Breaking Through the Darkness (10/16/16)

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Do you believe Satan is real?

In 1986, Pope John Paul II said “[The devil exists and] is a cosmic liar and murderer…[who] has the skill in the world to induce people to deny his existence in the name of rationalism and of every other system of thought which seeks all possible means to avoid recognizing his activity.” We also see from the gospels that Jesus believed he was real. Do you agree with Pope John Paul II and, more importantly, Jesus?

According to a 2013 article for the Washington Examiner, only 57% of Americans believe the devil is real. Denying his existence blinds us to the havoc he creates in our world because we then blame his actions on other things, such as bad luck.

The Devil is real. He does attack and harass God’s children. In 2013, my seminary cohort experienced his attacks when we had to go to Vietnam and Cambodia for a school trip. It happened during a visit to a Buddhist temple complex in southern Vietnam. The complex is located outside Chua Doc at a place called Stone Mountain.

Before we arrived there, our group was having a good day. We woke up in the city of Long Xuyen where we participated in a lively worship service before boarding a bus for Chau Doc. We had a good time together as we travelled and were fine when we arrived at the complex.

The first building we went into was a pagoda that was built to worship Buddha. It contained over 200 statues. The air was filled with smoke because worshippers were burning incense as part of their worship and prayers. Then we went into a temple built to honor Su, a woman they believe reached Enlightenment. She is so revered that we were prohibited from taking photos of her statue.

Many members of our group could feel a spiritual heaviness as we entered these buildings. This wasn’t anything new to us. We had experienced it earlier in the week when we visited Buddhist and Hindu temples in Ho Chi Minh City (formally Saigon). However, in this temple, the heaviness seemed to be stronger.

As we visited the various temples, we found ourselves praying things such as “God, are you here?” and “How are you working here?” One lady in our group said that, as she prayed, God brought a different song to her heart and mind in each place we visited. This showed her that his presence was there even though the people were not worshipping him.

One member of our group is black. She embraces her heritage and culture by sometimes wearing her hair in dreadlocks. Most people in Vietnam have never seen someone who looks like her so often they would stare at her. Some people even went up and touched her to see if she was real. Once some people laughed at her. For the most part, she handled it well. However, when we came out of the temple for Su, she became very angry. She was tired of people staring at her. Another member of our group tried to comfort her but her anger increased. After a few minutes, the person trying to comfort her got angry as well.

At this point, our group, which was having a good day, came unraveled. The woman who was angry got even more angry. A man in our group also got angry. He started crying and became convinced that no one in our group liked him. The lady who had been given songs in her heart got very emotional and broke down crying because God did not give her a song in the temple of Su. It seemed to her that his presence wasn’t there. Tensions among the remaining members of the group was also rising. At this point, our leader decided it was time to end the tour.

As we were leaving and walking down the street to catch some taxis, the Lord revealed something to me. We were under a direct spiritual attack. The Bible says in I Corinthians 10:20-21 – “20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s Table and the table of demons.” When people worship idols or gods other than YHWH, their worship is being influenced and directed by demonic entities.

We left the temple complex and went to dinner. The tension and raw emotions began to ease but our group was not even close to being back too normal. After dinner, we walked back to our hotel. The rooms were not good. The facilities were adequate but dirty. My wife, Stephanie, didn’t even sleep under the blanket on our bed that night. She slept in her clothes on top of the covers. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the worst part. The hotel had a strange feel about it and the strange activities continued. While Stephanie and I were trying to get settled, the man who had been angry earlier knocked on our door. He came into our room and began to weep. He told us how he hated this trip and that he missed his wife terribly. Now I have no doubt he did miss her. However, both he and his wife are world travelers. This trip wasn’t too much for him and he was used to being away from his wife for several days at a time. Something else was happening to him.

After a short rest, we had to walk about ¾ mile to the Victoria Hotel, which was the nicest hotel in the region. We went there for dessert and to reflect on the trip up to that point. As we walked, we noticed the people in that town weren’t near as friendly as they were in all of the other towns we had visited. We also had a sense that we were being watched, but not by humans. Two young men in our group, who took a different route to the hotel, were approached by a man who asked, “Are you looking for a woman?” “No,” they replied. “We’re not here for that.” The man then asked, “What about a girl?” “No,” they said. The last question was, “How about a young boy?” Obviously, their answer was “No” but this conversation shows how spiritually dark this city is.

After our dessert and debriefing, we went back to our rooms for the night. Strange things continued to happen to us. Electronics which worked perfectly up until this point started acting up. One woman in our group sensed a demonic presence in her room. Many of us had trouble sleeping.

The next morning, we boarded a boat and went north on the Mekong River into Cambodia. Once we got away from Chua Doc, things quickly returned too normal. The anger disappeared and people’s normal personalities came back. Electronics worked as they should and the heaviness lifted from us.

I realize non-believers will say it was nothing more than figments of our imaginations. Our minds were playing tricks on us. I know better. This isn’t what happened because I was part of the group that experienced it. Whatever demonic power that was in control of that temple and town didn’t want a group of Christians there so it did everything it could to make us uncomfortable.

Ephesians 6:10 – 12 says10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” According to the Bible, Satan and the spiritual forces of evil are real. I know from experience that they are present in certain areas of Vietnam. The good news is they aren’t the strongest presence in creation.

John 1:1-5 says In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” The attacks on us in Vietnam actually increased my faith and confirmed the truth of this passage to me. If Christ wasn’t stronger than the forces of darkness, why were they threatened by our presence to the extent they needed to attack us?  I firmly believe it’s because they didn’t want a group of Christians there so tried to make us uncomfortable enough to leave.

We need to realize that even though John 1:1-5 teaches us that Jesus Christ is stronger than any evil entity that comes against us, evil isn’t passive. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says 8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” We will fail if we try to fight evil on our own. However, we can stand firm if we come against it in the power of Jesus Christ.

So, since Satan is real, what do we do when he attacks us?

1) Admit Satan is real and wants to destroy us.

2) Put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18)

3) Remain faithful to Jesus. Don’t allow Satan to entice you into sin.

4) Pray for God to help you remain faithful.