Is there anything we can learn from the Gerasene Demoniac? At first blush, as moderns, we can’t imagine what that might be. We think, “Neither I nor anyone I know lives among the dead. No one I know cries out in anguish day and night mauling their own bodies.” Are we sure about this?
Human beings are amazingly adaptive. They can live in palaces or even holes in the ground. Years ago I regularly encountered an old man in a wooded, hilly area where I was working. He always carried a paper sack and a hammer. He was dressed worse than any homeless person I had ever seen. I would try and speak to him, but he was either unwilling or the devil had his tongue. I later learned from a newspaper article that this man had been sleeping in a hole in the ground near my project. The only amenity of his abode was its newspaper insulation. This poor man may have been driven by demons into isolation and torment. Perhaps Legion had found its way from the pigs in our story to this Tulsa Demoniac. Instead of driving this host off a cliff, they had bullied him into digging his own grave and dying alone.
Just before my encounter with Christ in 1976, I was living alone in an apartment in an unfamiliar place among unfamiliar people. I had been living in darkness for some time and wanted desperately to be happy and free of torment. I do not mean to be melodramatic, but I was the prisoner of some very dark thoughts and behavior. I was becoming progressively bound by something I sensed was very strong and evil. I don’t know how else to describe it; I felt as though it was pulling me down into itself.
Drawing from scripture, observation, and personal experience, I don’t really think demons care if their hosts live in palaces, holes, or apartments as long as they can remain there and be left alone to torment and to preoccupy. Demons promote and feed on the decomposition of human life. Mine was becoming quite a feast.
As first-worlders, we ask, “If demons really exist, why don’t they manifest themselves as they did with the Gerasene?” Third-worlders would answer, “They still do.” The drama is unnecessary in the west. Here, demons can isolate and torment people en masse without hindrance. Modern society with its pace of life and materialism provide all the ingredients needed to fulfill their mission. Without detection, they are free to isolate, preoccupy, torment and bind.
Perhaps western society is the most nutritious diet demons have ever known. They can enjoy their occasional Gerasene feast and snack on us at will. Taking smaller bites creates a lower grade of torment, but it is still enjoyable fare because it is spread out over more souls and longer periods of time. Demons promote the grand illusion that man can liberate himself from the unseen adversary pulling him under. Westerners (contrary to our complimentary views of ourselves) may be as demonized as any culture in history.
Physical proximity to others does not address true isolation. In our culture, loneliness and tormented thoughts can be pacified with a mind-numbing array of options. These distractions aid us in avoiding the reality of our own bondage. Our affluence allows us to dive deep into our own holes and insulate them with fantasy and distraction. As we live vicariously in the illusions promoted by our culture, we separate ourselves from ourselves, others, and God. You might say, “I don’t see this at all!” Exactly. So…is it time to congratulate ourselves or the god of this world, whose mission it is to blind the minds of the unbelieving?
I have a vision of God’s kingdom. I see a day when its citizenry awakens and exposes the legions of demons feeding upon us. Light will shine into the darkness of our holes. Souls and institutions, adapted to darkness, imprisoned by pornography, philosophy, entertainment, gambling, wealth, bitterness and a legion of others, will be set free by Jesus Christ. Like the Gerasene, they will want to follow him but Jesus will say, “Stay here. Go tell the story of what great things the Lord has done for you and how He had mercy on you.” And, as it was with the prisoner of the tombs, these write-offs of humanity will obey and cause their neighbors to marvel.
Father, Permit us to see the lonely isolated ones around us. May we serve to liberate them into Your life. Help us identify those who are crying out, who have adapted to their own personal hell. May Satan’s plots all backfire. May You deliver not just one or a few tormented ones but rather legions of souls who can shout from the housetops what great things you have done for them. Amen.
Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat. (Luke 22:31)
Imagine what your response would be if Jesus locked eyes with you and said, “The devil’s intentions are to separate you and I, but I have prayed for you that your faith not fail you.” What would you say?
