Archive for January, 2011
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January 31, 2011
I Thessalonians 2:18
“For we wanted to come to you – certainly I, Paul, did, again and again – but Satan stopped us.”
Acts17 tells of Paul’s brief and stormy visit to Thessalonica. Although a core of believers was established there, the violent opposition of the Jewish population forced Paul to leave after a few short weeks. Paul was eager to return to continue teaching the young church. As he states in this letter to the believers in Thessalonica, “we wanted to come to you.”
“For we wanted to come to you.” The “we” here is not editorial. The Apostle Paul saw church planting as a team rather than individual ministry and typically traveled with a group. That group included a co-leader (at this time, Silas) and younger believers like Timothy and Titus whom Paul was mentoring. From the “we wanted” we can assume that many if not all decisions about where to go next were team decisions rather than decisions made by the great apostle.
“certainly I, Paul, did, again and again” Paul wants the young congregation to know that he personally was eager to visit them again. Despite the fact that Paul’s life had been endangered there, he was eager to return. His language here is very powerful: he is gripped by an “intense longing” and he had “made every effort” to visit (2:17).
“but Satan stopped us.” The explanation for Paul’s failure to return to Thessalonica is simple, but surprising. Satan stopped us. Paul does not explain how Satan stopped them. Paul doesn’t review how he and his team had attempted to neutralize Satan. Paul doesn’t review their prayers or their requests that Satan be bound. He simply states, “Satan stopped us.”
While believers have been given authority to cast the evil spirits out of the demonized, we have not been given authority over life’s circumstances. Satan remains the “god of this world,” and “the whole world lies in the wicked one.” Satan clearly is able to mount attacks on believers from outside, whether those attacks take the form of the initial opposition Paul experienced in Thessalonica or some other circumstance that “stopped” Paul from returning.
Does this ability to block godly intent suggest that in this world Satan is all powerful? Of course not. Satan’s authority is both given by God and limited by him. Thus Satan’s efforts were used by God to redirect the efforts of Paul’s team. And Paul surely understood this.
But what does Satan’s “stop” imply about Paul’s desire? Was it wrong to want to return to continue teaching the Thessalonican believers? No, but clearly God had another, better option. Paul’s inability to visit in person led to the writing of the two Thessalonian letters that have found their way into our New Testament. Rather than preventing the blessing of dozens or hundreds in the first century, Satan’s “stop” led to the blessing of millions.
It’s possible for Satan to engineer circumstances to prevent us from accomplishing the most godly of our plans. But always, God is at work to frustrate the plans of the enemy and bring about a greater good.
Even when Satan seems to win, he is destined to loose. And we’re on the winning side.
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January 31, 2011
All cultures reflect a belief in evil spirits. These are explained in various ways, as spirits of the dead, of frightening animals, or as demons. But every culture seems aware of supernatural entities which can and do harm humans.
The Bible confirms the reality of evil spirits, and offers a unique explanation. Demons were originally angels, fashioned by the Creator. But a number of the angels, led by a powerful angel named Lucifer, rebelled against the Creator. In the rebellion Lucifer became Satan, and the angels who joined his revolt became demons. Like angels, demons do not die or reproduce. Through the ages they have remained the enemies of God and, since God loves human beings, demons are also the enemies of humankind.
While the Bible does not provide a thorough explanation of the activities of demons, there are clues as to how they go about opposing God’s purposes and oppressing human beings.
The Old Testament on Demons
While the Old Testament says little directly about demons it does reference three major activities of evil spirits. The first is seen in Deuteronomy 31:16,17, which speaks of making offerings to demons disguised as pagan deities (see also 1 Corinthians 10:18-20). False religion is energized by demons, and any supernatural accomplishment of pagan gods is the work of evil spirits.
Deuteronomy 18:9-13 bans all forms of the occult. The only supernatural contact made by those who practice witchcraft, sorcery, divination, spiritism, etc. are with demons. A person may gain temporal benefits from the worship of false Gods or through occult means, but the demons behind these phenomena are intent in keeping humans from knowing the one true God, to their ultimate detriment.
The third insight into the activities of demons is found in Daniel 10, where a powerful demon called The Prince of Persia is mentioned. The passage suggests that as God assigned the angel Michael to look out for the interests of Israel, so Satan assigns demons to tend to his interests in the activities of nations.
Demons in the Gospels and Acts
The four Gospels portray the impact of demons on individuals. Again and again Jesus meets demonized individuals who suffer from serious disabilities, which range from chronic back pain to mental illness. In each case Jesus heals the individual by “casting out” the demon or demons. There is no suggestion in the Gospels that all illness is demonic in origin, as many reports of healings make no reference to demons. But it is clear from this era of intensified demonic activity, as Satan marshaled his forces to oppose the Son of God, that physical and mental illness may be caused or exacerbated by demons.
