The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: June 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Only Believe

O PreacherMiracles seem common at this point.  Half the pages of Mark’s Gospel  we’ve read so far contain them. (Remember those few pages do cover a year or more.)  In today’s section (5:21-43) Mark reports two more miracles.  Let’s see a summary of the narrative. (It’s too long to quote here, but why not take a few minutes to read it?)Then we’ll note a few unusual twists.

Jesus has boated with his disciples from the country of the Gerasenes (5:1-20).  Landing near Capernaum in the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, he’s mobbed by another crowd.  One man, Jairus, leader of the Capernaum synagogue, frantically pushes through, falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him to come heal his 12-year-old dying daughter.  Jesus goes.

But not alone.  The jostling mass follows.  A woman is swept along, but not unwillingly.  For 12 years she’s hemorrhaged.  Although she’s spent everything on doctors, she’s grown worse.  But, she tells herself, if I can even just touch Jesus’ clothes, I’ll be made well.  Determined to reach him, she bumps between the pack and finally gets close.  She thrusts her hand through and touches his tunic.  Immediately the bleeding stops and she feels healed.

Jesus feels something too—“that power had gone out from him” (5:30).  He stops.  The crowd jostles to a halt.  As Jesus’ eyes search the faces, the woman knows she’s been found out.  She comes trembling to him and tells her story.  “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease” (5:34).

At that moment, a messenger arrives from Jairus’ home.  His daughter has died; no need to trouble the Teacher now. Jesus assures him, “Do not fear; only believe” (5:36).  With that, Jesus allows only Peter, James and John to go with him.

Jairus’ house is filled with wailing mourners—until Jesus puts them all out.  Then he takes the girls’ parents and his three disciples to where the dead girl lay.  Like a father lightly lifting his daughter’s hand, he says in Aramaic, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”  And immediately the girl got up and began walking around” (5:41,42).

Now for a few unusual twists.  (As if those miracles aren’t unusual enough!)

Jairus fell at Jesus’ feetThe Gospel doesn’t tell us what this synagogue ruler thought of Jesus.  But even if he thought Jesus to be a charlatan, the crisis of his daughter dying drove this ruler to publicly prostrate himself before Jesus and beg for him to heal her.  How many today, I wonder, who never believed in Jesus, humbly beg him when in dire need?  Note that Jesus doesn’t condemn or interrogate Jairus–he graciously goes with him right away.

Some in the crowd were just curious.  I’m just guessing.  I base my guess on a Billy Graham meeting in Tampa maybe 20 years ago.  The football stadium was packed.  Graham gave the invitation.  I was among dozens of counselors on the field.  More than once I approached someone for prayer and was told, “I’m just here to get close to Billy.”  How sad that curiosity-seekers get so close, yet remain so far from Jesus!

Jesus was interruptedI believe God is sovereign.  Nevertheless, this interruption looks like sloppy scheduling.  Can you imagine how Jairus felt?  I doubt he cared about the woman.  If it weren’t so serious, the scene would have been comedic:  the anxious father wondering if he should tap Jesus on the shoulder and say, “Uh, Jesus, remember me?”  How he must have grieved when the messenger arrived with the death- news!  It’s a reminder that God’s time and ours aren’t always (often?) synchronized.

Jesus treated the woman with dignitySociety was patriarch.  Shameful for a woman to touch a man in public like that.  If women weren’t second class, they were at least of secondary importance.  But Jesus cared about that unknown woman as much as he did the male synagogue ruler.  Jesus dignified women as God’s image-bearers.  No need to make God female or the Bible’s pronouns genderless to elevate women!

Power went out from Jesus.  This doesn’t lead to fear relic-worship!  If Jesus’ clothes had just been preserved . . . No, power went out from him.  That means power to heal was in him. 

Jesus raised the dead By “sleeping” (5:39) Jesus probably meant her death was temporary.  He didn’t come to wake her up, but to raise her up!  Death, of course,  marks the end of hope.  Jairus needed Jesus before his daughter died.  But Jesus’ power ruled over death.  And still does today.

Jesus told them to feed the raised-up girl (5:43b)Was this a funny line for Jesus’ to make a suave exit?  He probably said it with a smile, but only because he cared about this girl’s hunger (and her parents were stunned still).