Peter’s response was defensive as if Jesus had wrongly accused him of deficient trust or lack of loyalty; “No way Lord, I know myself well enough and I would go to jail or even die with You before I would abandon you.” Three times Peter was given the opportunity to stand fast in his identification with Jesus. Three times he cratered. No doubt Satan assumed his victory as Peter fled, overcome by the events in and around him. Imagine the horror as he watched his closest friend, the Son of God, being mocked and beaten. Imagine his guilt, knowing that, by his inaction, he was a conspirator to this worst of all crimes – the crucifixion of God’s Son.
But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. (from Luke 22:32)
Peter’s greatest challenge may have become just living with himself – a very different man than he had supposed. However, while Peter was feeling damned and Satan was celebrating, Jesus’ prayer was being answered. Jesus had used Satan’s attack to help empty Peter of self-delusion. Until Peter could recognize his need he could not be filled with the life of God. Until he saw who he was not, he could not become who God intended him to be. In the process of following Jesus, we are not only saved from hell but equipped for life with new identities, in Christ.
A friend of mine tells me of his struggle to believe. He says, “Faith is a gift. One either has it or they don’t”. I agree that faith, as it relates to our initial salvation, is a pure gift. However, from that point on, we must exercise that gift as if it were a muscle. We must live by faith. Faith becomes that denari we can either bury or invest.
As with Peter, Satan desires to sift us, separating us from God. At the very least, he wants to create that illusion. However, we have a savior who is interceding for us, and a shepherd who will not loose a single lamb. In those moments where it appears we have been sifted – where we have proven our faithlessness to ourselves and to the world, we can have confidence that Jesus’ prayer will be answered. The faith he has given us will grow if only we will persevere. (Check out Romans 5:1-3 and James 1:2-4)
Father, that you are present and faithful at all times and circumstances is a wonderful yet difficult truth to grasp. If and when trials or attacks come our way, may our response be increasingly influenced by the reality that we are yours. Teach us to invest wisely, especially in the presence of our errant thoughts and emotions. With liberated hearts, may we declare your goodness. After our seasons of disorientation, help us grasp that we have always been secure in You. And may our lives, like Peter, become nourishment for Your lambs. Amen.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him
And He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
I think when I memorized this verse, shortly after becoming a follower of Christ, I had a vision of the Lord and I, hand-in-hand, venturing higher and higher on some ascending and scenic trail. In that higher altitude I would be at peace with the world, with no more cares than a lily. I had also memorized Matt 6:28: “Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin.” This verse, coupled with Joshua 1:8, left me with the further impression that if I would continue to hide His word in my heart, that this path would proceed on a more or less direct course to prosperity and success. I liked this plan! If I would do this, then the Lord would do that. I loved the idea of traveling hand in hand with Peace and Success as my escorts. I was more than ready to jettison Loneliness and Failure—the perceived outfitters of my previous life, who I believed had led me into a box canyon of misery. Yes, leaning on this understanding of the Christian life was going to make my journey an enjoyable and, I believed, a pretty manageable affair.
We have grandchildren now, and they remind me how cute and clueless toddlers are. I am pretty sure the Lord was smiling down at me as I began toddling—imagining that this Christian life was going to be something I could actually manage by way of my understanding.
I was amazed at how quickly the trail started to twist and to turn! But it was okay. I was determined to not get lost by following any dead-end trails of sin or bad doctrine. I was loaded up with memorized scriptures and just knew they would light the way to my high places. However, as I started traveling with a wife and kids, facing some vocational, financial, and relational challenges, my vision went fuzzy. The terrain, the scenery, and even my companions changed on me. On this lap around the mountain, Peace and Success passed the baton to Sorrow and Suffering. What’s the deal! This is not at all working out according to my understanding! I could see with my own eyes that we were going in the opposite direction! The “amen” of my perpetually praying heart was replaced with an “OMG!”