Incidents recorded in the Book of Acts, such as Paul’s casting a demon out of a slave girl in Philippi who was “telling fortunes” (Acts 16), suggest that some “paranormal” activities may be demonic in origin.
Demons in the Epistles
The epistles affirm that Satan and his demons are actively engaged in a war against humanity, but especially against believers. This war seems to be carried out on two fronts.
The first of Satan’s efforts is directed at the control of culture. John tells us that “the whole world lies in the evil one.” In this context the word translated world is kosmos. In its theological use, as here, kosmos refers to the structure of society; the ways in which a society incorporates and reflects values, attitudes and beliefs. John describes human culture as kosmos in this way:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15,16).
Basically, Satan influences cultures so that they appeal to humankind’s sinfulness. By shaping culture’s values in this way Satan directs human aspirations and efforts away from God toward the temporal and meaningless. As John says, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17). By influencing culture Satan and his demons hold sway over the majority of humankind without being required to influence individuals one by one.
At the same time, the epistles make it very clear that demons do pay attention to individuals, and especially to believers. Paul tells the Ephesians to “take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (6:11,12).The terms “rulers,” “authorities,” and “powers” were applied in the first century to the supernatural entities we know as demons. According to Paul, these entities operate “schemes” the devil has devised.
As we look through the New Testament epistles we find a number of these schemes mentioned. Satan seeks to deceive Christians, as he tempted Eve (Genesis 3) and later tried the same tactics against Jesus (Matthew 4). Demons gain a hold on believers through bitterness and anger (Ephesians 4:26,27) and failure to forgive (2 Corinthians 2:10,11), Those who are addicted sin are in great danger of demonic oppression (Ephesians 5:3-5). Demons use the traumas we experience because of the sins of others to block our awareness of who we are in Christ (Ephesians 1) and to stimulate anger). Demons blind us to an understanding of God’s revelation (2 Corinthians 4:4). In these and many other ways demons seek to gain a hold on believers, on churches, and other Christian ministries, to prevent a close walk with Jesus and to block fulfillment of God’s purposes in our lives.
While there is considerable teaching on evil spirits in the Bible, few Christians are aware of the reality of demons, the dangers demons pose, or the resources God has provided to enable us to stand against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Teaching on demons and spiritual warfare should not be the major focus of any local church ministry. But Christians do need to be prepared to defend themselves against demonic attack.
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January 31, 2011
Chapter 3 Spiritual forces of evil
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about “spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms” (6:12) he knew exactly what he was writing about. Ever since Satan showed up in Eden and manipulated Adam and Eve into declaring independence from God, dark forces have lurked behind the scenes of history, intent on causing as much suffering and misery as possible.
In Old Testament times, spiritual forces of evil found expression in the gods and goddesses who were worshipped by pagan peoples. According to Deuteronomy 32:16-17 the “foreign gods” of the nations around Israel were in reality demons. The Old Testament also refers to these dark forces as evil spirits, perverse spirits, lying spirits, unclean spirits, etc.
In the Gospels the spiritual forces of evil are called by the familiar term “demons”. There we catch a glimpse of just how hostile demons are to human beings. Demons were responsible for a great number of mental and physical ills, from madness to blindness. They crippled human beings and were intent in causing pain and suffering. But in the Gospel accounts demons run into Jesus. And in every confrontation, the demons lose and are driven out of the individuals they oppress.
The New Testament epistles refer to demons using words common to Greek language and culture. Paul does call these spiritual forces of evil “demons” in 1 Corinthians 10:20 and 1 Tim. 4:1. But normally the New Testament letters refer to evil spirits in the vocabulary used by the average first century citizen. In the first century the man on the street simply called inhabitants of the spirit world–the gods and goddesses, the spirits of the dead, the angels and demons–“principalities,” “rulers,” “powers,” “dominions,” “thrones,” “spiritual forces,” or “elemental spirits.”
When the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm,” everyone knew he was writing about demons.
Demons whose realm is the spirit world [“the heavenly realm”] but who mount attacks on humans living in this world.
What are demons?
Demons, while not flesh and blood, are personal beings. In my book Every Good and Evil Angel in the Bible (Nelson), I wrote, “The Gospels use personal pronouns when reporting dialog with demons (see Luke 8:27-30); Individual demons apparently have personal names, and groups of demons have “team” names (Luke 8:30). Demons can communicate and hold conversations (see Luke 4:22-26; 8:28-30). Demons also have intelligence (see Mark 1:23,24; Luke 4:34; 8:28), emotions (see Luke 8:28) and will (Mark 1:27; Luke 4:35,36).” So demons, while spirit beings, are individuals— persons–with their own individual identities.”
Most believe that demons are angels who followed Satan when he rebelled against God. Matthew 25:41 refers to “Satan and his angels,” and most Bible students take Revelation 12:4 to suggest that about a third of the angels God created cast their lot with Satan and became demons.
