World Christianity 08: Good and Evil

Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ fascinating book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.

Chapter 5 is about ‘Good and Evil’

Jenkins acknowledges he is talking in big picture terms – but that this generality holds:

Biblical texts and passages that the South makes central are seen by many Northern churches as marginal, symbolic, or purely historical in nature … for post-Enlightenment Christians in the West, the demonic elements in the New Testament mean so little that they are scarcely even an embarrassment anymore.

And this is a fascinating and politically incorrect comment that counters much rhetoric that pictures Christianity as a destroyer of native cultures;

supernatural approaches can be valuable in moving societies away from pernicious traditional superstitions …. in a relatively short time, the new Christian emphasis on prayer and Bible reading defuses the fatalism inherent in a traditional system based on notions such as witchcraft, curses, and the power of ancestors. Instead, Christians are taught to rely on faith, and on the role of the individual, who is no longer a slave to destiny or fate. By treating older notions of spiritual evil seriously, Christians are leading an epochal cultural revolution.

For a powerful validation of Jenkins analysis here see this post from Matthew Parris from a while ago on the liberating effect of Christianity in Africa.

Jenkins’ big point is that much of Christianity in the Global South takes evil seriously since it is surrounded by the occult, paganism, acts of great evil, natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and famines and so on.

Many Christians live close to paganism / animism and have an immediate connection to the idea of spiritual warfare.

Jenkins quotes Olusegun Obasanjo who says ‘Doubting the existence of the devil or Satan is like doubting the existence of sin’. Who is he? The President of Nigeria from 1999. And Jenkins recounts a Ghanaian song to illustrate the familiarity with spiritual warfare – Ephesians 6 in African imagery you might say:

‘If Satan troubles us

Jesus Christ

You who are the lion of the grasslands

You whose claws are sharp

Will tear out his entrails

And leave them on the ground

For the flies to eat’

And another fascinating point is, while in the West there remains a pretty major gulf between Pentecostals and others who are into healing, exorcisms, spiritual warfare etc and the ‘mainline moderate’ Christians, this gap tends to be closed in the Global South. Elsewhere Jenkins has said

“If you go to Tanzania, for example, one of the leading religious figures in that nation is a man who is famous as a prophet and a healer. He is also a Lutheran bishop. This is not the Lutheranism of Garrison Keillor. This is a different kind of religious tradition.”

All this continues to raise important questions. What do we Western Christians need to learn from brothers and sisters in the Global South in this whole area of good and evil? How much is our supposedly ‘contextless’  and ‘normal’ Christianity deeply shaped and moulded by our Enlightenment rationalist context?

How thin is the crust of western civilisation?

Now the title of this post is rather overblown for what is basically a bit of idle speculation .. but sure idle speculation is underrated, it’s better than watching Match of the Day last night and Man Utd being horribly lucky yet again.

Maybe it’s a legacy of reading The Road and (to my mind) the far more terrifyingly scary and apocalyptic Oryx and Crake by the marvellous Margaret Atwood, but have you ever wondered how ‘thin’ the crust may be on our western civilistation?

It just takes a volcano with an unpronounceable name to spew out ash for a few days and suddenly a whole assumed way of life just, well, stops. Cheap air travel and the idea of foreign holidays for the masses has been a definining characteristic of western life for the last 50 years (which of course is just a blip in time, but now feels like a basic ‘human right’ ). Our culture, our economies, and our lives have been shaped by the ability to go pretty well anywhere, fast and we’ve loved it (I sure have, I love seeing different parts of the world).

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a theory about ‘Black Swans’ – unusual and unforeseen events which change things in fundamental ways that no-one could imagine or forsee. Such Black Swans leave our perception of reality altered. The one sure thing we can know about black swans is that one will come along sooner or later …

A post-carbon burning future is still pretty well unimaginable, but it ain’t in the realms of science fiction. Peak Oil may already have arrived. The global Credit Crisis all but collaspsed western capitalism.

