Tearing his costume off!

costumeIt’s that time of year again… Halloween… with all the “Harvest Festivals” and “Trunk or Treat” alternatives.

But as Christians we have such a diversity of “views” regarding Satan, the Adversary, the Devil.

For some, there’s a casual nonchalance… like, “well, you know, life goes on and I don’t know how any of this religious stuff works so… whatever.” For others there’s a nearly unhealthy terror and fascination about darkness stuff, almost like the constant making of gestures to ward off the “evil eye” of the Enemy, lurking in every dark corner.

This Halloween, I just want to put something out there with which you are welcome to agree or disagree, embrace or cast away as you feel led…

If we accept that the scriptures of the Holy Bible are true, then we accept that “intelligent others” exist… including both angels and demons. We are told that Lucifer exists. We understand that creatures of darkness, demons, roam the world and seek our harm. All right then. That is a simple statement of fact, one fact of life, not to be focused upon to the exclusion of all else. In fact, a great deal of the impact of the Incarnation and coming of Jesus’ Kingdom has to do with His having freed us from that dominion and domination.

Nonetheless, we “deal with the devil” every day in some form or another. He seeks to rob us of our joy, our peace, our focus on love, light, and truth. THAT is his primary purpose. Not simply to “get us to do bad stuff of darkness”, but rather to “stop us from focus on light and good”.

I once had a pastor phone me and ask, “Is it necessary to name a demon in order to cast it out? Do you have to know its name?”

My immediate answer, thinking he was involved in some ministry of major occult deliverance, was, “Um, no. In fact, you seldom know the name, unless they reveal it. In general, we know the names of very few demons, and the studies needed to acquire that knowledge are not ones I recommend to anyone unless called to that type of ministry very specifically. Why do you ask? What is the need?”

And he went on, clarifying… He did not mean specific entity name, he meant things like,  lust, or greed, or covetousness, and so on.

Ah, I got it. Well, the answer, in my experience, was pretty much the same. When temptation is consistent and methodical, and a spirit is oppressing one’s soul, the real “power and authority” for its dismissal is that of Christ, of love, of light, and the power of the Cross. One releases one’s hold on the temptation, rebukes the darkness itself, and grasps Jesus instead. Often, one may not even recognize what the darkness was, until it is gone and light fills that part of the heart. There may simply be the sense of something being “off”… or the recognition that one’s heart and attitude is far from that of Christ within. Then, back away from that shadow, release it, rebuke it, and intentionally turn towards light, love, and Christ. When one is under the influence of the shadow itself, the discernment can be fuddled, and recognition impossible.

We deal with such mundane interactions with shadow all the time. We take them in stride.

But we seldom recognize them as “suits” or “costumes” worn by the Enemy, Satan, the Adversary, the Devil.

If we did, at least many of us, would run off screaming in terror. (Please note: the enemy certainly DOES do some more “dramatic manifestations”, especially when doors are opened through occult or arcane practices. Recommendation? Don’t do those things.)

But this Halloween I just wanted to take a moment and recognize that the pitchfork, horns, and pointy tail costume of the “scary Devil” is far less common than his ordinary business suit, flowered frock, or jeans and T-Shirt. We’re perfectly willing to recognize the Enemy in the dramatic, but far less likely to grant him the credit he deserves in the mundane. Even though it’s still well and truly him and his who are at work.

Here’s the Apostle Paul with some timely teaching to the Galatians…

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. [Galatians 5:13-26]

That’s not a bad list of “Devil Suits”. And we see them all the time, don’t we? In our homes, our communities, even our churches? Paul gives the antidote, even before naming the toxins…

Love your neighbor as yourself, and SERVE one another in that love. (Bear in mind, the Lord’s clarification of “who is my neighbor”.) Don’t freak out. Don’t get focused and fascinated. Just love, serve, and trust Jesus in both His authority and His love.

Let’s defrock the devil, and send him home!

Grace to you, Gentle Readers!

 

Seeing in the Dark

St Peter'S Basilica, Vatican, Catholic, Church, FaithIt has been almost three months for me that it has been dark. Not just dim or lights out, but an all-consuming darkness. I have asked God to lift it, take it away, but the shadows have endured. I can see the sun outside, but on the inside there is no light.

In the midst of all of this, God asked me to make some of the biggest decisions I have ever made in my life. Actually, He didn’t ask me, He told me. It wasn’t in the usual way He spoke to me either. It was soft, subtle, barely a whisper, so much so that I felt myself putting my spiritual ears to the wall saying, God I can barely hear you!