Whatever the origin of demons, they clearly are allied with Satan. Demons are hostile to God and hate human beings. It’s also clear that demons can “get inside” our personalities. When Jesus confronted any demon who was tormenting a human, the Bible describes Jesus as casting the demon out. To be thrown out, the demon must in some sense have been in!
So demons are evil spirits, hostile to us, who are eager to gain some kind of access to our lives so they can make us as miserable and unproductive as possible.
Shut the doors
The Apostle Paul refers to demons using the “principality and powers” vocabulary in seven of his 13 New Testament letters. In Ephesians he mentions principalities, authorities, powers, dominions, world rulers, and spiritual forces, and refers to them more often than in any of his other letters.
This emphasis in Ephesians shouldn’t surprise us. As we learn from Acts 19, Ephesus was a center of magic and sorcery, a center of demonic activity. Its natural Paul would deal with demons in this letter to a church deeply engaged in the struggle against the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.” Moreover, Paul would want to teach these believers how to slam the doors shut against any possible invasion by demons. And what is exciting is that in teaching the Ephesians how to stand against demonic attacks, Paul is also teaching you and me!
In fact, the Book of Ephesians is Paul’s handbook on spiritual warfare.
Ephesians is Paul’s freedom workshop, instructing us on how to break free, and remain free, of the influence of demons who are eager to infiltrate believers lives.
Not possessed. Oppressed
One special note. The danger from demons is NOT “demon possession.” The word “possession” isn’t found in any of those Gospel stories of the so-called “demon-possessed.” The Greek word found in the Gospels is demonizomai, which simply means “demonized.” Demon’s don’t “possess” their victims, in the sense of gaining control.
What demons do is influence us. They tempt us, twist our thinking and cloud our understand. They lie to us about our identity in Christ, telling us we’re useless and hopeless. Demons encourage bitterness and anger and destroy healthy relationships. They simulate our fears and cause panic They drown us in depression and despair. They tell us that we just can’t risk stepping out in faith to respond to God’s Word. Demons push us toward addictions that can ruin our lives. And sometimes in the process demons ruin our health.
In all these ways demons can and do oppress believers. It’s no wonder Paul used one of his letters to spell out God’s defense against demons. And to set God’s people free.
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January 25, 2011
As 2011 begins, neopagan thought continues to make inroads in our culture. Pagan News Updates are posted on Demondope because the infusion of neopagan concepts in our culture does make people increasingly vulnerable to demonization.
One pagan path taken today is represented by the Order of Scathach, whose “knights” adopt the Wiccan Rede, emphasizing both “do no harm” and “do what thou wilt.” These modern knights rely on an “inner magick,” a strength inside which all have.
HEKATE Her Sacred Fires is promoted as “an exceptional book for an extraordinary , eternal goddess. Who’d check out a book of stories, poems and art focused on an ancient goddess? Over 113,247 readers of the Witches Voice internet site have, as of January 5th.
Will Wicca replace Free Masonry?
A distinctive North American Wicca is being promoted these days, following traditional Wicca but uniquely adapted for North America. The goal seems to be to establish covens [lodges] ruled by a high priest and/or high priestess, providing no fee instruction ion wiccan beliefs and practices to members who are viewed as priests or priestesses.
The Witch School International, which boasts over 225,000 students in the past seven years, has moved from Hoopstown, Indiana to Salem. On July 2 it opened a World of Witches Museum in Salem, with a “temple room” where rituals will be performed. A recent fund raiser oversubscribed its goal by $1,809. In the planning stage: a “children’s interactive room.” You can follow the World of Witches Museum on Facebook. They expect to add some 14,000 friends
Las Vegas, Nev
The local Unitarian Universalist Congregation is offering a course called Paganism 101, developed in Vancouver. The course gives special attention to how modern paganism fits within the Unitarian church’s principles. The promotional materials point out that modern paganism, which has developed over the past half-century, employs “practices which speak powerfully to the motional and spiritual needs of many contemporary people.”
Tampa Bay, Florida
“Handfasting,” the ancient pagan ceremony, is replacing traditional wedding services in the growing pagan community. The ceremony “joins not just man and woman, but man, woman, and the life force of the universe.” Among the other notions that are finding increased acceptance in our culture is reincarnation and the belief in past lives, expressed in the following excerpt from the handfasting ceremony. “Nor shall death part us, for in the fullness of time we shall be born again at the same time and in the same place as each other, and we shall meet again and know and remember and love again.”
Welcome Imbolc on February 5th. No, it’s not a new imported beer. It’s the pagan “festival of lights,” celebrating the return of the sun after the cold and dark of winter. Pagans all over the country will celebrate the “goddess” changing her winter robes for those of spring. The date, halfway between the winter and spring solstices, was celebrated under other names by the Romans, Egyptians, and in Ireland the pagan holiday was Christianized transforming the goddess Brighid into a saint. Today the old pagan festival is still kept by Christians as Candelmass. In modern paganism, Brighid is viewed as an aspect of ancient earth mother the goddess worshipped in ancient times.
