Posted tagged ‘Jesus’

A Sign For You

December 11, 2014

Sinclair Ferguson writes here, ” Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil…There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions.”

It was not an angelic chorus
he first heard, but his mother’s anguished cry.
His first breaths were
scented with dung,
his first sight some smears of blood.
Soon he felt the earth rumble
with trampling horse’s hooves.
He soon tasted the tears of Rachels’ lament.

The homesick vagrants who visited him
first, and wondered at heaven’s exile — they
saw an infant bound in cloths
laid in an animal’s trough,
nestled in a hollow
made in a cold stone, resting
like a corpse in a sarcophagus —
no radiant beams marked his advent.

Now Walmart will outfit the parents with halos,
snuggle the fat baby in a fleece blanket,
and sprinkle the scene with pretty angels
spangled in gold. Hallmark will tell the story
voiced with British accents
staged for suburban flat screens, drenched in sentiment.
The message is stripped of darkness.
But it was for orphans and lepers and hookers,

it was for the night shift workers
He was anointed.
He came for haters of Christmas,
and of Him. Creation was still groaning
at His birth and a dragon waited to devour Him.
That bright star leads  to a tomb.
The sign for you, yet still
is  cloth strips and hollowed-out stone.

Why I Didn’t Kill Myself on Christmas Day

December 27, 2013

Christmas 2013 007Christian radio nearly put me over the edge, however. Driving down to Ocean Beach at midnight, full of despair, and wanting to hear a voice of reason that would give me one single piece of evidence that the world would not be better off without me. Because apparently by the mess I had made of things, it would be. And I was tired, so tired of trying and failing, and I listlessly turned on the radio for reassurance, and quickly turned off the program, a garish and chirpy ‘breaking news’  retelling of the events in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Oh dear. Sometimes Christian culture can be so tone deaf.

When  fatigue is great and resistance to lies is low, and especially during the holidays’ midnight hours, the church can do better than this. Tullian Tchividjian does it right, in his post “Christmas For The Weary And Heavy Laden.” I am a battle hardened veteran of the Christmas wars upon the soul, and so I have learned through many of these skirmishes  the duty which calls me back from the brink –my responsibility for the children who remain in my home, and my allegiance  to my Lord.  God arrested in midflight his AWOL soldier, offered amnesty, and we went back to the front lines, together. As Tullian writes,

Christmas is the beachhead of God’s campaign against sin and sadness. It is the coming of light, life, and love into the occupied territory of darkness, death, and hate. Christmas is a war fought by a Peaceful Prince whose battle plan is to defeat death by dying, fear by forgiveness and slavery by salvation.

And that is why I did not kill myself at midnight on Christmas Day this year, as I sat on the sand at Ocean Beach at midnight, as I stared at that “great wink of eternity”, as I listened to those “silver snowy sentences”, those waves alluring me the way they had Hart Crane eighty years ago in Caribbean Sea, when the poet looked too long at the Southern Cross  and “slid on that backward vision, (his) mind was churned to spittle,whispering hell.” So that tormented soul  pitched himself forward from that ship into what he thought was oblivion.

Ocean Beach

I looked to another Cross with an upward vision, and my mind cleared of this churning. This Cross called me to die to my need for respect. It told me to die to laying down the law. It told me I am not my own, that I have been bought with a price. The One who gave his life upon it speaks in a still small voice, not an evil whisper.  My Lord  says, “Come”,  so I come, I am so weary and carry heavy burdens, and he says, “I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your soul.” He is no liar, and I find that rest.  I turn away from those dangerous midnight riptides, and drive back home.

Because he has rescued me from death, and has so transformed my life, when my Lord says “Go”, then I go where he sends me. I go to tell the world of this glorious being, Jesus, who came down to Earth from heaven two thousand years ago, a little baby who came to die a terrible death for these kinds of terrible days I have been enduring. He rose up from the dead, and now lives in me, and so I know the plans he has for my life are for good and not for evil. The plans he has for you, oh weary reader, are very good too! He will help you put your life back in order, if you trust him. And tell someone you trust about your struggles, someone who will not, because of fear, immediately place a psychiatric hold on you.

