Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 July 2015

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”Mark 9, verses 25-29.

Yesterday I read an article from CNN that berated Pope Francis for talking too much about the devil.   Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, whatever name he goes by:   he’s so First Century.   Here in our post-modern world, we’ve outgrown Satan.   CNN is tired of hearing the pope talk about the prince of demons. For whatever reason, they claim, the pope should stick to helping the poor, attacking capitalism, scouring out pedophile priests and a bunch of other things. Satan is so yesterday, so pre-Internet and today’s techno-marvel world.

Dangerous, my friends:   it’s dangerous to turn your back on Satan.   It’s just what he wants us to do.

On the other hand, if you read a great many web sites or listen to many Biblical preachers today, you hear over and over that Satan is winning.   These people think the exact opposite of CNN; they agree with Pope Francis that Satan is a very real being who is really, truly working against us in everything we do.   According to this thinking, Satan is winning on homosexual marriage, appeasement of enemies, defining down pop culture, misuse of the law, misuse of the church, and a hundred other things.   Varying degrees of concern are furthered even more by saying how these kinds of things are signs of the end times (and they are).   Should we worry if we start seeing things like this happening, knowing that the end of the world may be nigh?   Maybe…

…But first let’s step back from the tree and take a look at the forest; at this point, we need to.

In looking at this particular forest I would remind our friends at CNN that all of Scripture tells us how Satan is a real being.   Il Papa is simply reiterating the Bible and we would do well to follow his lead, at least in this case.   Satan isn’t a construct, and he isn’t a figure of a colorful imagination, and he isn’t anyone to be trifled with.   Satan is real and really is up to no good.

Yet I would also reiterate to my doom-crying friends that Jesus commanded a spirit to come out of tortured child and it did. The fact is that Satan is already defeated.   His imminent and eternal defeat won’t stop him from continuing to try to yank people away from faith in Jesus; sorry, y’all, but that’s our burden to bear. In bearing it, we would do well to remember that Jesus can drive out demons. Demons (and Satan) are terrified of Jesus because of what they’ve done. Even when we fail to drive them out, we should still cling to Jesus because in Him is found the power to make Satan cower as evidenced by what He did for this boy.

Lord, watch over me and protect me from the demons that cower before You.   I believe You are more powerful.

Read Mark 9, verses 30-36.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 July 2015

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9, verses 21-23.

These verses and the one that follows are, in my opinion, perhaps the most profound ones in the entire Bible. They’re words that Jesus could speak with anyone of us.

You the situation; we’ve already talked about it.   A man brings his son to be healed because the boy is demon possessed. The apostles can’t heal the boy, so the worried father brings him to Jesus.   The father is distraught, frantic and skeptical after the disciples couldn’t perform up to expected par. He comes to Jesus hoping (think “hesitant wishing”) that Jesus will be able to do something to help the son he loves.

Jesus’ response seems to be shocked and surprised, yet it isn’t. Is Jesus saying to the man “Get on my level!”   “If you can?”   It almost sounds like Jesus is incredulous that the man would even question that He could heal.   But Jesus isn’t Allah; Jesus doesn’t expect us to serve Him or kow-tow to Him to earn His love.   No, Jesus is speaking as an object lesson.   He is educating the man, challenging his unbelief and educating him about its limits.

“If you can:”   those words of power are, more often than not, weapons of doubt when placed in our hands.   We doubt if we can; we doubt that even He can.   It’s even part of our nature to doubt, to question, to be skeptical, especially in the face of miracles.   Taken to an unhealthy extreme, that skepticism can grow into disbelief or unbelief.

That’s where Jesus meets the upset man, confronting his unbelief.   And then He takes Him a step further, refusing to leave the man in his unbelief.   “Everything is possible for one who believes.”   It’s a statement of such power and profundity and it changes everything.   It’s a flavor of “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains.”   It’s not just healing that is possible:   it’s EVERYTHING.

Noodle that for a minute.

