Are Your Fears Legion?

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“Legion” was a Roman Army regiment consisting of about 6,000 soldiers. In the New Testament, the word was never used in its military sense, but rather to symbolize an extraordinarily large number.

So what does this have to do with anything?! Luke 8:26-39 records Jesus’s encounter with a demon-possessed man. What amazes me about this is how absolutely certain demons are that Jesus is the “Son, of the Most High God” (v. 28b NLT). I mean, as soon as the man saw Jesus, “he shrieked and fell down in front of Him” (v. 28a), not in worship, but in assent to Jesus’s authority. Demons know their final destination. “Legion” repeatedly begged “Jesus not to send them into the bottomless pit” (v. 32).  As such, Jesus gave “Legion” permission to enter a herd of pigs, where they “plunged down the steep hillside into lake and drowned” (32b-33). How often do we have a holy awe (fear) of Jesus’s Supremacy and Authority that we fall down in worship, praise, thanksgiving?

What also amazes me about this passage are the different reactions/responses to Jesus’s casting out “Legion.” The herdsmen who saw what happened ran into the town and countryside to spread the news (v. 34). They were excited to share what they had witnessed. When the townspeople arrived seeing the formerly demon-possessed man sitting at Jesus’s feet fully clothed and sane, they were full of fear and asked Jesus, “to go away and leave them alone” (v. 35-37a). When does fear cause us to tell Jesus to “go away” or “leave”? Jesus is a gentlemen, when He is asked to leave, He will.

The man who had been freed from demons  begged to go with Jesus. In essence he was asking Jesus if he could be his disciple (v. 38a). This man was ready and willing to leave everything and follow Jesus, yet Jesus sent him home. Jesus did not reject this man from being his disciple, he refocused him to be his disciple in his hometown by “proclaiming the great things Jesus had done for him” (v. 39). The man obviously did not feel rejected, dismayed or disappointed because He obeyed Jesus.

How often do we let fear or disappointment keep us from following Jesus because our plans did/may not come to fruition? How often do we let fear hinder our proclamation of what Jesus has done in our lives? The most effective witness is the one who proclaims what God has done in their life!  Is it possible that we respond more often like the townspeople rather than like the herdsmen or formerly demon-possessed man?

May we not let our “legion” of fears keep us from embracing Christ! May we confess our fears to God and trusted friends so that we may live in freedom rather than bondage.

Father God, as You have given Jesus Supremacy and Authority over nature (Luke 8:22-25), demons (8:26-39) and death (8:40-56), so to do You have Supremacy and Authority over our lives . Lord, You are greater than ALL our fears! Lord, may we not fear You. May we not fear the call that You have on our lives. May we not fear to proclaim what You have done in our lives. Lord, may we meditate (mutter/murmur) on Your goodness more than we meditate on our fears. May we submit to Your Authority Lord, even when it is scary. Thank You Father for Your Word. May we be as excited to share Your news as the herdsmen. May we reject attitudes and responses that resemble the townspeople and may we be willing to follow You no matter what the cost. Lord, for those who do not know You, I ask that You soften their hearts today. Lord, I ask that today be the day where they acknowledge their need for You. Lord, may this dear reader allow You to set them free from their “legion” of fears. May I allow You to free me from mine. Lord, fear is never something that is easy to discuss, may You fill this reader with courage and the peace of Your Presence. Thank You, Father, for every answered prayer, Amen.

 

Who Are You Following?!

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My last post about emulating Jesus has me pondering, who are we following? When Jesus called Andrew and Peter saying, “Come, follow Me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Matt 4:18-19) they immediately followed Jesus. When Jesus called James and John they immediately followed Him as well (4:20-22). Jesus was first calling Andrew, Peter, James and John to discipleship then to evangelism.

“Follow me” in Greek literally means come after me or come behind me.  We are to come after/behind Jesus and be His disciples. I am always fascinated by the word disciple because it means more than just students learning from a teacher. The word disciple is transformational, becoming like the teacher. The learner is so devoted to their teacher that they emulate Him in every aspect of their daily life. Are we following Jesus so closely as to emulate Him in our daily lives? Or are we emulating the world and all its bitterness and hostilities?

This passage again is not a call to evangelism. All the time we hear that we need to go and fish for people. Yes, that is true, we are most certainly called and commanded to do so; however, that is not the focus of this passage. Discipleship is the focus and as Craig Blomberg states, “When Jesus calls a person to discipleship, there is no excuse for delay or disobedience.” Only as we are in a relationship with Jesus, learning from Him and His Word are we able to go and “fish for people!”