Jesus encouraged and defined faith.  That is, by his presence, his previous miracles, and his word, Jesus caused people to believe in him.  Certainly that was true of the woman.  And to Jairus, Jesus spoke faith-encouraging words.  “Do not fear; only believe” (5:36).   How did Jesus define faith?  At least here, he implicitly defined it as trusting him.  So called “faith-preachers” complicate faith, make it a code only they–and their true adherents–can know.  But faith was no secret code for the woman.  She simply trusted that touching Jesus would make her well.  And when Jesus urged Jairus, ” . . . only believe”, he simply meant “trust me.”

* * * * *

Perhaps that’s what Jesus encourages us all to do through this portion of the Gospel.  Trust him.  He has power over all diseases and even death itself.  When his timing seems “off”, he’s still got the power.  And he cares about the world’s “little” people (the woman) and about a little girl’s simple hunger whose name we’re not even told.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confront or Cave?

O PreacherYesterday the Supreme Court gave approval to those who practice what God declares ought not to be done.

“For this reason (because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie)
God
gave them up to dishonorable passions.
For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature,
and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women
and were consumed with passion for one another,
men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves
the due penalty for their error . . .
Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die,
they not only do them
but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:24,26,27,32).

By a vote of 5-4 the justices gave legal approval to those who practice what God says ought not to be done.

Of course, the Bible has no standing with the Court.  How could it in a nation that separates Church (i.e.  God) and State?  But why doesn’t at least historical, religious doctrine have standing?  Why didn’t the justices (without condoning any particular one) at least consider what religion has to offer on the matter?  Why must the Court be atheistic in its deliberations?  Why must it act as if man’s historical view of God would be partisan?  (As if the Court now is purely objective!)

A sizable percentage of Americans think the decision more political than legal.  For example, in his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not a legal judgment.”

The majority of the Court disagrees.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, the “swing vote” of the five, argued, “ . . . the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same sex cannot be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

Really?  Do the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses provide “a fundamental right to marry”?  They say nothing about marriage, let alone same-sex marriage.  (With that in mind, why does the government have anything to do with marriage of any kind?)

We know where this is headed, right?  Those who believe in one-man-one-woman marriage will be (as we have already been) considered bigots.  More photographers, florists, bakers and others associated with weddings will be legally compelled to provide services for same-sex weddings—or penalized if they don’t.  It will be interesting to see if any bills in Congress protecting such penalties will gain traction.  If they do, it’ll be a stunning reversal of current practice and one that will make the same-sex marriage law virtually unenforceable.  Justice Samuel Alito stated bluntly that the decision “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”

Justice Antonin Scalia offered this rebuke to the Court majority.  “This is a naked judicial claim to legislative–indeed super-legislative-–power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government . . . A system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”  Ah, but we still proudly calls ourselves one!

Furthermore, by virtue of Justice Kennedy’s reasoning (together with Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan) the door is opened to other “marriages.”  Just today, Politico incredibly wrote, ” . . . the next step seems clear.  We should turn our efforts toward the legal recognition of marriages between more than two partners.  It’s time to legalize polygamy.”  You can read the whole article here:  http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/gay-marriage-decision-polygamy-119469.html#.VY8ASVJ6j7M.  It’s inevitable.

The question before us Christians is:  will we confront or cave?  In the heat of this moment, we swear we’ll never cave.  But over time, as same-sex marriage becomes the new normal, and as polygamy and more extreme marriage “arrangements” are argued, it may become easier and easier to accept “gay” marriage.  If we do, we’ll join those who give approval to what God says ought not to be done.

Here we face a fundamental question:  Do we really believe the Bible is the true Word of the living God for all mankind or is it just “our” religious book?  I’m afraid there are some who say, “The Muslims have the Koran; Christians have the Bible.  To each his own.”  If we believe the Bible is God’s revelation for all mankind, we must not cave.

So how should we confront?  By refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding.  (I say that as a matter of personal conscience, not as a “Christian law”.)  By praying that this Court decision might be reversed in the future.  By working, with God’s grace, to make our biblical marriages healthy, strong and truly Christ-centered.  (It would be the height of hypocrisy for us to condemn a loving, happy same-sex marriage, while our “biblical” one is marked by selfishness and hostility!)  By loving same-sex couples and praying that any we know might come to see the truth.  (They aren’t our enemies—even if they were, we’re commanded to love them according to Matthew 5:44!)  It’s not our place to sit in judgment over them.  Finally (though this list isn’t exhaustive), by giving ourselves in serious, wholehearted devotion to Christ.  With the culture morally decaying all around us (racism, violence, sex, “gay marriage”, etc.), halfhearted “Christians” will fall away.  ” . . . when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:17).

