2016 Challenge

We’re back in Matthew 9. Today’s passage is about the calling of Matthew.

 

Jesus saw Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. He told Matthew to follow Him and Matthew did.

 

The next scene shows Jesus and his disciples having dinner with Matthew and his friends at Matthew’s house. Matthew’s friends are fellow tax collectors and “sinners” – or as the Amplified Version calls them: “especially wicked” sinners.

 

I’m not sure what that means exactly, but Jesus apparently didn’t even blink an eye at it. He didn’t have a problem having dinner with sinners—of any description.

 

But the Pharisees sure did! They had a big problem with Jesus having dinner with tax collectors and sinners.

 

But, like most troublemakers, the Pharisees didn’t go to the source with their question. Instead they chose to ask Jesus’s disciples why he was eating with tax collectors and those “especially wicked” sinners.

 

Jesus heard their question and answered it Himself. He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Which He may have followed up quickly with one more syllable: “DUH!”

 

And then He insulted the Pharisees’ knowledge of the scriptures. He said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

 

The Pharisees knew that verse from Hosea 6:6 as well as Jesus did.

 

Well . . . they had read it anyway . . . at some point in time.

 

But apparently they didn’t know what it meant.

 

Let’s take a look at the verse He’s quoting: Hosea 6:6 (AMP).

 

For I desire and delight in dutiful steadfast love and goodness, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of and acquaintance with God more than burnt offerings.”

 

Here’s what I think Jesus is telling these religious leaders (and us by default).

 

I think he was telling them that if they REALLY knew the scriptures, they would know that what God wants is people who are loving and good—not just religious people who are more concerned with following every sacrifice ritual. And that He desires people whose focus is getting to KNOW HIM—not just pious posers fixated on following the letter of the law and not missing one burnt offering.

 

I don’t think God’s wants have changed. I believe He still wants people who do what it takes to get to KNOW HIM and, because of the time they spend with Him, they’ll be more loving and good than the super religious people with their perfect church attendance certificates.

 

 

I challenge all of us to be more concerned with getting to KNOW GOD in 2016 than we are with doing any religious act that will make us APPEAR more pious to other people. And let’s be the loving and good people that God wants rather than people who are known by the world to be church-y or religious.

 

 

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Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV)

9As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

 

Preparing for 2016

This is possibly my favorite week of the year. I love taking a break, reviewing the previous year and praying for and planning for the New Year.

 

Over the past few weeks I’ve read several blog posts and Facebook posts that have shared questions to ask during this reflective time.

 

So I decided to do the same thing. Here are the questions I’m asking myself this week. You may want to take some time and do the same.

 

  1. What was the best decision you made in 2015? What criteria did you use to make it? How will that help you make decisions more confidently in 2016?
  2. What was your biggest accomplishment in 2015? What lessons did you learn in the process? How will you use those lessons to make 2016 a more successful year?
  3. What was the most influential book/blog you read in 2015? What was the biggest paradigm shift it created for you? How are you going to use it to restructure your life in 2016?
  4. What was the biggest answer to prayer you received in 2015? How did it change your perspective of and relationship with God? As a result, how is your prayer life going to change in 2016?

 

I highly recommend taking a few hours this week to answer these questions or at least to review 2015 and plan and pray for 2016.

 

And I pray you and I will all have an extremely blessed and favor-full 2016.

 

Happy New Year!!!

 

 

For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome. – Jeremiah 29:11 (AMPC)

Merry Christmas!

And while they were there, the time came for her delivery, And she gave birth to her Son, her Firstborn; and she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room or place for them in the inn. – Luke 2:6-7 AMPC

I retweeted this quote by Louie Giglio over the weekend:

“If God can get Himself into a manger in Bethlehem, it’s likely He can work with your situation”

Whatever your situation, I pray you are having a blessed holiday week, enjoying family and friends, and taking time to reflect on the miraculous birth of our Savior–which gives us hope for the miracles we need today.

 

Merry Christmas!

 

A Christmas Devotional About Joseph

I pray you are having a wonderful holiday season.

Here’s a Christmas devotional I wrote about Joseph that was published in an online magazine in 2010. Enjoy!

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What a Character!

There’s nothing like a Christmas pageant to get me in the Christmas spirit. I think it’s the humanity infused into such a divine story that does it, that brings it down to my level and reminds me that this isn’t just a story about heavenly angels, although they’re included. And it’s not just about God, although He’s definitely the main character. This story is about people. People being invited by God into His Story. And the invitation is repeated every time the story is repeated.