Discipleship is a LIFELONG process! Following Jesus and emulating Him is 24/7/365. There are NO days off in the Christian faith! I am NOT saying this is easy. I get it wrong A LOT. My family and friends will tell you that as well! But after each sidestep, mess up, screw-up, after each time I run ahead of Jesus, there He is calling me to come behind Him again. Jesus is doing the same for you!

The historical-cultural context to this passage humbles me. “Come, follow me” is what every Jewish male would want to hear. Very few ever heard a Rabbi say this. Some if not most students approached the Rabbi they wished to follow and asked directly if they could be his disciple. Often times the student was told “no.”  Andrew, Peter, James and John were part of the uncalled and unchosen, yet they knew the meaning and significance of Jesus’s command, “come, follow Me.” These fulltime fishermen received the call they were always longing for.

For me personally, I know what it is like to not be called. I know what it is like to be the last kid picked in gym class. I know what it is like to sit on the sidelines and wonder what is wrong with me or why not me?! What amazes me about this is that Jesus called normal, average every day people to follow Him. For those who are believers, I pray that you will be humbled knowing that the Creator of the World has called and saved you for a purpose right here and now, as well as in eternity. For anyone reading this who is an unbeliever,  I pray the Holy Spirit will work in your heart that you may heed His call.

Father God, I thank You for the opportunity to be Your disciple/learner/pupil. Lord, I ask that You will help this precious reader/hearer to know You more, that they may emulate You in areas where they are having difficulty. Lord God, You know this life is NOT easy. You know what each one of us is facing and will face. Help us to respond in a way that stays behind You, following You. Lord God, for the person who does not know You, I ask that You will soften their heart, I ask that You will make Yourself known to that person. Lord, send someone to speak to that person in the way they need. Lord God, I ask that You will help us to follow You and emulate You in this ever darkening world. I ask Lord, that Your people will be strengthened and that they will be prepared to follow You even when it costs them something. Father, thank You that You give life and life abundantly. Lord, I am so thankful that following You is the most adventurous and exciting journey I could ever be on. Reward this reader with the gift of Your Spirit, lead them as they follow You and may they emulate You for Your glory, in Jesus’s Name and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

Gospel

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I am absolutely amazed by the Gospels and the Gospel genre. The more I study and learn, the more overwhelmed, humbled and awed I become. I knew that Gospel meant “Good News” but I had no idea that it was used in a propagandistic way to announce the birth or ascension of an emperor. For example, when Octavian (aka Caesar Augustus) was born, his birthday was celebrated as the inauguration of the good news (gospel) for the world. [What brings a massive smile to my face is that Octavian’s birth announcement was proclaimed by man while Jesus’s birth announcement was proclaimed by an angel from the Lord (Luke 2:8-14).]

The feature of the Gospels’ genre that has changed my life and that is continuing to change my life because I cannot stop thinking about it is this: the Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) wrote with the intent that Jesus was to be emulated. Based on genre alone, the original reader/hearer would have understood they were encouraged to submit to the Gospel writers’ proclamation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that salvation has come through Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension.

Mark 1:1 affirms this premise, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1 ESV, emphasis mine). Again, just by genre alone the original audience would have known that Jesus was the main character and the one they should emulate. This just sets me absolutely on fire for God!

Pennington (Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, 2012, pp. 33-34) states, “To read the Gospels well is to submit to their proclamation.” How well am I reading the Gospels? By learning the genre of the Gospels, we can see plainly that the subject, Jesus, is the fulfillment of God’s kingdom and that believers through the Evangelists’ Gospels are motivated, encouraged and required to become more like Christ. While the Gospel message proclaims a historical Man, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, born of a virgin, taking on flesh, living, breathing, working, playing and dwelling among people; who was crucified, dead and buried and on the third day rose again, the same Evangelists also proclaim the responsibility that believers/readers/hearers have in obeying their proclamation.

Father God, help us to submit to the Good News. Help us to obey and live out the Gospel that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, Your own Son who lived, died, rose from the dead and is now seated at Your right hand. Lord God, I ask that You will stir this reader/hearer to learn more about the Gospel genre. I ask Lord, that You will help each of us to read each Gospel account separately rather than trying to harmonize them. Lord, may we let Matthew speak for Matthew, Mark for Mark, Luke for Luke and John for John because each Evangelist was writing to a different audience and had a different message about Jesus and His life, character and mission. Lord God, may we be a people who read, share and live Your Gospel well. May we submit to the Evangelists call to emulate Jesus. Lord, may we allow You to transform our lives through Your Word and through our experiences with You. Thank You Father that You are NEVER more than a thought away. I thank You Lord for this reader, may You speak to them in a very personal way today. Thank You, Jesus, for Your Good News, Amen.

