Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss Halloween, the rise of the occult, what happens when we die, spiritual warfare, Satan and demon possession, and how to rely on God to fight against temptation.
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Dr. Jim Denison begins by giving the background of Halloween and why we should celebrate heroes of the faith (2:15). They move on to practical advice for parenting and why we must be careful of the occult and witchcraft (10:30).
Dr. Denison discusses death and what happens when we die (13:50). They consider Satan and demons and what power they have today (23:37).
They turn to talk about spiritual warfare and why David prays for the destruction of his enemies when Christ says to love them (30:23).
Dr. Turman returns the conversation to talking about demon possession, and Dr. Denison relates a story where he helped perform an exorcism (40:20). They hone in on how the Devil strategically tempts us and how to fight it (47:15).
Resources and further reading:
- “Why do so many Americans believe in ghosts?” – Jim Denison, Ph.D.
- “Disney’s FXX Network airs new animated series “Little Demon”” – Jim Denison, Ph.D.
- “Russian troops surprised by Ukrainian robotic vacuums: A lesson in warfare, both physical and spiritual” – Mark Legg
About the hosts
Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.
Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.
Transcribed by Otter.ai
Mark Turman 00:10
Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison forum sitting down again with Dr. Jim Dennison, our chief executive officer and cultural apologist. Jim, how are you today?
Jim Denison 00:22
I’m doing well, how are you, my friend?
Mark Turman 00:23
Doing great, great to have a conversation with you. Today we’re going to talk about Halloween evil, the problem and possibilities that come with the struggle and the reality of spiritual evil and spiritual warfare, we’re going to cover a lot of ground and see if we can be helpful this fall to people and to believers as they step into this annual reality that we find on our calendar at the end of October. For those of you listening, just a couple of little bit of information to frame the conversation, Halloween every year is a $10 billion industry, in which 70%, that’s about 235 million Americans participate in some way at some level, obviously, not all of us participating in the same way. But it is becoming and has become a very, very significant part of the fall calendar. Churches have all kinds of fall festivals and different kinds of events that may be in some way or in other ways not related to what Halloween is all about. Jim, where does this come from? What’s your understanding, just generally about the background of how we got to Halloween? And well,
Jim Denison 01:38
first of all, I’m feeling badly that I’m not one of the 235 million people that are doing this,
Mark Turman 01:43
You mean, your light will be off and nobody will be knocking on the door?
Jim Denison 01:46
That’s kind of the plan. But I need to get a costume this year, apparently, you know, well, sure. Can you get preacher costumes? Do they sell those a Walmart or something? Well, if you’re a scary
Mark Turman 01:57
If you’re looking to take suggestions on Halloween costumes, I’m gonna let all of that come to you. If he I’ve had that experience in the past where people recommended when I was pastoring churches, they would recommend costumes. And let me just say they never went well never went well for me in that category.
Jim Denison 02:15
Now I think we’ll probably delete this, or at least move right along, shall we? So but pictures will be taken if you choose to go down the road. Yeah, there would be visual evidence that should live forever, wouldn’t it? That’s right. And the cloud or whatnot? Yes. Yeah. So Halloween, as we know, is a conjunction or a shortening of all hallowed Eve. So back in church history, there was a day when well, it still is, I guess, in some traditions that November 1 is considered All Saints Day. That’s the day that the Church will come together to remember the saints of Christian history. And you do this for a lot of really positive, powerful reasons. You think about Hebrews 11. And that kind of Hall of failure there. And then you get to Hebrews 12, which makes the point since we’re surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. So when we think about what others have done, it encourages us for what we’re to do. You know, it’s just the basic psychology of that. So the idea of having a day every year when the church would come together to remember the great saints, the great heroes of the faith, especially in some preliterate cultures, where you do some visuals around that and things was still is a very significant part of a lot of liturgical tradition. Well, the eve of All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day would be All Hallows Eve. And so out of All Hallows Eve eventually get to Hallo in Halloween. Well, in some traditions, there has been unfortunately, a conjunction of the eve of All Saints Day, with some traditions that go back to the ancient Druids. Even the go back to some really occult practices, unfortunately. And so there’s really two dimensions of this day before All Saints Day one, which is really innocent, I think, is just a preparation for All Saints Day by thinking about death and thinking about life and, and kind of thinking in terms of family and community and children knocking on doors and gifts and all those sorts of things. But there’s also an occult side of this. That is, I think we’ll talk about today that is the tragic part of this that in some traditions and some satanic traditions, for instance, we’re told that Halloween is kind of their, their biggest day of the year, their grind of most significant day of the year, their occult rituals and practices that happen on Halloween that are really troubling, really very, very dangerous. There’s a lot of Hollywood around this now, a lot of media around this that I think is very dangerous as well. So there’s really two sides to the eve of All Saints Day, I think both of which we need to keep in mind.
Mark Turman 04:28
Right, and we’ll get into some of those questions, certainly in a minute. But I’m curious as just what your thoughts might be about why more parts of the Christian church. I know in in the part that I’ve experienced in my life, the evangelical part of the church. The idea of of All Saints Day never really has been in any kind of significant focus. Even growing up Roman Catholic the first decade in my life I don’t really recall that being is a significant thing. But when you think about it, recognizing great believers, great Christ followers, and like you said, Hebrews 11, why wouldn’t we want to do that more? Why? What do you think is keeping us? If if in some way Halloween is maybe the world or the secular world’s CO opting of this celebration, which it ends a church? How do we reclaim it? Why wouldn’t we reclaim it? What do you think has kept us from that? Particularly in recent history?
