Reconsider Jesus – The Healer (Mark 1:29-45)


Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents
(Note: The previous post was renamed to “The Compassionate One”)

The Healer

29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Mark 1:29-45 – ESV

In our last chapter, we discussed how Jesus acted with compassion and is calling us to reach across barriers and get out of our comfort zones. I think it is beneficial to spend a little longer on this passage of scripture and understand the import of Jesus as Healer. We can then delve deeper into what that “does”, and “should”, look like in a church today.

The healing miracles in Mark exist as part of a message: the Kingdom of God has arrived in Jesus. Disease and physical deterioration were part of the consequences of sin that we read about in Genesis 3. In contrast, the miracles of Jesus demonstrate the power of the Kingdom of God to reverse these consequences and destroy the works of the devil.82 Those who witnessed the miracles of Jesus were being convinced that the Kingdom of heaven was real and present. At the very end of the Bible we read what this will ultimately look like: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” The healing miracles of Jesus then, were a natural outgrowth of the presence of the Kingdom. In the Gospel of Matthew,83 Jesus cites his miracles as evidence to John the Baptist that he is indeed who John said he was – the one who brings the Kingdom of God into the present.84

Furthermore, the miracles attest to the unique identity of Jesus himself. Those anointed of God’s Spirit were involved in healing in the Old Testament, but this was a rarity. Jesus is anointed by God’s Spirit in a unique way. Healings are not exceptional events, but seemingly daily events in his ministry. Mark and the other Gospel writers select certain healings not because they were all the healings that occurred but in order to use those healings to show more of Jesus’ identity, power and message. The healings build a clear case that Jesus is the Messiah, anointed with the Holy Spirit and constantly moving in Kingdom power. As with the exorcisms, Jesus was not the only person in his culture with a claim to heal, but the Gospel writers, and especially Mark, wanted us to see that Jesus’ healing and delivering power was unusually abundant. The reader of the Gospels comes away with the impression that Jesus was almost humanly overwhelmed with those who came to experience healing.

It would be appropriate at this point to point out that Jesus’ healings usually contained certain characteristics:

Jesus’ healings were immediate. The healing of the man with leprosy is typical of this and the healing happened on the spot. Even the exception to this, the healing of the blind man found in Mark 8, happens immediately in comparison to much of what we hear today.

Jesus’ healings were total. The result was complete restoration, not improvement or more tolerance to the situation. Blind persons saw perfectly. Lepers were cleansed totally. Absent tissue was replaced. Visible symptoms vanished.

Jesus’ healings were visible. The results could be seen and verified on the spot. Even Jesus’ enemies had to acknowledge that the healings happened!

So, what do we see in churches today, and what should we see? Most of the churches that I am familiar with have a practice that falls into one of two extremes.

Jesus’ miracles were immediate, total, and visible. I mention these three areas because most of what is put forward as healing today fails these scriptural tests. Those whom Jesus commissioned to go out and continue Jesus’ ministry also experienced healings along these same three criteria, though not in the same measure or frequency as Jesus. Christians should not blush from pointing this out, for the rest of the world certainly sees it! Those who claim to be imitating Jesus but show no immediate, total and visible healings are either misled or creating a deception. Scripture warns us, in fact, that many will claim to have performed healings like Jesus, yet not belong to him.85 Other passages tell us that the coming of the evil one is accompanied by false miracles.86 The failure of Christians to consider this matter has left the sheep open to the appetite of wolves and false prophets. Healing is an area where human hopes and hurts often go far beyond our desire to remain rational and scriptural. Beware of those who claim to do what Jesus did when they fail in every way! All the lights, music, singing, shouting, and praying in the world will not conjure up a miracle! God is able to do the miraculous immediately, visibly and totally.

At the other extreme, are those who say that miracles have no place in the church. Those preachers will exclusively preach these texts as allegory, or to support some other point they want to make on a particular Sunday. I am amused at how many preachers who will preach these texts discourage any kind of serious healing ministry in their church.

So what “should” churches do?

I would like to reemphasize what we discussed in the last chapter: That Jesus is compassionate and inclusive. These healing miracles show that Jesus brings something to the whole person. The Kingdom of God is good news for all aspects of our life. Many of the stories show the love of God for the most basic and personal details of our lives. In Mark 5:26 we will study the woman healed of the issue of blood. That God knows and cares about such a private aspect of a woman’s experience is a powerful testimony to the holistic shalom that comes in Jesus: He speaks peace to all that is life. For this reason alone, let us interpret these stories properly.

There is a case to be made for healing ministries to have a place in the church of today. It is an important and neglected ministry. The Apostle Paul lists “those with gifts of healing” as part of the body of Christ.87 This is plural, indicating many people and various kinds of giftedness, and even various kinds of healing. This does not describe a healer who arrives like a circus, but an ongoing ministry in the body of the Church. Also, James indicates that you should pray for yourself, and that both the church and its elders should pray for the sick.88 God will sometimes restore a sick person to health as an answer to prayer. Paul however, also makes it very clear that sometimes God’s answer to prayer is not healing, but grace to persevere.89 This is crucial, in my opinion, for building a theology of illness, for it faces reality; encourages prayer; sees an answer that may not be physical healing; and speaks of larger purposes of God in allowing sickness.

