Tag Archives: Demons

The Benefits of Memorizing Scripture

Growing up, one of the staples of any youth-oriented church activity was “memory verses”. We would set our little minds to engraving Bible verses on our brains, either as a part of the regular activities or in order to obtain some kind of reward. However, there were always the looming questions of “why?” and “what do I do now?” Of course, there were the immediate reasons of following directions and trying to earn prizes. One might also include the justification of it simply being what you do at church. At one time, I thought of it as memorizing a set of rules so that I would have an appropriate response ready for a given situation. The problem is that there is a lot of Scripture that doesn’t neatly fit into this schema, so I again found myself with a fist full of words that I didn’t know what to do with. Confusion and frustration aside, we may also question what benefit there is to memorizing Scripture anymore since we can have access to entire libraries at the push of a button on our phones.

 

Before proceeding into the benefits of memorizing Scripture, we must first recognize and acknowledge that the act of memorizing Scripture, in and of itself, does us no good and has no merit. In the tradition of the ancient monks, we read the story of one monk who boasted to his elder that he had memorized the entire Old and New Testaments, to which the elder replied with the observation that the monk had only filled the air with words. If we want something more definitive, we need only look as far as Jesus’ lamenting the state of the religious leaders who, despite their many religious-appearing acts, were no closer to God for them. (Matthew 23:1-36)

 

The benefits of memorizing Scripture come not from having memorized it, but from what we do with what we’ve memorized. One might think of it as laying up the written word of God in an extremely easily accessible place. Once stowed in our memory, we can easily recall it in order to ponder it and meditate upon it anytime, anywhere. Being able to regularly submerse ourselves in a passage rather than skipping along the surface is more conducive to letting it read us and soak into our hearts. Another thing that memorized Scripture can be used for is prayer. Sometimes we find ourselves spiritually or mentally out of gas and out of words to speak to God. At such times, being able to recall Scripture from memory can be helpful because it gives us words and material to pray to God. The last use for having Scripture memorized that I wish to point out is what is sometimes referred to as “talking back”. Essentially, this amounts to using the words of Scripture to rebuke the sinful thoughts and temptations that come to us. The ancient monks took this practice from the story of Christ’s temptation (Luke 4:1-13) in which He rebuked the devil each time by quoting Scripture. When we talk back to our temptations, it also helps us to move back to the straight and narrow path by refocusing on God when evil would lead us this way or that.

 

I suppose, ultimately, the core benefit of memorizing Scripture is ease of access. There are few things as mobile and easy to get to for us as our own minds and if we wish to better subsist on every word of God, we cannot ask for a better lunchbox.

Chibi Memory

Advertisements

A Thought for Christmas – 2

The devil is an enemy of moderation in all things, except religion. As such, he is an avid proponent of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, especially this time of year.


Sufficiently Worried

When speaking of Christianity, we are accustomed to hearing phrases like “living our lives for God” or “giving our lives to Christ”. Such language evokes a very big-picture view. This perspective is necessary to our Christian walk because it serves as the North Star by which we set and monitor our course. However, we must be careful not to overlook the daily business of discipleship. It can lead to a situation in which our attention is so set on our map that we fail to notice the holes and cracks in the hull of our boat which eventually cause us to sink before reaching our destination.

In His famous “Sermon on the Mount”, Christ teaches us not to obsess over the future because, “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) We have enough to concern ourselves with each day without adding tomorrow’s trouble on top of it. In addition to tending to our material concerns (work, finances, etc.), we must also work at our spiritual concerns (keeping God as our central focus). Consider also that those entities which oppose our spiritual progress (the devil and his angels) have no need to rest or eat, meaning that they are constantly and tirelessly trying to hinder us. The point of listing all this is to highlight the wisdom and compassion in Christ’s counsel. It is difficult to make it through a single day without straying from our path. With such a hefty task before us, Christ tells us to focus on what is currently before us: the present day and the present moment.