The unpronounceable volanco is a baby black swan that helps us begin to imagine a world without air travel – but is also a reminder that its big brother or sister may be along another time.

All this is another way of saying we are in post-endless-optimism times. The modern western world was built on the vision of endless progress and a massive confidence in human ingenuity to solve any problem. That world confidently thought it had all the answers – and primitve stuff like belief in God could be dispensed with. That world has been blown away by the horrors of the 20th Century and the deep uncertainties of the 21st.

And so we are now in the era of despair and gloom (hence books like the Road and Oryx and Crake and The Book of Eli and any other number of other apocalyptic end-of-the-world sort of films). Optimists are a dying breed.

Christians are neither over-optimists (Christianity has a realistically sceptical view of human nature) or over-pessimists (Christians have deep grounds of hope that the future is in God’s hands and it is an ultimately good future of a renewed heavens and earth).

So – yes the crust is a lot thinner than we like to think. And yet, that points us a renewed and deeped faith in God, not ourselves.

Idle speculating over (for now).

Sundays on Mark (13)

Continuing our simple Sunday reflections on Mark’s gospel

This week Mark 5:21-43 and the healings of the dead girl and the sick woman

Returning across the lake, Jesus returns to the crowds and messianic mania in Galilee. Two famous healings ensue.

The woman with persistent bleeding has faced shame, illness, continuing ritual uncleanliness and subsequent anguish and declining hope. Her desperation is palpable. The fascinating thing here is an ‘unconscious healing’ by Jesus as the ‘power goes out of him’. However this is to be understood, his compassionate response to a terrified woman is profound. The woman goes in peace, healed physically and liberated from suffering by the power of the Messiah.

With echoes of Lazarus in John’s gospel, Jesus’ delay means that news reaches him of Jairus’ daughter’s death. The inner circle of disciples, Peter James and John accompany Jesus and only they and the parents see the resurrection of the 12 yr old. The greek is strong here for their reaction – maybe ‘gobsmacked’ is nearest!

And an intriguing ending of a ‘messianic secret’ text. Despite the whole village knowing the girl was dead, Jesus tells the parents not to tell anyone exactly what has happened in the room, probably because of the unbelief and scorn of the mourners.

Prayer:In a world filled with suffering and death, we thank you God that these two stories reveal both your profound compassion and unlimited power. As they give us a glimpse of a beautiful world purged of all that destroys life, help us to be agents of your kingdom bringing healing and hope to a broken world. Amen

A Dead Girl and a Sick Woman

21When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet 23and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”

36Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ). 42Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Sorry is the hardest word

Saturday Story of the Week

In a week that saw the new chief executive of NAMA, Brendan McDonagh, say that Ireland’s monumental financial mess was “born of a mindless scramble to funnel lending into one sector at considerable pace and of a reckless abandonment of basic principles of credit risk and prudent lending” an event as rare as a plane over Europe followed …. an apology by a leading Irish politician accompanied by a willingness to take responsibility.

Brian Lenihan said on Thursday that

“First of all I was a member of the party throughout that era and I’m certainly sorry for what happened . . . but in so far as I was a member of the governing party; as a Deputy supporting it or a Minister of State supporting it, I have to take responsibility … I apologise to the extent to which the Government played a part in this. But I don’t accept that the Government was the only party responsible.”

It’s a risky thing apologising, even if qualified by that last line. Your apology can be taken up and used in evidence against you by others. And I’m not sure what he means by taking responsibility in this case. He’s hardly about to resign. I suspect it may mean Fianna Fail being out of office in the not too distant future [and if they are not we may as well become a one party state becuase the opposition will never get in if they don’t win the next election].

But with Lenihan you get some sense of dignity and sincerity. And it is refreshing to hear. And a reminder of how incredibly rare such words are in Irish public life.

Brian Cowen, sadly and predictably, was less courageous, more self-protective and boringly political in his comments.

