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Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

Don’t buy from the fear mongers

December 12, 2016

 

 

Monger: : broker, dealer —usually used in combination
2 : a person who attempts to stir up or spread something that is usually petty or discreditable —usually used in combination

 

When Kelly and I became parents it was incredibly to me how many people seemed intent on selling us on being afraid of anything and everything that could happen to our son Micah. I expected it from advertisements, but the most strident fear-mongering came solid, faithful Christians. The offers to buy into fear were myriad; you should keep the baby’s room warm so they don’t freeze. You should keep the baby’s room cool or else they’ll die of SIDS. You need to talk to your baby constantly or else they’ll never learn to speak. Along with constant offers of immediate worries, most of them involving Micah’s immanent death, there were plenty of people offering long term worries about how our freedom was over, how we wouldn’t get any sleep, how we needed to set aside all sorts of money to pay for our kid’s needs and the like.

Fear mongering seems to be a sport for many people, sadly including Christians. It doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in, there will inevitably be people trying to sell their fears to you. Whether it’s college students bemoaning the terribleness of finals, co-workers selling fear about the lack of competency of their manager, or advertisers selling fear about your health and good looks, the pressure to purchase fear is immense.

But, brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t buy it. Fear is a garment that doesn’t fit the Jesus in you.

Not a spirit of Fear

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
– 2 Timothy 1:7

If you’re a follower of Jesus you have the Holy Spirit living in you – the Spirit of Christ – and, as Paul writes to Timothy in the verse above, that Spirit is one that fear doesn’t fit on. Fear and it’s accompanying anxiety and worry may have fit the old you in your childish days before Jesus, but since you’ve been born again and grown in Christ fear is several sizes too small. Buying it from someone else would be a silly choice, regardless of how convincing the salesperson is. If you do buy that fear and squirm your way into it it will squeeze the life out of you and drag your days out in long discomfort.

My friends, the Holy Spirit is diametrically opposed to the kind of worry, fear, and anxiety that the people around you are trying to sell. The Spirit that God has given us replaces that fear with power, love, and soundness of mind.

A spirit of power

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

  • Joshua 1:9

Almost all of our fear, anxiety, and worry flows from attempting to be in control and failing. We worry about our kids because we can’t control them or their environment. We worry about our future because we can’t make it go the way we planned. We fear taking risks because we can’t control the outcomes.

For the Christian that fear and worry has been replaced with a Spirit of power. The follower of Jesus has a real, fear-destroying power. It’s not the controlling power that the world and our flesh wants to make us feel secure – it’s the power to entrust ourselves completely to an all-powerful King. It’s the power of faith – the power that enabled Joshua to conquer Jericho, Jesus to face the cross, Paul to speak confidently before Roman rulers, and for thousands of Christians to face martyrdom with smiles of joy.

When you know that the one who is infinitely powerful and can reshape reality at his whim is for you, buying what the fear-mongers are selling seems downright foolish.

A spirit of love

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
– 1 John 4:18

Along with power, the Holy Spirit is also a Spirit of love. Some of the most appealing fears that are offered to us by the world regard those who we love. We’re sold fear for our aging parents, for our adventurous children, for our spouses. They may die. They may get hurt, physically or emotionally or otherwise.

John writes in his epistle that true love casts out fear. That means that if we truly love someone fear won’t be what shapes our relationship. Love isn’t an excuse for fear. When God places in you his Spirit of love you outgrow the fears for those you care for because you discover that He – the good and powerful God – loves them even more than you do and He’s not out to punish them.

A sound mind

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”

  • John 14:27

Fear causes us to think irrationally and make foolish decisions. When we buy into the fear that those around us offer we’ll inevitably do dumb things. We’ll lay awake late into the night worrying about tomorrow, we’ll be harsh towards people we care about, we’ll use anger as a weapon to defend ourselves from what we’re afraid of, and dozens of other things that we wouldn’t do if we had a sound mind.

