The Gospel According to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

“I wear the chain I forged in life…. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Jacob Marley

The quote cited above, of course, is from Charles Dickens’ beloved story, A Christmas Carol – a story reassuring us that, regardless of how much we’ve messed up here on planet earth, there is hope still.  Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner in life, now “dead these seven years,” returns to show the hateful, miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge the judgment that awaits him should he not change his ways.  The “chains” of bitterness Marley “forged in life” now imprison him for all eternity.

But, as the fates would have it, Scrooge was given a final chance to change his ways.  The opportunity given to Scrooge, offered via three benevolent spirits, to avoid altogether the judgment that had fallen upon his friend was completely unsolicited, unwanted and undeserved.

Yet it came.

We all know how the story ends.  Scrooge is changed.  The bitterness that filled his heart, like the heart of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, was transformed, filled with love, kindness and graciousness.

Through Jeremiah the prophet (not the bullfrog), God warns mankind, “The heart (of mankind) is deceitful, and desperately sick…”     In other words, we, like Scrooge, have a fatal flaw (sin), and are in desperate need of help and hope.

That help and hope has come through Christ Jesus. 

In his powerful hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the 16th century reformer, Martin Luther, wrote,

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.

Were the right man not on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.

You ask who that may be – Christ Jesus, it is he!

Like Scrooge, we have a chance for redemption.  Unlike Scrooge, that redemption is in no way dependent on our own human effort.  In short, the Bible says, regardless of how many “prize turkeys in the window we purchase for the Cratchit family,” we can never be “good enough” to merit redemption in Christ.  And this is why Christ came to earth to die by Roman execution and rise from the dead three days later.  It is faith in his life & death & resurrection that makes us “good/righteous enough” to stand blameless before a holy God.

Paul, author of most of the New Testament, knew a thing or two about feeling hopelessly lost.  “What a wretched man I am!” he wrote.  He continued,

Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Oh, the love of God in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere, Paul wrote,

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins... [but] even though we were dead because of our sins, [God] gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)

Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning a brand new man.  A man redeemed.  A man saved from eternal judgment.

According to God, we have that same opportunity.  Except for real…

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

For those who may mistakenly think they are beyond redemption, or for those who’ve already professed faith in Christ but, because of some life error(s), feel as though God could never again love, restore & use them:

No matter where you are in life – there is no mistake God can’t correct, no mess God can’t clean up, no knot God can’t untie, no sin God can’t forgive.  The power of our mistakes pale in comparison to the redemptive power of the Cross.

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself.  “I haven’t missed it.  The Spirits have done it all in one night.  They can do anything they like.  Of course they can.  Of course they can!”

Christ came the first time as a humble Servant.  He’ll come next time as a righteous Judge.  For now, if you’ve never honestly investigated the claims of Christ, you haven’t “missed it.”  Christ settled our account before a Holy God not “all in one night,” but all in a single moment.

This is what Christ meant when, on the cross – just before his final breath, he said, “It is finished.”

What Christ finished – is our new beginning.

Soli Deo Gloria & Merry Christmas, Nick

 

Paranormal Activity

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“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons….Watch your life and doctrine closely.” (1 Timothy 4:1 & 16)

The topic of the supernatural is at a fevered pitch nowadays.  Years ago, I sat in a class led by sociologist, Tony Campolo. I’ll never forget one particular thing he said:

“America is not necessarily a Christian nation, but it is certainly a spiritual nation.”

This is precisely why contemporary shows and movies associated with the paranormal and metaphysical are continually successful.

Years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the (then) recently released movie, Paranormal Activity. For those of you who don’t know, Paranormal Activity was produced along the lines of 1999’s hugely successful Blair Witch Projectfilmed more in the genre of a documentary filled with raw footage. In other words, it’s hard to tell what’s fact—and what’s fake.

The movie centers around a young couple who begin to try and find out what all the creepy stuff is that keeps happening in their home at night. Little does the guy know that the girl has dealt with this creepy stuff most of her life. The guy gets curious and sets up a video camera during the night to try and “catch a ghost in the act” of pulling some kind of prank—much like you see on popular shows like SyFy’s Ghost Hunters. But, things go from mischievous to nefarious very quickly as this dark entity becomes more and more hostile and possessive.

This led to some great dialogue between me and my friend —who happens to be a born-again believer— regarding what the Bible teaches about “paranormal activity.”

Before we dive in, let’s get our terms defined. These are the three most common terms used when discussing the topic of ghosts:

Paranormal activity: phenomena unexplained by normal experience.

Metaphysical: Metaphysics is a major branch of philosophy that concerns existence and the nature of things that exist.  Something described as “metaphysical” describes something that may or may not exist in reality.