I needed to set my life back in order. I asked forgiveness of those I frightened when I drove off, then slept off some exhaustion. And, dear Reader, sleep therapy is proving to be the most promising treatment for depression. In the morning I rose early and was given a necessary and encouraging rebuke in the “Daily Light on the Daily Path.” I reprinted the evening’s reading, and then the morning, in the hopes it will encourage you as well.


He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”—“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”—He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.—“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen

Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

Knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.—As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.—“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”—“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

For you stand firm in your faith.

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.


Another way I fight fear and forgive, is to  put Josh Garrells  on continuous play during this trying season — especially this song:

A Sign for You

December 21, 2013

Christmas 2003: The Nativity

Here is the newest iteration of my Christmas poem. Someday I will perfect it. I feel vindicated by Sinclair Ferguson, who writes here, Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil…There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions.”

It was not an angelic chorus
he first heard, but his mother’s anguished cry.
His first breaths were
scented with dung,
first sight, some smears of blood.
So soon, to feel the earth rumble
with trampling horse’s hooves,
So soon to taste tears, and with Rachel, to lament.

Those smelly vagrants who visited,
those first to wonder at heaven’s exile —
saw an infant bound in cloths
laid in an animal’s trough,
nestled in a hollow
made in a cold stone, resting
like a corpse in a sarcophagus —
no radiant beams marked this advent.

Today we outfit the parents with halos,
snuggle a fat baby in a cosy blanket,
and sprinkle the scene with pretty angels
spangled in gold. We tell the story
voiced with British accents
for suburban flat screens, drenched in sentiment.
We strip the message of any darkness,
but it was for orphans and lepers and hookers,

it was for the night shift workers
He was anointed.
He came for haters of Christmas,
and of Him. Creation was still groaning
at His birth–because a dragon waited to devour Him!
That bright star leads  to a tomb.
The sign for you, yet still
is  cloth strips and hollowed-out stone.

Halloween’s Darkness Can Be Scary, But…

November 20, 2013
Butler Halloween Outreach

Jesus is the Light of the World!

Those who walk with Jesus shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life! Yes, sometimes we can forget, in the immortal words of Larry the Cucumber,  that “God is bigger than the bogeyman.” Halloween is sometimes a Christian bogeyman. Once it used to be mine. We hid our kids inside our churchy Harvest Celebrations, and once we joined some friends who were tiptoeing through Calvin’s Tulips, in  “Reformation Day” festivities.  Then as I grew in faith, I began to agree with this writer at the Gospel Coalition who suggests that, “instead of fleeing the darkness in fear, we should view Halloween as an opportunity to mock the enemy whose power over us has been broken.”

Sharing the Gospel in a winsome way is a wonderful opportunity to mock the enemy on Halloween. As these photos illustrate, I do a variation of “Trunk or Treat”, decorating my car’s outside with all manner of ghastly things — spiders, snakes, dragons,skeletons, witches, ghosts — with a glow-in-the-dark sign saying “The darkness can be scary, but…”

Butler Trunk or Treat Halloween Outreach

I had to coax some kids to open the trunk!

The kids have to navigate past all kinds of warning signs, some have to be cajoled to pop the trunk open, but in a classic bait and switch, they are surprised to see a beautiful glowing, smiling sun shining radiant sunbeams in a rainbow of colors, (Eric Carle style, of layered tissue paper on mylar, so I can backlight it)
And another sign painted in rainbow colors says:

“But Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World!”

Those brave children who have navigated past the terrors on the outside can reach into the trunk to get yummy candy. I try to share my joy, and tell them as much as I can of the good news of Jesus’ power over death in his resurrection. One Halloween, the children and I made an art project of this, creating pop-up cards, with gorgeous blazing suns inside, and the full text of John 8:12 emblazoned all around it in the best italic they could manage. It was very fun to pass those out to trick or treaters.

I would like to get this tract done professionally,with a full Gospel message included on the back, to pass out in bulk. Any graphic artists are welcome to steal this idea — and I would love to see your productions. Post a link below!

Legions’ Brain Was Actually ‘On Fire’! or, ‘Where Have All the Demons Gone’?

April 24, 2013

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcisin...