Instead of wild-mindedness that flows from fear, the Spirit of Jesus gives us peace that overrides any worry. A peace enables us to walk with a sound mind, making decisions with the clarity of faith. We don’t do worry, because it just doesn’t fit us anymore. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Today you’ll encounter dozens of people who try to sell you on being afraid. Don’t buy anything from the fear mongers. When you feel worry, anxiety, and fear rising up, pause and ask the Holy Spirit what he has for you. What is his power for you? What is the love he has given you? How does the sound, peaceable mind that is yours in the Spirit asses the situation? Buy what He’s selling. I promise that it will fit you beautifully.

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

In Trouble? Ask for a Command

November 1, 2016

 

 

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. But the boat was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear.

Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”

“Come!” He said.

And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

  • Matthew 14

 

When you’re in a hard place, what do you pray? When you’re struggling with all your might to make progress but don’t seem to be getting anywhere, where is your focus? Is your focus on getting out of the situation, getting to your goal and being done with it? If so you may be missing an amazing encounter with God that you won’t be able to have anywhere else.

Plenty has been written and preached about the story of Peter walking on water. It’s a story that resonates with us because we so greatly long to experience Jesus in ways that shape our life forever. But there’s one point I don’t think I’ve heard drawn from this story before, and I believe it is a significant one. To state it succinctly, when you want to experience more of God ask for a command and then obey.

Let’s set the scene. The disciples are on the lake struggling to make forward progress. They see a ghost on the water. A ghost that has Jesus’ voice and tells them to not be afraid. Peter, being the smart guy he is, wants proof that it’s Jesus. He wants an experience that will prove to him that Jesus is with them. Peter could have asked for anything. He could have asked for Jesus to come closer and get in the boat with them or to be taken out of the struggle and transported to the other side of the lake (which does happen in another similar story), or maybe to have Jesus miraculously produce them a midnight snack. Instead of any of those things he says to Jesus, “command me to come to you on the water.” Peter asks Jesus to command him to do something.

When was the last time you asked God to give you a command when you were in a difficult place and wanted to know he was near? Heck, when was the last time you asked God to command you anything? There are already plenty of commands and we have no need of additional ones, thank you.

We seem to have this idea that the way God proves his nearness is by removing us from struggle and making things easier, but if Peter’s experience here is any guide that very well may not be the case.

Jesus willingly responds to Peter’s request, saying simply, “Come!” and Peter obeys. He gets his proof. He stands on top of a lake and steps forward. He walks in Jesus’ footsteps and lives a miracle for a few moments. Then he sinks. But is that a bad thing? In that moment of sinking is when Jesus comes closest, grabbing his disciple and pulling him out of the water where he’d stepped at his master’s command.

Friends, if you want to encounter God in a fresh way do what Peter did; ask for a command. When you receive it take a risk and step out in obedience. Like Peter you’ll get to experience the awe and wonder of what our God does when we follow him in faith. The best part is that you can’t fail! If you step out, stumble, and fall Jesus will be there to grab you before you hit the ground.

Next time you’re in a place of difficulty or struggling to make forward progress, don’t pray for God to take you out of the situation. Instead ask him to tell you what to do in the situation. Obey. Odds are that when you do you’ll be walking closer to Jesus than you would in another other situation.

 

 

Commentary, Spiritual Growth, young adults

To You, Young Man

August 24, 2016

 

 

I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
– 1 John 2:14

 

You Are Strong

Young man, you have been given physical strength and energy. You can handle pushing yourself. Don’t waste that energy and strength on video games and entertainment. Don’t waste your strength on pursuing and impressing women (or, worse yet, forcing yourself on women). Instead look to Jesus who used his strength to serve, love, and bear the burden of his Father’s honor.

You also have mental strength and fortitude. Push your mind to learn and grow now while you are young so that it has capacity as you grow older. Engage with deep issues, don’t avoid them. Read. Write. Think. Jesus “grew in stature with men and God.” You do the same. You are strong.

The Word of God Lives in You

Paul says that physical training is of some value, but training for godliness is eternally valuable (1 Tim 4:8). Your strength is good, but it must be directed towards an eternally valuable end. Train yourself for godliness by cultivating the word of God that lives in you.

