Demonic Activity, Chthonic Events


The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
—John 10:10 ESV

San Bernardino, California, shootingIn San Bernardino, California, gun-toting, young parents of a 6-month-old daughter burst into a holiday party and shot and killed 14 people.

You live long enough and, sadly, you see just about everything, yet even this was unexpected to me. As a writer by trade, I’m always running little fictions through my head in the hopes of capturing a compelling story, yet never would I imagine a new mom plotting to kill a room full of people.

Craziness. Nonsense. Anarchy.

A friend suggested an answer, but it’s one we don’t usually consider. Now that I’ve pondered it, I think he may be right.

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.
—Matthew 17:14-18 ESV

A man comes to Jesus with a son who suffers from what the father deems a medical condition. But this seizure doesn’t randomly attack in a way that a normal medical condition would. This “epilepsy” directs the boy toward self-immolation and self-drowning. It seeks to kill and destroy. It has an anarchic, irrational purpose.

Jesus saw beyond the veil and into the eyes of pure evil. A thief had entered the “house” that was that poor boy, and it sought to steal a childhood, kill a young “homeowner,” and destroy a family.

And Jesus dealt with it the right way.

Nothing grinds our gears more than putting our trust in a medical system that gives us the wrong answer for what ails us. Too much is at stake to waste time trying to cure a misdiagnosed disease while the correct one goes untreated.

I’m sure the father in the scene above had seen doctors. They all gave him a bogus diagnosis. Even Jesus’ disciples approached the situation traditionally. Jesus, though, got it right.

I want to offer something we “scientific” Westerners don’t typically ponder.

What if the cause for all the craziness of recent days can’t be traced to a medical condition? What if it’s not mental illness? What if it’s not social isolation? What if it’s not religious beliefs gone awry?

What if it’s not any of the rational answers we grasp for in times like this?

What if, at the core of all this deranged activity we’re seeing on our nightly newscasts, it’s demons?

I don’t offer this lightly.

We don’t talk about demons in the West. That’s old-school stuff. We have better explanations, right?

I’ve shared before that I’ve encountered a few people who were genuinely possessed by or afflicted by demons. Not many, but enough to make a lasting impression.

What struck me in those cases was the sense that something was horribly, horribly wrong with that person. Not just an off-ness, but the feeling that an abominable crime against nature was occurring right before my eyes. Anarchy in skin. Torment personified.

The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. It often comes stealthily, violently lashing out unpredictably, randomly. One moment calm, the next, a snarling beast.

What causes a young mom and dad to kill a room full of people? What causes the quiet loner to go off and murder strangers? What causes a young man to shoot up a school?

I don’t know where you are in your worldview. I don’t know if you have a place in your typical explanation to suggest demons as a possibility.

But I think we can’t be blind about what we’re seeing.

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
— C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

I end with this:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
—John 10:10 ESV

There is a Kingdom that is here now that dwarfs all other kingdoms, both of the earth and of the fallen. And the King of that Kingdom had a mission:

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
—1 John 3:8b ESV

Jesus gives abundant life. Jesus destroys the works of the demonic. Jesus is Lord over all.

Remember this, and never give up hope.

The Lie Remains the Same


Due to an overwhelming number of tasks on the old to-do list at year’s end, I called a halt to interacting on Facebook, that great time suck. I said goodbye to birthday congrats for people I hadn’t seen in 30 years, bid adieu to keeping up with other people’s holiday plans, and articulated a hearty aloha to commenting on someone’s else post that got my goat. And there were plenty of goat-getting updates to note.

Too many.

Now returned from exile, it seems to me that Facebook is awash with the kind of commentary guaranteed not only to get one’s goat, but raise hackles, rub the wrong way, get dander up,  make to see red, and stand hair on end. Everyone seems angry on the Internet, especially on Facebook.

But it’s the way people respond to the things that make them angry that should alarm a thinking person. Everyone and his brother must add their two cents, and it might as well be counterfeit coinage.

In nearly every conversation regarding culture, societal shifts, current events, politics, or religion, you see the following:

Does the Bible really say…?

People should be free to do what they want, so….

Over and over and over. And in almost every case, those two are used to justify something antithetical to orthodox Christian theology or to godly, righteous living.

I wonder if the people who resort to using that question and that statement recognize their source:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
—Genesis 3:1-5 ESV

That supposedly clever line of reasoning some guy used to justify his immorality or someone else’s is old, old stuff. Back to the beginning kinds of justification and argument—just with contemporary wording to fit the spirit of the age.

Did God actually say…? Well, yes, He actually did. And your argument that He meant it in some other way that no one in 2000 years of Christian history has ever proffered as true should tell you something about the wrongness of your interpretation.

But then…

…And you will be like God…. You will be self-determining. You will be free to decide what is right and wrong. You will do whatever the heck you want to do, and no one will tell you otherwise because you told God to take a hike and enthroned yourself on His plush chair. You.

