a wife to think that her husband is cheating on her, if all of his friends have cheated on their wives.  Rightly or wrongly, you are judged by the company you keep.
No one knew the truth of this statement more than Jesus, who was judged by the company He kept.  Luke 5.27-29 (ESV) says:

“…He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’  And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.  And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.  And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’”

Jesus knew that He would be criticized for the attention he gave to “sinners,” and the lack of visits that he made to “righteous” people.  Yet, He was willing to bear the labels “glutton and drunkard” for the sake of ministering to their souls.  That’s because He knew that Guilt by Association is a logical fallacy.  Alex Knapp[i] demonstrates this logical fallacy as follows:

The typical structure of an argument that incorporates the guilt-by-association fallacy is something along the lines of:
·         Person X supports idea I.
·         Person X is bad (or believes bad things).
·         Therefore, idea I is bad.

A more real world example of this might be:

·         Social security is a state funded old age pension.
·         Nazis supported state funded old age pensions.
·         Therefore, social security is bad.

People are illogical creatures, and are going to jump to fallacious conclusions no matter what.  If people want to believe something, they are going to find reasons to support what they already believe.  Jesus’ critics were looking for reasons to claim that he was an unfit teacher.  They found their reasons in the company that Jesus kept.  They said, “Tax collectors and prostitutes are immoral; Jesus spends a lot of time with these people; therefore, Jesus must be immoral.” 
But Jesus had a better answer to their logical problem.  “…Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31-32 ESV).’”  In order to heal, doctors need to spend time with their patients.  The Physician of Souls was willing to risk social infection in order to heal the sick.  The Friend of Sinners was prepared to lose social influence in order to care for the broken.  He calls us to do the same.  To be like Jesus, we must befriend the “sinners,” not because we’re better than they are or because we arrogantly enjoy turning sow’s ears into silk purses, but because Jesus loves them just as much as He loves us.
Now, I can see some wise old saints of the church cringing at the thought of encouraging our children to make friends with the “bad kids” at school.  “Watch out for their influence,” they’d say—and they’d be right.  We always have to watch out for wrong influences.  But we have to remember that we’re the “bad kids,” too—we are no better than they are.  The only difference is that we’ve found a Savior.  We also are the “sick” who need the Physician.  Just like Levi, we want to share Him with those who need Him. 
The way to navigate the minefield of evangelizing the “sinners” is that we realize our true position in this story.  We’re Levi—the one who invites people to Christ.  We’re not the Physician.  The minute we start thinking that we’re the Healer, we fall into pride and our witness is destroyed.  Yes—watch out for negative influences from the “bad kids.”  But spend time with them all the same.  Risk losing social standing for their sakes.  Remember that what matters is not whether other people see you with them—but whether God sees you with them.  And when He does, like Levi, He’ll call you His disciple.

[i] Knapp, Alex.  “The Fallacy of Guilt by Association.”  February 12, 2008.  July 5, 2014.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rise and Walk!

“Everybody in the hospital was awaiting a visit from Pope John Paul II. A doctor with a handful of paperwork took a seat in a wheelchair and busied himself with his notes. The Pope swept in, and blessed the doctor, who immediately stood up and walked forward. The devout in the Pope's entourage crossed themselves and rolled their eyes upward.” 