Those, at the first extreme, who say that God will give perfect health to all who pray in faith must have a real problem reconciling that understanding with Paul’s writings and with the fact that all of God’s children will eventually die.

Here then is my encouragement for churches today. The church should be involved in healing prayer as well as prayer for the miraculous. We should also realize that the church is not Jesus or the apostles. For whatever reasons he chooses, God does not heal everyone who asks for prayer in the way Jesus healed people. The reason for this is clear to me – the miracles of the New Testament are not normative for the Christian life or the life of the church. They had a greater function in establishing the Kingdom of God and identifying the King. Christians are to pray in Jesus’ name, with persistence, power and compassion. But they are also to leave all the results in God’s sovereign hand.

—————————————-

Footnotes:

[82] In a previous chapter we looked at how, in the pre-scientific understanding of disease, demonic forces were credited with more than we would credit them today. However, it still holds true that disease is a work of the evil one and a fruit of the fall.

[83] Matthew 11:1-5

[84] The serious student should pursue a study of how the miracles in the Gospel of John are used as “signs”, that is, events which give insight into spiritual reality and the truth/presence of the Kingdom. This is a major area of Gospel study that will be very helpful in understanding miracles in the Gospels.

[85] Mark 13:22; Matthew 7:22-23

[86] 2 Thessalonians 2:9

[87] 1 Corinthians 12:28

[88] James 5:13-16

[89] 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

 

Notes from Mike Bell:
Well, fifteen posts in, and we have finally come to the end of Mark Chapter 1. I can assure that that the next chapters will proceed at a little faster clip! Some questions for you:

1. What questions or thoughts come from your mind from what you have just read? What stood out to you?

2. Would you be interested in a paper or Kindle version of the book when it is available? Please email us at michaelspencersnewbook@gmail.com so that we can let you know when it is ready. This is an email to indicate interest only, I am not selling anything at this point, but I sure do appreciate the encouragement!

As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Sunday with Michael Spencer: Ink Blot Church

Ink Blot Church
from 2005

God is like a Rorschach test. You know, the ink blot test, where you look at an image that really presents nothing coherent, and you describe what you see. Kind of like looking at clouds and talking about what you see.

The Rorschach test is outdated and was always controversial, but it does yield one agreed upon result:

There are a limited number of common responses to each image, and they do demonstrate that we don’t just purely see the world, but we bring a complex grip of presuppositions and assumptions to what we see, and this influences how we interpret an image.

I’m wondering why certain kinds of people seem to identify with particular expressions of Christianity. I don’t have to do this exercise for you, do I? Charismatics. Calvinists. Warren-style Boomers. Traditional Southern Baptists. Emerging church twenty-somethings. Social justice liberals and Jerry Falwell fundamentalists….they really aren’t the same kinds of people. They are different. Though they read the same Bible, hear the same stories about Jesus and talk about the same God, they are different from one another, and similar to those with the same label.

Is this really because some are smarter than others? Some are better at hearing God’s voice? Is it all a matter of social and family context? Or is it — at least partially — a matter of psychological factors that we don’t really want to look at, because they take away the veneer of “being right” and confront us with the fact we’re not quite the free-choosers and serious disciples we think we are?

Was Arthur W. Pink unable to find a church where he could minister because of his study of the scriptures? Did his eventual withdrawal to write a magazine at home with his wife, living almost as a hermit, come from the God he came to know in Jesus? Perhaps Pink was a hermit and a loner for reasons that we don’t know, and he interpreted Christianity in a way that made his withdrawal from other people a necessary protest against the weak Christianity of the age.

Are Rick Warren’s members and disciples really taken by Warren’s preaching and writing? Or do his followers come from those who have a psychological need to be part of the “winning” team as a way of validating themselves?

Do liberal Christians like Bishops Spong and Robinison represent a more humane, rational approach to reading the Bible, or are they identifying with an approach to God that allows them to deconstruct the strictures and prejudices they have suffered under throughout life?

Is Michael Spencer writing what he learns in his study of the Bible and his reflection on his faith, or does he need to be a writer to make up for failures to succeed in his career? Does self-publishing allow him to pretend he has something worth saying and people who want to read it?

This could go on for days. Do we see Jesus as he is? God as he is? The Bible as it is? Are we at all what we seem in our discussions and ministries, or are we moving to music that is deep within our make-up; music we can’t admit hearing and responding to?

I know it is possible to upend a lot of our Christianity under a ruthless psychological examination. The need for God to exist, the need to be right about morality and the afterlife, and the need for our answers to work are presuppositions with many of us.

When we look at religion, and at Christianity in particular, we see what we need to see and what we deeply desire to see in order for life to work. The vehemence of much of what we say to one another in the name of “right theology” and “right doctrine” is bogus. Much of it is nothing more significant than the need to assure ourselves we are right.

Faith in God is a living reality that risks all on a God who is not a psychological puppet show. Jesus really calls us to follow him. The Spirit invites us to live in a trusting adventure. These realities come to us through, above and beyond the many ways we presuppose the “truth” about God.

