Whatever you ask in prayer ...

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

This may be one of the oddest passages in the gospels. For the life of me I have no idea why Jesus cursed that fig tree. Honestly, if not for these verses I would not have imagined that the Lord would do such a thing. Even his explanation to the disciples doesn't make sense. It speaks to me of how God's ways are sometimes indiscernible to my mind.

That said, I have to say that I love the way that Jesus answered his disciples. In a few sentences he paints a broad and magnificent image of what it means to have faith in God as we pray. It is obvious from the text that he is now speaking of spiritual trees and mountains. For truly, no obstacle can obstruct us, or hinder our way, when we pray in his name.

Help me today Lord that I might not doubt in my heart when I pray.

The Lord has need of it ...

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it.

Isn't it interesting how this detail of acquiring a colt is included in Mark's gospel? I can only imagine that it was included because of the amazing nature of it. It reminds me of how detailed God can be when He gives us directions. It speaks to the omniscience of the Lord and of His all-knowing nature. Can you imagine how amazed the disciples were when they came upon the unridden colt in the place and manner that Jesus spoke of?

The phrase "The Lord has need of it" reminds me that, although God himself needs nothing, often the Lord desires to use people and things to achieve his purposes. Such was the case with the colt and such is the case with you and me. We were born for a reason and connecting with that purpose is the essence of what life is all about. It speaks to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the ways that he has gifted us to live.

Here am I Lord. Send me. Use me. I offer myself to your purposes in your service.

Your faith has made you well.

As he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Do you sense the desperation in the voice and the words of this hurting blind man? Do you also sense the callousness in the words and voices of those who told him to shut up? And do you begin to cheer for this blind soul as he continues to cry out? Aren't you glad that he would not be silenced? Does it not motivate you to pray all the more? It does me!

I find the Lord's question to Bartimaeus to be a bit puzzling as it seems so obvious that his cries for mercy are all about his blindness. It reminds me of that Sunday in August of 1975 when my wife Ellen (who had been blind for three plus years) raised her hand in church to ask Jesus into her heart. Like Bartimaeus her faith had made her well. It is so amazing.

Help me to not lose heart Lord. Help me to continue to cry out for healing.

Whoever would be great among you ...

“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

What is it in us that wants to have the place of honor? Every day we see, on TV and in our lives, people who struggle to be "number one". In political seasons we often see outlandish displays by candidates wanting to sit in that place of honor. And there is no sadder display of this than in the church when men and women argue over fleshly titles and positions.

In contrast to this quest for positions and titles Jesus speaks of himself as one who came "not to be served but to serve". He is a lasting example to us of true spiritual authority. In Christ we see an example worthy of emulation. He who was born to rule did not aspire to an earthly throne but a servant's cross. His message is clear to all who desire to be great.

Help me to conquer my desire to be first Lord. Help me to be a servant.

You do not know what you are asking.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

I wonder what the relationship looked like between Jesus and his disciples? I love the way that they come to him here in a demanding fashion. It speaks to the close friendship that they must have had. Often we forget that these friends traveled the countryside spending all day and all night with each other. Like Moses these spoke face to face with God as a friend. It reminds me of how God invites us to come boldly to him asking anything in His name.

Even so there are some prayers that He will not answer because, like James and John, we do not really know what we are asking for. Although the disciples did not understand him, Jesus speaks to his dear friends of being baptized with a baptism of persecution and torturous death. He then says that, even though they endure that baptism, He cannot assure them preference in Heaven. It instructs me to the nature of God's sovereignty.

Teach me today Lord to come to you as an undeserving servant when I pray.

Many who are first will be last ...

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

In a sense Jesus seems to be speaking in double talk when he mentions that his disciples will receive hundredfold blessings with persecutions. Such is the nature of hyperbole. In reality, following God has no assurances because faith involves risk. When we leave all to follow God there is a trust involved that says that our discipleship is not based on the outcome. We follow Him in good times and in bad regardless of visible blessings.

The saying "first will be last, and the last first" is spoken by Jesus several times in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke to speak to us of the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God. I believe that the Lord is speaking to us saying that things in the age to come will be different than this age we live in. In that day everything will be turned on end. Rulers will serve and servants will rule. Love, mercy and humility will rule the day.

Thank you Lord for the honor of following you and for the promise of the age to come.

All things are possible with God ...

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

When I think of the "all things are possible with God" my mind wanders to miracles and glorious happenings. Yet Jesus does not use it in that way but points to the salvation of a person who trusts in their own abilities, wealth and possessions rather than in God. My thinking is the Lord is not saying that he will save such a one but that he will do whatever is necessary to bring them to a place where they are able to see God for who He is.

The imagery of a camel going through a needle's eye reminds me of how Jesus often spoke in hyperbole saying that mountains can be moved when God is involved. Regardless of how you read this passage it is obvious that Jesus is teaching us that things that seem impossible to us are possible with God. It is a hopeful message for those of us who pray for our family members and friends to come to the Lord and experience the abundant life.

We bring our family members and friends to you Lord asking for your help.

You lack one thing ...

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

I love the way that Jesus gets past the externals and goes directly to the heart of a matter. When he tells the man to "sell all that you have" he gets past obeying the Ten Commandments and addresses the deep seated issues of the heart. Many espouse that the man could not obey the Lord's command because of greed but I am not so sure that greed or materialism was the issue. Perhaps this man of great wealth simply did not trust the Lord?

Are you moved when you read the words "Jesus, looking at him, loved him"? What would it have been like to have looked into the eyes of pure love? I think that this is such a great example of the demeanor that we must express when we tell someone a truth that they do not want to hear. In reality we should never attempt to tell someone an uncomfortable truth if we are not confident that we are operating from a motive of love and care for them.

