3 Things More Demonic than Halloween

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In my last post I mentioned predestination and Donald Trump as areas of contest between Christians. I suppose you could go ahead and add Halloween to that list as well. Every year when the Jack-O-Lanterns and fake cobwebs come out, believers are confronted with the same questions: Should we celebrate Halloween? How much? How little? Is it a harmless neighborhood costume party, or is it a satanic participation in the occult?

The concern of many, with which I sympathize, is over the extent to which light-bearing Christians share in a day devoted to the darkness of death, magic and evil. To many Christians this is the very thing Paul warned about when he said, “I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Cor. 10:20).

The Word of God deals quite frequently with the demonic and it often comes in the form of possessed madmen or pagan witchcraft. But not always. For as dark as ghouls and ghosts can be, there is a deeper darkness that perhaps we overlook. The face of evil is not always so easy to spot. Satan himself, the master deceiver, often lures us incognito as “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). We must be on our guard against darkness in disguise, for that is the evil that truly grips and corrupts our hearts without us even realizing it.

Here are three kinds of demonic activities that you won’t see on the Halloween costume rack, but they’re perhaps more deadly than all the vampires and werewolves put together:

1. False teaching.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1)

Theology is not a petty issue. A correct understanding of Christ, the gospel, and the nature of God are at the heartbeat of the Christian faith. To miss the truth of God is to miss the person of God, the crux of our salvation, and the very source of our spiritual life.

In typical “angel of light” fashion, bad doctrine is rarely obvious. Some heresies can be smelled from a mile away but most are small and subtle, wrapped in just enough truth to sound convincing. That’s what makes them so dangerous, like poison in a glass of champagne. This is why Peter warned against “false teachers…who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1).

Paul told Timothy that the spirits behind these heresies are “deceitful”. That is, they rope people along into thinking something is true when the reality is that they’re headed down a broad road of destruction. Just like Satan “deceived” Eve in the garden (2 Cor. 11:3).

If we care about protecting our churches, our families and ourselves from the demonic, we must care about doctrine. We must study the Scriptures with great care, we must be cautious about which pastors and preachers we expose our families to, and we must pay close attention to what kind of “Christian” music is playing on our radios. If you care about the decorations that adorn the front of your home, I plead with you to care even more about the kind of teaching that fills the inside.

2. Selfishness.

“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 3:14-15)

We all admire the success of others. We all have personal goals we want to reach. But when these are taken to their ugly, distorted extremes we end up with pride, bitterness, envy, and arrogance. We become saturated with ourselves and this infestation usually causes us to mistreat and misuse others.

When this happens we have fallen under “wisdom” that is not only “earthly” and “unspiritual” but straight up “demonic.” This love of self was at the core of Satan’s pre-creation fall, and those who fell with him now spread that same toxin.

To safeguard ourselves from true spiritual evil, let’s stop pining for what we don’t have and start giving more thanks for what we do have. Let’s stop gossiping and slandering, especially in our congregations. Let’s stop placing our own impulses and emotions in the spotlight and instead focus on serving one another with the loving humility of Jesus.

3. Carnality.

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” (Revelation 18:1-3)

The identity of “Babylon” in the book of Revelation is up for debate. Some scholars say it represents apostate Israel. Some say first-century Rome. Some say it’s a future, literal Babylon restored to prominence. Others say it represents the corrupt world systems throughout history. Whatever the case, the point is the same: this kingdom is a haven of “demons” and “every unclean spirit.”

What is the manifestation of this demonic influence? Drunkenness, sexual immorality, riches, power, and luxury. Indulgences of the flesh. This describes a place that is hell-bent (literally) on fulfilling every carnal craving imaginable. It’s a place where sensuality is unrestrained, money is king, and comfort takes precedence over morality.

Is our career driven by the love of money? Do we watch movies or TV shows that border on the pornographic? Do we substitute the standards of Scripture for our own subjective appetites and desires? Do we participate in—or even defend and justify—that which God calls abominable? We may never step foot in a graveyard or haunted house, but we must be careful to not create a demon-haunted Babylon right where we are.