 

Goodbye, Hello

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Father God, I ask that You will prepare this reader for October and October for them. Lord, I ask that for those who are anxious and nervous about what October will bring that You will give them peace and patience. Lord, for those in need of a new beginning, I ask that You will be present. Lord, for those who are hurting and for those who have lost loved ones in this past month, be with them. Comfort them. Lord God, I ask that whatever side of the political aisle this dear reader resides, they will remember You are above all. Father, thank You that You are greater than all our fears. You are greater than anything we will ever face. Lord, thank You for the gift of Your Spirit. Thank You for never abandoning us. Lord, thank You again for this reader. I ask that whatever this reading is seeking, You will bring them clarity. Father, I thank You that nothing we do will ever separate us from Your love. May we live free in Christ, may we believe that our identity is in Christ and not in this world. Lord, thank You for all that You have done, are doing and will do. We are counting on You, Jesus, and it is in Your Name we pray, Amen.

Junk

I have a love and dislike relationship with my husband’s truck! Yesterday, I found myself wandering in a pick and pull (junkyard) for hours looking for a VERY specific part for Nathan’s truck. Now, for those of you who do not know me, let me assure you, that is a SHOCKING statement! I do NOT like junk, I do NOT like being around unclean things and I most certainly did NOT know what a pick and pull was prior to yesterday!

As soon as the vehicle was in park I said to Nathan, “I will wait here.” He gave me a look and I said, “fine.” I got out of the vehicle with camera in hand ready to take a picture to send my mom, only to be greeted by a sign that read in big black letters, “NO CAMERAS, NO PICTURES!” I am already a bit on edge so imagine my surprise when I learned that just to enter this place was going to cost $2 USD per person! I was baffled at the thought that I had to pay to look at junk! I confess I did say rather loudly, “I should have stayed in the car!”

To help make this experience even more pleasant, some nice soul (yes, that is snarky!) decided it was a good time to burn plastic. Don’t you know the wind starts to pick up and the smoke blows right at me! At this point I am choking and miserable. I said a quick prayer asking God, “to help me NOT freak out on Nathan!”  God, in His mercy, responded by opening my eyes to my surroundings. He brought to mind Job sitting on the ash heap as his once well oiled life was turned into a dump/wasteland.  [What amazes me about the book of Job is that it is the oldest book in the Bible. Job lived after the Tower of Babel (Gen 10) and before Abraham (Gen 12), I mention these details because this means God addressed human suffering from the beginning!]

As I was staring at all the junk, I could not help but to think of Ezekiel 37 and his vision of a wasteland with dry bones; I thought about Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth, who we are first introduced as barren women. I also thought of Moses roaming the backside of the desert.

While I was walking around and watching Nathan dig and pray for this VERY specific part, God opened my eyes to see the junkyard as a metaphor for life. How many of us have circumstances where we are sitting on ash heaps? How many of us think our lives are a wasteland beyond hope? How many of us if we are honest think our lives are worthless junk, never amounting to anything? How many of us are going through a dry, barren and desolate time?

I do not know what Nathan said to interrupt me, but I could tell he was getting frantic he might not find this VERY specific part! It wasn’t much longer when Nathan let out a triumphant shout. He had found his VERY specific part! I hurried to give him the tools he had me carry. I will humbly confess, when I looked inside the beat up, foul smelling truck, I noticed what was left of the flooring and said, “there could be rats in this thing!” and at that, I freaked out! I said loud enough for anyone to hear, “I am SO glad that we are laying up treasure in heaven free from moths, rust, rats and thieves!” (Matt 6:20).  I will freely admit, the junkyard is a great reminder why we are to store up heavenly treasure rather than earthly treasure (Matt 6:19-21).

Each one of us has a VERY specific part in God’s story! Some of us have more miles than others, some of us have rougher exteriors, but the one thing that we have in common as believers is that we are NOT junk! No hurt, no pain, nothing that we go through is EVER wasted. Remember this: God never wastes a hurt! God also cannot and will not live with junk; you have inherent worth as being created in His Image (Gen 1:27).  I have NO idea what you are going through; however, for the person who endures and perseveres, the Lord will transform and restore. That does NOT necessarily mean God will restore in the same way as Job or reward with the VERY specific part for a truck. However, He will dust us off and give us new hearts. He will also give us peace with Himself and each other.

Father God, I thank You Lord that whether a person is a Jesus follower or not, they are created in Your image. Lord, I thank You for the VERY specific part each believer has in Your family, story and Kingdom. Lord while we may have junk in our lives, I thank You we are NOT junk! Remind this reader Lord, even if their life resembles a junkyard or wasteland, it does not mean it will always be this way. Lord, impress on this reader the importance of storing up treasure in Heaven rather than here on earth. Lord, thank You for Nathan. Thank You for his heart, humility and support in allowing me to share this experience! Thank You Father that You desire to pick and pull people from sin, junk, and darkness and place them into Your light and family, Amen.

