Today’s Scripture – September 21, 2017

Luke 8:38-39 (NIV) The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

The most natural thing in the world would be for someone who had received such a great deliverance form Jesus to want to follow Him, to become His disciple. And some see Jesus as being a bit cruel for not allowing this man to do that.

But there were two issues that arose here. First, this man was a gentile, which would introduce some serious complications for Jesus’ ministry if he was brought into Jesus’ group of followers. It would actually close doors into the hearts of the Jewish people that were Jesus’ primary target group. Some may be dismayed or critical of that being the case, but it was the state of the hearts of the Jewish people, and Jesus was always extremely practical in how He worked to spread the good news among them.

The same kind of practicality is seen in Paul when he had Timothy circumcised before allowing him to accompany him in his missionary journeys (Acts 16:3). Paul, who had just fought strenuously in the Jerusalem Council to allow gentile believers to not undergo circumcision (Acts 15), insisted that Timothy be circumcised because he had a Jewish mother, and was therefore considered Jewish by birth, not a gentile. And, whether he liked it or not, for Timothy to be an uncircumcised Jew would get in the way of Paul’s whole group reaching the Jewish people with the gospel. The people of the kingdom must follow Jesus’ lead, and be eminently practical in how they reach out.

The second issue was that this man now had a story to tell, and telling that story would go far in planting seeds that would open the hearts of the gentiles in the area of the Gerasenes and the whole Decapolis to the gospel when it began to spread among the gentile population in just a few short years.

This man was given no teaching in evangelism. His only tool was to be his own story, his testimony of “all that God has done for you.” No theological argument can be more powerful than the personal testimony of a transformed life, and this man’s life had been transformed indeed, from the ground floor all the way to the top.

It is interesting that this man apparently made a connection that Jesus’ own disciples had not yet made, a connection that Luke takes great pains to emphasize. Jesus’ commission to the man was to “tell all that God has done for you.” The man’s actions in obedience to that commission was to tell “how much Jesus had done for him.” Somehow this man sensed that, at the very least, God was somehow present in Jesus in a way that identified Him with God.

Father, these two lessons, the need for practicality in how we spread the gospel, and the centrality of our personal testimony in how we share with others, are vital for all of us to remember. Lord, You have completely transformed my own life, and I never tire of sharing that story. Help me to be even more eager to share it freely among everyone I meet, so that the Holy Spirit can use it to prepare the hearts of the people who hear it to receive salvation. Amen.

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Today’s Scriptures – September 20, 2017

Luke 8:32-37 (NIV) A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

There are two groups that are terrified of Jesus in this event: the legion of demons, and the people of the area.

The demons knew who Jesus was, that He was the eternal Son of God who was destined to one day hurl them all into the abyss to be imprisoned forever. Not being omniscient, they were shocked to see Jesus suddenly come ashore and walk purposefully toward them. They believed that their time had come, and pleaded with Him not to utterly destroy them.

They saw the herd of pigs nearby, and begged Jesus to let them leave the man and go into them instead, which Jesus gave them permission to do, fully knowing what would happen. As soon as the demons went into the pigs, the pigs panicked, stampeded down the hill into the sea, and all of them drowned, leaving the demons to wander in search of other victims.

The people did not know who Jesus was. All that they knew was that He seemed to be at the center of the pig panic. Two thousand pigs (Mark 5:13) was a sizeable loss, but the mystery of why all of them should simultaneously lose their minds and drown themselves was frightening. The people of the area moved as a body to where Jesus and His disicples were on the shore of the lake, ready to demand an explanation, and even reparations.

But what they found when they got there moved them from righteous anger to full terror in a single step. There was that crazy, demon-possessed man, clothed and quiet, sitting and listening to Jesus like a school boy. They had tried everything to tame this wild man, including chaining him up. But he had simply broken the chains and run howling back to his shelter among the tombs.

In an instant, they decided as a body that someone who could cast out demons, destroy a whole herd of pigs in one fell swoop, and tame a wild man was not someone that they wanted around. But all of the “demand” had left them. This was someone to be reckoned with. Who knew what He was capable of if they made Him mad? So they politely “requested” that He leave the area. And Jesus, never one to stay where He wasn’t wanted, simply nodded and headed for the boat, followed by His disciples.

