Lessons from demons

Some guy talking

Throughout the New Testament Gospels, it’s rarely the church folk who recognize the true identity of the insightful yet salty carpenter from Nazareth who teaches like nobody they’d ever heard before. It certainly is not the church leaders who recognize the true identity of the incomparable son of Joseph.

You probably guessed from the title. It’s the demons. Those rascally unclean spirits get it right every time. Those spirits from below see him, hear him, know him, and are aware of his nature and power.

In Mark 1.21-28, there are a couple of lessons I think we can glean from one such unclean spirit (Mark’s choice phrase) who inhabited a local from Capernaum.

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. (ESV)


These lessons are for those who ever craft sermons or draw the short straw to give the obligatory devotional talk before what everyone else is really looking forward to. Because of my extensive theological training and study, most of which could be Googled, I read verse 22 and know why the people aren’t enthralled with the teachings of the scribes.

Lesson 1: If you want to stand out as a preacher or teacher of the Bible, you have to resist giving into the scribal practice of regurgitating what everyone else thinks about a text. Synthesizing a series of other peoples’ commentary on what a passage of scripture says and calling it your own is not only disingenuous, it’s an ‘F’ in English class everywhere.

Why, then, is it so readily accepted in church?

I’ve done it myself in the angst of feeling like I’d better have something worthwhile to say on Sunday. Or, when I’ve been told to hit a home run with the sermon. I don’t know what that looks like…do people swoon, bark (it’s happened before), stand up and mean mug me while I say something inspirational a la Steven Furtick’s Elevators (I assume that’s what Elevation Church attendees are called).

No, Jesus taught with an authority that first-century women and men hadn’t experienced because he was the author. There was originality, albeit a bit unfair since he’s always existed, to what he spoke and how he connected it to their lives. The point remains. There is a temptation to find what a popular speaker, communicator, or preacher has already said, take notes, repeat that process, and then smush it all together to make it “your own” by adding a dabble of personal stories.

Bottom line of lesson 1–fight the urge to be a grown up smusher together of everyone else’s opinions. Read widely for sure. But make every effort to craft your own thoughts first.

Lesson 2: Here’s is one of many questions to ask when sitting with a passage or idea or topic. As the unclean spirit looked and asked of Jesus, What have you to do with us, so we must ask of the Scriptures before us.

Whether reading in the prophets or psalms or epistles, the question is the same. Jesus, what have you to do with us in this passage? And, correspondingly, what would have us do because of it?

I used to be quite satisfied with spouting off a running commentary of a Bible passage. Here’s what this means and how it connects to history and what so and so has to say about it. Good luck doing anything with it!

Application is more than giving someone an idea of how the Bible is relevant to their life. It’s teaching and showing people how to lay their lives bare before the Lord of the Bible and to find a place in the unfolding story of Redemption. I haven’t done that well historically. I thought I was getting better, but the doubts are always there.

Lesson 3: (though not in the Bible) You’ll probably always doubt whether you did any good with your talk, devo, sermon, blog (wait, what?). Who said anything about blogging? But seriously. You’ll doubt.

What do you do with those voices?

If you’ve really asked of Jesus, what have you to do with us here, and have wrestled with the what do you want from us here, then you can rest after the fact knowing that you were not striving to make something happen in the moment.

This is why you criticize others

I’m pretty good at it. Criticizing.

I’ve trained for it my whole life.

Like Rocky Balboa trains for a fight.

Rising before the sun knows I’m up, with a beard burlier than the night before, efforts aimed at capturing a deer I’m chasing up a Russian mountainside in four feet of snow, while simultaneously processing the emotional devastation of what this all means for my wife, kids, and the sequel…and then eating said deer, raw.

There’s a lot of time for criticizing, especially if you have a poor work ethic, which I’ve had for much of my life.

Whew. I feel better saying it.

It’s true. My dad tried to get me to work hard. To clean with great detail, build manly things out of wooden materials, “fix” broken stuff.

One attempt on his part to teach me responsibility and work ethic I remember like yesterday. He pushed our vintage Snapper riding mower out of the garage and onto the blacktop.

After driving it down to the field in the rear of our house, the lesson began. Here’s how to start it. Here’s the blade engage. This pedal makes you go. (I nodded, probably overconfidently so as to compensate for my obviously not understanding.) You also want to look back every now and then to make sure the engine isn’t on fire.

I think I cried.

No, dad. I don’t want to do that. The prospect of burning to death for the sake of a neatly manicured 3/4 of an acre didn’t rouse the manual labor muse within.

I didn’t find my work stride until more recently. Part of it is the job. Part of it is the community of folks I’m around. Part of it is my wife–a huge part. If I have any parts left, another one is what I’m reading now. Not theology. It’s more practical theology–like the be doers of what you’re reading, not just hearers, part.

