Insanity and its antidote

Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your children.

— Sam Levenson, U.S. humorist (1911-1980)

I suppose a more appropriate quote would have been the (overworked) observation attributed to Albert Einstein — that the definition of “insanity” is doing the same thing repeatedly, hoping to achieve a different result — but that’s been done to death, darling, and besides, Sam’s remark is funnier.

OK … so Einstein’s definition is still the appropriate one, and I keep thinking about it when I see the way people — including professing Christians — are responding to world events. We try to bar people from our countries, who are escaping conditions that we couldn’t even begin to imagine. People cheer a military assault in response to atrocities against civilians, claiming that “someone has to stand up for the innocent” — even though the time to have stood up for them was before they were killed.

Military responses breed more military responses, people who are barred from or made unwelcome in a country get angry and are more easily “radicalized”, and things keep spinning out of control, like a border collie on a triple espresso.

We’ve tried to defeat Muslims in the name of Jesus for centuries. How well has that worked? We’ve tried to defeat people who hate other people for centuries. How well has that worked? The more we “fight” terrorism, the more we seem to live in terror.

Insanity? Sure looks like it.

The things Jesus really called us to do break us out of that cycle of insanity.

Maybe it’s time to give them a try.

You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you … For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?

— Matthew 5:43-44, 46-47

To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.”

— Luke 6:29

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

— Proverbs 15:1

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

— Romans 12:21

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, rather give place to wrath, for it is written, “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

— Romans 12:19

See, there’s a point we keep forgetting. WE ARE ALL GOD’S CHILDREN. It doesn’t matter what someone’s race is, what their issues are, what their faith walk has been to this point. To God, what matters is where we’re going — and that we go with Him. So when we kill someone, even in the name of “revenge” or “defending others”, we’re killing someone who, like us, was made in the image of God.

Think about it.

It’s the great what if? What if we actually applied these principles to world affairs? Given determination to walk in love towards our enemies, forgive them “seventy times seven times”, without expecting anything in return, thousands — perhaps millions — of innocent lives could be saved.

In fact, why wait for some worldly government’s foreign policy to come into alignment? As followers of Christ, we all should be focusing on approaching everyone with true, unconditional love, overcoming our natural fears and instincts.

In fact, there’s no “maybe” about it.

To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

— Revelation 3:21

That’s only one of countless promises that, if we act in love without expecting anything in return, we will have God on our side. He will protect us, lead us and bring everything to a conclusion that’s to His satisfaction. It’s up to us to have the faith that He will live up to His promise and come through for us in ways we could never imagine.

One more thing: remember what Jesus tells the blind men who want to receive their sight: “According to your faith, let it be to you.” (Matthew 9:29).

That works the other way, too. If we keep on with our “natural human” responses to evil, we’re declaring that our faith in a different way: that God will not live up to His promise and come through for us.

And guess what? According to our faith, He won’t.

You’re a WHAT?

The scene was the backyard of a rooming house I lived in back in 2005.

I won’t say my room was small, but the mice had hunch-backs.

Actually, my room was so small, I had to step outside to change my mind.

OK … we’ll keep it moving.

The other tenants and I are having a little backyard party: beers, chips and a small bonfire. The conversation is light and easy and very friendly. At one point, we start talking about homelessness and street people, so I drop in the personal factoid that I pastor at a mission on the Downtown East Side.

A girl sitting next to me blurts out, “I didn’t know you were a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) pastor!”

I wonder: is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Does “I didn’t know you were a pastor” mean that I didn’t live down to the expectation of someone who was judgmental, holier-than-thou and generally a pain in the neck to be with?

Does it mean, “You’re so comfortable to talk to! I really feel at ease around you.”?

Or does it mean, “Wow … you’re drinking too much, insulting the host and hitting on every female here! I never would have accused you of being a Christian – much less a pastor!”?

In many ways, we want to be stealth fighters for Jesus. As Paul puts it:

… to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward old, but under law toward Christ) that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak.

I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

— 1 Corinthians 9:20-22

In other words, we don’t want to go around cloaked in some show of righteousness, as if we were constantly wearing a sign around our necks saying “CHRISTIAN – LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT IT”. Rather, we need to relate to others as much as possible, and as the time ripens and the Holy Spirit leads, we can gently help relate them to the Gospel.

Sometimes, the process begins by hanging with people being part of them — only with a difference: the sort of difference that leads them to say, either aloud or to themselves, “Something’s different about that person!”, and want to find out why. A friend of mine who worked with me on the Downtown East Side is a great example – he’s brought many people into the church as a result, and those who haven’t come to the church (yet!), call him “friend”.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

— John 13:34-35

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.