Jim Denison 05:34
It’s great question. And we have seen the church trying to redeem Halloween, we’ll talk about that in just a little bit in ways churches are using it as an outreach opportunity. Believers are using this opportunity to share tracks or biblical truth when they hand out candy to children and things like that. But as regards to All Saints Day itself, I don’t really know the answer to that I just have some guesses. One guess would be that Protestants, especially in the angelical, is even more, I’ve always struggled with the Catholic idea of saints, right? As you know, in the Catholic tradition, st doesn’t just mean Christian as it would in the biblical context where all believers are understood as saints hoggy as those that are set apart, right? Those that now belong to God, there’s more a formal tradition by which one becomes a saint. There’s a process through which the Catholic Church takes individuals there have to be certified miracles, or there’s a whole process or councils that meet there’s a lot of things inside them. Well, a lot of Protestants and especially evangelicals have never seen that as really a biblical thing to do. And so the idea of venerating saints, when we’re not so sure about this whole concept of saints, anyway, of Catholic saints, anyway, has made that thing, I think, a more difficult day for us to embrace than perhaps some other parts of the liturgical tradition like Lent. Jesus certainly fasted 40 days in the wilderness. So a 40 day fast seems like it’s has a more biblical kind of connotation. Well, no place does the Bible tell us to set apart a day to remember the saints per se? So there’s no biblical import behind it? And there’s some question about what saints themselves are, I think, and so, perhaps for those reasons, I would guess, we just have never made this a thing inside our tradition. And as you say, there’s some poverty in that for us. I follow the saints calendar myself, even though I’m an evangelical Christian, I pay attention every day to the saints stories for a given day. And as a look at those I’m oftentimes encouraged by the faithfulness, the courage of those stories that are told there evangelicalism that have put together calendars I could recommend on this day in church history, sort of things. Yeah.
Mark Turman 07:24
And when you’re when you’re thinking about this, I’m just thinking about how important it is for our faith to be incarnated in people. And I do believe that having heroes of the faith exactly not overly exalted on pedestals, but people who inspire us and encouraged us both in their devotion to the Lord and their diligence in their faith, but also in some of the trials and in struggles that they’ve overcome. Recently, we’ve done podcasts about the plague of suicide that’s going on in our culture. And part of the research that I did in that journey about suicide was learning about the struggles that Charles Spurgeon has depression, yes, Santa’s thicket, and that it was significant in his life when so many stories I’ve heard about Spurgeon are just how powerful he was in his preaching and how people flocked to hear him and, and as as being a preacher and a pastor, you’re like, Oh, we all just want to be Charles Spurgeon. But then you hear this very dark and difficult struggle that he had. And and that makes him more real, and more accessible as a person of faith. And I think about others, whether it’s, whether it’s the heroes of the Reformation Luther, and who had his own struggles, he had his own struggles. John Calvin, I just read an interesting thing about him yesterday. And all of these figures throughout history, there’s so much of what we could celebrate and be inspired by, and like you said, we do have other versions of that what happened in history, this person, and I think that’s, that’s an opportunity. And just as a pastor, I’m sitting here thinking, if I was at church today, I’d be saying we should all dress up like reformation characters. See if we can get floppy hats, like Martin Luther is known to have worn and, you know, we should dress up like some of those characters in history. Maybe that would be a way of the church redeeming which kind of leads to Halloween as it Yeah. Which leads to my next question. Okay. So in churches approach this a lot of different ways. And some people want to stay completely away from this. Other people see it as in a different light. Okay, so let’s think about this in this way, Halloween as costume party, mocking the devil or flirting with evil. So when we come to Halloween, Christians, particularly parents with small children, they’re trying to To find their way think their way through this. When it comes to let’s just go down the road of costumes. And whether you’re a believer or a parent trying to guide your children in this, what would you advise in terms of? What do you think about the rightness or wrongness for believers, particularly in their discipleship of their children and their witness to their community, their neighborhood when it comes to demons, death, ghosts, costumes, that kind of thing? What would you advise them?
Jim Denison 10:30
Well, I can tell you what we did with our children. And then what I’ve encouraged people to do as a pastor over the years as well. First thing to say is the occult is wrong. We ought not spend one moment of one day considering occult things in a way that could look endorsing, they could look on some level like we want to participate with this, to me, that is a massive issue. Something that I think we in America, vastly underrate. Satan loves for us loves to be normalized. He loves to be a cartoon figure, you know, in red tights. He loves this idea that he’s just a laughable, go sort of a comic figure in witches and warlocks and demons, and all those sorts of things are just figures of somebody’s imagination. And so therefore, we can dress our kids in those costumes, and we can pretend to be around all those sorts of things and do no damage whatsoever. I categorically would encourage parents not to go down that road categorically, whether your kids understand what they’re endorsing and wearing witches and Warlock costumes or not, that’s what they’re endorsing. Right. That’s what’s being normalized here. That’s the first step. And once you take that first step, you’re opening the door to the other things that are on the other side of it. We don’t want to do that. That can be horoscopes that can be Weegee boards that can be witchcraft, witchcraft has has accelerated especially during the pandemic, in just staggering terms. occultism in staggering terms, right now, there are tick tock sort of spin offs called Witch talk, that have billions of views, if you can believe it. Satan is right now alive and well. And one of the things he loves to do is to be normalized through popular culture and Halloween, which and Warlock and a cultic chord of dresses a first step in that direction.
Mark Turman 12:06
So why do you think the pandemic season might have spurred an increase or a surge in the pursuit of the occult?
Jim Denison 12:13
Yeah, well, that’s been asked of the people that are on the other side of it. And their answer to it is, first of all, people at home people with time on their hands, people that are desperate people that are looking for solutions, people that see Christianity as not relevant to their lives, but still spiritual. And for a long time, now we’ve had this spiritual but not religious sort of a move that’s caused people to think that spirituality is good, whatever it is, whatever it looks like, I can be a spiritual person without going to church without having anything to do with Christian faith. In fact, that’s the more healthy way to be spiritual we think. And so when you bring along a kind of spirituality that offers immediacy, of power, immediacy, of of meeting need immediacy, a feeling empowered, when you’re praying to the occult, or you’re participating in a cultic things, anything from predicting the future, and that’s horoscopes to being in touch with the dead and that seances anything that empowers us, goes back to Genesis three, you will be your own god, it’s Nietzsche wielding power, you know, without any of the trappings of repentance, of salvation, by grace through faith of the necessity of being engaged in the Christian movement. I can sit at home, in front of my computer and be empowered by the spiritual, I’m told. It’s a deception. It’s a horrific, dangerous, deadly deception. But during the pandemic, when people felt so disempowered, when any person that breathed on you could kill you, this was apparently especially attractive. And so even today,
Mark Turman 13:36
an attempt, he said, at power, regaining control, being in in control, even apart from God,
Jim Denison 13:44
that’s a great deception. He likes you to think that you can use him as a means to your end, when he’s using you as a means to his end. Now, well
Mark Turman 13:50
put, well put, yeah, and that that’s the ultimate deception that he’s, I know. So anyway, when this works out, in terms of families, neighborhoods, churches, I know in the church that I pastored here in the Dallas area, we would often have gatherings around this time of season. And we we just purposely stayed away from the term Halloween. But we would have fall festivals and all that we would encourage costumes or to the degree that we had that part we just encourage people to, to have joyful life giving costumes. And to make it fun that way we ask them to stay away from anything that was associated with evil and even associated directly with death. But this does bring, as you said in your earlier comments, this does bring into focus, the reality of death, as well as the reality of evil. And it brings up the opportunity in some way a conversation, perhaps our conversation starters about the reality of evil and the reality of death. And just wondering, people often ask well what happens when we die? Do some of US or even all of us, potentially become ghosts or angels? Do we have? Is there a soul sleep that we go into? What happens when a person dies? And how should Christians particularly if they have this opportunity during this season of the year? How should they think about death? How should they talk about death with other people, particularly with people who are not Christ followers?