As I sit here at my desk, being branded a bigot or persecuted for my marriage beliefs seem far-removed.  But they’re not—not from any of us.  “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

So here’s the question:  Will we cave (give in to get along) or confront (speak and live the truth of Christ in the love of Christ)?  We are a shrinking minority.  But remember:  we follow the One who is Lord over all!  And he wins in the end!

believers in jesus christ is the bride of christ this is a mystery but ...

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Same-Sex Marriage Now Legal in All 50 States

O PreacherToday the Supreme Court announced their decision:  “The fourteenth amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.”  Thus the Court made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

The decision is no surprise.

This link answers some questions about the Court’s decision—http://erlc.com/article/explainer-what-you-should-know-about-the-supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-ru

The bigger concern, in my opinion, is the way the Court went about reaching their decision.  They apparently didn’t seek to discover the intent of the Constitution’s authors and signers, but read into it a “right” the framers never considered.  So the door has been opened for nine unelected individuals to illegally “amend” the Constitution.

Eleven years ago John Piper preached a sermon that turns out to be prophetic.  It’s worth watching and listening to or reading here—http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/discerning-the-will-of-god-concerning-homosexuality-and-marriage.

This decision heightens the conflict between religious liberty and same-sex marriage.  This link contains a press release two senators propose to protect that liberty.  http://www.lee.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=e42a7e9d-294b-423e-ac90-208212c766d0

Finally, I can’t think of a better way to conclude this post than this encouraging, Bible-centered response to today’s Court-decision by Russell Moore.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/06/26/why-the-church-should-neither-cave-nor-panic-about-the-decision-on-gay-marriage/

christian marriage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Flag & the Heart

O Preacher“We don’t need conversations about race; we need conversions,”  said Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently.

Think of the  sudden rush to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds and license plates.  I understand the flag’s symbolism—slavery, white supremacy, harsh and violent racial discrimination.  I understand other symbolism of the flag—the South’s states’ rights, the historical significance of the Civil War, and the memory of men who died in that war.  It’s a mixed bag, though perhaps weighted on the slavery side.

Politicians aren’t alone in this rush to remove.  Yesterday Amazon and eBay announced they’d no longer permit the sale of Confederate flags and similarly-themed merchandise.  Walmart and Sears had previously decided the same.  Now Confederate statues and street names are suspiciously racist.

On one hand, the rush to remove can be a healthy sign:  the nation wants to take another step toward racial unity.  One hopes that’s the case.  On the other hand, my admittedly cynical side suspects politicians and corporations don’t want to be branded racist—bad for business.  So:  do SOMETHING!

How about taking the opposite tact?  Retain the flag as a reminder of the racism we want never to repeat.  That’s probably too subtle and suspect.

But removing the flag remains a small step.  Politicians and corporations will pat themselves on the back.  Yet no one presumes (to paraphrase astronaut Neil Armstrong) this one small step for man is one giant leap for mankind.

Remove or retain.  Symbolism is in the eye of the beholder.  Neither action will change history—or, more significantly, the human heart.  That’s what Huckabee was getting at and what Dr. Ben Carson (another candidate) explicitly claimed is the issue.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  According to the prophet, our innermost being is dishonest, treacherous, untrustworthy and deeply perverse.  No one can fully know the heart.  The image of God in humans has been morally corrupted (though it remains and is why all human life matters).

But according to Jeremiah the LORD spoke of the day when, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33a).  Through Ezekiel the LORD said, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26). 

The apostle Paul wrote how God fulfilled that promise that through Christ:  ” . . . God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  ” . . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:23).

Admittedly, before the Civil War many southern Christians were slaveholders.  Dr. Albert Mohler branded them heretics.  Read his courageous comments here:   http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/06/23/the-heresy-of-racial-superiority-confronting-the-past-and-confronting-the-truth/.  Mohler argues they acted contrary to the Christian faith.  It’s a reminder that conversion must be lived out as a choice.  Our sinful nature remains, even when we’re indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  This is why the apostle Paul urges the church:  ” . . . walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).  In other words, trust the Spirit to empower you to obey Christ’s teachings.

Certainly every non-Christian isn’t a racist.  But the cure for the hate-fillled heart is the Holy Spirit-filled heart through faith in Christ.

At no time was that more evident than when the relatives of the murdered members of  Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C.  publicly forgave their loved ones’ killer.

Our black brothers and sisters in Christ
showed us that a new heart filled with the love of Christ
packs more transforming power than the pulling down of any flag. 

