Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1
I’ve finished three full marathons (26.2 miles) and almost 20 Half Marathons. At the start
of the race you might be singing songs like:
Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’
But at the finish:
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone and all the roses dying
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bye
In the last marathon I ran I saw lots of signs on the pinned to the backs of runners, but two stood out to me. One said, “Expected finish Tuesday…
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Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” Mark 5:9
Ever have an enemy?
When I was in high school I dated the town bully’s ex-girlfriend. How smart was that? She began attending our church and was really cute, so we began dating after she assured me that her relationship with Charlie was over. He had a reputation of dealing drugs, and fighting with knives and clubs. He was a weight-lifter and his muscles had muscles. He struck fear in to the heart of everyone.
One day, on my way out of the high school, my brother met me in the hallway and told me that Charlie N. was outside in the parking lot looking for me. Said he was high and wanted to kill me. I did something that I had never done in my high school career—I went to the library. I waited there until my father came to pick me up.
Over the next several weeks and months, as my new girlfriend and I would drive around town or go to school functions, there would always be a fear that Charlie was never very far away. There were several occasions that as we “cruised North Avenue” on a Friday or Saturday night, I could see the ’64 Ford Falcon following us. My mouth would get dry and my palms would get sweaty, but we never had a physical confrontation. He would just follow us and stare at me.
I did my best to look as big as I could, but I was a beanpole at 6’ 4” and a buck eighty. He was 6’ and 210 pounds. Think of a white and long-haired Mike Tyson. I had nightmares about Charlie.
On the eastern shores of Galilee Jesus encounters a man who had an enemy that was much stronger than he was.
He is a creature you would probably meet only in your worst nightmares, if even there. He is a man possessed with demons. They drive him to violence. They drive him to cry out like a wild dog howling in the night. They drive him to the solitary places—in the hills, among the tombs.
There he acts like a rabid animal, living on the ragged, outer fringe of humanity. Luke tells us that it has been a long time since he’s worn clothes or lived in a house.
There are no houses in Palestine for men like him. No hospitals. No asylums. He has no place to go…his only refuge are the holes dug in the hillside, used to bury the dead.
His hair is a matted tangle of filth. His body is scarred white around his wrists and ankles where manacles once tried to restrain him. He is covered with scares from self-inflicted wounds. He barely resembles a human.
How did the image of God become so marred and defaced? How did he get to where he is now? How did he end up here—his only home, a tomb; his only companions, demons?
We don’t know…but now his body is a beachhead for Satan. And it is onto this beachhead that Jesus now lands.
Jesus is so much stronger than our strongest enemy. He had just calmed the angry sea. He is about to deal with the evil forces in this man’s soul. The Scriptures want us to see that nothing in this world is a match for the power of Jesus.
(The community) came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Mark 5:15
The mercy of Jesus is more powerful than all the evil and brokenness in this world. Often it surprises us who receives the mercy of God and who is afraid of it. Why would you be afraid of mercy? Because to embrace it will change you.
Much in my life has changed over the past forty years since I last saw my old nemesis, Charlie. And, as God would have it, as I grew to be a very large man physically (I added a hundred pounds to that buck eighty), I also grew into a man who would be far more interested in the soul of my enemy than having a physical encounter with him. That can only be attributed to the transformative power of mercy in the wild places of my life.
About twenty years ago I visited my old hometown and had a coffee with my first girlfriend’s mother and she told me that Charlie was involved in a drug deal that went bad and cut a man’s throat in a knife fight. Seeing blood shoot out of his neck, he put his hand over the wound, called 911 and held his hand on the wound until the ambulance got there.
He cut his throat—then saved his life—then went to prison.
While Charlie was in prison for living out of his brokenness, I served those years learning to live a life of brokenness. People matter to me now in ways that I could not imagine fifteen years ago.
Living a life out of brokenness versus living a life of brokenness. It is a not-so-subtle difference. When we live out of our brokenness we allow our wounds to drive us to behave in self-protective ways. And inevitably those ways of self-protection end up hurting others because they are narcissistic.
But when I live a life of brokenness, I embrace my wounds as magnets for God’s mercy to drive me to depend on Him for operational grace. And with that grace flowing into my life I am able to love and give away that mercy to others that he has put in my path. I am broken in all the right places. I become a wounded healer.
I’ve wondered about Charlie over the years. On my birthday this year another high school friend sent me birthday wishes on social media. Below is our conversation:
Mike: Happy Birthday hopefully you are over the trauma I provided in the old neighborhood!! There’s always counselling!!!
Joe: Danny M. was my nemesis. Along with Charlie N. But I’ll send you the bill, Mike Z.
Mike: Billing and getting are two different things my friend! Enjoy your Birthday and my best to you and your family—Danny M. is a drunk and Charlie N. is a born again Christian!! Who saw that coming?
Enemy? What enemy?
He’s my brother.
Grace and Truth are the foundations of the Christian faith.
Everyone has a person in their family that is hard to love. If you don’t know who the person in your family that is particularly challenging to love, chances are it is you. It is quite a sobering thought to imagine that I am someone’s hard to love person. In our family the hard to love person was my maternal grandfather: Oscar Lee Johnston.
He was a grumpy old cowboy from west Texas. He only had an 8th grade education and for a few years when my mother was a little girl he was a Baptist preacher, but then he decided that making money was more important than winning souls so he went back to combining wheat up and down the Midwest from Texas to Canada.
He was an old man when I was born and much older than his years. He smoked a pipe so…
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