Luke 11:14-28 – Replace the Bad with the Good

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (New International Version)

You have likely heard the old adage that nature abhors a vacuum. That is, when a loss or change leaves a hole in something, that hole will quickly get filled with something else.

To stop doing one thing is only half of a necessary process. To start doing another thing is crucial.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells a story about a demon-possessed man. He was delivered of his oppression. However, a problem arose because the man had no replacement for the demon. He simply did nothing after the demonic expulsion.

It didn’t take long for a group of demons, seemingly seeking such a situation as this man, and took full advantage of his vulnerability. In the end, the man was worse off than before – all because of the vacuum created without the hole being filled.

We are meant to hear God’s Word and obey. Both are necessary to the process of deliverance, growth, and spiritual development.

Whenever the process is only half-baked, we have double-minded people, divided in their loyalties between God and money/power or something else.

Getting rid of judgmental spirits is important but it’s only half the process. The other half is to intentionally make space for genuine inquiry, listening, and dialogue. Without the focus on helping one another through mutual discussion, a group of folks will inevitably degenerate into discouragement, even despair, as the demons of judgmentalism come back in full force.

Kicking hate to the curb only truly works if it is replaced with a spirit of love, concern, and compassion for one’s fellow human. An environment in which people feel free to share of themselves and their feelings is the result of deliberately seeking to do so. Simply policing hate in others eventually causes the demons of hate to establish themselves even deeper than before.

Attempting to eliminate a culture of secrecy and shame can only really come through courageous acts and words of creating a climate of openness which carefully and compassionately enables individuals to boldly name their shame and destroy the blood-sucking vampire feeding on them in the demonic shadows of night once-and-for-all.

A zombie apocalypse won’t happen, that is, unless the only thing we’re concerned about is getting rid of zombies. If our end game isn’t the thriving and flourishing of real live people, our planet will be overtaken with the living dead.

“We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.”

William Gladstone

We live in a divided world, polarized chiefly around things we are against, rather than crafting a vision together of what we are for. It does little good to kick people out of power either through force or elections, only to have no collective and compelling cause to rally around and place our efforts.

I’m all in for the cause of living Christ’s Great Commission through making disciples, embodying the Great Commandment of loving God and neighbor, and taking up the Great Challenge to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. It is these activities which motivate me to put away hate, hubris, and half-baked ideas so that a healthy process of spiritual formation can happen.

If our lives are already filled with a good spirit, there will be no room for any bad spirit to enter. And if we’ve picked up one, let’s make sure to not only expel it but occupy the space with the grace and goodness which comes from knowing a good and gracious God.

Be intentional about replacing the bad with the good. If a hole is created, fill it with mercy.

O God, the source of all health: Fill my heart with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy I may make room for your power to possess me, and gracefully accept your healing; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

**Above engraving of Jesus healing a demon possessed man, by an Italian artist, 1591.

"Why, God?"

In Lodi, California, in March of 2006, a city dump truck backed into a car belonging to a man named Curtis Gokey. The car was damaged badly, so Gokey sued the city of Lodi for $3,600.  There is, however, a catch to the story: Curtis Gokey was driving the city dump truck that crunched his personal car. And he admitted it was his fault. The city dropped the lawsuit, stating that Gokey could not sue himself.  Like Mr. Gokey, we are often our own worst enemies. There are times when it is easy for us to justify ourselves while blaming God and/or others in the church for things we don’t like. 
            When life is not going so well, it is possible to slide into a private belief system that thinks God is not good for his promises (James 1:16-17).  At worst, one can start to think that God is the problem and the source of the trouble.  To be “self-deceived” means to go astray or slowly drift from the truth.  And it can happen to anybody.  The first step to self-deception is having expectations that do not get met.  An expected answer to prayer goes unanswered; another person lashes out and there seems to be no protection from it; an expected blessing does not come to pass – it is then that complaining and blaming God for the problem can occur.  Immediately after being delivered from Egyptian slavery, the Israelites faced some significant challenges in the desert (Exodus 15:22-16:3).  They responded not with faith but with grumbling against Moses.  They began to believe that God did not have their best interests at mind, and started to skew how they looked at the past.  The Israelites quickly forgot that Egypt was terribly hard and they were slaves.  Yet, they looked at it as the good ol’ days.
            Trusting God when we do not understand everything that is happening can be a challenge.  Asking “why” questions are not all bad.  God is big enough to take our questions.  “Why, God, did you let my son or daughter die?”  “Why, God, did you give me so-and-so to deal with?”  “Why, God, is there so much suffering in the world?”  “Why, God, do people I care about have to go through such difficulty?”  “Why, God, do the wicked go unpunished?”  “Why, God, are so many Christians dull and apathetic?”  “Why, God, does everything seem to be changing?”  “Why, God?”
            Questioning can help us make sense of our situations.  Questioning may also cause us to doubt that God is there and that he will act on our behalf.  In such times it might be tempting to blame God for a broken relationship, a terrible event, a dysfunctional church body, or an adverse situation.  But God has chosen to give us birth through the word of truth (not a word of deception and lies) so that we might have new life with fresh eyes of faith to see our situations as God sees them (James 1:18).  That is what wisdom is – the ability to see all of life from God’s perspective.  If any of us lacks wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously without finding fault, and it will be given to us (James 1:5).  This is a promise from a good God who knows how to give good gifts.
            None of us are above falling into misinterpretations that lead to the self-deceptions of questioning the goodness of God.  We need to be vigilant in watching for the clever stories we might tell ourselves:  ‘it’s not my fault; it’s all your fault; there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll just belly-ache about it.’  We are all to take charge of our lives through having a robust theology of God that discerns he is always good, all the time.
            The good news is that a good God has taken care of the sin issue once for all through the cross of Christ.  He has brought us the good gifts of forgiveness and grace.  Furthermore, God has given us his Holy Spirit to help us and guide us into all truth so that we will have wisdom and humility to live the Christian life as it is meant to be lived.  The key to it all is faith – genuine authentic faith that places head, heart, and hands completely in Jesus Christ so that we have right belief, right motives, and right actions all rightly working together in a full-orbed Christianity that glorifies God and blesses Christ’s church. 


            Don’t be your own worst enemy by sabotaging your thoughts with the double-mindedness of wondering about the true nature of God.  Explore the depths of God in Christ and discover the goodness that can result even in life’s most difficult experiences.