Everything becomes possible when we believe in Jesus.   Got cancer?   Jesus can heal it.   Got terror?   Jesus can comfort, then overcome it.   Got hurt that’s hard to let go of?   Jesus can walk you through getting rid of it. There is nothing in this entire universe that isn’t smaller than Jesus; everything is under His dominion.   Because He gives us Himself, through faith, then everything is possible.   Move that mountain, heal that disease, grow those crops, right that broken heart:   everything becomes possible.

Profound, my friend. More profound than anyone else you could think of on their best day. Read ahead in your Bible and see how Jesus rocks the world in the very next verse.

Lord, I believe that, through You, everything is possible.

Read Mark 9, verses 14-29.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 23 February 2015

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.”  He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Mark 5, verses 11-13.

When I read these verses, I hear Mick Jagger.   You know the song (and you’ll probably be singing it in your head now).   “You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes…you just might find…you get what you need.”

You see, the demons didn’t really get what they wanted.   Sure, they asked to go into the pigs and Jesus let them, but what they really wanted was to go into Him, to torture Him, to destroy Him, to take His place (as if that were possible).   That’s what evil always wants:   to take Jesus’ place and be Jesus. The demons were evil, and their ‘father’ was Satan, the father of lies.   Everything they said was based on a lie.   So I think that the demons didn’t want to actually go into the pigs, getting what they asked for.   No, I think they wanted Jesus’ permission to go haunt someone else.   Naturally, He didn’t give it.

But, in a way, Mick Jagger still makes his point: they got what they needed.   They needed to be vanquished, eliminated as a threat.   Evil is empty, void of love.   It needs to destroy, and that’s what the demons did. They rushed into the pigs, inhabited them, then destroyed the pigs.   Maybe this means pigs don’t have the intellectual power or tenacity of people; would someone please tell Congress?

Congress or not, we recognize evil, and in the 2000 years since the time of Jesus nothing about it has changed. It isn’t politically correct to call out X, Y or Z as evil, but we do the world and each other an injustice when we don’t.   ISIS is evil.   Enslaving children and women is evil.   Serial killers are evil.   We all understand that. What about more mundane things, things we take for granted?   I have a pastor friend who says that he sees more regular commonplace evil living in the suburbs than he ever saw living in Southern California; I tend to agree.   Spiritual apathy, greed, abuse, envy, malice, slander, lying, adultery:   the list goes on.   Tell me, are those common things good or evil?   And they’re rampant here in Pleasantville, home of where everyone wants to be.

After all, here in the suburbs, you can’t always get what you want.   But you usually get what you need…and sometimes what you deserve. What does evil deserve (and, in consequence, what do we deserve)?   To be destroyed.   Go to the mall any Saturday afternoon and look around.   Tell me it doesn’t sometimes remind you of a suburban herd of pigs, waiting to rush off the cliff.   Destruction: that’s the fate we deserve, and it’s the fate we say we don’t want.   But when we turn our lives away from meeting people where Jesus meets them, I say different. It is what we want; it is what we choose. And if we turn enough away from Him, it’s the fate we too well deserve.

Somewhere I hear Mick Jagger trilling yet again.

Lord, I get both what I want and need only because of You.

Read Mark 5, verses 1-20.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 20 February 2015

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High GoGod? In d’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”   “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. Mark 5, verses 6-10.

The demons knew who Jesus was; we talked about that yesterday.   If demons knew who Jesus was, then so do Nazis, ISIS terrorists, KKK racists, the LRA in Sudan, atheists in college towns, and any other kind of petty or large evil person…even you and me.   Jesus is self-evident even to those who deny it and want to replace Him with themselves or some other shoddy image.

What’s more: those same demons acknowledged Jesus as God.   True, there’s a fine line between this statement and the one in the last paragraph, but isn’t it also true to say that there’s a difference between knowing who Jesus is and publicly acknowledging the fact? The demons in the man cried out through him that they not only knew Jesus but acknowledged Him as God.  Thoughts became words and actions.

