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my storyJesus rarely encouraged anyone to share their miracle stories, most likely to avoid the rumor mill and the masses looking to be healed physically but missing the spiritual context. And yet, specifically, the demon-possessed Gerasene, who wanted to become a disciple and follow Jesus was told to return home and tell his story.

The man from whom the demons had gone begged to come along with Jesus as one of his disciples. Jesus sent him away, saying,  “Return home and tell the story of what God has done for you.” [Luke 8:38-39a, CEB]

Apparently, Gerasa (although there is some controversy about the area where this exorcism took place), was a pagan region. When Jesus exorcised Legion (or the many demons), that evil entity asked to be sent into a herd of swine instead of directly into the Abyss. Although Jesus obliged, it is generally understood when the swine then raced over a cliff, that it represented the demon’s demise as well. They Abyss was their rightful “home.” At the same time, the swine herders raced back to the city to tell of of this event–not the wonder of the exorcism and the healing of the man, but the loss of their herds and their violent deaths. These men created an atmosphere of fear around the work of Jesus. When the crowd showed up, they came in dread, afraid of the next “miracle” and asked Jesus to leave them. They did not doubt that Jesus was powerful, they did not want to know how powerful.

And for this reason, I believe, the man who was healed was asked to stay and counter the stories. Only his own words would have the potential to influence others. His testimony could not be denied and the point of the miracle could be re-focused.

Each of us can only tell our own story.

There is an Australian comedian/musician and skeptic who has made quite a stir and made a lot of money mocking believers as well as “New Agers” but I think it’s primarily because of second, third and fourth hand stories (my cousin blah blah blah, etc.). He symbolizes many people in our world who see no reason for faith or the supernatural.

For this reason, I encourage each person to know and tell his/her own story, not the “teachings” or hearsay or Bible stories, just one’s own experience and how faith in God, in Christ, in Spirit manifested. In the end, that is all we have, this personal witness. It’s enough.

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200135310-004I would not want to know or meet God when God is feeling provoked. I believe in a loving and kind God, a Presence of patience and kindness and understanding. And yet, there is a part of this same God that knows anger, a truly righteous anger that I don’t want to imagine, an anger in response to willfulness and stubbornness. Let me not be part of that scenario.

“I was ready to respond to those who didn’t ask.
    I was ready to be found by those who didn’t look for me.
I said, “I’m here! I’m here!” to a nation
    that didn’t call on my name.
I extended my hands all day
    to a rebellious people
        walking in a way that isn’t good,
        following their own plans;
people who provoke me to my face continually, . . .”  [Isaiah 65:1-3a, CEB]

God is ready to be found at any point in person’s life. God even provided a human form, Christ Jesus, to insure his message could be heard and understood: life is more than this body, the battle is for the spirit, eternity is a choice–a matter of surrender. Each day, God is asking, will you see Me; will you hear ME? Will you answer?

Or will we provoke God instead by making the same choices over and over again. Will we choose, like a delinquent kid, to sit in the back row of the classroom, our body slumped over, our senses numbed by self-medication, our ears filled with jammin’ sounds, our eyes with decadent delights?

I understand, I’m not “that” bad. I have chosen to follow Christ into the arms of God, but not fully. I am still holding on to some of the old ways, the old sounds, the old pleasures. I am still looking down at my feet instead of watching the horizon for the signals God provides to walk this way and not that way; don’t look down. “Lift up your heads, you gates;  lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” [Psalm 24:9, NIV]

 

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Painting by Prof. M. M. Ninan

Painting by Prof. M. M. Ninan

Healing remains a mystery for most of us. Of course, the science of it all has been investigated and documented by very smart people, but ultimately, the why of healing and who is healed and why one tactic or procedure works with one and not another, it’s simply unknown. It is the realm of God.

Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” [Mark 5:29-30, NIV]  But they [the bystanders] laughed at him. After he [Jesus] put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). [Mark 5:29:40-41, NIV]

The power to heal. What is that? Is this power simply the spirit and therefore, endless, or must it be re-charged like a battery? Is it like manna, merely enough for one day? Do some have more than others? Is this “power” simply the life force and some have more than others? Or is it more likely that we are all equally endowed but diverse in our ability to access it? Or, is it even an it? Is this a Presence and sentient?

