Be sober-minded and alert. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. ~ 1 Peter 5:8
I realized this week that I’ve been struggling for some time with God. Over the last couple days in particular, I have come to a place of recognizing that I am verging on furious with Him, which is odd for me. Worse, rather than remain furious, I have been ranting at my Lord, claiming a shaky faith because He has not been communicating well of late, guidance has not been forthcoming, provision has been lacking. Overall, my heart has been heavy and sad because quite simply, it feels very much like God broke His promises, repeatedly of late. I am staring at the Red Sea, with the cliffs rising on every other side and Pharaoh’s army riding down. My heart cries, why on earth did I ever leave Egypt? Just to come out here and die? Melodramatic? Maybe a little bit. Things aren’t that dire, at least not in a physical sense.
Yet, I am still angry with my Lord. When I am angry with a person, the next step, after recognizing that anger, is to forgive. The trouble is, God does not sin, ever, so it’s not like I can forgive Him. Nor am I quite ready to forgive myself for being this faithless, to where my witness has been silenced because I cannot quite bring myself to paint a rosy picture to point to God’s great love, grace and kindness at the moment. Please don’t misunderstand, in my head, I know He is indeed great. I know He has extended far more grace than I will ever deserve. I know His kindness is infinitely more gentle than anything else in the world. I know all that. But, at the moment, I’m struggling to remember it, and it was making me angry. Until I realized I wasn’t really angry, I am sad, bereft, despondent. Feeling as though my Lord has left me.
I reach into the recesses of my heart to sing a new song, and a minor key with a repeating line of “Where have You gone” starts rolling through my mind and off my lips, with a tale of loneliness and hopelessness. That song stops and then starts “Oh God above, I’m standing in the valley” progressing through “dying in the valley” as I wait upon His rescue. Why? Why? My heart and head cries out, because I’ll be honest, this is a new thing for me. This is sense of separation hasn’t been around since I first started reaching back for God more than 13 years ago. As I have prayed and prayed and prayed in these last days, knowing that is the only answer to such things, it finally struck me. I am struggling with belief. Not belief in God per se, but belief in all the other things we must believe in if we are to accept the truth of Christ. More, I have struggled with sharing that belief because quite frankly, it makes me sound a little nuts. But, as my son said when I asked if he believed in demons and devils, you can’t really believe in God if you don’t believe in those too. So tonight, I want to share this thing that has been weighing on me.
We, the church in the Western world, have denied the truth of the Gospel. Somewhere along the line, and I don’t really know where, we stopped accepting and teaching believers that the Bible isn’t being figurative when it speaks of a war of principalities. Peter was not just writing images when he warns us to be sober and vigilant. And Christ was not passing out happy pills when the Gospels record Him casting out demons, and commissioning His disciples to do the same. The devil is real, and he’s not some cuddly cartoon character with cute little horns and a pitchfork. He’s also not some almost sexy fantasy beast, or handsome bad boy that really isn’t so bad as is often portrayed in Hollywood and books. He is the flat out enemy of God, and as such he and his minions, the demons of hell, search for and attack the people of God to try to take them out of the fight. We, the church, the body of Christ, the saints of God, are an army, and we are at war. It’s about time we remember that so we’ll stop letting each other die without a fight. Die you say? We’re not dying, we look out for each other. And besides, demons are outdated, antiquated, a little crazy, it mightn’t be wise to speak about such things…
All I have to say to that is wake up. This past week, I found myself in the strange position of trying to help a homeless woman with a long term addiction to prescription drugs. As I pieced together some of the story of her life, I discovered some things that have been rolling around ever since:
- She had people who loved her but had given up after 20 years of not being able to save her
- She had been in cycles of abuse for most of her life
- There is nothing as a society, law enforcement, medical professional, or individual person that anyone could do to help her
- On two separate occasions, I was told by people who knew her well, that she loved the Lord
- And here’s the one that sent the alarm bells clanking: she was described as having been very fundamentalist in her beliefs, like believing in demons.
It was that last that struck me like a gut punch. It made me wonder which one of those drugs was prescribed in the beginning to stop her from seeing those demons she believed in. And how different her life might have been had the body of Christ around her prayed to release her from those demons, prayed to drive those demons out, prayed for her to have the strength to resist the devil so he would flee. What might have changed in those 20 years, those lives destroyed, those relationships lost? Melodramatic? Not really.
Seeing is Believing
I saw my first demon when I was about 16, though I had sensed them before then. The first one I remember sensing clearly, though I didn’t know what it was, was in fifth grade. A teacher sent up strange alarms in my mind that I didn’t understand. I found out a few years later, in the newspaper, that he had been arrested for molesting students. There were others like that over the years. And when I was 16, I was walking in the Oakland hills with two friends late one night. We were out on a lark, goofing off, on a quest for Jolt Cola (which was still a thing back then). As we walked along a path in the woods, we stopped a moment, and one friend went off to find a tree, the other turned to me, and he was not him. His face was distorted, the same but not the same, changed. It lasted only an instant, and I quickly called my other friend and told him we had to go. That demon left my friend, but I could feel him watching from the trees until we were nearly back to the car.