Jim Denison 15:23
It’s a great question and a tremendous opportunity for us to reframe this as well. So back in seminary days, you know, I was in seminary when dinosaurs roamed the earth planet hadn’t cooled yet, right? We studied the Old Testament from Moses, it was terrific, you know, to have that kind of direct access, because that’s how old I feel some days. But back in those days, I took a class in Second Corinthians where Paul speaks of standing before the judgment seat of Christ, and, and this idea of, of death, and what happens when you die. And so wrote a paper on the so called intermediate state, what happens between death and the final judgment, right, I thought this would be a simple, easy thing to get into. Turns out there were five different positions that conservative evangelical scholars have taken over the years. This is not a simple conversation, unfortunately. So I’ll try to make it as brief as I possibly can. And then we’ll get to what I think is the takeaway here. Okay, so the problem we have here, yes, that Jesus says to the thief on the cross, today, you will be with Me in Paradise, says that today holdiay in the Greek in just a second.
Mark Turman 16:23
And he could have left off the word today. He could have, but he did. But he didn’t.
Jim Denison 16:27
He didn’t made it explicit. And Paul says, For me to die in Christ is gain, you know, for me to, I will be with him. He says, In that instant, in that moment, we are with him, the Bible makes it clear. And you add, the Bible speaks of the final resurrection. The Bible speaks of that day when the dead and Christ shall rise first, and we who are alive shall be caught up with him in the air and the way
Mark Turman 16:49
that is approaching Yeah, be together. Hebrew says, you know, don’t forsake getting together, but encourage each other, as you see the day
Jim Denison 16:56
the day changing, you know, and so there seems to be a day in which we will be united in heaven, and that Jesus says to the thief, today, you’ll be with me in paradise. And Paul has this expectation of imminent relationship with God being imminently in the presence of God. So how do you reconcile those issues? Those two, those two apparent conduct chronological contradictions, right, is the challenger. So one answer is soul sleep, which is what Martin Luther believed that he took literally the statement that Paul made, that Jesus made about Lazarus, that he’s fallen asleep, you know, sleeps a great metaphor for death, because the body looks dead, but the person still alive is the idea behind it. But that doesn’t mean that your soul if you want to call it that is a sleep until the resurrection. I think Luther was wrong about that. And I don’t know anybody that goes that direction today. But there are some that would say that, I guess Luther certainly said that. Second option is you have a body less soul. When you die, you’re instantly in the presence of God in eternity, but you don’t get a body yet. A third option is you get an intermediate body, something to kind of tide you over until the final resurrection.
Mark Turman 17:57
Which means your mind could go a lot of different ways with either of those. You get to have a an angel like existence for a period of time or you’re kind of quasi materials with a with a quasi new, you did lots of questions that breeds more questions brings more
Jim Denison 18:11
questions and answer creates more problems. Another answer another one would be that in the moment that you die, you receive your glorified eternal body, your eternal existence. And then a fifth answer would be a purgatory approach, where when you die, you don’t yet go to heaven, that you may go through a purgatory process or others have other ways of, of understanding all of that. So the problem that I think we have here, Mark, and this is just me, all right, this doesn’t have to be you we’re not going to vote on this doesn’t have to be citizen, a formal Dennison form. This is not a litmus test for employment. And none, none of the above Exactly. So but this is how I reconcile it myself. In my understanding, we live in a space time continuum. God transcends space and time. CS Lewis says, if you think of time as a line on a page, God is the page. All right, and so the moment we die, we step out of what we think of as time,
Mark Turman 19:01
which is pretty difficult, let’s just say impossible for us to comprehend what that
Jim Denison 19:07
means. No, because our minds are too time conditioned, right? My little finite fallen pea brain is way too small, to be able to understand what it would be to live outside of time, but God lives outside of time, God is the great I Am Not the I was or I will be. One translation says in heaven, time shall be no more. God created time he will, he will, at one day, I think dispense with time. Now some disagree with me about that. There are theologians that argue about this, but in my understanding, Heaven is a time less eternity. All right. So the moment I die, I step out of time. Well, if that be the case, my problem is resolved. Because my problem is how do i in time chronologically, reconcile the thief being with Jesus in that moment? And yet there being a resurrection at the end of time, right, in my thinking, the moment I die, I receive all I will have for all of eternity. Now as the world measures that that may be Another 100 years or 1000 years, as we’re waiting for the return of Christ and the final resurrection, as it’s spoken of, and all of that, I’m not at all doubting that that that could be, next year could be today, it could be 1000 years from now that’s up to God. So as the world measures time, there’s this massive gap, perhaps, between my death and the final resurrection. But as I experienced that resurrection, I think that in the moment of my death, I experienced all that I will have an eternity. I believe I step out of time.