 

 Embedded image permalink

 

 

 

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Evil in Charleston

P.AllanEvil entered a Bible study/prayer meeting at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Wednesday night.  It came in the guise of a 21-year-old white man who hates blacks.  After being welcomed and sitting with them for about an hour, he stood up and shot 9 of them to death with a gun his father reportedly gave him as a gift.

The church and community grieves.  It’s hard not to.  These were 9 of our brothers and sisters in Christ, probably showing his love to a visitor who came with devil-hate in his heart.  They’re with Jesus today.  But they leave behind mourning loved ones.   May their Lord and ours comfort them (Matthew 5:4).

We want answers.  We want to prevent future slaughters.  As President Obama said, “We’ve seen far too many of them.”

So we suggest solutions.  Tighter gun-control laws.  Better mental health care.  Fewer violent video games and movies.

I don’t know what gun-control laws are on the books.  Perhaps they should be tightened.  However, here it seems no law, however stringent, could have changed anything.  I know little about the state of mental health care in the country.  But short of turning us into a police state with neighbors urged to report “suspicious behavior” that would result in forcing a potential killer into mental health care, I don’t know how improved health care would work.  Certainly violence in video games and movies should be reduced.  But free-speech defense always wins the day.  Besides, enough of the public wants entertainment violence.  And producers want the money it puts in their pockets.

In his blog today, Dr. Ben Carson writes wisely of a more insidious cause that requires resolution . . .

“I worry about a new hate that is growing in our great nation. I fear our intolerance of one another is the new battle ground of evil. Today many feel it is ok to hate someone who thinks differently than you do.  The left hates the right. The right hates the left. This attitude is poison. Poison that will sicken all of us.  Just because someone is for Obamacare and another is against doesn’t change the fact we are all brothers and sisters. All Americans.”

It’s important to remember the slain were Christians.  And Christians endure hatred because we belong to Christ (“You will be hated be all for my name’s sake”—Jesus, Luke 21:17).  Intolerance comes with the territory.  Furthermore, hatred is a product of the sinful nature.  (“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: . . . hatred”—Galatians 5:19,20).  What drives a man to hate and murder?  Frustrated desires.  (“You desire and do not have, so you murder”—James 4:2a).

So what’s the solution?  Humble repentance and genuine faith in Christ by which sinners are joined to Christ!  (Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold the new has come”—2 Corinthians 5:17).  This “connection to Christ” is the work of the Holy Spirit.  (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”—Galatians 5:22:23). 

Tighter gun-control laws, better mental health care, and fewer violent video games and movies may help.  But they’re external or just superficial band-aids.  Only the Father through the Son by the transforming power of the Spirit can change the human heart!

But how does this Gospel get to the haters?

One, by us Christians repenting of our own hatred, intolerance and prejudice.  The Lord commands us to love one another (John 13:34,35), to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27; Leviticus 19:18), and to love our enemy (Matthew 5:44).  That about covers it.  We’re not allowed to hate anybody.

Two, by praying for the Holy Spirit to revive the church with a passion to love.  God is pretty easy to love.  Singing praises to him, telling him in prayer we love him, raising our hands in worship—all that’s a cinch.  But those people—red or yellow, black or white—they’re a bit more challenging.  Yet, unless we live the love of the Gospel we’ll never effectively preach the truth of the Gospel.

Revive us again—fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above!

And, three, by taking the Gospel to as  many people as possible in any way possible, relying on the Spirit to empower us.  We’re afraid to sound “fundamentalist”.   We fear rejection.  We have no game plan.  We don’t know what to say.  Or worse, we don’t care enough.  So we need courage and creativity and knowledge and love.  It’s not up to the government to change evil hearts.  Only God can do that—and he’s given us his message to spread.

Evil in Charleston—or anywhere—can’t be overcome by law and rules
or even by trying harder.

Evil can only be overcome by God’s saving work through Christ
applied to the human heart by the Holy Spirit. 

(Guess you could say it’s our move.)

 

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“Backdoor” Muslim Missions

O PreacherSuppose you were Muslim and Jesus appeared to you in a dream and called you to follow him?

Product Details

Dreams and Visions is a collection of stories from the world of Islam by Pastor Tom Doyle.  Doyle has spent 11 years as a missionary in the Middle East and Central Asia.  During this time he’s encountered a staggering number of Muslims who were first introduced to Jesus through a vision or dream so powerful they eventually turned from Islam to Christ.  Conversion can result in execution, but these stories tell how former Muslims have found hope and peace from knowing Christ (based on Amazon web site—link below to order book).

http://www.amazon.com/DREAMS-VISIONS-Jesus-Awakening-Muslim/dp/0849947200/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434648944&sr=8-1&keywords=Dreams+and+Visions

 

COMMENT #1.  Skeptical about dreams and visions?  Remember:  Pharaoh had them (Genesis 41).  So did Isaiah (Isaiah 6) and Daniel (Daniel 7; 8; 10) and Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-19).  In fact, in his Pentecost sermon, the apostle Peter quoted the prophet Joel . . .