I chased after the whispers like a wild, hungry animal desperate for food, but the whispers only became softer. The prayers I was praying were not in desperation but were now in full belief that God would answer, even when the timing seemed way off. But God said He would, and He did, and now I just want to run away…

The darkness has not lifted, the enemy is fierce. As my soul lifts up and magnifies the Lord, the devil denies Him and his plans for me. Not that I believe him. But Like Job, my spiritual outsides seem to be collapsing, even though I know they are not. When the walls come tumbling down, where then  do you run?

It was in my prayers this morning after Morning Lauds that the sky started to open. It is amazing what singing God’s praises can do for your spiritual life, even when you don’t feel like doing it. But today was different. Today I felt a glimpse of joy return to me, call my name, beckoning, we are almost there. It was that small slither of hope that I hung onto like a precious medallion from God, an inch of rope, an anchor. And I followed that into my prayer closet and in praying this prayer: Why now God? Why now in the midst of all of this are you answering this big prayer of mine? I sat back and closed my eyes, soaking in the warmth of the silence, a gift. And He said back to me with a smile on His face, “Yes the timing is very important. What day is it today on the Jewish calendar. This is your answer.”

With the Holy Spirit still vibrant and burning within me, I quickly rushed to check today’s calendar in Israel. It is the 17th day of Tammuz, a dark month for the Jews, a reminder of their unbelief.

Tammuz was supposed to be a time of blessing for the Jewish people. Moses had received the 10 commandments and was ready to bring it to God’s people. But when He was delayed (of course divinely so), the Israelites were inpatient and their unbelief became prominent. Instead of waiting, they decided to make for themselves a golden calf. And we know the rest of the story, the tablets that God had given us were broken and destroyed and we missed this divine miracle. It was a short delay that Moses had in coming down the mountain, but it was enough to turn the Jewish people to worship a man-made idol. It was enough to turn them away from God.

So the month of Tammuz is known for our fall. It exposes our sin and our falling away from God. But it also provides for us great insight into how we can repent, especially in the midst of darkness.

Today, the 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of the “Three weeks of sorrow.” Today also is a day of fasting, to instill a sense of repentance in God’s people; to remember the darkness, the tragedy, the idolatry- to instill in us a time of reflection. As Christians, we refer to this spiritual exercise as an examination of conscience, something we should strive to accomplish daily. A time to repent, to ask God to help us in the areas we need help, a daily spiritual housecleaning, a learning to see in the dark.

God’s answer to me was this, How can I be glorified if you do not learn to see me in the dark? If you don’t repent of your unbelief and glorify me in this very time, how will you lead others to me? It is easy to see me in the light, but in the darkness requires a special kind of faith. It requires you to believe me.

So I say to you my brothers and sisters, let us repent of our unbelief for the world is a liar! We have the hope of Christ within us, yearning to be set free! Do not believe the lies of the darkness but instead lift up your hands in glory to our King! Christ has risen my friends, we are free! I pray that you will open your eyes and come out of your slumber and see Him in the darkness. This of course requires you to believe Him.

 

Once Upon a Time…

http://www.fromoldbooks.org/OldEngland/pages/1373-Wood-cut-of-a-Knight/Once upon a time, the Lord King selected a willing warrior, and tasked him to protect a valley nestling a lovely village dear to the Lord King’s heart.

“I shall go,” exclaimed the Knight, pleased to be of service. “From what am I to protect them?”

“You will see,” answered the Lord King.

So the Knight donned his finest armor, selected his keenest weapons and stoutest shield , mounted his bravest steed, and set off towards the valley. As he approached from the south, he crested a ridge and found himself high above the valley that opened like a chasm before him. Across the way, at the opposite side, was the northern crest upon which sat mounted a dark figure, also surveying the valley and its inhabitants.

Instantly, the Knight knew that this was his adversary. He knew that his duty was to protect this valley and these people from being harmed by that dark knight opposing him. He watched as the shadow warrior dismounted his own horse and slowly strode pensively along his cliff, surveying the valley below.

The adversary drew out a bow and began to fire arrows of dark fire into the valley. Wherever his darts struck, there was a splash of shadow and destruction, and the sounds of misery or screaming echoed up to the cliffs.

The Knight’s first thought was to attack in return. Drawing his own bow, he fired arrows of light at the enemy. The arrows shot straight and true directly towards the heart of the aggressor. But yet, they would not find purchase. The enemy would duck, dodge, or twist with preternatural speed, always avoiding a mortal strike. The arrows did distract him a bit, though. So that the enemy’s arrows of dark fire were now directed largely at the Knight, making him dismount (not to be so easy a target), and raise his shield in his own defense. The dark arrows were extinguished harmlessly, when blocked by his shield.