Help me Lord to really hear the hard things that you and others want to tell me.

To such belongs the kingdom of God ...

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

The term "childlike faith" comes from this passage. When I consider it my mind flashes back to the way that my children trusted me when they were very young. Before they were influenced by their friends, their teachers and TV shows they had a simple faith in the things that I taught them. Such is the way that our heavenly Father wants us to come to him.

Unfortunately for many God's kingdom has become less about trusting him like a child and more about understanding him as an adult. To such an end we develop all sorts of intellectual theologies and heady ways to explain things that aren't meant to be explainable. It is like we have rejected the wonder of childlike faith for something less miraculous.

Help me Lord to never to forget that you are my heavenly Father and that I am your child.

No longer two but one flesh.

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

I did not really understand what the phrase "the two shall become one flesh" meant until my first wife Ellen passed away in May of 1994. Here is a meditation that I penned, with many tears, in the months following her passing:

The Two Become One - Reversed

At every thought of her my heart breaks. It is like half of me is no longer alive. We were so much a part of each other that it is hard to go on without her.

My soul aches within me and there is no comfort except the knowing that she no longer suffers. Knowing that she is in the presence of God helps.

My flesh wants to move on with my life but my heart wants to remain in the past. Our life was so full together. It is hard to imagine happiness without my Ellen.

There is so much more than a uniting of flesh in holy matrimony. When the Lord joins a man and a woman there is a joining of souls. The idea of a soul mate has become a bit cliched these days but I believe it is such an accurate term because of the intimacy of spirit that a married couple can experience when they journey together with the Lord.

Help us Lord not to settle for less that your best in our marriages.

Because of your hardness of heart ...

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

The phrase "Because of your hardness of heart" speaks volumes of why there are so many laws in the Old Testament and why God said of New Testament believers, twice in the epistle to the Hebrews, "I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds". It reminds me of how the bible does not speak against every sin that a person can commit. In truth, laws cannot not keep you from sinning because they only address the externals.

It is why James puts it this way: "whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin". A person with a hard heart will always seek an excuse and a rationalization for their bad behavior - divorce courts are filled with such people. Yet there is a remnant who hear God's voice in their heart and reject the temptation to act in an immoral manner. These are those who walk in kingdom freedom as they trust the Lord with all of their heart.

Help me Lord to trust you, and walk in freedom, with all of my heart today.

Everyone will be salted with fire.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

I love the hyperbolic nature of this passage. Overstating and stretching a bit Jesus speaks in such a way that draws us in and helps us to understand the serious nature of our actions. He speaks in such extremes not to espouse theology but to point to the destructive results of sin. Interesting how the context of his words is causing believers to sin. Perhaps the things that bring sin into our lives affect others more than we want to admit that they do.

The Lord's references to "salt" are so compelling. Interesting how he speaks of being "salted with fire". Makes me think about the way that the Apostle Peter speaks of how the the genuineness of our precious faith is tested by fire. Perhaps faith is not really genuine if it is not brought to a place where we lay everything on a fiery altar. Our hands, our feet and our entire lives offered to an all consuming God as a salted and living sacrifice.

Here I am Lord. Send me. Use me.

The one who is not against us is for us.

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

The contrast in this passage is a stark one. On one hand there are people who are casting out demons - these saw evil as their enemy. On the other hand the disciples were complaining about people who were not a part of their group - these saw people as their enemy. It is a sad fact that Christian churches compete against each other seeking fame and recognition. I cannot imagine what God must think about this sort of contentiousness.

On the flip-side Jesus speaks of a reward for those who help others in a very small way. It is like he is speaking of a unity that crosses all sorts of theological and ideological boundaries. I cannot help but think of how the focus seems to be about working together with people of all sorts of faith to fight evil in the world. Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if Protestants, Catholics and others joined hands and fought things like poverty in the name of Christ?

Help me to keep my mind, heart and hands open to both give and receive from others.

If anyone would be first, he must be last ...

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Reading how Jesus answers the disciples concerns about greatness reminds me that genuine spiritual life is all about humility. The definition of humility that I most resonate with says that the heart of it is to care about others more than yourself. I believe that this is what Jesus is teaching us when he says the first must be last.. the greatest must be the humblest.

In our world of fleshly pride and ego this is a message that falls on deaf ears. Even in the church we see many who seek to be great ministering to adults from whom they can receive praise rather than ministering to children who are often ungrateful. Makes me wonder if, apart from parental needs for child care, there would be any children's ministry at all.

I desire to be first Lord. Help me to deny that desire and pick up my cross today.

After three days he will rise.

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

I wonder if Judas was in the group of disciples that Jesus was speaking to? I imagine that he was there when the Lord spoke of being delivered into the hands of men. It is a sobering reminder to us that not everyone that hears with their ears understands with their heart. For if Judas had really heard what the Lord was saying he might not have betrayed him.

But it says that none of them understood the prophetic words of Christ concerning his death and resurrection. And for some reason they did not have the courage to ask him about it. Reminds me that life is often about the questions that we are afraid to ask and encourages me to ask them even if I do not get the answer that I am looking for.

Help me Lord to press in and seek you for answers to the questions that puzzle me.

This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.

And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Ever since "The Exorcist first appeared in movie theaters there has been an interest in these sorts of stories. Yet there can be a somewhat stereotypical understanding about the workings of demons and how people should respond to their presence. In my Pentecostal years I was around people who would regularly cast demons out of people who were sick and hurting. It was as if we were oblivious to the spiritual dynamics present in each situation.