Supernatural:  simply put, “beyond natural”, or that which cannot be proven scientifically; outside or beyond that which is natural.

When faced with a paranormal experience, there are only two conclusions at which people almost always arrive:  either ghosts/spirits, or demonic.

So, what does the Bible have to say about paranormal activity?

According to the Bible, there are no “disembodied human spirits” (a.k.a. ghosts) roaming this earth. On the contrary, scripture teaches just the opposite.

Paul wrote,

“to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

Jesus told the repentant thief,

Today, (the very moment the thief died) you shall be with Me in paradise.”

Furthermore, in the only parable in Scripture that includes a proper name, Jesus describes the Rich Man in Luke 16 as going immediately to hell after he died, and Lazarus (not the “raised-from-the-dead Lazarus”) going immediately to heaven.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up…”

In other words, the Bible consistently teaches human beings are not allowed a “roaming around on earth period” between life & the after-life.

“If that’s true,” you ask, “then WHAT is causing all the ‘paranormal activity’ that cameras appear to catch on film?”

The same thing that caused paranormal activity in the New Testament: demons.

There are two important biblical truths everyone needs to know about demons:

First, by the testimony of scripture, they exist. (There are nine recorded stories of demonic possession in the New Testament with numerous other stories related to demonic activity)

Second, by virtue of their master, they are brilliant strategists in deception.

And they would love for believers to base their understanding of what demons can – and can’t – do on movies, documentaries, etc – anything but the Bible. 

There’s no shame in, up to this point in one’s life, believing in ghosts.  It’s certainly nothing new.  And many Bible-believing people have been deceived.  Consider Jesus’ own disciples.  Matthew, one of those disciples and eye-witness of Jesus, records:

“when the disciples saw [Jesus] walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.”

Before I continue, C.S. Lewis’ warning in the preface to his Screwtape Letters is most appropriate here:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally please by both errors…”

That said, I will address the topic of demons briefly, not giving Satan more “press” than he deserves.

Jesus, himself, described Satan as follows:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…

His clever, insidious plan is to steal, kill and destroy a person’s peace, joy and, most of all, faith.   Where the paranormal is concerned, he uses fear.

Horror flicks can plant within a person a “spirit of fear” which, we know, is not from GodFurther (and Satan enjoys this immensely), even a believer, when gripped with fear, can begin to think Satan is more powerful than Christ.

But nothing could be farther from the truth.  For Jesus said about Satan,

“He has no power over me.”

Indeed, every single time Jesus approached a person in the gospel accounts who was demon-possessed, the demons shrieked in terror, begging Jesus to spare their lives. Further, Satan was helpless to prevent Jesus from uttering from the cross, “It is finished,” or preventing Christ from rising from the dead.

The biblical truth is clear:  Christ, over whom Satan has absolutely no power, dwells within the believer.  Hence, Satan has no power over one who has placed their faith in the power, risen Christ. 

On a side-note, when asked, “Can a Christian be demonically possessed?”, I kindly remind them that a Christian is already possessed – by the Holy Spirit.

Paul wrote,

“do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,…”

Satan and his minions want nothing to do with those who are filled with the Almighty Spirit of God.  “The demons tremble in terror” at the mere thought of God, James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote.

The disciple and eye-witness of Christ, John, comforted his readers,

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

In 1989, I had the opportunity to visit with a former Satanic high priest who had professed his faith in Christ.  I’ll never forget what he shared – creepy stories that made the hair stand up on the back my neck.  But he concluded by saying,

“I’ve seen some terrifying things within the realm of Satanism. But nothing satanic comes close to the terrifying presence and power of Almighty God.”

Back to my conversation about paranormal activity with my friend.  In addition to reminding them of their position/authority in Christ, I said,

“Be very, very careful not to develop your doctrine of demons/evil spirits on anything other than Scripture. When we do that—and a lot of believers do—we open our minds up to what the Bible calls “every wind of doctrine”. (Eph. 4:11-14)

Throughout the history of Hollywood, movies dealing with the paranormal (a.k.a. demonic activity) like The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Conjuring, the list is endless – are filtered through the minds of Hollywood directors and producers.

Stick to the one true Script—the Bible.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

I See Dead People

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“Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.” (1 John 4:1, NLT)

Years ago, while surfing through TV channels, I came across a “ghost expert” waxing eloquent. Educating the world on ghosts, he said,

“Ghosts are spirits that weren’t quite finished completing their mission on earth. Hence, before they’re able to move on to whatever’s next, they’re here with us.”

If “they’re with us”, logic dictates we should be able to communicate with them, right?