— 1 John 5:2

If we stick to those verses and internalize them, eventually, our faith and way of living will manifest outwardly. By then, people around us will have guessed, anyway.

I’d love it if someone came up to me and asked what was “different” about me. Maybe one day. In the mean time, “I didn’t know you were a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) pastor!” will have to do — and I’ll assume she meant it in the good ways.

The bounced check

According to legend, Alex Trebek, the host of Jeopardy!, has an interesting item framed on his office wall. He’s had it for nearly forty years: a bounced check.

NSF

The check came from a production company for Alex’s work in the early 1980s, hosting a game show called Pitfall. I was a contestant during its trial phase with a different host in 1979 (that version was never aired, which is just as well, because I lost), and I later worked for the production company on a different project. By the time the game show was re-booted and Alex came on the scene, I was working in another city.

Pitfall featured an elaborate mechanical set with a row of elevators, and if you got an answer right, you kept on playing, but if you got it wrong, the elevator you were standing on sent you down to floor level, where you stayed until your opponent answered a question wrong.*

Anyway, the company went bankrupt during the show’s first season, and while some of the staff and contestants got paid, Alex’s check bounced.

So he framed it, presumably to remind him of where he had been, how far he had come and how life can turn on a dime — or, in this case, on the initials “N.S.F.”.

I think we all have a “bounced check” in our lives: a reminder of where we were at another point. I know I do. For nearly twelve years, I was separated from my children, largely through my own actions. Even though I was succeeding on many levels, professionally, personally and in ministry, thoughts of that still haunted me. If I ever wanted a pity-party, I’d withdraw into myself and rail about how unjust and terrible life was and if only my kids could spend time with me they’d see things my way, yadda-yadda-yadda …

The Apostle Paul had one:

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

— 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

In a fit of frustration, any one of us could get rid of that “bounced check”. Alex could have torn it up or ceremonially set it on fire; I could have done something similar. Paul could have gone about denying he had ever persecuted and (in at least one case) was accessory to the murder of Christians. So could you.

Instead, Alex kept the check, even though he had no idea at the time how far in the industry he would go. I allowed the thought of my own situation to stay with me, because (a) it reminded me how far I’d fallen from the Lord and what the consequences were for me and others; and (b) it reminded me of how far I’d come and how far I could still go — solely through God’s grace.

And — SPOILER ALERT — Alex Trebek has come a lot farther than anyone could have imagined in 1981, when that game show was produced. I’ve come farther than those dark days, fifteen years ago. Have you had a “bounced check”? Frame it, and let that be a thorn in your side — to remind you how far God’s grace can take you.


*Pitfall was, in fact, the apotheosis of George Carlin’s complaint about game shows: “the damn rules take so long: by the time you get to the first question, the first question is, ‘can you come back tomorrow?'”

In the midst of death, we are in life …

I’ve mentioned before, that I’m currently working on a book about The Lord’s Rain — the showers project on the Downtown East Side that I was part of for seven years. It describes how God pulled that project together and made it happen, even though we had no money to begin with, but it also paints a picture of the Downtown East Side through the people I met and the things I saw.

I just came across this piece from 2010, and wanted to share it with you here. 

Being the father of a teenage girl, I went into “dad” mode the moment I saw Davona — just over a year ago, now. Blonde and achingly pretty, she was sitting in the doorway of one of our neighbouring buildings, which was under renovation at the time. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I stopped to chat and invited her to come to the Mission service, where I was headed. She thanked me for the invitation, but didn’t come up.

A couple of days later, though, she came into The Lord’s Rain — more for the coffee than anything else. It’s easy to look at a girl like Davona and assume that she’s drugged-out and working the streets; then you want to scream, “GET OUT! OUT WHILE YOU STILL HAVE YOUR BEAUTY! OUT WHILE YOU STILL HAVE YOUR LIFE! OUT WHILE YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TEETH!”

In fact, Davona is closer to 30. And she does have her own teeth, so if she has a drug habit, maybe it isn’t so bad. But there was something else that wasn’t right. She would carry on conversations with us — except her voice would fade to nothing and/or she’d start speaking to the wall or her shoes, leaving you wondering if she was ever talking to you in the first place.