Interesting how Jesus commanded the demon to leave by naming it. Perhaps some demons only leave when they are called by name? Either way I think that the Lord calls us to be spiritually aware when he says that prayer is needed to drive out this kind of evil. As we pray God speaks to us gives us wisdom and discernment concerning such spiritual matters. It reminds me that prayer is so much more than petitioning God for our needs.

Lord, please open the eyes of my heart that I might discern things unseen.

All things are possible for one who believes.

And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

There is a tension evident in the boy's father that many of us can relate to. This man has watched unspeakable horrors happening to his son and he feared for his precious boy's life. I can resonate with those fears. This summer I watched, sometimes fearful, as my wife struggled for her life for a week laying in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator. The joy in my heart was overwhelming that Sunday that they removed the tube from her.

Many run with the phrase "all things are possible" and postulate bad theology because they do not understand the hyperbolic nature of such a statement. Jesus is not saying that we will get anything we want if we pray. He is speaking in a general sense and the focus is not what we believe for but who we believe in. Frankly, the man's faith would be for naught if it was not placed in God himself. We believe in God for who he is and not for what he gives.

I struggle Lord. Help me to believe the best. Help me to trust you.

How long am I to bear with you?

“Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”

This is certainly one of the oddest reactions that Jesus has in the gospels. In other passages the Lord seemed amazed how the disciples reacted with fear at tumultuous storms and their lack of faith concerning the feeding of thousands. In this and those times the Lord seems annoyed that his disciples are still unable to respond in the way that he did.

My thinking is that the Lord is upset not because the disciples were trying to do something that could not do but because they could not do something that he had empowered them to do. This hits to the heart of life for us today. God does not expect us to do things, spiritual or otherwise, that we are not gifted to do but things we are called to do.

Help me Lord to know those things that I am called and gifted to do.. and to do them well.

Elijah has come ...

And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

To this day some Jews remember Elijah at circumcisions and Passover meals believing that he will return in our age. The Jews in our passage were anticipating it then. Consider what God promises, through the prophet Malachi, in the last passage of the Old Testament:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Jesus understood this promise and said that it was fulfilled in John the Baptist saying that John's purpose in coming was restoration - of family relationships (as Malachi prophesied) and of a relationship with God. John's message of repentance speaks deeply to the heart of that restoration.. as our hearts turn they behold the open arms of our heavenly Father.

The Lord goes on to speak of the way that unrepentant people treated John and how they would soon treat him. In a sense Jesus still embodies the message of Elijah today as he, through the work of the Holy Spirit, restores broken and hurting people to Himself. The message is still restoring the hearts of children to their heavenly Father.

Come Holy Spirit and restore the hearts of my hurting friends to their heavenly Father.

The kingdom of God ... come with power.

And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

This verse makes absolutely no sense if one reads it and thinks it means some future coming of the kingdom of God. Yet it makes perfect sense when we look at that day so many years ago when the Holy Spirit came with powerful tongues of fire on the Day of Pentecost after the risen Lord Jesus returned to Heaven. After that day the people of God have lived lives of powerful transformation by the power of God. The book of Acts testifies to this.

I think that this focus of the kingdom of God coming with power changed when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 and institutionalized Christianity. Since then it seems that the faith has been more about church power than the kingdom coming with power. Yet many still pray for God's kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven because the gospel is not about earthly sacraments but about heavenly power coming and filling earthly vessels.

Yours Lord is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Forever.

What can a man give in return for his soul?

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

There was a popular saying in the 1980s that affirmed: "He who dies with the most toys wins." It is the opposite of what Jesus is saying in these verses. It reminds me of something else that our Lord said about the importance of living a life focused on heavenly matters:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal."
The preoccupation with possessions is a dangerous one because of the way that things take hold of us. Many have sacrificed themselves on the altar of hedonism. In reality things can make you happy for a season but in the end things break, wear down or are lost.

Interesting how Jesus correlates this idea with being ashamed of him and his teachings. It is a sobering thought to consider that when we embrace and exalt wealth and possessions we are ashamedly rejecting Christ's teaching about truth wealth and eternal life.

Help me to proclaim you and your teachings today Lord in the way that I live.

Whoever would save his life will lose it ...

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.

Following Jesus has never been about ideology or theology but about sacrifice. When I consider the cross that the Lord commands me to take up I am reminded of the cross that he carried on the way to his crucifixion. Like his cross ours is often heavy and painful but we press on and deny ourselves anyway. His path, like ours, is a humble one that leads to the glorious culmination of a life lived trusting God.

Consider how the Apostle Paul told the Romans to present ourselves as living sacrifices and, as we do, to not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewal of our minds. This speaks deeply to me about how one takes up their cross. It is an issue of being a living sacrifice where our entire beings are transformed by the power of God as we deny and sacrifice our fleshly desires on God's altar as we follow him.

I offer myself to you today dear Lord. Use me and transform me as you do.

Get behind me, Satan!

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

What a scene! I am trying to imagine being with the disciples.. hearing Peter identify Jesus as the Messiah.. and then hearing the Lord describe what it means to be the Messiah. Perhaps up to that point the disciples embraced the vision of a Messiah who would defeat Rome and liberate Israel? News of a Messiah who would be seemingly defeated by religious leaders is the opposite of what they had imagined. No one wanted such a Messiah.

But this is the Messiah we all need. Consider this prophetic vision of the Messiah that the prophet Isaiah saw some four hundred years before Christ appeared to man:
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows,
and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
Such is the Messiah that Peter ignorantly rebuked. Such is the Messiah that rebuked Peter telling him that he did not have a clue who the Christ really was. Such is the Messiah that death could not hold. Such is the Messiah who rose from the grave and ever lives and rules in Heaven. And such is the Messiah that we confess and love to this very day.

Help me Lord to set my mind on the things of God and not on the things of man.

But who do you say that I am?