Soak in passages of scripture, yes, but most importantly let Jesus, the living Word, abide in you and you in him. Stop focusing so much on the fact that you need to read your Bible more. Instead, trust that the Word (Jesus) has indwelt you through his Spirit. He lives in you. What more do you need?

If Christ and his Spirit live in you, you have knowledge of God’s word and will. You don’t need to be passive and act as if you don’t have anything to contribute. Be humble, yes, and learn from your elders, but also be bold. In Psalm 119 David says that he had more understanding than all his councilors because he meditated on God’s law. Be that guy.

The Word lives. This isn’t some dead knowledge. It is a living force that will compel you to obey and move in faith. It lives in you; a foreign power has taken up residence within you. Submit to it.

You Have Overcome

You are strong. The Word abides in you. As a result have and will overcome the evil one. Your overcoming is so sure that John had to put it in past tense. Because Jesus defeated sin and Satan, you too overcome the evil one.

You, young man, get to walk around in victory over Satan. You get to laugh at his attempts and attacks. His deceits and temptations have already been overcome. He doesn’t get to have any power in your life.

That overcoming doesn’t stop with your life though, just like Jesus’ defeat of Satan didn’t just result in freedom for him personally. In the power of Jesus you can help others overcome the demonic forces in their own lives. Step out boldly. Take risks and you’ll see the kingdom of God break in and overcome beautiful ways.

You, young men, have great potential in the kingdom of our heavenly Father. The Apostle John thought so. I think so. I write to you because I want you to step into the full reality of that potential. Don’t settle for being anything less than you are. You are strong. You have the word of God living in you. You are an overcomer. Live that today.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

How to receive God’s direction

August 12, 2016

 

 

 

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
– Psalm 143:8

 

 

Today you’re at a crossroads. You’ve got decisions (link to fear vs. faith decision blog post) to make that will shift the course of your future in significant ways. You want God’s direction but haven’t been seeing/hearing it clearly. Maybe you’re just in a difficult place, surrounded by opposition and struggling to just make it through another day, desperate to know what to do next in order to survive. Psalm 143:8 contains an important truth for you today.

We serve a God who values relationship over task completion and intimacy over productivity (link to Evil of Good work blog post). Want God’s direction? First you need to be present with him and learn to receive his love.

Receive the Love

In Psalm 143 David is in the midst of a desperate situation with people literally attempting to kill him. In the midst of that he cries out to God, seeking help and hope. The center of this Psalm, the record of that cry for help, is found in the phrase, “let the morning bring my word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.”

Here’s the thing, God wants us to trust in him and know his love before he gives the solution to your problem, lest we be tricked into thinking that it’s the solutions that are God’s love. Note that it is unfailing love that David is longing for an experience of. This love exists regardless of the circumstances you’re in the midst of. God’s love hadn’t been withdrawn from David, David simply had stopped hearing word of it.

Want to hear God’s direction for the next step in your life? First open your heart to receive his love.

Place Your Trust

Trust is the channel through which our experience of God’s love flows. David requests word of the Father’s unfailing love on the basis of the fact that “I have put my trust in you.”

My friends, if your trust or your security rests in something other than God you’re going to have a hard time experiencing his love, no matter how much you cry out for it. If you’ve been desperately seeking an encounter with God and can’t seem to reach it, examine your life to see where your trust is truly resting. Choose today to place your trust in the only worthy object. “The cross before me, the world behind me…no turning back.” Let that be your resolve.

As you entrust yourself to the Father you he will begin to show you the way you should go. Dependence precedes direction.