Red-eyed snakeEngaging the conversation in 2014 means a near-constant return to the Garden. Any time some postmodern Socrates chips away at traditional morality or invokes an alternate interpretation of truth, you can hear hissing between the words.

The part that no one who resorts to the old lies ever thinks through is this:

You will not surely die.

Actually, you will. And you’ll start that dying long before you get to the genuine finale. And then you’ll get a nasty, nasty surprise.

At least it will be a surprise to you. To some who weren’t spouting lies, it’s no surprise at all. They know that people who argue Satan’s way get to meet the originator in person.

Meanwhile, people who know better than to quote evil keep seeing the same old lies everywhere they turn.

If it weren’t so sad, it would be boring.

When the Devil Seems to Win


A little country church tucked just off Main Street, Trinity Fellowship had served the community for years and did it well. They had experienced growth over the last year—eight new families—but they had also experienced something less encouraging.

Rebecca Simms worried that her youngest daughter would end up in jail. She did.

Mike Travers heard about the layoffs a month ago. The pink slip came yesterday, his third in three years.

Emma Andersen, two semesters away from graduating from college (the first in her family), got that fated letter saying her full-ride scholarship money had dried up due to tough economic times.

Bryan and Lydia Preston found out two weeks ago they were expecting their first child. This morning, they learned something was wrong with the baby.

Between the six people on the leadership team at Trinity, they suffered a miscarriage, cancer, a bankruptcy, the suicide of a child, crippling depression, and an affair that led to divorce. Three are no longer in ministry and may never return.

Last Sunday, Daryl Wells, the worship leader, led a song that contained a lyric out of Isaiah 54:17: “No weapon formed against you shall prevail.” More than one person singing that morning wondered if the words were true.

Sometimes, the Devil seems to win.

Trinity Fellowship and the people who comprise it are the product of this writer’s imagination. But they might as well be real, because their stories are. Every Sunday in America, someone, somewhere, is sitting in church wondering how it all went wrong. For some, it’s a question asked many times.

It’s not enough to say we live in a fallen world. That brings no comfort at all. Nor does it make sense of the mountain of Scriptures that say that God rescues His people from calamity. Let’s be honest here: More than once, you’ve wondered why the Scriptures don’t line up with your experience of life.

I’m not wise. I make a lot of mistakes wise people wouldn’t make. But several decades of observation take me back to the same answer for this issue.

The Devil seems to win for one major reason: We don’t pray.

I think we’ve all learned that when someone says he will pray for us, he probably won’t. It’s not a malicious promise, though. The intent is there, but we all know how life intrudes and the best of intentions remains nothing but intentions. Angelic warfareIt seems to be the human condition.

Succumbing to the human condition is not what the Church is supposed to be about, though. Our God is not a god of settling.

I used to think that my condition was largely due to my own prayers—or the lack of them. I don’t believe that anymore.

Sure, what we pray for ourselves matters. But God means the Church to be a Body, a collective, a community that lives and dies by what the whole does. If I’m not praying for you and you’re not praying for me, then the Devil wins.

Several years ago, I attended a Christian Camping International conference, with Leighton Ford as the keynote speaker. He told us about a flight where he sat next to a man who prayed the entire flight. Ford assumed the man feared flying, so he broke in at one point to offer some comfort. Only then did he notice the sheet of paper the man clutched. On it were the names of many prominent Christian leaders. When Ford questioned him about this, the man confessed that he had been praying for the downfall of the people on the list.

Ford informed us that, with the passage of time, all but one of those leaders had seen their ministry—and their personal lives—destroyed.

I don’t think Evangelicals take the Devil seriously. We don’t see life as a battle. We blithely float here and there, mostly prayerlessly, and let the river carry us wherever it may. Then when we wash up on the rocks, we wonder what happened.

It’s not enough that we pray for ourselves. We need others to watch our backs for us, because many times we are too close to our own lives to see where we may be exposed to enemy fire.

People in ministry positions are the prime targets of the Enemy. Take down a pastor and an entire church can go down with him. I recently heard that a thriving, well-known church my wife and I visited a few years back blew up entirely after the pastor screwed up. And don’t think that doesn’t wreck a lot of bystanders, because it does. Maybe not at first, but that kind of disaster eats at people’s spiritual guts, fosters corrosive cynicism, and does enormous damage.

Really, how hard is it to pray for others in our churches, especially for those in prominent roles? Isn’t it much harder to fix the craters and wounds from shrapnel when a life blows up due to the lack of a prayer covering?

Kind of a Pentecostal term there, prayer covering. Regardless of whether or not it’s Christianese, it’s reality. When bad things happen to people, be they lost or saved, the holes in their prayer covering—if they even have a prayer covering at all—may explain everything.

I’m to the point in my life where I honestly believe that almost all of the hardship we see in life is due to a lack of prayer. Those Scriptures that don’t align with life don’t because we’re just not taking prayer as seriously as the Scriptures do.