She was obsessive-compulsive. She would go to a large box of clothes and start pulling them out one by one, examining each piece in detail. The house rule is that people are allowed two articles of clothing, so I’d be watching to see that she didn’t take more than that. But instead of taking the clothing she had pulled out, she would carefully and methodically fold each one and put it back in the box. Sometimes, she’d take them out again and repeat the process. Occasionally, she might even keep a garment for herself.

Talking to Davona is like driving on the Interstate and your radio has a wonky tuner: you constantly have to nudge it to keep the signal coming in. She’d carry on these conversations with no one in particular, but all you’d need to do is call her name, and she’d immediately snap back into reality — or your reality, at any rate, as opposed to the one she had lapsed into. But after maybe three minutes, the frequency would start to drift again and you’d either have to call her name to jar the tuning knob back into position; or just let her continue and go and do something else.

As often happens with people on the DTES, Davona disappeared for a few months. People do that. Sometimes, they’ve been arrested. Maybe they get a job and move away. Maybe they lose the job and move back. About two months ago, Davona turned up again. She was a bit more lucid, incessantly fussy in the mirror … and pregnant.

Danilo tried to press her for information as to how it happened. Well, maybe not the “how” part, but information about the father. He got nowhere. Another woman we know had a baby about a year and a half ago, and that little girl was seized by the Ministry of Children and Families shortly after birth. We assumed that would happen with Davona’s baby.

And that was the last we saw of Davona … until today. I was walking through Waterfront Station, when a very familiar blonde face passed by. I called to her, and yes, it was Davona. And strapped to her front was a Snugli with baby sound asleep inside. “Her name is Shine,” she told me, stroking the little head. I was in the middle of some INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT work and had to catch up with some others so aside from a little more sighing over the baby, telling each other it was nice to see the other again and a quick hug, that was the extent of the conversation.

In a story that could have so many unhappy elements to it, I’m believing for the happy ones all the way through. That Davona has the support she needs, that she’s healthy mentally and physically, that the baby stays healthy and grows … that everyone involved will see a miracle of God through all of it. A new little life, coming out of (and hopefully, staying out of) the DTES: that amid what often appears to be a land of walking dead, we have a sign that God wants life to keep going — even there.

Especially there.

Still here. Really.

I don’t do this as often as I should, but when I do, it’s a treasured time.

Go quiet, clear my mind of everything and focus on Jesus.

It’s not easy. One’s mind gets cluttered with all manner of things. If it’s not world events, it’s something somebody said or wrote; or there are memories that haunt you, or the latest ball scores, or New Zealand’s domination in World Rugby Sevens ….

You get the picture.

But sitting on the deck this morning, I was able to do it, if only for a short time. The dog was on my lap (she’s not a lapdog, as such, but she’s never let that stop her) and I was able to focus on The Lord.

I began with some generic prayer, thanking Him for, well, everything; then I said, out loud, “Speak to me, Lord.”

And instantly, I heard back. “I am.”

I listened. There were birds singing — all sorts of birds: hummingbirds, nuthatches, robins, sparrows. A squirrel was holding forth and one bird was acting as a sentry, warning that one of the cats was in the area. Bees were loading up on the flowers.

God was, indeed, speaking.

Tall evergreens swayed overhead and around us. The flowers themselves were colourful, their scents marvellous.

God was showing Himself, too. The Creator of all things, showing His handiwork.

Having said that, consider this. People talk about the need to get out into nature to get close to God, but let’s not forget that “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:3) So even if we’re on a crowded bus or walking down a street filled with people milling about, it’s possible to go quiet and listen for Him there, too, because He shows Himself and speaks to us through the people and their voices and all the things He created.

And what is He saying?

“I’m still here.”

The wars, hatred, environmental destruction, fixation on “identity” and other causes of strife are all man-made. God is still here, waiting for us to turn to Him; waiting for us to choose Him over the world and thus watch and see how He heals the land when we do.

Still here.

Really.

The enduring message

Quite a few years ago now, a friend of mine forwarded a blog posting to me, by a fellow named John Fischer. The blog was called “Catch of the Day” (Fischer — catch — get it?), a series of daily Christian messages. I forget what that particular theme was, but I wound up subscribing to it and staying on, as it morphed into The Catch, with its weekly “Blog Talk Radio” show and “Church at The Catch” on Sundays via Facebook Live.

Shortly after, I came across a book of John’s called Confessions of a Caffeinated Christian (available through a variety of online sources), filled with messages of hope and grace, which I subsequently loaned/gave to a woman who needed inspiration and some answers in her life.