This year I’ve discovered a character in the Christmas story that I’ve overlooked in the past. He rarely has lines in pageant scripts. He doesn’t have any superhero actions to perform. And I don’t remember the spotlight ever being aimed at him alone.

But this year I’m amazed by how I’ve underestimated this character for so long.

I’m talking about Joseph.

It’s no wonder he’s gone unnoticed. Good grief. He’s married to the Virgin Mary and he’s the temporary, stand-in step-Dad for One-Third of the Holy Trinity. It would be almost impossible to stand out in that family!

But I think he does. At least I do now.

In most of the Christmas pageants I’ve seen or been a part of, any ol’ Joe could play the part of Joseph. As long as you looked good in a bathrobe and could sport a non-descript facial expression and carry a lantern, you could play the part. If the pageant was really in-depth, you might have to say one line: “His name is Jesus.” So even if the ‘first string’ Joe doesn’t show, just about any guy in the audience could step into the role.

But not in the real story.

I’ve been reading the Christmas story again recently. I started in Matthew 1 and Joseph got my attention immediately. Not sure why after all these years I’m focused on him, but I’m beginning to see why God chose this man.

I used to think God chose Joseph because here was a guy who didn’t have a problem playing second fiddle. And I do think that was part of the reason. I’m sure Joseph was humbled that God chose him to play this role. But I think more than likely Joseph was chosen because he was already humble.

And righteous. And just. And upright. And tender. And responsive. And responsible. And brave. And self-controlled. And honorable. And respectful.

Through Matthew’s gospel, I’m starting to get a glimpse of the kind of person Joseph was and possibly some of the reasons God chose him.

You probably know the story. Joseph and Mary are engaged to be married. In their time and culture, an engaged couple doesn’t break up as easily or as often as it happens today. In fact, for them to break an engagement was similar to getting a divorce today.

So when Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant, it’s a HUGE deal. Because Joseph knows it’s not his baby. And if it’s not his baby, then it has to be somebody else’s. Which means that apparently Mary isn’t the person she claimed to be, nor who her friends and family – and Joseph – believed her to be.

So now Joseph has a decision to make.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been betrayed. Let me rephrase that. I don’t know how many times you’ve been betrayed. I believe it happens to everyone who lives very long.

Betrayal hurts. A lot. And I think the basic human response to betrayal is justice. And – speaking for myself here – not necessarily God’s loving justice. I don’t know about you, but when I’m betrayed, I want things made right—for everyone to see.

And I have to believe Joseph felt that way, too. At least for a while. Somewhere deep down inside.

But that’s not how he responded. Even though he had every right to. In fact, based on their laws, Joseph could have had Mary stoned to death in public for her “indiscretion.”

But he didn’t.

His planned response was more toward the other end of the spectrum. Joseph was going to divorce Mary secretly. Privately. He was not going to bring shame or disgrace to Mary by making a public spectacle of her.

Joseph laid aside his rights in order to spare Mary any more humiliation than she would already have to experience.

In the face of seeming ultimate betrayal, Joseph thought of Mary and her predicament above his own desire for retaliation or revenge.

Remind you of anyone?

Say, someone on a cross?

Someone who laid aside HIS rights? Someone who bore shame and disgrace so his betrayers wouldn’t have to?

Joseph definitely has my vote to play his part in The Story. Not only is he a gentle man, humble, and others-focused, but check out what happens next.

God sends a messenger to Joseph. He tells Joseph to not be afraid to marry Mary. That the baby is God’s Son and will be the Savior of the world. And that Joseph should name the baby Jesus.

And Joseph does.

Joseph listens to God, believes God, and obeys what God tells him to do.

No matter what things look like.

No matter what people say.

No matter what it costs him.

And years later, Jesus obeys His Heavenly Father.

No matter what things look like.

No matter what people say.

No matter what it costs him.

Because of the kind of person I’m discovering Joseph to be, I believe Jesus learned a lot more than carpentry in his earthly father’s workshop.

I don’t think God could have chosen anyone better to play Joseph’s role in God’s Story.

This year, I’m shining the spotlight on Joseph. I think there’s a lot I can learn from this character.

© Rhonda Fleming, 2010

 

It’s Christmastime Again

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. At least Atlanta traffic does.

