Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Soul Abhors a Vacuum—Matthew 12:43–45

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43–45, NASB)

Those in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction may understand this passage very well, along with others who have fought the battle against life-controlling issues. “Out with the old” is not enough: We have to welcome the new things God has for us.

It is important to take note of the context of this passage. Jesus has been answering His critics, who claim that His signs and wonders (including casting demons out of people) prove that He is controlled by Satan (Matthew 12:24). Jesus answers them with several points: one of those is that, to plunder an opponent and take his possessions, you first have to bind him (v. 29). First, you bind the strong man. Then, you can plunder his house and take what he possesses. Likewise, you first must bind the demon (bring him under your control, disarm him, and bring him into your subjection); then, you can claim the person he has controlled.

This particular passage (Matthew 12:29) provides the background for verses 43–45. The demon has been cast out of the person whom he had claimed as his home. Now evicted, he wanders aimlessly. Life must really stink if you are a demon who cannot tempt, possess, or oppress someone. If you’re a demon, you make life miserable for humans and try to deter the work of God in their lives; it’s what you do.

The demon has been cast out of the man, but nothing else has been done. The man had Satan in his life. Now, he has just a vacant hole in his heart. However, the soul, like nature, abhors a vacuum. It cannot remain empty for long; something will eventually fill the hole.

So, since nothing has replaced the demon’s place in the man’s life, the demon returns with a whole group of his buddies. To make sure he does not get kicked out again, he brings reinforcements.

How does this play out in everyday life? The New Testament ascribes many forms of suffering to the work of demons: physical illness or handicaps, emotional turmoil (what we now almost exclusively attribute to mental illness and treat with medication and counseling), etc. Just for the record, I believe in many cases demons may find a weak spot in our makeup and capitalize on it; therefore, in some cases, physical or mental illness can have a natural or biological cause which has been manipulated by a demon into some kind of manifestation.

Today, many addicts will refer to the “demon in the bottle” (or whatever other container delivers their life-controlling chemical). The demon does not live inside the bottle, but it is manipulating their minds, emotions, thoughts, perspective, and choices. Those who seek deliverance cannot simply throw out the bottle, bag of weed, cigarette packages, magazines, etc. That demon must flee! Once he flees, you need immediate opposing occupation! To grab hold of lasting deliverance demands replacement: out with the old and evil, in with the new and holy.

The recovering addict may start attending nightly meetings, to avoid stopping off at the bar to unwind. Twelve Step programs urge their members to add prayer, meditation, and service to others into their lives; this can provide a sense of purpose which enables them to resist and avoid temptation.

However, this lesson is not for the addict alone. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23); all Christians are in recovery from a life of sin. However, we cannot just stop by fighting off the demon. We need to invite the Holy Spirit to possess that hole in our soul. When tempted, we need to turn to the resources God has for us: when Satan offers illicit sex, drugs, hatred, or any of his other garbage, we need to grab hold of what God wants us to receive. Prayer, Bible study, worship and fellowship should be the foundation of the believer’s life.

Cleaning out the garbage of our past, leaving a vacuum/hole in our soul, and not filling that hole with the things of God is a recipe for spiritual disaster.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Real Worship—John 4:23–24

“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23–24, NASB)

Worship wars never cease to end in the church. To listen to some Christians, the method with which you worship determines whether you are going to heaven or not.

When I surrendered my life to Christ (almost 32 years ago), I attended a church that had lively music—often with a rock beat. The worship service could be spontaneous, sometimes quite long. People would dance, clap, praise God in tongues, and a host of other ecstatic emotional expressions.

I have attended other churches where there was some more restraint. In some, rock music was considered demonic. They thought that God obviously likes southern gospel, or slightly more soft pop types of music. There might be a little more restraint in the worship, but it might be somewhat casual in its format.

Now, I attend a church that has a lot of upbeat music (we have some guitarists who can rock out!), but the worship service otherwise is very structured. We follow a strict liturgy, based primarily on the Book of Common Prayer, with elements that will seem familiar to many Roman Catholics. We receive communion every Sunday. We say the Lord’s Prayer at every service; many of the prayers are read from a book, or are written before the service. Although we profess to be charismatic, you may not always hear the pastor say an off-the-cuff spontaneous prayer that just pops into his head.

So, which form of worship is correct? In a sense, all of them have elements of true worship; yet, none of them are truly worship in themselves. While some people may be tempted to call my current church’s structured liturgy “dead worship,” it is a false accusation. Actually, a close study of Scripture would show that the liveliest worship (in terms of volume, tempo, and energy) can be the deadest of all, if it is not conducted “in spirit and in truth.”

When Jesus made the statement in John 4, He was speaking to a Samaritan woman, who had asked Him whether God wanted people to worship in Jerusalem (as the Jews did) or on the mountain where the Samaritans worshiped? The Samaritans and Jews, despite having a similar heritage and sharing the books of the Old Testament, had the ultimate bitter worship war. Jesus was not really being a “good Jew” by talking to this heretic woman. Yet, His response cut through the fog of tradition: The woman was asking the wrong question. It did not matter where she worshiped God. The question was whether she was worshiping God in spirit and in truth. Is her worship alive or dead?