Mark Turman 20:29
So yeah, which is, again, just a mind bending kind of reality. And, again, brings us back to this thing that there are mysteries of the spiritual life and of eternal life that we just can’t comprehend. That’s right. And we, as Paul says, we look through a glass darkly and one day face to face and one day face to face in to hear the statements, you know, that with God a day is like 1000 years and 1000 years, like a day that is that’s getting at what Lewis was talking about. That’s right. But you know, we are, we are people have calendars, and watches and clocks and measuring precise time, and every moment of our lives. And that type of thing is just in this particular season of our life, it’s just not possible for us to think that way, at least in depth, we that’s we can talk some about it. But we can’t get all the way there, obviously. Now
Jim Denison 21:23
his mind is higher than ours and should be right. Who was it that said, if I could understand God, I would be God or he wouldn’t be you know, but I want to add one other thing very quickly. The Bible, as you know, is a practical book, the Bible tells us what we need to know not everything we would like to know, we’re asking a speculative question right now, if I could convince you of any of those five options, would that change your life today? Would that pay your bills? Right? What would that do for your marriage in your family, if I could convince you that it was soul sleep or in an immediate body or a final whatever that might be? That wouldn’t change your life today? The Bible doesn’t tell us much about the speculative things of life. Because again, it’s a practical book that tells us what we need to know. What we need to know is that you could go to God today, or he could come for us today. Right? What you need to know is you only have today to be ready. You only have today to trust Christ as your Lord you only have today to be ready to stand before Jesus. That’s the practical part of this conversation. The rest of it is speculum,
Mark Turman 22:17
which is what Paul was getting at when he says today is the day of salvation. That’s right. Today’s the only day we have and as someone taught me years ago, it’s the main things are the main things are the plain things. And the plain things are the main things which comes to what you see in the Bible said, and I gotta tell you, I find a certain amount of joy that there may not be any watches or calendars in heaven. I think that there could be a lot of liberation that comes with that idea. In
Jim Denison 22:43
fact, I will add very quickly, you know, the Bible says in Revelation 21, that in heaven, there’s no more death or mourning or crying or pain. So if I, if I happen to be right, that time is no more in heaven than that would be in those in heaven are not waiting for us like we’re waiting for them. For them. That will only be an instant before they see us again. They’re not grieving my core grieving because again, there should be no mourning in heaven. Well, to me anyway, in my fallen finite brain, I don’t see how a person waiting until who who’s waiting for me in Heaven is Waiting all these years and not mourning. I don’t know how that could go together. And so that, to me is one way I just my thinking that there’s no mourning and heaven is that there’s no time in heaven where they could mourn for us, which is to say the people that we know that are in heaven are not grieving for us, like we’re grieving for them. They’re not waiting for us. For them. It’s only an instant. For us. It may be another 30 or 50 or 80 years before we see them. But for them, I think it will only be a moment before they see us.
Mark Turman 23:37
Yeah, I like that there’s comfort for me in that. So let’s get back to the to the topic of evil in manifestations of evil. The Bible does talk about angels, it talks about demons, obviously it talks about Satan. Don’t don’t want you to spend too much time commenting on the Devil or Satan except to this point. Maybe a brief comment or two about okay is the is what we see early on in the Bible, Genesis three Satan, serpent Bible or Devil Satan, serpent devil are that is that all the same into the person? And then how are we to understand demons today?
Jim Denison 24:18
It’s great question. And again, there’s a lot that we speculate that we just don’t know. Right? It’s one of those things where what we do know is all we need to know. And then beyond that, we go into speculation that can be on some level dangerous and damaging but when you put it all together, it seems clear that the serpent used by Satan in Genesis three is the earliest manifestation that we think of as the devil operating Satan, satanic user, especially accuser of the brethren. Well, the Bible works in progressive revelation. Your kids have to learn to add and subtract before they can multiply and divide. They have to learn trigonometry to learn calculus as it worked. So as you go through Scripture, we learn more and more about Satan. By the time we get to the New Testament, we understand Satan as we fully need to understand Satan as an in as a bee. And as a created entity who exists to oppose God, who was an absolute rebellion against God, and it would seem that some of the angels, some would say, a third based on some verses and Revelation rebelled with Satan in heaven, or what we think of as fallen angels or demons. Now, now beyond that, we want to be very careful. Isaiah 14, for instance, is the passage people usually think of when it says, How art thou fallen from heaven, oh, Daystar. And we think of that as Satan’s rebellion from heaven, when you read Isaiah 14 in context is talking about an earthly king. It’s not talking about Satan per se. There are passages in Ezekiel that are thought to refer to relate to Satan when they’re relating to an earthly king. Now they could have a second fulfillment in Satan, that would be speculative. What I’m boiling down to say is we learned a lot more about Satan from Milton and Paradise Lost and Dante in the inferno, than we actually have learned from the Scripture itself from their speculation exactly, which becomes so picture as can become so much a part of our cultural DNA that we just assume that it’s true. So we don’t really know as much about Satan as we would like to know, we know that he is masquerades as an angel of why we know as Jesus said that he is a liar. He’s a murderer. We know that he exists in rebellion against God, we know from Revelation 21, he will be judged that he and his demons will be will be forever in the lake of fire. Yeah, so
Mark Turman 26:16
that was one of the things I wanted. As I was thinking about this in preparation for our conversation. There’s a lot that we there are some things we can know and do know through the Scripture about Satan. But one of the things we must say is, is while he is powerful, he is not equal in power to God
Jim Denison 26:33
have to keep saying that dualism is always a danger here. All right, he is a foe and he’s a defeated foe. Every time Jesus shows up Satan loses every single time in scripture. Jesus is batting 1000 with the devil was then is now now the thing we need to know is that while Satan is nowhere near as powerful as our Lord, he is more powerful than we are.
Mark Turman 26:54
Okay, so because that’s the question I was going to ask. When Jesus shows up, he’s batting 1000, in every contest with evil and with the devil. There are some believers who might want to then take the steps that says, Okay, now that I am a believer, and I have the Holy Spirit of Christ in me, that means I can bat 1000. I wish that were true. So we wish that would help us with that. Yeah, no more, what we have to understand is that we are fallen human being just the Holy Spirit lives in those praise God,
Jim Denison 27:21
we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Now, to the degree that I depend on that power, I have the same power to defeat the enemy that Jesus had, to the degree that I depend on that power, to the degree that I fight Satan in my strength, in my abilities, I’m going to lose every single time. Now, he may give me early wins to entice me further into the battle, so that the loss that I suffered will be even greater. It’s like we’re doing quick tug of war over quicksand.
Mark Turman 27:47
So so so hold on, just so what you’re saying there is Satan may let me or a believer when a small battle so as to draw me closer to other kinds of battle where he can really do greater damage he loves
Jim Denison 28:02
for us to climb as far up the ladder as we can so that when we fall, the damage is even worse. Wow. Okay, so he’ll love to he loves to let us we think get away with private sins, things that nobody else knows about things that no one else is seeing things that we think are not hurting anybody else. How many pastors have been in the news. In recent decades, it started out with so called Private sin that they thought no one knew about and now the whole church is scandalized as a result.