See the Way

Out of our relationship with God comes the direction of God. It is, “I entrust to you my life,” therefore, “Show me the way I should go”. What beautiful freedom there is in an entrusted life! The light of God’s word and the leading of His Spirit become the path upon which we step by step move forward in faith. We, like David, can trust that our God’s unfailing love will silence our enemies and support us through every trial. He will indeed teach us to do his will. Our part is simply to place our trust and receive his love. The rest will flow naturally from that.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Warfare

He will surely do it

June 23, 2016

 

 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

What beautiful words in the chaos of a world that is anything but sure! My friends, let us ground ourselves in this truth today; our God is faithful, and what he has said he will do he will surely do. When tomorrow is uncertain, when waking up and entering the day is simply a burden, comfort your spirit with the truth that “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

What He Will Do

The Scriptures abound with declarations about what God has promised to do. From eternal salvation to indescribable joy, He who has called you has given his word, and faith calls you to take him at that word. I want to briefly touch on a few key things from this passage in 1 Thessalonians that we can build our lives upon today. What exactly is it that the faithful one has said He will do?

He will give you peace.

He’s the God of Peace, so he gives peace. Your anxiety and worry evaporate when you come near Him. Sin is the seed that grows anxiety, fear, worry, and ultimately death (James 1:15). When sin enters into our lives it separates us from the God of Peace, growing walls that trap us in the darkness of our own minds, which inevitably leads to the downward spiral of depression, fear, anxiety, and the like.

This God, however, has uprooted sin and nullified its power by the blood of Christ. He has shed abroad the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus. Look to him, and you will find peace as he frees you from sin.

He will sanctify you completely.

This progressive freedom from sin is known as sanctification. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines sanctification this way:

  • 1 : to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use
  • 2 : to free from sin
  • 3a : to impart or impute sacredness, inviolability, or respect to

The work of Christ has set you free. The work of Christ has set you apart completely. You’re in a whole new category. You’re no longer defined by your sin; you’re now defined by the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Note the surety of this sanctification. He who has called you will do it. It’s not a weight on your shoulders. What joy and freedom is found in knowing and experiencing this!

He will keep you blameless

Being in the process of sanctification doesn’t mean that you never sin. We have a sin nature until the day when Jesus comes again. However, according to these verses (and plenty of others) God keeps us blameless. Can you grasp that? You’re blameless! In Romans 8 Paul states it another way, declaring that there isn’t any condemnation that can stick to those who are in Jesus.

When someone tries to blame you for something or condemn you for a past deed, it can’t stick to you. You’re blameless. When your mind fills with accusations of your incompetence and failure and lack of worth, toss those lies aside. The God who is faithful has called you and promised to keep you blameless. He will surely do it.

He will come again

This life is a struggle. Our broken world isn’t any easy place to live. The good news is that the struggle doesn’t last forever. This groaning creation will soon be re-created in glory, because Jesus is coming again and will restore all things. The day of the coming of the Lord will be both beautiful and terrible, and though it may seem slow in coming it will surely come.

He will love you

He will give you peace. He has sanctified you. He will keep you blameless. You don’t do this kind of stuff for someone you don’t love. Jesus came and purchased our peace, sanctification, and blamelessness because he loves us. From the delight in his Spirit the Father and the Son acted according to love and purchased for us salvation.

Unlike the loves of this world, this one isn’t going away. It’s here till the end. It’s not the love of the boyfriend who is there to get what he wants from you and then ditch. It’s not the love of the girl looking for comfort and validation. No. This is the settled, immortal love of the creator of all the earth.

He is faithful. He’s given his word and He will surely do it. Rest in that. Learn to let peace be your path this week!

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Culture

The Year of Opinion

June 20, 2016

 

 

 

Hello 2016. You and your people are strange beasts, so driven by emotion and caught up in the tumble-cycle of instant feedback and unlimited validation. Everyone here seems to think that whoever has the strongest emotional reaction must be the most right. Whoever hollers loudest has the most power. Whoever is the most provocative and/or different should get the largest audience and probably be president. Or something like that. It’s the year of opinion. Hop on the nearest social media platform, website, blog, or news station and let’s go for a ride.

It might benefit you and I to take a step back. Or, better yet, a few thousand year’s worth of steps back. Back to when the book of Proverbs was written and someone with the hand of God behind their writing declared the proverb,

The way of fools seems right to them,
but the wise listen to advice.

Fools show their annoyance at once,
but the prudent overlook an insult.
– Proverbs 12:15, 16

Let’s step back for a moment, 2016, and think about this for a second.