The next time I really remember seeing them was a few years ago when a friend came to stay a while after a time of trauma in a traumatic place filled with rage and anger at the time she was there. We sat on the porch at night talking sometimes in the first weeks, and I could see them flitting around the edges of the yard, unable to get near the house because well, by then, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. We are protected here, mostly. At least when I do not invite them in to sleep on my couch.
The other time that really strikes me though, it took me a while to admit what it was I had seen, because we never want to believe in crazy anyhow, and we certainly don’t want to believe it resides in places we would like to think of as holy. But, as I re-read Mark tonight, it confirmed the thing that had been taking shape the last several weeks of reading. Did you know that demons dwell in places that call themselves the house of the Lord?
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know you you are – the Holy One of God!” Mark 1:21-24
Think about that for just a moment. Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath. This is the place where the devout Jews would come to seek the Lord in His Word. They would gather to pray, to read the Scriptures, to call upon the Lord. And here in their synagogue, there is this man. It doesn’t say this man was unknown to them, or that he was intruding into their synagogue. It says that he was in their synagogue, and he had an unclean spirit. He came in among the people of God, joining in their time of worship and prayer, presumably on more than just this one occasion, and he was possessed by a demon. How devastatingly sad is that to think at that time, when they knew the Lord Almighty, and He had called them out, set them apart, and made them His people, they allowed a fellow in their synagogue to remain oppressed by a demon.
Demonic Dwelling Places
How devastatingly sad is it that now, when we have not only been adopted into the family of God, but have been commissioned with the authority and duty to cast out demons, we still allow those in our churches to remain oppressed by demons? The last time I recall seeing a demon up close before this past week was in my church s few years ago. He was so quiet you’d hardly even recognize he was there. Until people in the congregation would begin to actually pursue the call of the God and seek to do His work. Then he would rear up one on one, spewing words of pornographic addiction, sexual fantasies followed by obsessive behavior that made the women unsafe. It was not until I became a target of this demon and reported it that I realized this had happened many times before with many women in the church, and nothing had been done. And it wasn’t until many months later, after the work had been disrupted, that I began to realize what he was.
This demon had been there in that place since the time a few good people began the process of resuscitating the church. But, because this denomination is currently in a crisis of faith that increasingly rejects the reality of demons, as well as the reality of miracles, it never occurred to anyone that the trouble they kept having every time they would begin to grow was because of these demonic attacks. Schisms in the church, constant cycles of growth then loss of members, burnout among the volunteers in ministry, beginning and derailing of new ministries. If we were to look back at the years of the church, all of them could likely be traced back to this one demon in their midst that they refused to recognize because, well, demons are crazy. As a result, a man has been held in bondage for decades and the work of God has been stunted in that space because they haven’t resisted the devil. How do you resist what you don’t believe exists?
I bring all of this to this space today for two reasons. One, God told me to, and I don’t think I will come back to a place of peace with Him until I get back to being obedient about sharing what He tells me to, even when it makes me squirmy and crazy sounding. Two, what the Bible calls the prince of the air, or the ruler of this world, is currently moving mightily. He is indeed prowling around like a lion seeking someone to devour. You can see his forces at work in Charlottesville, Berkeley, Ferguson, Baltimore, Venezuela, the Middle East and Africa, Planned Parenthood, and many, many more. Every place where folks are promoting violence, sowing division, and screaming at folks to hate the other because they first hated us, there demons are at work. They shake and shriek, they rail at Christ, cry out and gnash their teeth. They seek to kill both those they have possessed and those they can reach through those they have possessed. And they aren’t all godless atheists, some of them are sitting in our pews, whispering of the pleasures of sin and that God will love us still.
How many will we continue to condemn to live as a dwelling place for demons because it is more comfortable to label them as sick, addicted, disabled, or overly religious?
Christ sent the disciples out, while He was still here on earth, to cast out demons and preach (Mark 3:14). He told us in John that we would do greater things than even he did. He spoke again in Mark, proclaiming that driving out demons in His name would be a sign that accompanies those who believe. We cannot do the work of carrying the Gospel to all of creation, making disciples, rescuing the oppressed, and teaching them to follow the commands of Christ if we will not acknowledge the truth of the war we are in that He has called us to. One piece of that truth is that Satan is a real, fully evil, absolute enemy of God. He has demons at his disposal that he sends against the saints to try to deceive and destroy them. He has demons that he sends to inhabit those who are not sealed by the Holy Spirit, oppressing them and conscripting them into his war against heaven. If we won’t teach, believe, and equip our brothers and sisters in Christ on this important reality, we are leaving them to die an eternal death at the hands of the enemy, and leaving them helpless to rescue those God sends them to. We must know the enemy, and share the good news, that we know the end of the story. The cross has already won the victory, and all those who believe will be saved.