JESUS AND THE POWER OF DARKNESS

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8b). This included healing and deliverance. Then why is there so little deliverance ministry?

  1. There are fewer demons around? Some think developing countries encounter more demons. Possibly, but the rise of the New Age movement, occult practices, astrology, and Masonry suggest that we are infested with the powers of darkness.
  2. They are less active? Paul wrote that “in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” (I Tim. 4:1). If anything, demons have increased their activity. And it is a misconception that only bad people are demonized. Jesus delivered people from demons more in synagogues than in slums.

Were some not healed because they needed deliverance rather than healing or counseling? One doesn’t reason with demons. Could “the devil made me do it” theology contain some truth? Sin includes both choice and bondage. Has the church taken a posture closer to the religious leaders than the disciples? We have taught on it; few of us have done it. What set Jesus off from the Pharisees was that He walked in authority to do what He said.

What are demons? Persons without bodies, intelligent and powerful beings aligned with Satan, part of the fallen world of rebel angels. They entice, harrass, torment, compel, enslave, defile, and deceive. They wear us down to take us out. They attack the mind, emotions, and attitudes. Demons gain entry either by inactivity (non-resistance) or by bad choices. Prolonged sin brings bondage (Rom. 6:16). Traumatic experiences, like abuse, pull down fences and invite demons. Chronic problems leave us vulnerable to the enemy, such as living with an alcoholic. Unforgiveness gives Satan permission to attack.

Involuntary action or compulsive behavior (like longstanding lust, perversion, lying, or suicide attempts) or overwhelming emotions (like depression, hatred, or unforgiveness) might indicate demonic activity. Cultic or occult activity, a disturbed family history, or chronic family sickness may also be traced back to demonic roots. So can extremes of legalism or license.

Sin is putrid, and the garbage of ongoing sin attracts rats (demons). The unwillingness or inability to deal with the garbage invites the demons to hang around. Deliverance usually includes helping people get rid of their garbage, often through receiving and extending forgiveness. The best defense is the armor of God, the character of Christ. People who experience deliverance need the fences built up.

CONSIDER THESE TRUTHS:

We are at war, but not with flesh and blood. We know the general better than his troops. They carry out his mission “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a). Countless people of God are casualties, operating more out of their senses than God’s Word. Give Satan room and he takes ground.

Jesus’ world-view included a world devastated by the enemy. This conviction impacted Him daily. Our culture has domesticated the demonic, and it has even influenced the church. If demons are responsible for some of our sickness and emotional illness, we must take a more aggressive stance.

It is the nature of God to heal and to deliver. Demons were a threat to people, but Jesus was a threat to demons. When Jesus sent the disciples out, He told them to “heal the sick” and “drive out demons” (Matt. 10:7). That command was never rescinded. With the command comes the authority. When Jesus sent out the apostles, He was going on the offensive. When the disciples returned, Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall from heaven.”

The filling of the Spirit prepares us to battle and deliver. After Jesus was baptized and anointed with the Spirit, He was led into the desert by the Spirit to declare war on the enemy. Healing and deliverance are used interchangeably in the Gospels (Matt. 4:24; 9:32; 15:28 17:16). Some demonized people had physical manifestations of illness, such as blindness (Matt. 12:22).

Counseling and deliverance are both needed. The church has often settled for the former. Demonized people need more than the armor of God. They have been taken captive. Giving a gun to someone who has been shot is not meeting his biggest problem. Deliverance does not do away with the need for counseling, but it usually reduces the need. Renewal of the mind often requires deliverance. Deliverance does not do away with the need for the spiritual disciplines, but it makes them easier.

WHEN DISCOURAGEMENT KNOCKS

Discouragement knocked at the door last month. Eleven people showed up at our revival meeting. I didn’t answer the door. We had a great time without him.

Two months ago discouragement knocked on Sunday afternoon after I preached a less than average message. I opened the door for a couple hours, but then made him leave. He didn’t go easily, but I persisted, and he finally made his way out. Once in, he really wants to stay. It would have been better not to let him enter in the first place.

