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A Sound Mind

Mark 5:15 is today’s verse: “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.”

The man with the legion of demons is now set free.  No longer is he wandering the tombs unclothed.  No longer is he in chains.  No longer is he cutting himself, doing himself bodily harm.  He is now sitting in their midst, calm, serene and sedate.  He is “in his right mind.”  He has a sound mind.  His body, soul and spirit are now perfectly integrated, as God intended.

This is God’s will for all humans, all people who are image-bearers of God.  2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of love, peace and a sound mind.”  If you feel fear, it’s not from God.  He never intended his children to live in fear but in faith.  He never intended us to be under demonic assault, constantly hurting ourselves with fear and worry. He wants us to trust him as a loving, heavenly Father who cares for us.  He doesn’t want us to be anxious about anything.

A sound mind is a mind that operates in perfect peace.  It trusts, knowing that everything that happens to us must first pass through our heavenly Father’s perfect plan for our lives.  It believes he is causing all things in our lives to work together for good.  We know that God is God over all the demonic world. Therefore, we have sound minds.

Trust God today.  Believe his plan for you is good because he is good.  Let your mind become peaceful.  Rid yourself of all fear.  His will for you is a sound mind, a right mind, free from all demonic assaults that want to make you less than what God intended.

We Are The Crown

Mark 5:13 is our verse for today: “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 int the sea and were drowned in the sea.”

In yesterday’s verses, we see how the demoniac, knowing the inevitability of being cast out of the man by the absolute authority of Jesus, asked if Jesus would send them into the herd of pigs.  Our verse today shows that Jesus gave this permission.  And the unclean spirits went into the pigs.  Were there 2,000 demonic hosts?  We don’t know.  They were named “Legion,” thus showing there were many.  But the exact number, we don’t know.

Why did Jesus permit them to enter the pigs?  I offer this conjecture.  Jesus is exalting here human beings, the crown of his creation.  Yes, God loves the animal kingdom, including pigs.  He created all animals.  They are precious in his sight.  But humans are supreme in God’s created order.  We rest at the top of God’s importance.  Only we have souls.  Only we can worship God.  Only we hold the key to choice in moral behavior.

Jesus wants no human being to be possessed or oppressed by any demonic agency.  We are his penultimate prize!  God wants a personal relationship with us, to live inside us, Christ in us, the hope of all glory!

Today, realize how much God loves you.  He doesn’t want you to be filled with anything except his presence.  If you haven’t done so, invite Jesus today to live in your heart.  Be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Let nothing or no one except Jesus control you.

Why?  Because you are the crown of his created order!

Even Demons Believe

Mark 5:7,8 are our verses today: “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.’”

The demonic inside the man knew who Jesus was.  Surely they’d encountered each other in heaven before the Satanic rebellion.  Look at what how he addressed Jesus:

1. By his personal name: Jesus, the Savior of the world.

2. Son of the Most High God.

He knew he was Jesus, the Savior.  He knew Jesus was God’s Son, the Son of the Father who is higher than any other god, the “Most High God.”  Do you know this about Jesus?  Do you believe this about Jesus?

Many want to argue that Jesus was just a prophet, a good teacher, a very moral man.  Yet the invisible, eternal world always recognizes his true identity.  Do you?  Recognizing who Jesus is is the beginning of an eternal, intimate relationship with him.

Notice the demon didn’t want Jesus to “torment” him.  I wonder if this demonic agency knew that God the Father had created hell to be a place for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).  I wonder if he knew eventually he would be cast into this place of eternal torment.  He not only didn’t want it to happen but he didn’t want it to happen now.

Jesus “was saying” to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit.”  The “was saying” is in the imperfect tense in the Greek, implying Jesus made this command several times, perhaps over and over again.  The demonic world can be stubborn, not wanting to give up its possession of a life.  But Jesus was us whole, clean from the filth of evil.  He would do anything, even die, to make us clean.

Demons believe who Jesus is.  But they don’t believe in what he has done for us on the cross.  Both are necessary to be clean from sin and protected fully from the demonic world.