One location where Imbolc will be celebrated next month is the Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, CA area, with a ceremony beginning at 6:30 PM. On the other side of the country another celebration will take place in Jacksonville, Florida. In between these two points there’ll be scores of other celebrations. Chances are you can find local Imbolc celebrations in your area. Just check meetup.com for “pagan” groups, or look up “imbolc” and your city or town on an Internet search engine.
What about the children
Pagan parents concerned about the spiritual education of their children are looking the scouts and the church for models they can duplicate. Spiral Scouts like other scouting groups win badges for developing outdoor and other skills, but with a pagan twist. And CAYA Sprouts in the San Francisco area has developed resources and rituals for pagan children who meet on the Sabbat. Don’t be surprised if you find these organizations popping up in your area.
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January 25, 2011
copywrited material the second in a series
Spiritual Forces of Evil Now
What would Paul find if he approached a modern American city like Seattle, where I am as I write this? Seattle is an exciting city with its sea lanes touching the Pacific Rim. It’s a prosperous city despite the current recession, the home of Google, Microsoft, and vital financial institutions. It boasts a fine Art Museum, fantastic mountain vistas, and a major international airport. There are many churches here, but most of the population is unchurched. And the life of pastor of one of the most vital churches in the community has been threatened so often that armed body guards attend all church services. .
It wouldn’t take the Apostle Paul long to realize that spiritual forces of evil are at work here. They’re not obvious, but there are signs. Turn on the TV and scan the programs offered by the networks and cable channels. No less than 60 programs feature the supernatural, everything from A&E’s “Paranormal States” to ABC’s “Medium.” Research by the Pew organization has documented the fact that some 25% of those who attend evangelical churches hold pagan beliefs, such as a belief in reincarnation, and are unaware that these beliefs conflict with Christian teaching! Satan is using the media to infiltrate pagan notions into American culture.
Some have actively adopted pagan assumptions. A modern-day Paul might check the Internet and visit www.Meetup.com, a web site that helps people find and join interest groups. Punching in a Seattle area zip code, Paul would discover that within 25 miles of where he was staying there are some 11 Shamanistic groups, with memberships ranging from 60 to 219. He would find 10 Wiccan groups, such as the Greater Seattle Witches meetup with 587 members, and he’d find the 205- member Free Witches meetup. If Paul checked further he’d find twelve groups who seek supernatural guidance through reading Tarot Cards. He’d find nine groups like the Spirit Speaks meetup, that look to spirit guides to help them make choices. He’d also find nine groups like the 101 member Psychic Reading and Energy Healing meetup. And of course he’d note that the Seattle Pagan meetup claims 371 members, while the nearby Everett Pagan meetup claims 251.
If Paul checked further, he might run across the Witch School, an online institution that claims over 227,000 regular students, many of whom are working toward ordination as a witch or warlock. None of this active involvement in the occult and fascination with the spirit world was common just a 25 years ago! American culture is changing, and with it the beliefs of the new generations.
What do people today believe about the spirit world?
Strikingly, modern beliefs about the spirit world mirror the beliefs of the first century. An increasing number of people believe that entities in the spirit world exert a powerful influence on their personal lives. There are the spirits of dead relatives and ancient individuals. There are gods and goddesses, angels and demons, and even as the spirits of animals (totems). The major difference between the beliefs of many today and the beliefs of first century Ephesians lies in the fact that first century men and women feared the spirits. Moderns assume that the spirits are well disposed to humans and eager to help. As a result moderns tend to be comfortable going to palm readers or clairvoyants, to mediums or witches, or to call directly on spirits for help and guidance. When encouraged to invite a “spirit guide” into their lives, many unhesitatingly open the door to demons. For the spirits modern pagans seek to contact are what the Bible identifies as demons!
What about Christians?
If Paul visited a modern American church he would find that most Christians are completely ignorant of what’s happening in our culture. He would also discover that most Christians have no idea of the impact the spirit world has on their lives. Oh, most assume that there are such things as guardian angels. But they are totally unaware of how angels might minister to them.
Paul would also learn that almost no Christians take demons seriously. Oh, if pressed, many would say that they believe in Satan and demons. But the notion that demons might be the cause of many of their spiritual, emotional and even physical problems is totally foreign to Americans.
Three periods of open conflict
If we look in the Bible we find only three time periods when the struggle against demons broke out into the open.
The Exodus The plagues God brought on Egypt were judgments on the gods of Egypt, who were demons presenting themselves as deities (1 Cor. 10:20). The destruction brought by the miracles demonstrated the power of God over the demonic.
Elijah, Elisha In the 8th century B.C. King Ahab imported the religion of Baal to supplant worship of Yahweh. Elijah and Elisha performed miracles that demonstrated “the Lord, he is God.”