Father, being that close to that kind of power is kind of scary. Even among Christians, a real miracle can cause as much fear as rejoicing! We are uncomfortable with the supernatural, with things that we can’t explain and understand. But Your power unleashed in our world will always be beyond explanation, beyond understanding. Help me, Lord, to never be afraid of Your power, but to be a channel of it so that, as I do the things that Jesus did, and even greater things (John 14:12), the people of the world will see Your hand at work, and turn to You for salvation. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 18, 2017

Luke 8:26-31 (NIV) They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

The area of the Gerasenes was inhabited mostly by gentiles. But Jesus had been sent on a mission there.

When they had landed onshore, the mission actually came running to Jesus! It was a poor man who had been taken captive by a large number of demons. Very little of the man’s backstory is given by the gospel writers, but he had been possessed by demons, apparently in increasing numbers, for many years. He lived among the tombs (Mark 5:2-4), and even though the people of the area had tried to restrain him, he was given supernatural strength by the demons that enabled him to simply break the chains and shackles.

When Jesus came ashore, a tremendous battle raged inside the man. The demons that controlled him knew who Jesus was, and that He could send them into the abyss forever. They wanted to stay far away from Him. On the other hand, the man didn’t know who Jesus was, but he sensed the fear that the demons had of Jesus, so he thought that He might be able to deliver him from them.

So the man overcame the demonic control long enough to run to Jesus and throw himself at His feet. But it was the demons who spoke to Jesus, pleading for their very existence. Jesus asked the demon’s name not because of some formula for exorcism that He was following, but because He couldn’t believe what He was seeing when He looked at the man; He had never seen so many demons in a single person!

The man was at the end of his rope. But he had sized up the situation correctly, and had fought into the presence of the only one who could deliver him from his overwhelming oppressor.

Father, it is amazing to see how demons responded to Jesus’ presence. They were always terrified. There was never any fight against Him, just pleading for their existence. The demons were never cocky with Him, but trembled in terror at His very presence. And that is the same Jesus who lives in me! With Jesus in my heart, I never need to be afraid of demons, no matter how scary or powerful they seem, or how many there are. Help me to always walk fearlessly in the world, knowing that the light of Christ lives in my heart, and is able to banish any darkness that I come across. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 17, 2017

Luke 8:22-25 (NIV) One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
I
n fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

This event came fairly early in Jesus’ ministry. His followers were still being surprised daily by what He could do, and were still trying to put the pieces together in their minds as to exactly who He was.

When Jesus told them to make for the far side of the lake, they obeyed without argument. They knew that Jesus never made an idle suggestion; He always had a reason for what He did. But they didn’t expect the storm.

Several of Jesus’ followers were seasoned fishermen who made their living on this inland sea. They knew how dangerous the storms were that came down from the surrounding hills. They could be deadly. But these men had a lot of experience even with the storms.

When the storm rose up, the men employed their usual tactics to weather it, not concerned enough about their safety to disturb Jesus, who was asleep on cushions in the back of the boat (Mark 4:38). But the intensity of the storm quickly ratcheted up to the point that waves were crashing over them, and putting them in danger of being swamped and sunk. At that point they woke Jesus with the grim news that they were all going to die.

They didn’t really expect Jesus to do anything about the storm. They had seen Jesus take on sickness and demons, but the wind and the waves were outside of anyone’s control except for God Himself. They merely thought that He should be apprised of their dire situation.

Jesus looked around at the towering waves crashing over the boat with spray being blown off their tops by the shrieking wind. Then He stood up and simply yelled a command to the storm that it stop. A simple rebuke, as if disciplining a child throwing a tantrum. And in an instant the wind stopped and the waves dropped to their normal height.

The change happened so quickly that the disciples nearly fell over on the suddenly steady deck. Then Jesus looked at them all, soaking wet and shivering, with eyes as wide as saucers, and simply said, “Where is your faith?” before lying down again on the cushions and quickly falling back asleep.