Steven Pressfield has written novels, screenplays, and non-fiction kicks in the rear. The latter is what I’ve been devouring the last month.

The War of Art

Turning Pro

Do the Work

These are gold mines for me. The principles therein are such that I can superimpose them on the last decade of my life and then wish Uncle Rico’s time machine really worked so I could go back and do a lot of things very differently.

At least I found them at 36 and not 46. Those of you who are 46 know what I’m saying, right?

Here I am now. Learning and growing. Growing and learning. The learning usually has to do with some deficiency deep on my withinside.

In The War of Art, I appreciated Pressfield adding this biographical portion about me –

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived our own.

The War of Art, p. 38

Thanks, Steve. May I call you Steve?

Translation: We criticize others who are moving closer to becoming who they really are.

They’ve pushed through resistance and done the hard work of doing the work. And when I, you, we see someone do that, we can’t help but be envious. So we find something not to like.

Ah, but what (who) we really don’t like is ourselves. In that way, rather than scratching the itch to criticize, let it serve as a built-in reality check. What am I not doing that I want to be doing? What have I not accomplished? What have I given up on? What resistance am I permitting to keep me from becoming who I really am?

Who knows. Maybe you and I will be criticized one day.

Seeking a Better Better in a World of Imposters

So you’ve been bamboozled by the idea of better your entire life, as I mentioned in the last post. Nobody said that’s what was happening, but it happened. And it carries on.

Right now, some of you reading this are thinking about the better job or car or shoes or purse or blog (shame on you for that last one). But it’s in us. We want better. We crave better. We have anxiety over better and imagine ourselves living in, driving, or sleeping with better.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that better is so alluring. The first advertising campaign on earth had to do with better.

It took all of three chapters in Genesis for Eve to be convinced that she could be

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Just one bite?

better and life could be better if she’d just eat of the fruit from a specific tree.

Both she and Adam took the bait of better, hook, line, and sinker. And then everyone blamed someone, but that’s a different topic.

Better is that low hanging fruit, right there in front of your face non-stop. It seems so reachable, so pleasing to the eye, and it must be wonderful to experience. 

  • With ladies, I think about social media and the gnawing sense that her life is better. It’s constant.
  • For the gents living in a hypersexualized culture, it’s evident that the Internet thinks you can get better, and for cheap. Why bother with real people when virtual people will fulfill your fantasies?

Better is everywhere. It wears many masks.

It may be worth noting here that my hope is NOT that you would abandon better. I want you to believe in better. There is a reason that longing is in you. It just may be a wildly different better altogether. It’s a better that, in an election year, will make people frustrated and simultaneously prevent you from slinging mud on the facebook…because you don’t think better will be won at the polls, at not the better folks are slandering, lying, and cussing to grasp.

I found myself some time back re-reading through the letter of Hebrews in the New Testament, which really reads best if you do it all at one time. It’s more like a sermon.

Hebrews chapter 11, in particular, is where this is all coming from.

This chapter is sometimes called the hall of faith because it is replete with the names and stories of some of the who’s who of the OT

Enoch. Noah. Moses. Abraham. Sarah.

The refrain of the chapter is by faith. By faith Noah–by faith Abraham–by faith Israel…

In order to not be confused about what faith is, God is kind enough to tell us exactly what faith is at the beginning of chapter 11

Hebrews 11.1 Now faith is the reality (confidence) of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. (CSB) 

> The glaring oddity about faith and your walk with Christ is that it’s wrapped up in things not seen.

It’s not that the empirical, visible, or tangible doesn’t matter. But rather, that the transcendent, intangible, and invisible matter more, at least in terms of what governs the way you live.

As you might expect, this is a pervasive theme throughout the Bible. That we live amidst the visible and invisible.

It’s this tension that makes so many college students and academics uncomfortable.

It’s what drives attempts by Bible professors who’ve spent nearly a decade in doctoral programs to explain away the supernatural.

And yet much of the focus in Hebrews 11 is on these men and women who were faithful even when they didn’t see what was promised to them by God in this life. Those who were captivated by the invisible, by faith.

  • Abraham didn’t see descendants as numerous as the stars.
  • Moses didn’t see the Promised Land in all its glory.

In the next post, I will point you to a summary of several of these lives and their having died without seeing the better they so longed to experience. Faithful men and women who, thousands of years before we ever cared about a thing, listened and obeyed God, not perfectly, but to the degree that it was clear their better was vastly different than the better we’ve become accustomed to chasing.

Here’s to a better better.