The do not trust in your own understanding-part of our passage probably made its first major contribution to my life as the Lord was removing—excuse me—tearing the myth from my heart that I could manage anything with understanding, however biblically accurate it might be. Learning to place my trust in the Lord when things inside me and around me felt out of control seemed to be the only path remaining for me. Honestly, it still is.
It would be enjoyable and, I think, valuable for us to reflect on our stories and tell each other about those times where we learned (or were failing to learn) to trust in Christ and acknowledge Him. I will recommend, once again, a favorite book of mine, Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. As well as any story, I believe this allegory gives a representative account of our journey to the higher places in God. It has been particularly helpful in those seasons when the trail vanished or seemed impossibly steep or to be leading in the wrong direction.
The myth has now been replaced (at least to some degree) with an experience-based revelation that His life within me is a mystery far greater than my finite mind can lay hold of or, in any way, control. Literally, Christ is my life and His ongoing revelation of this reality has required that I experience life’s ups and downs and twists and turns with Him. I believe these more rugged stretches of the trail have served to reveal the mysterious essence of life in Christ. Without them, I feel sure I would have been left to my delusions.
If I have learned anything, it is that the abundant life is all about living life with Him, no matter what we encounter on the trail. It is really only through my rest in His love that I can entrust my heart to Him at all. Christ alone (not my understanding of Him or the Bible) is my sufficiency. Our lives are like a lantern. Our spirit’s flame glows or dims depending on how we respond to trail conditions. We must walk carefully, for we are being observed: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Confession. I have not always appreciated God’s company along the trail. Overtime, my “OMG!” evolved into an elder-brother kind of bitterness—something that can nearly obliterate the view of the trail and even make a mockery of the high places. It definitely obscured my vision of God as my Father.
For the record, I am so glad I memorized those scriptures and I am so grateful for His Word! I am also more grateful than ever before for His Spirit who has breathed life into my stockpile of Bible knowledge and connected at least a few of the dots.
Father, thank you for being our good and capable Shepherd. May we see and acknowledge Your lovingkindness in the midst of our current circumstances. May we continue to learn how to prefer Your leadership over our own understanding. Amen.
Job is confessing the folly of babbling about things far beyond him – wonders, way over his head, things about God that he had picked up second hand. Job’s admission could be a bit concerning to a blogger like myself. After all, Proverbs tells us words should be used very wisely and that too many of them lead unavoidably to sin. And yet we are also told words (of some type) must be proclaimed.
What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. (Matthew 10:27)
After 40 years of following Jesus, I pray I am beginning to know the difference between babbling and proclaiming – from going on about propositions (however true) and simply telling my story – where, I pray, truth is becoming experiential reality. To be sure, I have babbled. In reviewing my writings between 1995 and 2005 I found much Job-ish babbling. Beneath all my words, there were subtle questions regarding God’s goodness and His wisdom. While Augustan wrote his “Confessions” Cummins had penned his “Complaints”.
My writing and speaking had the tone of honest inquiry but my proclamations were laced with a bitterness I didn’t even see. My religious skin prohibited me from coming right out and thinking it, but my heart was extremely agitated by a few fundamental unanswered questions; “Where were You when I needed you God?” “Have I not been a faithful servant?” “Why do You not speak to me as You apparently speak to others?” “Have I not sought You diligently?”
I was a teaching elder in my church, yet I had struggled for years to rest in God’s love. I had been fueling my heart with information and doctrine. This was the equivelent of trying to run a car on wood, hay and stubble. These things might be combustible but they will ruin an engine. It is amazing (and sad) but I had very strong convictions about the bad fuel choking my engine. When I opened my mouth or pressed the keys on my keyboard (often with great force), what came babbling out of my heart, was a loveless, lifeless, religious noise.
If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matt 6:23)
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor 13:1)
Job, and the rest of us, are sharing space with angels, demons and their commanders. We do not know who to blame at times for our plight. We are all familiar with this line of thinking; “If God is sovereign and if He is good then why ________?“ We then fill in the blank with our complaint. Job and I had erred in how we were completing that sentence. With this supposed honest spirit of inquiry hiding in our hearts, our songs will become a dirge. On many an occasion, as I lead worship, I was really just whistling in the dark.