Irony is, it will be Lenihan who wins more political kudos and public support.

Atheism and the goodness of God 10: evolutionary explanations of religion

I’m taking a last couple of flying tours of selected bit of William Lane Craig and Chad Meister (eds) God is Good, Good is Great.

This one is on chapter 6 by Michael J Murray, ‘Evolutionary Explanations of Religion’.

The interesting thing here is how the same evidence can be interpreted in radically different ways.

Murray notes how recent scientific research, especially in the neurosciences, are suggesting that we are, if not  ‘hard wired’, at least predisposed to religious belief. Not surprising maybe given the vast amount of religious belief in the world.

One way of looking at this is Calvin’s ‘sense of the divine’ or Augustine’s ‘God-shaped hole’.

Another is that of Richard Dawkins and others who see such research as ‘explaining’ the origins of religious belief and therefore show it to be false, unjustified and unbelievable.

Murray outlines various forms of scientific accounts of religion. There are adaptionist theories that propose that religion has certain characteristics that give some sort of ‘fitness benefit’. Especially that religion helps sustain cooperation among groups of individuals in the face of threatening forces.

But groups need members to play the game and tow the line and not get a free pass on the those that do. So religion is an adaptation that ‘keeps us in line’ – with the threat for example of divine displeasure if we don’t keep the rules. The individual is subject to the interests of the larger group through religious belief.

Or a more popular account is the cognitive model whereby our minds are predisposed to believe that there are bigger forces or agents at work in the natural world. For example, ‘gods’ behind lightening or the movement of the sun.

There is also evidence that we are strongly predisposed to see ‘goal-directedness’ in the world around us – a sort of ‘intuitive theism’ that believes in a greater purposiveness to life.

So if science is suggesting we have a natural disposition towards religious belief, the real question is ‘What are the Implications?’

Some super-confidently see it as the death knell for religion … Dawkins says ‘the irrationality of religion is a byproduct of the built in irrationality mechanism in the brain’. Another says ‘God is an artifact of the brain.’ Another says ‘I’ve got God by the throat and I’m not going to stop until one of us is dead.’

The thinking here seems to be that this natural disposition towards religious belief somehow ‘proves’ God is not really there at all, he is a fiction of our imagination. But, Murray says, this is simply mistaken. The science cannot legitimately be made to claim any such thing. This is another case of the New Atheism using science to make profoundly unscientific claims.

The Christian can simply say ‘What’s the problem? God made us that way’. Or as Calvin put it

‘there is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity.’

Irish evangelicals: unity in diversity or just disunity?

Now and again I enjoy having a coffee and chat with a friend, Dr Crawford Gribben, in the rather splendid staff lounge in Trinity College Dublin. Crawford lectures in the departments of History and English in TCD. He also writes books on everything from God’s Irishmen to the eschatology of the Left Behind Series and lots else beside.

A few weeks ago Crawford spoke at the chapel service of Westminster Theological Seminary on the state of religion in contemporary Ireland. See here (thanks KT)

It is about 30 minutes and an interesting listen.  Crawford speaks historically as well as from his own experience of church life in Ireland.

In his talk he says a couple of things that I’ve been mulling over ever since.

One is that the impression given in the talk of Irish evangelicalism is that a predominantly conservative reformed network. Maybe this was the case in the past, I just don’t think this is accurate of the present. Crawford does not give due weight to significant fact of recent immigration – mostly of African Pentecostals. Nor does he really mention a network like Assemblies of God Ireland, the Plumbline group of churches and many other charismatic churches like Trinity Church Network and others.

He also mentions that ‘all is not well in the citadel of Irish evangelicalism’ and that the existence of Aontas and Evangelical Alliance Ireland represents

“that painful process of differentiating ourselves from each other according to our various theological perspectives”

Crawford’s implication is that Aontas are more conservative / Reformed and EAI more socially and theologically ‘progressive’. The fact that this differentiation is ‘painful’ and ‘all is not well’ (and that ‘progressive’ is at best an ambiguous term), suggests that Crawford sees the existence two organizations like EAI and Aontas as unfortunately necessary.