Some evil is easy to spot. But if we’re not careful it can be little more than a decoy to distract us from the truly demonic activity in our hearts and lives. Sometimes the scariest monster is the one within. Watch your doctrine. Watch your pride. Watch your lust. Unmask the devil’s phony charade and recognize darkness where it does the worst damage, and expose it with the glorious light of Christ.

“Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:8-16)

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To my fellow Christians who support Trump: Seek first the kingdom.

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Eternal security. Predestination. Speaking in tongues. Donald Trump.

So goes the list of things that cut a hostile, fiery divide between Christians. With the 2016 Presidential Election fast approaching, American evangelicals are facing a moral dilemma unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time: what on earth do we do with Donald Trump?

This is a man whose reputation more than precedes him, from his Olympian ego to his claim that he could get away with murder. Some might dismiss such examples as nothing more than a big personality, while others could call it troubling arrogance. What’s even more concerning is his derogatory sexism and his objectification of women. But what’s truly alarming is the fact that he’s bragged about bedding married women; that over the course of three marriages he’s cheated and enjoyed it; and of course the hot topic this week is the leaked video of his lewd and crude comments about trying to seduce (or perhaps “assault” is a better word) multiple women, including grabbing their genitalia.

Here is a man who functions according to one overarching principle, and that principle is himself. He is vulgar, insensitive, and claims he doesn’t need God’s forgiveness for any of it. Yet here he is, the Republican nominee for President of the United States of America.

Some Christians have taken up arms with the #NeverTrump movement and either refuse to vote or will write in a third-party. Some will vote for him, but begrudgingly, and only to keep Hillary Clinton out of office. Others parade him as the savior of the Republican Party and shamelessly excuse his every move. Still others who previously endorsed him have since recanted.

Now, of course I would never vote for Hillary Clinton, but as it stands right now I have no intention of voting for Donald Trump, either. Yet I have many, many Christian friends who not only say they’re voting for him, but become confused or angry when they hear that I am not.

Some of their concerns are legitimate. The Supreme Court has a large, empty seat that needs filling, religious liberty has never been more endangered, and the abortion issue still casts a dark, bloody shadow over the land. For many Christians, a failure to vote for Trump means conceding these issues to the liberals. It means giving Hillary Clinton the keys to the country.

I get that, I really do. It’s a tough call to make. And I hope as much as anyone to see our land return to conservative principles and practices. But it’s precisely my belief in principles that keeps me from supporting Trump, and I hope to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to consider the same.

It seems to me that many Christians are supporting Trump out of fear. Fear of ISIS. Fear of illegal immigration. Fear of losing party unity. Fear of losing seats in the Supreme Court. Fear of losing cultural influence. Fear of losing religious freedom. With so much on the line, it’s no wonder that conservatives are standing by the Donald regardless of whatever comes out of his mouth. They’re terrified to do otherwise. He represents their only bastion of survival.

So the stakes are simple: get on board with a man who boastfully defies all standards of Christian character and conduct, or risk a dark future of liberals, socialism and terrorists. Never mind that Donald Trump is the poster boy for all the sexual perversion Christians have long stood against. Never mind that Donald Trump is the poster boy for crudity, egotism, and dishonesty. So long as he promises to protect us we’ll let him be our poster boy, too.

Yet as I consider these issues, a passage of Scripture keeps popping into my head that I think we would do well to remember in times such as these, from the very mouth of our incarnate Lord:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:31-33)

Jesus is addressing fear. He’s addressing how easy it is for us to slip into anxiety over the many troubles of this world, and how easy it is for our actions to be dominated by the constant need for security. But that sort of fear, He says, is for the godless. The heathen feels the need to secure his own provision and protection because he has no other source of hope. Since he paves his own destiny, he alone is responsible for ensuring its safety.

But the believer, according to Jesus, has a very different mindset. We “seek first”, before anything else in this world including political platforms, to be faithful to Christ’s kingdom and the pure “righteousness” of God. Our top priority must be to walk in integrity before Him. We must applaud that which is good and denounce that which is evil (Rom. 12:9, 21) We must call sin for what it is, we must never excuse or endorse it, and we must never go along with men who glory in such things (Ps. 1:1; Prov. 1:10).