Still, many kinds of demons meant that the man endured many kinds of torture. I have only known a few truly schizophrenic people but those I’ve known are the closest thing I can imagine to being demon-possessed.   The voices in the man were indeed real and they tortured his thoughts, his actions, his dreams, his every emotion and movement. Can you imagine living like that?   It’s not even a life, really.   It’s more like simply existing.

So what did Jesus do about it? Jesus commanded the demons to stop and they did. The demon (the representative of the ‘legion’ which might have been one or thousands) was told to come out of the man and it did. It couldn’t resist the simple command of the simple Man from Galilee.

Now comes the big question:   so what?   To some, this is a nice story about how Jesus did a kind thing for a stranger.   So what?

Well, for starters, you can either accept that line of reasoning or accept that the story is true. It either happened or it didn’t.   And if it didn’t happen, then, yes, it’s just a nice story.   But then that’s all you’ve got.

Or…

…Or, you can accept that it really happened. That the story is an account of something that really happened a very long time ago.   That there really was a man living in a cemetery.   That He really was tortured by imps of hell.   That there really was a man named Jesus who really did command the demons to come out of the man, and that they did.   And if all that is true, then whatever else is said about Jesus must also be true; you can’t simply cherry pick the Bible.   And if the rest of His life is true as well, then it’s also true that what He did for the stranger in the land of the Gerasenes He can do for you or me today.   Now that is a good thought for the day.

Lord, I believe all that is said in Scripture concerning You. Thank You for what You did for the man living among the tombs.

Read Mark 5, verses 1-20.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 October 2014

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”– Mark 1, verses 23-24.

Whether we like it or not, EVERYTHING is under the dominion of the Son of Man.   You, me, all our possessions, the weather, dogs barking in my backyard, Ebola spreading around the planet, newborn babies: everything.   Even evil.   Everything in this world, in this universe, is seen by the eyes of Christ.   The allegory of “you can’t take it with you” is 100% true because God has determined that the only thing we have that is truly ours is our soul.   It’s plain fact that the believer and unbeliever alike can agree upon. Everything that happens, good and bad, serves Christ’s purpose, even when we don’t understand how.

And because that is so, even the things that are evil recognize that fact.   Even demons are under the control of Jesus. “An impure spirit” is an evil spirit. The Bible is rife with accounts of what demons and evil spirits did to people.   In a teachable moment, Jesus allows the impure spirit to confront Him so that those around Jesus could see it confess His identity; so that we could see it too.   Don’t lose sight of that fact, that this episode occurs right after Jesus starts to teach and then is immediately confronted by evil.   I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Lord starts to connect with people before evil tries to split apart that connection.   Isn’t it true that the same thing happens to us today?

It brings up a question: are there still demons in the world?   I don’t know that I’ve ever told the story about my grandmother, who was the sweetest, kindest person I’ve ever known.   She was also drastically manic depressive.   One day, I was with her when her mood changed from high to low.   In the space of just a few minutes, I watched her behavior, face and body completely transform, contorting and twisting her into someone almost unrecognizable. I understand manic behavior and depression; I know them well.   Yet I will always believe more was going on with that sweet woman than just some psychiatric condition. I believe she was possessed.

I personally know people who have conducted exorcisms.   I know people who believe they have met angels; I have my own experiences with that as well.   Do I believe there are still demons in the world?   You bet I do.   Science can’t adequately explain it, only faith can. I believe that much of what we consider to be terrible coincidence or heinous crime may be demonic in origin. That may not stand up in a court of law but it stands up to Scriptural scrutiny.

We won’t go into the argument about “if Jesus loves us why does He allow bad things to happen?”   Look to that last sentence of the first paragraph for the answer and don’t get lost in navel gazing.  It isn’t always satisfying to realize that, in the face of terrible things, the only answer I’ll sometimes get is “my grace is sufficient for you.” But when I contemplate how I would have reacted to evil alone, without that grace of Jesus, I realize that it’s not just what I needed to hear at the time but the best answer possible.

Lord, everything is in Your control.   Thank You for that.

Read Matthew 4, verses 23 and 24.