In the story of the wild man from Gadarenes, we see a person who is so crazy that he ran around the cemetery naked because no human chains could hold him down. We discover the source of his strength when Jesus cast a legion, or a thousand demons, out of him and into the nearby pigs. The man was in his right mind when the town came to see what was happening. He desperately wanted to go with Jesus but was told to go and tell everyone what had happened. The man shows us that we need to learn to delight in His Great Works.
“Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them.”
The Psalmist spends all of Psalms 111 extolling the greatness of God. Verse two captures the whole theme. “Great are the works of the Lord.” The Psalmist is rejoicing, which is an essential form of worship. To rejoice means to give back the joy that is inside of you. If the Joy of the Lord is our strength, then rejoicing is the form of worship expressing our gratitude.
I ran across a video the other day of the best showdowns from all of the western movies made. Most of the encounters were of two men about thirty feet apart, with revolvers on their hips telling the other to draw. Out of these standoffs came some of Hollywood’s greatest one-liners. Moses had a showdown with a powerful person in the Bible. He told Pharaoh to “Let my people go.”
“Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me.”
Chapter 10 begins the eighth plague on Egypt, the locust. These grasshopper-like insects wiped out all of the plant life. It was so bad that Pharaoh’s wise men begged him to let the people go, but God had hardened his heart, so he refused. He had a lot to lose. The Jews were a source of free labor that made bricks for his buildings and managed the livestock and farms. Pharaoh prospered off the Israelite’s backs. If he let them go, he would lose all of that.
If there is one emotion everyone struggles with, it is fear. Some deal with it constantly, while for most, it is a sporadic battle. Fear is not something to laugh off or belittle. Prescriptions to battle it is on the rise. Jesus offers an alternative treatment for His followers, and Paul tells us what it entails.
2 TIMOTHY 1:7
“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”
In Paul’s final letter to Timothy and the last one we have recorded, he starts by giving some powerful insight. We aren’t given a spirit of fear but one of power, love, and a sound mind. This is part of the victory that we have in Jesus. He has overcome the ruler of the world and replaced that fear in us with a sound mind. Timothy needed to hear this as he was leading a church with people older than him. Paul was telling him to operate in the power of the Holy Spirit, love the people God has given them, and not be given over to fear.
Nothing is better than putting your feet up after a hard day. It relieves pain and can help with circulation. Did you know God is making His enemies a footstool for His son, Jesus Christ? None other than David prophesied it would happen. You serve the Almighty God. He is stronger than any military force on earth. Don’t worry about today’s troubles. God has got it under control.
“The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
This is one of the most quoted Old Testament verses. Boice estimates that it is quoted twenty-seven times. Jesus quoted this verse in Mark 12:36 and ascribed David as the author. Why is this verse a big deal? Because it is David talking about the Messiah sitting at the right hand of God as he makes His enemies a footstool. This shows that Jesus was not only the Messiah but also will be the one who reigns at the end of time.
Many people ask why there aren’t miracles like there were in the early church. Some explain it by saying that the gifts ceased with the last Apostle’s death. Others claim there are no signs and wonders because the church lacks the faith the early church possessed. We could speculate until Jesus returns, but I believe that God can do signs and wonders when He wants to. Our job is to seek Jesus and leave the rest up to God.
“At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.”
There were a lot of miracles in the early days of the church. Signs and wonders follow the apostles through their ministry, starting with the poor man at the temple entrance. Peter prayed for Dorcas, and she was revived. Paul cast out the demon in the little girl in Philippi. We could go on and on, but God often used these to bolster the testimony of the young church. Skeptical Jews and clueless pagans were blown away by the work done through the Apostles. Some people wanted to pay them for these powers.
As a pastor, I have a unique perspective on wealthy people in the church. For the most part, they are ordinary people. The primary time their wealth becomes an issue is when a problem needs to be solved. They rise to the occasion because they have experience in this area. The challenge is getting them to see the solution through Scripture instead of money. It becomes a time of instructing the rich.
1 TIMOTHY 6:17-18
“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,”
The issue of money in the church has been around since the beginning. How are those endowed with monetary wealth to conduct themselves? First, they are to be humble and not conceited. It’s natural for the rich to think their wealth makes them better than everyone else. Seldom is that true. Next, they are to fix their hopes squarely on God and not on their riches. Too many have fallen into the trap that their money can fix everything. Finally, they are to be known for their good works. Benevolence should be their reputation. Paul wanted Timothy, and every other minister who read this letter, to teach this.