Still, the enemy’s arrows rained regularly down on the people, even as some of them sped toward the Knight. As the Knight was forced to raise his shield often to protect his own heart, the enemy took advantage to attack the village. The enemy was quickening his pace by the moment, and his dark arrows were flying at a remarkable rate.

“This is not working,” thought the Knight. “My attacks on him find no purchase, and though it seems that I am safe, the people are suffering.”

The Lord King’s voice seemed to speak gently into his ear, “You are trying to attack him directly. What if you simply defend the people? Your shield will reach beyond yourself.”

So the Knight sheathed his sword, and focused a moment on his shield. He discovered that he could extend his arm towards the village, as he saw where a dart would strike, and sail a shield out through the air over the people. The dart would strike the sheltering shield harmlessly, sparing the people beneath.

So the battle progressed, ever faster, as the enemy rained down arrow after arrow, and the Knight flung one shield after another like a discus to intercept each blow. But as time passed, the Knight began to tire. The enemy was utterly tireless, and the weaker and slower the Knight became, it seemed the stronger and faster rained the arrows.

Eventually (it seemed like hours, though it may have been but moments), the Knight began to lose heart, realizing he could not keep up this pace.

“Lord King, I am failing in my task. I cannot protect these people. I am flagging, and the enemy is too strong. He grows stronger as I grow weaker. Behold, even now, the people are at his mercy…” choked the Knight. For indeed, it seemed that for every arrow blocked, blindingly quick though the battle progressed, still two others slipped through devastating the village like flaming mortars of pitch blackness.

The Lord King’s voice again came to the ear of the Knight…

“This is what you needed to understand, My son. No matter how sharp your weapons, how stout your armor, or how valiant your mount, you alone… with all your strength and training… simply CANNOT stand against such creature of darkness. All of those things can strengthen you, embolden you, give you affirmation of your mission and confidence. But none of that gives you the resources to prevail against such an adversary.”

“What then am I to do? Why did You send me here?” lamented the miserable Knight.

“To protect this village. To guard this valley,” responded the Lord King.

“But HOW, Majesty?” the Knight cried, in utter defeat.

“Ah,” the Lord King replied, as you could almost hear the smile in His voice. “NOW you are asking, and asking the right question. Now… Behold…”

And the Knight felt his body relax, as though a child in the arms of his trustworthy father. His sword, shield, bow, all weaponry fell away from him. His helmet drifted away. His armor fell away. He stood arms wide open, splay legged, in simple white robe, seemingly utterly helpless and vulnerable on his cliff above the valley.

Until Light, indescribable, warm, brilliant Light… began to infuse him from all around. The glow, the joy, the awareness was both unspeakably wondrous, and unbearably powerful all at the same time. He lost all sense of what was happening, lost all awareness of time, or questions, or answers, or even himself as himself. All the Knight still knew was that… he WAS… He IS. The will of the Lord King was his own will, His desires his desires, and His love his love.

His eyes… his eyes were changed and new. His heart was changed and new, and his heart now held mastery over his eyes. He looked outwards, his arms open wide, and all… ALL was light.

He looked downwards, into the valley, and saw with all the love in his heart, the people there. His ears heard their cries, their joys, their pains. And as he noticed their sufferings, as he realized the darts were striking the streets and homes from overhead, he focused on the opposite crest and for the first time noticed the enemy there.

Suddenly, his love for the people, his passion, his care for and heart of protection for them, caused a phenomenal explosion… a blinding flash and deafening report… as Light burst forth with the strength of a thousand suns, filling all the land and sky for just a moment as his love for the people, his protection and care for them, utterly overwhelmed him.

In the next moments, as the echoes drifted away, the Knight (now quite recovered as himself) looked down at the valley and saw all filled with light, with hope, with love, and with joy. Looking opposite, there was no more presence of the enemy or of shadow.

And so, in great peace and satisfaction, he set up his camp there on the pinnacle… to protect and to serve the people evermore. He now understood, no force of arms that he could bring to bear would guard them. But the Lord King… within him, through him, around him… when he focused utterly on His Majesty and HIS love for the people… this would care for the people.

Was he, this mighty Knight, sent here to use his strength to protect the valley?

No. He could not succeed at that.

Rather, he, this mighty Knight, was sent here to acknowledge in his weakness that he could NOT protect the valley, but to provide a vessel and a voice, to make way for the Lord King Himself to do so through him.

He became one of the greatest and wisest Knights in the Kingdom, and lived very happily ever after.