It would be good for me to step back and remember that my voice isn’t reporting the unbiased, pure teaching of scripture. Whatever I say comes along with all my psychological needs and baggage. Whatever is said to me by those who are sure they have the truth comes to me with their presuppositions and unacknowledged motivations as well.

What we see in the faith, in the scriptures and in the Gospel is highly personal. The kind of Christian we are is not automatically a reflection of Jesus. Frequently it is far from Jesus, and very close to our own dark sides. Pastors know this when they preach, if they will be honest. But it is hard to be honest. It’s hard to live this truthful life Jesus expects. We need to pray and be open to the ways God can shape us to be simple Christians, obedient servants and loving children in his family. Those who speak the loudest often live the least like Christ.

That is certainly true in my case. It would be good if we could all acknowledge that much of what we offer others isn’t genuine at all, and we have fooled ourselves (and others) rather than admitting the truth about who we are and why we do and say what we do.

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: October 17, 2020

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: October 17, 2020

• • •

Cartoon of the week

Joe Heller Copyright 2020 Hellertoon.com

Wise word of the week…from Richard Rohr

Over centuries, we became very used to equating evil with individual “sins” and we lost a sense of its collective nature. The word “sin” often serves as a label applied to various cultural taboos and expectations, frequently having to do with purity codes. That seems very different from the real evils destroying the world! Of course, moral development and impulse control are important individual disciplines, but the conflation of personal sin with the source of evil is a terrible misunderstanding which has led to tragic consequences. Perhaps so many of us stopped using the word “sin” because we located it inside of our own small, cultural categories, with little awareness of the true subtlety, depth, and importance of the much more devious concept.

We are all guilty with one another’s sin and not just our own.

We are all good with one another’s goodness and not just our own.

Sighting of the week…

For the second time in six weeks — Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! — no, it’s a guy with a jet-pack flying near Los Angeles International Airport!

China Airlines reported the sighting last Wednesday seven miles northwest of the airport. The jet-packer was flying at about 6,000 feet. On August 30, another sighting saw a man with a jet-pack cruising at 3,000 feet. The FAA is, of course, concerned.

We here at Internet Monk have discovered the flyer’s identity, but shh! don’t tell anyone.

Really, really bad teaching of the week…from he who must not be named

I know I said I would not give a certain “pastor-teacher” from California any more space here, but recently he said something so blatant and utterly wrong in the name of Christian doctrine that it just has to be called out. Here’s an article that critiques what he said.

And here is a portion of what he actually — I wish I were kidding — put out there as accepted “biblical” teaching:

So I believe we are charged to treat responsibly all the wonderful resources God has given us. But that, in fact, has very little to do with the environmental movement. The environmental movement is consumed with trying to preserve the planet forever. But we know that isn’t in God’s plan.

The earth we inhabit is not a permanent planet. It is, frankly, a disposable planet–it is going to have a very short life. It’s been around six thousand years or so–that’s all–and it may last a few thousand more. And then the Lord is going to destroy it.

I’ve told environmentalists that if they think humanity is wrecking the planet, wait until they see what Jesus does to it. Peter says God is going to literally turn it in on itself in an atomic implosion so that the whole universe goes out of existence (2 Peter 3:7-13).

This earth was never ever intended to be a permanent planet–it is not eternal. We do not have to worry about it being around tens of thousands, or millions, of years from now because God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth. Understanding those things is important to holding in balance our freedom to use, and responsibility to maintain, the earth.

Recommended viewing of the week…from David Attenborough

Wash that horrid teaching you just read about out of your brain and fill it with something that is both profoundly alarming but also a message of hope — if we humans will listen.

Link of the week…live animal feeds

The Best Live Animal Feeds from Around the World

Photo of the week…

Sergey Gorshkov was awarded the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Adult Grand Title award for this incredible photo of a Siberian tiger deep in a Russian forest, rubbing against a tree and marking her territory.

The Embrace by Sergey Gorshkov

This week’s episode of…”Chaplain Mike: Would-be Handyman”

[Theme music plays with voice-over…] Welcome to this week’s edition of “Chaplain Mike: Would-Be Handyman,” the show where we talk about a project Chaplain Mike took on, and you get to vote on whether or not his sanctification survived it.

[Cue Host…] Hi. You know the story: Chaplain Mike is not handy. After all, he is…uh…a chaplain. Chaplains don’t even fix other people, much less inanimate objects. Today we’re going to look at a recent project he had to do and, after hearing it, we’ll ask you to weigh in on whether you think the good chaplain was able to keep his cool or if he lost his Christian testimony.

CM had a day off and chose to do a simple task: replace the blades and mower belt on his lawn tractor and grease the fittings on the deck. Here’s how it went. As you’ll see, this time it wasn’t his own lack of handiness that caused problems — thank God that didn’t come into play much, or this day would have really been a doozy.