We must not let fear distract us from faithfulness to God’s kingdom and God’s righteous ways. The kingdom of God is not just a distant, eschatological hope, but a current reality. We participate in and advance that kingdom every day. Our churches, families, neighborhoods, books, movies, and yes, even our politics, must all be built on the foundation of the fact that Jesus reigns. His kingdom is advanced not by who’s in the White House or who’s on the Supreme Court, but by His people faithfully obeying Him without compromise: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

Believe it or not, our top goal as American evangelicals should not simply be to stop the Democrats at all costs. Gun rights, strong borders, and personal freedom are all good things to pursue. But since they have become what we “seek first” we now find ourselves ready to follow a shamelessly immoral man who promises them to us if only we’ll give him our loyalty in return. That’s not faithfulness to the kingdom of God. When millions of Christians are giving their pledge to a lying, hot-headed, name-calling, womanizing bully, that’s not faithfulness to the righteousness of God.

Our goal must be Christ’s glory in our every choice and association. And if “all these things”—like safety and liberty—end up being added to us later, then great. But that part is not ours to worry about.

That’s why Jesus told us to not be anxious. He was not saying that material things—food, clothing, housing, or even politics and laws of the land—don’t matter. Christ’s primary concern in this passage is what we make our primary concern in this life. Instead of operating out of constant worry for the unknown, our business must be to honor God with the choices we make right here and right now and trust the outcome to His sovereignty. We don’t compromise the means to achieve the ends; we’re faithful with the means, and leave the ends to God. As my old youth pastor used to say, “You worry about God’s kingdom and let Him worry about yours.”

You might think that sounds like a cop-out. I hope not. I’m not saying Christians should sit on their hands and then blame their laziness on God’s will. That’s not what I’m talking about at all. I’m talking about actively doing the morally right thing—seeking God’s righteousness—in every situation, even when it seems futile, and trusting Him to take care of the rest.

We should care about politics. We should vote. We should be involved in the issues of the day. But that cannot be done at the expense of forgetting which kingdom we’re truly fighting for. We must not abandon the principles of God’s kingdom in order to secure the political platforms of our own. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 warns that those who are “sexually immoral”, “adulterers,” “greedy,” “revilers,” and “swindlers…will not inherit the kingdom of God.” It’s hard to claim that we’re putting God’s kingdom first when we’re so blatantly supporting a man who exhibits these exact traits.

I am shocked and saddened at how many times I’ve heard Christians telling other Christians to “get off their moral high horse” and vote for Trump. Get off our moral high horse? Do we hear ourselves? Isn’t that what liberals have been telling us for years? Must we identify ourselves with a man who has built his empire on the very things we’re told to flee?  Isn’t our commitment to holiness supposed to be the very thing that sets us apart? Are we really supposed to shove our identity in Christ to the back burner for the greater good of winning an election? I’m sorry, but no.

Many have also claimed that by not voting for Trump we’re “throwing away” our vote. But that depends on our goal. If our goal is simply to stop Hillary Clinton, then yes, I suppose that might be considered a throw away. But if our goal is greater than that—if our goal is the holy integrity of Christ’s kingdom, and if we remember than we will be held accountable for our endorsements long after America is dust—then we will not be throwing anything away. In that case, throwing away our vote would be to compromise morals for worldly security. Doing the right thing before our Lord is never a waste. Even when the alternative seems scary.

So before you gaggle over Donald Trump, make excuses for him, or before you cast a vote for him in November, I beg you to consider: Is your decision motivated by fear? Does anxiety for the future have you throwing in your lot with a man who defies all standards of God and His righteousness?

Get involved, Christian. But when you do, consider which kingdom you’re seeking first.