It seems evil spirits have gone and hidden themselves these days under medical and psychiatric diagnoses. Because the fascinating etiology of poor Legion’s brain disease  was discovered in 2004 —  we now know Legion’s true name, and it was definitely ‘many’, look  at all the words used to describe the auto-immune disease he likely had: ‘anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis’.  But because even Dr. Luke would have been really confused when collating this history later,  our Lord preferred to call it a demon and perform an exorcism instead — well, at least that’s how I imagine we’ll see this puzzle explained to us by liberal expositors!  But unlike our modern theologians, Luke wasn’t perturbed by these rather medieval causes of psychic or bodily pain, as in the case of the patient with scoliosis in Luke 13:11-16. He, inspired by the Holy Spirit, called it a demon:

“…and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all…ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

It is so interesting to me that her curved spine was an organic disorder with a medical etiology, but the underlying cause was spiritual oppression. Jesus calls her a ‘daughter of Abraham’, too — an indication she was a believer! And in Matthew 17:15, the Greek word used to describe the epileptic boy as a ‘lunatic’ was a medical term, stemming from the belief that epileptic seizures were affected by the phases of the moon. It is a theory as outdated now as the recently discarded ‘chemical imbalance’ explanation for brain disorders –- but, notice Jesus doesn’t  use ancient medical terminology, and  doesn’t diagnose the young man with a ‘moon imbalance’, but again, he frees the sufferer of an organic disease from a demonic spirit.

Matthew Henry comments on this passage, “There was also something in the malady which rendered the cure difficult. The extraordinary power of Satan must not discourage our faith, but quicken us to more earnestness in praying to God for the increase of it. Do we wonder to see Satan’s bodily possession of this young man from a child, when we see his spiritual possession of every son of Adam from the fall!”

No, I am not suggesting that every parent of a epileptic kid is showing a lack of earnestness in faith when giving their child Depakote. I am not ‘anti’ any effective medication, by any means.  But uncomfortable questions are raised when the contrast is so stark between the biblical narrative and the scientific explanations we are offered of even a classic case of  demonic possession — as the rare encephalitis of the brain, mentioned above. In this interview, Susannah Cahalan describes the florid psychosis, guttural speech, violent, inappropriate behavior and seizures that occurred when she had, in her doctor’s words a  “Brain on Fire“, due to  a rare case of that auto-immune disease, ‘anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis’, I linked to above. In an NPR interview, she says

“When you think about the symptoms — in my case alone, this grandiosity, this violence. In a lot of children, you see hypersexuality. Even my grunts and these guttural sounds that came from me sounded superhuman to someone who might be inclined to think that way. … When you see videos of people — in fact, when I see videos of myself — demonic possession is not far from your mind. It wasn’t far from [ her boyfriend’s] mind when he first saw that seizure. And I’ve talked to many people who’ve had this disease, and one woman I spoke to actually asked for a priest because she said, ‘The devil is inside of me. I need it out.’ A little girl was grunting — they had a monitor in her room — and she was grunting so unnaturally that her parents looked at each other and said, ‘Is she, is she possessed?’ They actually said that about a little girl. You can see throughout history why people would believe this.”

No one would be lacking faith in giving steroids for this disorder, and it would be foolish to refuse the common grace of this cutting edge neurological research, and its effective remedies. She was rightly infused with plasma and healed within months, rather than dosed with what the head of the American Psychiatric Association acknowledges are completely ineffective atypical antipsychotics   while hidden away in a locked psych ward, which she acknowledges would have been her fate had she suffered her illness a mere five years earlier.

Now, let me think, what is the better choice? Effective therapies or a straightjacketed life?  So hard to choose, right?  But I do think these treatments make it much easier for us to ignore or minimize the spiritual components that Jesus makes very clear in the passages I highlight. How do we reconcile the biblical narrative with the medical accounts?  That is our real “lack of faith” — our unbelief , manifested in our unwillingness to examine the spiritual etiology of some diagnosable mental disorders.

Can it be that the wily deceiver can mask his evil work with physical symptoms that present as chronic diseases, particularly the idiopathic cases like scoliosis and cryptogenic epilepsy — and until the cause of  this variation on “classic demonic possession”  was recently discovered in 2004, ‘anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis’? That our Enemy can induce a body to generate these harmful antibodies that attack the NMDA receptors and manifest this disease, just as he gets nerve cells going rogue with seizure disorders, and the bones of the spine to curve in scoliosis? Because Jesus clearly names some of these organic body disorders  demonic. Will we be as presumptuous as Peter, and seek to correct Jesus’ understanding of the nature of the beings he has created?