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

Can you imagine walking through the villages of the Holy Land with Jesus as your tour guide? What an amazing journey it would be to walk with him and ask him questions. In contrast in this passage Jesus is the one asking questions. Many times in my life the Holy Spirit has worked this way. A question will captivate your imagination and get your attention like nothing else. Such is the way that the Lord draws his disciples in here.

Many believe that Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah hits to the heart of the gospel. You can almost get a sense that he blurted the answer out as others were batting around the other names. Interesting how others considered Jesus to be a prophetic figure in the genre of Elijah. These were looking for the return of that great prophet. But the Messiah is much more than a great prophet. He is the Savior of the world. He is God in flesh.

With Peter and the saints of all ages I confess that Jesus is the Christ.

Do not even enter the village.

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

I am amazed when I read of miracles like this. Not so much that the miracle happened but the way that it happened. The story is so compelling. I wonder why the Lord led the blind man by the hand out of the village? And why did he use spittle in the healing process? And why was it a two step healing process? And isn't it strange that he ordered the man not to enter the village? What was it about that village that was so troubling to the Lord?

In these latter years of my life I have come to love the wonder and mystery of faith. Certainly there are some things in life that the bible has answers for but there is so much mystery in these gospel stories. Even so, like the healed man in this story, I think that there are places that God has led me out of and does not want me to return to. Escaping from those places has put me in a place where I can experience healing and it is wise that I do not return.

Help me Lord to not return to the dark places.

Are your hearts hardened?

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

Understanding the gospel has never been an issue of intellect. When Jesus speaks of having eyes and ears that do not see and hear he is speaking of inner vision and hearing. This is a difficult concept for so many people because they are uncomfortable trusting that deep part of them and prefer to rely on their own understanding instead. Generally our own understanding works for us but in matters spiritual it is a hindrance and not a help.

The message that Jesus is trying to teach them is encapsulated in Proverbs when Solomon tells his readers to trust the Lord with all of their hearts and not lean on their own understanding. The leaven of the religious leaders is always about leaning on their teaching (i.e. understanding) of Mosaic Law. It is wrong because the kingdom of God is not about external rules but about laws written on a person's heart.. these laws we can trust.

Help me Lord to not rely on my own understanding but to trust you with all that is in me.

Why does this generation seek a sign?

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

Signs are such a very powerful phenomenon. Billboards have the ability to capture our attention and captivate our imagination. Images on television and cinema can appeal to our senses in such a way that persuades and influences us to but products and support candidates. These are used because they speak to our senses and our intellect. In contrast faith is does not pay attention to signs because it is based in the heart and not the head.

Jesus understood that the heart of spiritual life is the heart and not the senses. A person that can be persuaded in debate can also be persuaded in another direction if the predominant factor is the logic of an idea. But if that person is convinced of something in their heart then nothing, or no one, can sway them. Faith does not pay attention to external signs when there is a strong internal witness. Faith trusts in the Lord and not in signs.

Help me Lord to be captivated by inner vision and not by external signs.

I have compassion on the crowd ...

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground.

And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people.

Seems that there are two miraculous events like this shared in the gospel accounts - the other one fed over five thousand people. Each time bread and fish were on the menu. These are amazing events and pretty inexplicable except to say that the Lord miraculously multiplied the little food they had. It reminds me that a little is a lot when it is given to the Lord in prayer. I tend to underestimate this kind of divine multiplication factor.

I love the way that Jesus is constantly and persistently teaching his disciples about pragmatic compassion. Small wonder that his disciples regularly reported this in the accounts of healing and deliverance. I am convinced that I need to grow in this area as I interact daily with others. My tendency is to judge people as unprepared when they are homeless and hungry. My prayer is that, like Jesus, I would have compassion in those times.

I repent of callousness Lord. Cause compassion to increase in my heart.

Be opened.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

I think that it is very easy to read this account and not fully embrace the magnitude of what happened. You may be thinking "yes, yes, I know that Jesus did many such things when he walked the Holy Land but what has that got to do with me?" I believe that these eye witness reports are included in the scriptures to give us a picture of God and help us to, by faith, understand that he came to demonstrate his love and compassion for us when we hurt.

Imagine with me, if you will, what it must have like to have been a person who could not hear and had difficulty speaking. What was it like for him to live each day in silence? I wonder what he was thinking as friends brought him to Jesus begging him to simply lay his hand on him. Was hope or confusion building in his heart as he watched Jesus spit and touch his tongue? And how his heart must have soared when he first hear sounds and voices!

Help me Lord to embrace the wonder and majesty of this story today!

The demon has left your daughter.

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Many discount such tales of exorcism thinking it is a chapter out of a Stephen King novel. Dealing with the devil, unclean spirits and their interaction with human beings is an uncomfortable topic for some. I have heard explanations of passages like this one marked off to mental illness and the existence of evil is marginalized at best. Interesting how many gospel accounts offer stories where Jesus is portrayed as one with authority over evil.

Yet the woman in this story is sure of two things: her child was being tormented by an unclean spirit; Jesus had the power to cast the demon out. She had faith but Jesus seemed unwilling to help her daughter until she argued with him. This interchange helps me to understand how God wants me to sometimes pray. When an answer to prayer seems distant he wants me to persevere in prayer and contend with him in intercession for the need.

Help me Lord to always pray and never give up in the fight against evil.

What comes out of a person is what defiles him.

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

I think that the contrast painted here by the Lord is a very stark one. The religious leaders were all about the externals - about following spiritual rules and man made traditions. Jesus would have none of this and consistently confronted them on all fronts. He understood that following rules and principles would never lead a person to external life. Sadly I too well understand this because I was once a person who loved to follow those rules.