  • Estimated time of job: 60-90 minutes
  • 11:00 am — CM removed mower deck and began to remove blades.
  • 11:30 — Realized he didn’t have the right tools to remove blades
  • 11:30-1:00 — Round-trip trek to home improvement store to purchase tools.
  • 1:00-1:30 — Back home – removed and replaced blades. Turned mower deck over, cleaned it, and removed pulleys in preparation for installing belt. Noticed a part that was broken on the deck. That’s right, time for another trip…
  • 1:30-2:00 — Went to local dealer (15 miles) to get part. Found out they did not have part in stock. Said another store had one, they could get it here by Friday. CM said he would drive to the other store and pick it up. Store 45 miles away.
  • 2:00-3:30 — Drove to other store. They brought the part out. It was the wrong part. Clerk looked up the right one. They didn’t have one in stock. But CM’s local dealer, where he had gone earlier, had four. They had looked up and sent the wrong part number. And, it’s back in the car…
  • 3:30-4:30 — Drove back to first dealer (45 miles, again). Picked up part.
  • 4:30-5:30 — Drove home, installed part and belt, greased and reinstalled deck.
  • Total time: 6.5 hours; Total miles: 150; Total extra cost: $150

[Cue host…] Well, there you have it folks. Another simple handyman job that became an all-day comedy of errors. How did Chaplain Mike handle it? What do you think? Was he able to keep that calm, gracious demeanor he tries to exhibit in his work? Or did frustration boil over, with ugly results?

We look forward to your comments. Chaplain Mike will reveal the answer later in the day. Until then, thanks for watching “Chaplain Mike: Would-be Handyman.” [Theme music plays, fades out]

Quote of the week…about Christians and QAnon

At CNN: “Right now QAnon is still on the fringes of evangelicalism,” said Ed Stetzer, an evangelical pastor and dean at Wheaton College in Illinois who wrote a recent column warning Christians about QAnon. “But we have a pretty big fringe.” (emphasis mine)

Oddest story of the week…from India, where Trump is worshiped

Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP

From NYT: In India, where throngs admire President Trump, one rural farmer worshiped him like a god, praying to a life-size statue of Mr. Trump in his backyard every morning.

His village’s headman said that the young farmer, Bussa Krishna, had been drawn to Mr. Trump’s “straightforward ways and blunt speech.”

When Mr. Trump announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus, it devastated Mr. Krishna. The farmer posted a tearful video on Facebook, in which he said: “I feel very sad that my god, Trump, has contracted the coronavirus. I ask everyone to pray for his speedy recovery.”

He stopped eating to show solidarity with his idol’s suffering from Covid-19, his family said. He fell into a deep depression. On Sunday, he died of cardiac arrest.

This week’s conversation over coffee with Jesus

Karma of the week…where’s all the faith healing?

A few weeks ago, we mentioned a story about Sean Feucht, the Christian musician who has been traveling around the country holding “worship” gatherings in direct defiance of Covid-19 warnings and regulations in various cities.

Now, we read this story about Bethel Church, where Feuch is a member, which is currently dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak.

They come to Redding from all over the world for instruction in faith healing and raising the dead. They often approach strangers in local parking lots, businesses and hospitals offering prayers.

Now, state and church officials are asking the student body of more than 1,600 people at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Shasta County to lock down at their homes and apartments after 137 students and staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The cases represent 10 percent of Shasta County’s total infections so far.

Bethel Church and local health officials say the Redding megachurch is taking steps to limit the outbreak from spreading. But health officials worry the dozens of new cases could set off a wave of infections in this conservative community where a group of activists has angrily pushed back against COVID-19 restrictions and the local health officer has received threats for enforcing state mask mandates and business closures.

You might think a school that specializes in “instruction in faith healing and raising the dead” might be able to avoid a simple little virus, don’tcha?

This week’s best response to conservative evangelicalism’s war on “wokeness”

Australian Bible scholar Michael Bird has written a pointed critique of evangelicals who have been decrying “wokeness” and its supposedly deleterious effect on churches and the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

Read “The Fundamentalist War on Wokeness Is a War on Christian Love.”

To start with, Bird reminds us that he lives “in Melbourne, comically known as Melbingrad, one of the wokest cities in the world, where the Government is so progressive it makes California look like Alabama.” By experience, he knows the kind of “wokeness” that is characterized by “progressive authoritarianism,” based in radical identity hierarchies and promoting divisive racial politics.

However, Bird takes conservative evangelicals to task for not discerning the difference between those who promote Marxist narratives and those who simply want to take scripture seriously. He suggest the critics of “evangelical wokeness” may have other agendas that even they themselves may not be aware of.

The whole anti-woke and anti-critical race theory trope strike me as not so much interested in opposing progressive authoritarianism and its divisive racial politics, as much as it serves to deny ethnic minorities have any grievances and white churches have any responsibility to do anything about it.

In my mind, acknowledging the reality of racism, discrimination, and injustice – whether historical, cultural, institutional – and determining to change it, does not require adherence to a Marxist narrative, or becoming Woke. Rather, it is the outworking of the liberal political tradition rooted in a Christian worldview where everyone should have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities. Where, to quote George Washington quoting Scripture, “Everyone will sit under their own fig tree and no-one will make them afraid.”