Ten years ago while the director of Lutheran Renewal, some memories surfaced that brought considerable pain. Discouragement knocked. I opened the door and invited him to stay, which he did for over a week. I was unaware of it, but he let Self-Pity in while I wasn’t looking, and they spent time together. They got on like long-time friends.

The whole atmosphere changed. I found it hard to laugh. I sure got serious. I talked freely about Discouragement both at home and at staff meetings. Decision-making was harder, and I made one dumb one, which I attribute to Discouragement’s influence on me. I really didn’t think right with him around. (Same for Elijah and John the Baptist).

Looking back, Discouragement seemed to make me focus upon myself, no doubt with help from Self-Pity. I relived my situation many times during that week. I got less done and had less energy because I had less joy. Toward the end of that time, I began to wonder why I had invited Discouragement in. He was anything but a friend. His presence sucked the energy out of me, robbed me of time, and took away an easy-going outlook. And I didn’t care for the people Discouragement hung around with.

That is why I didn’t open the door last month. I knew Discouragement was always looking for how to ruin peoples’ night—or week. Sadly, he has destroyed some peoples’ lives when they found it impossible to evict him. Some are so used to Discouragement living with them that they cannot imagine life with him. Others have managed to dismiss him, only to discover that he gets in again through the back door. And when he enters, he usually is able to kick Gratitude and Humility out while we’re sleeping or away at work. I don’t function well without these family members. And the longer he stays, the harder it is to kick him out. He seems to feel like he belongs. Strangely, we can feel like he does, too.

It’s possible, even if he keeps knocking, to ignore him. I have discovered that when I let him in,

  1. I think of myself too much and of others not enough;
  2. I waste time I don’t have—and get more discouraged;
  3. I turn from a victor to a victim;
  4. I get real serious and become a regular grouch.

Now I live by this principle: When Discouragement knocks, I don’t answer. Period!

THE CALL TO ENDURE

What can you say to a friend who feels like giving up, who can’t take the hardship anymore? Here’s what I did say:

Jerry, I certainly feel for you. I can’t imagine how I would be feeling if what is happening to you happened to me. I have wondered what to say. Here’s my best shot. Hope to God it helps.

Today we need to remember the scores of pastors in China, who are doing what they have done for years, preaching the Gospel. And the government is doing what it has done for years, throw them in prison—some for the tenth time. They may stay there for five years. Someone told me that you can’t trust a minister who hasn’t been in prison. He’s the real deal. They refuse to be angry at God—or even the government. It is not about them and their welfare. It is not survive or else. It is obey or else.

Today we need to pray for the persecuted church in Africa, where throngs are fleeing for their very lives—and many don’t make it. Those who do refuse to recant under threat of the loss of life or limb. It is not about them. It is about their eternity.

Paul could speak. Look at the grocery list of his hardship (2 Cor. 11). None of us has anything close. Yet he was able to say to the Colossians: “I rejoice is my sufferings for your sake” (1:24). He called suffering for Christ a gift to be received rather than a burden to bear (Phil. 1:29).

And Peter told us not to be surprised at the “fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you” (I Peter 4:12). Unfortunate—yes; strange—no. Difficult—by all means; strange—hardly. Suffering is democratic; we all go through it, but all in different ways. Peter followed with this exhortation: “But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (13).

We live for the age to come. We live in the now; we live for the not yet. Like Peter, who went through great hardship and probably died crucified upside down, you can learn to “set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). We’re not home yet. We are called strangers, aliens, and sojourners. So we don’t settle down, as if this is all there is. When I am faced with hardship, I try to look beyond the horizon.

All of which enables us to do what the champions in the Hebrews Hall of Fame (Heb. 11) chose to do—put their marbles in the world to come. Like Jesus, we endure, for the joy set before us. If we have joy now, we enjoy. If we do not, we endure. It may be the most important quality for end-time believers who know it is going to get worse before it gets better. But the better is “out of this world!”

JOHN THE BAPTIST–SIX AMAZING FACTS!