I pray you will know both today.

Problems Or Possibilities

I was a fairly good basketball player, good enough to earn a four year scholarship to UNC.  I had the privilege of playing under one of the game’s great coaches, Dean Smith.

My game did have some weaknesses though.  One of them was my ability to use my left hand.  As a right-handed player, I just didn’t spend much time developing my “off-hand.”  When I went to the college level, I realized this weakness.  But I still didn’t do much to overcome it.

Until one summer, in the off season, I broke a bone in my right hand.  It was in a cast for six weeks.  I couldn’t use it.  My doctor told me not to do anything strenuous with it, upon fear of injuring it again.

I was in a dilemma.  I needed to work out.  I needed to continue to hone my skills if I had any chance of playing that next year.  What should I do?

Then it came to me.  Spend the six weeks working on my left hand, a weakness in my game!

I went to the gym daily and spent hours dribbling with my left hand, shooting with my left hand, passing with my left hand.  I worked out like my right hand was tied behind my back.

Gradually, over the six weeks, I became very proficient with my left hand!  When the doctor finally took off my cast and gave me the go-ahead to start using it again, suddenly I discovered I was a much better player.  My weakness had become a strength!  I was a much better player.  And everyone, especially Coach Smith, noticed it when I returned that fall for practice.  And I played more minutes that season.

Maybe you have a weakness in your life.  Maybe it’s hindering you from becoming the person God wants you to be.  Is there a way you can turn the weakness into a strength?  Maybe that bad thing that has happened to you is the very motivation you need to tackle your life’s issues and get better.

Today, turn your scars to stars.  Turn your problems into possibilities.  Take your life’s lemons and make lemonade.  Use evil for good.

You just may be surprised how much better you become if you do so.

If you like to read the insights from the daily Bible reading in Mark, please click here.

What Gives Life?

Today’s verses are Mark 5:1-3: “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.”

The Bible makes it clear: there are unclean spirits in the world who want to inhabit the lives of different people.  We don’t know what this man did to allow this possession.  There must have been something, an opening into the demonic world he invited.

Though we don’t know what caused this possession, we do know some of the results.  First, the man was exceedingly strong.  He was doing harm to himself (tomorrow’s verses).  Perhaps he had tried to do harm to others (we don’t know).  But the people had tried to bind him with chains but they didn’t hold the man anymore.

Also, he lived among the tombs.  Interestingly, he was most comfortable among the dead.  The devil is always about death.  Whenever the evil one starts to influence a culture negatively it’s always evidenced in a curiosity about death.  Look at America’s television shows, movies and books.  There is an increasing interest in the subject of dead bodies and death itself.

But Jesus is about life!  His purpose is to give us all life and to give it to us abundantly!  Death is an evil intrusion into God’s once perfectly created order.  Death was never supposed to enter this world.  Jesus entered this world to give people life!  Jesus’ death on the cross is his ultimate gift of eternal life, victory over death forever!

If you’re ever confronted with a difficult decision, here’s a question you can ask that may help you decide the right course of action: What gives life?  Whatever gives life is most likely from Jesus and the path he’d desire you to take.

Even the demoniac approached Jesus as he got out of the boat, perhaps inwardly desiring the life that only Jesus can give.  If so, even in his environment of death, there was still the spark within that desired life in abundance.

Life is always better than death!  Perhaps even the demoniac understood this truth.