…So don’t buy into the lie that acknowledging a history of racial injustice and prioritizing the pursuit of racial justice is wokeness. Don’t buy into the lie that all social justice is driven by Marxist ideology. It is not! It is what the prophets commanded, what Jesus expects of his followers, what the church has accepted as normal, and what constitutional democracies with a Christian heritage should aspire to, not in spite of, but precisely because of their Christian heritage.

Music of the week…from the incomparable Glenn Gould

Fugue in E Major from The Well Tempered Clavier Book 2 – BWV 878

Reconsider Jesus – The Compassionate One (Mark 1:29-45)


Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents

The Compassionate One

29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Mark 1:29-45 – ESV

There is an aspect of Jesus’ ministry here that requires our attention: When Jesus casts out demons, heals a person with leprosy, or performs one of the other miracles we see in this passage, he is doing something radical in his world. He is rejecting a whole way of thinking about people and their problems. When the society of that time was confronted with what it called demon possession it was common for them to take sticks and beat these people into submission, or to give them poison thinking that if they vomited they would vomit out the demon. It is unbelievable what a person like this might have been through.

My father was put in a mental hospital in the late 1960s in Louisville and I was never able to visit him, but the people who did said the wards were like going to hell. People are not treated well when others don’t understand what is going on. In Jesus’ time they would write off these marginalised people, saying “It proves I am a godly person if I have nothing to do with that person.” “It proves I am a godly person if I avoid the leper.”

Jesus rejected this whole way of thinking about people and their problems. When Jesus saw a demon possessed person, a leper, or even a mother-in-law with a fever, Jesus saw a hurting person. He gave them love, acceptance, kindness, and dignity. Having anything to do with a person with leprosy would have made you unclean yourself. For Jesus to reach out and touch a leper, was not just a mere action, it was reaching across all of those barriers that society had put up and instead saying that this person is lovable and valuable in God’s sight.

We need to remember this: If we are not saying, “Give me compassion for the excluded, and compassion for the hurting” then we are not yet following Jesus. As we go through our world, through the courthouses, the hospitals, the classrooms, and the community, we will see all sorts of people of whom our world says, “They are in that unacceptable group and deservedly so.” Jesus calls us to be willing to go across that barrier, not just out of some sort of feel good duty, but out of true genuine compassion.

The gospel tells me that despite all my failings and imperfections Christ loved me, included me, cleansed and forgave me. Therefore I can go and eat dinner at a table with someone with whom I wouldn’t normally eat, talk with those with whom I wouldn’t normally talk, and befriend those who are not supposed to be in my group. That is following Jesus.

Jesus is calling us to reach across barriers and get out of our comfort zones. He is calling us to draw a larger circle of God’s love than just the people with whom we are comfortable. He wants us to include people who are different from us without excluding those who are like us. To cross the barriers, reject cliques, and to treat people as Jesus treated them is a powerful demonstration of the gospel. I want you to notice as we read through Mark what happens as Jesus does this: In verse 32, the whole town gathered at the door; In verse 45 Jesus could no longer openly enter a town. Over in chapter three so many people were being brought to Jesus that he had to teach from a boat because the crowds were so crushing. In chapter six, facing yet another large crowd, and despite a lack of food and rest, Jesus had compassion “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

Did Jesus face these crowds in these passages and elsewhere because he was a miracle worker? Yes, but more so because Jesus treated, and reached out to, and loved, and touched the unacceptable and the excluded. People came running to him, lepers came from their hiding places, and prostitutes came from their hiding places. People who were ashamed of their family members brought them to Jesus.

Do you understand what Christianity means if we practice this? What would a church look like if it was Jesus’ church? Would it be only for nice white families with no problems, two cars and two kids? No. Jesus’ church would include all kinds of people, with all kinds of problems, who would be drawn together by the acceptance they find in Jesus Christ. They would not be ashamed but welcomed and there would not be one hint of anyone saying, “We’re happy we don’t have that kind of person here.”

I cannot say I am following Jesus Christ if I am not willing to pray that the authority and the power of Jesus would change the lives of those around me. I don’t believe it is up to me to diagnose people’s problems, but it is appropriate for me to say “Lord Jesus Christ, send your Spirit and work in this life. Do what only you can do.” God saves people, heals people, delivers people and changes people. A rationalistic Christianity that excludes this is wrong. It doesn’t need to be a show, and it doesn’t need to be self serving, and it can’t be a circus, but it can’t be left out. You can’t have powerless Christianity. Our Savior has authority over everything, including demons and illness, and he extends it to people that our world has written off.

That includes us. All of us know what it is like to feel unaccepted. The word “stigma” may not be in vogue anymore, but if you have been divorced you know what stigma is. If you have been unemployed you know what stigma is. If people look at you as a failure, or as somebody they don’t want to talk to or know, then you know how powerful it is to realize that Jesus Christ includes you and accepts you. There is no time that I need Jesus more than when I feel unacceptable to myself and to others. I am acceptable to him and he will always come and stand by me, and embrace me, and love me. He doesn’t exclude me, and he doesn’t blame me.

