Bewitched. Bothered. Bewildered. The Guise of the Supernatural

A recent Gallop poll shows that 73% percent of Americans believe in at least one aspect of the paranormal, such as witchcraft, ghosts, channeling with the dead, etc. Still another poll finds that 80% of Americans believe in God.

Little wonder, then, that the overlapping which undoubtedly results can only mean that most people—born-again or no—are left bewitched, bothered, and bewildered by it all.

The devil is alive and well in Hollywood. He’s been using the media to further confuse and even frustrate those who only seek the truth. Movies (The ExorcistThe OmenPoltergeist), television shows (Crossing OverThe Vampire DiariesGhost Adventures), and even pop music (Dancing With Ghosts; Deal With The DevilDeath Knell) all contribute to taking our attention away from the things of God.

And it’s so easy. The diversion can be so subtle.

We are told that there’s little or no harm. It’s like the frog who would never jump into a pot of boiling water, but when placed in cold water can easily be deceived by slowly turning up the heat until it’s too late.

I remember when as a boy in the early 1960s the television show Bewitched premiered. Elizabeth Montgomery played Samantha Stevens, a witch who falls in love with a “mortal,” marries, has children (who also turned out to possess magic abilities) and settles in to a domestic life in Suburbia.

All she had to do was twitch her nose to make something happen. It was an entertaining half hour of comedy that seemed harmless. Truth be told, nothing controversial was ever raised in any episode, and the public took in the premise with a grain of salt.

A couple of seasons ago, the series Lucifer premiered. We’ve come a long way from Bewitched.

In 1973, the blockbuster The Exorcist hit the big screen. True, this wasn’t the first time Hollywood released a movie themed on demon-possession. The Exorcist, however, came across in a gory, perverted way that portrays evil as more powerful than faith.

Across the nation, church groups demonstrated in front of movie theaters.

Movies these days make The Exorcist pale in comparison. We’ve come a long way, unfortunately.

Music is another genre that seems “hell-bent.” Lyrics that mock our military and police are brainwashing our youth. Rape and murder are themes now seemingly embraced by a growing segment of the public.

We’ve come a long way from lyrics like, It’s very clear our love is here to stay (Nat King Cole).

Dungeons & Dragons™—and hundreds of video game imitators—have escalated violence, murder, and even suicide, especially among school-aged children and young adults. To my knowledge, some of the school shootings we’ve witnessed on the news have had some connection to a video game that glorifies violence in the worst ways.

Remember Columbine? Our nation watched in horror as high school students had to be led out, single file, with hands above their heads. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.

Gradually, school and church shootings increased—until at the time of this writing (the summer of 2018) we’ve already had 18 such incidents since January 1. That averages about one every 11 days. Something must be done, because we shouldn’t be having to live in fear like this.

Cue the frog.

“My two main concerns are desensitization and glamorization,” says Marcia Montenegro, a former professional astronomer and a born-again Christian since 1990. “I believe that the massive amounts of books, TV shows, and movies that promote occultism and heroes/heroines who have occult powers have desensitized the culture as a whole. No longer is it seen as a bad thing for a child to pretend to cast spells, for example; now that is viewed almost endearingly. It is easy to become desensitized to the fact that these activities are evil.”

Ultimately, being desensitized can lead to acceptance of New Age or occult beliefs, which in turn can lead to disinterest in or rejection of what God has to say about false beliefs. That acceptance can lead to active participation.

According to the Gallop poll, Americans admit to belief in some type of paranormal existence. The media has found an opportunity to make money preying on that ever-so-slight open window. With a public’s increasing appetite for more and better special effects, the money continues to roll in.

Proponents of the paranormal argue that many of these phenomena exist in the Bible. True. But not to the extent we see around us today.

Jesus cast out demons on several occasions, so we know that demons exist.

Witchcraft is also nothing new. In fact, it was the witch of Endor to whom King Saul went for a divination (I Samuel 28: 7-25). What happened next proves that these fortune-tellers are phony. In the mood for a ghost story that is true?