My desire to follow rules was very much a reflection of my internal brokenness. The desire to look good and perform for God is antithetical to kingdom values that compassionately embrace the wounded and the lost. It projects the idea that God wants a people who have their act together. Such a message is false and destructive. God loves us where we are and longs to be merciful to us and lead us in way that produce internal and eternal life.

Help me Lord to follow you in my heart and not lean on my own understanding.

In order to establish your tradition!

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Yesterday I mentioned that there are traditions that the modern day church holds sacred. I thought that I might discuss a few of them and hope I do not offend anyone in the process:
  • Money Changers: Jesus evicted them from the temple. I wonder what he would think about the book and DVD tables that adorn church hallways these days?
  • Communion: Wonder what the Lord thinks about church services that seem to exclusively focus on the Lord's supper and speak of sacrificing Christ each week?
  • Capital Campaigns: What would He who spoke of every stone of the temple being torn down think of the ornate edifices that occupy the poorest of neighborhoods?
  • Suits, Ties and Sunday Dresses: When did church become a place to display your Sunday best? Isn't this emphasis on externals contrary to the gospel message?
I am sure that I could list many more traditions that permeate Christianity these days but the message that I am trying to convey is that we all embrace a bit of Pharisaic hypocrisy in the ways that we walk out our faith. The message is to focus more on the internals of the faith.

Lord help me to find ways to embrace the internals of the scripture.

Their heart is far from me ...

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

I think that there has always been a tension between following tradition and following God because many traditions have their origins in the ways that people followed God. When I look at the church today, and many of the things that we hold as sacred, I wonder about fleshly traditions. Sometimes traditions are fairly recognizable but sometimes they are not. Such is the case here where Jesus confronts the religious leaders with their hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is at the core of the issue because of the way that man made traditions can be followed with the flesh. It is so easy to outwardly follow the rules and keep your heart in check never fully committing it to follow the Lord. But God is not interested in our religious gymnastics. He does not want sacred performances. He wants us! He desires that we seek him and trust him with all of our heart. It has always been God's way. He wants our heart.

Teach me Lord not to lean on my traditions but to follow you with my heart.

Do not be afraid.

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.

He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Do you ever wonder how Jesus knew that he could walk on water? Or why he felt the need to walk so close to  the disciple's boat?  The image of him coming towards the boat captivates one's imagination. In it we see how the Lord was not constrained by natural laws. When the wind stops blowing we are confronted by the idea that He is greater than nature.

I think that the fearful response by the disciples is pretty normal - I am pretty sure that I would have freaked out. Yet I wonder about the commentary offered in that last sentence. Is a fearful response to the miraculous a sign of a hardened heart? Perhaps not but it does make me wonder how much of my fear has its roots in a heart that refuse to believe.

Soften my heart Lord and help me to not be afraid.

You give them something to eat.

And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.

And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.

And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

The disciple's words "Send them away" are echoing in my head this morning. It reminds me a bit of Cain's retort to God when he is questioned about his slain brother Abel. He defiantly replied: "Am I my brother's keeper?" The answer to the disciples tells us that God's answer is "Yes, you are your brother's keeper". When our brother hurts we are often God's answer to his prayer. When he is hungry God calls us to love him with a meal or sack of groceries.

Christ's answer to this need of sustenance is breathtakingly divine. Ever wonder why God didn't just materialize the fish and bread out of thin air? Seems like he could have but instead he took something natural turned it into something supernatural. Perhaps that is one of the messages in the story? Perhaps the answers to our prayers for supernatural intervention begin when take our meager fishes and loaves and give them to the Lord?

Direct me Lord to those who are hurting and need someone to help.

Come away ... and rest a while.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

I have often said that if a person does not take care of themselves they are of no use to others. This was very true in my life when my wife was disabled at the end of 2007 and could no longer walk. For months I continued to work at church trying to hang on to my ministry to the church. Eventually I began to understand that, for my own well being, my ministry focus needed to change to care for my wife. In leaving the pastorate I took care of myself and her.

So interesting to see the Lord's reaction to the throngs of hurting people. He could have become angry at their presence but instead the Lord allowed compassion to arise. The persistence of the crowds reminds me that it is the will of God that we pursue him in prayer and of how He longs to be compassionate on us and show us mercy. I think that persistence in prayer is sometimes the means by which we experience the compassion of Christ.

Help me Lord to understand the balance of caring for myself and for others.

Shake off the dust ...

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

I love the mission that the disciples were given: a simple message of repentance blended with a powerful response of deliverance and healing. What do you think of when you hear the word repent? Perhaps images of religious meetings and activities come to mind? I think of a heart that says a simple yes and turns to the Lord. Such repentance is beautiful and powerful because it comes not from a changed mind but from a soft heart. 

And yet to those who refuse to repent.. those who will not receive the words of God's messengers.. the Lord's instruction is not to tarry with such people but to shake the dust off and leave. This can sometimes be a very difficult thing to do because of our human desire to debate with such people and try to win them with intellectual arguments. Such debate is rarely successful because repentance is not about the head but about the heart.

Help me Lord to understand that repentance is an issue of the heart.

Except in his hometown ...

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

Anyone who has spent any time in the church understands that there is an unhealthy familiarity that lives in and among those who regularly attend there. Many see it most in the children who have been a part of their parents religious life since birth. For these kids, and many adults, there is no fresh wonder or astonishing awe when they think about God.

Such is the case with the people in Christ's hometown. They had known and seen Jesus all his life. The leaders in the synagogue, like everyone else, watched him grow into manhood and had a difficult time accepting his teaching and understanding his miracles. Because of familiarity their hearts were closed and they did not believe in Jesus or what he taught.

Lord help my faith in you to stay fresh. Please keep me from the sin of familiarity.