The fact that scripture makes these spiritual connections clear makes us very uncomfortable, and some of us wish these passages were not in the Bible. I worked in special ed with autistic children, some of whom presented exactly like the lunatic. That is when I began to ask these hard questions, and no one has ever satisfied my queries — except some of the Vineyard pastors in the churches we attended, who perhaps did too much discernment of the demonic, but at least were courageous enough to acknowledge the difficulties, and to engage with the demonic, and  were praying for greater faith in dealing with them. Sam Storms has said of these kinds of intractable cases,

“Some are not healed because the demonic cause of the affliction has not been addressed. Please do not jump to unwarranted conclusions. I am not suggesting that all physical disease is demonically induced. It is interesting, is it not, that in Paul’s case God used “a messenger of Satan” to inflict the thorn?”

I agree with Storm’s assessments here, but in my repeated queries about the lack of attention the Reformed community pays to this issue of the demonic, I have only been ignored. Do the Reformed really believe the Enemy has ceased prowling around?  Like tongues and prophecy, the devil has ceased to oppress?

If the Reformed community wants to seriously reach out to confused Charismatics, its theologians need to seriously grapple with these scriptures too, and stop ignoring them, or publishing equally confused answers like Kevin DeYoung’s response to the evil of the Tuscon shootings, in the blogpost, “God’s Gift of Moral Language”.  He first declares about the shooter: “no doubt Loughner is messed up, crazy, off his rocker, and out to lunch. It seems that he’s needed help for a long time.”  But at the end he mourns a world that thinks only in these therapeutic categories:

The world, and to a large extent the church, has lost the ability to speak in moral categories. We have preferences instead of character. We have values instead of virtue. We have no God of holiness, and we have no Satan.  We have break-downs, crack-ups, psychoses, maladjustments, and inner turmoil.  But we do not have repugnant evil as the Bible has it. And this loss makes the world a more dangerous place. For the words may disappear, but the reality does not.

I agree with Mr. De Young, the church has lost the ability to speak in that category, but he himself describes Loughner in therapeutic terms, and  overlooked his own inability in striking ways.  Is it because we don’t want to look  medieval to the world, and  we want to have our blogposts featured in their online newspapers, so we shy away from labeling even this kind of deeply evil behavior demonic?  In all our culture-making, culture-engaging efforts, are we so embarrassed by this theological category that we that have absented the demonic from Reformed websites?  Check out this Theopedia  homepage, where there is not a single entry listed for ‘Satan’ or ‘Demons’  to be found in the vast encyclopedia of topics! But the reality of a demonic presence in the world has not disappeared, and so the extinction of that category indeed, “makes the world a more dangerous place.”

For when Legion comes, piteously crying  and running naked  through our  graveyards, cutting himself with stones while he demands, “What have you to do with me?”– will we ask him his name? Of course  we will like it better when he answers, ‘Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis’!  So neat and tidily settled — just give him a pill!

But  when he says, ” Legion!” , will we respond like Jesus?  With a stern, “Come out of him!” Or will we listen for fifteen minutes to his ravings, identify him as a paranoid schizophrenic who is clearly a danger to himself,  and then force him into emergency treatment with neuroleptics? With a diagnosis of a lifetime disorder hopelessly intractable, and difficult  to treat without a course of many different drugs, each drug responding to the other’s iatrogenic effect? No wonder so many sufferers commit suicide upon receiving such a diagnoses.  After Susan Beachy’s son died in despair soon after  he was labeled a “schizophrenic”,  she  eloquently wrote,

Being told that mental illness is like diabetes is misleading and discouraging. This is not a fair comparison.Diabetes is due to a well understood defect in a body part, the pancreas. Mental illness, on the other hand, literally means that your mind is sick. Your mind, unlike your pancreas, is not just a body part. Your mind enables you to relate, set goals, dream, and have hope. If you and the people around you believe that your mind will be defective and sick for the rest of your life, you are left without hope of ever having the agency to build a life…We need not burden distressed young people with hope-sucking labels of chronic mental defect. There is a better way.

It seems the church has forgotten some of our biblical ways of healing and even delivering those who live in this kind of despair.  We have become very ignorant of Satan’s crafty devices in our disease-mongering age.  So our enemy sometimes hides in a prescription pad.

Why, oh why, has the church  become so afraid of asking Legion His Own Name? And what is the purpose of the name we assign him?