The kind of Christianity that presents a Christ who blames people and excludes people is not following the Jesus of the gospels. In the New Testament when someone has to be excluded from the church for reasons of church discipline, it is a heartbreaking matter because Jesus Christ is an includer, not an excluder. Our gospel needs to start at that. You need to feel what it is to follow a Christ who looked at a demon possessed man and said, “Bring that man to me and I’ll help him.” Jesus looked at illness. He looked at stigma. He looked at all of that and said that in the Kingdom of God it is a whole different thing. Those barriers are gone. I pray that you experience that for yourself through the gospel.

In our next chapter I will elaborate a little more about what this should and shouldn’t look like in a church today.

—————————————-

Notes from Mike Bell:
1. What questions or thoughts come from your mind from what you have just read? What stood out to you?
2. Would you be interested in a paper or Kindle version of the book when it is available? Please email us at michaelspencersnewbook@gmail.com so that we can let you know when it is ready.
3. Find any grammar or spelling errors, phrases that are awkward or difficult to understand? Also send these type of comments to the email address above.

Another Former Creation Museum Staffer Speaks Out About Ken Ham’s Toxic Empire

Another Former Creation Museum Staffer Speaks Out About Ken Ham’s Toxic Empire

The Friendly Atheist writes:

Last summer, a former employee of the Creation Museum, Ariella Duran, explained the “toxic culture” of that work environment in a lengthy Facebook post.   She worked for Answers in Genesis for just over two years in “every single existing department,” finally leaving in 2017 for a variety of professional and personal reasons. She wrote about how she “witnessed rank partiality and favoritism, nepotism, inconsistent or non-existent communication, bullying, and spiritual abuse,” adding that Ken Ham had “built his legacy on the bones of employees he has knowingly driven into the ground.”

He goes on to say:

And now another former employee is speaking out about similar treatment.

Back in March, Leah Jessie wrote about how she began working at the Creation Museum in 2016 as a seasonal employee. She eventually left in December of 2019, when she was a “technically full time employee.” She wanted the job specifically because she grew up on Ham’s books and content and was excited to join a Christian ministry. While there were plenty of good memories from her time there, she pointed out a number of concerns…

Among the concerns she lists are:

  1. workmates who experienced dishonesty, bullying, overwork, illegal discrimination, harassment, and blackmailing…
  2. most employees who work on Sundays are unable to attend church, which forces hypocrisy because they are required upon hire to sign a statement promising to faithfully and regularly attend church.
  3. When her car broke down a fellow employee gave her a ride… and got in trouble because he was a man alone with a women…
  4. Another employee got in trouble for commenting on Ariella Duran’s Facebook post saying “I’m so sorry this happened… I’m praying for you.” That person was later reprimanded by AiG for commenting on the post.

All this finally prompted Leah Jesse to write:

“While there are some Christians who work at AiG, I do not consider it to be a Christian organisation.”

And:

One last point she mentions: Some people responded to her Facebook post negatively, saying it reflected poorly on Christianity. But Leah says — rightly, I would argue — that “it’s the mistreatment and abuse that brings a bad name on Christianity, not someone talking about it.”

A couple of things I’m going to note here.  One is that I’m not surprised to hear this.  The type of fundamentalist authoritarianism that Ham apparently subscribes to breeds just this type of abusive, toxic religion.  I’ve experienced it – and that is what started my journey out of evangelicalism – and a number of Imonk readers have testified to the same thing. Two, is that this is so often what happens when your deeply held beliefs devolve into ideology.  The behavior is not isolated to religious fundamentalism – really it’s a human failing.

But I’d like to focus on Leah Jesse’s final point:

One last point she mentions: Some people responded to her Facebook post negatively, saying it reflected poorly on Christianity. But Leah says — rightly, I would argue — that “it’s the mistreatment and abuse that brings a bad name on Christianity, not someone talking about it.”

Some have criticized Internet Monk for focusing on the failures of evangelicalism saying the same thing: that we reflect poorly on Christianity.  But as she notes, it’s the failure to talk about it, to reveal the flaws, that brings the bad name and causes the name of Christ to be blasphemed.  It’s to our shame it takes an atheist to point that out.

 

under a fallen wall

under a fallen wall

what you do
after you hit the wall
and then the wall falls on you
you gather your strength
what’s left
and begin digging out
but it’s fits and starts
choke on dust
pause, rub wounds
take a moment
you can do it, you insist
to yourself
anyone there?
brush aside the debris
try to work your legs
free from the pinching beams
trapping, holding on like chinese torture
each move only seems to
increase the weight
can anyone hear me?
cough, sputter, spit particulates
chalky mouth muttering
rest a minute
got nothing but time
just a little more time…

A Beauty Before Death

I walked through a graveyard on an October morn, and worshipped as I wandered. For the slant light illumined the rainbow of trees, each aflame with the beauty of God.

I stood speechless before so many burning bushes.

But stones also surrounded me, cold in the morning air.   Stones shaped and engraved, each marking and mourning a life now gone.

An odd juxtaposition. Beauty and life watching over, guarding ….  death stones and corpses.

