Tuesday, July 05, 2005

More religious ramblings

I love my pastor, Curt. We have so much in common. Sometimes I think my love for him is colored by that commonality, so I try to be cautions about my enthusiasm. He keeps saying things that I have said before, and articulating ideas that were half-formed in me, or have heard from my parents before. There were many examples of this at our last Wednesday evening class. It was our last class and we were discussing the last chapter of the book we were going through called Doing What Jesus Did. We had gone through healing, and this chapter was about casting out demons. Over all, it had a fairly balanced approach. But our pastor had us look up and compile every verse in the gospels and Acts that had examples of this sort of thing, and told us to keep those in mind as we closely read the chapter.

He warned us of what he called charismatic baggage. He explained that every group has a certain outlook on life that colors what they teach and how they teach it. You may think this odd, as he is a charismatic pastor teaching charismatic people; but it is a demonstration that his heart is for sound theology that transcends denominational influences. He, like me, loves theology. Loves sound doctrine. And yet tries to operate on the K.I.S.S. principle. Keep It Simple, Stupid. One thing he focused on as it related to the subject of demons and healing, and all other Christian pursuits, is that it is easy to get sidetracked by them. To get lost in a maze of extra-biblical study material in order to address problems that should be addressed by realizing a simple truth. The truth of who you are in Christ. This truth is simple. It is powerful. It accounts for how little information the Bible gives us about the 'spiritual realm'. He described these side-tracks as almost "Gnostic". I have said exactly the same thing. In this blog I think. I was talking about the Ancient Paths program I took. (My pastor also listed some called Cleansing Streams and some other's I'd never heard of.) I see the value in Ancient Paths. Especially as it relates to, and points to the Bible. But there is something inherent about the search for hidden truths -that everyone else has missed- that smacks of Gnostic thinking. Why do we need these extra-biblical resources? One answer that springs to mind is because they pull back the curtain of our culture. They help us see past our place and time, to the truths that they hide. And Curt said that he sees this value as well. But he warned that any time we take our eyes off of the simple plan God has for us to find other ways of dealing with our problems we risk getting lost in a quick-fix mindset that doesn’t really work. He compared it to Prozac, the drug that 'fixes' part of the brain temporarily. But as the body adjusts to it, more and more is required to achieve the same effect. And in the cases where the problem stems from an emotional or spiritual problem, the medicine only covers the symptoms rather than addressing the problem. Likewise, if we forget the power that God has given us to overcome our problems, and look for hidden wisdom –even if it's hidden in the Bible- we may temporarily alleviate our symptoms, but that relief will not last if it comes from outside of the concept of God in us overcoming our old man. Because it is easy to take our eyes off of God in that search for hidden things. It's easy to exalt a process or discovery, and emphasize that above the simpler truth God has made abundantly clear in the Bible. I don't think God likes man-formulated processes. God wants a relationship with us that requires listening and responding, not incantational formulae. When we hear that X has overcome lust, and he did it by doing A, B, and C, we tend to think to ourselves, "Ah ha! That's how it's done." Then we go to X and ask for help and advice with our own lust. X is happy to help; maybe he writes a book and has a series developed based on the way God led him through his struggle with lust. But of course the problem with this scenario is that we went to X for help and advice instead of to God and His Word. Of course I'm not saying that we shouldn't seek out councilors, elders and mentors advice and prayer. What I am saying is that what worked for them is not necessarily going to work for you. Especially if you just parrot and repeat what they did. God is not a genie. His help is not summoned via magic words. He brings us victory when we put Him first in our life. My own testimony about how God gave me victory over lust is pretty dull. I didn't really do anything beyond becoming passionate about Him. I read my Bible, I prayed fervently. Simple. Just like the Bible promises. I didn't need to discover a set of 9 spiritual principals and apply them to my life in a certain order. I just got to know God a little better.

So when it comes to the topic of demons and spiritual warfare, we keep a close eye on man-made formulas, and experiential data. We hold those things up to the Bible, and what it says on the subject and find there is a substantial difference in approaching the subject. Anytime you focus on any topic, there is a propensity to become an expert on it. And once you are an expert you tend to loose your ability to see the big picture. This is true in all areas of life. At my work the designers focus on game design to the detriment of programming and art. The artists focus on art to the detriment of design and programming. That's why we need so many meetings. There are few people who can keep the big picture in mind at all times. But regarding our walk with Christ, that is what we are called to do. Sure some people are gifted in different areas like prayer, helping people, prophesy, etc. But the more they focus on that area, the more lopsided their view of the kingdom of God will become. The study of demons is one of those areas that is very easy to get lost in. Because if you want to be an expert, you have to look outside the Bible for material to study. And once you do that, you should seriously be asking yourself if that is God's will.