Mark Turman 28:26
So a Halloween example going back to early part of our conversation is Oh, yeah, dress up like you know exactly pitchfork and horns and you know, make fun of death and blood and in gore and all that’s all that’s just in good fun. You’re just mocking the demo, just just mock him on Halloween. But our if you’re not careful opening a door that leads you into some of the other things that you mentioned before long, you’re playing a a massive losing game. That’s
Jim Denison 28:56
right, where he wants to desensitize right, to violence, to evil to the occult. He wants you to take that next step and with the presence of the internet on everybody’s cell phone. Now, the next step, whether that’s into Weegee boards, that’s into occult practices, and beyond, before you know it, you think you have him when he as you
Mark Turman 29:12
won’t even tell me if I’m taking this too far, which is even getting to the point now where you’ve opened this door through something that the devil might have coaxed you toward that was small and innocent. But now the full length of it is is now you believe in euthanasia, that you can get to that place. You’ve, you’ve now to avoid death in a way through his eyes rather than through God’s eyes no longer seeing it as our ultimate enemy, as the Bible describes it, but now saying, well, oh, death is just a natural thing, and you should be empowered to choose your death whenever you want.
Jim Denison 29:51
Yeah, and you see that with some of the druid traditions that are behind their earliest versions of what we think of as Halloween today is that same idea, be empowered by Your own death, choose assisted death, choose assisted suicide so that you’re empowered even to the end of the day. It’s again the will to power. It’s again that occultic promise, that broken promise. It’s why during the pandemic, which talk took off those sorts of things, like I said earlier, is he offers you the illusion of being in control, the illusion of being in power, and that’s the basic driving human nature Nietzsche was right about that this will to power it’s our fallenness.
Mark Turman 30:23
Okay, so let’s, let’s turn that conversation a little bit to this area of what we call spiritual warfare, spiritual warriors. Okay, we talked about this a lot at Denison forum trying to help people to get their minds around this in a healthy way we talk about what the Bible calls us to in terms of being spiritual warriors, but we also need to be cultural missionaries. And trying to understand the distinction between those two things. Let me just kind of set up my next question a little bit, that as we talked about, the Bible reveals to us that there are spiritual forces like we’ve been talking about that are at play in our world, we don’t always see them or discern them as clearly or as quickly as we should. But the Bible through the pin and work of the apostle Paul talks about fighting spiritual battles. Ephesians talks about a spiritual armor, that he also says that we are not fighting against flesh and blood. Jesus was very clear about telling us to love our enemies in the writers in the New Testament that follow him reaffirm that, that we are to be loving and forgiving toward our enemy. And yet, and this came up in my own devotional reading of the Bible many times in the last few months, you walk through the Psalms, and you hear David and other writers in the Psalm, Psalms talking about warfare and the defeat of their enemy and asking, praying very passionately for God to defeat or destroy their enemies. How do we reconcile that? I mean, there’s a lot here that I’m putting in front of you relative to spiritual warfare, and, and not not fighting against flesh and blood. But how do we, how do we reconcile what David is praying for, with what Jesus and the New Testament writers are calling for when they say, Hey, look, it’s not the flesh and blood person in front of you. It’s the spiritual forces that you need to be warring against. And there’s a certain way that you battle in that spiritual warfare, with God’s help through the Spirit. But how do we reconcile this kind of tension between what we see in the Psalms and some other places what we see in the New Testament? So just give us the whole rundown on Spiritual Warfare if you could?
Jim Denison 32:38
That’s a great question mark and a terrific conversation. And obviously, when we get spend hours and hours with today that couldn’t. So first thing comes to mind for me is something that Ronald Reagan used to tell his staff when he was in the White House. He said we do not have enemies only opponents. And he worked so hard to get his staff not to vilify their political opponents as enemies. He and Tip O’Neill when Tip O’Neill was Speaker of the House were bitterly opposed on all sorts of legislation. Then they go out and get a beer afterwards. At the end of the day, Chris Matthews told this story about some legislation that Ronald Reagan was wanting Tip O’Neill and house representatives to support him. Tip O’Neill said Reagan Well, but if I do this, the Republicans will hold this against us in the midterm that we voted for this. I need your insurance. They won’t do that. The next day. According to Chris Matthews, 435 handwritten notes from Ronald Reagan, one to every member of the House of Representatives appeared in tip O’Neill’s office that he could give to his house members if they would vote for the legislation Reagan wanted. And so that was the way that Reagan went about it. We have opponents we don’t have enemies. Well, let’s bring this into this. Our people on the other side, the people that oppose the gospel, the people that oppose biblical morality, the people that oppose we would say even religious liberty, in defense of biblical morality in these days are not our enemies. They’re our opponents. Satan is the enemy. The Bible says a natural man doesn’t understand the things of God they are spiritually discerned. Scripture makes it clear that Satan has deceived the minds of the fallen people around us of the Fallen culture. He’s the enemy, those that are his victims or opponents. We talk often about Johnstone streets marvelous statement that ideas have consequences, bad ideas have victims. So if we can understand the people on the other side as opponents, but not enemies, and Satan as the enemy, then we’re looking at this properly. Now, David, in an earlier season in progressive revelation, doesn’t understand what we just said as clearly as we do. He is at a place where he is willing to vilify his opponents as his enemies, and so are other Psalms and what’s called the imprecatory Psalms. So why are those there? Well, this is a complex thing to try to say and it could be a little confusing, so try to be pretty clear about it. Not everything the Bible records does it come down? The Bible records David’s sin with Bathsheba, but it doesn’t condone that sin. It doesn’t say Go thou and do likewise. Yeah, very good insight. Very helpful, you know, and so much of Scripture Church is there as an example for us as a way of helping us understand that I can be as transparent as David was, I can be as honest as he was,
Mark Turman 35:08
as one of the things that’s great about the Bible is it doesn’t hide the flaws of the heroes the
Jim Denison 35:13
opposite of that precisely. So I love the fact that we learn bad things about Peter in the Gospel of Mark, we don’t get anyplace else. We think the gospel of Mark was largely based on Peters record to mark. So here’s Peter, bringing this forward to mark wanting us to know the things the failings in Peters life, right. I love how transparent the Bible is. So one lesson from the imprecatory Psalms is we can be that transparent, we can be that honest with God as well. But we also can take heart in the fact that God answers our prayers in whatever way is best. I don’t think God answered their prayers, the way they prayed them. I don’t think that when they prayed that God would dash the heads of the infant’s against the rocks that God did that their prayer was recorded, not as a model for us in what to do, but as a model for the kind of transparency and the
Mark Turman 35:56
kind of honesty. That’s right. You know, it’s one of the psalms are so powerful in prayer, right? It’s just, there’s, there’s nothing that you can’t say to God, that’s right. The worst thing that you can do is just simply not talk to God. Right? But with all that we experience, all of the confusion that we have all the hurt that we have. One of the things that the Psalms and the holy scriptures teaching us but particularly Psalms is there’s just simply nothing you can’t bring to God. And you should certainly have reverence I was reading a work by AW Tozer. He, he says, here’s the irony of faith that you come fearful in reverence of a holy God but not afraid. And that just That’s an incredible irony is fearful but not afraid Ness, because fearful means you recognize his greatness. But unafraid recognizes his goodness, that’s right. And that he can handle anything that you need to express or, or say to him in your frustration, your pain, your fear, your confusion. And that’s what you see with David in a lot of these. But I love the idea that just because we read it in Scripture does not mean that God is condoning it or prescribing it for
Jim Denison 37:11
scribing prescribe are two different things, right. And that’s an important hermeneutical point to make. Because you’re interpreting scripture, you
Mark Turman 37:17
can’t use the word hermeneutics in this podcast, because now you’ve just left a bunch of us behind.