And in the last days it shall be God declares
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophecy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams . . . (Acts 2:17).

According to Joel and Peter, visions and dreams are characteristic of the last days—the days between the first and second comings of Christ.  This may make us uncomfortable because of the abuses we’ve seen of spiritual gifts.  Or certain doctrines might drive us to reject this.  But God’s saving work is more important than our comfort.  And when we get to heaven we’ll find that all our doctrinal systems had little holes here and there!

COMMENT #2.  God must be laughing.  Preposterous to presume a country can “close” itself to God!

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves
and the rulers take counsel together
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD holds them in derision (Psalm 2:1-4).

 COMMENT #3.  These miracles don’t eliminate missionaries.  When Jesus commissioned disciples to go and make disciples of all peoples, he promised to be with them (Matthew 28:18-20).  This is Jesus being “with them” in a surprising and truly wonder-full way!

COMMENT #4.  We can be encouraged to pray and to give and (if the Lord calls) to go.  Islam seems an impenetrable mission field.  Radical Muslims are spreading their doctrines with force and violence:  “Convert or die!”  But Jesus is Lord!  So let’s pray!  Let’s give!  And, if the Lord calls us, let’s go!  We know how it all ends!  John’s vision in Revelation 5:11 will be fulfilled . . .

And [the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders]
sang a new song (to the Lamb), saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nations . . . ”

 jesus the king jesus saves jesus smiles jesus smiles again jesus rules ...

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“My Name Is Legion”

P.AllanAre demons real?  Before answering, watch the 2 1/2  minute video below.  Should we attribute the atrocities mentioned to zealous men, immoral men, mentally ill men, or demonized men?

I don’t look for demons around every corner (!), but I do contend they didn’t disappear with the apostles’.  Think of modern history’s most brutal leaders–Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mussolini, Ida Amin,  Saddam Hussein, and now a terrifying variety of Middle East terror groups.  It’s impossible to prove any were (or are) truly demonized, but it’s hard to argue they weren’t (or aren’t).  And there will be more.  Evil and violence in these “last days” will increase before Jesus comes again.  So both present and future are reasons to pay attention to a familiar, but strange event Mark records in 5:1-20.

THE LANDING.  After a terror-filled night on the Sea of Galilee (4:35-41), the disciples with Jesus . . . 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” (5:1,2).

This country lay in the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee.  It was outside Palestine–Gentile territory under the military rule of Roman legions.  The disciples beached the boat near a graveyard.  As soon as Jesus climbed out a mad man ran toward him, fell at his feet and fearfully cried, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (5:6,7).  He pleaded, because already Jesus was saying, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit” (5:8).

TWO IMPORTANT POINTS.  One, Jesus diagnoses the problem as an “unclean spirit”  (another term for “demon” or “evil spirit”).  Two, the “unclean spirit” recognizes who Jesus is (“Son of the Most High God”), even though his disciples haven’t (“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”—4:41b).

THE NAME.  Perhaps in exercising power over this spirit, Jesus asks his name.  “He replied, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many” (5:9).  6,000 soldiers constituted a Roman legion.  This man was demonized by an army!  But,”legion” implies more than evil’s multitude; it implies evil’s victimization.  Here was a man who  ” . . . 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” (5:3-5).

Millions were massacred by history’s brutal rulers, who may have been driven by demons.  Here is a man driven by demons to brutalize himself.  He possesses super-human power, but can’t save himself.  But now the victimizers are about to become the victims.

THE RESCUE.  They feverishly beg Jesus not to send them out of the country (5:10).  Was Gerasene-land the lap of luxury for evil spirits?  I don’t know why they begged to stay.  But let’s not miss the point:  a legion of demons, who have destroyed this man’s life,  are pathetically cringing at Jesus’ feet!

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) officially abhors what happens next.  Frankly, I’m not sure why Jesus picked on poor pigs (although I’m sure commentators have devised all sorts of mysterious meanings).  The demons beg Jesus, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them” (5:12).  Jesus gives them per- mission (note that he doesn’t command them or rebuke them, merely allows them!).  “And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs and the herd, numbering about 2000 (in those days pigs were about the size of a small to medium dog), rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea (5:13).