This Idea Casts a Long Shadow Over Your Life and Mine

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Photo by Andrew Tallent on Unsplash

Many of us, myself for sure, live in the long shadow cast by an idea, a phantom idea, a ghostly, probably not real but it feels so real idea. The shadow of this idea brings a darkness with it that goes where we go and grows as we grow.

I’d go so far as to say we are inculcated–indoctrinated if you will–with this idea.

What is this idea? The shadow-caster? The ghost?

Better.

Better stuff, better place, better people, better toys, better car, better neighborhood, better amenities, better clothes.

Better is in us. It grows up with us, too. Your better may not be the same as your friend’s better, but you both have it. It could have looked something like the following –

  • You were 12 years old and SUPER awkward (because who isn’t) and you were 100% confident that 13 was the magic number when things would be better. But no. Just more awkward.
  • 15, though, 15 is where it’s at! I’ll get my driver’s permit, and I’ll cruise into the horizon (with my dad in the passenger seat because mom gets too skittish when I don’t brake in time).
  • Ugh, I’m sick of driving while my parents hit imaginary brakes on their side of the car. It’s all good. I get my license next year, and 16 is when life will really begin.
  • At least at 18 people will take me seriously, because I’ll be an adult. (Nobody tells us why that’s the age. The government just decided one day.) Now, if I want, I can
    • Enlist in the military
    • Buy cigarettes–make America proud
    • Vote, because Ben Affleck told me to

18-20ish are the first of the serious ‘who am I’ years…what do I want to be, who will I marry. Can I marry her–no, her–no, her…

  • I turn 21 in a few weeks. I’m so glad I’m not one of those pathetic teenagers anymore. Look at how sad their lives are.

After 21, better moves into life stages instead of ages. So, life will be better when I…

  • Get a job
  • When I get married
  • Marriage will be better when we have kids
  • Maybe life will be better with a different wife, a different husband
  • Better with a different job
  • Better if we move here
  • Better if that person would die
    • Shoot, I didn’t mean it! Do I have to go to the funeral?
  • Better when I retire…

And then we run out of better and die.

It really could happen.

You could die always believing that the next better would be better than the better before.

Here’s what I’ve learned about my better, and I’m willing to bet your better is a distant cousin of my better and looks mostly the same.

Better is always a moving target. Better is elusive.

It’s like trying to shoot the squirrels who used my back deck as their personal teeth filing hot spot. Those glorified rats were sneaky. Better senses you’re coming and scampers off, leaving part of your deck chewed up while you’re standing there in pajama pants, holding a BB gun with a heart full of anger and sadness. (no metaphor is perfect)

Whether you want to talk education, politics, economics….someone is always promising something better.

A better plan; better policies; better financing; better curriculum. Blah, blah, blah.

The marketing and advertising world lines its pockets by playing on this intrinsic appetite for better.

This product will make you look better, feel better, think better, hit better, jump better, study better.

Instead of better, we get bitter. We were duped.

Better is the guy who never comes through like he says. Better is the boss who over-promises and doesn’t deliver. Better is the movie with the star-filled cast that you wish you had never seen.

There has to be more to it, right?

I don’t have to live in this shadow forever, right?

Right.

More to come

 

Update on the book I said I was going to write when I started the blog several years ago…

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In the yesteryear of 2011, I wrote a blog about writing a book. You probably remember it if you were one of the 22 blessed people who read viewed it.  Viewed is ambiguous.

Wouldn’t it be exciting to learn that I finished the book!?! What I Didn’t Learn in Seminary: 9 Courses I Never Took but Would Have Failed, is the working title…for the book that I haven’t worked on in, ohhh, five years.

So. Yeah. It’s not done. Not. Even. Close.

I’m not surprised. Mainly because I haven’t written. I should say, I haven’t made a habit of writing.

The finished product is great, in my brains. That’s where the book lives and where it’s gone to die. #Condolences

But I’ve been inspired of late, which I just read has nothing to do with actually finishing a creative work. So that’s a bummer.

Inspiration is cute, like a kitten. Just before you get too close to the kitten’s face while hard whispering “Aren’t you cute? Yesh you are, yesh you are” and then the cat swats you across your puckered lips just to remind you he’s heartless and has no true need of you.

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Photo by burak kostak from Pexels

Clearly what I’m saying is that inspiration is a great excuse to get nothing done.

“I’m not feeling inspired,” you quip to your supervisor. “Oh, by all means, don’t come back to work until your inspiration is replenished, valued worker.”

Nope. You just go to work.

And I just have to write.

So I started again today. Lucky you.

Since legion of you have asked, yes, I’ll finish the seminary bad pastor book. At least I’m smart enough now to know it won’t happen in one super unrealistic inspired weekend.