casting the demon out

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45; NRSVue

Sometimes I think, and it’s beginning to feel settled to me, that often a demon so to speak inhabits institutions, and yes, even families. When one thinks about it, there’s really no family nor institution that is perfect. It might be “picture perfect” in reputation or even in its own imagination. But there’s a brokenness in everything as certain as the cracks that show up on the walls or ceilings of any house.

When I refer to institutions, I’m not leaving out churches. Christ’s presence is what makes up a church, where two or three are gathered in his name. But as we see in the seven letters to the church in the Revelation and elsewhere, the devil can get into the details, into the works. And families, the same. Some are very broken, and some seem to get along remarkably well. But no family is any more perfect than any individual.

But while there’s a sense that there may be some truth in this for any institution or family, I’m thinking of special situations such as we find ourselves in today. There is so much anger, division, and there appears to be little if any hope that anything will change perhaps before catastrophe or the worst part hits, hopefully with some cushion and limited fallout. And hopefully as well, to give the needed realization that change is needed.

If we’re concerned about such a situation, chances are it’s close to us, or we’re somehow involved in it. Like Daniel of old, who from all appearances even in Scripture was blameless and upright, we too need to pray to God, confessing our sin, our part in the problem, be it in family, or any institution. We most definitely need to be open for the Lord’s insight and correction in our own lives, before we can imagine God’s breakthrough in the lives of others.

As we do that, then maybe God will give us the understanding and sense needed to become part of or fit into the solution. And as Jesus said, some do not come out except by prayer and some manuscripts add, fasting.

There’s always hope, even if it doesn’t come easy. In and through Jesus.

what really matters?

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11; NRSVue

I wonder if Mary and Joseph would have done what they blessedly did if they would have been caught up in secondary matters. Maybe being caught up in details that would make no difference in fulfilling the task at hand, to get to Bethlehem to be registered in the required census. I’m sure they took care to help Mary be as safe as possible, along with the baby she was carrying near the end of her pregnancy.

And then came the time for birth. No place in the guest room, so a manger would have to do. Nothing fancy, and certainly not ideal, but what people were used to. But that opens up an entirely different conversation which we won’t go into here. I’ve not even investigated well enough myself. What is apparent might turn our understanding of the nativity largely on its head. But that doesn’t matter for this post.

Paul’s prayer for the believers in Philippi was certainly something God was helping Mary and Joseph with at this sensitive, crucial juncture. What really matters is something we need to be sensitive to, day after day. We can get so easily get sidetracked on nonessentials. I’m supposing that Mary and Joseph were not the kind of people who were easily distracted.

For us this will require God’s help. Yes, prayer, as the scripture passage indicates here. So that we don’t get lost in the weeds over secondary matters. The end result being that God is less encumbered by us to do God’s good work in us, and also so that the good works God has for us to do might be done always in love. The main point the focus while we let go of what really doesn’t matter. In and through Jesus.

don’t go there

And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

2 Corinthians 2:11

It’s always important to look at the context of any particular passage, and the above passage is no exception. It has to do with an issue in the church involving one who needs the kind of help that only the church can give them. The person does respond to the church’s action with Paul’s help (some interpretation, here), and now Paul presses home the need to move past that, not as if nothing happened, but in a wise way in which the person knows they are fully accepted and loved.

Just the same, we can still pull something out of the above thought. Our spiritual enemy is out to trip us up wherever and whenever it can. Yes, at opportune, strategic times, as well. They know our weaknesses, what pushes our buttons, and indeed are active in setting us up for “the evil day” as well. We don’t want to be people who focus on the spiritual enemy. But as we seek to keep our attention on the Lord, we do need to be aware of what they can be up to, so that we can begin to sense and discern that in our lives, as well as in the lives of others so that we can pray for them.

All that said, this simply means that we need God’s help to refuse to take the bait, the allure the enemy drops or sends our way. We need discernment to understand when this is taking place, and to understand how this is developing. And how we may be unwitting accomplices in it.

Don’t go there! Yes, resisting that will amount to resisting the devil. As we seek to keep our attention fully on the Lord, that we may be led by him in all of this. This is a step of faith which may not be easy, in fact will likely be hard, being counterintuitive to us, since we have given into it so many times before. But as we take that step and follow through, God will help us in this. In and through Jesus.