I used to walk through a graveyard like a child scurrying through a field on the way to the playground.

But now I linger and wonder. Every stone a story. Each now silent.

 

I look again at the trees in their autumn finery, the contrast with the stones enlivening their glory.

And yet, these also will soon choke in the deathly grip of winter. Their leaves dropped and scattered and gone, like the minutes and days of those lying in the ground below them.

I reflect. I too…I too will soon lie down with them.

Soon? Not to be morbid. I may live two or three decades yet. Who knows? But certainly I walk in the autumn of my life.

The years have weight, and my back is stooped.

How I wish…how I wish…

Not to stop the seasons…not deny death its day. No, for I believe in the eternal spring.

I wish for something else today.

I wish and pray…that I too, like the majestic maple before me, would be beautiful and lovely before I die. That the autumn of my life would be aflame with the grandeur of the One who made me.

That there would be a beauty before death.

Is this possible…could this ever happen?

With God, what is impossible?

It will certainly not be a bodily beauty. But the beauty of a life lived with You, and for others. A life of love. Your love, flowing through me. You the branch; I the leaves.

Yes, this is my prayer as I wonder and wander amidst the gray stones, under the rainbow of leaves.

That I too may have beauty. A beauty before death.

 

Reconsider Jesus – The Exorcist (Mark 1:21-28)


Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents

The Exorcist

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Mark 1:21-28 – NIV

While many are comfortable with the image of Jesus as a teacher, picturing Jesus as an exorcist however, raises problems for many modern western minds. Exorcism is associated with a primitive and pre-scientific world-view, particularly in the area of mental and physical illnesses. In the first century, demons were considered a common explanation for many physical, mental and emotional problems. In order to help us understand this passage, I think it would be helpful for us to deal with one principle of Bible interpretation by discussing the implications of a pre-scientific world. I think it is important for us to understand, and for me it has been very helpful.

The Bible is written in a pre-scientific world. What this means is that, given the opportunity to describe something that is going on in the real world, the authors of the text do not give a modern scientific description. They don’t describe things as scientists would describe them, or as a medical doctor today would describe them. What they do describe is whatever they are looking at in a way people would understand at that time. If you try to hold the Biblical descriptions to the standards of modern science, you are going to be in trouble for many reasons. Let me give you two examples of this that I often use when trying to make this point.

In Mark 13:24, when speaking about the signs that will accompany the end of time, Jesus quotes from two Old Testament passages78 and says: “But in those days, following that distress, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

Let me focus on one thing here: “The stars will fall from the sky.”

This is a pre-scientific description. In Jesus’ day, people believed stars were little points up in the sky. When they saw the streak of light in the sky it made sense to them that these were falling stars. We understand stars differently today, and we know that “falling stars” are bits of meteoric dust burning up in our atmosphere. What Jesus is doing here is using poetic language to describe a future cataclysmic time. He is using language that people of his day understood. We shouldn’t expect this to be written in modern scientific language, as that would be foolish.

Let me give you another example from the Gospel of John: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’”79

You see the worldview that is at work? It is a worldview that does not understand what doctors understand today about eyes and blindness. Thinking that blindness is a consequence of sin is a thought from a pre-scientific world.

Jesus didn’t walk into his world as a 21st century doctor or scientist. So 21st century doctors and scientists shouldn’t make fun of scripture because scripture uses the language of its own culture. Jesus lived and spoke and ministered in his world as a person of his time and culture. He responded as a person of his time. We should not ask that the Gospels present us Jesus with a scientific and psychologically sophisticated point of view on questions of mental and physical illness. The particular demonology of Jesus day was derived more from Persian sources than from purely Jewish ones, but the important point is that in a pre-scientific worldview, it is not “ignorant” or “primitive” to see spiritual forces at work in these sorts of situations.

When I was growing up I would frequently see an epileptic seizure in my school. It was kind of frightening. A child would fall out of his chair, or writhe on the floor. It occurred to me as I have been studying the Gospel of Mark these past years, that you don’t see that any more. It is now controlled by medication. Yet how would the people of Jesus’ day interpret these episodes of epilepsy?

There are a lot of encounters between Jesus and demons in the Gospel of Mark. As we go through Mark we will observe some events that are attributed to demons, that when seen from our western mindset, can be understood to be as a result of something else.

That being said, I absolutely believe in demons. They are fallen angelic spirits. I believe they are real, and yes, I believe Jesus encountered them. I also believe that most of what is labeled as demon possession in the Gospel of Mark is exactly that. You will notice in this passage, along with the encounter in Mark 5, that the demon possessed typically speaks and identifies Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel, demons know exactly who Jesus is: “The Holy One of God” with the power to destroy them. They recognize his authority as well. This is indicative of a true demon possession. However, I do believe that demon possession is very, very rare in the world and is not the usual explanation for bad behavior or other problems seen in the Bible.80 My own ministry with troubled teenagers leads me to believe that the demonic is real, but not the primary issue in most human problems.

