I am Xander (Still the Voices)

I am the one who hears the one.

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Jesus drew crowds, yet he always saw the one hurting face in the crowd who needed him. This often got him into trouble.

Jesus was always stopping to pick up the broken pieces of humanity that most deemed unworthy of their trouble. Eventually it would be one of his own followers who would turn against him for this as Judas wanted a populist revolution, and he wanted it now. While the Pharisee’s and religious leaders only saw that the ones he seemed to stoop over to help up were the very ones they had kicked aside.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15

Indulge me a bit here as I take a little creative license and get into the head of one of those lost lambs that Jesus had come to save.

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My name is Xander and I was born in a large city east of the Jordan river. My father was a silver smith who made his fortunes making idols for wealthy clients, little figurines of the many and varied gods that the Greeks had worshiped for millennia.

He was not a kind nor caring man, all he cared about was his silver. His clients were not kind either and the people, having been influenced greatly by the Greek culture brought here by Alexander the Great long ago were a perverse and gregarious lot. My childhood innocence was short lived as I sometimes found myself left alone now and then with one of my father’s clients who abused me in ways I had no words to describe even if anyone did care to hear—no one did.

Early in my teen years I left my father’s home and never looked back. I went North to one of the nearby cities of Decapolis and lived by my wits with other rogues and scam artists on the streets. We survived and the thrill of taking from others, whether it be with our rigged shell games or bogus fortune telling booths, was always a great source of stories as we spent the nights drinking away our ill-gotten coin.

But eventually this life started to seem more and more empty and pointless. There was a restlessness in me that I could not contain, a stirring to find deeper meaning and purpose to my messed up life. I swore I would never have anything to do with the gods my father had exploited as he made his all-consuming wealth by casting their images but there was a temple in this city by the shore that beckoned me—it was the temple of Poseidon, a sea God.Difference-between-Neptune-and-Poseidon2

I went to the temple and was met by a priest who led me inside to worship at the feet of the imposing figure standing within, a bearded giant holding a large fishing trident. This figure, and the feeling of power that the magnificence of this place instilled in me, made me believe that I had found my answer, surely this was a god  that I could relate to.

 

The priest told me that if I placed a silver coin at his feet and prayed the incantation that he revealed to me, my prayers for purpose and guidance would be heard. I did as he instructed. As I lay there prone on the floor before this image I felt a coldness creep into the back of my neck and into my core and I began to hear a voice. It was disconcerting at first but the voice assured me that there were great things in store if I obeyed.

I left there and rejoined my friends but I was a different person; still troubled but no longer alone. The voices guided me and I became the greatest street magician on the plaza and was soon the envy of all my peers. But soon the voices started telling me to do things that seemed just wrong, even for a rogue like me. And they got worse every day until one day I hurt someone in the same way I had been hurt as a child, but this time I was not unseen—everyone was soon shouting for my arrest.

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They seized me as I struggled, they threw me into an underground cell and chained me. But in that dark hole the darkness inside me grew stronger and eventually I broke my chains, beat my guards senseless and ran—I ran to the seashore, to be close to the home of my god. The only shelter I could find there, the only place I could be away from the others was among the tombs of the dead.

And I lived there for years, taunted by the voices night and day. They were no longer my friends, but now they were my tormentors, telling me night and day that I was not fit to live and driving me to attack all who dared come near and to even hurt myself, cutting myself with sharp stones just to watch the blood flow and to punish myself for being so evil. Strangely I relished the pain because it offered temporary distraction from the pain within.

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Anointed One

Then one day I found an inscription on one of the tombs in the small Jewish quarter of this graveyard. Chiseled in the stone at the entrance to the tomb were the words:

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The words were ascribed to a prophet named Isaiah. (Isaiah 61)

I didn’t know who this Isaiah was or who this Lord was. But I had heard that there was a great temple built to him in Jerusalem. But that may as well have been a million miles away from me. The voices in my head and the people of the city would not let me leave the tombs where I lived on fish heads left behind by fisherman and whatever I could steal from the occasional merchant who dared land here unguarded.

But these words on this stone about this anointed Lord, they somehow comforted me and I took to sleeping in the mouth of this tomb. The voices seemed to leave me alone when I was there and I even started to pray to this unknown Lord as best I could as I had no idea what he demanded of his followers, only that I wanted the liberty and healing those words promised.

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The he came, the one from across the sea.

It had been a fitful night. I had dreamed of a great storm at sea with great waves pounding a fishing vessel while lightning bolts crashed all around it as though just taunting the fisherman aboard who dared sail into the night. I saw the spiteful god Poseidon rising above the boat and thrusting his razor sharp trident at the hapless boat and heard the laughter of the voices in my head as they shrieked Kill them, kill the anointed one!  