My fantasy self, the one that reads light-heartedly of magic and elves and wonder, where good and evil are clearly demarcated, likes to imagine that the people Jesus raised from the dead might still be alive today. I mean, at what point would they die once that power infused them? To my best knowledge, the ones Jesus resurrected died of illnesses and not at the hand of others or by accident. Jesus undid the knot in their thread of life. In the case of Lazarus [John 11], Jesus clearly says that the act of resurrection is to glorify God, the Father.

But, what of us? That’s the question that is really on my mind, I know. There have been healers in the past, people who made a sensation through the laying of the hands and prayer, healing many. Charlatans abounded as well, putting on a show of healing. The authentic becomes more difficult to identify. Even in Jesus’s time, there were magicians and brokers of the supernatural. Our culture is unaccustomed to the potential power of the Spirit. We are logical and scientific. All miracles are suspect. Cliches abound: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.” And so on. We’re all from the “Show Me” state of Missouri it seems.

Jesus was suffused in power and he was given the right to wield it or not. This power was so plentiful that some people, like the woman with the issue of blood, were able to grasp it, at times, without his direct intervention: power which could transform and make whole again or even better than it was in the first place.

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. [John 14: 12-14, NIV]

The only thing in the way is me.

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farmerMy pastor loves alliteration, metaphor, and rhyme. And so, it came as no surprise a couple of Sundays ago when he referred to himself as the “Dude with the Food,” another way of saying he was the one who had the job to distribute nourishment, the “word of God” and the “bread of life.” Another food-based role for the pastor appears in the parable of the seeds (Matthew 13:1-9).

Such large crowds gathered around him [Jesus] that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed . . . [Matthew 13:2-3, NIV]

This is a familiar parable to most people about the seeds that fell on the path, or landed in rocky places or in shallow places, as well as seeds that grew but among thorns, and finally, the seeds that landed in good soil where they did what they were supposed to do: flourish.

So much has been written about the seeds and many times we have been asked to compare ourselves and our understanding of the message to one of these groups of scattered seeds. But today, I am interested in the farmer.

You see, in my mind, it is the farmer’s intention, from the beginning, to throw and plant the seeds in good soil. After all, the farmer’s goal is to reap a plentiful harvest. It is not intentional that seeds go astray. They will. They do. The farmer may spend a lot of time in soil preparation, but inevitably, circumstances and the weather may alter his best intentions. If the wind comes up or a storm, the seeds will scatter, even those that may have landed in the best of places. Seeds are challenged. Seeds are damaged.

But the key understanding for me is that the farmer is not responsible for the outcome. The farmer can plan, prepare, plant, and even encourage, but ultimately, it’s between the seed and nature (or God, in this case) to actually break down and transform into something else, like a plant. The farmer envisions the best results, but things don’t always work out that way. The farmer can pray for rain and pray for sunshine; the farmer can take out weeds, but sometimes, there are nasty critters that destroy the roots anyway. The farmer is only one while the seeds are many.

We need to stop blaming these farmers for the losses.

farmhandsSometimes, I hear people talking about their farmers who are not good administrators. I guess that means those seeds are unhappy with the size of the fields, the design of the rows, the farmhands that the farmer hired to help deliver the message. Or others say the farmer spends too much time on the fields around the house and not enough time visiting the fields on the other side of the hill, or the special little garden just for organic seeds or sickly seeds. And still others criticize the farmer for not spending enough time planning the farm, or laying hands on the seeds, or purifying the water and so on.

I’m beating this metaphor to death, I ‘m sure.

You wanna help the farmer? Be a farmhand.

 

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me and me and meRomans 8:7-8 says this, “So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t. People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God.” [CEB] And never once did I think of selfishness as being offensive; I just thought being self-centered wasn’t “nice.” I suppose another reason I missed this truth is the translations I’ve used over the years where the phrase “living in the flesh” was used. I allowed that to mean a carnal life and I figured I had that one pretty much under control.