Jesus and the Apostles In the first century demonic activity increased as Satan marshaled his forces. Jesus, and later the Apostles, publically cast out demons and healed the sick,
Aside from these periods of open, public conflict with evil spirits, demons have been active, but hidden. Satan operates what Paul calls “schemes.” These schemes, or strategies, are designed to cripple believers and to make them miserable and ineffective. The real spiritual warfare doesn’t take place in public. It takes place within the hearts and lives of individuals. Demons look for an open door through which they can enter to oppress and cripple believers. That’s what demons do today. The chances are that there are areas in every Christian’s life where demonic oppression is robbing him or her of the freedom we are intended to have in Christ.
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January 25, 2011
The Devil’s Foothold
“Do not give the devil a foothold.”
The Book of Ephesians was penned against a backdrop described in Acts 19. There Luke describes the spiritual condition of the city of Ephesus. The city was a center of pagan worship with its people in bondage to evil spirits, forced to rely on magic and exorcists to combat or control the supernatural beings who controlled their lives.
Against this backdrop the Apostle Paul explains the spiritual resources available to Christians to combat “the forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” After carefully expounding on these resources Paul summarizes, using the image of a fully equipped Roman Legionnaire as a mnemonic device. Each piece of equipment quickly brought to mind a specific teaching that Paul included in this brief letter, from the Helmet of Salvation explained in Ephesians 1 to the Belt of Truth discussed in chapters 5 and 6.
Taking the armor as the key to tracing Paul’s argument, we note that verse 27 of chapter 4 is in a passage dealing with the Breastplate of Righteousness. In this passage Paul contrasts a preChristian lifestyle as that of an “old self” with the lifestyle appropriate to believers who have been given new life and the potential to live as a ‘new self.”
“Do not give the devil a foothold.” These words have been dropped into a series of exhortations with specific link to any one behavior. The “do not” is preceded by warning against anger and a command not to let the sun go down while still angry, and is followed by a command to ”steal no more, but work.” Yet the foothold Paul wants to make sure the devil does not gain is not limited to either anger or stealing.
“Do not give the devil a foothold.” Paul lists several other exhortations to godly living in the immediate context. None are connected to each other except in the most general way. Instead they constitute a list of characteristics of a “new self” that Christians have been given. The old, preChristian man was characterized by such behavior as lying, anger, stealing, unwholesome talk, and so on. In contrast, the Christian’s ”new self” has been created to ”to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Characterized by a new attitude and new lifestyle, the believer is to be truthful, to work that he might have something to share with others, to be patient and loving.
“Do not give the devil a foothold.” Given the developing thought in this passage Paul’s warning is clear. The lifestyle of the unsaved provided Satan with a foothold. That lifestyle incorporated sensuality and every kind of impurity. Clearly sinful behavior opens the way for Satan to gain influence over a human being.
In contrast a righteous and holy life blocks Satan’s access to the individual. Thus choosing righteousness and true holiness provides vital protection against Satan’s attacks.
It seems almost simplistic. Life a life of sin, and Satan gains a foothold in your life. Live a life of righteousness and holiness, and Satan will find have no foothold.
Simplistic? No. But simple? Yes indeed. And utterly basic.
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January 16, 2011
Spiritual Forces of Evil Then
In 53 A.D. the apostle Paul approached the city of Ephesus. He was traveling along a major Roman road known locally as “the common highway.” Leaving a broad plain, the highway mounted a ridge, and from its top Paul caught the first glimpse of his goal. The city of Ephesus was hidden behind a wall seven meters high, but from the ridge Paul could see the Artemision, the magnificent temple of the goddess Artemis [Diana] which lay just south of the city proper. The temple, Its columns glowing in the light of the sun, was rightly considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The Artemision was an appropriate possession for the city, for in the first century Ephesus was the third most prominent city in the Roman Empire. Ephesus boasted a quarter of a million inhabitants. The city lay astride important land and sea trade routes and was both the economic and religious center of the Province of Asia. Ephesus was also the goal of thousands of religious pilgrims who flocked to the city each year to worship the goddess and seek her aid.
Paul however was not approaching Ephesus as a pilgrim. He was coming as a missionary, intent on spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That mission would bring him into direct conflict those “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” For Ephesus was more than a center of pagan religion. It was also a center of demonic activity, a place where magic and sorcery were practiced in an effort to control of the powerful spirits people believed ruled their destinies.
During Paul’s stay in Ephesus there was to be open conflict between Christ and demonic powers that owed their allegiance to Satan. And the powers would not surrender without a battle.
A look at Acts 19
Luke’s account in Acts 19 of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus serves as an appropriate introduction to the New Testament book of Ephesians. Acts 19 also explains the emphasis in Ephesians on the believer’s defense against demonic oppression. Note these features of the Acts 19 account.
