Month: May 2017

Angels & Demons

Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Exec. Director

Quick… tell me what comes to mind when you think of the word, “Angel.”  For most of us, the image is one of a beautiful, winged creature, dressed in white, that floats effortlessly in the sky like those who once appeared in Bethlehem to welcome the Savior’s birth.  Though most of us have never seen one, still most of us believe in their reality.  The Scriptures certainly mention them enough to get noticed.  Angels are mentioned over 200 times in the pages of the Bible.  There are even passages that give a nod to our notion of guardian angels.  Jesus said in Matthew 18:10 when speaking of children, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”  Notice the pronoun… “their,” as in the ones that are assigned to each child.

Let’s flip the coin.  Tell me what comes to mind when you think of the word, “demon.”  Maybe you think of little devils with pointed tails and pitchforks.  I have to admit that when I was growing up, we didn’t talk a lot about demons.  Maybe we were too scared to even bring up the topic.  Most of us used the “Exorcist” movie as a frame of reference when thinking about someone who was demon-possessed.  The mention of demons in the Bible is much less prevalent than that of angels.  In fact, demon-possession is only mentioned in the three Synoptic Gospel accounts.  There is no mention of demon-possession in the Old Testament, nor in John’s Gospel, nor in the writings of Paul.  Of course, the Book of Revelation has a lot of imagery concerning demonic forces.  And certainly, throughout the pages of Scriptures there is a very clear description of the force of evil upon the earth.  Paul reminds us that… “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:2). Jesus faced such evil in the wilderness, in the garden, and even in the words of His disciple Peter (Matthew 16:23).

Maybe it’s time to reframe both the imagery and definitions of angels and demons.  The word, “angel” actually is drawn from the Greek word, “angelos.”  It literally means, “messenger.”  Heavenly beings were referred to as angels because they always acted on behalf of God, bringing His “message” to the people who needed to hear it.  Pair that with this verse, “We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ…” (2 Cor. 5:20 NLT).  Here’s the point.  Whenever we, as the people of God, act on God’s behalf, speaking hope, comfort, redemption, and grace, have we not become as His angels?  Whenever we bring healing to that which is broken, whenever we affirm the value and worth of every person, whenever we demonstrate agape love and not divisive hatred, are we not numbered among the angels (messengers) of God?

Let’s define demonic as anything that destroys or refuses to affirm, the Image of God in every person. Demonic elements could refer to anything that is, dehumanizing and contrary to the work of God. When defined in such a context, it is easy to see that the demonic work of evil is very prevalent in our world.  There are many forces that seek the dehumanization of people.  Let’s take a look at several.

Think in terms of human trafficking.  There are more people enslaved around the world today than at any other time in human history.  Estimates range as high as 20-30 million world-wide.  Human trafficking is the 3rd largest international crime industry in the world behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking.  It reportedly generates $32 billion dollars in revenue each year.  Those trafficked are not viewed as individuals made in the image of God, but as commodities to be bought or sold.  Human trafficking is dehumanizing and contrary to the work of God.  It is demonic.

Want to take on the topic of pornography?  Here are some stats that should get your attention about the explosion of pornography in the United States.  Every second 28,258 users are watching pornography on the internet and every second $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography.  40 million American people regularly visit porn sites.  35% of all internet downloads are related to pornography.  25% of all search engine queries are related to pornography, or about 68 million search queries a day.  Search engines get 116,000 queries every day related to child pornography.  Every 39 minutes a new pornography video is being created in the United States.  (Statistics drawn from  Both men and women are drawn into this web of darkness.  It exploits.  It tempts.  It distorts.  It victimizes.  It disrupts relationships.  Pornography is dehumanizing and contrary to the work of God.  (By the way, only 7% of all churches offer any programs in response to this epidemic.)

What about the subject of capital punishment?  Shane Claiborne, writer and human rights crusader, writes extensively about the ethical dilemma of “killing to show that killing is wrong.”  (His recent book, Executing Grace is all about this topic.) He is quick to point out that 85% of all death row executions happen in The Bible Belt.  He adds, “We don’t always execute the worst of the worst, but the poorest of the poor, who haven’t the means for adequate representation.” (Spoken at Q Conference – Nashville 2017)   I like his take on Jesus’ position on the death penalty when speaking about the woman caught in adultery who was about to be stoned to death… “The only One with the right to throw a stone has no desire to do it.”  I certainly understand that there is anger and well-articulated arguments on either side of this issue.  (I have a friend who is in his mid-20’s and who is on death row in Mississippi.)  But I have to ask, “Is it right to repay evil for evil?”  Does our practice of the use of capital punishment demonstrate that we have become a more “Christian Nation?”  Is it our place to enact revenge?  Have we dehumanized those on death row?