So here are some questions that come to mind along with some of my initial thoughts tacked on.

[And Crawford and I have been in touch over this post}

As an evangelical movement develops, is ‘painful differentiation’ within it inevitable and necessary?

In other words, if it is NOT a good thing to have two ‘pan-evangelical’ organizations within Ireland (and I’ve not yet met anyone who thinks it is a good thing) is it a necessary ‘fact of life’?

And this is tied to a second question, how should evangelicals handle difference? Is it better realistically to say ‘we are too different and we can’t work together’ or is such an outcome a sign of a failure to be ‘evangelical enough’?

An irony of what Crawford said is that I was planning to write another post inspired by this one by Steve Holmes – of how Irish evangelicalism, being small and ‘new’ feeling has a remarkable sense of unity and ability to live with differences that have tended to divide elsewhere. (For example, it strikes me how divisive and segregated evangelicalism in the USA is, with each ‘camp’ big enough and strong enough not to ‘need’ the others).

I’m speaking both from conviction and experience here.

From conviction that Christians have a duty and calling to live in and express unity in the Spirit and not just theoretically, but relationally.

And from experience in that daily I work in a community that joyfully and determinedly sees students from the whole spectrum of Irish evangelicalism live, study, pray and worship together. We have reformed, pentecostals, charismatics, Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, independents and so on (apologies to those I’ve left out). We have men, women, young, old(er), those who believe in women in church leadership, those who don’t; those who are young earth creationists, those who are theistic evolutionists and those who aren’t too sure; those who are paedo-baptists, those who are believers’ baptism only; those who see baptism in the Spirit as a two stage process, those who see it as another way of talking about becoming a Christian – you get the point.

But more than just living with difference, student after student says it is this difference which has enriched and deepened their faith as they not only think through what they believe and why, but also recognise that sincere, passionate followers of Jesus don’t believe the same things on every point of detail.

What I’m describing here is of course is not unique. The Bible College movement has always sought to keep the core essentials central while giving liberty on the adiaphora (secondary issues). This attitude has been at the very heart of evangelicalism – indeed it could be said to be a defining characteristic – it is what holds together all sorts of diverse groups within the ‘big tent’ of something identifyable as evangelical.

See John Stott’s Evangelical Truth for a typically clear and gracious discussion of this point – and his passionate and moving appeal for unity among evangelicals that ends the book.

“Today, however, many of us evangelical Christians acquiesce too readily in our pathological tendency to fragment ..”. He continues, quoting Alister McGrath, that we need a “culture of civility” where we give up our “petty rivalries, historical feuds, and personal agendas for the greater good of the movement”

Total Church 10: pastoral care

Continuing discussion of Chester and Timmis Total Church: a radical reshaping around gospel and community

Chapter 8 is on pastoral care

This chapter starts with a scenario – a couple talking with a young women who is self-harming. Do they admit they are out of their depth and quickly refer her for professional help? Or do they admit the don’t have a magic cure but are convinced that the best place for her is in a community where she is loved, where God’s word is applied by the Spirit of God into her life?

The authors argue that Christians need to believe that the gospel word and gospel community do not suddenly fail us when it comes to pastoral care. Too often a ‘therapy culture’ takes over and problems and people are ‘farmed out’ to the experts. Not to do so is seen as irresponsible and naive.

The authors are convinced that,

“pastoral care is therefore first and foremost the ability to address the gospel word to the problems of people’s lives”

Scripture is a powerful word to heal broken lives and hearts. God’s word speaks into all of life – the gospel transforms minds and hopes and fears (see Hebrews 4:12). The Spirit is the empowering presence of God in the Christian. If pastoral care is detached from these truths, it can hardly be called Christian. “We can have confidence in the Bible to speak directly and effectively to our circumstances.”

