Vilified by the press! A hard pill to swallow for a young pastor. Roger bolted through the foyer door Sunday morning armed with his Bible and his best “preacher face.” A trembling usher accosted my husband and flashed the front page of the Sunday paper at him. Roger’s mug was plastered there with the headline “Demon Preacher.”
My ultra-conservative husband trained at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas -- the heart of the Bible belt. Present-day demonic confrontations were the stuff of urban legends. Only tales of African witch doctors, stories of eccentric Catholic priests and spooky horror flick plots featured wars between God and Satan’s minions. Nobody talked about the Devil in our churches back home (except in hushed tones).
My husband and I moved to Tucson to begin our first full-time pastorate. “Wild West” ways were foreign to us. Tucson and Tombstone Arizona were once outlaw stomping grounds for the likes of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo. Rugged individualism still permeated this cowboy culture. Our hometown, Dallas, had more churches per capita than any city in the U.S. Tucson’s religious scene included Wiccan communes, Indian spiritist churches and New Age “tree-hugger” activists. Colorful stuff.
John Bailey visited Casas Church with his wife Linda. He wasn’t particularly interested in Christianity (especially the Southern Baptist version), but dutifully attended to support her. One Tuesday afternoon John burst through Roger’s study door begging for relief from rage, horrific nightmares and suicidal thoughts. He poured out his heart, describing sleepless nights and terrifying days. Roger, saddened by John’s plight, began to delve deeper into his counselee’s past. A hair-raising tale emerged from John’s lips.
Last July John slipped into the back pew of a spiritualist church in South Tucson. “All of you who come forward to pray with me will be empowered with wisdom from on high,” the pastor promised. “Come now, right now,” he pleaded. John lumbered to the altar, bowed his head and knelt to pray. Pastor Tom instructed each “convert” to invite an “Indian spirit guide” into his/her life to give direction. John, along with a host of other compliant followers, did as his “pastor” asked. John’s life had been a living hell ever since. Indian Spirit Guides? Uncharted territory for Roger ... but Roger’s “baptism with fire” began. He read every account in the New Testament of demonic oppression and armed himself for battle. Pastor and patient desperately prayed for Divine intervention. John immediately growled like an animal and spoke in a “Darth Vader” voice reviling Jesus and begging Him to “leave us alone.” Roger nearly peed his pants. He called his associate pastors into his study, and all joined in praying for John’s deliverance and salvation. Four hours later, the floodgates of heaven broke. John began praising God and thanking Him for Jesus’ forgiveness, and for his new life in Christ. Mystified by the events of the day, the pastors kept the surreal incident to themselves.
Six months later, Elena Herrera relocated to Tucson to live with her daughter Mericia. A petite little woman with salt-and-pepper hair, she barely spoke above a whisper. Elena knew no English, so Mericia accompanied her Mom to the counseling session. Dr. Delaney, our church psychologist, listened intently to Elena’s story. Her family attended a cultic Catholic church in Saltillo, Mexico. Father Martinez glorified the Dia de los Muertes (the Day of the Dead) and instructed his parishioners to pray to the departed spirits of their relatives. The Herrera family considered prayers to the dead as significant as prayers to patron saints. After years of lighting candles and sniffing incense, Elena began to question the faith of her childhood. Family members were aghast that she wanted to forsake her spiritual roots. Mericia wept as she translated her mother’s agonizing story. Dr. Delaney spoke words of comfort from the Bible and bowed his head to pray with her. Immediately, Elena leapt to her feet, pointed an accusatory finger at Dr. Sam and snarled “You will not make me leave!” in perfect English. Fortunately, Dr. Delaney knew what to do. During a three-hour prayer session, Elena received Christ as her Savior and spoke once again in her native tongue. A quiet peace glowed from her face. She now serves God and her precious family faithfully.
The campfire smoldered as our youth group and counselors praised and prayed late into the balmy summer evening. Our youth pastor, George, asked God to pour out His Spirit upon these enthusiastic young believers. This “Kumbaya” moment was suddenly interrupted by Debbie, a lovely high-school senior. Her body went rigid. She was unable to move. At first, the sponsors assumed Debbie was experiencing a seizure. The camp doctor was summoned. He was stumped and called for backup. Meanwhile, George and Roger began to pray for Debbie’s healing. Her wooden face was motionless and transfixed but alligator tears poured from her eyes. George felt led to ask Debbie if she ever had received Jesus into her life. He instructed her to squeeze his hand if she wanted to become God’s child. She gripped his hand like a vice. Immediately, her whole body melted into a heap and she joined his prayer, giving her life to Christ. The next morning, Debbie said she saw horrible, gory scenes during her “paralysis.” After her conversion, she became a bubbly teenager and is now a deeply spiritual, happy mother of four. Today Debbie radiates God’s love to all she meets.
Accounts of “demon incidents” traveled through the church like wildfire. Elders, pastors and church leaders began a scouring the Scriptures. A crash course in Spiritual Warfare 101 began. Roger’s seminary profs were silent on the subject. Months of discussion, trial-and-error counseling and earnest prayer ensued. Our leaders feared the extremes of “wild-eyed” charismatic confrontation or liberal denial of demonic existence. Talking about Satan was like stirring the pot in a Southern Baptist Church.
Can a person be “demonized”? The debate continued. A powerful triad of church leaders opposed any investigation into the subject. One man was a senatorial candidate, one a high-powered lawyer, and the other -- well, he just happened to be the senior editor of the Arizona Daily Star. Reporters investigated, members debated and all hell broke loose.
When the dreaded article hit the newsstands, the ringleader gloated to his cohorts, “We’ve got him now. They’ll be lined up outside his office demanding his resignation.” Instead, just as Joseph confided to his brothers, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 45:8) The Lord used this tumultuous time in our church to teach us well. We learned that freedom in Christ is not the result of theatrics, but of repentance, Biblical discipleship and earnest prayer (James 4:7-9).
Roger learned humility and forgiveness. Both sides of the furor learned to pull together and find their own spiritual footing. Most of all, we discovered that Jesus was infinitely more powerful than we’d ever imagined!
Don’t mess with the Devil. Get serious. Call on Jesus, the Savior, the mighty Satan-Crusher!
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” NIV
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