Do not fear, only believe.

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”

And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

I can so relate to the words that I have captured in the title of this post. I battle fear on a daily basis when it comes to my wife's health. Just this week fear gripped me as she struggled to get out of bed and I caught her as she began to slip. Fear can be a very real issue when it comes to sickness and healing because of the way that it taps into our past and prevents us from trusting God today.

Thankfully Jesus is not dissuaded by our fear, our tears or even our mocking laughter - back then and today. I love the way that he did not make a production out of this but only brought a few disciples and kept others away. I can only imagine the amazed look on the parents as their child began to arise. Oh my, is there anyone like Jesus? Is there anyone more worthy of my trust than the Lord?

Help me to trust you in the present Lord and to not be hindered by past experiences.

Your faith has made you well ...

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease".

I recently had a long discussion in the comment section of a post titled "Healing and the Will of God". In it we discussed the role of faith in physical healing. My perspective is that our faith should never be "for" something (like healing) but "in" Someone. Such is the case here for the woman's request for healing was only answered because she believed that Jesus was a healer. Her faith was the conduit but it would have been fruitless if placed in another.

Interesting how Christ felt healing flow from his body. Up to now his healing ministry was a cooperative effort where he was actively involved in the process. In this case his involvement was passive. From the text it appears that he did not even know who touched him. Jesus required her to publicly acknowledge the healing teaching us that we must always return thanks and acknowledge God for whatever thing we are blessed with.

Lord, cause me to always to acknowledge you and to give thanks for your many blessings.

Tell them how much the Lord has done for you ...

The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

The response of the people who had witnessed evil in this man is somewhat puzzling? Their first reaction to this powerful deliverance was fear - people fear what they do not understand. Their second reaction was a bit odder - I wonder how many of them had herds of pigs that they felt were endangered? Isn't it strange that none of them gave thanks that this tormented demonized man was at peace? Their reactions were callous and selfish.

On the flip-side sat a man who finally had peace in his life! This man wanted to cling to Jesus and follow him wherever he went but God had other plans for this freed man. Perhaps Jesus knew that this man had the heart of an evangelist? It is interesting how sometimes the Lord would command a leper to keep silent about his healing but in this case he told the man to witness to all he met. And indeed there was cause for great awe and marveling.

I too marvel at the work of your hands Lord! Help me to be one who rejoices with others!

Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him.

And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

This is an amazing story of power and strength. On the one hand there is the man who possessed a supernatural strength that enabled him to break chains. And on the other hand there is One who has power over such a man with his words. I cannot imagine the spectacle that the disciples witnessed as this seemingly insane man approached the Lord. Can you sense the desperation in his voice as he speaks to Jesus about being tormented?

The conversation is so engaging as the man speaks and indicates that he is afflicted by many (a legion was comprised of over 5,000 men) demons. I cannot imagine the agony this man was in and the horror of having so much evil in his life. Also interesting how the demons did not leave when first confronted by the Lord. The story is a compelling one and teaches us about the power of evil and the authority of the One who reigns over it.

Help me to not fear the presence of evil today Lord. Remind me of the power of your name.

Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

This is one of the most fascinating passages. I love how such an ordinary event as a boat ride provides us with an object lesson about fear and faith. A few thoughts about it:
  • Jesus must have been exhausted. Sometimes I forget what a drain on his body it must have been to have been in such demand. Crowds were always chasing after him.
  • The wind and the waves were real and scary. The men on this boat were experienced fishermen and not ignorant of such storms. Their fear was realistic.
  • I have no context for a person who can calm such a storm simply with his words. Jesus is a messiah like no other. His power leaves me in awe.
Lastly, Jesus words about faith so challenges me to trust God when life's storms assault me. Perhaps the lasting message in this story is that storms will come but we should not be afraid because God is with us in it.. he will hear us when we pray.. he will help.

Thank you for your presence in my trials Lord.

It is like a grain of mustard seed ...

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

Thinking about this passage I am reminded of two places where the Lord Jesus used a seed to illustrate a point. The first is where, earlier in this chapter, Jesus speaks of God's word as a seed scattered on all sorts of soil. The second is where he compares faith to a mustard seed. I love the imagery of something so tiny representing something that is so powerful and dynamic. I encourages me to, by faith, receive God's word deep in my heart.

God's kingdom is all about these seeds growing and impacting our lives and the lives of those around us. These kind of seeds are essential because they grow and produce spiritual fruit in our lives. When I consider the journey that I have been on I recall how faith has grown in response to God's word implanted in my heart. So I wonder if it is enough to simply "have faith" if that faith does not result in God's word being sown deep within?

I believe in you Lord. Help your words to penetrate the soil of my heart today.

He knows not how ...

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

When I was younger I craved knowledge and believed that I could figure life out by studying the bible. Now that I am older I have realized that the purpose of the bible is not to explain all things to us. There is a mystery to life and we sell faith short when we reduce it to a quest for knowledge. The scriptures are rife with spiritual truth and much wisdom can be absorbed when we study the pages of holy writ. Yet there is much mystery there as well.

I recently watched a scientist and a man of faith speak about what they learned as they wrote a book together. The scientist said that in the collaboration he learned that science can usually answer the question of how but cannot speak to the issue of why. Often in life we can understand the effects of things on us but we rarely are able to discern why they happened. In these situations we do well to engage faith and allow mystery.

I trust you Lord with my life - both those things I understand and the things I do not.

To the one who has, more will be given ...

And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

As I read these verses I am reminded that the Kingdom of God does not operate under the same principles that we see in the world. The world operates in secrecy and darkness while the Kingdom thrives in the light and transparency. Sages in this age speak to us of being frugal and saving for a rainy day but voices in the Kingdom proclaim that everything belongs to the One that we cannot out give. One is focused inward while the other looks outward.