Obviously upset, the pig herders hurry into town, round up a posse and return begging Jesus to “get out of Dodge”.  The rescued-from-demons man begs to go with Jesus.  But Jesus tells him instead to tell his story in the ten towns nearby—which he did and “everyone marveled” (5:17-20).

THE HARD-TO-BELIEVE.  In his book, Why I Am Not a Christian, the 20th century British philosopher Bertrand Russel wrote,  “It is unbelievable…this story of Jesus finding this crazy man in a graveyard supposedly possessed by a countless number of demons who . . . are bidden to be released from this man and enter into these two thousand pigs. And the pigs go running down the mountainside and into the sea and they drown. And there’s this sight of dead pigs everywhere.”

Well, let’s admit (as they used to say when I was teenager), “That’s far-out man!”  Yeah, it is.  And it leaves unanswered questions:  why the pigs?  did the demons drown too?  could Jesus have really held a conversation with evil spirits?  and, if this really happened, so what?

THE SO WHAT.  Love or laugh at the idea of demons, but evil is ravaging this world.  Gun-violence.  Rapes.  Kidnappings.  Vicious murders.  The spread of nuclear weapons.  The Middle East (!) “on fire”.  I’m no demonologist, but I can read what the apostle John wrote:  ” . . . the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19b).  Who’s going to save us from all this?  Washington?  A Republican president and congress?  Believe that and I’ve got a good deal on a bridge to buy!

Only Jesus.  He’s the One whose feet a whole army of demons cringe before!

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Still No Faith?

TV evangelist Pat Robertson claimed his prayers helped steer Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and Hurricane Felix in 1995 away from the Virginia headquarters of his Christian Broadcasting Network (The Virginia-Pilot, Norfolk, VA, June 10, 1998).

Unbelievers, skeptics and even some believers had a field day laughing.   Granted,  Robertson has made strange claims over the years.  Maybe these hurricane-prayers are one, maybe not . . .

* * *

35 That day (of Jesus’ parables—Mark 4:1-34) when evening came, he said to his disciples,
“Let us go over to the other side.”
36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.
There were also other boats with him.
37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat,
so that it was nearly swamped.
38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.
The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves,
“Quiet! Be still!”
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other,
“Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41).

Even the wind and the waves obey him!  Earlier Mark reported how Jesus demonstrated authority over an unclean spirit (1:21-28), over many sick in Capernaum (1:29-34), over leprosy (1:40-45), over paralysis and sin (2:1-12) and over a withered hand (3:1-6).  Because he broke the Pharisees’ legalistic interpretation of the Sabbath law (3:1-6), and probably because he was famous with the masses (1:28,45; 2:1,2,12), “the Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (3:6).  These miracles were signs of God’s kingdom at hand (1:15).  The Pharisees, however, were blind to them.  They should have known better from their Bible.

“For [the LORD] commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men,
and were at their wits end (Psalm 107:25-27).
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still, and the waves were hushed” (Psalm 107:25-29). 

Almost makes you seasick!  But stomach-churning mustn’t  make us  miss the message:  the Lord can send a storm and the Lord can stop a storm. “The LORD’s kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:15);  therefore every storm exists within his sovereign will.  The Unseen Hand doesn’t show up on meteorologists’ radar!

The Pharisees missed the message of Jesus’ miracle because of religious pride.  We can miss it because of false piety.  We can snicker with skeptics at Robertson’s claim.  And maybe his prayer didn’t have anything to do with those hurricanes’ course-changes.  But let’s learn from Jesus and the psalmist.  Rather than regarding storms as the result of weather patterns, wiser to say with the disciples in fearful awe . . .

“Who then is this,
that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41).

Why are you so afraid?  The disciples aren’t the brightest bulbs in the bunch.  But how can we blame them for being afraid?  If we were caught in a boat with mini-hurricane waves breaking into it and filling it, would we crawl to the stern and lay down to nap next to Jesus?

At Jesus’ rebuke “the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (4:39).  At Jesus’ questions it’s clear he considered the disciples’ fright the opposite of faith.  “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?” (4:40).  All the miracles they’ve seen and they still had more fear of the storm than they had faith in Jesus.  (I hate to admit I would have had too.)

Maybe we can kick off the unbelieving disciples’ soaking sandals and fuel our faith by realizing . . .