First, Paul is described as casting out evil spirits and healing the sick (19:11-12). These “extraordinary miracles” freeing victims of demonic oppression were performed in public. Everyone in the city knew of the Apostle’s doings. …….
Second, we’re told of seven sons of Sceva, who were exorcists (19:13-16). In the first century Jewish exorcists were held in high regard, for they were thought to know the secret name of the Jews’ powerful, deity and thus could enlist his aid. In those days exorcisms involved the use of spells that included the names of supposedly powerful angels, demons, or deities. The theory was that the more powerful spirit, under the influence of the spell, would then order out the demon that had been tormenting the victim. But one day when the seven Jewish exorcists tried to use Jesus’ name in this way, the demonized man beat up on all seven. He knew Jesus, and he knew about Paul. But these men who had no personal relationship with Jesus had no authority over evil spirits. When this event “became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor” (19:17).
The third story in this chapter indicates how powerfully Paul’s defeat of demons influenced the Christian community (19:18-20). Many who had practiced sorcery as a defense against demons brought out their books of spells and magic and publically burned them. Luke tells us the burned books were worth 50.000 drachma, which represented 50,000 days worth of income!
Taken together these three stories make it very plain that Ephesus was a center of demonic activity. Thus the Acts account provides an important clue to understanding the purpose and value of this significant NT epistle. For Ephesians has more references to demonic powers than any other New Testament letter, and Paul sees its teaching as divinely provided armor against the attacks of evil spirits.
First century view of the spirit world
In the first century most people were well aware that the spirit world is real. People believed it to be inhabited by a variety of spirits. There were the spirits of the dead. There were the spirits of heroes of old. There were spirits who were gods and goddesses. And there were demons…evil spirits. These spirits were believed to interact with the world of men, and impact the living. Everything, from success in business, success in love, in athletic competitions, even one’s health, depended on whether the spirits were pleased or displeased with an individual. And the spirits were at best capricious. None really cared about any human’s welfare, and any spirit was more likely to harm a person than help him. The best a person could do was make offerings to placate possibly angry or hostile spirits, or resort to magic to try to control them.
The Ephesians were well aware of the power and hostility of demons. The first century Roman writer Plutarch noted that the sorcerers of his time advised those who were demonized to “recite and name over to themselves the Ephesians letters.” These “letters” were six supposedly magic words which were written on separate pieces of leather, and could be shuffled and recited in differing order. If one order of the six words didn’t work, perhaps another order would. For even sorcery could not be completely relied on.
So no one in Ephesus had ever seen a person dominate demons as Paul did. No wonder the people of the city held Paul and the name of Jesus in such awe.
And no wonder, after Paul left the city and the young Christian church, he wrote them a reassuring letter. In that letter, his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul makes it very plain just how Christians can continue to stand against the attacks of evil spirits who are armed with strategies devised by Satan himself. .
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January 16, 2011
The second in a series
Back in the early fifties I was in the Navy. [Despite the rumors, that’s 1950s, not 1850’s.] Every day I typed a Bible verse on a three by five card and posted it in the alcove where we had coffee brewing. Then I hung around and had conversations about the “verse of the day.”
My Navy buddies were open to talking, but there was one thing they couldn’t grasp. If God promised us heaven just for trusting in Jesus, they reasoned, a person could just go out and commit any sin they wanted to. So the Gospel just couldn’t be true.
I tried to point out that the key was “wanted to.” If a person was convinced God loved him enough to give his only Son he would want to please God rather than sin. But salvation by faith in Jesus was something they just couldn’t accept. In the words of Scripture, the god of this age, Satan, had blinded them so they simply could not see the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4)..
Demons and temptation
In the first post on demons in daily life I pointed out that demons are active in tempting us. Whether a temptation is fleeting, recurring, or dominating, there’s a good chance that demons are actively promoting and strengthening any temptations we may experience. When we are tempted, it’s appropriate to command in Jesus’ name any demons involved to stop.
At the same time we need mto accept responsibility for our temptation, realizing temptation is a response of our sin nature to a situation. But we don’t want demons making temptations any more difficult to resist than they already are.
But demons are involved in our daily lives in other ways as well as in stimulating and strengthening temptations. Demons are constantly at work trying to blind and deceive us.
A liar from the beginning
Scripture characterizes Satan as a deceiver and a liar. His first appearance in Scripture, at the temptation of Eve, shows his use of deception as a basic strategy. Satan led Eve into disobedience by first questioning and then directly denying God’s word. He promised that if she ate the forbidden fruit she would “be like God, knowing good and evil.” With Eve’s trust in God’s Word eroded, Eve is left with nothing to rely on but what appealed to her senses and what she hoped would result from the choice she wanted to make.
Satan cut Eve off from the one reliable source of information about reality. She was left to struggle in a world of illusion, unable to distinguish between what would benefit and what would hurt her. Satan’s lies had accomplished their purpose.