Jim Denison 37:22
It’s an important point for interpreting scripture for intermetallics is reading scripture. Well, hermeneutics has to do with interpretation. This is Hermes, who was the messenger, our audience
Mark Turman 37:31
is asking me to pull your feet back to the ground where the rest of us live.
Jim Denison 37:36
Well. All right, there you go. Yeah, cuz we get to a general hermeneutics, special hermeneutics, we won’t do that.
Mark Turman 37:41
I know, you’d love to go there. That’s why that’s, there’s a place around the corner with a bunch of guys, we’ll meet you to talk about those things. And we’ll we’ll send you down that way.
Jim Denison 37:50
But let’s do go back to this that prescribed and describe it, not the same thing. And that’s even true with David, the Bible says of David and acts that he was a man after God’s own heart. He’s also a man who had multiple marriages. We’re not condoning this. Right, right. We’re describing it not prescribing it, we see how David treated his enemies in ways that Jesus would, would encourage us not to do. And so we’re seeing described, not prescribing, I think we see that in some of the Psalms, which is as well,
Mark Turman 38:14
which is again, why another way to read the Bible well, is to read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, and to have an understanding of this progressive revelation, experiences going on what I tried to remember when I read the Old Testament, when I read God giving the law at Mount Sinai, this is a primitive unformed people this is they have not been a nation in this in this sense until now. And so God is forming them as a means through which he will carry forward his revelation. Right? It’s addition and subtraction so you can get the multiplication and division, right? Yeah. And there’s just principles around. That’s why there are principles about reading the Bible well, that we need to learn and that we need to embrace. Let me hasten
Jim Denison 38:58
to say very quickly, lest I confuse anybody, I’m not for a moment saying that anything you read the Old Testament is outdated or irrelevant, not for a moment saying that I believe every word of scripture is inspired by God. I absolutely believe in what’s called the verbal plenary version of inspiration that I think every word is itself inspired by the Holy Spirit through the writers. And so you have in the Old Testament, you have principles that are renewed in the New Testament, every one of the 10 commandments renewed in the New Testament. So that retains the force of law, as it were, that retains the force of a binding commitment, not that we’re saved by that we’re saved by grace through faith, but something God intends us to do, as it’s said there. If that’s not retained, then it retains the force of principle. The Old Testament has kosher dietary laws that are not renewed in the New Testament. In fact, in the book of Acts, it’s expressively not renewed in the New Testament, but they still tell us God cares about our bodies. God cares about what we eat. God cares about honoring him with the bodies that He’s given us. And so the Old Testament is not irrelevant. It’s in no sense outdated, but it also prepares the way for the coming of the final revelation of God. out, which is Jesus. In John five. He said these things he said, you studied the scriptures, but they’re about me. He said, We see when he’s speaking to the two disciples on the way to me, I said from Moses and the prophets explained to them all the Scriptures concerning himself. So this idea that we ought to ultimately interpret the Old Testament through the lens of Christ is what Jesus Himself taught us.
