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
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.
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