The Fool

“The way of fools seems right to them…Fools show their annoyance at once.”

Self-diagnosis time. Here’s a few of the symptoms of foolishness. You decide whether you’re infected or not:

  • The fool feels the urge to jump into every conversation, particularly when the subject at hand is something they disagrees with. Their opinion must be heard.
  • The fool is easily annoyed and offended because their identity is in his opinions. If you disagree with them they’re going to have a hard time being your friend.
  • The fool acts on the emotion and whim of the moment, ignoring possible consequences and just doing what their heart tells them.

If I’m honest it feels like most of us in 2016 land in the fool category of this proverb. We’ve bought into the utterly modern idea that everyone is entitled to their opinion and that because it’s their opinion it must be right for them. That expressing our emotions is legitimate because anything else would just be inauthentic and, here in 2016, inauthenticity is the worst of sins.

The Wise

“The wise listen to advice…the prudent overlook an insult.”

Second round of self-diagnosis. It’s not enough to know the negative side. We need to see what healthy looks like. In direct contrast to the symptoms that the fool displays, the wise person exhibits characteristics like these:

  • The wise person listens and considers, even values, the opinions of others.
  • The wise person overlooks insults and assumes the best about the other person, regardless of what they’ve done in the past.
  • The wise person acts according to the truth, not emotion.

No one wants to be the fool, yet the world around us is structured for the cultivation of people who operate exactly like the fool describe here in Proverbs 12. The question is, how do we move out of the fool category and into the life of wisdom?

It’s really not complicated. 1 Corinthians 1:24 declares that Christ is the wisdom of God to us. Want to be wise? Get Jesus. When you receive him you receive his Spirit, which is the Spirit of all wisdom. If you know Jesus you’re no longer the fool (even if you occasionally act like it); you’re now full of wisdom and prudence.

The Christ-Follower

Let’s be who we are. If you know Jesus you know that he’s the one with the ways of righteousness, and that more often than not the ways that you plan out miss the mark. You’re more than ready to listen to advice from others, because you recognize that you still have more to learn.
Our identity is in Jesus, not our opinions. We can readily stand, smile, laugh, and overlook an ocean of insults. If our master could bear the insult and mockery of roman soldiers and the pain of the cross, how much more can we who have his Spirit bear verbal jibes?

Brothers and sisters, it’s not our rightness or our vehement declaration of our opinions that leads others to Jesus. It’s in our humility, forbearance, and love that we demonstrate the kindness of God that leads people towards repentance. The wise listen to advice, don’t feel the need to proclaim their opinions, and overlook insults easily. Let’s be those people.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Growth

Jesus and Foolish Generosity

April 18, 2016

 

 

 

We were always told to leave any cash or credit cards or anything of value behind when we went out on the streets in Cass Corridor. In highschool I was was able to take three trips with my youth group to that painfully troubled part of inner city Detroit. Talk about eye opening. I learned a lot about serving the Lord and took some huge steps in my spiritual growth during those times. But looking back I see a problem with some of what I learned.

On those trips and in general church life I was always taught that you really shouldn’t give money to a homeless person. Actually, you should probably be slightly afraid of them. More than likely they’ll spend on drugs or alcohol or something along those lines. Be generous, sure – give them some food, the coat off your back, a ride somewhere, just don’t give them money. Doing that would be unwise since they probably won’t use the money wisely.

This training, along with so many others that I received both explicit and implicitly from the Christian culture that I grew up in, seems to pit wisdom directly against the words of Jesus. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus says,

To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
– Luke 6:28-31

Give to everyone

The sermon on the mount seems to be Jesus’ vision of what a world looks like when people walk in step with the Spirit of God. He outlines a radical counter-culture that pushes us past what makes sense in a world where wisdom needs to be completely redefined.

You don’t get much more radical than a statement like, “give to everyone who begs from you.” Everyone means everyone, so Jesus literally means that every time someone begs for money or food or help from you, give to them.