I pray you take some time during the next few weeks to unplug and take a new look at this 2000-year-old Story. It’s the best!!

Here’s a devotion I wrote a few years ago that takes a closer look at an angel who played a big part in this story that never grows old.

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Gabriel and the Two How’s

Gabriel really racked up the air miles in the first chapter of Luke. He was sent to Earth twice to share special birth announcements. Well, they were actually conception announcements. Both were pretty unusual. And the recipients’ responses to the announcements seem very similar. But Gabriel’s reactions to their responses were very different. Let me explain what I’m talking about.

The first announcement is to Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest who was married to Elizabeth. According to Luke, they both followed all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They were an upstanding Jewish couple. But that was the problem. They were just a couple. No kids. And they were OLD.

One day when Zechariah’s priest division was on duty, he was chosen to go into the temple to burn incense. That’s where things got interesting. An angel appeared to Zechariah and scared him half to death. The angel told him not to be afraid. But more importantly he told him that his prayer had been heard. That his wife Elizabeth was going to become pregnant and have a son!

The angel then goes into detail about what they’re to name him and how they’re to raise him and the role he would play in God’s plan.

Zechariah’s response to all this is a question. A ‘how’ question. He asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Something about Zechariah’s question doesn’t sit well with the angel. He replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” He goes on to explain that because Zechariah didn’t believe him, Zechariah wouldn’t be able to speak until everything Gabriel had told him came true.

When he left the temple, Zechariah couldn’t even explain to the other priests what had just happened.

Zechariah went home and sure enough, Elizabeth became pregnant.

Just like Gabriel said.

And Zechariah still couldn’t speak.

Just like Gabriel said.

Now for Gabriel’s conversation with Mary.

Six months after the Zechariah trip, God sends Gabriel back to Earth. This time to Nazareth, to carry a message to a girl named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph.

Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

I think it’s interesting that Mary isn’t startled by Gabriel’s sudden appearance like Zechariah was. However, she was confused by how he greeted her. So he explained it to her. He told her his greeting was a good thing. He told her that God had chosen her for a special assignment. That she was going to become pregnant, have a son, and name him Jesus. And that Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High and that his kingdom would never end.

And just like Zechariah, Mary responds to Gabriel with a ‘how’ question. “How will this be since I am a virgin?”

But Gabriel’s response to Mary is very different than his response to Zechariah. Gabriel actually explains to Mary ‘how’ things are going to happen. ‘How’ she is going to become pregnant even though she’s a virgin. He even goes on to tell her that Elizabeth, who is Mary’s relative, is pregnant.

And then Gabriel makes one of my favorite statements in the entire Bible. He says, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

I have a feeling it became one of Mary’s favorites, too.

Okay. Those are the two stories. And the two ‘how’ questions. And Gabriel’s absolutely opposite responses.

Now I just have one question.

Why?

Why did Gabriel silence Zechariah for nine months for asking ‘how’? But six months later when Mary asks ‘how’, why did he explain everything to her?

Gabriel hasn’t appeared to me recently [or ever!] so I haven’t been able to ask him. But after looking closely at these two scenarios and the two questions, I came up with an answer to my ‘why’ that satisfies my curiosity. At least for now.

I took a closer look at Zechariah’s question. Zechariah wasn’t really asking how he and Elizabeth were going to have a son after all these years. Zechariah was asking for a sign. I think he was saying: an angel appearing to me and telling me that God has heard the prayer I’ve been praying for decades and that He is now going to answer it, isn’t quite enough for me. Telling me that my wife is going to have a boy and that we’re to name him John and explaining the role he will play in God’s plan, doesn’t exactly convince me that it’s really going to happen. I need something more.

Whoa. I think Zechariah had lost sight of something very important.

Faith.

And I think he had forgotten how important faith is to God.

Zechariah was very good at following the rules, but somewhere along the way, he had forgotten that what pleases God is faith—believing without seeing any evidence. And apparently asking for more evidence right after God sends an angel direct from His throne to share good news with you, isn’t a real smart move.

I don’t need to criticize Zechariah. I’m pretty sure I’ve been exactly where he was.

I think Zechariah’s . . . and Elizabeth’s . . . hearts had been broken several times over the years. Probably several times a year . . . for many years. Their dreams of having a family had been crushed. They had lived for decades with the shame of being childless. This upstanding Jewish couple, who followed every command and regulation God had given, lived in disgrace among their friends and relatives because they couldn’t get pregnant.