And what of the current debate around healthcare?  If we willfully deny coverage to the poor, to those with pre-existing conditions, and to those whose birth certificates may not have been stamped in the U.S., are we not dehumanizing such folks and declaring them to be of too little worth to have healthcare?  Are we not called to offer compassion and care to all?  Where is the Christ-ethic in our debate or have we become so segregated in our politics that we not only set party affiliation above country, but we also set our opinions over the authority of Scripture whose mandate has always been to “care for the least of these?”

Maybe the strongest indication of the evil around us can be found in the evil within us.  Look at what social media has done to us.  We spew out vitriolic venom at anyone who dares to disagree with our opinions and biases.  Facebook has become Disgracebook.  Twitter doesn’t just inform others and allow us to tell our stories, it gives us an immediate audience to which we can voice our rants.  And what of the 24-hour news cycles that populate our television channels and fill-up our internet news feeds?  Do they draw us together in common cause against the ills of our society, or do they divide us even further?

Angels and demons.  Both are real.  Both are present in our culture.  The only way the demons win out, is when the “messengers of God” refuse to proclaim His redemptive plan for humanity that wraps well-being, worth, and love into the same conversation.  In his opus magnum entitled, Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton writes, “The tragedy is not that things are broken.  The tragedy is that they are not mended again.”

Angels and demons… which Kingdom do you represent?





Un-Social Media

Dr. Jon Roebuck, Exec. Director

It all seemed like a good idea at the time… carefully developed apps on our smart phones that were going to connect us to one another in ways that we never dreamed possible.  Social media programs like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram promised to reunite us with old friends, connect us globally with family and co-workers, and fill our lives with meaningful content. And in all fairness, a lot of that has happened.  With just a few clicks of a mouse or taps on the screen, I can see wedding pics from a ceremony on the other side of the globe.  I can experience the joy of a parent holding their newborn through a video link.  I can see the places where friends spend their vacation money.  I can read prayer requests, learn of accomplishments in the lives of others, and even discover a great recipe for cooking ribs.  And of course, if you like animal videos… there is no end to the content.  There are a lot of positive aspects to the world we call social media.  But then again, there is a downside to it all and it’s my fear that the dark side is starting to win out.

I have discovered that social media is quickly becoming very un-social.  Anyone with a smartphone or laptop now has the ability to gain a world-wide audience.  It has become easy to give an opinion, offer an attitude, or attack others from comfort of an easy chair.  Social media has enormous power to do evil.  Social media is a critical tool in the world of politics.  People rant and rave and spew venom.   Real facts get lost in the confusing maze of “fake news.”  Anger, abuse, and hatred are spread on the web with wild abandonment.  Soft porn gets peddled, identities get stolen, and friendships get forsaken.

I know people, and you do too, who have to “block” former friends from their Facebook feeds because of the political opinions and intolerance that gets spread around.  Instead of finding old friends with whom to reconnect, many are trying to escape from lifelong friendships on-line because the divides are so deep and the hurtful opinions are so strong.  It seems that we have learned how to connect electronically, but have forgotten how to live relationally with a sense of civility, respect, and common decency.  I have friends who have deleted their on-line accounts because they can no longer tolerate the stress and anger that social media brings to their screens.

I attended a conference last week that focused on the intersection of faith, business, and culture.  One of the sessions dealt specifically with this whole problem of social media.  One enterprising start-up company has developed a new cell phone concept called “Lightphone.”  This cell phone can do only two things.  It can make and receive calls.  That’s it.  No email.  No web access.  No social media.  They pitch the idea of creating more light in your world by spending less time tethered to the smartphone.  In the first 3 days it was introduced, the company had orders from 17 different countries.  They are on to something.

The problem may well be one of timing.  We have let our development of technology outpace our moments to reflect on how we use technology to aid in human development rather than tear it apart.  Even this morning Facebook CEO and cofounder, Mark Zuckerberg, said that company will add 3,000 people to its global community operations to help “Review the millions of reports we get every week.”  That is in addition to the 4,500 people already on the team. “Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen people hurting themselves and others on Facebook – either live or in video posted later.  It’s heartbreaking, and I’ve been reflecting on how we can do better for our community.”  (CNN – 5/3/17)

If you’re like the average American, you will check your smartphone 160 times today and many of those times you will look at social media.  You will have to sift through both the good and the bad to glean what you want to glean from your experience.  Is it worth it?  As the late Dan Fogleberg once lyricized, “Is the knowledge gained, worth the price of the pain? Are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt?”  Can we be so connected to the on-line world that we have lost our connection with the real one?  I don’t know about you, but I’d give up a thousand Facebook friends to gain just one more face-to-face friend.  It’s time for us to get “smarter” with our phones and more social in places like our neighborhoods, homes, and offices.

If Jesus was right in saying that “where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also” (Matthew 6:21), then I want to invest in the lives of others, and not just in the technology I hold in my hand.