Then I heard the words, “Peace, be still!” And I awoke with a start as I heard one last great thunderclap in the distant west over from the direction of the sea carried to me by a powerful wind—and then silence, no more thunder, no more wind—and a strange gasp from the voices within.

I spent the rest of the night awake, pondering those words, “Peace be still.” Then, with the sunrise I saw them, the fishermen from my dream and one who stood among them who seemed somehow separate from them.

He didn’t look much different from the countless other fisher and tradesman who had come across Poseidon’s sea, those who survived his storms were usually quick to get ashore and to hurry into the town. Those who didn’t were fair game to the voices in my head who drove me to attack them. But this group was different, they had no goods nor any fish and they seemed unsure of where they were going, except for that one—he just looked in my direction like he was expecting something, ‘well, here I am, I’ll show you whose beach this is.’

Grasping the length of chain still dangling from my wrist and swinging it over my head so that it whistled in the wind, a sound I had learned sent terror into the hearts of men, I ran straight at him. Suddenly the voices in my head started screaming, “No!, turn away!” But another voice, this one seeming to come from deeper within, in my heart, said, this is the one you have been looking for, this is the anointed one.

And when I came within striking distance of him I threw myself at his feet and worshiped him suddenly feeling that same peace I felt when I read those mysterious words on the Jewish tomb.

Free

Deliverance

And then all hell broke loose, the voices in my head screaming in terror that this was the Lord using that same odd Jewish name I had seen inscribed on that tomb. From there it was all a blur as it felt like my soul was being rent in two and I hear the anguished cry of demons and pigs squealing. But the next thing I know I am sitting at his feet, no longer bleeding, no longer naked, and he is telling me how much his Father loves me and how he was sent to find his lost lambs, and to set the captives free.

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This man from Galilee who had commanded Poseidon’s waves to be still, had stilled the voices in my head and freed my spirit with a word.

As he prepared to leave I begged him to let me come with him but he told me I had a new purpose now, to tell everyone what the anointed one had done for me.

And I have devoted my life to sharing what the Lord did for me with everyone. And every time I tell the story, the painful days seem farther away. And the one who saved me seems closer.

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Jesus Saw beyond the madness, the nakedness, filth and threats and saw a good heart waiting to be rescued

No one loved him, no one cared a whit about himno one that is, except Jesus. Jesus left the 99 to rescue the one.

Love the one.

Just before Jesus and his handful of followers had gotten into the boat to come to this eastern shore of the sea of Galilee he had been surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands of adoring followers many of whom were proclaiming that they wanted to follow him, they were as enthusiastic as they come: “Here’s our messiah, here’s our leader—our King.

If nothing else, Jesus had an instant Mega church, all he had to do was pitch a big tent and keep telling them stories to make them feel good about themselves, do a few healings, take an offering and go rent a room at the inn and come back tomorrow, he was set —yet he left them and sailed off to find one man— not even an Israelite— who needed him.

the one xander

For those in ministry it’s easy to get caught up in thinking ‘we have to minister to the crowd’. We measure our success by turning around and counting how many people are following us (that Is if you dared turn your back on them in the first place) and then we plan and scheme, we have meetings and take survey’s; “How can we keep all these people coming back and how do we get more?”

Yet time and again we see Jesus leaving and even discouraging the crowds from following. Jesus wasn’t looking for crowds, Jesus was looking for people. Jesus didn’t hear the clamoring choruses of voices singing or crying out in unison all caught up in the momentum of the emotion or excitement, Jesus heard the silent breaking of hearts, the cries of a man living alone in a graveyard. Jesus heard the desperate plea to a God he wasn’t even sure existed from across a sea.

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In loving the one, you are doing what Jesus did and being obedient to the one command Jesus added, Love one another.

Never grow weary of loving, never stop pursuing the lost, don’t step over the broken pieces of other’s hearts as you go to be with the crowds who seem to have it all together so that you can glean more blessings for yourself.

Pray to see others the way Jesus did, see the ones who are praying to be seen. And in that, find your true purpose and complete your own healing.

If you are that lost lamb, know that you are heard.

 

 

The Dead Ahead

What happens when the demons of the past give way to the demons waiting for you on the other shore?

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Let the dead bury their own dead, you go proclaim the Kingdom of God.”