There were drunks and drug users and people who were homeless from sheer laziness in Jesus’ day, yet he says “give to everyone who begs from you.” Where the leaders of the synagogue advocated wisdom and caution in generosity, fiscal or otherwise, Jesus simply says give to those who ask of you. But he doesn’t stop there.

The sentence goes on and Jesus gets even more radical, declaring, “from the one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” Wait. What? When someone steals from you don’t insist that they give it back? What about restitution? What about the rule of law? What kind of society could function if the caught thief was allowed to keep what he stole?

Our idea of wisdom screams that such a thing is foolishness; that there needs to be punishments in place to keep bad things from happening. The problem is, our definition of wisdom is wrong.

Wisdom vs. Jesus

Biblical wisdom as outlined primarily in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, and several other locations throughout scripture can be boiled down to rightly applying God’s truth to daily living. The question comes then, what is God’s truth?

Our wisdom is generally fear disguised behind good principles wrongly applied. We don’t give money to the homeless person because we fear somehow being complicit in providing them access to drugs or alcohol. We fear being taken advantage of in the future so we demand restitution when stolen from.

The truth is that Jesus is wisdom and that following his commands and imitating his ways is rightly applying God’s truth to daily living. Paul makes this explicit in 1 Corinthians 1:30 when he writes, “because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Jesus became wisdom to us. For us. Let’s not pretend we have a right to pit his words against some plucked-out-of-context Proverb or culturally conditioned opinion and call the one that makes us more comfortable wisdom. If Jesus truly is the son of God, living the life of God on earth then he’s the one who knows how to live wisely. If he says “give to everyone who begs from you,” then that is what it means to live wisely.

Let’s not let our cultural assumptions define how we live. Let’s be people who take Jesus at his word, walking in wisdom by obeying him even when it seems foolish and ridiculous. It wouldn’t be the first time God asks his people to do something weird. And it certainly won’t be the last.

Keep some cash on you this Spring and Summer. When you come across someone begging, don’t hold back. Give to everyone who asks of you. If someone steals from you, be radical. Don’t demand it back. Instead, call it a gift and pray God’s goodness on the thief. Bless indiscriminately, just like Jesus does. Let’s be people who, with the wisdom of Christ, live with foolish generosity.

 

 

 

 

Commentary, Spiritual Warfare

Running From Demons

March 30, 2016

 

 

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

Mark 5:1-13

One of Satan’s most effective deceptions is convincing a person that those around them can’t handle their problems; that their issues are too deep, too horrible to ever bring out into the open. In the short eight years I’ve been doing ministry it’s always been those who are the most in need of help that are the most afraid of opening up and asking for it.

In his ministry on earth, Jesus encounters a mind-bending array of needs and issues. He encounters dead people, blind people, diseased people, liars, manipulative mothers, thieving tax collectors, and countless others in unending succession. Perhaps one of the most shocking and needy of those that Jesus encounters is the man known as the Gerasenes demoniac – a man so given over to demonic power that he has supernatural strength, engages in ritual cutting, has no discernable sleep patterns, and has been given up on by his people who apparently couldn’t control him even with iron chains.

We have a lesson to learn from this terribly demonized man. Yes, there is the standard lesson drawn from this text about Jesus’ power over the demonic and Christ’s love for all people, but I believe that we can learn from this man even before his deliverance. Despite the fact that he has the very forces of Satan battling within him, he doesn’t buy into the deception that Jesus is going to be surprised by or unable to handle his problems. That, my friends, is a lesson that we need to learn.

Run to Jesus!

“And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”

Note how this man sees Jesus from afar and runs to him. He doesn’t wait for Jesus to come to him. As soon as Jesus sets foot on the shores, “immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.” He doesn’t wait for permission or the appropriate moment – he simply runs to Jesus.

In Christ God has set foot in your territory. You don’t need to wait for him to come a little closer. Don’t waste time waiting for the appropriate moment. Do you have hidden sin or a desperate need that you’ve hidden for so long that it’s no longer in your control? Run to Jesus! He knows your need and is more than able to meet it.