If the storm had scared the disciples, the fact that the storm had obeyed Jesus terrified them. They had never seen anything like it in all of their collective years on the water. They knew that Jesus was an amazing person, a miracle worker, a prophet, probably even the Messiah. But this was far beyond what any mere mortal could do. So they asked each other in hushed voices, “Who is this guy?”

Father, Jesus kept on demonstrating who He was, God in the flesh, to anyone who had eyes to see. But even His own closest disciples were slow to believe. Today there are many who will accept Jesus as a good man or a great teacher. But they stop short of accepting Him as truly God. He has proved that to me by the changes in my life that He brought when He came into my heart. Help me to show others that same great truth through my life every day. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 16, 2017

Luke 8:19-21 (NIV) Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”
He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

Jesus was not rejecting His family in this event, but making an important point. With the coming of the kingdom of God, the world would be forever and decisively split into two, and only two, kinds of people: not Jews and Gentiles, but the people of the kingdom, and the people of the world.

This division depends not on denomination, or tradition, or doctrine, but on whether or not a person is actively living in the kingdom, connected to Jesus in a vital and active relationship. Thus there are even many who attend our churches week after week who are not actively living in the kingdom, and are thus people of the world, with worldly values, worldly actions, and worldly viewpoints and attitudes.

Jesus’ point was that, from a kingdom viewpoint, family relations become less important than the relationships that exist among those who live in and are actively involved in the work of the kingdom. Blood may be thicker than water, but the bond of the Holy Spirit is thicker than either.

That does not mean that we are to cease caring about or caring for our family members once we come into the kingdom, although it is entirely possible that God may call us away from them to do kingdom work elsewhere. Indeed, family members may actually become our first mission field. But, just as the four fishermen left their families and livelihoods behind to follow Jesus and to make a new family with each other and with those who also made the decision to leave all and follow Jesus, many today quickly discover that, as a member of the kingdom of God, they have much more in common with others of the kingdom than they do with blood family.

It is important to note that at least a part of Jesus’ statement was based on the fact that most of those wanting to see Him, specifically His brothers, had not yet come to believe in Him, and thus really were outside of the kingdom of God, and far less close to Him than those who were already hearing God’s word and putting it into practice in their own lives.

Father, I have discovered this truth in my own life. Those I live with and work with in the kingdom life quickly become a “family” in a way that goes far beyond mere blood relation. I also have discovered that there arises in me a powerful desire to reach my blood relatives with the good news, so that I can have the same kind of amazing depth in our relationship. Thank You for this truth today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 14, 2017

Luke 8:16-18 (NIV) “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”

Jesus had just finished telling His followers the meaning of the parable of the sower that He had presented to the crowd, a meaning that many of the listeners in the crowd could not see because their rejection of the good news and of Jesus Himself had closed their ears and blinded their eyes.

The core truth presented here, shown by a comparison with the parallel passage in Matthew 5:14-16 using the imagery of a lamp under a bowl, is that the people of the kingdom are not to hide the light, the truth that they have been given by Jesus that guides their lives and actions Jesus did not teach the idea of “secret Christians.” The fact that His disciples were His disciples was expected to be evident to all, friend or foe. And He also did not expect them to keep the truths of the kingdom to themselves as “secret teachings.”

Jesus shared the deep truths of the kingdom frequently among the crowds that flocked to hear Him. He didn’t filter them, but He knew that even though He talked about them using illustrations that made the truths obvious to those with ears that could hear, those whose hearts were open, those same illustrations hid the true meaning from those whose hearts were hard and who had closed their ears to the truth. In a sense, the truth was always hidden in plain sight from those who would not receive it.

This was reinforced by Jesus’ words that everything that was hidden would be revealed, brought into the light. Many religions pride themselves on having a body of secret truths that are only revealed to initiates. There are even some sects and factions of Christianity that claim to have a store of hidden knowledge that has supposedly been passed down only to initiates from the days of Jesus.

But Christianity needs no hidden knowledge, and doesn’t benefit if the secrets of living in the kingdom are restricted to only a few. All that is necessary for salvation, for sanctification, and for successfully living life in the kingdom of God are plainly written in the words of the Bible. But, as always, the things of the Spirit are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). Without the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart to give light to what the followers of Jesus wrote, much of what is clearly recorded on the pages of Scripture is inscrutable and confusing.