Victory Over Weakness

Coaches spend countless hours in the film room trying to determine the weakness of an opponent.  Similarly, generals look at places where the enemy’s line may be vulnerable in order to attack and gain the victory.
For followers of Jesus, there is an enemy of our soul.  Like good coaches and generals, he carefully examines all our lives.  He probes areas of weakness and vulnerabilities.  Ceaselessly, he tries to find an area where he can entrap us.
But first he must find the weakness.  For the Biblical character Samson, it was women.  From his earliest days until well into his forties, he was susceptible to women.  The evil one knew it.  That’s why he kept bringing godless, beautiful women into his life.
Eventually, the last one, Delilah, was his undoing.  Her wiles entrapped him.  Eventually it led to his death.
We would all do well to spend some time identifying our weaknesses.  We need to know them.  How?  Here’s one idea: be quiet for a couple of hours.  To where do your thoughts go?  To where do they wander?  What’s the subject, pictures, thoughts and words that continually come to your mind?  That’s probably your idol in life.  It’s probably your area of weakness.
What’s next?  Pray how Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  In other words, we are to pray, “Holy Spirit, lead us away, every day, every minute, from our weaknesses.  Lead us away from all temptation.”  Then steadfastly refuse to go near any place or person who tempts your weaknesses.  If Samson had done so, I think he would have remained a strong man after God’s heart for all his life.
My Dad used to tell me that this is God’s way of “nipping our problems in the bud.”  He’s right.  It shores up our weaknesses.  It strengthens our vulnerabilities.  It stops the entrapment before it ever has a chance to ensnare us.
In great frustration, the evil one then has to continue to struggle to try and find another weakness.  How fun it is for the believer in Jesus to imagine the enemy of our soul frustrated to defeat us!
Yes, the battle will always continue, until death.  Our enemy hates us.  But you now have the means of victory over all his wiles and temptations.
The victory is yours.
If you like to read the insights from the daily Bible reading in Mark, please click here.

Game Time

Tonight the NCAA Division I championship game occurs.  It’s the culmination of a great season of college basketball.
There’s nothing quite like the Final Four.  I had the privilege of playing in the 1969 Final Four.  It was madness then.  It’s even more madness now!
This week-end, I’ve been reflecting over the last decades of college basketball.  Tonight, it will be obvious how the college (and pro) basketball game is dominated by the African/American athlete.  They are especially gifted players.
Yet when I played on UNC’s 1969 team, there was only one African/American athlete.  His name was Charles Scott.  He was the first African/American basketball player at UNC and the ACC.  He was an All-American.  He was an incredible player.  Hardly a practice went by when he would “wow” his teammates with this ability.  He could play in the NBA today.  He was that good.
I reminisce about my college coach, Dean Smith, a great coach.  He was an even better human being.  When he became the head coach at UNC in 1962, I think he had his sights on integrating the UNC team.  He did so when he signed Charles Scott in 1966.  It was not an easy decision.  But it was the right one.  As a follower of Jesus, Coach Smith believed all people are created equal.  He knew it wasn’t right for the African/American athlete to be excluded from the college game.  He wanted this changed.
The integration of the college basketball game has now fully occurred.  Largely, it’s because of the courage of Charles Scott and Dean Smith decades ago.  I greatly admire both.  I pray all of us will continue to fight for the equality of all people, never basing our feelings on the color of their skin.
As I watch tonight’s game, I don’t have a “favorite” team.  May the best team win!
But I do have favorite memories of two good men, Charles Scott and Dean Smith.  Both of them greatly shaped tonight’s game and the face of college basketball.
I will especially enjoy that memory as I watch tonight’s game.
If you like to read the insights from the daily Bible reading in Mark, please click here.

Suddenly

Mark 4:26-29 are our verses today: “And he (Jesus) 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 the soil is hospitable to the seed, fruit eventually appears.  Similarly, when the human heart desires the seed of God’s Word, fruit will slowly but surely happen in a person’s life.  Over time, the farmer sleeps and rises, is faithful to his tasks, and the seed slowly but surely bears fruit.

This kind of kingdom growth is not sudden.  It happens slowly, over time, in the hearts of followers of Jesus.  This kingdom growth also slowly advances over time, over centuries, into all ethnic tribes and nations throughout the world.  We see the evidence of that happening today.

The Jews in Jesus’ day expected a messiah who would suddenly appear on the scene and suddenly eradicate all evil.  It’s one of the reasons they rejected Jesus as messiah.  However, Jesus made it very clear that his initial kingdom advancement would not be sudden but slow in advancement.  Fruit would happen but it would be slow, almost imperceptible.