I wonder how many calluses were on their hearts. Is it even possible to keep a tender heart while living for decades in their situation?

When Zechariah doesn’t immediately jump on the baby bandwagon with Gabriel, it may have been out of self-protection. I don’t think Zechariah wanted to get his hopes up again . . . and run the risk of having them crushed again.

And I really don’t think Zechariah wanted to get Elizabeth’s hopes up again. I’m sure he had watched his wife’s heart break more times than he could count. So before he went home and told Elizabeth what Gabriel said, Zechariah wanted to be sure Gabriel knew what he was talking about. And as it turned out, he couldn’t tell Elizabeth anyway. Because Zechariah had been given the sign he requested.

Now to Mary’s question.

I think Gabriel answered Mary’s question because her question was a real ‘how’ question: How is this going to happen?

In fact, I wonder if Mary was asking an even bigger question.

A question I need to ask.

A question you may want to ask, too.

I wonder if Mary was saying:

  • I understand what’s going to happen—I’m going to get pregnant and have a very special baby.
  • Here is my current situation—I’m a virgin and not planning to get married immediately.
  • So, what is my role in this scenario? What, if anything, do I need to do differently in order for God’s plan to be accomplished in my life?

I wonder if that’s what Mary was really asking, because that seems to be the question Gabriel answered.

Gabriel told her how God was going to do something miraculous with her life.

But he didn’t tell her that she needed to do anything differently. Apparently she just needed to keep doing what she was doing. She didn’t need to go ahead and marry Joseph in order to get pregnant. She just needed to keep living her life, believing God, and remaining open to whatever adventure God brought her.

Mary’s role was to continue doing the possible part of the plan. God would take care of the impossible part.

And He did!

And He still does.

I think I need to spend some time with God and ask Him Mary’s question: What, if anything, do I need to do differently in order for Your plan to be accomplished in my life?

And then I need to listen.

And then I need to do my part—the possible part. And watch God do the rest.

For nothing is impossible with God!

© Rhonda Fleming, 2011

 

Master Question Asker

Do you know someone who asks great questions? I love spending time with people like that. I think it’s because I believe asking and answering questions are one of the best ways to get to know a person and to share who you are with them.

 

I also think good questions are a great way to determine what you really believe about something and how you can better apply your beliefs to your life. That’s why a lot of my blog posts end with application questions.

 

I think Jesus was/is the Master Question Asker. And the big question in today’s passage is one of my favorites.

 

Jesus has just told the paralyzed man on the mat that his sins are forgiven. And now the Scribes are thinking to themselves that this man is claiming to be God because He says He forgave the man’s sins.

 

And Jesus knows what they’re thinking. So He asks them a couple of questions.

 

I’m sure the first question caught them off guard, because it revealed that He knew what they were thinking and that He considered it evil.

 

The next question comes quickly on the heels of that one and is the big question.

 

Jesus asks the Scribes which is easier to say: (a) your sins are forgiven or (b) get up and walk.

 

Well, duh. It’s much easier to say your sins are forgiven because there’s no physical way to prove that it really happened.

 

But Jesus doesn’t give the Scribes time to answer. He immediately says, “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

 

So, to show them that what He says just happened (the man’s sins were forgiven) really happened, He turns to the paralyzed man and tells him to pick up his mat and walk home.

 

And he does.

 

And the crowds are in awe and praise God—which is always one of Jesus’s goals.

 

This story shows that one of Jesus’s top priorities is our spiritual condition: the first thing He did was forgive the man’s sins.

 

But Jesus didn’t leave the man in the condition He found him: spiritually or physically. Jesus went on to heal the man’s physical condition that had him bound to his mat.

 

Jesus cares about our spiritual condition. He came to earth to redeem us through His death. That was necessary because of the sinful condition of our lives.

 

And Jesus also cares about our physical condition. Today’s passage is just one of many examples of that—in the scriptures and in our world today.

 

But Jesus also wants us to KNOW Him. He wants us to know who He is and the authority He has.

 

And He uses physical expressions of His authority here on earth to prove that He is who He says He is.

 

His ultimate goal of these physical expressions is to help us recognize that He is God, that He cares about our individual situations, that He is the only one who can forgive our sins, and that all our praise belongs to Him.

 

And a lot of times He uses good questions to help us get to that point.