At the start of every American Football season, you hear all of the motivational speeches and slogans from the football coaches. They print t-shirts and posters to remind their players what will bring success on the field. All of this will be forgotten at the end of the season except by the winning teams. Paul gives a formula for success for Christians, but it isn’t anything like a motivational slogan.
1 TIMOTHY 6:6
“But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.”
Paul gives Timothy the formula for success as a Christian. Godliness with contentment is the way to great gain. Let’s break this down, so we understand what Paul is saying. Godliness is what it sounds like. You act like God in your behavior and words. This is manifested by obeying Scripture. Contentment is being okay with what you have and where you are. Great gain is another term for success. By obeying God’s Word and not striving for the next thing, you can find what you are looking for.
It is an interesting world we live in today. Gone is common courtesy and kindness, replaced rudeness and arrogance. It’s not uncommon to do something nice for someone only to receive an insult in return. It’s no wonder people are losing what sanity they had remaining. The world we live in today is much different than the one I grew up. To respond correctly, we need to be equipped with the right spirit.
“In return for my love they act as my accusers; But I am in prayer. Thus they have repaid me evil for good And hatred for my love.”
This passage is what is known as an Imprecatory Psalm. The author is David, and it is probably his strongest Psalm when it comes to him calling down curses from God upon his enemies. Why is David so upset? He has loved people who have turned on him and accused him. He has done them good, and they repaid him with evil. Now he is asking God to deal with them.
Trust in the government is at an all-time low. The heavy-handed policies that prevented children from going to school and congregations meeting at church have turned many people off. This has led many to question when Christians are allowed to disobey willfully. Peter and John give us a great example to follow. They cannot stop speaking about Jesus.
“But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
The transformation of the disciples from clueless to courageous is astounding. While they were with Jesus, they couldn’t figure anything out. Once they were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the pieces fell into place. Now they are standing before Israel’s Religious elite and not backing down. The Sanhedrin, the congress of all religious leaders in Israel, is telling them to stop preaching the Gospel. The Apostles’ response? “You judge whether it is more important to obey you or God. While you figure it out, we will keep preaching the Gospel.”
Everyone lives with regrets. Those regrets can come from bad decisions or awkward situations, but the worse regrets are the opportunities we didn’t take. One of those regrets can be not sharing the Gospel with a friend or family member, and then they are no longer in our lives. Take a cue from Peter, and don’t hold back. Give them Jesus.
“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
Acts 4 is one of Peter’s best sermons. He is standing in front of the Sanhedrin, giving a reason why the lame man was healed at the temple gate. He doesn’t hold back accusing the m of crucifying the Messiah. Then he boldly tells them that Jesus is the only way to salvation. Preaching the Gospel to the most educated people in Israel with Spirit-filled boldness was a daring move, but he didn’t hold anything back.
I recently heard about a church deacon beating and abusing his children. It broke my heart as one of the grown children told me the first-hand account. Sadly, several in the church knew about it and did nothing. He wasn’t removed as a deacon and continued at the church after the wife separated and took the children. He went on to do it again in his next marriage. Churches allow this to happen because they are afraid to discipline. The church is to rebuke those who continue in sin.
1 TIMOTHY 5:20
“Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.”
Paul gives Timothy a critical lesson in leadership. The church cannot survive without Biblical discipline. Notice how Paul tells Timothy to rebuke those who continue in sin in front of everyone? It serves a dual purpose. First, it addresses the habitual sin of the person and lets everyone else know that it is occurring. Second, it serves as a warning to the rest of the church so that it will make them fearful of sinning.
Are you the type of person who, once you believe in your mind, not much will change? Maybe you consider loyalty to be one of your strongest traits. You stick with those you love through thick and thin. The Bible describes this as being steadfast. That is how the Psalmist describes his love for the Lord. He has a steadfast heart that sings God’s praises.
“My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul.”
Steadfast means unmovable, not changing. Multiple times in the book of Psalms God tells us that His love for us is steadfast. Now the Psalmist is telling God that his heart is the same way. He will not move but sing His praises from the depths of his soul. The Psalmist has seen the faithful love of the Lord, and now he is attaching his heart to Him, and that is evident by the song that wells up from his soul.
When most people think of the term witness, they think of being called into court and having to answer questions from a lawyer. The truth is you can be a witness to many other events. You can go to a sporting event and witness an extraordinary performance by an athlete. Peter was a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he wasn’t afraid to tell anyone. Are you a witness to the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ?
“But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”
Peter didn’t hold back when he was brought before the Sanhedrin. He told them that they rejected the Messiah and chose a murderer instead. He flat-out accuses them of murdering Jesus. None of it mattered because the Almighty God raised Jesus from the dead, and Peter was a witness to His resurrection. The Pharisees could lodge all the accusations they wanted. The Apostles had evidence on their side.