God is not interested in blessing us with things that we do not need or use. Many desire wealth but they do not use what they already have. Others want gifts of friends but they do not cherish the people in their lives today. Yet to those who made good use of the gifts that they have been given God promises that more will be given. For to whom much is given much is required. It is a principle of His kingdom and one that we do well in following.

Help me to be faithful with the things and friends that you have blessed me with Lord.

Do you not understand this parable?

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Interesting how this passage begins with Jesus thinking that he should not really have to explain this parable to his disciples. It is fascinating because this parable is all about have a heart prepared to hear what God is saying. Could he have been saying that they (and we) would have understood the parable if the soil of their hearts was fertile? Perhaps the message of the parable would have rung clear if not for their shallowness and worries?

The teaching in this parable is so simple that we will miss it if we over analyze it. Jesus is explaining the saying that he often communicates when he says “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  The parallels between the soil and our hearts is so compelling when you consider that the Lord is speaking of how our hearts, like farm land, can be hard and unfit for seed when it is untended. It speaks to me of my responsibility to tend my heart.

Help me Lord to tend my heart and keep it tender and weed free.

To you has been given the secret ...

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

On the surface this appears to be a strange passage. What do you think of when you read about Jesus speaking of insiders and outsiders? I think that he is speaking of the differences between those who follow their fleshly instincts and those who follow their hearts. I think that it is the difference between those who trust and hear with their hearts and those who are spiritually deaf because they lean on their own fleshly understanding.

When I think of the phrase "the secret of the kingdom of God" I am confronted with the idea that there is an invisible realm present in our world that is kept secret from our fleshly senses. God's kingdom is a secret to all who lean on their own senses and are not open to the workings of the Holy Spirit. But to we who have been born spiritually this kingdom is not a secret at all because we have eyes that can see and ears that can hear.

Help me today Lord to trust you not with eyes that see physically but with my inner eyes.

A sower went out to sow ...

Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

There is just somethings about just that captures our attention. Often I find myself lost in thought as i read and consider the things that he taught. His style of teaching was so different than that of preachers back then and even today. He was not content to simply speak in religious verbiage but brought his message down to earth so that everyone could understand and learn. This is why he spoke so much in parables.

Parables like this one have a way of captivating our imagination. As I read I can see the seeds, the rocky ground, the thorns and the fertile soil. Yet I wonder if the crowds really understood what he was trying to teach. Perhaps, unlike me, they had the ability to connect the seed with God's word and the soil with the heart of man? Or possibly the Lord was simply interested in discerning who would be humble enough to ask questions?

Help my heart to remain humble Lord so that I can receive all that you have for me.

Who are my mother and my brothers?

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” ... And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

There is an interesting dynamic going on in the family of Jesus. From these few verses is it is apparent that his mother and brothers are a bit confused concerning this new chapter in the life of their beloved son and brother. How could they, who watched Jesus grow into manhood, understand? These are the ones who thought that carpentry would be, like it was for his father Joseph, his life trade - messianic ministry was not what they had in mind.

Yet in the midst of all of this craziness Jesus says something even crazier. He says that his real family is marked by obedience to God. Hearing something like this would have caused me concern if I was his brother. Yet, for we who read these words now, we understand that the Son of God was elevating our relationship to him. No longer are we outsiders. No longer are we servants and slaves. We are loved and embraced as divine brothers and sisters.

I do not understand it Lord but you call me brother. Help me to live honoring our family.

All sins will be forgiven ...

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

For some strange reason the first part of this long statement is usually passed over in our quest to understand the definition of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In our negative focus we ignore the fact that "all sins will be forgiven" as well as "blasphemies they utter". All and whatever - these sweeping affirmations take my breath away. This is the good news of Jesus Christ. All murders.. every rape.. even tortures can be forgiven by our gracious Lord.

Some believe, because of the context, that the unforgivable sin is limited to a person who says that Jesus had a demon. I think that the sin is much larger in scope. When I think about how a person can reject the convicting presence of God's Spirit I have to believe that this rejection is the sin that will not be forgiven. Blasphemy is not merely an utterance against God. Blasphemy is much more serious because it is a rejection by the heart.

I rejoice that all sins and blasphemies will be forgiven when our heart responds to You.

If a house is divided against itself ...

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

I remember a book that was very popular back in the 1970s that was a detective book of sorts for spotting demons. Many of the folks I associated with back then embraced the idea that demons were all over the place and it was our job to get rid of things (like statues of frogs) that attracted them. It was a weird time. In contrast I recall a time this spring when I prayed for a stranger in a market close to home and sensed demonic activity in his life.

In this passage the Lord Jesus does not refute the existence of demons but instead gives us a peek into the world of Beelzebul. He tells us that this is a spiritual realm that is not divided or stupid. Yet the Lord also speaks of entering the strong man's house and plundering his goods. It reminds me that the gates of hell cannot stand against the prayerful assault of believers and of how we can cast demons out when we discern their presence.

Awaken my heart Lord to discern the times. Help me to not be spiritually ignorant.

Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good?

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

In the previous passage Jesus proclaimed that he was the Lord of the Sabbath and that the Sabbath was made for man. In this passage we see the total perversion that the Sabbath had become to the Jews. Enter in with me if you will to a place of worship where it is not lawful to heal a human being. Can you even relate to a "House of God" where such harness of heart exists. In what universe would anyone tolerate such a display of callousness?

Sadly this type of callous religion exists even today. Society is rife with stories of spiritual abuse by leaders who allow religious rules to trump the well being of those committed to their charge. I think that many things done in the name of religion break the heart of God. In contrast there are many who, like Jesus, do not kowtow to external rules but follow the internal leading of the Holy Spirit. Against such there is no law - even on the Sabbath.