And then I got a huge surprise. When I was a teenager, I often went to a Saturday night youth group at a church near my home, called “The Alternative”. One of the songs we sang was called, “Have You Seen Jesus, My Lord?”. For some reason, the theme and message stuck with me, all through the years that I strayed from God, and the consequences that came with that:

Have you ever looked at a sunset,

With the sky mellowing red,

And the clouds extended like feathers?

Then I say … you’ve seen Jesus, my Lord.*

The idea being, that beauty, love and grace are all Jesus, manifest to us.

The surprise? John Fischer wrote that song. I found that out when I went to look up the full lyrics to include in Worship at Gospel Mission. John, it turned out, was part of the Jesus People’s Movement of the 60s and 70s — yes, the very people I’d sneered at and rejected when I was a teenager and knew everything.

Fifty years on, John is still talking about Grace. Even in the face of the religious/self-righteous “right” — those who judge others and condemn people for the sin of being human and tack “in Jesus’ Name” on the end as if that validates their position — John’s basic message has never changed.

And nor should it. Because through all the centuries — all the millennia that God has striven to build relationships with individuals — His Grace has been the constant. Various theologies will come and go — from Catholicism to “prosperity gospel”, to modernism and the charismatic/”latter rain” movements, they’ve all been re-thought: some have flared and faded to the background and some have died out altogether.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

— 1 Corinthians 13:8

Grace is the extension of God’s love toward us. We can’t explain it. As humans, the “natural brute beast” side of us limits our love for others to simply those who love us or are nice to us. It’s so hard to understand grace because that’s God, going by His rules.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.

— Isaiah 55:8

To quote another song from the same era, “It’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock-and-roll”** – you have to experience it to get any idea.

Grace is God saying to us, “I know all about your past — it’s your future that matters”, and then going to the lengths that He has done, to ensure that that future is close to Him. The blood sacrifice — the atonement for sins and other transgressions — was only the prelude to the greatest Blood Sacrifice of all, putting His own Son on the Cross as that one-time-for-all act, that not simply atones for our sins, but “[wipes] out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14) (In other words, when we receive Jesus’ sacrifice, anything that was written against us in the Book of Life is erased so thoroughly, you can’t tell that anyone even picked up a pen.)

God’s grace never ends – never fails. What’s more, we’re expected to extend that same grace to others, no matter what they’ve done to us.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust..

“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?

“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

— Matthew 5:43-48

We rise above our “natural brute beast” instincts to let go of wrongs, to drop grudges and to release people from the things they’ve done to us. That goes against the grain and it completely opposite to “human nature”, but that’s exactly what drawing close to God and following Jesus is all about.

Have you ever looked at the Cross

And a Man hanging in pain

And the look of love in His eyes?

Then I say … you’ve seen

Jesus, My Lord.

Your Life Matters!


* “Have You Seen Jesus My Lord?” © 1970, John Fischer

** from “Do You Believe in Magic?” written by John Sebastian, 1965

It’s safer in the fish

So [the sailors] picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.

Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly.

— Jonah 1:15 – 2:1

Woodcut-Jonah-in-de-Fish-98-Peter-Wortel

Jonah, having admitted that he and his disobedience were the cause of the storm that was threatening the ship, allows himself to be tossed overboard. The storm stops and everyone on the boat is saved, but Jonah is out of his element.

But the fish isn’t. We’re told that the Lord “prepared the fish”, and there were at least two reasons for it. One was to make sure Jonah was delivered back to dry land so he could get to Nineveh with his warning of judgment; the other was to make sure Jonah was protected, and not out of his element.

See, it’s in the fish that Jonah has time — three days and nights — to re-focus on God. Nothing else to do — might as well pray. He doesn’t have to worry about the storm, drowning, or the impact his disobedience has on others, especially the sailors. When he’s finally released, he has a new determination to serve the Lord and follow His instructions.

Jesus talks about the “sign of Jonah”: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). And Peter writes that Jesus spent His three days and three nights, “preach[ing] to the spirits who were in prison” (1 Peter 3:19), that is, the souls in hell.

And consider the storm that had broken out when Jesus was crucified. There was a total eclipse of the sun, a major earthquake tore the giant veil in the Temple, spirits of the dead came out of the graves and appeared to people in the cities. Jesus was safer in hell. In fact, like Jonah, it was His time of preparation, preaching to the long-dead spirits, the ones who literally “missed the boat” at the time of the great flood and who needed to hear the Gospel.