This podcast from Tim Gombis, “Faith Improvised,” only 36 minutes in length (finish it, to get the benefit) was helpful to me on this subject, certainly applying on a host of issues.

avoid secondary matters (or make them second)

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:3-11

It is so easy to get sidetracked into secondary matters. Things which may have secondary importance in some way, which we may even need to sort out and decide for ourselves. But secondary in their status. They may or may not be a part of our lives, but it’s the kind of thing that can distract us from what is of first importance.

And the sad fact of the matter is that we’re so prone to get caught up in these kinds of things so that these secondary matters become primary to us. And we might even come to think that everyone should think and practice what we do. It may be perfectly fine for us, but not something that anyone else has to do.

What I’m thinking of are preferences about things that might be helpful for us and might (or might not) even help us focus on the essentials. What works for us, maybe too for our faith community, though often within that community there are many differences over these very same things. There is probably no end to what these things are. What we find helps us in all kinds of ways including diet, diversions, clothing, even Bible translations. You name it.

Paul’s prayer here is that we might have discernment to see through what is secondary, perhaps helpful for some at certain times. But to see what is always first. Only God can help us see that, which is precisely the point of Paul’s prayer, that the believers might understand in love what is best, what really matters. Using the secondary things to help us be settled in what in the end matters. In and through Jesus.

be preoccupied with “the gold”

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

In the internet, smartphone information age, we’re hard pressed to keep our minds on what really matters, what is special, what is true good. Our minds are often distracted in a thousand different ways, to what is seemingly necessary, or to a lot of things which are entertaining diversions at best. And in so doing, our mind is rarely if ever on “the gold.”

Only God can help us get our minds off what they need not be on, and on to what matters, what lasts, and what ennobles us. Everything else we need to learn to see for what it really is. We need discernment. We begin to see with God’s appraisal of things, appreciating all the gifts of God found in God’s image bearers: humankind. Along with understanding what really is bad, often a distortion of the good.

As we set our minds on this, God will help us. We need to accept the struggle rather than settle into the same old same old: the lies, deceptions, empty things which make a strong appeal to us in our broken, fallen state. We must persist to break beyond that, not expecting to do so at a snap of the finger, yet at the same time knowing that a turn in a different direction can make all the difference in the world, what is needed to really begin to see “the gold” and appreciate it more and more. In and through Jesus.

loyalty and faithfulness

Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good repute
in the sight of God and of people.

Proverbs 3:3-4

We are reminded here that loyalty and faithfulness ought to be priorities in our lives. Instead too often we let other factors weigh in and we all but forget this.

There are limits in life, and lines and boundaries that need to be drawn. An abusive partner should not be allowed to continue their abuse, even if that means that one has to depart. Loyalty and faithfulness does mean through thick and thin, “for better and for worse till death do us part.” Marriage is referred to here. But even in marriage, one does not accept abuse. The partner must get the needed help, and there can come the time to separate and God forbid, even annul the marriage. But insofar as it’s possible, and whatever that might mean in any given stage, loyalty and faithfulness should continue. But the loyalty and faithfulness normally required is no longer required in the abnormal circumstances which can occur. All of this requires God-given wisdom.

While all of that is necessarily said, loyalty and faithfulness ought to be staples of our character. We are committed in love to those who are dear to us and have commitments in friendship with others. Many would think of loyalty to a company or workplace, and while there may be some application of that here, what is mostly referred to here his loyalty to people. That certainly involves faithfulness in what we do in the workplace and in other spaces.

Anything at all which might violate this should be considered anathema, in other words worse than unacceptable. “We just don’t go there” should be the mark by which we live by, even our passion. At the same time, we don’t imagine for a second that we’re above falling. We factor in our weaknesses, and pray, and work on living fully in God’s will without compromise, lovingly doing so, but even sharply in places, if need be. And when needed we get counseling along with prayer from others.

Loyalty and faithfulness. Two watch words for us. To always be in the picture of our lives. In and through Jesus.

it takes a community

I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

Romans 15:14

While this is pulling a passage out of context, nevertheless the main point Paul made from this verse is true: We in Christ are in this together, and we all need each other. And each and everyone of us has our part to play. It’s a matter of learning to discern together what the Spirit of Christ is saying to us, and what the Spirit is doing. This is not a lone ranger faith, but one in which we are dependent on God and interdependent on each other.