But Jesus did say when the harvest was ripe, the blade, then the ear would be put to the sickle.  There would be a sudden harvest that would be gathered.  Here he is talking about his second coming.  He predicts a future time when he will return and gather his people.  At that time, he will fully establish his kingdom rule.  All evil will be eliminated.  All justice will occur.  All people will be judged.  This moment WILL be sudden.  It will happen like a thief in the night, without warning.  Suddenly, all the world will be made right.

Jesus is clearly teaching in these verses what is sudden and not sudden in his kingdom.  The slow, steady advancement of God’s kingdom will not be sudden.  This is where we are today.  The moment of his second coming will be sudden.  It’s something to which we look forward.

God will grow his kingdom.  God will complete his kingdom’s growth…suddenly and not suddenly.

To Him alone always belongs all the glory!

Breaking The Curse

Do you enjoy playing cards?  If so, you know the phrase, “You must play the hand dealt to you.”  How true!  We can’t control what cards have been dealt to you.  We can only play the cards we have in hand.
The same is true with life.  All of us have had what the Bible calls “generational curses” passed down to us.  Our ancestors, even our parents, have given to us all some “stuff” with which we have to live.
Maybe it’s something genetic.  Our doctors realize this truth.  They ask us all the time, “Is there any history of heart disease, diabetes, etc. in your family?”  They are looking for something genetically passed on to us that they can help treat.
Or maybe it’s something familial or relational.  Perhaps parents divorced at an early age and you’re still living with the thought that you caused it.  Or maybe you were abused.  Abused children are most often those who abuse their own children.  Or perhaps they were alcoholics.  Children of alcoholic parents most often become alcoholics.
What can we do with these “curses?”  Are we supposed to resign ourselves to reality and live forever under the burden of the curse?
I don’t think so.  Here’s what I’ve had to do with my “stuff.”  It’s worked for many others too:
  1. Give your life to Jesus.  He forgives all, especially what’s been done to you.  Give your past to him.  Believe he makes all things new.  Believe 2 Corinthians 5:17, that if someone is in Christ they are a new creation, the old has passed away, the new has come.  Let today be the first day of a new start, a new person!
  2. Then steadfastly decide to live by who you now are.  If you have some genetic “stuff” passed on to you, decide today that you’ll eat correctly, exercise regularly and choose a healthy lifestyle.  You’ll give yourself the best chance to live your best life now.  Also, you’ll choose today to live the way the Lord Jesus wants you to live.  You’ll break as many generational curses passed on to you that you will not pass on to your children.  Say to yourself, “This curse stops here.”  Recommit to your marriage.  Lock the door from the outside.  Don’t pass on the curse of divorce to your children.
Generational curses don’t have to be passed on.  Though the Bible says they are extended to the third and fourth generation (Deuteronomy 5:9), it also says that when God’s grace enters the picture, his love is extended to his children to the thousandth generation (Deuteronomy 7:9)!
God’s grace is always stronger than our sin, even generational sin.
Break it today.  And live free!
If you like to read the insights from the daily Bible reading in Mark, please click here.

Ears to Hear

Today’s focused verse is Mark 4:23: “If anyone has ear to hear, let him hear.”

“Ears to hear” Jesus’ words implies a desire to hear Jesus above all other words.  It involves surrender of proud self-sufficiency.  It demands total abandonment to all God desires for our lives.  It suggests a desire to hear his voice above all other voices that surround us.

In the Hebrew language, the word for “hear” is the same word for “obey”.  The two must be inextricably connected.  For a surrendered follower of Christ, if we hear his words we immediately want to obey his words.  There is no other desire in our hearts.

We have voices all around us.  Talking heads consume television time.  Bloggers (like mine) ask for your eyes and ears.  A cacophony of voices surround us.  To which ones should we listen?

I’d suggest listen first and foremost to Jesus’ voice.  That’s what he is saying here.  “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”  When he teaches, open wide your ears to hear his words.

Which means you’ll obey his words.

That’s what he is saying in this one, powerful verse.