Now, let’s look at our own lives. We go through storms, ourselves, which put us completely out of our element. If you think about it, hasn’t there been a “fish” that’s come along to give you some kind of safety and an opportunity to re-focus? I know there has been in my life: I’ll spare you the details, but the “storm” was rooted in my disobedience and a lot of innocent people were affected by it. I allowed myself to get tossed overboard into something unknown, and yes, there was a “fish” that God had prepared, to protect me, give me time and peace to take stock and re-focus, and then spit me out so I could get on with it again.

Maybe you’re in a storm now and have absolutely no idea what to do, because you’ve been thrown out of your element.

  • Own the situation and don’t blame someone else — if someone else is responsible, God will deal with them separately.
  • Recognize that your storm is affecting others, and get away from their area (physically as well as spiritually), for their sakes.
  • Don’t look at the rough seas: look for the fish — what is there, that could protect you while you’re outside your element? If you ask God to show you, He will.
  • Take advantage of that time of protection to re-focus.
  • Get back into the game.

Do you notice something else? When the storm subsided, the others on the boat immediately surrendered their lives to the God Jonah served. We may never know how many others will come to know Christ because of our act of humility and self-sacrifice.

Remember: God has a job for you to do and He needs you to be protected, rested and focused. If it takes a big storm and a bigger fish to do that, so be it.

How can a loving God …???

So yesterday, I closed by pointing out that as you preach the Gospel, you will likely run into staunch atheists, or mistheists (those who actively hate God and anyone who worships Him). So how do you handle them?

First, let’s look at a very common lament, which you hear anytime there’s been a major disaster or human catastrophe:

“How can a loving, sovereign God allow _________(fill in the blank with: war/earthquakes/genocide/racism) _________?”

It’s usually spoken with an “Aha! Got you this time!” tone of voice (all the while sounding like one is shocked and saddened by the situation).

It’s a fair question. Let me run this up the flagpole, to see who salutes:

God, in His sovereignty, gave up sovereignty over the earth.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle, over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”


The God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

— Genesis 1:24 & 26 (NKJV) (I added the emphasis)

He created the earth and everything in it, then handed it to mankind to be the caretaker. He gave us dominion.

Then we promptly handed that dominion off to Satan in exchange for a bite of fruit.

But the fact remains that God, ultimately, turned dominion of the earth over to humans. He loves us enough to bless us (v.26) with the power and authority to do the job, and then to stand ready, whenever we call on Him to help us. He loves His Creation enough to be ready to do that, but He loves humans enough to make us higher than the rest of it and leave us in charge.

And we’re the ones who’ve allowed racism, war, terrorism, intolerance and hatred to get a foothold on earth. Not God.

God hates all that stuff, but if He were to step in and wrest dominion away from us, He would be a liar. So He stands by, as I say, waiting for us to call on Him.

I believe that’s why the Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”: we have to invite God to exercise His will on earth, the way He does in Heaven.

I also believe that’s why He had to take on human form: to take back, as a human, the authority we handed over to Satan, and to show us how to resist the enemy — as humans, only with that extra, secret weapon — the Holy Spirit.

So how can a loving God allow such things?

Frankly, He’s not the one doing the allowing.

Nothing to be ashamed of

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth ….

— Romans 1:8 (KJV)

What a tremendous task we’ve been given! At The People’s Church in Toronto recently, Marcio Garcia, founder of the Evangelical Mission of Assistance to Fishermen (EMAF) in Brazil, pointed out a recurring theme in Jesus’ words to His disciples during the 40 days between His Resurrection and His Ascension.

Preach the Gospel.

Through His ministry on earth, Jesus had been sending people out to spread the Word; then, having gotten their attention by rising from the dead, He repeated it several times to hammer the message home.

And what is this Gospel we’re supposed to preach? Is it simply that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? That He loves us so much, He paid the ultimate price for our ultimate debt? Or is there something more?

I think there is, and the clue is in Paul’s sentence. “The Gospel of Christ.” As I read it, “Christ” is not a substitute name for Jesus, but refers to the anointing poured out on us when we receive the Holy Spirit — “the power of God unto salvation”. That — not simply the Word of God — is the power to heal the sick and cleanse lepers; to overcome the things the enemy puts in our way and lead others to overcome theirs; the power to effect positive change all around us — truly, it’s the power to be “God’s hands and feet”.

You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

— Acts 1:8

Be His witnesses. Preach the Gospel. Don’t get hung up on other people’s sins or get into an argument over whether Jesus is the Son of God or even whether God exists. Jesus told us we’d be given the words we need when we need them — also via the Holy Spirit — so we’re not even to fret about what to say, if we’re supposed to say anything. Don’t get involved in telling people why your interpretation of the Bible is right and everyone else’s sucks.