This helps explain Jesus’ closing words. Even Jesus’ own followers must be careful how they listened, just as Christians today must be careful in how we read. Those who have the Holy Spirit, and who listen to His guidance as we read, will always be able to find deeper truths in the words, no matter how often we read them. But those who don’t have the Holy Spirit won’t be able to discern the truths in a single paragraph. Even what they think they know of the truths of Jesus’ words will end up being lost to them.

Father, I have experienced both sides of this. When I was involved in the New Age, I was taught “secret interpretations” of the Scriptures that only led me further away from the true light. But when I turned away from all of that and came into the light of Christ, when the Holy Spirit transformed my life in a moment and took up residence in my heart, I could suddenly see the real meaning of the words of Scripture that had always been there, but that my eyes had been too clouded with “secret knowledge” to see. And those plain truths were far more amazing and life changing than any of the so-called deep secrets that I had learned before. Thank You, Lord, for making so readily accessible all we need to know to live for You, and for giving us Your Spirit, so that we can see it. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 14, 2017

Luke 8:4-15 (NIV) While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

This is probably Jesus’ best-known parable, variously called the parable of the sower, or the parable of the soils. The picture of a farmer sowing seeds in his field by broadcasting them would have instantly resonated in the hearts of His listeners. Even those who lived in towns were closely tied to the land, and saw this kind of scene every year.

The key to the picture in the parable is that every farmer aimed his seed at the soil that had been painstakingly prepared for it, the “good soil” in the story. No farmer intentionally threw precious seed onto hard-packed soil, or unplowed rocky soil, or uncleared weedy soil. That would simply waste the seed. Instead, the farmer painstakingly prepared the plot of land, plowing it, breaking it up, pulling out the rocks, and making sure that any unwanted growth is cleared away. Then, and only then, doe he take his bag of seed and broadcast it onto the prepared ground.

In the process, because the method of broadcasting was imprecise, some of the seed would fall outside of the prepared area onto the hard-packed road that ran along the edge of the field. Some would fall onto the unplowed shallow soil that had not yet been worked. And some would fall into the weeds outside of the field. Again, those stray seeds weren’t thrown there intentionally in the hope of receiving a harvest from them; their falling onto unprepared, unproductive soil was simply a result of the method used to sow.

As Jesus preached the word to the crowds, the people in those crowds were a diverse mix. But, as He preached and presented the good news of the kingdom, He was intentionally aiming the precious seeds at those in the crowd who were open and prepared to receive them. Those were the hearts in which He knew that the seed would take root and grow, producing an abundant crop for the kingdom.

There were others in the crowd who would hear the words of the kingdom, but whose hearts were unprepared. Some hearts were hard-packed by sin, and the words would not penetrate before Satan snatched them away. Some hearts were shallow, and would produce great enthusiasm initially, enthusiasm that would die quickly at the first sign of trouble or persecution. And some had lives that were so full of other stuff that the good news was quickly choked out and overwhelmed, fruitless.

The same kinds of people are still here today. The important point is not to try to screen out in advance the hearers who are unprepared before sharing the good news with anyone, but to always intentionally aim the seeds of the gospel at those whose hearts seem most receptive, realizing that, in the process, we will end up sharing the good news with a few people who won’t or can’t respond, in whose lives it won’t take root or produce fruit. But it will take root, grow, and produce an abundant harvest in those whose hearts are prepared.

Father, this points out a serious flaw in the way most of us tend to approach evangelism. We don’t broadcast our gospel seeds, sometimes out of fear that too much will land on unresponsive hearts. So we look and look, trying to find a small patch of cleared, plowed, prepared ground, and then we try to plant a single seed there to see if we can get it to grow. Imagine a farmer who operated that way! Instead, we should not only spread our seed widely, aiming intentionally at the prepared ground around us, we should also, like a good farmer, spend much of our time in what seems like the “off season” working with You to prepare the hearts of those around us, plowing, weeding, mulching, and getting rid of rocks, so that they will soon be able to receive the gospel seed. Thank You for these insights. Amen.

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