Five Reasons Why the New ‘Jungle Book’ is Profound

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Like most people, I grew up watching Disney’s 1967 animated classic, The Jungle Book. It was one of my favorites. I’m also incredibly skeptical of all the remakes/reboots/spin-offs/sequels/prequels/everything-elsequels that have bombarded moviegoers the last couple of years (which aren’t stopping anytime soon), and a skeptic of excessive CGI. Imagine my horror, then, when one year ago Disney released the trailer for their live-action, CGI-soaked Jungle Book remake. I admit, I died a little inside.

But this week we watched it with our youth group at church and I’ve had a metanoeō, a change of heart. It’s good. Shockingly good. Not just good in the sense that it’s well-done filmmaking or creative entertainment, although it’s certainly both those things. The CGI is beautiful, the scale is breath-taking, and the voice actors are perfect. But what surprised me the most is its Judeo-Christian worldview on the nature of man and his role in creation.

I can’t speak on behalf of the filmmakers or their intent, but the implications are hard to miss. These implications were not minor points or subtle references, but the heartbeat of the film itself. This is a film that deserves to be watched and discussed for five Jungle-sized reasons.

#1. The uniqueness, ingenuity, and authority of man over creation.

Most false religions fall into one of two camps: they either make too much of man or too little. Either they equate man with God, give man the authority of God, or promise man he can become like God; or they minimize man as an insignificant part of nature where he either shares a spiritual brotherhood with the plants or animals or he evolved from slime and is no better than monkeys. Either way, man’s relationship to the divine is confused.

The Jungle Book rightly nails the balance. On one hand, man is a part of creation. Mowgli is flesh and blood and bone and interacts with the rest of nature as a fellow created being. Man is not God. This Creator-creature distinction is one of the fundamental doctrines of biblical Christianity (Ps. 8:3-4).

Yet at the same time, man stands apart from the rest of creation (Ps. 8:5-8). He is different.  Although Mowgli tries to act like a wolf, there is no denying his humanness. At one point Bagheera even tells Mowgli, “The elephants created this jungle…but they did not make you.” This is not just a biological difference, as though man were simply another breed of animal, but an ontological one. Man is neither pure beast nor pure spirit, but as theologian Michael Horton puts it, “…we are created as psychosomatic (soul-body) whole, as persons. Our bodies (including our brain) and souls are not separate compartments, but interactive aspects of our personal existence and activity.”

Echoing the words of Genesis 1:28, Mowgli is also endowed with the ability to subdue and cultivate creation like no one else. Bagheera constantly chides him for his “tricks”—inventions that seem like magic to the other creatures. King Louie, wanting more power, goes to Mowgli to learn man’s secret. Shere Khan hates man precisely because he knows what mankind is capable of. All nature recognizes the power, intelligence, ingenuity, and otherness of Mowgli. I almost stood up and cheered when, at the movie’s climax, Mowgli tells Bagheera he wants to fight Shere Khan like a wolf, to which Bagheera responds, “Fight him like a man.”

The Jungle Book, then, is the anti-Brother Bear (“the story of a boy who became a man, by becoming a bear”) or Tarzan (“We’re exactly the same”). Yes, man is mortal. But he is also a living soul made in the image of God, and he is invested with authority as God’s viceroy on earth.

#2. Man’s unique position can be used for great evil or for great good.

One of the coolest things about The Jungle Book is its treatment of fire. What was a convenient plot device in the cartoon takes center stage in this adaption, as the “red flower” represents all the good or evil that mankind is capable of.  When used wrongly, his position enables him to kill, abuse, and destroy.

But it also gives him the ability to think, build, creative, cultivate, and help. Mowgli’s “tricks” are used to collect food and water, save a baby elephant, and defeat a foe. Man’s authority does not need to be a bad thing. It can be utilized to improve, enhance and even protect the world of which he has been made a steward.

This is very different from most nature-loving Disney films, which often portray men as the villains who mess everything up. It also avoids any sort of environmentalist overtones or save-the-planet propaganda. In the end, Mowgli’s “tricks” are just as capable of good as they are of evil.

Certainly man’s abuse of the world has led to city slums, worldwide war, and even nuclear threats. But man’s rightful utilization has led to beautiful art, helpful inventions, stunning cities, life-saving medicine, and prosperous societies. Man’s prominence in creation, and his cultivation of it, is not an evil—it is designed to be something beneficial.