At the same time, we would be wise to remember the following points:

  1.  The Bible presents a spiritually charged universe, with divine, angelic and human levels.
  2.  The fall of angelic spirits into the world is an unarguable fact of the Bible’s view of the world.
  3.  Nowhere does the Bible tell us that all demons are responsible for all evil, but undeniably demons are responsible for some aspects of evil.
  4.  Even modern science recognizes that complex human problems are more complex than science can fully explain.
  5.  It is not surprising that demons would confront Jesus during his time on earth.

I believe those who reject this aspect of the Gospel portrait of Jesus are seriously damaging the truth of who Jesus is. We need to recognize his authority over demonic powers. In his name, Christians may oppose any and all forms of evil, both personal and corporate.

At the same time, I have learned that many Christians who do take this seriously have gone overboard. Nowhere does the Bible suggest that demons are the primary problem. Our problem is sin: Our own sin, the sin of others, and the combined effects of the two. We live in a world affected by sin and this is the center of God’s redemptive work. The Bible tells us that humanity’s fascination with the occult is even a manifestation of sin more than of demons.81

The breaking of the power of demons indicates that the Kingdom of God is breaking into human history. This is important. But Christianity is not demonology; once we are in Christ, we are free from the power of the evil one. The Bible does not teach a dualistic worldview of the “good” God on one side and the “bad” God on the other. All of the demonic operates in a universe where God is sovereign and even demons believe and tremble. Those who approach every problem as a demonic attack rather than a manifestation of sin have forgotten this. At that point an unhealthy focus on the demonic is demeaning to the salvation and victory of the Savior.

Here is an illustration that helps me. Where there is garbage, there are rats! The garbage of human sin is the problem in our world. Rats, with all their diseases, etc. are only a manifestation of the garbage. If you get rid of the rats (demons), you still have the garbage. However, when Christ gets rid of the garbage (sin’s power, influence, and guilt) the rats go as well.

Jesus was not the first exorcist in his culture. They were common in his time. But their methods were hardly similar to his! Those who were possessed were often subject to days of beatings and verbal abuse in the attempt to drive out the spirit. Jesus simply commanded and they left! This was the cause of tremendous amazement because Jesus did with his word what others would nearly kill someone trying to accomplish. This manifestation of the authority of Jesus underlines his teaching authority, but most of all his identity as the Holy Son of God.

A final thought about this passage. Mark often will show Jesus commanding spirits not to say who he is and commanding those experiencing his power to not tell anyone. We see this both here, and in the following passage. This puzzling behavior is only found in Mark and scholars have called it “Mark’s Secret” for many years. It is clear that Mark and the other Gospel writers want us to know that those who were with Jesus knew without a doubt he was the Son of God, as did demons and even unlikely Gentiles! The “secret” actually shows us that Jesus did not want to become so famous as to lose control of his mission. He was surrounded by people inclined to see him as a political, even military ruler. Yet Jesus knew his identity and mission would only become clear after the cross, something that could not be taught or explained. So he tells people and demons to be quiet. You get the feeling it didn’t often work.

—————————————-

Footnotes:

[78] Isaiah 13:10; 34:4

[79] John 9:1

[80] For example in the letter of 1 Corinthians, the church has problems of adultery, incest, drunkenness, and division. Paul does not attribute this to demons, instead he says that the Corinthians are immature, they don’t have any good leaders, and they need to grow up and love each other.

[81] 1 Samuel 15:23

 

Notes from Mike Bell:
1. What questions or thoughts come from your mind from what you have just read? What stood out to you?
2. Would you be interested in a paper or Kindle version of the book when it is available? Please email us at michaelspencersnewbook@gmail.com so that we can let you know when it is ready.
3. Find any grammar or spelling errors, phrases that are awkward or difficult to understand? Also send these type of comments to the email address above.

walk among the autumn trees

Translucent Leaf (2014)

Dead leaves, and the nourishment they store, remind us that there’s beauty and life to be found in disorder and decay.

• Laura Poppick, What Happens to All the Dead Leaves

a friend from my past who i saw at a reunion
someone i used to laugh and play sports with
grimaced when i told him what i do
a chaplain in hospice, i said, when he asked me
and immediately he had no words
just this look of distaste so striking
as though i were some unclean israelite
who had brought death’s stench
into the holy place

i wish i’d had the imagination to tell him
that what i do is walk among the autumn trees
i stop, examine each luminescent leaf
and try to capture its essence
before its inevitable letting go
falling to the earth
feeding the ecosystem
bringing life to us all

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: October 10, 2020 – Open Mic Edition

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: October 10, 2020 – Open Mic Edition

Well, fellow brunchers, your chaplain is weary this weekend after covering for his colleague whose been on vacation and taking care of his own patients as well. I had posted a few things throughout the week, but find I’m lacking energy tonight to add more content and compose a slam-bang brunch for the morning.

So…we’ll move to the Open Mic format for today. Heaven knows, there was an overabundance of news this week to talk about. Or to ignore, so that we can focus on things less tiresome, more encouraging, and without as many apocalyptic overtones.

That’s up to you. But remember — this is no Trump v. Biden debate. I expect you behave yourselves and show the rarest of commodities in today’s social media world…

…respect and civility in the conversation, even when disagreeing.