For those wondering, Nathan has a 1975 Chevy 3/4 ton pickup truck that I have affectionally dubbed, “Gremlin.”

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Photo taken by Mandy Sweigart-Quinn, 18 October 2017

 

 

Affirmation

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Yesterday in Residency my professor had us do a team building exercise to affirm members of the class. After the exercise was finished, my professor asked, “did you think it was hard to look the person in the eye when you were affirming them? We have no issue looking people in the eye when we are correcting or disciplining them, yet we tend to not make eye contact when we say something positive.”

In typical Mandy fashion, I blurted out, “I have NO problem making eye contact with the person I am affirming, but I have difficulty making eye contact with the person affirming me.” There were other people in the room who agreed with what I said.

All morning I have been asking God to examine me and reveal to me, “how well am I affirming those whom I come in contact with daily?” I think I am good at encouraging and affirming people who I do not see often or people I know who are hurting, but again, how well am I really affirming those I interact with daily/live with? Am I affirming my husband or am I tearing him down? Am I affirming my mom or am I impatient and mean? I do not have children, but I would like to think I would ask myself if I am giving my child as much affirmation as I am giving them correction/discipline?

How about you, how well are you affirming those you live with/interact with daily?

God truly has a sense of humor! While I am asking God to test me to reveal how well I am affirming others, the Lord is asking me, “how well are you receiving affirmation?” OUCH! I confess, I do not take affirmation well. When someone affirms me, I do one of three things: I deflect with a joke, say thank you quickly, or change the subject. I just realized, when someone corrects me or speaks sternly to me, I keep my head up and look them in the eye, yet when they affirm me I gaze avert or put my head down.

As I reflect over my actions, I cannot help but wonder how many times my fear and pride hurt a well intended person? When I affirm someone, I want them to receive the message even if they feel uncomfortable. Again, as I reflect on this, what right do I have to dismiss someone when I do not want them to dismiss what I have to say? That is hypocrisy at its finest.

As believers we are called to affirm and support each other. I hope, dear reader, you will allow the Holy Spirit access to examine your mind, heart and actions when it comes to how you give and receive affirmation.

Lord God, help us to give and receive affirmation in a way that builds the body and displays Christ to this dark and hurting world. Thank You Father for the gift of community. Father God, thank You for this reader and may You meet with them right where they are, in Jesus’s Name I pray, Amen.

 

Who Are You Representing?

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My mom had a motto growing up that I still hear to this day, “when you leave this house, you represent this family, how you act will determine how people view this family! Mandy, do you understand that you are a representative of this family?” I cannot tell you how many times I said to people when I did something foolish or ridiculous, “my family does not do this,” “I am not representing my family,” “please do not judge my family,” “only I do things like this!” My mom is one wise woman! No other line or motto has done more in/for my life than this!

Every single day you and I are representing something and someone; from the clothes we wear, to the car we drive and the food we eat. We represent our families, jobs, friends. Every moment of every day we are representatives of our beliefs. If you are a Christian, how well do you represent the Christ that you profess?

Are you representing Jesus authentically or are you selling some great version of yourself that only those super close to you would know is not 100% accurate?! Are you confident, timid, fearful, anxious, gentle in representing your faith? Do you fear judgment from others based on your faith and beliefs? If you are a Christian, whether you are in the home or outside of the home, you are Christ’s representative. How people view you is how people will view Christ. How you act will determine how people view Christ and His family (I told you my mom was wise 😉

Do not take my word for it, the Bible makes it clear that if you are in Christ, you are a new creation! Christ’s work on the cross has reconciled God and the believer. As such, you are Christ’s Ambassador and God is making an appeal of reconciliation through you to others (2 Cor 5:17-20). You, yes YOU are Christ’s Ambassador, you have the joy, privilege and responsibility of representing Christ! How confident are you that God will use you as an Ambassador to bring the message of reconciliation to other people? How motivated are you to represent Jesus in a way that brings Him glory, honor and praise?

Father God, I thank You Lord for Jesus and His Work on the Cross. Jesus, thank You for reconciling believers to the Father. Holy Spirit, thank You that You live in us, equip us and give us strength to be Christ’s Ambassadors. Lord God, I pray for this dear reader to represent You, to be Your Ambassador at work, home, school wherever this reader is located. Lord, I ask that You will give this reader confidence in their personal and public walk with You. Lord, I pray this dear reader will represent You well, Amen.