**You can read my blog on what the Bible says about ghosts here.**

Here in this blog I’d like to address what the Bible says specifically about necromancy i.e. communicating with the dead.

Before we dive in, permit me to address the following:

First, I write wishing communicating with the dead was possible.  No one would more love for the idea of communicating with our deceased loved ones to be real than me.  My son, Jordan, suffered from debilitating depression. It was a constant mental battle.  In 2013, he lost that battle, taking his own life. Even now as I type this blog my heart constricts at the thought of how desperately I would love to hear his voice and tell him I love him.

Second, let’s look at two familiar biblical passages that involve this very thing of communicating with the dead, offering some context:

1. Saul & the Medium at Endor

There is an intriguing story found in 1 Samuel 28, where the Jewish King, Saul, desperate for help, rather than depending on God, sought out a medium in Endor. I bring this to your attention because proponents of necromancy use this passage as biblical support for what they do. What follows is a brief commentary on this passage by renowned theologian, Merrill Unger:

(Upon Saul’s request), “the woman doubtlessly began her customary preparations for her control to take over, entering into a trance-like state to be used by her control or divining demon, who would then proceed to impersonate the individual called for. The startling thing, however, was that the usual occult procedure was abruptly cut short by the sudden and totally unexpected appearance of the spirit of the prophet, Samuel (who was dead). In other words, even the medium was shocked and terrified that someone from beyond was appearing! Transfixed with terror, the woman screamed out with shock as she perceived that God had stepped in. By God’s power and special permission, Samuel’s actual spirit was presented to pronounce final doom upon Saul.”

So, like parting the Red Sea, a virgin giving birth, and a donkey talking, this is simply an  instance when God, in his sovereignty, did what He wanted to do to fulfill His purpose.

2. Jesus visits with Moses & Elijah

The gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this fascinating account of Moses and Elijah appearing before Jesus and visiting with him.  Luke is the only biographer giving us insight about which the conversation centered: Jesus’ crucifixion.

Clearly, there is nothing in common with this story and the practice of a human being claiming to be a medium conjuring up the dead.

Again, as in the story of Saul in 1 Samuel 28, the reason for arranging a meeting with Moses, Elijah and Jesus is known only to God.

Now, let’s take a brief look at what the Bible has to say about necromancy:

Our fascination with ghosts & spirits is nothing new. One scholar stated,

“Necromancy (communicating with the dead) is the oldest form of counterfeit known to man. Its roots go back to the beginning of time, as far back as ancient Egypt…The main idea behind it all is that the spirits of the dead have the capacity to communicate with people here on earth through mediums.”

Our culture here in North America, although not necessarily Christian, is extremely spiritual.  Being a medium/psychic is big business.  Remember “Psychic Hotline?” a.k.a. Dial-a-Demon. One author cites who she believes are the 8 Best Famous Psychics in the World.

At the top of the list is the same man who’s been at the top of that list for decades.  His name is John Edward. His web site states,

“As a psychic medium, Edward has helped thousands with his uncanny ability to predict future events and to communicate with those who have crossed over to the other side.”

So, what does God have to say about necromancy?

1. It’s sin.

The Old Testament passages of Leviticus. 20:6, 27, and Deuteronomy 18:10-12, are strongly worded commandments from God, leaving no doubt as to where He stands on people foolishly trying to communicate with the dead.  Further, there is no approval of it found anywhere in the Old and New Testaments, only warning and condemnation.  In the book of Acts, Paul exercises little patience with a local fortune-teller.

2. It’s a lie.

Jesus tells a fascinating story in Luke 16:19-31 (I refer to this same story in my blog, Paranormal Activity, what the Bible says about ghosts) about a poor beggar named Lazarus (not the Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead), and an arrogant rich man. Both men die. Lazarus goes to heaven, while the rich man goes to hell. What Jesus makes perfectly clear is that (1) both men entered eternity immediately after their death (Lazarus in heaven, the rich man in hell). There was no “roaming around period” on earth as ghosts. And, (2) returning to earth was not an option.

3. It’s dangerous.

Former medium and author, Ralph Gasson, confesses that what he used to think was spirits of dead people was actually demons.  (After placing his faith in Christ he wrote a book titled, The Challenging Counterfeit: An Expose’ of Psychic Phenomena.)

Gasson’s discovery answers the million dollar question: “If I’m not talking to my dead loved one, who am I talking to??”

The biblical answer is simple: demons.  

The Bible tells us that demons are real. Satan’s chief talent being deception, demons would have no problem impersonating the dead. Jesus, himself, called Satan “a liar and the father of lies.” In short, no one even comes close to Satan’s skill set of lies and deceit.  His talent and genius in this area are beyond our comprehension.