Mark Turman 40:20
Well, that’s very, very helpful. Let’s come back around again to this idea of spiritual warfare. In the Bible, it talks about beat people, in some ways, being possessed by evil. And in even when they are possessed of demons, they have supernatural strength, thinking of the demoniac, the gathering demoniac, who can break chains, and it says that no one could bind him that there was some kind of apparent supernatural strength. So do you think that there is such a thing is demonic possession is today? Like we read it in the Bible, I’m afraid. Does it happen in some places, or some kinds of people more? It do, we still see people experiencing or practicing sorcery and those kinds of what we might call dark magic. How does how does this work in our present world? Do you think that’s a
Jim Denison 41:20
good question? First thing I’d want to say very quickly is that Christians cannot be possessed by Satan. All right, right now, I’m drinking out of a teabag here, as we’re having this conversation. You and I can’t own the same tea mug at the same time. All right, and only one of us can possess it. Once you trust Christ, you are possessed by him. You become a new creation. You are the child of God, Satan can’t possess you. Once you trust in Christ, that cannot happen. Now. He can oppress you, he can tempt you. He can even tempt you into kind of repetitive sins What the Puritans spoke of as besetting sins, but that’s not the same thing as possession. So what we’re talking about is not something that can happen for Christians. Let’s just say that to begin with. But in Scripture, you see this in the old and in the New Testament, you see Jesus all through his ministry dealing with demon possessed individuals. Does that still happen today? Tragically, yes, it does. So in his preface to the Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis says Satan has two main strategies. One is to convince he’s more powerful than he is, and you’ll do what he wants. The other is to convince you he doesn’t exist, and you’ll do what he wants. I think he does both of those in our world. When I was in East Malaysia as a missionary in the summer of 1979. I remember talking to one of the pastors, there was a very conservative pastor who asked me about my exorcism ministry. I told him, Well, I don’t have an exorcism ministry, what are you talking about? Do you have one? And he said, Oh, yes, it’s a very common thing we do here in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo. So I got him to explain. He said that in their culture, especially with some of the native Malays, they’re very much animistic. In that they worship, they think the spirits that inhabit trees, and pieces of nature. And what they’re really doing is worshipping Satan. They’re worshipping demons, so they don’t know it. And they’re inviting these demons into their lives, when they’re asking the spirit of the river to come in their life, or the spirit of the trees to come into their life. And their and therefore one of the things he’s pastors have to do is be engaged in exorcism ministries, relative to people that have been possessed by demons in their culture. Well, I wondered, why don’t we see that in our culture so much. And he said, Well, that may be there more than you know. But Satan wants you not to realize what he’s doing in your culture. Whereas over here, he wants to be glorified by what he’s doing in our culture. I think Satan would rather be more incognito in our culture, which is to say that people that are possessed by Satan in our culture may not look like the gathering demoniac they may not be breaking chains, they may be acting in other ways that aren’t as apparent to us. Could you make the argument that Adolf Hitler was possessed? Could you make the argument that Pol Pot was possessed? We know that Satan is a murderer. We know that he comes to steal, kill and destroy. When you see people steal and kill, stealing, killing and destroying could you make the argument that they’re being used by Satan, if not possessed by Satan? Not in a way that would look like the gallery demoniac because he doesn’t want us to see him behind it. He’s being too deceptive for that. But I think you could make that argument in this culture. Quick example, if I could. Many, many years ago, I was asked to do a six week apologetics study at a Baptist church in Dallas with a college group there. The college minister had been a student of mine in the seminary. So I came over to do that there was a student that came to those six that six weeks apologetics class, who was wearing a cult jewelry, she had a cult looking kind of clothing that she was wearing. She would sit there and just stare at me with hateful expression on her face. It was eerie. I still remember it. It’s been decades ago and it was eerie. At the close of the fifth session, she came up to me and she said she wanted to talk to me. And when I came back next week, could we talk afterwards? And I said well, of course we could. That six session, mark that I know this is going to sound strange. My car broke down getting to the church for the only time that car in the entire years ahead. It ever broke down. I barely got there on time. She wasn’t there. She came at the end of the session in all of her cold stuff to say that family friends had shown up unannounced uninvited at their home that evening. And she had to stay behind. He could only get out at the end of that hour to get there. She and the college minister and I went to the college Minister’s office, she said she wanted to get rid of what was inside her. She explained to us that in her college where she had been, she had gotten in with a group that had begun worshipping ISIS, the Egyptian goddess Isis, and she had been worshipping ISIS, and she had invited ISIS into her life. And she wanted to get rid of ISIS, and she wanted to trust in Jesus. And so the three of us I remember it vividly, although it’s been decades in that college Minister’s office sat together, I prayed for her, he prayed for her. Then we held her hands, as she prayed, and said, I want ISIS out of my life. I’m calling on Jesus to take ISIS out of my wife, Mark, her hands began to shake. In that room, the only experience I’ve ever had like this, her hands shook as we held her hands together, she and then she said, It’s tearing me, it’s tearing me. And then a second later, her hands relaxed. And she looked at me and she was a different person. It was like a new person was living inside her body. The first thing she did was take off her occult jewelry and give it to the college minister and say, Please take this, I don’t want to see it again. You know, she wound up marrying minister. Well, it’s one of the most vivid experiences of my life. Now, it’s the only experience I’ve had like that, which you could interpret a number of ways. But one way to see it back to that Malaysian pastor would be to say that in his culture, Satan loves to be glorified. By doing things that look like you had to read demoniac. In our culture, when he possesses people, he wants to be incognito. So we don’t see people breaking chains as much, but we see them acting out, stealing, killing and destroying in ways that would absolutely accomplish his purpose. And one more time Christians cannot be possessed by what we’re describing right now we can be oppressed by Satan in the context of temptation, but we can’t be possessed because we belong to Jesus.
Mark Turman 47:15
So kind of pull this together. We have a few more minutes to wrap up here. For Christians, whether it’s at the time that we recognize Halloween fall, and all that are not what should be our default mode when it comes to the reality of Satan as our enemy and the reality of spiritual warfare. I’ve heard you say in other say before that the devil has two strategies. One, he wants you to feel like he’s around every corner about to pounce on you, and that he’s nowhere to be found. That CS Lewis, that’s those two ideas that those two ideas he wants to try to, he’ll try to play that game either direction, he wins either way. And the Bible calls him an accuser calls him a deceiver. You may want to come in on either of those, but talk a little bit about what should be our biblical default mode when it comes to a sober, discerning awareness of Satan and his influence and attacks. Yeah, I, I, I keep coming around to this in my own life, that God wants us to be alert, but not panic. That’s right. That is that a good way to express it? That’s
Jim Denison 48:32
a great way to say it. Exactly. So I think that’s exactly the right way to understand this. So this is a story about a Christian and a non Christian walking down the road. Although when Satan jumps out from behind a bush as the story goes, the non Christian hides behind the Christian and says, Quick, hide me, he’s after me. The Christian says, No, he’s already got you. It’s me. He’s after. There’s some truth in that. Not that, again. He can possess us. I don’t mean that at all. But in the sense that he if he can steal our soul, he wants to steal our witness, right? He hates our father. Well, he can’t attack our father. So he attacks his kids. The best way to attack me is to attack my kids, or especially my grandkids. Let’s talk about my grandkids. Migraines, talk about migraine. Yeah, exactly. Let’s do that for a little bit. And so because that Satan’s calculus in the world, he wants to attack us to attack our father. The saying is when elephants fight, the grass always loses. So there’s a spiritual war going on right now between the Lord and between the enemy. It’s happening on this planet, and we are the battleground. So the first thing to do every single day, I say this a lot, but I’m gonna have to keep saying it in my own life. Ephesians 518 Be filled with the Spirit. Start every single day by getting off the throne. I don’t know what happens when I’m asleep. But somehow overnight, I crawl back up on the throne. I don’t know how I do that. But every morning by default is to be in charge of my life. I’ve got to get in front of the Lord every single day. I can’t give them tomorrow because tomorrow doesn’t exist. You know, I can’t do this once for all. Every single day. I start by getting alone with the Lord. Ask the Lord to bring to your mind any sin you need to confess and confess what comes to your thoughts. Ask the Holy Spirit to take control of your Mind in your life. Start there every single day. Ask the Holy Spirit to empower you. Because greater is He who is in you than he is in the world. And he will give you the strength you need. Now as you’re walking through the day, when you face temptation, you pray about it. That’s your instinctive reaction. Don’t try to fight it. Pray about it. Turn it instantly to the Lord say, Lord, give me strength here. Lord, give me discernment here. Good Lord, give me wisdom here. If you’re not even sure if it’s a temptation, pray for discernment about that. Pray, if you’re not sure you have faith, pray for the faith, have faith. I love the guy that came to Jesus and said, Lord, I believe Help my unbelief. But understand, if you’re being tempted in this moment, the first temptation is to fight back yourself. Let me put a parenthesis there. I know, we’re almost out of time, but very quickly, share something that took me a long time to figure out there are temptations in the world, I can defeat myself. All right, there just are. If somebody tries to sell me illegal drugs, I have no trouble saying no, I just happen not to be tempted by illegal drugs. I’m not bragging that just happens to be the case, right? There are areas of my life where I just happen not to be very tempted. Will there others that I am, I’m not going to go into those. But there are, you know, we’ll say never brings drug dealers by my path for some reason, you know, he never brings into my world temptations, he knows I can defeat in my strength. So by default, logically, every temptation he does bring is one I can’t defeat in my strength, or I wouldn’t be facing it. But he doesn’t want me to know that
Mark Turman 51:24
he doesn’t want to waste his time did not going to waste his time.