Help me Lord to reject external rules and hear clearly the leading of your Spirit in my heart.

The Sabbath was made for man ...

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?" And he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."

This act of disobedience to the law had to be very troubling for the religious leaders. These men highly esteemed the Sabbath (one the outside anyway). Many today have similar feelings about Sunday being a Sabbath day. Consider what the writer of Hebrews says:
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
In a very real sense the Christian Sabbath has nothing to do with a day. God did not simply replace Saturday with Sunday as a legalistic day of rest. Most Christians actually believe this because Sunday is full of activities and not a day of rest for them at all. Yet if we focus on the day we miss the point altogether. Sabbath rest comes from a relationship with God where we hear His voice deep within us and respond to it with a soft heart.

I need your Sabbath presence in my life Lord. Please speak to me. Help my heart to be soft.

New wine is for fresh wineskins.

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins--and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins."

Do you find it odd how religious people judge each other with veiled 'questions'? Even today Christians judge each other concerning the ways that they live out their faith. Much of my life I spent inwardly judging those who did not worship like I did. There was an air of superiority in my views of others who were not as gifted or informed as I was. Such is the bitter fruit evidenced when we embrace a legalistic perspective that leaves little room for grace.

Interesting how Jesus seems to make a break from the religious law when he speaks of new cloth and new wine. I believe that he is telling us that he did not come to clarify and improve the legalistic religious order of his day with spiritual patches. My thinking is that he is teaching us that he came to begin something new and revolutionary. This idea of new wineskins is a hard concept to embrace because of the heart change that is required.

Help me to let go of the old wineskins Lord. Help me to embrace you in change.

Those who are well have no need of a physician ...

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

Fisherman, tax collectors and sinners - not the types of people one might expect God to hang around with if he were to come to earth. I mean really, why not hang out with those who have dedicated their lives to the scriptures like the scribes or leaders in the synagogues? What was it about sinners that Jesus found so appealing. Perhaps it was their hearts? Maybe these were the only ones with hearts wide open to the good news?

In truth every one that heard Jesus speak was sick and in need of a healer. Those who criticized Christ for eating with sinners were sick with the disease of self righteousness. Yet those could not be healed because they were too proud to come to the Great Physician. Sadly the hearts of the religious were not open to the message of the healer. Perhaps that is the message of this passage. We all need the Healer. We all need Jesus.

I come Lord. I need to be healed. Have mercy on me and change me.

Which is easier?

And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the paralytic-- "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

When you read this passage do you wonder about the man on the stretcher? Do you think about the one who was helpless and needed his friends to bring him to Jesus? When I consider his plight I imagine that he was one without a hope for the future. His world was certainly dark and depressing. Yet he had friends who were willing to help him and that friendship made all the difference. Thank God for the faith of these who greatly loved him.

I love how this passage teaches us about the two types of healing - inner and outer. My wife has been in two rehabilitation hospitals since she came off a ventilator this summer. I have watched her outer body get stronger as the weeks have gone by. And, in a sense, the outer strength simply echoed her inner fortitude. In reality we all have healing needs. Yet the need to forgive and be forgiven often seems to be the greatest need of all.

Thank you Lord Jesus for the forgiveness that you offer. Help me to reflect it in my life.

I will; be clean.

And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them." But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Probably for the first time since he was struck with leprosy this man felt the touch of another human being. That in itself had to be healing. Yet the touch was not a simple display of pity but an expression of the power and desire of God to heal. When a word would have sufficed to heal this man of leprosy Jesus went a step further. The method of healing was so important because of the way that lepers were ostracized from the community.

Interesting how Jesus knew that the news of this healing would hinder his ability to operate freely inside the city limits. I wonder if there were many hurting lepers in that region? I think that it would have been almost impossible to keep quiet about such a miraculous healing. People who knew him would have noticed that leprosy no longer ravaged his body. Perhaps it was lepers who came after Jesus longing to hear the words I will; be clean.

Lord, open my eyes to those around me today who need your touch and mine.

Let us go on to the next towns ...

And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is looking for you." And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out." And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Change can be so difficult to embrace when things are going well. As I read this passage I am reminded of the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis and how he was called by God to leave the comfort of his father's home. In that context I think of how faith plays a predominant role in these events and how the heart of faith is our prayerful relationship with God. Like Jesus, Abraham prayed and from that time of prayer he made a change.

It takes me back to a time of prayer back in May of 1998 when the Holy Spirit spoke to me. I was 48 years old and had received a voluntary retirement offer from my company. I was opposed to retirement until I heard this when I prayed: "Is it riskier to leave or is riskier to stay"? In just a few moments I was convinced that God was leading me to a new and unknown chapter in my life. Such is the relationship between prayer and change.

I am risk-averse Lord. Help me to not be afraid of the change that comes from faith.

Be silent, and come out of him!

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."

Don't you simply love the response of the crowd as they connect Christ's teaching to the demonic exorcism. I wonder what he was teaching that day that so agitated the demon? Perhaps the new teaching was about how the kingdom of God is not about following the law but about loving God and your neighbor? Demons don't mind a bit of legalism and rules - they love to see Christians get focused on themselves and ignore outsiders.

The whole topic of demons is a pretty dicey one to talk about. Some believe that demons do not exist and never have. Some see a demon under every rock. I think that the balance is somewhere in between and spiritual discernment is required to know when demons are influencing a person and how the demon is to be rebuked. In such times it is wise to respond in a simple and direct manner as Jesus did by speaking a word of rebuke.

Teach me Lord. Help me to trust the discernment you have deposited in my life.