In a town called Endor, southwest of the Sea of Galilee, a nameless woman made a living practicing witchcraft. She claimed that she could conjure spirits from beyond the grave. That is not unique. Many towns back then had at least one such “diviner” (and there are a lot of them around today).

The practice was such a problem that King Saul outlawed it. God makes it clear that we must avoid such evil, which would only affect negatively our relationship with Him.

Nothing’s changed in 2018. That requirement still stands.

Unfortunately, Saul’s heart later spiraled away from God. I Samuel 28 records where Saul is at his lowest. Feeling that he could never turn back to God, Saul does the unthinkable. He consults a witch, hoping to speak to the ghost of Samuel to ask advice about an upcoming battle.

On this one occasion, God allowed Samuel to return with a chilling message for Saul. By the way, the witch freaked out when Samuel appeared—which tells us she had no such power.

Saul did not want to hear Samuel’s message: “The Lord will deliver Israel with thee into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me.”

Saul was terrified. Little wonder. And God was true to His word—the next day Saul and his sons perished. The real tragedy is that it didn’t have to end that way. Saul’s pride kept him from confessing his sin. Saul could have repented long before, thus avoiding this nightmarish end.

Regardless, nothing in the Bible supports the belief that disembodied spirits can remain on earth to “haunt” us. Instead, the Bible is clear that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Jesus raised people from the dead—but they weren’t zombies. He raised them by the power of God. They were dead, one even was buried for four days—but Christ brought them back to life, a normal life.

The Bible also makes it clear that there are spirit beings—angels and demons. The angels serve God. They are ministering beings created and sent by God “to serve those who will inherit salvation” (1:14).

Demons, on the other hand, are fallen angels under the control of Satan. They roam the earth looking to destroy God’s children (I Peter 5:8).  They are cunning and wise to our weaknesses. They know of our human nature to desire anything that meets our self-gratification.

Enter the media’s role to bewitch, bother, and bewilder God’s children.

The adage that “if it’s online, it must be true” certainly extends to the media’s exploitation of the unexplainable. “If I see it in a movie” or “I read about it in a book and it made sense”—then it must be fact.

No doubt the paranormal activity we read and hear about today are hoaxes played on a public that is eager to believe. My experience is that there is a logical explanation for much that gets passed off as “paranormal activity.”

I do caution, however, that where there is genuine spiritual activity going on, it would have to be the work of demons. After all, there is that thing about the spiritual battle constantly fought over us:

“For we are not fighting againsflesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil
spirits in the heavenly places.” — Ephesians 6:12.

The devil is a liar. He is a deceiver. He will use every trick in the book (or movie screen, etc.) to rob us of our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

The devil employs the “dark forces” at his disposal in this world, which he temporarily controls. That, by the way, will someday end.

Christ came to destroy the devil’s work (I John 3:8). His death and resurrection accomplished that. Jesus walked out of His tomb alive forevermore. His post-resurrection appearances were witnessed by hundreds.

Furthermore, His disciples carried His message to the ends of the earth. All but one died a martyr’s death, maintaining to their last breath that what they had witnessed really happened. I can imagine one or two holding out on a lie—but not eleven, and that doesn’t even count many others we don’t know about in the first century church.

As His followers in 2018, we must constantly remind ourselves of the gravity of sin that ultimately led to our Redeemer’s great sacrifice.

So, don’t be confused. God is in control. His will is being done, on earth as it is in Heaven. There is no hocus-pocus. No mirrors. No sleight-of-hand.

The Gospel is the one thing we can totally rely upon.

Major Frank Duracher’slast appointment before entering retirement was as assistant editor-in-chief for the Publications Department at National Headquarters.

Do the Unthinkable

I am forced to do the unthinkable in my office every day. This task is at best socially unacceptable, and at worst, a deal breaker in most relationships. Even after many years of doing what I do, I still approach this aspect of my job with great trepidation. What is this awful responsibility? I ask women about their weight.

