Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lent and the Man Who Gave Up Anger

The front story is found in Mark 5:1-20. Let us take a look at the back....

There once was a man, at least what was left of one, who lived in the Hill country. The ridges and falls of the landscape along with the background of Lake Galilee left a pleasant impression on the mind. For most Jews it was a region better enjoyed from a distance. The area was more Greek than Jewish, and this from Alexander's conquering times. They even raised pigs there.

There was a time that even the pigs weren't the largest problem. Hunted, haunted, unwanted people fled there. People on the edge, close to going over were there. So when Jesus instructed the disciples to make port in the Gerasenes eyebrows were raised. It was one thing to  dock there and sell fish to the merchants and common people but they were no longer selling fish and if Jesus were courting votes for messiah-ship, this was not a district worth canvasing. But when a man speaks to a sea churning thunderstorm and tells it "peace, be still," and it goes away, then if he says "Gerasenes," you go.

It didn't take long for the fireworks to begin. Jesus was hardly out of the boat when he showed up. Fierce,  angry, and tormented. A torn man falls at Jesus' feet. He could have snapped Jesus in two. He had the strength, maybe even a reason, but he had no authority, no permission. He cried out asking Jesus not to torture him. He knew torture. People who tried to help--platitudes, judgement, folk medicine and rehabs, Yeah, he knew torture.Others had tried to control him, help him, keep him in different chains for safety's sake, theirs if not his. Nothing worked. But the worst tortures were the self-inflicted ones. Tortured memories of people he loved, hurt; relationships in burned-out heaps; thoughts of what could have been, should have been. But his demons always found a way to win.  Many marveled at his strength, how he could break irons and chains. Many conveniently forget that there is a strength of cunning, manipulation, and deceit that can break bonds. It was easier to say it was physical strength that broke the bonds when the love and care shown were of insufficient quality and quantity to contain the pain. So he fought, he cried, he ran, in fear he scared off anyone and everyone who might get too close. It was better for them. It was hell for him, but a better hell than facing more pain, whether caused or endured.

But here stood Jesus. There is no fear, no pain, no turning away in this Jesus. No judgement except those evils needing judgement. And no escape for Legion, he will not manipulate, scream, fight his way out of this one. "What is your name?"  It was more of a command than a question. He knows already. He knows the heart. He knows there is a place that only God can touch. He knows that out of the spirit of man come Legions of problems only God can heal. No, the demons don't want healing, but the man does. In that place that only Jesus can see, and know, and touch,  in that deep place of longing and hope, there every man wants healing, peace, God.

So the demons had to go. The unnamed demons had no choice but to leave the now claimed human. Jesus never announced the names of the demons, lest someone think theirs wasn't included. It is.

People in town and through the years speculated about those poor pigs. The townspeople didn't like it, that was income, food and a convenient excuse taken away when things didn't go right. No longer can they blame the Nut case. Go away, Jesus. People speculated the demons' name, Legion, spoke of Rome's occupation and the fact that a boar's head adorned the shields of Roman soldiers in  Israel. Was this a prophecy of what would happen to Rome? Country preachers speculated that maybe a pig will not tolerate what a man will, so when the demons entered them, they decided they would exit life. A case of "suey-cide" they say. Maybe the real marvel is the wonderment over the seeming injustice done to pigs and forgetting the heavenly amazement that a tortured being is human again. Here is a picture of a man changed: anger-gone; fear-gone; manipulations-gone; doubts-gone; hell-on-earth-gone because Jesus came to him.

A man gives up anger  and its many demons and takes up evangelism at the urging of Jesus. "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.  Mark 8:19-20

The chains are gone, we've been set free,

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lent and the Woman Who Gave Up Guilt

Second in a series of Lenten devotions. Giving up something is associated with Lent, but taking up something may be the greater lesson and joy.

Step into John 8.........

Every emotion seemed to pulse through her veins. Her eyes would grow wide with fear and narrow with anger. Her eyes would well up with tears at the hopelessness of the situation and deaden seeing no sights as she welcomed the relief from this embarrassment that death would bring. And she knew she would die. She was guilty. She was caught. But she had been guilty before, many times. But she sensed this time was not really about her guilt. That truth didn't help much. She would soon be condemned and stoned. Her resigned heart felt the weight of sadness unto death. Her indignation at being only one of two adulterers dragged half naked from bed so early in the morning,  pushed through the streets and thrown down at the feet of this rabbi rose up in her and made her want to spit. But her mouth was dry.

She half heard the accusations--adultery--half heard the law half recited--stone such women--but she listened intently for the expected sentence from the holy man. She had heard his name before, what was it, o yeah, Jesus-some kind of holy man, some even said Messiah. Yeah right. These priests didn't like him-saw him as a threat. Maybe if he says "death by stoning" they will show mercy to make him look bad to the people, mean, unmerciful, if that is what all this is about. If they agree and stone her, at least the circus is over, the pain of guilt she had long felt would go away. Maybe he would say to have mercy and forgive and then they would accuse him of disobeying the law-unfit for a rabbi holy man. Either way she was just a forgotten, worthless pawn in their politics and religion. Either way they would get to him, and they both would pay the price. But life is cheap and she had felt its cheapness a long time and she had made bad choices for that same long time. She was out of choices now.