When is worship dead, and when is it alive?

  • Worship is alive when it is led by the Holy Spirit. Some people confuse this with emotionally-charged worship, or with certain up-tempo styles of music, or if it is spontaneous. All of these can be elements of worship in spirit, but it is not always the case: For example, while genuine worship will generate an emotional response in many cases, it is possible to seek an emotional high through worship activities. In that case, we are really worshiping the experience instead of worshiping God.
  • Real worship is focused on God, not on ourselves. Far too often, we are tempted to confuse worship with entertainment. We think, “If I enjoyed it, the worship was good. If there is nothing in it for me, I will have to find another church.” Is your worship focused on yourself, or is it focused on Jesus? Are you more concerned with praising God for who He is, or with singing your favorite songs and having good feelings?
  • Worship is alive when it yields to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Genuine worship will strengthen our relationship with Christ. It will enable us to bear more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23).
  • Worship will be grounded in truth. It is grounded in the truth about God as revealed in Scripture. It will be consistent with Scripture. This does not mean that every single element of our worship must be mentioned specifically in the Bible (this has led some churches to do some weird things, just because of an isolated misunderstood verse somewhere in Psalms). However, worship should be consistent with the spirit and tone of Scripture, and it should not contain any elements that are specifically prohibited by Scripture.
  • Worship will draw us into truth. A genuine worship experience will give us both a greater vision of God’s glory and holiness, contrasted with a deeper awareness of who we are in relation to Him. A good example of this can be found in Isaiah 6:1–5. Through a vision (many commentators believe it occurred in the Jerusalem temple, during worship), the prophet catches a glimpse of worship in heaven: He becomes even more keenly aware of God’s glory as well as his own sinfulness. But then, he learns more about God’s forgiveness and sanctifying power, and is emboldened to volunteer to be sent by God into ministry.

When it comes to worship, take your eyes off of yourself. Stop focusing so heavily on the style of worship or music. As the classic worship song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face. And the things on Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Tempted from Within—James 1:13–15

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:13–15, ESV)

“The devil made me do it.” Those words were made famous by Flip Wilson’s brash female character, Geraldine Jones. They have been repeated by numerous people, including many Christians. They echo Eve’s excuse for eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:13).

The devil gets a lot of free advertising these days. A recovering alcoholic yields to temptation, gets drunk, and has a car accident. “I don’t know what happened. I was doing OK, and then the devil got a hold of me.” I recently spoke to a friend who was afraid his church could split because somebody had left, and a few other people were having conflicts. (By the way, there are several hundred people in this church.) In his mind, Satan was causing division.

The devil is real, but he probably had little to do with any of these circumstances. For one, unlike God, he cannot be everywhere all of the time. At most, maybe one of his demon friends could be involved in one of these situations. However, if they are present, they are merely providing added influence. The real problem arises with the people in the situation.

The alcoholic drank because, to some extent, he wanted to drink. Maybe there was a false sense of comfort in the bottle; perhaps he felt like he needed beer to relax. Satan was not in the bottle, though. He had been lured and enticed by his own desires.

When relationships are strained, it is usually not a demon who is to blame. It is the sinful attitudes, or the history of hurt in the hearts of the people. One person is overly sensitive and takes it as a personal attack if things do not go their way or if people disagree with them. Another assumes they know what is best for everybody around them. Still another is easily offended if people do not do the things they ask. Often, past hurts are replayed in current conflicts. Friendships, families, and fellowships fall apart.

So, just to be clear:

  • If your car breaks down, it is probably not caused by a demon. It is a mechanical problem, caused by the laws of physics. It may have been expedited by your careless stewardship of the things you own (e.g., if you were too cheap or lazy to do regular maintenance).
  • Your emotional reaction to the car breaking down is not caused by a demon. You said those words yourself. A demon did not jump into your mouth to say them.
  • If there is fighting and division in the church, it is caused by the same things that cause fighting and division throughout society (James 4:1–3). Greed, pride, ego, passion, selfishness, hatred, unforgiveness: These are human character defects, manifestations of sin, and indications that people are not perfect. Hostility and fighting are manifestations of human sin: you do not need a demon to break up a church. [Besides, Jesus Himself said that the church would prevail against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18); if Satan is defeating your church, it is still a reflection of weakness in the congregation. The Body of Christ should have the victory, because Jesus said we would!]
  • If you are in financial trouble, make sure it is not caused by your sin. Yes, there will be hard times when money is tight. But, many people get into financial problems because they buy things they want when they cannot afford them. If you are living beyond your means, the problem is probably your greed: It is not a demon eating your bank account.

I hope you get the point. The root of your temptations usually lies within your heart. Yes, demons and circumstances may edge us closer to temptation and sin, but only by exploiting our own weaknesses. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9, ESV). “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16, ESV). Acknowledge that it is truly YOUR sin, YOUR temptation, YOUR weakness, and then turn to Jesus to receive the forgiveness that He is offering to YOU.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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