Of course, I ask men as well, but without the trepidation. I am a Family Physician, and a large part of my practice involves preventive medicine. Obesity is an epidemic in our society, and involves the risk of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes, leading to the increased risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) and cerebrovascular accident (stroke), primary causes of disability and death in the U.S. I cannot properly care for patients without addressing their weight.

In the medical world, the word “obese” is not pejorative; rather it is a calculable descriptor of the ratio of weight to height. While society uses this word as an insult, in medicine it simply means someone who is carrying around more weight than is ideal, and whose health is thereby at risk.

Our spiritual health is at risk when we carry burdens that are too heavy to shoulder. We are left weak and exhausted, and find ourselves susceptible to temptations of many kinds. Life becomes unbearable, and many exist from day to day trudging along under heavy loads that prohibit joy. Ineffectiveness, doubt and discouragement creep in.

Jesus Christ invites us to lay our burdens down at His Cross. Much like the man “Christian” in John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” we experience incredible relief when the Son of God takes our heavy load of guilt and sin. Christian explains the paradox of life with God: “He has given me rest through His sorrow, and life through His death.”

This is not about casting off burdens and taking up a carefree existence. Christ takes away our load of sin, forever to be forgotten in God’s complete forgiveness. But there are some burdens we can’t leave behind. The burden of a wayward child. The burden of health concerns. The burden of unemployment. The burden of financial extremes. The burden of a broken marriage. These can remain when sin is forgiven.

In Matthew 11 Jesus invites us, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Here are three life-giving directives:

  • “Come to Me” He gently asks us to allow Him to help us. He has created us as agents of free choice, and waits for us to acknowledge our need. He refuses to force us. He calls us. His grace is prevenient, but we need to respond.
  • “Take My yoke” The metaphor is clear. We don’t shift our life’s circumstances to Jesus and then run away. Instead, He walks through life alongside us, shouldering our burdens with us. He doesn’t offer escape from life’s trials. What He desires is relationship with us, and He offers us eternal life.
  • “Learn from Me” There are no lectures from afar. This is not long-distance learning. He guides us through everyday life, good and bad, helping us grow in wisdom and knowledge of Himself. Imagine the Lord of all creation coming to help us, taking each step with us as He teaches us His ways.

We don’t remain in the shadow of the Cross. Because Christ Jesus is resurrected and alive, we live confidently in God’s presence, where there is no darkness, as we “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16). This is the life with Christ that Paul speaks of when he encourages us to “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you” (Phil. 2:12-13). Jesus gives us daily salvation from our corrupt culture with its materialism and decadence. He saves us from discouragement, anxiety and complacency. He saves us by not allowing us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (I Cor 10:13). We have been saved through the power of the Cross, and we are being saved in our daily walk with our imminent Savior.

So do the unthinkable! Allow God’s Son to carry your load with you. Learn from the Lord of the universe how to be gentle and humble in a society that seems to value brashness and arrogance. Practice complete dependence on Christ in a world where independence and self-reliance are applauded.

I will continue to ask patients about their weight, and encourage those overweight to adopt healthy lifestyles. In the same way, we can all adopt spiritual lifestyle changes, intentionally practicing spiritual disciplines to make space in our lives for Christ to walk with us. Only when we lay our load of sin at His feet and allow Jesus to share our daily burdens can we say with Paul, “I want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings” (Phil 3:10). God will help us understand this mystery of Christ.

Dr. Winters, the lead physician in a 6-physician Family Medicine practice in suburban Chicago, has been active with The Salvation Army his entire life. Shortly after completing his medical training, he and his wife Diana (nee Rader) were appointed to the Salvation Army Chikankata Hospital in Zambia, where he served for four years as the senior medical officer. They are now soldiers of the Oakbrook Terrace Corps near Chicago were David is the corps sergeant-major.

Heaven’s IMPACT

Birthday parties for me were a thing of the past. I stopped having them when the lit candles on my cake started to look like the burning of Atlanta in Gone With The Wind. I figured it was time to quit before people began passing out from the heat.