This demonized man doesn’t ask for freedom, but Jesus gives it. He’s so far gone that he can’t even express his needs, only cry out “do not torment me!” Jesus knows his longings, knows his needs, and gives what he desired but couldn’t request. He casts out the demonic forces and frees the man from his captivity.

Sometimes we’re in so deep that we don’t even know how to ask for freedom. The Apostle Paul writes in one of his epistles that even when we don’t know how or what to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings. Come to Jesus – you needn’t even ask – simply by coming close to him he will give you what is needed.

Jesus is unphased

Perhaps most beautiful to me is the fact that Jesus seems completely unsurprised by this man’s horrible condition. I seem to have this expectation that Jesus will be impressed or perhaps even surprised by the significance of my problems; that in his holiness he will draw back in horror once I finally reveal my deepest issues.

We’re absolutely wrong to think that way. If Jesus was unphased by this man, he won’t be phased by us. He knows full well the depths of your struggle, deception, and hidden sin. He’s already embraced it, absorbed it on the cross. When you finally come to him and confess it all he’ll simply smile, nod, and pull you up from the dirt into a warm embrace. You’ll find yourself free and “in your right mind” (Mark 5:15), seeing the world through new eyes.

Is there a portion of your life that you’ve kept hidden from those around you for fear of their response? Have you hidden among the tombs rather than running to Jesus? Now is the time to come forward! He has set foot on your shores. All you have to do is come to him and he will speak but a word and you will be free. That is good news indeed.

A closing note for Christians here. Be like Jesus. Don’t be surprised by other people’s issues. Don’t shy back from the relationship when someone reveals their addiction, homosexuality, deception, or other secret sin. We of all people should know well the depth and quickness of human brokenness, and therefore know all the better the power of the Gospel of Grace in Christ. As we learn our identity and position in Christ we, like him, will be able to stand before someone like the gerasenes demoniac unphased, gently ministering to them and leading them into the freedom of the children of God.

We Christians ought to be a people who welcome others regardless of how deep their issues are because we KNOW that God will restore them. Jesus is unphased, so we won’t be either.

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith, Theology

Checking Jesus’ Death

March 7, 2016

 

 

 

When things go wrong we tend to question God. When we sin we often question whether God’s grace is going to cover this failure. Does the Lord truly love us? Is he pleased with us?

The common practice of Roman soldiers was to break the legs of those who were being crucified in order to ensure that they died quickly. The day Jesus was crucified, John records in his Gospel that the soldiers came to do exactly that but found that Jesus already appeared to be dead. To confirm this, “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (John 19:34)

Death by crucifixion is death by drowning, liquid pooling up in your lungs as you struggle to breathe. When water spilled out of Jesus’ pierced side, the soldiers knew full well that the man hanging on the cross was definitely dead. They didn’t need to check again. The execution had been completed.

Years later, the Apostle Peter writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Christ suffered once for sins. The book of Hebrews reiterates this, declaring, “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10, emphasis mine)

God has proven himself to us completely in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. He proved his love through the sending and sacrificing of his son. He’s proved his power through the miraculous life and resurrection of his son. He’s proved his faithfulness through his son’s promise to be with his people till the very end and ultimately, to return.

When we question the goodness, grace, or power of God every time we sin or something doesn’t go the way we desire in our lives, it’s as if we’re that soldier there on the crucifixion mount, returning again to spear Jesus’ side, double, triple checking that his sacrificial death is truly real, over and over again.

Checking Jesus’ death over and over again isn’t faith. It’s fear and doubt. Put the spear down and take God at his word. Clearly this is what John intended for us to do when he concluded his Gospel with the words; “He who saw it has borne witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth – that you may also believe.” (John 19:35)

You may not have been there for Jesus’ death, but John’s word is true and is written so that you may also believe. Take God at his word. Don’t let your questioning become a continual testing of his truthfulness. Stop checking Jesus’ death. Trust that he has suffered once, for all, and has covered completely every sin and failure and shortcoming that you will ever have. Trust that his love is unending and his patience is perfect. Trust he does indeed work everything for the good of those who love him. Trust him. His testimony is true!

