Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

While we tend to be more comfortable excusing or condemning specific actions in our lives, Jesus directs His beatitudes at the condition and orientation of our hearts. In this way He sidesteps all our excuses and justifications and cuts to the core of our struggle with sin. "Am I a merciful person?" Jesus forces me to ask this question not of each action individually but of my general character as revealed by the sum of my actions and attitudes.

Mercy looks with compassion on the needs of others, while judgment questions what the poor souls have done to bring this need upon themselves. In this way judgment most often cuts off any hope for a better tomorrow. It is mercy alone that gives second chances. Mercy observes the need and simply helps. It doesn't question their worthiness to receive the help. For example, a merciful person might well question which way is the best way to help the homeless but she will never generalize that many homeless people are in that condition because of their own choices and choose to turn a blind eye to them all. 

Mercy also looks with compassion on the sins of others, even when their sin has cost you personally. Again we find that mercy is unconcerned with desert, for forgiveness and mercy are by definition undeserved. When mercy is deserved it is simply justice. Only when it is undeserved can it be called mercy. As Christians we have received mercy from God and therefore ought to dole out mercy in our dealings with others. We must never forget our ongoing need for mercy and that God promises to give mercy to those who are merciful. So we who were reconciled to God by His initiative while as yet we were still His enemies, when we find ourselves in an unavoidable conflict with someone else, have no right to be anything but conciliatory in tone (Romans 5:8-11). We should never be hostile if it can be avoided in any way, but should always seek to be peacemakers as much as it is in our ability (Matthew 5:9). 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

No Contest

As soon as he got out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met him. He lived in the tombs, and no one was able to restrain him anymore—not even with a chain— because he often had been bound with shackles and chains, but had torn the chains apart and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains, he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and knelt down before him. And he cried out with a loud voice, “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you before God, don’t torment me!” For he had told him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

“What is your name?” he asked him.

“My name is Legion,” he answered him, “because we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the region.

A large herd of pigs was there, feeding on the hillside. The demons begged him, “Send us to the pigs, so that we may enter them.” So he gave them permission, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs. The herd of about two thousand rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned there.
Mark 5:2-13

This poor man was in complete and utter bondage to thousands of demons living inside him. These demons self-identified as "Legion" which is a word for a six thousand member unit of the Roman army. That does not necessarily mean there were six thousand of them but we do know there were enough to run a herd of pigs numbering about two thousand off a cliff. So it is safe to say thousands of demons had completely taken over this man's body and his life.

If you read carefully you'll notice that many had opposed these demons in this man's life. They had tried to bind or confine them in some way but had failed. First, we see that the man himself had been unable to control them. He was powerless against so many, no longer in control of his own life. The passage tells us that he cut himself and cried out daily. What a hellish and tormented experience. Second, the community had no success in getting the demons to conform to societal and cultural norms. Not only did this man live outside of the town in the tombs, but Luke 8:27 tells us that he hadn't even worn clothes in a long time. So, societal pressure had no effect on them whatsoever. Lastly, we see that the civil authorities failed as well. They tried to overpower the demons by binding the man with shackles and chains. They did this on numerous occasions but the demons were stronger than their chains. They simply tore them off.

But when Jesus stepped out of the boat onto that shore, everything changed. Here was a man who could bind and defeat the demons that so plagued this poor soul. It was one against thousands, and it was still a lopsided victory. It took no effort on Jesus' part, just a word and the demons were gone. Just a word and Jesus had rescued this poor man from the hellish torment. Just a word from the Word and the man was in his right mind again. Jesus alone could bind and defeat this army of demons because He alone has absolute authority.

This same Jesus lives within you, believer! Whatever spiritual battle you face, turn to Him. Whatever physical challenge, turn to Him. Whatever discouragement, whatever pain, whatever torment, it is nothing compared to His incomparable authority, power and mercy. Be encouraged, O believer! "For greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world!" (I John 4:4).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

God Hears Even When He Doesn't Answer

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was... Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years...

An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified and overcome with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth." 
Luke 1:5-7, 11-14

If you have kids or are around them at all, you've probably noticed that they don't take no for an answer. When they want something they'll ask and ask and ask again. Even when you succeed in getting them to stop asking you today, chances are it'll be the first thing out of their mouths tomorrow. Although this behavior might be frowned upon from a parent's perspective, God actually encourages it. Repeatedly Scripture implores us to persevere in prayer, to keep asking God for what we need even when He doesn't answer right away (Luke 18:1-8, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18). Zechariah's story reminds us of this.

As Zechariah prayed for a child I imagine he took comfort in Proverbs 15:29, "The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous." He and his wife were righteous people. Surely God would hear their prayer. But God never answered. Months turned into years and still he prayed. Zechariah prayed until he and Elizabeth had passed the age of childbearing. And then he stopped praying convinced that it simply wasn't God's will for his life. (I know I've taken some liberties filling in the biblical narrative here but I think there is reason to believe this is likely how it went.)