But no. I have fooled myself into a comfort zone.

Selfishness, self-centeredness, self-indulgence, and narcissism, they are all threats to the free-flowing of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, I am also living in the age and culture of the “self” and the “selfie.” [Our pastor is starting a series at Restore Church called Me, Myself & Selfie, this weekend -- that's no accident either.]  And worse, when I’m in that selfish place, I am actually preventing myself from entering into the secret places of God. I am putting up my own roadblock. I am shooting myself in the foot, as the saying goes.

None of us likes to take the blame for things that happen. It’s simply no fun to make mistakes and then own up to them. But I’m thinking this is a big one.

There are a few simple test questions for this: Do I think about the other person first before I act or speak? Do I register my thoughts within, with the Spirit before I indulge them further? Do I choose consciously or am I living out of a habit of selfishness?

I’m going to take this quiz today.

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Photo by Yasar Vurdem, Turkey.

Photo by Yasar Vurdem, Turkey.

How many people think “I am going to die anyway” as justification for their choices? Is it any wonder, that such a form of hopelessness would drive them to despair and even despicable acts? How and when is that seed planted?

 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright today.” Esau said, “Since I’m going to die anyway, what good is my birthright to me?” [Genesis 25:31-32, CEB]

Was Esau just playing the drama queen because he was so hungry but too lazy to make his own meal? Or, was his life such that he had little to embrace as valuable? He was a man of the hunt; perhaps his life was on the line each time he went out into the wilderness. Perhaps he had experienced near death experiences? In any case, he was a man of the moment. The future held no interest for him.

This way of thinking is such a trap. I see my own son making choices that smack of this attitude, not in the least depressing at face value, just cavalier about the day, not looking at how the day’s choices might impact the next day or week or year. Has our culture spawned more and more of this attitude? Is it generational? I really don’t know.

Some time ago, my brother went through a very difficult patch in his life, his career and marriage in shambles, he was depressed. As the good sister, I had to ask, are you in danger of hurting yourself? His answer encouraged and comforted me: “Never. No matter what might happen today, tomorrow is another day and anything can happen to change my circumstances.”

This is an answer of faith, whether in the resiliency of oneself or in God. It is an answer of hope. May I have such courage always.

The second message in this passage is the danger of the other person. In this passage, that would be Jacob who seemed quite willing to take advantage of Esau’s situation, his blustering attitude, his shortsightedness. We must beware of such people in our own lives. The enemy, who might come to us as “friend” or family member, comes to snatch away from the hopeless. It is a sorrow. Hopelessness opens the heart to greater damage.

Holy Spirit, guard my heart.

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That is the point. Forgiveness. Unless you’re fine with all that, you know, fine with the things you’ve said and thought, fine with the choice you made that hurt someone else, fine with the way things worked out when you lied, fine with the time you looked away, fine with your plenty in the face of another’s scarcity, fine with the status quo. But if you’re not, if you want to turn a corner and do life differently, then, there’s this:

woman_crying_1Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” [Luke 7:47-49, NIV]

Who indeed?

We each have had a way in which we do life. For some, it was an upper middle class dream with plenty of food on the table, two (or more) cars in the driveway, and college tuition paid out of a well-thought out plan. Others grew up under a cloud of smoke and the smell of stale beer, got lost in math class and never caught up, accepted a minimum wage job and bolstered their income with a few illegal drug deals or sex for hire. Some of us skated and while others drowned.

To choose a savior, a kind of help that can turn a life’s direction requires an experience of awareness, a moment of revelation, an epiphany if you will, before forgiveness even comes into the picture, before surrender is possible, before faith can be born.

I cannot make that happen for anyone else. I can only tell you my story.

For, like the woman who drenched Jesus’s feet with her tears, I too have nothing but gratefulness for this same Jesus, who, by the power of Spirit, which makes this three-dimensional world  pale in its atmosphere, I capitulated my former understanding of the way of the world. I am changed. Forgiven.

And now I am asked to do likewise. To forgive the “you’s” in my life who failed me and hurt me and shamed me; to forgive myself for my self-indulgences and false starts. To forgive daily.

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