So what does the Bible say about demons and possession? Quite a bit less than Hollywood would lead you to believe. You know the crucifixes, holy-water, hours and hours of back and forth battles of the will. Yeah. None of that is in the Bible. Jesus said a word or two and the demons fled. When He commanded His followers to go out and heal the sick and cast out demons, that was it. No in-depth prescriptions for how to go about it. We are empowered by Him. His Spirit gives us the authority over them. We don't need accoutrements or elaborate ceremonial contrivances. We should say a word, and they will leave. If it was any other way wouldn't God know something that important would need further explanation? No. He keeps it simple. Why? Two reasons. First, it IS that simple. We have the authority if our names are written in the book of life. (We are saved.) And second, I don't think we could understand, even if the Bible had an extra thousand pages, what goes on in the spiritual realm. How could physical, time-bound spirit/animals possibly understand that stuff any more than a germ could understand how a computer works. Any time you think you can understand the spiritual realm read Revelation, an account of heaven and the last days. All the imagery is insane! Monsters with eyes all over them, multiple heads, sounds like thunder. The reason it's like that is because our human brains can't compute that stuff. When it's translated to human written language it becomes almost nonsensical. That's what I think at least. I don't think we were meant to become experts about the spiritual realm because it's impossible for us to do so.

So if you perform exorcisms, and they include anything that's not in the Bible I think

your not acting in the authority and Truth of who you are in Christ. Of course, that's easy

for me to say as one who has never been involved. But I really can't think of any way to

justify the difference between the way the Bible tells us to do it, and the way occult

experts do it. I've heard the argument that it was easier for Jesus to do because, well, He

was Jesus. That argument doesn't hold up once you look at the super-simple instructions

He gave His followers. There is a warning contained in the gospels about a group of

people (the seven sons of Sceva) who tried to cast out demons in "the name of Jesus who

Paul preaches". They got beat up real good because the demon knew Jesus and Paul, but

said, "Who are you?" and proceeded to beat their clothes off. That must have been

embarrassing. A good scripture to look to after this one is when the disciples came back

to Jesus reporting the great success they were having driving out demons.

Luk 10:17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!"

Luk 10:18 And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.

Luk 10:19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.

Luk 10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

In other words, the demons obeyed because of the Spirit of God in them. Because they were saved. Because they had the authority that comes with salvation. They guys who failed to drive the demons out failed not because they didn't do the process right, but because they were not granted the authority that having God inside you gives.

The Bible mentions many 'gifts' that believers may have. Things like the gift of prophesy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, teaching, exhortation, etc. But there is no 'gift of casting out demons'. I think this is because He tells us ALL to do it when we are called to do it. There is a gift of being able to distinguish between spirits. Which could be construed as a gift specific to exorcism. But then, there is also a gift of healing. And not many Christians believe that only certain Christians should exercise that command. Jesus didn't say "Only you with the gifts of healing and distinguishing of spirits go out and heal the sick and drive out demons." No. He told us all to do it. Sure, we could say that the ones with the gifts should be the ones doing any particular ministry. But to shirk a chance to be moved by the Spirit of God to help someone who needs help because it's 'not our specialty' does not strike me as very Christ-like. We were given the authority. If the need arises we should exercise it. Plain as that. We don't need books that theorize how demons think, what classes of dark forces exist, how we should talk to them, etc. If we are moved by God we will know what to do and none of that stuff matters. Jesus "…said a word.." And the demons left.

I think this cuts through all the superstitious stuff that we read regarding demons. Stuff about possessed items and places. Stuff about music that can contain demons. The Bible makes it clear that we are immune to all that crap if you are walking in Christ. We can eat the meat right off of a demon's plate.

1Co 8:4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one."

1Co 8:5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"--

1Co 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

The way many Christians act concerning these things is shameful to me. They will refuse to go into temples, new age book stores, or clubs. As though the demons might be able to jump on you and take you over. Please. That is NOT walking in the authority of God. Think about the native people bound in superstition and fear of the demons that continually attack them. That is the exact same state that Christians are submitting themselves to when they are afraid to touch an African tribal mask. Come ON. Whose God is inside you? Where are Christians needed most? Where it's darkest. We are to go to those dark places. We were called to it. Not in arrogance and pride, but walking in simple faith and trust that God will not leave us or forsake us. Not like I've heard Christian kids who say stupid things about kicking the devil in the balls and killing demons left and right. That is NOT walking in the spirit of God. And that will get you beat like the sons of Sceva. But that is not a matter of overconfidence. That's letting your fleshly bravado intermingle with a God-given directive. So while we are not to fear them, the lack of information about them in the Bible should give us the hint that they aren't to be toyed with either.

I've heard and read countless anecdotes about demons haunting places and things. About getting rid of bells, or cups, or whatever that could be keeping a demon around. About having houses blessed to remove some evil. I'm not saying none of that stuff could be true. But I am saying none of it is in the Bible. And that makes me very skeptical about it. Especially given the very suggestive nature of the human mind. But especially especially because it tends to put believers in the same state of mind that the poor tribes people are trapped in. So I'm guessing that's a trap that the enemy wants us to believe he's much more powerful than he really is. It's an obvious pattern, and I'm not going to fall for it.

The bottom line is that when God dwells within me there is no need to fear ANYTHING.

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