One, faith comes from seeing and hearing.  Jesus expected the disciples’ faith to come from his miracles they’d seen and his teachings they’d heard.  His question—“Do you still have no faith?”—implies that.  For us faith comes from “seeing” and “hearing” Jesus in Scripture.  That’s why daily prayerful Bible reading is vital for our faith’s health.  That’s why regularly hearing it preached and taught is “faith-giving”.

Two, believing is trusting he cares.  Faith-teaching “specialists” complicate faith.  In this case, faith is “simply” trusting Jesus cares.  The cowardly disciples shook Jesus awake: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  Yes,
” . . . he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  The cross is the most powerful symbol of Jesus’ love.  And the most assuring promise of his love is Romans 8:37-39.

Three, silence doesn’t mean absence but presence.  What good is a caring, powerful miracle-worker asleep in dreamland?   But maybe Jesus sleeping meant he was in comfortable control!  We naturally assume silence means Jesus is absent from our “sinking boat”.   But, from the One who said “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20) and whose Spirit indwells us (Romans 8:9,10), silence doesn’t signal absence but presence.

With those “faith-fuelers” in mind, one question . . .

“Still no faith?”

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“God Wrote a Book”

P.Allan“God Wrote a Book” is the title of a short, dynamic video by John Piper and Desiring God.   It is probably the most heart-stirring , motivation-empowering video on reading God’s Word I’ve seen or heard.

I know Pastor Adam Powers (SonRise Community Church) has already posted this on his blog, so some of you may have already seen it.  But in case you didn’t, here it is. Along with the video, Piper provides helpful information for Bible reading.  Please take a look.  Access by right-clicking on the link—http://www.desiringgod.org/run.

I can’t let this post go by without making three comments, starting with . . .

A Problem.  When it comes to regular personal Bible reading we’ve got plenty of problems.  Time, for instance.  For most of us, there is none.  So it’s get up a half-hour early.  Or go to bed a half-hour later.  Or give up a TV show.  Or shower only on Saturday night.  Or skip a meal a day.  We gotta face it:  something will have to be sacrificed.  Is God’s Word worth it?  That’s what we have to decide.

Another problem:  regularity.  Typically in January I’m determined to read the Bible through for the year.  Long about Leviticus I’m bogged down in sacrifices and required priests’ clothing and holy days.  The only cure for inconsistent reading, though,  is discipline—which gives us something specific to pray for.

A final problem I’ll mention:  Leviticus (again).  Let’s be candid:  even though Leviticus is part of God’s Word to us it usually doesn’t get the juices flowing and often we (maybe I should just say I) have to slog through it. Piper doesn’t mention the “slog factor” in his video.  In fact, you could come away presuming that every verse you read will seem as if God himself is speaking directly to you from his heavenly throne.  And Leviticus isn’t the only “hard” book.  Exodus‘ laws about slaves and social justice don’t make me misty-eyed.  Isaiah‘s chapter-long judgments on Egypt and Tyre and Sidon and Babylon bore me with ancient history.  And some of Ezekiel’s visions just seem plain, well, “weird”. (I put that in quotes because I don’t consider them actually weird; they just seem that way.  After all, this is God’s Word and I don’t want a fiery prophet breathing down my neck!)

Anyway, all this talk about “hard” Bible books brings me next to . . .

A Commercial.  For only $22 from Amazon you can buy the ESV Study Bible in paperback.  There are other study Bibles; I mention this because it’s my favorite.  It contains important information like an introduction to each book, date of writing, historical context (extremely important), purpose and occasion and background (also extremely important) and a running commentary throughout.  But wait!  If you call today you can get a second . . . Sorry.  To be a serious reader of God’s Word you need a study Bible like this.  (I get no commission, bear no responsibility for Amazon’s service, and mentioning my name will get you an ESV Study Bible for $22.)  At least check it out at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_9?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywhttp://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_9?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=esv+study+bible&sprefix=ESV+study%2Caps%2C190ords=esv+study+bible&sprefix=ESV+study%2Caps%2C190

 Product Details

Finally . . .

A Prayer.  “Father in heaven, it was your Word that taught me the gospel of your salvation.  It’s been your Word, coupled with the Holy Spirit, that’s been sanctifying me.  It’s your Word that builds my faith in a world of unbelief.  It’s your Word that gives me hope in the darkness of my hopelessness.  It’s your Word that makes sense of my life and tells me where we came from, who we are, and where we’re going.  I praise you for writing this book that lies open before me on my desk.  I pray you will use this video—and maybe even my comments—to move everyone who sees this to daily enter your presence and feed on your Word.  Give those who started, but quit, the motivation and courage to begin again.  Move the hearts of those who’ve never started to take the first step.  Grant that we all might be able to say with the psalmist . . .