 

He had a miracle birth. Gabriel interrupted a temple service to announce it. Then he made a return trip to tell a teenage girl about Jesus’ birth, saying, “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age” (Lk. 1:36). John’s birth answered a lifetime of prayer: “Both of them were upright…But Elizabeth was barren and they were both well along in years” (Luke 1:6,7). Yet God opened her womb. And John and Jesus had a Holy Ghost encounter while inside their mothers. Top that!

He had a bizarre diet. He lived as a Nazarite by choice of heaven. His demeanor highlighted his message. He never got up thinking, “I wonder what I’ll have for breakfast.” Imagine what this kind of person would do to religious hypocrisy!

He worked road construction. He leveled the highway (Isaiah 40:4), preparing people for The Way. What a servant God used to break a four-hundred year silence!

He had profound revelation. John was born five months before Jesus, but he said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” (v. 30), showing his remarkable understanding of Christ’s pre-existence. John also saw the Lamb of God as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Passion and Pentecost form one undeniable whole, saving and empowering. Separating them tampers with the Lordship of Christ.

He had strange struggles. Seeing life from behind prison bars took its toll on the man who swept the country by storm. He knew he was destined to decrease. He didn’t expect it to happen so soon or in the way it did. How could this powerful man doubt?

Similar anxieties haunted his look-alike. The angel had told John’s father that he would go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Doubt and depression can trip up great people. How kind of Jesus to not to rebuke John. He gave His cousin the greatest commendation ever.

John and Jesus were stark contrasts: two very different births—one mother barren, the other without a husband. John’s parents likely died before he launched his ministry. Mary was living during and after the ministry of Jesus, though Joseph had probably died. John and Jesus preached the same message of repentance, though in different regions, Judea and Galilee.

Serious John was thought to be demonized, while Jesus was accused of having too much fun. Both ministries were short-lived, but John’s probably less than a year. His life was taken by Herod, Jesus by Pilate. John had devoted disciples, but he selflessly sent them to Jesus. Jesus called Himself the light, while John prepared people for the light.

He was a forerunner, setting the pace, then leaving the race. Jesus was the Word; John the voice. He was the friend of the bridegroom.The wedding focuses on the bride and groom. John, deeply humble, which also made him bold, was the last of the old, Jesus the first of the new.

PLANNED PAIN

No. I am not a masochist. I just don’t know of another way to get in shape—or to stay there. Exercise is the application of artificial pressure to the muscles. I sit most of the day. Bummer. I use lips more than legs. So I need to be creative with my limbs. The tongue can use a rest.

Problem is—nothing changes for the better right away. It gets worse. How encouraging. You give it a try and you can’t bend over the next day.

All Christians are futurists. We live for what is not yet. Peter tells us: “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul speaks of this present evil world. We’re camping out.

In the meantime, we apply the strange formula to our spiritual muscles. We do exercises in hope. We have morning workouts. Every day isn’t a ten. But it is getting better—over the long haul. After years of doing the same drills, it is going easier. But we still sometimes feel a reluctance to submit as we prepare for another session, maybe a painful one. Paul, who knew about pain, spoke of “our light, momentary affliction.”

People are always coming out with a better way to get strong. Some promise new muscle strength in thirty days. Others show pictures of an incredible hulk to make you buy in. Let me tell you: every product worth anything has two ingredients for development—time and pain. Don’t fall for any ad promising muscles while you sit in the jacuzzi or in your favorite recliner flipping the remote control.

Likewise, growth in the kingdom of God doesn’t happen without the same two ingredients—time and pain. No shortcuts. Did I disappoint you? Ask Peter who received his most embarrassing rebuke trying to talk Jesus out of pain. Ask Joseph who was given a prophetic picture of his future. Thirteen years later he arrived—after much sorrow, including a painful rejection by his brothers, taking him from favored son status to prisoner (rejection never feels good), a frame-up by a wild woman, and an unreturned favor by a butler.

Ask David, whose anointing at age seventeen from Samuel dripped with destiny. It took him thirteen years as well, after being chased around the Judean desert by a mad monarch who didn’t want to be replaced. And ask Jesus Himself, whom the Scripture says “learned obedience through the things that he suffered” and “endured the cross, disregarding the shame.” Notice He didn’t “enjoy” the cross. If these people didn’t sidestep pain, neither will you.