It is important to note that this is not telling us we shouldn’t plan ahead. Rather, it is telling us not to worry ahead and lose sight of the needs of the present. Imagine, for example, that you are faced with a charging rhinoceros. Is it best to worry about whether your hospital bed will be clean or to concern yourself with the matter of getting out of said rhino’s way? Clearly the most useful, healthy, and appropriate thing to worry about is removing yourself from the rhino’s path. We must set priorities for what we worry about. If we adopt an open-door policy for worries, we will most certainly be overrun by them.

The thing about concerns is that they are very good at clumping up and blocking our view of anything else. When this happens we may even turn our gaze from God, turning away from our source of nourishment and our greatest good. Perhaps the best reason for setting priorities about what we worry about is the impact that it can have on our relationship with God. This relationship is the greatest resource we have for navigating life. God desires our good, which is why He is constantly seeking us: the greatest good He can give us is Himself. We must be careful not to let our worries crowd out our connection with the One who is able to help us through them all and put them in perspective.


What If

What if?  It’s a question we ask ourselves often.  It opens the door to exciting possibilities and hellish nightmares.  The tricky part is that this question is a lot like a television set:  some of the things it shows us are real and some of the things it shows us are mere images with no factual basis.  These images can be wonderful excursions into the realm of imagination that builds up our spirits.  They can also be a dark flame used by ourselves and our enemy, the devil, to burn and torment our hearts.  It is said of St. Anthony the Great that demons came to frighten him in the shapes of fantastic monsters and beasts.  Nowadays it seems that rather than wild beasts, demons come to scare us in the form of what ifs, phantasms claiming to be things to come.  In such ways, they seek to frighten us from living our lives in the fullness that God intends.  They seek to make us recoil in fear from ourselves and others.  Fortunately, though they may raise a terrible ruckus, God will put them to shame when we rest in Him.

As Christmas approaches, we are confronted by one of God’s “what if’s.”  What if there were something coming that is going to change our lives, something that will divide our lives into “before this” and “after this”?  This may sound overwhelming and even frightening.  Change this big typically causes us to at least pause.  Here we need to keep in mind who is asking and inviting us to ask “what if?”  This is not some diabolical scare tactic.  Rather, it is the opening of a door.  We receive a glimpse of something above and beyond our comfort zones, which makes us nervous, but it is only our worldview and false self that are threatened, not our real, true self.  What if we met someone who turned our world upside down and opened the way for us to become our true selves?  It is the coming of such a Person that we look forward to as we count down the days to Christmas.  The Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” captures the implications of Christ’s birth well with the lines,

“The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight”

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Original image by Fiona the Awesome

Original image by Fiona the Awesome


The Fear of the Lord

The fear of the Lord can be a vague-sounding term.  On the surface it seems to suggest that we are afraid of God.

Original image by Fiona the Awesome

Original image by Fiona the Awesome

However, this “godly fear” is not the same kind of fear which evokes our fight or flight response.  The fear of the Lord has its beginnings in our understanding that God is so much bigger than ourselves and is beyond our complete comprehension.   In this respect, the fear of the Lord contains an element of awe.  It is similar to the awe we might feel being up close and personal with a whale, elephant, or other large animal.  Another example is the sense of smallness we get when looking up at the vast expanse of the night sky.  The sheer size of these things commands our respect.  We might call this a reverential fear.  So it is with God.  By virtue of who He is, we, and all creation, are called to show reverence to Him.  Our recognition of God as God leads us to hold Him in special esteem.  Those who fear the Lord revere the Lord.

It remains to be considered how we are to understand Jesus’ statement that we are to fear God “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:27-31)  Christ is talking about situations when we allow ourselves to be motivated by fear.  Even at times like this, we ought to obey God rather than men for God has more power over us than any human ever will.  If we are going to let the fear of men dictate our actions, so much more should we obey God since He is able to do so much more.  However, this base, animalistic fear is not fear that is holy for even demons have this fear. (James 2:19)  Christ immediately follows up by noting that even though God has such great power, He also loves us more than we can ever know, even to the point of knowing how many hairs are on our heads.  A single sparrow does not fall from the sky apart from God’s will and Christ says “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Our fear of God is based on awe as well as trust in His love of us.