No doubt the subconscious fear of mortality had a lot to do with my negative feelings toward birthdays. Then something happened that put a new perspective on my fear.

As a nurse, I was assigned to accompany a patient during his therapy sessions. I couldn’t help but notice that his limo driver was an unusually kind man. One afternoon, while the driver was waiting in the lobby of the clinic, a disheveled woman walked through the revolving door “Did you know that that woman is much more important than all the things we’ve been told are supposed to be important in life?” he asked me.

A decade earlier the limo driver HAD DIED.

“Did you know that to open a door for her out of kindness is worth more in God’s sight than if the whole world applauded you for being a huge success?” My curiosity was piqued.

It turned out that a decade earlier the limo driver had died. He found himself in a world that was permanent. Compared to it, our world was a shadowy, temporal place. As he stood before God he was asked the question, “What have you done with your life?”

“It didn’t mean what did I do for a living,” he explained, “but how had I loved other people?”

The man was revived by the medics and came back a different person. He no longer feared death, turned from his self-centered wrongdoing and made Jesus Christ the Lord of his life.

Jesus encourages us to live for things of lasting value. “Store up for yourselves treasure in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal” (Matthew 6: 20). So come my next birthday, I plan on celebrating. I learned what really matters and I’m going to light all those candles. Even if it means having an ambulance nearby just in case someone conks out from the heat.

What have you done with YOUR LIFE?”

Daryl Lach is a soldier at the Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois Corps and lives in Romeoville, Illinois.

From Voodoo to Salvation

Image Major Vilo Exantus

I was born in a heathen family who knew nothing about God’s amazing love and the beauty of Christianity. My parents were voodoo worshippers, completely ignorant of the things of God. Voodoo is an African cult imported into the Antilles by the African slaves during the colonization. It is characterized by belief in sorcery and witchcraft. The voodoo worshippers believe in evil spirits, called demons, and adore them as their gods. They believe these evil spirits have power over them if they do not fulfill their duty toward them respectfully and faithfully. Therefore, these voodooists are really enslaved by the devil and need to be freed by the power of the gospel of Christ.

It was such an environment that I came from. For fear of these evil spirits my parents never went to church, neither did they encourage us to go. I was not interested in going to church either. I was more eager than all the other children to go to the devil’s temple for worship every week with my mother, until one day when I was 13 years of age one of the spirits chose me to be set apart for his priesthood.

Although I used to go to the Obeahman and enjoyed the voodoo ceremonies, I was empty, and I did not have any joy and peace within. There was no love, no sense of happiness and satisfaction among these Haitian voodoo worshippers. They envied, hated and killed one another. It was a real hell for me. But, blinded by the devil, I could not see my way out. There I was, a 13 year-old boy, hopeless, desperate and lost in the world. But while I was there in that pit of destruction, chained up by the devil’s fetters, God, my loving Heavenly Father, was thinking of me. He had a wonderful plan for my life and so He opened up a way out for me through some little Christian friends.

These young people invited me to go with them to Sunday school. Without any resistance and unknown to my mother, I accompanied them. The first Sunday I enjoyed it very much. Every Sunday it became more interesting. The more I kept going and learning about God, the less interest I had in the voodoo business, until one day I made the decision to stop going with my mother to the voodoo temple for worship. I started going to The Salvation Army meeting. I can vividly remember that Sunday night when the Lord put His hand upon me. It was after listening to a message and the preacher was singing the appeal song, “Have you any room for Jesus?” that sitting in the pew I felt God’s hand heavily resting upon me to pray at the Mercy Seat. There at that sacred place I met with God and experienced something that I never felt before—the presence of the sweet Holy Spirit invading my soul—a sense of extreme joy and happiness came over me and all my life was changed. I was born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. Oh! Glory to God! It was a blessed experience that I never will forget.

Major Vilo Exantus is Disaster Services coordinator for the Caribbean Territory.