And the gospel community also has a key role in pastoral care:- again taking a stand against the professionalisation of pastoral care, the authors resist the way so much counselling is detached from the gospel community. For it is in community that healing is powerfully effective – a community of love and acceptance, a community of accountability, where selfish and sinful attitudes and actions are exposed.

Like evangelism and discipleship – the authors are arguing for ‘everyday pastoral care’ lived out with gospel intentionality within community. Helping each other with a gospel perspective with our troubles – whether it be greed, pride, low self-esteem, anxiety, lust, envy, fear, hopelessness – God’s word and God’s Spirit through and God’s people provides the best context for growth and healing.

I can see this being a controversial position. I have considerable sympathy with it. What do you reckon?

Are they right to ‘kick back’ against the proliferation of professional counselling within Christian circles? Is it actually a symptom of a lack of confidence and faith in the power of God’s word and God’s Spirit [they don’t say enough about the Spirit] within God’s people? Is the immediate reaction ‘I don’t have anything I can say to this situation’ actually a failure to appreciate that God’s word speaks to all sorts of emotional and pastoral care situations?

Dipping into Baptism 2: an aside on liberty of conscience

I was asked on the first post in this wee series about being an elder in the PCI and not holding to infant baptism. A good question that sparked these thoughts:

It all depends.

It depends on the local context: – locally we have a great liberty to discuss and debate pretty well everything. This is in my opinion a great strength.  I guess however other local contexts could make it quite difficult.

It depends on how rigidly infant or believer’s views are held: For example a denomination has clear structures of leadership and a basis of faith. Yes infant baptism is taught in the Westminster Confession which elders have to affirm at ordination.  BUT the WC is a ‘subordinate standard’ to Scripture. The Confession itself places a high degree of importance on liberty of conscience and how any teaching must be open to reform by Scripture. I’d want to argue my case from Scripture and for liberty of conscience.

There are also an awful lot of people within Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Ireland (including elders and such) which practice infant baptism who do not agree with it and effectively ‘opt out’ by not having their babies baptised. I suspect a ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ approach is taken by default. I think a good healthy debate is long overdue, especially with the weight of scholarly and theological opinion not supportive of infant baptism 🙂 (I’ll back up that assertion in a later post!)

I also think that any denominational church has a huge in-built resistence to reform. The clergy are the leaders and administrators and power holders. Yet it becomes far more difficult for a minster to question infant baptism since to do so will immediately raise all sorts of difficulties. Those who are non-clergy have effectively little ability to change the status quo.

It also depends on how a ‘dissenting’ opinion is held. I don’t happen to agree with the PCI line on this but in the bigger scheme of things, while important and badly needing reform in how it is practiced, I don’t see it as a do or die gospel issue. In any church there will always be issues members disagree about – the key thing is how we disagree within a determined committment to love one another and not to divide the body of Christ. There are core things about a local church that are important to me, but while baptism is essential, the mode of baptism is not in my top 10.

So, help me out here.

Does my position make sense?

What are examples of issues that you would be willing to live with in a local church?

What sort of issue would be one you can’t live with?

World Christianity 07: Prosperity Gospel

Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ fascinating book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.

I’m returnning to chapter 4  ‘Poor and Rich’ and specifically the topic of the Prosperity Gospel.The message of this gospel is that Christians have ‘the right and duty to seek prosperity in this world, to obtain health and wealth now.’

Jenkins says the prosperity gospel is one response to the desperate need for material survival and is the ‘an inevitable by-product of a church containing so many of the very poorest.’ (p.97)

Of course, as Jenkins says, it is far from just a ‘Global South’ issue. We have prosperity churches in Ireland. Jenkins refers to the aptly named Creflo A Dollar in Atlanta who calls poverty a curse that the gospel liberates Christians from. He could have mentioned Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn. He does throw in Bruce Wilkinson’s phenomenally successful The Prayer of Jabez as a book that teaches God will bless with personal success and prosperity.