Some miracles are too good to be believed—but others are made good because they are believedand God responds to people’s faith with a blessing.  It’s this second kind that I want to talk about today: real miracles which result from real faith.
Acts 3.1-10 tells the story of a crippled beggar at the temple, who recovers the use of his legs through a miracle God performs by the obedience of the apostles Peter and John.  At three o’clock in the afternoon, the usual hour for prayer, they meet a lame man begging alms at the gate.  A brief exchange takes place, and in the time it takes for you to read this article, the man is up on his feet, walking and leaping and praising God.  This dramatic event hinges on several key elements, that must be in place before such a thing can happen.
First, this miracle depends on Peter and John’s faithful attendance at the temple.  In other words, though it almost need not be said, the apostles need to be there in order for God to use them in a miraculous way.  Likewise, if you want God to use you to do great things in the lives of others, you have to be constant at prayer and worship, and you have to show up at the place of need.
Second, we meet the lame man as he is carried in, presumably by his friends.  Again, risking the obvious, I’ll point out that the crippled man needs to be present at the place of healing in order for this miracle to take place.  Every day I meet people who need miracles in their lives, yet so often they place themselves far from any environment that is conducive to the working of wonders.  If you have someone in your life who needs an act of God, then why not be that friend who leads them in the right direction?
As we read this story we realize that this miracle will never happen if Peter and John avert their eyes.  Yet they direct their gaze right at the man who needs their help.  When we see need on our doorstep, it’s easiest to look away, to pretend that we don’t see the beggar before us.  Instead, God wants us to gaze upon those who need His touch.  Only when we see the fallen and huddled as fellow humans will we reach out with God’s love.
Next, this scripture reminds us to focus not on what we don’t have, but on what we do have.  In verse six (NRSV), Peter says, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”  When we see a financial need yet have no money to solve the problem, we often shrug our shoulders and say that we can’t help.  Or, we spend energy we don’t have in order to procure what we can’t get, just to help a little.  Instead of operating outside of our giftings or becoming discouraged because we can’t meet the first need, we might discern a second or third need that we can meet.  When trying to help someone, don’t focus on what you don’t have—use what you do have for God’s glory.
Then, we see that the man doesn’t rise and walk just because Peter tells him to—but because Peter helps him to.  When people come to Christians for help, we fall into the trap of pointing them to the help they need, all the while hoping that we don’t have to reach out and touch them.  God works miracles in people’s lives when Christians take the fallen by the hand, and help them to their feet.
The result of Peter and John’s faithfulness is found in a man who doesn’t shuffle around the temple, but who dances and jumps and shouts glory to God.  What will be the result of your faithfulness as you make prayer and worship a priority in your life?  How will God work through you as you focus your gaze on those in need, as you work from your strengths to help them, and as you reach out to get them on their feet?  God’s still in the business of working miracles—and He uses His servants as vessels to perform them.  I pray you’ll be willing—I pray He’ll use you.

Rest Awhile

                As I write this article, my family is making plans to take a family vacation.  We’re returning to a rental condo at Myrtle Beach, where we stayed a couple of years ago.  Owned by a Christian, the condo has inspirational artwork on the walls.  One simple sign has stuck in my memory for a couple of years.  It simply quotes Jesus as he was speaking to his overworked disciples, saying, “Come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile (Mark 6.31).”  What a great verse for the wall of a vacation getaway!  What an important reminder at all times—whether you’re on vacation, staycation, or just going through your daily activities.  We all need a reminder to rest.
            Recently, I attended a pastors’ conference in which Clayton King, founder and president of Crossroads Camp and teaching pastor of Newspring Church in Anderson, SC, shared a message.  He reminded ministers of our need to do just that.  Preaching from 1 Kings 19.1-9, he spoke of Elijah’s need to get away, get alone, get honest, get rested and fed, get up, and get back to work.  Like Elijah, we can all run ourselves ragged.  Like that great prophet, we can experience highs and lows, spiritual ecstasy and the depths of depression.  God led him away to a secluded place so he could rest and so he could hear from God.  Only when Elijah did this could he hear the still, small voice of God speaking to his soul.
            As the weather warms and the beautiful days of summer get longer, you may find yourself needing to take a break.  Don’t worry—your work will still be there for you when you get back.  But you don’t help anybody when you burn yourself out.  Jesus invites you, His beloved, to come away by yourself with Him to a quiet place and rest awhile.  You may have the luxury of a lengthy vacation.  Or, you may find a few days at home to be just what you need.  If even that is impossible, try carving out a weekend, or simply a part of each day to retreat and reflect, rest and renew your spirit.
            At the same conference, Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love, and Chancellor of Eternity Bible College, quoted from Isaiah 30.11 (ESV), which says, “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’”  Chan emphasized the importance for all believers to return and recuperate in Christ.
            Jesus made a practice of withdrawing from the crowds and refreshing His heart by spending time with God and with his closest family and friends.  Elijah needed to withdraw to the wilderness and get with God.  Isaiah reminded God’s people to return and rest.  I hope this summer you’ll avail yourself of the opportunity to rest awhile.  I hope that in the quiet, you’ll find peace.