We see several instances in the New Testament where Jesus encountered demon-possessed individuals. In a few of those situations, the demon would announce clearly who Jesus was:
Like the demons, we can know certain things and articulate them on an intellectual basis, but sometimes we are willing to ignore their implications in day-to-day life. For example, everyone who reads this will readily agree, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We will all quickly affirm, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Yet in our day-to-day interactions with others, our culture assumes that mankind is inherently good.
If you still aren’t convinced, stop and read or listen to any news report on a current tragic event: a murder, robbery, arson, terrorist act, etc. The first question the article will usually address is related to the perpetrator’s motives or reasons: “What happened to make that individual do what they did?” The assumption is that a “normal human being” would not do such a thing. We believe that some tragic or unjust experience in their life drove them to do what they did. Then the reporter who is seeking answers to the “Why” question will interview family members and neighbors. Usually, the response from the family member, co-worker, neighbor, or anyone who knew them is, “I can’t believe they did it. That just doesn’t sound like them.”
We don’t want to believe that a “normal human being” could do such a thing, because if we accepted that fact, then we would have to admit that we too are capable of such a heinous act. In the heat of the moment, we forget that we are all sinners by nature and when left alone we can, and do choose poorly. Genesis 6:5 reads, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” John tells us that the God-Man Jesus also knew what mankind was capable of doing: “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25). The power of the Gospel is that we who are inherently evil and self-centered can be radically transformed. When we act as if our basic nature is good, we are denying that there is a need for the “good news.”
When we believe that some tragic or unjust experience in an individual’s life drove them to do the unthinkable, we are giving ourselves permission to provide similar excuses for our own bad behavior. Yes, it is absolutely true that some people are “born with a silver spoon in their mouth” while others experience adversities beyond comprehension. It is also true that we all have our own family stories and the unique challenges that came with them. I was blessed by growing up in a “Mayberry” type small town in Wyoming, in a two-parent family. My father had a stable blue-collar job, and our community’s diversity meant the town had people from a variety of European countries. That means my life experiences and challenges are radically different than those of my friend Ralph Lassiter who just moved to a Pastor Emeritus role at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church. He is of African American ancestry and the son of a bi-vocational pastor who grew up in segregated Mississippi. But neither of us can relate to the challenges our fellow pastor and friend James Gwek has faced. He grew up in war torn Sudan and lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia before immigrating to Omaha. Every one of us has a unique story full of challenges, adversities, obstacles, tragedies, injustices, etc. Those experiences have uniquely shaped us and made us either bitter or better.
But no matter what they were, Paul (who gave us his own list of adversities in II Corinthians 11:16-33) tells us, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:12-13).
The power of the Gospel is that we who have experienced unimaginably tragic life experiences can be lifted out “of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.” God will set our feet on solid ground and steady us as we walk along (Psalm 40:2). When we let go of our excuses for why life has caused us to be who we are, we open ourselves up to an opportunity to hear the “good news.” Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28 that God’s desire is that adversity will make us better: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Make sure your theology is daily making the journey from your head to your heart. Don’t act like the world and ignore the daily applications of the Word. We are ALL sinners, capable of incomprehensible evil, and completely unable to extract ourselves from the mess we have created. But there is no one whose mess is beyond the grace and transforming power of the Gospel.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Most of us are familiar with the story (some call it is an urban myth and say it is without any scientific proof) that a frog placed in water with a temperature that suits it, will stay in the kettle even if the temperature is very gradually raised past the point where it can survive. Even if it’s not scientifically correct, let me suggest that the principle “slow changes over a long period of time can get us into a situation where we cannot survive” can be observed among humans.
I want to step back into my discussion of our culture and the challenges we are facing that didn’t exist or were not as prevalent, seventy years ago. In general, I want to address the reality that only a small percentage of professing evangelical Christians today have a Biblical World View—and that includes people in your church. If you think this factoid is an urban myth, let me suggest you google research by Barna and Gallup on how many professing Christians have a Biblical Worldview. If you think it’s not true of people in your church, then let me suggest you do a quick survey some Sunday morning—text or e-mail me and I will send you the basic questions from the researchers.
But let me return to the Frog in the Kettle story for just a few minutes. I’m sure you recall from grade school science that a frog is classified as an amphibian. In case you forgot the formal definition, it is “any of a class (Amphibia) of cold-blooded vertebrates (such as frogs, toads, or salamanders) that share characteristics of both fish and reptiles: they have gilled aquatic larvae and are transformed into air-breathing adults.” All of us have seen pictures of tadpoles (the gilled aquatic larvae form of a frog) and a few of us have seen them in nature. All of us have seen a frog, toad, or salamander at one time or another hopping along and breathing air. Seen separately and without the knowledge of the process of metamorphosis, none of us would be easily convinced that they are the same species.
How many of you know that the word metamorphosis can be found four times in the Bible—and it’s not used to describe the life cycle of a frog, toad, or salamander? Twice it is used to describe the visible changes that took place in Jesus’ body on the Mount of Transfiguration: Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2. In both cases, most translations have chosen the English word “transfigured” to translate the original Greek word—the same Greek word that science transliterates (fancy word for spelling a word from one language in another language so it sounds the same) as metamorphosis. Peter, James, and John were awed by what they saw and heard. When was the last time you were awed by the changes that God’s grace and forgiveness had generated in the life of an individual?
The Apostle Paul uses the Greek word in two of his letters: once to the church in Corinth (II Corinthians 3:18) and once in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 12:2). In his letter to Corinth, Paul is contrasting the radiant glory that over time faded from Moses’ face that had appeared when he had been in the presence of God on Mt. Sinai with the ever-growing radiance that will be a natural part of a true believers life in Christ: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphosed) into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, the Greek word metamorphosis is used as he transitions from the theological section of his letter to the practical application section. He writes, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (metamorphosed) by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” In both passages, Paul is painting a picture of what the norm should be for the life of a professing Christian.
Too many churches and professing Christians of our generation have lowered the bar on what is expected from the life of a professing Christian. The subtle changes that have taken place since the last great awakening in America have been caused by multiple issues, but let me address one today. It showed up in my morning Bible reading this week. Jesus stated:
Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits, you will know them.
What I would suggest is that we have moved away from the Biblical obedience-based discipleship model of what it means to be a Christian, to a knowledge-based definition. Some knowledge is needed, but if the knowledge you are gaining doesn’t lead to changes in your life (dare I say transformations in your life) that actually make you look more like Jesus, then I’ll be bold enough to say you will end up hearing from Jesus, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
Do not hear me say something I am not saying. I absolutely affirm the security of the believer—once saved always saved. However, genuinely saved individuals will always be in the process of being transformed (metamorphosed). To what extent have you bought into our culture’s assumption that “if you know, then you will do?” What have you learned lately from the Bible, or a maturing disciple of Christ, that radically changed what you thought (“by the renewing of your mind”) AND is radically changing how you act?
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
As we embark on a new year, I will close my series on the carols of the first Christmas with a look at Simeon’s Song. Here is the song and the setting as recorded in Luke 2:25-32:
"And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
We know what happened in 2021 and we can speculate about what 2022 will hold. While we ponder the future, let me encourage all of us to emulate Simeon as he focused on the One who holds in His hands the future of all humanity. Be it resolved, that in the New Year I will seek to live like Simeon lived. Seeking to be…
Through the lives of many godly men and women we can learn great life principles. Our ultimate goal should be to be able to say to others what the Apostle Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ!” (I Corinthians 11:1)
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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