The Good News is Pure Poetry

April 23, 2011

(stumpy) christ of the ozarks

Now I would remind you, brothers,
of the gospel I preached to you,
which you received, in which you stand,

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly
to the word I preached to you. Otherwise,
you have believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance
what I also received: that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures,

And that he was buried,
and that he rose again the third day
in acordance with the Scriptures…

And if Christ has not been raised,
then our preaching is in vain
and your faith is in vain.

Oh, To Be a “Mother of Mothers”

January 8, 2011
kwame dawes

kwame dawes (Photo credit: georgia.kral)

Writer Kwame Dawes has visited Haiti for months since the earthquake, and has gleaned some beautiful and faith-building stories and poems from the rubble of this benighted place.   God has not abandoned Haiti– Jesus is among the afflicted, He visits them  in the thin body of   pastor Joel Sainton, whose story Dawes tells in a poem called  “Job”, and  He weeps and prays and rejoices among the  strong women of faith the poet movingly describes in “Mother of Mothers”; a poem he read for the PBS Newshour show.    And it took my breath away, and I had to take a break from cooking dinner to just weep, and weep.

Yesterday the earth growled under my feet in a 4.1 earthquake, in a reminder that Haiti’s present apocalypse will likely be mine in the near future.   I live in a failing  state splayed precariously upon a major faultline.  May I be like these saints, and persevere  as they do through whatever befalls, and though there be nothing outward that is remotely giving any kind of comfort,

“yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.”  (Habakkuk 3:18-19)

Kwame Dawes reads his poems beautifully, he has a sonorous Jamaican timbre to his voice, that is very wonderful to hear,  and you can listen to him here.  Please, please do!  Half of the beauty of poetry is the music of the words.   But I recommend just listening to him, and following my text.  The photos are beautiful, but I do not believe you can multitask in listening closely here, because the poem’s effect is undermined.  Just listen first.  Then look.   Dawes introduces his poem,

“…it struck me that these mothers were the ones who were also holding the community together.I will tell you a quick story.I was in a church.And I watched an old woman walking around the church.The church had been broken down, so we were in a courtyard.

And she just kept marching around, praying, circling the whole congregation again and again.And I asked who she was.They said, she’s the mother of the church.

That woman — and she — there’s an image of her in the video poem.She struck me as a powerful example of the strength of the Haitian women.

Please don’t miss viewing  it, if only to see the “mother of the church” Dawes describes.  Who is easy to spot in the video.  She is inexplicably beautiful, radiant with a joy impossible  to keep in such a bleak world.

But possible  if you keep a walk close to God.

“Mother of Mothers.”

“When a brave woman’s out walking, she’s mistress life’s spitting image” — Michel-Ange Hyppolite.

The faces of mothers of mothers, their cheekbones gleaming against taut skins, their eyes glazed with the scarring of so much loss.In Haiti, the mothers of mothers have lamented for so long.All that is left is the sturdy presence of grace, the wide-open heart of knowing how much a casket weighs, how it feels on the open palm.

The mothers of mothers march through the congregation while the children of men clap their hands, beat tambourines, scratch the grater, and sing the flat harmony that shivers the air.

Beneath a cascade of flame yellow and red flamboyants, she stalks the outskirts of the feet-worn worship ground, the outer limits of the congregation, where the weeds and stones have accumulated, here, where the excavation of rubble takes us as far as weary arms and the creaky wheelbarrow can go.

These women draw a pattern of circles with their heavy, planted feet, their arms raised high, their voices continuing with greater ceremony and occasion, that conversation that began with Jesus at 4:00 in the morning.

Oh, the mothers of mothers, who know too well the hottest sorrow, the broken bodies of children, the boy who covers a jaw full of maggots, and the tall lanky son whose spine gives under the weight of concrete before he is pulled out, laid under the soft blue light of a wayside clinic, waiting to go, and, quietly, with the flies returning to his skin, he is still, though he must wait there until dusk, before they notice, before a procession of mothers leads the body out into the night, and mother of mothers, she hears her child wake, look around, and speak, “How nice the air is out here,” before he dies, this time for good.

Mother of mothers, in your bandana and with your holy testament, you must draw the line of defense around the beleaguered souls, and speak a torrent of curses on the beast lurking in the shadows.