To get a better idea of what this fear of the Lord is like, we turn to David, king of Israel.  When he had sinned by trusting in his military resources rather than God, God sent a message to him by way of the prophet Gad. (1 Chronicles 21:1-15)  David is given three choices for the punishment that he and the people of Israel under his rule must face:  three years of famine, three months of being defeated by their foes with the sword of their enemies overtaking them, or three days of the sword of the Lord—a plague in the land with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout Israel.  In the face of such frightening circumstances, David begs that he would fall into the hand of God and not men.  Why?  Because “His mercies are very great.”  David would rather commit his fate to God than to men because of His reverence for and trust in God.  David places all in God’s hands precisely because he has a holy fear of God.  It is this holy fear of God which reveres and trusts God that David’s son, Solomon, would later write is the beginning of wisdom.


WTH 3 – Divine Intervention

Last week’s topic was God’s holiness and why sin cannot exist with that holiness.  God deals with sin by disposing of it in hell.  Thus, we cannot take our sin to be with God.  The question we are left with is how we fit into the picture.  However, before we get to us, it is worth talking about angels.  The fallen angels were cast out of heaven when they rebelled against God and became sinful.  The ringleader of this detestable lot was none other than our adversary and accuser, Satan.  Now, when Satan and his ilk were cast out, it wasn’t merely being kicked to the curb.  Jesus states that He, “…saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)  Dante Alighieri, in his epic poem, The Inferno, paints a humorous picture of the result of this bolt-like descent.  He places Satan at the very bottom of hell, where, after having performed the mother of all face-plants, he is buried up to his waist in ice, heels to the heavens.

In 2 Peter 2:4, we are reminded that God, “did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment”.  We often think of hell as a kingdom ruled by Satan.  However, this is simply not the case.  The Bible never speaks of Satan holding any kind of power or authority in hell.  Satan is sometimes described has being the ruler of this world, but not hell.  He may perhaps be the most notorious inmate, but he is certainly not the warden.  In the words of a preacher I once heard, “He’s down there soaking up the heat like everyone else!”

Thus is the state of the fallen angels and ours would be no different.  We, too, are marred by sin and it is not something that we can separate ourselves from.  We are incapable of living sinless lives.  Because of the sin we’re attached to, we find ourselves staring down the maw of hell.  Simply put, God is set apart from all unclean things, including us.  This however, is not the end of the story; it is at this point that God intervenes:

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

-Romans 5:6-8

In His death on the cross, Christ took upon Himself everything in us that is hellbound.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

Additionally, He received the wrath of God laid up for us on account of our sin.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our inequities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

-Isaiah 53:4-5

In doing this, our bounds to sin where severed and we are free to lay down our burden.

Christ’s work on the cross and continuing ministry as our great High Priest separates us from our sin so that we may be counted among the holy.  (This isn’t to say that we don’t still stumble into sin, hence His continuing ministry.)  Additionally, God makes His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and carry out the sanctification and conversion of our hearts.

God looks upon our state, our inability to stand before His holiness on our own, and is filled with compassion.  He gave His only begotten Son so that we may be reconciled to Him and stand before His holiness, not by our own strength, but by His.  It is God who casts into hell, but it is also God who saves from hell.  To get a more complete handle on the love that God has shown us in Christ, consider this:  “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:16-18)  Christ did not die for Satan who is described with the powerful images of a dragon and a roaring lion, or for the other fallen angels described as stars.  Rather He died for us, who have frames that are weak like dust.  With this in view, we can truly say with the Psalmist:  “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?  For you made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:4-5)

Practical Questions:

  1. What are some ways that we are led to think of Satan as a ruler and king over hell?
  2. What dimensions does the idea of defilement and uncleanness add to our view of sin?
  3. What does it say about God’s character that He takes action to bridge the gap we are unable to?

Who’s the Boss?