A couple of examples Jenkins gives are the Central Full Gospel Church in Seoul which has half a million members and preaches health, prosperity and salvation as the threefold blessings of Christ. David Oyedepo from Nigeria has a hugely successful evangelistic ministry based around the message of ‘Make my people rich.’

Many leaders in Africa and Asia are deeply troubled by the damage been done to the integrity of the gospel and to the exploited poor. Jenkins quotes the Catholic archbishop of Lagos, ‘The quickest and easiest way to make money in Nigeria is to carry a Bible on Sunday and start preaching.’ At its worst, Jenkins says, this gospel permits corrupt clergy to get away with just about anything.

For a powerrful critique of the prosperity gospel by people who know it well and have seen the damage it does, see this and this from the Lausanne Movement.

Jenkins closes with a couple of big challenges to western Christians: What do you make of what he says here?

In contexts of extreme poverty, hopelessness, violence and injustice in places like Lagos, churches that promise a better life are powerfully attractive. It represents a faith that believes that faith in God will make a visible real difference in everyday life.

We westerners are so used to comfort, security and high expectatations of long and healthy lives that we forget that such expectations are very recent.

For a Northern world that enjoys health and wealth to a degree scarcely imagined by any previous society, it is perilously easy to despise believers who associate divine favor with full stomachs or access to the most meager forms of schooling or health care; who seek miracles in order to flourish, or even survive.

And this:

Health-and-wealth churches assuredly the potential role of prayer and godly behaviour in securing material prosperity, but they might well respond by asking if Euro-American mainline churches allow any serious belief whatever that prayer can shape one’s material conditions. Are Christian critics of “prosperity” arguing that faith and prayer are absolutely unconnected from material realities? Why then do most or all incorporate prayers for well-being into their services and liturgies?

Sundays on Mark 12

Continuing our simple Sunday reflections on Mark’s gospel

This week Mark 5:1-20 and the healing of the demon possessed man.

Mark’s narrative recounts Jesus & the disciples’ boat journey into the Gentile region of the Decapolis [ten cities]. The story has an eerie feel. You get a sense of isolation as Jesus enters the demon possessed man’s territory, a place of fear and violence, where he lives alone surrounded by the dead.

The story is astonishing, shocking and strange. It is again the evil spirits who immediately know Jesus’ identity and who beg Jesus not to send them out of the area {not the man}. It is also the evil spirits who suggest the pigs as an alternative ‘host’. [The presence of the pigs reaffirms that this is ‘alien’ territory, a non-Jewish pagan environment.]

The subsequent scenes of mass drowning are awful. The evil spirits’ work is destruction of life. The pigs die and the man is released, healed and made whole in mind again.

Imagine yourself one of these Gentile farmers coming out to see your livestock floating in the Sea of Galilee, a violent madman in his right mind, and a band of Jewish men and their itinerant teacher and healer with him. What would your reaction have been? I’m sympathetic to their reaction – they are rightly afraid and ask Jesus to leave. Here is a power that is beyond understanding.

The healed man wants to follow Jesus literally, but is told to go into the Gentile cities and tell them of how he has been restored by the Lord. Here is a foreshadowing of the victory of God in Jesus over the forces of evil. Here is the story of how Jesus has come to heal and redeem lives and restore the broken image of God. Here is a missionary story of the good news of the kingdom of God spreading beyond the Jewish world. Jesus the Jewish Messiah is the Messiah for the whole world. [I’d love to preach on this text after writing this reflection!]

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, in this story we catch a glimpse of your authority, power and glory. We worship you as the one in whom the forces of darkness and evil are overcome. We give thanks that your mission is to bring healing and wholeness to each and every life. Fill our hearts with joy and thankfulness for all that you have accomplished in our lives, and send us out with joy to tell others of what the Lord has done. Amen.

The Healing of a Demon-possessed Man

1They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.