“How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)

And may this prayer be ours as we read . . .

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law!” (Psalm 119:18).

In the name of the Living Word.  Amen.”

open bible with cross and lily flower top view of a open bible ...

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KINGDOM? You’re KIDDING!

O PreacherJesus isn’t content to head the church or sit on my heart’s throne.   “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” (Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper)

That’s the reign to which Jesus referred when he came into Galilee,  proclaiming God’s gospel  . . .

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15a)

The Old Testament prophet Daniel described this kingdom  most succinctly  . . .

I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13,14).

It almost takes your breath away.  Jesus (“one like a son of man”) was given an invincible kingdom that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him forever.  So it was that the risen Christ claimed to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

But I wonder:  two thousand years later, where is that kingdom?

I don’t see Jesus reigning, do you?  What I do see is the political class, mostly ineptly, reigning in Washington, D.C.  I see 15 or 20 Republicans and a handful of Democrats battling to sit in the Oval Office inner sanctum of power.  I see Islamic State slaughtering innocents to build its kingdom-caliphate in the Middle East.  I see Vladimir Putin taking over Ukraine for Russia.  I see political/military coalitions that seem to mostly talk while aggressors arrogantly advance.  I see a “Heinz 57” smorgasbord of churches, divided over what are often minor doctrines, each claiming to preach the only true gospel, losing members as each competes for a shrinking potential-members’ pool and either seduced by material prosperity or embattled by violent persecution.

But I don’t see God’s kingdom which Jesus announced “at hand” 2000 years ago.  Where is it?

In the next section of Mark’s Gospel (4:26-32),  after “The Sower and Soils” parable, Jesus told two more parables from a boat to a very large crowd gathered on the shore.  These parables answer my question.

The Growing Seed (4:26-29). 

And he said,
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.
He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows;
he knows not how.
The earth produces by itself,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle,
because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).

How do small seeds scattered on dirt sprout and grow into a harvest?  We can describe the process.  We can explain the inner workings of the seed.  We can demonstrate its reaction to soil and water and sun.  We can even slow-motion-video the progression.  But from where comes the “life” in the seed?  And why does this “life” grow?  It’s a mystery 21st century biologists can’t solve.  “Life” is just “there”.

And that’s the “punch” of “The Parable of the Growing Seed”.   We can describe the process of preaching-hearing-believing-following.  We can point to the “fruit” of an individual’s new life.  We can explain the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a believing man or woman.  But precisely how does that seed of the Word grow into a “new creation”?  And precisely how does that advance the kingdom of God toward the “harvest” of the final judgment?  Even the apostle Paul’s best answer left a mystery:   “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). 

Jesus calls us to walk by faith.  This parable calls us to believe that what we can’t see and don’t fully understand is in fact happening in the soil of human hearts in the dirt of this world.  Somehow, like scattered seed growing into a harvest, God’s kingdom in his Son is growing toward the harvest day.  We know not how.

The Mustard Seed Parable (4:30-32).

 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable shall we use for it?
It is like a grain of mustard seed,
which, when sown in the ground, is the smallest of all seeds on earth,
yet when it is sown it grows up
and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches,
so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:30-32).

Seven hundred mustard seeds equal one gram.  Just one of those so-small seeds can grow into a 10-foot-tall bush .  Birds make nests on large branches that once were smaller than a grain of sand.  It’s another of those surprising displays God seems to delight in.  Like the Hebrew nation from a 90-year-old woman and a hundred year old man.  Like eternal life from a crucified Messiah.  Like a  2000-year-old church from foolish, weak, and lowly people.

So here’s the Mustard Seed Parable’s punch:  God’s kingdom on earth starts small—insignificantly, unimpressively—but it will have a really big finish.  Things are not always as they appear.  We shouldn’t measure God’s kingdom with an ordinary ruler.  Just as Jesus went from the ignominy of the cross to the exaltation of the ascension, so his kingdom goes from the insignificance of one Jewish “criminal” to the glory of an eternal, invincible reign over all peoples, nations and languages.

These parables answer, “Where is the kingdom?”  And these parables call us to walk by faith.  Sight isn’t always right.  Size can fool us.  What starts miniscule can end up mammoth.  Such, Jesus claims, is the kingdom of God, that is, even now, mysteriously growing on earth.

No kidding.

 Mustard Seed T...
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