The theme of Satan and his followers as deceivers set on blinding human being to reality runs through Scripture. Paul describes Satan masquerading as an angel of light, and notes that it’s not surprising that his followers masquerade a servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14).. Satan and his demons have far greater success corrupting believers by presenting what is harmful as a “good´ than by encouraging believers to do what they know is evil.
Deception is perhaps the primary strategy of demons when it comes to their activity in our daily lives.
Deception on a grand scale
We live in a society that has straying far from its biblical roots. Morality is viewed as relative; what is wrong for me may be right for someone else. “Tolerance” has been exalted as a central cultural value, so that a person who openly agrees with God that some behavior or lifestyle is sinful, is condemned and scorned. Media and music cast women as “bitches,” mere sex objects unworthy of respect. Marketers trumpet this or that object as essential for happiness, as though a meaningful life is to be found in the multitude of things one possesses. Satan has always strived to shape societies that cast illusions on a grand scale, and I have no doubt that powerful demons are assigned to movies, television, and the other transmitters of cultural values today.
It is difficult for a person growing up in any culture to distinguish between its illusions and reality. Such values are pervasive, so woven into the fabric of our lives that deceptive beliefs and values are accepted uncritically by nearly everyone, believer and unbeliever alike..
The remedy to “grand scale” deceptionIn Romans 12 the Apostle Paul encourages his readers to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” The word translated “mind” here is nous, which we might render as “perception.” Transformation proceeds as our perceptions are reshaped by the Word of God. Only with renewed minds can we “prove what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.” And only an understanding of Scripture can enable us to see through the deceptive illusions Satan spins, to see things as they really are. Only Scripture enables us to know what is truly good, so that our steps might be guided by God’s will.
Deception writ small
Demonic deception is private and personal as well as cultural and pervasive.. Demons actively seek to deceive individuals, lying to us about ourselves and others. One favorite strategy of demons is to plant and then encourage false ideas about ourselves in our minds. A child who is deeply hurt by a scolding and told he’ll never amount to anything may find that belief deeply implanted. Every minor failure or failing reinforces the belief, with gleeful assists from demons.
Or a young person living with a parent who demands perfection may grow up feeling inadequate. As an adult he may be unwilling to risk for fear of failure, or he may succeed, but never enjoy his accomplishments, feeling he should have done even better. These are the kinds of beliefs about oneself that are thoughtlessly implanted by others, only to be encouraged and endlessly repeated by demons.
The truth is that every person has great potential, and that a Christian has even greater potential. Every believer is a child of God, a sharer of an incredible heredity. Every believer has a role to play within the Body of Christ. Every believer has been given spiritual gifts that enable him or her to fulfill that role. Every believer is important, and can be empowered by the Holy Spirit. When we accept the judgment of others, that we “will never amount to anything,” we limit our impact in God’s kingdom,. . . something that demons are vitally interested in doing.
The remedy for this kind of demonic deception is the same as for the great, universal deceptions. We are to come to see ourselves as God affirms that we are in Christ, and in faith live the life of a child of God, not the life of a helpless, worthless creature.
I’m convinced that demons not only blind the lost so they cannot see the Gospel, but that demons also have the ability to blind us to more ordinary things. How many parents have wondered how they could have missed the signs that a child was falling victim to drugs or other addictions? How many have discovered with horror that a child had been the victim of sexual molestation, and had carried the pain alone?
Peter warns us against the root of bitterness that can grow up when in the midst of troubles we loose sight of the grace of God. Here too we may have a case of demonic blinding, as Satan’s minions focus our attention on our troubles and cause us to miss evidences of divine grace.
Deceptive and lying demons can blind us to things we would normally recognize, and plant thoughts which no basis in reality.
The remedy to demonic blinding
But demons can blind us to things in ourselves and others. The remedy here is prayer. We need to ask God to open our eyes to anything that Satan is seeking to hide from us. As we pray God to strip away illusions and enable us to see situations and relationships as they truly are,
But in every dimension of demonic deceit and lying, we must be react to act on truths that are revealed to us.
When the King of Judah ask Ahab, King of Israel, to seek a word from God about a joint attack they planned on the Syrians, Ahab agreed. He called out his prophets, and they all encouraged the two kinds. Go up to battle, and you will be victorious.
But the King of Judah wasn’t satisfied. He wanted information from a prophet of the Lord, not from the prophets of the apostate Ahab. Reluctantly Ahab gave in and called of the prophet Micaiah. Micaiah revealed that the promise made by Ahab’s prophets was a lie, put in their minds by a lying spirit sent to lure Ahab to his death. If you go up, Micaiah assured Ahab, you’ll be killed.
Furious, Ahab ordered Micaiah imprisoned until Ahab returned. But Micaiah had revealed the truth. Ahab never return. He was killed in the battle.