Does your church look different than it did a couple of years ago? Have a lot of people moved away or stopped attending? Have you wondered if your church will survive? If you are in that boat, take courage from today’s scripture. Paul exhorts Timothy to remain on mission.
1 TIMOTHY 4:1
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,”
Paul’s first letter to Timothy is meant to encourage a young pastor shepherding a church by himself. We are not aware of the correspondence between the two, but you can tell by the tone that Timothy is feeling a little discouraged. Paul tells him not to fear but to stir up the gift inside to preach the Word. At the same time, Paul is realistic. He tells Timothy that many will fall away from the faith in the last days. They will be led away by lying spirits and evil doctrines.
During the 1970s, a move of God started to happen in some churches around the United States. This movement was different because it was happening amongst the hippies and surfers. It was soon called the Jesus movement, and thousands of teenagers and college students came to know Jesus. There was a spirit of love present the church hadn’t seen in decades. That unity was made possible by people seeking Jesus. They had all things in common.
“And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common.”
The early church was powerful and effective because of the Holy Spirit and was a unique unity brought on by selfless sacrifice. The church was growing, and all the needs were met because the Spirit had moved on certain people’s hearts to give. This attitude and atmosphere made it welcoming to everyone. Outsiders could tell there was something different than the normal synagogue life, and it was attracting people in droves.
When Peter encountered Jesus after the crucifixion, he needed to be encouraged. After denying Jesus three times, he felt like a complete failure. Jesus looked at Peter and asked him three times if he loved him. When Peter answered yes, he told him to feed his sheep. That was Peter’s role from that day forward. The church needs to be fed, and it comes from the pastor. They need to feed the flock.
“The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them.”
Israel has a history of priests who neglected the people. They worried more about getting rich than instructing the flock in the knowledge of God’s Word. This left a country that was ignorant and susceptible to following other gods. In the Old Testament, God judges the priests and charges them with neglecting the people. A pastor’s job is to feed the flock.
Walking from a dark room to one that is well-lit can shock our senses. Our eyes squint, we move our hands to cover our eyes until they can adjust, and there is a tingling sensation all over our body. Once we adjust, we are okay. Coming from a life of sin to one of following after Christ can be a similar adjustment. We know we are doing the right thing, but we were much more comfortable in our past lives. Paul tells us to walk in the light.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light”… “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”
Walk in the Light
The Ephesians had come from a pagan culture that catered to every pleasure. “If it felt good, then do it” was the day’s motto. Once they started following Jesus, it felt awkward. The light of God’s Word exposed their past life, and there was a temptation to hide in the darkness. Paul urges them to walk in the light. Break off that lifestyle and friendships that were unfruitful and dark.
Jesus wants us to sit humbly at his feet. Think about Mary and Martha. Martha was busy doing the jobs that made her an excellent host. Mary just sat humbly at his feet and learned. There is nothing wrong with working hard, but Jesus wants us to come and sit humbly at his feet. The woman we see today was a lady with a bad reputation, but she went to Jesus’ feet, cleaned them with her tears, and anointed his head with oil.
Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Want to recognize genuine faith? Watch a church go through a division. Those with genuine faith will rise to the top. Those whose hearts are indeed Christ’s will be made evident. Sound strange? Faith is tested by fire. Nothing increases the flames more than factions in a church. Genuine faith will see through all the hyperbole and apply scripture biblically.
1 Corinthians 11:17-22
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
The communion ceremony of the first-century church looks different than it does today. They were often called love feasts, and people would come together for what we know as a potluck and celebrate communion by eating together. In Corinth, it had become a gluttonous affair. The wealthy brought more than they needed and did not share, while others went home hungry. They were getting drunk on the wine and gorging on food. This was the opposite of what the love feast was supposed to be.
A soldier knows when it’s time for battle. He can feel it in his bones, and his mind starts the mental preparation. He goes through a checklist in his mind of everything that he will need to take on the enemy. He wants to be prepared while at the same time unhindered by anything that will slow him down. As Christians, we are soldiers in God’s army. We cannot go blindly through life thinking that nothing stands against us. Satan is fully equipped to take us out. It’s time for battle. Are you prepared?
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Time for Battle
The battle is real. It’s not like what you see in the movies with armies facing one another. It is covert operations that seek to catch you off guard. The enemy is constantly plotting ways that will trip you up. He knows that you are most vulnerable if you stumble and are down. If he can keep you down eventually, you will give up. Much of the Spiritual battle is in mind—the attacks of doubt, the bouts of anger, the lingering bitterness.