In the gospel story we have been following the last few weeks, those who made the commitment to leave the dead in spirit behind, who had left the chaos of Peter’s house where an impromptu healing and deliverance crusade had taken place, getting into a boat to sail for the other shore of the Sea of Galilee, survived a devastating storm that only subsided with the command from Jesus “Peace be still!” finally made it safely to the other shore. And so they lived happily ever after in Never Never Land. Never to worry, never to fear or be in want again—right?

Oh wait, that’s just the modern day church’s evangelism friendly version. Let’s look at the Jesus version;

Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. Mark 5:1—5

afraid

So the chosen few, those who have answered the call to follow, committed to follow wherever Jesus led them without even the assurance of a place to lay their heads at night. They have left behind the past, leaving the dead to bury the dead, they have survived the storm which turned out to be no big deal after all, because they just happened to be sailing with the creator himself—they get to the other shore and are met by a man— who is stark raving mad. He has been living literally among the dead, in the tombs, he is demon possessed and as evil as they come.

Again, Jesus just seems to be going out of his way to make it challenging for people to follow him. They left the dead and ran smack into a maniac, a man whom, not only hurt himself, but also attacked everyone who came this way.

So—to follow this narrative that has been unfolding these last few weeks—we have been learning to not allow anything to hinder us from being obedient to the call to follow, not let anything or anyone stop us, to leave our fears, the lies and hurts of the past —spoken to us by the dead— behind. And to keep our eyes on Jesus as he leads us safely away from those who would hurt us.

In a nutshell, we have been learning how to leave the demons of the past behind us. So to me this story leads me to ask: Okay, we’ve escaped the demons of the past and moved on; “What happens when the demons are waiting for you on the other shore?”

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Powerless dead

It’s something we all fear. You don’t have to follow Jesus very long before you realize that not everyone else shares your new found enthusiasm for all things good and your desire to shun things you now realize are harmful. This of course leads to the next fear, especially for those who have been victimized by those who are influenced by an impure spirit -‘What is to prevent me from becoming victimized again?’ ‘How can I be safe?’ “I have left the dead, but what about the dead ahead?”

This is the only instance in the gospels where Jesus engages in a conversation with the demons. He usually commands them to silence. I think he did that to prove a point, he was teaching the disciples with him the same thing he is trying to teach us;

Yes, there are demons here, and there are demons ahead. Their influence will be around as they continue to deceive, use, and abuse all who do not yet know the truth. But do not let them deceive you ever again.’ ‘They cannot harm you, in fact they are afraid of you.’

I do not fear meme

Jesus allowed this demon to speak so that there would be no mistake, and no missing what was going on here, this man, someone’s son, was out of control, his life was no longer his. This man was possessed by had a whole host of demons living in him. Yet this legion of demons— enough to possess a herd of 2 thousand pigs and had exerted unfettered control over this wretched man— they were afraid of Jesus. They begged for mercy.

What a stark contrast for all who witnessed this, the swine herders and locals, who had lived in fear of this man, and the Jewish disciples who had lived their lives totally at the mercy of every demon spirit who had influenced them, and all those around them, all their lives.

Now they see these terrible, fearful, all powerful demons, fearing for their very existence and begging for a reprieve from what they know Jesus has full authority and power to do to them, and that is to throw them into the abyss as they await their consignment to the lake of fire.

“What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”

For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” 

Mark 5

(Have you come to torture us before the appointed time? Mat 8)

Jesus was making sure all understood, that in any and all places, whether riding out a storm or facing agents of the devil himself— they were safe if they were with him.

Safety

Jesus understood that one of the most basic of all human desires is the desire to be safe, to feel safe and to know that we are protected and can defend ourselves against evil. So what does he do? He brings them through a storm and then face to face with a naked bleeding maniac dragging chains behind him like a rabid Pit Bull who has broken his chain just as you were walking by on the sidewalk.

And again, Jesus is not rattled, he does not panic nor tell his followers to run, he simply tells the demons to take a hike like he is telling a disobedient child to go sit in the time out corner. And the fearful demons whimper and complain like unruly kindergartners who have had their snack time taken away.

If this doesn’t prove to the disciples that they have nothing to fear as long as they are with him, nothing will. The Psalm of David—which these Jewish men surely knew—suddenly takes on a whole new meaning and becomes very real to them.

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer. My God, my strength in who I will trust. My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Ps 18:2

Jesus was indeed their shield; I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t even hiding behind him.

But Jesus was also demonstrating to them what they would be able to do as well, as he would impart on them his Holy Spirit, they would be not just safe, but they would also be those who would rescue others. No need to fear the dead, not the dead behind them nor the dead ahead of them.

He would say the same to you.

Barbarian woman wolf

Find Your Freedom- Barbarians in the Kingdom