Many times we fall under the impression that being a Christian means that things will be “nice” from now on and all of our troubles will be over.  However, we soon discover that this is far from the reality.  Rather than being moved to a retirement community, we find ourselves in the midst of strife.  When we gave our life to Christ, we rejected our sin and agreed with God that it is vile and worthy of destruction.  Thus, we stepped out the dark and into the light.  Our former partners in crime (our sinful nature, the World, and all enemies of God), are loathe to see us go over to Him and do all that they can to regain control of our lives.  Perhaps the most intimidating of these foes is Satan and the rest of the fallen angels.  They are often portrayed as immensely powerful beings seeking to deceive, destroy, and dominate.  Peter refers to Satan as a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) and John uses the terms “dragon” and “serpent” to describe him.  We read in the book of Job how Satan afflicts Job and destroys all his worldly possessions (Job 1:13-22, 2:7-10).  Later, in the Gospels, we read of the terrifying results of demonic possession such as the man who wandered among the tombs crying out and cutting himself (Mark 5:1-5).  Many stories exist of the desert monks being harassed by demons appearing in many fantastic and horrifying shapes.  Even today we see churches torn apart by petty quarrels, cults rising up to spread false doctrines, and all manner of death, suffering, and destruction.  The size and scope of the threat posed by demons often leaves us dumbfounded.

It is easy, when confronted by Satan and his works, to forget a profound truth:

“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

-1 John 4:4

We often speak of the war between good and evil, but consider this: when has God ever fought a war or a battle?  God does not fight, He smites or refrains from smiting.  Satan and his ilk run around and cause trouble only because God does not strike them down as He can at any given moment.  To ask why God refrains is to ask why there is suffering in the world; this is a question that God is not obliged to answer us on and we must trust in His goodness and holiness.  Returning to the main point, two instances illustrate that God has complete power to do as He wishes with devils.  These are the same two instances cited by St. Anthony in his speech to encourage his fellow monks in the desert.

The first instance is Jesus’ casting a legion of demons out of the man who lived among the tombs.  At the very sight of Christ the demons cried out and begged Jesus, saying, “If you cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.”  Not exactly the words of someone who getting ready for a battle.  Rather, it rings more of a scoundrel caught in some mischief by the king and who begins to plead for his life without the king saying a word.  Perhaps more startling is the fact that the legion of demons is begging Christ for permission to enter into a bunch of pigs and it is only after Christ says they can that they are able to do so.

The second instance involves the story of Job.  While Satan’s affliction of Job is what may first come to mind, recall the events leading up to it:  the angels are coming and presenting themselves before God and Satan shows up as well.  The conversation between God and Satan soon turns to Job, a man who “fears God and shuns evil”.  After Satan slanders Job before God, God gives Satan permission to do what he will with everything that Job has.  However, God sets a limit on Satan’s power, commanding him not to lay a finger on Job’s person.  Satan destroys Job’s children and possessions, but leaves the man untouched.  Again Satan comes to God and slanders Job and this time God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s health but sets another strict limit on his power by commanding him not to kill Job.  Here we have Satan himself, the leader of all demons and ruler of the World, unable to do a thing without God letting him.

It is important to keep in mind that God is not ordering the demons to cause havoc, but instead He allows them to carry out what is in their minds to do.  Jesus allows the demons to go into the pigs as they requested.  Satan is allowed to carry out his plan against Job only after God permits him to and only to the degree that God allows him (first not to harm Job himself and second not to kill Job).

What this means to us is that although it may seem like Satan is in control, we can still trust in God who is the One really in control.  We may not understand why God doesn’t just destroy all of the rebellious angels rather than allowing them to pursue their wicked schemes, but we know that they act only as far as God permits them to.  This is one of the reasons why Paul can encourage the Corinthian church by writing,

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:13

Why should demons, who have no interest in our welfare (quite the opposite, actually), refrain from overwhelming us with their wickedness and despair save that the hand of God holds them back?

Thus, despite their apparent power and authority, Satan and the other angels who have rebelled against God, are still subject to God’s power and authority.  They are “reserved in everlasting chains of darkness for the judgment of the great day,” unable to do anything without God’s allowing it.  We are not held at Satan’s mercy, we are given refuge under God’s.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

–James 4:7