Other places make it clear that God gives leaders to help the body grow and who are responsible for oversight (Ephesians 4; Hebrews 13). But though they have their special role, they too are blessed by the give and take in the body of Christ, in community.

This needs to be emphasized in a culture in which the individual largely takes priority over community. That is a flaw. Each of us are valued as individuals in community. Yes, God values each of us individually, but we find our true life, even ourselves in community, along with others. We fit together as one, learning to settle into our God-given place, giving and receiving. In and through Jesus.

they will be what they are (except for God’s grace)

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

Revelation 22:11

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

2 Corinthians 11:14b

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

I think it’s most helpful in differentiating between God and Satan along with the demonic, just to realize who we’re considering. God is God. And to begin to try to get a handle on that, we need to go to Scripture, though God makes God’s Self known in other ways as well. Scripture reveals that God dwells in darkness, that God’s light is too much for us humans to comprehend, even to contemplate. But God is revealed in Jesus, God’s Son. So that to understand what God is like, we have to look at God’s supreme revelation of God’s Self, who is himself all that God is, as well as being human: Jesus.

God is great, whose greatness has no bounds. God is good, whose goodness has no bounds. God is for us as shown in Jesus (Romans 8). God does not condemn us, but loves us, and wants to lift us up and help us. On the other hand, the spiritual enemy wants to make us think that it is right and that we can never measure up. That we ought to do this, that, something else, and always so much more. And that gives what the enemy sends us an appearance of goodness, even godliness. But that entire scenario is not God-like at all. In the end it only results in our condemnation, since we can never measure up. But after all, that’s what our spiritual enemy, the enemy of humankind does. And what God does is completely opposite. God loves, redeems, reconciles, befriends, etc.

The same is true of us humans. Why are we the way we are? Except for the grace of God, I would be just as lost as the next person. And actually, truthfully, I feel a sense of lostness right along. But that helps me to continue to look to God, be open to continual correction and direction along the way. This also helps us understand others, including our sisters and brothers in Christ who might be influenced in a bad way. So that we can find the good, but discern what is not. But first we need to look at ourselves. We have to be sure to take the log out of own eye before we can ever begin to really see the splinter in anyone else’s eye.

Just to know who we’re dealing with makes all the difference. Yes, I know I’m going to be harassed by Satan, rather his minion on a regular basis, because that’s what it does. But I’m going to be loved, understood in all my limitations, and helped by God. That God gives and sends all the help we need as we continue on, as wobbly as we might be, looking to God in faith.

In and through Jesus.

concentrate on the matter at hand

I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’

Acts 22:10

A little while back something unusual happened to me. It’s as if the Lord appeared to me and told me that I need to spend time in and concentrate on the book of James. Now it wasn’t like that, though in my imagination it was what it added up to. And as strong as if it had actually happened, with the feeling accompanying that remaining for a little while. But never to return again after that day. You might call it an impression, but whatever may be the case, I took it as a word to me from the Lord to spend time in James.

So that’s what I’ve been mostly doing, or at least more or less consistently so ever since, spending time in that book. Slowly one thought and passage at a time, still a good ways to go. Trying to let is soak in my bones, get into my heart, and into my life.

I think God would have us do one thing at a time. After all, we’re not really good multitaskers if we can actually do that at all. We’re better off most the time, especially in our culture to do less instead of doing more, or even maintaining what’s demanded. Of course we have to do well with the responsibilities put in front of us to make a living, and what we need to do with family, along with the few other things we have to stay on top of. But aside from these, we would do well to try to get a sense of what maybe we ought to concentrate on for a time. What the Lord is giving us to do for the present. And concentrate on that.

In and through Jesus.

it takes a church

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

1 Corinthians 14:29

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

All we need is in Christ, but much of that is actually meant to be derived through the church, Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). A most important way the Lord speaks to us and helps us is often all but missing today. It’s meant to be through the church, yes through the pastor or priest, but also through others, including everyone. There are serving gifts and speaking gifts (1 Peter 4). And the Spirit speaking through the body, and giving a sense of congruity as in agreement and harmony.

I don’t know if there’s anything more overlooked as well as more helpful to us as followers of Christ than the church itself. What we’re apart of. For ourselves and for each other. In and through Jesus.