Preach the Gospel. Spread the Word. Demonstrate the power of the Gospel of Christ. It’s a little bit scary, but then, what move of God isn’t? What if our friends reject us (because they think we’ve rejected them)? What if we lay hands on a sick person and they don’t get up and walk out of hospital? What if people laugh at us? What if we run into an atheist or humanist who’s in the mood for a little “Christian-baiting”?

Well, Jesus warned us that would happen, but He also said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)

I’d say that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

In the boat with Jesus – 2

It’s interesting, reading some of the follow-up to the rescue of those boys and their soccer coach from a water-filled cave in Northern Thailand. One Thai military officer put the rescue down to “good luck”.

But how can you credit “luck”, with so many people around the world, calling out to God to step in?

This all came down as we were talking about heading off on a journey with Jesus in the boat, as the disciples did when they left Capernaum and He said, “Let us cross over to the other side.” The storm came up, the disciples panicked and accused Jesus of not caring that they were going down.

So Jesus rebuked the wind, calmed the seas and twitted them about the level of their faith. So their lives were spared and they continued on their journey.

The effect of the worldwide prayer for the Thai kids was to put Jesus in the boat with them and say, “Master — do Your thing!”

Now, before we go on, consider this: the role of God and Jesus in this situation was not to magically teleport the kids and their coach to safety, like the Star Trek “beam-me-up-Scotty” device. The Lord calmed the storm so that the people could do what they could in their own strength.

Remember that, after He calmed the storm on Galilee, Jesus let the others do the rowing.

So now, the Thai kids and their coach are safe, the rescue divers are humbled and elated at the role they played, and (not incidentally), we get a reminder that science and technology can’t always be counted on to save the world.

Lives are changed. People have been knocked off-course in the things they had been planning to do. And that leads us to the rest of the story.

Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately, there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him.

— Mark 5:1-4

Jesus calls out the demons, who beg Him to send them into a herd of pigs feeding nearby. Jesus obliges, and the demon-possessed pigs rush, headlong, into the sea and are drowned.

(I’m probably reading a lot into this, but I figure the demons thought they could have some fun, possessing pigs and sending them racing off into the town, terrorizing the locals. They had no idea they might also run the wrong way. But Jesus knew.)

Once again, let’s look at this map.

GALILEE MAP

Jesus isn’t very specific about “the other side” of the Sea of Galilee, and you can bet that the disciples — who often couldn’t get together on whether it was a nice day — had different ideas of what their destination would be and what they were supposed to do when they got there.

So when the storm is finally calmed and they land on shore, they’re near Gadara. And immediately, Mark’s Gospel tells us, they’re met by the demon-possessed man. Jesus heals him and as an extra, added attraction, sends the demons to their doom and gets rid of a couple hundred unclean animals*.

Now, consider what might have happened if the storm hadn’t come up:

  • there would have been discord on the boat, with Jesus asleep, as the disciples started arguing over where they were supposed to go
  • they would have landed at someplace other than Gadara
  • if they had landed at Gadara, it would have been too early to meet the possessed man
  • the possessed man would not have been healed
  • the disciples would have missed out on the manifestation of Jesus’ Authority and not understood, later, when He told them they, too, had that Authority

So rather than knock them off-course, the storm placed them exactly where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there, doing what they were supposed to be doing.

One more thing:

your level of faith affects people you probably don’t even know.

Look at this sentence: “And other little boats were also with Him.” The people in those boats didn’t have Jesus with them, and they were probably just as terrified as the disciples. So when the disciples turned to Jesus and Jesus calmed the storm, the people in the other boats would have been saved, as well. In the same way, if you lack faith, others around you are in danger of sinking, too.

I digress. What’s important is that when Jesus gives us what seems like a vague assignment, we follow it, step by step, and not assume that we know what the end result is supposed to be. I can think of one assignment in my own life — building a facility to provide showers to people on Vancouver’s Skid Row — that turned out to be so much more than just giving people a place to wash up, although none of us involved with the project had any idea when we started out.

You might not know where you’re supposed to be going, but with Jesus in the boat, you can be sure that whatever happens and wherever you wind up, you’ll be in exactly the right place at the right time. So it will be with the folks in Thailand.


*One has to wonder, why people were herding pigs, anyway. It was forbidden to eat pork, so any commercial value would have been in defiance of that law. Drowning these domestically-raised pigs would have been the equivalent of kicking over the money-changers’ tables, no?