He just draws on the ground. Why won't he answer? They keep prodding, he says nothing, just draws. Say something, man, and get this over with!  Finally he speaks, "Let him who has no sin cast the first stone."

Silence. For several uncomfortable moments, silence. In the silence the truth sank in, it deeply sank in. The "thud" of a stone being dropped to the ground finally broke the silence as an old man slowly trudged off. Then another, and another, and another. And then just two remained. "Woman, where are they? His voice was light, airy, almost funny as if a magician had made a rabbit disappear. "Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," but in her heart she knew one had condemned her, herself. She had lived with guilt and self-condemnation all her life. She had looked for men and their approval or desire to cure her of this self-loathing and only felt used and further condemned. Her laughter had been large but she felt her heart shrink in condemnation and grow harder with each new lover. "Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and leave your life of sin."

Silence. For several uncomfortable moments, silence. In the silence, the truth sank in, it deeply sank in. The "thud" of a stony heart being dropped and replaced with a new one, a forgiven one, finally broke the silence. Leave a life of sin? The possibility never occurred to her, but with the condemnation of sin removed, the power to do so now became a reality. He who truly had the power to condemn, chose mercy. For the first time in a long time, no, maybe ever, she felt it--love.

That day the woman caught in adultery became the woman who gave up guilt. In giving up condemnation, she began to take up freedom. In mercy she finally found love, God's love. It was what she needed all the time.

How about you? Ready to give up guilt for grace? Condemnation for freedom? Self-loathing for God's love?
"Neither do I condemn you."  Jesus

Romans 8:1

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentines VS Lent and the Man Who Gave Up Greed

The calendar has played a trick on us this year. It places Lent on the day before Valentines. This could be a problem for some people because chocolate always ranks very high on the "what people give up for Lent" list. In fact, last year's annual Twitter list has it at number 2. (Ironically or sarcastically Twitter itself was number 1.) If your sweetheart loves chocolate for Valentine's day but vows to give it up for Lent... what to do, what to do? Let ole Cos help.

With all the ecclesiastical authority I have in my position, I declare that you do not have to give up chocolate for lent! There are two caveats to my pronouncement. One is unless you really want to and the second is if chocolate is standing in the way of your relationship with Jesus. In truth, I would say this about anything you chose to "give up" for lent. With that in mind I invite you to join with me for the next six or seven weeks for a weekly devotion during Lent leading up to Easter.We will take a glance at men and women from the Bible who gave up something, obviously not for Lent as that didn't fully develop until the eighth century, although as early as the third century, preparations were observed to prepare for baptism and to grasp more fully the meaning of Easter by the early church. And if we are very honest, we will see that the focus of these men and women was not the "giving up" of something so much as the "taking up" of new life and the liberties in living it. Done right, Lent then becomes so much more about the "taking up" than the "giving up." Take a look from Luke 19...

Zack was short. Period. In a world that honors, elects, promotes, and prizes height, Zack got the short end of the stick. He made up for it by hard work, ruthless ambition, and amazing shrewdness. O yeah, he ruined nearly every human relationship he had ever had. But he was rich beyond imagination. He was also powerful in his industry, which happened to be corporate law specializing in take-overs. What Zack lacked in height, he made up for in arrogance. At 44, he was also miserable, he just didn't fully know it.

He decided to go a shopping mall. He hadn't been to a shopping mall in what, ten years? But, his partnership was thinking about buying it, so he hopped on his Learjet and flew to southern California to check it out. This was a task someone about 150 executives below him usually did but he thought he'd do this one himself. Besides, he had seen on Facebook that Jesus was going to be there. He'd heard about this Jesus. He had read about the sermons and seen the videos on Youtube. Compassion, healings, wisdom that rocked Hollywood and Washington, pretty amazing stuff. For some reason Zack was drawn or being drawn to this Jesus and besides, prime real estate in southern California ain't bad either. So off he flew.

The mall was insanely crowded. Good location but no location seemed to work to see Jesus. He went upstairs to the food court and got a coffee at Starbucks. He was used to better. He saw a spot by the escalator and wedged his Brioni suit in the crack and leaned over the railing. He saw Jesus coming. He was moving from the Dillards end toward the Sears at the other end. He was laughing, touching, being touched, engaging in conversations. He didn't understand but he began to cry. In a few moments Jesus would be gone past his perch by the escalator and that fact left him sad. He had no clue why. Just then Jesus stopped, looked up, and called out: "Zack, Zack!" He looked right into the eyes of Zack, no He looked into his heart and said, "Zack,  come down here, I need to go to lunch with you today." Zack ran down the up escalator as fast as his size seven and one-half Burlutis would let him. Jesus welcomed him with open arms. Choking back the tears, Zack said "Lord, I'm giving half my fortune away and will pay back everyone I cut and cheated with interest." They went to lunch. Zack bought. He never felt taller.

So Zack gave up greed and took up reconciliation. Could this happen by just seeing Jesus? If you ever met Him, you wouldn't have to ask. During this Lenten season, is there anything standing in your way of being reconciled to your God or your fellow man? Let it go, let it go and watch your spirit grow taller by the minute.

Lord, Grant that we may give up anything that keeps us from knowing You and serving You. May this and all seasons not be about what we give up but what we take up in response to Your Love.