Meeting With A Sniper

Today I met with a sniper. He is also a former assassin. This not my regular habit so it added a little excitement to an otherwise average Friday morning. His name is Tass. He used to be part of Fatah, and the personal driver for Yasser Arafat, a story he recounts in his fascinating book Once An Arafat Man. On the same day I read an article about the rise of Islamic terrorism in this country, I sit with a man who used to be a terrorist with the nickname Jazzar — “butcher”.

Tass was infatuated with Arafat, the charismatic leader of the PLO. He trained intensively to be an efficient killer under the direction of North Korean experts, and was eventually assigned the task of killing high value targets. He told me that on his first day in the training camp he was directed to pay attention to a large sign that read “Instructors Are Allowed to Kill 25 Percent of Recruits!” Trainees were motivated by regular encounters with live ammunition fired from AK-47 assault rifles. Slackers didn’t last long.

It’s a long story, but he ends up marrying a wonderful infidel woman and settling down in Kansas City. Over the next 15 years or so he goes from dishwasher in a French restaurant to managing a premier Westin property in LA, and back to Kansas, this time as the operator of that French restaurant and owner of a small cafe.

The next twenty years were even more fascinating as the came to Christ, saw his immediate family converted, moved away from the restaurant business, and ended up, well, just read the book. Suffice it to say you won’t be disappointed, and you’ll probably never look at the Israeli – Palestinian conflict the same way again.

I know this post is longer than my usual 200 word offering. Don’t pester me about it or I’ll call the butcher.

TassWith my new friend Tass Saada

 

Touched By God

Peter’s wife had a problem. All the domestic chores were falling to her because her mother was in bed with a dangerous fever; something considered life threatening back then. Mark 1:30-31 skips details provided by Dr. Luke, like how Jesus stood over her and rebuked the fever. Now consider this, The King of Kings and Lord of Lords reaches down to a sick lady and “taking her hand”, with gentle physical contact, “lifted her up” and sets her back in motion. The results are immediate; no down time; no convalescence. There is no doctor’s bag, no questions, no tests, no second opinion, no pills, no procedures, and no wait. He just takes her by the hand, rebuking the fever with the same earth shaking power he rebuked demons, waves, wind, and wicked hypocrites. Nothing stands in his way. When Jesus Christ touches his creation it responds. This is true of storms in the sky or in the heart. The touch of God is a touch of total healing and total calm.

Powerful Compassion

Sunday makes me hungry. I’m tempted to have a pre-lunch just in case real lunch is delayed. It’s like appetite insurance. In Mark 1:29 we have the account of Jesus and his initial disciples making their way to Peters home after synagogue, and my guess is they were hungry. Taking into consideration the events of the morning, it’s safe to assume Jesus was looking forward to a meal and maybe a long Sabbath nap. This wouldn’t happen. It had become obvious to everyone that Jesus has power over demons. What interests me is the secondary connection. Witnessing power over demons led them to conclude he had power over the physical realm as well. By the time the first four disciples are at Peters house, they are already imploring him for help. Jesus tosses demons around with ease, wages war in the angelic dimension with just his words, but his perfectly content to be inconvenienced by Peter’s family, and eventually the whole town because of his compassion. It would be enough for me to know that an infinitely powerful Savior is in control of my destiny, but how much more amazing to serve a God so infinitely inclined to compassion?

Standoff

Mark 1:23-26 confronts the reader like an accidental shock. We’ve just read about how Jesus goes into the synagogue and begins to teach. You’re ready to read about what Jesus was teaching, or perhaps a sermon summary, but instead you get this surprising story about a demon-possessed man. This is a supernatural encounter that members of the physical world were able to witness. Jesus goes toe to toe with a representative from the forces of evil that will challenge him relentlessly from now on. Notice how the demons cry out first like a flock of scared birds. They knew who Jesus was, and certainly provided an unexpected element to the order of service that week at the synagogue. Demons faithfully declare the Lordship of Jesus at every encounter. This happens to the point where Jesus has to silence them. The standoff between Jesus and demons teaches us two things. Jesus is in control of everything, whether seen or unseen, and demons are quick to acknowledge what all of us should, namely the absolute Lordship of Christ.

Jesus In The Synagogue

Jesus didn’t swagger into the synagogue like a cowboy into a saloon. He was invited (Mark 1:21), likely with full knowledge about his recent Nazareth experience (Luke 4:16-30). Jews talked a lot back then and they knew who Jesus claimed to be. But his reputation was good enough to permit him to handle and teach the Scriptures. This sacred task included explaining what it meant. He wasn’t usurping the religious establishment, and in fact spent most of the time submitting to it as week after week he listened to the other teachers. Jesus was humble. He remained discreet and quiet until called upon. At the same time he was profoundly knowledgeable, captivating the Temple teachers at 12, and no doubt even more engaging 18 years later. His teaching left the people justifiably astonished (Mark 1:22). They even thought him superior to the Scribes, a group of upper class educated rulers. These men were given authority because of their knowledge. This means if Jesus struck the people as having more authority, imagine how much knowledge he possessed? The humble Lord, too young even to be a formal Scribe, captured the hearts of the people with his gracious application of the Word.

Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, and the Gospel

I was told one time that everything is negotiable. This is not a true, especially when applied to the most important transaction ever conducted. There are very non-negotiable elements of the gospel. Looking at it one way we see infinite complexity, rigid and well-defined. Either we believe it or we don’t, and our eternal destiny is on the line. Looking at it another way we see it can be grasped by anyone. A peasant, prostitute, priest, or potter all go through the same door. So it is simple, but not simplistic because it is too important. Evidently the evangelical mass media (and this is so evident during Easter) believes the gospel has joined horseshoes and hand grenades, being something you can throw out there with confidence that close is close enough and counts for something. Wrong. We need to loving insist that close doesn’t count. We need to preach the truth even if the twice a year visitors are offended by it. The gospel is precise (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). It is complex in some ways and cannot be altered, but we trust God to work in the hearts of the elect to make them understand the unadulterated truth. Close is not close enough.

Minimal Marketing

Jesus didn’t receive an elaborate installation service when he began his ministry. Religious celebrities were not flown into Galilee for the inauguration, and the best bands in Palestine weren’t offered the gig. I find this remarkable because 1) mere men who enter the pastorate are often the architects of their own elaborate ministry liftoff, placing in jeopardy the centrality of the Word and instead focusing on the man, and 2) Jesus refused this approach even though he was the only man who could ever be worthy of such a public spectacle. In him we have the beginning of the only evangelistic work where the preacher was himself the good news. Instead, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh commences his public ministry in an obscure lakeside area where the only culture was agriculture. There is no fanfare, and no apparent perks to offer when he calls his disciples. Now I understand that every installation service is not a show, but let’s not lose sight of how inconspicuous our Savior was. He never marketed his ministry.

Pursuing Our Pursuer

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer reminds us, “We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit…and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming”. By the sixteenth verse of the gospel of Mark he has already begun describing the call of the disciples. Like them, we follow only because he puts that desire in us. We believe only because he gives us faith. We obey only because he gives us the will. An emphasis must exist on our lack of native ability to discern his worthiness. However this doesn’t turn followers into robots. All true followers make a rational decision. By some divine mystery, the will is intact, desires are real, and disobedience is punishable. The details of this apparent contradiction cannot be reconciled by elevating the will of man over the sovereignty of God, or by deducting the accountability of man in favor of fatalism. In the end, the best way to look at this is to thank God for his mercy, and pursue God for his favor.

Simple Minds

The grace of God is evident to all believers in this way: He provides the faith to believe the gospel. Most of us are not naturally drawn to follow others, much less the demanding form of discipleship required by Jesus Christ. Left to our own devices we tend to be worshippers of self. In 1 Corinthians 1:26–31 Paul reminds the gifted but immature Corinthian believers that they are not wise, powerful, or noble, but God graciously chose to impose believe on them. These foolish, weak, lowly nothings will shame the wise, strong, and important people who are pursuing significance in anything but the truth of the gospel. God intercedes on their behalf and becomes their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so he alone gets the glory for salvation. Simple minds are granted divine awareness and a compelling desire to believe and obey, resulting in peace and divine blessing. Knowledge is vital, but so is belief, and belief has different forms. James says the demons believe and shutter (James 2:19). They have belief, but no hope. The belief that saves is the one that results in hope, trust, repentance, and joy. It is not limited to intellectual. There is no aptitude test required.

The Devil and the Resurrection

Easter Sunday is the high-water mark of the Christian calendar. No other event in redemptive history has the same significance as the resurrection. Let me explain. The incarnation was end of the beginning of satanic domination. That’s why the Devil tried to kill the infant Christ. The Crucifixion was the beginning of the end. The words “it is finished” (John 19:30) make that clear. Therefore the Devil tried to stop Christ from going to the cross. Both efforts failed miserably. The resurrection is even more devastating to the Devil because it is the special event that leads to the first wave of Spirit filled believers. These followers of Christ would take back the occupied territories of the Satanic Empire and drive away the darkness with the light of the Gospel. Satan couldn’t kill the risen Christ because the resurrected body is immortal. He also couldn’t stop the risen Christ from ascending to the Father. The only thing he can do is attack the facts of the resurrection. He started before Christ had even risen, and continues to this day. The Devil works tirelessly to deceive the world about the resurrection, and therefore serves as a testimony to its unparalleled significance.