Ultimately, a happy ending does not come from Mowgli ceasing to be man or becoming more one with nature, but embracing his special role as a man and using it for good.

#3. Man faces temptation from the serpent who promises pleasure but delivers only death.

One of the film’s most frightening and delightful scenes is when Mowgli encounters Kaa, the ginormous python. As our human hero pursues fruit to eat, the serpent slinks out of the shadows and soothingly sympathizes with all the supposed injustice inflicted upon the man by his authority figure. Then the serpent lures the man into a false sense of trust by promising all the comforts and pleasures of his heart’s desire, if only he’ll trust in the serpent…not realizing that the coils of death are actually closing in around him. Sound familiar?

The similarities to Genesis 3 are too strong to miss.

Some reviewers disliked the use of Scarlett Johansson’s soft, seductive voice in the role of Kaa, but I loved it for the same reason that I loved Mel Gibson’s decision to have a woman play Satan in The Passion of the Christ: sin does not always appear as a raging, roaring tiger (or a lion, to borrow a biblical example), but often tempts us with the beautiful allure of an adulteress. Evil has appeal to it. Yet behind the superficial beauty lies an enemy more powerful and more deadly than we often realize. Just ask Adam and Eve.

#4. Even a beautiful, breathtaking world is fallen and corrupt and needs saving.

It’s hard to tell what parts of The Jungle Book ’s cinematography are real and which are CGI, but either way they’re stunning. As someone who loves the great outdoors, I was breathless on more than one occasion at the magnitude and majesty of the jungle’s terrain. Our Father’s world is truly a grand place.

Yet for all that, the world is still fallen. For all the wonders of nature, there is always danger and death lurking around every corner. The Disney studio who put out movies like Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Brother Bear would have you believe that nature is a perfect, blissful Eden all on its own, were it not for the meddling destruction of mankind. But this Jungle Book, from that same Disney studio, holds no such view. Predators. Stampedes. Avalanches. Weather. Injury.  Nature, left to its own devices, is hardly a peaceful utopia. Yes, it is beautiful and captivating, and yet even without man’s interference it is also harsh and cruel, and in need of redemption.

The late Michael Crichton, an outspoken opponent of environmentalism, put it so well: “In short, the romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is only held by people who have no actual experience of nature…Take a trek through the jungles of Borneo, and in short order you will have festering sores on your skin, you’ll have bugs all over your body, biting in your hair, crawling up your nose and into your ears, you’ll have infections and sickness and if you’re not with somebody who knows what they’re doing, you’ll quickly starve to death…It is a harsh, powerful, and unforgiving world, that most urban westerners have never experienced.”

The apostle Paul would agree with that: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:20-22). All creation has been affected by sin, and all creation is waiting for renewal.

#5. Creation’s savior is a man who overcomes the failures of all men before him.

As we’ve already discussed, man is capable of great evil or great good, and it’s implied throughout the movie that the animals have encountered man’s evil in the past. Mowgli, as the hero of the film, faces the same possibility of corruption. He is susceptible to the weaknesses of the men who came before him. Yet he succeeds where others have failed. He resists the temptation to abuse power. He does in the flesh what his forefathers could not do.

It was through a man that sin entered the world. But it would also be through a man that the world would be redeemed. As Aslan said in C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, “A force of evil has already entered [the world]; waked and brought hither by this Son of Adam…And as Adam’s race has done the harm, Adam’s race shall help to heal it.”

This ultimate victory is found, of course, in the incarnate Son of God. Jesus Christ became fully man and faced all the same temptations that every man before Him had faced, yet by His active obedience He kept God’s law on our behalf and was victorious where all others had been defeated. He accomplished what Adam, and all Adam’s offspring, could not. He is humanity’s champion and the sovereign Ruler of all creation.

In the end, this Hero throws the roaring jungle cat into the flames, crushes the head of the seductive serpent, restores life to those He loves, and establishes an incorruptible peace across the redeemed realm of creation.

Now that’s a story worth retelling again and again.