Jim Denison 51:27
Economist He’s much better at tempting than I am at resisting. Right, you know, but he’s a great economist in that way. But he doesn’t want me to know that. So he wants to couch the temptation in a guard that looks like something I can defeat. So I’ll take it on. Knowing that when I do, he’s got me.
Mark Turman 51:42
Yeah. So hey, you can handle resisting drugs. So I’m gonna put this in front of you, because you’re so strong.
Jim Denison 51:48
Exactly. Well, one inch into the quicksand is quicksand. And then it’s a foot and then it’s two feet in then it’s too late, you know. So I’m saying all that just to say we need to develop the reflex a praying instantly when we face temptation, understanding the moment I face it, if I could defeat it, a wouldn’t be facing it. If I could win this battle, it wouldn’t be in this battle. And so I’ve got to get past that deception. And if that’s 1000 times today, then that’s 1000 times today. One way to redeem evil is to use it for good Aurasma said, hate and Satan hates nothing so much as for his evil to be used for good. So if temptation is an opportunity for us to pray without ceasing, then praise God, that we’re praying without ceasing. Right. So that’s the thing to do. First, start by surrendering to the Spirit. And second, as you walk through the day, whenever you face temptation, pray about it. Say, Lord, give me discernment. Give me power, give me whatever I need to win this battle
Mark Turman 52:37
and claim that promise that the Bible makes, again through Paul that every time we’re tempted, God promises that there’s an escape path. Hatch
Jim Denison 52:46
every single time, right? That’s right, he will never allow you to be tempted above your ability, but will Within Temptation make a way to escape it so that you can bear up under it. That’s God’s promise to you. But you have to seize the promise, right? A Christmas gifts, no good under the tree. Right? It’s got to get open. Well, on a third level, having said what I’ve just said, still there are times we fail, there are times we fall. When that happens, we have to turn immediately to God with that sin. Cancer only grows, it only gets worse. Now reclaiming First John one nine now we’re coming to the Lord and confessing specifically that sin with a repentant spirit and asking God to forgive us and cleanse us and restore us. Then 1/4 thing I would say, because there are times in our lives we sin without being as aware as we should be. I want to close by encouraging a spiritual inventory. Something I first learned from a staff member when I was serving in Atlanta, take a piece of paper 1520 minutes get alone with God. Ask him to bring to your mind anything in your life that displeases God and write on the paper when it comes to your thoughts. First time I did this mark, it was like I was taking dictation. I had no idea. Some of the things in my life. There were displeasing God, I had no idea. Write them specifically, honestly. Go through that list. Pray about them one not generically. But one by one. God forgive me for this, God, forgive me for this, then shred the paper. When I do this, we have a shredder at home. And I love what it feels like to shred that paper. I’ve done this with groups where there was a fireplace and we throw the paper in the fireplace. I did this with a church once and we all went single file outside and they had fire pits outside and we threw the paper in the fire pit experienced what it’s like to feel that forgiveness. But that’s I think, a regular discipline, not every day, but maybe every week that we need to be and have that kind of a spiritual discipline. And what will happen is over time, as we submit every day to the Holy Spirit as we pray when we’re tempted as we ask for forgiveness, when we fall as we do this kind of inventory, overtime, what we’re building in our lives is a kind of a spiritual strength, a kind of a spiritual power, a kind of a spiritual progress that we may not see. It’s like lifting weights. You don’t see the difference day by day, but in a month you do in six months you do. Rick Warren makes the point that every temptation we fall to makes us weaker. every temptation we resist makes us stronger. And I really think that’s true.
Mark Turman 54:58
No when a good word And this is a great opportunity in this season of the fall, Halloween presents that type of thing, to be reminded of that to be reminded of the power of the Spirit in the victory that Christ is working in us that we’re working it out with him, but he’s working it in us. We hope that this is helpful to our audience helpful to parents as they walk through this season. Hopefully, hopefully, this is helpful when it comes to our public life. As we move into fall elections and everything and our temptation to sometimes demonize people that we disagree with in those environments. us having a flippant kind of understanding of evil can really serve us poorly, especially in those kinds of conversations and interactions. We need to be conscious of our walk with Christ. We need to be conscious of our witness for Christ in every one of these environments, and especially what we’re communicating to the youngest among us, more children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, that type of thing. How can we be a witness in all of these things? We hope today’s conversation has been useful to you, Jim, thank you for being a part today. And we look forward to you being a part of future conversations with us here at the Denison Forum Podcast. Please rate and review us that’ll help other people to find this podcast. Please share it with others if you found it to be useful, and we look forward to seeing you next time.