Don’t bait potential Christians or young believers with a sales pitch. The Gospel is far more glorious than that. It doesn’t need your hype to convince people. Jesus warned prospective clients rather than bringing out the perks.

The best advice I received for the discipleship school we were starting came from the retired principal of our Christian school in Southern California: “Under-promise and over-perform.” I was set to do the opposite.

Jesus told Paul “how much he must suffer” from the get-go (Acts 9:14). He told Peter, who wanted to do an end run around the cross, that he was thinking like the devil. Once Peter got it, he spoke brilliantly about pain. Read his letter.

Three truths can help us to embrace hardship:

  1. Pain with purpose beats meaningless suffering.
  2. Pain now means pleasure later. The opposite is also true! Ask drug addicts.
  3. Pleasure is greater when you have endured pain. Endurance is the sterling quality of end-time Christians.

Even Muhammed Ali got something right. “I hated every minute of training. But I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” That’s you!

WELL, NOBODY’S PERFECT!

Who are you talking to? Jesus finished the beloved Sermon on the Mount with these words: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Was He exaggerating? Was He speaking to an elite few? He was addressing a crowd of Galilean Jews, hicks to the mainliners in Jerusalem, people who felt like outsiders, second-stringers. Jesus didn’t coddle them; He called them to perfection.

When we say, “No one’s perfect,” we are excusing the sin that Jesus died for. The cross did not eliminate the presence of sin, but it eliminated its inevitability. When you say, “Nobody’s perfect,” you are lowering the bar that Christ raised. How dare you? Would you rather be excused or empowered?

When Paul wrote, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” he could hear the libertarians behind the wall saying, ”Absolutely,” as if grace makes sin acceptable. Rubbish! Grace makes sin unnecessary. Otherwise, the closing words of Jesus’ sermon are meant only for the Trinity.

Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…” What do you expect to end his sentence? “And, of course, I never will be.” No: “…but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:13). Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God has claimed us as His own and initiated a cleanup campaign aimed at making us like His Son.

What are the benefits of aiming at perfection?

  1. We don’t excuse sins that we are tempted to consider insignificant. Taking a second look is an offense to the cross. So is raising your voice with a child to add authority to your message. Congratulations! You just subtracted it.
  2. We rely more heavily on the grace of God, knowing that perfection is way outside our sphere of possibility.
  3. Rather than being less conscious of sin and pretending we are without it (I John 1), we are more conscious both of the sins and the grace to overcome them.

Should we be worried about the doctrine of sinless perfection? Don’t think so. I don’t know of anyone abusing it. I am far more concerned about sinful imperfection, which reduces grace to permission and sets the bar at mediocrity. I wouldn’t play for a coach who said, “We will likely win a few and lose a few. Get out there and play average.” I would play for a coach who says, “We’re going for a perfect season. Play as if your life depends upon it.”

“Thank you, Jesus, for setting the bar at perfection. Thank you for calling us to a holy and blameless life. And thank you for dying for us, releasing us from the power of darkness and making us children of light. When we see you, we will be like you.”

“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” ( 2 Peter 3:14).

“Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11).

DEAD MEN DON’T SIN

The impact of the cross cannot be exaggerated. It is where God rolled up His sleaves and showed His power over the darkness. In one single blow Satan was totally decimated for time and eternity. Sin lost its grip on humanity, as it went into the body of one holy Man, the Lamb of God. He offered Himself as the toxic waste dump of the human race, and His sacrifice accomplished all that the Father intended.

When it was through, the Son could declare boldly, “It is finished.” No more self-flaggelation, no more condemning thoughts to prove we are sorry for failing again. “There is therefore now no condemnation!” All sins, past, present and future were fully atoned for. It was Satan’s darkest hour, and he did not even know it. He thought he was triumphing, and he found himself totally ruined beyond the possibility of a comeback.

The Supreme Court of the universe issued the verdict, confirming that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” This side of the cross features only a mop-up campaign. The death blow has been dealt to sin and Satan. “Once and for all” is Paul’s phrase to clarify the finality of one Man’s death.