Whether we perceive our unwanted circumstances as an attack or the woodshed, Hebrews 4:13 must influence our interpretation and response. This brief sentence has been life to me …
All things are open and laid bare to him with whom we have to do.
If we will persevere through our trials and testings with Him, we will emerge in Him, armed with an upgraded story, empowered by the unique authority of personal experience. These earned-words which only we are positioned to share can often slip past barriers others have to professionally crafted messages. Truth that is lived carries authority. Our story becomes a humble and disarming first hand account of God’s involvement in the affairs of men. Our stories are a visible reality that a good God is inclined toward men with mercy and kindness. Our lives and our words will resonate and awaken hope and faith in others.
I had acquired as much Bible knowledge, read as many books and listened to as many teachings as most, but like Job, in many ways…
I had only heard of Him by the hearing of the ear. (from Job 42:5)
Usually what I had to say (with conviction mind you), was second hand. However, after my season of darkness, like Job, I too retracted my questions and repented as best I could of my speculative babbling. Today, while they are no doubt imperfect, I have more confidence in my proclamations.
But now my eye sees Thee. (the balance of Job 42:5)
If we are in the darkness, let us give thanks because it is there where He will speak to us. What He whispers there in our ears can ultimately be proclaimed from the housetops.
Father, help us to update our stories by listening to You in the midst of whatever our current darkness may be. May we emerge from our circumstances in faith having fresh confirmation in our hearts of Your goodness, Your kind intention and Your power. May both the spirit of our questions and our words be flavored by love, by boldness and with a joy that is appropriate for the sons and daughters of a great king and a good Father, such as You. Amen.
Do you ever find yourself agitated in spirit where something deep inside you is on edge but you really don’t know what’s up? That’s what has been going on with me. But, it has been helpful to pause and expose this thing to God. The habit of waiting, subjecting my distressed (and often putrid thoughts) to a fresh stream of truth does my heart good. This morning His words are bringing clarity and perspective, relieving me of some of the rancor within.
I looked up “rancor” just to make sure my application was consistent with the actual meaning. The example it offered was: “In the end, the debate created a degree of “rancor” among the Sunday school members.” Yes. “Rancor” is the right word. Thank you, Mr. Webster.
I confess: I substituted “Sunday School” for “committee” in the above definition. I took this liberty because (as I read Psalm 125) I backtracked my tumult of spirit to a Sunday School class which recently turned into a town hall debate, exposing a gulf between one side of the political canyon and the other.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
And to those who are upright in their hearts. (Psalm 125:4)
This verse is God’s-common ground to those on either side of the divide. As I listened in, I heard in both the longing for righteousness and social justice. Both the super-majority, who are my friends, and the super-minority who is my friend, want to see good.
Media does not help. Their method of hosting our political discourse assumes there is no common ground. It forces us to shout sound bites at each other across the divide. I believe that ‘there is no common ground’ is a lie promoted by the father of lies whose mission it is to divide. He is no doubt pleased with the nasty spirit of our debates and the growing divide in our culture.
“Oh great! Here Rob goes over-spiritualizing things again!” This was the warm feeling I got when I stepped into the gulf and tried to say something unifying in this divided Sunday school class. Neither side knew what to do with me. Both contingents viewed me as a defector from their camp. If my 100% pledge of allegiance to a side is the cost of belonging, then, in truth, I can’t belong.
My bright and sensitive son attended a Christian school where he learned the Westminster catechism and more. We discovered the and more on the way home from school one day when he asked us to pray for a close friend of our family. (It happened to be my super-minority friend). We were taken aback! What had awakened the intercessor in our son? I said “Ok, son what shall we pray?” He replied, “We need to pray for Jerry—he’s a democrat.” My son knew intuitively that this leftward leaning soul was damned due to an infection apparently as fatal as sin—the wrong political ideology.
Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. (Psalm 125:1)
My brief study of Mount Zion revealed it as the city of the great King David, the seat of power in a time thought of as Israel’s golden age.
So the Lord surrounds His people
From this time forth and forever. (from Psalm 125:2)
Those who have submitted to the rulership of Jesus are looking for “the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” They have citizenship in heaven. Because they have been raised up with Christ, they keep seeking the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. They set their minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Hebrews 11:10, Phil 3:20, Col 3:1-2).
Political discourse, as it is, moderated by a biased media, breeds hopelessness, frustration, and agitation of spirit, as it focuses on our differences, highlights the negatives, and stirs up contention (and consequently rakes in huge profits). Unfortunately, at least in this hour, media thrives on division and, in my opinion, disqualifies itself as a useful moderator of any meaningful or productive discourse.
As the water of His word washed over my soul this morning and gave it needed perspective, my agitation was altered to more of a hope-oriented type of longing, which I pray is an appropriate emotion for those who have been subjected for a time (along with creation) to a season of futility.
For we know the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together.” We have hope though because creation itself will be set free from it slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19)
Our King came to us from heaven born as a child and a government of peace rests on His shoulders. There will be no end to the increase of this government or His rule over this kingdom. He will uphold it with justice and righteousness for evermore. This is going to be accomplished by the zeal of the One who is called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace. (From Isaiah 9:6-7)
Father, Your Word gives us peace and hope in a world where it is in short supply. May the sons and daughters of the Kingdom arise. Birth a dialogue that honors our common ground—our instinctive love of righteousness and justice. May Truth and Wisdom be vindicated by her words of love, wise counsel, and deeds of social justice. May this new conversation birth unexpected healing and unity in behalf of all men for Your name’s sake. When You return, may You find us conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ’s kingdom, standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel. Thank You for restoring my spirit again and again. Amen.
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. (John 14:1-4)
In John 13:36 Jesus had just told Peter, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” Jesus words themselves are enough to trouble one’s heart. He just told Peter that Peter knew the way where He was going, but that he couldn’t come—at least not now. Peter, holding on to his life for all its worth, presses the matter: “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” The Lord replied, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a cock shall not crow until you deny me three times.”
Jesus was telling Peter that he was about to find out just how little he really knew about himself. Peter was understandably troubled. His way of seeing things was being threatened and his agenda was at risk if Jesus was going somewhere without him. At the close of his gospel, John speaks to this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” The Father did this with His Son. And, as He came to terms with God’s ways, Jesus responded, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done.”
Jesus may have known what was coming, but Peter didn’t. Peter was blindsided. Jesus had to take his hand and lead him somewhere he did not wish to go so that he might follow Him later. Peter could have never gone the distance with Jesus had he not stretched out his hands and allowed Jesus to take him to the place where he saw his flesh and its deep entanglement with the world.
Jesus takes our hands as well and leads us to the place where we see our independence and selfish agendas. No doubt our hearts too will be troubled when we are blindsided. However, if we will let Him hold our hands, He will lead us into a brokenness that changes our relationship with Him forever. The Lord has led us here for a purpose. As we come to grips with our bankruptcy, He is free to first become our sufficiency, then as we mature, our abundance, as we trade what we cannot keep for that which we cannot lose.
Many are looking beyond the horizon of this life for the place Jesus has gone to prepare. That will be a glorious day indeed. While we wait, it is also good to acknowledge that He has, in a very real sense, already received us to Himself, that where He is, there we are also. “And you know the way where I am going.”
Yes we do. Jesus is Himself the way, the truth, and the life, and He now resides in us as a current hope of glory. It is invaluable to know that, while we have homes in heaven, we are currently God’s address on earth.
Father, enlarge our hearts that we may claim current hope without forfeiting future hope. Help us to offer our trembling hands to you. May we learn to deny ourselves and not You. May we allow You to gird us with Your life; take us anywhere Your good and wise heart aspires. May Your will be done and not ours. Relieve our troubles with the knowledge that we are Yours and You are ours, forevermore. Amen.