The Bible actually includes a frightening story of people messing with demons in Acts 19.  Some Jews – who had not professed their faith in Jesus – were envious of the power God had bestowed on the Apostle Paul and others to perform miracles.  So, they decided to take on Satan’s kingdom in their own (Christ-less) power.  That was a very bad – and painful – decision.  You can read the story here.

Closing thoughts:

The idea of talking with deceased loved ones is a hugely emotional topic.  Those claiming to have the ability to connect us to deceased loved ones prey on the desperate.  They approach our shattered hearts with what appears to be compassion and empathy.  But, don’t be deceived.  Satan, himself, “masquerades as an angel of light.” His wiles and schemes will appear to us safe, harmless and welcoming. The problem with false teachers is that they never look like false teachers.  They’re merely people who’ve mastered the art of the con.  Entertaining any “word” from mediums will only help to convolute, cloud, confuse, and make us doubt what is actually true: God’s Word – this was exactly the serpent’s strategy in Eden, and he hasn’t changed his strategy one bit.

But, the medium and/or spirit they connected with knew things about me and/or my loved one that no one else on earth knew!  How do you explain that?

As Paul warned, Satan is careful not to expose his unfathomable depth of evil and skills in deception.  Rather, as mentioned above, “Satan masquerades as an angel of light.”  Satan, albeit not omnipresent (he can only be one place at a time), has an army of devils who’ve had plenty of time to study our lives and take notes, hoping to use those notes to deceive us at an opportune time.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

A Halloween Miracle

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Few people knew much, if anything, about Hunter “Patch” Adams before 1998. That’s when Universal Pictures cast Robin Williams in the lead role in a movie about Adams’ life.

In his book, Gesundheit!, Adams shares that, following a series of traumatic emotional experiences that caused him to become suicidal, he told his mother, “I’ve been trying to kill myself. You’d better check me into a mental hospital.” He continues, “My mom called the family doctor, who called a psychiatrist, who admitted me to a locked ward at Fairfax Hospital. I spent Halloween there.

Adams goes on to share about his roommate, Rudy, and the following two week period that became, in his opinion, the turning point of his life: “Talking to Rudy, I realized the importance of love and the people who loved me. I had been surrounded by love but hadn’t let it affect me. I perceived a deep personal truth: I needed to be open to receive love. Without it I was not a strong person. And I realized that if I continued living as I had been – without tender, human love – I would end up like Rudy. He represented the Ghost of Christmas Future that I would become if I refused to surrender to my [need for love.]”

In his book, Adams never indicates that he’s a believer. Nonetheless, his story is universal: he had spent his life underestimating both the power and inherent need of one thing: love.

Patch Adam’s miracle came at Halloween. As believers, our miracle came on a hillside outside Jerusalem on a cross, twenty centuries ago– a miracle resulting from supernatural love.

Have you, due to anxiety, anger, bitterness and the like, forgotten just how much God loves you? Don’t allow satan to steal the abundant life Jesus died to give you.

In 1973, Glenn Frey & Don Henley, of The Eagles, wrote their hit-song, Desperado, which concludes with this warning, “You better let somebody love you…..before it’s too late.” That’s good advice. Embrace the love of Jesus – His heart-pounding, infinitely compassionate love.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Possessed

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14, NIV)

Don’t for a moment think that Jesus never had a bad day. Only moments before the religious leaders accused Jesus of being demonically possessed (Mark 3:22), his family told him that he was nuts. (3:21)

After a few opening thoughts and observations, Mark gets right into the “ministry portion” of Jesus’ life, including numerous references to the casting out of demons in the first 3 chapters, alone. One thing we know for certain: “spirit activity” was kicked into overdrive when Jesus arrived on the scene. It must have been incredible to watch.

That the religious leaders foolishly claimed Jesus was possessed brings up a question I’ve been asked numerous times over the years: “Can a Christian be demonically possessed?” The unequivocal, biblical answer is “No.” And here’s why: a Christian is already “possessed” – by the Holy Spirit of Almighty God.

Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit, Who lives within you, Whom you have received [as a Gift] from God? You are not your own.” (1 Corinthians 6:19, Amplified)

Make no mistake – Satan can oppress our minds and spirits by planting seeds of anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, depression, lust, etc. As God’s children, we’re not immune to allowing Satan to lead us astray. Think: Adam & Eve, Moses, & David. Moreover, Jesus actually addressed Simon Peter as “Satan” when Peter, albeit ignorant of Jesus’ mission, tried to talk Christ out of the cross. Mark records that exchange a few chapters later in 8:33.

It’s critical that, as believers, we understand that, once we’ve professed our faith in Jesus Christ – from that moment on – we can only be “possessed” by one spirit – the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick