Monday, June 30, 2008

The Deliverer pt. 2

The Man’s Encounter with Christ – vv. 6-18

Beginning in Mark 5:6 an amazing drama unfolds. Not only is this encounter amazing, but it is full of contradictions and contrasts. The light, life, and power of Christ are distinguished from the darkness, deadness, and comparative weakness of Satan. Towards Christ this man was, at the same time, compelled and repelled; simultaneously running to Jesus and recoiling from Him. He was obeisant before the Lord, but also bargaining with the Lord. We read…
But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, [thou] Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
Never underestimate sin’s grip on the individual (i.e. you). In the last verse that we just read it appears that the man recognizes, at least to some extent, that Jesus is able to free him, but he was also afraid of what that change would mean.

I suggest again that this man’s reactions are not so far removed from our own. While looking at the demoniac it is obvious to see sin’s ironclad grip, but we struggle to see that same stranglehold when the person is fully dressed, speaks in a normal tone, lives in a house, and doesn’t use sharp objects on himself. Nevertheless, sin’s hold is just the same, it may not express itself in an identical fashion, but the end result is alike.

It is also easy for those of us who have been mercifully and graciously saved by Christ to think, “Why wouldn’t a person accept the gospel?” How quickly we forget that sin is a merciless jailer who does not easily release his prisoner. Just think about the person who is held captive by immorality, drunkenness, drugs, or lifestyle. Think about the person who hears the Gospel and the Holy Spirit convicts his heart, but he is living with a woman. She is attractive to him, and he enjoys, maybe even needs, their arrangement. He shouldn’t be with her as he is. He knows that saying “yes” to Jesus means saying “no” to his current situation.

Breaking sin’s vise-grip is not an easy or trivial matter. In fact, you can’t do it.
Christ can. Only Christ is able to command the wind and waves, and only Christ is able to release an individual from bondage to sin. He is able to enter the strong man’s house and spoil his goods. Sinclair Ferguson writes:
No man yields to Jesus easily by nature. Tragically, like Legion, men often hold on to their bondage and evil rather than yield to the pain of transformation by Christ’s power and grace. (Let's Study Mark, Banner of Truth, pg. 64-65)
There is nothing superficial about the gospel, and there should be nothing superficial about a gospel presentation. Yes, the gospel is a simple message. “All” that is required is childlike faith, but that “all” is exceedingly significant.

Why else would Jesus say to the right young ruler who kneeled before him asking how he might inherit eternal life:
One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
The rich young ruler was not prepares to follow only Jesus. He wanted Jesus and his other god. Just like the young man mentioned above wanted Jesus and his live-in girlfriend. You cannot have both of them. Which is why the rich young ruler “was sad at that saying, and went away grieved.” If any man is to follow Christ he must deny himself daily, take up his cross, and follow Christ.

The encounter between the Lord and Legion becomes even more bizarre in verses 9-13. This is because of the weird request made by Legion. They begged Jesus saying, “Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.” Christ gave his consent and “And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.”

The swine dive aspect of the story has the tendency to dominate the telling. It shouldn’t, but it doe demonstrate at least three things.

#1 – The Power of Jesus
All things and beings are under God’s dominion; including Satan and his demons. God rules and overrules in all areas of life, including Satan’s malicious lies and attacks, for the good of His people and the glory of His name. Satan and the Savior are not equals. They are not spirit-brothers. There exists no parallel between them. Satan is limited in power, and the authority he does exercise is derived from God. In contrast, Christ’s power is universal and unlimited. He is sovereign; even over Satan.

#2 – The Predilection of Legion
Satan and his demonic host are set on the destruction of God’s creation. Legion was desirous of ruining this man. Christ prevented that, so they sought the destruction of the pigs. Satan is not an advocate. He is the adversary; the Apollyon.

#3 – The Perspective of Deliverance
One man is valued above 2,000 hogs. If you find yourself upset at the image of 2,000 pigs hurtling down the slope and into the Lake, then replace that image with the one from verse 15: "And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid."

Hopefully that perspective will ease your pain.

In verse 14 Mark tells us what we would have assumed had he not told us: “They that fed that swine fled.” You bet they did! These pig-herders ran with vigor for the town. It’s bad enough to lose one or two pigs on your shift, but to have all 2,000 go diving off a cliff will leave a significant dent in the bottom line.

The pig-herders spread the news in the city and the countryside, and everybody came out to see what was done. What had happened to the pigs? That’s what everyone wanted to know. But what has happened to the herd of swine was far subservient to what had happened to the man. The people arrived on the scene to witness something even more amazing than the swine dive. They saw the demoniac; this man who had been possessed and tormented by a Legion of unclean spirits; this man was “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind.”

The man who had been possessed by an aggregate of uncoordinated impulses and evil forces is freed. The crowd of people is struck dumb and even fearful at this sight. While their jaws are dragging the ground the pig-herders recount the story: “And they that saw [it] told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and [also] concerning the swine.”

I am not sure how I would have responded to that news and sight. I’ve tried putting myself into the heads of those people, but I simply do not know what motivated them to plead with Christ to leave their borders. “And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts.”

The naked, crazy, mutilated, howling madman is clothed and in his right mind, yet no one uttered, “Thank you” or Glory to God!” No one even asked, “Who are you, and how is this possible?” You would have at least expected some wise guy to say, “We’ll finally be able to sleep through the night without hearing ‘Naked Norman’ howl at the moon.”

Instead there is only silence, and then a request for Jesus to leave. Absolutely no gratitude for Jesus is expressed. Absolutely no welcome to this new man is offered. He isn’t even addressed in the text. There is also no desire and no effort to bring other infirm folks before the Lord. Back in Capernaum, after Christ had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, the entire city and region congregated at Peter’s door. That had been the result wherever Jesus had traveled.

Except for Gadara.

Here they want him to leave. They beg him to depart. The reason why I cannot say for certain. The text isn’t explicit. The reason could have been economical. In one afternoon 2,000 pigs had plunged to their death. Maybe the city fathers speculated that if this Jesus stuck around he’d ruin the whole economy. Perhaps the material mattered more to them than the spiritual. That is certainly possible, and we see a lot of that today.

Or they could have desired for Jesus to leave for the same reason that the rich young ruler walked away in sorrow. They didn’t want to change, and there was no denying the change that Christ had wrought in the demoniac. To acknowledge his change would have been to acknowledge their own need for change; a change that only Christ can create. A change in which they were evidently not interested.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Deliverer pt. 1

Satan is the destroyer. That is obvious from the wretched condition of the Demoniac of Mark 5:1-20. The devastation and degradation of man, the only created being made in God’s image, is an activity in which the destroyer delights. Praise God that there is a Deliverer!

In this passage the cruel purposes of Satan are contrasted with the redemptive purpose of the Savior. Christ holds absolute, sovereign authority of the devil. Christ alone has the power and the willingness to heal the harm caused by the enemy. While this passage teaches the reality of Satan and his demons, the primary focus of the passage is on a sinner saved by the grace of the Savior, and that sinner turned saint being sent to “go and tell” others about Christ’s mercy and power to save.

Working our way through this passage we are first confronted with this man’s condition.

The Man’s Condition before Christ – vv. 1-7

“A man…Who had [his] dwelling among the tombs.” The man lived in the tombs, not the town. He was isolated from every relationship, except for the fellow who, according to Matthew 8:28, suffered from the identical affliction. While people may not have seen much of this guy; they avoided him at all costs, they no doubt heard him. “Always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying.” This crying does not imply gentle weeping but the manic howls of a lunatic, or, in this case, a demoniac.

This man would not and could not be restrained. “He had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any [man] tame him.” He was a self-mutilator, “always, night and day, he was…cutting himself with stones.”

What kind of man live amidst the tombs, screams into the night, runs around naked, cuts himself, and is beyond restraint, physical or otherwise? How may such a one be helped? Reasoning with him was impossible. Society’s attempts at rehabilitation, or at least containment, were largely ineffective. Isolation and restriction were only partially successful. What hope, if any, does such a one have?

It is far too easy for us to sit back in our comfort and sanity and say within ourselves, “This man’s condition and mine are not at all alike. I am clothed and in my right mind. I’m relatively reasonable. No one has seen fit to chain me to the wall. I don’t cut myself or howl at the moon. I am not at all like this man. I am not demon-possessed.”

While it is true that behind this isolated, mutilated, lewd, wicked, unrestrainable, howling, and troubling behavior was an evil spirit; in fact, a legion of evil spirits, it is untrue to suggest that we are far removed from this man’s condition.

Mankind is not by nature demon-possessed, as was the demoniac, but mankind by nature is ruled by the forces of evil and darkness. That claim is not based on personal opinion or observation but on Biblical authority. Paul makes this argument in Ephesians 2 when he describes the sinful state of man and the hopelessness of man apart from Christ.
And you [hath he quickened], who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others…having no hope, and without God in the world: (Ephesians 2:1-3, 12b)

This is the description of being outside Christ as opposed to being inside Christ. All men are born in this sinful condition, and all men are in desperate need of the rebirth which is possible only in and through Christ. Apart from Christ all humanity are dead-men walking, and only the power of the gospel is able to bring the dead to life; to call you out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light.

By nature, all men are the living dead. All men are not necessarily held in the personal grip of a demon or legion of demons, but men are naturally under the control of that, which is dark and evil; that which is completely counter to the life, freedom, and joy that is provided in Jesus Christ. The only question is the extent to which that darkness has dominion over the unbeliever. Therefore, you may have a comfortable home, be educated, well groomed, fully dressed, articulate, and polite, but outside of Christ, you are “dead in trespasses and sins…by nature the children of wrath.”

Obviously then, the message of the Gospel is not:

  • Turn over a new leaf.
  • Try Jesus.
  • Get a little religion.
  • You need a purpose.

The message of the Gospel is that you are a dead man, and a dead man is incapable of coming alive on his own. You are a blind man, and you cannot make yourself see. That is why you must turn and repent today. Trust in Christ now, because you don’t know what the day may bring forth. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. The time for repentance and faith is now.

This man’s condition, as it relates to his demon-possession, may be very different from our own experience, but it is not so dramatically different from ours in terms of our nature outside of Christ. These are not nice and comforting thoughts, but they are true. That is why they must be declared and believed.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Failure to Monitor

When will the carnage finally end?

Indiana University athletic director Alan Greenspan has announced his resignation in light of a new charge leveled against the program; Greenspan in specific. The newest in a pathetically long list of NCAA charges is "failure to monitor." As Mark Alesia and Terry Hutchens write in today's Star:
The charge -- the fifth "major" allegation against a program that has been found guilty of none in its previous 108 years -- means the school had monitoring procedures in place, but they were not adequate and effective. It is less serious than "lack of institutional control" but still could bring serious penalties, including a postseason ban.
Think about the above paragraph. The IU basketball program had not received one violation - not one - in the program's 108 year history. This program spent 106 years building and maintaining a sterling reputation in NCAA basketball. It was a winning and storied program that attained such heights in an ethical and self-disciplined manner. In the course of two years that reputation has been ruined. In the past year they have received multiple violations, several of which are of the severe category, and all of the violations were infracted under Greenspan's watch.

At Thursday's press conference Greenspan stated:
It is extremely regrettable that the actions of a few have brought so much disappointment to so many.
I concur. I also think it obvious that Greenspan is one of the few whose actions - hiring a cheater, and inactions - not monitoring the cheater, are directly responsible for all of the disappointment.

How could an AD hire a known cheater and then not watch every move he made? I am all for second chances, but second chances shouldn't come with free passes. It has become painfully obvious that Sampson and his staff were not responsibly monitored; regardless of Greenspan's and IU's affirmations to the contrary. If the staff of cheaters were properly monitored then how did all of these infractions occur? And when the violations were finally noticed, why was the assistant coach - Rob Senderhoff - fired and not the head coach? Could it be that Greenspan slapped The Cheater on the wrists because with two future NBA first round selections and a solid supporting cast he smelled Big 10 championship and a possible Final Four.


The listless, lethargic, and lamentable, post-Sampson, post-season play of my beloved Hoosiers was almost enough to make me cheer for the Kentucky Wildcats (I speak as a fool). Greenspan should have immediately fired Sampson. Instead, the assistant was made the scape-goat, and gasoline was poured onto the already burning IU progam. All that is left now are ashes from which Tom Crean must build.

Terry Hutchens interviewed Greenspan after the press conference. In the interview the athletic director who orchestrated the fall of Indiana University basketball stated that he "hopes people will look beyond the Kelvin Sampson fiasco".

What else is there to see? What else could people possibly remember form the "Greenspan Era"? Kelvin Sampson and Alan Greenspan are eternally linked in the annals of IU infamy.

It's enough to make you want to throw a chair.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I Agree with Barack!!

You won't hear me say that often, but it is certainly true in this instance.

Jan Hoffman of the NY Times has written a story on the burgeoning celebrations that accompnay 8th grade graduation ceremonies. In regards to the "pomp and purpose" of these ceremonies Hoffman quoted Barack Obama who said:
Now hold on a second — this is just eighth grade. So, let’s not go over the top. Let’s not have a huge party. Let’s just give them a handshake. You’re supposed to graduate from eighth grade.
I agree with Obama 100%!

The size and scope of many eight-grade graduations has become ridiculous. As Hoffman writes:
Across the country, in urban and suburban school districts, in rich communities and impoverished ones, eighth-grade celebrations now mimic high school or even college graduations: proms, the occasional limousine, renditions of “Pomp and Circumstance,” dignitaries speechifying and students in caps and gowns loping across the stage for diplomas.
Good. Grief.

My favorite quote from the article, however, may not be Senator Obama's. Andre Cowling has just finished his first year as principal of Harvard Elementary in Chicago, one of the poorest-performing schools in the city. He called these exorbitant exercises “Easter Sunday on steroids.” That is a funny phrase, but there is nothing funny about this Cowling quote:
It’s a big business event: everyone has on a new outfit, manicures, pedicures, the hair - for a ceremony that can last two hours - And then kids go to 5, 10 parties in the neighborhood, in hotels.
Multiple parties in hotels because a kid is going from middle school to high school?!

Now I'm not blaming the kids for these immoderate celebrations of the routine. Most likely they could not coordinate, let alone fund, much of this nonsense. It's the parents, as well as some school districts, which should shoulder most of the criticism.

Take for example one parent of a student at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, N.Y. Two years ago the school's principal, Seth Weitzman, established a “no limo” rule. One parent defied the rule and his kid arrived to a class dance in a limo; to a middle school class dance. Hoffman reports that the principal "directed the limousine to the rear of the building, where the child debarked. Unseen." There have been no further violations of the "no limo" rule.

Now that does deserve some applause.

It is good to celebrate. Achievement should be congratulated, but transitioning from one grade to the next is no reason to break the bank. Don't go over the top. Forget the huge parties. Slap the kid on the back and shake his hand. He's supposed to graduate from the eight grade.

Just like Obama said.

The Demoniac - pt. 2

The Strategy of the Adversary

The devil is real, and he is not your friend. He is the father of lies and murder (John 8:44). He is the ultimate con man. The prince of darkness masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

What does Satan want from mankind? Basically, he wants our souls to be separated from God. He desires for humanity to reject God’s authority just as he did. This is his desire because he wants us to share his fate. Satan hates God, and he delights in the destruction and degradation of man because man was created in God’s image.

Beginning with the Fall, Satan has sought to divide the family and corrupt the society. He tempted Eve in the Garden, and he fanned the flames of jealousy in Cain’s heart (Genesis 4:6-7; 1 John 3:10-12); a jealousy which culminated in the first human blood being spilled on the earth. The family is God’s design not only for procreation but for the propagation of the faith from one generation to the next, and the family is beleaguered by dysfunction, abuse, immorality, materialism, and addictions. Satan would utterly destroy the family if he could. Of course, any society or organization will only be as strong as the families of which they are constituted. Kill them or corrupt them, Satan’s design is to wreck havoc on God’s creation.

While Satan is subtle and crafty, we are not ignorant of his intentions. Peter provides a warning:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (5:8-9)
The story of Job’s life certainly verifies the veracity of Peter’s warning.

We know from Hebrews 4:15 that Christ was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” This doesn’t mean that He was tempted to visit illicit Internet sites or falsify His income tax report. It does mean that he was tempted in the core areas of life just as we are. What 1 John 2:16 calls the “lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”

The strategy of the adversary may be clearly observed by examining his temptation of Christ in the Judean wilderness.

#1 – Turn Away from the Will of God
Matthew 4:3-4. “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” Turning stones into bread was no problem for Christ. In a matter of months He would feed a massive crowd with five loaves and two fish. He would do that twice during his ministry. Christ met the needs of other people. What would be wrong with meeting his needs?

Nothing; except for this: it was not Christ’s time to eat. That would have interfered with the divine timetable. Christ was to endure 40 days and nights of fasting and then the temptation of the Devil. As always, the enemy tempted one to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. The temptation’s essence was that the needs of the body are more important than the needs of the soul.

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Even through hunger pangs that I cannot imagine Christ saw through the temptation. The bread that satisfies the soul is more important than the bread that satisfies the body.

#2 – Turn Away from the Word of God
Matthew 4:5-7. Satan quoted scripture too in his next temptation of Christ. He does this by using one scripture passage against another, instead of putting passages beside one another so that they might be rightly understood. His desire is to get us to sin even while pointing to a Bible verse. Don’t be fooled. Satan is able and more than willing to say right things. He can mouth sound doctrine, but his intentions are always evil. Satan deliberately misused God’s Word to tempt Christ to ignore God’s Word. Christ resisted the temptation to use one verse of scripture to nullify others.

#3 – Turn Away from the Cross of Christ
Matthew 4:8-11. Satan offered Christ a shortcut to the kingdom. He offered a crown without the cross. Satan, as Lucifer, once worshipped Christ in heaven. Now he attempts to have Christ worship him on earth. But Christ would not turn aside from the Father’s will. He went to the cross.

Satan can no longer tempt Christ to avoid the cross, but he does tempt us to be ashamed of it, to belittle it, to lack confidence in it, to minimize it, or just plain forget it. Satan desires for you to believe that a crown is possible without a cross; that salvation is attainable without the Substitute.

We must be obedient to God’s will by rightly dividing the word of truth and glorying in nothing but the cross.

The Boundary of the Adversary

Satan is not the ruler of hell. He has never been there; although that is his ultimate destination, and of this he is well aware. The adversary’s boundary is not a physical one; like the boundary of a kingdom or backyard. His boundary is established by God. He is only able to do and go what the Father allows. Martin Luther said that even “The devil is God’s devil.” He was right. The only freedom Satan enjoys is the freedom God permits. Satan surely means to pulverize the saints, but God means to purify them. We must fight before we celebrate, and learn before we are approved. The Puritans said that God allowed Satan’s temporary reign to increase the saint’s eternal joy.

The enemy is powerful. He is a formidable foe, but he is not like God. Satan is not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. Satan is wholly evil and will sorely tempt you to do likewise, but he cannot force you to do anything. Geraldine may have blamed the devil for her sin – “The devil made me do it!” – but he can no make you sin than he could make himself like the Most High. Don’t blame Satan for everything wrong that happens. Don’t ascribe to him more power and authority than he actually has.

Because our hearts are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) we have a natural inclination to shift blame onto someone or something else. About this propensity to find a scapegoat Kent Hughes says:
We need the theological wisdom and honesty of the little girl who had a terrific fight with her brother. When her mother came in and pulled her off, she said to her daughter, ‘Why did you let the devil put into your heart to pull your brother’s hair and kick him in the shins?’
The little girl thought for a moment and said, ‘Well, maybe the Devil put it into my head to pull my brother’s hair, but kicking his shins was my idea.’
We are very capable of being evil all by ourselves (Mark, vol.1, p. 119)
We need to accept out responsibility to obey the Lord and not shift blame for our own misdeeds onto Satan or his subordinates.

Satan will attack. He must be resisted. James 4:7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” He may be resisted because, “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Believers must understand that the most powerful weapon with which to attack the forces of evil is the Gospel. It alone is the power of God unto salvation. It alone has the power to change lives, including those that are mightily influenced by demonic powers such as the Demoniac. In every instance where Jesus, Paul, or some other New Testament figure exorcised demons from individuals it was within the context of Gospel proclamation. We should expect the gospel to come in power and triumph over the works of the devil. Christ commissioned Paul (and us) to preach among the Gentiles:
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness into light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in [Christ]
You cannot have a Biblical theology without a corresponding demonology. The devil is ferocious. He hates God, the things of God, and the people of God. Satan and his demons are real, and they are powerful. They are also defeated, but they are not dissuaded. The war is guaranteed. The serpent’s head has been crushed by Christ, and only through Him will you have victory.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Demoniac - pt. 1

The end of Mark 4 records the conclusion of a wild and stormy evening. The start of Mark 5 records the beginning of a wild and stormy morning. Jesus had confirmed his authority over nature, and he is about to display his power over the supernatural. After dealing with bad weather he moves on to confront blatant wickedness. In Mark 5 Jesus will contend with and demonstrate His power over the three great terrors of mankind: demons, disease, and death.

After quelling the storm the Lord’s boat came to shore in Gadarene country. Christ and his cadre were immediately introduced to the Demoniac of Gadara. All three synoptics relay this encounter, but Mark used 20 verses to tell the story compared to 15 verses from Luke and seven in Matthew’s account. Only Matthew mentions that there were two men (8:28), but the focus in all three narratives is on the one man who spoke with Jesus.

People are always drawn to the strange and the supernatural; to the power and mystery that lies beyond their own comprehension. We must be careful, however, not to seek answers, clues, or information about the supernatural apart from God’s Word. Scripture alone must inform our minds about that which is spiritual for it is the only trustworthy source. All that the Lord desires for us to know and understand about the supernatural is revealed in scripture; any other source of information should be avoided.

While considering Mark 5:1-20 one must discuss the Enemy, his minions, and their destructive goals and power. At the same time, however, one must be careful to not give place to the devil. I have no desire to promote an unhealthy fascination with demonic activity. My desire is to demonstrate from scripture that Satan is real, as are demons. They are powerful. They are bent on the destruction and perversion of God’s glory. They are also defeated! They contend with the Lord of Glory, but they are fighting the long defeat.

If the Bible is to be taken seriously we must take seriously what it teaches concerning the satanic realm. I agree with RC Sproul when he writes: "There can be no Biblical theology without a corresponding demonology.” (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, R.C. Sproul, p.142)

The Reality of the Adversary

All of us are familiar with the caricature of Satan: red suit, horns, long, pointy tail, bad goatee, sinister grin, and a trident in one hand. This cartoonish image originated in the Middle Ages, but you should not think that Christians from centuries ago honestly believed that Satan looked so idiotic. They portrayed him as a clown on purpose. The medievals wanted to depict him as the buffoon of all time; as the ultimate loser of the ages for his rebellion against the King of Glory. The purpose of the caricature was to strike at Satan’s pride.

In his book The Serpent of Paradise Erwin Lutzer writes that “Martin Luther suggested that when the devil persists we should jeer and flout him, ‘for he cannot bear scorn.’” (p. 14)

I’m not crazy about that advice, and I believe that the medievals paid too much attention to the adversary, but the opposite extreme exists in our current cultural climate.

The devil is real. Satan is not the bogey-man. He is not an old wives’ tale. He is not the product of Hollywood horror films. He is more than just a Halloween costume. He is not the relic of an ancient and superstitious era of human history. That said it is not uncommon today for people, even professing Christians, to scoff at the idea of an actual adversary. Author Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology mentions German scholar Rudolf Bultman.
[Bultman] emphatically denied the existence of a supernatural world of angels and demons. He agreed that these were ancient ‘myths’ and that the New Testament message had to be demythologized by removing mythological elements so that the gospel could be received by modern, scientific people.
Christian author and teacher R.C. Sproul recounts a similar story. Sproul writes:
I once asked a college class of about thirty students, ‘How many of you believe in God?’ The majority of the students raised their hand. Then I asked, ‘How many of you believe in the devil?’ Only a couple raised their hand.

One student blurted out, ‘How can any intelligent person believe in the devil in this day and age? The devil belongs to superstition along with ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night’

Sproul replied, ‘There is a far more credible source for believing in Satan than for believing in goblins. You may not be persuaded of the trustworthiness of the Bible, but it is surely a more credible source than Mother Goose…If you believe that God is an invisible, personal being who has the capacity to influence people for good, why do you find it hard or incredible to imagine that there is an invisible, personal being who has the capacity to influence people for evil?’ (Ibid., p. 139)
No one could convince the Demoniac that Satan was a mythological element of the gospel. The devil seemed real enough to him.

These stories of denying the reality of the adversary remind me of the boxer who was being pulverized by his opponent. Between rounds his trainer weakly attempted to encourage the man when he said, “Great job out there champ. He ain’t laid a finger on you yet!” The boxer looked at the man through swollen, bloody eyes and said, “Keep your eyes on the referee then, because somebody in there is killin’ me!”

The adversary is real. The scriptures do not mythologize the devil and his demonic host and neither should we. We should not, however, pay too much attention to the enemy, nor should we mix Biblical truth about him with legends and superstitions.
We do not learn about the devil from Dante’s Inferno or Milton’s Paradise Lost. Neither the occult nor popular culture is adequate to inform us about the origins, designs, and ultimate destination of the believer’s enemy. The Bible is the only true and accurate guide of truth, including truth in regards to Satan.

The Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel (chapters 14:1-23 and 28:11-19 respectively) tell the story of a being who is more than simply a human king. Both prophets pronounce woes on two proud kings of their day; Isaiah the king of Babylon and Ezekiel the King of Tyre, but from the given descriptions it is obvious that the prophets were not only referring to the kings of Babylon and Tyre but to the evil force which stood behind them.

Scripture teaches that Satan was once Lucifer, which means “light bearer”. Lucifer was created perfect; a covering cherub of the Most High. He reflected God’s glory. He was God’s worship leader, but he desired for himself a share of God’s glory. Isaiah distills Lucifer’s lust for glory with five “I will” statements in 14:13-14:
  • “I will ascend into heaven”
  • “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”
  • “I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation”
  • “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds”
  • “I will be like the most High.”
Because of his pride he lost his exalted position. He is the light–bearer no more. He became and is now Satan the adversary and the slanderer.

To be concluded...

Monday, June 16, 2008

R & R

I haven't been posting in awhile or responding to comments from prior posts. Here is the reason why...

As you can see, I've been too busy to blog!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Book Worth Reading

The organizers, producers, and sponsors of the Together for the Gospel conference showered the attendees with fifteen free books. I've finished three of the fifteen - Culture Shift, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, and Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, and I'm one-third of the way through with a fourth - The Courage to be Protestant.

Thus far my favorite of the three and a third which I have read is Why We're Not Emergent; a book co-authored by Kevin DeYoung and
Ted Kluck. DeYoung and Kluck are two guys who fit the Emergent demographic of early 30's, college educated at Christian universities, with a conservative Christian background and upbringing. But they are not emergent.

Don't feel bad if you're not sure what "emergent" is, because most of the guys who call themselves emergent are not sure what it is either. Of course, they aren't sure how to define their movement because they generally loathe definitions. Period. This is a movement that values doubt, ambiguity, and fuzziness over certainty and clear, propositional truth. Emergents engage the Bible, church life, and Christianity from a post-modern perspective; a relativistic approach. This is why ambiguity is cherished over clarity. This is also why the movement is largely dangerous.

Emergents don't like creeds, confessions of faith, or propositional truth statements. To them theology is fluid, and to systematize it is impossible, unhelpful, or both. Emergents generally have an unwillingness to take stands even on basic yet fundamental doctrines. DeYoung makes a perceptive and true statement in regards to this when he writes:
It’s one thing for a high school student to be in process with his theology. It’s another thing for adults to write books and speak around the world about their musing and misgivings. I agree there must be space for Christians to ask hard questions and explore the tensions of our faith, but I seriously question that this space should be hugely public where hundreds of thousands of men and women are eagerly awaiting the next book or blog or podcast arising from your faith journey. No matter what new label you put on it, once you start selling thousands of books, speaking all over the country and world, and being looked to for spiritual and ecclesiastical direction, you’re no longer just a conversation partner. You are a leader and a teacher. And this is serious business
I believe the most serious problem with the majority of emergents is their fuzziness on the Gospel. In today's Christian Post DeYoung commented on this very subject:
More and more emergent books are not placing the substitutionary atonement for everyone's sins at the center of the Gospel message. So the Gospel becomes this message about a broken world and Jesus as the great example, he died on the cross as an example of suffering for what he believed in and showing how to overcome evil in our own life and evil in the world. Here’s an invitation to follow Jesus and bring about this new world and this shalom. That sounds like a great message but it’s missing the offense of the cross, it’s missing the fact that we can’t obey God’s commands, we need a savior, substitute for our sins. So I see an emergent Gospel that is more law than Gospel. It’s more imperative about what we need to do and not, first of all, indicative statements of what God has done for us.
The book is well-written and engaging, and it's worth your time, even if you could care less about the "emergent conversation."

If you are interested in learning more about the "emerging church" I encourage you to follow this link. If you'd like to view some funny satirical images of the emergent conversation then follow this link. I also have three newer videos posted on my VodPod that briefly broach this topic. In one video Ravi Zacharias, Al Mohler, and RC Sproul give their views on postmodernism and the emerging church. In the other two viedos Mark Dever is interviewed my Ed Stetzer.
Last week a friend of mine from Texas left this message on my voicemail:

Josh Hamilton...AL leader in batting average, homeruns, and RBI; the Americal League triple crown contender.

That was the entire message. Of course, my Texas friend was eager to leave such a message on my phone because the Rangers acquired the triple crown contender from my beloved Cincinnati Reds. Little has changed in a week's time. Hamilton still leads the AL with 17 homeruns. He leads MLB with an unreal 68 RBI, but he has slipped to fourth in hitting with a paltry .327 batting average; fourth best in the Junior circuit (although he does lead the league with 81 hits).

I'd really be upset about Hamilton's trade to Texas if it were not for Edinson Volquez.

Edinson Volquez was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, along with lefthanded reliever Danny Herrera, for OF Josh Hamilton. While it hurts watching Hamilton rack up more RBI than Adam Dunn and Griffey combined; my pain is lessened by the stellar numbers that Volquez has posted.

He leads MLB in stikeouts (91) and ERA (1.32). He has an 8-2 record, and his second loss came in an emergency relief appearance during the 18 inning marathon versus the San Diego Padres on May 25th. Danny Herrera has also made it to the big leagues, and has pitched well in his sole appearance. He struck out Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell to work the Reds out of a seventh inning bases loaded jam on Tuesday evening.

Volquez earned his eighth win last night against a hot-hitting Phillies team, pitching in their house and against Brett Myer's best performance of the season. Volquez did not allow a run and surrendered only two hits in seven innings. Chase Utley didn't get a hit and was struck out twice.

Joey Votto lined two opposite field doubles to drive in both Cincinnati runs. Votto is a rookie first baseman who is developing into a fine player.

The Reds will not compete for the Central Division crown this year, but with their young talent I think they will be challenging for the divisional title and even the pennant next year. In the meantime, this is a fun team to watch. Volquez isn't the only young statring pitcher that has shown promise. 22 year old Johnny Queto has pitched well and is improving with every start. Homer Bailey, also 22, will make his 2008 MLB debut this afternoon against the Phillies, and he has a bright career ahead of him.

Yes, a part of me hates losing a talent like Josh Hamilton, but at least he is in the AL, and the Reds did receive value. If I had the choice between a pitching ace and a triple crown contender I'd take the ace everytime.

It's time for me to call someone in Texas...

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Bruce Bounce

Last week the Cincinnati Reds called Jay Bruce up from Triple A Louisville and the young OF has been simply scintillating. In six big league games Bruce has gone 13-for-22 (.591) with six walks, two homers, two steals and six RBI. Even better, the Reds are 5-1 in those six games, and three of the wins were against perennial NL East heavyweight Atlanta. In the five wins Bruce has scored an 11th inning game winning run, and smacked a 10th inning game winning homerun.

The team and the ballpark seem energized by the rookie's arrival. His hot bat as also helped Junior at the plate. Sandwiched in the order between Bruce and Brandon Phillips, Junior is beginning to hit and is now one homer shy of being the sixth member of the 600 homerun club. (In should be noted; however, that he will be the fourth member who is not tainted steroids - Barry Bonds - and/or a corked bat - Sammy Sosa.)

It has been exciting to watch Bruce explode. The crowds in Cincinnati chant "Bruuuce" with every plate appearance and every play in the outfield. He has received more than one demand for a curtain call. Therein is the one negative aspect of Bruce's otherwise spectacular debut, and it has nothing to do with Bruce and everything to do with the fans of Cincinnati. The fickle Reds fans are ready to make room for Jay Bruce, not only in the Reds Hall of Fame but in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Meanwhile, the ballpark cannot sell out as Ken Griffey, Jr. inches closer to a historic MLB milestone. After belting his 599th homerun on Saturday there were cheers but no curtain call. In fact, most Reds fans are angry that Junior is a Red and Josh Hamilton - the AL triple crown threat - is a Ranger.

This is too bad. Ken Griffey, Jr. is one of the greatest outfielders of all time; if not the greatest all-around outfielder of all time. It is extremely unfortunate that he experienced the injury problems that have plagued his tenure in Cincinnati, but that is just how it is. Why he is blamed for those injuries I will never understand. While Junior was in Seattle every Reds fan would wish upon a star that the Reds could somehow work a trade for the Cincinnati native. Once the hoped for trade was consummated in 2000, the euphoric (and foolish) fans immediately predicted a World Series victory. It didn't happen, even worse, Griffey only hit .271 with 40 homers and 118 RBI.

Reds fan was incredulous, and when Griffey pulled his hamstring rounding third and heading for home in the final pre-season game of 2001, Reds fan was disgusted. The antipathy has only escalated. The anti-Junior sentiment has developed to the point where I actually heard a sports-talk caller refer to Junior as the worst outfielder on the team.

Good grief.

The Bruce Bounce has been fun, but he will not be able to sustain this incredible pace. No baseball player could. I hope, though, that we are watching the dawn of a career that will be comparable to Griffey's.

I hope the Reds are able to trade Griffey to Seattle sometime after he belts historic number 600; though not because I dislike Junior. I love seeing him in a Reds uniform, and he still has the sweetest left-handed swing ever. I'd like to see Griffey traded to Seattle because there he will be appreciated. Something he only experienced in Ficklenatti during his inaugural year, and not even for that entire season.

Griffey could extend his career with an AL club, and realistically reach 700 homers; becoming the fourth member of that exclusive fraternity, and only the third with no hint of steroid usage. In the meantime I'll enjoy him as a Red, and hoping that the new Kid will come close to playing as well as the original Kid.