 

*This post was inspired by something my roommate Andrew shared with me after he had been praying, so credit for the concept goes to him!

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

Expectations and Miracles

February 29, 2016

 

 

A week or two ago at Salem, Kelly and I’s home church here in Fargo, Pastor Glenn preached a powerful sermon from 2 Kings 5:1-14 – the story of Naaman’s healing from leprosy. You can watch or listen to the sermon here. I wanted to delve further into one of the points that Glen made during his sermon and apply it to our day-to-day relationship with God.

To set the scene, Naaman, a powerful, influential, and strong commander of the Syrian army discovers he has leprosy. He’s on the road to ostracism, slow and painful decay, and ultimately and inevitably death. Leprosy, in his day, has no cure and is highly contagious. No cure, that is, except for the miraculous healing that the God of Israel is able to do, as Naaman’s wife’s Israelite servant girl points out. Naaman heads to Israel with gifts from the Syrian king to demand that he be healed, ultimately meeting with a messenger from Elisha who tells him to go and wash in the Jordan river. Here’s the point in the story that I want us to zoom in on. It’s incredibly applicable to us today. In 2 Kings 5 we read,

And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. (5:10-12)

Naaman needs healing. He needs God’s intervention or he’ll die. But there’s a problem. Naaman has expectations of how God should do his intervening. If God’s actions don’t fit in Naaman’s box, he’s going to walk on, leprosy or not. God, however, wants to directly address Naaman’s issues and use his leprosy as a magnifying glass to reveal errors in his thinking. There are at least two issues that Naaman has with God’s method of healing as outlined by Elisha’s servant;

Issue 1: The person bringing the gift

Naaman is someone in a high position. He’s the commander of the army of one of the world’s superpowers. He’s expecting the top dog, Elisha himself, to come and speak to him face to face. Elisha, however, insults Naaman by sending a servant in his place, and Naaman doesn’t like the person bringing the gift. He doesn’t want to receive his healing from some second-rate servant. He wants it from the prophet himself. None of this second-hand crap.

How often we operate this way! We judge the quality of the gift based on the person who’s bringing it. We set our expectations for the quality of a sermon based on the appearance of the preacher. We expect the greatest financial support from those who are well dressed and clean cut. God, however, tends to use the most unlikely of candidates to do the greatest of things. He sends his greatest gifts through the most unexpected of sources.

Don’t prevent yourself from receiving a gift from God because you’ve discounted the person who is bringing it.

Issue 2: The method

Naaman wanted some show – some special treatment. He expected God’s healing to align with what he’d seen Syrian priests and magicians do. God, however, wants to knock down Naaman’s barriers. Wash in dirty water and be clean, Naaman. This isn’t going to be a magic show or the result of some mystical incantation.

We, like Naaman, have our expectations set for what God’s methods should be when he answers our prayers or fulfills our needs. The financial provision should come as a surprise generous gift from an anonymous donor rather than an extra side job. The beautiful romance that leads to a lasting marriage should come before we’re X years old. The healing or deliverance should be the product of one powerful explosion of the Spirit’s power rather than months or years of slow growth and restoration work.

Set aside your expectations for God’s methods. Jesus never heals the same thing the same way twice. Our God loves to do new and unexpected things. Open your eyes and be on the lookout for God’s miraculous intervention in the places where you previously least expected it.

Thankfully for Naaman his servants prevail upon him and he obeys, dipping himself in the Jordan river. He sets aside his expectations, obeys, and receiving the healing that he needed.

We serve a God who is more than able to meet every one of our needs – from miraculous bodily healing to spiritual freedom to financial and relational provision. He’s not only able, he is willing and eager to do so, as Jesus demonstrates when he responds to the beggar’s statement “If you are willing, Lord…” with the declaration, “I am willing. Be healed.” (Matthew 8:1-3)

The real question is whether or not we’re willing to receive what God is giving. Are we ready to set aside our expectations and receive God’s gift regardless of the deliverer or the method of delivery?

I certainly hope we are. Like Naaman we each are desperately in need of a miracle. Let’s be willing to receive, regardless of how our good God gives.