Then one day Zechariah was chosen to burn incense in the temple. This was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity, a big day in his life, but Zechariah had no idea just how big. As he stood alone in the temple praying and offering incense on the altar just outside the Holy of Holies, the angel Gabriel suddenly appeared to him. Gabriel had a message from God. Zechariah's prayer had been heard, he would have a son. His son would be the forerunner to the Messiah and the first prophet in over 400 years. His son would be John the Baptist. Zechariah was incredulous. He had a hard time believing that God had finally answered his prayer that he and his wife would have a child at their age. (This is one of the reasons I believe the prayer Gabriel is answering was likely uttered years before and not right in that moment.)

Be encouraged by this! God hears your prayers even when He doesn't answer them right away. Keep praying. Keep asking. Don't give up! He delayed in answering Zechariah's prayer so that when He did answer it would be all the more sweet to Zechariah and it would result in even more glory for Himself. God loves to answer the prayers of His children. Rest assured, if He isn't answering your prayer, there's a reason. God orders the events of our lives towards His ends. Trust Him and keep on praying.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Power of Praise

Lord, our Lord,
how magnificent is your name throughout the earth!
You have covered the heavens with your majesty.
From the mouths of infants and nursing babies,
you have established a stronghold
on account of your adversaries
in order to silence the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:1-2)

When do you praise God? Maybe just when you're at church? Or only when things are going well? If so, then you are missing out on a powerful spiritual weapon.

Have you ever been told that praise can be a spiritual weapon? According to this passage, it is and believers ought to use it against our enemies. The passage speaks of a stronghold that God brings forth from the mouths of infants and babes. What is this stronghold? The Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint understood this stronghold to be praises to God sung by children. Jesus affirmed this understanding when He quoted from the Septuagint translation in Matthew 21:16- "You have prepared praise from the mouths of infants and nursing babies.” If we are to take Jesus' word for it, then the praise we declare to God and His Messiah is a stronghold which protects us from our enemies.

How does this work? When we're surrounded by enemies (physical or spiritual) we ought to sing God's praise. In doing so we remind ourselves and our attackers who our Protector is, how strong He is, and how magnificent He is. As we open our mouths in praise, our enemies close their mouths in silence. As we praise God's strength we grow more confident as they grow more afraid. There is good news for us here. Believers don't need to be strong or mighty to be safe. We can be as weak as a newborn babe. God is our Protector and our weakness doesn't limit His power.

So spend some time praising God today. Praise Him for who He is. If you need inspiration, read a few psalms. As you praise, your outlook will change. And if you'll praise Him publicly before your enemies they'll think twice as well.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mining for Wisdom

"Where can wisdom be found and where does understanding dwell?" (Job 28:12 cf Daniel 2:20, James 1:5 & Revelation 7:12)

In the rest of his discourse while trying to answer this question, Job acknowledges that man has perfected the means to search out and mine precious metals and jewels from the earth no matter how deep into the heart of a mountain they may lie. Man digs tunnels through dirt and stone alike to seek out the treasure he desires. Yet there is one treasure that proves elusive. No matter how hard he tries, man is unable to seek it out. It lies beyond our grasp. This treasure is wisdom.

History tells us that the great philosophers of old spent their lives seeking it out wisdom, yet the record of how they lived their lives and of how they died leaves little room for doubt. Whatever knowledge they discovered, wisdom was not found. Job reveals to us that "God understands the way to it and He alone knows where it dwells." Yet God, in His mercy, reveals the path to wisdom to us.
And [God] said to man, "The fear of the LORD-that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding." - Job 28:28

The fear of the LORD is the well from which all wisdom springs. If you don't fear God, then you underestimate Him. You don't understand who He is. And nothing could be more important than understanding the nature of your Creator and what He requires of you. Thus, if you do not fear God then you cannot be considered truly wise. You may have attained some measure of earthly knowledge, but wisdom eludes you still.

A person of understanding shuns evil. Anyone who clings to evil actions, thoughts or attitudes is not yet made perfect in understanding. When we embrace evil we bring fire to our chest, for evil surely brings destruction. Our God will not be mocked. We all reap what we sow. Therefore, anyone who willingly pursues evil, destroys their own peace and security. What could be more foolish than this? Only a man without understanding would do such a thing.

Of course, I imagine you are tempted to reject these definitions of wisdom. Likely you do not find them fully satisfying. I Corinthians 1:18-25 shows us that in our sin man always wants to reject God's wisdom, chiefly in Christ but in every other way as well. So if I may push Job's metaphor a little farther, I would say that perhaps this writing hasn't placed jewels of wisdom directly into your hand, but at the least it has revealed a worthwhile shaft to go digging in. Do your own mining of the fear of the Lord and of shunning evil. Here are some other passages that agree with Job's assessment: Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10, Job 1:8, Proverbs 8:13. Find wisdom and understanding in them, and pursue them always.