It gave the appearance of defeat. Christ at His weakest was God at His strongest. His surrender astounded the army of God. All heaven rejoiced when the wounded Warrior rose on Sunday morning, forever marked with bodily signs of warfare and victory. Our part is to announce the absolute victory of light over darkness in the contest predicted from the beginning and now a completed fact. It is also to believe in the effectiveness of the cross and to live out the reality of Calvary’s hidden glory.

The cross means that…

We are saints, not sinners. I am not schizophrenic When Jesus addressed the broken woman trapped in adultery, He gave her grace and truth: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” His command was an invitation to freedom. Sin had ruined her life, driven her helpless and hopeless. Now the Prince of Peace was releasing her from its ugly grasp into the liberty of holiness. In the command comes the promise of Presence. The Spirit at work within makes it all possible.

Sin is no longer inevitable. The cross did not mean sin would never happen. It did mean the option of not sinning was now present. People in bondage to the powers of darkness have no power to resist. They are “dead in their trespasses.” The cross changed that curse, bringing life to the redeemed. Now there is no sin that I must commit or that I cannot overcome. Worry is not necessary, fear is not automatic, lust is not inescapable.

Grace deals with the power of sin, not just the penalty. We have focused on forgiveness and missed transformation. When we only feature forgiveness, we treat sin as an inevitability. We end up excusing it rather than overcoming it. We can always pull out the forgiveness card. We lower the bar and give forgiven sinners no hope for an ultimate victory. Grace makes forgiven sinners overcomers (Rom. 6:14). A disobedient Christian is an oxymoron.

Christ’s death was my death. This kind of truth is not validated by experience but by faith. This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. This truth is proclaimed five times in Romans 6. I am dead to sin. Period!

LIVING ABOVE OFFENSE

Sally told Nicole that she would call regarding the Jason Upton concert. She forgot! Ouch. Sally enjoyed herself, while Nicole wondered why she wasn’t contacted. Nicole called Jennifer and told the story. Jennifer asked her if Sally had purposely not called. At first she said, “No,” but then wondered if Sally didn’t want her along because Marty was driving. They constructed an airtight case against Nicole. By the time they said goodbye, they didn’t appreciate Sally’s purposeful memory lapse.

Solomon knew of such conversations and wrote: “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” (Prov. 17:9). Two choices confronted Nicole: cover the offense or share the hurt, endangering a friendship. She chose the latter. A denial by Sally the next day only confirmed that she was lying.

The low road of humility means forgiving the offense, not assuming the worst. The high road of pride means that Nicole treats her wound as something worth attending to. Pride says, “I should not suffer at your expense.” Had she forgiven Sally, God would have said, “Well done.” Now she will be charged by the high court of heaven for dismantling a friendship.

Jennifer is charged as an accomplice. Had she cared about Nicole, she would have said, “I don’t think Sally meant anything.” The flesh enjoys taking up someone else’s offense.

Solomon returned to this theme in the next chapter, describing what happens to Nicole and anyone cradling a grievance: “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel” (Prov. 18:19). Those taking this option are locked up. Such people are “turned over to the jailers” (Matt. 18:34). They are imprisoned by their emotional reaction and hiding in their fortress of self-justification.

Nicole said to Jennifer, “Thanks for understanding. Pray for Sally. I feel much better being able to talk about this.” In fact, she feels worse, and she has shared her poison with someone too foolish to reject it. Owning the wound, she imparts it to a friend under the guise of prayer. Call it treason.

Solomon’s alternative to imprisonment comes again when he writes, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11). Glory is the manifestation of character. Those who go the way of humility and rise above the offense are doing what Jesus did at the cross. We can die to a friend’s forgetfulness because Jesus died first. May we be empowered by the Spirit for this kind of glorious action.

Questions:

“He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” (Prov. 17:9). How do we cover over an offense? What happens if we choose not to?

“An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel” (Prov. 18:19). What happens to those who hold onto an offense?

“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:10). What two options do we have with a potential offense? Describe the person who chooses to overlook it or forgive it. Which one do you most likely choose?