 

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What has Jesus recently done in your life (big or small) that helps prove who He is, how much He cares about you, and how much power and authority He has?

 

What situation in your life or in the life of a loved one has you questioning whether Jesus cares about the situation or can/will do anything about it?

 

What can you do to get to know Him better?

 

 

Matthew 9:3-8 NIV

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

 

Friends

It’s Thanksgiving week and this year I plan to spend it in Denver with my daughter. I am so thankful for her and for the close friendship we have and for this opportunity to spend a week with her in her world . . . and also spend a little time with a couple of the friends I made when I lived there.

 

Friends. They’re so important. They’re such a blessing.

 

Or not.

 

It depends on who your friends are.

 

And more importantly, it depends on where your friends take you.

 

Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

 

And John Kuebler said, “You show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”

 

The people we choose to spend time with have an effect on our life. And the more time we spend with them, the more effect they have on us.

 

And when we’re hurting and fearful and ‘paralyzed’ by life’s circumstances, it is extremely important to choose the right friends to come around us.

 

Some friends will join you in your pain and stay there. Some will even help you throw a pity party. Some will take you to the local bar to drown your sorrows. Or to the mall for some retail therapy.

 

But those aren’t the friends you need. You need friends like the ones in today’s verse.

 

Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” – Matthew 9:2 (NIV)

 

The man in today’s verse is paralyzed by illness. He’s stuck on his mat. And the friends that surround him are a blessing because they don’t get down on the mat with him and join him in his paralysis. They don’t look at him and whisper to each other, “Guys, this is hopeless.” They don’t say to him, “I’m praying for you, my friend. Let me know what I can do.”

 

No, these friends pick him up and take him where he needs to go. They don’t give up on him. They don’t just help him cope with his current condition.

 

These friends see what he can be. They understand his potential. They believe for the best for him.

 

They have faith that Jesus is the answer to whatever his problem is.

 

And they do something about it.

 

They take him to Jesus.

 

If your friends can’t see your potential, they will accept your current circumstances as final.

 

If your friends aren’t convinced God has bigger plans for you than what’s in your life right now, they’ll just try to help you cope.

 

And if your friends don’t know Jesus, they will do for you what they do for themselves . . . deal with the pain however they can.

 

Let’s face it. There may be times in life when you’ll be ‘paralyzed’ – at least for a while – by what life throws at you.

 

But if you have friends who know Jesus and who see your potential and have faith that God has even bigger plans for you than your current circumstances, then they won’t let you remain ‘paralyzed’ on your mat. They will come and remind you who you are and what you are meant to be doing and of all the great plans God has for you.

 

And then they’ll take you to Jesus. In prayer. In faith. In power.

 

And THEIR FAITH IN GOD FOR YOU will change your life.

 

That’s why surrounding yourself with the right friends is critical if you want to experience God’s best for your life.

 

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Who are you allowing to surround you on your mat? What words are they speaking over you? Where are they taking you?

 

What kind of friend are you? Are you enabling someone to just cope with their circumstances? Or are you carrying them to Jesus . . . believing He has greater plans for them?

 

It’s Done!

 

Well, it took me long enough. But I’m finally a published author. Yay!

 

My book is titled Treasure Seeker Bible Study Workbook. This workbook shares the three-question study method I’ve been using for 15 years, walks you through an example of how to do it, and gives you multiple copies of the worksheet I designed and use for my personal study.

 

This method is simple, but very powerful. It’s the method I typically use for writing my blog posts.

 

MinistryMarketplace111415

The picture is of me with a framed copy of my cover. My graphic designer, and now friend, Sarah Delaney did a fantastic job on the cover. I love it!

And my friend Kimberly Martin, owner of Jera Publishing, did a great job formatting the interior.

The only entity that let me down was CreateSpace. They are running a week behind in their printing and weren’t able to get copies to me in time for a holiday market I was involved with last weekend. But I took orders and will deliver them in the next few days.

 

My workbook is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. Or if you live in the Kennesaw/Marietta area, I can deliver without any shipping charges.

 

And now . . . on to my next book . . . or three.

 

Total Freedom

Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region. Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. – Matthew 8:34 – 9:1 NIV

Jesus was doing what Jesus always does when He delivered the two men who were possessed by demons. He was showing His compassion for people who were suffering, displaying His authority and power over everything in the physical and spiritual realms, and bringing everything back into alignment—like He always desires to do.