The story, found at the end of the First Book of Kings in the Old Testament, reminds us of an important truth. When Satan’s followers seek to deceive, God reveals the truth.
Today, as in ancient times, where Satan’s spins his lies God makes the truth known. The question is, which will we act on? The truth, or the lie?
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January 16, 2011
The thorn in the flesh
2 Corinthians 12:7-8
To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleased with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
In this second letter to the Corinthians Paul responds to attacks on his authority as an Apostle. He explains the nature of a New Covenant ministry and in the process opens his heart to members of this dearly loved but troublesome congregation. While many in ministry might emphasize their strengths and successes, Paul tends to emphasize his weaknesses and failures. His mention of Satan’s impact on his life in this chapter is one of those incidents of surprising self-revelation.
Paul has been given “surpassingly great revelations.” But he has also known trials and troubles. One of these is his “thorn in the flesh,” unnamed in Scripture but most believe a disfiguring eye disease which made it difficult for Paul to read and write. The eye problem also was disfiguring, and tended to repel those who saw him. From every human perspective this “thorn” was a hindrance to his mission of sharing Christ with the world.
By all accounts Paul was hardly an attractive figure in the first place. The earliest description of the great apostle portrays him as a little man, bent over, with a hooked nose that almost met his chin. Envision swollen, red and runny eyes peering out from beneath a craggy brow, and we have a person hardly likely to attract followers.
“To keep me from being conceited.” Despite his natural disadvantages the Apostle Paul experienced notable success. He established churches many churches, successfully confronted those who would made Judaism a precondition for salvation through Christ, and was looked to by thousands as the premier interpreter of Christianity. Although he had suffered greatly in pursuit of his calling, Paul had been given stunning direct revelations by God.
Any human being with a track record like Paul’s is vulnerable to conceit. He can tote up all that he has accomplished—which Paul does in this letter—and establish impeccable credentials. In view of this, Paul sees his affliction as a divine gift intended to keep him humble.
This is a healthy attitude for us to nurture. Our difficulties, setbacks and failures often are divine gifts intended for a similar if not the same purpose.
“there was given me a thorn in my flesh’ This is the first way in which Paul looks at his disability. It is something that has been “given to me.” Gifts in the New Testament are invariably expressions of God’s grace. So Paul’s first thought about his disability is that it is a gift from God.
Too often we look at the thorns in our lives as evils, and view them as punishments or at the least as indications God has withdrawn his care. Paul’s approach is in closer harmony with reality. God may permit many things which we experience as painful or disruptive which are intended as “good and perfect gifts” (James 1).
“messenger of Satan, to torment me” Paul is fully aware of the role that Satan plays in his life and ministry. Satan is his adversary and the adversary of God. The “thorn” which God permits as a gift can at the same time be a “messenger of Satan,” intended not to bless him but to torment him. Viewed from this perspective Paul’s thorn in the flesh is an evil, and something which may be dealt with as any attempt by Satan to hinder or oppress.
“three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”i There are two basic ways of dealing with Satanic or demonic attacks. The first is to command Satan or his demons in the name of Jesus to stop. This is a valid approach, and in most cases is the first approach we should take when we sense spiritual opposition or oppression. But in this case of a chronic, continuing “thorn” Paul took a different approach. He prayed and asked God for healing.
I believe the key to Paul’s choice here is his awareness of the fact that his problem might be both a gift and “messenger of Satan.” Paul realized that his disability might serve a purpose God had in mind, as well as serve the purpose Satan had of tormenting Paul.
Paul never hesitated to cast out evil spirits which were operating in those who opposed him, as in Elymas and the slave woman in Philippi. But Paul relied on prayer when it came to dealing with difficulties experienced by Christians, as in his prayer for the healing of Epaphroditus. In his own case here Paul also relies on prayer, for he is uncertain about whether his troubles are primarily gift, or primarily messenger of Satan.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” God did answer Paul’s prayer. The answer was “No,” God would not remove the thorn.
But with this answer God explained the way in which Paul’s tormenting disability was a gift. The thorn reminded Paul himself and believers throughout history that God’s power is displayed most perfectly as he works through our weaknesses, not through our strengths.
Satan’s messengers might cause Paul pain, but the disability he suffered would bring glory to God.
And with that answer, Paul was more than content.
As we face difficulties in our lives and ministries we need to remember that they may be both a gift from God and a messenger sent by Satan. God and Satan have different purposes in mind. But it is God’s purpose that will prevail.
We certainly can pray that the Lord will remove troubling and tormenting experiences. We can even pray for deliverance a number of times. But if God chooses not to remove our thorns, then, like Paul, we need to glory in them. As Paul concludes, “therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Posted by owner on
January 16, 2011
Opps. I meant to recommend How to Cast out Demons, by Doris Wagner, rather than the Wagner book I posted. Sorry about that.