And when the whole town came out and pleaded with Him to leave their region, Jesus left.

He got back in a boat and went somewhere else.

It doesn’t say He healed anyone else. It doesn’t say He called out any more demons. It doesn’t even say that He said another word to the townspeople.

It just says He left.

Jesus knows who He is. And He knows how much every person on earth needs Him.

He knows the authority He carries and His ability to do whatever needs to be done so that every person on earth is free—from sin and death and demons.

And there is nothing that He wants more than for us to experience total freedom from anything and everything that hinders us from being all He created us to be. He proved that by going to the cross.

But He also knows that our “total freedom” includes our freedom to choose Him or reject Him. To accept what He’s offering us or refuse it. To follow His lead or to go our own way.

And the reason I think He gives us the freedom to reject Him is because love isn’t really love if it’s coerced or forced. Real love is freely given. We choose to love. Anything less is just a different shade of bondage.

So although He could “make” us love Him, “make” us accept Him, and “make” us do what He knows will be the very best for us, I believe He will let us live life our own way before He will take away our freedom.

What is Jesus offering you today?

Will you accept it or reject it?

Pigs and Priorities

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.  “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”

Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Matthew 8:28-34 (NIV)

Every time I read this story, I get so confused.

It’s not a difficult story to follow. In fact, it’s very simple.

Jesus and the disciples made it through the horrible storm we talked about last week and have landed at their destination across the lake.

Two demon-possessed men come to meet Him. The demons in these two men start questioning Jesus. Essentially they’re saying, “What are you doing here? It’s not time to send us to Hell yet. You’re early!”

I find it amazing that these demons recognize who Jesus is immediately. And they know what their future is. And they also know Jesus has authority over them and that He’s probably going to kick them out of their present home (the two men) because they don’t belong there and Jesus loves putting things back into alignment.

So the demons request that Jesus send them into a nearby herd of pigs.

And Jesus obliges.

The pigs go crazy—naturally—and commit suicide by jumping into the lake and drowning.

The guys responsible for taking care of the pigs run back to town and tell the townspeople what happened—to the pigs and to the demon-possessed men.

Now remember, the townspeople had not been able to travel through this particular part of town because the two demon-possessed men were so violent.

And now they aren’t.

Hallelujah! Praise God!

As a result of the report from the watchers of the pigs, the entire town heads out to the tombs.

So what did they see as they approached?

I imagine they saw Jesus and his companions. And I imagine they also saw the two men—men they had been afraid of earlier—now walking around in their right minds. The two men were probably still amazed at what Jesus had done for them. They were probably still thanking Jesus and possibly discussing going back home for the first time in a long time. Possibly dreaming what it will be like to lead normal lives again—get back to work, be respectable citizens, enjoy being husbands and fathers.

Can you imagine how it would feel to get your life back after that kind of experience? To not have people afraid of you anymore? To not be shunned? To not hate yourself and what you’ve become?

How liberated they must have felt!

And here come their fellow townspeople. Coming out to celebrate with them.

Or so they thought.

The last verse says, “Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.”

Wait! Whaaat?

There are a few other ways I would have expected that last sentence to end.

For instance, they pleaded with him to come stay in their town a few days and heal some other people.

Or to heal the other people right here, right now.

Or teach them like he had taught people across the lake.

But, no. Instead, they asked Jesus to leave their region.

They didn’t want Him anywhere near them. He was disrupting their status quo and ruining their economy.

I understand. Pigs died. I get it. And apparently that was somebody’s livelihood. Or it could have been the town’s main livelihood.

But seriously. What is a herd of pigs compared to two men getting their lives back?!? Two families getting their husbands and fathers back? A town getting two productive citizens back? How can you compare the value of a herd of pigs to the health and dignity restored to these two men?

I’m sorry but I’m confused.

But that’s not unusual these days.

A lot of things happening in our country right now confuse me.

It has become very apparent that there are several things that many people in this country consider a lot more important than human life. And sacred vows. And righteous living. And justice. And truth.

And it’s obvious there are things that some people value more than being honest. Or merciful. Or gracious. Or honoring. Or respectful. Or faithful.

In a lot of different regions of this country (education, government, media, business, entertainment, etc.), Jesus was asked to leave a long time ago.

And now we’re living in the aftermath.

So what are we going to do about it? It’s up to us.

“If MY PEOPLE, who are called by my name . . . .” II Chronicles 7:14